BLOOD ON THE SOIL by Kelvin Alaneme
I grabbed the cock’s wings tightly. It struggled, crowing loudly as if aware of the ominous fate about to befall it. Behind me, the boys laughed and called me names. “Fear, fear! Mummy’s boy!” The last voice was my twin brother’s and hearing it broke my heart.
Chinua was my elder brother by five minutes and at ten years of age; was the strongest boy among our peers. Unlike him, I was weak, introverted and yet to kill my first fowl. Their taunts worsened everything.
The other voices belonged to Emeka and Obi. Emeka was skinny, with bulging eyes that always watered at the sight of steaming jollof rice. Obi was rotund, his girlish gait and wiggling buttocks drawing laughter whenever he passed. They were Chinua’s tag team. The trio were a bully squad, beating other children mercilessly, especially the young girls.
I laid the cock on the sand, under the orange tree. My hands trembled as I plucked away the feathers on the neck, exposing pale flesh. I picked up the knife and made a cut on the neck. Someone slapped my head. I turned in anger.
“Cut the neck well, fool!” Chinua said, laughing.
I felt bile rise to my mouth. “May madness strike you there, idiot!” I cursed, throwing spittle in his direction.
The cock had since escaped from beneath me and thrashed about, blood oozing freely from the neck onto the sand. I caught it and cut the neck again.
I killed many fowls thereafter. I had always remembered the first, though, as it was the first time I really faced my fear. I had faced many fears since then and dismantled many barriers. I had gone to the University, amidst financial uncertainties and emerged with a First Class. I had built a global advertising agency from the ground up and was one of the brightest CEOs in the industry.
Chinua, on the other hand, never left the village. He smoked marijuana religiously with his two friends and every evening after drinking, they go about terrorizing the villagers. As at last count, seven girls have come to the house claiming he impregnated them.
One early morning, Mama’s call woke me. Her usually cheerful voice sounded broken. “Chinua has gone mad.”
I rubbed my eyes, wondering whether to take the news literarily or figuratively. Chinua and his friends have always been mad.
Mama sensed my dilemma. “He has gone mad. Stark, raving mad! Walking around naked and picking empty milk tins.”
“Since when?” I asked, sitting up.
“For two days now,” she said, sobbing.
I left for the village the next morning. As I approached our compound, I met a bizarre scene. Chinua was dancing naked outside the compound, near the orange tree. A bare-bodied, elderly man in red loin cloth was beating a gong and shouting my name. I parked the Prado Jeep at a distance and came out of the car, bewildered. Mama rushed to greet me, a worried look on her face. “The Dibia said that you are responsible for Chinua’s madness. How can that be? Eh my son?”
Some elders were seated on a bench outside the compound with Papa in the middle. They did not acknowledge my greetings. The Dibia turned to face me, his left eye encircled with native chalk.
“Chigbogu, why did you do this to Chinualumogu?”
I looked at him in confusion and then at my naked brother who was still absorbed in his dance. “How? When?” I asked, my mouth agape.
He shook his head and murmured some incantations. He beat the gong thrice, brought out cowries from his bag made of raffia leaves and threw them on the ground close to the tree. He shook his head again as he peered into space.
“Chai! The sun has set at noon!” he screamed.
“Nna anyi, please tell us what you saw,” Papa said.
His voice was solemn. “I see a cock. I see fresh blood on the soil. And I see Chigbo pronouncing madness on his brother.”
“Chai!” Papa said, in anguish. Abomination! Chigbo?” he turned to me.
I was shaking my head in denial until it suddenly hit me. The orange tree! My first cock. Chinua’s slap on my head. My angry words to him. Twenty years ago.
Hot tears coursed down my cheeks. “I remember now,” I said.
When I finished narrating the events of that day, Mama was wailing loudly. ” Chigbo, you have killed me!”
The Dibia looked at me. “Those angry words you said to Chinua that day were said over blood on the soil. Anywhere blood is spilled on the soil, the gods gather and whatever is said upon that blood must happen!”
I stared at him in disbelief. He stood up from the ground, picked the cowries and replaced them in his bag. He looked at Chinua and shook his head. He made to leave.
“What now, Nna anyi?” I asked, still dazed.
He shrugged. “It is up to the gods.”
He beat his gong as he left. We looked at each other in confusion. Chinua broke the silence with a long, convulsive laughter, his palms cupping his crotch. I slumped to the ground, disheartened.
Just then, Chinua stopped his dance and broke into a run. Papa and the elders stood up, alarmed.
“Stop him! He is heading to the marketplace.”
I scrambled to my feet, suddenly aware of the implication: if Chinua reaches the market, he will remain perpetually mad.
I ran after him, my parents and the elders in tow. Some villagers have appeared, screaming, “Catch am! Catch am!” I closed in on him as we approached the market and dove towards him, arms outstretched. We landed on the ground, a mess of sand and sweat. I locked my arms firmly around his waist, even as he struggled to break free, legs flailing. After a while, a small crowd gathered where we lay, writhing on the ground.
I heard Papa’s reassuring voice. “He did not reach the market.”