Lurking In The Swamps


 Even to stop required much effort because it seemed as if his legs had a mind of their own, but when he finally did and tried to catch his breath, he looked back to make sure he had put enough distance between him and his room. He could still see some of his hostel mates stumbling and falling in different directions as they ran like those being chased by evil masquerades.

After loitering for several minutes, with his heart in his mouth, he slowly tiptoed back into the room, walked through the back door and unto the rear veranda.

Everywhere was deserted and quiet such that the sudden noise of a mouse foraging inside a nearby cupboard made him to almost jump out of his skin. He could hardly believe that moments back, the entire length of this same veranda was brimming with noisy guys.

He expected to see it coiled in a corner, bidding it’s time to strike him down once he is within range. It had really been a crazy day.

Travelling home to the city during the time of examination had never been an easy task; hence it is always a thing of joy to find someone willing to carry the responsibility of taking a message home to the parents. That someone that can play your character really well in order to get on the better side of your parent’s emotions such that they will be willing to go borrowing even if they don’t have the cash just to finance your needs.

Since a simple phone call is out of it (it most times does not yield the desired outcome), it must seem as if you are delivering the messages yourself; Yes, he must be that good.

Normally, due to a shortfall in the accommodations available, each legal occupant is unofficially allowed to house at least a squatter in the spirit of brotherhood. The squatters may be sidekicks or close friends.

David and Micheal were childhood friends and were known to both families, so who is best to send to plead a case other than your best buddy?

A few days earlier, Micheal was preparing to travel back to the city.

“Please tell my mother that I am starving” David pleaded with Micheal as the latter got ready to leave for the city that Thursday morning.

“I have not been eating well because my allowance is depleted”

“Don’t forget to remind her to add garri(grounded cassava which had been dried and later fried) along with my beverages and other items” he emphasized.

At the mention of garri, there were few hidden smiles in the room because it was a common commodity which is easily shared and they knew they will definitely get to eat out of whatever was brought back. The garri can be eaten as a snack to stave off hunger by simply soaking it in water and ate like a bowl of cereal.

Micheal was gone for a few days. James was on his way back from the church the following Sunday when he met him at the entrance of the male hostel coming from within.

“Ah! You are back!” he exclaimed.

“I just got back” Micheal replied.

“I didn’t meet David in the room but if he comes in before I get back, tell him that the big black polyethylene bag by the corner is for him.”

Getting to the room, it was deserted and he saw the bag at the corner just as he was told. Out of curiosity, he poked at it with his toe to try and determine its content; he really needed something to douse the biting hunger and a bowl of garri might just keep it at bay till dinner time in about two hours. He knew that he shouldn’t open the bag without the consent of the owner.

He didn’t have to wait long because David came crashing through the door twenty minutes later.

“I met Micheal on his way to the cafeteria and he told me he brought my goodies!” he smiled excitedly.

“Well, he said it is in a black polyethylene bag, so I guess it is that one over there” James pointed to the bag.

Happily, David attacked the bag, but after about fifteen seconds he asked

“Are you sure this is the bag he pointed out to you?”

“There is no other such bag in this room” James replied.

They were still trying to unravel the mystery when Micheal walked in.

David rephrased the question but directed it to Micheal.

“Well, I was at your home a few days back and your mother asked me to check back yesterday evening”

“getting there, she gave me that to give to you”

“My mother gave you these to give to me?” David was dumbfounded as he removed three smaller polyethylene bags from within the big bag.

On closer inspections, the smaller bags contained three different items; uncooked fufu (fresh starch), uncooked akwu (fresh palm fruits) and uncooked ukwa (fresh breadfruit seeds). There was neither garri nor beverages.

It could have passed for a huge joke but then, an expensive one.

Micheal was lost for words because he was sure the bag David’s mother handed over to him contained the desired items. Angrily and embarrassed, he lifted the bag, marched through the back door unto the veranda and flung into the swamp. It was a big mistake because the next day, his elder sister came visiting from the city with a similar bag containing the required items and with a strict instruction to bring back the other bag which contained ingredients for a local delicacy meant for a family dinner for the next day.

It so happened that Micheal, in his haste to be back on time, mistakenly swapped the bags.

The unavailability of garri meant an early dinner as he could no longer bear the unforgiving hunger. He went to a nearby cafeteria and ate.

The plan was to get back to the room, sleep for a few hours before going on a social visitation to one of the female hostels. He walked through the front door and immediately noticed that the rear door was open and no one was in sight. Walking through the rear door to the back veranda, It was as if there was a general meeting and all the inhabitants of that floor were in attendance; there was general commotion. Some of the guys were busy hurling stones at something in the swamp. He tried to find out what was going on from the nearest person.

“There is a snake in the waters” he was told.

“But I can’t see anything” he replied.

“Look carefully over there” the guy pointed to a patch of bush in the middle of the waters.

“It is beneath the waters and holding that frog in its mouth.” Truly, between the bushes, there was a frog gasping for its dear life; trying to leap out of the waters but something was holding it back.

Some of the guys continued throwing stones while a brave few even went as far as pretending to climb over the veranda and into the swamp. He could not totally recollect what happened, but he remembered that at a point, the bushes parted and a massive python with a frog in its mouth emerged from beneath the waters. If a truth is to be told, the only time he had seen a snake that huge was on one of the science channels on television back home.

He couldn’t explain the break in transmission and didn’t bother to give any, but the next thing he remembered was him gasping for breath outside the nearest gate out of the hostel while looking back to see other members of the hostel scattering in different directions.