Five years had passed since Ada left her home town for the city to study Mass Communication at the University of Nsuka. She remembered how she and her childhood friends had dreamed of passing the WAEC examination when they were younger and the joy they had felt when they received their results. Everyone had made it to their schools of choice. She smiled as she stared out of the bus’s window. She had always returned home, to Omuma, during the holidays, but this would be the first time everybody in the old gang would be present. She could not wait to see them. Mostly Ifeanyi.
The second she arrived at home her little sister prepared a hot water bath for her. Once she was done washing away the journey’s stress, her mother asked her to help prepare dinner. ‘I just arrived. Can’t I get a one day break?’ she grumbled but obeyed. It was nice eating with the family again.
“Have you heard? Ifeanyi is back from the America? He is now working as a contractor for Shell.” Her mother quipped. Ada nodded; trying to hide the flush that enveloped her face every time his name was mentioned.
“Ego is also back too.” Her sister added. “I heard she would also be getting married next month.” She knew all these, she had spoken to everybody the day before, but she politely let her family keep talking like it was her first time hearing the updates on her old friends.
That night she dreamt of the good old days. She was particularly fond of the memory where with the help of the gang, she pranked Uche into believing that his house was on fire caught fire. Uche was the shortest among them, he was fragile, with a pimpled face and easily brought to tears. This automatically made him troll bait.
The next day she hurriedly did her chores, had her bath and rushed to their spot, close to the Urashi river bank, where fisher men were casting their nets from their canoes. She took a swimming trunk with her, just in case they decided to swim like in the old days. She also wanted to show Ifeanyi how beautiful her body had become, her hips had come out and her chest had become full.
“Mehn I’m telling you! We were afraid of a lot of things back then.” Ifeanyi laughed.
“Remember the dwarfs in the caves, the snake keepers. My mum used to scare me into doing house work with them.” Ego laughed.
“And Ntuoku” Uche chipped in.
“What happened to Ntuoku?” Ada asked as she arrived at their spot.
“Ada!” Ego and Mary ran to hug her. They told each other how much they missed them and commented on how they had all grown in the right places. After the reunion with her girls Ego turned to greet Ifeanyi. He smiled at her and she smiled back, awkwardly. He had changed, the Ifeanyi she remembered was tall, a bit lanky, and had a slim waist, the Ifeanyi in front of her was round, huge, definitely to the boy who had occupied her fantasies for five years. She hugged him and turned to Uche, and froze.
“Uche! You’ve grown oh!” She said. He smiled and pulled her in for a hug. Her heart skipped a beat.
“Is that my ‘Hey Uche longest time no see! I miss you so so much’?” He mimicked a girlie voice. She smiled and smacked him at the back of his head. He hadn’t changed.
“Some things never change.” Ego smirked, she knew something. She always knew something.
“So what is this talk about Ntuoku?” Ada asked as they sat down in a circle under their tree.
Ntuoku was a mmuo in their village, a spirit that only came out at night, and mostly after it rained. As children, their mothers had constantly rung it in their ears that the fear of Ntuoku was the beginning of wisdom. They had been told that it wears white and did not like it when people wore white, so if it saw a person in white, it would drown them at the Urashi river. It also did not like any other light but its own shining, so if it came across a person cooking outside or a camp fire, it would blind whoever was around the fire with the ashes from the fire. Ntuoku could be translated to Ntu (Ashes) Oku (Fire) – The Ashes from burning wood, which was probably why it attacked with ashes. Nobody alive had ever seen the spirit, but on the nights when it walked through Omuma, the sky would be so black and quiet that only a stupid or desperate human would venture out.
The crew laughed as Uche narrated the Ntuoku myth. “I can’t believe we believed such a thing.” Mary laughed.
“Yeah it sounds stupid but deep in our hearts; I bet we are still afraid.” They turned to stare at Uche who had gotten a serious look on his smooth face.
“Who is Afraid?” Ifeanyi Bragged “I can come out at any time, I have seen worse things than ‘Ntuoku.’
“Yeah, I’m a Christian, things like that don’t scare me.” Mary said.
“When last I checked Ntuoku does not exist.” Ego laughed.
“Then it’s settled then. We would all come out in white, here, in the midnight; rain has been falling lately, so we’ll pick a date this week.” Uche began.
“What, who wants to come out at night?” Ego asked. “You’ve forgotten that I am getting married abi?”
“We could use it as a get together before your wedding, just us.” Mary chirped
“I guess, it will be an experience I can tell my children.” Ego smiled.
Ada had been listening to them, but she was not paying attention to them, her mind was wrapped around the mystery of how Uche became so freaking hot. For the first time, she noticed he had a light brown pupil, his jaw line was thin, and so where his lips. His hair was full, without a sign of baldness, unlike Ifeanyi who was dancing to the tunes of the hairless curse. He a wore loose, unbuttoned short sleeve shirt that hung on his side and a fitted t shirt on the inside. The shirt was so firm that she could make out the lean abs they covered up. Her lustful eyes trailed down his slim waist, down his long legs, back up to his face, he had a glint in his eyes when he spoke…
“Hey Ada, are you listening?” Ego asked. Ego knew Ada better than everybody; she could tell that her friend had found a new muse. “I’ll fill you in later.” She told her confused looking friend.
“Wait, Ada you didn’t hear anything we said?” Uche asked.
