“If you want to shoot me, do it.” And he turned and walked into the darkness, and this time he didn’t stop. Belinda waited a few seconds more, staring wide-eyed at Anne, then turned and hurried after him.
“Thank you,” Keziah breathed as Anne replaced the gun, hand on her chest. “Thank God.”
Anne replaced her gun into the folds of her clothes. She walked back amidst the students. She neared Chuks.
“I shouldn’t have done that,” she said, her voice low enough that he wasn’t sure anyone else had heard, just as he was about to ask about that episode. Everybody were looking at her differently now after that gun she pulled out, and Chuks could almost hear the voice of Instructor Max himself telling them not to underestimate their class instructor.
She’s tougher than she looks.
“Oya, everybody, gather around.” They all did. Segun came to his side, and Chuks saw him saving a number on his contacts. B–E–L–I–N— He didn’t have to see the rest. I swear, this guy smooth die.
“You heard what your field instructor said. I’m not happy you people are not flying back, but you saw him. Nothing will change his mind. So we will trek back to the expressway. First things first. If we’re going through that bush, everybody will walk in two lines and stay behind me. I don’t know what is inside there and what isn’t inside there, and please, I don’t want to know.”
If his tough class instructor said so, Chuks figured he didn’t want to, either.
“But the last time we came here, Instructor Max said we should not go in there if we don’t want to be torn to pieces,” Keziah whined.
“ ‘Torn to pieces’? You mean he actually said that?” Anne scoffed. “And I was thinking he didn’t know how to joke.” Wait, Instructor Max had been joking when he said that? Chuks could hardly believe it. Abi he couldn’t believe it. If their field instructor said they could die inside that place, it couldn’t be a joke.
“Everybody, turn on your torchlights, it’s night already. Let’s go.”
The torchlights came on one by one, both those who had dual flashes and triple flashes. By the time they were done, the place was so lighted up they could as well have been carrying a generator.
They all walked back to the treeline, the border between barrenness and fertility, between the known and the unknown. Up close, the trees loomed tall and dark and foreboding beyond the light of their torches. And then they went in, swallowed immediately by the darkness. There was a footpath they usually took whenever coming here, not too wide, and bordered by ankle-high weeds.
Their torchlights were bright, but as they walked double file behind their class instructor, the darkness seemed to press in on them past where their torches could reach. And judging by the eerie sounds coming from within, it was clear that the jungle was only truly alive at night. Chuks focused on not looking out into that darkness, just the small circle in front of him lit up by his phone’s torchlight.
Of all twenty-four of them walking, no one made a sound.
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Then there was a sudden loud noise, and all of them stiffened, looking all around. The noise swelled and swelled and swelled, and everyone’s eyes went up to the darkness above just as the first helicopter flew past above the tops of the trees, spotlight preceeding it. Then the second one, just two seconds behind, tail lights blinking as it went.
Normally they were supposed to be seeing those lights lighting up the clouds from the inside, not from hundred feet down on the ground. And just the thought of one of those helicopters being empty. . . He felt like taking Anne’s gun and finishing Instructor Max himself.
Belinda no know as she dey enjoy.
All of them looked wistfully up at the helicopters, until they disappeared past their line of sight and the last echoes of rotor blades faded into nothing. And when they did, all of them were still trekking, hundred feet down on the ground.
Chuks found himself walking in front with Anne, beside her, a line of his classmates stretching back behind both of them. Segun was first on that line directly behind him. The class instructor held her iPad in her hand. Chuks knew those didn’t have torches, so he used his torch to light up the way for both of them.
A draft of cold air whooshed down from the darkness up ahead, rustling leaves high up on the trees, like there was some dark creature just in front blowing air from its mouth directly in front, perhaps close enough that they would bump into it in just a few seconds.
The trek seemed to be going on forever, and Chuks was beginning to wonder whether they hadn’t veered off course and joined another trail in the confusion of the night’s darkness when Anne whispered,
“The shield is close by. We’re not very far away now.”