The brightness of the new day gave Dubem the assurance that the day would be as smooth as the silent splish-splash of the serene river. He straightened his brown wings as the warm rays of the morning sun caressed him all over,
“ Dubem, you have stretched out enough, let’s get going or we would be late.”
He rolled his eyes and turned towards the rants of his twin sister who was very efficient in spilling out very unnecessary complaints. He continued his meditation but she kept on making so much noise that he nearly cursed himself for being equally yoked with such a nuisance,
“You talk a lot for a hen that is just six weeks old, I wonder how worse you would become when you start hatching chicks of your own…”
“That’s what you always say but when mother starts screaming her lungs out I would be the only one to bear the brute of the whole suffering.”
She walked past him making sure to scratch enough mud in his face as she walked on. They were sent to deliver extra farming tools to their older brothers who were working tirelessly on their maize farm. Their mother never let them out of the pen because they were too young to face the real world but on that day she had no other choice than to send them to the farm.
Unlike Dubem, Amaka had white feathers that covered her entire skin even to the very nape of her claws, while Dubem had brown feathers and an immature comb on his head. They were different in every way, while Dubem loved to break the rules, Amaka loved to keep the peace and run very far away from any trouble that she came across. Dubem loved the forest, the ocean, the tall trees and he wished the Creator made him a bigger bird. He innately felt that his destiny was in something much more adventurous than farming even when the tradition strictly forbade the cocks from being anything else. Most times he would sit and wonder how pleasant it would be to be able to fly higher than two feet above the ground, he envied the big birds that his mother warned him about in her stories.
He hated the fact that he was such a small bird with no strength or power to do nothing but hide away from predators. As if being caged in the life of cowardice was not enough, his kind were caged under the scrutiny of too many laws and traditions, those laws were like moths wrapped around his neck, saliently choking his dreams and incessantly preventing him from exploring too far. He saw his sister as a product of cowardice, she had allowed those moths to eat out her dreams so much that she had nothing to look up to except the next corn meal that would feed her stomach.
He reluctantly dragged on the heavy farm tools as he murmured to himself. The laws forbade him from living on his own, the same laws forbade them from walking or thinking in a certain manner, they weren’t even permitted to eat anything apart from corn, corn in the morning, afternoon and night like there was nothing else in the world to eat.
Exasperated by the deadlock that he was in, he let out a tired moan as he dragged on the heavy bag. It was that moment that he heard a very strange cry, the cry consistently knocked at the gate of his heart so much that he couldn’t ignore it. He immediately dumped the farm tools as he followed the cry that led him to a strange bird twice his size. It was drenched all over and its entire being shivered uncontrollably,
“Oh, shut up or you’ll scare it away, just shut up!”
The stern look in his eyes zipped Amaka’s lips shut instantly, she knew what he wanted to do and what he wanted to do was well against the most important rule of all,
“As the sky is very far away from the earth so shall every cock, hen and chick stay far away from strangers.”
They were made to memorize the rule right from when they were under their mother’s bosom, the rule was written with the blood of the first chick born in every pen in the Hen House and it had never been broken. She ran as fast as her legs could carry her as she pulled back one of his feathers trying her best to stop him from touching the creature,
“Dubem, please this is no joke, leave that thing and let us go…”
“Amaka, look at it, it needs our help.”
“I don’t care! You are about to commit a sacrilege, that’s what I care about!”
She began to drag him out of the scene but its large grey eyes wouldn’t stop calling out to him, it was calling for help, a call that rang like the sly hoot of an owl in his head. The dark feathers didn’t scare him like it should, the small white feathers around its neck didn’t scare him either, all he cared about was the tears that fell out of its eyes and the strange cry that oozed out of its plaintive throat.
“Amaka, look at it!!”
She stared at him incessantly screaming at him with both her eyes and her mouth but he paid more attention to the strange creature than to her clarion call,
“Just look at it, Amaka. Look at it.”
