THE TYRANT HAS GONE By Clarius Ugwuoha
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THE TYRANT HAS GONE
By Clarius Ugwuoha
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Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
A tale of sordid paradoxes…of self-tyranny and self-domination…
A grumbling – that was how it began – stiff breath; tears of scowling eyes within black despair. It was fluid as if a dream thickening rapidly and he had, that Stranger, taken form out of its ominous depths. The room was one thing. It was not actually there. Masked out of the real world, the illusion of freedom in a society in chains was its beard, the caricature of a window and a doorway scratched out among the falling walls. The thatch was unevenly balding, allowing the narrow shafts of sunlight to play on the floor.
This hypothesis will not stand the test of time
I muttered to myself and sank in deep thought. Nearby he was - that Stranger - by himself, starched, noisily rehearsing his day and striking attitudes. I quailed. Guilty I have always been, guilty of being innocent. The word reechoed: GUILTY!
He rained suddenly on the door; the dark thundering bent my mind. There was the unbearable tug at my sanity. I crouched, swung out of the window and embraced the daylight full. The hutted terrain fled by. Close at my heels, many as one, came the shattered pieces of my mind. Dunked in sweat, hair in thick mats, feet heavy with it – that crypto-angst, I could smell and taste grief, could see things. About me, it was thick with people, only empty of human beings! It was sweaty but dead with people so lazy and inactive moulds could grow on them alive. The lambs survived the lions’ stare as mounds of excreta the odor of which stung the very essence of the society. Nothing worked, was perfect. Even the aquifers had shrunk, so that using the mono pump that fed the long weary queues was more or less an exercise in futility. The bumpy road wound up and down, snaked this way and that with deep gorges that were almost impracticable. Out there, the world moved as though everything was in order, as though many innocent people had not been executed for the guilt which only innocence conjured. The imperfect sculptor was carving out of obeche wood the monster versions of existence. The dreaded hunter was there too, the hunter – of human beings! I ran to a safe distance and stopped. Blowing. Even in that state I could right perceive the horrible stench of decaying minds all over the place. I retched. Somewhere a missile of clouds had shot the sky in its luminous eye. It was threatening ominously and sheet lightning would whip through the gloom now and then. The fire was burning dimly and the stranger would seek to quench it in rank bestialities. I would not know he was the one scattering up my world. I would point fingers another way, force quarrels and smash heads and he would laugh at it all above my nose. I would sense nothing beyond the thundering in my head, the deep black emptiness within threatening to swell it beyond proportion.
It rained. I looked around me, but it was dry.
The rain tore down in waves and against its menace I steeled my psyche but did I sting with the pebbled sluice. Stop! I order you, this moment!
It did not stop. It kept. With the cutting edge of wind, sand and dust. There was Duru. Haa Duru the pantheist. Raining words and libations. Before his pantheon. There was the thunder of gunshots. So he was there too – that hunter with erratic instances of misfired shots claiming the wrong victims. He was raining. Scattering pellets of fear. There was Janet. Haa, Janet of all illusory facts! There was the Stranger tugging at my sanity, creating many a scene and smashing heads. Yankiss University with its cramp of cult, riots and strikes! The Steelways Company had gathered around my mind thickening threateningly and would rain suddenly in fitful shots. The M.D., Mr. Johnson Smith, had between him and Duru that precarious understanding which led frequently to misunderstanding. He was leafing through a shag-eared copy of Hadley Chase’s " A lotus for Ms. Quon". He was frenziedly licking up the pages, admiring Jafe’s stolen diamonds while Haun’s (the dispossessed) strangulated cries rang in the room. Johnny was still searching for it and would scatter the room in a great disorder. He had hoed the soil for that riddle of survival and he had walked the taut ropes of sanity. His childhood had been built around illusory hopes. At adulthood, he had become disillusioned and would get obsessed with thoughts of self-destruction. However, the madness had cawed itself out before it could do the ultimate harm. He could not feel secure either. He felt he had only swept the dirt under the carpet and the fear of something he could not actually define haunted him night and day.
