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Homecoming of the gods

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Homecoming of the gods

Frank Achebe

Shakespir Edition

 

Homecoming of the gods

Copyright 2015 Frank Achebe

 

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

 

Frank Achebe reserves the exclusive rights to be identified as the author of this work. It may not be reproduced, copied, resold, distributed and exploited for commercial and non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download a copy at

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Do you fear death?

Do you fear that dark abyss?—

All your deeds laid bare

All your sins punished…

—From the movie ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest’

 

We carry in our worlds that flourish

Our worlds that have failed…

—Christopher Okigbo, ‘Laments of the Silent Sisters’

To

Ebitimi Felix

And the many others who have brought me their stories.

 

 

For

Chiamaka Ojiyi

BOOK I

THE FACE OF GOD

Chapter One: Thaddy

Once upon a time, there lived a boy who wanted to know the world. His mother had died during his childbirth. His father was a devout churchman. His name was Thaddeus. He was called Thaddy.

Much of what is our self-identity as individuals is bequeathed to us by the society to which we belong. More or less. However, there are always those whom the societies to which they belong cannot readily define according to its norms and to serve this inability, they dismiss such people as ‘madmen’ and confine them to the fringes of the society. When a person believes that were-wolfs actually exist outside conspiracy theories and fairy tales or that there is a race of aliens that mind-control us with laser rays and radio waves from outer space, we who know ‘better’ pass the judgment on them that they are ‘idiots’, ‘assholes’, ‘crazies’, ‘madmen’, etc. I mean, on a serious note, which sane person believes that? Those things serve for the intros of science fiction movies and chick flicks.

Anyway, this is not to say that there are no real mad people who have lost nuts upstairs. Like those who throw away the nut and eat the husks. Or those that throw away the food and eat the plates. God knows that our society is becoming more and more generous after all. So all hope is not lost for those set of people. If they fight hard, they may find a place in the society.

Thaddy did not believe in such things. They were in no way ‘reasonable’ if you think about it. He was not even an eccentric. He could pass without attracting much attention to himself but he was exceptionally intelligent.

Thaddy was raised by a father who had lived most of his adult life as a churchwarden in the local Methodist church. He had not known his mother.

The picture that was in Thaddy’s mind was a father who was mad with his love for God and the small stonewall church which was his age mate. Thaddy would admit readily and with a measure of guilt that his father loved him even far more madly though he was not a very expressive man.

They lived in a fairly large room in a basement in the church parsonage. Every morning, he saw his father wake to sweep the church, dust the pews even when they needed no dusting, pick up the scattered hymn books, prayer books, bulletins and dust the pews again. He would then watch him kneel before the altar and say a quick prayer before retiring for the day. He had few memories of his father at anything else. The man’s great diligence meant that he did all of that alone with the same severity for many years. He never called in sick. Never asked for leaves.

His father was an intense man and very stern too. But he was in no way very intelligent as most intense and stern men were. He had the meanest of education. He could only write his name and not so well too. When Thaddy grew up, the warden would call him to read out to him things like the expiry dates and prescriptions written on the packs of drugs or circulars from the church council. Thaddy remembered that the man had a lot of big books which he dusted with the same severity that he dusted the pews and the stone altar, but he had never seen the man open them.

The man had a big bible he carried about though Thaddy knew he could hardly read. The pages were very clean as the hardback was very worn. But then the man loved holding up the pages to the light very early in the morning as if looking for something that was hidden in the black markings. As far as he was concerned, those words were too sacred for a man like him to read, not with his lips, which he had come to judge unclean. As to why he felt himself so great a sinner and his lips unclean ones, Thaddy had to wait till his death to learn that the man had cursed God after he lost his wife during the birth of his first and only child. It was not something that he ever came to forgive himself for, not for one day till he died. In fact, it was the guilt that drove him to the service of the church. It also explained the man’s reticence. It was a religious duty of penance, not merely because he had not many words to say like the rest of us. If he kept silent even on occasions when it was normal for him to speak up, it was not because he was playing the philosopher. There were not such things as he was in no way a great thinker.

He was a sinner.

It was in Thaddy that he poured what was his life, all of it, in the hope that his boy would one day become a parson. He lived in the hope that one day he would be a churchwarden in his boy’s church. But then two weeks after Thaddy had told him that he did not believe in God, the man had died of the heart attack that had accompanied such a fist in the eye.

I must say that this man’s dream was in no way selfish as that of many parents. Contrariwise, it was something that he considered a service to his God and to his boy. It was a chance no sane person would refuse. The most important thing about this man would be that he in no way tried to coerce his son into becoming a parson. In fact, the big books he brought home were for the boy as he expected he would have need of them in the ‘future’.

Thaddy knew that he was the one who had killed his father and even his ardent cynicism never tempered that guilt, not by the slightest degree. But then I should say that unlike the man he had grown to be, he had not announced to his father of his unbelief that Wednesday afternoon just back from school from malignant cynicism, the one that we associate with the unbelievers of our own age. The tone was not even disparaging. It was as a son talking to his father. He had very few discussions with his father and he had a lot of things to tell him. But the man never discussed religious things with him. Not with anyone as he saw his religious duty was to do as the priest says and nothing more. In fact, they had very few discussions.

He was just fifteen at the time and at his age, he was ready for college. He was a genius. He needn’t his teachers to make him one, he was a natural. By the time the events in this story had happened, Thaddy had gone to six different colleges in four different countries and three continents taking science courses that he never finished. First, he had great apt at understanding things and assimilating them, whatever they were. Second, he also had great apt at discovering flaws in things that he studied. He was richer than most of his mates though he never did take any jobs. He had dozens of scholarships and most of his time away from his books, he spent them taking fellowships or serving as research assistants. And each year, there were always many of those for him if he was willing. He certainly had no A-B-C-D plans for his life. He just rolled with them as they came.

I should say that Thaddy’s father never forced anything on his boy. I think this was the reason the man had had heart attack the night of that tragic Wednesday which was an eternity for both of them. Before dying in the local hospital two weeks later.

The fifteen year-old Thaddy had sat by his side waiting to apologise to the man if he woke. He was ready to accept to be a reverend if only the man would live—for the man to live. He was in no way arrogant in putting forward his opinion like most boys of his age. But the man did not live and Thaddy walked out of that room after the nurses had struggled to ease his hands which had clenched the dead man’s right hand broken forever.

He had prayed to God if he ‘existed’ to heal the man and bring him back to life. This was not in the usual arrogant way of seeking proofs. No, he was sincere in his asking and desperate too. He did not think that his father was enough sacrifice for his unbelief, not when the man had given him all he had in a life.

He really was ready to take up the service of God even against his will and even in his doubts for his father. But then, God had not ‘existed’ at the moment when he so needed Him.

I should say that it was not this experience that ‘convinced’ Thaddy that the person to whom was given those superhuman attributes as they appeared in the bible stories was nothing more than the imaginings of a group of people who sought to use it for the conquest of others. And the conviction as we would say of those who held such convictions at his age, was not in any way the mere echoing of the views of some other people whose lives they admired and whose books they had read. It was also not in any way that he could not afford to submit certain indulgences in the name of repentance on account of which the weakest of us reject God as the insufferable killjoy.

He also was not a ‘humanist’ or a ‘socialist’ or one of those people who contended with God because they wanted to take His throne and build man and the world according to their own lofty ideals. Such men rejected God as He was their worst enemy and their most viable opposition.

All this were cheap. Thaddy wanted above all things to know the world.

He had a ‘Euclidean’ mind and none of that could fit into such a mind. He could not come to terms with the existence of such a person or with the things that religious traditions had witnessed of him.

At the same time, he could not submit himself blindly to some strange authorities and the testimony of some strange and obscure Jewish folks otherwise called apostles and the ones who claimed to derive their authorities from them. The rituals were absurd. He did not understand why anyone with good sense would practice such things. There were inhuman at the least.

He had read the bible many times. He found it fascinating and the wits of those who wrote it, impressive. But as an object of religious faith, he could not accept it.

He could not understand. And for his inability to understand, he did not accept.

This is not to say that there are not very intelligent men, men of Euclidean minds, who understand, accept and submit themselves to religious authorities. That would be too narrow. Things were just different for him. Given more time, he could see something he was not seeing. But that was the reality of his own unbelief.

At a point, he sure did try to accept such things for the sake of ‘normal’. There was not any boy of his age that had any problems with that, why did he? Why the hell was he so ‘abnormal’? Many people of his age and exposure dealt with unbelief but not for the same reason as him.

To answer the questions as they came, he tried to be ‘normal’ but found that he could never so be. In fact, most of his life had been ‘normal’ as he attended the services and the Sunday school, read the prayer books, sung the hymns and did all of those. But then a time came as it always does when we hold up what we have come to believe on account of other people and examine them in light of our own prejudices, intelligence and inclinations and even experiences. I think mine was at about when I was just fourteen years old. Thaddy’s own was not farther than that. He brooded in the depths of his soul, quietly and silently, not asking at that time any one’s opinions. Two years later, he was sure that there were no such things as ‘god’.

Some may say that he did not try very ‘hard’. But then he was not one of those who believed merely because they had been tortured by the gory descriptions of hell or enticed by the promise of some fair and fanciful gardens called heaven. Those anxieties did not matter for him.

Try hard at what? At believing what was not believable? At accepting things that are in no way acceptable? What about accepting things beyond our abilities as human beings to accept, understand or even practice? What about performing duties and rituals that had no relation to life and to survival? What about—?

They were things that he could not understand and he rejected them on account of that. If he dismissed those who accepted such things, he did so because he found it puzzling and pretentious that they had come around themselves to accept those things. He even found the preaching of all those things immoral and inhuman, all as a tool for exploitation one that he was not willing to submit himself to.

There was nothing to mask his hatred for Christianity, not the death of his father. He couldn’t use that as an excuse for his doubt, like many do and like we accuse many of doing. For at each turn, he knew it was on his account, not any other’s, that his father had died.

  1. # #

Since this story is not about Thaddy, I shall leave him off at this point. But I shall say something about Thaddy which is of immense significance to my story in general. He saw ‘god’, wherever it was used as a symbol of survival. And for that, he is not at all useless to our story after all.

Chapter Two: Missionary Position

It was August ’96 as I remember it, that the fetid siren that summoned the vulture to the carcass began to ring. It was a cruel and tragic month in its own rights though not any less crueller or more tragic than any other month.

1996 was the year that Tupac Shakur was shot in Vegas. It was the same year that O. J. Simpson was convicted. In the tail of the year, the Black peoples of the world had something to rejoice as Kofi Anan became the Secretary-general of the United Nations. ’96 was the year that Bin Laden sent his first warning to the Americans. They apparently did not take him serious until five years after when he gave them their deepest and deadliest wound. ’96 was the year of the spaceships too. Like every other year, it had its own plane crashes, celebrity divorces (Prince Charles and Princess Diana for instance), scandals, controversies, elections, assassinations, wars, discoveries, etc. The world never goes to sleep and in ’96 as always, it was very wide-awake.

In ’96, some more bizarre things made the top of the news and some other trivial things that should never have unfortunately did because they served our filthy pride.

Among the trivial things that made the top of the news especially among we common people in ’96 as I remember with ease was the news of a certain young man whom had been identified as a ‘missionary’ that had been expelled from a small town for haven impregnated a girl. I will insist that it was ‘trivial’ because it was of no spiritual value whatsoever—at least for the most of us who made much of it. It had first appeared in a daily tabloid in a popular gossip and sensationalist column in town under the heading ‘Missionary Position’. The story was told with its own measure of luridness which made it made it the more shocking and men loved shocking stories. And when it did, it was received with cynicism in all quarters. I don’t remember anyone who questioned whether it had actually happened or not. We were sure that it had happened. The facts were quite revealing and the young man in question was all too human.

In ’96, such sins had not yet entered into the public’s list of forgivable sins. They made sure those who committed such things paid for it in full.

I am not sure I know why such news made a buzz among us and why such news always made buzzes when they came. I think it was because the character gave us something to talk about. And we did talk about it. I also do think that bad news attracts our attention and appeals to our pride more than the good – so long as it is not about us. To a degree, I must admit that when I heard the news that I was ‘disappointed’ and I expressed my disappointment to some people though reservedly.

I myself am a missionary.

My reaction, though personal was critical too and I did not feel like I had broken the Lord’s command not to judge others. I think I judged myself in light of that more than I judged the young man in question and in that, I found it reasonable to be sympathetic regardless of the fact that there was no convincing me that it was ‘normal’ to be a missionary and to impregnate young girls.

I think this was what happened to Zach when he heard the news.

The holier ones among us were convinced that the young man was not even ‘saved’ at all talk more of being a missionary with the mandate to preach the Gospel that saved others. But I think that was too harsh, too cruel, and far too inhuman. How many of us can deny that we have secrets, damaging ones? Those that are without sins, let them please cast their own stones. The sin that most commit is the sin of allowing themselves to be caught and once in a while, everyone gets caught. As for secrets, every man has secrets, including the ones he keeps from himself.

When Zach Bādu read the column, he was disheartened and was considerably depressed for about a fortnight after that. Depression was not what he was used to like some other people that when it came, he could not understand what was happening to him. He skipped his meals and was always absentminded and sullen.

Ruth was not in town and thankfully too. His father noticed but could not discern.

It was not that he was related to the young man in question. He did not even know who the young man was. The connection between the feeling and the news was not even apparent.

It was at the end of those two weeks, when the connection had become faintly apparent, that he decided that he was going to do something about the news though he was not sure exactly what. That evening he had put a call to Thaddy and thankfully, he was in town and available.

Two evenings later, they were in the raven’s tavern. The request was that he dig up information as regards the missionary in question.

‘Whatever you can find.’ Was the request and Thaddy was obliged. Thaddy was one of such people who could make ‘findings’ about people and things. That was the core of his personality. Zach knew him as such and there was no other person he would have asked.

The two had met only twice since after Zach had returned from Del Mundo’s islets. Thaddy had heard the news as it had happened to the details and was impressed even though he hid whatever he had found interesting and impressive behind his unbelief. For those two times, it was not in their discussion. Now they had the chance to discuss it. Or something else.

They exchanged greetings and sat down each astride a round table.

  1. # #

Thaddy observed him for a while with a mischievous smile in his face. ‘I like the beards.’

Zach nodded shyly. He had been keeping his beards. ‘So what have you got for me?’ he asked changing the direction of the dialogue.

‘Well,’ Thaddy began enthusiastically, ‘the boy’s name is Silas Ańgō. He is twenty-four or so. The town is Nānti. It’s far south. The girl is the last daughter of the mayor of the town. She is a beauty too.’ He said and showed him photos that he’d cut from magazines and newspapers. ‘So what about him?’

Zach stopped at the photos, looked at him for an awkward moment before answering. ‘I’m going after him.’

Thaddy was not surprised. He had expected it. ‘Why?’

‘I don’t know. I can’t tell, at least not yet.’

‘Doubt if it will change anything. I mean, the dude is as guilty as hell or don’t you think so? Have you not met worse missionaries? I could give you names.’

Zach shook his head at that. He was not interested in the names. It was followed by a moment of awkward silence.

‘You don’t believe he did it, do you?’ Thaddy asked.

‘It doesn’t matter if he did.’

‘Really?’ Thaddy said, his cynicism rising. ‘How do you even do all that?’

‘What?’

Thaddy gestured as he answered: ‘Play the hero? Save people?’

‘That is not what it is.’ He answered after hesitating for a while. He wanted to parry the question, pretend that he did not understand but be sure did.

‘It sure is. Looks like it, sir. And that is good for you anyway and good for them. But what does it matter after all? I mean, the young man could be guilty after all.’

Zach stared at him.

‘Convince me that it is not then.’

Zach shook his head.

This time, he chuckled sardonically though not intentionally letting the silence between them linger. He was ready to have the conversation.

Thaddy had always wanted Zach to preach to him. Or to even try. He wanted to ask for it. But at the same time, he could not. He could not understand why he was not letting him have it.

After another while of silence passed, he gave up.

‘Try. Tell me that Jesus was born by a virgin. Tell me that he lived sinless and that he died…tell me all those stuffs you tell people.’

Thaddy waited.

‘What would it matter, Thaddy? You know more about anything than I do.’

‘Why’d you never tried converting me? At least, prove something to me. I have met tons of preachers, Zach and you are a bit unlike most of them. They are always eager to prove everything. Or try at the least. I think it is a religious duty or so. Maybe they recently made it so.’

‘Thaddy, there are things about ourselves; about our world that we may never understand…especially if we don’t want to understand. I always want to understand, that’s all.’ Zach said, not interested in pursuing the part about him being unlike other preachers.

Thaddy nodded before adding: ‘What do you mean by want to understand?’

‘I’d say that we often see not the things there are but the things we want to see.’

‘Go on, preach to me, sir. Help me understand.’ Thaddy said, more cynicism rising.

I must say that Thaddy desperately wanted the conversation to hold. He actually wanted to understand. Then he could not stand understanding. Many other things were always standing in his way of understanding and he could not sacrifice those things.

‘You have probably read the Holy Book more times than I have.’ Zach told him with honesty in his voice.

‘I don’t know Zach, it’s the facts that I see. If there’s something else to see, please do show me.’

‘There are questions I can’t answer. And if you live to see the things I have seen, you will realize that about yourself too.’

‘Then why do you believe?’

‘Not sure I can answer that one either.’

There was another round of silence. Zach never felt like he should live up to his profession as a preacher to Thaddy. There was nothing that he could tell Thaddy that could get him to see other than the ‘facts’ as he had called them. But at the same time, he did not completely give up hope that someday, he would see.

‘So what have you been up to lately?’ Zach asked. It was not because he did not want to face Thaddy in his scepticism. It was only that he doubted his abilities at winning that obstinate soul. He even feared that Thaddy could turn something in his head and he was right in that fear.

Thaddy exhaled as he felt in the question a real chance to express his doubts in Zach’s hearing. It was not that he expected him to capitulate to them anyway. He wanted him to do like the other college boys he had met – try to defend or prove something.

‘Well, went to India on some job. While there, something was brought to my attention.’

‘What?’ Zach asked honestly curios.

‘They say that there are more cows than there are humans in that country.’

‘What about it?’

‘Well, it has to do with Hinduism so if Christ was an Indian, he would have been probably Cow of God instead of Lamb of God.’

Zach found it funny and laughed heartily. He took no offense in that as he did not think there was any.

‘But then, he happens to be a Jew, and Jews like lambs too, don’t they?’ continued Thaddy. He had found in it a chance to make his views audible in Zach’s hearing.

I have mentioned that Thaddy disliked Christianity in particular and religion in general, mostly because he could not understand. It offended his intelligence. But more than that, the Jewish principle behind Christianity seemed to smack at him. He more than just rejected it, he loathed the taste of it. As a man that saw only the ‘facts’, it was one of the ‘facts’ beyond which he could not see any other thing.

‘Are you into animal rights now?’ Zach asked and the laughter returned on the other side. Zach knew that he was in no way ‘into animal rights’.

Thaddy had something he wanted to tell Zach. It was not at all mindless. He had thought about it many times. It did not necessarily make him feel ‘superior’, it was something he would have told any other person in Zach’s shoes—something he had told many others.

‘You sure have read the Old Testament and of course the New.’, he began. And if not for any other thing, there is blood, blood everywhere. You can almost smell it reeking from the bible pages. The history of the Jews is a history written by blood. The Holocaust, the Levitical Order, the Cross… The Lamb of God all express this bloodiness. You must realize that I am merely being honest.’

‘What about it? What are you getting at then?’ Zach asked after catching his breath. He did not know that the history of the Jews were in no way different from the history of every other people of the world for history is written by blood. In reading history and in living through it, we have always screamed: blood, blood everywhere.

‘I can’t understand why any of that would have anything to do with “salvation”’, Thaddy continued. ‘They are not symbols of salvation per se, not as you and others preach it; they are symbols of survival. Nothing else. Evolution and everything to modern science has become the modern man’s symbol of survival, a purified version of the Jewish code of survival. We need people to see that they can survive by this symbol. And think about it, a generation of men have survived by this symbol. And many generations have survived by the different symbols of ‘salvation’ and survival that they have made for themselves. I myself, as a modern man, I believe in science. I believe in things that are believable.

‘But the Jews are a special case, their model of survival, as far as modern history is concerned, is grand and I must admit this. This is why they have outlived many other nations. If it is salvation, then, of course it is survival. Period.’

‘I still do not understand.’

‘When a man rose from the dirt to become one of the most influential men of his generation—mind you, this is typical Jewish success story—, and was betrayed by it, the Jews who admired him consecrated this life into the same religious symbols of survival created by their poets and prophets of old – son of God, Messiah, etc. They badly needed this man to outlive them. When he died, they made sure he resurrected. When they ‘resurrected’ him, they spoke of his ‘second coming’….Now, this man has outlived them as a symbol of Jewish posterity. This is the meaning of ‘salvation’ for the Jews. This is the only means through which they could strive against the deteriorating power of time. This is admirable. But what Christianity and Islam has done is take this for granted. This is the trick that the Jews have played on the world in general. Science, philosophy have replaced the old forms, they have demystified the meaning of the Jewish idea of survival. Talks of lambs and pigeons and cows and crosses as symbols of man’s salvation is far too archaic if not senseless,—if not Jewish—not for a man who has demystified how to outlive himself. And certainly not for a man who understands that the old forms was indeed a ‘shadow’ of things that has come. We can no longer hold on to the shadows of the old forms for the sake of religion now that we have their palpable realities.’

There was another moment of silence between the two. Zach still was not getting at what his friend was trying to send across.

‘They are God’s people,’ Zach heard himself sputter out. ‘That was the reason they have outlived all other nations of their own time.’

‘That is too simple an answer.’ There was scorn in his voice. ‘They are their god’s people. Very much like in every other nation and with every other people; they placed themselves at the centre of the religious experience of their god. I’ve told you what you need to know about them.’

‘Do you hate the Jews?’

Thaddy laughed aloud. ‘Do I? I certainly do not and you must forgive my constant reference to them. The Jews are the capitalist principle of the modern world. If you are a capitalist, you’ll love the Jews. If you are not a capitalist, you will hate them. I’m neither. I’m a free spirit, I hate nobody.’

‘How come you know all these things?’ Zach asked after a short period of more awkward silence. He was impressed.

Thaddy caught his chance right at that. ‘That is the problem with you Zach. I think a lot. I want to demystify things. You take things for granted. We are different. You just believe everything they tell you. You speak of wanting to understand but wanting to understand is not the same as understanding. Things are not always what they seem. You are a good man but you are way too simplistic in your assessment of reality. I may be an unbeliever but I’m not a simpleton. And Za, this is going to be your downfall. The world may not forgive you for your simplicity.’

That was just what he had always wanted to tell his friend. And haven said it, he felt relieved. There were no hard feelings to it.

  1. # #

Zach listened, never taking those words too personal, never feeling offended for indirectly being called a ‘simpleton’. He couldn’t even say he truly understood. It would be much that he would understand more deeply the meaning of what Thaddy had told him at the raven’s.

He did not have answers for any of those things and he could not pretend that he did. There were those who could, those who had the degrees and the pedigrees. As for him, he valued his experiences—and naively so—more than any other thing else. He indeed had a simplistic view of reality. It was not that he did not have his own questions like every other person. It was also not that he thought it blasphemous to ask them. He had very few answers as well. As to the Book, he read it like one would read a book written by fishermen and shepherds—with the same simplicity with which they wrote it. Sometimes he slept on it. Other times, he admitted that there were things that puzzled him in the letters, things that no matter how he tried at understanding, he could never understand.

  1. # #

They talked a bit more about other trivial things and parted.

Zach was sure that he could in no way convince Thaddy about anything and so he never bothered trying. Thaddy was far more intelligent that he was. In fact, he had other things to worry about. And he worried about them.

This feeling was not one of defeat and it was also not one of disparagement. It was honest and friendly.

As for Thaddy, he felt a bit of guilt about himself watching Zach leave.

He knew none of his words meant anything to his friend. Not anything significant, nothing of influence.

The impression that Zach made on him was unlike that of many others. It was not vengeful. It was not even anything close to contemptuous and he was sure that Zach was not playing the philosopher by keeping quiet. The man may be simple in his outlook on life but was not one to strive with another.

Chapter Three: The Market Women – A Nightmare

The meeting did nothing to temper Zach’s feeling about the young man whose indiscretion had made the news. As to playing the hero, it could not have been it. He was self-sacrificing but then anything he did for others, he did for himself.

He could not even tell why he had such a feeling nor did he have any ideas as to what it would lead him into. He only recognized it as something that he should respond with the required urgency and anxious concern – as he would have expected others to do for him.

There was nothing special about that feeling per se. It was most normal to him. It could not have been anything other than customary for him to respond in such a way, even if such a response was the most he could give in sympathy.

With that being said, I should add that he was urged on by something other than mere sympathy and association with the said missionary. As to the Jews and his ‘simplicity’, he had forgotten everything about them by the time he reached home.

His mind could not find a place in it for them and they were abandoned. It was filled with thoughts about this one missionary and his desire to ‘understand’.

  1. # #

His wife, Ruth was pregnant and heavily close to the labour room. She would never have stood in his way of anything; it was just that the fact of her being pregnant gave him something to be anxious as every expectant parent would. He and his father were the only family that she had and being away for a few days during the last month of her pregnancy was something to be anxious about. But she obliged him. It was nothing, she had told him. She could take care of herself. If anything happened, she will go to the nearest hospital. The women that were friends to Zach mother would be more than willing to help on the notice of a telephone call.

More about that was said in a bid to soothe his anxiety.

Since after he had returned from Del Mundo’s islets after spending three years with Biyar and his people, Zach had spent the time waiting on destiny to find him like it had the first time. He had no idea where to go or what to do next and he could not manufacture any either. He had no such courage or initiative.

He missed ‘the people’ and Biyar but then he had moved on as they had too. As to the months that had passed by him, he had spent it with the woman he had come to love. He read books, gained a few pounds, cooked when it was his ‘turn’ to do so, prayed, stayed away from the newsmakers, saw old friends and made new ones, went to church as occasion demanded, played with his wife, talked with his father, learnt to play the piano alongside a few other trivial things.

Nevertheless, in all those, he still felt strangely absent from himself. There was still something missing, something absent in those things.

Ruth never would have stood in his way for anything. She believed in him and let him understand that not even his responsibilities to her would stand in his way. She understood more than anyone else the estrangement that the man had from himself and never tried to pretend that she could make him forget himself in her. There was no doubt that he loved her, and found a part of himself in being her husband and best friend, but then she knew him too well. He was one of those birds who belonged to the wild. Their feathers are so bright, their songs too sweet and their ways too deep that even if you succeeded in caging them, it will not take you so long to realize that they did not belong to you and that they never will. And that you could not live with the guilt of haven imprisoned them.

She knew this and was the more anxious for him to find himself again.

When he came to him and told him about the young missionary of Nānti, she had understood his grief. And like a few women who saw a little too deeply, she saw where it would lead him.

  1. # #

Silas Ańgō lived about a day’s journey from Zach Bādu’s Noiā. He got a late ticket and took the night train hoping to arrive his destination the next morning.

The third class coach had a number of women whom he identified as market women moving their wares out of town. There were about eight in all with a few men.

Zach did not know why he had chosen the third class. It was not that he could not afford the more exquisite suites. He just couldn’t tell and soon, he abandoned all thoughts of it. When they settled in and the train blasted off, Zach hopeful for a sleep leaned back, stretched his legs, gathered his coat to himself and waited for sleep.

It was evening when he arrived the station. The sun had almost disappeared into the eastern horizon when a train nosily and clumsily arrived the station. He sat out the beginning of the journey following the fleeting path of the savannah traced by the moving window of the train, finally slipping into a sombre sleep sometimes into the night

It could have been midnight when he heard indistinct voices. He stretched and turned to return to his sleep. He slept off again for a while to wake to those indistinct voices again. This time, they were a bit louder and clearer than the first time.

He sat up, stretched and turned to return to his sleep but he found that he could not. The voices had gotten clearer and he could make now out the words though the dim lights and his fuzzy sight, which made the lights sting, made it hard for him to see the faces.

Every other person in the coach was asleep except for the women who were in a conversation. He closed his eyes and listened.

‘She was having problems with her husband. The pastor invited her to his office for a marriage counselling session. She came and he did her inside the office,’ Zach heard a weak and low voice say. He had not met the discussion from the beginning but even at that, it caught his attention.

‘When the husband found out, he sent her away.’ The woman finished. ‘The man of God that was meant to save a marriage destroyed it. But do you know what? He blamed the woman, saying it was she that led him into it. You should have seen that woman the day she left, the tears…my heart was broken to pieces.’

By now Zach was fully roused. They stopped as if his waking up had startled them. He looked up to see that four of the women were awake. He thought that his waking would stop them from gossiping and him from eavesdropping, and so he turned and pretended to have gone back to sleep.

In a moment they continued.

‘My sister, you have not seen anything yet,’ the second woman began after a moment of silence. About two months ago, a boy in our neighbourhood was by invited over by the Anglican priest. The boy was unfortunate. The priest raped him.’ She stopped and looked at them with sensational eyes. ‘I don’t understand what is happening… my heart was broken when I heard the story. The worst of it all was that the priest invited the boy over to ask for his forgiveness and did him again. He stuck his big organ into that boy’s anus. Can you imagine that? The boy started the same with little boys on the street. It was when he was caught that he confessed what had happened. It was after the priest’s that he developed the urge to do same to his fellow boys, many whom were much younger than he was. The reverend denied and the boy was flogged. It was other boys who the reverend had stuck his organ into their anuses that confirmed the story.’

The other women gasped, though under their breaths.

‘Is it that we can no longer let our young boys out on the streets again?’

‘What has this world turned to, my sisters?’

‘It is the end times. Church people have become worse than those in the world.’

‘What are we going to do to our children?’

‘We have to always pray for them.’

‘Pathetic.’

‘Men of dogs, they are not men of God. Damn them!’

Zach did not see the expressions of their faces, the dumbmoves, the claps, the muffled shrieks, the gasping, the ooohs and the arrghs, the shaking of heads… and all those others things typical of feminine melodrama. They would have added to the effect that the stories had on him in general.

He was somewhat angered and somewhat enraged. But at who? At the women or at the ‘men of God’ who were sticking their organs into little boys’ anuses?

The women were still talking when he saw himself jump up in a frenzy and start screaming at them: ‘Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!’

Everyone in the cabin woke at his screams but instead of paying any attention to him, they all started out of the cabin. It was as if they hadn’t heard him, as if he wasn’t even there at all.

He looked at himself, at the people leaving the cabin and at himself again.

What had he done? What was he doing? Did they not hear him? Did they hear him?

He was breathing hard and fast. He could feel the wetness of cold sweat under the collar of his blue coat and at their folds at his arms. Everything was whirling in tight circles about him. His head seemed to throb with ringing pain. Balls of sweat were trickling down his face with tickles. He had apparently shouted with all his strength.

He stood there for could have been an eternity.

After a moment passed during which the cabin was emptied of its former occupants, he realized that the screams had been part of a nightmare and that he was back in real life with the golden light of the dawn streaming through the windows. He had passed out on the market women and into a nightmare. Apparently, the screams were part of the nightmare that had coincided with the blasting of the train’s horn and their arrival. As to the rest of the nightmare, he could not remember.

He was not sure whether the nightmare was over until he saw other people coming into the cabin to join him. Realizing that the he was probably at the station of his destination, he took his coat and walked out into the station and out of it.

  1. # #

It took him a long while, after he had gathered his wits about him and was in a taxi, for him to remember what he had heard inside the coach. When they came back, they returned to him as clear as if he was there with them and having the conversation from the first. In fact, he even remembered other stories, more bizarre and obscene ones as he had heard them. I do not think I should tell them for the sake of discretion. Anyone that wants to hear such stories let him catch a group of market women on an overnight train.

The women had talked at considerable length. It was obvious that they gathered in the same cabin from time to time and gossiped about a subject or another. When women talk, especially when they ‘gossip’, they sensationalise their talk, each person weighing the effect of the other person’s story and trying by embellishments to out-do the others when the stage was passed to her. Everyone does that, both male and female but being a writer and a poet, I can assure you that you can leave such to the women or to writers. That regardless, the truth was still present. When a man tells a woman that he loves her, she can wink at that but when a man tells his fellow men that he loves a woman, that cannot be winked at. When a man tells a woman that she is ugly, she may judge him to be a bit harsh and cruel or self-seeking and when her fellow women tell her same, she will dismiss them as jealous or spiteful. But what happens when a child tells her that she is ugly? She knows without questions and without asking for further proofs that she is ugly, the reason being precisely that childlikeness has nothing to gain from telling the truth—as it has nothing to lose. And when it tells the truth, the child tells it for its sake and with all innocence. That was the situation of these women. Their childish abandon was there in their voices though it was mixed with a great deal of cynicism and poetic sensationalism.

Zach had expressed anger at someone in the nightmare. But the question was: at whom?

Was it at the women? It could not have been because even though they were nonetheless sensational, they were honest anyway. He knew that they were. Had he any reason to be angry with them? Had they not told the truth? They may have salted it but they had told the truth. There were no doubts about that.

The men? They were as guilty as hell very much as the missionary he was on his way to meet. There were no questions about that. He did not need any further proofs as to that as I suppose that no one ever asks for proofs for the validity of bad news as we do for good ones. There is something that rejoices in us all over the failure of others especially people of certain calling and mettle. As to good news, it is often received with scepticism. But then Zach knew almost immediately that they were not the reason why he felt a sudden upsurge of rage.

Who was the object of his anger?

The best answer was that it was something that had made an appearance in the nightmare. Even though he still could not make much of the nightmare, he was awed at its realness. It was quite real and had felt so too. There was no doubt about that.

Was someone following him? Was someone playing mind games on him? Were all of those to torture him and to drive him to insanity?

He would have to wait to see and so would we.

Chapter Four: Silas Ańgō

Silas Ańgō lived in a small and old bungalow among many other such bungalows with his mother in a low-brow neighbourhood in the outskirts of the city of Mōia .

There was something about the city, though not very quite unlike other cities, and Zach felt it as the blue taxi pushed into the city. It was strong in the air and it was even stronger for Zach who hadn’t been in the city for the first time. It smelt of coarse and unbridled animation tempered with a strong dose of brutish sensuality and abandonment. It was everywhere even in the posts and billboards and posters and in the faces of the people as he saw them.

There was something musical about that city too, some sounds that seemed to float about in the air above it, the sound of which was wanton and sensual.

It was still very early in the morning but Zach felt it intensely like the hangover of yester night’s indulgences.

The city was spread out on soft hills in a conspicuous and artificial way with an abundance of roads in valleys, bridges and switchbacks.

The buildings, in addition to the hills underneath them were tall and imposing, the sight of which gave Zach a feeling of strangeness. He felt very much like a stranger. He took the sights in and as he did so, he noticed that the driver of the taxi was looking at him from the side of his eyes. At that, he decided to engage the man.

The man was a beer-bellied man with thick beards, who looked very much on his way to his sixtieth anniversary. He looked jovial anyway and Zach did not feel he had a reason to be afraid nor cautious.

‘It’s a nice city. The war did not as much as brush past it. It looks solid.’

‘Oh’, the driver added. ‘I see. Nice observation. Well, a lot has changed since the war…’ And on that pathetic note, the man began to tell the story of the city and of the things that had happened and the things that had not happened since ‘74 and of the things that could have happened.

The drive was about two hours and Zach regretted having let the noisy cat out of the bag. He sure did feel its sting as the man was a damn talker. He knew everything, every politician in town, every celebrity, every drug dealer, every restaurant, French and Asian and African, every club, every whorehouse, gay and straight—and was willing to offer information. It seemed very well like part of his job—or who he was as a person.

He talked about anything with childish abandon, which made Zach shudder.

When he saw the ring on Zach’s finger as he stroked his beards, he began: ‘I see that you are married. You know we missed a lot, people of my age. I mean, this generation really enjoys.’

It was at this that Zach was obliged to say something. ‘Enjoys what?’

The man laughed. ‘Our women liked the hair but you know a lot of things have changed. It’s different with these cuties, they keep it shaved now, you know. And they say that it’s better without the hair. What do you think sir?’

At that, Zach turned his face to the window in embarrassment. He was somewhat offended as he did not wish to speak of his relationship with his wife in such terms but the same time, he did not want to deprive the jolly man his good time. He seemed to him a very lonely man who had a lot to speak of but none to listen to him.

‘And it’s even worse, now I have to walk around with a semi hard-on. The women don’t want to go naked and they don’t want to keep their clothes on either. I mean, think about it. I heard it is the same with the hair. They are shaving everything off their bodies. Their legs and eyelashes… And that other thing…They say it is better without the hair, you know. Not that I have tasted…’ Zach did not hear anything else that the man said. He did not wish to. The talk had begun to give him a headache.

He was grateful when the driver pulled up for fuel at a gas station with the words: ‘We are a few blocks away from port, sir. I could do with the petrol here.’

  1. # #

It was late into the Thursday morning when they made the last turn out of the city and into a small town that was outside the city, which had very well woken. It was holiday for the schoolchildren as they were nowhere in sight unlike every other person that had a place to go every morning in the fulfilment of ‘job’/’work’. It was a quiet town anyway and very much unlike what was obtainable in the inner-city, the air was gentler and softer though not any less wanton.

In a few more minutes that were thankfully spent in silence, they pulled up at the address that Thaddy had provided him.

The small town was typical of many others you’d meet outside of a big city, that is, of people who wanted to have the ‘girl’ but could not afford her. Here the houses were not any taller and though not entirely shabby but cheap and they hardly took notice of strangers.

Their destination was a bungalow that was the fourteenth in a wide street with similar bungalows astride it. The agreement was that the man would hang around so they could both return to the station together. He would pay him for the extra time. It would be a day’s job and a day’s pay for the man.

About that town, I should say that its inhabitants were mostly soldiers. There was a barracks somewhere close and what spilled off mostly in retiree soldiers found themselves in Rumōia as it was called, reminiscent of its relation to the main city Moiā. So safe is it to say that the place looked like a typical barracks though not entirely like it. It had its own brothel, its own club, beer halls, a Catholic Church, and all such other things that make a typical southern town.

  1. # #

Zach knocked on the wrought iron gate repeatedly but there was no immediate answer from the other side. He stood there like a fool and observed the driver of the cab smile, nod or wave at anyone that passed by. Zach knew he was probably weighing them to learn what he would tell his next passenger of the neighbourhood and its people.

The second series of knocks were louder, longer and knuckle-aching. Only then did a middle-aged woman looking older than her age came to the gate. It took her an awful lot of time and work to open the gate. And when she did, she did not look happy as the august visitor with his rough beards had woken her up from her sleep.

She stood there and stared at him allowing her still-sleepy eyes to ask the million-dollar question: Who the hell are you anyway and what brings you here?

Zach took it and answered ‘Good morning ma. The name is Zachariah Bādu.’ He then stopped and thought about the second part of the compound question for a minute longer before finally adding: ‘I am looking for Silas.’

It was a good thing that Zach did not use the second name. It made it sound much more personal. Thankfully, it threw the woman off her guard and gave her the ease she needed.

She observed him for a while longer than was normal allowing Zach the chance to make a mental portrait of her. She looked frightened. It was evident in her eyes that she had suffered great misfortunes in her life and had resigned herself to them having neither the will nor the chance to do otherwise.

‘I’m sorry. But may I ask, why do you want to see him?’

When she spoke, the voice was soft and weak. There was nothing insinuating about it. And that kept Zach in his skin and his heart in his chest.

The situation was a very sensitive one and Zach knew he needed to be cautious and being cautious sometimes meant hiding some things – sometimes for the sake of revealing other things. But then his openness and honesty had saved him many a times. He had to trust that it would this time as ever and besides he owed the woman the truth. He swallowed hard and turned back to the woman: ‘I want to talk with him… about the incident. That’s if he doesn’t mind.’

The woman stopped and observed him this time with more inquisitiveness than the first time.

‘Well, I am sorry. I doubt if he won’t mind.’

‘I just want to be of help – in any way that I could be indulged.’ Zach said hopeful of something. Anything at all would be worth it. That had been his prayer – anything. He was hopeful of something that would make the stress worth it.

The woman coldly observed him again with her hands still holding apart the leaves of the gate and her frame between them. This time, she seemed to weigh him in a favourable light.

It took the woman a great deal of thoughtfulness to finally capitulate. ‘A minute,’ she finally said and closed the gates again with the same measure of work and time as it had taken her to open it.

It took her almost a quarter of an hour for her to return. In the time apart, Zach was almost sure that she was not going to be back and was more than grateful seeing her return and hearing her work at opening the gates.

‘What did you say your name is?’ She asked.

Zach told her. She nodded and went to work on closing the gates again.

It took her a little less than five minutes to return and a minute more to work on re-opening the gates.

Now, I should say that it was something far deeper that his mere appearance or some good sense about his mission, or his offer to ‘help’ that had won Zach his pass. However, all of that had positively aided the way she assessed him and his mission. But more than those, there was some unknown prudence to her assessment of him that bothered not on them, but on a higher and more profound sensibility belonging to a woman who had suffered and for all her sufferings had been rewarded with a profound knowledge of the world.

There was no way she would have known what exactly it was. But she was attended by that prudence when she finally eased her hold on the leaves of the small and rusty red iron gates to let him through. As to whether Zach knew that it was not his mission or his personality that had earned him his pass, he certainly did. He could not quite tell what it was but he was grateful, as he knew both mother and son did not want to go down old rugged path again.—Not to satisfy his desire to ‘help’ or his need to indulge in himself. None of that was worth all the humiliation that was payment for their sins. It had taken a lot of courage for them as it had for him.

With a nod, she let him into the neat but modest compound with the small bungalow in the corner. There were untrimmed and dull flowers, an orange tree and water pots that lined the fence wall. The fence was bare and overgrown with rough patches of algae in places. The general air about the place was one of cold withdrawal and loneliness.

She led him into the sitting room past a veranda that had clothes hanging from ropes tied to the columns that arched the veranda at its top. They were men’s clothes that assured Zach that his prize was not very far away. The sitting room was modest as every other thing it. The cushion was worn in many places and when Zach sat, the spring under the cushion sank under him and so he sat out on the edge. There was among the wall photos that lined the wall a faded portrait of the Christ on the cross, a woodcut of John 3 verse 16 and another, a larger one, of the Ten Commandments. One of the framed family photos had a man dressed in military suits with the woman that Zach had just met by his right, a young and sad girl on a wheelchair, and Silas holding her shoulders with a wide smile. He looked fourteen or so in that photo. And apart from the rest of them, he was the only one with a real smile on his face.

There was something cruel about that photo and the other photos, something viciously unfortunate and cruel that made Zach shudder pitifully.

Zach’s mind registered all of those in an instant. The room did not particularly smell well. It was damp. It smelt of dotage and lack of ventilation. The TV set was older than every other thing in the room and it sure looked like something that had not been used in centuries. There was a small radio on the centre table. It was turned on though the volume was low. The music coming from it was somewhat like the inaudible one he had heard as he rode in the taxi through the inner city.

He waited and hoped. But then the question that he had neither asked nor answered came to mind. What was he going to tell the young man? There had to be something though what exactly it was, he could not yet tell. He would have to try to be open and honest and be hopeful that it would rescue him as it always did.

He sat there not sure how much longer he would have to sit when voices started coming from past a small passageway that led from the sitting room, the voice of a woman rising and that of a man rising higher.

He listened, not sure what to make of it.

He listened but then his break came when the woman walked out into the sitting room. ‘He is just waking from sleep. He will be joining you in a moment.’

The woman did not leave rather she sat down in another couch opposite Zach and began her routine of observations. It gave Zach a chance for his own observation of her though nothing was revealed until the woman spoke up.

‘So, are you a newsman or something?’

Zach shook his head frantically. ‘No, ma.’ Zach was not sure what he would add and so he left it at that.

The woman observed him again, warmth appearing in her eyes. She nodded as if to reassure him. But the nod was more or less, to reassure herself. She felt grace in the stranger’s presence, unlike she’d ever did and that seemed to be enough.

The woman observed him further before continuing. ‘He’s changed a lot. He drinks now. In short, he is going mad. He keeps talking of how he loves life.’ She said with a great deal of feeling and anxiety in her voice.

Zach looked on and listened. It became obvious to her that she had finally eased into his presence on account of something which was unknown to him, whatever it was.

‘Gimme a minute. I’ll be right back.’

She walked away into the passageway that was covered by an old and worn grey curtain that had wiped many a hand.

It did not take the woman a lot more time to return this time. When she did, Zach saw the resignation in her eyes. He understood that the young man did not want to see him when she shook her head and lowered it. When she raised it up again, its original paleness had returned and Zach saw that she was in anguish almost to the point of tears. ‘Please,’ she began, her Southern floating edgy accent getting stronger in her voice. ‘You have to help him. He has been saying that he loves life. He loves life and I don’t know what to make of it… Do you have any idea what he means by that?’

Zach shook his head. He didn’t.

It was from here that the woman went on to tell her story in which was sandwiched part of Silas’ story. Her husband had served in the army and had fought in the war of ’74 rising to the rank of colonel. He was a good man – as she had put it and according to her definition of ‘good’ – till after the War when everything changed. That was the true mark of war and conflict—they change everything or in other cases, reveal the ‘changes’ that lay deep within us. On returning from the war, he had joined the elite soldiers who won the war for the South in overthrowing the civilian government. He became a minster in the government.

That was the beginning of her sufferings. He started sleeping with other women and even bringing some home that by the end of ’79, he had six other children from other women minus those whom he had denied and those whom he had aborted. The man became a degenerate overnight. In the summer of ’79, he had them out of the house and in ’81, he was shot dead during in a counter-coup.

Silas was born in ‘73 and his sister in ’72. But the sister died in ’85 from complications from an accident in her childhood which had confined her in a wheelchair for all her life.

The woman had taken the young boy who was the only thing she had left in her little world and raised him from the crumbs that had fallen out of his father’s table, chief of which was the house.

‘That was the only thing that came to me though he had millions,’ she had told Zach. ‘I found a little room somewhere outside this neighbourhood and rented this place. The rent was enough to pay his fees and feed him. You see, I look very old but I am only a poor woman of fifty-one. I still wonder why the world was so cruel to me. And now, the only thing I have left in this world will be taken from me.’

Zach listened as the woman poured out the contents of her heart to him. She was not in tears, she was calculated as she did not want to create any pretentious effect on her listener. In fact, she was not at all ‘begging’ him; it was something far more profound, that unknown sensibility, that urged her on.

‘There is something you must know…,’ she began on another beat.

Then she paused almost abruptly and Zach heard the change in her voice as it had also appeared in her face. ‘My greatest fear is that he is like his father, somehow. Somehow, I did not see it coming. It was my fault. I should have stopped him.’

As to why she felt that it was all her fault, she had continued: ‘I should not have let him. He is only a child. But he really loved God. He kept saying that God had called him to be a preacher. I thought that maybe if there had been money for college, he would not have thought of being a preacher.’

Zach nodded.

‘Now he keeps talking about how he loves life. I don’t even understand that. Has he gone mental?’

Zach shook his head. ‘He’s okay. I’ll see what I can do to help.’

As to helping, Zach was more than willing but where to begin, he did not know. He had begun actually, but how to proceed was the challenge of the promise of helping.

There are a lot more to Silas’s story that is yet to be revealed which I shall in due time. But a creative reader will already have made something of the little that has been said. The young man’s vision of himself had been hurt as that of God and of the world that seemed not to have a reason to forgive him. The scars were rather too deep that they reached to the depth of his being. Time sure does heal certain wounds but there are wounds that time can’t heal and the wound in Silas’ heart was one of such. His situation demanded more than mere forgiveness but something in a miracle.

It was not entirely that he did not want to face and fix his mistake. Nay, it was just that – as I shall come to reveal in the course of the story – there was something more epic to the whole incident that eluded him and many others. As to facing his mistake, he was more than willing. Though he could in no way, undo what had been done, he had already accepted it as his fate and himself as a true son of his father. However, the situation was far bigger than the pitiful story of his sleeping with a woman and getting her pregnant on the very first night. The story as it shall unfold was not anything about him. He was the rook rather than the king. Even as the rook, he had moves to make for the king. To make such moves was the reason he had been sent to the town of Nānti, which became notorious in the tail of ’96. His healing lay in his seeing that and in accepting it. But he was very much like the rest of us: full of himself, too short-sighted, too self-conscious, too insecure, too much in love with life to face the dark abyss of death.

This is not to trivialise the pain he felt and the grief and scandal that he dealt with in the confines of his soul. But if time had anything to contribute to his healing, it was precisely in helping him see.

For the sake of sympathy, I shall do well to remind you, my dear reader, that it is men and not angels that God has called to be His witnesses. This should humble both those who are called to co-labour with God and those who make tales out of their failures. But if it fails to humble us, it shall certainly not fail to judge us.

Chapter Five: The Hair

A few more things passed between the two. Zach did not particularly know what to say. But he was sure that his presence was good enough help.

Zach did not know how to proceed. As he sat looking at the woman in silence, a novel thought streamed into his mind. It was rather intense and disturbing. He looked at the wall clock that was somewhere in the living room and the time was pushing towards nine. He would have to go to that town. That was just it and very much like the first impression that had been made on him to come to Mōia and then Rumōia, he could not explain why he had to. Unlike the most of us, he had learnt to wait at the very end of the journey for explanations. He had learnt to dance to the rhythm of distant drums. He had grown to trust such impressions though this one was far more urgent and pressing than any other that he’d had before. Even though trusting and waiting on such impressions was not entirely an easy thing, he made it easy simply by trusting not by haggling within himself the whys and the hows and the ifs and the buts and the maybes—and every other thing to those.

—Would that help?

He was not sure of anything. The only thing he was dead sure at that moment was that he would be going to that town.

Zach had not had certain experiences but he had something to say to the woman for her son. ‘The world doesn’t forgive but God does forgive. We can receive God’s forgiveness and move on with life. He has to understand that.’ Mrs Ańgō nodded sheepishly. ‘I am not sure exactly how to help but he has my prayers. I don’t have much money but I will mail an order in the coming days no matter how small.’

The woman was delighted. ‘Your coming is enough help.’

Zach was standing by now.

‘He will get over himself. He’s still a kid, you know. Thanks though. My greetings to your wife.’ She said with a smile that spoke more of her gratitude than her words.

