Updated: Jun 6
The sacred river of Ngene flowed pleasantly from one end to the other. A few boats were docked ashore as the sunset approached. People hurriedly rounded up their activities for the day, not to get caught up with dusk. Nobody knows why it has to be that way, but believably, it was custom not to near Ngene river after the sun went down.
'Row faster Kachi, the sun is almost down'. A pale looking old lady yelled. She drew up the net she had cast just few minutes ago into the boat. Her face grew paler out of anger. 'What an unlucky day. This is all your fault Kachi.'
Kachi knew more than exchanging words with her, as the duel would in the end prove abortive, also an increase in resentment towards him. Kachi never got along with his mistress, especially not on days like this when they would catch little fish.
The sunset glimmered suggestively on the mahogany shade of his skin. His hands, aching as he effortlessly propelled the boat to the shores of Ngene. In a hurry, he packed the nets together, carrying the fishes in a basket, he flea.
The woman already walked few paces ahead of him. Asides from them, some other set of fishermen followed suite. The deck of river was left empty as the sun slowly hid its radiance away from the village.
Kachi arrived the cottage tired, his stomach made drum noises. He could not bear the hunger for another split second. So, he approached his mistress for his supper. Bewildered by her answer, Kachi lashed inside the room filled with rage.
He had his little way of calming down whenever situations like this popped up. He would always reach for his flute and play rhythms that shut him off from rest of the world. Whenever he played, he would loose track of his sorrows. He can't recall when or who gave him the flute. It was the only possession that followed him from one foster home to another.
He emptied his sack, in search for the flute. For a moment, he thought he must have dropped it mistakenly on his way back. Hurriedly, he took a torchlight, dashing into the street. Soon, he lost sight of their cottage, he knew how far he'd gone without finding the flute still. The thick forest paved way for a thin path in the village.
The boat. He thought.
Kachi stopped to think of the impending danger that lay ahead of him. If the myth is true, he would not be returning home ever again. Even if he did, it wouldn't be in this shape. Again, it was a loose situation on both end for him. Without the comfort of the flute, he'd still die of hunger tonight. If he ventured to look for the flute, luckily, he might loose only a fracture of himself. He thought. Now his mind was made up, he needed that flute.
All was in dead, grim silence prevailed the shore. Only the river rustled, followed by a quick succession of other confusing sounds that came from nowhere, as if in terror of the worst. There it was, a few inches away from their boat. It must have fallen off when he hurriedly jumped down from the boat. He jittered towards the boat and made plans to leave once he picked it.
Kachi froze, his skin developing goosebumps immediately. It was a scenario, perhaps, he might not have noticed when he arrived. Without much doubts, he was very sure he arrived the shores to find just empty boats.
He staggered repulsively towards the duo. They were enthralled in a mettlesome conversation; it was as though they'd known each other forever. The first was a young lass. She cocked her head to the side as she listened with rapt attention. Auburn hair fell across her shoulders, covering the bold motif of her ankara. The woman opposite her gesticulated as she spoke. Dry paint speckled all over her. Was she a painter? It was hard to tell. Her amber horse-imprinted ankara matched her hair: mute silver. Roughly a creative choice.
'I have bestowed day upon you, yet you chose twilight.' The woman said.
'I have only come for my flute.' Kachi knew the probability of finding a painter in the shores of Ngene was very low, less, by this time of the day. If he would ever leave there alive or complete, he had to be careful of those strange beings. He already figured out who they were, the much feared spirits of Ngene.
He was about to lash out those typical brave mens’ “I'm not afraid of you“ lines when the lass cut in.
'Mother, he's my friend. He's of pure soul. He's not a fisherman, nor a hunter. He only rows boat across Ngene. I have seen him play his flute from beneath, his melody is like the siren. Spare his life. In exchange, he shall play for us tonight.'
The woman peered at Kachi in scrutiny. He looks picture-perfect after all. 'Very well then. You shall entertain me and my daughter tonight. If your flute dares sour my ear, you'll live the rest of your life, deaf.'
