Nobody in Asempa knew that the twig-men came to life under the moonlight to dance kete with the birds. Although the merry clinking of the gong amidst heavy kete drumbeat could be heard a few miles from Ntow’s vegetable field, no one dared to sneak into the grove at such an hour, not even the bravest of hunters, lest the spirits clipped their tongues and rendered them mute.
Asem’s exploited glands had no saliva left to quench the scorching of his throat, and his kennel was yet several miles away from the grove. He waddled through the dew-soaked shrubs, feeling his way with sore paws and guiding himself with light from the silvery full moon, until he realized he was at the foot of that short, thick plank which bridged his master’s vegetable field and Adoma, the cashew grower’s. He had been running in circles.
He cried out for help, but all any man could hear was the echoing howl of a famished predator racing across his master’s farm. His paw nearly crushed a tomato.
“Now kill me before those twig-men and cruel birds do,” the tomato squelched in agony.
Asem growled and wagged his tail. A tomato cannot speak, he thought. But he was sure he heard a distinct voice.
“Who are you?” he barked.
“Quiet!” the tomato cried. It was red and juicy and ready for harvest. “The twig-men would soon come to life, and the birds shall glide hither.”
Asem burst into peals of laughter. “Don’t be stupid. Those are scarecrows my master crafted with dry twigs and fastened together with thick ropes. They certainly have no life.”
“Believe me,” the tomato said, mirroring the moon on its shiny flesh. “Ask me why some of my friends were half-eaten a fortnight ago, when you came to harvest garden-eggs with your master.”
“Wrong, my friend. The twig-men let the birds eat us.”
Asem could feel his throbbing heart against his fur, threatening to spurt. He had little choice but to believe an outlandish tale from a story-telling tomato. He stared at the twig-men planted sparsely over the field. They looked still…lifeless.
“At the sound of the owl, you must hide under the little barn over there,” the tomato advised. Asem knew where the barn was and inched closer. He quivered, and watched, and waited.
Ntow had gone to inspect his traps earlier that morning with his musket slung over his shoulder and Asem trailing obediently. The traps had caught only air, making Asem feel sorry for his master. In sympathetic defiance he had set off after some slippery grass-cutters, plunging deeper into the grove until he could neither find Ntow or his way back home.
When the night got colder and the willows whistled harder, Asem’s eyes shut deep in slumber right under that little barn he had taken refuge. Then the hooting of the owl was heard, before a flock of crows and fruit-eating bats descended like an army invading a small town. The twig-men were outnumbered, or so one would think.
By this time, the incessant wing-flapping and cawing and hooting had woken Asem from his sleep, and he was certain he was not dreaming.
“Sound the gong and start the kete,” the owl hooted. “The twig-men need to move their twigs to the sacred dance.”
The music came in soft at first, until it got louder, then Asem’s canines rattled in his muzzle at what he saw. The twig-men came to life; the hats on their stuffed sock-heads suddenly swaying this way and that, and their eyes reddening. Their twigs moved harmoniously to the rhythm of the kete music, whiles the birds feasted, plunging their beaks into the ripen fruits, picking the vegetables violently. It was as though the twig-men were entertaining the birds whiles they ate the produce of an honest man’s labour. The moonlight blessed them with a good shine; such cruel conspiracy.
After the birds had wrecked sufficient havoc, and the twig-men had danced enough, the former flew away, flapping their victorious wings in a choreographed manner, while the latter assumed their lifeless positions on the field with half-eaten fruits and vegetables.
Asem rattled throughout the dawn until the first golden ray pierced the dawn and broke it. He wanted to rush home to tell his master the strange tale of the birds and the twig-men, but his limbs were too weak from shock.
When his master finally arrived on the field to lament his loss, Asem tried to recount the horrid episode to him, and how the scarecrows he made had become allies to preying birds. Yet, all Ntow could hear were the exasperating barks of a found dog that got lost in the woods.
The next day Ntow made some more twig-men. Perhaps three were just not enough to scare fruit-eating bats, cawing crows and hooting owls.