By Adrian Nwaiwu (Nigeria)
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“But why does this young age
Enjoy hankering the
Rebirth of their father’s
Regrets, in memoriam
– Adrian Nwaiwu - “Sober recollection”
Each time our souls awakened with the dawn of the day, they chorused the same sorrowful melody from the night’s sleep. When we heard the bell’s tolling, we made for the traditional churchyard where we humbly notified our creator of our burdens in constant genuflection. And what did we plead? Freedom! Its availability was determined by Chukwu’s (God’s) grace, which we incessantly called upon. The ground we now trod was called Alaosu, although theories of aboriginality had designated every one of our daughters and sons as Alaoman. Yes, we hail from that village of Alaoma, where cultures are born and nurtured to become solely African. Yet its current inhabitants have dissociated themselves from us.
It was said that in an aeon of traditional customs our forefathers were offerings, or proverbially put, sacrificial lambs, in their days. Most families now in exile, like us, had become victims of a dichotomy that had sprouted in Alaoma, simply because their generation were osu, or outcasts of some grave sort. According to traditional histories, an osu is any being that has become the acquisition of the gods. Such beings are normally used for sacrifices. Our Eze’s (King’s) perceptions and approach to the whole situation influenced his decisions regarding this caste system and, in its worsening, he banished us from the kingdom. He announced our ostracism at the village square, where the village meetings were held. This declaration rendered us incommunicado with others in Alaoma. Their ancestors were free men and not offerings to gods like our forefathers. We had no contingency plans as we never knew how cruel the king’s senate would become. Our fate was a concatenation of the past and the future. Before our leave, we experienced unbearable measures of misanthropy from our brothers, whose families were not affected. To further worsen the situation, our leader, the Eze, administered our exodus with stringent measures.
“They tote a different blood in their veins – that of goats and other animals that only qualify as sacrifices!” the Eze said. What could we do? Endurance had to be our choice. Otherwise the devil would come into play and bring the “spirit of reciprocity.” We never gave in to such acts (reciprocation). Instead we endured our people’s expectorations on us, in the face of their tribulations. The Eze later delegated some soldiers to cast us out of the village in the mist of the bedeviling utterances showered on us by our fellow villagers. We left in the same way Adam and Eve left Eden, but were escorted with harsher conditions. As we were marched towards the outskirts of our community, we pondered the difficulties that would have to be surmounted along our way. There were no vestiges of sympathy from the ones we called brothers. Even the soldiers ordered us out, and there was no amity. We were forcefully ejected by our own soldiers, our own brothers.
The heavens saw us trudge out of Alaoma Village. We plodded toward an unknown destination with wounded hearts. Eventually the soldiers abandoned us, leaving us to ascertain our bearings. The soldiers knew that whichever direction we could take would be dangerous. It was only the hunters in our midst that recognized the place, and they did alert us with fear. Even they feared the surroundings. “My kinsmen, we are now before the entrance to thick forest,” wept a muffled voice from our crowd. Before now, we had heard several stories from our kindred regarding the demonic attachments of this forest. Yet we never had any premonition that we would become its victims.
The hunters in our company realized that we would soon be hunted by the things they used to hunt, for any direction would require us to gnaw past thick forest, where the fiercest of mammals on African soil took residence. Thus we embraced the truth – we had to encounter that legendary forest of doom. Many minds were grasped by fear as we strayed into this den; we all acknowledged it was a refuge of evils. There was no other way. We journeyed past several bushes until we meet her, the thick forest. She sat in her abode, waiting as we approached. She stood fast as our advancement paced ahead. The further we came, the higher she rose. Never had our sights beheld such towering heights of clumps and thickets. The shrubs of this forest were taller than Igonome, our dearest wrestler, the tallest man in our kingdom. The trees…oh those trees … had the strangest proportions we had ever seen. Each branch of these trees could serve as a separate tree back in Alaoma Village.
We had just passed the chirruping of birds and chattering of monkeys on a tree when a heavy storm brewed, adding to our fear, and from this strong storm came a havoc-natured downpour. It rained in torrents so the trees and bushes could make no shelter. In fact, we got stuck in the severest of limbos. Several insects of the wild charged us, and other mammals of the forest aided them. No-see-ums won the highest percentage of insects that paraded in this forest. The saying that “Nobody comes out alive from thick forest” was already proving itself true, for we were dying. Our multitude was dispersed by rain and attacks from several wild creatures, especially from fangs of poisonous snakes. Our elders had told us that snakes were secret messengers of the gods. “They aid in prevailing justice,” our chief priest in Alaoma had noted. But this was not justice. In fact, I believe that justice must have died here without our knowledge.
