If we had known what going on that bridge would take from us…
“Stop it, it’s my turn!” Amaka yelled at Steve. The bad blood between the two lads is as old as any of us can remember. People say it’s as a result of the feudal disagreement between their fathers. Papa says it’s all just a cover-up story to the main quarrel.
Getting them to participate in this game wasn’t my finest idea.
Amaka rose from her spot in the circle and went to stand behind Steve. Her brows were knitted, her pupils clothed in rage. The corner of my mouth quirked up when I pictured a romance stirring up between them. You know what they say about boys and girls who fight each other all the time.
“So?” Steve remarked not glancing over.
“You missed a turn, I should be the one casting”
“I missed no turn. Nobody said anything about missing a turn”
“You bully everyone into shutting up and letting your nonsense slide, you be damned if you think I would!” her skin was now pale, her tone no longer brittle but abrasive.
“Does it bother you that I pay less attention to your never-ending whining?” he coolly asked. The other lads oohed and aahed. Amaka must have seen the smirk he was now wearing, she hates to be mocked. I saw it before it even happened before any of the other lads could intervene, she struck him just below his neck with her right elbow.
Steve was quick enough to dodge her second blow. The girl who I suspect to be Amaka’s aide ran to hold her still. Nobody held Steve. Nobody likes him enough to care if he got a black spot from a girl. This is becoming an uneventful game. Steve deserves more than an elbow blow from petite Amaka but then again, I care less for either of them. Amaka has always held herself high above the rest of the girls in the town. I do not like her at all. She doesn’t wear a cotton dress like the rest of us, always silk.
What was supposed to be a game of casting pebbles has now been conveniently transformed into a game of swish. I do not care what they might want to do but I won’t let them spoil my game.
“Thanks to the both of you for ruining what was supposed to be a fun evening with your constant cat fight”
“He started it” she hissed.
“Doesn’t matter, you encouraged it. Now we have just an hour to play”. I went to stand in the circle we made for the casting. During this hour, nobody but us comes to the beach. It’s been nearly abandoned since before we were conceived. We aren’t even allowed to be here past the fifth hour.
The only structure still standing after the raid is the bridge made from oak. Nobody knows where the bridge leads to. No one has come through it either. The only story being told of the bridge is a myth called the suburbs. I do not know what that means but the myth tells a story about a very much developed and sophisticated village with cars not being pulled by horses and very tall buildings. The existence of something they call an airplane, it carries people as it flies up in the sky.
“Is that even safe? It should be wrong, Chi lives up there”, the lads had asked during one of our services.
Once I’d asked if the suburb has a Chi and old woman Akwaeke said; ‘yes, but their chi isn’t up in the sky’. That moment I swore never to think of the suburbs ever again. How can their Chi not be up in the sky? What sort of life are they accustomed to? What do they do about prayers? Do they just walk up to His house and request whatever they desire? I had so many questions.
Seeing the bridge now, I couldn’t help but consider the possibility of truth in the Suburbs myth.
What if across the bridge a town exists? A town more than the stories we’ve been told.
“Listen up” I cleared my throat and signaled that they all gather around the circle. By now, Amaka and Steve were calmed.
“Since we can’t peacefully cast, I’ve come up with a new game that will keep people’s elbows from colliding with someone else’s neck”. Ugly laughter erupted from the two dozen hungry lads.
“I don’t have a name for the game because old woman Akwaeke forbade me from telling it to anyone”
“So what then do we call it? a tiny boy with bow legs asked from the front.
I nibbled on my bottom lip and said, “A game”
“Are we allowed to play it?” a chunky square faced boy whom I’m much older than asked.
I forced a smile and said, “We are not allowed to be here either”.
“It’s past the fifth hour, we should be heading back”, Amaka”s aide said.
I was vexed, “Then go away”. I yelled at her.
The other lads murmured their approval. “We’re going to spin a bottle”, I said pointing to the girl who came out as Amaka’s aide, I think her name is Jul. She rolled her eyes at me before dropping her water bottle.
“I spin the bottle and whosoever it stops at will either pick to tell the truth to a question I ask or be dared to do something I dare him or her to. The rules are quite simple, tell your honest truth and do your damnedest dare or you drink from the beach”. They shrugged their shoulders and clustered together. I bent over and spun the bottle harder than I would have. It spun for a while before finally stopping on the square faced boy. He stupidly picked truth. What truth of his do I possibly want to know?
“Why do you think you’ve got a square face?” I asked
“Papa says his papa had a square face. He says it’s a rare gift”.
