Ẹgbẹrẹ: Keeping The Mat – African mythology, Nigerian myth, Yoruba myth, bush baby, Free short story, thriller, horror (maybe), adventure, free short story
“Nwe! Nwe! Nwe!” the cries of the child could be heard echoing through the empty night. A cry that would make any concerned human venture into the forest were the sound came from in search of a baby who had been abandoned by its mother to die. Unfortunately, this was the story of Egbere. But on the day it was abandoned to die, no concerned human came searching for it.
Egbere’s mother, she was a poor woman who could not afford to feed herself, talk less a child who ate any and everything. To make matters worse, a deformed child with a hunch back and the face of a gnome. She wept over its birth. Its father denied it. She could not bear the thought of the disgusting creature suckling on her breast any longer and it’s cries annoyed her to no end. That night, she wrapped it in a mat, and crept into the forest, holding a lantern, not stopping until she got to the centre, in front of a tree. Then she placed the child on the mat and the lantern beside it. “You are ugly.” she said, “You eat too much and you cry a lot. You are nothing but bad luck.” she continued. It looked into her eyes and began to cry again, if she needed any more conviction that she was doing the right thing, that was it. She stood up and hurried off, leaving the baby, the lantern and the mat behind.
Seven days later she was found dead. Her face had been clawed to the back of her head by a wild cat, and her body dragged to the edge of the forest.
Kola had been having one of those extremely bad days. He worked for a garbage disposal company which meant his days were spent going from door to door collecting people’s garbage. The horror he lived through; sometimes maggots would jump on him, crawl up his pants, nest in his hair, but that was the least of his woes. His nose mask could not keep the putrid smell of rotten food and used sanitary pads away and he always felt like bacteria were biting through his rubber gloves and boots. He could never take enough baths to wash himself clean, he could not afford the water. He was lucky to have a roof over his head, even if it was in a 6 storey building with over a hundred rooms and twenty rooms sharing one bathroom and toilet, but his rent had just expired. He could not afford to renew it and his stingy land lord had announced a rent increase. Then his girl friend of Two years, Bukky, had recently dumped him for an Igbo trader. He proposed to her, he could not believe she ever agreed to date him, he was a lucky man, until she rejected him, she told him, she could not see him advancing in life.
With a lot on his mind he thought of ending his life with rat poison, but decide to take a walk first. He did not care where he was heading, he just kept walking. As he closed in on the forest he began to hear a child crying. At first he ignored it, but the cry got louder. He ran into the forest in search of the baby, and he found it. A child not over two years of ages, with a hunched back, long pointed ears and the face of an old woman. He noticed the mat and the lantern and at once he remembered the Legend of Egbere, The Bush Baby. He ran towards it, with the the first attack. This was his chance, he sent a couple more punches into Egbere’s face, drawing blood, then he lifted the creature and threw it as far as he could, picked the mat and ran home.
Egbere was not shocked that the stranger attacked it and stole its mat, the legend said that they had to fight him to get the mat, but unknown to them, even without the fight, it would let them have the mat, the greedy humans. They always returned the mat within six days, after they lose their minds.then it killed them, yet they never learn.
Not too long ago, a hunter who shot the little creature and stole the mat had returned it after five days. He cried and begged it to take its mat back. Egbere’s claws sprouted out and it attacked. It shred his skin to pieces, pulled his face to the back of his head and fed on his organs, and not this human was next.
Kola locked his doors then windows. His room was stuffy and dark. He rushed to his bed, holding on to the mat and sat down at the corner. He knew bush baby could not enter into his room uninvited. He was safe.
“Nwe! Nwe! Nwe!” the crying began outside his window. He was on the third floor. He tried to sleep but the cries got louder every time he closed his eyes; and when he finally fell asleep, Egbere appeared in his dreams crying for it’s mat.
In the morning he called his office and quit. He could not let people see his mat, they might steal it. And he remembered his father telling him that if he ever let the mat out of his site, even if it was in his house, Egbere would return for it then kill him. He had a nylon of garri, two sachets of coffee and four bags of sachet water, ‘this would be enough,’ he thought.
He spent the day trying to sleep but it kept on appearing in his dreams, and even though it stopped crying in the day time, he could still hear the echoes of the creature’s cry.
Night came, and day broke and he had survived day 1. ‘6 days and 5 nights more’ he thought.
The day went by slowly this time, the night felt longer, and the cry became louder. He had converted his buckets into his toilets, he had not had his bath since his self imposed lock down. And he was more determined to survive his seven day trial than ever before.
