“The arrow is not beyond you.”
The first words he heard said since he had been hunting with him. His voice was loud. Rather loud for a man of his frame. The sand beneath their feet the same as the twilight that settled over them. Ine thought he was speaking to someone else, he turned around and saw him standing afar off looking into the thick bush behind him.
He watched the prince’s soliloquy and hoped he hadn’t gone mad. The petite prince signalled for Ine to carry their catch back to the village. He chuckled as he watched as his svelte boy servant buck under the brown buck’s weight as he journeyed back to the village.
The prince stayed back in the clearing. Once out of sight, he dropped the buck, crouched behind the bush and waited to see what the prince was up to. A minute later, a tall slightly built man with bristled hair in white linen holding a writer’s ink horn and six fierce looking men came out of the bush and held the prince in a tight embrace and began to cry.
As their embrace unlocked, Ine picked the game and the arrows and hurried back to the village.
It wasn’t until three days later, that he understood the significance of that meeting after -almost- the whole village had been wiped off by six armed-to-the-teeth warriors led by a man in white linen and a writer’s inkhorn: old, young, maid, children, livestock, every soul in the royal house even the Prince’s; destroyed in the twinkle of an eye.
Ine was spared, because Prince had been sent on an errand out of the village the night before the massacre in search of healing pebbles from the river on the outskirts of the town.
Ine got to the court that housed the village’s sacred temple,Rewe, the thatched roof had collapsed and the mud walls with the drawing of beasts of different kinds surrounding the temple was vertically split in half, so that the roof was directly on the altar. He walked towards the northern gate of the temple, at the entrance the weeping women – the women who wept day and night outside the temple calling on a reincarnated god’s invasion lay in ashen heap one on the other.
Stepping over each stray body with trepidation, he staggered to the inner court and paused momentarily at the door not because the debris hindered his movement but to retch at the sight of disgusting mass of tissue, bone fragments, ashen body parts, and stray genitalia of the twenty five men, who usually stood between the porch and the altar facing the east worshipping the sun. It was the evidence of a futile and foolish resistance.
It was clear that the six warriors were no ordinary men. He clutched his stomach and emptied the mud-coloured digested food on the bamboo and palm fronds matrix on the ground.
Rewe, the temple that housed darkness and light had been ruined along with the all the people with the people who served it, except for one.
He could save nothing, no one, so he took nothing and left the town. He walked down the lonely path, far away, never looking back at his place of birth.
Ine stopped by an oak tree, straightened his back, wiped his brow, brought out a coconut from the sack he was carrying and ate. He heard a rustle in the bush behind him- voices. He crouched behind the large tree, but it was too late the hunters had spotted him.
“Hey you…who are you?” The bulkiest of the group bellowed. Beckoning on him to come forward.
Ine walked slowly to the men clad in animal skin. Stopping a few meters, drooped his head and remained silent.
“Can’t you speak?”, the shorter one with a constantly twitching mouth demanded.
Ine raised his head, stared blankly at the huge bare-chested men. Words, meaningless words flashed sporadically in his mind. Finally he spoke, “My name is Rewe”. Immediately he acknowledged this, He felt his form percolate, engulf the hills and crevices, trees and shrubs. His eyes became blue chasms, wider and wider, deeper and deeper into a terrifying abyss.
The men in animal skin seemed unaware of this.
“MY NAME IS REWE”, he repeated. This time, it was the men that bowed their heads.
The temple and the man had become one.
The crowd around the temple was dense, stifling. The temple was surrounded by the weak, sick, dying, poor, rich and the power greedy. In their midst, an entranced svelte man danced to songs only he heard assisted by the drums played by temple’s drummer boy.
The hunters had returned to Umuru, with not just dinner, but a deity. Rewe, bore upon his body, from head to toe a schism of two opposing powers: darkness and light portrayed by drawings of animals of various kinds, each graffito inked under his skin by invisible hands. The other part of his body: spotless, blameless and ethereal in beauty. The exact replica of the temple; Rewe that had been brought down.
No other living thing knew Rewe had actually existed as a village.
