Growing up, I heard tales of the famous Bush Baby from the older boys in my village that attended the only boarding school in the whole of the district. Whenever they returned home for the holidays, they always had stories and adventures to tell the smaller boys who hoped to be like them someday. I was one of those boys and I strongly dreamt of going to the boarding school to have my own experience of Bush Baby to tell.
My friend's older brother, Gbenga, seemed more experienced as he was the oldest amongst all the boys to have gone to the school. His presence always had me glued to his house without wanting to leave, not even for a second. He sure did get tired of seeing me always and having to repeat the same story over and over again, but I didn’t relent.
One of the stories that stayed as my favourite was the story of a student, who stole a Bush Baby's mat successfully for seven days. After the seventh day, he became suddenly rich. He received expensive gifts from strangers for every visiting day till he left the school and rumours had it that he became very successful in life. I was so certain that in my time, I would steal the mat, become rich and change the predicament of my family's financial status. Although, Gbenga had clearly warned that if the person who steals the mat is caught by the Bush Baby, the person will die.
The desperation to be rich made me blinded to the warning, for it didn't seem like a threat to me, instead a drive to do it. I studied so hard through my primary education to get a scholarship that would enable me to go to Gbenga's School because I go nowhere without that scholarship. Luckily, I passed my examinations and earned six years scholarship through secondary school.
Year three in Junior secondary and there is still no sign of Bush Baby as Gbenga had told us back in my village. Then, he told us that the Bush Baby comes out to cry for hours at every full moon and it could be heard clearly by all. I was mostly disappointed but still believed in Gbenga's tales even when I discovered that the stories Gbenga told us were popular stories passed down for generations in the school.
One fateful night, it was another full moon and just like every other full moon since I have been in school, I had my hopes up. After the light-out bell, our hostel captain ordered us all to bed and closed the doors like our daily routine. But something chilly and inauspicious about that night didn't feel normal. It took a while after turning severally on the bed before I finally fell asleep.
At exactly midnight, I woke up to the sound of a brief baby wail. Everyone was fast asleep and it seemed like I was the only one who heard it. It got me worried and very curious. I wouldn't want to wake any other person to confirm if they heard it too, for fear of punishment and I can't wait till morning. Again, I heard the wails and it came just as Gbenga had described it years ago. The wailings so loud and clear, just like that of a baby. At the same time, like that of a cat meows. I jumped down from the top bunk I occupied, quietly took my torchlight and then tiptoed to where it seemed the sound likely came from. Standing before the high window in our hostel, I felt weak and almost lost all courage as I was scared for what would happen to me if I got caught by the Bush Baby for stealing its mat.
Just as I stretched on my toes to look out the window properly, maybe I could see something to help me prepare mentally for my mission; I felt a cold palm on my shoulder. Every working mechanism in my body stopped at that moment as I fell to the ground in shock. It took all the strength I had left in me not to scream.
"What are you doing?" James, a fellow student, asked as he pulled me up from the ground.
I looked at the window and then dusted off the dirt on my shorts. Now, the wailings had stopped and it would be unbelievable even if I told James what I heard.
"You can hear it too?" James asked as he walked close to the window.
"Yes, but can't everyone hear it cry?"
"No. Legend says only the chosen one can hear it when they come out by the full moon," James replied in hushed tones.
Gbenga never mentioned that to me, which is almost weird. I looked at James firmly.
"I hope that legend also says the mat brings riches to whomever that has it."
James' eyes shone.
"Yes, but don't tell me you want to take the mat."
"I want to and I'm going to," I said as determination swarmed through my veins.
James sighed. "You do know the repercussion if you get caught?"
I nodded. "I know and I'm ready. I've waited for this day for years, this is my moment and I have to seize my opportunity."
"I'm talking about the House Master or the Hostel Captain. You can kiss stealing the mat goodbye if we get caught."
I didn't think about them one moment and I could understand why, but what does James mean by 'we'?
"We?" I asked him.
"Yes, you and I. In as much as you are ready to split the wealth equally. No cheating, no games."
I thought for a little while, a backup person would not be a bad idea. "Okay, I agree."
We shook hands on it and swung into action immediately. James managed to steal the hostel key and we snuck out of the hostel, tracing the wailings that came every ten minutes into the school forest.
The full moon illuminated the environment bright enough to see where we are headed without a lamp. As we got closer, we heard footsteps heading our way quickly, we hid behind the nearest bush and watched for who it was or what it was. Just then, we saw it.
It was shorter than a dwarf; ears were longer than that of an elf, hideous face and feet of just six toes, three on each foot. The mat was a beauty to behold; it shone brightly like a diamond and just as we admired it, it wailed again. It was so loud that our ears started bleeding until it stopped wailing as if it perceived something, it began to sniff around and with a sniff, it came one step closer to us. James and I held our breath as we prayed for something, anything to distract it.
Just then, we heard screeches from the other side of the bush and the Bush Baby dropped the mat by a tree and went away. I sighed out of relief and looked at James, who had peed on his shorts. I put my fingers on my lips, motioning for him to stay quiet as I pointed to the mat. James nodded and watched me creep out of our hiding place.
I walked on stealth as quietly as I could. I picked up the mat, which wasn't as heavy as I thought it would be. James came out and we took to our heels. We mustn't be caught. A few stone throw to our hostel, we heard the Bush Baby's loud wails almost deafening us, but we didn't stop.
Finally, we managed to make it to the hostel and we shut the door quickly and quietly behind us. We were left with where to hide the mat without any other member of the hostel discovering it. We kept it in the open ceiling and decided to take turns without raising suspicions to check it every day. I couldn't sleep that night, I was anxious to be rich and I was still in shock from the horrible looks it had. Slowly, fear crept in. I wondered what would happen if we get caught. I was scared to die. I wasn't ready for death.
For each night of the seven days that we had the mat, I had terrible nightmares and James also made the same complaints. Sometimes, we get chased by the Bush Baby in our dreams, sometimes we get slaughtered and sometimes, it's our family members who get killed. There were some nights, the Bush Baby came crying in front of our hostel and this time, everyone can hear it.
On the last night, our Hostel Captain held a night-long prayer with all the boys. James and I were scared and worried, but we were relieved the prayers were not to us but to the Bush Baby. I was glad that we were all in it together for the last night, we prayed for hours and the Bush Baby continually cried in front of our hostel. I was sure we were the only ones who could hear it. After a while of prayer, it stopped and we all retired to bed.
That night, I had a peaceful sleep and I felt satisfied after days of sleepless nights. The following morning, James and I discussed how peaceful we both slept while we headed to the ceiling where we hid the mat.
To our dismay, it was gone. There was nowhere we didn't search for it, but we couldn’t find it. We were disappointed and in the next full moon, we stayed awake, hoping to hear it cry again but nothing. We stayed up waiting to hear it for every full moon until we graduated from school, but we never did. We even went to the forest so many times in search of it, nothing. The most baffling thing was that every member of my hostel denied having a prayer that night.
It was as if it never came. It was as if we never had the mat, but I stayed grateful for one thing, and that was the fact that I was able to see the Bush Baby and know that it is real. Now, I have my own version of Bush Baby story to tell and I tell it proudly wherever I went. Some people believe me, while some just shrug it off like an old myth.