“You are working on writing a novel right?” Ego jumped to rescue her friend.
Three days after their reunion, there was a heavy down pour, the crew got their white clothes ready, and at night they gathered in their spot and made a camp fire.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Ada asked as she sat next to Uche, Ego had convinced her to join them, stating that she could pretend to be scared so that Uche can protect her. At this stage of her lust, that sounded like a clever idea. Who would have guessed that just three days after fantasizing about Ifeanyi, she would be fantasizing about Uche, she felt like a bad girl.
Ego and Mary sat with Ifeanyi. Ada had made it clear to him that she could not date him. Before returning to Nigeria, he had asked her out over the phone and she told him she would give him her answer when they met again. But The Ifeanyi she saw in her head when they spoke was not the Ifeanyi waiting for her in reality. However, she did not tell him the truth. She told him that he was like a brother to her.
They sat down talking for a long time. Uche was studying medicine so he was not done with school, she spent the night catching up on his school life, they had spoken once in a while when they were away, and he was still as funny and mischievous as he had always been. She had always felt comfortable around him and she still did, although now he made her heart race. She leaned on him to sleep and he picked up the blanket on his side to cover them.
Ego smirked at them and whispered something to Ifeanyi who seemed to be battling with his emotions.
“I need to go ease myself” Mary announced, picked her torchlight and went off.
“Ada wake up. We are staying up till midnight.” Ego said. She picked a small pebble and threw it at her but Uche caught it before it hit her. Ada’s eyes were tired but she had seen him save her. Ego gave a knowing smile.
“So what will you do if Ntuoku comes out now?” Ifeanyi asked.
“No Ntuoku will come out.” Uche said. “Don’t tell me that fear has started catching you.” He teased.
“Please. If I…
A scream came from near the river followed by loud splashes of water and struggling.
Sleep cleared from Ada’s eyes, The crew got up and ran to the river with their torch lights, leaving the camp light burning behind them.
They stopped at the bank looking around for any sign of their friend. “There!” Ego pointed at the scarf floating in the river. They recognized it, it had held Mary’s hair up earlier that night. Uche took off his shirts and dived into the river. They stood still, waiting for him to resurface with Mary, but he came out holding only her scarf.
“I could not find her.” He said stepping out of the river to reveal rock hard abs, and the sexy V line connecting his upper body to his pelvis. Ada shook her head, her friend was missing, this was not the time to have her hormones running wild.
“I think we should head home now” Ifeanyi said.
“What of Mary?” Ego rubbed her arms as she stared into the river.
“Ifeanyi is right we should get going now, if something happened to her then it’s not safe to remain here. We’ll come back to look tomorrow.” The crew agreed with Uche.
“Wait here, I left my phone behind” Ego ran to their spot to retrieve her phone.
Ada stood awkwardly staring at the two boys with her, she folded her arms, rubbing out the cold and watching as Uche put on his inner T-shirt.
“Are you cold?” he asked. She nodded so he put his outer shirt around her.
“YEYH! MY EYES!” Ego’s voice rang through the forest.
They ran to their spot. The fire was gone and Ego was nowhere to be found.
They called out to her for a few minutes.
“We should start heading home now.” Uche said. For the first time that night he looked afraid. “I should have never made us come out.”
“Yes you shouldn’t have!” Ifeanyi snarled at him as he looked around for Ego. “We are not leaving here without Ego.”
He began to wander further into the forest. ”Are you coming or no….” Ifeanyi never got to complete his sentence. It seemed as if something had stretched its claws from the bushes and kidnapped him. His torchlight fell to the ground, spinning.
Ada began to panic “This is bad! This is Bad!!!”
“Don’t worry, I’m here. I’ll take you home.”
They made their way out of the forest. For the first time Ada’s mind was clear of every lustful desire and only filled with fears. If she survived this she would never venture out in the night ever again. She tugged Uche’s shirt around her. The cold breeze was brutal.
The walk home was quiet, it had been quiet for a while. She turned to her side to make sure that Uche was still walking beside her. He was gone.
“Jesus!” She screamed “Uche! Uche where are you?” she turned around pointing her torchlight everywhere. When she saw no sign of any living being she took to her heels. As she ran she felt like something was running after her. Uche’s shirt fell off her shoulder, she did not look back.
She was almost at her house when she saw a white figure in a carved wood mask with raffia around it, waiting. ‘Ntuoku’ she shrieked, spun around to run back into the forest, but she ran into something, no someone. She froze. The Masked figure was standing over her.
It crouched to stare into her eyes.
“Boo.” It said and she screamed until…
Boo? She thought.
Uche pulled the mask away from his face laughing.
“You should have seen your face!” Mary walked towards her, she was the masked figure standing in front of her door.
Ada was speechless, tears now flowing from her eyes.
Uche helped her up, still laughing.
Ego and Ifeanyi also strolled out of the forest laughing.
“I’m sorry, it was Uche’s Idea.” Ego said hugging her best friend.
“Why?” Ada could finally speak.
The crew smiled at her and in unison said “April fool.” It was the first day of April, she laughed.
After laughing and talking for a bit longer they snuck into Ada’s house.
And as they entered, the real Ntuoku hovered by.
A SUPER BIG THANK YOU to Ifeanyi Namikaze for telling me about Ntuoku and also letting me disturb him for more info.