THE HILL CITY (A STORY)
The Hill City - a story
It was like a dream in another dream, sought of. I woke up from the inner one into the outer before finally waking up into the real world. It was not the table-clock alarm that woke me up – it rang just as soon as I was awake, and the time was 5 A.M. I should be getting set for school. I got out of bed, folded the blanket and threw it on the other side of the bed close to the wall. As I turned round, my eyes met the picture frame hanging on the wall directly opposite my bed; the picture of a beautiful city that seems only imaginarily existing. Directly opposite it was the portrait of a beautiful young girl I always wished was my sister. I loved the way Atsi and his little sister walked hand in hand to and from school. But I was the only child in my family. I walked alone to school eeeveryday.
“Yes,” I said to myself in a whisper, “The dream is now coming to my memory”. The voice I heard in the dream seemed to sound real now. It was somewhere at the door calling in a whisper – the soothing voice of a lady. I looked straight at the door as though my sight could penetrate it. Suddenly the handle rattled and the door opened with a sudden push.
“What are you sitting here doing? Don’t you realized you are thirty minutes late already? What happened to you? Why did you sleep for so long?” My daddy turned to the alarm clock on the table beside the bed, then back to me. “It didn’t ring?”
I held my mouth open and stared at him. He noticed some strangeness in the atmosphere and decided to be calm.
“What is the matter, Ajik?” He bent low to wipe the sweat from my face, and held my head briefly against his chest. “Are you okay? Is everything alright?,” he asked as he casually pulled himself away to have a good view of my face.
There was a brief silence.
“Will you take me to the hill city, Dad?” I asked, confidently, as though I had never asked before and he had never refused to take me.
“Why are you talking about this now, Ajik?” He turned to look straight into my face, holding my head with his two hands and gradually caressing my cheeks.
“You’ve asked so many questions since you came in, Dad.”
“I am sorry, but you need to start preparing for school. Let’s go, your mother is waiting.”
I didn’t want to go to school that day. I begged Dad to let me stay at home, even though I didn’t give any good reason. Since four years that I started school, I had never missed school for a day, not because I had never attempted to. Dad always caned and dragged me to school if I would not walk on my own. But this morning, he did not say much, he lured me to go back to sleep. He stretched out and took the blanket, spread it over me to the neck, patted me on the back, passed the back of his hand over my now dry face making me close my eyes briefly, and walked towards the door.
“Speak on, Ajik.” He turned round; his left had holding the door handle already.
“Will you take me to the hill city today?” I spoke gently, not really pleadingly. I had pleaded too many times. Now my increasing urge is gaining more respect than my father.
“Okay, just go back to sleep. When the day breaks fully, we’ll talk.”
When he got out of my room, I rose out of bed, walked to the window at the head side of my bed. I pushed the curtains with my two hands to the left and to the right. It was still dark, I could not see the hill with my natural eyes but I could see it anyway, maybe with my mind. It was about two miles away: behind the native doctors house, close to the sky. It was as if you could touch the sky from the top of the hill. From my mind, I could actually see the city – as beautiful as the picture on the wall in my room. I could see people jubilating; all kinds of cultural dances were being displayed. There were kids like me there too, and I could see a couple of them obviously about my age beckoning. One of them was the beautiful lady on the wall beside my bed. But I could not just start moving towards them. Because at the instance I decide to start moving, I would not see any of these things again. The view will disappear.
I stood tight at the window, hypnotized and almost transcending for over an hour until the noise at the door scared me and brought me back to my senses – back to my room. I could not tell for how long Dad had been standing behind me until Mum came pushing.
“You are not sleeping, Ajik,” my father said.
Mum rushed forward and bent low. Balanced on her left knee and kissed me on the forehead. “You had a night mare.” She said. “Your father told me.”
“What is it about? Can you tell Dad and Mum?”
I looked at Dad, standing back at the door, Mum, still maintaining her position and looking pleadingly at my face and obviously feeling pity. I don’t really care about Daddy; what he says or how he feels, but I hate seeing my Mum depressed. Daddy always made her be. He only suddenly became gentle, but I could not take him like. He could change soon; and he did.
“Tell me son, come.” She lifted me and lay me back in bed, put her left had across my chest. “What was the dream about? Tell Mummy, come on.”
“I want to go to the hill city.”
“Why? Dad has told you, it’s dangerous to go to that hill. There is no city up there. There are only monsters that eat human flesh.”
“That was not what I saw.”
“In your dream, what did you see?” She was curious.
“…can’t say if it was a dream.”
“What did you see?” She brought her head closer and became more attentive. “Tell me. Did you go there in your dream?”
“I was there. The people are friendly and hospitable. They welcomed me and dressed me with fine clothes. I felt like a king. They placed me on a platform and danced round and round. I sat on an exalted seat. Dishes of assorted meals were placed around me.” I paused and raised my eyes to see my mother’s.
“Go on. What happened next?”
“There was just a lot of celebration. And when I was leaving, a number of them – those of my age – cried.”
“Why did they cry?”
“I don’t know”
“…were going to miss me. You are right. I promised to go back to them.”
“No, you won’t.”
“But I have made a promise. I have to keep it.”
“It was only a dream. Maybe because…”
“… I have been talking about going to the hill city? That is not really true, I …”
“Listen to me boy.” My daddy’s unsympathetic voice scared my words down into my stomach. And I felt them tumbling down. “You are not going up that hill. You get that clear?” He shouted into my bones. I felt them cracking deep inside my flesh.
“Daddy, leave us alone.” Mum also called Dad Daddy.
“I hope you put the correct thing into his skull,” Dad said on his way out, and banged the door behind him.
“Your Daddy has told you that no body goes to that hill and comes back. Maybe there is truly a city there as people believe but it is not humans that live there. That is why you can’t see them naturally. You have to bend over and look behind between your legs to see them. And if they notice you are looking at them, they will kill you. The witch doctor at the foot of the hill says so. He has decided to live near the hill so that he would warn any person that he sees going that way. Listen to your daddy.”
Daylight came fully into the room so that I could see the hill clearly now. In my mind, I was still looking at the city and could still see my little friends tirelessly beckoning. I prayed that my mother left me alone. I must get to that hill.
“Please, Ajik,” her voce trembled. “We can’t afford to loose you.” She got tired of remaining in the same position for almost thirty minutes. She drew back and sat upright on the stool beside the bed. “You are our only child after twelve years of praying to God for a child – for you. You don’t have anything to loose not going to that hill. Rather, you have life to gain. I beg you. Listen to your father and me. We’ll do anything for you.”
I felt pity for my mother; I wished I would do as she said. But the voice would not leave me alone. It kept calling from every angle of my room and from inside my soul.
*** A Sick Ajik
Mummy did not go to work, she had to stay back to look after me. They were sure I was not well. The doctor that was invited to observe me did not arrive until 3 pm. He was a tall skinny man looking sick himself. Maybe I was really sick. I would not eat any food since morning, even the usual irresistible roasted yam and fresh palm oil. But this man was certainly sicker than his patient.
wait for more of the story.