It was with these words and a few more that they parted ways. It was a few months later that they saw each other again.

In the other room, Silas listened to all of those – and a little more – with his ears held against the thin wall.

  1. # #

Zach walked out of that bungalow with two things on his mind. The first was how to help; the second was how to get to Nānti. Both were in no way easy. But then, the choice was not between that which was easy and that which was difficult. The choice was between life and death. That was his assessment of it from the very beginning. And that would be our assessment of it.

They put the taxi in the direction of where they could get a payphone. They got there in a few minutes.

The driver helped him with a coin and he dialled home. The phone rang and rang again but was dead cold except for the sound of the dial tones. In ’96, mobile phones were already in the market but then it was for those who could afford it. And the Bādu’s were certainly not in that number as the price of one was far beyond them. The telephones did serve their pockets well and vice versa.

After waiting a few more minutes, he tried again but nothing. He then walked back to the taxi where the driver was waiting. ‘Let’s go get something for lunch.’

The man obliged him and in a few more minutes, they were in a tavern. Twenty-minutes later, they were done with their meals mostly in silence. Zach fancied that he was in a meeting with Thaddy and he wished to talk with the man.

The man on the other hand had sensed something unusual in his passenger that he could not understand. It was there in the air about him. It made him feel awkward haven talked about something as silly as public hair.

‘So who are you really?’ he asked.

‘Zachariah Bādu.’

‘Oh, so what brings you around these parts?’

Zach went on and told him. The man was impressed and alarmed at the same time.

‘I want to help him. That’s all.’

‘How do you intend to do that?’

Zach was not sure and he told him so.

‘You know I’ve never been a man to judge other men.’

‘What do you mean by that?’ Zach asked.

‘Are you an angel, Mr Zachariah?’

‘I am not.’

‘Then we are even, aren’t we?’

Zach smiled. He was not sure anything good would come out of the discussion but he felt he could pass the time on its account.

Zach hesitated as his eyes caught sight of a twelve-year old girl walk into the tavern in the hand of an elderly man who they supposed to be her grandfather. As he returned his face to the man’s, he saw that the driver had seen the same sight and that it had an effect on him.

By now, the man’s face had softened into a grin. ‘I know I’m the bad guy…I am the bad guy really.’ He said in abundance of guilt, then paused, leaned forward in a serious manner and asked ‘What do you think about the hair?’ He asked more politely this time.

It was at this moment that the waiter returned with their bill. Zach paid and they returned to the cab.

There were many things that made that one question very awkward both for the asker and for Zach. But then, at the same time, he now felt obliged to say something to the man, something that soothed his curiosity.

It was obvious that it was not just the hair that interested the man. He was concealing a malevolence.

  1. # #

Back at the payphone, Zach dialled again and the voice of his wife greeted him. He then went on and told her everything leaving nothing out of the debrief. When he was done with the narrative, he announced to her that he would be going to the town. He had no explanations, he just felt drawn to it. That was all. He would spend the weekend in the town.

When he was done, a familiar feeling welled up from within. He felt angry at himself. If she had resisted him, then he would have had an excuse but her unconditional acceptance of his proposal left him disappointed.

Zach knew that she was going through the same motions as he was as if she was a step ahead of him. She obliged him without demanding further clarification of purpose and intent.

Nothing more was said and both of them know instantly that it would last for more than a weekend.

‘I will keep in touch.’ Zach promised.

As he put the receiver of the phone back into its cradle, he felt peace, mixed with rage to an equal measure, at himself.

  1. # #

Mr Shergie, the taxi driver, does not feature much in our story but then it was through his eyes that Zach came to know the world in a different way unlike he had before. So it is only fair to our present story to run a background check on him.

Shergie Peters had served the most of his adult life as a cop. He never made it to the top of the ladder precisely because he was not very smart. He was a most simple-hearted and simple-minded fellow. From first sight, and following the abandonment with which he spoke about something as trivial and almost disgusting as pubic hair with a total stranger, we would not be doing justice to smartness to ascribe smartness to him. In addition to smartness, other things that aided ascension to the top corners of the society like ambitiousness and shrewdness were certainly not qualities he possessed. He had very little in luck too.

Like every police officer, he did his own shit. There is no policeman that does not do ‘shit’ especially around this part of the world, but part of the shit was to be smart and not get caught in the lights like a jackrabbit. This is not to say that there are no real good cops anyway.

He did his own shit and had gone to jail for it when others had ascended the ladder for it. Suffer me to say that it was not merely his own idiocy that drove him down the hole, he was rather unlucky to be the guy that was made an example to the world of how the police was trying to ‘purge from its ranks criminals who had missed their road and had ended up in the force’. In jail, he was converted to a Catholic, a devoted one and tomorrow was Friday and Friday was Confession day. As to the hair thing, he was of the generation that had not seen much of those things on women’s bodies. Coming out of jail after a decade was like walking into a whole new world, a naked world, which left him with a perpetual erection. He had been in the cab-driving job for about a year and he still felt a stranger in the world about him—on account of the hair.

However, there is something more to the hair anyway and I shall come to it in a moment.

Well, the shitty part of the job involved ‘moving’ evidences, I wouldn’t say ‘selling’ anyway, if you understand what I mean. But then sometimes it sure did involve actual selling—if you like it that way. Drugs especially. I mean, there are things that can’t be stopped and more than their employer, they knew this. The deal was to control them, keep them from getting into the wrong hands. Decide who gets what.

—What do I mean by that?

Well, there are people, and there are places. You just don’t sell sugar on the open market.

—Sugar?

Yeah, sugar. Drugs. Coke. Skunk. Et cetera.

Their shitty job involved making ‘arrests’. The arrests, in the real sense of it is like escorting the drugs to their destination. At the station, reports are filed and then the arrested persons are released with their wares after haven had their wares ‘examined’ and found them ‘clean’. Meanwhile, the false arrests as they were made was to keep those who would have made the real arrest. The examination, for what it actually was, was where the settlement was made.

Some other times, those involved made sure the drugs reached their destination by changing the cops on checkpoint duty and patrols to include those who…you sure do get what I’m hitting at so let’s leave it at that. When under watch, they made the pass by extending the time in-between shifts to keep the roads and the posts free.

It was a national criminal web and most of the top cops were caught in it like flies in a spider’s web—including Mr Shergie’s chief. The bigger towns which in turn had bigger drug markets were the prize cake that the hungry and greedy police chiefs scrambled for. Those men were part of the drug trade. Whom they favoured, they kept in the game and the ones that messed up bad, they put out of it. And they did put some people off the game once in a while when they began to grow tails.

That was how they braved the tough times that followed the War. Even though such jobs were once-in-a-while intakes, anytime it came, it came with a big-bang for everybody. More than just braving the times, it was the chance at living a high life. And they sure did live the high life.

Mr Shergie was one of the cops who were part of what was up though not in a grand way. He mostly did the paperwork.

At the time when his bucket was tipping over its edge, his wife left him to be with another man. It was about the sex. She said it wasn’t good enough. Said he was naïve about such things. She said he had a small organ. Those sort of things. She was really loved but there was no way Mr Shergie could change that and she could not accept it either. She walked away and Mr Shergie’s peace with her. It drove the man nuts. He drank and gambled. He began to make a scene.

When the story came out, he could not stand his fellow men, not even the women. The children too. He talked too much then. It was almost as if he went about talking about his circumstance in self-pity. His colleagues thought it was best to let the cat out of the bag, as he had become surplus to requirements. A lot of news was made out of it.

There was the sound of reforms in the police department. The north were coming to terms with the reality that they had lost the War. A new chief was sent to the town. A lot was done to stop him from coming but he came nonetheless and to satisfy eyes, they fingered him when he rattled their cage. They made an example of him. But they had actually done it as a favour to him and to themselves and hard feelings were far from it. If they had allowed him to go on, he would have wrecked himself and them. He had to understand and he did. The promise was that life was going to be made easy for him while in jail. They did not particularly keep their promise but then they needn’t.

—What happened in jail?

The most of it all was that jail helped him to reflect upon his life the more closely. He come to terms with a lot of things, part of which was that he was in no way a man because of his small penis. It had transformed him into a child.

—What about now?

A year in the open world after more than a decade and half behind stonewalls, he felt he belonged more to the world behind those walls. He was more useful in that other world than he was outside. To God, to others and to himself. He didn’t think he could stand the world as it is now but he had been managing anyway but then thought of going back was still there.

In this world, he was reminded that he less than a man because of his organ.

This story was told on the drive. It was not in the same chatter but in more collected words and tone. But a large chunk of the time following was in silence as each men clutched at their hearts in reflection of what they’d heard.

  1. # #

There was something about the picture of the grandfather with the girl coming into the tavern that lingered in the mind of the older man. As you see it, Mr Shergie Peters was still obsessed about the hair. He had tried to explore this obsession against his better judgement.

Seeing a man like Zach whose concern for others made him do more than just talk about them, but want help in practical ways was the relief he had never had as an adult that was regressing into the child that he once was.

However, he didn’t have to, there was something cleansing about that drive and the day as a whole. He needn’t tell him that there was an eleven-year old neighbour’s daughter that he was buying gifts for almost every day with one thing in mind—to invite her over, slid his hand up her skirt and check whether there was hair or not and to go for a free trial to taste and see for himself. He could not stand older women emotionally, not after his wife had left him. He still wanted to explore in more devious ways.

It was ‘playful’ but that was too much of a ‘play’.

Talking with Zach reminded him of his own past. He was an idiot but he was not one that was entirely useless for anything even if he was for sex. He was of those type of men that helped other people at their own risks. Most of the money he had made ‘moving’ evidences had been used on his younger ones. The woman did not lack much of anything except sex in the way her other lovers were giving it to her.

He had rediscovered that man while in jail but coming out and meeting another world had hurt that man. Seeing Zach and hearing him spoke loads to him more than anything which Zach had said. He could not let the world destroy the only virtue that he recognized in himself. He would have to find a way and be that person again.

  1. # #

As for Zach, it was in that silent moment that it rushed upon him – for all his naivety – that sex to most people was unlike it was to him—it was air to some people, and water to others. People lived for sex, died for sex, married for sex, divorced for sex, made legislations for sex, built toys and equipment for sex, made movies for sex, ruined their lives and other people’s lives for sex, went to war for sex, paid for sex, betrayed themselves and others for sex… It was a pitiful thing but then it was also reality, hard reality. It was unfortunate that it took him a rather long time to realize that unlike the most of us who were born into the other side of the world.

If he had paid attention to life on college, he would have realized this earlier than he did for in college, Good morning was as good as ‘Who did you sleep with last night?’ And that the campus churches and the youth groups served as dating centres for those who could not afford to lose both their souls and the world. The realization made him shudder.

It was not hard to tell a novice what to expect in the New Millennium, which was on its tail. In the more advanced nations of the world, the sex revolution was already completed. It had taken a long time in coming to us.

  1. # #

The cab stopped just where he could walk into a train station. There was no train in sight. By their time, it was almost one when they pulled in.

Zach stopped and wanting to indulge the man for a moment longer on the question of hair asked: ‘What about the hair?’

The man’s face shrunk. ‘Forget it.’

The man looked at him with childlike attention. In that moment, the act as he had planned to do it to the little girl flickered in his eyes. ‘Does it make any difference?’

‘Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it does. I love my wife, that’s all.’

He did not need to say more than that as Mr Shergie understood.

‘Maybe you really don’t need go back. There may be some place for you here.’

Mr Shergie nodded and started out of the cab. Zach followed him.

‘So what are you going to do about the boy?’

‘I’m not sure yet. When we get to that river, we’ll cross it. I can’t think of that now.’

By then, they were heading to the tickets.

They stopped at the queue that lead up to the ticket counters and Zach entered the line.

The movement up the line progressed. In a moment, Zach remembered that he hadn’t paid his fare. ‘A minute,’ he said to the lady behind him and headed out of the line in search of the other man.

He searched for what was considerably a long time. But he did not find either Mr Shergie or his cab.

Chapter Six: Nānti

A train arrived about an hour later as it approached two o’clock that afternoon which for a typical August afternoon was both wet and sunny.

In between the time that passed his arrival and that of the train, Zach had spare time to reflect upon his own marriage in light of the epiphany as he had had it. Had he taken the times he shared sexual intimacy with his wife for granted all this while? What about it? What did he have to say about it, about the hair — about her?

The thought of all that made him shudder. But he would not dismiss it all instantly.

Actually, he was not the typical Victorian prude (he had his own moments) – it is hard to find prudes in our world. But whatever he did with his woman was done from innocent and ‘righteous’ self-surrender. It happened in sparse instants that he had very little control over. He could not stand the idea of his woman being to him a sexual object, at least not in the way that he was now seeing it through the eyes of others. Sex was one part of their lives. It was not their lives. It had its own place which was certainly not the centre. That was what sex meant for him and even though he could not articulate it as I have, it was evidently that. He could not remember any of those things as he had heard them occur to him in his sexual relationship with his wife. He found that he had no clear definition of things and just then, the train’s horn blasted into the station.

His thoughts turned to Nānti as the train blasted off after a few minutes.

He had bought a first-class ticket this time apparently afraid of running into some other market women with gossips. The journey was shorter this time and thankfully too as he had heard enough.

There was something in that time that came close to despair. It was not something he was familiar with anyway. But one thing was certain to him by the time the train pulled into the third and penultimate station of his journey. It was his realization of what people like us who have been more observant have always known and despairingly accepted, namely, that there was something desperately ill with the world, an illness which threatened him in his vision of himself as it threatened us all.

In this fear, lay hidden a presentiment of something dreadful, something that would defeat his fearless spirit—something that would make him like them, or reveal him to be one of them. Being a man whose sensibilities were still largely underdeveloped, he could still not make anything of it.

He had reasons to dread the world.

Chapter Seven: The Gentleman

An hour past six that evening, he was in a very old bus with other people heading to a small port. The overloaded bus, which creaked all the way as it bounced off the bumpy and untarred road was stuffy with an array of smells as they oozed from the bodies of market women, labourers, farmers etc. who were returning home after the day’s businesses.

The seats were arranged so that they faced each other and Zach tried to keep his eyes on the sun that was setting outside the bus over the mountain. Occasionally, he would steal a quick glance at the face of the women as if he was searching for something in there.

He did see something that he was familiar with anyway, the same wantonness as he’d seen in Noiā, except that this time, it was not pleasure that stolen their wantonness, but survival. It was all over their worn, mean, sweaty and exhausted faces. There were hardly any smiles on them. They had food for the next day but hardly enough to make it worth the stress of striving so desperately to eat, sleep and then die.

The feeling was one of pity tempered with concern.

It was evident that they sought a place for themselves in their society, one which burdened them to take responsibility for their own lives. They needed someone to whom they could abandon themselves. It was evident that religion meant that for them, especially in a society that would take no responsibility for them.

The journey lasted a rather short while when the bus pulled up at a small port. It was then that Zach realized how much he hated travelling. He had thoroughly enjoyed the journey as he was rediscovering himself in it. But the idea of travelling in a boat made his shudder. He hated large bodies of water.

However, left with no other options, he followed the people as they crossed the road and headed to the port that was lined with old canoes, boats and shrimpers. It was a lot busy at that time than normal and as a result, the boats were overloaded as the boatmen made the most money in those late hours than during the whole day. The sight of those boats reminded Zach of Biyar and his people and a smile creased across his face in the dark that was already pitching its way into the horizon.

Sure of where he was going but unsure of any other route, he boarded one of the more costly boats, which was a speedboat, and kept his mind off the muddy waters and on the naked boatmen relishing the way they went about their work with much dexterity as if they had been rowing boats since the day they were born. But thankfully, the journey took less than fifteen minutes.

The next and final phase of the journey was a short walk through what was a broadway through what was a rubber plantation. Small stalls where people stopped to make quick pick-ups of fruits or snacks flanked the road on both sides.

Zach took in the sights. He did not seem to be in a hurry though by the time he was on the Nānti Boulevard, which opened, at its far end, into what was the townhouse and a market, it was already dark.

He did not know which way to turn. The town bustled at its centre. There were hawkers, flashes of car lights, dizzy neon lights coming from the shops of the newly rich, music from a row of grocery stores, a betting shop, a row of taverns that had boards with ‘Menu’ on top and ‘Food is Ready’ below them…

Zach was more worn than he was hungry. He felt some soup would solve his problem for the mean time. Finding his way through the bustle of the small town, he made his way into what was a tavern among a few other taverns. The name on top of door read ‘Truth Is Life Eating Centre’. He did not know what it was that made him chose ‘Truth Is Life’ above others, but in no while, he was walking into it.

The tavern was low-head and Zach, for his six-feet one, kept his shoulders bent in as he made his way into the tavern. The curtain at the door was dirtier than the one he had seen at Silas’ havening watched dirtier hands. The tables were low and he could feel his weight on him as he sat in. He waited apparently, expecting a waiter to ask for his order. But seeing that the customers took their orders at a counter that separated them from the tavern owners with a net with a hand- and plate-hole through it, he went and stood behind a man who was drooling with the smell of alcohol. The man seemed to have a lot to say to the lady whose sweaty-face glistened in the low incandescent light.

Zach stood behind the man and listened in embarrassment as the man went off… ‘She beat me again today… Maureen, I am not going home tonight. Maureen, I know that I am a scoundrel but a whipping in front of my children…. It’s injustice. I married a witch. Maureen, have mercy on me. Just a plate of soup for the night. I will pay you back when I find a job.’

There was laughter behind him. Zach turned to see two young men huddled in a corner. They hadn’t taken notice of him. They seemed to be having fun on the drunken man at the counter. They seemed to know him very well. It was also evident that they were used to such things.

Catching his breath, the younger of the two boys said: ‘Othí, if I were your wife, I would have long drowned you in the Nānti River.’

The two of them laughed aloud.

It was then that Zach got his reprieve for the man turned from the counter to meet his detractors. ‘What do you know? You don’t know how much I have suffered. Okay, that is why I drink a lot. I have suffered. And I know I’m a drunkard. But if you suffer what I have suffered and if you don’t end up a drunkard…I’m a cursed man. I am an unfortunate man. Do you know I could have gone to college? I could have been a doctor. But I am a cursed man. God has cursed me.’

The two boys exploded in more laughter in between mouthfuls. Zach almost forgot himself that it took the lady at the counter some prodding to gain his attention. ‘Oh, sorry, just a plate of soup. Thanks.’

As she went about fixing the order, Zach took another glance at the drunkard who was still haggling with his two detractors. (Now, he was begging them to ‘remain some food for him’.) He was moved with compassion that he heard himself sputter to the lady in a tone that was loud enough for the other three to hear him. ‘And a plate of soup for our nice gentleman here.’

  1. # #

It dropped on them like a bomb. For what could be described as an hour compressed into a second, they all starred at him. He was embarrassed by all that when Othí burst out in a dramatic display of ecstatic excitement: ‘Did you just hear that? Did he just call me a gentleman? Maureen, so I’m a gentleman after all. I am a gentleman!’

With that, he abandoned even the plate of soup that had being pushed through the plate-hole towards Zach and ran out of the tavern screaming: ‘He called me a gentleman. I am a gentleman.’ They say he went home that night and kept screaming from outside the door to his home in a voice loud enough for his wife to hear: ‘He called me a gentleman. Finally, someone gets it! I am a gentleman.’ Anyone that knew him would swear that it was his usual drunken bouts. But it was deeper than that. It was the purest ecstasy of a man who, for the first time in his life, had been assessed in a positive light. His mother who had raised him, his wife who was having a rough time keeping him away from home had always described him as a ‘good for nothing’, an idiot, a buffoon and a swine. He could not remember anyone ever telling him that he was anything other than an idiot and a drunkard.

Surprised and embarrassed by how a little favour had thrown a drunkard into a fit of ecstasy and the two other customers sneering at him with hatred and disgust in their eyes, Zach sat down at his meal. But almost immediately, he was interrupted by some beating coming from behind the counter. There were thumpings and kicking all amplified by curses from the antagonist of the fight. There were low groanings and Maureen calling out: ‘I wouldn’t kill him! Please it’s enough already.’

Zach stopped at his food and listened hard trying to make out the accusation for which the boy whom he could hear his low painful throaty moaning and coughing was being beaten. Forgetting that he was a stranger, he walked up to Maureen and asked: ‘What’s the matter?’

Maureen observed him with a strong insinuating sneer that thickened under the light which hung low over them. Without saying a word, she turned and headed out of the counter. Zach stood embarrassed. But now, he was close enough to pick out the words.

‘You bag of filth. You owe me your life. You understand that? What nonsense? Coming here to demand for something to eat. You are not my responsibility and I am terrible with charity so next time, if you want food, don’t miss your rounds.’ A loud cracker followed as did more cursing. ‘And if I catch you stealing my food again, any bit of it, I’m going to drown you in Nānti. Idiot. Your mother cursed you at birth. You have no shame. Will you get out of here, you bastard, you scum.’

  1. # #

It happened in a flash. Zach did not know how he’d made the transition, but in a swift moment he was standing before another man, a fifty-something year old coarse man with a whip and a seventeen-year old boy whimpering on the ground. He had taken another door, the one that opened into the kitchen house and had followed the voice as it continued to rage in the distance.

Not knowing which of the two to give his attention, he turned to the boy first and helped him up. But the boy was too weak to sit up. He would shrivel like a bundle of cloth each time Zach tired lifting him.

He dropped the boy and turned to the other man who was looking at the two in angry surprise and said: ‘Sir, if he has stolen anything, I would pay.’

The man cursed under his breath, muttering ‘I don’t need your money and left’ as he walked away.

It had happened that the boy, a dark-skinned and big-headed boy, whose name Pûjó meant ‘vegetable’ in the local tongue served as a dish-washer in the eating house in exchange for his meals. He did menial jobs in the town for his survival—farm, launder, cut grass, wash car, fetch water…. But for being sick for a few days and unable to do his job, he had stolen into the eating house to steal a meal. His boss had caught him and had beaten him up. And looking at the boy, Zach saw that he was very close to death as he lay down with a broken lip from which dark-red blood oozed.

It had happened as quickly as the first. Everything abandoned, Zach heaved the boy onto his shoulders and started out of the tavern. He flagged down a commercial motorbike that took him and the boy to the hospital.

  1. # #

The Nānti Health Centre was a rusty building that reflected the smallness of the town in many ways. Its yellow painting had begun to peel to the many rains that had beaten it. It did not look very much like a ‘hospital’. It could have been a flat converted into a hospital. It looked like that though it had its own otherness from a ‘flat’. Those that had called it a ‘health centre’ had gotten it right. A wide gutter separated it from the main road. The steps that led up to its reception was very steep that Zach felt his trousers would tear from under his thighs as he climbed them.

He walked in with the boy on his shoulder and was met by a fat and stout nurse at the lobby that served as reception. She was chewing gum and humming a song incoherently in between the grinding of her jaws. She looked distasteful.

Zach almost startled when she turned and asked him as he helped the boy into the hall: ‘We are done for today. Please go.’

He was left embarrassed even the more when he helped the boy onto a low stool in the small lobby that was lit by an incandescent bulb overhanging the hall. That gesture had the lady sputter in the same tone as the first: ‘What do you think this place is? This is not a madhouse. We don’t treat vegetables.’

Zach did not seem to bother. He laid the boy down and waited for what would come next.

It was to his relief when another nurse, a plump one that looked mid-thirtyish walked out from the inside hospital to meet him. She had a smile on her face as she walked up to Zach with a greeting.

Zach took note of her. She was well-natured and there was not an iota of pretension in her generosity. She was a natural.

The eight-room hospital was almost deserted except for the female ward where there were women in post-natal care and the nurses who kept chattering and gossiping on top of their voices. The boy was admitted into the men’s wardroom that had two iron beds, and Zach paid for his treatment.

There was not much that was said about the boy’s condition by the smiley nurse, except that she thought it was pneumonia. There was no doctor for the night—there hardly ever was—and she would have to treat him for that, as it was prevalent among the people especially during rainy seasons. She was sure it would not have been anything else.

Thankfully too, it turned out to be a lodging for the night as well. He could have had a hard time with that as well.

  1. # #

What Zach did not know was that Nānti was a small town where the news speed was close to that of light, and that the story of a man who was calling drunkards ‘gentlemen’ and checking mad boys into hospitals would spread like wild fire.

He bought some snack and water from down the road and curled into the second leather-covered hospital bed for the night, while the vegetable boy slept fast the first.

His body, weakened by the long journey, was taken away into a deep and dreamless sleep. And for once, he forgot himself and everything fled from his mind.

None of all that had happened felt unusual.

Chapter Eight: The Boy Who Lived

The next morning, Zach was woken by the sound of anxious muttering in the distance in what sounded like an argument between and man and a woman. He had a hard time waking to the sound for indeed he was well worn by his journey. He slipped back into his sleep.

When he was finally woken by some violent nudging, the sunny dawn had finally broken into full day. A nurse was at his side. It took Zach a while, in between which he stretched, yawned, and tried to familiarize himself with the new environment, to make out what exactly she was saying.

There was a new patient and he would have to leave the one-room-sized ward.

Just outside the door of the ward stood a heavy-set man who was wearing a bowler hat that covered almost half of his face. He was speaking in low tones with the other nurse who had admitted the boy. Something clicked in Zach at the sight of the man as he walked outside trying his shoes on. As the man’s face came into partial view, Zach was almost certain that he had seen him before.

As he tied his shoes and tried not to stare, he heard: ‘I can’t keep him in my house either. B., I really don’t know what else to do. Let him stay here for the mean time. I will pay though if that’s your concern.’

The nurse nodded in hesitant resignation and led the way out. After them, two young men carrying another, made their way into the way and dumped their load onto the other bed in the ward.

Pûjó still lay still when Zach observed him. He seemed to be unconscious.

He looked at the new boy. It was unlike anything he had ever seen in a human being before. His body had shrunken into what looked like a mass of dried banana leaves. The boy’s flesh, the much he could see in the face and in the palms uncovered by the coat, into which he had been placed, looked as if it were putrefying already. The sight made Zach shudder. There were deep black pockmarks on the boy’s face.

But one thing was certain, the figure was still breathing. He still looked very much alive. He was not putrefying nor was there any fetid smell.

It became obvious to him that someone was disposing of what was a living corpse. It could have been worse if it had come with the smell of death and putrefying bodies but there was none of that yet.

But why in a hospital?

Zach felt a surge of compassion for the boy mixed with irritation and disgust at the hair-raising, spine-chilling and goose bumps-giving sight. A surge of pain raced through his body as he now prepared to find breakfast for himself and his new friend. That was a sight to forget.

Zach left the health centre and strode back into town.

  1. # #

Nānti was a small town sandwiched between two smaller towns but separated from the larger ones by the great river that gave it its name: River Nānti. It was intimately organic, hedged in by thick woods and a large body of water that had abundance of mystery to it. The houses were well separated, and finding one’s way about the town involved walking through thick words, lonely streets, low brushes and farms. The major roads were not tarred but were clean—except when they disappeared under the heavy rains forming into small pools. The sights of cars on them were rare. There were motorbikes and buses that routed the town with the other towns from which it was seemingly isolated by fairly thick woods. There was much green about the town. The trees were tall and there were farms almost at each turn.

The town had, among the sparse grand buildings, a Catholic cathedral whose spire could be seen from a good distance on the east. There was also an Anglican parish. They both had their own schools among the public school in town. The most conspicuous buildings in the town however was found in and around the town centre. The town house had a shopping mall facing the boulevard, offices inside and a primary school behind it. There was a wide football field on the far east of the town centre. There were wooden goal posts at the two ends. There were other features that suggested that the field was used for wedding ceremonies and other festivities as well as for football matches. The town centre held a police post, a post office, a number of halls, a fuel station as well as a registration centre. Around the town centre had gathered a market that was pushing its way onto the boulevard. Under the trees that lined the boulevard were clusters of market women and their wares of purple onions and potatoes, red tomatoes, green vegetables, yellow peppers and an abundance of fruits that gave the area a rainbow-like look on a good and bright day.

It was a quiet town that erupted in the tail of ’96; a peaceful town that was rocked by its own past that had haunted it for years. There was nothing that suggested that her people were either ready or prepared for what was her inevitable fate. They went about their lives without any presentiment of any ground-breaking event that will forever change their lives and the lives of many others. They went about their business in a typical mind-your-business-as-I-mind-mine mode and spending what remained of their time in gossips and drinking and tending their farms.

  1. # #

The town was strange to Zach but he did not yet seem to be feeling its strangeness. It was nine o’clock when he made it back to the town centre where he had first seen the taverns.

He would remember that he was in a strange land when, upon returning to the taverns, he found that no one would do as much as talk to him. They remarked at the sight of him in the native language, the sound of which was disparaging even if he could not make out what exactly they were saying. A fat woman spat out as he walked out of Truth Is Life. There were dumb moves and fingers pointing as he went from tavern to tavern apparently ignorant that he was the topic with which they had broken their morning fast.

Nānti was too small and too close a town for impulsive strangers like Zach. They supposed he was seeking attention and they gave it to him cold—with their teeth gritted.

He finally managed a bean cake wrapped in plantain leaves and thankfully so returning to the health centre with a silent vow to keep his impulses to himself—or risk more enemies.

On his return to the ward where Pûjó the vegetable boy, still lay still with a drip overhanging him, he met another sight that seemed like a Déjà vu. A very young and rich lady of about twenty looking like she had been taken from a portrait stood just by the door. She had her eyes on the corpse. A handkerchief was dabbing at her face. It was obvious that she had been crying for a while. Zach said a greeting that was not returned. The lady, lifting her gown shot out of the ward as soon as she saw Zach.

It did not take Zach any more than common sense to figure out that she was somehow related to the dying boy.

Zach stayed inside the hospital until evening. He had very little to think about. Making sure home (and the town) stayed out of his mind, he concentrated his thoughts on finding the mayor and his daughter. He would then take it from there.

Into the afternoon, the smiley nurse that had taken them in arrived for her round which lasted into the nights.

It hadn’t occurred to Zach why she had obliged them unlike her partner the night before. He just saw it as part of the demands of her job which she generously fulfilled. The lady was in her early thirties, Zach noticed. She looked pale. She was chubby. Something suggested some hidden agony in her face. Zach’s sensibilities, which were growing took note of that.

She changed the IV of the living boy and observed the dying/dead boy, then began at Zach. ‘There has been some stories about you floating around town. They say you fought all night at a tavern and helped a thief escape custody.’

Zach laughed aloud. ‘Did I?’ That was a different kind of sensationalism.

‘I wouldn’t go about this town with my nose in the air. I would try my best to mind my business if I were you.’

‘Oh, thanks. They were beating the boy. They almost killed him.’

‘What is he to you?’

‘He is a human being and his life matters as much as mine. And I wouldn’t waste it for a plate of food when I can save it for that price.’

‘That sounds noble enough. But the people do not think so. They’d rather have him dead.’ She said and the proceeded to tell him the boy’s story which was popular among the people.

He was a vegetable.

There was a cultural myth to his type that was summarised by the term ‘vegetable’. The myth could have been anything. It could have been their way of washing their hands off him. It could have been an excuse that justified their expulsion of him to the frontiers of their society. It could have been their way of paraphrasing their ignorance over what his true condition was.

He was fragile, retarded in his mental development and the general cultural sentiment about his condition was that he would die young—whoever gave them that idea!

The myth had been thrown about him at first and for all that came to pass in the twentieth century, it had stuck.

His type were known to die young to escape their fate and return in a cycle of rebirths that ended when they found a full life. A vegetable was not known, with some kind of empirical certainty, to outlive childhood and it was a mystery how he had lived that long. His mother had abandoned him on realization that he was underdeveloped mentally. Maybe that was the excuse she needed to dispose of him when she learnt of his condition and the burden which it placed on her. He grew fending for himself, doing mostly menial jobs. No one had ever heard him speak a word and so it was assumed that he was dumb as well.

‘There is so much pain and suffering in the world, sir and when I see people like him… like them,’ she said in reference to the two boys, ‘I fall to silence over my own sufferings.’

Zach fell to thought over that as the nurse walked away. He wanted to ask her about her own suffering but he chose to leave it for another day.

  1. # #

On account of that word of exhortation, something in him smacked at him for his goodness. He now felt he should stay away from public sight as much as he could and as much as his sense of ‘caution’ and courtesy could allow. He was not a tourist after all.

He spent the rest of the blank day in the hospital, on that bench in the lobby actually.

He waited until it was dark before setting off for the mayor’s place. He could not have gone any other time as he was now holding his peace.

He had not changed his clothes until that time neither had he cleaned up. But he knew what had brought him to the town. And it wasn’t a fashion parade.

He was sure that he would be leaving the next day.

Chapter Nine: Hééb

Zach followed directions given to him by a friendly elderly woman who was hawking roast corn until he was standing before what was a large white and high mansion with a rather wide front yard. It was night already. There were two lamps fitted onto the two concrete columns of the gate that lit the open street before it.

Zach stood there watching absentmindedly after haven knocked as hard as he could, when it creaked open and a man in his early thirties walked out of it. The man had a swagger to his gait and was mindlessly humming a song.

Hééb, the mayor’s valet was going home for the night when he bumped into a stranger. Of all the things that made him smug and distasteful, Hééb was known in and around Nānti as very possessive of his boss. He certainly had no plans of changing in a night’s notice for stranger who lacked ‘courtesy’ in the way he addressed him.

Zach took the cue and walked up to him. ‘Sir, good evening. I want to see the mayor.’ Zach was as bland as it was normal with him, as he was as courteous as good sense demanded of a grown man to another grown man. But those were not enough for the valet. Zach had a way of rousing the insecurities of self-defensive people like Hééb—by paying no attention to their need for ‘special’ treatment.

The man looked at him with hateful surprise in his eyes. The face was far from familiar. The look seemed to say in an inaudible but coarse voice: ‘What the hell…’ He weighed the man. He could be one of those looking for a favour from the mayor, one of those wretched and ignoble people taking advantage of his boss’ generosity. But he sure was not carrying himself as one. He was too imposing for a favour-monger.

‘Go away.’ The man finally blurted out as if he were speaking to a lost child. ‘The mayor is not available.’ He finally added in a more respectable, but yet still mean tone.

‘When will he be?’

The man stopped and looked blankly again. ‘I don’t know.’ He turned back inside and disappeared past the iron gates.

Inside, the mayor yelped loudly and harshly at his weeping daughter one more time before walking away.

  1. # #

Zach returned to the hospital ward. He had judged the man’s behaviour as a reflection of the general snobbish nature of the townspeople towards strangers. Maybe the man had even heard of him from the rumours. Though he did not think his approach was wrong or deserving of such contemptuous treatment, he felt certain in a way that he could find a way around all of that and accomplish his primary purpose of coming to the town.

He would return to the mayor’s place the next morning. He would be more pleading, or whatever it would take him. He would just have to find a way. Hopefully he will be on the other side of the river by midday the next day. Today and tomorrow were still very much the same. That summarised his hopes with which he consoled himself. He was already getting enough of the town.

He seemed certain of those hopes in a quaint way and rehearsed them in his mind.

Much of his walk back to the wardroom was in trying to gather himself together. On returning to the wardroom, he found one of the beds empty. Pûjó was gone. He looked around and asked around leaving the nurses sneering at him.

Zach was embarrassed and confused at the same time. Maybe his good-heartedness was not at all warranted. Maybe he was overdoing it after all. Maybe he had put the boy into more trouble that he had saved him from it. Maybe the boy was of the same snobbish stock as the rest of the townspeople.

These thoughts and many others left him confused as to what he would do with himself—look for the boy or just hang in for the night and seek out the mayor very early the next day. He seemed certain that he would be seeing the mayor the next day.

But where would he spend the night after all? What about the boy? He could have had enough of his unsolicited goodwill. Where—

His anxieties were rising; a sombreness was slipping into his mind….

Where—?

This one thought occupied his mind as he made his way out of the health centre and into the dark and cold road. He was totally oblivious of every other thing that moved on the same road. They were hardly any though. If they were, he would not have noticed them. A long journey and a day later, he hadn’t even cleaned up for once. He was beginning to feel his sweaty coat sticking to his body at the collar, under the armpits and at the wrists. His underpants were becoming itchy.

It was drizzling and he was certain that it would rain and all of that would compound his troubles.

Zach kept to the road that led up to the centre of the town. That was the only familiar place. From there he would find a way to one of the churches. He guessed that at least one would be open to a stranger like him. He could manage a pew at least for the night. There could be more though and he would be grateful.

But he despaired at the same time over a certain hidden presentiment, the very presentiment that had led him on to the journey and he was beginning to be frustrated with it. He was confident and encouraged by the hope that by this time the next day, it would all be over—regardless of what this presentiment had to say.

He continued the walk, his hands in the pockets of his coat. The rain was picking up pace, he would have to look for a shade. It was as he hastened up the road, looking right and left for any shade, that he noticed that someone was following him. He needed no extra manoeuvres. He knew that he was being followed.

He continued his walk only imagining the worst. He remembered seeing the conspicuous steeple of a Catholic church somewhere from the centre of the town. He was confident that if he could make it to the boulevard that he could find the steeple again and follow it.

  1. # #

Hééb was taken by the stranger in almost a mystical way. It was as if he instantly knew who he was and what he was about. These sensibilities were very minute even atomic but there are those who could make sense of them in more tangible ways. And Hééb was one of such men of great sensibilities. He had an abundance of experiences that had sharpened those sensibilities.

He was a stout man with a long nose and large ears. He could pass as a goblin if a few feet were taken from his height. He had a stare in his eyes, a deep and daring stare. There was something about the way he carried himself, something that suggested arrogant self-possession. He had served the mayor from when he was a boy. He hadn’t gone to school but there was no way he would not have been exposed to the best and most civilized ways of life living with a man of the highest breeding.

He had followed Zach from the gate trying hard to keep at a little distance from him. He had turned from going home to following the stranger his heart pumping with aversion and curiosity. Zach had first stopped at the hospital and so had he. When after less than ten minutes, he had reappeared, the valet had shelved his plans of slyly interrogating the nurses about the stranger.

He had initially adjudged Zach to be one of the wretched favour-mongers but as the man turned and left. Something about the man seemed to threaten him. He was astounded at his own interest in this stranger and angered by it. He swore to himself that he would snap his own neck if his instincts towards this man turned out to be wrong. But he knew he wouldn’t have to do that. He trusted his instincts enough to follow them. And he was following them.

He had no harm in mind though. He only wanted to be aware.

  1. # #

In a while, Zach almost forgot that someone was on his trail. His pace was faster but steadier as the rain reduced its pace. Ten more minutes, he was standing on the boulevard. On his right stood the row of taverns. It was not at all deserted but the townspeople went to roost quite early. That was a fact.

There were still lights in places. The quiet regardless was full. He was still trying to make out the steeple and follow it when he heard the sound of beating and throaty screaming on his two o’clock. For the first time in a long while, Zach did not know what to do, follow the instinct that drew him towards the noise or the one that drove him away from it.

He stood with his legs pulling him towards the sound. But he did not move. For each passing second, the noise seemed to be getting nearer. In no while, he could make out what it was about. There had been another stealing and a post-stealing beating up.

The culprit kept running and towards him. It was then that Zach decided to move…towards the man. The man appeared in the distance, wobbling on his knees, dusting his coat, with muffled groanings…. He was now alone, growling on the floor.

‘I didn’t do it. I did not steal anything. I was merely looking for the man from yesterday.’ The man reeled off like a tape almost breathlessly. He sounded close to tears.

Zach remembered the man. He had not seen his face the night before. But the signature alcohol smell was still there as was that throaty voice he had heard at the tavern. The man was still in the old and torn tweed coat as from yesterday. Zach was certain that the man was sober to an absolute degree.

‘It’s me,’ he said. ‘The gentleman from the tavern.’

At the word ‘gentleman’, the man, stood and began to dust himself. When he was done, his two hands went behind his back in fashion. He stood and looked on as if to say: ‘There you go chief.’

Zach took the man’s cue and said with a smile. ‘Nice to meet again, sir.’ Zach addressed him with a held-out hand. The man hesitated before taking it. ‘I am looking for the boy, Pûjó.’

‘I saw him a while ago, sir. This way please.’

  1. # #

In the dark, Hééb nodded. He had gotten it. He was the bastard that everyone at Madam Békhtèn’s place was talking about.

He was welcome to Nānti.

Chapter Ten: The Face of God

The two arrived at what was a shack of rusted roofing sheets. The journey, which took a little less than ten minutes, was in silence. The man who led the way had a lot to say but he was too busy impressing his follower with his efficiency in fulfilling his request to either take note of the pains in his body or the one in his soul.

Othí, whose nickname meant ‘bullet’ was in a mood of suppressed excitement as he led the way. He had feared that last night had been a dream or one of the many alcohol-induced frenzies. Just after leaving the tavern, he had traversed the town telling everyone he saw in a drunken frenzy that someone had called just addressed him as a gentleman. He was known in the town as a frustrated man, a good-for-nothing more or less, who took out his frustration—and his good-for-nothingness—on the green bottles of beer and the brown ones of locally made gin, having no one else to take it out on. Usually, his drunken-talk was about how his wife, Yānda, use to whip him in front of his children and how she had threatened to drown him in the Nānti River. Or how no one would understand how much he had suffered in the world.

No one paid attention to him as he bumped into people telling them and shouting at them as loud as he could: ‘I could still be a gentleman. Yes, I could still look like one of those men inside Madam Békhtèn’s colour television. Look at my coat. Is it because I just took seven more bottles. It is just because of my suffering. You have no idea.’

The drunkard had tired out by the time they had thrown him out of Madam Békhtèn’s hall—where he had gone to tell his story—and had fallen asleep on the steps that led up to it. He had woken the next morning to a feet kicking hard at his side and cursing him loudly and coarsely. His head was throbbing with violent headache.

The memories of the night before flashed in his face. And as usual, he fell into a state of guilt as he saw two kids, a boy and a girl make their way past him with jars of water on their heads. They reminded him of his children and his wife and of how much hurt he caused them on account of his loud frenzies.

One of the most torturing images was once upon a time when his little eight-year old son had found him lying in a gutter after he had gotten into his drunken bouts. The boy had gone home and gotten a wheelbarrow and had carried his father home. His wife had refused him bringing the drunkard into the house and the man had slept outside in the open. When the next day, his wife had railed him reminding him that he was a ‘bag of filth lying around in gutters…look at you, it was your son that took our neighbour’s wheelbarrow to bring you home. Idiot! Good-for-nothing! Animal! Fool! Let thunder fire you from high heavens!’ With those words, Yānda had chased him away with a broom.

It was typical of her to do so. And there was no one in the town who did not sympathize with her. In fact, they were the ones who gave her the courage to do more than just rail at the drunkard.

He had gone away but now challenged by his son’s kindness, he had changed and had gotten back to being a hunter. But the change did not last because Yānda was never satisfied. She wanted out of Nānti. She wanted to move to the ‘big cities’. He was trying his best, couldn’t she see it? They had an argument. He had gotten drunk that night from the frustration. And many more nights after that.

He used to fancy that his boy, now ten Mwāi, would one day be a priest. ‘He has an angelic soul. The world will not corrupt him for me as it has corrupted me. I am a sinner. I shall go to the depths of hell but he will go to heaven. He is a saint. He shall see the Face of God, I shall not. There, I shall have prayers said for my soul, for my rising, for my redemption.’ In a moment, he would fall into despair. ‘What if he forgets his father? I have not been good to him.’ He would hold his face in his hands and weep like a child.

The next day, he had gone looking for the man who had called him a ‘gentleman’. He was not very good with people. Being a notorious drunkard meant that children would make fun of him whenever they had the chance. They would even make chants for him: ‘One green bottle standing on his head… if one green bottle accidentally opens…’

As he thought upon what had happened the night before, he would fall in and out of despair as his mind would torture him by telling him things like: ‘It was not real. Just one of your dreams of being like the gentleman in Madam Békhtèn’s hunch-back colour television.’ He would be joyful for once as a part of him would assure him that it was all real. And so, he decided to retrace his steps. He spent the whole day trying to find out what exactly had happened. Just as the day was ending, he heard the story, by chance, of the ‘bastard’ who was calling drunkards ‘gentlemen’ and checking ‘madmen’ into hospitals.

He had gone to the hospital but Zach was at the Mayor’s just when he had arrived. He had gone to Truth Is Life, where the man, more from spite against Zach than against the drunkard had accused him of trying to steal from his shop and had the men who had gathered beat him up. All on Zach’s account.

But as he walked with Zach following him, all of that seemed to disappear. The feeling was the same as that he had experienced at the tavern. It was like the same feeling that he had the day he had heard of his boy’s kindness to him.

His sobriety only made him more self-aware of that rare feeling.

###

The two men stopped and stood in front of the house made of rusting roofing sheets. Around it was a wide clearing as was the small footpath that led up to it from the main road. The boy had made those himself. Behind the batcher house were wider bushes with a row of paw-paw trees and a few mangoes.

The rain which was now harder in its drizzling was noising off the sheets which were stuffed in with metal scraps in some corners and dried leaves on the roof. On its left was an uncompleted building that was overgrown with low grass and the walls with algae and ferns.

Zach did not actually see all of that and more until the next day.

The low door was open before them. Othí stopped at the door and Zach followed him in stopping. They looked at each other in the dark. Zach, not knowing what to expect took the lead and entered through the low door. His charge followed behind him.

The boy lay on what was a bed made out of bamboo sticks laid over cement blocks. The bedspread consisted of rags that had been pieced together. The room was a low-head one. The roofing sheets that formed the roof had rusted away, now replaced by dried leaves that had been treated with engine oil and tar to make them waterproof. The room was a little more than six feet on both sides. There was a table in a corner that held few old and dog-eared books. On top of the table was a framed photo of the Holy Mother and Child and a prayer bead over-hanging the wooden cross laid at the bottom of the photo. In front of the table was a rickety chair that the boy had made from pieces of wood he had taken from the site. It had aged and was only being supported by cement blocks as the bed. There was no wall hanger, the boy’s clothes were suspended from nails that had been made into the framework of the shack—which the people called ‘batcher house’ because it was originally used to house the batchers used on construction sites. There were about six of such nails. Just four of them held clothes.

There was nothing else, not anything serious enough to hold their attention—except for a machete and a hoe and a small unlit fire pot. The floor of the room was covered with fine sand that was overlaid with a layer of engine oil. The room was thoroughly neat. The rest of the floor space was uncovered. Huddled against the wall adjacent to the door were cement blocks that had been stacked to look like seats.

The two of them stood there looking at the boy who was sleeping soundly on the bed. Zach did not know what to do next. He just stood there staring at the boy.

‘It would be nice if I put fire to the pot.’ Othí said and set about it. That was their break and it was a good way to start. In no time, they were warming up seated on the cement block seats, their backs resting on the fragile wooden framework that held the shack together.

Othí was mostly in discomfort. He seemed to have a lot to say only hardly knowing how to start. He seemed to have forgotten why he was looking for the man who had addressed him as a ‘nice gentleman’. He stood after an awkwardly long moment passed between the two in silence and announced: ‘I should be going now. I should be going now. Thanks to you for yesterday.’ Without waiting for Zach to say anything in reply, he walked out of the shack.

Not more than five seconds after that, he was back at the door. He was all acting excited and nervy for what Zach could not understand.

He finally got his release when Zach motioned him to come in. He came in and sat down again. Observing that Zach was looking at the aged photo of the Holy Mother and Child, which had become dimly visible in the light, he folded his hands to his chest and began his verbal eruption. Zach listened to him with rapt following every word he spoke, picking out every undertone, and the emotions that weighted each of them.

‘Have you seen the Face of God?’ he asked and without waiting for Zach to answer, he continued again. ‘I could never stand It. I would be dead in an instant. I am even tortured by the thought of It. But you know, there are those who have indeed seen the Face of God. They are His saints. Sinners ought not to pray to God. We pray to the saints and they, in their kindness and in their goodness take our prayers to God. They and only they can stand the Face of God. But you have seen the Face of God, haven’t you?’

He now waited on Zach to answer. Zach did not know what to answer and only wanting to hear the man more, he just nodded in the dark.

Othí took that as a yes to his question and continued. ‘I do not even look upon the face of the Mother at the grotto of our parish. I cannot stand it. I let the world and my sufferings corrupt me but She, in her greatness and goodness did not. I am only ashamed of myself at the sight of Her. I have suffered indeed but you see, we are all without excuses for our evils, not in her presence. But you know, she never judges the frail ones among Her children. She welcomes us all and takes our prayers to Her Son whose face we cannot stand.’

He stopped his ramble in a moment of deep thought and continued almost immediately. ‘He’s a good boy. I know he will see the Face of God.’ He said in reference to the boy. ‘His suffering has not tainted him by the slightest. I used to see him pray at the grotto. I would watch as he would look upon that glorious face with tears in his eyes. That is his only consolation in the world… one day; he will look upon the Face of God. But where is my own consolation?’

The boy stirred and continued his sleep.

The words had gotten heavier in his mouth. ‘I am a fool. I am indeed good-for-nothing. You know, in my drunkenness, I go about town telling everyone of how she maltreats me. They used to look upon her as an evil woman that whips her husband in front of the children. Now they sympathize with her for all the sufferings I have brought her. You see, I have not only brought her shame, I have tainted her name. She is a good woman with lofty dreams for her children. She wants to take them to the big schools in the cities. She wants them to be doctors and lawyers. All I bring to her is shame. You know the school kids, they used to mock my boys…they tell them that their father lives in a bottle and that it is not blood that flow in my veins but gin. You know, it makes the younger one of the two fight all the time. I know all about it. His brother is an angel in human form. He goes to the Holy Mother to pray for his father.’

The emotions were getting stronger to the expressive Shakespearean manner with which the hunter told his story.

‘He would look to the face of Mother and say: save my father. But how could I ever be saved?’

By now, everything had gotten sloppy for both of them.

  1. # #

The hunter’s story was not an unlikely one. Nicholas ‘Othí’ Ūdiun was born and raised in Nānti by his mother whose memory though distant still tortured him. Mama Ūduin was in many ways a strange character. It would seem almost at an instant that she was mad. There is no ascertaining now whether she actually was. Melancholic, bad-tempered, gluttonous, petulant, gross, a curser and a swearer. Those were in the least the images that the hunter had of the woman. It was from her that the hunter had learnt how to complain of how much he had suffered and to use his own sufferings as an excuse to cause others to suffer. His mother was just that to the degree of an atom bomb.

