A Japanese journalist is sent to Nigeria to cover a story on a mysterious spring.
|In the early days of my prosperous career in journalism, I came across a series of event which may seem non-sensical to some of the readers. Nevertheless, some readers may find it fascinating to their taste of reading. But before I begin my unusual, yet genuine tale, I would like to ask for the reader’s discretion, asking you not to go looking for the place I’ll hereby mention in this story. And if any harm comes upon the reader, then hereupon, the writer wouldn’t be held responsible for it in any case. Human beings are curious creatures; and keeping that in mind I’ve changed the names of key places used in this story which leads to that mysterious place.
I was struggling to get a static job and financial security, fighting the emotional breakdown brought from my separation with my wife, when the editor of the gazette I was working with, came up with a silly idea of covering a trivial story to grab the eyes of our dwindling subscribers. With all the senior journalists busy covering the stories of actual values, this dumb task fell on my shoulders.
According to my editor, there existed a spring deep into the forest of Nigeria, which was surrounded by bizarre stories. I was supposed to get on the first plane to Nigeria and cover the story as quickly as possible. ‘People tend to love such stories, Daisuke. Get me the story and I’ll make sure you no longer work in a jammed cubicle.’ Those were his words. I had no prejudice against this beautiful country, but back in 1985, Nigeria was under military rule. And the vague idea of a lone Japanese journalist traveling in Nigeria didn’t sound to be a good proposition to me
I landed in Lagos in the late afternoon. The capital of Nigeria was brimming with benevolent people, unlike its erratic weather. I was shown into a cheap hotel room (as I mentioned before, my trip was sanctioned by a magazine which was struggling to make the ends meet up.)
I waited for my local guide, with whom I had talked once over the telephone; before leaving Tokyo. There were only a few people in Nigeria who knew the location of the spring, and my guide was one of them. He arrived late in the evening when I had already retreated myself to bed to relieve jet lag. Before I introduce my guide, I would like to tell you that few people in this world stumbles into you in a fine day, maybe in a crowd, or in my case, in a boring trip to a foreign country, who has potential to leave a mark on you forever. And he was one such person.
The moment I opened the door of my room, Idogbe was already standing in a stance to make an apology, wearing a bright and colourful Madiba shirt.
“Forgive me, Mr. Minamoto. I was held up by a matter of emergency. I hope I didn’t make much inconvenience to you.” Those were his first words, blurted out in a single breath.
“Not at all. I was just retreating to bed to catch some sleep.”
“In that case, I shouldn’t hold you up much longer. I’m in the room next to you. You’re free to knock anytime.”
“That’s very nice of you,” I said. “And what name should I knock to?”
“I completely forgot to introduce myself. My name is Idogbe. There is no short form for it, so you’ll have to come up with something new if you wish to call me by a nickname.” He was already laughing before I could react to his humorous remark.
“No, I’ll settle for Idogbe instead.” I said.
“Alright then, have a good night Mr. Minamoto.” He said and walked towards his room.
The next morning, we set up for Yenagoa, a city close to the forest. It was a five-hour-long drive, but Idogbe boasted to make it in three if the roads were clear. I didn’t doubt the man’s enthusiasm. The weather outside was gloomy and dark clouds hovered over us as we drove. Idogbe was a man of generous proportions and a strong build. Not just him, every other man in Nigeria was blessed with such physique; which was a rare sight in Japan. The tight curls and dreads of his hair gave Idogbe a rather hard look, contrary to his good-humoured character. Throughout the journey he entertained me with the strange stories about our destination.
“I wonder Mr. Minamoto. Why is the spring a mysterious affair to the world? He asked.
“Well, of everything I have heard of it has fascinated me.”
“I have escorted people like you, coming from distant corners of the world, covering a story, or making a documentary on the spring.” He said.
“I thought I was the first one. But I never came across any pre-published work on it.” I said.
Either he didn’t hear it or his mind was engrossed in the road ahead, but he didn’t say anything.
“So you know the mystery of this spring?” He asked.
“Yeah somewhat. I know that it’s location is known to only a few people. And the spring water is capable of curing fatal ailments untreatable by modern medical science.” I said.