The room, it was long suspected, did not actually exist. It would sometimes boil and steam into thin air, scalding all on its way and at other times condense its knotted wrath so that terror rained within. The fire would turn limp and near lifeless. Its smoke would thicken and hang in the air for weeks, sting the eyes and nose till they had become calcified. Not that there were no brighter days. They came unfurling like a leaf in the morning with laughter, jokes and fanfare. However, not even these were without thorns. What exercised me most was my very strange guests who drank and drank till the room swam like the illusion it was suspected to be. Donny was not among them. He was gangling, suave and self-opinionated. His were unearthly stories that entertained as much as they scared one. He told so many lies people thought him a politician. However, I knew he was only an employee of Mr. Johnson Smith’s. There he was, the grown up that was not an adult, who studied everything in the book without being educated by them. An illiterate graduate of Yankiss University. He pulled a few strings. Got a job at Steelways.Performance was the pity
Greg. Oh, you do not know him after all. He was – bless him – one of those farts of a disordered personality. As benign as Hitler was vicious, the life in his eyes was false but it radiated more warmth and understanding than a million luminescent stars. He had his own cranks though. Order, says he, order and nothing pleased him more. Donny – he was crawling around my mind in an inspiringly lazy way. Greg was decorating the walls with an orderliness that made orderliness confusing. I was disturbing everyone with my silence. Janet entered and sauntered out muttering something about all these rains. I looked at the room brewing over with people and wondered why I was alone; and why with all the gaieties, I occupied the peculiar cobweb world. A fickle world that took on varying aspects each new day, like the mass of Obeche wood undergoing transformations with each turn of the sculptor’s bradawl. I could see armed robbers, sadists, ritualists, bad losers, kidnappers, looters of the economy and every other monster that tormented the society; and each materialized with only a turn of the bradawl. The sculptor prided on his own art and ingenuity. The stranger stabbed me a glance. I crouched, the futility of hiding from oneself… The hot gust of wind, which had thrown the window wide, hit my face, burning sharply upon, scalding my moss–carpeted reasoning, my mind turned up to the heights of insanity and intoxication. Trembling all over, I abandoned myself to it all.
The sun sank in the low sky and the day drew in. The sultry expanse of rock-studded steppe was dappled over with sepulchral shades of itself. The birds nestled in their roosts. Not flapping their wings. Not singing. Silence. Everywhere. Only the streetlights that burnt harshly on the tarmac. A speck in the distance became a taxicab. It negotiated a bend and sped past the winding road in a nerve–racking thud of wheels against kerbs. Then the harmattan mist and gorges swallowed it. The dust in its trail found my nostrils. I sneezed and sensed the rain thickening up.
I had, that morning, walked up to a nearby shack. Upon seeing me, the rats rushed out and fled their scattered ways. I had with trembling hands drawn out Janet’s note. It had read in the clear backward slant impeccably hers: I promise – a cloudburst!
Apoplectic it had been, my reason worn, torn in irretrievable shreds. There was a rebel insistently drawing attention to itself within. And I remembered, I remembered those formative years in the Anglican vicarage of lowering skies and sudden rains: I had served the local priest fed fat to the soul of Anglicism, but there had been then the subliminal rebellion within me giving rise to little questionable actions and utterances. In my foolery, I had taken a fancy for this new body squealing within, clamouring me to attention. We would hold quiet conversations in the fringes of the forest at dawn and with time the conversations went out of hand too. I would come out of one bruised, disorganized and different… and with time, the Stranger became freer, more aggressively intimate with me. The baffled priest had set to task about my wet-dock clothes soiled in the mess of juvenile complexes, and wringing out to no purpose the eccentricity of thoughts, actions and utterances. I had a total stranger in myself, I had the disaffected one who too had with him his own beast, and that Beast, his, another…his, another…his…till I had a whole clan of the unreal nibbling and tugging at my sanity. I poured vituperations on them, pummeling all over. But I hurt myself in the act, smarting under the bruises.