He was the product of a very short marriage that had ended in his father’s death. She seemed to have been a normal woman until then. She had raised him alone and poured all her vindictiveness, her sorrows and agony into his ears. As a child, she would curse and swear aloud at him with very mean words, having no one else on whom to pour her agony.

The boy grew and she transferred to him all responsibilities for her life, one that the little boy bore diligently and lovingly. After the War, she insisted on their moving to the bigger cities, Noiā, precisely. There were better opportunities there. Her twelve-year-old boy had other plans. He wanted to go to school. There was promise in the city for him, a promise that turned out to be a nightmare. They followed the band of people that were leaving for the cities knowing about the city a little less than its name. He had a desire to survive but all of that was crushed by his mother who was a burden that he accepted to bear with all his heart hopeful of bringing joy to her heart.

They turned to begging on the streets like many other people of their class. In no while, the woman got accustomed to it and would not let the boy go, no matter how much he begged, not even in reward to his patience. The memories of how he spent the flower of his youth on an ungrateful woman’s old age was not at all one that he could stand. The thought of it drove him to mad grief. And every time the big city’s name was mentioned, especially by his wife, he would fall into painful silence.

‘I should have ran away. Many of the young people there were running away from under the bridges and from the motor parks. But I loved that woman. I was hopeful of being able to bring her some joy into her life, something that had eluded her. I hung around until six years passed under our noses and she died without a single word of gratitude. I could have become a criminal as I was full of hatred and anger but I suppose the reed had been bruised beyond repair. I only wanted to escape the city. I came back home and became a hunter. I could still be a gentleman if only….’

He hung to his words as the boy stirred again. He was now very much awake and though he couldn’t see the other two men in the fire-pot-lit shack, he recognized them by their voices. He seemed to be more comfortable in their presence.

He had ran from the hospital ward for two reasons. The first was his shyness and his fear of people, which made it extremely hard for him to stand people. He had no friends and it was extremely hard to find him in a bunch. Second, he had nightmares back at the ward. The other boy’s deathly face had followed him to his dreams from the first time he saw it. It felt as if he someone had laid him in a morgue and when he ran, he ran as one would from a morgue.

And even though the face was still there in the dark, he was reassured in the other men’s presence.

As to the hunter’s obsession with the fantastical image of a ‘gentleman’, I would suppose it to be nothing more than his own personal ideal. Since his time as a young man on the streets of a big city, the image had stuck in his mind and had become indelible. And very much like happens when in a drunken or ecstatic frenzy, it would flutter out of his mouth. He never said it when sober. And Madam Békhtèn’s colour television helped to fuel the fantasy.

‘They say gentlemen rule the world now. They wear glasses on the tip of their noses and high shoulder coats and speak from their noses. The world has no place for drunkards anymore.’

He finished off at that and inquired of Zach what had brought him to the town. Zach told him he had come to see the mayor on account of the other missionary. He did not feel the need to hide anything from the man who had told him everything about his own life.

‘That boy,’ Othí began, ‘I felt sorry for him. We all did. It amazed us all how he managed to make his way into the mayor’s home. How did he get that goddess of a girl? I know men who fantasize and masturbate to her photos. You see, some people are favoured in life. Not everyone gets the girl, you see. He wasted it though.’

‘The mayor, tell me about him?’

‘Oh, he is a good man, a happy one too. But his face has been scarce in a long while now and all the cheerfulness in it has not been there in the more recent times. He keeps losing weight as well. We all feel sorry for him.’

‘Any idea why all that is happening?’

‘Last year one of his sons died mysteriously and another is currently dying of an incurable disease—mysteriously as well. The boy has been taken to the best hospitals all over the world but they’ve brought him back home to die. He is better for dead already.’

That did not ring any bell to Zach.

He made it clear that he wanted to meet the man.

‘Why? You wish to console him?’ the hunter laughed alongside his question.

Zach smiled in silence.

‘Well, we the poor find consolation in the tears of the wealthy. In those, we are reminded that no one is beyond our fate. Some may call it spite but it never is. It’s consolation to the poor to see the rich suffer as well. We rejoice at it.’ Zach looked on with surprise and even dismay in his eyes.

The hunter was regardless sceptical of the meeting, ‘That goblin Hééb is hardly going to let that happen. I know of a man who could make that happen though except that he is not in town at this time.’

A moment of silence slipped them by.

In that moment, something passed from one man to another and they became brothers.

Months later, Zach remembered that their discussion had been attended by the loud and persistent croaking of what he imagined to be a very fat frog. Holding the frog toy of his child reminded him of that and he had smiled boyishly.

Chapter Eleven: Madam Békhtèn’s Hall

On the west of Nānti, on the edge where it joined with another town was its busiest street. The street had about six blocks of very old flats and four more blocks of single-rooms that had public toilets and very little ventilation. There was an open plot that had been converted to a football field. At the end of the street where it joined the boulevard was a two-storey building that held a large hall as an outbuilding. The hall was otherwise known as Madam Békhtèn’s hall. It was in that hall that men gathered to talk, drink, watch television—and waste time and money.

Across the road, and two blocks farther from Madam Bekhten’s hall was a lone barbershop that grazed the edge of the junction that joined the street to the boulevard. The barber was a fop named Black. He wore many fake gold rings and chains. And occasionally plaited his hair into cornrows. He had a large and unruly dog and loud speakers from which Tupac would be heard blasting from ‘Now Open’ to ‘Closed’.

A man slipped into the eight-iron-column hall through the backdoor and dropped off his umbrella by the door among three more other umbrellas. It was a very cold night but the hall was hot inside and so the man took off his coat and headed towards one of the remaining empty white plastic roundtables.

From his right oozed the aroma of freshly-prepared soup. It was a familiar one. As he took the seat and searched for his wallet, he seemed to be oblivious of the small crowd gathered around the legendary Madam Békhtèn’s large colour television. They had turned the seats and were now facing the television directly. From outside, California Love filtered in from Black’s shop.

In 1996, there were four colour televisions in Nānti. The mayor’s, Reverend Father Francis’, Sir Daía’s and Madam Békhtèn’s. Except Sir Daía’s, the other three had large satellite receivers that consumed the schoolchildren who finally came to describe them as ‘large plates used to communicate with aliens from outer space’. The members of the Holiness Church of Nānti were certain that it was one of the signs of the end of the world.

Black was bent on getting a colour television, a cell phone and of course a ‘satellite plate’ of his own and he was hiking prices on the things he sold which included weed, pirated copies of rap tapes, movie cassettes, fake jewellery, porn magazines and other random items. From time to time, he hosted swap meets. He had a gym of dumbbells and barbells at an extension at the back of his shop that included a small betting shop. For those that kept their ears to the ground, there were news that Black was a gun dealer. It was not at all incredible for he looked like it. At his gym, the young men gathered to smoke and discuss Tupac, Suge Knight, Nas, Dr Dre, B.I.G, sports, the state of the nation, the women they were all laying, the best sex position, etc. Other times they fought and argued on top of their voices.

The television in the mayor’s house was always turned on and so Hééb did not seem to be taken by the one that now had the attention of the men who were now watching an old episode of The Simpsons. Among them was a bald, muscled and rough-palmed mechanic, who did not understand a thing about the show. He would just giggle with wide eyes at what the others giggled at, laugh at what they laughed at and sip from his own bottle of local gin.

Hééb had settled in and was now warming up to his plate of soup when someone among the small crowd touched his neighbour and motioned him towards the new comer.

‘Hééb!’ the man called out and got the attention of the others. There were shouts of ‘Hééb!’ and greetings that soon died down as the watching resumed.

Two broke from the television and joined Hééb at the table. They were the same pair that Zach had met alongside the hunter at Truth Is Life.

Brim and Money (pronounced Mor-ni) were half-brothers. Money was the older of the two and by far the more enterprising and practical. Brim, three years younger, was a dreamer and, as far as his brother was concerned, a joker. He would slip in and out of reveries and was mostly absentminded for that. At nineteen he still retained much of his childishness, which kept him from untouched by the coarseness that existed all around him.

They joined up with Hééb at the table and Brim was about telling the ‘mayor’s boy’ that he really would love to own a television of his own with a larger ‘satellite plate’, a Mercedes 300 and a cell phone. ‘A plate of soup for two people,’ he called out instead mimicking the mayor’s valet. He was being devious in his demand on the man’s smugness. Hééb did not protest. It suited his aims for the night. He was not a very generous man except on occasions when there was something to gain. And so he did not protest the call when it was made.

‘Hail to the next mayor of Nānti!’ Brim flattered loudly as the plates were delivered. That got the attention of the crowd making them sneer.

Hééb would never come to the hall except on a similar occasion of self-interest for he considered those men beneath him. It was evident in the way he carried himself around them. It was normal for guests at the hall to come in through the front door and say a loud general greeting to those inside. But he would not take any of that.

The other two young men knew him too well and they suffered his pride gladly. And Hééb was a man who was quite sensitive to flattery. He would flush when he was called ‘the young mayor’ or ‘the second mayor’, or like Brim had ‘the next mayor’. Such flattery would ease him into his good mood. He hated such upfrontedness with which Zach had addressed him. More than just the address, everything about the ‘bastard’ seemed to threaten his peace, and undermine his pride.

‘How was your day, sir?’ Money asked. He knew that only a desperate situation would bring out the goat to Madam Békhtèn’s hall.

‘Twas good on everyday standards,’ Hééb answered trying as hard as possible to hide his excitement. ‘Things are still on tight leash for my boss. He’s been in a bad mood for a long while now.’ He always gave such excuses to discourage any potential favour-mongering.

‘Mercy me.’ Brim said. ‘How is that goddess of his?’

‘Shut up!’ Money rebuked. ‘Don’t mind him,’ he said turning apologetically to Hééb.

Hééb snorted. ‘Anyway, something came up. This stranger came up to me with a face like a dead Pharaoh’s, and said he wanted to see the mayor like I was to just open the gates to him.’

‘Damn him,’ Money said trying hard to show his indulgence in the other man. Following the rebuke, Brim had returned grumpily to the television crowd, which had now changed to a sports channel that was showing footages of the past Olympic Games.

‘Don’t remember ever seen him before. Suppose he is a bastard.’ By ‘bastard’, he meant a stranger, one that was not welcome.

‘How does he look like?’

‘Can’t quite tell. As it was just as I stepped out this night. But he had a thick beard.’

‘Damn me!’ Money swore and called out to his brother. ‘That man at the tavern, he had beards?’

‘Yeah, he did.’

‘It’s him.’ Money then went on and intimated him of their encounter with Zach, of the drunkard and the vegetable.

The two encounters correlated.

‘Keep an eye on him for me.’ Hééb instructed still with his usual air of importance. If he oversteps his boundary, then…’

The other young man nodded. He knew that he did not mean ‘kill’. If he meant ‘kill’, he would have gone to someone else, probably Black. He meant ‘dispose of him’, more like ‘chase him out of this town’.

‘Yes boss.’

  1. # #

At the boy’s shack, Zach was asking about cleaning up and the answer did not at all seem handy. ‘There is a small valley on our east, a few minutes’ walk. A small stream flows through it.’

Zach had not known what to expect, which made the answer come off with a bang.

The hunter had more instructions: ‘The people of this town are snobbish to strangers. I suppose you can handle that.’

Zach wanted to help him rephrase that part of the instruction. ‘I suppose you can continue handling that.’ Instead he stood and began taking off his coat which was damp outside to the light showers. He emptied its pockets and hung the coat close to the firepot where the small pieces of charcoal were quickly turning to ash. He then went back to examine the contents of the coat which included a small paper envelope of the boy’s drugs. Nothing could be worse than finding that he had little less than a day’s meal worth of money left. A large chunk had gone to the boy’s treatment and the drugs. ‘Oh my God,’ escaped his lips. Once again, Zach was struggling to hold back the feelings of frustration that were rising from deep down. ‘God will help us,’ he finally managed. There were going to be some pawn broking, either way God was going to have to provide.

A few more words from the hunter and the two parted to meet the next day. The hunter left and Zach had a hard time moving the cement blocks closer together. When he was done, he lay on it and, pushing out all thoughts that would fuel his frustration (especially that of home and of his condition), he slept.

Chapter Twelve: Madam Békhtèn

The Saturday morning saw a notorious light green Mercedes 300 drive into town. It was just five minutes after five o’clock. A twenty-five year light-skinned man with Jheri-curled hair sat directly behind the driver and Madam Békhtèn beside him. Nānti’s roads were not at their best and so the car moved with an irregular rhythm.

The woman at the back was a very busty one. It was not strange to hear among the men that gathered in her hall snotty comments that related to ‘Madam Békhtèn’s chestnuts’. There were questions like: ‘how in the world does she carry those things about?’ The teenage kids would curse with words like ‘an empty head as big as Madam Békhtèn’s breasts’. Many of the men that frequented her hall had secret fantasies with Madam Békhtèn’s breasts in them.

But Madam Békhtèn was too sensitive for that. After roughing up two men on separate occasions, everyone kept their eyes off her hooters. At least, in her presence. She was one of the two women in all of Nānti that wore trousers in public. And occasionally, she would get into a pantyhose or a miniskirt. Reverend Iňaō Ūnarö of the Holiness Church of Nānti always had a place in his sermons for her and those men she was leading to hellfire. ‘But her plans will not work, not in this town and not while I’m still here. Hallelujah. Now everybody stand up, face her hall and now command Holy Ghost fire to come down and destroy it. In the name of Jesus! Fire! Fire! Thunder! Die! You witch! Die! Die! You spirit of Jezebel, die! Die! Die!’

The other lady who wore trousers was the mayors’ daughter. The denim trousers would squeeze out the curves and would leave the men whistling at the sight of her. Occasionally as well, she would wear strapless tops that would expose her shoulders. Rev. Iňaō was more sympathetic of the younger of the two ladies though his more heaven-ready members were not. They would spit out at the sight of her and tell their children to close their eyes so as to not behold evil. He held a soft spot for her. ‘She is misguided as is her father. Let us pray that God would open their eyes to see where this road of worldliness will eventually lead them before it is too late.’ He would then change his mind in an instant and begin: ‘Judgement, I see judgement! Let it come! Now! Fire! Fire!’ On hearing him scream Fire! with the ferocity of a rockstar from out of his small battery-powered microphone, a newcomer to town would probably take him seriously and call the fire station or take him as a madman.

Madam Békhtèn was a vain one too. At forty-nine, she still styled herself a ‘lady’ and you dared not call her ‘madam’ in her presence—or greet her with a ‘ma’. It made her appear ‘old’. And she stove not to appear old though an abundance of fat had gathered at her waist, under her arms and on her belly. Most of her curves had disappeared and the rest had dissolved into lines. She had workout tools and used stay-young-forever drugs and supplements. She had her own television fantasies—Marilyn Monroe looks. Her skin tone was not uniform in places showing signs of an attempted bleaching. She was one of those who really liked it hot! She had an abundance of blonde wigs and spent a whole lot on make-ups, nails, lipsticks, jewelleries, body creams, and perfumes. All those gave her the feeling of being in vogue. And she really was in vogue.

Her greatest vanity was young boys. She always had one living with her. The men of her hall were left to speculate what positions they took her and how they managed to fulfil all her youthful fantasies, which they knew, were exotic and exorbitant. It was always a topic of great interest for them.

In the time Zach came to Nānti, she was about two weeks away. And that Saturday, she was back with another young boy that would fulfil her vanities or get kicked out for failing.

One thing was known all over Nānti about this busty woman: she was a tigress. She could roughen anybody up at any time of the day—either verbally or otherwise. She was not a talker but when she spoke, everyone listened and you dared not speak while she spoke. However, she was very generous. Whenever she was happy, everyone around her would be happy. She would throw parties and give out gifts.

She was also a very sensitive woman. She could not stand snides when she sensed it in a comment. She was altogether a woman of profound feeling for others.

Madam Békhtèn loved surrounding herself with men; it fuelled her female ego and her dominating instincts. Her own ego, very much like the female ego was far more self-consuming.

She was never married but she had three daughters from three different men: Peace, Borûn and Ūö. Peace the eldest was born when Joyce ‘Békhtèn’ Bulām was eighteen. Now at thirty-one, she was unmarried and with three kids from three different fathers. She made her own living off a salon on another street in town. She was by all standards, the very epitome of her mother: she was enterprising, strong, dominating, and was keeping her own young boys. Borûn was seven years younger than Peace and less sensible as well. At twenty-four, there was hardly a flirt in and around Nānti that hadn’t had her in his bed. She was sucking and swallowing—and committing abortions—all over Nānti and in the surrounding towns, breaking up marriages. The HIV scare had her mother paying her a bit more attention. She was a brainless twit in a body that was made for the eyes. She was just like her father—randy, sex-crazed and brainless.

She was Madam Békhtèn’s true dream—a sex symbol. She could have made it as an actress or a singer but she lacked the patience and brain for that. If she continued like that, there was no doubt that she was going to catch the new disease. That was certain. Even if not for the Virus, she was wasting her body away.

The prize child was Ūö, an eighteen-year old fragile-looking girl. Madam Békhtèn loved her to death and sought in so many ways to protect her from her own life. She hadn’t planned to have her but when she came, she found some joy. However, she had some heavy melancholy about her. She was always indoors and was rarely seen around town. Her only dream was to study in a university, if only she could.

  1. # #

That morning, the car pulled into the compound where Madam Békhtèn had managed a two-storey building. It was not at all grand, it was not one that had been built to taste but to earning which was not ‘huge’ in measure with her tastes.

The young man with her by name Daniel was a vain one too. His vanity was in his mind. He was an intelligent youth with very modern ideas. And as is normal with young people, Thaddy, for another instance, he had a naïve, Ingersollian and overwhelming belief in his intelligence. It was not strange why he had followed Madam Békhtèn. He was a school leaver who was still waiting on a job. But that aside, he styled himself a Goethe and kept reassuring himself that there was nothing he could not handle. But Nānti had a way of changing things for everybody.

  1. # #

Zach knew to wake while it was still dark for his cleaning up at the river. He was too weak for an early waking, and sleeping on cement blocks was really a big deal. He would not have woken if not for the nightmare. The very same one as he had had in the train. He woke up on the edge of reality screaming ‘Shut up!’ at someone whose face was familiar. That face and the screams however were in the other side of reality.

The sharp contrast between what had been his normal wake-ups for years and what he had in the shack, left him with a debilitating effect. It had taken him a while to acclimatise to the new and unknown morning.

His body felt like a heap of crushed stones—or rather, as if it had been crushed by a heap of stones. His head was aching again and he could hardly move a limb off the bed of cement blocks. He felt feverish. The fire from the fire pot had died in the night leaving the roofing-sheet-wall room to return to the temperature of a rainy August night.

Outside, the cocks were crowing as the greenish first light lit the eastern skies. Zach managed to sit up on the cement block. The boy was still asleep. He had very little will to resist his own frustration but as soon as he saw the boy sleeping like a child curled up in those pieces of clothes, his frustration sank back in.

They boy had never had any much participation in his life. He’d spent it all alone. The cold nights, the heavy beds, the raggedy bed spreads, to that extent and being the one lightened up Zach for a minute. He had no reason to be frustrated, not when he was at it because of the boy. As he sat up, his eyes landed on the table again. It was still dark but he could see a number of books. Among them were old and rough exercise books that had large lines of ‘The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog’ scribbled on them in an uneven manner. There was a very old English reader for primary schools among the pile of books. The boy had tried learning to read and write. Another exercise book showed that he had tried copying out the words as he saw them in the reader. There were drawings as well of the objects he had seen in the readers. There was also a book of bible stories, which was badly worn with too many pages missing and a lot many others in half. The exercise books showed also that the boy had tried copying out the words and the drawings onto his exercise books.

Into this revelation disappeared Zach’s anxieties for an instant. It had to mean something after all.

He lifted the framed photo of Mother and Child and was full of wonder at it. What did such an image mean for a boy who had no place in his world? And for many others like him? To answer those questions, I should bring to my reader’s notice the influence that the children of Nānti had had on the boy.

  1. # #

The vegetable boy was retarded and that ensured that he remained a child even going into young adulthood. That also meant that the children of the town had a lasting influence on him.

Pûjó lived in a silent world and so he made do with images. He had a photographic memory and for that, images lasted very long in his head. He would ponder over them and would make his silent judgment over them. One of the images was that of the kids of Nānti kneeling in front of a stool that had a raised photo of the Holy Mother and Child, a couple of candles, making recitations. Since he was deaf and dumb, he would watch as their mouth moved. Their two hands folded just under their chins.

In Nānti as in many other places, at 6 o’clock, a little kid would be seen on the street with a tiny bell. He/she would ring out the bell for other kids to ‘It’s six o’clock. Come out for block rosary’. The call to prayer actually had a tune to it. As he made the call to prayer, other kids would join him in his singing, with their own tiny brass bells, rosaries and chaplets. They would walk the streets and end their round at a designated place where a small table would have been set with the icons of Mother and Child, a framed photo of them, coloured candles and a prayer book. They would kneel before the table and pray the rosary in unison into the evening. At the end of their prayers, they would be given biscuits, groundnuts and snacks by their host.

This image greatly fascinated the boy who had lived most of his childhood by begging for food at doors and his young adult by working jobs around town. From a safe distance, he would watch the children and then the photo, the children and then the photo.

As he grew, the photo began to mean something to him. His best day was when he had managed to pick out one of such photos that had been disposed in the dumpsite because its glass had broken. It was not because he had never been in a mother’s arms at all in his life. It was far profound for him. The image meant something to him, something he could not articulate. When he finally managed to turn the batcher house into his home, the first thing he did was find a table and place the framed photo in the same order as he had seen the children do. He had managed a prayer bead as well. Occasionally, he would pick a pair of coloured candles and would stare at their lights falling off the photo deep into the night.

  1. # #

On seeing that photo, Zach knew it meant something to that boy. What could that be?

He wondered what the hunter had meant when he said that the boy ‘would see the Face of God.’ Was there something in that image that resembled the Face of God for the boy?

Let us Hail Mary and let us bless the fruit of her womb. Every Christmas, we are confronted by this image, one that has become divine for many people of the world. The image reassures those who are the least in the world, that they are not forgotten in this world. By this image, we are judged and condemned in our subversiveness. By this image, the ‘vegetables’ of our world are reminded that they are not alone. A lot of us are offended by this image and a lot many others stand before this one image without guilt, the guilt that makes us unworthy of those whom are the ‘vegetables’ of our world.

As he followed the hunter’s direction to the valley, Zach understood that it was by that image that the boy had lived.

Chapter Thirteen: A River Of Many Legends

The walk towards the stream was rather straightforward and Zach found his way as described by the hunter. Nothing eventful happened except that he was wetted by the dewed grasses that lined the footpaths.

It was almost dawn when he arrived the river.

The valley was a wide one. It gave the town the appearance of being on a hill. The legendary river flowed into it and out. On both sides of the flattened valley, the townspeople farmed. There were garden eggs, lettuces, groundnuts, potatoes and other local vegetables that were budding under the rains. They gave the valleys a synthetic look, a very beautiful one.

The stream was about fifteen-twenty-five metres wide on its widest, and a little less than ten on its narrowest.

Zach was late by the time he arrived as there were about two men, a woman and three children already at work among the vegetables. More time was wasted as he took in the beauty of a full countryside dawn. The light was golden, pure and sweet to the eyes. He wasn’t used to those sights. It made him lift his face to the dawn and soak it in for a moment. He stood and watched the farmers at their day job. By his own reckoning, they were quite early—. But in their own reality, they were not. The average Nāntian was a subsistence farmer as he/she was any other thing. Before they went for their other businesses that took the majority of the day, they would go to the farms first. That meant that they got there before the dawn and left before the sun began to be scorching.

Zach was already fully intimated of the attitude of the people towards strangers and so he kept to himself. He did not bother shouting out greetings or waving. He found his way down the valley and into the river.

The river was a foot deep where it joined the valley and like all open water bodies, it was very cold to the morning as it was very warm the night before. Zach stood there and looked around him; the other farmers did not seem to notice him or even pay attention. Zach could not remember ever haven taken his bath in the open and so the idea made him giddy. There were concerns about a soap and a towel but all of those to a man in his situation were luxury, not necessity. Slowly, he began to undress with the carefulness and consciousness of a million people watching.

He retained a good measure of self-consciousness but as he finally entered the water and started rubbing his body with his bare hands, his attention was diverted to something else other than himself: there were fishes in the river, of all sorts and sizes.

He had not noticed any fishing in the town, not when he was on the great river and not now that he was in the town itself. The little fishes held his attention like a child. As he watched the fishes scuttle away to reassemble at the foot of the rocks in the river, it clicked in his mind that there would be many more where the water was deeper.

The bath did not take too long because it was cold, but it was an experience that Zach kept in his ‘positive memory’. It was a rare one and even though it happened many more times after that one morning, he carried the memories of the first time bathing in a river with the dawn overhanging him with him and tiny catfishes scuttling from under his feet.

If there was anyone who felt a deep connection with others, it was Zach. It was the only motivation that he needed to participate in the lives of others, as if they were his, with the same self-interest. When he ascended in what was known to be a ritual of initiation in Nānti—bathing in the river or any of its streams—, he felt in that moment, just like he had the night before and the previous one (with the boy and the hunter), a connection with the town that made him want to participate in her fate.

  1. # #

The River Nānti had its own mysteries, all of which made it special because the people took those distant legends with a measure of seriousness. The 21st Century, one that held an abundance of promises for mankind in general, which was just three New Year suns away, did nothing to temper those collective feelings. They were what made the people feel special about themselves and they held on to them. Even Rev. Iňaō had respect for that one eccentric exception. And besides, he had other evil things and evil people he was bent on purging.

Zach was between surprise and curious when the hunter announced on his return from the stream: ‘You are now a true native of this town. Not that it would change much though, with the people. At least not yet.’ The hunter then went ahead and told it all.

The River Nānti was associated with a goddess of the same name who according to the lore of the town had given birth to the eight towns through which the river flowed. Nānti, of course was the first of the nine children of the goddess whose sacred symbol was the river. No fishing was allowed in the river for it was believed that the ‘river would go home with the fisherman’. What that meant was not at all explicit. It was not known to have been transgressed even in recent times. In the more olden days, the punishment for fishing in the river was public sacrifice to the goddess. It was said, and there was no confirming of its accuracy, that the missionary attempts to debunk the myth by proving to the people that nothing would happen when they fished from it, all failed at first attempt. And for that, the legends survived and outlived many others that had passed with the coming of the missionaries.

‘Of course, she could water our gardens but we never ever fish from the river. People have run mad doing so and mind you, this is not some fairy tales. This is serious. There was a time that the government tried building a bridge across the river in the last town. They lost all their men. The bridge was never completed.’

That was supposed to make Zach scared. He could hear the proud excitement in the hunter’s voice as well as the dread and wonder that covered his face as he spoke. He seemed to believe in what he was speaking of. However, Zach was still particular about the fish. He loved a fish soup to death.

‘Why buy fish when it’s everywhere?’ There was no more asking and telling—fishes were abundant in the river.

‘No, we hardly eat fish. Our people don’t like fish. Even till the present time.’ Zach remembered that there was an abundance of goats, hens and their chicks and pigs that roamed the town.

The River was ‘known’ to cure sicknesses miraculously especially a good native without any history of misconduct. The River was supposedly going to protect him from drowning. ‘There is no Nāntian known to ever have drowned in the River or its streams. Never!’, was the way the hunter put it. She was also the symbol of justice for many of the people of the town; they swore by the River and made pacts under her eyes. There were other legends, very incredible ones that will be revealed in the fullness of time.

As to bathing in the river, it did not make any difference to Zach. And as to the legends, he was not sure whether he believed them. But that part of the mysterious river where he had first taken his bath held a different mystery for him, a pernicious one, one that he never forgot till the very end.

  1. # #

Daniel was received into the Lioness’ Den. He was led by one of the house helps to a room that was specially made for Madam Békhtèn’s boys. He inspected the room. It did not reach his tastes but it certainly was not far from it. He unpacked and in a minute kicked in.

The journey to Nānti had been a very long one and the roads, being bad, had not allowed him much sleep. However, he was not at all sleepy. That would come much later. His mind went back to the prior arrangements that had led him to the woman who was as old as his own mother. He was a fine young man with the looks that matched Madam Békhtèn’s vain desires. He was handsome and strongly built. The myth that young men of his build were better off as sportsmen did not hold in his case. And mind you, he was not a male prostitute. No. He was a young man of very modern and wanton ideas tucked away in an actor’s body. The first meeting he’d had with the woman in a hotel room as arranged by a friend of his, assured him that he had gotten a great chance! Like most young men of his type, who had an excessive trust in their ‘intelligence’ and the place it would give them in the world, especially in the coming one, he was lazy. The woman’s coming would alleviate some of his financial needs and deep down; he even believed that he could dupe her by some sharp wits.

He was also a sensualist. Addicted to pornography, it was his chance of implementing all the sexual fantasises that had accumulated in his mind. He was certain he would live off her and make a way for himself in the world.

There were agreements. He was not to have anything with any other girl—especially her daughters—in the period of the contract. There had been tests and for that, no condoms. He was not to mingle with the townspeople. He would be allowed to travel out of the town at least once in two months. There was a good pay attached to all of that. Bleh bleh bleh. Both parties were satisfied and could not wait to get to work.

A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts and he sat up and called out a ‘Come in.’ The door opened and a young lady whose best features were evident that day unlike many others, walked in carrying a tray of tea and bread and butter.

She was Ūö. According to her mother’s instructions around the house, she was to be serving ‘Danny’ until he could serve himself. The house helps were barred from his room.

Ūö was certain that the boy would turn out to be idiotic and mindless like the many others she had known. They were all scums and she remembered very vividly how one of them had almost been drowned in the River after she reported to her mother of his attempts at raping her. They dared not touch her. And her mother had taken out time to ‘explain’ to her ‘angel’. ‘I know you don’t judge your mother so there is nothing really to explain. Forgive me and promise me you won’t end up like your mother.’ She had smiled and shaken her head as if to say: ‘You so do not have any idea how I want to end up.’

They did not last and Madam Békhtèn was far from easily satisfied. She was also getting rid of them when she felt she had had enough of them. They were not durable in her hands.

They were all scums after all. One had tried turning her into a slave in her mother’s house. He had ordered her about and she had followed his orders until one Thursday morning, she had poured hot water on him. Being one that her mother was not going to play with a bit, she had tossed the idiot out of her house. From when she was sixteenth birthday, they had been asking her for quickies. Two confessed their love to her and urged her to elope with them until they had been caught stealing from her mother’s purse and given the beating of their lives.

If they succeeded with anyone, it was with Borûn.

What business did she have with those loathsome bags of filth? It was more from respect for her mother.

However, as she stepped into that room with the tray in her hand, she was not expecting anything different. But something different waited for her.

She stood there staring at the young man. He was not the most handsome of them nor was the chance that he was going to last any longer than theirs any higher. However, as she looked into his eyes and he into hers, something passed between them.

She knew it was going to be different with him.

Chapter Fourteen: The Bridge

The anxieties and hopefulness of seeing the mayor had disappeared by the time he returned from the stream. The hunter’s warning that the man they called Hééb was not going to let him anywhere close to his master had tempered those anxieties and hopefulness. He would have to take his time.

The boy would not take his drugs and by midday, he seemed perfectly normal. By midday, the sun was up and the wet day was drying rapidly. Then the hunter returned. He was carrying his gun, which was almost as tall as its owner. Zach had not had anything for the day as he was saving what he had left which could afford a little less than a day’s meal. It was weekend and even if he could make withdrawals in any bank around town, (there was no commercial bank in Nānti) he would have to keep it for any eventuality that could not outlive the weekend, especially with the boy. Besides, the hunter brought with him fresh corn boiled in salty water as well as purple-coloured pears that had been softened by being soaked in hot water. Zach was familiar with the taste, it was not his first time.

The hunter lifted his gun in a comical aim at Zach’s head and announced: ‘Want to see some live action?’

Zach had been in the shack from morning until that time though he had spent a while after his bath at the riverside and on his way back, relishing whatever sights of the country he could manage. As to his clothes, they remained unchanged. He had brushed them at the hems and all the other places dirt had accumulated by dipping a hand into the river and brushing it against the spots. It was not effective but he could not help it. The sun was not up at the time, he put them back on before returning to the batcher house.

Zach was obliged. He liked the idea and they started off munching on the corn cobs on their way.

They entered the street that led up to the shack and made their way until they were in the boulevard and off it. A few more turns, they were crossing a path that ran through a dumpsite. The road that slid around the dumpsite was dirty for the rains had carried lumps of dirt onto the road and had blocked it in places. They had walked through it raising their legs very high and minding where they landed them.

They continued down the path through what was a wide stretch of farmland. There was another stream, a smaller stretch of farmland, a forest of bamboo and another road, a deserted one. They continued up the road with the hunter commenting on a few of the sights. Since he was excited and possessed a keen appreciation of the town, it was enjoyable for his partner.

The walk continued until they were down a wide gully overgrown by bananas and plantains where more dirt were dumped. They came up the gully and Zach was already becoming weary when they made a turn through a low brush and onto a wide road. They followed the road and just as the hunter was telling his mate he was hopeful that the walk had not gotten too long, Zach saw what made his heart skip not one beat but too many—a bridge.

The bridge was not actually in full sight but Zach knew it was a bridge, – the bridge. He had seen it before—from that very distance. He had. He had seen…

His walk speed reduced at the sight and his two hands went into the pockets of his coat, which had not yet fully dried. He shook his head and continued the walk hopeful of anything that was going to save him from his certain embarrassment by the bridge.

The hunter was saying something about their destination being on the other side of the bridge. But Zach was not hearing anything. His feet felt as if they were going to melt from under him.

A few more steps, they stood facing the bridge. It was an iron bridge of about two hundred metres and four metres wide. It looked like an abandoned one for it was rarely used—not by cars. Its light blue metallic colour had resisted years of rain and sunlight. There were floorboards fitted under the bridge. They were almost four inches thick. They gave the bridge a look of solidity.

The hunter was already on the bridge that he had been on a thousand times before. The other man was on the other side of the road that led up to it with a grave look on his face.

Zach did not want to disappoint the other man who was having a pleasurable time by turning back just when they had almost reached their destination. But he knew, from the depth of the valley under the bridge and from the length of the bridge, that he was not getting on that bridge.

Zach was scared of heights to the death especially heights that opened to great depths like the one that was under the bridge. Heights held great terrors for him. His first memories of nightmares as a child were about someone pushing him off great heights. He would wake into a fever, migraines and on occasion, on the floor instead of the bed. He run into his mother’s bedroom from fright. He would snuggle into her arms. When he grew older and could no longer slip into a sickly mother’s arms; he would turn on the lights and instead of sleeping on the bed, (from where he could possibly fall off) he would take the floor.

More than just that fear, he knew there was some mystery about that bridge. His sensibilities were growing stronger and more than feel that, he knew it in a concrete way. Even though his recent nightmares were still vague, he knew it had a bridge inside it—this one bridge.

‘What is wrong with you?’ He heard the other man ask.

He shook his head and answered: ‘I’m sorry but I’m scared of heights. My feet are already wobbling from this distance. I’m not getting onto that bridge.’

He sounded firm with his objections.

The hunter exhaled, his feeling of disappointment heightening. ‘It’s just a bridge, sir. Even little kids cross it; they even play on it. Besides, it’s strong…if that’s….’

Zach was really sorry but it was not happening. He was not getting on that bridge. ‘I suppose we can find another way around it.’

The hunter agreed and led the way down the road grumbling to himself as he did. Zach stood from the side of the road where he had taken a seat and followed him. They walked in moody silence till they found a place through the valley that had steps leading down into the valley. On the other side were steps leading up to the other side.

‘It’s useless,’ the hunter said breaking Zach’s hopes of a mediation, ‘the water level is very high. It’s August for God’s sake.’

Zach looked in and saw that the stream flowing through the valley was galloping angrily as if chasing him off. Not only was it high, it was moving in a rage.

Zach returned to the road, sat on the other side of it, and tried to take it all in. He was disappointed by himself as he was embarrassed that another man was watching him at it. When it came to human beings, Zach was a fearless one. But not bridges and certainly not this one bridge.

The other man joined him still grumbling, shaking his head in disappointment and frustration and cringing from embarrassment—all at the same time in a way that made him look like he was in one of his drunken frenzies.

‘I’m sorry,’ Zach told him. The sun was still on its way down. By their reckoning, it was about three in the afternoon.

Still hopeful of something that could assuage the man’s grumpy temper, he said: ‘Tell me about it.’ Zach was grateful that he did for the hunter was a great storyteller in his own rights for he knew the town like the palm of his own hands—and was always willing to tell and show. The same eagerness had made him want to take his new friend out on the short excursion through the woods. His good spirits returned when he had the same chance to do it otherwise.

  1. # #

It was during the talk, in place of the walk now gone sour, that the hunter told the story of the town to Zach. Through it, he would stand, draw in the sand, point, giggle like a kid, mimic the priest, the mayor or whoever, whistle like a bird when one came into the story, neigh like a horse, bleat like a goat that by the time the sun was down, Zach did not want it to ever end.

‘The hunting profession has its own ethics’ the hunter had begun with his earlier eagerness. The chance to go again cheered him up. From the abundance of what followed in a spirited lecture about the hunting profession, Zach was amazed at one particular thing among a few others—the man’s sense of nature.

‘How do you know all that?’

The hunter shook his head and clapped at a fly in his face, ‘No one taught me. It was there, written somewhere in the wind, the waters. You could feel it. I don’t know how best to express myself but we are one with nature and the hunter’s task is not to violate this oneness but to preserve it. That is why we do not shoot at pregnant or nursing animals. We don’t do that. We’d rather shoot the ageing ones and the sick ones.’

‘How’d you know which one is sick or aged?’

‘The first gunshot is not to kill but to find out among the pack, which is the mother, the sick or the dying.’

‘Oh, from the way they scuttle away?’ Zach observed.

‘Exactly! You got it!’

‘Phew!’

‘But that aside, we have our own sensibilities.’

Zach had learnt that there were wild goats, deer, grass cutters, rabbits, bush rats, hares, monkeys and buffalo in the stretch of the wild before them.

‘There is guilt that goes into our work, at least for me. There are sights you do not want to violate and when you do so, you have to live with the guilt that you have violated nature.’

One of such sights was a kid suckling its mother. ‘It’s so beautiful that you wouldn’t want to separate one from the other. In the case where you happen to, you will have to deal with the guilt—if you are an overly sensitive man like me.’

There was a solemn pause after which the hunter continued: ‘There is something in the watery eyes of the animals that makes me giddy staring into their eyes. It’s like a high tide. You feel as if something is going to swallow and drown you in a flash. I don’t know but it is always like they are at your mercy and you wouldn’t want to hurt someone who is at your mercy. And even though nature has given you the license to kill, you seek justification in something else before you use it.’

‘Like?’

‘When you set a trap for an animal, you will suppose it was its greed that killed it and you will find your justification in that.’

He stopped and looked into Zach’s eyes as if he were searching for something. The deep stare lasted for a brief instant. He saw something.

‘It is almost as if you can tell a man’s fate from looking into his eyes. Same with the animals and perhaps even much more with them, because in the wild, they hide absolutely nothing.’

That was received in silence.

‘I hardly eat my catch when I make them. Not when I also kill and prepare them. Especially when…’ he stopped abruptly and resumed almost immediately. ‘I cannot understand why a man would take the life of his fellow man. I have always believed that to do so you would have to kill a man from behind him. You would not want to do so looking into his eyes. The tide there is even higher.’

‘Not everyone sees that tide…’ Zach answered. ‘I have known men who killed their own brothers in cold blood looking deep into their eyes.’

‘Why not?’

‘Well, there are men who don’t need any justification to kill. It’s like Death does its work through them. They are their own license to kill. They need no other, not even in the causes they kill for, if there were any. I would doubt if those men ever had any guilt while or after killing a fellow man, especially in cold blood.’

‘What makes such men?’

‘I have no idea.’

Zach sincerely could not tell but I have something to say.

I guess it is just history and nature that endow such men with such powers, when they wish to upset their own balance. They could kill a man and get away with it, even win medals for the deed. They may even become statesmen, generals, Alexanders, Napoleons and…. To be this, one must risk one’s humanity; one must close one’s eyes to his own humanity and to the humanity of others. No man can take that upon himself. I doubt risking one’s humanity is an easy thing. Often times, it is history and nature that wrest it from these men without their notice. The reward for this of course is immense power.

There are other men whose eyes are blinded to this tide. This blindness may last and sometimes it may not last. However, when it passes, they see this tide and are drowned by it. Their only justification is their blindness. They mostly stumble over their victims by it.

While some look to the laws and the lawmakers for their license to kill, the rest need no justification to kill. War itself is a license to kill, as is hatred, revenge and malice. Every man carries in them his own license to kill. He may use it or he may not.

In all this, Zach wondered why such a sensitive man had remained a hunter.

‘Well, the wild is my home. In a way. That is the only place I have my peace and I do make catches from time to time.’

During good times, he would spend weeks in the wild where he would eviscerate, salt and smoke his catch. He made his money by selling the meat. And on good days, he made good deals. His drinking though was reducing the number of the good days.

  1. # #

The conversation switched to the town and the legends of the goddess was told again. Zach learnt more. The people of Nānti before the coming of the missionaries were into the disposal of twins, except not totally.

The twin were understood as one good and one evil, as the case may be. One was to be accepted and the other rejected. No particular rationale was given for that. It was more or less a people’s way of explaining away things in the same way as modern day conspiracy theorists and astrophysicists—we fear what we do not understand. They were then placed in the river in a midnight ritual. Any of the twin that did not drown through the night would be taken the next morning as the ‘good’ of the two children. The other one will be disposed.

Though that one had passed, the hunter had pointed out that: ‘Till this very day, native Nāntians do not allow twins to step into the river. They still believe that the river could take one and leave the other.’

The conversation then switched to the mayor. ‘The mayor has a set of twin sons. Or rather, had a twin. One died last year and the other has been sick since with a deathly disease.’

Zach recalled the mention of that.

‘The townspeople believe there is a connection with the river and the fate of those boys. The mayor is a man of modern ideas. He does not seem to subscribe to fantasies. He damns them.’

‘Do you believe in them?’

The hunter chuckled. ‘I do not consider myself a man of modern ideas. I can’t be one.’

That answered Zach’s question perfectly well.

‘Do you believe that the Red Sea was actually divided into two halves?’

It was Zach’s time to chuckle. The other man joined him in the chuckle.

‘I do not consider myself a man of modern ideas as well.’

They both chuckled.

A pensiveness was beginning to appear in Zach’s face. The hunter kept talking and kept losing his attention slowly until he knew he’d lost it fully. Zach’s mind was with the mayor.

They would be going back home, the hunter decided and they started in the direction of the shack. In time, the hunter’s own mind slipped away to his family. Not that they ever left.

However, the thought of Yanda still held its original fear. She would not allow him to bring to them the stranger who had made a great impression on him. She would trash both of them.

Chapter Fifteen: A Long Day In the House of God

The rest of the Saturday was at the shack with the boy. When he finally woke, there was a smile, or rather a deep flush of gratitude on his face tempered with a greater dose of shyness and of course, bodily weakness. There was no other way he could show his gratitude. When the night came, he left and returned with wood for his fire pot. And when it was time to sleep, he offered his bed to Zach who refused by shaking his head with a smile.

The boy was offended at that and Zach saw elements of a fiery temper in his eyes. Just before the boy could storm out of the shack, he forced a smile that calmed everything.

The bed was not much better. It had a slight odour but it was generally manageable. The boy left the room to Zach. He did not come back until the next day. In fact, he did not actually come back….

Thoughts of the mayor kept Zach awake until late into the night. There was something about the mayor that… the bridge.

He found himself on the bridge. He was not walking on it; he was crawling, holding onto the very large nuts and screws that held the floorboards as he did. There was a crowd calling out to him from the other side—and another from the valley that was now endless, that of a woman. He was sweating and dragging his body across the bridge with all the strength he had within him. He was making progress; he was now at the halfway point of the bridge. There was something or someone that was coming from behind. Below, the tide was rising higher reaching up to the bridge from which the large nuts and screws were flying off in wide angles.

The epic moment was too quick and too swift. The rising tide from below, his pursuer from behind jumped…

He woke.

  1. # #

The nightmare was becoming clearer as was its relation to reality. Zach was not sad at the nightmare itself but rather at his not being able to pick out all the faces staring into his, the ones sneering at him, the owners of the voices calling out to him and the anxiety-laden words they were throwing at him. He was rather curios. He could not understand why he was screaming ‘shut up’ or whom among those he was telling to shut up. He wanted it to happen many more times, so he could make out the big picture as much as he did not want it to happen again.

Time for church. He desperately wanted to go to any church in the town. He could learn something about the mystery that the town was bringing to him. He wanted to feel the people in their spiritual state. It seemed very much a ‘Christian’ town and so the best place to go on a Sunday morning would be a church.

  1. # #

In 1996, there were three churches in Nānti: the Catholic Parish with its sky-piercing steeple nestling on top of one of the hills that bounded the town from the east, an Anglican Parish and of course, the Holiness Church of Nānti.

Reverend Francis, the parish priest at The Maria Asumpta Parish in Nānti was an intelligent, cheerful and stout man with wide and deep eyes, large and pink cheeks and a light voice that could pass as that of a woman. He was among the few people who owned a Mercedes 300. He even had a Toyota Corolla and a Volvo in addition to that car, which was by the demands of the time, a symbol of affluence. The three cars were very familiar as were their owner in and around the town. Driving by, children and women would call out ‘Father! Father!’ and he would horn and wave cheerfully.

Father Francis was close to his retirement. In fact, the Nānti pastorate was to be his last. He was not a native but he was welcome in the town as Catholic priests are everywhere in the south. He however had a seminarian on a yearlong apostolic mission in the parish that was accusing the priest of something sinister. He was talking but not too loud though.

The Roman Catholic ecclesiastical order was very well Roman as it was so many other things. It incorporated the traditional elements of Roman, language, culture, law and politics. And for its own conservatism, those were untouched by modern European Romanticism. One of the things one dealt with when confronting the Catholic ecclesiastical orders, represented by the cult of priesthood was the ‘Omerta’, the code of silence.

For Jonas, it was easier for him to talk for he was a native and a very sensitive person. Some of the younger people in the town were youths he had grown up with. He and four of his friends had gone to a seminary school in a faraway town. Only he had managed an ordination while his other three friends had failed out on the way. That circle was however kept and he constantly complained to them of Father Francis. It was easier for him to do so that since he still considered them part of that order.

‘He keeps picking offenses with me over insignificant things. Like the other night, he shouted at me for not coming up at eleven o’clock to open the door to him.’ He had complained to them.

‘Him?’

‘Yeah him, Hanshin. He takes him as his own son.’ Hanshin was the other seminarian on the same apostolic mission as he. He was not a native. He was more ambitious and self-imposing than Jonas.

‘Why is he so particular about him?’

He shook his head. They needn’t ask him for they knew themselves why.

Jonas had sighed, sipped from the bottle of juice they had for him and continued, ‘Every man has his own weaknesses. Father Francis’ own is…. It was part of why they brought him here. They did not want a scandal in the larger diocese. Here is somewhat muffled. Besides he’s too old to keep up with the tempo of the bigger and larger pastorates.’

In ’96, such sin—or rather ‘weaknesses’—had not yet entered into the public’s list of easily forgiven sins.

‘They sleep together?’

‘Well, not really. From what Hanshin told me himself. They masturbate together. He told me he hasn’t gone in yet. But I don’t know…. Don’t say I told you.’

There were moans and cracks of dismay.

‘Hanshin is not… that thing….’ He wouldn’t say the word. He just looked up and they nodded. ‘But you know him now. He’s an ambitious and insecure person and he would do anything to win anyone’s favours. He lacks the patience of waiting his way to the top. Promises have been made and Father Francis has what it takes.’

‘Promises?’—‘What promise?’

‘Yeah, Europe. He promised to get him a placement in Europe when he graduates. Germany or Rome. That’s where Francis himself studied.’

‘What about you?’

‘I don’t know. I suppose I have to wait out the year. December. I don’t have any personal thing against the man. I have never stood in his way. I just want him to let me live. I have my own weaknesses to deal with.’

  1. # #

The St Mary’s Anglican Parish was on the frontier of Nānti and its western neighbour. The cathedral served the two towns. But it was a ‘Nānti parish’.

The Chaplain was a talk, dark, and vague middle-aged man. He was a quiet man who had been subdued in both domestic affairs and church business by his wife who was head of the church council.

The parish was not as big as the Catholic parish. But the stately and mean woman was bent on making it bigger, anyway she could, guided by nothing more than her female ego. In August, she was insisting that for the next end-of-year thanksgiving service, ‘the people would be mobilized to buy their faithful minister a new Mercedes 300.’ They would have to start raising the money now!

  1. # #

The Holiness Church of Nānti was where Zach ended up. He actually had the Catholic parish in mind when he set off. But he had woken later that eight o’clock and into his reflections and lousy preparations had entered almost another hour. On his way, he had met a crowd of people carrying chairs and holding bulletins coming in his direction. There were not much going in the opposite direction. So he made a mental deduction and arrived at the conclusion that he would have to change his plans.

He asked questions. The Anglican Church was quite a walk from his own position. But he wanted to take it. However, on his way, as he made it up through the boulevard, he noticed what was a tall and rusty signpost that said: ‘Holiness Unto God: Avoid the Wrath of God and Make Heaven, Worship With Us…’ There were lists of activities for the seven days of the week, under columns of ‘Morning session, ‘Afternoon session’ and ‘Evening session’. Fridays and Wednesdays had ‘Night session’. The list alone took three quarters of the whole signpost.

Zach was hooked instantly and he followed, without a lingering thought, the arrow on the signpost. It led him down one of the streets branching off the boulevard, down another, round a bend and into a close. He needn’t even search for it for a low but very audible voice coming from a stuttering horn speaker guided his way.

