Previously on The Night Niko Turned, Niko, the 8-year-old son of Chief Seko, had woken up in the middle of the night from a recurring nightmare. His father had muttered some incantations over him and the pain from the scar formed on his chest from the dream had subsided. A conclave of the village elders had been held to discuss the happenings in the village including Niko’s mysterious scar, but Namde had interrupted Chief Seko’s address moments before he disclosed something the village Seer had told him.
The story continues…
“What sign, Seko, what sign?” Namde interjected angrily, removing the cord from his ankle as he got up. “Is there anyone in this village who still believes in the empty words of that so-called seer? Children’s tales are all she tells.” Surprised at his sudden outburst, one of the elders motioned for Namde to put the cord back on his feet while another tried to get him back on his stool. It was forbidden and considered mutiny to take off one’s cord before the end of the conclave.
“Is this the first time children have gone missing in this village? Namde continued, ignoring the pleas from his fellow elders. “Don’t we always find them weeks later in Tepande, our sister village?” He asked.
“Namde, this is not the same,” Chief Seko responded, hiding the shock of his older brother’s outburst. “There are things happening in this village that you do not know anything about.”
Namde wouldn’t have it. Casting the cord aside, he stepped into the middle of the gathering and said, “Elders of Sekura, I beg of you, do not believe any of this. Your chief, my younger brother here, wants us to excuse his failures as a leader of our people by telling us fables. But you know better.” The elders murmured, two of them standing in support of Namde. “Since the start of his reign on this land,” Namde went on, “there has been nothing but bad omen on our people. And it is simply because the throne is not his! As the older brother, I, Namde Seturo, am the rightful leader of this land and I can no longer sit and watch this beautiful village destroyed by his incompetence. Therefore, by the customs and the support of our ancestors, I hereby declare a deposition!
As though on cue, the sounds of war drums erupted from outside the palace grounds. Chaos and commotion took over the conclave. Men – who Niko couldn’t identify as part of the townspeople – marched into the palace. The bare-chested men who wore loincloth made from goatskin as their only garment were armed with muskets, their faces darkened with charcoal, and their skin shimmering with greasy sweat. In unison, they charged menacingly towards the elders in the conclave – save the two on Namde’s side – and surrounded them. One of the elders, Noji who was seated closest to Chief Seko, unsheathed his blade from his side and stabbed one of the men but the knife wouldn’t go through. In return, he received a blow that knocked out his two front teeth and sent him backpedaling onto the sandy floor. Motionless.
Chief Seko knelt beside his friend. He was alive, but unconscious. His knife within range, Seko stretched for it, only to be kicked in the abdomen by the 6-ft tall man who had just knocked out Noji. By this time, over 20 of them had appeared in the palace grounds, each elder held back in fear by their very presence, that is, with the exception of the two who sided with Namde. Namde himself was guarded by 4 of these monsters.
Niko looked on helplessly as his father groveled in pain. Seko tried to get up but suffered another strike to the gut. He gave up on reaching for Noji’s blade and tried to get back up on his feet but his attacker kept him down with one foot on his back and a rifle pointed at the back of his head. Namde walked over to his brother whose face was in the dirt and motioned for the man to take his foot off him.
“All you have to do, Seko,” Namde said “is to accept the will of our ancestors and allow me to be enskinned as chief. Hm? You and your children will be taken care of,” he said smiling smugly.
From the floor, Chief Seko looked up at his brother and shook his head, “The will of the ancestors indeed. You, Namde and your greed will be the ruin of this village, and I Seko Setura will not let it happen!” Immediately, he grabbed a fistful of dust, threw it into the face of the armed man who stood over him and lunged at him, wrestling him to the ground.
The next thing Niko heard was a gunshot. Louder than anything he’d ever heard before. In shock, he pulled back from the door and cupped his ears, his eyes welling up. He gathered himself and went back to his peeping hole to see his father clutch his stomach, keel over, and fall limp on the ground. Bleeding. The elders rushed to him, but he was gone before he even hit the floor. A sudden blackness filled the air. Niko’s knees buckled and he found himself on the floor in his father’s room.
Back inside the village, scores of Namde’s men had descended on the village, holding its inhabitants hostage. News of what had happened in the palace had spread. The women wailed, the men beat their breasts, and children hid under baskets. Every elder who sided with Seko was tied up and kept inside the temple with 3 guardsmen mounting post at the door.
Inside the palace, a manhunt for Niko had started. “Where’s that boy, Niko?” Namde bellowed. “Find him!” Two of the men were dispatched to the Chief’s room and 3 others to the rooms in the palace. Niko jumped in fear. He had to think quickly or this would be his end. In the absence of Chief Seko, he was the only one who could challenge Namde’s enskinment and his word would be taken as final. But now, he had to hide.