The air changed at the climax of these onslaughts; it became excessively fetid. Every being among us became his or her own saviour. Parents forgot their children, children became adults, and parents became singles again. There was no Papa, no Mama. At last our desolate assembly dissolved as everyone believed he or she was running into a good path. Some broke out in groups too, but to where? It was at this hour that I lost my parents and was orphaned. We could not decipher whether we were headed towards safety. All we could do was to gather together, but we could not control our emotions until we had buried our dead. Many surrendered their ghosts, especially the aged and children. I cannot speak for the groups that broke out from us. In my own quarters, where we maintained the initial positions, we counted corpses and packaged them, even though there was no strength left. Dying souls dug graves for those who were already dead.
With my cold hands I buried not less than sixty humans. It’s a pity we lost them and had to perform the inhumation inside the forest. After laying our beloved to earth, we continued our journey while fear loomed around us. Five nights met us in this forest until we escaped our demonic enemies, praying to never be waylaid again.
A man on an expedition has a lot to endure if he has nothing to nourish and sustain him, for he is mortal. He can hope to arrive where he can feed, but our situation was hopeless. If by the clemency of the gods we were to pass a foreign village, how could we feed without cowries (our currency)? There was no answer to this question, for we had been stripped of every cowry in our possession. The Alaomans, which were no longer part of us, didn’t want us to leave with part of the village’s economy. So we only had teardrops to make purchases along the path, because tears were free. We had plenty of those at no cost each time we encountered immense sorrow. Our deifications could not even buy sympathy from the gods, and from all that was visible, we were alone except for a helpless friend who kept us company – soberness.
Later we came across twelve rivers with varying lengths and depths. Everyone had to learn swimming without an instructor as we waddled across the rivers, and those that could not swim went with the tides. Other burials ensued as we met the shores of each river, and we laid only the bodies we saw to rest - not the ones taken by the river goddesses, as my kinsmen would assume. I believe you will agree that a swimming champion can lose breath, even in familiar pools, when he encounters such difficulty. So we had no blame for our usually tireless swimmers who saw a giant in rivers where they would ordinarily swim. Two extra nights came across us while we were crossing these rivers, and we still had nothing to eat, except for the little containers of water we fetched from the rivers. There were a few dirty gourds and calabashes along our lines of flight. We used them in place of containers. There was no good container so we had to support their broken corners with cocoyam leaves. The weather had us drink the impure water in our gourds, flagons, and calabashes which had rude dirt no matter how hard we scrubbed with liquid mud and stones. No detergents were available. They were all brittle housewares and were made from fired clays.
When it became apparent that the dusk of our sixth day was gathering, my people sat for the day’s rest under shades of several trees while others managed to climb to sleep among the branches, as we had been doing throughout our trip. The travel continued in the morning, even before sunrise, because we were eager to enter a new land, or even to acquire a land of our own. Our miserable feet plied any route we encountered until dear success completed our course. We saw uninhabited acres of land ahead. It stood as if waiting for us, and nobody had a second thought when the elders suggested that we try to stake our claim. It was a meadowland and a northland in our parochialism. Though this land’s poor fertility was obvious, its congenial ambience engulfed every other consideration. We immediately chose this land as a biding place.
We started with deforestation of the land as we thanked the supreme being for keeping the bushes short and light. Few trees were available within the boundary we marked out as ours. Although this land was easy to clean, it was still an arduous task for weak bodies like ours. Every day our lives were transmitted to another realm. We had borne so many sufferings and could not wait to witness independence. We did all we could to improve our new environment, to make it better than the nothing it was. We hoped to achieve what people of subsequent centuries would term “development”. It took us three months to alleviate the death tolls that haunted us by recording a considerable level of advancement, although we were still far from realizing a simulacrum of what we had enjoyed in Alaoma. The struggle to habituate this strange land has been never ending, but we tried, and were still trying to…o – oh!
