Mayo Kam 

I am not originally a Backpacker®.

I only signed up for this trip because I was tired. I was tired of life. 

I was tired of being alive. I actually went on that trip hoping to die. Misadventure, murder, animal attack… Anything. Even via the auspices of the pack of prescription sleeping tablets I had stashed away just in case my mind got made up. 

Mayo Kam. 

River Kam. 

Yes, I believe ‘Mayo’ means ‘river’. The waters were deep, clean and cold. We were soberly lectured by the park rangers that a tourist fell in and drowned about a year ago. I so wished it had been me! 

Listen, Mayo Kam is an excellent place to camp. Especially during the dry season when the waters have shrunk and left more sand and land in its wake. There is no mobile service in the Gashaka Gumti Game Reserve. If you are Nature’s kid, you have a home there. It is truly amazing. It is beautiful, pure and largely unsullied. 

We were eleven Backpackers in all. Two heavily armed park rangers and four local fishermen that met up with us by the camp site. 

Leinad, Raj, Rebecca, Henry, Bashiru, Noorah, Joanne, James, ‘Long John’, Sarai…and me. Enez. 

Lovely, lovely people. Diverse experiences, countries and character. Never a dull moment with the Backpackers. Yet I was dead inside. 

I was not sure of the time, but I was positive that the day was Saturday. For two reasons:- Firstly, there was going to be a Super moon tonight, and a lunar eclipse of some sort. Secondly, today was supposed to be my wedding day. 

Cards printed. Venue paid for. Ivory white sleeveless wedding gown bought. Everyone that knew me in any capacity was aware. And why not? I was twenty five years old, I was in love with the only man I gave my spirit, soul and body to. He knew that even Jesus took a back seat when he arrived. Yet… Yet… He PUBLICLY called off the wedding after mandatory blood tests revealed that we were both HIV positive. As in, why?! Who does that?!! HE knew that he had infected me, I was his submissive emotionally and physically! 

My mum consequently suffered a stroke. My dad tried to kill me twice. I tried to ‘kill me’ twice… I was the brunt of every joke. An object of pity and ridicule. The subject of many conversations. All of these inside a week. 

And so I fled with the Backpackers, to this remote and dangerous adventure, hoping I would die. By my own hand or otherwise. 

Leinad was making it hard though. To kill myself I mean. Or to even suffer injury for that matter. He was clearly interested in me. Men! They are so predictable, they would fuck anything given half the chance. 

The fishermen arrived at dusk and immediately set about fishing roughly five hundred meters away upstream. They brought their own gear and so ours was redundant. While the rest of the female Backpackers fussed over roasting yam tubers and frying tomatoes, onions and peppers to make a sauce for the imminent fish, I somehow anchored three hooks together and found a spot on a boulder and began to fish. 

Faithful and loyal Leinad tarried beside me in abject misery until my dark mood forced him to seek lighter spirits. He joined the group by the large fire and soon forgot about me. 

A short time later, I got a bite and expertly reeled it in. It was a foot long indigenous catfish specie. It paled in comparison to the humongous sizes the fishermen were catching and so I killed it just as my dad taught me years ago and decided to use it as bait. I had just tossed my line into the water when I got called to supper. I wedged the flexible but strong fishing rod in a two foot deep crevice, and left. 

I woke up reluctantly sometime during the night. I badly needed to pee, but my sleeping bag was very cosy. Besides everyone, including the park rangers, was asleep. I guessed that it was about midnight. It was pitch black outside the influence of the camp fire light. 

One look at the sky decided me. I got up and walked towards the river and did my business in a hole I dug in the sand. I was just rounding up when I heard something thrashing about weakly in the water. I intuitively knew that my line had caught something big. I was up the boulder in a flash and back down with my fishing rod. 

I think that all three hooks played a part in my catch. I think that the crevice helped wear down the fish. I think that the super moon and it’s unusual brightness lured that fish from the deep.

It was the largest fish I had ever seen in my life! It was not a shark or anything predatory. I think the locals call it ‘water elephant’ or ‘Giwan Ruwa’ in Hausa. 

It was beautiful. I was not afraid. Death by this fish if it could would be welcome anyways. And so I darted knee deep into the treacherously cold and fast flowing water and dug my left hand into its gills and began pulling it ashore. 