The hall that formed the main part of what was the Holiness Church of Nānti was housed in a large compound. A very old and low shopping-mall-looking-like building of about eight stalls that had been clumsily converted into a one-room home for eight-children family. Another room for a five-children family belonging to a carpenter who hardly made lasting stuffs, and his clumsy and craggy carpenter shop. A small beer house. A room homing two prostitutes that woke up each morning with quarrels. These lined the short road that led up to the cul-de-sac that opened into the church compound.

As Zach walked on, a boy riding a motorcycle tyre being chased by his friends zoomed past and his friends following him with same speed. A woman cursed at her kid from inside her room with a very loud voice and dark words. The road itself was bad, broken and very dirty already—the ‘tenants’ were having a hard time coming to a consensus as to the rotation of the road cleaning rooster. To make it worse, a woman was pouring dirty water onto the road right from her door. Zach was close to it. Realizing that she almost poured water on a stranger, the woman made eye contact and snorted carelessly before returning to her cooking in what was her ‘kitchen’. Zach caught a sight of the ‘box kitchen’. It was a convertible one. The stove was placed inside a rough box made of roofing sheets. The box was then placed just by the door. He looked up and saw the same box at two or three of the doors he passed on his way up.

The church was no better. Its walls were half cement blocks and half rusty roofing sheets. The roofing was held by metal poles that lined the hall dividing it into ‘women’s section’ on the right and ‘men’s section’ on the left. The hall had an extension that formed the ‘children’s section’ of the church.

Zach walked in after being greeted by a roughed-faced sixty-year old looking man who was usher. He was not at all late from what he judged. By the look of things, the sermon had not even started. A scrawny woman, who had aged too soon, was facing the audience, giving a ‘testimony’. A bell was ringing from behind her loudly, and oddly too, calling her to stop. She was taking the whole time. However, she seemed to have a really long story that she considered worthy of all the time and the telling for the bell instead of chasing her off, turned her to tears, in a bid to gain herself more time by appealing to their pity. It worked.

Zach was not interested in the woman’s story. He was taking in the sights that greeted him. The usher had led him up to the third row from the last. Sitting with his leg wide apart on his right was Truth Is Life. But he did not notice the big bellied man who had an odour. Truth Is Life hadn’t noticed his neighbour as well. Not until way into the sermon.

The audience was arranged according to age in an ascending order. The young adults took the frontmost rows, followed by the youths, then the men, and the women on their own side.

The pulpit section had three men seated on an elevated platform facing the audience. All of them were dressed in old coats sagging at the shoulders, multi-coloured ties with very large knots, and they all looked on with mean faces. Among them was Reverend Iňaō Ūnarö. His face was far meaner than those of the other two.

The women all had their head covered to the very last hair from the first to the last. The younger women wore either long gowns or long skirts. The older women wore traditional dresses and wrappers. All things were kept long. The men wore neck-high shirts and trousers. Jean trousers were a first-class ticket to hell. The men had their faces rid of all the beards. It was the work of the devil.

There were smells from all corners oozing from the sweaty bodies, unkempt hair and unbrushed mouths and clothes. There no fans, and being a damp day, there were no winds to dispel them.

It was ten o’clock when Zach arrived the barn that housed the Holiness Church of Nānti. It was not until eleven that the sermon started. By then Truth Is Life was fast asleep dangling his neck back and forth and occasionally hitting it on Zach’s shoulder. He even managed a low snore. A large chunk of the church were asleep halfway through the dangerously long sermon. The sermon was interrupted in places by the crying of children. The interpreter who interpreted the sermon into the vernacular, was a grubbier man who took more time than his leader. More noise even filtered in from the extension that formed the ‘children’s section’. By the time the grubby man was done, Zach was greatly disappointed—as well as entertained.

Not only the sermon, there was a ‘first timers’ wait-after time after the main service that took forty-five more minutes of his time. By the time he got home, it almost was three o’clock. And they were indeed looking forward to seeing him another day—that evening actually for the evening service.

  1. # #

When he finally reached the shack, Zach was exhausted, hungry, and with a slight headache.

After a while, he had taken time to recollect all that he’d heard and seen, the ones that made him bury his head in his hands and stifle what would’ve been a very loud and ‘going to hell’ laugh. And the ones that made him want to wring off someone’s head off his neck in the same manner with which bottles are uncorked.

The sermon was titled ‘Heaven At Last’. It could have been titled: Ready or Not? Or ‘Run the Heavenly Race With Your Tail Between Your Legs’. Or ‘The Dress Sense of Holiness Church of Nānti’. It could have been all those for the man kept bumping off from how ‘beautiful’ heaven was—as if he had seen it—to how not wearing miniskirts, denim trousers, not owning television sets, etc. was the way to get into it.

Rev Iňaō’s strong tone would rise and drop to the severity of the theme of his sermon and spit would flutter out of his thick-tongued mouth. And when he was finally taken by the stuffiness of the hall to remove his coat, Zach saw two large patches of brown under his arm pit. He could have vomited.

‘Heaven is real and we must get into it.’ The audience watched on as he tuned off into a heaven-dreaming hymn with a dreamy voice. They joined him. Thy returned to looking on when he stopped, read Matthew 7:14 and switched gears.

‘Narrow is the way. ‘Brethren do not be fooled. Only a few will make it to heaven. The others will burn in hell. Where do you want to spend eternity? Heaven with streets of gold or hell where the fire burns? It is better to suffer on earth for a short while than in hell for all eternity.’

The audience followed his words with blank faces. They were used to it. In no time, he would come to his best topic—dressing and Madam Békhtèn’s hall.

‘The Spirit of Jezebel shall not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. All those who wear miniskirts, those who scrape their eyebrows and replace them with paints, all those that weave their natural hair and those that use perms, all those that wear strapless gowns, use perfumes, and all those who watch television…Look, the bible says the road is narrow. My brothers and sisters, I warn you to beware of these things and of the people who do it. And more than that, judge them as evil. Refuse to look upon them. Refuse to have anything to do with them. They are from the pit of hell! And they lead to the pit of hell. But follow godliness and contentment for in them is great gain.’

Zach thought he was finally going to have a fit when the man switched to HIV. ‘The judgement of God has already started. Yes, that new disease they have been talking about, it is the judgement of God against fornicators! Just imagine what hell would be! My brethren in Christ, let us flee youthful lusts, let us submit to the Word of God. For in so doing, we would make heaven.’

His idea of fleeing ‘youthful lusts’ was really troubling. It involved not seating next to the opposite sex ‘because the devil is indeed a master craftsman who can use anything against us. Do not give him anything to use against you. So Flee! Flee! Do not visit them! Do not have any relations with them! Do no business with them. Most of you here are market women; do not sell your goods to these evil people. If you do so, you will participate in their evil.

As Zach analysed these things and a lot more, he felt his lack of bible. The bible was a special book to him as it was to many others but there were an abundance of things he did not understand in that one book—things that made him sleepy. However, there were things he knew, things of which he was very sure.

He had never seen heaven as an escape from a ‘worldly life’. He sensed a selfishness in that. But that was exactly what heaven meant to those people. They spent their whole day at the church waiting on the One Who Is To Come, to come quickly. More than selfishness, it was a different kind of self-absorption, a more subtle kind of it.

Their idea of ‘worldliness’ was far more amusing than it was disturbing. It was televisions, cars… ‘Do you think it is because we cannot afford to build a cathedral? (Actually, they could not!) No, it is because we want to be ready for the Lord’s coming! We do not want to be distracted by these worldly things’.

The man on the microphone had condemned those things as the work of the devil used for distraction, corruption, destruction and desecration of true believers! ‘True believers do not have televisions! Beware brethren! They are now manufacturing what is called ‘cell phones’. Oh my God! We are at the end of the world!’

The sermon even went sensitive places. ‘I tell you judgment is hanging over this town. I can assure you of that. Look at the mayor’s daughter. When I visited him, I told him to his face. I don’t fear him. I don’t fear any man. We should not fear men! We do them more service by putting it to them than by playing about the bush!’ He sounded pleased and proud with his ‘courage’ with the mayor. ‘I told him that all that is happening in his family is the judgement of God coming upon him. I told him he must repent. He must make restitution. He must denounce his worldly ways. Only by so doing can he save his family and himself. If not he will suffer in hell after haven suffered on earth. And in hell, no one can save him! No one. Salvation is today. Those who postpone their decision to the twelfth hour die in the eleventh hour. And mark my words, some divine judgement is hanging over this town. I know it as I know the palm of my hands. God’s judgement is coming. If you do not see it then you are blind.’

Finally, ‘we must warn people of this impending danger. We must prepare for it ourselves.’

  1. # #

There were offerings, very long announcement time and finally the sharing of grace. But Zach had another grace to share. The man who met with ‘first-timers’ had another long sermon to preach to him. As they sat together, Zach was uncomfortable throughout for the man smelt of his own saliva. ‘You are our only first-timer in months. You know it is a good sign. It shows that the road is truly narrow.’ After the extra-curricular preaching, the man had ended with bouts of questions that had Zach staring at him from the corner of his eyes. ‘Your beards, don’t you think…? Are you married? We have an abundance of church sisters that could make good wives….’

As he made his way out of the hall trying not to meet anyone’s eyes, he saw the nurse from the health centre. Their eyes met and she dropped them. Like all the other women in the place, she looked older than her age. But unlike them, she carried with her some other anxieties which was not related to going to heaven.

Chapter Sixteen: Sir Daía

In a new one-storey duplex, from the door of a very well laid kitchen came the voice of a woman. It was loud and angry. At the same time, it was full of genuine motherly concern. The woman was standing in the doorway and was speaking back and forth from the other girl in the kitchen with her to the man on the dining section of the living room.

‘Nelson,’ she said raising a cloth to his eyes. ‘She had been cutting down all the skirts I bought for her into miniskirts. And look at the sleeves of this one. She’s removing the sleeves of her gowns. Okay, see this one, she tightening it. See how the one she is wearing now; see how it’s gripping on her body. Are you a whore? Do you want to be one? Nelson, what am I to do with this girl? And look at the padding she’s been putting in the bras I bought for her. Look at that pack of chewing gums.

‘She does not even want to hear about school. You could get the disease. You could become pregnant. And I’m not going to let that happen. I’m going to have to send you back to your people before that happens. Do you hear me? You are such an ingrate? Look at how you are chasing after those little boys. Just because we travelled for two weeks, you just went and changed all you clothes. What is wrong with you? I bought these clothes with my own money. What makes you think you know better about life than I do? None of your other siblings had the chance you have been given by God. But here you are wasting it away.’

She paused and caught her breath.

‘Nelson, I’m tired. She could get HIV. She could become pregnant. Is that what I will tell her family—that they sent me their only daughter and I could not take care of her?’

The man at the dining did not really know what to say. He called out to the young girl ‘Taro, let me see your face.’

The girl showed up. Her face was held down.

‘What she just said, is it true?’

The girl remained silent. ‘Lisa, I really don’t know what to say.’

‘Please Nelson say something. Don’t let it all fall on me. I have been talking; maybe she will listen to you. Maybe she has not enough respect for me, not to listen in my old age. Nelson, I have raised daughters before and this was not how I raised them. Please talk to her, perhaps she will listen.’ With that, she stormed off leaving the both of them.

‘Taro, now you are starring at reality. One day, at my age, you will grow up and you will see reality. But we are here, our eyes are yours. We have given it to you to see reality as it is now. You can take it or you can leave it. One word is enough for the wise.’

There was a knock on the door.

‘Now go get the door’.

The girl was more than relieved to do so. She bowed and scuttled away, her mistress’ still ringing in the depths of her soul.

  1. # #

Zach and the hunter stood in front of an ornate door that was made of hardwood. The door opened to an acute angle and a seventeen-year old girl with a sweaty face appeared in the doorway. They had come to see the man who, according to the hunter could help him meet with the mayor. Zach was hopeful as he was very hungry and worn and with a headache as they traversed the town. He had expected to use the evening to get some rest.

‘Sir Daía hasn’t been in town for a fortnight’, Othí had busted in and had reported. That Sunday morning as he returned from Mass, he had caught sight of the blue Volvo making its way into town. It was unmistakable.

‘Sir Daía gets a horde of visitors, and not any less on a Sunday evening. We must hurry.’ He had led Zach on who had followed, redirecting his mind to the meeting with the mayor.

‘Pray that we meet him. Pray harder that we there is not a crowd there already. If we manage to meet him, you will be seeing the mayor anytime you want, today or tomorrow. He can make it happen. He’s a good man.’

Zach prayed as instructed, as he tried to catch up with the quick-stepping hunter who now had another coat on—his Sunday best.

‘Sir Nelson is not seeing any visitors today.’ The girl said and turned to get back in.

Zach and the hunter looked at each other. The hunter then stepped out of the way signalling that Zach was to take over. ‘I’m sorry to disturb but I came from a long distance…. I just want to see the mayor and I need his help. If he can send a word or a note for me or anything.’ Zach’s voice was very beseeching.

The girl turned back in and spoke loudly into the other side of the door: ‘Sir… Yes sir…. Okay sir.’

The man to whom she had responded was eager to entertain visitors against his wife’s wishes. He had been away for thirteen days for his medical consultation. Now he actually missed having his house flooded by guests to whom he always gave long and eloquent monologues—he was a profound talker. Zach’s prayers were answered when the man directed the girl to ‘Go on, let them in.’

The earlier description of the Knight of St Mary’s as a generous man had helped him ease into the man’s presence.

  1. # #

Sir Daía was a very respectable man. He was the most eminent man in and around Nānti. He presided over the town meetings. His hair had greyed and he had an unmistakeable air of grandeur about him.

When they stepped through the doorway into the living room, Zach glanced around the framed photos-decorated walls. From the photos, Zach deduced that the Daía family was indeed a high-ranking one. There were photos that had good-looking youths dressed in graduation gowns among those of grandchildren.

The living room itself was very large with the notorious colour television and very large sofas that could pass as beds. Instantly, the hunter’s attention was taken away by the television in which a Sunday evening drama was showing. He was giggling from ear to ear at the ‘gentlemen’ behind the television screen. From time to time, he would straighten his coat and adjust it on his body before returning to the show that was muted though.

The two bowed to him and Zach politely made his request known after being told to sit. But as was usual with the Knight, he only listened to your request after you had listened to his monologue.

‘Taro, bring something for these gentleman.’ The mention of gentleman had the hunter’s head turning and his face curving into a smile. A plate of rice appeared in a few minutes and Zach swallowed the very oily food and was well able to listen to the knight.

‘What place did you say you are from?’ Sir Daía asked Zach. He had recognized the hunter though not after a re-introduction and an interview. He seemed to be taken by the stranger. This interest in Zach grew with each question asked and answered and with each dumbmove, head-nodding and smile.

Zach told him. He was impressed. He commented on the state of the nation before moving to that of the world. ‘You’ve heard of the Princess, haven’t you, young sir?’

He meant Princess Diana of Wales. Zach nodded. At the time, the whole world was rocking to the much-sensationalized news of the break-up of the royal marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales, which climaxed in an eventual divorce on the 28th of August ’96.

‘Pathetic, these young people. What do they know about life? She seems to me a very sensitive woman who is paying the price of her naivety. The price for the life promised was beyond what she could afford.’ He shook his head thoughtfully. ‘By playing the victim though, she has managed to win public sympathy. They love her to death though they hate to see her go.’ From there, he slipped into a more thoughtful mode and thence began the monologue.

‘Youth and naivety are like the barber and his mirror. Youth is an illusion. You don’t change what is in front of the mirror by changing what is in the mirror, it’s always the other way round. That is the trick of youth. One must be as old as I am to see reality as it is and perhaps even older to speak for it. When you are still young, you want to change the world—if you can and if you consider yourself among the Goethes of this world, those who are born to greatness. You lift weights; you get thick muscles. You go to war with reality, with yourself, with the world—with everything. The pride of youth lies in this sentimental self-indulgence, this blindness to reality, this dreaminess that sometimes takes itself with too much seriousness than is healthy—and insists that others do the same. That’s why they are throwing about these modern and lofty ideas. That’s why they are changing everything, throwing about high-sounding but empty terms. They even confuse truthfulness with grandiosity. It’s worthless! Mind you, young sir, I’m not a pessimist. I am an old man and if you grow to my age, you will find it all worthless, every bit of it. Forgive my grandiosity, but I believe that old age is a condition for recognizing reality. And one must have a sense of history to be able to recognise oneself, and reality. One must know how to wait—even if not to old age but at least one must learn to wait. One ought not find oneself or what one is looking for too quickly. But the pride of youth is to confuse itself and mistake its lack for its possession. The pride of youth scorns history, it spits at history books is in a haste to reach the future. They reach it too soon though and one should not find what one is looking for too soon. One must wait.

‘I lived my youth in a different time, but very much like the present. It was a time of transition, historical transition. Mankind was called upon to embrace more high-sounding ideas and ‘visions’ of the world. There was this belief in the essential goodness of man. This belief was all too sentimental and out of it flowed a lot of bizarre ideas. And believe you me, we are at the edge of such paradises. People will troop into this unfinished paradise. People like me who want to wait will be left behind. It’s already started.

‘But such a world had no place in it for me—for people like me. I had my own dreams and hopes. But I’m a man of modest desires. Mind you. It is good to be very modest with your desires. Be careful what you ask for in life. One must be of modest desires to live long.’

Zach wanted to interrupt with: ‘But some people manage to change the world, on some levels.’

The man was almost at it. ‘Young sir, but if you want to change the world, then you must despise old age. You must refuse to wait. I am certain that if the Lord Himself had lived up to my age, he would have recanted. Life has a way of blanching the hairs on the head of those who wait. But every waiting is rewarded—at least one is left with a head. Mind you, this is my theory. It’s nothing universal though it may one day be.’

Zach laughed heartily.

‘You see. The doctors have not told me but I know my heart is a bad one already. I won’t be here for long. It will fail me at any time.’ He took the last sentence in a whisper. His wife would not take that from him. ‘But I am consoled. I mean, is it not immoral to want to live forever? When a man lives to my age, he should be grateful. I have lived through two generations, seventy-one years. Why should I ask for more? You must forgive me for my faithlessness—that is what my wife calls it. But if you were my age, I doubt if you would have any better idea.’

‘What does it feel being close to the line? Do you think your waiting was rewarded?’ Zach asked.

The man seemed to love the question because he smiled at it and answered with a jolt, ‘O’course it was, young sir. At least I had more to offer to my own children than all the dreams of my youth that betrayed me. They are my reward, my posterity. They are my conquest of the future, through them; I will be here a bit longer than I will actually be here.’

Zach was impressed. He had reasons to be. Sir Daía had raised his five children to prominent places in the society, places he never attained for himself. He prided himself in them. His pride was not just in them but in the fact that he had raised them from the position of a railway captain that he had maintained for almost three decades. A lot more of his generation had better opportunities but they hardly had his vision. They spent the better part of their lives chasing the ‘illusions of youth’, as the man would call them. For some of them, it was the high-sounding ideas of the age, others it was women and wine, and the rest just died. They refused to wait.

‘When you are young,’ he would say, ‘you take your strength for granted, you’ll mistake your intelligence for genius. If you are a beautiful woman, you will want the world to bow at your feet. The world has a way of feeding off this self-absorption. Promises will be made that will blind your eyes to reality. People will prophesy to you and say things that will fuel your pride in order to make gains. The world will pretend to bow at your feet and take you for the genius you style yourself. If you are lucky, your name may even enter the books of those that are the ‘great’ and ‘eminent’. But it will be at a price and if you live a bit longer, you will realize that there is reward in waiting.’

‘Mind you, young sir,’ the knight had told Zach. ‘You must wait. You must be modest with your desires.’

The man ended. And Zach saw from his face that he loved talking and giving monologues. But he could hardly imagine such a monologue in the ear of one of the natives of the town.

However, he needn’t bother his imagination for the eminent knight had a monologue that suited everyone.

Zach made his own request known and the knight, always full of favours obliged him. He climbed the stairs, returned and announced: ‘I have registered your name with the mayor. You can go see him anytime.’

Zach was grateful but the pleasure was the knight’s. He was modest with every other thing apart from his words and his desire to help others.

  1. # #

Outside, they had a debate whether to go see the mayor at once. Or wait till tomorrow.

‘Today is a Sunday,’ the hunter had advised. ‘I doubt if it is appropriate.’

Zach was not listening. He rather had the hunter lead the way. It was threatening to rain but Zach was ready to swim to those tall gate lamps. And back.

He was hopeful of another meal.

Chapter Seventeen: The Mayor of Nānti

Zach and the hunter arrived the mayor’s place. Without any hesitations, he hit the bell hard and long as if in a rage. In a moment, a boy came trotting to it.

The boy opened the smaller leaf of the gate and looked on. ‘Zachariah, the mayor is expecting me. Here on behalf of Sir Daía.’

The hunter smiled at that. Zach had rehearsed that in his mind on his way. He was not ready to risk anything with the goblin Hééb. He was going to put it to him.

The boy nodded like a lizard and disappeared. A minute later, he was pulling the gates apart.

The gates opened into what was a colossal mansion with a very large front yard. The two-storey building had verandas on both floors. Under the veranda of the ground floor, a black jeep was parked. In ’96, jeeps were a rare sight in and around Nānti. The people had names for it that described the mystique it held for their eyes. One of such was ‘the one that stands while greeting a king’. They took the sight of the jeep as a good omen. ‘Someone will rub my back today,’ they would say. The children invented many legends about it as well as dreams of how they were going to ‘own one, this exact brand, when I grow up’.

Zach hadn’t seen much of jeeps though he could not say he saw a good number of them where he came from. Regardless, it held mystique for him as well. It was a symbol of abundant wealth. Mercedes 300, and Volvo Compressors were for the ‘rich’ while jeeps, sport cars with convertible roofs were for the ‘wealthy’.

What was inside the house was by far majestic. The National colour television was larger than Sir Daía’s own. It even had more knobs than the knight’s. The drapes alone reminded Zach that he was from a very poor family. The sofas were made of leather and each step in the carpet made him want to exchange it for his bed at the shack.

The boy led them up the stairs and into another living room on the top floor of the mansion. They halted at the door of the staircase as the boy had them excuse him. In a while, he was back and motioned them to go in.

The family were preparing for a meal. It was about seven o’clock when they arrived. The dining table was very long and the see-through glass plates on the table, some decorated in flowery designs, added to the deliciousness of the food to the eyes. The aroma was even far more threatening to his composure. Inside him, Zach prayed very hard that he would be invited to join.

They sat at one of the sofas, minding themselves as much as they could in case their dirty clothes soiled the sofas. Zach allowed his eyes to travel the living room. The framed photos suggested an even far more prestigious family that the knight’s. His eyes caught one laid on the floor beside the cupboard that held another colour television. It had a very plum and cheerful-looking woman in it. underneath her was written: 1944-1986. One of them had a photo of a face that was vaguely familiar.

He jerked when a door opened and a hefty man walked out of it and onto the dining table. It was the man he had seen at the health centre. It was him. It was! He felt he had also seen him elsewhere.

‘Mr Zachariah, is it?’

Zach stood and bowed. ‘Yes sir.’

‘You came at an opportune moment so if you do not mind to join me at table.’ Zach almost pumped his fists as if he had scored a late-minute goal in a soccer match. Almost. He held himself together, joined up with the man at the dining, and waited for him to be told to sit.

The hunter tagged along, hiding himself behind Zach.

They sat beside each other and waited for the man to begin. And while they waited, Zach observed the man trying as hard as he could not to stare. The man indeed hid behind his eyes a sorrow, one that his wealth and culture could not redeem him from. It was as the hunter had told him. The man had lost a good amount of weight. Zach imagined him on a very good day. His sight alone would have intimidated him out of his wits.

His observations were interrupted by the strong smell of perfume coming from the same door as had the mayor. It lingered for a while and was followed by the most beautiful woman he had seen in a very long time. It was the same young lady he had seen at the health centre, except that now, she wasn’t dabbing away tears off her face. The face hid the same thing as her father’s except that it seemed to make her more beautiful.

There was something like poetry in that face, something that only appeared in portraits. It was like a flash of light…, as if the owner had been taken out of a poem, a fantasy world.

‘How in the world did Silas get with this goddess?’

The lady was dressed in a long white gown that she carried in one hand and a cell phone in another. She greeted them, though she was not comfortable seeing them. She sat opposite her father and placed her phone on the table beside her. Zach took notice that she did not look pregnant.

Zach’s feet were wobbling under him. He was not sure he could chew on anything in the presence of those two creatures.

The man looked absent-minded as he said grace over the food. ‘Call that boy, let him serve them.’

The boy was called by the lady and he thundered in and filled the two visitors plates in an instant from the stainless steel bowels and glasswares of food on the table.

The eating began for him and just as it did, the same door opened and Hééb walked in. He gave Zach a devilish stare, which Zach returned with a smile. The smile was as threatening as the man’s presence but seeing the mayor’s daughter staring suspiciously at him, he switched back to a professional visage.

‘Sir,’ he said to the mayor. ‘Wanted to know if you need anything.’

The mayor didn’t. ‘I’ll be fine Hééb. Go home to your mother. Take a week or two off.’

‘But sir…’

‘You don’t have anything I need now!’ Tempers were rising, someone was in a bad mood trying as hard as possible not to let it show in front of strangers.

Zach noticed that the mayor was picking his food. His daughter was staring at him with concern in her eyes. ‘Father, you are picking your food.’

The man waved it off. ‘Don’t mind me,’ he said turning away to Zach. ‘What would that great gentleman have me do for you?’

‘Not exactly. I…’ Zach paused realizing the awkwardness of his mission to the present occasion. But it was its seriousness that had earned him the chance.

There was a lot of stammering as the words came out of his mouth. ‘I came on behalf of Silas…’

When it did, it felt like the Fat Man over Hiroshima. There was silence. Even the hunter was taken by the awkwardness of what he’d just heard. Behind the door from where he had first come from, Hééb frowned and cursed under his breath.

The young lady seemed so much interested in what Zach had to say that she asked, breaking the silence: ‘What about him? How is he doing? What did he say? How is his mother?’ There was a flicker of light in her face.

‘He’s very fine. As is his mother. We thank God. Sir, I have been in town since Wednesday. The boy is truly sorry for the shame he’s brought on your family and the pain…’

‘Shame? Pain?’ the mayor now gave him his full attention. ‘Mr.?

‘Zachariah…’

‘I just realized that that boy may have saved my life. Yes he has. It is my family that ought to be grateful to him. Let him know that I am sorry for how I treated him. While you are in town, feel free to visit whenever you can.’ The mayor said, stood and left.

Zach was stunned as was the hunter and the lady. It all showed in their faces. The man almost bumped into Hééb who had been eavesdropping from the other side of the door as he made his way out of the dining section of the living room.

The lady followed after him holding up her gown with her.

Zach looked at the hunter who raised his eyebrows as if to say: ‘There you go again chief’.

After them, Hééb appeared. He had some corrections to make.

‘Mr Zachariah, I would inform you that my boss has been making incoherent statements recently. Not incoherent per se but more like a words coming out of a delirium. Out of respect for what he is to me, I will not describe it as a state of mind demanding psychiatric attention. But I suppose my boss has been grieved beyond measure that he has begun to accept it all as his inescapable fate…’

‘What are you saying?’ Zach was apt to interrupt.

‘What I mean is that I would not take those words too serious if I were you. I cannot guarantee you that he will even recognize you the next time he sees you.’

‘Oh, but I am not you Mr Hééb’. Zach made the sarcasm sting with a chuckle. The hunter sniggered behind him.

‘Who do you even think you are to come into this town and…?’ his voice was hard and menacing but muffled under his breath. ‘You think you know anything about that boy? You think you can…’

The mayor’s daughter walked in. She was smiling. Hééb bowed to her and left. ‘You’ve made my father’s day, Mr?’

‘Zachariah.’

‘Thanks for taking the pains. It is appreciated. Thanks again and do enjoy yourself.’

‘May I use the telephone?’

‘Oh you can use this.’ She said and gave him her cell phone. ‘For as long as you wish sir.’ She left still carrying her gown.

Zach and the hunter took turns looking at the phone. ‘The world is really coming to an end. No more wires and telegraph poles. It’s like a tiny television. Phew! I will get my boy one of these when he grows up.’

Zach had made the request in the heat of the excitement for he needed to make a call home and hear the voice of his wife and father. He had good news and was excited to tell it.

He dialled the home number. It rang and rang and rang and he dialled and dialled but no one took the call.

As the two of them made their way out of the mansion after haven stuffed their bellies and their pockets with pieces of meat at their disposal, there were mixed feelings with Zach about the meeting. The mayor, his daughter and Hééb and his disappointment at his call not being taken all made him feel sombre about the meeting. That aside, the puzzle was becoming clearer.

He managed to drag his bodied weighted by a heavy belly to the shack. On his arrival, he was taken by its wretchedness in a stark contrast to the mansion where he had just had one of his best meals in a very long time. It now looked dirty for what it really was.

The firepot was lit and Zach feel into a heavy sleep, the kind that is the cousin of death and of those who had overeaten.

Chapter Eighteen: The Princess Of Nānti

Zach’s sleep was without the nightmares. He had a different nightmare—rats. His pockets were filled with bits of chicken that he had saved from the mayor’s table, which had been theirs the evening before. He woke up to the noise of the rats halfway into his sleep. They seemed to be begging for some. Zach was not ready to give. He was too anxious for tomorrow to share with them. They could have been twenty of them but he was his sleep was too heavy in his eyes for him to let them keep him from it. Therefore, he zipped his coat and laid on it, with his back facing the ceiling. It seemed to solve the rat problem for he woke the next day without any incidents. Into the night, rains came and drowned the noise of their scampering. He woke to the full dawn fully relieved from his weakness.

He had another problem: there was a need for a toilet. He needn’t ask anyone for there was none to ask. He hastened into the bush and finding a convenient place, he scratched the earth and helped himself. When he was done, he turned to the stream. He washed and ate his breakfast of squashed chicken. It was squashed but it was chicken and chicken on Monday mornings was luxury—whether squashed or not. Chicken was a Sunday thing back home. Between Monday and Saturday, it was fish all the way.

As to water, Zach had to make do as well. He found a fissure in the stream that held sparkling water and helped himself. He had found the fissure the first day he took his bath in the stream when it was time to wash his mouth. He would bend, scoop the water into his mouth, using a finger he would rub it against his teeth, on his tongue, on the gums and on the roof of his mouth. It worked. He did not have a persistent bad breath and no one asking for a kiss. No stressing.

He returned to the batcher house to kick in and reflect on the puzzle in which he was now caught in as a piece.

  1. # #

He arrived the shack to find someone waiting for him—the mayor’s daughter. The light in her face was purer and she wore make up. Zach was embarrassed at her sight. She was a stark contrast to the shack in the background. As if that was far from enough, she walked in after him and sat on the cement blocks gathering herself in the most lady-like manner Zach had ever seen.

Zach kept glancing around the shack and at his coat. When they started talking, he tried not to open his mouth too wide. There were his beards and his hair, which were tattered and scratchy. He could be looking terrible. He had his own insecurities, which were accentuated in the presence of a real beauty.

But the lady did not share in his embarrassment. She had other things on her mind. More pertinent things.

‘We could take a walk,’ Zach suggested. ‘Actually, I am homing here for the mean time….’

‘Don’t be embarrassed.’ She said. ‘Forget it. You see, Mr Zachariah, we have never always be rich. People seem to forget that too quickly. The stories have been drowned in fairy tales. You see, Mr Zachariah, my world has its own demons. When I say that to people, they accuse me of being ungrateful. Sometimes I want to get away.’

She paused, sighed as her talk took a beat. ‘He was a good man. It was our first time. It was intense, I thought I would die. You could see that he wanted to give all of himself. I think of it as my way of paying him back.’

Zach tried not to meet her eyes. But it was written all over her. That boy had made a great impression on her.

‘My father is consoled by the child. He now talks about it in a positive way…. How is he?’

‘Oh,’ Zach had been distracted by a thought. ‘He is fine. But he is in grief.’

‘His mother, how is she? He used to tell me of her. She has suffered and he wanted to bring her some comfort. She was the only one he had.’

‘She is fine as well. However, she seems to be in greater grief than Silas. She blames herself for it all.’

The lady’s face dropped.

Zach wanted to know more about the boy and how he had got to her. ‘Tell me about him.’

‘Silas is one of those few men who could feel other people’s pain as deeply as they and in my own case, far more deeply.’

‘Your own case?’

‘He came to town just when my brother had just died. It was even worse considering the circumstances surrounding his death. You know as it goes with those whose humanity are threatened by the prosperity of the rich. It was more than news to them, they loved it. Some people believed that God was judging our family. Words were thrown around town. There were those that gave heartfelt sympathy though. But Silas was determined to bring real comfort to my family. You know that instinct that wants to save people. He had a hard time with that monster called Hééb. But he preserved and prevailed. I remembered the Sunday evening he came up to my father and offered to pray with him. My father was moved. He is not a man that shows his emotions. He thinks it womanly to do so. He was more than moved, he was transformed by that gesture. He made him a part of the family. That was how we got with each other.’

‘I’m sorry for your brother. How did he die?’

There was a long moment of silence that passed between them. Zach began to think that he had asked the wrong question. Just as he was about to take it back, the answer came.

‘You have heard things, I believe.’

‘Yes I have.’

‘My brother knew a fate awaited him. He kept having obscure visions. He would be heard talking to himself. They had to bring him home from the university because his roommates were sure he was mad. He would wake up at night screaming ‘shut up!’ and other things. They were certain he was mental. But my brother knew that he was not mad. He was at war with someone. They took him to psychiatrists in the United Kingdom. They were sure he was quite normal and that his visions were hallucinations that would pass with age. Some said he had an artist’s imagination. Told him to relieve his active imagination with painting or writing. They gave him drugs and medication and brought him back home. When he came back, the hallucinations returned. In time, everybody agreed that he was mad. My brother was certain that he was not mad but the more he protested, the more they took him for mad. I believe he was not mad. He kept speaking of powers that were trying to control him.

‘He was at war with fate, he had told me. I was the only one who listened. He wanted to live. At least, he believed he could make his own way in life.’

‘At war with whom?’

‘He couldn’t say. He did not even know. It was vague. It played out like a drama. It was his fate, one he had not chosen for himself. He was refusing it. He wanted to take his own path. It was worsened by the fact that my brother was very strong-willed. He did not believe in God. He did not believe in fate, or that one’s path should be chosen by another. He was offended by the idea that one’s fate should be decided by another person, even if that person be god. The experience strengthened this belief of his. It even radicalized it. He was a kid, my father would say. One day he would grow and learn that there was another co-ordinate in life other than the x-y-z, one that is inescapable. It was a favourite expression of my dad’s at the time. But as he grew, so did this conviction grow.’

‘Do you believe in fate?’

‘How do you explain the life I have and the one the boy (Pûjó) has? What makes me better than he?’

There was silence as the girl surveyed the shack one more time.

‘But my brother would take his belief to a conclusion. He’d rather take it back.’

‘What do you mean by that?’

Tears began to drip from the girl’s eyes. She seemed to be holding a flood of them back. ‘He took his own life.’

Things were becoming clearer to Zach but he was not sure how grief much he wanted to extract from this beautiful lady in a bid to piece them all together. But she was ready and eager to tell her story.

‘One evening after an argument with my father, he called me to his room.’ She was crying now. ‘He rambled for a while and told me to take care of my father and his twin brother. He said I should not let anybody know. I pressed to know what he was demanding of me. But he kept saying that I would know when it all happened. I thought he was in a delirium as he always was. He was not one to give up on a fight. He never did. When we were kids living with parents who were trying to make something of their lives, he would get in and out of fights with fellow school kids and neighbours. He would not play the victim to anyone. He would put it to you and fight it out. He had too much passion for life about him. He kept saying that he loved life.’

Zach took note of that as he had taken note of the ‘shut up!’

‘It never occurred to me that he was going to take his own life instead of give it to another person. The next morning, I went to his room and he was hanging from the ceiling fan. I was taken by the grief but I remembered in that moment that he had told me not to let anybody know. I tied him down and laid him on his bed. I then went out and reported his death.’

Zach was amazed.

‘My brother never gave up on a fight. But this was too much for him. He could have done it long ago. But he knew the scandal would destroy our family. Here suicide is an abomination. People that take their lives around are not given the normal burial rites. Even requiems are hardly said for them. They are just placed in the earth and no one mourns them. So he slipped away quietly and proudly.’

She was now standing, dabbing at the tears that now covered her face that had reddened. In a short while, she gathered herself together and sat back down. There was more.

‘His twin brother fell ill that morning. Until today, he has not been diagnosed. There is no explanation for his condition. He’s been taken to all hospitals around the world…. But he’s lying half-dead, half-alive in the health centre.’

Zach adjusted himself on the boy’s bed where he had folded himself. It was that other boy with a death face who had shared the wardroom with Pûjó.

‘He does not have the will to fight. He is the gentlest thing I have seen in my life. He wouldn’t hurt a fly, not one that tried to bite him. But his submission has not helped either.’

‘To whom?’

‘To his own fate. There is no other explanation for it. Not one that we know.’

‘Your father? Is he…’ Zach hesitated, ‘I mean, the situation, has it affected his mind? I mean, on a critical level.’

‘You want to ask if he is mad?’

‘Not that but something like that.’

‘What do you expect of a man who has lost everything that he once held dear to heart? He may be close to it, undoubtedly. But he still has his mind with him. His valet wants him and every other person to accept that his mad and that he can no longer make sound judgements. That is the only way he can control the man.’

‘What does he stand to gain?’

‘Everything. Everything. With my only brother certain to be gone, he would share in the holdings of his master. If he can get the man to accept that he is mad, he can trick him into making a bad decision. After all, he was the one that chased Silas away.’

‘Your other brother could be saved. Does he believe in God?’

‘He does, in a charming way too. My father and I, we all do. But I doubt if that will help much now.’

‘Why not?’

‘We have prayed. Masses have been said. Silas stayed up many nights praying and reading scriptures. He would read the story of Lazarus to me any time he got the chance. My father is now the angrier at everyone, including God. You wouldn’t blame him. He is frustrated. Hééb seems to have his own plans.’

‘Like?’

‘I wouldn’t know.’

‘Who else knows about your other brother?’

‘Silas…and my dad. I have not heard him say it. But I know that he knows. He loved that boy. He looked upon him as his true heir. And now he is certain to lose his only son.’ She broke off and Zach took over.

‘I would go to the health centre from here. I might be able to help in some ways. But you need to save your father.’

‘How?’

‘Reassure him. Comfort him.’

‘With what do I comfort him?’

‘Talk to him of the child as often as you can. Just anything. I would pay him another visit.’

‘Thank you. My name is Kuniā. Christened Joyce. It means ‘princess’. This is a great town. The love their princess to death and they have forgiven her.’

With that, she stood and Zach walked her onto the road where a Volvo car was waiting with a driver.

In the distance, a group of children stood watching the car.

As he watched the car drive away and the children begin to chase after it, he thought he should have asked her whether she believed in the story of Lazarus.

He wondered if she did.

Chapter Nineteen: Why Is A Raven Like a Writing Desk?

When the hunter in a drunken frenzy, had gone about town talking of the man that had identified him as a gentleman, a twenty-eight year old man was hooked. It was as if he needed the same man to identify him as a ‘gentleman.’ His name was Alright.

The man they called ‘Alright’ was a failed attempt at bleaching one’s skin from chocolate to fair. His face was marked with red patches of irregular shapes mixed with thick black pockmarks. The bleaching had turned him pink with a lot of thick black pockmarks than it had made him fair. He was despised for this one thing. The children called him ‘Paintbucket’ or ‘Michael Jackson’. Realizing his failure, he began wearing long sleeve dresses. With his curled hair, he could have passed as a Dutch if the bleaching had worked on him well.

He had an undergraduate degree in sociology and taught in a secondary school in Noiā. Since it was the long vacation for teachers and students, he was holidaying in Nānti with his elder sister and her family. He was a native and they knew him very well. They despised him for haven tried to change his skin colour. It was betrayal to them—whatever he sought to prove by that.

The children of Nānti had a different opinion about him. They had reasons to do so for Alright was a very intelligent young man. His abilities at imparting his knowledge was even greater than his knowledge. Now he was organizing holiday lessons for the school kids. Their parents had been reluctant at first but with news of his teaching abilities, he had managed to win them over. They had even begun to forgive him though they still called him names.

He would give out storybooks to his students and they would read and pass around among themselves. He had given them Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Roald Dahl’s Danny, the Champion of the World, C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe—and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. He had also managed a children’s edition of The Pilgrim’s Progress. But the one that had held their interest at the time was Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland.

The discussions they held about the characters and their analyses of the stories were not unlike the ones they had on a normal day. For instance, they would delve into arguments about airplanes when one flew overhead. A group would be of the opinion that ‘there are invisible tarred roads for those airplanes high up in the air. Just because you can’t see it does not mean they are not there.’ The other group would argue that there was none. They would argue about the roundness/flatness of the earth. Every one of them seemed to agree that the earth was flat because it indeed looked flat.

There was no doubt that they really wanted to know the world.

All arguments were always resolved in Alright’s class. He was their conscience when it came to intellectual matters. What he said stood.

Now, he too was regretting why he had given out his Alice’s Adventures for the children were bothering him with the meaning of the riddle: Why is a raven like a writing desk?

The intelligent man had judged that his credibility and popularity among them would certainly reduce if he told them anything but the answer. Even Paintbucket was not allowed to not say: ‘I don’t know’. He also could not ask for more time. They had put him on that pedestal and to save himself and them, he had told them: ‘The person to find the answer gets a gift from me.’

‘What gift?’

‘Another book. The sequel actually, Through the Looking Glass.

That had put the school kids that attended his holiday lessons on their toes. It did not seem as if they were ready to give up even when their answer: ‘It has two legs’ was rejected by Alright. ‘It couldn’t be the answer. Our writing desk has four legs. I suppose none of you have seen a raven before. You don’t expect to just get my book for that.’

That Monday, as they returned from the lessons, which lasted till eleven and sometimes noon, they were at it again.

  1. # #

The band of eight boys from Alright’s lessons that had tried to chase the navy blue Volvo car, returned to the same spot, their attention switching from the car to the shack.

They stood at the junction where the road cut into the footpath that led to the vegetable boy’s shack. They were shocked, angry and curios at the fact that the vegetable was getting a visitor like the mayor’s daughter. They stood and looked on in silence. Their leader, a haughty boy with black-rimmed spectacles, shared in their perplexity not knowing whether to lead them to the shack or away from it.

It was not certain what held their attention, whether the shack or the fact that the vegetable had visitors who drove Volvo cars.

As they stood there and watched, Zach returned carrying his coat. He was on his way to the health centre to see the boy. Zach stopped in his tracks. The boys had cleared it. They seemed to regard him with some respect.

He stood there for a minute longer regarding them as they regarded him—both parties in silence. The leader of the pack wanted to say something but with each try, the words would drop off at the tip of his tongue and he would put it back. The rest did not have any ideas.

Zach took a step forward and into the path they’d made for him, still wondering what it was they were thinking as they stood there watching him. They held their eyes on him as he hit the road and went off.

  1. # #

‘We didn’t know Pûjó had a brother.’

‘Shut up. It’s not his brother.’

‘How do you know it’s not his brother?’

‘Pûjó can’t ever have a brother. He’s a vegetable.’

‘Then what was that man doing in his house?’

‘And the mayor’s daughter?’

‘Did you see his beards?’

‘Maybe they are sleeping together.’

‘How is anyone of us supposed to know?’

In time, the discussion slipped back to the raven.

‘I told my dad last night and he told me that the writing desks they use in London has two legs.’

‘How does he know, has he gone to London before?’

‘In his dreams?’

‘On his motorcycle?’

‘What about your own dad, does he even know what a writing desk is?’

‘Forget it, I made up some riddles. Let’s play riddles in the dark. It’s day though. What has legs but cannot walk?’

‘A table.’

‘A chair.’

‘A lame person.’

‘Alright, alright. All correct.’

‘Give us something harder…’

‘What has eyes but cannot see?’

‘A blind person, of course.’

‘That’s lame.’

‘You’re lame.’

‘No, no, a needle.’

‘A person from Moscow is called a…’

‘Mosquito…’

Laughter.

‘Muscovite.’

‘What is to the face what the scabbard is to the sword?’

‘Cap.’

‘No. Mask.’

‘When I’m young, I walk with four legs. When I grow a bit older, I walk with two legs and when I grow very old, I walk with three. What am I?’

‘Even Bilbo couldn’t get that one.’

‘A human being.’

‘Why is it so? I’ve never seen a human being walking on three legs.’

‘As a child, you crawl on all fours. When you grow older, you walk with your two legs and when you get very old, you need a walking stick.’

‘Not every old person in our town walks with a stick.’

‘But your grandmother does.’

‘Whatever.’

‘A thief in your house is worth two in…’

‘A prison?’

‘No. The Cross of Calvary. Jesus was crucified between two thieves.’

‘But there are still thieves in prisons though.’

‘That’s not the point.’

‘A riddle can have more than one answer.’

‘Go tell that to Sméagol.’

‘Ponds and ducks, ducks and tails, tails and…?’

‘That’s easy. There are a thousand ducks in our town. The answer is feathers o’course.’

‘I have one eye. I weep at night. Where I am, you cannot write. What am I?’

‘I don’t know anyone one-eyed person in our town.’

‘Candle, you fool.’

‘I am three persons in one and one in three. What am I?’

‘Trinity!’

‘No. Egg! The shell, the yolk and the abdomen!’

Loud laughter.

‘Idiot, it is albumen.’

‘Never mind, that was a slip of the tongue.’

‘Trinity is also correct.’

‘Correct your head.’

‘The head is also correct. The scalp, the skull and the brain.’

‘Coconut is also correct. The husk, the shell, and the nut.’

‘I live in water but I am not a fish. What am I?’

‘Whale. The whale is not a fish but it leaves in water.’

‘By fish, I meant everything that lives in water.’

‘That’s absurd. That is not a true riddle.’

‘A foetus.’

‘Oh, you said it.’

‘I am not a woman. I am a tree but I have breasts. What am I?’

‘There are no such trees.’

‘Coconut.’

‘Yeah, you got it.’

‘When you touch me, I fall. When the sun touches me, I rise.’

‘Let’s play another game.’

‘Is that your answer?’

‘I’m home. What does it matter?’

‘Mimosa.’

In all this, the leader of the pack, that bespectacled haughty boy was quiet as they walked, though he tried not to show his pensiveness. He seemed to want to get away from those other boy to a place where he could garner his thoughts to himself and make something of them. He still had the Volvo car, that other bearded man, the mayor’s daughter and the vegetable boy on his mind. They had given him another mystery to solve in addition to Lewis Carroll’s riddle.

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Chapter Twenty: On the Veranda

Zach arrived the health centre not only full of wonder at the riddle, which was by far harder than Dodgson’s but anxious at the fact that he had a place in it.

He was met by the other stout and fat nurse at the reception. This time, she was silent, pouring her spite and hostility into a long and deep sneer. Zach did not bother checking himself with her. He just walked past her and headed to the ward. The boy was not there.

Now he had questions. When had he left? Or rather, who had taken him away?

He returned to the reception. The stout nurse still had her sneer on so he could not approach her with his questions. He took one of the benches and pretended to be waiting for someone. His relief came a few minutes later when the smiley nurse, the one at the Holiness Church walked in. She had a smile for him.

‘What do you mean you can’t find the boy?’ was her own question.

With that, they both headed to the wardroom. As if to see with her own eyes, the half-dead boy was not there.

‘Mr.?’

‘Zachariah.’

‘I wouldn’t say he is my responsibility. But it’s all the better for me that he is gone wherever. Why do you want to see him?’

‘His sister, she directed I do.’

She nodded. ‘I’m sorry Mr Zachariah. I suppose you wouldn’t be seeing him. But if I may ask, why do you want to see him?’ She asked as if she had not heard him the first time.

He answered her who instead of the why.

‘I think I could help.’

She smiled. ‘You have a reputation already—of ‘helping’. If I were you, I’d stay away or keep at a distance. It’s a whole different world here. If you will excuse me, I have a patient to attend to.’

Zach stood there. He wanted to tell her that it was the ‘world out here’ that was drawing him into its business not the other way.

He had come so far.

  1. # #

Zach then turned towards the mayor’s place. Maybe they had taken the boy home after all. But it was all absurd that they would do so, not after they had disposed him. Flashes of Hééb and his face as he gave his the advice about not taking the mayor’s words came to his mind’s eyes in quick swish pans. Then came those of the boys he’d seen on his way. Then was the face of Kuniā as she told her story. Pûjó’s face was by now, seared into his mind, as had the framed photo of Mother and Child. Truth Is Life, the tormented boy screaming ‘shut up!’ the Reverend screaming judgement, the nurse hiding a potent anguish behind her smiles,… they all bumped across his mind. Following them from behind was the story of Lazarus. He had a mental photo of it as told by the many children’s bible he was raised with as a preacher’s kid. He could see Lazarus wrapped in ribbon-size roles of white cloth. He could see the stone tomb behind him and he could see Jesus’ weeping.

In time, he arrived at the mayor’s house and the boy from yesterday received him. Now he needed no introduction for the boy even bowed before him. He was led up to the living room where he waited for fifteen minutes before Kuniā came down to meet him.

She was distraught at the news and showed it. ‘What could have happened to him? Where could he have gone? Could he have killed himself? No, he wouldn’t. Is it that he has found his healing? What is happening?’

The thought of it being his healing was more comforting and so she held to it. ‘Pray it be.’

But Zach did not think so. ‘I think someone took him away from the hospital.’ He announced. The thought had come to him in a flash. ‘The boy certainly could not have left on his own. Somebody must have taken him away.’

‘Who could that be?’

Zach had no idea. The lady was now pacing in front of him.

‘Hééb! But what will he be doing with that thing? You know, I still have nightmares about that face.’ It was the nightmares that had led her to Silas. She had slipped into the room they had given him one night on the trail of the nightmare. He had tried comforting her and….

‘Who? Who?’

Zach had no idea.

‘Don’t you think it could be God answering our prayers? You know, last night when I came home, I read the story of Lazarus again. And I prayed to God for my brother like Mary and Martha did for Lazarus. I fell into despair afterwards. I don’t know. Maybe God never answers the prayers of people like us.’

‘We must wait. Do you think there is anyone who will have anything to gain from the boy’s demise?’

‘I don’t know. We all would rather be happy. Mr Zachariah, do you believe in the story of Lazarus?’

