by Adanze Asante
Running through the thorny blonde grass, the lone hyena stops to scan the plains of the Serengeti for food and water. After travelling for more than three sunsets, she’s hungry and searching for carrion, but it’s scarce this dry season. A starling alights upon her path as she relishes the strong breeze rippling through her fur, she spots a droughty pond filled with muddy water. Her stomach wrenches tight as she drinks, for the water only incites her hunger pangs.
Through a curtain of heat, a pack of female hyenas lope toward her. Orange dust billows from their paws as they approach. Her fur stands on end, her ears twitch, and at that moment she forgets her hunger. She realizes that she should have stayed on course, but her desire for sustenance had urged her to take a different route.
Knowing it’s odd for a bitch to be alone without her clan, the lone hyena remains steady and still, daring not to move as the leader of the pack pads toward her. This is the first time in her sojourn she has been threatened by her kind. If she shows fear, they’ll attack.
She observes that the matriarch’s head is much larger than normal and that she towers over the other six. Yet when Large Head approaches her, she notices that she’s her equal. Grinding her teeth, she allows the matriarch to move around her in one slow circle and sniff her sex.
Her claws dig into the dirt as she watches Large Head return to her clan, sneezing, grunting, and spitting. Shaking her head, she communicates that something’s wrong with this lone hyena. The clan groans in confusion then a frenzy of rage engulfs them; some stand on their hind legs, cackling.
The seven hyenas begin to gather around her, baring their sharp-razor teeth. The lone hyena remains steady watching them. Breathing slowly and deliberately, she calculates her next move. She never takes her eyes off of Large Head. She’s really too weak with hunger to fight, but she must. Death is the only option, for she is not the only one who’s hungry.
She leaps to rip open Large Head’s throat, but two of Large Head’s underlings foil her attack and pounce on her back. Rebounding quickly, she bares and snaps her teeth, forcing Large Head’s lackeys to retreat.
She launches to rip apart the weakest of the pack, but Large Head barrels into her, throwing her to the ground. They roll and scuffle, each growling at the other, then break apart – the lone hyena quickly scrabbling back up on all fours.
Large Head lunges to bite her neck, but she swiftly squirms out of the way. Then pivoting, the lone hyena clamps her jaws on the alpha bitch’s haunches. The blood tastes bitter yet sweet. Large Head briefly cries out in agony but quickly recovers; it would be death for the matriarch to show weakness to her clan. Her followers whoop and cackle in protest. Turning, the matriarch meets her gaze and they stare at each other for one long moment.
Suddenly the ground rumbles under their paws. Off to the east, a herd of gazelles is stampeding. The lone hyena releases her hold on the old matriarch and the two combatants look to the potential meat and salivate. Abandoning their duel, Large Head breaks into a run, aiming for the slowest and weakest at the back of the herd. The rest of her clan follows her, fanning out to a large hunting V.
The lone hyena watches her in bemusement. She understands that killing an odd hyena is no longer appealing to the clan; gazelles are much juicier. She wonders if she should join them. She could help them rip apart their chosen prey. During their feeding, she could choose a choice body part, thereby asserting her leadership. She notices Large Head has left a trail of blood behind. The clan will eventually kill her as she now appears weak. If she were the one to kill Large Head, she would then lead the rest of the pack.
She hears her own quick shallow breaths, her heart beating in her chest. The warbling of birds, the twittering of insects, even the guttural sounds of vultures circling overhead, clash like cymbals in her ears. A starling alights nearby and suddenly a barrage of sounds and images flood her mind: She is surrounded by smoke, the sound of drumming rings through her ears, cool waves splash against her body, and then a coarse voice whispers: “Go to the One with the message.”
She turns away from the pack, as the voice continues to hiss in her ears. It beckons across the vast plains, urging her to leave the clan of roaming beasts behind. She obeys.
As the sun climbs to its zenith, she catches a whiff of blood, causing her stomach to grumble louder. She looks up and sees vultures circling not far off. Frothing at the mouth, she trots toward the carrion birds and finds a half-eaten antelope – a lion pride’s leftovers. She lunges at the birds, scattering them. She manages to snatch a hind leg with her teeth and rip it from the carcass. They swoop in to peck her back, an attempt to guard their meal, but with the meat dangling from her mouth, she sprints away.
Under an acacia tree, she devours the antelope’s backside in several bites, hacking through its skin to the flesh with her knife-like teeth. She relishes how carrion always tastes better when they are seasoned with a lion’s saliva. Its smell tantalizes her so much that she even eats the bones.
She wallows in the dirt to ease the sting of her scratches from the earlier battle with the hyena clan. A starling alights on a branch of the tree above her. Then as the sky turns orange and magenta with dusk, her eyelids grow heavy, lulling her into sleep.
A slim bare-chested man is waving her in through the open door of his hut. His smiling eyes sparkle as he says: “Come to me!”
She is about to walk in when…
Something awakens her. It is a male hyena, marking his territory. Lying on her belly, she pants, observing him. Unlike females, males always roam alone as they are only good for mating and are useless otherwise. He circles her with caution, for she is twice his size and could crush him easily. Yet when he climbs on her back, she allows him. She is much too drowsy to rouse. Many males have approached her for mating before and she has always rebuffed them, but this time it feels good. It feels right.