Dear reader, please accept my informal continuation of this account from the original writer. His soul is beginning to acquire that property that settled in his body – “grief”. Time was no friend of mine during the time of these occurrences, and time was not in my peer group. It belonged to the age grade of my sorrowing friend. I was an old man then, and every line of my little friend’s narration was just the way it happened, except that my friend wished he could be granted another chance to overcome what won him over some years ago. O, how he regrets it! Our predicaments then are hardly witnessed in your time. My friend somewhat tells the story as if it were still happening, as if it were in the passing, so that he will have the chance to appreciate it. Blame him not. We saw the devil at several occasions, even after positing Alaosu. Yes, we called the new village “Alaosu” (land of osu). We tried the best we could to live with equanimity, but images of our late and lost ones kept flashing in our minds and dreams. I lost my wife and three children, all of whom were older than my little friend here – they all went six feet. I was with our people while everything happened, and the story of my friend was just like the story of my people – they loved him. But I shall not center on him alone. Rather, I shall finish from where he finished so you will know why he weeps.
Like my friend explained, every morning had him singing out his afflictions, just the way he did in the night, before sleep. He was not alone in this. It was typical of many osu. I belonged with them. Persistent sorrow was always there – our slavery to the Alaomans – since our number survived their intended death sentence. Alaomans later became envious of the achievements in Alaosu, even in our new environment – the distant mile we were to cover before arriving at a development similar to theirs. Unending remarks where lauded on us by the Alaomans who were no longer part of us. And, to hurt us again, their Eze forcefully adopted us as a colony from which slaves were taken into Alaoma to serve the Alaomans.
We cried daily to a friend whom we meet in Alaosu. We asked him to end our hardships, since Reverend Grumby had narrated his omnipotence. The friend in question was a sovereign we met in our new home. From our ratings in the stories we heard from Grumby, we called him Chukwu (big god). But he was no god, like we were told. He is “God”. Reverend Grumby told us never to refer to him (Chukwu) as chi like we generally called all gods we knew before; instead he should be called Chukwu or Chineke (the god that creates). We forfeited retaliation, and this decision was a resolution born out of great circumspection. Moreover, the new religion abhored violence. Reverend Grumby, a priest, whose grandmother was sold into slavery by merchants of a generation that existed before ours, came from a country known as America. This reverend was a half cast, and his fatherland was Alaoma, but the truth that his mother was an osu consigned him to our colony instead of going to his birth land. A neighbouring village a few kilometers away directed the reverend to us, when he first arrived at their soil from town. The two neighbouring villages were great admirers of our success, and they often visited to trade with us on grounds of exchange, for we had no currency.
We began learning from Grumby, and realized how far we had strayed from Chukwu. We learned how to atone for our misdeeds, especially the need to erect a sanctuary, which we did. This sanctuary was called “church” and it became the first place we saw each time we awoke from sleep. Actually, the first stroke of the church bell’s clanging woke us up every day. Then, there was a scurrying of everybody towards the ringing, which was occasionally followed by another type of sound – our cries of supplication to the only one we hoped was the solution to our sufferings – Chukwu. The churchyard was fashioned in a traditional style, with crude craftsmanship making use of wood, dead palm fronds, and mud, but rendered in the trabeated (post and lintel) system of architecture. The sanctuary had a cruciform appearance.
The belief in a later redemption graced the gospels delivered by the reverend each morning, afternoon, and night. “We need faith to overcome, my brethren!” he would exclaim to the gathering in the church. Oh I forgot: the doctrine Grumby introduced was “Christianity”. Everyone tried to be devoted to Chukwu even though we felt a prick of the devil’s fork daily. We believed our worships were reaching the third heaven. The devil came around to steal from us daily, and he succeeded each time he came. That made us wail ceaselessly at the church whenever we heard the call of the chapel bell. The laments at the sanctuary began a few years after we acquired Alaosu because Grumby entered our gates two years afterward. Before the reverend surfaced in our land, there was no church around, and we only cried to our gods. We later abnegated our pleas to those gods, and sought only the mercy of all sovereign’s most eminent (Chukwu), this being only one entity, but superior to a myriad of deities as we came to understand.
No matter the level of bereavement the Alaomans subjected us to, we praised our “heavenly father” as Grumby called the one we began bowing to. “He created us in his image,” this reverend would proclaim. We all developed a caterwauling-like tone in our cries, for crying had become part of our tradition ever since we had left our birth place. It is true that slaves are legitimately free only when their masters set them so, but we had been set free at Calvary years ago, and the sins of our fathers were supposed to have no place in our lives now, we thought, as we prayed with the injunctions of critical Christian philosophies.
