Because Your fire Burns
By Nadia Siame
IT TOLD SUNEBARI THAT THE FIRST TIME IT WATCHED HER DIE, it, the Bida, kept its wings to itself and remained hidden. Like most of its kind, it had lived for over two centuries but. only because it learnt not to interfere in humanity’s affairs. And because it stayed away, it stayed safe.
That day, hidden behind Iroko trees, it watched as Sunebari filled her blue bucket with water from the only river in the village. The yellow bucket held the clothes she had washed an hour before. The Bida concluded that she was like the village girls who did the exact thing: wash, rinse and fetch. She was like most humans, boring, until you held their patterns and broke them into a million bits.
Then, it heard the sound of a human running and minutes later, a girl, younger than Sunebari but who smelt of smoke and grasses, burst into the river bank.
“Sune! Sune! Please, come!”
“Will you shut up!” Sunebari replied. “Are you calling me or the entire village?” The Bida sniffed. Human drama always smelt like piss.
“Your mother said you should come back”.
“I don’t know”.
Sunebari sighed. “Leta”.
“You’re a liar”.
Leta said, “Papa is dead”.
And while Sunebari froze and Leta looked away, the Bida watched as a sadness slithered from Sunebari’s eyes, round her neck and down to her heart, where it squeezed and twisted until the little light there broke away and died. It watched as she left her buckets and ran.
THE SECOND TIME IT SAW SUNEBARI DIE, it heard the sound of running feet, then recognized them from years ago when they were running away. It saw her and the sadness was still there. Now it was a pulsing grey thing hooked by dark memories to her soul.
Sunebari looked at the river, sighed, and waded in. Her wrapper, a beautiful lace affair, got soaked first. Then her blouse. Her hair, reduced to its natural state and tied in a bun, was the last thing to accept the water’s embrace.
She walked in until the water above her was a ceiling she couldn’t touch. And no matter how much life reared up its concerned head and begged, begged her to move her hands and feet, begged her to survive, she ignored it. If life was begging her to stay, it was because it needed a plaything.
The darkness came from the ends of her vision. Tendrils announcing death’s arrival and the only thing she felt was relief.
WITH A SPEED THAT MOCKED ITS SIZE, the Bida swooped into the water, plucked Sunebari from her intended grave and dropped her gently by the river bank. Then it placed a single talon on Sunebari’s chest and tapped twice. And while she coughed out water and death’s touch fled her mind, the Bida pulled back and regarded her with the curiosity a human might reserve for a surprisingly interesting mouse.
When she opened her eyes, Sunebari’s first thought was that she had sunk into Hell and the creature towering above her, with its glistening scales and leathery wings as black as night, was the Devil’s dragon. Then she realised she was on the river bank and whatever this thing was, it had probably saved her.
“You saved me”.
It spoke! Sunebari swallowed. “But you pulled me out of the river”.
“It would seem so”.
“Why did you save me?”
“To tell you a story. Will you listen?”
“I don’t understand”.
“I need to tell you a story. Will you listen?”
“Do I have a choice?”
The Bida settled on its hunches, tucking its wings, so that they seemed to disappear into its sides.
“In the beginning, when the world was a baby learning to roll and your kind were the specks across the great ocean, my mother lost her fire.
“In that place where we began, growing with the rocks and the flame rivers around us and the fire within us, a Bida came for mother. She was his intended mate, he said. But mother did not want another Bida to rule our rock, so she said no.
“Still he came. Every night, he came. From when I walked to when I flew, he came. Until one night, tired of denial, he sought to claim mother and they fought and tore at each other, until she broke his talons.
“My mother was a great Bida, so she ripped his fire from him and it left his soul and she raised it for all to see. Then a dark thing happened. Her fire broke away from her and fled and because she was cold, she flew into the air seeking her warmth and I never saw her again”. Then the Bida asked, “What did you think of my story?”
“I don’t know,” Sunebari replied. “It is strange”.
A movement rippled across the Bida’s shoulders. Its version of a shrug. “Why did you go into the river?”
“I know. But why?”
Sunebari looked away from those black eyes. “My child died. My only child. A beautiful girl. We named her Lenabari”.
“Me and my husband”.
“So, what have you lost?”
“I just told you”.
“That is who you have lost”.
“I lost my child”
“What have you lost?”
Her restraint snapped. “Everything! I lost everything! She was everything!”
The Bida smiled. “You still have your fire. And it’s not down here”.
“I don’t understand”.
It spread its wings. “You’re still in the water”.
Suddenly, the world seemed to be made of jelly as time slowed to a crawl, and as Sunebari blinked, she was back in the water and sinking. And the water above her was no longer a ceiling but the sky far away. And the water was both a hammer assaulting her chest and a billion whispers urging her to let it in.
You still have your fire, she heard the Bida say. Choose.
Nadia Siame is a believer in words and their power to shape narratives. Her works have been published in several spaces. You may know some of them.