By some stroke of luck and shear determination, he made it pass day six. By now, the smell of a rotten corps was oozing out of his room, he was down to his last bag of water, his garri had finished, he buckets were full, he was exhausted, mentally and physically, he was ready to turn mad; but between the cries from Egbere, his inner voice kept saying to him ‘You crossed the line of madness when you stole Egbere’s mat, if you stop now you will die for nothing.’ He turned to the last edible thing in his room and poured the two sachets of coffee in his mouth, he had been saving it for the last day.
“Kola are you there?” A knock came from outside his door. It was his landlord, but at this point, he could not recognize the voice of anybody.
“Who are you?”
“It is your land lord. Are you okay?”
“Yes I am fine”
“Are you sure? You have not come out for days. Your room smells like your job. Is it because Bukky broke up with you? I heard her boyfriend has dumped her now.”
He wished his land lord would go away and stop disturbing him. And who was this Bukky that his landlord mentioned? Her name sounded familiar, but right now he could see noises, and the voice of his landlord was beginning to sound like it was falling from the sky.
“Open the door Kola!”
“Leave me alone!”
“I cannot live you alone, everybody is worried, they have been knocking on your door and you are not opening it. Your friends have been coming and you have been shouting leave me alone! Get lost. If you don’t open. I swear! in the morning I will call police!”
Kola stopped responding, the landlord knocked some more then retired.
The sound of Egbere’s crying never stopped being annoying, it was one of those sounds that you never got used to.
As soon as the 7th day broke. Kola emptied out his Ghana must go bag of the few clothes he had, put his mat in it, opened his door and ran as far as he could away from home. He ran to the safest place he could think of. The garbage dumping site. his eyes were red and sunken, he looked and smelled like a mad man, but the guards recognized him and let him in after he told them that he was looking for his house key.
He walked to the deepest part of the dumping ground. The guards kept their eyes on him, he looked like he was searching for something, but the truth was the garbage seemed to be coming to life. He could see the maggots smiling at him, they looked bigger. He walked faster but slowed down every time he saw a happy maggot. When he got as far as he could, he sat down on clean earth then he heard his stomach grumble, and all of a sudden he began to notice food all around him. So he dug in, even the maggots tasted like chicken.
The guards who had been watching him, knew at once that he had turned mad, they wasted no time in calling Aro, a mental hospital. They did not need to hold him down, he looked like he had no plan of leaving, and they wandered what had turned the quiet Kola that they knew, mad.
By 7pm Aro workers arrived in their bus to pick him up. He ran. He tried to escape for as long as he could, it took 10 men to catch and tie him up, but he refused to let go of his mat even when he had been tranquilized.
In the morning Kola woke up in a green room. He looked around, he was not alone, there were other people; lying down, chained to their beds. He tried to feel around for his mat and realized that it was gone.
“My Mat! My Mat o!!!!” he screamed, then screamed some more, waking up the other room mates.
A nurse rushed in “You are awake.”
“Where is my mat?”he asked the nurse
“There is no mat.”
“it was in my bag!”
The nurse ran out and returned in a bit with his bag, opened. “We did not see any mat.”
“Yekpa! I am dead o!!!! I was this close! Egbere will kill me now!!!” he cried.
A week later Kola was released from the hospital after his landlord had offered to accommodate him, if he was released because Kola had confessed that he had turned mad from thinking about his financial problems including his increased house rent. The newspapers had carried Kola’s story “Financial problem turns man mad. Says he lost Egbere’s mat.” His landlord did not want to be painted as a villain by the press.
That night as he walked home from Aro, the night felt unnaturally cold. He felt goosebumps all over his skin, and a strange force pulling him towards the forest.
Egbere, stood at the edge of the Forest waiting, his lantern hanging from his right hand and his mat in his left hand. It watched as Kola unwillingly approached it, and stopped when he was as close to the forest as it needed him to be. Then it walked towards the frozen human, dropped the mat at his feet and returned to the forest. He had survived the seven days trial, and Egbere had taken the mat from his bag to prevent any other human from making his effort vain. It had become fund of the human.
Seven years latter, in a massive estate, with a mansion in its middle, Kola woke up from a peaceful sleep. Beside him was a beautiful woman fast asleep and beside his head was a wad of one thousand Naira notes. He picked up his money got up and put it in his safe. He lived the good life until he died at 89 and Egbere returned for its mat.
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A big thank you to Emeka Ifeanyi, Adeniyi Lawal, Nanna Xander Gbemi and Gbenle Maverick for giving me information on Egbere and Bush Baby. And another round of Thanks to Blueman Eddie Agbator for sending a helpful link
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