‘I do.’

She stood and looked at him. Zach saw that she was hopeful that God had answered her prayers. ‘If God could make my father change his mind about Silas…, I believe.’

  1. # #

Zach returned to the shack hopeful that he was not mistaken with his idea. No, it could not have been any other thing. Someone had taken that boy away. He could not allow Kuniā to have false hopes. It would be more devastating if she were betrayed by those hopes than by reality.

He was certain that it was Hééb. That was his idea of it. He did not have another. He would have to follow it.

  1. # #

Madam Békhtèn had woken that morning cheerful. However, she had fallen into a gloomy state after counting the folds on her stomach. They had not reduced either in size or in number. She had gone to the small room where she had a treadmill and had sweated out her frustration. In time, she forgot all about them and set about her business.

Borûn had come to see her mother. They were both seated in the veranda. She observed her from the corner of her eyes without lifting them from the morning paper in her hand. She was a painful sight to Madam Békhtèn. She was never comfortable around her though she tried not to show it.

‘How are you doing, mother?’

‘Borûn, you’ve asked me this one question four times.’

‘He’s cute.’ Borûn said with a giggle.

Madam Békhtèn snorted. She was wearing a miniskirt. Her unmade hair were tied into a knot. ‘What about your sister?’

‘She insisted that I must pay for my hair. Mother, I need money. Not only for that but….’

‘For what again?’

‘Why are you always getting frustration and angry with me?’ she asked sensing the disapproval in her mother’s voice.

Madam Békhtèn did not want to take that route so she mellowed down. ‘Borûn, I gave you the equivalent of my worker’s monthly wage before I left. If it’s not enough, then it’s not my fault.’

‘But I…. Why do you always like making me the bad egg? If it were Ūö, you’d give her anything she asks without asking questions and without complaining.’

Madam Békhtèn was now back at it. ‘Look at your mouth. How dare you compare yourself to your sister? You ought to be ashamed of yourself.’ With that being said, she stood and stormed out. The girl apparently sensing her mistake fell cold.

The door opened and Ūö stepped in. ‘Borûn, how are you?’

Without answering, she stood too and left.

  1. # #

Ūö was a proud girl and it was her pride that had saved her. It was also her pride that eventually came to betray her.

She was determined to make her own way in life. She had a lofty vision of herself that was largely beyond the life to which she was raised. And a determination to fulfil this vision kept her to herself. Her vision of herself was untouched and untested and as such, she did not understand that it was the condition under which it was packed that made the crayfish to bend. She understood that but not as much as she should.

She measured the other women in her life according to that vision of herself. They had not attained to it. It was a naïve thing but its naivety meant that she begrudged them. It was in a corner in her heart, a very obscure corner that she pronounced her judgment—they had no excuses. There was no pride in allowing oneself to become a victim to one’s circumstances. Peace had fallen into the same predicament as their mother. Borûn’s case was different. She had no excuse. She was a victim of her own lack of self-control. She was not the only girl in the world who had something between her legs. She was going to pay for it.

They had no excuses. If they did, she did not see any.

But she had grown to forgive her mother. She could not tell exactly why but she had forgiven her after all. She could not totally forgive her sisters. She could not see that their mother had contributed in making them into what they’d become. She saw it but she could not accept that as a true excuse—for after all, she too lived under the same influences.

She forgave her mother. In the depths of her soul, she did not forgive her sisters. Though she did not show it and though she tried not to show it, she wanted to get away from them.

She had written the admission exams for the university and was hopeful of beginning her undergraduate studies in the new session, as soon as the holidays were over. Every day she would wait for the postman with his motorbike with her admission letter. She was positive that it would happen and she looked forward to the way the townspeople would speak of it. Her mother would be proud of her, as would her sisters definitely. It would be the beginning of the journey to the fulfilment of that pristine, theoretical self-vision.

On learning that Daniel had graduated from a university, her eagerness to spend time with him received a ‘reason’. They would discuss about the university life. She would ask him questions. He seemed to be a decent young man.

Into this assessment, as naïve as it were, disappeared all her apprehensiveness over the fact that he had followed his mother. For what she could not forgive others, she had forgiven him.

Chapter Twenty-One: The Nurse

That evening, Zach and the hunter left the shack. Zach had asked him questions as regarded what he’d been up to. The hunter had declined telling saying that he was making it a surprise for everybody. ‘Let’s hope it’s a nice surprise’ was Zach’s words to it.

Zach had left Kuniā after haven tried calling home again on her cell phone. It was worse than the first time. It did not even ring this time. The line beeped dead on him. The Operator’s voice told him that he would not be able to complete his call. No further reason was given for that. Now, he had another thing on his mind: his family.

He decided to put them out of his mind or rather at its back. They could surely take care of themselves and in case where they couldn’t, God would.

It was seven o’clock when they left the batcher house. He had the hunter leading him to one person that had been on his mind since he’d returned from seeing Kuniā: the smiley nurse. The hunter did not seem to know much about her except that ‘She is not married.’ They were in the same age grade.

‘Why not?’

‘No one knows. But she is a good woman. Unlike many of our nurses. The people, they love her to death.’

‘How long has she been in town?’

‘Well, she left to study and came back. Left again till the government people posted her to our town.’

‘Do you like her?’

‘I’m married.’ Zach answered figuring out what the man meant by the question.

‘Oh, I did not see that.’

Then Zach realized that he had taken off his wedding ring and had placed it in the breast pocket of his coat. It had happened on instinct. He had no reason for that.

‘How is she?’

  1. # #

Zach proudly told him of Ruth. The hunter wanted to hear more but their journey cut short his curiosity.

There had been concerns whether the nurse would be home before them. Zach was ready to wait into the night. When they knocked on the door of what was a block of single-rooms joined by a narrow corridor, it was opened to them by a girl who looked very much like the nurse, except that she was far younger. From her positioning in the doorway, Zach saw that she was crippled on both legs.

‘We are looking for Nurse Blessing,’ the hunter announced.

The girl shook her head. The other two exchanged glances.

‘She is not back from the hospital?’

The girl nodded her head.

‘Can we wait for her?’

She nodded again, then closed the door and went back inside.

‘That means we are to wait outside,’ the hunter announced.

They found a bench on the veranda and sat out two straight hours in their wait for the nurse.

While the hunter curled onto the bench and slept of, Zach observed the people, mostly returning from a day’s job. He saw the same thing as he had on that bus that ha’d brought him to the town. They were begging to be relieved from the burden of their lives. Families of four, five and six crowed the rooms. It was those kind of houses were people stood in line to take their baths or use the public toilets. In all, they did seem to be contented with they had of their lives. Even if they had any complaints, they had no one to complain to.

The nurse walked in oblivious of them in a way that suggested that she had very little business with her neighbours and kept out of their noses.

Zach waited for a few minutes before he left the hunter still asleep on the desk and returned to the door, which was now opened by the nurse herself.

When she saw him, she tried to appear angry but she was not so good at it.

‘What are you doing here?’ she asked apprehensively. ‘Still poking into other people’s businesses?’

‘No, I came…’

‘No, go away. It’s late.’ She said and let her voice drop into a whisper. ‘You don’t want my neighbours to run into you. You are going to put me in trouble.’

‘They already have. We have been here for almost two hours. Please, I need to speak with you about the boy.’

‘He’s not my business and certainly not yours too! What is wrong with you?’

‘Somebody took him away from the ward.’ Zach said trying not to sound accusative.

Silence fell. There was some movement in the distance. It caught her attention. More from trying not to raise her neighbours to suspicion, she held the door and let him enter.

‘Who gave you that idea?’ she asked as she locked the door behind her.

The room was a tiny room with a bed in the corner that had the crippled girl asleep on it. There were no sofas in the room and the carpet felt very thin under his feet. There was no power for the night and the room was stuffy. Another door opened into a smaller room. She disappeared into that other room and returned with a small stool, which was handed to Zach.

‘You’ve put a lot of people in this town in danger. I am not ready to let you put my name on that list.’

‘It’s not about you.’

‘Are you a cop?’ She was standing by the smaller door with her hands folded across her chest. She was still dressed in her overalls. She had managed to drop off her nurse’s cap, which was in her hand by the time she walked in.

‘I’m not.’ Zach answered and then proceeded to give her a brief summary of what had brought him to Nānti. Mention was made of the nightmares. ‘I’m a piece in the puzzle very much like every other person. I cannot walk away from it, not when something could be done and not when I have come this far.’

Their eyes met in the kerosene-lamp lit room. The nurse then went to the bed and sat on the edge. A minute or two of silence passed by. She cleared her throat in resignation and began: ‘Hééb came and demanded to have the boy on account of the mayor. I refused and told him I had no business with him. I had instructions from the mayor and moreso, I did not feel any good about it. The mayor had handed the boy over to me directly. He pressed me though. The mayor was losing his mind to the grief and could no longer make decisions—.That was the way he styled it. The way he spoke suggested that the mayor was mental already. I did not think having the boy helped much but I could not come to let Hééb take him. And besides, we do not like him. I myself, I personally do not like me. I have heard stories about him. I know how many times he had stopped me from meeting with the mayor when I was having issues with the health centre and was seeking some funding for equipment we needed.

‘I really don’t know what happened.’

‘Did he make threats?’

‘He did not have to. I went back to my patients and by the time I was back, the boy was gone.’

Zach felt relieved. He could not have been any more surprised at his original hypothesis about Hééb being the culprit.

‘Is that your sister?’ He asked in reference to the girl who was lying on the bed, apparently asleep.

The girl woke to that. She hadn’t been sleeping after all. She greeted the nurse with a ‘Sister B’ and addressed her as such as she told her where to find her meal and how her day went. The girl spoke after all. They talked and she returned to her sleeping position.

Zach grabbed at the chance to switch the conversation to something more personal. He had something to say to her.

‘Yes, she is. She’s very shy of people.’ Zach had noticed that.

‘She has reasons to.’

‘Yeah, she does.’

‘I have a friend, and I suppose they are of the same age. He lost his use of his two legs when he was a child. He walks today.’

‘How did it happen? Surgery?’

‘No. They grew back in a space of few days. He had faith.’

She shook her head almost as if to say she did not believe him. ‘Her case is polio. It’s hopeless now. But she loves life and she never ever stops being grateful. Life has been friendly to her on another note: she has a great brain. She wants to be a doctor. Spends the days indoors reading anything she can lay her hands on. But I’m scared of how much of her desire to live will turn to hatred for life when that hope betrays her.’

‘Don’t be a pessimist.’

She chuckled. Now she was massaging her sister’s leg with one hand. ‘You see, I have not told her but she knows already that the world out there has no place in it for her—for people like her. But she believes she can conquer her fate by books. She finds something in them with which she can take into that world. She is not haughty but you can see a good measure of pride in her eyes. She has something to prove. Sometimes, it all seems all too simple and all too easy. But it’s enough for her to try. She should find pride in that. One should not become a pessimist too early. The end may eventually come to justify the means.’

‘But you’ve protected her so far from those realities.’

‘Yeah. I have tried my best. I love my sister to death. She could have been my daughter. She was the reason I became a nurse. You wouldn’t believe that. The more she suffered was the more I wanted to help her and the more I hated myself for not being able to do so.’

‘There was no such persons for the boy, Pûjó. He carried his cross alone.’

‘You have changed things for him, haven’t you?’

Silence.

‘But do you ever feel that one day, it will all fade into some betrayals—and your goodness will mean nothing after all? More than mean nothing, they would be the things that would give weight to her betrayal when it comes. I don’t know, but one should not hope too much.’

There was silence. Zach held his heart to himself. He was sure she was now speaking of herself.

He did not now think it was a good time to talk about what he’d wanted to talk about with her about her marital status and of course the church.

‘I didn’t come for the boy alone.’

‘Yeah, I know you didn’t. I have always known that your instinct to help people would lead you to me. You’ve heard my story, I suppose?’

Zach was silent for a while. ‘I can’t quite say I’ve heard it all.’

‘How much help can you give me now?’

Silence.

‘Do you believe in fate?’

‘Do you believe in the raising of Lazarus?’

She chuckled.

‘You must understand Mr Zachariah…’

‘Call me Zach,’ Zach tried to remove any potential barriers.

‘Zach, when I was twenty-three, that was about ten years ago, I met a man, you know those kind of men who can dare to love. You know not all men can?’

Zach nodded dryly.

‘You must understand that I am not one of those who women who believe that all men are evil because of some subversive realities of their past. My father was abusive of my mother but on good days, he was the most dedicated and loving man ever. I suppose that I was not raised to play the victim. My mother received all of that with gratitude, the abuse and the love. Many women of her age grade had lost their husbands in the war. Some had ran away with strange women. Things were hard and many women were prostituting to raise their kids. She was consoled by my father’s presence and was grateful for it. For all his weaknesses, she suffered but always forgave him and for his love, she was full of gratitude. As much as she could, she protected us from our father’s weaknesses though we knew. She was a lesson that I suppose my sister has learnt well—a lesson in gratitude to life for its friendliness and a lesson in forgiveness to life for its subversiveness. There has to be something to be grateful for. Not many people in my shoes can say they’ve found such things.

‘I was raised to be grateful in life. I was raised to suffer well. I have not played the victim, Zach. I am grateful for haven met such a man and I’ve forgiven life for taking it all away.’

Her voice had begun to fail.

‘He was a dreamy young man. He wanted to see the world, as much of it he could. Not that he could afford to, he styled it his destiny. He was one of those goose that belonged to the wild. He had a strong sense of destiny. And the beauty it all held for a young girl who had an abundance of dreams about love was that he had in his dreams a place for me. A lofty place, a place for which I had every reason to be grateful.’

A silence fell. It lasted for two whole minutes. Zach held on to the silence. He was assured in the fact that the woman really counted him worthy of her story.

‘I still can’t quite tell till this very day what happened. But he was gone in a flash. Words were said about it. Some believed he had run away with another woman, as is popular with men of our time. Some said he died…. I had no idea. All I know is that he took a part of me with him. And for that I am grateful.’

‘But you waited for him?’

She wouldn’t answer.

‘You waited for him, you did. You wouldn’t marry another man.’ Zach pressed. He almost added ‘until you passed your prime.’

‘Yes, not that there were not enough men who were asking for my hand. He loved me all too deeply. Wherever he went, I know he took a part of me with him. I am consoled by that. I am grateful for that.’

‘You still are hopeful.’ Zach said almost apprehensively. He knew she, like Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby, was concealing an incorruptible dream, one which she feared had become a nightmare.

She wouldn’t answer. She fell into silence as she stood and headed to the door. She opened it and Zach got the message. It was already late.

‘Do you believe in the raising of Lazarus?’ was her question as he made his way out of the door.

‘I do,’ was Zach’s answer.

Chapter Twenty-Two: The Poster Boy

Mwāi, an eleven-year old bespectacled boy was one of those children who had been raised to believe in their ‘specialty’. It bloated his ego. It made him haughty. But at the same time, he found in it a reason to succeed in life, a reason that was greater than his hunger for success. He was indeed intelligent and was revered for it and rewarded for it by being made the subject of such abundant hopes. It was not that he came from a destitute family, to whom he would mean everything for the future. On the contrary, his family were respectable on some level. It just happened that he had showed exceptionally abilities at his schoolwork. ‘You would be this. You would be that, someday. You’ll make us proud…’ was the ring of it all. They gave him the sense that he ‘belonged to the universe’ and that his life would have implication for everybody.

He wholeheartedly accepted those hopes and tried to exist in them. He hoped as they did that one day the world would crowd and bow to him. His growing vision of the world had him at its centre. Like Joseph, one day, the moon, the sun, and the stars would bow at his feet. He grew in this expectation as it grew with him.

He had become the leader of those other eight boys, partly because his parents lived in Noiā and he went to a more prestigious school there and partly because he had come to get them to believe in his specialty. He was spending the holidays with his grandmother in Nānti as he did every long holiday. He had many city-stories to tell, all of them mostly exaggerated to produce a feeling of sensationalism and profoundness on his ever-eager audience. His stories about the characters in Cartoon Network, the wrestling matches and his visits to the zoo were the most impressive.

He did have some qualities that made him a true leader among the boy. One of such qualities was his assertiveness. Another was his profoundness. Most of the other boys wavered in their own decisions but he was always going at it. In the face of his resoluteness appeared their own weak-mindedness, for which they let him make their decisions for them. They had given up on the raven riddle but he was only started. He was determined to prove that he was indeed the best as prophesied.

First, he had managed to have his mother post him a photo of a raven cut out from a science magazine. He would spend every evening observing it and trying to make out the relationship it had with a writing desk, apart from its legs. He would try rearranging the words as if looking for a patter in them that would answer the riddle. He was certain that Alright was not lying to them. In any case, he was blinded by his desire to prove himself. His grandmother also fuelled this passion, perhaps more than anyone else.

  1. # #

He had known all about the vegetable boy. He was the one boy that the other boys were told to keep away from. When he had the chance, he’d joined the other boys to poke fun at the vegetable boy. One of those was throwing stones at the boy’s shack. They would drop off on their way back to throw pebbles at the boy’s shack. Sometimes the boy would come and chase them off and they would turn it into a sport seeing that he could not chase all nine boys at the same time.

Seeing the Volvo car, the beautiful lady inside it and that man with the thick beard in Pûjó’s shack had made an impression on him. On his arrival that midday, he had set out to interview his grandmother.

‘Grand ma, what makes people mad?’

‘I wouldn’t know exactly my boy. You see I’m not a doctor for mad people.’

‘It’s called a ‘psychiatrist’.’

‘I didn’t get that, my boy. You said ‘psy….’

Mwāi had repeated himself with a smile. He loved showing off his knowledge and his grandmother loved him showing off his knowledge.

‘What about Pûjó? Why is he mad?’

‘Well, Pûjó is not exactly mad.’

‘What then is wrong with him?’

‘Why do you want to know, my boy?’

‘I just want to know, grandma.’

‘You know, when you go to school, they might have more to say about people who are like Pûjó. Scientists are now explaining things that we’ve long taken for granted. I used to think I knew the world. You know, when I was your age, we believed that there were spirits that stole salt left in the open. But now, all of that has changed. It was your father that told me what really happens to salt when it is placed in damp air. They have explained it all. I really don’t know but I think their own explanation works better. Is it not you who told me that the earth is not flat?’

‘Yes, grand ma.’ He’d also given her proofs.

‘You showed me photos of people landing on the moon?’

He’d showed her photos cut from magazines. She had a curios personality herself and a lot of respect for her grandson, which made it easy for her to learn.

‘You see. Things are changing. I think those psy…’

Mwāi helped her out again.

‘Whatever they are called. I think they should be able to explain Pûjó’s case. But left for me, I’d see him as a victim of one of our many superstitious beliefs. And there have been one too many of them. Think of all the twins that were drowned in the River. Your generation is a blessed one.’

It was as if in that moment he became determined to know more about the world. More than that, the discussion had softened his feelings towards the vegetable boy. His thought went to the twins who had died because of the ignorance of their age.

  1. # #

The next morning as they returned from Alright’s classes, they had stopped at a fresh obituary poster. The poster was announcing the death of a middle-aged man. His face covered half of the poster. They had read the announcements underneath the photo in turn.

One of the boys, Damian, a burly one, then took out a marker from his bag and started adding features to the face. The boys looked on some giving suggestions, others hailing him. First he added a beard, a thin one. Then he proceeded to add a pair of fake spectacles to the face. Then he patched up the face in places with thin lines. He was indeed talented.

‘Who is this?’ he asked when he was done and they all roared: MWĀI!

Damian was now the centre of attention. Mwāi didn’t seem to have any problems with that. He joined them to hail the painter.

They found another poster and did the same thing. Now they were about to get into real trouble because they were determined to do it till the last poster.

Their next stop was a building on the road at the junction. It was a low building that had its back facing the road. The boy’s jumped on it and it was suggested that the face that was to be styled on the poster would be Pûjó’s.

‘Make vegetables grow from his nostrils.’

Damian had gone to work on the face with his quick hands and black marker.

Mwai stood behind him, a look of displeasure appearing on his face.

  1. # #

Zach had returned from his morning river ritual to find the boy wringing painfully on the bed. He had not seen him for two days now. He still wouldn’t take his drugs. In no time, he slept off. Zach had gone back to the valley to pick garden eggs. He would chew on them while reflecting and waiting for his hand-rubbed coat to dry in the sun. As he returned after two hours later, the boy was now vomiting blood. He was shivering violently and the heat radiating from his body could boil a jug of water.

Zach was alarmed. He had no doctor instinct. He would have to take the boy to the health centre. He heaved the boy onto his back and turned into the road. The boy for his sickness was not any lighter. He was just as heavy as he’d been the last time.

He hit the road…

  1. # #

The boys stopped at their prank when Zach came into full view with the boy on his back. The expressions on their faces were more profound than the last time. They were shocked.

After the bearded man walked onto the road, they all stood and looked on in silence at the man. Mwāi took the first step towards the man and the rest followed now in silence at a distance. Zach continued the walk with the boy on his back with the boys coming behind him. Eyes would turn at the sight of a man carrying a ‘mad’ boy, a vegetable. Fingers pointed. But Zach’s feet shuffled on with frantic steps. He had very little time to waste.

Twenty minutes later, they were back in the wardroom. Nurse Blessing put the boy on a drip and he slept off. She was not a doctor but she was positive as before that it was a case of pneumonia. It was popular among the people especially during rainy seasons.

  1. # #

The boys stood outside the door of the hospital for a short while. One after the other, they began to slip away until only Mwāi was left standing. In time, he too slipped away but the impression had been made. The image of a man carrying a vegetable boy on his back had forever transformed him.

Chapter Twenty-Three: Blackout

Zach slept with the boy in the wardroom. He had the nightmare again. The voices were getting clearer as were the faces but he could not yet make anything helpful to his curiosity of them.

He was woken partly by the stinging of the full dawn in his eyes and partly by the sound of two women conversing in low tones. He woke to the voices of Kuniā and Nurse Blessing.

‘Hey,’ Kuniā greeted. ‘You need a haircut and a shave.’

‘Good morning, can’t afford one.’

‘Some clothes too,’ added the nurse.

‘How about the boy?’ Zach switched the conversation.

‘He’s good. You have seen that we do not have a resident doctor. However, I still think its pneumonia. He’s going to be fine after all.’

‘She’s already told me about Hééb.’ Kuniā observed. ‘I want to go and speak with his mother.’

‘No,’ Zach protested. ‘I’ll go see her myself. Stay with your father.’

She agreed. ‘So what about the shave?’

‘Can’t afford one now.’

She opened her purse and took out a bundle of very crisp notes. Zach was rich again. ‘Don’t bother about the boy, it’s on me. If it persists, I can get him a doctor. As soon as you can, you can move into the house.’

Zach was not sure he wanted to. However, he was thankful though.

With that, the two women left him. The boy slept on peacefully. An IV was hanging from his arm. Everything seemed to be in order.

Zach took the bundle of notes, and headed out of the wardroom. The river had become a ritual and he felt like going to it one more time. He would have preferred a warm bath in that great mansion and one meal as he’d had last Sunday. But he knew to be still for a while longer. Now he contemplated going to the barber’s shop or going to the river. He didn’t know any barber shop in town and so he chose the river. However, just as he had crossed the wide gutter that led up to the health centre and was onto the road, he heard a voice calling out his name from the other side of the road. It was the hunter.

‘I’ve been looking for you all over town. What happened to the boy?’

‘He had an attack. Took him to the hospital.’

‘Alright, so where are you headed now?’

‘To the river.’

‘Phew, you need a haircut and a shave too.’

‘Yeah, don’t know any barber shop around town.’

‘Oh, Black.’ And with that being suggested, the hunter led the way again to Black’s shop. Zach followed wondering why everyone were now into haircuts and shaves. He must have been looking that bad.

  1. # #

‘That girl is the bomb. Phew… I could have been a pornstar. She let me have it any way I wanted.’ Rush said with a proud grin.

‘With a body like that, who wouldn’t?’

‘She’s still sixteen, can’t you tell? You couldn’t get with the older ones, now, you’re defiling teenagers. You idiot!’

‘I didn’t force her. She let me have it!’

‘Pray her father doesn’t catch you.’

‘Well, he doesn’t seem to bother, does he? Heard that she gets her to blow him too?’

‘How about that?’

‘Wonder why he has not married since his wife died? He’s a pervert himself.’

‘So it’s you that has been inflating her hips? Huh?’

‘It wouldn’t have been me. I am the new guy. Ask him…’

‘Me? I did my homework well. I’m done with her though, you can have her all you want and all you can.’

‘You put that thing on her chest. Look at how big those breasts are already. She’s just sixteen. Both of you are wicked punks.’

‘Not exactly, she pads them sometimes with tissue.’

‘What about you? You can’t get with girls. That’s why you are a wanker. One day you’ll wake to find your balls missing.’

‘You know I can. I’ve got plans niggers. I’m not going to spend my life in this town. So I’m good with wanking it off for now.’

‘Ha ha ha. Look at this fool. Who doesn’t have plans, nigger?’

‘And what does having plans have to do with laying chicks?’

‘It makes you focused.’

‘Fool, I think I know what the nigger is scared of?’

‘AIDS.’

‘You’ve been really taking your mother’s advice, boy.’

‘You have no mother, you punk.’

‘Well, do you fear death?’

‘Do you?’

‘Tell me you don’t use condoms; tell me you still believe that AIDS is a ‘myth’. Tell me you still eat your food raw and without cooking it. Since you have no mother to advice you, I’ll give mine free. Nigger, AIDS is real.’

  1. # #

It was a few minutes to eight o’clock when they arrived the small off-road building that was Black’s shop. Behind it was an extension that had a band of boys gyming, smoking and talking about last night’s sex. It was a morning routine for them.

By the time Zach and the hunter arrived, it was ‘OPEN’. The workaholic barber had just put up the sign. They stepped in and were directed to a bench where there were other two customers were waiting. The barber was very well in a bad mood that morning. But he looked professional as he went about preparing for the day’s job. The shop was cleaned up, as was the mirror and every other thing on the work desk.

The barber indeed had a good work ethic. He was on his radio in no time, cleaning out the Tupac tapes, blowing dust from them and stacking them in the order for the day. He normally started with the latest (All Eyes On Me) and end with the oldest (2pacalypse Now). As the day progressed though, he would preselect according to mood.

The walls abounded with Tupac quotes. ‘Military mind mean money.’ ‘Only God can judge me.’ ‘Keep your eyes on your riches.’ ‘THUG LIFE: The Hate U Gave Lil Infants Fuck Everybody’. ‘The only thing that comes to a sleeping man is dreams.’ ‘A coward dies a thousand deaths, a soldier dies but once.’ Others were memes associated with the rapper. ‘Outlaw Immortals.’ ‘Fuck B.I.G.’ ‘Black Power’, ‘Fuck Bad Boy’. N.ig.g.a: Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished. ‘Five shots….’

Three large posters of the rapper covered prominent parts of the wall. What remained of the wall was filled with photos of the rapper cut from newspapers and magazines and album pack covers.

Zach and the hunter sat and watched the muscled barber. He looked late into his twenties. His hair was plaited backwards. He was wearing a blue tank top. He was in a bad mood.

From behind the door that led to the extension, an unlikely conversation filtered in. It went from the sixteen-year old girl to the wanker to AIDS to the Olympics to Black himself.

  1. # #

‘Black has been in a bad mood lately.’

‘There’s been a blackout.’

‘I can’t quite tell.’

‘He has been keeping to himself.’

‘He hasn’t been on these bells for a minute. He hasn’t been gyming. He has been quiet for a while now.’

‘Shit is real.’

There was silence on Zach’s side of the door. On the other side, the discussion petered off into low whispers.

‘It’s that chick.’

‘Which one?’

‘Borûn. That whore.’

‘Damn Black.’

‘He’s got something on her.’

‘That whore—’

The word ‘whore’ was still hanging in the air when the door bust open and Black bounded in. There were hard and deathly blows, made with murderous intent to kill. There were painful screams and sounds of people holding Black back. He was still silent.

‘You hit me because of that piece of toilet tissue?’ was heard outside, as the victim of the blows was led away cursing aloud as he struggled to say something before they took him too far. ‘You have no honour to be slithering on that shit. I have fucked that bitch once and now, you’ve given me the chance to it over and over again now. Any position I want for free. That is all she’s worth. That is the only thing she’s good at. When next I see her, I will tell her that someone is dreaming of getting HIV from her. Idiot. Fool! Bag of dirt! I’d rather have you love me than love that piece of shit.’

Someone slapped him hard with a ‘shut your trap’.

‘What is wrong with you Rush? Why should he hit me over that crap? Do you think any sensible person can fight over that shit?’

More slaps, now rolling into a fight. ‘Leave me. Rush. Please leave me. This is not your fight.’

‘You slapped me Atta Boy for a girl that is sleeping with anything that has a dick in this town. Jesus fed five thousand people; Borûn has sucked five thousand dicks. And you can see that she loves sucking them. God knows that they would have castrated her long ago. Look at this idiot hitting me over that heap of dirt? Fuck you! Fuck Tupac! Is it because….’

The words petered off into the distance as the other boys walked Atta Boy away.

Black returned and finished his task with the tapes. He looked ready to kill but his professionalism was still very much there as he got to his job. The boys in the other room dispersed. They seemed to be of the opinion that Atta Boys should not have called Borûn a ‘whore’ and that Black should not have hit him in retaliation.

Zach needed not know any more about Black. The girl, the hunter had told him was Madam Békhtèn’s second daughter. ‘Everything that was said about her is true except the part about five thousand men. It was exaggerated.’

From what he heard, Zach judged that she could be one of those modern women who were ‘radical’ with their sexuality. It seemed to such women that such radicalism was their answer to the woman question. Even such women were not at all that radical, at least not as radical as Borûn was.

Just as it is normal with him, he wanted to understand.

  1. # #

Black was not one of those men who made much out of their women—or women in general. He rarely even had them. Women were not his thing. His hopes of building his own empire made sure he was rather enterprising than sensual and his dreams gave him very little patience for romance. The greatness of romance and marriage did not appeal to him. He sold his drugs, did his business with dedication and once-in-a-while, got it in with a lady for the night to ease his muscles. He was the one-night-stand-guy. By the time he was twenty-eight, he was certain that he could not love a woman in the conventional sense. It was a fact for him that he did not try to change.

He was a reticent character too. He had a sensitive ego. One of the manifestations of that ego was during the gyming sessions. He loved going in after the rest. He would find out who did the highest number of the dumbbells. He would double that person’s number while the others would cheer him on.

Another and the most important was his impractical obsession with Tupac. Aside the fact that it revealed that the barber had a poetic personality that the rapper helped him explore profoundly, Tupac meant something sacred for him. He represented to him as he did to many others, the spirit of a young man, in its purest and most exuberant form. And he associated with this spirit and took it as his own. Every one of the young Machiavelli’s words rang in the depth of his soul as his. The ultimate dream was going to LA and showing the rapper some love.

He had entangled himself with Borûn in a way that held mystery for him as it did for all those who knew him. He found himself willing to participate in that life. Why he wanted to participate in such a life that was not quite unlike ‘a roll of tissue paper’, he could not articulate. He let the song ‘Can U Get Away’ explain it all. He only wanted her to get away from the life that had imprisoned her, a life that had a fatal end. He had no promises to make. He was still very much insecure in his ability to love anyone. But he was willing to take her with him.

He had told his mother: the only one he could tell. She had not answered him. She had smiled.

She was hopeful.

Chapter Twenty-Four: The Elements

Mwāi walked on with the boys. They all followed him as they would because he led the way. He had told them what his grandmother had told him about the boy and the other twins. They believed him more from the influence he held over them and the credibility they had given him on account of his other stories and explanations, than from the story itself. The explanation was not a matter of fact for them; it was a matter of following the leader. It was also a matter of sympathy for after that bearded stranger, they now had reason to be sympathetic towards the vegetable boy. The man with the beards had seen what they were just seeing about the boy’s situation before hand—he was just a victim of circumstances. And that he had fought so hard to conquer his own fate, never showing any hostility to the powers that had thrown him into such fate.

The lesson strengthened their desire to succeed in their studies. They could change a whole lot of things about the way people viewed reality. The situation now became a fresh mystery to them; they now wanted to know. They could no longer dismiss him as a vegetable. They could no longer take the boy’s situation for granted.

Mwāi led them on not knowing where exactly he was going. When he got to the health centre, he stopped and they stopped with him. He stood there not knowing whether to go in or to walk on by.

They both shared in his uncertainty and waited for him to lead the way as usual.

  1. # #

Zach and the hunter had left Black’s shop both looking better. The barber had done his job with the usual dexterity that he was known for. A song that made sense to Zach when it came on was ‘Only God Can Judge Me’. He hadn’t heard everything. He was sure that rap music was not musical enough. It required patience. He was also not familiar with the vague terms and expressions but the little he heard made an impression.

A minor incident but curios happened while they waited for their turn. A boy, who couldn’t have been more than twenty had walked in.

He had business.

‘I want a bible,’ the boy had announced. Zach wondered how it was that a bible could be sold in a barber’s shop, not one like Black’s. He could even make his own order.

‘I don’t have money now. Give me two weeks. When I move my chapters and verses, I will pay you. Word is bond.’

Black had ignored him.

‘Black, look I’ll give fifty percent up. Let me ride.’

Silence.

‘Black, you are losing grip on your members. Truth is these boys won’t come to you for their sermons any longer. Not with what happened a while ago. They are asking questions. Let me ride on this one. Let me put it to them. You won’t lose anything. You supply, I distribute.’

Black stopped and collected the wad of notes. He then excused his customer, disappeared through the small door and reappeared with a cello tape-wrapped pack the size of a medium bible.

Zach and the hunter had looked on. While they were on their way, questions were asked. The hunter did not have any answers.

Zach could now buy a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste. He also bought a bar of toilet soap. He had almost forgotten the taste of toothpaste. He wanted some new underwear, a new shirt, a new trouser and a new coat. He needed a new change of clothes.

They had set off towards the town centre where there were shops that could supply those demands.

A few steps into the journey, Zach had stopped. He had just had a Hééb-feeling. ‘Where does Hééb live?’

It was a ten-minute walk from their present location.

‘Good, let’s go and see his mother.’

‘She’s a market woman. I doubt if she will be at home by this time of the day.’

Zach contemplated it. He insisted and so the hunter had led the way. There was no harm in trial.

  1. # #

They arrived a small bungalow with a large compound and low walls. They knocked on the gate and waited. ‘I must advice you that Hééb is a true son of his mother.’ The hunter had advised irritably while they waited on the gate to be opened to them. Zach understood.

They had waited a while. The woman, in her early sixties had taken the gate.

Zach took charge of the situation: ‘We are looking for Mr Hééb, ma.’

Zach saw some pride in her eyes, the same he’d seen in her son’s eyes and instantly, he knew that she was the one who urged him on. She was the one behind him. He could not have been that clever or strong-willed all by himself.

Her pride made sure she kept her job as a market woman even though her son was earning enough to put her off the marketplace.

It seemed in that moment that the woman saw in the stranger’s eyes the same thing that her son had seen in Zach the first time they’d met. But she was more experienced and of course her sensibilities were stronger.

‘Who are you?’ She recognized the hunter even though she would not do as much as look at him.

‘My name is Zach. I suppose you have heard about me.’

She smiled. She surely had. She held the leaves of the gate open to them. The hunter was not at all comfortable and he wouldn’t go in.

‘I’ll wait outside,’ he’d said, to Zach.

The woman had led her visitor on till they were in the veranda of the bungalow. She offered him a seat. Zach was not certain why he should be sitting but he sat nevertheless.

She drew a seat and sat facing him. Nothing in her face suggested acrimony. She appeared mischievously cheerful at seeing him.

That one encounter assured Zach that she was a dramatic character. He even fancied that living with her would be fun for a child.

‘Once upon a time, the elements gathered together in a council. Fire spoke to his brothers thus: Men have ignored me. All they now have to give are the husk, the nuts they keep for themselves. All they have to give is the dross, the gold they keep for themselves. I cook their meals. I warm their bodies but they show their ingratitude by giving that which is not worthy of the Fire. Let fire fall from heaven and burn them. And there was fire!

‘Then came the Earth. She said: Men have ignored me. All they now have to give are their corpses; their bodies they keep to themselves and to the ones they love. I grow their crops. I build their houses but they do not consider me worthy of anything but the crumbs that fall off their tables. Even when they give the crumbs, they do so with grumblings. Men are ingrates! Let the earth under them swallow them up in death. And there were earthquakes!

‘Then came the Wind. He said: I give men their breath but the bone and the meat they keep to themselves. They say to themselves: Let the wind have the smoke. But the Wind would send them diseases and drought.

The Water spoke to his brothers. He said: Men have ignored me. All they have to give is the sweat on their bodies and the urine in their bladder. I house their fishes and hold their bodies together. Curse me if I do not bring justice upon them…. Tell me, Mr Zachariah what you think Water would do?’

The door to the house opened and a teenage girl called out to the woman: ‘Ma, the water is boiling now…’

The woman stood. She smiled at Zach. ‘My son is not around, Mr Zachariah. And if I were you, I will let him fulfil his destiny. Gooday.’

  1. # #

His pensiveness was back. All thoughts of getting the change of clothes passed from his mind. He was certain that he’d seen that face in the nightmare. He had. He was sure of that.

He took out money from the wad and gave to the hunter. He could be useful with getting the clothes. He then hastened to see Kuniā and tell her of what he’d learnt and find out more from her.

He had a stop to make at the hospital.

The band of boys, who were now about to go after Mwāi had failed to lead them past the doors of the hospital, turned to see Zach walk up to the doors. Up till that time, they’d stood pointing, looking and whispering to themselves. The only one who wasn’t was the other boy, Mwāi.

  1. # #

Mwāi had doubts but they did not seem to stop him from following the bearded man into the hospital—without a lingering thought. The other boys followed him closely.

Chapter Twenty-Five: A Smile And A Song

‘This is not a place for kids,’ the stout and fat nurse reprimanded the kids. ‘Go on, get away. Go home to your parents.’

They stood there embarrassed. But Mwāi would not go away. He stood and the other boys stood with him.

‘Didn’t you hear what I just said? Should I repeat myself in German?’

Nurse B walked into the reception to their great relief. She asked questions and Mwāi still leading the boys told her that they had come to see the vegetable boy.

Nurse B was more than delighted to let them have it. She led the way to the wardroom where Zach was observing the boy who was now awake. Kuniā had put him on a treat. There were three food flasks beside his bed. But he was not eating.

The boys walked in and the two other pairs of eyes turned on them.

The sick boy recoiled like a snake at the sight of the boys. His face dropped. He seemed to be in pain at the sight of them.

  1. # #

Mwāi had accomplished his mission and the feeling of being in that room with all those boys and with that one boy would live with him for a very long time.

A moment of silence followed. The sick boy was shy and retreated at the sight of them.

The silence was interrupted when Nurse B walked in. ‘Seems like you have influenced some people.’ She observed to Zach. Now the attention turned to him.

  1. # #

Zach blushed. A more penetrating silence followed. He felt he should say something. ‘Last week, as I sat eating in a tavern, I heard the sound of beating. I went out to see a boy to whom many people did not think his life was worth a plate of food. You see, you all share your boyhood together but until now, he has had no one to share in his with him. On his behalf, I….’

Zach did not have to continue for the sick boy was now crying. It was not crying more or less, he was making low-pitch sounds, one that was peculiar to dumb people. He was facing the wall, in a bid to hide his face from the small crowd that now attended to him.

Zach didn’t have to proceed with his little speech for the boys crowded Pûjó’s side. His example was all they needed to see that he was one of them, and as Mwāi had assured them, a victim of a society’s sense of reality.

Initially, the boy kept a blank face as they shook his hands in turn, smiled at him, and tried communicating with him with their fingers turned into various signs.

But in time, a smile appeared in his face. It was a painful smile, one that told the two adults that saw it that it was an event for the owner of the face.

Zach looked on as they managed to even make the boy laugh. Things had changed for him as well as for them.

  1. # #

When Zach explained the parable to Kuniā, she had no idea what it meant or what it could mean. She was disappointed to hear that it was Hééb after all. Her brother had not been raised like Lazarus, at least not yet.

Zach would not indulge her anxieties and hopes for her brother. Therefore, he kept the evening talk away from the boy. Or tried to.

‘How is your father doing?’

‘He’s getting worse. I don’t know. I feel like he has given up all hopes.’

‘The child?’

‘I don’t know. He has not said anything about the child since then. I tried speaking of it but he was silent. What would Hééb be doing with my brother? Is he trying to blackmail my father?’

‘No, he is trying to take full advantage of the situation. Give it up to his mother. He is acting at her word. There is a grand scheme of hers in the background.’

‘I could have her arrested. Shake her up. Get her to talk.’

‘That would be pointless. She is playing everyone like a game. She seems to me an opportunist. They are trying to take advantage of the situation.’

‘I’m afraid for my father. I’ve not told him about what Hééb did. I’m not sure he would like the sound of it. There is still some hopefulness about him. If the boy turns out good, he may yet recover full use of his faculties. But now, I’m afraid he’s losing them.’

‘I will visit him tomorrow. I will be needing some new clothes.’

  1. # #

‘Brother, I’m scared,’ Brim whispered to his brother.

‘Shut up!’ was Money’s retort. ‘You think picking five thousand in a day’s work is a joke.’

The younger of the two brothers kept on with their load, trying not to trip on the stones that lay about the whole place. In front of them, a short man walked. His heart was beating very fast and the distance he kept from the boys was to hide his own fears from them.

That man was Hééb.

Hééb had come to the elder of the two brothers for a ‘favour’.

‘That’s not true Hééb and you know that.’

‘Know what?’

‘That I don’t do favours.’

Money never liked Hééb. No one did. Hééb had never done him any favours. Hééb never did anybody favours. And he had never done Hééb any favours either. ‘I don’t do favours, I do jobs instead. I work for you, and you pay me. That’s my work ethic.’

When Hééb had told his favour, Money had smiled at him. ‘That would go for a thousand.’ Hééb paid and Money was obliged to go with his brother.

They had gotten to the hospital. Money had seen the boy and his reaction was: ‘Jesus, Hééb! I and my brother, we are not touching that corpse for anything less than five thousand.’ He was enterprising and people like him could sense desperation in other people and every ounce of desperation meant double the price. Or in this case, five times.

Hééb had wanted to protest as did his younger brother. However, he had his mother’s word to keep. ‘Alright. Let’s get it on. I’ll distract the nurses.’

‘We are not getting it on without them bills.’

Hééb had fumbled through his pockets with shaky hands and had taken out the bills and given him the balance.

‘You ought to be learning now, you block head.’ He had told his brother who was excited at the prospect of having that kind of money. They could travel to the moon with that kind of money.

That was last night though.

‘What is Hééb doing with that thing?’ Brim had asked on their way back.

‘None of your business.’

‘One thing is certain: he is acting on his own. This has nothing to do with the mayor. Did you see how shaky he was all through? He was dabbing off the sweat on his face all the way.’

‘Like I said, it’s none of your business.’

‘But…’

The elder boy stopped and faced the younger. ‘Look, we are leaving this town next New Year. February, at most. If you want to survive the hassles of the city life, you will have to start doing as I say.’

‘February,’ the younger was taken by that. ‘Phew, that’s my birth month. So I’ll be celebrating it in Noiā? That’s a handful.’

‘Yeah, it is,’ came the elder.

Money loved his brother but he thought him too simple, and too naïve for the pressures of the life for which he’d been preparing him. He took the city-dream a bit too serious though and was not going to let anything get in his way.

He shared in the boy’s worries and questions but he had no patience for those. His savings was up by five thousand. If worse came to worse, he would take his brother and disappear. It would matter very little if they called the cops on them.

Now the two of them were in Madam Békhtèn’s hall making their rounds of soup and bottles of beer.

‘Look and listen.’ Money instructed his brother. ‘I know you have a leaky mouth. But please put a plug in it.’

‘What do you mean by that?’

‘Keep your mouth shut. Don’t let me hear Hééb or the mayor’s son come out of your mouth in any form. If you make the slightest reference to it, I will put a large cleft on your upper lip. Do you understand?’

‘Well, I…’

Without letting him answer, Money had stormed off to Madam Békhtèn’s hall. He could manage a few platefuls of that meaty and spicy soup.

They had more than enough money and Madam Békhtèn’s cooks had more than enough soups with large lumps of meat.

  1. # #

Zach sat on one of the two other hospital beds and allowed his mind to roam. There were an abundance of things to think upon. The parable, Hééb, the missing boy, the school kids, his wife and father, the vegetable boy,…

Zach was not surprised that the girl that had caused the clash at the barber’s shop had slipped onto that list. He thought of the agony that the barber had to deal with. Those that knew him would begin to question his judgment very much like Atta Boy giving him blows that were more deathly than his with those words. And there was the bible-buying boy, who now saw a chance in all of that to start his own ‘church’.

His mind went to the nurse, her sister and the ‘incorruptible dream’ she was concealing and the word ‘dare’ rang back at him. The school kids, they had dared too….

Chapter Twenty-Six: The Whip and the Sacrifice

The hunter did not return with the clothes as he was supposed to. In fact, he woke the next morning on the steps that led up to Madam Békhtèn’s, a leg kicking into his left side. How he got there, he could not tell. The headache was harder than those that came with his usual hangovers.

‘You drunkard,’ the owner of the voice called out to him. ‘Get the hell out of here.’

He roused himself and before him stood a familiar face, one that he’d met one too many mornings one the same steps.

‘You didn’t hear me, did you? Get out of here, you idiot. Be gone.’

The hunter roused himself finally. He gathered his coat about him and stood. It was soaked as was the upper part of his body. He could even taste salt in the tip of his tongue. The owner of the voice had first poured dirty water on him before digging a heel into his side when the water had failed to wake him.

He almost fell into a heap when he realized what had happened. He had drunk the money Zach had given to him the night before. The original plan was to bite a bit out of it on a green bottle. It wouldn’t matter much and Zach himself would not complain even if he came to know.

He had gone in for a bottle. He had taken two, three, and four. Everything faded from then. He could hardly remember anything thence. Every bit of the money was gone. But he knew all of it could not have gone into the drinking. He could have been robbed. He could have paid his debts in a frenzy. He could have thrown it all into a heap of dirt. He could have….

It was a bit more torturous when he tried to remember his drunken talk. It could be anything; he could have said anything. Was this his way of showing his gratitude to a man that had been good to him? It was not just about the drinking, he was a thief! Slowly, he descended into the abyss of despair and self-loathing:

‘I truly deserve to be drowned in the Nānti River. I am indeed a sick man. Why was I not born a vegetable or even a fly? Why a man? Should I even call myself a man? And what about that gentleman talk I threw about town? Shouldn’t I be whipped like a child, or perhaps even like a horse, or even like a Christmas effigy? A loathsome thief. A bag of filth. I should have used that money to buy a bundle of rope and hang myself. What a loathsome scum! I could not have earned that money in a century! Oh, I’m not worthy of Yanda, not worthy of that man, not worthy of a strand of his beards, not worthy even of that vegetable boy….’

It was a place that he was familiar with—with Yanda and with her whip. He’d been there many times, where he was the betrayer of the goodness of others. Yanda was not there to flog him and since every whip she gave him was her revenge (in which he found consolation), he decided to do the whipping himself on her behalf.

However, he felt something that told him that it would be different with this one man who carried no whips. But he was too afraid, too fearful of himself, and too guilty of his own sins to follow it. He rather went to his hideout to clean up. He was not worthy of that man.

  1. # #

Mwāi did not tell his grandmother about what happened. He needn’t for it was written all over him. The mother wouldn’t pressure him though she saw it all over him. He was reflective. He was absent-minded, pensive and vague. He wouldn’t eat a thing all that evening and into the night. He hardly could wait for the next day.

‘Mwāi,’ the grandmother had reminded him. ‘You know you will be leaving for home next week. I don’t want them thinking I’ve been starving you. I need them to see you with a lot of cheeks.’

‘Grandmother, I am fine.’ The boy had said with a chuckle.

‘When you were a little mindless innocent baby,’ she began. ‘Your mother used to say that you were the reincarnation of her father. Does she still say that?’

‘She does.’

‘Have you cared to ask her about him? Or rather, have you asked her why she thinks so?’

‘Well, she says I have a lot of hair except above my forehead. She says I will be bald like him.’

She laughed. ‘Well, you certainly will be bald but I doubt if she meant those. Your grandfather was a strong man, for all those around him. He had his own weaknesses but he always stood for people in their own weaknesses—though they betrayed him for his. Your mother fancies that you will one day be that man for others.’

She had elaborated. During the War, the farmer was certain that he was going to die. But he was not going to outlive his children. Not if he could save them. He was not the architect of his fate but he was not blind to it. Instead, he chose to make something out of it for others. So he’d called his family and told them that he’d ‘paid’ for their lives. They did not understand. He had no tubers of yam, no money to give and certainly was not the architect of their fates.

‘It was a mystery that took me years after his death to understand. His death became a ‘sacrifice’ for me, an exchange for my life and that of his children. We all wanted to live seeing that someone had died ‘for’ us. Our desire to live was borne out of a desire to not waste that ‘sacrifice’. We had a life behind us, in which we found guarantee for the future. We wanted to make something out of that sacrifice. Therefore, we did not give in to hunger and the suffering of those years. We strove through the necessities of each day with that memory in our eyes and those words in our ears. We had no excuses any more to give up on life.

‘That was his greatness. He never said anything without proverbs. He had your curiosity. He was a very profound man. His life has become a proverb to us.’

Mwāi had listened. It was not far-fetched why he chose to spend the holidays with his grandmother in Nānti. Her profoundness matched his curiosity and vice versa. She had told him the same words that he’d grown up listening about how he was a ‘special child’. In her mouth, those words were turned to burdens, to weighty challenges, which made his heart burn with passion to fulfil them.

‘You must strive to be same for other people. In that, you will find true greatness. And your mother’s words over you is that you become that man for others.’

  1. # #

Zach woke in the wardroom feeling frustrated at everything.—At the hunter for not delivering his change of clothes.—At Hééb’s mother for speaking about worldly things in other-worldly sayings when she could just say it.—At himself for not having the nightmare and for not being able to reach his family and hear their voices for a minute.—At the fact that he was going to have to walk to the river with a weak body…. His river ritual had gotten better with the bar of toilet soap and the tube of toothpaste. But it rained during the night and the morning was very cold. He had no other options though, not one he could explore.

