Aka and Mara had just crested the Enu hill. They were on a mission to collect the gold jewelry the noblewoman, Jiaku, had commissioned the jeweler, Saaku, to make her.
“Finally!” said Aka. “She said it would be a tiring journey.” He was sweaty and winded. They had trekked for three days through a bushy, insect-infested, hilly track from their town, Ndida, to this place.
Mara flopped to the ground to catch his breath. “How right she was! Let’s rest here a bit!”
In a slight decline from the crest, a small but bustling town spread out. The town’s main road, a wide but deeply rutted track, cut the town half. Carts trundled across while people and animals hustled along.
They walked into town and into an inn and ordered palm wine and abacha. An old but good-looking woman with a strange nasal accent brought cool wine and warm food out.
“Pardon me, Mama, is this the town of Uzoechi?” asked Aka politely.
“Oh no, it isn’t. Uzoechi is just beyond a bridge north of the town,” she said, pointing out towards the opposite end of the town. They thanked her and resumed eating.
“A bridge, you hear. She says a bridge,” said Aka, with a worried look on his face.
“I don’t like the sound of that,” Mara said between chews. “Jiaku should have told us about the bridge.”
“It was difficult enough without the bridge! We should have charged more if we knew about the bridge.”
They finished their food and set off on the road towards Uzoechi. At the end of the road, a small path bordered by palm trees cut to the left. It was a lonely path and they were not sure if they should continue.
Just then, a stout wine tapper with a calabash slung over an arm appeared and Aka called to him. “Greeting, sir. Can you tell us where to find the bridge?”
“You mean, Tomorrow’s Echo Bridge?”
“What? Why do they call it that?”
“Ha, because if you throw a stone down the drop, you’ll hear the splash’s echo the next day!”
Aka and Mara exchanged uneasy glances.
“The bridge is just at the end of this path. So long, gentlemen; I have to hurry back before my wine sours.”
After a moment’s hesitation, the two men continued on. They cleared the track and appeared in the open.
“Bah!” cursed Aka. “Which bridge? This isn’t a bridge; it is a structure for suicides!”
The chasm was about fifty yards across an unfathomable depth, and a rickety rope bridge sagged across it. A breeze howled through the canyon and the bridge rocked in the wind.
The two men stood contemplating the bridge for several minutes while birds chirped in the trees and lizards scrambled in the grass.
“Do we go back?” suggested Aka, wide-eyed.
“No, we won’t go back on our word.”
Holding the two rails, Mara tested the bridge with a foot. It creaked but held. He stepped timidly on it and a few feet forward, he motioned Aka to join him. The two impelled their fear-frozen feet forward.
A stronger breeze swayed the bridge and Aka let out a manic scream that almost drove Mara mad.
“It’s okay! Don’t look down!” Mara yelled at him.
“I’ll die!” he yelled back.
“No, you won’t! Can you move forward?”
“Can you go back?”
Mara swore in a furious undertone.
By some miracle, he managed to maneuver back, summon enough courage to carry Aka across his back and shuffle across the floorboards with both hands gripping the rails, looking straight ahead. He was sweating bucketsful of fear by the time he got to the other side, and as soon as he set foot on firm ground, both men collapsed on the floor from sheer relief.
Suddenly, the sun was blocked off by a figure standing over them. It was a small boy stringing a kite.
“Greetings,” he said.
Aka was up on his feet at once. “Boy, thank heavens! Show us to Saaku, the jeweler’s!”
The boy looked at them queerly, “Saaku lives on the other side, in Ozoechi. Everyone knows that.”
“But it says here…” Aka said, slipping out the piece of paper with directions on it. “It says, Uzo… Aarrgh!”
Mara snatched the paper from him. On the paper was an ‘O’ written with an open top! He felt faint.
“And if you two aren’t really fools,” the boy continued pokerfaced, “you should read instructions carefully.”
He pointed at a sign by the bridge – ‘Cross bridge one person at a time.’
Written by The Yakadude