Short Story 8: The Middle
[After a much needed holiday, I’m back. Yay! I can’t believe how much I missed not being able to blog. I think I’m finally getting into it. As I gather my thoughts for future posts, I figured I should bridge the gap with yet another short story – I told you I had plenty stowed away. This one is very different from the others I’ve posted here in the past and was written very quickly for a writing group session. I’m curious as to what people will think of this new angle…]
The water that divided the village had only been there for seven years. It started off as a puddle in the middle of the land dividing the Ofor and Udeze families. Ownership of the land had been disputed for years and the arguments were becoming more vicious by the day. One family swore that the boundary line was a few metres into the plot the other family claimed to own and neither was willing to stand down. It didn’t help that they had no legal papers for the land. Their families had lived side by side for generations and there was no doubt that one of the two owned the patch, but which?
The puddle appeared one morning in the driest month of the year but nobody noticed it for days. It grew by about an inch in diameter everyday until someone finally pointed it out to Nnabueze, the head of the Ofor family. He circled the water in silence, brows creased and arms folded. It was an oddity, but it was only a puddle. There had to be a rational explanation for its presence. The head of the Udeze family, Anayo, was subsequently alerted but he did not bother to grace the puddle with a visit. His logic was the same as Nnabueze’s. It was strange but it would dry up with time.
The sky remained clear and the land remained brittle except for the patch in dispute. What land? You would have been forgiven for asking the question by the second week for where there had once been dusty untilled soil, there was now a stretch of muddy water which spanned about six feet and ran ten times that figure lengthwise. Anayo was finally persuaded to visit the site. He shook his head and hurried home. Nnabueze must have found a way to waterlog the land, he told anyone he met. He was convinced his neighbour was using this trick to try to make him give up his claim to the land. Waterlogged soil was no good for growing yams, the staple food of the village. Nnabueze on the other hand consulted an old spiritualist who told him that the land was neither his nor Anayo’s and as it was tired of their quarrel, it was staking its claim on itself. Nnabueze laughed all the way home where he told his wife the story. He wondered why he had wasted a whole chicken as payment for the preposterous yarn.
Soon the water stretched past the land in dispute and ran past the property line of the neighbours. At its peak, it spanned over twenty meters and carried on for miles, joining with Oko River at the north and Nzu River at the south. People came from far and wide to gaze upon the stream that had never been. They marvelled at how clear it flowed, the red earth below was close enough to the surface for people to walk across and get wet only up to their knees. But nobody would have known this as they never tried to cross the stream. The Ofor family had nothing to look for on the Udeze side and vice versa. All other inhabitants of the village called it evil and believed that if they let the water touch them, they would die. And so the village was divided. All those on the Ofor side had to journey to Umunta to go to market as their own village market was on the Udeze side. Old friends would stand at either side of the stream and shout greetings to each other as the only way to see each other was if they journeyed to the rivers to the north or south and crossed over there where the tainted water was diluted by the strong currents.
Soon people began to forget the way the village had functioned before the stream appeared. There was no point thinking about it anymore, it did not seem to be going anywhere. But not Nnabueze. He remembered the spiritualist’s words every time he saw the stream or had to carry out an activity now altered by the presence of the water. He did not enjoy the trips to Umunta to sell his yams as the buyers there were much better hagglers than at his village. And he did not like the fact that he had to cross the rivers to attend the weddings of his nieces and nephews or the funerals of older relatives. But if the spiritualist was right, he would have to reconcile with Anayo for the land in the middle to return to them. No, it was better if neither of them owned the land; at least Anayo did not have it.