  1. # #

The river ritual was uneventful. The river was becoming familiar, as were its features. The river was rising. Aside bumping into a snake, nothing else seemed to cause him substantial anxieties.

He went to the shack, took out his ash-coloured shirt, the black wife-beater underneath, then the trouser and the coat. The boy had two shirts and a coat hanging from the nails in his shack. He tried the shirts on but they were too small. The coat managed to fit his body. With those, he set off to the river where he washed them, spread them on the grass and hoped on the sun. A while passed, then he returned to the shack to wait on his chances.

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Happy Unbirthday

The nine boys debated among themselves as they walked from Alright’s class as to what they would do for Pûjó.

‘Buy him a bicycle.’

‘Is it because you want one yourself.’

‘What difference does it make?’

‘Let’s get him a new shoe.’

‘A shirt.’

‘A typewriter.’

‘Why that?’

‘I thought there are typewriters for disabled people?’

‘No, typewriters are for blind people. Got it?’

There was silence as the walk continued.

Mwāi had been remarkably silent. ‘Hey, Bongo,’ they turned to him and asked: ‘What do you think?’

Mwāi had an idea, ‘Let’s host an unbirthday party for him.’

The boys broke into celebration. He had just said it. But what did they have?

‘What do we have?’

‘I can manage a handful of sweets.’

‘Me, I can manage a pack of wafers.’

‘A bottle of Fanta.’

‘A bottle of Fanta, too.’

‘A pack of biscuits.’

None among them disagreed.

With that, they all dispersed. Mwāi felt proud as he led the way. He had prepared a surprise for all the other boys.

  1. # #

Thirty minutes later, they were reassembled in front of the hospital, each person clutching what he had to donate. Mwāi opened his backpack and took out a new velvet cravat from a green shoebox. The other boys did not get the point though they looked onto the new cravat with awe.

They had questions: ‘Why a neckerchief?’

‘It’s not quite a neckerchief. It’s a cravat.’

In the actual sense, it wasn’t quite a cravat but a neckerchief.

‘What about it?’

‘What did the White King and Queen give to Humpty Dumpty on his unbirthday?’

A cravat, they agreed.

If they had any doubts following him, all those doubts disappeared into the sight of the unbirthday gift.

They were in high spirits going into the unbirthday party.

  1. # #

Zach was not there when it happened. He would rue his absence for a very long time.

‘They even made the boy dance. Brought tears to my eyes.’ Nurse B had told him. ‘They called it an ‘unbirthday’. They had told me they got the idea from Humpty Dumpty. The White King and Queen had sent him a cravat for his unbirthday.’

‘Humpty Dumpty?’

‘Yeah, from Lewis Caroll’s Through the Looking Glass. That’s according to them though. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland is more popular. That was the one I read myself. It’s suppose to be a sequel to the Adventures.’

‘Tell me about it.’

‘An unbirthday present is a present given to you when it isn’t your birthday. If there are three hundred, sixty-five days in a year, and one of those is a birthday, the book supposes that suppose the rest would be unbirthdays.’

‘Wow. That’s some beauty there.’

‘They sang him an unbirthday song….’

  1. # #

Pûjó was very glad to see them. It was as if he had been expecting them. He lived in a world without music, a silent world but those boys had managed to get some across.

‘Happy birthday to you…’ was sung.

‘How old are you now…’ followed but Tamsie interrupted. ‘No, he’s not old. We should sing ‘How young are you now… instead?’’

They got the idea and in unison, they begun to sing: ‘How young are you now….’ Not that they expected him to answer but they saw it in his eyes.

After that, the cravat was presented and the food flasks beside the metal bed were opened. There were two spoons and two bottles of Fanta. Each one took a spoonful and passed to the other.

  1. # #

‘There is beauty in life. Zach, don’t you think so?’

‘If someone will help you find it….’ He had told Kuniā as they drove to see her father.

‘Like Silas did. Like you have done with those boys. And for Pûjó. ‘My mother had a philosophy of life, a charming one, I suppose. You know, she believed in magic and taught us to believe in magic. She would role-play and tell us that she was our ‘fairy godmother’. There was always magic in life, she would say to her little kids obsessed with fairy tales. She taught us to find magic in the everydayness of life. ‘Learn to keep open the doors to your wardrobes and you may find a Narnia behind one.

‘And in the case where there was none, to transform our lives into magic in a ritual of symbolism. That, she insisted was the true meaning of magic. The true magician is not the one who seeks magic in the occult, but the one who transforms what he has as reality into magic for him and for those that share in his life. Well, I suppose we are all searching for magic. We either find it too quickly or don’t find it at all.’

  1. # #

Listening to him, Zach was sure that the mayor was very much himself. The man made an impression on him. It was not an impression of profundity or dramatic. It was an impression of intelligence and guilt.

‘Well, the title of ‘mayor’ is accidental, more or less. It’s not official though it’s bound to become, one day. That is how certain institutions are born after all. Not special duties are attached to the name, except the ceremonial ones.’

There was a pause as the man pulled up his sleeves and continued. ‘Power is the ability to decide one’s fate or another’s, as the case may be. The reason why there will always be a place in the world for people like us is simply because human beings dread the burden of haven to decide their own fate. So they are going to run to those who can take upon themselves such burden, such anguish of soul, such dread of being the one who leads the way, on their behalf. That feeling of power I believe is the closest to what it means to be God. The running away, on the other hand, is the highest expression of our humanity. That is why men manufacture gods and make mayors as an expression of a people’s unwillingness to decide their own fate. There must always be those who will lead the way for others; those who will sing the verses while the masses join at the chorus. Most people would rather prefer not to be the one.

‘When they put you in that office or that title on you, it becomes an unwritten covenant between you and them: “You are now the one to bear the burdens. We’d keep the wishes and the criticisms. But you can take the wheels”. They are going to come to you with those burdens and they are going to condemn you if you fail to fulfil them. In exchange for the title, they will see it as you ‘owe’ them to lead the way. And they have the right to be angry and complain when the journey gets tough.

‘When the burden weighs down on you, they will find a more high-sounding title and a larger office and put you in it. They hardly would let you go, not if they can’t find a replacement.

‘I have always believed that I was one of such men. I believed I had a voice for the verses and not the chorus. There are those who do, very few. I took nothing from life. I earned it for myself. Hell no, I have helped many people in life too.

‘But your desire to help people can turn to hatred for them in the knowledge that they will one day betray you. I’m too certain of that.’

There was silence.

‘Now, Mr Zachariah, let me hear your own theory about my situation.’

Zach was not in a hurry to answer.

‘You wouldn’t tell me that God is judging me, or would you?’

‘Not quite, sir. Bad things happen to good people. That’s like common knowledge to every human. It’s inescapable in the world. We know we are not alone.’

‘Then that means that I have been ungrateful all this while.’

Zach laughed.

‘Ungrateful for all those my suffering have brought joy? Those to whom my loses have brought consolation for theirs?’

Zach had no idea.

He seemed tense and each adjustment on the sofa was an attempt to dispel all of that. Regardless, he caught on his words with sophistication. Nevertheless, an air of awkwardness still hung over him.

The discussion moved back and forth until Zach was convinced that the mayor was very normal.

‘He’s fine and I believe he will still be when this is all over.’

  1. # #

Zach was dropped off at the wardroom by the driver. Pûjó had the cravat in his hands when he walked in. They exchanged glances. He seemed happy. His elation was beyond what he could articulate for anyone else. It was all his and his alone.

However, something did happen that left Zach with an impression. Into the night, the rains had started pouring with rage. There were flashes lightning and cackles of thunder. It was a reminder that it was August—for those who had forgotten.

Zach sat still on the bed with his back held against the wall. His mind was rocking to a boat that was sailing outside of Nānti to his family. He was exhausted emotionally and physically.

However, all of that faded into the moment when the boy stood from his bed, walked over and handed the cravat to Zach. Zach hesitated before accepting the gift and watched as the boy returned to his own bed from where he now sat and watched Zach.

Sleep was hanging over Zach. As was the nightmare.

Chapter Twenty-Eight: A Harvest Of Vegetables

The hunter could not have imagined what was waiting for him, and for everybody. But he had no other place to go.

He took one of his own coat, a trouser and a shirt and headed towards the hospital. It bothered him the man’s reaction but the load got lighter with each step he made towards the hospital. If he had stood Yanda with his sins, why not this man? What difference would it make if the man chased him away? Had he not given him a reason to do so? Will he play the victim when called to speak for himself?

Those were the thoughts that he wrestled with all through the night and into the morning. He was almost sure that he would not wake to the new day. But he did and now he was standing at the door of the wardroom with the clothes in his hands. Before him, stood the man, his face was in his hands. He was in tears.

  1. # #

Zach woke with a start. A face had finally emerged into the nightmare. It was that of a young woman of about twenty-five years old. She was dark in complexion as was her hair and the scarf that was loosely placed on it. She had piercing eyes that sparkled with a faint green light. When she spoke, Zach heard the words but her lips were not moving to them.

Aside the smiling face, he could not make out anything else of the nightmare—not the words that had been said or its setting. Words had been exchanged as in a dialogue and he had woken shouting ‘shut up’ as usual. However, he could not yet make anything of the dialogue that had led up to that.

Being in his position meant that he had to learn to tell the time by instinct, since there were no clocks or watches around. He was sure that it was at about six o’clock that he woke that Thursday morning. He had stayed in bed for another half hour, still trying as hard as he could to remember anything from the nightmare. Unable to do so, he had then stood from the bed. The cravat caught his eyes and he had picked it. Then the boy. He was coiled in that position from the boys’ first visit with his frame held against the wall.

There seemed to be something odd about the way he was laid that made Zach draw closer.

Two hours later, a sheet was laid over the boy. Nurse B told him that he had died at about midnight.

  1. # #

The news of the death of a vegetable boy, named Pûjó spread all over the town in a flash. And with it spread the news of the man that had taken care of him in his last days. The general feeling was that of sympathy. They had not expected him to live that long. Vegetables were not known to outlast the harmattan. But here was a boy who had outlived many dry seasons of his life. The most, who thought his life unliveable in comparison to theirs, felt that he was now finally relieved of his sufferings. Even Rev. Iňaō was touched by the news. He was certain that it was not a ‘judgment’, at least not for the boy. ‘Sorry for the poor boy,’ was his honest reaction. All questions of whether he would go to heaven or not…’ were drowned into that sympathy. He was sure that if he were God, he would give him a free pass through the Pearly Gates.

But there was never a time that the boy himself sought relief from his life. If there was anyone who was sure of that, it was Zach. The image of Mother and Child that had obsessed the boy all his life was the only relief and consolation that life had ever given him.

He too had lived and had conquered his own fate. And that was all that mattered.

  1. # #

Zach was comforted by the boys. They had followed the news to the hospital. They crowded the wardroom, tears dripping from their eyes, wetting their chubby cheeks.

They seemed to be grateful for haven fulfilled the chance that had been given to them to recognise that even his birth was worth celebrating and to participate in the boy’s life even for a minute.

The next question was how to bury him. It was Zach’s burden to bear as his illness had been. The hunter had a patch of land about town. That would do. From there, they set out bearing the body which had by then stiffened. The boys hurtled from behind the hunter who carried the boy on his back and led the way.

The party got attention from the townspeople that saw them as they made their way to the farm.

They arrived the farm on the edge of the town and set about the task of digging the grave. Two men who had come from their farms helped and they all took turns with the shovel, the hoe and the pickaxe. By midday, they had a very rough five-foot grave dug. They could go no further for the sun was high up. They laid the boy into the grave and stepped back to observe him and pay their respects for one last time.

‘My mother says that when a person is smiling in his death, it means he went to heaven. And when he is frowning, it means he went to hell.’ One of the boys, Stanley, said. The other boys seemed to agree with him.

The smile they had given him was still in his face.

‘Do you know that if you keep digging down and down and down, you will burst into hell fire?’

They all agreed to that one too. And naively so.

‘The cravat, it looks odd on him actually….’ Another observed and they laughed. They had placed the cravat on his neck, not expertly. It did look awkward.

‘My mother says that you will never see heaven with your eyes if it never was in your heart.’

That was insightful and they all agreed.

‘Paintbucket does not believe in heaven. He says that when you die, you die.’

‘He says Lazarus did not rise from the dead.’

‘He says it’s all fairy tales.’

Zach smiled. Paintbucket could have been Thaddy.

‘What do you people think?’ was his question.

‘I believe in fairy tales.’

‘So do I….’

‘Me too.’

‘Paintbucket has a big head too.’

The other men listened, without taking from them the chance to philosophize over death, what they knew was an inevitable fate for them. They seemed too certain in an authentic way—regardless of what their mothers, their Sunday school teacher, Alright and any other person had told them—that death was not the end, not for them or for the boy, in a hopeful way.

‘We will see him again.’

‘And we’ll have unbirthday parties, lots of those.’

‘And maybe get him a bicycle too.’

Zach was not sure what the effect of their witnessing a burial would have on them but he was sure of the one it would have on him. He was not even sure the way their parents would take it if they found out.

‘What do you think Mr Zachariah?’ Mwāi asked.

‘I think he heard all we that we’ve said. Where he is, there are no dumb or deaf persons.’

They then laid the boy into the grave and took turns heaping earth over his body. After which the boys stamped over the mound with their feet. They even played over it.

Those images would forever live with Zach.

The boys made promises among themselves. ‘We will plant vegetables over his grave. We will put a wooden cross over it. We will even build a shack over it. Every August 30th, wherever we go, we will always celebrate an unbirthday for Pûjó.’

  1. # #

Zach was sure that he was going to be throwing tantrums by the time he’d returned to the shack. But he wasn’t. He would have gotten angry with God for letting the boy die, with himself for haven not haven seen it coming, and with life for being so cruel. He was comforted by the boys. All his frustration disappeared into their great offering.

He was now back at the batcher house. That would be his last day in it. He was certain that he could not stand another night alone in the shack. The recent nights had been starless, moonless and pitched with blackness. He was not sure he could sleep with those torturous images in those nights.

The boy certainly had nothing in a life apart from the batcher house and all that was in it. There was not much worth saving in the shack after all.

The framed photo of Mother and Child….

His attention turned outside the shack to the sound of feet coming up the footpath. The owner of the feet came into full view just in front of the door of the shack and Zach saw that he was a Reverend Father.

The priest, carrying his cassock in one hand, held out the other for a handshake. His cheerfulness was with him. ‘Mr Zachariah, I believe.’

Zach hesitated before taking the hand. ‘Reverend Francis.’

‘May I?’ the priest asked and Zach stepped aside to let him pass.

The priest surveyed the shack. He was evidently disappointed. He took notice of the altar and the framed photo.

Once outside it, he began. ‘News of the boy’s death reached me. I heard he’s been buried already.’

Zach did not say any word. He felt the taste of spite in his mouth.

‘I want to hold a Funeral Service for the boy.’

‘Why would you need my permission for that?’

‘I want to request your presence. If you please.’

‘So much in death for a boy whom you despised in life.’

The priest smiled. He did not look as if the words had angered him. ‘I suppose you to be a very sensitive man. And undoubtedly, you may think that I seek something for myself in all this. I stand guilty though at the same time, I cannot tell you that I stand to gain anything. I cannot properly apologise. Forgive me and forgive the Church for as true followers of Christ, he was our burden to bear. He did a few jobs at the parish house and he was known there. The sisters there are in grief over his death.’

‘That does not change anything for the boy.’

‘You must understand Mr Zachariah that we are in guilt and I personally, I am in guilt. He was our burden to bear as are many others. They were ours to comfort in this world and give hope for the world to come. But the Church has not been worthy of all her Saints, and certainly not of the One she represents. We are in guilt over our unworthiness. Not even Eternity can absolve the Church of this guilt.’

Zach did not understand.

‘I suppose if Christ were to be born in our town, it would have been in this shack or some other place far from the cathedral. Your sacrifice has reminded us all of that and we will try not to forget. Your sacrifice has given some significance to the boy’s life. Tomorrow by 4PM before the evening Mass. Kindly do me the favour, sir.’

Zach’s heart was softened though he still did not want to attend the service, not from spite but from exhaustion and grief.

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Lazarus

The news of the Funeral Service for the dead boy followed that of his death and burial—with even far greater pace. The story of the boys spread with it. Tamsie had his mother whip him after he walked home half-covered in earth. When the news of the Funeral Service reached her, the boy was vindicated. Now, she had sent him off to go cut his hair for the Service. ‘Don’t let me look for you.’

Damian managed to take out three of the fresh posters. He turned them over, drew the face of Pûjó, copied out the Funeral Service announcements, and signed the names of the nine boys and Zach’s as ‘survivors.’ It became a known fact that even Pûjó managed to receive an obituary announcement. It was not the best of funeral service announcement and the other kids that saw it afterwards made fun of the artist.

Zach had moved into the mayor’s place and for once, he had no worries, earthly ones at least. He watched TV, had a warm bath, ate a belly-full and forgot about the world for a minute.

That night, the hunter paid him a visit in the room that was once Silas’. Zach had already forgotten about the money and the clothes. He had smelt alcohol as they worked around the grave as well as sensed unease in the way the hunter carried himself. However, he had not paid any attention to those. They did not seem to matter at the time. Now the hunter was telling him a folk tale about the tree and the bird.

‘So the two had a deal. The Tree said to the Bird: Be my eyes, seeing that I cannot fly. Go see the world and bring me news of its greatness. And my leaves will ever be a covering for you and your little ones.’

There was silence in which the hunter gathered his thoughts about him.

‘I used to think, all to myself, and it’s all nonsense if you think about too, that Judas had planned to drink with the money he received for betraying the Lord.’

Zach laughed.

‘It wouldn’t have been anything else. Forgive my naivety, I can’t figure out quite any other indulgence that would have been worth it.’

Zach laughed again. ‘Worth it?’

‘You must understand that a man must have someone to share the burden of his life with. If you do it with your fellow man, he will certainly despise you. He may not forgive you for he does not owe you that. However, the bottle always understands a man’s frustrations, at least, while it is still open before him. And that is the deal that the drunkard makes with wine.’

‘And what is the wine’s part of the deal?’

‘They say that wine is a mocker. Your sorrow will be his so long he gets to be the mocker…. The world has no place for drunkards.’

I cannot quite say that Zach understood the references that the hunter had made. But he never again spoke of the money or of the clothes. It had slipped out of memory, more or less.

The hunter however assumed that he did when word was made of ‘forgiveness’.

‘Who do you share the burden of your life with?’ the hunter asked.

‘God, of course. And a few good people who owe you forgiveness.’ When he said that, his mind flashed to that framed photo.

In his assumption of being ‘forgiven’ and of Zach as ‘owing’ his forgiveness, the hunter had said a Thank you, which was received.

  1. # #

Zach was taken by surprise when he was called upon by the Lector to take the Reading of the Gospel. The Lector was under the instruction of the priest when he introduced Zach thus: ‘We have among us a man who has made a most humble but very significant entrance into our society and lives. Please Mr Zachariah.’

It felt good only afterwards. While he walked to the podium, it did not feel so.

Zach was surprised as he was thrilled to find that the order of service had John 11 as the Gospel Reading. If he had any ill feelings and reservations left about the Service that Kuniā had dragged him to, they disappeared as he prepared to begin to read into the excitement of travelling with Christ to the town of Bethany.

The small cathedral was packed. The lot of the town had come to pay their last respect to the vegetable boy. He had become one of them, in his death.

The boys were present, except that this time, they were more than nine in number. Kuniā sat with her father in the front pews. Ūö was there as was Sir Daía and his wife.

He gave himself a moment of silence, which was indulged by the audience before he began to read. For once, he forgot about the vegetable boy as the story of Lazarus took its effect on him. He was not sure but he had wanted his audience to do the same. Summoning all the Shakespearean instinct in him (there weren’t much), he took a deep breath and began to read….

  1. # #

Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.

Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.

When Jesus heard that, he said: This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.

Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.

When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.

Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again.

His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?

Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.

But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.

These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.

Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.

Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.

Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.

And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him.

Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.

Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already.

Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off:

And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.

Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house.

Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.

Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.

Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:

And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?

She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.

And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee.

As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him.

Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him.

The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.

Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,

And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.

Jesus wept.

Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!

And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?

Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.

Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?

Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.

And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.

And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.

And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

Then many of the Jews, which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.”

  1. # #

Zach did not remember any other thing after the reading from the Service including the references that the priest made to what the sisters in the parish house had told him of the boy. Except of course, his commentary on the boy’s obsession with the Holy Mother and Child image. He was sure that it was just another sermon for those who heard it but not for him.

It made him aware.

It was indeed a grand way for the intelligent priest to put it:

“For those of us who consider her worthy of double honour, and even more, it is no accident that the Mother of Christ is venerated alongside her Son. In the Immaculate Conception, God, the Highest, identifies with the downtrodden of the world. In the Advent, He identifies with shepherds. In the manger too as in being the Lamb of God, He identifies with even animals. His life on the streets of Galilee bears us this witness. He walked among us, as with those who are the least of us.

Most importantly, in the pain of childbirth, He identifies with the women of the world.

In the image of the Holy Mother and her Child, which is divine for many and certainly for Pûjó, the forgotten women of the world look up to find the greatness of the woman in childbearing and child nurturing. In this, they find the consolation that they are not forgotten in the world. She becomes for the society and the men who rule it, a condemnation of the unfairness with which the woman and her children is regarded.

Blessed, it is said is the fruit of her womb. In this blessedness in which she participates, she calls the woman to find her greatness in the pain and burden of childbirth and child raising. In this blessedness, by which she becomes divine for the women of the world and her children, she achieves the greatest for those who are the least—and for the society that despises her.

Let this be a challenge to us today for only in emulating the Holy Mother can we be truly worthy of her. Pûjó was our child to raise as are many like him among us. But we betrayed him by not seeing greatness in raising him as our own child. It is good to seek greatness in things and achievements, but let us also seek for greatness in raising our children. They are our future and the future of humanity. The society that has no regard for its children is a society that has no future. And our society is gradually losing its regard for its children and for the women that bear and raise them.

We rebel against the ‘Father Image’, an image that haunts us everywhere in society, moreso in our religious life. You all call me ‘father’ but how many of you can truly stand me? We are told to accept authorities that are mostly strange to us. And what else? We are abused by these authorities. The woman suffers the most on account of this image. She becomes the ‘prostitute’ and the man thrive on her pain. She is forgotten, rejected and downtrodden. The line is drawn and she lives on the frontiers of the society. Therefore, God, in an unconditional participation on her fate and in the fate of her children, slips into the world as a child wrapped in the arms of a teenage girl. Every Christmas, we are confronted by this image. At this image, we must ever always halt in guilt.

It is by this image that God condemns us all in our selfishness and subversiveness. And it is by this image alone that we stand condemned in the way we have treated this boy and the way we treat many others like him among us today.

Let us hail Mary, the mother of the One who is the Christ.”

  1. # #

‘You were terrific!’ Kuniā had told him. ‘Didn’t you see that?’

‘See what?’

‘You had them with the reading. All of them. If a hairpin had fallen from my hair, the whole church would have heard it.’

‘What had them, the story or the reading?’

‘I don’t know but from the way you read that story, they were scared that boy would rise from his fresh grave…. You should be thanking me for dragging you along.’

‘Yeah, really.’

Chapter Thirty: The Plague

Mwāi was to return to his parents on Saturday and while he packed his belongings for the journey, he felt disappointed that he hadn’t found the answer to the riddle. His grandmother was excessively proud when the story came out. As usual, she rang in a lot more other things into his head. But he was left with mixed feelings: of his disappointment over his inability to solve the riddle and of course, his most recent heroics for which more praise awaited him in Noiā.

Saturday and Sunday witnessed an unprecedented downpour that started Friday night until Sunday evening. By Sunday evening when the rains finally abated, large portions of all the roads in the town had disappeared under the pools of water that had replaced them. Even Pûjó’s shack did not survive the rain. It was as if the rains had excused him to his death before taking his shack.

Many people spent their Sunday evening fixing broken ceilings and flushing flooded passages with thick brooms. Church attendance that Sunday was minimal. And by the time the people were emerging to Sunday evening, it certainly felt like a new town altogether. They were used to such rains. However, it did seem to those with very poignant sensibilities, that something supernatural had transpired during those two days they were locked inside their homes.

Mwāi was happy that the rains had postponed the trip until Monday. He was still hopeful of winning the prize.

He had read the book himself and had told the boys the story. All about the Humpty Dumpty and cravat was his idea. The book couldn’t be the true prize he sought to win. The true prize was in that feeling of self-satisfaction at being able again to fulfil his destiny as a ‘special child’.

Throughout the weekend, he grappled with that one riddle to the point of despair. More than just the riddle, he was now grappling with himself. It seemed he now had an image, one that had been given to him by the little solar system where he was the sun, to protect as he had his curiosity to satisfy. A part of him kept telling him that the riddle had no answer or that if it did, he would never come to know it. But he dismissed that part as the weak part of him. The strong one kept telling him that it was absurd that a book like that would have a riddle in that did not have an answer. By Sunday evening, he was at the point of tears.

By Monday morning, he was trying to devise ways to stay back in town. It was as serious as it was foolish and his grandmother was trying her best to pamper his pride as always. But that Monday morning, feeling frustrated at all her efforts to comfort him and assure him that he would still find the answer to the riddle in time, she threw a very loud tantrum.

Now as they sat in the bus, he muffling his tears with sobs, she mumbled to herself to his hearing: ‘What is the shame in admitting that one does not know the answer to a question if one does not? Ask me why a raven is like a writing desk and I’ll tell you it is because there’s no shame in admitting that we don’t know the answer to a question if we don’t. There’s greatness in that too.’

It was not the first time she was telling him such. She was not sure he understood her then but she was sure that one day, he would.

  1. # #

Zach meanwhile had a new topic on his list of reflections. Over the weekend, he went over them in his mind with delicateness trying to find where they converged. That point of convergence was by far more important than the different thoughts themselves.

As he sat out the priest’s visit that Thursday evening and tried to take one last and long look at the shack he once shared with the vegetable boy, another pair of feet had walked up to the shack. The owner of the feet was a man whose looks did cause Zach come revulsion.

He was Alright. He had walked up to the shack with his two hands in his coat and a wide smile on his face, hiding his insecurities.

  1. # #

Alright had his own insecurities. They did disappear when he was with his students. It was only they who recognized his intelligence and celebrated him for it. The rest of the people despised him for his attempt to decolorize himself. They did not think he had any reasons to do that. Michael Jackson may have had his reasons but Paintbucket did not. They felt betrayed. In Noiā however, no one seemed to bother about his colour, at least not to the point of feeling ‘betrayed’. And very well, he always showed them that he knew they despised him.

‘Good day sir,’ he greeted with a hand out. ‘Alright is the name.’

Zach took the hand and returned the greeting with a look of surprise on his face.

‘That’s your real name?’

‘Yes, my father gave me the name and I like it.’

He looked around the shack but wouldn’t seat. ‘I am their teacher—the boys. You seem to have put something on them.’

‘They have a lot respect for you.’

Alright laughed. ‘Yeah, Paintbucket, Michael Jackson. They are still kids. What do they know about respect after all? They missed their classes today and when I asked around, they told me of the dead boy. I’m sorry about his death.’

‘You’re welcome.’

‘Rest his soul. I suppose they may have made mention of Paintbucket.’

Zach chuckled.

‘The guy that doesn’t believe in God and in Jesus Christ. Bleh bleh bleh.’

‘Mention was made of that.’

Alright had jumped on the chance to meet with Zach. It felt at the time, under the circumstances in which he had first heard about the man that he judged him a man of refined character. He was not sure what had given him that impression but that was it. He hadn’t even come to see Zach on account of the boys missing their classes. He had come to rub minds with him for a minute.

What transpired between the two left Zach with the impression that he was not unlike Thaddy.

  1. # #

‘You know when people say things like: The world is coming to an end; something prophetic is implied in those words. They imply that their world is coming to an end. More or less. And that the new world will have no place in it for them and the ideals they hold dear to heart. Truth is: sir, these boys will grow into a world that they won’t be able to identify with this one.’

‘What difference will it make?’

‘They may lose their place in it if they fail to adjust to that world. As a man that has tasted that world and as their teacher, I see it as my responsibility to prepare them for that world.’

‘You perceive that I am a religious man? And that this coming world will have no place for religious people.’

Alright laughed.

‘Do you read a lot, sir?’

‘Not a lot.’

‘Then allow me to make reference to a certain parable….’

He did not tell Zach the parable quite as he had read of it. However, I shall tell the parable the way it was told. But for curiosity sake, I shall make no mention of the book where he’d read it or the person who had told it.

  1. # #

The whole world was condemned to a terrible new strange plague that had come to Europe from the depths of Asia. All were to be destroyed except a very few chosen. Some new sorts of microbes were attacking the bodies of men, but these microbes were endowed with intelligence and will. Men attacked by them became at once mad and furious. But never had men considered themselves so intellectual and so completely in possession of the truth as these sufferers, never had they considered their decisions, their scientific conclusions, their moral convictions so infallible. Whole villages, whole towns and peoples went mad from the infection. All were excited and did not understand one another. Each thought that he alone had the truth and was wretched looking at the others, beat himself on the breast, wept, and wrung his hands. They did not know how to judge and could not agree what to consider evil and what good; they did not know whom to blame, whom to justify. Men killed each other in a sort of senseless spite. They gathered together in armies against one another, but even on the march the armies would begin attacking each other, the ranks would be broken and the soldiers would fall on each other, stabbing and cutting, biting and devouring each other. The alarm bell was ringing all day long in the towns; men rushed together, but why they were summoned and who was summoning them no one knew. The most ordinary trades were abandoned, because everyone proposed his own ideas, his own improvements, and they could not agree. The land too was abandoned. Men met in groups, agreed on something, swore to keep together, but at once began on something quite different from what they had proposed. They accused one another, fought and killed each other. There were conflagrations and famine. All men and all things were involved in destruction. The plague spread and moved further and further. Only a few men could be saved in the whole world. They were a pure chosen people, destined to found a new race and a new life, to renew and purify the earth, but no one had seen these men, no one had heard their words and their voices.

  1. # #

As he thought about the discussion, after which Alright had announced to him that he would be leaving town that Saturday to resume school the next week, and all that had transpired that week, it occurred to him that both Alright and Reverend Iňaō were right after all. A lot of things were quickly fading into myth. The Plague had reached them from far away Europe. They could no longer pretend that they lived on the frontier of that world. They were called upon by necessity to choose where to stand in this world. While the reverend was unwilling to either accept or adjust to that world that had reached him and had shattered his ‘ideals’, and was escaping to ‘heaven’ for it, Alright had accepted the reality and was adjusting himself to it.

What about him?—Did he feel any anxieties over the latest developments.

He quite could not answer.

What about the boys? He was more consoled than he was worried.

They too had seen the Face of God, not in the skies but in the face of that boy whose life they had celebrated.

BOOK II

THE BRIDGE

Chapter One: The Tempest

Hééb was shaking with both the cold of a two-day heavy downpour that had filtered into his body, and the fear of all that he had witnessed in those two days. His mother was leaning over him. She was saying something but he could make anything out of her ramblings. All that he could hear was the thumping of his heart and the jabbering of his jaws. They seemed to want to shatter themselves to the cold. In a while, he passed into deep sleep again.

On his waking, Hééb felt great body pains. The cold was now replaced with dead muscles and jabbed bones. He could not move a limb and there was no one in the scorching room that now had three blazing firepots!

He sat there with his face to the ceiling reminiscing on what he’d experienced the past week. The whole thing was his mother’s idea from the very beginning. She was positive that if he followed her instructions, that he “would make something out of it, something that could be yours.”

He had taken the brothers to the edge of the town, his heart trembling with the anxiety of being a murderer, before dismissing them. The idea was funny as it was touchy. The boy he was taking to his death, was he not already dead after all? It seemed so silly to think that anything would change for the good. There were no guarantees, not from his mother, that anything would happen for anybody’s good, let alone his own. The risk was his to take or not take.

However, it did seem that he had nothing left to lose. All was already lost. Finding courage in that, he had carried the boy to where his mother had directed him: ‘Find a spot in the river where the water level is above the navel and place him on the waterbed. Use something to tether him to a rock, or a tree so the tide doesn’t move him away from the spot. Then stay and watch what happens.’

‘What is the rationale?’

‘Those boys are not the mayor’s. I should’ve known if I were their mother. There are no guarantees. This is merely my own theory. More or less. You may kill me but you may not mock my intelligence.’

Out of respect for his boss, Hééb had gone to speak with him regarding this that Sunday evening. But the man was not listening. ‘I am not a pagan. I do not subscribe to such nonsense. Do not insult the memory of my boy. Do not mock me in my suffering. Do you understand that?’

He had left disappointed. Urged on by something more selfish this time, he had proceeded with doing it himself, for himself and by himself.

He could swim, as could everybody that had been raised in Nānti, and so finding such a spot, he had tethered the boy to a stone on the waterbed with a thick rope that he had brought along.

Next was to sit out and watch what happens. That evening passed into the night. He could not sleep through the night for he felt a strong presence about the river. It was one of those pitch-dark, starless and moonless nights. He was sure that he was going to run away the next morning if he could and if he could survive the dreadful night. But the morning had come and he had fallen into a deep sleep, one that lasted into the evening. He had walked the fields around the river and finding some garden eggs, he had helped himself with something to chew.

However, it was not his stomach that gave him the most anxiety. He was sure he was going to be mad with fear going into the dreadful nights. Then came the rains and even if he had plans of staking his pride and running back home to his mother like a frightened child, he could not have done so any more. Not to the rains and not to the darkness. He was now like a ship stuck in a tempest. He sat back down on the hillock.

He sat there with the rains pouring down in mad rage when he heard a loud rumbling in the distance. The river was moving with a swirl at the place where he had placed the boy. He did see it, although there were no light in the skies—and though he could not have been any closer to the river than the hillock. He later fancied that he had seen it in a vision, a dream more or less, than with his two physical eyes. For it did not seem that anything had indeed happened after all.

The whirl rose till it covered the skies with a thick fountain under which everything disappeared. There were thunder and thick lightning that shook the earth beneath him with a quake. There were voices, those of a woman rumbling through the cackles of thunder and lightning. But he could hardly make anything out of them.

Hééb had the vision for those two days that it rained. When he woke that Sunday evening, he was shaking both with fear and with the dread of the vision. He had managed to stand and get down into the river. The boy was gone. Only the rope was left.

He did not freak out. He was positive that something had happened to the boy after all. The next thing was to get home.

  1. # #

Zach woke with a start. The nightmare had returned after a few days away. Once again, it was vague except for the dark-skinned, dark-harried woman and the setting, which was recognizably the river where he used to hold his morning ritual.

He got into his coat that morning and headed to the river. The valley with the gardens was as it were in the nightmare—or ‘the vision’, ‘the dream’ as we would interchangeably use those terms henceforth as suits the occasion—. There were rocks lying still in the river as were in the nightmare. In the nightmare, one of the rocks had the woman seated on it.

When he got to the stream that was now swollen with the rains that had raised the water level, his idea first was to find that one rock and the one that sat on it. The line between the dream and reality had grown thin that he could no longer stand behind the lie, nor could he even see it.

He would have to assume that everything was real as they were unreal.

He was able to identify the rock in time. To his surprise, someone was seated on it. It was not the woman, however. The figure was that of a dark-skinned, dark-haired young man.

The face belonged to the boy with a dead face that once shared the hospital wardroom with Pûjó. A smile was registered on the face. The eyes sparkled with a faint green light just as they did in the nightmare.

  1. # #

‘Ma, we want you to be the chairperson at the reception,’ the man announced. He held a bottle of wine wrapped in gift wrapper. Beside him, the woman gave a fake smile.

Madam Békhtèn had standing before her in the veranda, an ‘about-to-wed’ couple. They looked odd to her if not comical. She rarely knew them as she was sure they would never have sent her a Christmas card at the least if there wasn’t something for them in it. She was familiar with people like that leveraging on her persona. They would not have invited her if they did not think that she would put money on her name as such occasion demanded of her.

She gave them a drowsy look before asking: ‘When exactly?’

The lady took out an invitation card and handed to her with a bow.

‘2PM. Town Hall.’ She read aloud to them. ‘13th September.’

They answered a Yes in unison.

She dismissed them with a half-hearted promise that she would ‘be there.’ She fell into disappointment when she examined the wine. It was low grade and the thought of washing her hands with it flew across her mind. Instead, she sighed and let off her disappointment with: ‘The Lord have mercy on us fools and idiots.’

‘Babe,’ Daniel stepped in. He leaned over and kissed her. It felt good as if felt awkward. For goodness sake, he could have been her last son. But it did not matter. It fuelled her fantasies and that was why she paid him.

She could have asked: How was your night? But she already knew the answer. It had been a mountain-climbing experience for him. Trying to meet all of that woman’s vain sexual fantasies was like trying to empty the Atlantic with a spoon. But he was trying his best after all.

Then Ūö joined them. She was the one that got the ‘how was your night?’ question.

It was fine. She assured her.

‘Mother, I don’t know. I’m scared.’

‘The postman? The letter?’

She always woke up to that.

‘Yeah.’

‘Don’t be silly. You should be talking about how to adapt to the environment and all of that. It’s going to happen. Relax. Come on.’

Daniel slipped in: ‘I think, sometimes the letters get to come even a year later.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah, really. Not mine though. But I have friends whose letters came quite late. That’s an exception though. You know that in our country, things don’t quite work as they are meant to.’

‘You see. Just relax. Next month, I will take you there myself. When is the resumption date?’

‘8th October.’

‘That’s still a long way off. Come on, make your mother miss you.’

‘But mother, I am supposed to prepare ahead of the time.’

‘I suppose the adventure is one to die for.’ Daniel said. ‘It’s natural. In my own time, I had them drive back and forth to the post office.’

‘Of course it is.’ Madam Békhtèn added in dismay.

Ūö saw her chance and asked: ‘What does it feel like?’ She actually meant ‘What did it feel like for you?’ Many people had told her of what university life was like but they were mostly repeating words they had taken from other people’s mouths. It was her chance to hear from the horse’s mouth.

‘I don’t know. But for what it is, it’s a place where you encounter the world. Meet people of different background and different worldviews. I suppose that’s why they call it a universe-city. It always comes off like that, with all the initial excitement because it is an adventure. Really. But you need that excitement to take you through the whole adventure. And I suppose it comes handy. Such curiosity comes naturally with learning new things and meeting new people.’

She was hooked.

‘I made my best friends in my very first year. We still friends till today. So it goes that way.’

Ūö was impressed. She wanted to hear more. But her mother was beginning to become jealous as she wanted to be the centre of attention. So she sent her off on some insignificant errand.

Daniel knew he was not allowed to have certain discussions, not one that was outside their relationship. So the horse bridled his mouth.

  1. # #

‘I suppose we have met before,’ the boy asked with a hand held out to Zach. He was dressed in black as was the woman from the nightmare.

Zach took the hand reluctantly. ‘At the health centre.’

‘Or elsewhere?’

Zach was sure that he was not in the nightmare but on the other side of it. At the same time, it did feel that he was in an unreal place. He was now not minding the line between there and then. It no longer seemed to matter.

‘I knew you were going to come.’

‘How did you know that?’

The boy had now stepped off the rock and was standing in the river with Zach still on the slope.

‘O’course, Mr Zachariah, I knew you would.’

‘How do you know my name?’

The boy smiled.

‘We have met before, haven’t we?’ 

Chapter Two: The Homecoming

The news of the return of the mayor’s boy spread across the town and beyond it at the speed of light. Into the excitement of his appearance disappeared every other thing. No one, the mayor and his daughter included, was concerned again with how. They were all taken by the boy’s return. Felicitations poured in from all around the world.

Nothing again was said about the fact that Hééb had taken him away. The mayor was not impressed. Kuniā herself no longer felt that it mattered. ‘Does it?’

Zach did not know what to answer. The boy was alive, and that was all that mattered to those to whom his life mean t something. He did not want to be the killjoy and could not afford to be one. But he was certain of one thing as he was of many others—that boy came from the land of the dead.

By evening, the house was packed with well-wishers and random people, talking, jabbering, eating, and drinking and of course, throwing affection at the boy and his father. Hééb was back into the household as if he never left. Zach knew without being told that his days in the mayor’s home were counted.

Hééb himself was in an ecstasy, one which he tried to hide behind his professional manners while on his duties. Apparently, he had ‘fulfilled his own destiny’ and now, as his mother had told him, he was to watch and see what happens from here. Zach’s presence no longer threatened him.

In Madam Békhtèn’s hall, everyone was surprised at his recent generosity. ‘A plate of soup for everybody. All on me. All on me.’ Some were taking more than one though.

‘He’s happy for his boss,’ was the consensus. However, Brim was in a mood. He did not think that everything was right. But his brother’s eyes kept grazing his. He would see the warning there and try to act as normal as possible. He knew how it would go down, just as it always went down: Money did not trust him and so he would not allow him a moment off his sight. He was now in jail more or less.

He was sure his brother loved him. He was certain that he saw in him someone he could live for and he respected him for that. But he just did not know.

His only option was to keep his mouth shut and his demeanour as normal as normal could be. Perhaps if he could convince his brother that everything was under control, he would let him off the hook.

But did it matter? Being off the hook? It did not seem to matter, not when he had protected him, had provided for him, had done menial jobs just to give him a life that he never had himself. He would have to pay all of that back by respecting his brother’s desire for his silence.

A faint impression flashed across his mind: would it matter after all if Hééb had some conspiracy behind the boy’s return? Would anyone even believe him? And what was even this conspiracy? He was left with no other choice but to follow his brother.

  1. # #

That night, Zach went to see the nurse. He had looked for the hunter but he was nowhere in sight. She was the only one with whom he could share his concerns.

She gave him a meal of yam porridge, as prepared by her sister. It was top of the shelf considering that more in raw human skill went into the making of the food than what money could buy.

‘I wouldn’t go about poking my nose into affairs that do not concern me.’ She advised him as they ate.

‘No, you don’t understand. I am in the centre of the conspiracy.’ He answered her and then proceeded to tell her of the nightmare and the meeting at the river. ‘Whoever this is wanted me to be here from the very start. It’s like a well-thought out scheme. I find that I am in the middle of it all and I cannot walk away from it. Not now that I have gone the distance.’ Zach spoke in a flurry that he almost choked on the pieces of yam as they covered the distance between plate and mouth.

‘Who could that be?’

‘I don’t know and I’m sure that Hééb himself does not know as well. He’s been played in the game though he thinks he is the one with the lead.’

‘You know you are a man with sharp sensibilities. Truthfully, I do find it rather hard to trust my judgements on issues. My own judgements at the least. It’s like, I can’t even give credibility to my own judgments. And it gets hard for me to trust others. That’s how it goes. But Zach, I trust you.’

It did seem to comfort him that he was not sure that his sensibilities were that strong. But this one was unmistakable.

‘I really don’t know what to do. I don’t want to appear a killjoy. But there are other things I’d rather have them be prepared for.’

Zach did not want to return to the mayor’s place that evening. He could have slept on the bench outside the nurse’s door. He wished the rains hadn’t taken the shack. He would have managed with the darkness. Now he had no other choice and he started on his way back to that mansion.

It got even worse as the days came and left. The attention had moved fully from him to the boy. Kuniā herself no longer paid him the slightest attention. Zach did not think he should blame her for anything, except of course, for her naivety. He had disappeared into the buzz that went on in the house. He no longer mattered.

Chapter Three: A Phone Call Away

Nothing eventful happened that night. The next morning, Zach reported at the river. The line between reality and nightmare no longer existed. He was standing between two worlds now, one dissolved into the other in equal measures.

He was not surprised to find the boy with a look on his face that suggested to Zach that the boy was ‘waiting’ for him. Back at the mayor’s, both had not exchanged as much as a word.

‘What do you think?’ the boy began. They were both starring at the dawn from a seating position. Zach did not think he had to show his suspicion, or in a more profound term, to ‘throw’ his suspicion at the boy.

The reference was to the dawn. It was indeed beautiful and Zach acknowledged that.

‘I’m sorry I haven’t introduced myself formally. The name is Ekeó. Was Christened Ronald by mother though. As you like it.’

‘What does Ekeó mean in the native tongue?’

‘It means ‘the one who dies alone’. The name is popular with twins. The interpretation is that even though you were born together, you will however die alone. My brother’s was Donald. He died alone after all. I suppose they’ve told you about him?’

Zach nodded.

‘It’s a good thing that you did not judge him when you heard his story.’

‘Judge him?’

‘You know he did what he had to do?’

‘Well, I believe that sometimes, an inglorious fate could be turned into a glorious density.’

‘That’s because you believe in God. He didn’t. Believing in God changes things. It means you do not fight your battles all alone. The vegetable boy’s story is a testimony to that.’

Zach thought that the boy was quite articulate except that he was left suspicious and confused at some points. They had talked into midmorning. The themes of the conversation were centred on the boy’s childhood. Even though it was rarely substantial, the boy had a good memory too. The boy talked and he listened still clutching his suspicions at heart. The conversation revealed in the boy a sensitivity towards others, more or less, as well as a tendency towards the sentimental.

‘I understand that how you feel about me.’ The boy said after he was done with the long recollection of his life story. ‘You must understand that it’s in place. I do not judge you. I mean, it is wise if not normal for us to approach the unknown with some elements of fear and suspicion.’

Zach did not know whether to be shocked or mortified at that. What the hell was going on?

‘Let me not accuse you of jealousy. That would be lousy on my part.’

‘Jealousy?’

‘I mean, the attention has shifted and all that. But that’s beside the point. I appreciate that you have concerns, very much like Jesus’s contemporaries—.

Jesus?

‘—But do not let them stop you from appreciating the miracle that has happened.’

Zach had to lift up his face this time to meet the boy’s. What was he insinuating? Was he playing mind games? Zach saw in the boy’s face as he heard in his voice, something insinuating—something that was not there all the time he spoke about himself.

At the same time, it did seem that Zach had heard those words before—in those nightmares. Was all of that a nightmare, happening in a more realistic background?

‘I also understand that the lack of attention has brought back your family to mind. You don’t remember but you had a dream last night about your wife dying during the birth of your child.’

‘I don’t remember.’ Zach used to have dreams that he would wake and try so hard to remember. However, he was certain that he had not had anything like that last night. What was happening?

‘I assure you that everything will be alright. No fears. Okay? I also want you to forget about Hééb and…. In fact, I would advise you go home. Pûjó is dead. I mean, your coming into his life has given him the chance to see the Face of God….’

!

‘—Left for me, I’d suggest you go home to your wife and experience the miracle of childbirth.’

Zach felt he should turn the conversation in his own direction. ‘You do seem to know much about me.’

The boy laughed. ‘Like I said, we have met before.’

  1. # #

Zach’s heart was beating very fast and hard as he walked towards the only place aside the mayor’s that he could manage with a telephone. He was sure he was in the real world this time. But it did feel that he was in an unreal one. He did not remember haven had any dreams the past night, and certainly not ever, about Ruth dying. Now, he felt as if he had had such a dream. And with that feeling came great anxiety over her.

From the river, he made his way to Sir Daía’s.

  1. # #

While Black went about his job for the day with the same dedication for which he was known, Daniel found a chance to satisfy the aspiring schoolgirl’s famished curiosity. He got the chance when he she came to serve him tea for the morning. It was Ūö’s pleasure after all. She did respect her mother though and knew well enough that she would not allow her share any intimacy with any of her boys. But she had gone out quite early.

‘What course of study is that?’

‘Law.’

‘Phew, that’s huge. It’s competitive. Very competitive.’

‘I know that,’ Ūö added, allowing the confident look on her face to say the rest: She was up to it.

‘What is the motivation?’

She looked for something high-sounding: ‘Well, I want to be a voice for the voiceless.’

‘Oh, that’s great.’ He was impressed. ‘You know that common people harbour a distrust for lawyers. Lawyers are liars.’

She laughed, easing herself into his presence. The word ‘common’ made her She was still standing and leaning on the frame of the door.

Daniel was sure that this girl was so much like her mother—vain. Except that her vanity was vaguely obscured in that lofty self-vision she had of herself. He was not sure what had attracted him to her at first but now, he was. It was that grandiosity in the way that she regarded herself. It was not self-evident but he saw it for he had seen so many like that.

He saw it for he was a bird of that feather.

‘The university is a place where you can really explore yourself.’ He said with a smile. ‘I wish you the admission.’

‘Thanks.’

  1. # #

‘Sir Nelson had a heart attack on Sunday.’ The girl from last time reported. Once again, she was standing in the doorway with Zach facing her.

Zach was not now sure whether to appeal to his own need or to the sympathy that the moment demanded of him. ‘I really don’t know but I want to make use of his telephone. I need to speak with—

‘It’s not in my authority to do so. My madam is not at home. If you can come back in the evening, I believe she will let you use the telephone.’

Zach did not see any good sense in trying to persuade the girl so he gave her a smile and left.

  1. # #

‘What is going on?’ was the question that tumbled through his mind as he walked back to the mayor’s home. His anxiety would not allow him some patience and so he reckoned that he could not wait. That was the only place that he knew he could use a telephone in town. There was a booth at the town hall but they had told him that it was faulty. It hadn’t worked in a whole year.

What the cuss was happening and why did he have anything to do with it?

It was obvious in a very concrete way that something was not at all right. But how come it had to be his family?

This thread of thought tortured him all the way to his destination. Not that a phone call would have comforted him. At that moment, everything did seem to disappear into that one thought.

Chapter Four: Before You Go

Zach was surprised to see that a small crowd had gathered in front of the mayor’s front yard. In the centre stood the boy. He was speaking to them in a very spirited way. He drew closer and listened. ‘…That is what makes me special. That alone. I believe anyone of you can share in that specialty. Don’t call me ‘special’ if you cannot so call yourself.’

They applauded him more from admiration; they certainly did not understand. Nothing he’d said from the beginning said made any sense to them.

‘Look at the man who shares in this knowledge’, the boy called out to Zach when he saw him. He got their attention for a minute but was relieved again when they returned their attention to the boy.

Zach walked into the first living room and a good number of the townspeople were seated and chattering away at some obscure topic. There were quick flashes of Kuniā greeting people, hugging them and smiling back at them.