“All that is correct, but the tribes in the forest use it entirely for a different purpose.” He said.
“What do they use it for then?” I asked.
“To free the souls of their dead ones.” He replied. “They drown their dead on the bank of the spring. It’s said that the spring water purifies the soul and helps in its peaceful departure.”
“They just drown the bodies?” I asked. There were many questions in my mind.
“No, they put the bodies in a creek by the bank, and the next day the body vanishes.” His tone was growing more serious.
“Taken up by the current you mean?”
“No, Mr. Minamoto. It’s a spring, not a waterfall. The current isn’t forceful enough to carry away a human body with it.”
We didn’t speak for a while. I just sat in the comfort of my seat, contemplating the facts and details my guide had revealed to me. He was too preoccupied with driving that he barely noticed the expressions that passed my face –expressions of astonishment and confusion.
“How many times have you been there?” I asked.
“Many a time. I’ve seen people performing the rituals before drowning the dead. Given my profession, I visit it twice or thrice a year.” He even told me how it had become a tiresome and boring chore for him. The only thing which fascinated him was the curiosity of the tourists he escorted there.
“But more than that. I volunteer to take the job for an entirely different reason.” He said.
“To rejuvenate your mind and spirit in the spring water. Come on Idogbe, don’t tell me you’re a spiritual person.” I said. For what other reason someone would risk going deep into a jungle inhabited by countless species of harmful reptiles and insects.
“Of course not.” He laughed out loud. “As I said, Mr. Minamoto, the deep part of the jungle houses several exotic species of plants and animals. I go there for a psychedelic shrub which grows around the spring.”
“Psychedelic shrub?” I asked. Idogbe was a man of surprises.
“It’s called Oyenbo in the local language. The shrub was sold extensively in the whole country and exported outside too. The fruits which grow on it can be processed in the labs to produce a synthetic drug. But two decades ago, the government put a ban and its cultivation became illegal. And now there are only a few people in Nigeria who know the diminishing locations where the shrub still grows.”
I was speechless again. All this information was hard to comprehend. Idogbe broke into laughter when he noticed my stupefied face.
“But don’t worry, Mr. Minamoto. I’m not a smuggler of any kind. I just use it occasionally for recreational purpose” He said.
We reached Yenagoa just in the time my accomplice had predicted, and he was proud of his achievement. We drove towards the forest, parked our car in the nearest settlement, and set on foot deep into the jungle. It was a two-hour walk till the spring. So given everything goes according to the plan we would reach there before evening. And from there, we would set off to return before sunset.
The dense forest chirped and squeaked along with the countless insects it inhabited. The canopy of trees covered the sky to its entirety, leaving behind little spaces for rays to pass, which came mutilated and dejected by the dark clouds. The mosquitoes bit every part of my bare body. Somehow, Idogbe was resistant to it and went on without complaining.
The recent rain had rejuvenated the forest, which was overflowing with greenery and joy. It was hard to make your way without getting scratched by thorns or stepping into a puddle of mud, or slipping occasionally on the algae-covered rocks. I wasn’t the only one struggling here. Idogbe too slipped twice and got scratched by a thorn so badly that his shoulder was bleeding with the wound.
Like a cautious tourist, I was carrying a first aid in my backpack, but Idogbe refused to clean his wound, saying he would only wash it with the spring water. So now the spring could heal wounds too. I wasn’t surprised this time. Before I started from Japan, I had kept myself open to every additional surprise I might receive upon reaching the spring. The spring water easing in the departures of the souls to the other world. And the vanishing dead bodies. All these had heightened my curiosity to visit the spring. And I was pretty sure the dead bodies were washed up by the water current, or they settled at the bottom. If the latter was the case, then the spring would have been brimming with petrifying dead bodies, bloated by the water. I was walking closely behind Idogbe when he shouted out of nowhere, startling me.
“Hell yeah! Found it.” He beamed.
“The spring?” I turned in every direction but couldn’t find it.
“No. Oyenbo. The shrub.” He said and pointed towards it.
It looked like any other ordinary shrub, green and thorny, embedded in it were small violet fruits of a size of a marble. Idogbe plucked some carefully and pocketed them.