The past played vividly back. Home was the backwater of an outback clan. Thickly hutted. Ripped across its stretch by huge gorges. Piled twice high at its fringes with giant boulders. Shut out from the outside world by its pervasive crudity, its stiff-necked rejection of civilization. ‘Peopled’ by a backward coterie. Men were giant ants milling around tree-holes. It was here, in this cradle-of-life, I had encountered Janet: A very sunny day. I ensconced myself in the shade of gmelina trees and threw my mind beyond the dark surround of trees, boulders and rocks. The sun leaped upon it baring crest-like tongues of fire. It hurt, this fire, and burnt the trees, the rocks and boulders to charred remains. In the exciting mystery of chars, I made out the silhouette of Janet, staring at her in petrified silence. She was shabby, scorned by the fire-burns. Nevertheless, even in those crude early encounters, she was such an impression! Soon after, it was always Janet. Transmogrified in the esoteric matrix of the fire, she was now beauty itself, marked out of the leaping tongues by the poetry of her build. However, two things still bothered me about Janet - her unpredictability, and her fanciful flights.
About Janet, in that brightness of the fire, squatted what I took to be courtiers of hers. But when I strained my eye I found out that these were Janets too, a thousand of them! The cloud-tongued fire leaped scattered around chasing shadows in its attempt to caress the girls. They dodged. I had taken my greatest delight in just gaping at them in recesses of the psyche. Now, that had palled on me. I began contemplating a concourse of the Janets and the fire.
A thunder of feet. The Janets had bolted away! I gathered my flippant thoughts and gave a fevered chase; dashed myself, in that attempt, to my bamboo couch and was severely bruised. Greg’s vicarious shout of pain was drowned out in Donny’s derisive laughter. So, I was back to that historic room.
It was dark all over, like an experiment that had suddenly turned sour. It suggested all the fire thought ill. It suggested the trees, the giant rocks and boulders. Everything! Haun’s cries under Jafe’s strangulation were digging into the walls while Smith’s face was shinning like Jafe’s stolen diamonds."Duru will not like this" I muttered to myself. Greg seemed to have forgotten his manners. The room was a riot of itself. The placards on the wall had come off and pieces of then were everywhere. The chairs and stools were scatter–thrown. Outside, in the hearth, a stack of wood was blazing with fire. There were grey-tasseled corns just above the hearth, dangling in the breeze. Suddenly these tassels were caught in the tantrum of the fire and the whole room burnt over. I fled into the morning with the fire burns.
I could conjure her up as quickly as thought. She was spinning, going through rapid and varied transmogrifications. She was twisting her wiry built to a frenzied rhythm, contorting her features into impossible masks. She was standing by the roadside, ragged. Now thin. Now plump. Had forms and was formless. Was recessive like the low sky. Raced after own scattered reflections. Flew like birds…I was chasing her all over the place. I was trying to concentrate her rebellion reflections into a luminous fact. The sweat was raining from my face and somewhere it was threatening with bolts of thunder and sheet–lightning.
"Janet!" I kept screaming along. "Mad! Disoriented!" The air berated me. The dark voices came sharper with time in a tirade of this unrepentant philogynist
"Execrable ways… besotted with love, flustered by it, flung, torn…paranoiac, beast!" The scolding had become confusing. I held on my way screaming her name as high as I dared. On my feathers the loose tongues rained. I was undaunted. I found in Janet and the Janet retinue a haven. The vapidity and monotony of life, the pain and bitterness of existence were counter-balanced by this phenomenon of Janets that had caught the fancy of a disoriented fire. The fire burnt softly at the sides of the road, licking dry grass and smacking its lips. I slackened my pace. This journey to nowhere. Shifting just to be busy. Searching for her in every nook and cranny of the psyche. Scratching the ground to know which ant has laid her eggs. There was Johnny complaining bitterly. About politics. The military. The intelligentsia. About everybody and about everything. Greg, a junior worker at Steelways, found Mr. Smith a hard boss. Greg’s was the obsession for further studies at Yankiss University. With a degree, he could look Smith straight in the face, he thought. I turned a corner. "Janet!" I screamed. There was the hunter! I made to hasten away, when he halted me with his disarming gap-tooth smile. He was in one of those rare jovial moods, the friendliest enemy there was.
