The branches of the trees trembled as the wind moved through them, making a small whistling sound. Down the hill, beside the river where the men worked, bringing down some ageing cocoa trees with their cutlasses, there was singing as the swish swish of the men’s cutlasses filled the afternoon air. One of them was calling to his colleague standing beside an old battered Ford pickup truck in the middle of the large clearing where they worked.
“Hey, abeg Chima, help me pass the gallon of water.” He said, stopping to wipe the sheen of sweat on his forehead with the sleeve of the shirt tied across his waist. “These villagers sef,” he said, as he collected the small blue plastic gallon container his colleague passed to him. “Dem too dey fear everything.”
His statement seemed to tickle the rest of the working party and they laughed as the severed limbs of the trees were arranged into a neat pile on the bed of the truck. The men continued their task of clearing the land, unaware of the wind that moved in their direction. A bird squawked somewhere close to where the men worked, beating a feathery retreat at the advance of the chill wind.
“Dem say nobody for their village dey come this place. Say one kain spirit dey here,” The one called Chima said with a loud guffaw. “Yeye people.”
“No mind dem.” The one who had drunk water from the gallon said, swinging his cutlass in the air for another strike at the root of another tree and just as he did, his eyes caught a movement in the bushes in front of him. He straightened, the cutlass hanging limply beside him. The words froze on his lips as he saw something appear and disappear in the bushes. He blinked, realizing that he was staring at a ghost like apparition. He opened his mouth to warn the others of their new guest but the words froze on his lips. When the villagers told them about the guardian, he and his friends had dismissed it with a laugh. He wasn’t laughing now. The thing was moving in his direction. Large and shapeless, it seemed to float but Peter couldn’t be so sure. His mind had stopped functioning. He could only feel the paralyzing fear. He watched, eyes bulging in their sockets as the thing changed form. The others felt the wind approach and looked up.
“Na rain be dat?” A stocky fellow on the far side of the clearing asked, dropping his cutlass and standing hand on hips. He saw his open mouthed colleague, standing frozen in the middle of the clearing. “Oga Peter, na wetin?”
Peter continued to stare at the thing that stood before him now. He could feel the hair on his skin stand. The thing was so close he could see into the dark pools that observed him coolly. He couldn’t tell if it was male or female. The long face was almost feminine but the sinister smile on its face was far from reassuring. Was this the guardian that the villagers talked about? The one that guarded the hills? The thing was turning to look at his colleagues.
“Peter!!!” Someone in the crowd called again in alarm.
The man jolted as if struck by something and then turned with wild eyes to the rest of the party. His mouth moved wordlessly and spittle gathered at the corners.
“Una no dey see am?” his question came out as a scream. Visibly alarmed, the men looked among themselves as Peter began pointing to the direction of the man on his left. “E dey come for your side,” he screamed again. The men were beginning to scan the forest in fear.
Peter began to mumble incoherently, his body jerking as he rocked back on his heels. The man he pointed to was just about to open his mouth to say something when his eyes glazed over. He began to shake, his body convulsing with terror. The wind had gathered momentum now and an eerie sound was coming from somewhere deep in the forest. The rest of the party decided they had seen enough. They dropped their cutlasses and scampered into the thick bushes, abandoning their old pick up truck and leaving their two comrades behind.