The strange bird was twice their size but the fear that slithered out of it was much stronger that the rough breeze round about them. It had an orange beak and its black claws glistened in the sun. Pity wrapped her in as the bird let out another painful cry strongly consolidating Dubem’s claim,
“You see, it needs us, we should help it out.”
“You don’t just go about breaking the rules…”
He didn’t even let her finish talking before he walked towards the bird and stretched his left wing out to the bird but it drew back, he moved closer and asked it,
“Who are you?”
It stared intently at Dubem and said nothing in return, Amaka gathered the farm tools and tried putting them close to where they stood, she couldn’t stop stamping her feet on the ground as fear held her guts tight,
“We are so dead, Dubem. We are finished, totally finished!”
Dubem ignored the fact that the creature didn’t have any information about himself, all he did was sew leaves together and hide him inside the bag where the farm tools were kept saying to himself,
“I’ll help him. I’ll find his Mama and take him back to wherever he belongs.”
Amaka’s rage could no longer be contained as he had crossed all boundaries,
“How on earth do you think you can pull this off, huh? You take him home, you would obviously get caught and then you’ll have to face the death sentence! This is not one of your flimsy daydreams, Dubem!! This is the real world, you’re digging both our graves! Don’t you even care about the consequence of this sacrilege? Don’t you care about the laws at all?”
“Amaka, what laws? Laws conjured by cowards who call cowardice an act of keeping the peace? The same laws that tell us to do good to our neighbor, to feed the needy and to help the poor are the same laws that tell us to turn our backs on strangers! He has lost his mama, he has no idea of who he is or where he is from, is his life not pathetic enough? We cannot just leave him on the wild animals menu just like that! I’m taking him with me to save him for as long as it takes and you and those stupid laws in red cannot stop me. I’ve had enough!!”
Amaka ignored him as blazing flames of anger rested on the tip of her beak. On one hand she knew that her brother was making a valid point, the chickens were known for their cowardice, but that same cowardice had saved them from extinction since the beginning of time. Strangers always bring their bad luck with them, even if the creature turned out different the odds were simply against them. If they were to take such a creature back home they wouldn’t go unnoticed because the creature was too big to be hidden.
What made matters worse was the fact that they had three horrible brothers who had never submitted to the voice of reason in their entire lives.
The first was Ojukwu, who inherited nothing good from both his parents apart from their short temper, he was the biggest of them all with muscles as large as two plump maize cobs combined together. The second was well known for his stupidity and carelessness, it was however a naked irony that he was named Odenigbo.
The next in line was Ezenwa, so disrespectful that the entire clan had to carry out dozens of rituals to appease the gods on his behalf. Their mother was a raging earthquake, she was very observant and had a very short temper, Dubem was doomed in all ramifications and her pea-sized brain had no clue on what to do to save him from himself.
“Amaka, you go drop the farm tools, meet me at where we found Chukwudi then we’ll go back home together.”
“Who is Chukwudi?”
“That’s the name he would be called until he remembers his real name.”
“Dubem, what in the world is wrong with you? Please just take him back and leave him there. He might just be a curse for the both of us!! We are going to die if we continue with this ridiculous idea, don’t you get it!!”
They both stared at the limping bird who wasn’t looking as pathetic as before, there was a strange grace and elegance that it carried that sharpened the fear in Amaka’s mind. His body frame covered their shadows, his black wings where four times bigger than theirs but the confusion and helplessness in his eyes created a sharp contrast between the way he looked and the way he felt. Dubem ignored the fear in his sister’s eyes dismissing it as sheer cowardice
“You just talk too much.”
“Dubem, listen to me!!!!”
He didn’t even let her finish before he walked away, he waited for a couple of minutes before he changed his course to Alpha Lane, the land of the peacocks. He knew what he was doing was thwarting another law but according to the stories that his Mama used to tell, Alpha Lane was the home of the greatest witch doctor of all time named Tebago.