The whole house was quite the opposite of what it was a few days ago.—All in an instant! Everywhere buzzed. It felt like those homes where there had been a wedding or some celebrations. Zach even saw flashes of Hééb hopping around doorways and trying to be stern. He was certain that no one of them knew that he was in the house.

He needed no higher intelligence to tell him that it was high time that he left the house and the town as well. He had accumulated some belongings, whose usefulness in the mayor’s home had become superfluous—a tube of toothpaste, a bar of toilet soap, a roll of tissue paper, a stick of toothbrush and a tube of perfumed Vaseline.

He had no one to announce to that he was leaving the house, if not the town itself. He felt it rude to leave without any notice to his guests. But what about the day was not rude already?

He had almost forgotten all about the telephone call when the door to the room where he’d been staying opened and Ekeó walked in. He had a different air from the one he had when he addressed the small crowd.

He was startled at his entrance.

‘I’m sorry. Forgive my discourtesy. I understand that you have been trying to reach your family. What if I made that happen? Not that they are under any form of danger.’

‘No, thanks. I am leaving after all.’

‘Oh, oh. I actually did not mean to chase you away. That would be a rude thing to do. This is my father’s house. You can stay for as long as you can.’

Zach continued stuffing his pockets with his belongings, ignoring the boy.

‘You know, I wouldn’t quite admit my disappointment at your hasty dismissal of my claims.’

‘What claims?’

‘What claims? What claims, you ask? Don’t you see that I mean something to them? They love me. I have become to them a symbol of hope. Does that not mean something to you?’

Zach did not answer. In time, he was at the door.

‘You’re too simple and that will be your downfall.’

Zach remembered that Thaddy had used those exact same words on him in the same order as they’d just came out of the boy’s mouth.

‘You really know me too well.’ He was stopped in his tracks by the apprehension. Zach felt like grabbing him and hitting his head against the wall until he could see the white matter of his brain. He felt that hatred.

‘You may not understand me. But do not hate me. You are a man that has risen above hatred. You are a good man. I have a cell phone with me here. You can speak with the love of your life and let your anxieties not drive you to madness.’

At the mention of cell phone, Zach was hooked once again.

‘There, go one. Assure yourself that it was just a bad dream.’ The boy held out his left hand. The phone was in it.

Zach hesitated.

‘I wouldn’t bite you even if I could.’ The boy said and placed the phone on the bed. ‘Don’t worry. Things are not always what they seem. You can leave the phone on the bed when you are done.’ With that being said, the boy left.

Zach took the phone and dialled home. It rang thrice and the voice of his father came on. ‘Dad.’

‘Junior, how are you? It’s really been mad crazy around here.’

‘Is she fine at all? I’ve been trying to reach home.’

‘Yeah, the telephone bills. Wasn’t able to pay for last month. They disconnected the line. Was just able to get it back on yesterday.’

‘How is she?’ Zach kept at the very reason why he had called.

‘Oh, yeah, she is fine.’

‘What happened? Talk to me.’

‘It’s nothing. She went into labour last night. There were complications. She’s in intensive care. But I have professional assurances that she will be fine. She needs you, around, now that….’

Zach heard very little after ‘last night’.

  1. # #

Brim was trying as hard as he could to keep his cool. Something big was up. Hééb had certainly not taken that boy away for nothing. However, his brother was in denial. He did not know now what to think or who to ask.

‘When are we leaving?’ He managed to ask his elder brother when he found the chance.

‘We leave when I say we leave.’

‘Why that? We already have enough money for…’

‘Shut your trap. And do as I say. If you don’t want that cleft lip.’

  1. # #

Zach was now having a hard time keeping a lid on things. He had his wife to think about as he had…. No, he had only his wife to think about. All the roads now led out of the town.

Or so he thought until he realized that he had not the means for that. He had not a penny on him. His frustration heightened when his body reminded him that he had not eaten anything the whole day. It did not seem to matter much. He no longer had the seclusion of the shack nor did he have the comfort of the hunter’s company. He was on his own now.

The sun was on its way down. Soon, it would be night. All for the worse. Maybe he could manage that bench outside the nurse’s door. Or he could get her to allow him sleep at the wardroom for the night. He could even explain to her how much he needed to leave the town and how he was unable to do so. And how she could help him with the means to do that. He was sure she was that generous.

He had earned the priest’s respect—or so he thought. He could be a burden that the cheerful man would love to bear. The thought of it stung Zach and he felt that he could not take the priest’s words very serious. All of that stuff said at the Service, were nothing more than a sermon.

He could have gone to the knight’s home. But the thought made him sigh. He did not want to stress the dying man by extracting another monologue from him.

His mind turned towards the health centre where he was hopeful he could find Nurse B. But on getting to the health centre, he was told in those familiar rude words, that the senior nurse was on emergency duty and unable to meet him. It would be so until the next day.

He took the bench that was placed in the reception hall of the health centre. In a minute, he was asleep.

  1. # #

Zach was waked by a gentle pushing at his side. It was Nurse B.

‘What are you doing here?’

He collected himself together and answered: ‘I’m leaving town as soon as I can.’

‘Is that why you are here?’

‘I have no other place where I can spend the night.’

‘I was going to ask to sleep in the wardroom.’

And with that shone his luck. Into the wardroom, he slipped. But sleep would not come this time.

Chapter Five: A Rolling Stone that Gathers Moss

In room in the condo, a man was calling Borûn a slut and reminding her that no one can love anything like her. He threw a few bills at her and ordered her out of his room. She now had money for her hair. For haven determined within herself that she would never ask her mother for anything again, she had begun to put a price on her sex sessions as well as condoms. She had steeled her mind. She too could make her own way—that way, whatever way. She believed that after all.

It humiliated her to know that human beings were rarely grateful for the least favours.

She had grown used to such treatments. Worse things had been said and she had come to believe all of them. But this one did sting her for now, she had a ‘reason’ attached to her waywardness. She was doing it for the money. She thought life would justify and forgive her for that. But it didn’t. It made her feel even worse.

Borûn never did have anything significant in an excuse to put on the life that had turned out to be hers. It was not that she was raped or abused. She could not have been a victim of circumstances. Madam Békhtèn did her best to protect her daughters from the life that she lived. She wished them better things—marriages and families—and from time to time, asked their forgiveness.

It had happened that she was admired for her body and the sex appeal about it. It held the kind of innocent sex appeal that was common with buxom girls of her age. Growing up as a little girl, it did not mean much. But more than mere admiration was put on it by a friend and she had eaten the forbidden fruit. It tasted good and she ate it again and again.

She could not quite tell why she had stuck to it against her better judgement. She was brainless in a sense but she let them do it to her, no longer to satisfy her own taste, but theirs. She could give any other explanation. It did seem at the time that she derived some satisfaction from giving such favours to those that asked. She fancied that she had placed themselves at their service—the sex doll, the plaything that was to please everybody. She let them pass her around. They talked about every encounter with her in a ‘positive’ light and she strove to do more for each of them. So long as they were satisfied, she was satisfied. But some things never change and other things never stay the same. She grew into a world where she was scorned by the same people that she risked her life for their pleasures. When she was younger, it was she and her boyfriends playing around. Then, it did mean something. But those days were her generosity was celebrated were now gone. Those days, she enjoyed the act, but she never did again.

Her mother’s concern for her health and the constant comparison with her younger sister were the only motivation she had to try and get away from that life. But they were not strong enough motivations. For she was scared that it would all mean nothing on the long run.

This life, it seemed was the only life that she truly had. She was certain that she could not survive any other.

It was not motivation that she needed. She needed someone to be strong for her.

  1. # #

Her thoughts hung in air as she descended the tight stairs. She was already sore. The man upstairs had made her the lesson his wife had to learn about not ‘disrespecting’ him. He had taken her on their matrimonial bed while his wife cried in the next room. He had taken her in so many positions too. Since it was in a room in a condo, it was not only the estranged wife that learnt the lesson, it was for every other woman in the condo.

A foot stepped on hers as she landed on the stair landing and prepared to make the turn and find her way out of the building. Next, a hand slipped under her right hand. And in quick succession, another one slipped under her left. In a moment, she was in the air.

She could have shouted all she wanted and she could have kicked against the goads all she could. She knew it would not matter. They were stronger than she was. A door opened and closed. Three more boys were seated and waiting.

They were now five.

‘Turn off the light,’ Atta Boy directed.

The light went off in an instant.

‘Pack of condoms.’

One appeared.

‘Good,’ he leaned over. ‘You must understand that it is not just the thing between the legs that we want. Not this public toilet. What the gods want is revenge. And you are going to give it.’

‘Revenge for what?’ she had asked them.

‘That is your question to answer.’

Borûn knew it was going to be a long night. Indeed, it was a long night, though not unlike many others.

  1. # #

Black did not respond when the news reached him. He had brought it one her. Atta Boy was not one to let bygones be bygones. He was making him pay for his burst of anger—for injuring his male ego, more or less. According to his guardian angel, revenge was the sweetest joy next to getting that thing that was between a woman’s legs. Atta Boy had had his revenge.

There were no thoughts of revenge. All his thoughts encircled around all the agony of the night. He chose to participate in those rather than fuel his male ego with thoughts of turning the beef into an eternal one. If he could, it would have been Atta Boy who would end up on the Other Side.

Moreover, he had concerns over the state of his mind. He had cut his blade into a customer’s scalp yesterday. Such things were not known to happen with Black. Everyone now knew that something was wrong with their beloved barber. Not that he could help himself. He however knew he had to hold himself together.

He also felt helpless for he had no leads to take at getting her away to himself. Black was not one to be intimated by others. He was one to have his way. He styled himself an outlaw, a soldier. Even Atta Boy knew that. He had found the courage to proceed on the knowledge that his opponent was now impotent to the sting of that ‘sissy shit called love.’ Somebody’s wings had been clipped. Or rather, somebody had allowed his wings to be clipped.

He felt so weak.

But Borûn was comforted by that experience, more than she was hurt at heart by it. It was divine to know that someone did love her. She saw the experience as the price she had to pay for being loved. Into that knowledge disappeared all the agony of the night.

She was hopeful.

  1. # #

It rained that night and as it did, Zach gathered his thoughts about him, as he could not sleep.

He was obsessed with the idea of growing up again. That was his idea of raising a child. Now he could do it more closely, more deliberately. It was something that he had been waiting for. He had already chosen names for his unborn child. If it turned out to be a girl, he would name her after his mother. Her second name would do. If it were a boy, he would call him ‘Biyar’ after the crippled boy who walked again—the crippled boy who had taught him how to walk.

He had carried his anxieties over his wife and family to the town, very much like he should. At the same time, he was certain that she would not have stood him turning back just as he had planned to. She would have urged him on to the very end. She would have encouraged him to take the risk he’d taken for her for others. She would have told him in the same tone as his mother had that it was there and there alone that he belonged. Not in the safe corner of the world.

She had been through similar conditions, even worse ones. She had survived them by living under the eyes of God. That was the very lesson of her life, one that she had learnt very well and one that she teaches every time she gets the chance. She had hurt herself when she had taken the reins in her own hands. Her life was in God’s hands, not in hers and certainly not in his.

It would matter very little if he were there with her. He was as helpless as she was. If she was in mortal danger, it was God that she needed to be there for her and it was God that she looked up to be there for her.

In that realization, Zach prayed God’s jealousy over the love of his life and some peace and clarity of judgement for his raging mind.

In that moment, Zach felt peace filter into and through his bones. Someone wanted him to leave the town. Someone had brought him to the town. He stood between them, more or less.

In that peace, he heard himself mutter: ‘No one is leaving this town, until it is over.’ It was to all that she meant to him that those words escaped his lips.

Chapter Six: The Rat and The Hot Water

The next morning, Zach woke full of ideas again. Not ideas of leaving the town but those of finding the answer to the riddle. He had two faces in his inner eye and he set out to pay them a visit. The first person was Hééb’s mother and the second was Sir Daía. He was hungry from yesterday. But he would not stress it as he could not chew his own fingers. He found in the peace of last night the assurance that God would provide.

Hééb’s mother was not home when his knuckles rammed her gate. As he traversed the town one more time, it felt very homely, in quaint way. His next stop was the knight’s.

He rang the bell and waited. It was not the girl who answered the door. Sir Daía himself, dressed in a greying singlet, stood at the door, with a wide smile on his face. This time, Zach did not have to introduce himself again. The man recognized him after regarding him for almost half a minute.

Zach was not surprised. If not for anything, he knew he was having breakfast in the gentleman’s home.

‘Young sir, your friend, the hunter, he is not with you.’ Sir Daía pointed out.

‘He’s been busy sir.’

‘Oh, busy with what? You know, they told me about the boy that died. Not that I did not know about him. I mean, I knew his mother.’ The man had sat and Zach with him. The monologue had started. ‘You know, I totally agree with the priest….’ Zach was sure that the man had an abundance of things he wanted to say.

More than anyone, he felt the weight of death overhanging him. ‘My wife is trying to convince me that I could live forever.’

Zach laughed. ‘Is she succeeding?’

‘Far from it. She’s succeeding in putting me in this box. I suppose if I can live well in this box, then I can live better in the pine box.’ From the gestures that accompanied that, Zach knew that the man meant the house.

Tea and Danishes was served and the conversation moved to the dining table.

Zach understood what was happening to the man. His wife out of concern for his health was keeping him from the world. And out of respect for her concern, he was stealing at the chance to have one of such dialogues or to give his monologue. He had descended the stairs and had sat in the living room hopeful of a visitor, any visitor.

Sir Daía was one of those men who could stand you by the roadside and have a long discussion with you until you missed your bus. He believed that everyone had something to say and should be listened to. Now all of that was taken from him in addition to his heart. It did not feel any good since he was going to die after all.

He had a lot to say. And at the price of breakfast, Zach was there to listen.

  1. # #

Brim woke that morning more curios than ever. His curiosity grew even stronger when news broke out that the boy had made Ben Capital, a blind man known all over town to see again. He wanted to join the numbers that were trooping to the mayor’s house where he was addressing the people. But Money was not letting that happen. ‘You’re not going anywhere.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘So when did this piece of meat start questioning the very person that had cooked it?’

Brim had no idea. He felt insulted by the metaphors his brother was using to describe their relationship.

‘I know you to be such an ingrate….’

‘Ingrate?’

He got a slap for that.

‘Now, listen and listen closely,’ Money leaned over the boy who was now in tears, more from the intimidation than from the slap, and mustering all the villain instinct he could find within him, addressed him: ‘If you are looking for something to be grateful for, then be grateful that I have not abandoned your little ass. You could have ended up worse than that vegetable boy. At least he had more brains than you do. And watch out for that cleft lip.’

Money was mistaken on a number of levels. Aside the fact that he was now taking things on a personal level; he was also blinded by his greed. He had gone personal on the boy because he knew that it would take only intimidation to keep the boy’s mouth shut. Brim was a smart one and his desire to know the world was something the life which he had could not take from him.

A part of him urged him to take the money he’d made off Hééb and leave the town. But he fancied that he could make more. There were no guarantees that the news would change anything for anybody. Not even for Hééb if he wanted to blackmail him. And certainly not for the townspeople who had taken a fancy to the boy. It was not his business; it would be if there were money to it.

As an enterprising young man, he was thinking on the long term. He had trained himself to see opportunity in everything and the current situation was very much the same.

However, more than all that, his reaction expressed the hold that he had over his brother and his desire to not lose it—and him. He was not sure that the boy could ever take care of himself—not quite as he could and as he did.

As he lay weeping on the floor of the single room he shared with his brother, Brim thought out something that would give him the break he wanted desperately. It was more from his curiosity than from wordiness that he wanted to see the boy. Who wouldn’t?

He cleared his throat and began in a milder tone, trying as much as he could to hide its conspiratorial undertone: ‘I am sorry brother. Forgive me. Even if I hadn’t said it before, I am grateful to you my brother.’

Money mellowed down. He loved his brother more than any other thing. And the weaker he was, the more he wanted to be strong for him.

‘Alright, you can go. But come back on time and don’t go talking to anybody about anything.’

  1. # #

Daniel saw that the girl more than just listened to him. He saw that he appealed to her sense of self. She believed in him. Now he was filled with thoughts of her.

Last night, he had fancied that it was she instead of her mother that he was sharing the passions of the night with. The fancy had relieved him and in a surreptitious way, he was now thinking in terms of making that fancy real, if he could. He judged that he could after all, he appealed to her sense of self.

Now as he prepared to receive his tea from her hand, he thought of some modesty with which he could impress her and stay awhile on her mind.

The door opened and Ūö walked in carrying the tray of tea and bread in hand. He waited till she was about leaving when he began—just as she wanted him to. ‘Hey, my dear lawyer, forgive me but do allow me to call you that.’

‘I don’t mind at all.’ She said with a cheerful face.

‘Oh, thanks.’ He waited a moment before proceeding, ‘Do you think that good can be used to justify evil? Or rather, vice versa?’

She did not understand.

‘I don’t know but even though you are not a lawyer yet, I know you possess the inborn instinct of one that now leads you towards the profession. Am I right?’

‘Yeah,’ she was not sure. He sounded right.

‘I don’t know but it’s has been going through my mind. It’s not just about me. This is the core of the law profession—the demand that simple reason, human existence, conscience, history, society and of course civil institutions places on us to justify our actions and thoughts in light of accepted standards and norms. I mean, there are many ways to it. Some appeal to need, others to logic, or to a religious book, or to history. You must understand that I have a reason for being here, for doing this. I wouldn’t even ask you to forgive me. I mean, I really have no excuses. What I have are reasons. They may justify me in your eyes or they may indict me. Be the judge over me. But I sense that you are a woman of strong affections. But what justifications do I really have? At least, there are people in worse situations than I am….’ It took him a bit longer to get at the lie he had to tell her. ‘I have a mother and they say she has a bad liver. Our country is in a bad state already and there are rarely places for people like me….’

He needn’t go further. ‘I understand.’ Ūö was relieved for now she had an excuse, a reason, and a justification to attach to the forgiveness that she had already given him.

‘And one more thing: you must forgive your mother as well.’

He hadn’t thought about that one line but when it came off, and when he saw the look on her face, he was sure that it worked the magic he had intended.

He searched his wits and it gave him something golden: ‘My dear lawyer, it’s a quid pro quo world. But not everyone would give to his neighbour without demanding something in return.’ The vague reference was to her mother not helping him when she could free. It won her his sympathy as it breathed on the forgiveness she had once given to her mother. From thence, Ūö was certain that she had found in him someone that understood her as much as she wanted to be understood. If she had any guards against her mother’s boys, she let them down to this one.

  1. # #

Zach left the Sir’s place by midday and fifteen minutes into the other side of the day; he was standing before those gates. Hééb’s mother was delighted to have him and she showed her delight.

‘Ma,’ Zach began with the woman standing in between the two leaves of the gates. ‘I think I have found an answer to your riddle.’

‘Oh, I’m listening.’ She beamed.

Seeing that she was in a haste and was ready to hear him out on the spot, Zach hit her up. ‘I want to believe that you think you are,… but you are not the answer.’

‘How do you mean?’

Zach felt that he should put in a dramatic moment for her. But he had no parables of tales of his own to tell her. He would’ve given up his attempt to be dramatic if one as told by Biyar had not come to mind as he traversed the town.

‘Once upon a time in a bush, a bat and a bush rat lived and fed together but the bat was always jealous of the bush rat because when he cooked the food, it was always better. One day, the bush rat inquired of his companion of how he made his soup and how it came to be so tasty. After a long time in persuasion, the bat replied that his flesh was so sweet that he boiled himself in the soup every time it was his turn to cook. The bush rat wanted to see how this was done and so the bat, who was unwilling to teach him how to make good soups, prepared a soup beforehand and jumped into it after haven let it cool down a bit. Then he called the rat and told him to come and see. When the rat saw this, he went home and told his wife and the whole animals to come to a party in his house that he would make a soup like that of the bat. He then told them to boil some hot water and when they were not watching, he jumped into the pot of water and died. Tell me, ma, who do you think killed the bush rat? The hot water? Or the rat that deceived him?’

The woman did not understand and Zach saw it all in her face, even in the smile behind which she tried to hide her obfuscation.

Feeling satisfied with himself, he returned to the wardroom. He now had a neighbour for the night.

While the man with whom he shared the wardroom was whining and asking his wife to take him to the mayor’s place, Ben Capital was in ecstasy. The man who was blind from birth was shouting, throwing his hands up, hugging people and asking questions about this and about that.

‘It is the work of God and not mine,’ Ekeó was telling them. ‘Hey, you madam, this way, why are you looking like that? What is the problem?’

The woman stepped forward from the crowd that had grown larger. ‘My husband, he lost his government job. And we have not been able to manage without it.’

‘Oh dear, wipe your eyes, dear one for God indeed is with you. Your family shall once again be blessed.’

Another man wanted his left eye fixed. It was fixed. A woman had diabetes. A child was brought forward.

In the crowd, the hunter Othí looked on with a smile on his face. All his thoughts were on what he would demand from the boy when it came to his turn. A bag of money was certainly it. And of course the ability to stop drinking. If he could manage with that too.

By the time he arrived the mayor’s place, following his curiosity from the wardroom to the mayor’s place, Zach was visibly angry. All of that was a mockery of people’s conditions. He wanted to find Kuniā and reprimand her for allowing all that to happen under her nose. However, by the time his curiosity was satisfied and he was about leaving, he was full of rage—rage that could have been spite. Not more than five minutes into his walk back to the health centre, he heard a voice calling him from behind. When he turned, he met the boy.

‘My apologies, Mr. Zachariah. If you don’t mind. A minute please.’

Zach waited up.

‘I see that you did otherwise.’

‘You mean, travel?’

‘Yeah, I meant that. Not that your wife is in any grave danger. Even if she were in one….’

‘Could you please not speak of my wife again? Not now and not ever again. Thanks.’

‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry. My bad manners. I suppose it’s a sensitive corner. Do you know you are blessed? Married people are really blessed?’

‘What do you want?’

‘Nothing actually. I just want to, you know, still appeal to your better judgement. Tell me Mr Zachariah, do you love to see people suffer?’

‘Of course I don’t.’

‘I suppose that being the man that you are, that if you could, you would help everyone you ever meet if you could. Like that boy Pûjó. If you could, you would have saved him, you would have rewarded his desire to live.’

‘Well, I participate in people’s suffering when I can’t save them from it. There is comfort in that, at least. As to the boy, his desire to live was well rewarded.’

‘Exactly. But you need a heart like mine to want to do more than comfort people. You want to save them, give them their redemption…, if you can. That I believe is the meaning of Christ’s life.’

‘You are joking! You don’t know anything about the life of Christ and what it means to those of us that share in its mystery.’

The boy chuckled. ‘Oh dear, I promise you that I do. I do share in its mystery myself and I only seek to elevate my life to His. I want to give peace to those that suffer.’

‘Then good luck with that.’ Zach turned and started in the opposite direction.

‘Mr Zachariah, forgive my….’ Zach kept on. He was not listening this time.

  1. # #

Brim left the mayor’s place in a bad mood. The sight was disappointing and distasteful to him. He was not at all impressed, not when he had borne that body, that terrible pack of dead flesh in his own hands. It was now more than mere curiosity; he was now a concerned person.

Out of respect for his brother, he walked home silently, except for a few greeting stops on the way back.

Chapter Seven: Where Is the Love?

Zach woke to the news of the passing of the old chap, Sir Daía. The man had died in his sleep. He was privileged to have heard a bit of the man’s last words. It did make him feel as if it were his father that had died. Though nothing other than the monologues and the means had transpired between the two, that connection had been made. Thus that morning, the thoughts that dominated his mind were those of his father’s. Zachariah senior shared the same sense of reality with the knight. This sense of reality looked upon the world with generous concern over its fate. It was this concern that had driven the senior Zach to seek out a pastorate. But as Zach observed, this concern dissipated in his father’s old age as it had in the knight’s. In a more profound sense, it had taken another form, a less generous form.

It always did and naturally so, for at old age, all they had were history and history always cast very thick and dark shadows over the future.

He had served as the head pastor of a three-thousand congregation. His retirement had coincided with the death of his wife after a long struggle with blood cancer. Following that, he had removed himself totally from all that was once his life. He had reasons for after all, the world had had enough of him already. It did feel as if there was a part of him that he’d left behind. The connection between the death of his wife and his retirement was not so obvious on a fundamental level. It was the beginning of a new life for him. However, he did see in his last son, Zach the hero of our present story, a tendency towards ease in life. After leaving school, the boy had no plans. The boy did not see anything in life that challenged him nor did he want to see.

Zach’s mother was the greatest influence in his life. She had rang it in his ears from as long as he could remember having ears, that his life was not his. It was not obvious for anything. Her boy was not a do-gooder nor did he so much share in the generosity of the Atlases of the world—those who bore the weight of their worlds on their shoulders. There was nothing special about the boy. To be able to make such prophetic statements over a life like his required something special.

It was a hope that his mother had clutched to her heart. She rarely spoke of it for she feared that it would mock her judgement. But it gave her comfort with which she departed.

In the April of ’94, things had changed to prove her right in her vision. Without any real motivation, Zach had set out to try his hands—or in this case, his life—at some missionary volunteering work. The Lord’s Vineyard Missions came quite handy.

However, it did turn out that this Missions were overrun by crooks who were using it to launder money across the Atlantic. Some actions followed the discovery: some actions that led him beyond the boundary lines he had created for himself. The three years that followed changed his life. As it did many others. He could not have remained the same person.

  1. # #

Some of the knight’s words were thought-worthy though Zach could not find a place for them in the barrage of things and people’s on his to-think list. One of them would come handy for my readers though.

‘I believe that in the world to come, one would have to sacrifice his humanity to be able to live in it. To survive the times to come, one would become more beast and less man. That is the only sacrifice that will guarantee one’s survival. That’s the way I see it. And mind you, young sir, these are not my words for you to take. Judge for yourself. Everyone is talking of the new millennium in high spirits—as if the old has passed. This would happen and that would happen and the world will be a better place for mankind. Tell me about it. I’m afraid all of that is merely an escape from the past and of course from its condemnation of our pride. It’s a world that will be inherited by those of your age, with that youthful ambiance of hopefulness that comes with a ruinous self-indulgence. People of grey hair like me will be dismissed as ‘old-school’ and ‘conservative’, those of us that have history behind us, and you know the sound of that. But hell no, we are indeed old-school. A man’s greatest gift may as well be the catalogue of experience that he carries about with him. (Yeah, one’s conscience ought not let him trample on the witness of history and the past. One can always hide in its shadows.) It is certainly not his intelligence. But your age, young sir, will mistake the later for the former…. The coming century is new indeed but it will never really be theirs, until they have exhausted its promise. It has happened before and it’s going to happen again. This century was where they experimented with lofty and bizarre ideas. You know the sound of it. In the years gone by, humankind was led and ruled by ideas and ideas alone—and of course by those who wagered these ideas. The result of the experiment were two world wars and numerous others. For none of those ideas ever came off for all their loftiness and promise. And trust the prophet in me, the coming age is going to be far worse. They are going to experiment not only with bizarre ideas but with immodest ones. Ideas or not? There is going to be more experimentation, more high-sounding ideas to throw at mankind. That’s a fact of history, and the consequence will be blood, blood everywhere. I can’t tell what those ideas will be but trust me, it’s going to happen. It never will get better. I will be shaking in my grave if it ever does.’

  1. # #

Borûn could now manage to pay for a hairdo and now as she sat and waited on her sister, she listened to a typical salon chat/gossip. There were three women in the small hall in addition to her sister, Peace and a fifth lady who worked alongside her.

She did not really have much to say. If she did, she did not bother doing so. She was in a pensive mood.

From brevity sake, I have abridged the chit-chat.

‘Most men of nowadays don’t really have the courage to stake their lives on a woman. It’s either they do it half-heartedly or they don’t do it at all.’

‘That was why I told Ennā to leave that boy. It’s the thing between the legs that he’s after. Once he get’s it, he will remind you that he’s poor and is currently unable to put pen to paper.’

‘She’s felt a pinch of it. No wonder she’s been losing weight.’

‘You know Ennā wouldn’t give herself away like that. I told her to be careful because if not, it will be taken from her.’

‘She really liked him.’

‘More than that, she loved him. And I told her don’t ever let him know. Don’t give up yourself because he cannot afford to love. He will make a mockery of it and of you. Only a few men can.’

‘I doubt there are even men like that.’

‘She put it on him?’

‘She did. It was her first time. She confessed to me that he took her with very little tenderness. Didn’t you see the way she’s been walking. It was as if she didn’t even exist that moment. It was just about him going off and leaving her behind.’

‘I wonder how a woman can make her way in this world.’

‘You have to prepare to play the victim to a whole lot of people that you are better than, under normal circumstances and given better conditions of life.’

‘What will a woman do in our world?’

‘God help us….’

‘Besides, the sex thing was made for men.’

‘It’s like God hates women. He has a preference for men.’

‘No childbirth for them. It’s like everything was made to go their way.’

‘Well, I believe that a woman can still make her own way in the world if only she knows how to marshal her feminine powers.’

‘Or she could go to school. You might earn some respect, if you earn a degree.’

  1. # #

Borûn was sure that they all spoke for themselves and from her own experience; she had no reason to believe otherwise. She had played the victim to a whole lot of men already.

When it was her turn to take the chair, her sister picked the leftovers of the chat:

‘These men don’t have any pride. Borûn you and I know that. Please don’t ask a cow to give birth to a goat for you….’ Though Borûn would not tell anyone about what she’d heard that night about Black and certainly not her elder sister, it felt as if she knew and was speaking to her of it.

Borûn had very few girlfriends and she knew they saw her as a piece of rag. When they could, they showed it. To ask their advice would have been to mock herself. No one would love a piece of shit like her, was what they would have told her. And they would not have been wrong.

Borûn understood her sister for she spoke for herself. She did not judge her pessimism. She was a single mother of three already with a lot of promises behind them. She had reasons to blame her though. She had a bad mouth, she was proud and their mother’s influence was strongest on her. She was more or less, the architect of her woes. But who among us isn’t the architect of his own fate? So did she have any reason to complain? Borûn agreed that she did. None of her flaws would have mattered if there was one who loved enough to save her from herself and if he could not save her, love her and accept her despite all of those. It was out of that anger that flowed her frustrations. It was that hopefulness that justified those frustrations and that alone.

And as she thought of it all and of her own flaws, her hope of finding redemption from someone else began to fade into despair. If her sister could not find redemption for her little flaws, what hope was there for her?

She was certain that she couldn’t give it to herself either.

  1. # #

Zach arrived the river, both because he wanted to perform his morning ritual, now he could not do otherwise and because he wanted to meet up with the boy.

Yes indeed, he wanted to speak with the boy. And was certain that the boy wanted to speak with him as well.

As to whether Ekeó would be there, some part of him told him that he would, for sure.

That part of him was right after all for the boy was there when Zach arrived.

  1. # #

‘Do you see the joy in their faces? That is the height of human experience. It’s divine if not the divine. And this is all that religion is about for only gods can offer such experiences. It’s the feeling of being free from the demons that try to run our lives. You believe in demons, don’t you? You have experienced them, haven’t you? We all have. There is no one that does not have to deal with those forces that try to undermine our lives from beyond us. This is why religion will always be a part of our lives. Men will always run towards wherever this offering of joy and freedom is made. Those who make these offerings are going to be the gods and wherever such offerings of freedom from the demons are made, people are going to identify it as Eden.

‘I am trying to be that person for my own people. I want to bring them together and show them the very meaning of their lives. I guess that is why I have become a Christ to them…a Messiah and a symbol of hope. You may not understand this if you remain on the outside.

‘I want you to come in and be a part of this new experience. Not that there is anything to it but at least, more than anyone else, you know what it feels like. You have administered such freedoms in other ways. It beats my imagination to think that you of all people would not identify with such a good thing that has come down from heaven. But do not see that as an accusation. I mean, it is my vision to unite my own people in this small town. And if I can, the whole world…, that I see is the mission of the one who is the Messiah and it is my destiny to be one. If not for everyone but for my own people and for all those who believe in me.

‘You are my father are alike, cautious and sceptical. That is appreciated, for men of experience and intelligence. I mean, what is doubt if not a human passion of knowing? Our embarrassment with that which we cannot understand. Or in this case, that which we do not want to understand.’

  1. # #

Though he had an abundance of objections, Zach had listened without interrupting on a single beat. He didn’t know what it was, but he was searching out something in those words. Whatever it was, he could not tell. It had to be one of those things that one recognised only when one has found it.

With that being said about the mayor, Zach was determined to see him. But he knew that it would be difficult if not impossible.

Chapter Eight: Live By the Gun, Die By the Gun

People were flowing into the small town that by Saturday morning, the mayor’s frontyard was packed. The news of the ‘healings and miracles’ was spreading very fast and people were flowing in to it at a very fast rate.

The Friday night before, Rev Iňaō had made it clear that all of that was a sign of the end times. ‘Many false prophets would rise and claim to be the messiah. Do not allow yourself to be fooled by those theatrics. It goes only as far to tell us that we need to be on guard against false promises of heaven. Don’t give anyone the chance to fool you with promises of heaven on earth. No man can fulfil such promises. We will keep on looking towards the heaven that is beyond the skies for only there can we find true comfort.’ That night, a chunk were absent. It was obvious to those who were where they had gone. ‘Judgement! God’s judgement is over-hanging this town! You can put your life on that. It’s going to come like Noah’s flood, when it is least expected. Watch and pray. Brethren, watch and pray so that you will not be a victim on the evil day.’

The same tabloid that featured the story of Silas was preparing to follow up Hééb’s call to come down to town. ‘It’s a beauty and you need to tell the world the story.’

While Daniel still worked his charms on his mistress’ daughter, the hunter still trying to find a way to ask a favour from the boy, who they now called the One, and Zach still trying to find his way to the mayor, Black was woken by a loud ramping on the door of his shop. He had spent the past few nights there.

Rush had sought him out in particular as soon as he woke to the news. It felt that the news was meant for Black and none other.

‘News about what?’

‘Pac was shot this morning in LV. He’s in ICU.’

Black’s legs could have melted away in that instant, certainly not because of the news but because he was sure, in a dark tone of spirit, that his guardian angel would not make it this time. There was nothing else to it. It was the one thing that he feared greatly. Now, he had to accept it, all too soon. Pac wouldn’t be making records off his shooting this time.

That morning, the boys gathered at the extension of his shop as usual and the shooting was their topic for the day.

Someone who did not know would have walked in and had asked why Tupac meant all that for them. He would have gotten a lecture that would contain fragments like:

‘Pac is to hip-hop what Socrates was to philosophy. It will be hard to really know what to do with him. He can mean anything that you want him to be for you.’

‘We don’t really know why we love Pac. He may not be the greatest dude to ever play this game. But we love him all the same. You can’t even articulate it in definite terms. It’s more or less a feeling that this man’s life in a way was truly yours.

‘In concrete ways. It’s more than the music. It’s self-creation.’

‘Self-affirmation too. More or less.’

‘Suge destroyed Pac. Turned the angry kid in him to something else. He could have been any other thing other than an angry dog.’

‘But the Death Row side of Pac showed his loyalty to the man who had saved him when no one else would. He allowed himself to be used. Never played the victim. Went the distance for the man.’

‘Pac tried to transcend himself in many ways. He tried to be larger than life.’

  1. # #

None of this meant much to Black. The only thing he knew was that he had a guardian angel in the man Tupac. Nothing else mattered. He affirmed everything the other man affirmed. It was a reality for him to share in and even though he knew in a resonant way that this was the straw that would break the camel’s back, he still hoped. Maybe this would change things for this rapper—if he made it.

Now he had two bells on his bar….

  1. # #

Zach had spent the past day trying to figure out how he could meet with the mayor. A few days ago, he would have it whenever he wanted. But that privilege had been taken away from him. He hadn’t even seen Kuniā in days. He was even scared she would not recognize him if he showed up. He would have to make his own way to the mayor if he could.

By Saturday evening, he was overwhelmed with the urgency. The night before was spent again at the Nurse’s place. She shared in his anxiety.

‘What is going on? Everything just got turned upside in just a week.’

Zach had no answer yet. ‘That is what I’m trying to figure out while I can.’

‘If I were you, I’d go home to my wife. All this are just an indication that you really have to leave this town for good. That aside, forgive my asking but do you have a problem with being rejected?’

The reference felt odd. And so Zach tried to hide its oddity behind a smile.

‘That’s besides the point. If the mayor knows anything or if he feels that something is wrong…I don’t know. It might be helpful.’

‘Why are you not seeing the same thing I am seeing? It won’t change anything. These people are here, not because they want the truth. They are here because they want what he has to offer.’

‘What he has to offer? I’ve had discussions with that boy. I can’t quite tell, at least not yet, but it’s all over him.’

‘What is?’

‘I can’t quite tell. At least, not yet. I might be able to tell if only I can get a bit closer. And what about Hééb? Was it not both of us…?’

‘Zachariah, it’s going to mean very little if not nothing, what you, me or anyone finds out about anything. This people won’t be anywhere else. And more are coming.’

‘But what does he have to offer?’

‘You may think he has nothing to offer. At least not anything real. But he gives these people a sense of possession if not the possession itself. He indeed has something to offer. And people are suffering. More than just comfort, they need their redemption. And if they can’t get the real thing, they’d manage with the feeling. Besides, its gets harder to tell the difference between what is real and what is not. These people would rather make do. You can’t deny that.’

‘It’s not about them…it’s about the boy. Someone is behind all of this. This is one big call. And whoever that is, he is trying to play every one of us.’

‘I wouldn’t be too sure of that not when it’s not on me.’

When the conversation came to her sister and her legs, she had replied: ‘She is too proud. If she loses her legs, or if she regains them, she loses the thing that feeds her pride. She has something to prove now. Then she wouldn’t. And besides I don’t want her anywhere near that kid.’

Zach had left with food for the night plus a bad feeling of being misunderstood. It was obvious that the Nurse felt that he was overstepping his boundaries. But was that not what he was made for: to overstep boundaries?

Hééb had shut the doors to the main house to the crowd that kept growing. They had the yard. Zach had tried to keep his mind off whatever happened there. It was no so much his business.

He was now without the comfort of the hunter’s presence. He could not deny that it was comforting to have someone to speak with, even about the most insignificant thing. He felt frustrated. Meals were becoming rarer and he still had only the one change of clothes. Thoughts of his wife’s condition still threatened his peace.

But deep within, Zach knew there was some way to it through the mayor. He had no plans, no ideas, not even one about his whereabouts but he was sure of this one thing. It did seem like the world was going to come to an end after all. So he prayed and prayed and hoped—for that one chance. It could change everything.

Chapter Nine: To Catch A Bug

Sunday was uneventful for everybody. Monday was in a haste to come to town with its own troubles. And it did bring an abundance of troubles for everybody. The news van finally arrived and was led by Hééb to the mayor’s place. Since it was transmitting live, in a few minutes, the boy had his face in the world’s eyes.

Ekeó was shy and wouldn’t stand the cameras that now pursued him about the place. He needn’t though, for there were those who had things to say about him. Ben Capital came forward as did the numbers that he’d ‘healed’ or done a miracle for. Few minutes later, more news vans were on their way to the town.

What more? The whole nation now had something to talk about. More than something to talk about, they were bound to follow the news.

‘Though there are no direct confirmation, but it is believed that this young man styles himself as the Christ. There are vague references in this speeches to the crowd that gathers to hear him and watch him perform these miracles that suggest that he views himself as the Messiah, the one that will save the world.’

It was a topic for Daniel and Ūö as it was for Black and his boys, for Reverend Francis, for Reverend Iňaō as it was for everyone from in town and in the state. Double the rate at which the news was traveling, it was a matter of time before it would become a topic for the world.

Money was pumping his fists in the air. If there was an award for the happiest man in town, it had to go to him. He had seen the potential gains from the recent development. That was his specialty. If money was not in it, then Money was not in it. If money was not for it, then Money was not for it. He had seen the chance before he saw the chance. Now he was giving his brother instructions: ‘You have to be smart and quick. People have started asking about lodgings. Tell them you have a place for rent. And try to sound nonchalant and urgent about it. Give them the impression that there is a rush. It’s not your problem but theirs. You are merely being of help. Good, then get the money and have them excuse you for a minute. And phew….’

‘But we don’t have any lodgings.’

‘You fool, no one is talking about lodgings. I’m talking about their money. Get it and they can sleep on trees for all I care. If you can’t, bring them to me. Tell them you have someone who can.’

‘What if they catch me?’

‘You deny them. Tell them you didn’t remember receiving money from them for lodgings.’

Brim had done a whole lot of jobs but he hadn’t duped anyone before. He did not know his brother as such.

‘Why don’t we just take what we have and leave now that we can?’

Slap!

Intimidation was Money’s only was of speaking in a way that he could be heard and understood by his brother. And the magic always worked on the timid boy.

‘I have taught you this one lesson for a million times. You won’t survive a day in a big city with a head like yours. Now you get your big head moving.’

  1. # #

‘What do you think about the recent developments?’ Daniel asked during their Monday teatime meeting.

‘I can’t quite say I have an opinion yet. Only time will tell.’

‘Do you believe in miracles?’

‘Of course I do. I mean Jesus performed many miracles.’

‘Well, I wouldn’t say I don’t believe in miracles. But it does beat my imagination.’

‘I guess with God, all things are possible.’

Daniel saw that she did not have a taste for such things and so he switched the conversation to something more personal. ‘What do you think we go see the town and possibly the prophet?’

‘My mother wouldn’t allow that.’

‘No problem. You know, your mother loves you. I mean, you represent something pure to her. It would break her heart if she found that we are sneaking behind her back. So I will respect that. Out of the question.’

‘So tell me about your mother?’

‘Oh my mother. Breast cancer. They have taken away the right one. She’s going in for the second.’ That was another lie of his. But it served his intentions.

‘You mean, they cut away her breast?’

‘They did. To avoid the cancer from spreading. But I’m certain she will survive.’

‘We pray she does.’

‘Amen.’

  1. # #

Zach was not giving up on his hopes of seeing the mayor though he still felt frustration and though he had no certainties to it. It was the only thing that had him standing on his toes. If there were nothing to it, he would finally walk away. But in the undertone of a still-small-voice that had led the way till now, he knew beyond every doubt and every cynical sneer of his own mind at the idea, that there was something to it, something that held the key to everything. Following those delicate instincts wherever they led him was what brought him to town in the very first place. It defined the most intense periods of his life in ways he had taken for granted until recent times. Therefore, he needed no reasons to not follow this one through. He did not think he needed to look for one.

He had thought about telling Ekeó that he wanted to see his father. He had changed his mind after thinking about it. There was a lot to the idea that did not make sense so he abandoned it. He had thought about asking Kuniā to take him. But it was obvious that she was under the spell of her brother and her vain hope of having him back from the dead.

Like Sir Daía had admonished, he had to wait—wait with his tube of toothpaste, his bar of soap, his bed in the health centre, his clothes and his morning rituals at the river.

Aside that, he had another thing to worry about. That Monday morning, he had woken with difficulties in his breathing. He felt pain in his chest and back. His now-bitter saliva had thickened with every spit and swallow. The cold and the stress of adapting to the new environment as well as the anxieties had started telling on his body. He would make no pretences about that. Without being told any further, he knew he was going to down with sickness and out of business for a while. It added weight to his frustration.

  1. # #

‘Mother, can I take him to see the town?’ Ūö was standing in the veranda. Madam Békhtèn raised an eyebrow to meet the girl’s eyes. She knew what she was about but she gave it back to her.

‘Him?’

‘Daniel.’ Ūö never had anything to hide behind her request. If she did, there was nothing in her voice that suggested that she did.

Madam Békhtèn had strong sensibilities and she heard something insinuating in those words. She resisted it. She knew she had to before it came back to haunt her. ‘Oh my dear, this town is in a flurry. I wouldn’t advice that. I can’t stand anything happening to you. You know that.’

‘But mother, its nothing. It’s just….’

‘Oh forget it. Let him go himself if he insists. And please I don’t want you anywhere around him. Please. On my word.’

‘Why that?’

Madam Békhtèn sighed. ‘You are just a single step into life, not a thousand. Things are not always as apparent. My dear, please forget about him.’

‘But….’

‘No ma’am, we won’t about have this discussion, not now and not again. You should be preparing for university after all. If you want, I can send someone to find out from the admission board what is causing the delay.’

She succeeded in switching the discussion.

‘I spoke with Nina over the phone, she’s received hers.’

‘Oh, what did she say happened?’

‘It was delivered to her by the postman. But she said some people are reporting to the admission board.’

‘Good, find out more from her and get back to me. Alright?’

Ūö hurtled off to the telephone. It meant more to her.

Madam Békhtèn had sensed that the boy had what it took to work magic on Ūö’s mind. She was no longer a child. She had grown into a woman, one that can think for herself. But what did she know after all? It was not going to be a bit different with this one boy, unlike the rest. She had even sensed that she was losing his attention but she had dismissed it as a feeling fuelled by jealousy and envy. She even felt guilty over the fact that she was thinking of her daughter in such a light.

Now she was going to take it a bit serious.

  1. # #

Madam Békhtèn did not want to be touchy about the affair. She could not afford to place herself at the centre. Her greatest hope was that Ūö would leave her home. While she lived in it, she could not guarantee her any protection. For that, she was hopeful that she would leave for university the next month, just as she wished.

‘Daniel,’ she had told him, trying as hard as she could to hide her disappointment with him, ‘Please, stay away from Ūö. She’s still a kid.’

‘Oh, baby (She loved him calling her that.). Forget it. It’s nothing. I just happened to have a few discussions with her.’

‘What about the discussions?’

‘It seems she thinks too much of me.’

‘You mean, she likes you?’

That was exactly what he meant and they both knew it.

‘Not that exactly. I mean….’

‘Please let her be. I don’t want you having any more discussions with her. I don’t like threatening people. We seem to be getting along. So let’s get along.’

‘Oh baby, I’m sorry. It’s not going to happen again.’ He leaned and kissed her on the cheek.  

Chapter Ten: A Heap Of Bodies

Alone in the wardroom that night, Zach had a nightmare—or a string of nightmares. There was no telling whether it was one of those fever-induced scary dreams or an extended version of the nightmare. It could not have been the nightmare for the dream had none of its original characters.

In the dream, he was chasing a man in a tweed coat with black-rim spectacles through a street that could have been a maze. The street had both vague and identifiable features. There were houses lining the street but they had the features of the shack. Zach never got the chance to see the face of the man he was chasing until they burst out into a wider open street. The street was flooded and broken cars, trucks as well as putrefying dead bodies in the flooded trenches and their attendant vultures abounded. It seemed as if some earthquake or disaster had occurred on the street a fortnight ago. A waning moon overhung the scene making it the more creepy a sight.

When they burst out in the street, Zach saw that the man was sipping lazily from a leather cask. The face was among the vague part of the nightmare. It was not at all familiar. The man slowed down when they got to the street. Zach followed, now in quick steps till they arrived what was a heap of dead and putrefying bodies among many others. Among the bodies were those of his father, his wife, clutching a dead baby, his mother, his two sisters and his brothers, Biyar…. From the corner of his eyes, he saw that the man that had led him on was smiling.

Zach woke. It was still midnight when he woke. His head throbbed. He’d been pretending about the sickness. He wanted to resist the sickness but he felt sapped of all the energy with which he would have done so. He was shivering profusely and He felt he could still resist it, insofar as it was mere fever. But the nightmare and its antecedent dread sapped all of his remaining strength. The cold sweat started to dry into his body again. As to the dream, he wanted to ask someone what was going on.

The room was dark. It had no electric bulbs. He could not stand the darkness. It felt like one of the childhood dreams from which he would run into his mother’s room and snuggle into her arms for the rest of the night.

It did feel, in an unmistakable way, that someone shared the night with him in that small room.

He could not shut his eyes again. He walked out of the wardroom back to the reception. It had electric bulbs. The bench was still there. He took it and lay down.

  1. # #

The town took no notice of the man who was slowly losing his mind. At the mayor’s place, people hurdled in the small trampoline canopies that had been provided for the shade and slept. Every other thing disappeared into their desire for a favour from the ‘man of God’, ‘prophet’, ‘messiah’, etc. As the people came, they came with their sick ones and problems and with their hopefulness that a boy as such could change things.

The news was spreading fast. It reached Silas Ańgō and his mother the Sunday before. The story had been told as a follow up on his escapades with the daughter of the mayor of Nānti. Silas knew better. He had known the boy from when he was still sickly. He knew his brother, though not directly. Something was definitely wrong. He had told his mother so.

He knew it was time to go back but he was swollen with his love for life that it took him a while to convince himself that he had to go back.

It was from the same popular tabloid that I myself had read of the ‘boy messiah’ as they had called him. From curiosity and sympathy, I followed the news to the town. I did not need any reason to do so. It was one of those stories that one needn’t be told. I was not sure I was looking for a messiah or a boy that could perform miracles. I just went to the town with questions. It was from my journey to Nānti in the September of ’96 that grew this story. I cannot say that I witnessed everything or even the lot that comes into the story. By the time we were leaving the town, we each had our hearts in our mouths from fear and anxiety over our lives. But it was worth it after all. What I’m certain is that I was driven by more than mere curiosity. I can say that I wanted to understand, like Zachariah Bādu, the hero of our present story. Whether what comes into the story is true to this is another question, for another person. As to the ‘authenticity’ of the story and its different parts as well as my analyses of the different characters, I must remind my readers that it is my story, more or less, of what happened in Nānti in September ‘96. My methodology is simple enough as it is straightforward: I asked questions and where there were no answers, I made up the missing parts. I cannot have been the story. Into that will disappear all other similar concerns.

Silas’ mother was disturbed: ‘What is going on?’

‘Mother I don’t know. But I have to go back. Otherwise I cannot find out.’

  1. # #

Madam Békhtèn did not want to leave the town. But she had a daughter that she loved enough to want to prove it to her. She would go to the admission board after all. That would take out a few days from her normal schedule. She did not love traveling for anything—the roads were bad.

On the other hand, she saw it as giving her daughter her redemption, her getaway from the life that she had given her. Either way, she had to do it.

She definitely would take Daniel with her. But she had made the mistake of telling him the night before. That Tuesday morning, he had fallen sick—or so he had styled it.