“Enough for now. We will take more on our way back.” He said and continued on his way. I followed.
“So what does this do? Make you trip?” I asked.
“No, Mr. Minamoto. Why would someone risk coming here to get a drug which just makes you high like every other available in the city.”
“Then what does it do?” I pressed again.
“Like the spring, Mr. Minamoto, this fruit has its miraculous values. Maybe after growing around the spring for so long; it has soaked up its sacred water.” He said.
“So it will heal your wound?”
“Not exactly. I’m not talking about physical healing but the spiritual one. The healing of one’s consciousness.”
“Come on Idogbe, where since you turned into a spiritual guru too?” I laughed.
“It helps you fight your demons. More importantly, it helps you identify them.”
Engrossed in the unlikely words coming out of Idogbe’s mouth, I stepped on an algae-covered rock and slipped. I cried in pain and Idogbe came running to help me. I had broken my back and scratched my arm; which was bleeding profusely.
Idogbe cleaned my wounds with the first aid and on the rest of our way kept on murmuring something.
“Are you sure you can walk?” Idogbe asked with brotherly concern.
“Yes. I guess I’ll manage.”
After walking half a mile, I broke down from the unbearable pain and sat beside a tree trunk. I was afraid we might have to fall back despite having come this close to the destination.
“Your first aid was of no use after all. Let’s go natural.” He said and took out an Oyenbo fruit from his pocket. “Here, keep this under your tongue.”
“Are you kidding me Idogbe, there is no way I’m getting high over an unknown drug.” I expressed my concern.
“It’s for the pain. This will ease the pain.” He said. “But it’s your choice. If you don’t want to…”
“Give it to me.”
“Alright. But remember don’t chew it. Just keep it under your tongue.” He handed me the violet fruit.
I put it under my tongue and almost threw up by its terrible taste.
“You’ll have to bear with the taste.” He said and we continued on our path.
The walk felt like an eternity. I was utterly exhausted and wincing in pain. As it happened, my guide’s natural remedy didn’t seem to be working too. The only thing it brought was the nauseous taste and dry mouth. But like an obedient child, I kept on sucking the fruit. And then it hit me out of nowhere. The effect of the drug, dominating my consciousness. I should hereby, reveal some of my private matter to the readers. As a boisterous youngster, I had indulged in intoxications of almost all types. It started with marijuana and LSD in my high school days and during my college time, there came a phase when I was completely taken over by heroin. Like every addict would respond, I too would have told you that I wasn’t addicted; and that I was under control and knew when to stop. And like all the time, it was utterly false. Due to the harsh warning from my then-girlfriend and now my ex-wife, I had to take a medical intervention to fight my addiction and the withdrawal symptoms brought up by my sudden restraint from the drugs. But I fought it. We fought it together. And since then I had never intoxicated myself with any chemical substance other than alcohol.
If I describe the effect of the drug in the exact manner and series than I should start with honouring my guide’s advice for persuading me into taking it; because the pain had left my body without leaving a trace. My body went numb and my tongue started to slur, and it became difficult to speak. All the colours I could see seemed to have brightened up and kept on blending as if a disappointed artist had thrown random colours at the canvas. The boundaries and outlines of the trees and the sky were merging and wrapping with each other in unusual ways. The time kept running slower as my mind jumped between the state of consciousness and trance. My body melted on the ground I was walking on. The chirping of birds and the mating calls of countless insects and frogs pierced my ears. I might have had fallen once again, even harder, but my brain failed to perceive any sensation of pain. I looked at Idogbe. The violet juice of the fruit was oozing out of his mouth, staining his lips.
“Holy Molly! Mr. Minamoto, you’re turning into a ghost!” Exclaimed Idogbe.
Idogbe’s witticism appealed to me. His dark skin had now been contrasted into black charred shoot as if he got crisped over a fire. The only parts of his body which I could make out were his glistening bright teeth and glowing eyes.
“You’re already a ghost, Idogbe.”
Idogbe laughed and asked me to spit out the fruit. I complied. But to our surprise, there was no trace of the fruit left in my mouth.