There was no one in our mist that lacked talent in singing during worship hour, but nobody had a voice like Nkoli. She had a special gift which my generation never joked about – a simple character, yet the mother of many elite virtues. Her meek naturalness, which blended with her facial contours and outstanding figure, endeared her to many youths at that time – she was the citadel of beauty. She was the daughter of Mazi (Mr.) Icheku, who was the oldest horseman among my kin. Icheku was an old man like me. Nkoli, a girl in her early twenties, wept bitterly in everything she did, for her mother took a different route from ours at thick forest. Every parent wished this maiden to be the wife of their son, for she had an affable spirit. Her goddess-like outlook intimidated the young men of Alaosu, of whose category my friend here belonged. My friend, who was angry with himself, was abandoned by his parents at thick forest too, and his constant loneliness bought Nkoli to recognize his personality. But everybody believed it was because of his modest character, which also fetched him every other person’s love. Are you now ready to continue? Ah! Anyway… nobody can tell the lines involving Nkoli better than you; please take over.
Nkoli, my friend like the Mazi said, was one of exceptional aura. I never knew I could fall lucky amongst the youths in my village when it came to her. But she also mentioned my hardworking nature as being a reason for her association with me, among many other reasons. Nkoli made the best soup in our kingdom and was the inventor of using fennels to improve the taste. Her meals were the most ambrosial – her cooking was haute cuisine. Ketchups and kebabs, which we fed to travelers, were also part of our diet. But again, Nkoli’s style was like that of one who studies gastronomy in this era, and it made her the best cook. She would come and collect roasted meats from me for the preparation of one dish or another, and I was always sure glad to aid her with them. Any stranger who came into Alaosu left for his or her homeland with an impression and a story of our progressive revolution. They had no idea what our brothers in Alaoma are doing to us – that they had enslaved us.
After we had settled in Alaosu the Eze of the land from which we were banished sent soldiers to terrorize us. They realized we had survived the journey, which they had meant to be a “death journey” like Mazi Udo explained before I took over from him. But the Mazi forgot to tell you that, on the day we celebrated our second year in Alaosu, we heard the sad news of our Eze’s demise. The Eze had fallen ill several months ago. This was the same man that ordered us out of our land, but we still felt sympathy for him because our new religion required us to do so. In fact, his death coincided with the coming of the reverend, who entered Alaosu the following day. Still the terror we had received from our Eze continued after his death, as his prince continued his legacy. So the prince sent soldiers to visit us constantly.
Each visit of the soldiers ended with Alaosu’s depopulation by five counts, for the soldiers took from our strongest: three males and two females. These soldiers came with their horses weekly. No one dared standing up to declaim our hearts when these armed men appeared, nor did anyone find it appropriate to debunk their gruesome demonstrations by any act of retaliation or rudeness. My people played the fools in theatres, for we knew that the vultures would feast on the body of anyone who tried questioning these soldiers, even before the soldiers reached their destination. It was an all-day horrendous experience each time we received them. And they called it “destiny”.
The highest act of resistance, if we dared to try, was to bridle at their unregulated tones each time they called us ewu Akamiro (Akamiro’s goat). All their fatuous comments were delivered in tyrannical tones, which compared each of us to an animal of lesser degree. Their statements were normally accompanied by shrieks of fiendish laughter. Akamiro was their “god of life” as we were now owned by another supreme and would not regard their deity as our “god of life.” They called our father “the new god,” but we knew better. Our belief in a “God of gods” was derided as cowardice, for our new religion forbade retaliation. Their covetousness made them visit with baskets to loot miscellanies of our products, apart from the fact that of the captive five, one would serve as sacrificial lamb. The remaining four would be made slaves under the Alaomans. It is true that my people were keen on surviving, but we had to accept every death. There was no surprise in seeing a fellow brother call on death each time we experienced these deeds – our sufferings had grown excessively. The soldiers counted it an amiable success each time they ran up the blood pressure of our old men, especially those of Nkoli’s father. Mazi Icheku, as these soldiers knew, was the greatest horseman, and many of these fools had learned their horsemanship under him.
Whenever our traitors readied for departure, we placed some food in their nosebags, as they directed. They savoured this food on their way home, but never fed the four they would now have as slaves. Nor did they ever feed the ewu Akamiro. We later gathered that the Akamiro was a new god, for he was not in place when we had lived in our birth land. This god was glorified every five weeks with five heads of able-bodied humans. Therefore the reference of one as ewu Akamiro implied that the person would become an object of sacrifice. As the god of life, he was to be pleased with a death. So we altogether became marked for sacrifice, until a complete extinction of the race we had become would be achieved. “He prevented you from perishing in the evil forests, so he will have you for himself!” explained the soldiers on their first week of duty. But believe me, these soldiers issued no command without walloping us with whips, in spite of our obvious servitude.
