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The couple woke up very early in the morning as was their manner. But this time, their countenance was not bright. They were fully aware of their dire situation. They laid still, reluctant to get out of the bed. Of course they had every reason to stay put in bed. After all, there was nothing to wake up to.
They tried very hard to believe it was all a bad dream. A dream they were eventually going to wake up from, and discover everything was back to normal. But that was not even necessary. Long years of farming day and night had made them less of dreamers. They had developed a pragmatic view about life. They were realists. So instead of resorting to self-pity, they started to think of what could be done to salvage their bleak situation.
They uttered few incoherent words of prayer, more out of daily habit than any form of belief in some distant hope. They felt justified, considering their stark circumstance was as recent as yesterday, and very fresh on their minds to warrant any flicker of light into their dark moment. Anyone should actually understand that. They were of a mind on this one.
They observed their environment through the window, not yet ready to go outside and feel the cool morning breeze. They didn’t feel up to it. They knew it was a soft breeze as they could see from the sitting room the gentle sway of the brown crusty stalks and leaves on the field. One would actually be forgiven for thinking the stalks were hat-less scarecrows.
The birds were having a field day. Black birds, all of them. Perching all over the field and feasting on remnants of seeds and insects. Passersby heading to neighbouring farms and various places of visitation briefly paused to observe the inexplicable condition of the farm. They always walked away, shaking their heads. No one uttered a word, no one stopped by to check on the couple.
They were all alone. They could sense that the people around them would be thinking that they were cursed. Who could blame them? They had no children, no pets, and no inclination for any form of social activity. Just their old farm house in this detached area. Now the farm has been sapped of all form of life in one night. Maybe they were actually cursed, they thought. Because it seemed this horrible attack only affected their farm in the area.
They had moved in exactly a decade ago about this time of the year, full of excitement just after getting married in another town. They had picked this house because it was a bit isolated. It was perfect for them since they loved their privacy. However, people around seemed to observe them with a distinct reserve. Everyone knew they were the couple living in the isolated farm house. The couple could sense there was something wrong, yet they cared less. Every place had their own story. Good or bad, it didn’t matter. And so they lived, farmed and thrived. As the years passed with bountiful harvests, any reason for worries passed along with it.
The farm house had a haunted history. Something always went wrong every decade. There wasn’t a defined pattern of occurrence, but the grapevine within the community says it was a constant every decade. Most wondered back then how total strangers could decide to dwell in a new environment without making proper enquiries. The last family who lived in that farm house had to evacuate in the middle of the night after a swarm of bees decided to make the roof of the house their home, against all form of resistance from the family. It didn’t go unnoticed that the bees mysteriously disappeared after the family evacuated.
As for the recent development on the isolated farm house, which of course made headlines in the local grapevine and was a convenient point of escape for everyone as they carried on with their boring daily activities, everyone had something colourful to say on the matter. Each with their own version of the story. Though the popular one making the rounds was mysterious leeches living underground, attached their suckers to the roots of the crops and sucked the life out of them in one night. To be fair to the people, the tragic events that has occurred in that farm house over the years, and the reasons behind them has always been a mystery to everyone. But something had to be said to feed their ever probing minds, so they could sleep easy.
The couple sat in the sitting room facing each other. As the morning wore on, they began to feel hungry. They decided to go out and beg for some humanitarian relief. They had to eat to live, at least for now. Their local challenge at the moment was the fact that they had built little or no relationship around the community. Apart from the few traders from whom they sometimes bought goods, and the few people to whom they sometimes sold spill-overs from their harvests, they hardly ever spoke with anyone else. But they had to eat. So the primitive hunger inside their stomachs gave them the courage to push aside their prides and confront the reality facing them. They dressed up and went out into the community.
They headed straight to the marketplace. Everyone knew who they were. Anyone who didn’t was immediately informed by his or her nearest neighbour who of course felt they also had the right to know. Most people looked at them with unmasked resentment, some were merely indifferent, while a few felt pity for them. In the unfriendly market environment, it would have been easier for a Camel to get water from the well, than the couple to receive any form of assistance from the affluent. Yet they kept trying. Hunger raging inside their stomachs.
It was noon, and still no sign of help. They were feeling very exhausted. They took a break and sat on a pavement towards the end of the market. People walked pass them in steady streams, but nobody seemed to notice or care about them. Their clothes were soaked with sweat, creating huge dark spots in various places.
Suddenly, an old woman appeared before them. She carried a morsel of bread and a small jar of water. She gently dropped it by their feet with a smile and walked away. Their eyes widened with glee and gratitude. The sudden surprise didn’t give them time to utter words of appreciation. Though the old woman had already long gone before they could regain some composure. They couldn’t believe their luck. Out of the noon (well, since it wasn’t yet night), their meal was brought to their feet. Though it was pretty small, yet it was better than nothing at all.
They hurriedly muttered words of thanks and were about to dig in when she turned, and from the corner of her eyes she saw a little child under one of the nearby tables whining. His only clothing was a pair of dirty shorts and he looked exhausted. He couldn’t have been more than three years old. Someone would have abandoned him right there. She couldn’t take her eyes off the crying child. Who could have been this heartless, she wondered. A chord was touched in her heart.
She quickly sprang to her feet and went over to the little boy. She carried him back to her husband and sat down, cuddling the boy. Her husband looked at the child, and turned to his wife with a worried look. At that instance, one couldn’t exactly decipher whether the worried look was borne out of genuine concern, or disapproval, especially with their limited ration of food seriously under threat.
Then he gently stretched out his hands and took the child from his wife. The little boy stopped crying. It was almost as if he felt the warmth of love around him. Surprisingly, the couple had momentarily put aside their hunger in their bid to assist the child. The woman looked at her husband knowingly, and he nodded in agreement. She then took the small jar of water and gave the little boy a drink. The boy eagerly drank. Then she cut a piece of bread, dipped it in the water to soften it, and gave it to the boy to eat. Evidently, the boy was famished, because he ate up the morsel of bread.
The little boy fell asleep in the man’s arms. His wife took the boy from his arms and cuddled him. They both watched the little boy sleep, with tears in their eyes. It was a beautiful sight. What could they have done? Though they were very hungry and exhausted, they couldn’t stand the sight of leaving the boy to die of hunger under the table. They were still very hungry, but the sight of the boy in their arms, sleeping contentedly without a care in the world, and the fact that he had survived because of their act of benevolence, gave them hope.
The couple hugged each other reassuringly. Though they had no food to eat, and no one to turn to, yet they believed they will still survive. They had no doubt about it.
Ndifreke Efiok Akpan