I came to pee in the bikini bottom of a two-piece swim suit, with just a hoodie over me and the bikini bottom. The rocks under the water were slippery and sharp. The humongous fish clearly did not want to leave the water… I was almost drowning within seven minutes. 

Whatever I lack as a woman; big boobs, bubble butt et al… came to my aid that night. I used all of the six feet of lithe physiognomy I possessed to lever my catch out of the water. 

The fish was only a little shorter than me. My left hand was still locked under it’s gills. That hand was now numb. I locked my right hand into the gills on the opposite side of its head, sidestepped the last foot or so onto the sand and lunged, pulled and lifted in one explosive move. 

I landed on my right side painfully with the fish’s head between my thighs. Both my hands still gripping it tightly. I was exhausted! My breath was raggedy and labored. I was wet and cold, I was shivering and shuddering – (from hypothermia, shock and adrenaline). 

As I slowly caught my breath, the fish too started to calm. As I slowly warmed up from the heat my body was producing, so did the fish.

But I knew that something was wrong… and so I slowly eased off my painfully cramped fingers and looked down at the fish. 

It now had long hair and was a naked girl. I could feel her cheeks on the insides of my thighs. I could feel her cleavage on both sides of my right thigh. 

I was by now hyperventilating in shock. But I was spent, lactic acid had built up to the detriment of my muscles. I simply could not move. 

And then she started convulsing; flopping about in a most unnatural way.  I did not need to be told, she was dying. 

I successfully struggled to sit up. I held both her shoulders and began to push her back into the water… But the sand and my tired body impeded my noble intentions. 

I began to weep. Not just because of there and then, but because of before. I finally got to cry at the injustices, at the curse of being a woman in Africa, at being ‘the weaker sex’. I was simply so exhausted and tired on the inside and outside. All I could do was to keep stroking her hair and back babbling, ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…’ over and over again. 

I learned something that night; we are spirits and we live in physical bodies. At some point she stopped shivering and translated. I felt her leave. She was not her body, she was gone. Her body went limp, numb and cold. I saw her stand beside me wearing a look of slight confusion and wonder. 

“Please, I didn’t mean to… I am so sorry!” Were my exact words to her. 

She looked down at me for a while and then her beautiful face softened. She knelt beside me and then blew softly on my face, and then lightly kissed my lips. 

“Enez…baby girl… Wake up!”

“Did you frigging catch this behemoth?!” Leinad’s handsome face inquired in disbelief. 

It was about dawn, not quite bright yet. I made him help push the fish back in the water. We watched it bob in one spot eerily before it sank suddenly. 

I shivered suddenly and hugged myself. To my utter amazement, I was bustier! I groped my new and improved breasts in confusion. I looked up at Leinad and the look of pure lust on his face terrified and thrilled me. 

I am no longer ill. Have not been ill since that day, not a cold, rash or headache. I am at peace. I am rich and I am wealthy. I am happy. 

P. S: “Please, I didn’t mean to… I am so sorry!”

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Chappal Wadi

About my Christmas… 

It was supposed to be nice and easy. Time spent with family and friends. That is until she called me from the fire. 

My muse I mean. Not the young, hot one though. It was old, old mother. I was stir-frying venison and vegetables on the 21st of December 2017 when the bright blue flames of the gas burner cackled and grew. She was within. Within hours I was mysteriously the wildcard selected to accompany the urban myths, adventurers extraordinaire and totally bonkers Backpackers Nigeria® to climb Chappal Wadi. The highest point in West Africa and Nigeria. And aka, The Mountain of Death. 

We took off on the 23rd of December, 2017. I refuse to bore you with details of that journey. It was gruelling and fun though. 

Fast-forward to the 26th of December, 2017. We were finally at Ngoruje, a transit camp run by the Nigerian Gashaka Gumti National Park. We arrived at about six pm after about seven hours traveling on bad roads. We set up our tents and soon had a fire going. We were surrounded by the reserved trees of the national park. It was chilly and windy. It was dark. The only light came from the campfire. 