In the year Rewe’s first seed, Adanna could stand upright; pass her arm over her head to reach her other ear, the missionaries came to Umuru. Ada’s brilliance and intelligence marveled the catechist. As the years went by, he pressed the priest to send her abroad for further studies. Her taut, olive skin and short well-rounded frame was always by the side of the catechist absorbing knowledge about the church, the white man, the white man’s language and biology.
Twilight had begun to chase sunset away, when the catechist brought her news that an anonymous donor in the United States had paid full scholarship for her University degree in America. Umuru threw a feast. Their daughter had reached heights where no man had attained.
“So, you’ll be leaving me, nana… just like that?” Ginika asked suddenly. “Dibia definitely harvested everybody’s intelligence and planted in you”
“I love my father, but I am nothing like him. I am just me”, Adanna said ignoring her tease.
“Besides, who else if it not you?”, Ginika said gently poking her best friend in the rib.
They sat on fallen tree trunk as they watched the drunken men dance with the village dancers after her father had done his customary dance. Many were healed of their diseases; others were possessed of unknown spirits. This unusual phenomenon puzzled her. It was the anticipation of the dance that brought the crowd not the send forth. Most were jealous of her.
“At least you can say ‘fuck’ without anybody scolding you”, Ginika said.
“Something the priest’s cook said when he dropped the priest’s meal. He said they say it in America. He scolded me when I repeated it”
“I am not going to America to say learn how to say ‘fuck’. I am going to study and become a doctor”, she smiled and fantasized
“Or you could do it too…”,Ginika said. Something in her mischievous friend’s eyes told her it wasn’t just a word you say when you dropped plates. Her hand flew out smacking her friend on her arm before she ducked.
Unlike her, Ginika was a beauty, like she was sculptured by the hands of a god. Clear, seductive eyes, gap between the teeth, long immaculate arms and legs, her gait was stunning. Eligible men had their eyes on her, but she had eyes only for the priest’s cook. She claimed he was her only passport to America.
University of Washington, Seattle | March 3rd, 1988
The chill from the rain blew through as Adanna sat by the window of the library, sucked her teeth and tapped her feet as she read through, checking for errors on her application form for part-time time job at a geriatric care home. It was a Thursday morning; she needed to hand in her application before the week ran out.
She made funny faces as Eileen, her Danish roommate walked up to her in her usual feline suppleness and whispered in her ears that she had a phone call from her priest. She rolled her eyes, shrugged and pulled herself to receive her call.
Adanna thought it was rather early for him to call to check up on her. The quinquagenarian Portuguese priest on the other end of the phone hesitated, shook his head and shut his eyes. “I need you to come to the chapel today.”
“No, Father I can’t. I need some time alone this morning. The rest of the day is booked.” she continued “Is anything the matter? Please tell me”.
He paused. A long awkward pause. He knew this situation all too well. Adanna was the most stubborn and unflinching African woman that had been placed under his care.
He thought she was going to be an attorney or some human right activist, instead she had been obsessed with medicine and neurosurgery since the mission brought her to America. Hard as she may seem, telling her such tragedy over the phone was not his idea of breaking her.
“I just got news that your father passed on early this morning”. He could hear her crying. Hoarse sounds coming out of her mouth each time she tried to speak.
“What happened?” she croaked.
He was quiet, he spared her the details.
“What-“, she began and she could say no more.
Each step on the staircase up to her room appeared steeper than the previous, her breasts felt heavier, then her arms, then her legs, then her head. Her body dragged itself to her room as she collapsed on the bed clutching her pillow over her head to stop the loud screeching sound, like an overturned bottle top dragged on concrete floor that threatened to slice her into soul and body in two.
She shrieked as a mixture of an azure and murky schism tore through her. Lightning struck indiscriminately everywhere.
Unable to open her eyes, she groped for a bottle of water to quench the fire that razed through her. Her search was cut short as her body was dragged upwards feet first, upside down suspended mid-air, in the middle of the room.
Eyes open, she squeaked, “Onyebuchi gi ugbua!”
Who is your god now?
The temple and the woman had become one.
To be continued…