‘Do you want to hear a story?’
Damisi looked at his cousin with dull eyes. He wasn't sure if his cousin was oblivious to their current predicament or simply didn't care about it. He decided it was the latter. Adeoti always had that fearless attitude. It was probably due to the fact that he lived in the village allhis life. Damisi rolled his eyes slightly and nodded at his cousin. ‘What story?’
Even in the dark truck they were both bound in, Damisi could make out the small grin onAdeoti's face. ‘The story of death and the king,‘ he said.
’I'm listening,’ said Damisi, quietly. They were bound by ropes in the van of some rather unkind kidnappers. The last time they'd made noise, the third of the kidnapping trio, who was with them in the truck, had given Adeoti a punch. Damisi wasn't going to risk that happening to him. He leaned against the wall of truck at he listened to the story of his cousin.
‘Once, there was a king. A powerful king,’ Adeoti began. ‘This king won battles and had all his enemies at his feet. Even the famed Bashorun Gaa of Old Oyo had an air of respect for the king. He was called the fierce one. Because, truly, he was fierce and fearless. To the extent that he didn't fear death and it was said that he once cursed death.’
Damisi smirked. He knew how these folklores went. Adeoti was orphaned and had spent quite some time at the feet of their grandfather who was filled to the brim with stories like this. There was only one problem with the stories; they were very predictable.
‘Let me guess, death got pissed at the king and decided to kill him? And the moral lesson is we shouldn't be proud?’ Damisi said as quietly as possible. The kidnapper in the truck with them seemed to be asleep, but Damisi couldn't be sure. The lean man was covering his face with his face cap as he leaned at one end of the truck. That wasn't enough to conclude the man was asleep. Better to be safe than sorry.
Adeoti smiled slightly and gently shook his head at his cousin's words, earning a frown from Damisi. ‘If only that was what happened, we wouldn't be sharing the tale tonight, Dammy. Yes, the king was proud, but it wasn't pride that ended him. It was love.’
The words piqued Damisi's interest. He'd always been a fan of tragic romance. ‘Go on,cousin. I'm listening. How did love end the king?’
‘He fell in love with a woman from a tribe that was the sworn enemy of his people. A Fulaniwoman,’ Adeoti said calmly.
Damisi's mind went into action again, predicting the ending of the story. He noticed the similarity with the story of Samson and Delilah. He wouldn't be surprised if his grandfather had fed Adeoti a shabby retelling of the bible story. He always had a feeling his grandfather had a few screws loose in his head. He'd even overheard his parents talking about his grandfather's possible insanity once. The old man's predicament was rubbing off his poor cousin. Damisi chose not to say anything and listen to how the story would go.
‘They were in love, actually. She loved him, and he loved her. But you know what they say, 'Blood is thicker than water',’ Adeoti continued. ‘His wife betrayed him at the behest of her father. She broke his heart, even. They say the king vowed to have his revenge as she buried her knife in his heart. He died. His kingdom fell. His legacy destroyed. It was tragic actually.’
‘The end?’ inquired Damisi.
Adeoti smiled again. ‘No. You see, Death is a very petty being. He tends to hold grudgesand he has the most peculiar way of giving out his punishments.’
‘Just go straight to the point and tell somebody what happened naw,’ Damisi demanded. Herealised his cousin's story was distracting him from their current predicament, which was agood thing.
Adeoti chuckled lightly at his younger cousin's words. ‘A curse. Death cursed the king to forever walk the face of the death. Homeless. Undying,’ he paused, making Damisi hold a breath. ‘Vengeful. The king became a kind of death deity. But do you know the worst curse of all? Any lady he set his eyes on would drop dead. Loveless.’
‘And this king became a wandering immortal?’ asked Damisi. He concluded this story would be something interesting to dish to his friends when he returned to Ibadan—if he returned. The fact that the kidnapping could possibly lead to their death couldn't be set aside. A knot tightened in Damisi's heart at that realisation.
‘The king became a living dead. A masquerade. He became the guide of the lost. The avenger of the wronged. He was jury, judge and executioner. There's something grandpa use to say. He said if you call upon the fierce death god, he would answer,’ Adeoti said thoughtfully.