According to the tale she was a peacock with white and blue-green feathers, rumors had it that her feet never touched the ground and that she could see into the past and the future. If he could find her she would be able to tell who Chukwudi really is, he thought about how sad his mother would be in search of her child, there was no way he could allow such a big bird to die just like that. He followed every detail of the story and right at the outskirt of Alpha Lane, he found the shrine.
“Why are we here?”
Dubem stared at Chuks when he spoke, he seemed even more confused than he was before but the fact that he was able to speak showed that the power of the shrine was as potent as the stories that he heard,
“I have to take you back to the Hen House and in order to do that something has to be done about your size or else my people would bury me and my sister alive for breaking their flimsy rule.”
Chuks had to crouch to enter into the tiny shrine, the shrine was decorated with dried bones of different species of birds and it had countless termites who carried small pots of hot oil on their head crawling all over the place. Right in the midst of a burning altar was Tebago, she knew why they came and turned their backs on them as she spoke,
“When you do not know who you are, you conform to the things that are well below your standard, you hide under the bushel when you’re meant to ride on the wings of the wind.”
Fear lit up Dubem’s mind as her voice was thunderously tiny, her long feathers curled all over the place rudely sweeping some of the innocent termites into the burning fire at intervals. Chuks’ eyes widened when he saw the witch doctor, she turned their back on them but for some reason he was able to see her profile and when she turned her face to them, the burning fire roundabout her shielded her face from them. Chuks was more fascinated than scared and as the termites were swept into the fires he watched each one of them burn in amazement. Dubem cleared his voice and just as he was about to speak she stopped him as she addressed Chuks directly,
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
“If this is the only way to save Dubem and his sister from being killed then I’ll do it. I’m better off as another bird…”
She stared at him and laughed hard, not because he said anything funny but because the mystery behind it all was deeper than she expected,
“Do you want to know who you really are?”
He stared at her and said nothing, he could only remember snatches of where he came from, he had no idea of how his Mama looked like, all he knew was that anytime he tried to remember a sudden sharp pain sliced his big heart in half. Dubem who was conscious of time that they had spent broke the silence,
“I hear that you see visions and that you can see the past, tell us who he really is so that I can take him back to his Mama and keep him safe…”
“Dubem, it’s in the pen of the chicken that the stories of the mighty eagles are told. You should run Dubem, as fast as your legs can carry you, run!”
She smiled at his confusion and conjured the spells that were needed and she turned Chuks to the exact size of a six weeks old chick, everything about him changed even the black and white of his feathers turned brown. Dubem was excited and amazed as Chuks smiled because he was finally free from his huge self. As he left the shrine the last instruction of the witch doctor rang in his head,
“When you finally meet the king inside of you all boundaries would be cut loose. You cannot hide away from yourself for too long.”
Shock frizzled Amaka’s blood when she heard all that her brother had done, she was impressed but at the same time sharp jitters rushed through her skin. She tried talking Dubem out of the whole thing but he was too blind to see past his short beak. Chuks was able to blend in with the entire clan, the fear that he felt under that tree on the day he was rescued slowly disappeared.
Loneliness became a stranger to him because his fame and strength attracted friends from every side, he won the hearts of many hens and cocks as so many cocks lined their hens up in front of his pen for him to mate with them but he refused them all. He became so close to Dubem’s scornful brothers so much that they went to the farm every morning with their feathers intertwined.
Things began to get ugly when his thoughts became his arch enemy. Strange thoughts of how fascinating it would be to tear a chicken’s flesh from its bones fought with his conscience. Every time it came, he made sure to take long baths and long walks but the more he wined and dined with the chickens, the more the illicit temptations grew.
He worked like the chickens, talked and walked for long hours like them, he worked in the farm like the chickens and even ate corn like them. He had no identity of his own, he changed his surname to Blackbird because that was the surname that Dubem and his family bore. Lines seemed to fall in place but he knew that no matter how hard he tried he was nothing but a stranger to himself. The illicit tumor grappled his entire being so much that eating dried corn interested him no more.