Stupid boy, nobody prays for a square face.
I sighed and gave the bottle to the next lad to spin. I hadn’t realized how long this could take before I’ll get to dare anyone to walk on the bridge.
By now it was the sixth hour and if we don’t start heading back soon, a search party would be sent out and if we’re found out here, never again would we be allowed to be out here.
I made a quick mental note to end the game once the bottle gets to me. Besides, the weather was no longer warm and friendly. They say the water comes on the beach whenever the tide rises.
I spun the bottle lesser than I did before. I asked Amaka if she’d rather tell the truth or be dared. She said dare.
My eyes widened and twinkled at the same time. Could this really be it? Hope and anxiety glowed in my eyes. My whole face lit up at the thought of what would be discovered at the end of the game. I asked her a second time to be certain she had actually said dare. The corner of my mouth turned up as I prepared myself for the mere reason this game begun in the first place.
“I dare you to walk on the bridge”.
“Are you insane? Nobody has been on that bridge. Nobody is even allowed on it!” Her lower lip trembled as she spoke.
Steve’s jaw tightened, “You have to dare something else. She is not going to walk on that bridge”.
“You’re not my big brother, do not tell me what to do!” she snapped at him.
“Don’t be dramatic. Just drink the damn water or choose to tell the truth, don’t be so stubborn” his voice was flat, almost pleading.
Knowing Amaka, she wasn’t about to let Steve tell her what to do or what not to do.
Color drained from her face, her voice harsh and airy as she said, “Why do you care if I walk on the bridge or not? Why are you always in my business?”
“You are most certainly right, I do not care for whatever you choose to do. Walk in a fire for all I care”. He turned around and left. Jul seemed to be trying to talk Amaka out of it.
“Are you walking or drinking?” I asked. Some of the other lads were now yelling for her to either drink or walk.
Jul’s pleas didn’t seem to work.
She walked towards the bridge with the rest of us cheering behind her. By now it was past the sixth hour; soon the sky would be dark.
“You don’t have to walk to the end. I’ll tell you when to turn around”. I just wanted to see how far the bridge holds up. I know the water is safe for swimming. I thought to myself.
She got on the bridge, placed her hands on either side of the knotted bridge guard.
“You don’t have to go all the way”, I reminded her. She took her first step and the wood underneath her left leg gave way, she slipped but immediately got her balance. I let out the breath I didn’t realize I was holding.
“I’m okay, just a weak wood”, she called out to us before continuing.
One by one the lads started heading back to town. It was dark now, Amaka was 30 steps away. I’ve been counting.
“I’d better head back before my papa bans me from ever coming out”, Jul said.
The square-faced boy stood beside me. He asked if it’s not yet time to call out to Amaka. I said she has to make 10 more steps.
“Okay, that’s enough. You can come back now”, I called out to her. She didn’t seem to hear me.
“Amaka, you can turn around now!” she kept going. Fear crossed my face when I realized she couldn’t hear me. I started screaming out to her. The square-faced boy yelled out too but she just kept going. My face paled up when the realization of what I’ve done dawned on me. Why couldn’t she hear me? I thought of the myth, there was no mention of a supernatural force on the bridge. Was the suburbs chi calling her? Does it mean the suburbs exist? What if it does and Amaka becomes the first to see it? I should be the first to see it . I mentally smacked myself. What if she meets with something else at the end of the bridge? What if the myth is false and the devil lives at the end of the bridge? I’ve noticed that heat comes from that end more.
I didn’t even know when Steve came to stand beside me. He and the square faced boy were now yelling out to Amaka. My presumptions about Steve and Amaka were true after all.I pursed my lips. Stupid Amaka, stupid game, stupid bridge.
“She is gone”, I said to no one in particular. Her white shorts weren’t visible. Nobody was on the bridge.
Steve came down to his knees screaming and wailing. I made to console him but he jerked away from me. The look in his eyes called me out.
“You’re not from Chi. You are the reason Amaka is gone! I hope you’re satisfied”
The square-faced boy frowned at me, I was almost certain that he’ll launch at me if I came any closer. I went to the bridge.
What hurt me more than Amaka’s mysterious disappearance was the fact that I’ll never really know what is on the end of the bridge. I felt horrible for even still thinking about it. So selfish and inhumane of me. I risked someone else’s life in an absurd attempt to satisfy my narrow ended curiosity.
Whatever happened to Amaka on the bridge, stays on the bridge.
Writer’s Bio: Okwu Otito Chioma
Content creator, storyteller, book lover, media person