“Mr. Minamoto, I asked you not to chew it.” He said without a bit of concern in his expression. “But thank god its effect is short-lived.”
“Now what?” I asked.
“Don’t worry. The effect will soon lift off. It won’t affect your control. As a matter of fact, it enhances your neural reflexes so there are no chances of you slipping again.” He assured me. “But beware of the hidden demons of your mind.”
Idogbe was right, the trance seemed to die down by the time we reached the spring. To my disappointment, it was no better than any ordinary spring I had come across.
“That’s it. We came all the way for this?” I said.
“The drug has made you restless, Mr. Minamoto. This is not the spring. The real spring is inside it.” He said and made his way towards the rocks.
There was a narrow gap between the rocks which looked more like a secret pathway, concealed by lush green shrubs. Idogbe crouched and crawled inside and asked me to do the same.
The sight which welcomed me on the other side of the stifling pathway was so mesmerizing that my eyes flashed in awe. There was a secret chamber inside, lined by small trees and shrubs. Numerous fountains emerged from the ground, pouring the spring water into the lake below the rocks. There was a wide gap between the rocks on the roof, from where the sunlight fell into the cave; illuminating it. The light made the droplets of water to shimmer, creating a captivating spectacle. The cave was a miniature ecosystem in itself.
“It’s a flawless creation of nature.” I said.
“Let’s wash your wounds.” He said.
Idogbe washed my wounds with the spring water and did the same to his own. I inspected the cave and clicked pictures in my camera, which was provided to me by the gazette. I found the creek of which Idogbe had talked about. On contrary to what I had imagined, there were no signs of dead bodies in and around it.
“I think all the dead bodies are rotting below this lake.” I said.
“The water is too shallow to hold up the bodies.”
We sat on a rock beside the lake, contemplating the mysteries of the spring.
“So, as you’ve seen it now. What are you going to write in your article?” Asked Idogbe.
“I’m too tired and out of mind to think about it right now. I’ll just take photos for now and write accordingly.” I answered. “Are you high Idogbe?”
“No, Mr. Minamoto. Like I said before, I’m highly resistant towards this specific drug.”
“Well I chewed the fruit and now I don’t feel good.”
I saw a ripple of waves in the water. I ignored it and carried out with our conversation.
“The seeds of the fruits make you……”
And suddenly something took hold of my leg and dragged me into the water. Idogbe dived to help me but he got grabbed too.
“What the hell?” Idogbe shouted.
“Something is pulling us.” I said.
“Shit! Shit! Shit!” And for the first time, I saw the frightened face of my guide. He turned pale as we struggled to break free.
Idogbe drew his knife and charged aimlessly below the water. I did the same. The water started to turn red as if we had hit a dead body. Finally, we broke free and came to the surface.
I was struggling to catch to my breath and grasp what had just happened. I looked at the knife; which was soaked in blood.
“Is there anything else you want to add to your list of mysteries about this spring?” I said, still breathing heavily.
But Idogbe was terrified as ever. He was fumbling around impatiently.
“Mr. Minamoto, we need to get out of here.” He said and ran to grab his backpack.
There was a splash of water, big enough to throw us on the ground. And then I saw it. The creature, emerging out of the lake, red as blood; with numerous limbs and appendages sticking out of its massive body. It had daggers for teeth and its eyes glowed like hot coal. I was frozen to my place, with my mouth wide open.
“Run Mr. Minamoto.” Screamed Idogbe. We ran towards the narrow tunnel.
The creature leaped out of the water and clutched Idogbe with one of its appendages. I still had my knife in my hand and out of seer bravery, I lunged forward and charged towards it. I stabbed until the knife got stiffly embedded in it. The creature winced and threw Idogbe into the water. Its scream was deafening.
The creature charged towards me. I had nothing to defend myself with. I stooped and rolled over to my side and outmanoeuvred it. But then I recalled that it had several appendages. It grabbed me with one of them. And as if to eat me, it brought me closer to its mouth. I was choking and almost fainted; watching the horrible inside of its mouth. And bam! A big rock came slashing through the air and hit its face, knocking out few of its teeth. Its grip loosened and I broke free. Idogbe had utilised his muscular power to throw a heavy rock and saved my life.