He awkwardly pokes his penis above her erect clitoris, which is as big and long as his member. Their sexes rub against each other as he tries to enter her shaft, but he keeps slipping off her sleek fur. Her sex moistens from his continuous tries. She stands up to make it easier for him to climb and poke again. When the tip of his penis finally enters, she whoops and chortles with delight. Yes, this time it’s delicious and welcoming.
A starling lands on her head and she tries to shake it off, when she hears: “Go to the One with the message.” Suddenly she remembers: She is no hyena. She is human. She is Duriya Osa! There is no way she can mate with this animal.
She throws him off her and then swipes at his face with her claws. The male hyena cowers under her strikes until she retreats, then tries to mount her again. This time she springs to bite him, snapping her jaws, but the male instantly moves out of the way. Rising on her hind legs, she yowls. He finally surrenders to her threats and lopes off to a nearby tree to lick his genitals and quench the fire of his excitement.
Under an indigo sky, Duriya begins to run. She runs until she is several miles away from the stud and the night lit with starlight. She finally stops beneath an umbrella tree to rest. This is when she hears the sound of an mbira. Her ears prick, listening to the faint notes, its tinkling sound dancing before her.
The sweet melody vibrates through her body, and with each tink-tink-tink-tink, she shudders as if from an internal storm. She leans against the tree shaking uncontrollably. Sharp pain shoots through her body like bolts of lightning and she jerks her head from side to side in rickety movements. With horror, she sees her paws begin to grow into human hands. Her black spotted fur starts to fade into coffee-brown skin and tight curls of human hair. She can feel her jagged fangs pushing back to human teeth. She has to get to the One before she fully transforms or she will not survive this journey.
But her body is changing beyond her control. She halts as her two front legs shrink to human arms. Her ears shrivel from her wide animal ones and her sharp-night vision fades into human sight. Her sense of smell dulls; her strength wanes. She howls in agony, but her breath is cut short as her spine straightens and her tail melts back into it. Her hind legs lengthen into human ones; she is now crawling on her hands and knees. She was to be there by the fifth night, she remembers, and time is running out. She has to get there. She just has to…
Crawling and changing, changing and crawling, she makes her way towards the sound of the mbira, which grows louder with each step. Then a pungent scent of violets stings her nose. She inhales… Ahh… that smell… She cackles and whoops, recognizing it. The One must be near.
At the tree that marks the entrance to his compound, she stretches her body upright and shakes off what’s left of her reddish-brown fur. She shuffles sluggishly to her lover’s threshold where she collapses, supine. She opens one eye and catches him watching her.
“Ahh … that’s my girl,” she hears him say.
Owodunni lifts the young woman, his legs buckling from a weight that is still that of a 200-pound hyena, and carries her into his home. A starling flies through the open door and alights on one of the root jars by the entrance as he places Duriya on a straw mat in the centre of the room. The air around them is as heavy as wet mist.
Burning fragrant herbs, Owodunni prays to the deities who helped create Duriya. He gives thanks and offers Ogo, the Dogon deity responsible for the powerful huntress, a boar’s head. He hangs his machete on a hook in the centre of the shrine. As the fresh blood drips from it into a sacred pot, he smokes Duriya’s body from head to toe with a bunch of burning twigs. He notices the deep scratches on her stomach and winces. When he’d cast the spell three years ago he had not thought to arm Duriya; he didn’t think she would confront any danger.
He tucks the shrine’s brown, gold, and ivory cloth around Duriya’s shoulders as she snores. He is careful not to rouse her, for she is still in the twilight of human and animal. It could be hours before her full transition and if he is not careful, she could tear him to pieces. As if to confirm his suspicions, she yawns, revealing sharp fangs. He keeps a safe distance between them and carries a fighting knife in the waist of his trousers: just in case.
He pours libations to Ogo again. He gives praises to his ancestors and to the forces that feed his powers.
Duriya’s body writhes in violent convulsions and she wakes up in tears. She struggles to look around. The room is decorated with lion and boar skins and furnished only by a chair with three legs, some wooden shelves against a wall, and an elaborate shrine. A wooden staff decorated with horizontal bands of light mahogany leans on the wall by the door, a starling is perched atop it, watching her intently.
The shelves are filled with glass jars of brilliantly-coloured powders, bottles of ogogoro, feathers, a doll’s head, the swollen carcass of a puffer fish, and three skulls – one of a dog and two human.
She studies the altar, gazing at the skulls and bones on it. The walls on either side of it are draped with gold and silver material. At its centre, there is a platter full of rice, yam, oranges, bananas, pineapples and beans – offerings for the deities and ancestors. This altar has been her home away from home for the past three years. It is where she seeks comfort from a husband she pretends to love.
Groaning, Duriya crawls until she is next to her lover, directly under the shrine. Her muscles pulsating from overexertion, she curls into a foetal position.
“When will be a good day for me to kill my husband?” She asks absently.