"Why do you always talk to yourself? It’s odd," he said. I told him there was more within than without. He was caressing his rifle with a fondness that kept me on edge. There was great need for fear. The hunter had cataleptic fits which effects were truly far-reaching. After such bouts, he would lapse into total amnesia. His mind would be as blank as a newborn baby’s, and he would rely on his attendants for the rediscovery of self and tide of events. They exploited this opportunity, of course. They would tell him sometimes that he had been a great chief and he would assume airs as befitted one. At other times, they would tell him he’d been in a bitter feud with Mr. A., and he would grow to hate same intensely, pick up his gun one demented day and hunt the one out of existence.
"People who talk to themselves are unbalanced". He broke into my thought. "You are not a split mind, are you?"
I took exception to the inquiry." Why do you hunt human beings?" I dared to ask.
"I hunt people."
"Human beings only".
"Refer to the law of jungle predation". He had thrown on his dark spectacles, an edge to his mien. There were gunshots. I had crouched in time to dodge the first hail, and as another followed, I tore in zigzag directions. The hidebound, trigger-happy fellow came on my heels. A mind at its highest entropy was worse than a riot mob. I was flying in all directions. There was no hiding place. Electricity had desecrated the sanctity of darkness. No hiding place. Dodging. Like a lunatic. While the air shivered with the elemental fury of the gun.
"Hunter!" shouted I out of breath. "Hunter! You are in fact wonderful! You are indispensable. You did not so much kill human being as help them die! Hunter! Hunter!" My voice trailed in the air behind me. Long after the gunshots had worn out in the distance, I was still running crisscross, eulogizing the hunter to pacify him. I was now about District village, short of breath, feet blistered through. In the Compounds, the eyes of lamplights gleamed in the darkness of my thoughts.
I ambled into one of the Compounds, battling within me for an intense reflection of her. Before we was a belt of heroic mud works roofed roughly with iron sheets. A bungalow, at just the middle, was clever. Curtains drawn and windows fast. I strolled up. A knock. A crone flung the door wide.
She was a riddle of a person. Face heavily wrinkled, pock-marked, shutout by sagging flesh, she limped – I suppose – from some infirmity of the legs. I popped in my head and she fled, the dust–licking speed at variance with her senility. I might well have turned a different way. But I had had the notion of Janet’s aura in the tainted exuberance of the place. I waited in suspense about the door, gazing at the fire that burnt at just a stone’s throw. It steeped the surrounding in its brilliance. Birds soared above, sucking in the smoke that drifted off.
A patter of feet, and there was before me a squat, balding man clutching a machete in one hand, his face black. I made a low bow and his hostile bearing changed at the courtesy.
. * * * * * *
My host? He was of all persons – Duru. Duru of the inflammable zeal. The pantheist. Proponent of black–consciousness. Living opposition to Mr. Smith’s neo-colonisation of District village. He was, I came to know, a traditional chief in the town too. I wormed myself into his thinking as a docile person of child-like innocence. But, he would, on occasions, place me under surveillance, especially when he’d encountered that inconsiderate part of me. During such probationary periods, I would fight shy of the stranger, I would dodge him all about fearful of his cantankerous presence. I would blow and stoke the fire. The tongues would leap high and Duru would see my innocence.
