He stands, shrouded by the night, pale as the skin of a glass of milk, still, vigilant, those unusual eyes staring coldly out from a face that has the icy stillness of a sculpted piece. A light breeze gallops across the area, lifting the hairs on the boy’s skin and causing a slight shiver to work its way through his body. It is a cold night, but he cannot leave here for the warmth of the inside. He intends to wait, to meet the other one. The one he has been looking for.
Just then, he stiffens. His shoulders lift fractionally and his head angles forward, an alert response to the presence of something – or someone – yet unseen.
“You have very quick reflexes,” a silky voice says right before the dark outline of a figure ghosts out of the night in front of the pale-skinned boy.
He narrows his milky eyes at the newcomer before hissing his name, “Sisirith.”
The other boy stares just as malevolently back. He is taller, skinnier, and so dark-complected he is almost not visible in the night. Although he stands still, the outline of his form appears to undulate in the atmosphere, an ominous ripple that speaks of a grace no human can possibly possess.
“Seetha,” he says the name of the pale-skinned boy.
The air between them is taut, tense with animosities that are age-old, and filled with currents of unfathomable emotions tugging this way and that.
“For a while back, I flirted with the idea of killing you before hearing what you had to say,” Sisirith says in his lilting voice, “but those reflexes of yours. . .” He tut-tuts with a slow shake of his head.
“If you think you can get to me,” Seetha snarls, “then you are very mistaken, you sand-soiled fool.”
Sisirith stiffens, but the dislike that sparkles in his inky eyes does not colour his voice as he says, “You insult me, Seetha. How immature. Besides, you’re the one making all the mistakes already. Revealing your true self to a junior boy?” His laugh is mocking. “Why on earth will you think me allied with him?”
“He is relatively new to the boarding house, and the child of a pastor. It is typical of your kind” – Seetha spat the word – “to take such risks.”
“Well, he’s weak. And you’re the one who took a risk, the risk of exposing your kind” – Sisirith dropped a sneering stress on the words – “to the world. Now everyone knows you exist.”
“That I can handle. You however are a different matter. I want you gone, Sisirith.”
“I got here first. This is my territory.”
“Well, you’ll just have to learn to share.”
“I do not wish to share anything with anyone, let alone you and your kind. Leave, or else –”
“Or else what?” Sisirith’s voice is shrill with challenge.
“It will get very ugly for you very quickly,” Seetha says icily.
The smile the other boy gives in response is no smile at all. “I do not like to be threatened, you furry little beast.”
“I wasn’t threatening you. I was simply stating fact.”
Sisirith begins to move to the left, slow movements, walking as if he has no bones at all. Seethe moves away from him to the right, his gait light and careful. Both boys circle, feinting for position. Sisirith’s foot slips on the soft, rain-soaked earth, and Seetha seizes the moment of his distraction, snarling and charging at him with his arms outstretched and his fingers hooked.
His fist hits Sisirith on the side of his mouth, knocking him back. Sisirith recovers and lashes out at him, hitting him in the face too. Seetha rocks back, then lunges forward, and attempts to snatch a hold of Sisirith’s long, thin neck with his hooked fingers. The boy spins out of his grasp, but doesn’t miss the raking swing of Seetha’s right hand as the fingers claw at his face. He lets out a guttural scream of pain, before lashing out with a blow that lands squarely on Seetha’s face. He topples back, gasping, from the assault. When he whirls back around to attack, his opponent is no longer there.
Not the human anyway.
Its menacing head rising where Sisirith had been moments ago is a black mamba. It weaves about for a moment before slithering slowly forward across the ground on its slimy yet smooth stomach, using its incredibly powerful stomach muscles to propel it along, while never turning its beady eyes away from Seetha.
The boy chuckles disbelievingly, “Now you think you have a better chance of winning?” And he drops to the ground, rising up as the hulking cat with the ashen fur that bristles all over its body.
Both animals hiss at each other before charging forward again. The cat’s front paws lash out, its claws gleaming in the darkness as it strikes at and misses its target. The snake’s body coils around as it lunges at its opponent, its forked tongue flicking in and out of its mouth with deadly intent. It spits its venom with an accuracy that the cat’s agility barely saves it from.
The snake slides and pounces. The cat ducks and swipes. They hiss. They snarl. They lunge. They spit. It is a macabre dance, with a silent music that will end with the death of one or the other.