I must comment that in the complexity of our situation’s helplessness, it became apparent that they enjoyed lashing our old men. Executing such threats against the elders called for several questions from several quarters, but this act of these sons of Eli continued with no authority from above, and nobody knew when these ordeals might end.
Eight years later, on a certain Saturday morning, we all prepared for the early morning mass. It was almost the day’s ninth hour when the service ended. We normally commenced morning liturgies at six o’clock, except on Sundays. As usual, we kept ourselves in readiness to embrace the wind. All villagers obediently assembled together at Alaosu village square as demanded by fear, for we expected another arrival of our brother soldiers, uncertain who the soldiers would take next. It was routine for the soldiers to visit on the last day of every week, and this Saturday was that day. They had been visiting every Saturday for ten years, and each visit took five names. All sons, daughters, and parents gathered at our village square to bid another unlucky set a well journey. Our guests arrived when the time came, but became more hostile in their operation. We later understood the reason for their increased ungraciousness – the presence of a royal identity in their midst. They improved the level of their rigorousness so they might be commended by whoever the royal was. This noble company sat all the while on his own horse, which was decorated with different items and materials from that of the soldiers. At first, we could not recognize him as the prince, but never thought him an ordinary soldier either.
Remember, it had been ten years. Nevertheless, our senses registered him as prince when his voice followed a whip lash with, “Should you not kneel before your prince?” Instantly, we knelt before the prince, and fear grasped every soul like it did the Israelites when they had encountered Goliath. We knelt inert on the hot soil under the scourging sun, gazing in useless agony, with no one to foil the plan of these sons of Alaoma. It was here that I became nostalgic, remembering the past, for the prince had been a stream mate of mine. In my village, stream mates are members of any group of people that frequent the streams together. The water we drank, the water we used for other chores, was from the streams and sometimes from the rainfalls. I could remember helping the prince fetch his own water on constant occasions, but would he remember me now? Would his presence bring better things, at least for me?
At last, the customary five were selected, and were now prepared for the slave file bound for Alaoma. The soldiers had begun placing the shackles and fetters when suddenly “Bring her along!” came from the prince’s lips, with reference to my Nkoli. “May I know your name?” he inquired after my Nkoli was dragged close to him. I saw her cry before this man, and I resolved to protect her. I usually was unable to disagree in issues like this, but not when Nkoli was involved. That stubborn character seen in a love began to overshadow me, and I started considering myself as one would have to join his ancestors that very day. I knew the consequences of any speech before these men, but I longer feared the outcome. My innermost patience could not bargain with the philosophy that I might keep living while my Nkoli would perish in slavery.
My decision was made. She still had somebody to look after, while I had nobody but her. I manifested this decision with a bow from my kneeling spot. “My prince, her precious name is Nkoli,” I foolishly replied to a question that sought another’s answer. On this account, Nkoli endured excruciating pains for she believed I would die. Three soldiers immediately approached me to deliver the penalty for my misconduct, for I was unbidden to speak any word. Death was the punishment I deserved, according to the constitution they had foisted on us, upon their commencement of their raids ten years ago. Everybody knew that my tortured spirit had finally decided to give up the struggle, and their minds were right.
The prince fell into astonishment when he realized my intentions. “Do you wish to waste your worth? By the way, I forgot your worthlessness,” he said after his men had brought me before his majesty. But he seemed to forget that my worth and that of my people had been destroyed by the sufferings and humiliations they brought us, for our hearts felt the weakness of our body. “Are you sure you do not fear death?”
“My prince,” I pled, “please ensure, in the name of life, that no harm comes to her.” I wept on my knees before this former friend of mine. “Take me instead,” I continued. “I cannot taste life in her absence, as life will begin to lose its taste once you take her”. This noble was still thinking of what to say when I continued. “Please, she is the ‘me’ that you see; add me to your list…”
I had not finished when Nkoli interrupted my speech by pushing me up and assuming my kneeling posture. “He does not know what he says, my prince!” she dramatized.