I slept all day in the reception hall and thought all night about her. There was no knowing her whereabouts but it was understood she lived somewhere within: I was so obsessed with longing for her that – mercifully, I was spared much of the bickering in Duru’s compound. But then Spencer, one of Duru’s sons who was frequent Company, would make me relive every detail of whatever transpired. The couple next door was the cast of amateur theatricals that emptied the entire neighbourhood in the compound. Everyone looked up to the rehearsals, including Duru, whose disapproval had whittled down into mere grunts of "They’re at it again!"
He was tall, self-possessed, given to sudden, barbarous fits, a tyrant in his own way. She was tall too, disabled in one leg – some say - from the nerve–racking beatings she received from him. The three children of that unhappy union squabbled continuously, another version of the macabre theatricals that ever entertained a neighbourhood. Junior, the youngest, was the most versatile. He was doing well at school. He often drew. Drew his teacher on his state, captured what there was in that drunkard. He drew places, people and things. He drew with his own idea of perfection and I would see monsters and nod with understanding.
"Now look at it" Came Spencer. I turned the drawing this way and that. It radiated a distinctively repulsive aura that made it strangely alluring like the pain which gave its own pleasures. Here junior captured his rapist father in two dimensions. He was standing, shimmering like mirage in my consciousness." No vestige of humanity" continued Spencer as lucidly as the drawing on the table. "The heart was gone. The claws grew; and the skin disappeared in a forest of stiff hairs. It was a sordid metamorphosis. She couldn’t divorce herself from him. He threatened her with everything: maiming, skinning, beating with raw koboko, being hung head downwards from the skies, flung to sharia fury while international outcry raged, and lately, death. Divorce was the last option. She filed a suit. He struck it off. That rapist …"
One day, I dared to enter their section of the compound. The poor harassed wife was beaten to a coma. She lay in a heap, as battered as the country’s economy. I felt unhappy – and angry – angered by the air of satisfaction he wore, like a cannibal who’d just feasted of his gory recipe. He did not seem to feel any sense of remorse. What bothered me most was not what people did. What bothered me was what people perceive of what they did! That dead, undiscerning conscience was simply revolting.
" You used to have a room" Spencer divined.
"Oh it’s a very long story. It got burnt – beard and all "He drew his features.
" I think it’s still intact." He said. "It’s indestructible. It’s a cause, you know, one that has claimed many lives".
He led the way through rows of rooms and pointed at the last. I stared in wide-eyed wonder. It was the room! The doors and windows were still as they were – like freshly scratched out of the morbid depths of illusion. The fighting and squabbling had quietened. The beastly rapist lay deep asleep, giving way to the more benign occupants of that indescribable space. "Where have you been?" That was Greg decorating the room and thinking of Yankiss University. He looked much older, recently affianced to a miss Mildred. She came often with, today a broad grin and tomorrow little pieces of concrete discord. Greg pampered her. The innocent face of a kiss, a cuddle and a hug was transforming gradually to a monster. No one noticed. Nor cared. Except Smith, still avariciously admiring the diamonds. And thinking of more. Johnny with that impecunious mien eyed the room over, pinning for it. Not cut out for telling lies didn’t think he could cope with politics. Duru was not happy at the situation. I thought it might rain, conscious of dense darkness, I asked in a torch, struck it on, but it could not see what I saw. It only glorified its own brightness, blind to the thick darkness all around! I struck it off.
"You see the coup," said I to Greg" It never does help…"
"It was an election". He corrected.
An election it was, the consistency of a coup. Another wrong candidate … and that unresolved imbroglio darkened the daylight out. That rebel. Found myself in a military concentration camp. No fault of mine. His. Slash of whips across bare backside, flesh tumbling away in a thick spatter of blood. A treatment with the rod was enough to make you confess all you knew and more. I sang like a bird, and confessed to everything, including being responsible for the death of those openly executed by the State…Hanged for what he was and for championing the cause of his people. The haste about it. Right in the precarious ambience of the camp, the noose was tightening vicariously around my thoughts, my mind coiling and uncoiling around hope and despair. Through the window of my travails, I could peer straight into the misery of the streets. Armed robbers versus demonstrators. A city in ruins, boiling and overflowing with an uncontrolled heat wave, shrieking with the weird cacophony of a million little cries. . Angry and bitter, my mind went backwards to Duru, who too was angry.