Kachi was gripped in fear. The last thing he'd want to loose, was his ability to detect sounds. How would he then enjoy, or comfort himself with the flute. His journey would appear otiose, if he displeased this strange painter with his flute. He thought.
Kachi began to play his best piece. His self, again, shut out from the rest of the world. In his head, he imagined the trees fluttering, the river thrumming and the stars glitzing to his tune. After playing for minutes, he stopped. A cloud of silence fell upon the shore once more.
'Indeed, this is similar to the siren; the sea's luring song.' A smile found it's way to the painters face. 'And what is your name lad?'
'Kachi you have become my guest from this moment. I would love to hear you play again.' She signaled the young girl, 'go, bring food for him, he must be starving.'
Kachi gazed in awe as the girl walked towards the river. The water beaded off her chocolate skin like glistening pyrite in beach sand. Her tail was made of minuscule golden scale, and a silver coral shell atop. He never imagined a dark skin mermaid would naturally occur under water, away from sunlight. Now he was a little relieved. He knew the tale so well, the myths of gods and of mermaids. How they once lived amongst human, till chaos set in. Now they are tough skin with there coast. There powers, top notch, that no one dared show up the river at dusk. They were mermaids living beneath Ngene, and not just evil spirits as envisaged earlier.
Kachi enjoyed every piece of food presented before him on a gold tray. He drank from a crystal goblet, the finest wine he ever had. He wondered when next he would get the opportunity to enjoy such luxury again. He fell on his knees, begging the woman not to send him home. As he narrated the ill treatment he receives from his mistress, the young lass took pity on him.
'Mother, can he stay? Please. He plays so well'.
''Alana, daughter of the river, you've become fond of an oarsman. I'll allow him stay for your sake. Hence, he shall be your companion.' The woman called upon Kachi to come forward. With a kiss, she bestowed special gifts to him.
Alana and Kachi grew up side by side each other. After some years, Kachi grew into a fine man and Alana, a goddess of incredible beauty. He continued to enjoy luxurious lifestyle in Ngene, and was only permitted to come ashore when night falls. Yet, he missed his old friends and his 'not so kind' mistress. He knew everyone would have searched for him after he disappeared.
He kept pleading with Alana to permit him visit his old friends, even if it was for one day. At least to say goodbye. Each day he brought the topic up, Alana would make up excuses. Soon she ran out of them and finally had to give her consent. Alana gave him a box, also, an instruction never to open it. She said the box would give him leverage to leave Ngene by day and return too.
Everything had changed when Kachi returned. The people no longer dressed the way they did before. The cottages were no more, now replaced with long buildings laid with stones. The once busy river, usually flooded with fishermen was left scanty.
Kachi began to wonder if he had lost his way home. But with certainty, he was sure the river close by was Ngene. He began to ask questions about the people and what happened to the village. With the description he gave, some of the people he asked, thought he was mentally unstable. soon, he stumbled upon one who told him how centuries have passed by, and the people have developed within the years.
He sobbed quietly as he mourned his friends and mistress he left behind. He remembered the box Alana gave to him. For another second, he thought of what could possibly be inside the little box he held. What if the box could bring back his friends or take him back in time. It was this curiosity that let this cat out.
Kachi made up his mind to open the box and see for himself, what Alana had hidden inside of it. Once he opened it, a ray of light, brighter than day struck his eye. He felt his skin wrinkle and peel. It dawned on him that Alana had locked away his youth, so he wouldn't age while they were together. He had lived for hundreds of years in such a short time, unknown.
He regretted not listening to Alana. Slowly, like ashes, he faded into thin air.
'Now we can live forever.' Alana whispered.
Ngene is a mythical river deity/goddess of Ngene river, Enugu ngwo, Nigeria. The deity is regarded as goddess of fertility and sacred to women. This fiction story is coined from a non-written tale of water beings, the unsure trait of treachery and wickedness they possess. And the possibility that a man could be sacred to Ngene.