I tried to dissuade my Nkoli from stopping me, but she hesitated at every word I used and even engaged in another bout of crying, immediately. The argument here was my love’s unawareness of how far I could go for her. She had loved me with passion, and had shown it several times. But I had loved her beyond the walls of life, although the fear of losing her had never allowed me to tell her. Well, I guess the truth became naked to her at this moment. The prince was battling confusion when she crawled to me. Her innocent hands began feeling my face as if she wanted to touch it for the last time, before the death I was about to endure. “You have wronged me,” she whispered as she sobbed, while we hugged each other on our knees. “Why did you not tell me of your love for all these years?”
I wiped the pain-bred waters that flowed down her checks. We held ourselves tightly in the pain of the hot sands as I waited for my demise. We were engrossed in holding each other when three soldiers pulled me away from her. There was no knowing of the minute the prince ordered my execution, and he never really did – the soldiers had taken the decision by themselves, since the judgment troubled their prince’s mind, and they had followed the command of the prince’s equerry. Nkoli’s pain had left the prince awe-stricken. At this moment also, the atmosphere of our kingdom became filled with tearful outbursts from my people. Nobody wanted a torment of this kind. Ah, my people cherished her. Strong voices came out from the crowd to lead the melody of our lamentations – the song we chorused the most. These voices wailed thus:
“We lay our trust in you; in you do we have hope;
In you are our sins pardoned; saviour, manifest your love!”
The crescendos of my people could be seen breaking our boundaries, for the pitch was the highest I had ever heard. They continued singing and would not stop. This infuriated the soldiers the more, so they began clubbing me under the command of the prince’s equerry, and momentarily I envisioned the throne of judgment in my near-death experience. Nobody used guns yet in the villages I knew, as this innovation lay in the future. Otherwise, these men might have sent me to my ancestors. But I was surprised that they never wanted to butcher me either, even though they clutched their knives in hand. All they wanted was for me to see my agony. I had suffered their anguish until the fourth minute or thereabouts, when the prince rebuked them. “Enough of that!” he exclaimed. “Free that beseecher of death, and unbind the other three,” he continued. “As for the girl, bring her along, but not in irons.”
The prince was touched, and he realized the need for the iwu (constitution) to be broken. After the soldiers had done the prince’s bidding, I advanced towards them to prevent my Nkoli from leaving the village with their crew. As I came close to them, I received a heavy clouting from their clubs which consigned me to the dust. I could not allow her to leave, but it had to be so. They gently placed her on a separate horse and she rode along with the prince. It was while they departed that I counted them from the ground where I lay – they where twenty two in number – twenty soldiers with the prince and Nkoli. They traveled with an additional six horses that had five of them carrying some of our goods.
I lay there writhing in pain while the Alaomans disappeared. At a particular second, before I could open up my unsteady blinking eyes, they were long gone with the clouds. It was obvious I could do nothing more, even if I had the strength, not to mention my condition. This condition was the one your century calls “coma”. Sitting up became a problem, and I had to recline. Oh…the stillness affected my whole self so that I could hardly move any part of my body. Every part of me was dead, but I was breathing. The villagers clamoured towards me while the three lucky villagers that now had their freedom lifted me on their shoulders. I was taken to my home and laid on my mat where many people visited and offered their condolences.
Many prayed for my immediate recovery, especially reverend Grumby, who arrived that night from town. He had journeyed away to hold mass for a catholic chaplaincy in town, and was welcomed back with the news of the last raid. Upon his arrival, he came in earnest as soon as he heard everything. He ran to confirm my situation with his eyes. Early in the morning of that Saturday’s morrow, I thought of how Nkoli would bear her situation. Now she knew that I would adore her until eternity. Everybody doubted the possibility of my living another week after my torments. Thus masses were conducted to implore the mercy of our helper, that I may behold at least the following week.
Father Grumby strengthened our faith daily with his teachings, and that week had him handling “the beatitudes.” On the Friday of this week which mortals feared I’d see last, Grumby stressed the theme of his reading: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” he repeated, before analyzing that part of the scripture. When the congregation reached its Nicene Creed, my case was tabled at our creator’s feet, and several amens from the congregation supported the reverend’s prayers. Dismissal came after the “holy communion” and the burden I now became to my kinsmen was carried home.
As we trod the pathways that linked many traditional domiciles with the churchyard, my anguished tears flowed down like tributaries of the Uma River (a river which joined many villages of our time) – the pain was amply taking its inroad. Many visitors graced my doorstep as usual, but none was able to comfort me.