* * *
It was cloud-topped, dribbling, the harsh reality of the gun, sitting, a hardness in his eyes. The mockery of a smile froze halfway in his face. The sudden discharge had to do with Duru and Smith sitting there in the bitterness of incompatibility. Duru was not happy at Smith’s colonization of District Village: heads bent, flies, over the lathe. The whip that is Smith’s eyes. The sting of metal dust. This standing there, shaping dead hulks of colonization into existence. He was complaining bitterly. The gods were whining too, bitter at Smith who seized District Village in one slavery of the mind, had shrines reduced to ashes of a long ago. They were – the gods –weeping into the crocks in the sacred grove. Which swam. With a market of billy goats. Goats that’d strayed into the nearby Steelways. Crashed through the gate. Rained on the factory. Fled. A shower of debris behind. Not him to be quiescent. Smith. Had trod on sacrilege razor edge. Was tied up. Squeezed into the darkest corner of the pantheist’s mind. I, Duru’s tenant and Smith’s employee, was at the middle of it all. Somewhere was the hunter, caressing his gun with characteristic fondness. Someone should have thought me how to sit on a barbed fence, how can I dodge the volleys of the shattered pieces of my mind?
The duel was cold but rough. Duru would walk past and not greet Smith. They would eye a world of rancour into each other’s soul. The conflict in my world was only a little short of nightmares. I would seek to drown it all in drinks but the fire would flicker its protest. Janet was the worse off. She had grown skinny, was almost like a rake. She would dodge the bitter fact all night and her eyes would weep from taste for sleep, sting and heat up in her head. She would not know it was the wrong-headed hunter, offshoot of the stranger. She would search her mind and tear it in rags, wondering what was actually clawing her existence, digging its evilly claws into the walls, spending itself about the room. Though she knew it did not actually exist, but she could not in fact deny its existence. She decided it was beyond her depth and her grief gained. She felt imprisoned in the cold arms of abstract bestiality.
" See Janet you have all it takes to snuff out life in that hunter. Some adverse situations in life are man made. Face him, fire back and you are as robust as a dream again!"
But she would not believe and that incredulity was chewing me in its jaws, was the hunter, was what gave the room its claws. I could hear the roaring of a lion as I burst in, my mind stinging with the steel dust of Steelways factory. The madness was digging deeper into the walls and would scatter the room with pieces of un-reason. Greg would patiently do out the room and paste placards of the country’s leaders on the wall. He did not talk much any longer. He was retracting into himself with each other day. The obsession for further studies at Yankiss University was turning into a nightmare. This retching daily. This having to encounter strange forms in dreams: houses made of skull and painted over with blood, books thick with dusts and cobwebs. Johnny? He was still searching for it. Under the bed, in the raftered roof. Everywhere. His hair had matted thickly over, his hand dry and chapped. Donny was the happening guy. He was in Mr. Smith’s good books. Today it was London, tomorrow, Paris, under the aegis of Mr. Smith. It was clear to every body, even to Smith, that Donny did not always steal and he did not always exhibit that tyrant mentality. Hence, he could be entrusted with anything, like payment of fellow junior workers salaries. His dubious handling of his charges blazed with discord. His relationship with the junior workers became heavily strained. It had – that relationship - come under the sculptor’s searchlight. The bradawl turned. It took on aspects of a day. Then Donny broke out in nightmares, the indescribable feeling which keyed him up to bouts of disembodied existence. He would float through space, wining and dining with the unreal side of us. After such extraterritorial encounters which he couldn’t separate from reality, he would break into my world with embarrassing questions. Like when I’d left the party, where I kept his shoes, his own part of the money we’d shared or he would break in with weird stories where I was supposed to have been with him through all those gory rituals, almost every thing I knew nothing about, mentioning the wrong human beings. Every body thought him un-serious, a joker and he on his part thought every one mad swearing by his stories and experiences. We soon made it a pastime arguing and arguing over the validity of these experiences until one remarkable incidence occurred. It was early in the morning. Donny had gone to Greg’s with a sharp cutlass. The scales of sleep were still in his eyes and a salivary trail caked his right cheek. The door to Greg’s gave in one stroke of the razor-sharp cutlass and the neighbourhood was woken just in time to rush to the rescue of a frightened Greg who was so confused he kept shouting:
Where are your manners, Donny, your manners!