Idogbe signalled me to crawl through the tunnel before the creature could regain itself. I obliged and rushed out through the tunnel, scratching my back during the process. I heard a scream of the creature from the inside. I couldn’t think of the possibility that Idogbe was being eaten by the creature. And then I heard a gunshot and the scream intensified. And then there were splashes of water, as the creature retreated into its hiding place.
Idogbe crawled out with a gun in his hand.
“You need to carry this baby for such situations.” He said. He had regained his sense of humour.
“Did you kill it?” I asked.
“No, but I wounded it severely. It went back into the water. He said. “My god. You should look inside. It’s a bloodbath in there.”
We walked back to our car in silence. We were extremely exhausted to return to Lagos. Thus, we checked into a hotel in Yenagoa for the night. I fell into my bed as soon as I was shown to my room and fell asleep.
The next morning, I called my office and asked them to book a flight for me back to Japan, as I had left my bag pack and wallet in the cave. Idogbe and I had a light lunch. After all that had happened, we didn’t have much appetite left to have a full meal.
“So, what now?” Asked Idogbe over lunch.
“Now, I go back to Japan.” I answered.
“And what about the article? What will you write in the article?”
“I’m not sure. I even left my camera in he spring.”
“Do you want to go back and get it?”
“In no way, I’m ever going back to that place.” I said with disgust. I should have understood that Idogbe was bantering. His sense of humour hadn’t dwindled after the series of events. We ate silently and sipped our drinks.
“This drink is called Buruktu. It has a typical taste as it’s brewed from the grains of Guinea corns and millet.” Said Idogbe. “It’s a pity that you aren’t in a condition to savour its taste after what happened yesterday.”
My ticket was delivered by a Japanese tour guide working in Yenagoa. I returned to Lagos to board my flight at around midnight. Like before, Idogbe drove me to Lagos in three hours. I wondered if the fact that Lagos and Yenagoa were five-hour drives apart was even true at all.
“I don’t think you’ll ever visit Nigeria again.” Said Idogbe as we were bidding farewell. “But if something brings you back, Mr. Minamoto. Don’t leave without meeting me. It would be my pleasure to recollect our memories over drinks.”
“For sure, Idogbe,” I said. “But I wish nothing brings me here for the time being.”
“What happened back there was surreal, and I know it would be hard for you to digest it. But in no mean, I intended to take you to such a dangerous place, had I know about the truth. During all these years, I never came across anything like this.”
“I’m glad that you accompanied me throughout the journey, Idogbe. Thank you for everything. Now, I must board my flight before I miss it.” I said and we hugged.
When I returned to Japan, I was asked to submit the article. The events had made it difficult to surmise them on paper. I couldn’t tell anybody what happened back in Nigeria, as I didn’t want to become an object of humour. Thus, I submitted a censored version of the article, describing the sacredness of the spring and leaving behind the surprising and unbelievable details.
This is the first time in 35 years that I’m revealing this to someone. I know I would be laughed at. I know I would be considered a lunatic by some of the readers. But I badly needed to weigh off the secret from my chest. I moved on with my life and got married again, which made me emotionally stable enough to attain my current status in the field of journalism. I was chiefly involved in the series of sting operations between the years of 2000 and 2005, which eventually exposed the biggest organ trafficking racket in the history of Japan. For my works, I have been bestowed with several prestigious awards too.
I never went back to Nigeria. Even once a situation did arise, but I backed off happily. Of all that happened, I miss my friend Idogbe. I never came across anybody like him in my whole life. I tried to contact him a few years ago, but I was informed by his travelling agency that Idogbe had quit his job years ago. I asked if they had any information regarding his well-being to which I was answered that he was arrested for smuggling a prohibited drug and served a long time in prison. Nobody in the agency knew about his whereabouts.
I wish I can meet Idogbe before I die. So that we can recall back the incident over a glass of Buruktu, which I would certainly be able to enjoy this time. Maybe Idogbe would be carrying fruits of Oyenbo. And I would happily accept to consume it if he offers. And I’ll make sure that I don’t chew it this time.