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For this week's teaser, I'm following on from last week and sharing from chapter one of Sacrifice which is the sequel to Outcast.
An omen swooped over Abazi. It arrived from the south, over the delta swamps, up the great river and into the great forest.
The air swelled, and the ground flexed.
The wind held its breath. Silence rushed though the still trees, making creatures of the land and air to halt and falter in their motion, furs and feathers trembling.
An enormous power surged, a mountain-like sea hurled itself against the earth, making the land quake.
The hairs on Ugo’s bare arms stood erect as a sliver of ice ran down her spine.
As usual she had left home early as usual to do her chores, at that time between dark and dawn when the sky was like indigo berries dusted with glittering gems—a quick trip to the river first and now harvesting coco-yams in the farmland she had carved out of the edge of the ancient forest.
A grave, heaving calmness swept through the thicket. A mischief of grass-cutters scurrying in the undergrowth froze, the peanut-coloured hairs on their bodies rising and quivering, as if struck with terror.
Awareness prickled Ugo’s mind of something somewhere growing and morphing, approaching.
As quickly as the stillness arrived, it departed. The animals scrambled, and birds burst away in a wild flapping of wings.
Ugo examined the ground, the foliage as well as the sky. No clues could be found to the source of the alarming thrill she had just experienced.
Since she bonded with Ebube over two full moons ago, she seemed to have developed a new awareness. Almost like a second sight.
At night she had strange dreams she couldn’t decipher and during the day she sensed things she couldn’t explain. Just like a few moments ago.
Her chest ached and she lifted her left hand and rubbed it. Her bare breasts tingled, just as heaviness settled on her limbs. She lowered her backside onto a mound of red soil she’d already harvested.
She attributed the new awareness to her joining with Ebube and the affection she held towards him.
He had left Abazi the day after their bonding ritual. They had only spent a few precious days together before he departed, promising to be back as soon as he could. His mission to find and secure a tear in the seam separating the human and spirit realms proved important.
Her heart ached at his absence. She prayed for his safe return.
But she couldn’t sit around moping. She returned to harvesting the crops. She’d planned to be done here before the sun reached its zenith in the sky.
Sweat dripped down between her breast and down her back as she worked. She lifted her hand brushing away the drops from her face. She only wore a short strip of old wrapper tied over her hips to give her room to manoeuvre as she tilled the earth.
When her parents had been alive, her father had hired labourers to do the harvesting, young men who wanted to earn cowries or favours. As a titled man, her father’s property had included acres of agrarian land vaster than this little strip she’d claimed.
Because there was only her and her grandmother, she didn’t need large fields, just enough space to plant what they needed for the year and some surplus to sell in the market for cowries or for meat from the hunters.
They lived off the land mainly. Sometimes she set traps and occasionally that would yield a grass-cutter.
However they still had the dried smoked venison from the deer Ebube had presented to Nne as dowry for Ugo. Even after Nne had sold the hind legs and head in the village market, they still had plenty.
In the early days she used to wish she had company, someone to chat with as she worked.
She worked until the large bamboo basket was full. As she straightened, she picked the long rag wound tight so it could form a round wedge and placed it on her head. Bending her knees, she lifted the heavy hamper onto the wedge. It was a tricky procedure since she worked by herself she’d learned to lift and balance heavy items without help.
She grabbed her hoe and machete, holding them as she walked back to her home. She would leave the hoe as she would be returning to finish off. but she didn’t in case someone took it.
The villagers rarely ventured this far because of the proximity to the old forest. But she couldn’t take the chance and lose the only farming implements she owned at a crucial time of the season.
She walked down the path she’d created, stones and grass crunching under her bare feet. She didn’t wear her sandals fashioned from wood and leather, a gift from her father when she’d celebrated fifteen yam festivals. She only wore them on special occasions, certainly not for dirty work like farming.
Nne wasn’t home when Ugo arrived home. The oblong shaped dwelling was built with sticks, stones and mud while the thatched roof consisted of grass and branches. The original structure had been an old farm cabin made of branched and grass.
Ugo was proud that she and Nne had worked to make it their home after she had been ostracised from their settlement. Her hands had built things, made things.
She used those same callused hands to lower the basket outside the small barn where they stored the harvested crops. Once she emptied the basket, she loaded it with the hoe and machete.
She dusted her hands on her wrapper, and unlatched the slab covering the door so she could enter the hut.
They didn’t need to lock the door. In truth it wasn’t locked, just closed to prevent wild animals from entering and destroying the little property they had, since they lived close to the forest.
Inside, she grabbed the gourd sitting atop the large terracotta cauldron used to store drinking water. The orb-shaped vessel had a narrow round opening at the top. They covered it with a three-cornered piece of calabash to ensure the water stayed cool no matter the temperatures outside.
She scooped water with the gourd and drank some, glad to patch her dry throat. She hadn’t had any refreshment since she started harvesting. She wouldn’t get to eat food until she was done for the day.
Putting the shutter back in place, she returned to the basket and tools she’d left outside, hooked it under her left arm and went back to work.
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