It was after this incidence that we became alert to the gravity of the situation. He’d alleged that Greg chased him home in a hunting expedition and he had escaped narrowly. We were at a loss how to go about the situation. A psychiatrist would do. But there was one problem. Donny did not actually behave like a madman except when he came to tell one of those weird stories or when he came to redress himself of some wrong doing by one of us in those unreal places. All those apart he seemed mentally stable, with good reasoning processes, and he always drove his arguments home in such a way that we ended up sounding like the mad ones before onlookers! To them it wasn’t actually clear if we weren’t the ones who needed the psychiatrist. In fact we’d, Greg, Johnny and I, been detained by the police. It was only once we were the better for Donny’s extraterritorial experiences. He’d brought us snacks, fawning on us. He claimed we had saved him from a fiery lion.
Duru’s problem with Smith had engaged District village. The youths spoiled for war against the Whiteman. However, Duru, the inspired leader of black consciousness, was most understanding. At a stormy village session, he hit on: Counter colonialism! His oracles had revealed, he said, that that was the only way to appease the irate gods. Human as flies I perched in a horde on a mound of unfolding events. A flickered hand sped me indifferent directions. Methodically I settled back upon the mound, a sheet of blackness over it, and all proboscises:
Duru, fired by an idea, re-shaped in its matrix, advances with a reposeful strut. Elemental storm of voices. Rhythmic ferment of drumbeats. A crop of youths sing with a deep voice which hear distinctly above the din:
You chew your crab
Behind bolted door
And think you’re in the secret!
Duru walks high. Elders follow. The youths come in a train, bearing assortment of baskets. These contain gourds and calabashes; ekwunga, a snuff box, an ijogo of palmwine; a bottle of ogogoro, a stiff local brew; artifacts from shrines, effigies of gods and goddesses; divinatory beads; cowries shells; medicinal herbs, barks of trees, ivory tusks; akpuru or bangles and very many more. Behind the youths, a clan of masquerades and other ancestral spirits, the ones that go by day and ones that go by night, the ones seen by women and the ones not meant to be seen by women, follow. Their different devotees guide them. A wave of the hand and I flew up in a cloud circling above the appetizing mound. Waiting patiently.
The courtyard of the executive director of Steelways, Mr. Johnson Smith, is soon seething with people -natives clad in rich, flamboyant costume. The NEP.Plc Light the courtyard in pupil–dilating darkness. Mr. Smith comes out, betraying nothing at this inundating sea of natives. His meeting with Duru is signalized. Flutists pick tempo and dancers shut in the duo. Everyone sits at last. Duru clears his voice and begins to address his host. He speaks with a sense of importance and of history, tracing the African back to the cradle, to the raw, to hutted villages and shrines the folks living in sedate symbiosis with the gods, offering libation and sacrifices to munificent deities and receiving remittances for wrong-doing. He speaks of the new order in the idiom of trees entwined, crippled up by parasitic vines and creepers in the jungle that is Africa. Gradually he launches into a spasm of abjuration and only the reasoning of an interpreter spares the gathering of an inter-racial face-off. The youths sing at the end of his speech.
The rain that showers
The rain that showers
The rain that showers
"The anger of the gods burn hot" continues Duru. "The sacred Nwogwugwu grove did not know desecration in the days of our forefathers. But now like a kind of madness, you, the white man, descend upon the land carting carvings of gods away, removing sacred animals from shrines."