Then came a special visit. A visit from Nkoli. She came like an angel on a mission. Her arrival was on Saturday, and it caused a little flurry amongst my people. There was supposed to be nothing less than twenty soldiers. But she came with only five soldiers and was dressed like a princess. The villagers and soldiers accorded us privacy when she entered my room. Another bout of my crying ensued, and I saw her misty-eyed. She then sat beside me, demanding to know my reason for adoring her in secret, even when her love for me was made visible. Not even the whispering winds held their calmness for us two. They began blowing aggressively like never before, and caused the dancing of all trees in our village. I remember our elders once stating this rare action of the wind as an obvious fact – that nature can weep. I then engaged Nkoli in a debriefing session, for the suspense woven around her visit started killing me. Surely, you too must have wondered had what prompted those soldiers to free her for a visit to me.
She hastily described her experiences in Alaoma. She narrated how her religious life had touched the prince and Alaomans. They had asked what god she worshipped, but not until the prince had confessed his own desire to crown her as his princess. The prince’s mother took an unaccountable interest in Nkoli, and accepted Nkoli into the royal household. I could not believe Nkoli had introduced Christianity to them. Fortuitously, other missionaries visited the ruling council while Nkoli was there. These messengers of the gospel introduced Christianity to some Alaomans at the same time Nkoli had shown her courage in evangelism. According to her, every tongue in Alaoma praised her beauty.
They never wanted her to feel sad. “In fact,” she explained, “my reason for coming back here was for me to find a reason to be happy, since I’ve not been able to love the prince.” She paused for relief. “I cannot–mvh–leave–mvh–you for the prince!” she continued as she struggled with sobbing. “I need not their royalty. All I need is for you and my people to be returned to our father’s land, for them to mingle with others in peace.” She wept as she shrugged her shoulders. “I love you my life, and thank you for risking your life for me.” She paused and continued again. “Please, even if they succeed against our love…,” she lamented, “just know the truth – that there can never be another you that will bring smiles to my face.”
After she finished I told her how her absence had saddened my life. She prayed for my groins and limbs to be free from the troubles threatening them. I could not really tell at first, but knew that mercy began its movement inside me after her prayer. She rested her head on my belly and planted a kiss on my forehead, gently sinking her bosom into my arms. “It shall be well, my love” she whispered before her eyes closed in what I surmised was a nap.
Not long after she began sleeping, a soldier came in and woke her up. There was courtesy in this soldier’s approach, unlike before – a testament to what my Nkoli had narrated and a hope that our redemption may be realized by a combination of heaven sent events. I saw my love leaving my sight to be held by another man whom she cared nothing for. If there was any man in the galaxy that gave her more happiness than I, then I am sure I would have approved of her living with that man – for my love for her was so foolish that I could let her have anything she desired to raise her state of bliss, even if it would hurt me. My Nkoli left with the soldiers that day, and nobody was taken as a slave by these soldiers. She was the last guest I had, and she returned home around noonday.
I could have gotten no better strength than what her presence had offered, but immediately after she left I suffered another bout of flabbiness. Every mind in the village fell into confusion as Nkoli left with the soldiers. “It is Saturday,” my people whispered in anxiousness as the soldiers left. We still expected them to fetch slaves, and we waited till dusk.
The hills that flanked my community moped as if they said “Is our help needed?” I bet those hills would have done something, if they had life. These hills continued observing us that night, and vice versa. We waited into the midnight, till morning and many never slept that night. The night was special because the sensation that began with my special guest’s prayer continued that night. I experienced a heavenly touch that night, and nobody knew when I arose from the floor.
Sunday morning my kinsmen arrived and I was proud of the situation they met me in. I could now drill the soles of my feet into the muddy fillings that served as floors in our homes. To confirm the level of improvement my health had attained, I had just arrived from the morning service and was able to sit on a bench which was woven traditionally with bamboo. I received several visitors in my home that day. They were so happy that I had attended the service on my own, unlike the times when other personalities had carried me to church. I told them how it all happened and this strengthened the faith of many souls. From that day, our piety started ascending greater heights.
We became more devout than ever and prayed without regulation. A vigil mass was kept on the night of Shrove Tuesday, which came two days later. The vespers and evensongs were de rigueur in Alaosu, but this vigil was encountering us for the first time. In this midnight mass, we prayed that our depressions be no more by the morning, and our ample faith availed.