He knew that something in him was changing, something that he could not control, something that was way beyond his understanding and the only valid option that he had was to run. On that fateful day, he packed his bags and ran, he ran because he knew that if he continued like that he might end up biting off the feather that fed him. He dragged on his bag and ran as fast as his legs could carry him and just as he about running into the forest he bumped into the birds that he was running away from.
Dubem saw how scared Chuks was, the worried look on his face was like nothing that he had ever seen,
“Chuks, what’s wrong? Where are you going with that bag? You’re not meant to go to the farm today, are you?”
Dubem stared at him anxiously waiting for an answer while Amaka stared at him with the usual suspicion in her eyes. As he stuttered, a strange sound hovered over them and in a twinkle of an eye, Dubem was whisked away by the biggest flying creature that they had ever seen.
He held Amaka’s beak tight muffling the screams that gushed out of her throat, they hid under a banana tree as they watched the bird snap Dubem in half, tearing his neck out of his body. He held the distraught sister as hot tears spilled out of her eyes, a sick feeling grabbed his stomach as he watched the bird throw out his friend’s bones to the ground like rotten fruits caked with slime. He knew that letting Amaka go would mean losing her too so he held her in his arms as he struggled with his demons.
“It’s an eagle—an eagle killed my brother—Du—Dubem—“
“Shh, don’t cry, I won’t let anything happen to you, I promise.”
Amaka stared at him in disbelief, she couldn’t trust him but she had no other choice, she held on to his promise and held him close. She cried harder into his feathers and as she cried Chris made the mistake of staring too deep at her bare skin.
He stared at her neck as he began to wonder if her blood would taste like the pain that she was going through. His salivary glands began to play games with his mind as his stomach began to grumble. He shut his eyes to curtail the thought but as the eagle hooted above him and as her neck was bare before him, his stomach growled even more and his dark desires began to cloud his eyes.
The more he consoled her, the more he wanted to taste the sweet nectar of her blood, he desperately wanted the luscious skin behind her feathers to graze his tongue. As he drew her closer, the sharp goose bumps on her skin tumbled his conscience back and forth like a ripe fruit dangling on a lonely branch. This time the eagle came again and snatched her away from his hands and the last thing that he heard was her painful scream that kindled the fury inside of him, as he ran after the eagle his heart wrenched in guilt as he said to himself,
What in the world is wrong with me!!! Would I have killed the person that saved me from the claws of untimely death? Would I have paid her good with evil?
Tears threatened to come down his eyes as the anger he felt towards himself broke him to pieces. As he ran he noticed his feathers turn black, the strength in his feet doubled he was so deep in fury that he didn’t realize when his wings lifted him off the ground. He followed Amaka’s scream and as the eagle flew high into the skies he made sure to follow its every move. He was determined to make things right, for himself and for his friend Dubem.
Just as the eagle was about to tear her head out he scratched out its eyes and flew Amaka safely back home. At that moment he realized who he remembered Tebago’s last instruction,
“ When you finally meet the king inside of you all boundaries would be cut loose. You cannot hide away from yourself for too long”
All the desires that he called illicit were his true self, he had lived well below his standards for too long acutely oblivious of the fact that he was much more than what he thought he was. He was scared of himself, scared of his strength and scared of his future but there he was claiming the clouds and soaring high up in the sky because he was no chicken but the king of the birds.
Amaka felt numb, shock made her feathers stand like sharp needles on her skin as she walked home. She barely knew what to mourn for, was it to mourn for her brother’s death or to mourn that she and her late brother harbored their greatest enemy under their own roof or that she rode in the claws of her greatest predator or that she had broken the greatest rule in the book?
“The greatest place on earth is the cemetery because it is filled with people who died without knowing the true power behind who they really are…”
-DR MYLES MUNROE
The Nostalgic Pen.