Heart!

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Text 23

Crispin Oduobuk

Heart!

Wielding a glimmering machete, an insanely angry Papa Barna pursues an unashamedly naked Oyigbo the butcher out of his compound. Picture him in sportswear and the latter would rate high as an Olympic-level sprinter for the effort he is making. Such is his speed that long after this incident, there would be no consensus as to the true size of his penis; no one sees that pendulum for more than a split second. Even the Akpan twins, Paul and Silas, who have the dubious honour of being knocked out of the way as Oyigbo shoots into their compound, would be unable to give their classmate, Okoro the Lip, a detailed description when he demands one. But they would be able to attest to Oyigbo’s speed and ability to swerve, for he pulls a hairpin turn around Papa Barna and doubles back towards the main road right before their eyes.
Out on the main road, the chase blows on.
Abruptly, Oyigbo decides the road is making it too easy for Papa Barna to gain on him. So into the bush he veers. He leaps over tree stumps and cuts a swathe through the tropical rainforest with the sheer force of his momentum.
Papa Barna, a man on a clearly defined mission, resolute in the manner of a well-paid assassin bent on earning his fee, tears after Oyigbo. He says nothing but runs with a determination that telegraphs a discomforting message to Oyigbo: this man will not be stopped, no matter what.
Knowing what he knows, no one can possibly blame Oyigbo for pushing himself beyond his own imagination. However, a non-person whose opinion matters a lot is not only heaping blame but is complaining noisily in a most agitated way about Oyigbo’s thoughtlessness; his heart is on the verge of bursting ..
Oyigbo’s heart has come close to bursting many times in the past years.
“Oh, don’t be so fast,” Mama Barna would often say from beneath him at such times.
“Yes, yes, no, no,” Oyigbo would mostly be confused, his eyes rolling crazily.
Yet at such times, his heart, though close to bursting only seconds earlier, would decelerate to a steady, sated rhythm.

This time, there had been neither deceleration nor satisfaction before Oyigbo had to dash off. And now his heart is threatening to burst for real.
Being sharply aware that he would have no need for a heart if he stops, Oyigbo presses on. Papa Barna sails after him, stocky legs, blazing eyes, glimmering machete and all. Papa Barna —
His return from New Town on this fateful day had begun happily enough. To begin with, the mechanic worked fast on his motorcycle and the repairs didn’t cost half as much as he had feared. Buying quite a large number of presents for everyone in his household, including a new bowler hat with a silk band and a red feather stuck in it for himself, he had set off cheerfully for the return journey, enjoying the new surge of power delivered by the newly-serviced engine. He made good time and as he alighted from his motorcycle, the quiet pervading his compound struck him as odd. The girls may be in the farm, he reasoned, and Baba – his pet name for his son Barna – would either be frolicking in the stream or still in school, though not on account of any serious work. But his wife ought to be around. He’d opened his mouth to call out to her when he saw the cart. His mouth stayed open but no words came out. Slowly, almost as if he were some external being other than himself, he went into the house. He heard them before he reached his – their – bedroom door. The passionate cries of lovemaking were unmistakable. Entranced, he made his way silently to the store where he kept his tools and things. The machete, usually very heavy, felt almost weightless as he clutched it and started back towards the bedroom.
His mind, however, had a lot of weight on it. So his fears had been true! Human beings being cursed in perpetuity with a selective memory process, Papa Barna could only recall that he’d always had doubts about Maria, his first daughter. How could she really be his when she looked so tall and fair when both he and his wife were short and dark? She had been born ten years before Baba and it had taken five years after Baba’s birth before the twins, Ruth and Esther came along. And that had been after numerous sacrifices to the gods. He sadly recognised the truth; only Baba had his blood; Maria, as well as Ruth and Esther – already showing signs of being every inch as tall and as fair as their elder sister – were … Oh! How would he live with the shame?

Mama Barna had a few seconds to scream and utter a plea before the machete silenced her with one blow. Papa Barna looked at the blood-spurting body without feeling as he wiped the machete on the bed sheets. In the manner of a malfunctioning automaton, he now functioned purely on a dispassionate programme detailed to terminate the fleeing tall and fair Oyigbo …

It is inevitable that a crowd should follow. This, after all, is just a small village. However, not even the younger, more agile men can keep up with the two shooting stars. Oyigbo, on a primordial self-preservation race simply can not be bested. Papa Barna, on a self-divined, holy-inspired mission of honour-preservation is ready to pay any price in his bid to exact the ultimate price. In such company, leisurely folks seeking amusement are in no position to keep up.
“I heard Lazarus telling Tom and Heekee that his Uncle Jonathan said that Oyigbo did not have a good heart,” Okoro the Lip would later whisper to Paul and Silas.
“Could it have been an illness?” Paul would ask.
“I don’t know,” would be Okoro’s reply. “Lazarus said that his Uncle Jonathan said that Mama Barna has been marrying Oyigbo the butcher. He knew but he didn’t tell anybody. Then that day Oyigbo went and stayed inside Papa Barna’s house because he thought Papa Barna will spend the whole day in New Town to repair his motorcycle.”
“So what does his heart have to do with it?” Silas would want to know, but Okoro’s open palms would be his answer.
“They say the Long-Nosed One in New Town has given the order for them to hang Papa Barna,” Paul would reveal.
“I heard that too,” Okoro would add. “Some people are saying that it is not fair. Baba Soja who killed more than ten people is still in prison. Papa Barna killed only two and they are going to hang him.”
“It must be because of his heart,” Silas would sum up. “Maybe they don’t want whatever happened to his heart to spread.”
“But what really happened to his heart?” Paul would query.
“I don’t know,” Okoro would pronounce. “I only know that they said he didn’t have a good heart.”

As Oyigbo shoots on to the main pathway to the village stream, a sharp, stabbing pain in his chest draws an agonised scream from him. His steps falter and simultaneously Papa Barna’s machete descends on him. Oyigbo goes down still screaming.

“Papa Barna, Please!” he coughs, spurting blood. “I did it only once. PLEA–”
Papa Barna’s second slash to the neck misses and cuts deep into Oyigbo’s shoulder, sending the latter into another ear-piercing scream. The third slash connects precisely as intended. And so do the subsequent ones. Oyigbo the butcher chokes in mid-scream and screams no more.

 

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