Quickly, he scanned the room looking for a safe hiding place. The window across the room was out of reach so he settled for one of the two empty water pots adjacent to it. It took seconds to squeeze himself in there and cover it up with some loose clothing that hung from the sill. The men barged into the room and did a cursory look across the 4 mud walls. “He’s not here,” one of them shouted back to Namde. “I said, find him!” Niko heard his uncle roar.
Niko didn’t know exactly what was going on but he could only think of one thing – survival. He needed to survive so he could help his father. Help his village. His scar tingled again and the pain was back. He recited the incantations he’d secretly memorized from his father. Soon the pain subsided and he drifted off. As he did, he thought of Kono and Sosi and wondered where they were and how to bring them to safety.
Hours later, he was awakened by what he thought was the howling of a wolf. But when he opened his eyes there was nothing but the sound of the war drums. He couldn’t tell how long he’d been asleep but he knew he had to get out of there if he wanted to survive and save his siblings. Cramped legs aside, he forced himself out of the pot as quietly as he could.
Standing in the middle of the room, the darkness was palpable, the entire mood eerie, and the stillness of the night hissing at him. He no longer felt he was home. Something was different about the air around him and yet strangely familiar. At the same time, he felt something dark and scary coming for the village, something coming for him. He could almost feel it. Just then, footsteps approached. Niko stiffened.
“Psst…psst. Niko!” The voice strained. He recognized it as Nobu, his older cousin. Niko turned towards him; a silhouette of his head framed in the square of the window. Behind him, the moon stood majestically, mounted in the starless sky, brighter than Niko had ever seen it, as though the shine of the stars had been absorbed into it, it seemed to stare back at Niko. Cautiously, he took steps towards the window, uncertain of Nobu’s intentions. He shifted the pot quietly to the window, climbed up on it and heard the voices of Kono and Sosi as he did. Atop the pot, he stuck his head out of the window and saw their faces. “Niko,” Sosi sniffled. Comforted by the sight of them, Niko jumped out the window, almost landing on Nobu who caught him mid-air. “Shh…” Nobu said as he helped Niko land on his feet. Niko ran to his siblings and threw his arms around them. After a moment’s embrace, he turned to Nobu and asked, “Nobu, what is happening?” Nobu simply placed his forefinger on his lips. “Follow me.” They did. Outside, Niko could still sense the howl in the wind. It felt threatening and ominous. His scar stung in agreement.
As they crept their way away from the village, they could see lanterns, kerosene lamps, and torches lighting the village. At the community center, a large fire had been lit and Namde sat there shielded by 5 armed men. He would crown himself king the next morning but until then, he needed to make sure that his ascension would remain unchallenged for at least that night. Once king, the people of Sekura would not challenge his reign. They were a peaceful people.
Slowly, the four children crawled through the slippery floor of the banana plantation, along the village’s boundary until they got to the outpost. Standing a short distance from the outpost was a broken-down truck in which they had played countless times before. “Should we stay here or go to that old house at the end of the village?” Nobu asked. “I afraid of the house. Dada say we no go there,” Kono answered. “Yes, let’s stay here,” Niko added. It was agreed, this would be their shelter for the night. “Early morning, then we go. Okay? Nobu told them. “Okay,” they chorused as they climbed into the bucket of the truck with Nobu’s help. Nobu left them briefly and returned with large banana leaves – they would serve for cover and camouflage.
All four laid themselves out on the back of the truck like matchsticks in a box. Niko and Nobu sandwiched the younger ones and kept their ears out for any sound from the bushes. Niko looked up into the starless sky and tried to recount what had happened that day. He turned to Nobu. “Nobu, is my father…” Nobu cut him short, “Morning, we talk. Now, sleep,” he said as he rolled over to the edge of the bucket.
Niko tried to sleep but he couldn’t. The yowling in the distance still gnawed at him and irritated his scar. He lay there thinking about what it might be he heard Sosi sniffling. She was hungry. That 4-year-old girl had the stomach of a whale! Ordinarily, their father would make them a warm millet drink before they went to bed, but their father was no longer there and besides, this was no ordinary night. He hated to see Sosi cry so he placed his hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay, Sosi,” Niko assured. “We’ll find some food in the morning.” He was hungry himself, but did not have the mind to think of food given their current circumstances. But Sosi’s sniffles soon turned into muffled cries and Niko knew they would get louder. “We have to find her some food,” Niko said to Nobu. Nobu sat up, stuffed his hands into his leather satchel, and brought out a handful of roasted corn and groundnuts, which he poured into Sosi’s outstretched hands. He shared another handful evenly among all 3 of them and went back to sleep.
Just as they were settling in to sleep, Nobu heard the rustling of the trees. He peered from the edge of the truck’s bucket and saw 2 lanterns weaving their way through the tree trunks towards them. Quietly, he got down from the truck and there were 2 of Namde’s henchmen creeping towards them, rifle at the ready. He turned around to his cousins and whispered, “Go to house at end of village. Now!”
(To be continued)
>>>The author is a writer, poet, and pocket philosopher. She can be reached on [email protected] and or 0244691124