Yet I could sense that she was waiting for me. And so I walked towards the edge of the forest. It was dark and cold there, but quiet. I sat gingerly on the exposed roots of a tree and almost immediately I perceived her. She always smelled of cinnamon and wood smoke. Old old mother is very very old. She told me a lot of things about the Backpackers Nigeria® and bid me to put my life on the line for them. She is not one known to be garrulous or to linger. I left the edge of the forest with a heavy heart. 

It is called the Mountain of Death for various reasons. The park rangers told me that it was because many tourists had died there. 

The majority of the good people of Taraba state were largely unaware of the existence of the Mountain of Death. Did not know, did not care. 

The motorcycle riders that risked their lives and ours for about four hours ferrying us on dangerously undulating rocky foot-wide trails up and down mountain sides from Ngoruje to Njawai told me that it was because many  families had died there simultaneously – mysteriously many years ago. No evident reason. 

The head of the hamlet at the base of the mountain, in Njawai told me a lot of things. He especially asked me to convince the Backpackers Nigeria® not to climb. When I asked why, he said that I had ‘the mark of pure light’, and that I knew why. The conversation was in Fulfulde (pronounced Fool-fool-day), the main tongue of the Fulanis. One of the motorcycle riders was ineffectively translating to and fro because I was speaking in the Hausa language. 

At the end, the head of the hamlet reluctantly gave us his permission to go up the mountain… But not his blessings. We were ten Backpackers, two park rangers, two journalists and three local guides. 

Just before I lost view of the hamlet, I raised my hand in salutation to the head of the hamlet, and he curiously waved ‘goodbye’ back at me. 

The altitude sickness was gradual and severe. We were in poor shape within the hour. The climb was up a gradual slope. We sighted antelopes, birds and startled God-knows-what further into the bushes. 

There were a couple of things that had been bothering me. 

Firstly, we were definitely in Cameroon and not Nigeria-Mambilla as was advertised. Secondly, we had not secured migration passes from the Cameroon’s immigration authority, I was not sure, but I felt like we were being watched. Stalked even. Thirdly, and most importantly I was gradually getting covered in goosebumps… It’s my gift. An early warning signal of sorts. 

I was one of the only three that was armed with a firearm. I was the only civilian armed. I had fallen behind because I had to relieve myself. I was on my way back when I heard muffled moans and hushed tones ahead. When I caught up, my team were all standing still like statues. All of them. 

I could hear the sound of flapping. Like really large wings flapping. But I could see nothing. The pungent smell of sulphur confirmed the presence of what I could not see. The gusts of wind from the flapping was raising up dust, leaves and grass. Items of clothing worn by people standing stock-still billowing eerily.

I heard the flaps move slightly away to the first local tour guide. Before my eyes, and in a few seconds, the man gradually emaciated like he was being sucked dry. Like an adult dragging on caprisonne quickly. Kukah crumpled (obviously) lifeless to the ground. Bardeh, the second local tour guide suffered the same fate. Then I perceived it move towards Sarai. 

“Stop!” I yelled. 

I felt it stop, deliberate and veer towards me in a slow whoosh. I remember wishing that I had called out ‘stop in Jesus name’ instead of just ‘stop’. 

However, about a meter away from me, I heard the sound of singeing and I smelled burning feathers… I think. 

I swear I heard whimpering and another rush toward me and then singeing again, burning feathers… and then all went quiet. 

It spoke in an ancient tongue. In guttural and curt syllables. I deduced that I was being asked questions. And so I introduced everyone by name and explained in English why we were here… And then all went quiet. 

“Please. Leave. Now… ” it grated in its harsh guttural voice. And yes, in English. 

Instantly the air cleared. The bodies on the floor vanished and the trance was broken. The Backpackers® emerged all seemingly clueless as to current direction, location, urgency and time. 

“Let’s hurry back down!” I shouted. 

“Hey Big D, what about Bardeh and the other one?! Raj enquired. 

“They went back faster.” I quietly replied turning away so he could not see my face. 

“It’s getting dark, I’m getting cold…” Rebecca petulantly whined. 

“We need to pick up the pace! This place is dangerous, especially at night!!” I called out and began to lead the long way down. 

All Backpackers® are alive and well. Clueless about what really happened on the Mountain of Death, but alive and well. 

May Bardeh and Kukah rest in peace. 

Happy New Year!