I am darkness. I am the musk of matted fur. I am the scrape of claw on bark, of tooth on bone. I am the air that prickles the back of your neck at night.
I sit high in the mahogany tree, my long limbs dangling toward the earth. My eyes, if you could see them, would gleam at you in the moonlight. I am alert, but I let my arms swing idly with the breeze. They look just like the vines drooping from the branches, don’t they? But that’s not a fair question, you can’t tell which tree I’m sitting in.
You can only hear me, the occasional click of a claw amongst the whisper of leaves.
Your step stiffens, your head swivels. I smell the tang of your sweat in the wind. The scent of a fearful man. As close as you are, you must smell me by now too, my breath pungent from the meat in my belly. Your people say I stink, but your fear reeks like sun-baked carrion.
You shouldn’t have come out alone.
You have to pass through one last stand of trees to get back to your village. We both know that. You run, but of course that won’t help you. Whichever tree you’re near is the one I’m in. That’s how it works with Sasabonsam.
There is no more wind, but all the vines are swaying. That must be a trick of your eyes, eh? It cannot be that the branches are reaching down for you, tangling in your hair, pulling at your wrap. Did a thorn just graze your cheek?
You know better. Mahogany trees don’t have thorns.
Whatever business you had that you couldn’t tell anyone about—they will all remember you by it now. They will all want to know what happened the night you disappeared.
What is the last thing you think as your feet leave the ground? I will never know. There is too much screaming. There is always too much screaming.
Whatever it was that brought you out here tonight—was it worth it?
Sadly, I shall never find out.
This one stinks of sex. I can smell her from the top of this kola tree. It is night, and she knows it is dangerous. She’s looking around in the bushes. In all the wrong places. Leopards, for instance, prefer to take their meals up in the trees. So do I.
You are surprised that you can understand me, that you can still hear at all. No, it doesn’t make sense to you yet, because yes, I ate you last night. Your flesh is melting away in my belly, but I have not yet finished your soul.
Do you see her, the one who smells of copulation? I doubt she is coming from her own hut. She’s skirting the edge of the odum trees; she knows better than to step underneath that sinister canopy. She can’t go in there, she tells herself. That’s where Sasabonsam lives.
You must wonder why I don’t follow her as I did you, why I hold my limbs close to my body and remain still at the top of the single kola in the clearing.
It’s so she won’t see me through the dark tangle of branches when the rain begins to fall, when she decides to run for cover under the safety of the kola rather than into the black snare of odum. You can’t feel rain anymore, but you will know when it has started—ah, now, see how she looks up, clutches her arms, quickens her pace? Looks toward us and calculates. Runs right to the foot of our tree.
Watch, now, how she looks around, shivering, backing up to the trunk she thinks will save her. Keep watching while I slowly uncrook my limbs, flex my claws, spiral my arms down through the branches like snakes. Is this how it looked when I took you? Or did you even see what squeezed the life out of you?
You may not want to see what happens next, when I snatch her up and crack her bones and tear into her as if she were an antelope.
Like I did to you.
The sight may finish off what is left of your soul.
Sasabonsam has a code, you know. I do not take children. I do not take hunters or healers gathering roots. I kill quickly—I feed on meat and blood and fear, but not on pain. Not on physical pain.
I feed on regret. This is why you are still with me. The woman was too simple, too plain and direct for flesh and soul to last. But you, you have enough pain stored up in your soul to gnaw on for days. I suckle your grief like marrow from a thighbone. It is quite unusual. And another unusual thing:
That woman was your wife.
I shouldn’t know this. I thought this was only a thing of legend, but it seems to be true—the longer I feed on a person, the more I understand them. And each time I bring up your regret and roll it around on my tongue, I taste new information.
She was your third wife, the youngest.
The one who you thought loved you.
Is this the source of the delicious agony still behind my teeth? Regret that you met her? Loved her? That she betrayed you? Or that she’s now dead?
No, don’t tell me, actually. I used to resent not knowing, but I’m finding I prefer my anguish hazy. I love the feel of your memories melting like fat on my tongue.
You are a generous meal, but I insist: you must stop thinking of Mensah—I mean, of your wife. I don’t care to know her name. She is dead and gone now, and so are you, and there’s no point in reliving the lives you once lived. These details are beginning to spoil my appetite, which is just as well, because the villagers have been out looking for her, and I do not like to hunt with onlookers.
And I wonder why they did not look for you? Does that make you angry? Sad? You have every right to regret the way you lived and died. Don’t think, just feel. Give in to that sadness. I adore that silky richness pouring down my throat.
What is this? How dare you accuse me—I could not have known she was with child.
And anyway, it is not your place to accuse me, Adofo. Damn you for letting me taste your name. I do not need to know what my food was called. I do not need to know what its wife was called, either, or the sound of her voice, or the songs she sang while pounding fufu or fetching water. I do not need to know how she braided her hair. I do not need to know how dark her eyes were, or how they shone, or how soft her cheeks were or how her buttocks felt in your hands. I do not need to know how she kissed you, or how she mounted you—do you not think about how she mounted the other man?
And now, you choke me with a fresh wave of sadness, of acrid, specific sadness, of Opoku Adofo's particular sadness at the passing of his wife and her child, regardless of whose, and regret at having sought to sneak away and kill the man with whom she was having an affair, and despair at the idea that he will never reunite with her spirit as long as his is with Sasabonsam. Opoku Adofo, you are an unending font of melancholy. My belly is sour with your bilious outpourings. Will you not stop thinking about her?
Dead man—I will not call you by your name—you must change your ways. I starve, and yet I cannot eat with your unceasing misery roiling my stomach. Your love for this woman is pure poison. Everyone in your village knew but you. She made you a cuckold, and yet you still worship her.
But I love her.
No, Adofo! This has gotten out of hand—I should not be hearing you. There is something wrong here, no love is this strong. But we can fix it. If you clear your mind, I can finish you, and thus release you to meet her spirit again.
You can do that? Release me?
Yes, for the love of Tanno, if only you would let me. Release your thoughts of her, and I will be able to release you—and myself.
Sasabonsam, can you hear me?
I am weak, Opoku Adofo, let me rest.
Sasabonsam, I have considered what you ask. You are right, I must forget.
At last. We did not have much time left.
I will do it, Sasabonsam, I will let go. There is no point to continuing with this pain.
You will forget about her? About him, the man she—
Ah, I taste it now. Your regret is not about her. It is that you didn’t kill her lover when you had the chance.
Sasabonsam, you are weak, I can barely hear you.
My mouth is merely a little dry. But I am impressed that you were able to hide the true source of your anguish this long. You are strong, Opoku Adofo, but are you ready to release your burden now?
Let me rest, then, and I will feed again tonight.
Sasabonsam, I am ready. I have cleared my mind, and I am ready for you to finish me so you can feed again.
Look, there is someone right now. He looks up to no good.
Sasabonsam, wake up.
Look, look, he’s right underneath our tree. I think we can reach him. Yes, see, we’re stiff, but our arms are slinking down toward him now. We are almost there.
Come, it’s time to eat.
Look, I have him now. How he struggles, like a cane-rat in a trap! But I have him.
Come, Sasabonsam, wake up, smell that fear. Watch him writhe. And such screaming! He’ll be delicious.
But how odd, I feel like I should know him. He’s no friend of mine, no, but I feel I should recognize him.
Whoever he is, his shrieks are mouthwatering. Are you going to eat him, Sasabonsam?
Are you there?
Do you mind if I take a bite?