I had an awry feeling as I carried the luggage on my head. Something was amiss. The luggage I carried on my head weighed unusually lighter that day. Not that I had carried fewer than I normally carried, I just felt like there was something not quite right. Something I couldn’t immediately establish what it was. I tried thinking of what I could have possibly not carried; I was too preoccupied that I could hardly hear the sound of crickets chirping, nor birds singing as they flew up in the air. The birds were always in an exuberant mood. Gleeful creatures they were. Full of mirth, day in, day out. I often heard them sing melodiously, as I walked back home from the forest. The beautiful and cheerful birds always kept me company. Not that we mingled, but I did feel that they were with me. It’s like they noticed the path I was fond of using, and so could assemble and start singing every time they saw me. I enjoyed their melodies every evening. The crickets chirped away as I passed through the grass. I don’t know if like the birds, they noted my presence, or it was just a norm for them to chirp around the time I passed, that, I couldn’t ascertain.
My head felt lighter every time I moved a step forward. I felt edgy and stopped. Looking up, my companions, the birds were still singing merrily. Look at them, carefree and stress free, I envied them. They, unlike me, did not have an unsolvable problem. Something bothered me but I could not tell what it was. I put my luggage down; firewood which I had gone fetching in the forest. Firewood to be used to prepare supper that evening. I stood on the same spot for a few minutes, rooted like a tree, thinking, looking at the birds, looking at the firewood and repeating everything. I figured out I was wasting time standing there, as the firewood I had was needed at home. ‘Grandma will be angry.’ I thought. She didn’t like it when I took much time on one task which would require less time. It was also getting late as the sun was setting. ‘There is nothing I can do as I have tried thinking to no avail,’ I thought. I lifted my luggage, balanced it on my head and left for home.
I walked for a few meters before the awful feeling came back. What was it? Disturbed, I went on with my journey home as there was nothing I could do.
I was approaching our homestead and from where I was, could see the huts. There was some smoke coming out of the kitchen, which meant grandma was in. She normally boiled some herbs every evening before we started cooking supper. The herbs were to help her heal a wound she had after getting pricked by a poisonous thorn. The wound had been there for a few months but had started healing, once she began using the herbs. I was humming one of my grandma’s favorite traditional tunes when something hit me. I balanced the firewood on my head with one hand and felt my neck with the other. That was it! That was what had bothered me. My neck. I felt it again, just to be sure that I was wrong, I was not. My neck was missing something. It was my neck which made my luggage weigh lighter that day. It was my neck which brought the awry feeling I had. The pendant! The pendant was missing from my neck! How was that possible? I never removed it from the neck. It was my aging but stalwart grandma who tied it there. I never even once removed it from the neck once she tied it there. Not even when I went to bath from the river.
Where had it fallen? It was the pendant which made me agitated. The fazing feeling was as a result of its absence. What would I do? How would I explain to grandma that her most cherished pendant, the pendant that she exalted and nearly adored was missing? How had I lost it in the first place? Grandma had given me that pendant with instructions.
“Just as how I have tied this beautiful thing around your neck, is how you will tie it around your first granddaughter. I was given it by my grandmother. She tied it around my neck the way I’m doing it to you, today. Don’t lose it. It is very momentous to the future generation. You hear me, my child?”
“Now go to the stream. We need some water.”
That was many months ago, during the previous harvest. When grandma gave me the pendant which had been hanging around her neck for the many years that I knew her. She later explained to me the significance of it to our family that evening.
It was missing now. It was lost. I could probably never find it. I was careless. I had broken the chain; the chain which connected all first granddaughters. Grandma would be irate once she found out. I couldn’t allow it to happen. She would never find out that what she treasured was missing. I couldn’t stand seeing her distressed. I had to go back and look for it. It would rather I face the wild animals in the forest, than tell her the pendant was missing. I had it before leaving for the forest and that convinced me that the treasured thing had only dropped in the forest. I put down the firewood, and turned around.
Darkness had started engulfing our small village when I went back. Young lads guided flocks and herds of livestock to the cowsheds. The girls carried their water pots to the huts as others took firewood to the kitchen. Muddled, I turned around. I started moving back, towards the forest. Supper would have to wait. I would apologies and later explain to Grandma why I never carried the firewood home. I knew she would be less angry if I came back late but with the pendant. I hastened my footsteps as I dashed to the forest.
The more I moved my steps, the darker it got. I was terror-stricken. Darkness usually petrified me, but not that day. Darkness would not un-nerve my mission, to get the pendant. The forest usually had all types of wild and dangerous animals. It was perilous, especially at night. I had never walked alone in the forest at that time of the evening. The last time I was there, I was in the company of my cousin, Chuma. Chuma was the closest relation I had, after my grandma. He was a charming lad who was gregarious and genial. Everyone in the family was fond of him. He was also energetic and ambitious. Once he had his eyes on something, then he could get it. Nothing could stop him. That’s one quality I always admired in him. He had gone for a hunting expedition and I, not being busy, had accompanied him. We hunted for a whole afternoon and by the time we had felt that we had had enough, it was night-time already. His presence had made me feel secure even when I knew that the animals could attack us. That was the only time I recalled being in the forest at night.
I was scurrying with speed, when I heard a movement on the ground. My pulse increased rapidly. I stopped and shifted my eyes to the ground. I saw something slither right before my legs, something which looked like a reptile, it had a shiny body. It was a snake. I was scared of those animals. The animal stopped moving for a while as if to hear if there was another creature around then slithered away at the same speed it had appeared. I let out a sigh of relief after it had gone. What have you brought upon yourself, Mila? What if the reptile showed interest in you? You know it could have spat on you? Why do you want to bring sorrow in your family? I blamed myself as I wept silently, lest the creature heard me and came back for me. I had been walking for half an hour and the moon had now come out in brightness. It was a crescent moon, it smiled down upon the forest, it didn’t produce too much light, but the light it had was enough to make the footpaths visible. I moved on, my eyes fixed on the ground, I scanned and eyeballed the paths I was using, hoping that I would come across the one thing that made me encounter a reptile I dreaded most, grandma’s most treasured item, the pendant.
I reduced my haste as I proceeded deeper and deeper in the forest. Cold sweat had now enveloped my petrified body. I scrutinized the ground as I moved on, whispering to myself, and the gods.