The frothing lips of the sea kissed the beach as the harmattan smog rose from the chill perspiration of morning, palm trees wavered in the dim light, as we walked towards the sea with our boats on our heads. We were leaving. Where we were leaving for we did not know but the gods had asked us to dig up our roots, gather our branches, pick our fallen leaves and flee the place our mothers had called home.
It was after the festival, the oracle had spoken through mama Klawe. The land no longer wanted us. The animals, the rivers, even the neighbouring peoples no longer wanted us. If we stayed, the oracle promised us death, brutal death. Where were we to go? We have been moving for as long as our griots could remember. Each time we settled, dug roots, raised the roofs of our huts, planted seeds, we would be asked to move. This was supposed to be the last place, our place of rest and some of us even thought to defy our gods but soon enough the rumours came: the outlying villages, neighbours that we had traded with, given gifts of our beautiful wood carvings, taught the secrets of bronze, how to use the bellows and how to irrigate their farms during the drought, these people we called friends, had armed themselves with orders from their rulers to wipe us off the memory of the earth.
Which god did we offend? Is it our fault that the colour of our skin is different, that we have six fingers on our hands and six toes on our feet instead of five? Are we to blame for being smaller, for knowing the secrets and the deep things of the earth? If we speak different tongues, is that enough to warrant our deaths? Was it our faults that lived longer lives? We could not answer these questions. We could not fight because our enemies were bigger, used to violence and our gods had asked us to leave. So once again, we fled.
We pushed our boats into the sea and climbed in. The men, the women, the children who were strong held paddles at the ready while we waited for the calling of the wind. In the distance, we could hear the drums of War, the guttural cry of anger, the hunger for blood and death and our hearts quaked. We waited in silence, our hands squeezing our paddles, our brows wet with sweat in the morning chill, our mothers with hands hovering over the almost screaming lips of suckling babes but our gods were silent.
Soon, too soon to believe, our enemies appeared on the shore, their spears tipped with the bronzes we had taught them to make,their faces covered with wooden masks covered with terrible carvings, their eyes wild with hungers that went beyond human wants. They threw their spears at us but were unable to hit a thing. At that moment, Ibale, the daughter of Shohena and Madagi, stood up. She was the smallest of the litter, the least known. She wasn't even yet a carver or bronze smelter, she still clung to her father's skirts. She stood up on their boat, raised her hands wide and the gods used her.
It was magnificent what the gods did. It was horrible and horrific to behold and many would not find sleep for the longest time. The sea rose from behind us, a huge wall, mightier than even what the griots knew rose, made of water, driftwood, rocks and slammed into our little island of boats. The wave carried our boats, not away from the land that we have come to love but back into its deepest reaches. Our enemies on the shore were no more. The last we saw was the recognition on their faces of the finite moment of their breath and the truth that they have been betrayed by their gods.
Our boats were left on top of a rocky face. It was a hot place, filled with sulfuric stink and shadows. We moved carefully through Ash and soot and when the smoke parted its laps for us to see, we discovered that we had been dropped on a mountain, an active volcano that was almost dying. We were afraid for down below there was ashes and dust and nothing grew. We did not know that we had arrived as the volcano gave her final gasp. As we stood there, shaking with the sudden feel of heat after so much cold, the rains began to fall. The trembling of the rocks ceased and all was silent. The oracle spoke, giving us the new land where there was no one to take, pursue or break us again. We gave our thanks and began to entrench ourselves in the land. The mountain itself went silent and green things began to flourish.
We lived long and happy in this new place, away from the troubles of men and their gods. From time to time, we would hear the clash of knives, the screams of dying, the continuous grind of cruelty but we avoided them as much as we could. We became a phantom, a myth, the little child ever with a mat and a lamp, the evil spirit in the forest. We had learnt well. We did not communicate with our neighbours at all and only stealth and the knowledge of the ways of the land kept us safe from discovery.
One night, in the midst of our offerings at the altar of our gods, the oracle spoke. A ship is coming, she said. It will take, break and grind us to dust. We cannot run from this one in this world. An empire was being built and the emperor wanted all. The oracle said that our only salvation was to leave this world forever. She drew for us the great map and with that we uprooted ourselves for the last time from among the lands of men. We removed every trace of our existence from your world and entered into the mountain. Then the world was still young and there were still pathways into other places. The map led us to the white forest, the shadow world, the Noones and the Great tree."
The bush baby, Pebbles, dragged its pipe and blew the smoke, its story done. The boy stared into the black stream, silently watching white fishes twist through the current. They sat there, as the twin moons rose and the white forest glittered bright. The boy sighed, washed his hands and face then he stood up, picked up his wooden spear and walked away.
Pebbles watched him go and he wondered if anything good can come from the seeds of men.
This story is a piece created from a world that I was building when I still wrote. Pebbles, the Bush baby and the boy are major characters in this world. Maybe one day, I'll go back to it, write that story, tell the tale of madness, reincarnation, self identity. Maybe, one day. Until then though, I am watching the earth spin, listening to all of her stories, feeling the wind on my skin, seeking love, hungering for a bottle of cold liquor, seeking beauty, hiding pain & shame, thirsting for warmth.
©Oka Benard Osahon, January 31st, 2020