Owodunni glances over his shoulder at her, still not quite comfortable with her human form.
“Killing my brother takes patience, my dear,” he says, forcing a light tone.
He stands to fetch a jar of ointment from one of his shelves. Scooping some of the ointment with the fingertips of his right hand, he returns to her. “Turn over. This should take the scarring away.”
While Owodunni smears the ointment on her belly, Duriya thinks of how, in public, she has been humiliated by her husband’s beatings and threats. How, in private, she has had to concede to his desires for threesomes and foursomes. She thinks of how often she has sat in her hut alone at night dreading his return. Her only reprieve has been within Owodunni’s arms.
“I almost didn’t make it.”
“What do you mean?” Owodunni asks.
“They almost killed me.”
“Who almost killed you?”
“A big-headed hyena.”
“I’m glad you’re here,” Owodunni says. He reaches to stroke her shoulder but she flinches away.
“You don’t understand,” she says.
Owodunni remains silent and listens for he does not want to agitate the beast.
“I nearly forgot myself out there.”
“Did you hear me calling you?”
Without answering, Duriya looks up at the starling perched on the head of the mahogany staff. Then she nods.
“Well then, you have nothing to worry about,” he says. “You should eat something,” Owodunni says. He moves over to a round-bellied pot she hasn’t noticed before and stirs the soup inside it. “This will help you transition.”
“You know I can’t eat cooked meat right away.”
“I know, but I want a full woman right now.”
“What’s the matter?” She asks with a smirk. “Are you afraid I might take a bite out of you?”
“You are still part animal.”
“Is that so?” She cackles, crawling to him on her hands and knees. “Do I not look fully human?”
“Yes, but your mind and heart are still transitioning.”
He spoons the meat, yams and vegetables into a wooden bowl.
“Here, taste this.” He thrusts the bowl at her.
She shuts her eyes tight and smells the meal before her. Reaching into the bowl, she grabs a piece of meat and bites it. She lets it stay in her mouth for a moment before she tries to chew it.
“Ugh!” In disgust, she spits the morsel into the palm of her hand and wipes her mouth with her forearm. “This is awful! How could anyone eat cooked meat? It ruins its essence!”
“Taste it again,” he persists. “You will soon remember.”
“Remember your true self.”
She remembers how much she enjoyed the taste of fresh warm blood while in her animal state, how sweet carrion bones tasted. Too bad she only transitions when her husband ventures out on blood sports once a month, she thinks. Placing the piece of meat into a cloth, she lays the bowl aside.
“What if I don’t want to remember any more? What if I want to let myself go and mate with a male hyena?”
“Now that would be a problem,” Owodunni said, furrowing his brows. “Besides I would have to kill the hyena.”
Duriya laughs. Then she turns serious and asks, “So, you’re not going to cast a death spell on my husband?”
“No, not yet.”
“Does this mean that your medicine is failing?”
“No, it just means that I have to find another road.”
“Another road?” she asks, shaking her head. “Sometimes you talk in riddles.”
“I have to work around my brother’s protection.”
“Your brother’s talisman?”
“Yes, they were given to both of us at birth. I had to abandon mine when I embraced Dogon medicine.”
“Dogon medicine will serve you better than Yoruba.”
“But it means the Yoruba deities no longer protect me. If I cast such a spell against my brother, I would become his enemy and those deities would turn against me. All of my plans to take over his kingdom would end before they even began.”
“This is much too difficult,” Duriya says. “Why can I not kill him? It would be so easy as a hyena. Besides, I might enjoy eating the king’s meat and bones.”
“You are forbidden to kill humans; it’s against the rules of the spell,” Owodunni says, squatting in front of her. “Otherwise you will remain a hyena forever and you will lose all memory of who you are. Do you want that to happen?”
“I’m getting tired of travelling this way,” Duriya says, sighing. “I might not come back to you the next time.”
“Don’t worry,” he says. “You are protected under my spell.”
“I don’t feel protected when I’m out there.”
“You can hold your own,” he says.
She looks at her lover, this middle-aged man of medium height, and marvels at his mahogany complexion and chiselled body. She might have been staring at her husband, except for the gray streak in the middle of his hair and the way his body seems to dance with the wind. That is why she prefers him.
“So, if we can’t destroy your brother then what’s the other road?”
“The other road is called patience.”
“Patience?” she asks, smirking. “I’m not sure if you’ll last, old man.”
“Ahh … you’re starting to talk like yourself,” his light brown eyes twinkle in the candlelight. He caresses her thigh. “How’s the soup?”
She dips her right index finger into the wooden bowl. It smells of tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers. Licking it, Duriya finds she is beginning to like the flavours. “It’s not so bad.”
“I’ve been waiting for you for too long,” Owodunni says. “Don’t make me wait another second.”
Owodunni wraps his arms around her and she clasps her thighs around his waist. They make love until dawn.
Afterwards, while Owodunni is fast asleep, Duriya finds a strand of hyena hair at the edge of the mat. It’s from the male hyena. Closing her eyes, she savours the memory of the wind hitting her fur out there on the plains. Clutching the hair, she thinks: just in case.
# END #