It is been exactly two days since Uzochukwu made it to the thick forest at the boundary, where he is to spend a lonely week. And he is adjusting quite well.
With the spear in his hands, he kills small animals for food, and makes a fire to roast them with the flint he found among his rations. He also gathers edible fruits from several of the fruit trees that are scattered throughout the forest. There’s a stream a fair distance from the entrance to the forest, and that is where he made his camp.
However, if he knows what lives in the forest with him, he would most likely relocate to somewhere safer. Like home.
You see, water is a must. And in a forest with as few options as the one he currently stays in, any body of water is close to sacred. Little animals come daily to drink, to slake their thirst. Indeed, more often than not, Uzochukwu doesn’t really need to hunt. He just waits and spears them as they make their furtive way to the stream. All he needs to do is remain hidden and cover himself with mud, to mask his scent, and he gets a steady supply of meat for his cooking fire.
But on the third day, he comes across a small deer, with its belly torn out, and huge chunks of meat missing. He shudders in fear.
He knows he didn’t do this. There’s another predator in this forest, and from the look of the bite marks, and bloody paw prints around the carcass, it’s pretty big.
That night, he sleeps up, in the branches of a tree.
That singular action saves his life, as in the wee hours of the night, when he is deep in sleep, a lioness approaches his regular sleeping place. She is responsible for the torn deer he stumbled across earlier, and having filled her belly by devouring another animal before stumbling on the deer while making her way back to her den, she quickly lost interest in the meat after a few bites. So she left it lying there.
Where there are predators, there will also be scavengers, and some of these also stumbled across the carcass a few hours before she woke up for her usual nocturnal hunt. With a scavengers hunger, they ate every scrap of meat on the deer and promptly made themselves scarce.
Now she just got back there, and couldn’t find anything to eat. But she could smell a slightly different scent, a scent left behind when drops of fear-soaked sweat leave a trail, as a boy takes to his heels upon discovering the presence of a beast far bigger, stronger and meaner than he could ever hope to be. She looks at him, hanging up in the tree. He looks like an ape. But he isn’t an ape. Apes happen to be very delicious. Although she isn’t really hungry, she considers climbing the tree to kill him anyway.
At this precise moment, Ozonna the medicine man, back in the village is making a sacrifice to ensure the safety of his boys. The white, spotless lamb has just finished eating what it doesn’t know is it’s last meal. After a drink of water, it raises it’s head to check who’s approaching. It’s Ozonna. Being a part of Ozonna’s herd, it doesn’t associate him with danger, so it relaxes and listens to the termites as they scurry about on the wood of the shed nearby.
It doesn’t see the knife he has hidden at his back, and barely notices it when he slits it’s throat in one quick, smooth move.
Ozonna observes the blood spatter as thick jets of the lamb’s lifeblood pour to the ground. Nodding to himself, he picks the carcass and takes it to his private sacrificial altar and sets in on a fire he has kept burning since the previous afternoon.
He watches the smoke rising from the burning meat, muttering some incantations for strength, wisdom and protection for his charges. He takes a concoction from the corner it was hidden in earlier and sprinkles it liberally on the meat as it sizzles and burns. A sweet scent greets his nostrils and a loud shriek pierces the night.
The ancestors have accepted his sacrifice.
Back in the forest, the lioness considers the distance she’d have to climb, her still full belly and her love of fresh meat, and decides she won’t kill him now. Maybe sometime in the next two days, when she’s truly hungry, she’d find him.
But for now, she allows him one more day of life…