The blazing mid-day sun had morphed into the orange orb that heralded the evening and still the figure under the dwarf palm tree sat. Neither the billows of dust that swirled in the air, tossed up by the strong breeze that usually blew as evening wore on nor the lizards and other small critters chasing each other on the ground nearby caused the figure to adjust its position. The silence maintained was like that of a trance meditation. Every once in a while, someone would pass by and the customary greetings would be returned with an absentmindedness that did not encourage further discussions.
Noko had seen the wraith in her dreams three times now. It sometimes came like a masquerade that she could almost touch. Sometimes it came like a spirit that she could barely see and threatened to possess her. She had seen it once before her father hurt his back at the factory where he worked and when her younger brother fell from the tree and broke his neck. As she sat and contemplated, knowing that it never boded well whenever she dreamt of it, her thoughts began to drift to Mesan. He had been gone for much longer than he said. The weeks had become months and he was giving no thought as to his return. The frequency of his messages to her had dropped off as sharply as the rains at the onset of the dry season. This fact was well known to even the most taciturn old man in the community and sometimes on her days out in town, she could catch the glances of pity, concern and, on the faces of a few younger girls, thankfulness to the almighty for sparing them such an experience. On one occasion, the elderly women were not careful enough to make sure she was out of earshot.
‘Imagine her wasting all her time on that ungrateful boy…’, the first intoned while curving her lips downward with disgust at the absent young man.
‘If it were my daughter, I would ask her to forget him. After all, Obum is always coming around to see her. He’s as good a man as any.’, The second added her own two cents as she inspected the bolts of material to make her choice.
‘The folly of the young. They just believe that everything is love, love love…’
As she sat and pondered over what to do, the questions started to beat against the locked door. Am I being silly? Maybe I should give Obum a chance. Afterall, he has been my friend for such a long time and he understands me. Presently, the said young man came into view as he walked slowly into the compound. He was noticeably taller than most of the youths in the community. He had a smooth complexion the colour of baked clay that could make many a local belle green with envy. He walked with a slight limp as a result of a childhood injury but all that didn’t detract from the attraction he evoked. He walked up to her and sat beside her causing hardly a rustle as was his usual manner. So unobstrusive he was. It sometimes amazed her how he could manage to move so effortlessly and silently despite his huge frame. The combination of his movement and her absorption did not serve to make her aware of his presence. She only became aware of him when he placed his hand on her shoulder calling out her name. She came out of her reverie to see him looking at her with that strange mixture of pity and possibly love that she had lately come to notice.
‘What are you thinking so hard about? Hmm? That you didn’t notice me coming?’, he asked with a slight smile that betrayed the fact that he knew just what the subject of her thoughts was.
‘Good evening. How was your day?’, She said hurriedly.
‘Fine. Could have been better though.’,he responded meaningfully.
‘I’m glad yours was better.’, She said with a wry smile. One of the few she had cracked that day. Though plain, when she smiled, the crinkling of her eyes made you want to smile with her.
‘Have you heard from….’, he asked quietly. She shook her head briefly. The silence fell. They sat in companionable silence for over an hour broken occasionally by observations made by either one of them about the weather or recent occurrences in the community.
* * *
The young man made his way slowly towards the compound that seemed vaguely familiar now as if seen in a dream. The trees and bushes rustled in the stiff breeze that blew. His walk down the path was slow and wearied as if he were Atlas carrying the world upon his shoulders. He trudged forward unfeeling, unaware of or perhaps ignoring the stares of the few people along the road at that time. No one stopped to speak to him or ask him anything. It would seem that he had become a pariah of sorts. His breath caught as he rounded the bend and his heart beat took on the tempo of a bata drum being beaten with gusto.
* * *
The silence had been hanging – long and heavy – and Noko had just stood up to wish her friend a good night. She only caught sight of him as she turned towards the ‘gate’ which was really just a space between the hedge that surrounded the small compound. As he came closer and she saw his face clearly, her eyes watered and for a moment she was speechless. As if of their own accord, she moved towards him and threw her arms around him burying her face in his shoulder and liberating the tears. He held on to her as she muttered over and over, ‘Why didn’t you tell me? I suffered. I suffered…’ They didn’t even notice when Obum took his leave. His heart heavy within his chest.