He ran down and kept on running. It was as though if he should stop, he would be drawn back by the mountain. He kept on descending the mountain. the lower he went, the more the campus materialized before his eyes even though he still had not seen the faculty of Social Sciences where they had begun their journey. He was thinking about the others and he was so glad they would soon be rescued. He thought about Bukunmi too and a smile appeared on his face. If they were quick enough, they could even rescue her from the pit before nightfall so no harm would befall her. And the doctor, if he was already on campus, they would meet and if not, perhaps he could in a way to organize the search party that Tara was talking about so they could fish him out from wherever he was on that mountain.
Chisom went on and finally, he was on plain level ground. He looked around him and tried to acclimatize to his new environment. The air was different. The smell of his new location was different. He turned to his left and saw nothing but a mass of forest. And then to his right – to his right was salvation. He saw it and he could hardly believe his eyes. There was the new Faculty of Administration Extension building, and beside it stood the ICAN lecture theatre. Chisom laughed. He laughed because he knew he was dreaming. He had to be dreaming. How could he be here when they climbed the mountain at Social Sciences. How was that possible? He laughed loudly and slapped himself more than three times. Wake up, Chisom! Wake up!
He did not wake up. He could not have woken up. He was not dreaming. Chisom was really home. He walked away from the mountain base and made for the lecture theatre. He saw everyone walking around and acting normally as though nothing had happened. Their eyes were fixed on him as if something was strange about him. Well, he would be surprised if they did not look at him suspiciously. He did not look good at all. He was looking begrimed like he had just got out of a public cistern. He was a total mess. But then, Chisom did not care much.
As soon as he could, he began to run. He did not run to his department. He did not even run to his hostel. Instead, he ran to the Students Union Building. He knew this was not something he could report to the school authority. Apart from the fact that, it would lead to the suspension, if not expulsion, of them all, they would also waste time going through bureaucratic proceedings and by the time they decided to take action, his friends would probably be dead already.
He was at SUB in no time. He entered and raced up the stairs. He did not know who he was going to meet. He did not know anybody in the Students Union Government. But he knew they were all students and they would be able to relate. He got up and went down the corridor to the SUG office just before the bar. Immediately, he entered, he caught their attention.
“What are you looking for here, bro?”
“Is this the SUG?”
Chisom sighed. “Guys, I need help.”
AT THE PROFESSOR’S HOUSE.
They all woke up before nightfall which was strange because none of them had slept for a very long time.
“Why in God’s name am I awake?” Tara asked angrily.
Kazeem yawned and shook his head in disappointment. He woke AK up and then the two strangers. Akin and Bisi got up and stretched.
“What do we do now?” AK asked. Before any of them could answer, a loud voice boomed from the sitting room. They all got up from where they slept and went to sit on the sofa. A tall robust man was standing before the TV, his hands akimbo. He had a heavy white beard and the few strands of hair that remained on his desert head were gray. Huge half-moon spectacles hung loosely on his nose and he turned from the TV and looked at them. He was certainly the man of the house, the lecturer in Geography department.
“Welcome guys. How was your sleep?” he asked. His voice was coarse, but not in an unfriendly way. It was like the voice of an old man telling his children moonlight tales.
“Fine, sir,” Tara answered and the others mumbled something in that line.
“So, my wife told me you are from the campus,” the man said. He turned away from the TV now and looked at them.
“Yes, sir. We began climbing the mountain some four days ago and we lost out way sir,” AK said.
“And my wife tells me you ascended at the Faculty of Social Sciences and now you find yourself here at Staff Quarters?”
“Yes, sir,” Kazeem said.
“How is that possible, dear?” the wife asked, coming out of the house. Eunice, their beautiful daughter followed her closely.
“Actually, it is, dear,” the old man said and then he began. “You see, the geography and – specifically – the topography of this campus is a very peculiar one. The hills – what you people call mountains, the plain grounds and the steeps are all a great wonder. It is possible that these students had started their ascent at Social Sciences and find themselves here. And the reason is not so farfetched.