We had no time mechanism like clocks during the period of this tale, but I would be deemed correct in my estimate that I came out of the churchyard around seven in the morning, if the locomotion of today’s clocks was considered. Honestly, things are easier in your generation. You can tell the time with certitude in your days. Anyway, like I said, the starry night ended at the morning’s seventh hour, or thereabout. I was the first to open the church door, and I sensed happiness everywhere. The sun was mild in its smiles, and the breeze soothed the atmosphere. There was frigidity in our soil, unlike its torrid character. Immediately, a mist appeared in the company of confused clouds that were still deliberating whether to wet our land.
After a short while, the mist started opening a picture to me. It was then that my eyes beheld what lay further away on our hills – soldiers. These soldiers were headed our way. But they became a fathomless mystery to me and my people, who only saw the soldiers when it was evident that something else was arresting my eyes. There was an overrunning of our territory by these men. Their pincer movement jolted us. “Will this turn out to a total annihilation of our laden race? Could this be the apogee of our sufferings? Have we not endured enough?” We didn’t know the answer. “Is there bound to be war?” We continued asking ourselves these questions while we gathered en masse at the village square. How glorious could we be in a battle as this? Once we assembled, everybody began singing our song again – a connotation of our helplessness and a fear that our last day on earth was at hand. We all held each other’s hands as we ululated:
“We lay our trust in you; in you do we have hope;
In you are our sins pardoned; saviour, manifest your love!”
When the soldiers arrived, their leader came out of the files that made up the three troops. To our great surprise, their mission was ironical in character. He told us to gather the most treasured of our belongings. We were told how the queen and the prince later countermanded our banishment – a catalyst in lightening up Nkoli’s mood – she had given the queen and prince a condition, which they had accepted. She had made it known that, until our ban was uplifted, there would be no matrimony between her and the prince. Her acceptance of the proposal was to begin after our safe arrival and that of any osu who might have survived the Armageddon at thick forest, but is sheltered in another kingdom. Nkoli also bade the royal council to ensure that I do not arrive in the way she met me last, or as a corpse – she wanted me to have life. Although she would wed another man, I was happy with her bravery and prayed for the fulfillment of her promise to the prince.
I do not blame the faith I lacked then. In fact, nobody could believe this miracle was evolving. I was mounted on a stallion which would lead my people while the soldiers accompanied us. The troops helped many families, although few complete families remained. I had nothing reasonable to carry, but brought along the parts for germination of an Achara tree that grew in Alaosu. We had seen the mother of this tree in a forest near Alaosu, and had tried duplicating it. It was from the growing tree we planted that I got a keepsake to remind me of the days we had sojourned in Alaosu. Our supposed doubts notwithstanding, we felt the reality of our freedom when our guardians protected us from the brigands that could only watch us pass, but could do us no harm.
Having crossed many forests, and not having encountered anything deadly like thick forest, we wondered why the way was clear. Many still believed in a “death-journey” because we did not encounter that evil forest. Also, these soldiers were managing our bearings. However, we safely reached our fathers’ land, and were welcomed by the villagers. My Nkoli could not pin down her tears of joy – happiness was born again. The surprise of meeting most of our lost beloved was awesome, miraculous, dreamlike, and o……..oh! That reunion was the best thing in life. I met my mother alive, and experienced that motherly touch when we hugged. I felt like a child again when Mama held me with Nkoli.
Later that day I learned how my father had became supper to some crocodiles at a certain river bank. Papa had been buried without his body and this made me upset. The recollections of my papa could not leave me and an illness immediately grew within. I was the only offspring of my parents, and Papa had been my only true friend. There was no cessation of the pains his news invoked on me, and my emotions that gradually overpowered my will to accept the situation. Nkoli and the villagers could not help me with the tears they shed with Mama. The reverend earnestly prayed for me, but Lucifer had not ended his parade in my family.
At the extremity of my pains, Lucifer took me on a stroll. I have never returned, for I have crossed the bar. I now find myself in an abyss where an old friend joined me the following day. He is in his dotage and has been ill too. We have become good friends and have watched the activities that unfold in our absence. But the pains I now face are not only those of my defeat by that which won me, nor are they centered in my not seeing my beloved mother and Nkoli again, for they must be somewhere here now. They are centered on you who are turning these pages. You and your current generation still believe in outcasts, and you punish them greatly, even in Christendom. Please desist from such segregating acts, as our fellowship down here knows how your practice hurts he who will eventually judge all men.
Our host does not like the lack of peace in your world, and it disturbs our peace here, for we care. Your realm offends us. This abyss is full of peace, even though I’m full of regrets. It is from here that I recount this sober tale, in memoriam of our travails.