Since she looked two or three inches taller than her, Erika chose a dress that went below her calves, then took it to Binyelum’s room, set it on the bed along with the new pair of underwear she’d selected. And mostly out of reflex, she made a mental note to buy her more underwear and a pair of slippers from the market as she strode outside to the kitchen.
She swept the kitchen, as was custom, even though it had been swept after the preparation of supper the evening before. Then she built a fire to warm the leftover yam pottage. She had had plans to eat it that morning, but now she would have to join the others in a breakfast of cocoyam.
The thought of cocoyam made the worms in Erika’s belly curl in protest, but there would be no avoiding it as Nne forbade skipping meals, or being choosy about food.
Binyelum joined her in the kitchen, and swiftly started the preparation of breakfast.
“Where do you think she came from?” she asked, her voice hushed.
If there were a thousand questions, Binyelum would be the one to ask them. She was by nature curious as she was kind and stubborn.
“I want the answer to that question too, and I’m sure she will provide it when she can talk.”
“As she had the strength to sneak in here, she could have used same strength to answer that one question,” Binyelum pointed out, pouring the tubers of cocoyam she had washed into a pot.
“She’s weak, weary and hurt. It’s obvious she’s been running.” Until she had spoken to Nne, Erika didn’t want to mention the dream.
“Yeah, her legs are sore. She whimpered as she put on the slippers I gave her.” There was compassion now in Binyelum’s voice. “I was going to get her one of Nne’s balms.”
“I will get it after dropping this.” Erika rose with the dished pottage.
“Who do you think she’s running from? If she’s running, it has to be from someone.”
Erika thought of the black-fog man, fought back the clench in her belly. “We’ll know soon.”
She was dressed and sitting, ill at ease, on the bed. With the filth gone from her body, Erika saw now that she was beautiful. Her skin was dark and rich like the colour of night when the moon shined on it. It glowed with more than the sheen of oil visible on it. Her face, while it was almost too thin, was oval and pretty. Her hair was natural, cropped and black.
“Thank you for the clothes. For allowing me stay.” Her voice rose barely above a whisper. “Binyelum gave me coconut oil to use and her face powder.”
“You didn’t use the powder,” Erika observed and held out the plate of food.
She took it after the briefest hesitation, murmured another thanks. “I’ve never used powder.”
The simplicity of that statement shocked Erika so much, she stared. “You’ve never used powder? Why, is it against your religion?” Some faiths had stiff doctrines, she knew.
“No. I never had any.”
She never had any powder? What kind of life had she been leading before now?
“Where…” she started to ask again where she came from and stopped, reminding herself that questions would wait until later. “Eat. It’s leftover from last night, but still good. After you’re done, you should probably sleep. You look very tired.” She looked at the scrapes on her legs, the gash on her arm. “I will bring a balm for your wounds. Nne makes them, healing balms and potions, and they’re good. She’s my grandmother.” She added as a way of explanation.
Lota said nothing, only stared at her.
“Eat,” Erika repeated and retreated to get the balm.
When she dropped it off, Lota was eating, and it broke Erika’s heart at the haste of it, and made the sacrifice of having to eat cocoyam more bearable.
She knocked on Nne’s door.
Nne liked to use her full name. Not always, but regularly enough Erika was used to it as she was to the diminutive. She was still on her bed, her prayer bead beside her and her bible open on her laps. Nne often accompanied her prayers with the Psalms.
“What’s all that noise outside even before the cock crew?” Nne closed the bible and lifted her head to look at her.
Her eyes were always thoughtful and wise, Erika thought. Of course she’d heard the noise, and of course, she had waited for someone to come tell her about it. Villagers said you could never hear Nnekasi was involved in malicious gossips because she minded her business. Erika liked to think it was more because Nne knew when to speak, and what to speak about.
“Someone snuck into the yard. A woman, about Binye’s age or maybe a year or two older.” That would make her somewhere between twenty-seven-and-nine. “She said her name is Lota. We don’t know yet where she comes from. We tried to question her, but she looked so drained, I suggested she take a bath, eat and have some rest.”
“Where is she now?”
“In Binye’s room. I was taking her to mine, but Binye, kind as ever, suggested she use her room as it’s bigger.” Erika came to sit on the bed. “She has wounds on her body. Scrapes on her legs, a rather deep gash on her arm and blisters under her feet. I gave her one of your balms.”
Nne nodded. “We will need to find out who she is and where she’s from.”
“Yes.” Erika waited a breath, then said. “I had a dream. I saw her in the dream.”
“You saw this woman in your dream?”
“Yes, she was running. No, it was more of fleeing. Her very life seemed to depend on it. I saw her. I felt her emotions. She was terrified. I heard her thoughts.”
Erika, in detail, recounted her dream.
“Something—someone was watching?”
“I felt the presence of something dark. Malevolent. I sensed it was watching and waiting. But what it was waiting for, I could not discern.”
“And the man after her, he was clothed in black fog?”
“But I could see him. I could tell it was a man. In spite of the fog and the fires rippling out of him and around him, I could see he was a man. A man with an unusual power.” Erika rubbed her arms at the shiver of cold. “It was a scary dream, the scariest I’ve ever had. And I was even more scared when I saw her in the backyard. I’ve never seen strangers in my dreams before. I’ve never dreamed of uncanny beings, or felt a malevolent presence.” She looked at her grandmother. “What does it mean, this dream?”
“I don’t know.” Nne’s eyes had grown more thoughtful.
And a little worried, Erika observed. “She did not recognise me. She did not look as if she did.” Erika gave a shrug. “Yet in the dream, she’d stared directly at me and I’d felt like she could see me.”
“It might be she cannot recognise you because the dream was yours, not hers.”
“That’s possible.” Still, Erika wondered. “What are we going to do about her?”
“I don’t know.” A smile skimmed across Nne’s face. “Your grandmother knows little this morning. Age has made my mind slow.”
It was an old joke, and said now to ease Erika’s fear. “Your mind is still as sharp as a pin and you get wiser with age, not slow.”
“Maybe you’re the wise one this morning. It was good to offer her food and a place of rest. It was kind.” In a gesture of affection, Nne touched her cheek. “We will let her have that rest, and then we ask questions and hope afterwards, we will know what to do.”
“Yes, Nne.” It was a relief Nne supported her impulsive act.
“Meanwhile, as you’re going to Izuogu today, I suggest you go get ready. The morning passes quickly.”
“I’ll do that.”
Erika left Nne’s room with a lighter spirit and a mind more focused on the duties of the day.
Get your copy of Advent HERE or on Okadabooks. You can also read it on Bambooks. Cheers.