“I particularly took time to study the highlands and lowlands of OAU in my final year on this campus and that was the basis of my project, and since I have become a professor, I have not ceased to be amazed by the beauty of this campus. You see, all the mountains on this campus are just one mountain. They are all just one long mountain stretched out over a long expanse of land, starting from the one behind the Alumni hostel. It stretches down to the back of the Music department extension building and down to the back of Pit theatre and then down to the back of the parking lot behind Social Sciences beside the new Law building and then it stretches into the zoo and then to the mountain you see when you leave EDM and walk down towards Staff Quarters here.
“It’s all just one mountain. You students, however, refer to it as different mountains because you have different entry and ascent points. And so, it is possible and understandable that you start your climb at Social Sciences and end up here.”
They did not talk. They could not have talked anyway because there really was nothing to say. It made sense, what the professor had said. They had never looked at it that way, never seen the mountains as one. But now that the man had said it, they knew it was true. And that was how they found themselves here and why it took them so long to find their way back home.
“But our friends…our friends are still on the mountain…” Tara began.
“You mean some students are still on the mountain?” the professor asked with wide eyes.
“Yes, sir,” Akin said.
The man looked at his wife and sighed. He picked up a bunch of keys from the glass table at the center of the sitting room and turned to his wife.
“I will be back soon. We need to get those students out of there before nightfall,” he said and turned to the students. “Come with me,” he said and dashed out of the house.
“How do we get to the mountain before nightfall?”
“There is a car track that leads to the base. From there, we start climbing. In the meantime, I need to inform the school security.”
“NO!” AK shouted.
The man looked back in shock. “What?”
“What is wrong with you, boy? You think this is a small issue?” the professor hissed and made for the car. The five of them followed him in silence and reverence. The professor called the security and asked for immediate emergency attention at the mountain base at Staff Quarters. “We should meet them at the base,” he said and then, he began to drive.
They passed the path which they had come through and the professor drove on. He drove at a high speed, not minding that they were not on a clear road but a track in the bush.
IN THE PIT.
It must have been for hours. The doctor wrestled and fought his demons. The little black things roamed his body and entered every part of him. He was crying, shedding tears and calling names. He called his mother, his father, Bukunmi and then he began to call Tara. He was throwing his hands in the air, wishing that the ants would leave him but they did not. The more he tried to throw them off, the more they swarmed his body.
Bukunmi stood by crying. The setting sun was still above them, giving her enough light so she could see what was happening to the doctor. “David! David!” she was shouting but the doctor did not seem to hear. He was beating the air. The ants were numerous and Bukunmi watched as they made for David’s face and they covered it. And then, they began to climb into his nostrils and into his mouth, and into his ears. David screamed one last time, threw his hands up in the air and fell to the ground with a deafening thud. In that same moment, the ants swarmed away from him and for a second, Bukunmi thought they were coming for her. But she was wrong. The ants did not seem to notice her presence. Instead, as slowly and stealthily as they had come upon David, they crawled back into the hole and disappeared out of sight.
Bukunmi ran to the doctor and bent over him.
“David! David!” she shouted but she got no answer. She could not see the doctor’s face clearly. The sunlight did not get to the part of the pit where he lay. “David!” she shouted again. She lifted his arm but it fell back like a lifeless pound of flesh. And then it became a scream, “DAVID! DAVID!!” But then, Bukunmi was wise and she could connect the dots. She did not need anyone to tell her: the ants had sapped life out of David and what lay before her was the poor boy’s cadaver, destroyed and grotesque from the vicious attack.
She did not know what to do. She did not know if she was supposed to do anything. She just stood there, looking at the corpse and she was crying. She must have been in this position for hours before she moved. It was a sound that moved her.
First, she heard voices. She heard voices of people talking. It seemed as though there were many people talking. She did not even waste a second. “HELP! HELP ME! I AM DOWN HERE!” she began to scream.
“Did you hear that?” Chisom asked one of the SUG guys that were with him.
After narrating his story to them at the SUG office about two hours before, they had quickly gathered four able guys to go with him to bring back his friends before the school authority knew anything. Now, they had been on the mountain for more than thirty minutes and had been searching for the pit Bukunmi fell in. There had been no trace of anything and it was almost looking as though Chisom just deceived the SUG guys here. But then, there was a voice calling from beneath.
“Guys, did you hear that sound?” Chisom asked again.