Mr. Smith is stung by the scathing accusations. But his anger is contained. Says he by way of return:
"I have not taken your wooden graven images. As of animals in that grove, they destroy my crops in a nearby farm."
Duru picks up. "We are not here to mete out justice. We are here to counter colonize you, the white man, with the norms of African tradition. We want you, at the end of this, to think the way of the African; see the way we see and simplify your life. You have people bearing arms to guard the state. In a pure African setting, the gods do that. The gods are arbiter of the destiny of men. Men swear by the gods and are not forced to behave themselves. Amadioha picks the miscreants like louse with his awesome thunder…
The rain that showers
The rain that showers
Mr. Smith listens strategically with now a swallowing and now a clearing of the throat. He can make nothing of "this barbaric intrusion". The men do only tell him they will come. But he does not give the ‘go-ahead’ before his courtyard begins to swim with people. He feels ridiculous and embarrassed; folds his face like a bag and resigns himself to his guests. Duru, with the air of a colonist, addresses his host and the youths break in now and then with their didactic songs.
"You have to know, white man, why the gods occupy so much in our life as Africans; you have to know why virgin thickets and forests dedicated to gods must exist undisturbed; why wooden effigies must be left in their respective shrines…."
"You made mention of wooden effigies. These are graven images and are not fit for worship!"
"They are the embodiment of the gods!"
"But they are only inanimate things."
"You have a god, haven’t you?"
" I have God"
"And you worship him through some intermediaries?"
" Through an intermediary"
There is a pause. Smith feels himself gradually worming into the debate sort-of. But he does not want to make his guests feel out-vied; and he is not a missionary either. He is only a company managing director, he tells himself; and the double role now makes him feel funny to say the least.
"And you do not pour morning libations to it, that god?"
"Not precisely. I pray to Him."
"Libations, I mean. And something like sacrifice."
"Oh the story is long. We do not need sacrifice for this God"
" -------Like Amadioha, that god"
"He’s bigger than that!"
The question and answer continues until Smith feels sworn and capitulates. Duru thinks he wins one point and veers round to African costume. Smith takes the regalia, the red cap and all of them the Duru team gives him, with an ingratiating smile. He dons them. Duru loses his head in the wild frenzy of joy. His idea, this counter colonialism, seems set to succeed. He will prove all his critics wrong.
"Now to language" says Duru "when you know the tongue of a people, you think the way they do." But Smith is not impressed. He thinks his guests are stretching him."
What of the taking of snuff?" Smith smiles, laughing up his sleeves, then shakes his head to indicate to his guests he does not want.
"What of the palm wine?" Smith does not want." You pour librations every morning and night". Duru tells Smiths handing him a bottle of ogogoro. "Call on Amadioha, Odumagamba, the one that guides the wayfarer; call on Iyiugu, Odenta, they will protect you".
Smith does not mean to ridicule the idea - but one of his children has set up a giggle and he involuntarily giggles too, breaking up in laughter. His wife joins and all the children. Now, one thing Duru hates so much is feeling his gods are ridiculed. He does not take that kindly. He hits Smith who is stung to anger by the blow.
Duru and Smith. Hemmed in upon by the crowd. A brief cut and thrust; and Duru sprawls like a log heap below Smith. The ancestral spirits let out crude esoteric coos, which grow shriller and shriller. The crowd rolls and scatters up. Duru, disillusioned, left alone to nurse his grief, the laughter of the Whiteman still ringing in his consciousness; sandwiched between insanity and rationality, he stands there. In a somber and minatory attitude, licking his wounds, his acolytes scattered in poverty-stricken nations. So-called third worlds. Smith had won. I felt only pity for Duru. Donny was ringing with laughter. Greg was sulking… Johnny, haa, even Janet was there. A hand tapped me vigorously on the shoulder. "Wake up! Wake up! Ebo wake up!" I woke up to the so-called real world. I looked the room over. Not even the beast was there. The room was empty except for me.