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Arinze could not get a good night rest. The sound of mosquitoes buzzing without mercy in his ears was too much to endure. This really kept him awake a good part of the night coupled with the fact that he hadn’t fetched enough water the previous day because he had to stay home alone with his younger sister who was very sick.
The small water drum he managed to get filled with water when his sister was fast asleep on the old raffia mat just in front of the house was already dry with emptiness. He was so grateful that the supper got done the previous evening with the little quantity of water left. His friend had taught him the water scarcity trick on their way to the stream one day. He would have to soak the beans for a long time before the actual cooking.
The only problem was that the method could only work on grains.
After all had taken his meal for the evening, they peeled and ate oranges which served as water before retiring for the night. Arinze therefore knew he had to be up early to fetch water for the family. He was woken fully by whispers by his window and knew his friend Chike was around to call him for the stream. Hastily, he scrambled to his feet and dashed out to fetch the pad and water gallon lying at an end of the backyard, almost stumbling on a low wooden stool that obstructed him. Cursing under his breathe, he went through the exit door to meet his friend and both left for the stream.
Along the way, they beckoned on other mates who were glad to be woken up earlier than usual. They all wanted to make a minimum of two trips before the stream became rowdy and polluted. Together, six teenagers, with the little aid of the moon set out to the stream which was a thirty-minute brisk walk.
They met no one on their way, not even a stray dog or goat, yet they walked and chattered unperturbed till they got to the stream. The water was calm and warm after the very hot weather that was experienced the previous day.
There was no time to be consumed in swimming and playing in the water yet as each wanted to achieve his aim of waking up that early. Quickly, they filled their water gallons and headed home.
After their first two trips, four other children joined them. When they got to the stream, they entered the water and moved to an area just by the huge rocks where they could get clean and fresh water with each of them talking or singing.
“Today is unusually quiet. After the first two trips which I thought were too early for the birds and rodents, I still haven’t heard any bird chirping or even the faintest sound of a squirrel. Something is wrong somewhere.”.
Ezinne, one of the girls voiced to no one in particular.
“I thought I was the only one that noticed today’s unusual nature. Other days, even with shouts and fights, you could hear the birds all over. I really wonder why today is different.” Chike concurred.
“Well, let’s still hurry and leave. Whenever the birds wake up and decide to let us know, they will.”
Arinze who was only concerned in filling up his first drum at home with water jokingly added which made the rest giggle.
Soon they were out of the water, ready to go. The boys suggested allowing the three girls to be in the middle of them as they formed a queue. That way, they boasted they would be able to protect the girls from harm.
In all, none was above the age of fifteen. Chike who was the biggest and being considered the strongest of them all volunteered to be the very last person. After walking the hilly and rocky path for about seven minutes, they still had not heard any sound except that of dried leaves being crumpled under their weight.
They met or passed no one on their way,which felt creepy, yet darkness was fast disappearing. Usually, the path leading to the stream would be filled with people in groups hurrying to and from the stream with various kinds and sizes of water containers.
Halfway up the rugged and bushy stream path, the wind all of a sudden changed its course and headed randomly towards them with a noticeably increased speed. That kind of wind was usually an enemy to the eyes as it carries with it sand and dust. The children started struggling to keep out the sand and dust and at the same time taking extra care not to allow their water containers go off-balance and break against the rocks.
Like a person stung by an ant, Ezinne screamed.
“Hey!!! Today is the sacred day! No wonder. Please let’s hurry and leave this place before something bad happens.” This revelation alone left them shaken and scared. How could they have forgotten they weren’t supposed to be seen anywhere near the stream on such days.
The sacred day was actually a day specially marked by the chief priest as the Idigo stream goddess’s day of rest. Nobody was therefore supposed to visit the stream either to have a bath, wash, play, fetch or drink water as that would be seen as a sort of violation and disrespect to the goddess. Myth has it that few people who in the past disobeyed the rule and went to the stream never resurfaced. The one and only person who came out alive died immediately after he confessed his ordeal in the stream. Hundreds of years had passed but the village still kept to that tradition. Fathers passed down the stories to their children just as their fathers did to them and their grandfathers to their fathers. Mothers sang it as songs to their children and drew their ears often to remind them. Even the doubtful ones among them were not ready to be scapegoats.
Those ten teenagers went to the stream because they were so much in need of water, forgetting how forbidden it was going to the stream on a day like that. The worst was that nobody knew when they left their homes. They had embarked on that very trip before anybody at home could see them to remind them of the danger.