“I didn’t really hear anything ooo, bro,” one of the SUG guys said. His name was Malo. He looked more like a bodybuilder than a law student that he was.
“Come on, listen,” Chisom urged.
“I can hear a faint voice…” one of the guys said.
“Like someone is screaming…right?” Malo asked. He stopped suddenly. “I can hear something from beneath.”
“Be careful guys. We don’t wanna have to rescue more than one person from the pit. Make sure you look before you take any step.”
They kept on following the voice and looking around for the pit when one of them suddenly screamed.
They all ran to him and found him at the edge of the pit. He was almost in already and was holding on to a root so he would no fall.
“This is the pit,” Chisom said.
“Okay,” Malo said as he pulled the other guy up. Chisom, Malo and the three other guys were standing before the chasm now, looking down into the darkness.
“How deep is this thing, Chisom?” Malo asked.
“No idea,” Chisom said. “But it is deep enough for her not to be able to climb out.”
“Okay, then. Let us use the rope,” Malo said and they brought out the rope they took along when they were coming. Malo took the rope and tied it to a tree trunk nearby. He made sure it was firm and then he threw the other end into the pit.
“CLIMB OUT!” he shouted into the pit.
Bukunmi heard the unfamiliar voice and screamed, “I CAN’T. THERE IS ANOTHER HERE.”
“Can you hear what she is saying?”
Chisom shook his head. The others did the same.
“CLIMB OUT!” Malo repeated. There was no answer.
“Maybe she is already coming out,” one of the guys said.
“The rope is steady.”
“The rope is steady. If she was climbing out, the rope would be shaking already,” Malo explained. “Okay, guys. I will have to go in,” he said as he dropped his backpack and held on to the rope. And then he began to descend.
“Good luck down there,” Chisom said but Malo did not answer; he was in the pit already.
Chisom and the other guys waited outside. They must have waited for about thirty minutes. And then they began to hear voices. They were faint voices at first. And then they become audible and recognizable. Chisom knew that voice.
“KAZEEM!” he shouted with all his might. That was the name that came to him first. It had to be them. It had to be them. No one else would be on this mountain. “Kazeem!” He shouted again.
“CHISOM!” a voice shouted back. It belonged to AK.
And then, out of nowhere, they emerged. AK was in front with Kazeem beside him. Tara followed afterward with a boy and a girl whom Chisom did not know. They all looked fine, as though they had not been on the mountain for four days.
But then, Chisom saw that they were not alone. Following AK and the rest were four uniformed men with guns held steady, and an old man with a huge beard.
“AK!” Chisom shouted and ran to hug his friends. He hugged Kazeem and even Tara whom he did not know so well.
“How did you guys find us?” Chisom asked.
“It’s a long story, Chisom. But we found the professor and with the help of the school security, he brought us here. We came looking for you and the rest.”
“Where is David?” Tara asked.
“Who are these guys?” the old man with the beard asked.
“Err…these are SUG security. They came here to help find you guys,” Chisom explained. The professor did not look so pleased
“SUG guys? What does that even mean? Why did you not inform the school authority?” the bespectacled man asked.
Chisom swallowed. “I am sorry, sir but I trust the SUG more than the school security,” he said.
The old man opened his mouth to talk but then he closed it. The four uniformed men had spread out and two of them were now looking down into the pit.
“What is happening here?” Tara asked.
“We are saving Bukunmi. She fell into this pit when we were going earlier today,” Chisom explained and he had not finished speaking when the rope began to shake and out of the pit, a figure climbed out and rolled to the ground. They all bent down to look.
Bukunmi looked up and saw the sky and could not believe her eyes. She would have cried but she could not. She had cried her eyes out already. She looked around and saw the faces. She could recognize AK and Kazeem and Tara. They were all looking at her speechlessly. She looked up and saw Chisom. With all the might left in her, she got up and threw herself at him. She hugged him tightly.
“Thanks for coming back,” she said.
Chisom smiled weakly. “You would have done the same.”
Bukunmi turned and went to Tara. “I am so sorry…” she began but she had not finished when Malo climbed out of the pit and round his neck was what looked like a body. They both rolled out of the pit to the ground. Malo was breathing heavily but the other body was still.