‘He said the god of death is always listening to the prayers of a true believer. He said he would arrive with the song of death on his lips, and he would depart with fire on his tail. He isdeath, he is the king.’
Damisi found himself getting the tiniest bit scared of his cousin's words. It was probably the cold night at work, or maybe a part of him believed it all. Irregardless, he still asked the one question that bothered him, ‘What is the name of the king?’
Adeoti went quiet for a few and his eyes kept scanning round the truck. The silence was enough to keep Damisi in a suspense that went deep into his bone. That could have been the reason his heart skipped a beat when Adeoti answered his question. ‘Oro. The fierce death god.’
‘Abeg, keep quiet. Oro kọ, ọwọ ni,’ the kidnapper hissed from underneath his cap, confirming he was very much awake. ‘You these children. You don't even have fear. Do you think we're—’
There was a loud bang, and Damisi barely had the chance to realised it came from their truckwhen the force of the collision sent him tumbling in the truck, hitting his head against hiscousin's and getting rammed into the kidnapper.
The kidnapper cussed in Yoruba as he pushed the young boys off his body. He then began to question what their truck had hit at such an hour. His answer came in a scream from the other side of the truck. The driver's seat, Damisi suspected. They couldn't see anything from the back of the truck they were tied up in, but Damisi felt his heart pound heavily. The lean man got up and stalked towards the door carefully.
‘Can you hear it?’ Adeoti whispered.
‘Hear what?’ Damisi said. But Adeoti didn't need to answer before Damisi understood. The sound that reached his ears was like a shrill roar from the depths of hell itself. It was outworldly and it rent the air, chilling Damisi to the bones. ‘Is that—?’
‘Oro,’ Adeoti confirmed.
‘Fẹmi,’ the lean kidnapper called out quietly. This time, gunshots replied, but they soon stopped and were followed by a short-lived scream as well as the gentle snapping of bones.
The man turned back to the two boys with wild eyes. Then he reached and grabbed Damisi as he opened the door. He cut off the rope binding Damisi's legs and hurled the boy out of the truck, following closely behind. Damisi might have peed on his body in the process, but he wasn't too sure. He did, however, remember the tears that came down his eyes as the kidnapper took him to the front of the car, using him as a human shield.
The first sight they saw was the dead body of one of the kidnappers. It looked like his neck had been snapped. ‘Awaal,’ the lean man whispered tensely, gently nudging his friend with his leg. No answer. They proceeded further where they saw the driver's door opened ajar and blood dripping from the seat to the ground. Damisi didn't bother to look at the terrible sight of Fẹmi's body—or at least, he thought that was Fẹmi.
They noticed that indeed, the truck had hit something. How else would they explain the verydeep dent in front of the car! The only question was; what did it hit? Because there certainlywasn't anything there.
Damisi suddenly found himself turning round and that was when his tears increased. Therewas something behind him, apart from the kidnapper of course. The kidnapper also turnedaround to see the creature.
Damisi had seen masquerades before, clad in numerous brightly coloured fabrics joined together oddly. That was exactly what was in his presence. A masquerade. Except, it carried a stench of death on its body, and a low but precise deathly howl emanated from it.
The kidnapper shot at it numerous times, but nothing happened. It was as though the bulletsdidn't even hit it. In a blink, the masquerade was on the lean man, ripping his limbs from. Hisbody one by one.
Damisi fainted sometime while that was happening. He woke up to the painful slap Adeoti gave him. A part of him had thought their little misadventure was a dream but the burning truck he opened his eyes to see convinced him otherwise. It burned wildly, probably with thebodies of the dead kidnappers.
‘Yes. I saw the masquerade. He came with the voice of death on his lips and departed withfire on his tail. I just didn't think it would be quite literal,’ Adeoti said.
Damisi nodded. He was capable of composing himself. He had to. He turned his face from the truck and looked around him. There were in a desolate place surrounded by only trees and road. ‘How exactly do we get out of here?’ he asked his cousin who just laughed in response.
‘Do you want to hear a story?’