Just then, a door opens, and the light from within spills out on the pavement, illuminating the section of the courtyard in front of the dormitory. Quick as a flash, the cat pivots on its feet and leaps out of sight into the surrounding darkness. The snake isn’t so fast, and is just slithering away from the light when the boy, who walked out from the dormitory, swings his bucket forward and throws water from it. The sudsy water, made dirt-brown from washing something, scythes through the air and splashes all over the ground – and on top of the snake.
It recoils, hissing furiously. The boy gives a start at the sight of the angry black coil, and he turns and flees back into the dormitory.
“Ibu! Joe! Snake – snake dey outside!” I burst out as I hastened inside our dorm. My eyes were bright and wide-eyed from the memory of what I’d just seen outside.
Snake sightings, however, were not a new thing in my school, and so the excited attention I expected from my friends, and the small number of other dorm-mates lounging about and chatting, did not happen.
“Ah-ah, guys, I just saw snake outside nah.”
“Ehen? What else is new?” Joseph said as he rinsed Senior Chidiogo’s cloth. The senior boy had tasked the two of us to do his laundry that night. Ibuka lay on his bed, his concentration rapt on the novel he was reading.
He however looked up from his book long enough to say, “What happened when you saw it?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know . . . I saw it just after pouring the washing water on it. I didn’t even know it was there when I poured away the water.”
“Kai! If na kerosene you pour am,” Joseph said, “na die for that snake.”
“In fact, let’s do it,” Ibuka suddenly enthused.
“Do what?” Joseph and I said at the same time.
“Let’s borrow small of Senior Boma’s kerosene and go and pour it on the –”
“EZE!” a voice cut in caustically.
A cold draft from outside preceded the sharp call as someone slammed the door open and stomped in.
Startled, I looked up at Henry Nwagbara, an SS1 boy who resided in the dormitory next-door. He was gangly and tall for his age, with the kind of aquiline, dark-skinned features that made me wonder sometime in the past if he had a Northern heritage. He was visibly upset, and wet, with patches of dampness plastering parts of his clothing to his body.
“Ah, Henro,” Chike, an SS1 boy in my dorm, hailed from his bed. “This one wey your body wet like this, wetin happen?”
“Is it not this stupid boy who went and poured water on me!” Henry thundered, shooting me a dark look.
“Me? No o!” I protested. “I did not pour anybody water o!”
“Are you calling me a liar?” His eyes narrowed.
“No! I mean, yes – I mean, I didn’t pour anybody water, that’s what I know. . .”
“You poured me water, you idiot!”
“Don’t call me idiot, Henry, please,” I said coolly. “I told you I didn’t pour you water. I’m not blind.”
“Is it me you’re talking to like that?” He advanced a step. There was something suddenly dangerous about him that made me uneasy.
“Er – but he said he –” Ibuka began tentatively, but Henry quelled him with a look and turned back to me. “I asked you a question, is it me you’re sharping your mouth for?”
“Henry, relax,” interjected Chike as he swung down from his bunk and walked to where we were. “Eze, just tell him sorry, and let’s forget about this.”
I tightened my mouth, staring resolutely back at them. Why should I apologize for something I didn’t do? The mere thought gnawed at my insides, and the effort to pry my lips open and force the appropriate words out was herculean.
“Eze,” Chike prompted with the beginnings of a scowl.
“I’m sorry,” I muttered.
“I didn’t hear you,” Henry said acidly.
Your mama there, I swore silently at him, before saying audibly, “I said I’m sorry. Even though I did not pour you water o, but I’m sorry sha.”
The boy looked like he was going to dispute my apology, because of its apparent insincerity. He glared some more at me. I stared boldly back. Chike patted him on the shoulder and said jocularly, “Henro, forget this matter. Him don talk sorry. Leave am make we go your dorm. I wan collect small sugar from you sef.”
Henry very reluctantly allowed Chike to shepherd him out of the room. The moment they left, Joseph and Ibuka crowded together at my side.
“I don’t understand, Eze . . .” said Ibuka.
“I thought you said,” added Joseph, “that the only thing you poured water on was –”
“A snake,” I finished for him before turning to eye the two of them. “That’s right. I poured water on a snake, not a human being. So tell me, how is Henry Nwagbara involved in what I did to an animal?”
They looked back at me with expressions that betrayed what we suspected, but could not admit, and the dread we felt for it.
TO BE CONTINUED
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