Tara saw him and ran to the entrance of the pit. The uniformed men held her back. She looked down at David and her mouth fell open. He was still and unmoving. His eyes were wide open, looking up to the sky but they were not seeing. They were lifeless glass orbs painted white and black. And his skin…his skin was folded up with huge dark spots all over him. There was a stream of caked blood from his nose down to his chin and from his ears down to his neck. He looked as though he had been mauled by a bunch of bandits.
“DAVID!” she screamed.
There was no answer.
“NO! NO!! NO, DAVID!” she screamed and bent over his body. She shook it violently but there was still no response.
“He’s gone, Tara,” Bukunmi said soulfully. “I’m sorry.”
“NO! He can’t be gone! David can’t be gone!” she was crying and shouting and sobbing at the same time. But then, the doctor did not respond. The uniformed men, the professor and the others looked on as Tara shook the body of her lover and they began to weep for her.
It was grief beyond measure. It was an excruciating truth that she could not bear to grasp. It was like sinking into a chasm of total darkness and infernal terror. She could not see anything. She could not hear anything. She could not even think anything. Her eyes were no longer her. They had become taps from which salty waters flow and they had taken control of themselves. Her heart was no longer hers; it had gone with him. Only her body was hers, and she shook it. She was shaking uncontrollably.
“It’s not true, abi? He is not really dead, is he?” She kept on asking. No one could answer her.
As they all returned to school in the professor and the school security’s vehicles, she thought about David. She thought about his smile, his small shy smile and his confident look. She thought about his gentle and youthful look and his strong solid voice. She thought about his eyes and his hair. She thought about him and she thought about his future. He was done with school already. He was in his final year in medical school and he had his life planned out already. He was supposed to live. He deserved to live. He deserved to…
They entered the school through a gate she had never seen before. They drove past EDM, Agric and made for the Senate building. There were freshly pasted posters everywhere with their pictures on them and the caption: MISSING OBAFEMI AWOLOWO UNIVERSITY STUDENTS. IF SEEN, REPORT TO THE DIVISION OF STUDENTS AFFAIRS.
“Wow…” Kazeem sounded, seeing the posters.
AK did not need to look at it. He was crying already. What even made him cry the more was Folu’s picture which was on the poster too.
Akin and Bisi were in the vehicle too, looking all clueless and wondering what they would do with them.
Bukunmi sat at the back of the vehicle and she was thinking. The past four days had changed her life forever. From a simple evening at Social Sciences to a drive to the Senate building.
They parked at the Senate parking lot and the seven of them, Tara, Bukunmi, AK, Kazeem, Chisom, Bisi and Akin were led by the uniformed men out of the cars to the topmost floor of the Senate building. They were followed closely by the guys from the SUG and the professor. They soon got to where Bukunmi guessed they were going: the vice chancellor’s office.
“What do you think they will do?” AK asked.
“I don’t know,” Kazeem said.
“What will you do?” Bukunmi asked Tara.
She looked at her and shook her head. She did not answer.
“What will you do?” she asked the two strangers. Kazeem had told her how they came to be.
“Me?” Bisi said. “I am going home. I am going back to Ogbomoso.”
“I don’t know,” Akin said with a shrug. “I guess I will write a book. I will write history.”
“What will you do?” Kazeem asked Bukunmi.
She sighed and swallowed. She knew what she was going to do. She was going to call Michael, hold his hands, drop her head on his chest and cry. That was what she was going to do.
They reached the vice chancellor’s office and the professor knocked. “Come in.”
As though they had planned it before, Kazeem held AK’s hand. Chisom joined them. Tara held Bukunmi. Bisi held Akin. And with fear and great trepidation, the seven of them sighed and walked into the office, to face judgment.
The one-month break? Not intentional. As usual, I got busy and I am deeply sorry. Words cannot express my remorse.
Thanks to all who checked on me in my absence. Thanks to Akanbi Oluwole for the call. Thanks for the Bolatito for the constant reminder. Thanks to Oluwaranti. Thanks to the Wild family. Thanks to all. You mean so much to me.
There won’t be another post here until next year. In the meantime, let’s talk in the comment box. Thanks for following this series till the end. I adore you.
See you in January 2019.