A woman. A girl, really, no more than her early twenties, and she was dressed in a short-sleeved black top over the shorts. She had a quiver of arrows slung over one shoulder, and her bow was held in her hand while she took in the dead animal.
A girl had been the one firing those arrows?
She squatted next to the tiger, as if twenty-four people standing looking at her as if she was a ghost in the middle of the night was an afterthought compared to it.
“Another one?” she said. “These tigers. There are a lot of them in this forest.”
Anne raised her gun again, uncertainly, as if she wasn’t sure whether their saviour was dangerous or not. The girl turned her head at the sound of the gun’s catch. She stood, reached behind her, pulled out one of the arrows at her back. Everybody nearly scattered again when she nocked it to her bow and fired. The arrow was like a needle when it flew, straight at the gun. It knocked the gun out of Anne’s hands.
Anne drew her hand to her teeth. “Ah!”
“I just saved his life,” the girl nodded at Chuks. “And yours as well. That’s not how to say thank you.”
Where the gun landed, Segun bent and picked it, then handed it back to its owner, shaking his head pointedly as he did. The girl reached behind her and plucked out another arrow nontheless, keeping it back only when Anne replaced the gun.
“Okay, I’m sorry. Thank you for helping us. What’s your name?”
“Kendra. I’m a hunter. I used to be a regular in this forest before you people put up your invisible fence. I’ve only been able to get in by luck since then. Something must have gone wrong with it, because it went down this afternoon. I thought it was good luck, but it came back up after I entered. I was up there,” she nodded at the tree she had jumped down from, “when I saw the tiger coming. I thought maybe it would run away when it saw all of you. Maybe it was hungry.”
Anne looked at the tiger again, as if she was seeing it for the first time. The suggestion of it being hungry brought a suggestion of something else that thing may have done to him. Chuks shuddered.
Kendra kept her bow on the ground, jumped and scampered back up the trunk of the tree. A sack fell down from among its leaves, very heavy by the sound it made when it hit the ground. Chuks realized it was nearly soaked through with thick red blood just before she fell down after it. She picked up the sack, which moved as she did, then hefted it on her neck.
“It’s like she’s a hunter, true-true,” he told Anne, who nodded dumbly.
“Let’s keep moving. I don’t plan on staying here till morning.”
“We’re following her?” someone asked tremulously from the back. Kendra heard the question, shook her head and continued walking without waiting. Anne hurried after her, and everyone else hurried after her.
“So, you’re a hunter,” Anne said slowly.
She walked on Anne’s other side, the leaves of her skirt rattling softly as she walked. She had neat braids on her head, her natural hair. She had her arrows over one shoulder, the bow on the other.
“I thought hunting is for men. Why is a girl like you hunting? No job?”
Kendra huffed, hands holding down the heavy sack on her neck.
“I’m a graduate. UNN. I went to school, and I’ve served.” She shrugged. “I guess I’m just fascinated by the wildlife.”
“So fascinated that you like to kill and eat them,” Paul said. Somehow he had made it all the way to the front beisde Segun to where Oyin had been walking before.
Kendra turned and stared at him blandly. “Yay. You’re intelligent.”
“That. . . That animal back there. . . ” Anne said.
“Okay, that tiger. You said there are a lot of them in here.”
“Yes. This place is infested with them.”
“You’re telling me there is a forest infested with tigers. Here. In Ogun State. Are you joking?”
Kendra seemed offended. “No, I’m serious. You don’t believe me?”
“I believe I want to sleep,” Chuks answered her.
He really did. He was tired. Instructor Max, see wetin you don cause for person. First a tiger, then a hunter, then a bow and arrows. He really, really just wanted to sleep.
They had been following the white lights all along, and walking among them, they were as bright as he had assumed they would be. The lights were mounted atop poles, about three of them that he could see, though more stretched out horizontaly through the forest. It seemed those freestanding poles were the shield their field instructor had talked about.
Anne tapped at her tablet for a while, then made sure all of them were complete before they walked past the poles. The entire class still walked in two lines. Their ordeal had sobered them once more into silence.
Chuks, for his part, was just grateful that they were getting close to their ride and the end to this nightmare of a return journey.