  1. # #

Daniel had actually fallen sick with mild fever. The weather was changing from rainy to dry and the pressure was on the body to adapt to the change. However, it was not as bad as he had styled it and not bad enough to stop him from making the journey. He saw in it a chance to spend more time with the girl that he was now fully attracted to.

He had done something cunning to disarm his mistress. Instead of insisting on his being unable to make the journey because of the sickness, he had taken the other way: ‘Baby, it’s just a fever. I think I’m going to be fine after all. I don’t mind.’

Madam Békhtèn had thought about it exactly as he wanted her to and as he’d expected she would. ‘No, it wouldn’t be worth it if it aggravates on the way.’

‘No, no no, I handle fevers very well.’

‘Don’t worry, I will go alone.’

‘If you insist.’

She had made a few arrangements and had left with her driver in her Mercedes 300. Immediately, Daniel became well again.

  1. # #

The door to his room opened to tea and Ūö stepped in. What was on his mind was to test her modesty.

‘You’re a beautiful lady. Forgive my forthrightness about it.’

‘Thanks.’ Ūö had returned though it did seem more of a flattery than a compliment.

‘It’s a great thing that you have not allowed much of what is your life to influence you negatively.’

It clicked for the seducer for the lady sat on the bed beside him.

‘Thanks for that. I thought no one would ever notice. From when I became aware of all that happened with my mother, I was determined to make a difference—if I can afford to.’

‘Why not? You’ve earned your chance.’

There was no telling her that she owed those whom she now sought to run away from to be for them a symbol of hope. And that she could make her redemption their redemption. And that she could be to them a symbol of goodness. And that her salvation was not only hers but theirs as well. To say so would not appeal to her pride in an authentic way.

A man of virtue would have told her that but certainly not Daniel. He let it pass for a while into his sense of modesty. ‘You know, even me, I have no excuses to give for my—

‘No, it’s for your mother.’

Daniel was silent on that. ‘If you say so. Why not we go see the town after all?’

‘You wouldn’t want to disobey your mother’s wishes, not even behind her.’

‘It’s nothing.’

  1. # #

Earlier on that night, the topic of discussion at Madam Békhtèn’s hall was the boy and his claims to being the messiah. They all seemed to agree on one thing: miracles did happen for real.

Daniel was present. He had seen the town courtesy of Ūö. He had tried as much as he could as the walk progressed to hide his real intention. They had even managed to reach the mayor’s place and spend a while there.

He had his own judgement of the boy and of his growing following. But for the most of the talk, he listened. He did have some lofty ideas but the rest considered him cynical and he knew they would respond to him with a good deal of cynicism.

‘Ben Capital can now see, you have to give him some credit.’

‘Why is everyone making it about Ben Capital?’

‘Do you have any problems with him seeing?’

‘Are you hating?’

‘Why would I?’

‘You tell us. I’ve known him for all my life. What I’m saying is that that boy is not real. Now, anybody tell me why he is not healing everybody after all?’

‘What do you mean everybody? Did Jesus heal everybody?’

‘Not in that sense. He’s just managed to open a pair of blind eyes since then. I would even think it was accidental. Tell me what other miracles has he done since then? He keeps going off on some promises or teachings or vague talk.’

‘There was an epileptic girl.’

‘And a woman with diabetes.’

‘You kidding? How are you going to know if that’s ever happened. What about the doctors?’

‘There was one with HIV.’

‘That’s mad. It’s incurable. Even if he did cure the person, how are we to know?’

‘There was a man with ache in his back. Another had arthritis. Two others had mumps.’

‘And so? A portion of local leaves can do the same.’

‘He made a fat woman slim down.’

‘That wouldn’t be Madam Békhtèn.’

They roared into laugh.

‘You are a sceptic, after all.’

‘You are a Pharisee.’

‘I am older than all of you here.’

‘You are making it about age now?’

‘It’s not an age thing but it is though. If you care to see it that way.’

What I know is that young man is fake? Quote me any time any day. Besides why does nobody ask how he managed to get back from his condition? I thought his father was preparing to bury him alive.’

‘Not alive though. He says he had a vision in those days. He was taken up to heaven and introduced to other great men of God. He says when he met Jesus, Jesus told him to ‘go and finish the work I started’.’

‘It’s fairy tale stuff. I wouldn’t put a penny on that story?’

‘Why? Are you wiser than all the people following him?’

‘Of course I am. The crowd, my friend is untruth. That he has a following does not justify anything.’

‘But what if Jesus came to our town after all and we did not recognize him very much as his own people did not?’

‘No, Jesus would not come to our town. That’s ignorant. He would be in the Vatican.’

‘Serious?’

‘What has your church got to do with it now?’

‘There is one true church, my friend.’

‘You see? You see the narrowness of your mind?’

‘Okay, tell me where he’d rather be then?’

They were interrupted by the sound of Daniel’s voice: ‘This gentleman here is right. As is every other person.’ By gentleman, he meant the sceptical old man. He could not hold himself back any further.

‘I’m sorry to interfere, gentlemen but I believe we are all on the same page. I believe these tales are to teach us something about our conditions as humans. Miracles are symbols—.’

‘Ben Capital can now see. What is the symbolism to it?’

‘Well, I am speaking of the miracles of the New Testament.’ He wouldn’t tell them that he did not entirely believe in miracles. They would stone him if he did. So he played around it. ‘They are symbols that those who wrote the Gospels used to describe the teachings of Christ.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘When Christ ‘opened’ the eyes of blind people, he meant the opening of eyes in a spiritual way. Or intellectual way—as the case maybe be. It’s a metaphor for something deeper than the obvious.’

They did not understand, so in an instant, they gave him a silent and disparaging turn and returned to their original debate.

Chapter Eleven: A Thin Line Gets Thinner

The morning saw Zach throwing up. He had not slept a wink through the night. He had given thought to numerous things, none of which he remembered on his waking.

The cold still ran through his body though he shivered the less. He was not sure he should tell Nurse B about his condition. She sure could help but he now felt she did not understand him. Moreover, she was right after all when she insisted that he was stressing himself out on a matter that did not directly concern him. And that feeling inserted a small divide between them, a divide that emanated from his own end. At the same time, he felt he was wearing her down with favours. It wasn’t polite to take her generosity for granted. It was his pride after all and he knew that. He was too sensitive for that.

Nurse B on her path did not misunderstand him for all he presumed. She herself was as sensitive as he was. She was worried about his safety and the risk he was placing himself. For her carefulness and cautiousness, she did not think that it would be worth it after all. That morning, she came to check him and saw him. She was disappointed but she tried to hide her disappointment.

She placed him on an IV and left him. The morning came with some relief for Zach when he fell into deep sleep for not haven slept for the night before.

  1. # #

However, the relief was a false one for he had another meeting on the other side of reality. He was in a hospital and they were wheeling his wife in. He had driven her to the hospital himself in a typical black-and-yellow taxi. He had lifted her and had carried her into the reception of the hospital, which looked vaguely like the one he was homing in for the mean time.

He was sweating profusely and as he lifted his right arm to wipe his face, he saw that it was dripping with blood down to his coat, the blood of his wife. Things got worse when in that same instant, a nurse walked up to him with a stern face and announced to him that ‘she could not make it.’

Zach broke down into tears, placing his face in his two hands.

  1. # #

‘What is going on?’ Nurse B asked, breaking up a band of three other nurses that had gathered in a small circle. Zach was in the centre of the circle, with his face in his two hands and hot tears streaming down his eyes. The man was crying like a child and was muttering words amidst the low-pitched shrieks.

‘Zachariah, Zachariah, wake up, wake up….’ She called out and Zach woke up. He was not lying on his bed this time but was kneeling in the reception of the health centre with tears all over his face. He could even taste salt in his lips. The three nurses and a third, the stout one all looked on as they would to a man that recently turned lunatic.

‘What happened to my wife?’ he asked them in a voice full of concern.

Nurse B dismissed the other nurses and led the way back to the wardroom. When they arrived, Zach realised that he was on the ‘real’ side of reality. He did not have blood on his right arm. But how come had he moved from a lying position on the iron bed to a kneeling position in the reception? What had happened?

Nurse B was irritated and she did not speak a word. She just replaced the IV and left him to himself. The unanswered question returned to him as: What is wrong with me?

  1. # #

Later in the day, Nurse B delivered to him a food in a small flask before leaving. Again, she did not say a word. Zach managed a few mouthfuls. He could hardly move a limb on his body. His head felt so heavy that he was afraid it would explode. If anyone had told him that he was slowly running mad and was being held in an asylum, he would have believed the person.

  1. # #

Daniel and Ūö had a good time the day following their walk. By that evening, a thought flew past Ūö’s mind. She naively styled that she ‘was in love’. Immediately the thought flew past her mind, she brushed it aside with the same speed with which it had grazed her mind.

But she had a woman’s mind—more so, that of an overgrown puberty—, one that was fickle when it came to such delicate and sensitive matters—and in her own case, it was inexperienced.

In Daniel’s mind, a few other things made their passes through it. He now felt he was going to take the girl’s attraction a bit more serious.

The thought however had stuck in a very obscure corner in the girl’s mind.

Chapter Twelve: My Name Is Jonas

Brim was still in great discomfort with himself over the idea that his brother had thrown to him. At the same time, he knew he would be in trouble if he failed to come up with potential lodgers—or rather with potential lodgers’ money. He would have no excuses to give as there were too many of them.

They did menial jobs in and around the town but they had never stolen from anyone. It now felt like they were stealing from people. A good number of people were looking for lodgings. But unfortunately, Nānti was not the kind of town that one would expect to have luxury hotels and inns. It had only one, at the town centre. It was a shabby place, which was rarely used. It was now full to even its passages and verandas.

He found a corner on the boulevard and sat out his depression. In every sense of the word ‘free’, he had never truly been free from his brother. He had found security in that for those years and appreciated his brother by being loyal. But the words and the treatments he’d received from his brother’s mouth and hands had hammered him into believing that he could not make it without his brother. Until now, he had no questions about that. He had never challenged that for a day. He had learnt to be guilty when he failed at gratitude.

It was a dangerous place to be but there was no other for him, or so he thought.

Depression was something he was familiar with. After the death of their parents, after which followed their dropping out of school, depression would become one of his most faithful companions. For his melancholy, he would become given to daydreams as an escape from what was the real world. Given the right environment, Brim would have become a true artist for he could extrapolate the real world into his many dream worlds and vice versa.

In such moments, speaking with him would be next to impossible for he would role-play detectives, war generals, movie stars, villains and everything that caught his fancy in his mind. He was always vague and absentminded that it took his brother a slap to kick him back to life when his attention was needed. Sometimes he would cry when no one was beating him and other times, he would laugh when no one was tickling him. He had a very intricate way of demystifying things in his mind and finding a place for distant realities for himself.

But Money was too much of a realist to stand all of that and systematically, had beaten all of that from him.

The boy’s so-called return had more than angered him, it left him disgusted. It was the same boy that he’d carried with his own hands wrapped in plastic. The same boy that he’d spat all the way to where Hééb had led them on from a distance. It was insane and there was no way he was accepting it, not for anything. He just felt it would have been different if his brother had seen it the same way.

The boulevard moment was one of those. I was the one to wake him with a tap on his shoulder. I had just arrived the town and was looking for a lodging myself. He seemed a local and so I approached him and addressed him as one.

‘Go away,’ was his answer.

He appeared petulant and so I had to back off.

I retreated in the most polite way, as any sensible person would in the land of strangers. But a few steps into my retreat, I turned to see that he was looking at me with a murderous sneer.

Still watching him, I saw him stand and approach me, his eyes fixated on me. ‘Look at you fool. You come to this town looking for a miracle. You are an idiot, and so are all of you.’ He cursed, venting his swollen spleen on the nearest person in sight.

I’m not a man to stand the insult of another, not when the insulter is a boy and not when the insult is not worth the stress.

‘Watch your mouth young man or you will lose it.’ I said with the intention of irking him.

He approached with heavy steps, covering the distance until his face was lifted up to mine. I stood my ground to his disappointment—and to his curiosity. If he had any confidence, it was in his brother.

‘Not everyone that comes to town on account of the boy messiah comes looking for a miracle.’

‘So what brings you here?’ he asked backing off a bit.

‘I find the whole business curios. And I’m a man that satisfies his curiosity.’

I had his attention.

‘One does not meet too many boy messiahs in one’s lifetime.’

‘Not on the average. So you think he’s fake?’

‘Come on, not everyone that comes to town on account of a boy messiah is a fool. Something is up. That’s my word. Take it or leave it.’

It is needless to go any further than that. But a majority of what comes into my story is on account of Brim both in answering my questions, giving explanations and pointing out people to ask more questions. We became instant friends and even when he had no lodgings to provide, I had my curiosity about the town to satisfy while he had his to satisfy about the city life. That exchange made everything possible. It demystified all that his brother had put in his head about the ‘struggle’. I showed him that anybody could make his own way, not only in the city from where I came from, but also anywhere in life.

That was all he needed to rebel against his brother. More so, he had his imagination wild again.

  1. # #

The next night saw Zach lying in a coffin. Just standing behind the coffin was the same man sipping from the leather cask, from the other nightmare.

‘Who is this?’ Zach asked him.

‘His name is Jonas Bādu. He died from AIDS complications.’

‘Oh, but that is me?’

‘Of course it is you. We are going to bury you now.’

Zach woke with a start that had him bump his head on the wall. The first words to escape his mouth were in this order: ‘I am Jonas Bādu and I am in the hospital for AIDS complications.’

  1. # #

Nurse B almost let out a scream at that. ‘What?!’ she exclaimed and then turned to the elderly nurse with her and explained: ‘Ma, we certainly do not have any AIDS patients. He’s been in an out of deliriums recently.’

Standing with her was another nurse who had come for inspection duties. The older nurse had walked into the wardroom and was asking Nurse B who the patient was. It was at her word that Zach had identified himself as Jonas Bādu.

She left with the inspector nurse and returned an hour later. Zach was seated on the bed. His temperature had gone down but he did not feel any better.

‘I’m sorry, my name is….’

‘I know what your name is.’ Nurse B interrupted. She had lost all her initial generosity of spirit and there was no blaming her for she feared for Zach. Moreover, she did not want anything that would happen to him to be while he was in her care. He needed to leave the town and go home to his family.

‘What is going on?’

‘I had a nightmare. I’m sorry.’

‘Well, you will have to leave the ward as soon as you can. I can’t manage with all of those any more. It’s becoming embarrassing.’

‘Of course I will.’

Zach felt bad with her leaving. He was not sure what was happening to him. But he did sense that he was inconveniencing the nurse—for lodging, for food and for medication, and worse still for his deliriums.

Chapter Thirteen: Death Around the Corner

Friday saw Ūö and Daniel in each other’s presence. It was spent as one of the times spent by couples who had known each other for years—in reckless abandon. They laughed, played, joked around, told stories and all caution flew to the wind. Daniel, the seducer, was not holding caution for all he cared, not when he was putting the girl in danger.

  1. # #

At Black’s shop, they all waited for news of Pac’s death. They were certain he was going to die though at the same time, they still clutched to a minuscule hope. As the days went by without any news, their hopes petered off into the other certainty of his death.

On Black’s side, he felt certain that the rapper was going to die after all. He did not resist this feeling for he judged that he’d rather prepared himself for the worst case scenarios than be betrayed by the hope. It would take only a fool not to see that Pac had lived too close to death to escape it.

When Saturday morning came, they woke to the news of the rapper’s passing, their reaction mirrored their acceptance of it. Black closed down his shop and they sat out the day in the gyming extension with everything Tupac on their lips. Their venerating words accompanied the rapper to his death. Candles were lit in a small circle and a framed photo of the rapper was placed in its centre.

Even Atta Boy was present at the barber’s shop. And as tears streamed down Black’s cheeks, he joined in consoling him.

It was not in theoretical words that he found comfort.

‘I believe he did not actually die. They put out the word so as to protect him from those East Coast dudes. You will see that he will reappear and make records off this one.’

‘Yeah, it’s a publicity stunt.’

‘He even died on a Frigga. Friday the 13th. That’s special for all I care.’

‘I swear BIG and Puffy will pay for this.’

‘It was Suge that killed him. He was planning to leave Death Row after all.’

‘This is the end of hip-hop.’

‘Now, the game is now East Coast’s to win.’

‘He will resurrect.’

‘It’s the CIA that killed him. You see, he was a public enemy.’

It was in the ones his heart told him: ‘He would forever be here, in our hearts, like he never left in the first place. His life was yours and so will his death. His death would mean as much as his life, and perhaps even more.’ Finding comfort in the promise of his ‘immortality,’ he had turned the day into a party. Into the day, they smoked blunts until they had exhausted his ‘bibles’. They drank until they were drunk and blasted the rapper’s records from the barber’s speakers, rapping along to the lines in unison.

Pac had instructed that no one should cry on his death. In fact, he had made it plain that his death should be celebrated by a party. Those who pledged allegiance to his spirit knew to follow those instructions. He had extrapolated the life he had in this world into the next and had lived on the boundary between both, attaching no big hopes to any.

In his death, we were consoled and grateful for the fact that he had lived. That was enough. More so, in our own time. Whatever he was given in his death was to this gratitude, in acknowledgment of the fact that his life was ours.

The way I saw it was no different. Pac had too much mystique that twenty-five years could hardly exhaust it. Two decades later, those of us that shared in those sentiments were proved right. The man is here as if he never left—because he never really left.

  1. # #

Into the night, the crowd dispersed and Black was left to himself. He had not gone home in a while now. His recent nights had been spent in his shop.

Despite the weed and the wine, Black still saw everything there were to see in full shades—from the rapper’s quotes to his wallpapers. Some of the rapper’s more penetrating and unsettling lyrics about death flashed across his mind in fast swishes. ‘I hope they bury me and send me to my rest…headlines reading Murdered to Death…hoping I die the way I lived…. Nobody cries when we die…, we both got to die but you chose to go before me.’

At the end of the day, life would have to go on for those he left behind.

It felt like dark impenetrable shadows had been cast over his world. It was so dark, so cold and so terrible. He was cursed after all. That was the only explanation.

He felt alone. That voice that he had made his own had been drowned by the sound of seven gunshots. He felt betrayed by the rapper and angry with him. If only he had known that his life was not his alone but Black’s too maybe, he would not have courted death mindlessly like he had. But very much like his other sins, he decided to forgive him instead.

As to the girl, he could not even trust what he felt towards her. Maybe it was all a dream after all; a dream that now left him with a sleepy head over reality.

Shall a man dream his dreams and have them?

It was very hard for him, but Black decided to let all about the girl pass into ‘reality’. He could not now lose everything. He had to let her go. That was the only way he could redeem himself. Or so he thought.

He had to steel his mind for what was left of life for him. He would have to take it the way it was handed to him. Dreams of the Mercedes 300 and a satellite television, and of course, a pilgrimage to LA, would have to replace those of Borûn.

  1. # #

Saturday evening, a grey Mercedes 300 carrying a woman drove into town. Madam Békhtèn did not have any premonition of what awaited her at home. She was rather preoccupied with the news that she had for her daughter, courtesy of the admission board. Ūö would not be going to university, to study law. According to the admission board, she did not make the cut. She would have to choose another course of study, one that was ‘lesser’—in the eyes of the public and certainly in her own eyes and in Ūö’s eyes as well—than law. Or wait till next year.

She knew more than anyone else what the news would mean to her daughter and how she would react to it. It would break her confidence. She was not sure that she could see any other thing in the news apart from failure. It would affect her self-vision. She may never again find that original confidence that told her that she belonged to the best. She may not see in it a challenge to that vision. It would take an experienced person to see a challenge in that and her daughter was still learning how to walk if not crawl.

Madam Békhtèn knew she had to find a way around the news. Daniel was not even anywhere in her thoughts that evening. In fact, she was sure he was not any good, certainly not anything better than the other boys.

She was getting too old for certain things. She was no longer a kid for God’s sake. Some nonsense were rather outgrown. God knows that it was high time she accepted certain things that she could not change. In the end, none of them had proved to be worth the fantasy and the promise of adventure that gave birth to her pursuit of them or the stress and the risks they came with. There could be some beauty in growing old, beauty if not pride. All she had to do was find that beauty and accept it. Even if not for anything, for her daughter Ūö. She was the only thing she had left for the future.

These were the profound thoughts that occupied her mind as she made her way into the town. It was not the first time she was having those thoughts. After each failed attempt at fulfilling her fantasies, she would flagellate herself and curse her stupidity. But in time, she would slip back to them.

The reality for her was that she never hoped for any real relationship out of those flings. She would be too naïve for that. Therefore, she confined herself to the offerings they made her vanities.

However, the thought of letting go of her vanities petrified her. She was not sure she could take it. They were the only vitality in her world. They indeed held promise while they lasted. But how much promise was there to them after all? How much had she taken for granted?

As the car finally entered the gates of her home, she did feel in a hushed tone that the answers to those questions were not so far away.

Chapter Fourteen: In A Nurse’s Gown

By Sunday evening, Zach had picked up a little strength to be able to stand. Between the last time and that Sunday evening, he had had two more nightmares both of which had shaken him both mentally and emotionally. Nurse B was still sulking on him but she was now least of his troubles.

His sight was still giddy and his head still heavy. He had slimmed down by a ton. His cheeks had all disappeared. He could not remember using the toilet in days.

What was inside was worse. Inside, he was filled with bitterness to the nth degree. A little hole had been punched into the centre of his being and from it dripped what tasted like despair. He was sure that his wife had died, as had their child. He was sure that everything he held dear to heart was now lost. He was no longer even sure of his sanity. He felt betrayed and used. He felt so alone now, unlike he’d ever felt in all his life. He had only one person to blame: God. He had trusted him with every tiny itty-bitty of his life and now he was left with shattered pieces of them.

A thought breezed through Zach’s mind in that instant, a thought that belonged to Thaddy, a thought that he had never ever had without guilt: What if there were no God after all? Now he felt that thought without the usual guilt. It was not totally Thaddy’s thought for it had sprouted out of a different soil. It was his despair speaking.

He did catch that thought though. If that were true, then he too would show the world that he loved life too. That was his own modest assessment of it.

Maybe he should not have taken all of that seriously. Maybe he was too simple after all, very much like Thaddy had judged of him. What was he even saying that day at the tavern? He strained his mind to remember but it was all vague except the reference to his being simple. Maybe Thaddy was right on that and on every other thing. If he were, a lot of things would change with it.

Mixed with this unusual feeling, (one which I am sure would be hard for my readers to understand except by those who have experienced it once in their lives, for an extended period of time), were those of spite and anger at the hunter for abandoning him, at the nurse for misunderstanding him, at Kuniā for betraying him and of course, at himself for being so ‘simple’. He was too much of a do-gooder when he should have been too much of a…. Zach had no room for any other thought. If such thoughts, more favourable ones attended him, he certainly did not entertain them.

Zach was determined to leave the town the next day—he loved life too. He was done. It would be a drastic departure as well as a spiteful one.

The nurse walked in, interrupting his thoughts for a minute. ‘How are you doing?’

‘I’m leaving tomorrow. I can see it pleases you.’

‘It sure does.’

‘You wouldn’t want a lunatic in your clinic.’ Zach tried to get across the sarcasm as he did his point.

‘You’ve made your point. Do you still believe that Lazarus was actually risen from the dead by Christ?’

‘Well, you may mock me as much as you can. After tomorrow, you wouldn’t have the chance again.’

‘Great news indeed. Your wife, I believe would be concerned that maybe you have run away with another woman. And I don’t want to be that woman.’

That stung Zach at heart but he waived the thought. He had no strength with which to contest it.

It was an excellent decision for what came next changed everything for him. If he had reacted according to his despair, he would have missed the chance.

Zach could have made her swallow her words but he instead took it all back. ‘I will still need a little help if you can spare it.’

‘Of course you will. If it is your transport fare, I can spare that. I wouldn’t want them calling my name when it comes to the post-mortem. But first things first, the mayor’s daughter sent for me. She says the mayor had a mild heart attack last night. They have sent for his doctor but she wants me to stabilize him for the mean time.’

Zach jumped at it. It was his chance to see the mayor. He was surprised at his own enthusiasm. He thought he had lost it all. He still believed that a piece that would complete the puzzle would come out of it.

‘Take me with you, please. I need to see the mayor!’

‘No, I can’t. You are going to make a scene.’

But Zach begged and begged till the Nurse, more from tender feelings than any good sense had acquiesced.

‘I have a question to ask him then I swear upon Pûjó’s grave that I would leave tomorrow. And besides, I will need a nurse’s gown.’

‘What?’ Nurse B was sure that he was in one of his usual deliriums.

‘Please, you have to let me do this!’

  1. # #

Nurse B felt insane for the first time in her life. What was she doing accepting to take Zach with him?

Her assessment of him was that he was homesick or anything like that. But she needed him off that town. He did not belong to such a place.

It was not that she did not trust him again. But why should she? Why should she trust anyone?

If he was self-destructing, then she had to ease her hands off him.

As to the nurse’s gown that he had requested, it was insane that she had agreed to give him. They had no male nurses. It had to be more than insane for her to agree to give him that of a lady.

  1. # #

It was also the only assurance that Zach needed to know that he still had some credibility and that he was not yet a total lunatic.

He had explained to her the rationale behind the request. ‘They would not let me anywhere near the mayor, not even a thousand leagues, not in my own skin. I know it’s insane but do it for the sake of the past.’

‘What past?’

‘The past when I had not turned insane.’

‘What do you want to accomplish?’

‘It no longer matters to you, does it?’

Nurse B was not sure it did.

‘Why the gown?’

‘It’s been said. I want some disguise or else I would ruin the only chance I have.’

  1. # #

It had taken her a quarter of an hour for her to come to a compromise over the request.

While she did, Zach did not feel his usual anxiety. It no longer mattered if he got the chance or not. It was no longer on him. He was enthusiastic but not anxious. He could learn things and he was sure he would, but it may not mean much after all.

‘Why not I insist on my authority?’ Nurse B had protested.

‘That they allow me?’

‘Yes.’

‘My own idea may be insane but this one is far more insane than mine.’ Zach then went on to display his disinterestedness. ‘Mind you, I’m more or less curios not anxious. I’ve made myself clear on why I want to see the mayor and why I need the gown. I can’t stress it any longer. It’s on you now.’

Nurse B then returned and placed a white dress on the bed for him. ‘Five minutes.’

Chapter Fifteen: He Came To Pass

It took Zach ten minutes to put himself into the gown. He was dirty, very dirty but he had nothing to it, at least not while he placed himself in the new clothes. Now they were out of the way, he smelt less than dirty.

As he did, he shook off the giddiness and steeled his mind for one last adventure. He had not seen his face as there were no mirrors for that but it did feel funny and it certainly would look funny to any that saw him. But they had some shield in the night that had now fully come.

It was a risk that may not be worth it at the end. They could catch him. But hey, what did it matter? All to his curiosity. Let them have it if they could.

They started the walk to the mayor’s place in a minute. Nurse B kept at a distance ahead of him.

Nothing happened on the way to the mayor’s. No one seemed to notice them. There were no one to notice them all the same. The streets were deserted as all roads now led to the mayor’s.

They arrived to the now ever-open gates. A larger crowd was gathered outside. In the yard, the normal, lights lit up the centre of the circle from where the boy now addressed them and did his tricks.

  1. # #

Zach followed the nurse past the crowd though he had his attention on the crowd and their centre of attraction. He was not sure how long he had his eyes on the crowd but on a head turn, the nurse was no longer in sight.

What is happening? was the question that came to mind. Was he in another nightmare? Or was he having another hallucination?

He gathered himself together and continued to the door to the house. Two guards, posted by Hééb stood guarding it. It was off bounds for ‘guests’.

‘I’m with the nurse,’ Zach pointed out at the door. He could have used a woman’s voice.

The light over them was dim and so they could not quite see. One of them made to look for a torch and Zach backed away with quick steps.

He was done for the night. He had ruined his chance.

What did not cause him anxious concern quarter an hour before suddenly sent him into a frenzy of disquiet. The heaviness of his head and the giddiness of his sight meant that he walked with a slight stagger.

He made for the back door. The road that led to the backyard was separated from the front yard with a gauze fence with high wire gates. It was locked. Zach thought of climbing it but it appeared impassable and a number of people hunkered around.

He returned to the front door with guards and watched them from a safe distance. Time slipped into time with the sluggishness of the dawn. It could have been a minute and it could have been an hour. But someone walked to the door from the other side. It was a boy. He had seen the boy before. It was the same boy who had opened the gates to him in the absence of Hééb.

Zach waited until the boy had left the veranda area before catching up. He needn’t too much talk for the boy recognised him from the time he lived with them and gave him the break.

  1. # #

Zach stepped in and closed the door behind him. He still had the nurse’s gown on. But all of that faded away into what followed in that room. They were in the man’s own bedroom. It was the cosiest room Zach had ever seen in his life.

The mayor lay still on the bed. It was the same boy who had shown Zach the way to the room that had shown Nurse B.

The mayor, however, wouldn’t let the nurse attend to him. He was fine, he insisted. They had sent for his doctor. He will be here tomorrow. ‘I’ll wait it out.’

‘You,’ he called out to Zach. ‘What is your name again?’

Zach reminded him.

‘How is my daughter doing?’

‘He’s fine sir.’ Zach saw the comfort in that. Apparently, the man had not seen her in days.

The Nurse now stood and watched on, still bent on performing her duty.

‘I’ve tried to tell her over and over again that he’s not my son. Not the Ekeó that I raised as my own sons. But she doesn’t believe me. She has fallen to their snare like all this others.’

‘Who?’ Zach wanted to be sure.

‘The one they are all worshiping out there now. I tried to speak to Kuniā but she wouldn’t listen a bit.’

There was a moment of silence in which the other two cleared their minds so as not to miss what was to follow.

‘It’s not going to make any difference, will it?’

‘Sir, I spoke with the boy and he said you do not believe in him.’

‘I certainly do not! He’s not my son! My son died a long time ago.’

The two others listened.

‘You see, they managed to place me in this room. I’ve not seen the skies for two days straight. I’m scared.’

‘But you are sick!’

‘I am not sick! Do not question my intelligence. I may be a sick old man. But not a dead one. At least, until they kill me.’

‘Who are they?’

‘The same people that took my wife and my two sons.’

They still did not understand so they allowed the mayor to continue.

‘That boy is not my son. I knew that after the first few days. I know my sons. I raised them myself. Ekeó never had the nerve for certain things, certainly not for all that I have heard lately. I didn’t want to lose those boys. They were all I had. I knew they both had special destinies but you cannot tell that to kids enough. His brother lost the battle. He proved that men indeed had the power of choice. For that, I honour his memory. Though his sister has not told me yet, I know he took his own life. He would never have given it up. There is no father who wouldn’t have prided himself in such a son. You understand that?’

They did this time.

‘You know we are not always the owners of our lives. Not all that we have is ever really ours. A man must learn to live for others, for his own people, for the universe.’

They both agreed.

Zach did not need the man to divert so much from what he’d wanted to tell them. But in that instant, something caught Zach’s eyes. It was the framed photo of the woman he’d been seeing in his nightmare. The picture was placed at the foot of the bed. She wore a black scarf and black beads—exactly as he had seen in his nightmare.

‘I have seen this woman before.’ He pointed out in a raise-the-alarm voice.

‘Don’t be silly. That is my wife. You cannot have seen her. She died a long time ago.’

‘But I have seen her—in my nightmares.’

Nurse B winked. Was he hallucinating again? Good heavens.

Zach knew they did not believe him and so he returned the discussion to normal. ‘What about her?’

‘She is their mother.’

‘How did she die?’

‘She died of after a heart attack….’

‘No she did not die after a heart attack.’

There was a deep and penetrating silence. The man gave Zach a deep and inquisitive look.

‘No she didn’t die after a heart attack. Please sir, I know you don’t believe me. But I can see that whoever they are, as you have pointed out, were the ones that took your wife’s life for the same reason they are taking your son’s.’

The man still held the look on Zach.

‘How can I not have thought about this all along? She was very delicate….’ He paused as if searching for his words…. ‘I remember now that you have called it to my attention that when she was their age, she had nightmares and hallucinations. Towards the time of death, she would wake in the thick of the night screaming and kicking…. It’s vague now… She would say that someone was trying to drown her. They had told her that she belonged to the River Nānti. How and what they meant beat her judgement. At some stages in her life, when she fought over her life, she would fall into despair over that. But I am not sure she ever accepted it as her fate.

‘But I loved her. All of that did not seem to matter much. I can’t say that I took the talk of that as serious but it was a risk that I took for love sake. I truly loved her. I was hopeful that love would conquer what was her fate. It did conquer her fate for she found courage to live, long enough to have and raise her own children. And then they came after her children, the ones she loved the greatest.’

The man sat up. ‘How can I not have seen this till now? Do you believe in God, sir?’

‘Of course I do.’

‘Let me assure you that I cannot find the courage to question God. Not that I can now that I have an heir. A distant one though. But he is the promise that not all was lost. He has been gracious to me more than I can find the courage to be grateful for. I have made my peace with Him and with the future.’

He meant Kuniā’s pregnancy. ‘But I’m in despair now at the thought that they may come after her and the child.’

‘No sir. Not now that we know better.’

‘Can you assure me of that?’

‘I risked my life to be here sir, for Silas. And I risked more to be here for you. It will be my pleasure to do more than take him as my own son.’

‘Good. You must forgive Kuniā as I have forgiven her. I place she and her child in your hands now, save them if you can. And whatever happens, the boy that is coming, let him know that I saw his day and rejoiced.’

‘The boy?’

‘Yes, he is going to be a boy. He will be bald when he grows old. He will grow old. Trust me on that.’

‘What about the present?’

‘I can’t quite tell but I have my own thoughts about it now that it has all become clear. I have lain in this bed thinking about it forever and I’m an old man to know that all of this is a sort of gathering. To them. Whoever they are. The conspiracy is to bring as many people to the town in the time they have. Then whatever will happen will happen. But I doubt it will be anything less than tragic. If you can, you have to get people off this town as quickly as possible. Whatever it is, they cannot stand it when it comes. I have no ideas as to how you will do it but you have to. They need someone to save the day. You have to find a way and be that person for them.

‘Oh,’ Zach saw it clearly, courtesy of Hééb’s mother: ‘A flood. The River is going to flood.’

With that single piece, the puzzle presented itself. Zach caught Nurse B’s eyes in the well-lit room. When he did, she lowered them nervously and guiltily too. Zach could have pumped his fist in the air if he could. He was right after all.

That encounter brought healing not only to his mind but also to his body. He felt some newness surge through his body.

‘What about Hééb? You know he is the architect of it all.’

‘Hééb is a fool. He styles himself a shrewd man. But he’s very much a pawn in this game. He has failed to understand that there is nothing in it for him. He would have respected my wishes. I would have buried that boy with my own hands in peace, no matter how long it may have taken. I would have had grief but I too have suffered and I can suffer. I took him as my own son. I had a place for him in my heart. But none of that meant anything to him when it mattered.’

  1. # #

The meeting was wrapped in no time and Zach returned to the wardroom. He could have ran if not for the gown and his weak body. He was very hungry for the night, unlike he had ever been since his sickness. Everything had changed.

Two questions still remained though: How was he going to get the people off the town? And more importantly, why had that woman visited him in the nightmare?

He could not find the answer to the first question but he managed to find for the second.

Chapter Sixteen: A Sunday to Forget

Something, if not everything, felt odd to Madam Békhtèn. The welcome they had given her left her disconcerted. It could be her silly jealousy speaking and it could be that some chemistry had developed between the two in the time apart. She was too experienced to know that it was the later rather than the former. She noticed that they were no longer nervous in each other’s presence. None of that, which gave her some safety guarantees, was there again.

As to the news of the admission board, it did not seem a good time, both because of its sensitive nature and the air around them. But she knew that the more she delayed it, the more the girl would conjure it up herself. Good news needed no waiting. But here she was, not saying anything particular about what was the ground for her journey.

Ūö herself was no longer a kid to know that something was wrong after all. If the news was at all a good one, her mother would have bought bottles of wine, they would celebrate and light the whole town with the news. For a town like Nānti, such news was worth a party. But she was not even as happy as was normal with her on her good days.

‘Mother, what did they say?’

Madam Békhtèn sighed and told her with all the forthrightness she could muster about her. She had changed her mind about playing around it. She had to do so because the young girl was growing into a woman and as such would have to learn how to deal with disappointments, because life was full of them. If she could get her to see that, she would have taken her a step further up the ladder of adulthood.

Besides, it was her news after all. She was the one to decide what to do with it and how to respond to it.

‘My dear, they went over the lists that had been published. Your name was not on anyone of them. They assured me that all admission letters had been shipped out to those who made the cut. But…’

By now, Ūö was in tears.

‘But they gave us another option. They said we could apply for another course. The courses open to application for supplementary admission are listed in the form I bought from them. It should be in my handbag.’

No, the young girl did not hear all of that.

  1. # #

Ūö felt her world cackle under her feet. She had been betrayed by hope and that lofty vision of herself.

She was indeed a smart girl and by school standards, was above average. But the news placed a dent on that pristine vision of herself that she had. That was all that mattered after all.

I must say something that I am sure that ALL my readers are familiar with, namely, that there is no human being who does not know the taste of failure. It need not be in school grades and it need not be in account balances. But in ways peculiar to each one of us, we all have dealt with failures. Failures challenge us in our vision of ourselves. And Ūö’s case was no different. If she once saw herself as a genius, such a vision was challenged by that news for now, she had to contend within her why geniuses like her never made a 100-man list. If she once saw herself as truly a ‘voice of the voiceless’, such a vision was being challenged. If she once saw herself as ‘better’ than her two sisters, it was being challenged as well. Such a vision was put to the test by that one failure. Would she accept it as the reality of life, one that geniuses and those who are the voice of the voiceless to their own world have to deal with? Would she see in all of that a challenge that tests the durability of her self-vision?

Those were her questions to answer.

Madam Békhtèn’s home was by that thrown into mourning. Peace and Borûn, when they heard the news were jubilant, though not in a very conspicuous way. They found consolation in it for all their own failures, which life had rubbed in their faces. But she was the prize of the home. She was everything they could never dream of becoming. She was their own symbol of hope. And they mourned with her in their hearts even though they were aware that she looked on them with scorn. For after all, they were part of the world from which he wanted to escape.

  1. # #

Daniel was sure he could comfort her for good. But he was reminded of his place in his mistress’ home. He had led on the talk in a bid to place back some hope if not consolation into the scene. ‘But it’s not like everything is lost. I mean she could take up another related course of study, sociology, political science, theatre arts, linguistics for the mean time. She could switch to law if she makes her first year on a high. Or she could still retake the admission exams next year while studying something else. The only thing that would be lost will be time. I mean, she’s still young after all. She has a lot more to live for.’

It was not that what he was saying was not true. It did not seem to avail for the moment. Such wisdom had to wait out the mourning season of the girl’s life.

To the girl in pain, it would sound as downplaying her disappointment. And that would be to add to her despair.

Madam Békhtèn was certain that her daughter would come over her disappointment in a few days. It was natural for people to lose sight of the more important things in their time of setbacks. To ask the girl to not weep or speak her despair would be to dehumanize her after all. They would have to wait out her grief.

  1. # #

The ultimate test for Ūö was with that vision of herself, which up till that time, had remained untested. She did not think she could stand that little event that had undermined it. And once her self-vision, the only thing that was truly hers, had been undermined, her poise was placed under threat.

Chapter Eighteen: A Penny for Your Thoughts

Brim managed to find me a lodging. It was not at all the best that my money could afford. But it was something in a town at Nānti at that time. The ‘lodging’ for the night was an empty staircase. That was all he could offer me—all he could afford actually. I did not mind for after all, I have been worse places.

He totally forgot about his brother. He wanted to know everything about the things that had been mystery to him. Computers. Traffic lights, televisions, etc. He was particular about one: ‘How do they kill people in movies?’

I am not a moviemaker but I had a little idea of it that I shared with him.

‘It looks so real that I used to think they put criminals on death row on those movies so they could shoot them during those fight scenes. And what about those that fly in movies?’

He meant Superman. He had seen the movie in Madam Békhtèn’s hall.

I explained that one too, though not in a way that fully satisfied his curiosity. It did not matter if his curiosity was fully satisfied, what mattered the most was that the questions he’d thought had no answers did in fact have answers. What were once mysteries to him had turned out to be things that had explanations, explanations that he could appropriate by his own imagination.

My interview took the whole night until the next dawn from when we went to see the town.

Just by the time that Madam Békhtèn’s Mercedes 300 was making its way into the town, we were making our turn towards Black’s shop when we bumped into Money.

‘I’ve been looking for you everywhere. Where have you been since Saturday? And how much have you made?’ Money had asked as if he’d expected that much from his brother, whom he has judged a nitwit.

Brim took a step back and observed him. He then turned to me and introduced me. ‘This is Frank Achebe. He’s the one that has been taking my time.’

Money wouldn’t give a hand. I didn’t bother myself. All he got from me was a grin.

‘What is wrong with you? Why don’t you ever listen? And what are you doing with a stranger?’

‘He’s not a stranger, not any more. I just introduced him to you. He’s from Noiā.’

‘That’s for another day. You are coming with me. I need to get some tools for our next work.’ He said and took the first step in the hope that his brother would follow him as usual. He was disappointed when Brim would not. ‘Didn’t you hear me?’

‘He promised to take me to Noiā.’ He said referring to me. That got me a deathly sneer from Money. ‘If I take him around town and tell him things….’

A slap.

With the slap, I took two steps farther from them. It did not seem too good to stand between brother and brother.

‘I was going to ask you to come with us….’ Brim was not crying this time. His face had reddened and he was rubbing the slap in but he was confident of himself. For someone had showed him that he was not after all, a bagpipe that could be played by another person.

‘Who is ‘us’? Are you insane? I am going to count up to five and if you don’t follow me, you….’

‘I’m sorry brother. There’s nothing in this town for me and none for you.’

Money looked on in shock.

‘And besides, he’s a good man.’

‘Have I not been good to you?’ A lump was now in Money’s throat.

‘I didn’t mean it that way.’

‘Do you even know who he is? He could be a kidnapper. Or a human trafficker. With this your head, he could sell you for a handful of peanuts.’

‘No he won’t….’ his voice was now rising. ‘It’s you who have sold me for a handful of peanuts. You’ve treated me like a dog.’

‘Because that is what you are. A piece of dog meat.’

‘You can say that again. But I’m going to go to Noiā and I’m going to be an actor.’

Money now turned to face me. ‘So this is what you put in his stupid head? You’ve taken advantage of his naivety.’

‘I wouldn’t say that if I were you. If you talked to me like that in my city, I would have boys of your age play a song for you to dance all through the night. And you are definitely going to sweat it out. So if I were you, I’d rather watch my mouth in order to avoid a cleft on my upper lip.’

Brim let out a laugh at that.

Money was shocked at that. Much more than shocked, he was silenced.

I took a step in the opposite direction and Brim followed in my direction after a minute of looking on to his brother in guilt.

But that changed everything for the nineteen-year old boy who was called Brim, short of Brimstone. He fell into silence with that. It was written all over him that the encounter gave him more guilt than it had given him freedom.

  1. # #

That Sunday morning, an eleven-year old boy had reported at Black’s shop with the message that his mother wanted to see him.

A few minutes past eight, he was seated in her presence. She sat on the floor with her back against the wall and her two legs stretched apart. She would go to rubbing them from time to time as she spoke.

‘Wonder why your generation have a fewer fathers than others?’

Black had wondered but he had found no answer, not one that satisfied his wonder.

‘It’s because of the war. The price a generation pays for its wars often times is its men. Of course you know your father’s story. You were six then. If he stayed back in town, he will be safe. But he wouldn’t listen. He felt it was the task of women and children to tell the tales for the next generation. He would hardly put in a word, even when occasion demanded for he believed that a man should be known by his actions, not by his words. He did not want to be a storyteller in the world that would come after the war. He wanted to be either the victim or the victor. He never said a word about it, never gave a goodbye. But when he left, I knew what was in his heart. And I honour him for it.’

There was a moment of silence before she continued. ‘I am sorry for Tupac. They told me he’s dead. You know a lot about you changed when you started listening to the thing you called hip-hop and rap and all that. Forgive my dislike for it. It’s too noisy. But it changed you. It made you want to make something out of your life, no matter how small it was. It told you that you are not alone in your struggles as a young man. And that was when you got that barber shop and look at you now? You pay my rents and your two sister’s school and boarding fees.’

That was when she came to it. Black’s mother knew her son very well. She was surprised when he’d told her about Madam Békhtèn’s daughter. It was great news to hear that her son had his eyes on a woman. She was given to teasing him lately about getting married. Black’s objections were that he could not love a woman. Her answer was that marriage was a different thing, other than ‘love’. ‘If you find a woman who can follow you, and one whom you can fulfil your duties to as a man and a husband, then there’s nothing to it. Duty not love was what marriage was to my generation. It liberated us in ways modern women would never understand. It made us not ask for too much. And believe me, there is freedom in that.’

Until now, Black hadn’t said a word.

‘About Madam Békhtèn’s daughter, I have heard stories about her. I am a woman and women are fickle. That also is their greatness. Our malleability means that you can easily beat us into whatever shape you want her to be. I know she’s wayward but if you have loved her the way she is now, what does all of that matter?’

She had paused before coming to the main event of the night. ‘Do you think I should speak to her about it?’

‘No mother.’

‘Alright, alright, alright. But the best time to chase a black goat is during the day.’

Black left his mother and returned to his shop with his mind on fire. He had decided to let the girl go. Though he knew it would be hard for him, he could steel his mind as a man through it. Now his mother had tempered those feelings. Even if he was going to back down after all, it would not be too soon. The reference to his father was one that she knew would work on him for Black respected the memory of his father. He even believed that the man had reincarnated in the life of the rapper Tupac.

Chapter Nineteen: A Time To Let Go

Monday morning saw Zach stronger in spirit and in body. The delirium did not occur the night before. It was a beautiful night indeed. The longest he’d had in a long time. The puzzle was now complete after all.

Nurse B was more sympathetic than before. ‘Your patience has paid off after all.’

‘Is that your apology?’

She laughed.

‘You’re beating about the bush. Why not you say it like this: ‘I’m sorry for not taking you at your word. Or I’m sorry for taking you for granted. Or what about: I should have known myself.’ Zach mimicked her the best he could.

‘Don’t be silly. I’ve always trusted you. ‘Trust’ will always be a theoretical word until it is put to test. Whatever happened was my own test. I suppose you felt same.’

‘Admit that you failed the test.’

‘Admit that you failed yours.’

They both laughed it off.

‘The mayor died last night.’

‘Rest his soul.’ There were no surprises to it for both of them.

The talk of death reminded Zach of the one thing that still pinched his sore parts: his wife. He disbelieved the nightmares and dreams as ‘they’ trying to destabilize his mind. However, he held out to that one about his wife. The reason is apparent. The emotional distance was closer and so was the anxiety. But he now had a whole town which now had people pouring into it by tonnes to worry about.

How was he to divert their attention from the boy and out of the town? That was the one-billion dollar question. Even if he could, he could not walk away from it. His wife would not be proud of him. Not in life and not in her death. She would have chosen to go for a whole town to be saved.

Zach knew that and even if he could walk away from the town and its fate, it would no longer be worth all the stress that had gone into it. Two lives had already been lost. His backing-off will mean that those lives were lost for nothing when they could be the price for the redemption of a whole town.

But what guarantees did he have?

None.

‘What guarantees did he need?’

None. He was not used to asking for guarantees. He was the one to just do it. Monday morning saw him willing and ready to just do it.

  1. # #

While Zach was figuring out the riddle that had been put to him, Hééb and his mother were figuring out the one that had been put to them. The news of the death of the mayor did not make the wave that it should have made because of obvious reasons. But it made Hééb redefine his betrayal of him in light of prevailing circumstances. His life was now torn into two unequal halves: the life that had been truly his for many years and the one that he never really had.

Before leaving the mayor’s place, he had had a meeting with the boy, Ekeó. He had made himself very plain. ‘What is in all this for me?’

‘For you? My dear, let the joy of the people be your joy.’

‘My boss is dead. I betrayed him for you. I made all of this happen. The books have not been opened yet but I doubt my name will be among those that will be rewarded. I led on my boss on a very sensitive place. If he has anybody to blame in his death, it will be me. But at least, let my service to you mean something.’

Hééb needn’t tell the boy that it was at his order that he’d kept the mayor locked in his bedroom for all the days he had. That too was among what was to be rewarded.—If the boy pleased.

‘Did you? I will tell you a parable and if you can find the answer to the riddle of that parable, you can find the answer to your question.’ the boy had then gone on and told him the exact fable that Zach had told his mother, word for word:

‘Once upon a time in a bush, a bat and a bush rat lived and fed together but the bat was always jealous of the bush rat because when he cooked the food, it was always better. One day, the bush rat inquired of his companion of how he made his soup and how it came to be so tasty. After a long time in persuasion, the bat replied that his flesh was so sweet that he boiled himself in the soup every time it was his turn to cook. The bush rat wanted to see how this was done and so the bat, who was unwilling to teach him how to make good soups, prepared a soup beforehand and jumped into it after haven let it cool down a bit. Then he called the rat and told him to come and see. When the rat saw this, he went home and told his wife and the whole animals to come to a party in his house that he would make a soup like that of the bat. He then told them to boil some hot water and when they were not watching, he jumped into the pot of water and died. Tell me, ma, who do you think killed the bush rat? The hot water? Or the rat that deceived him?’

Hééb had gone home and reported to his mother. ‘What does he mean by that?’

His mother had found the meaning of the riddle but wouldn’t tell him. However, he did not specifically need her to do so for he knew the answer to the riddle himself. ‘I’ve lost on both sides.’ Hééb announced to his mother in despair. ‘He cannot have meant any other thing.’

‘Will you shut it!’

‘Shut what! You led me into this.’

‘No, it was your greed and your ambitiousness that led you into it.’

Hééb had walked out on her in a rage. His heart was filled with spite and hatred for everybody, including himself. He had one person on his mind at whom he thought deserved to pay for all of that: Zach.

As to his mother, it beat her imagination to think that none of those thoughts and ideas were really her own. In the same way, she saw that none of the boy’s actions was truly his. In the same way, she saw that not all of our thoughts and actions are truly ours. She was humbled by the sound of that.

  1. # #

Zach arrived the river. He had a long meeting with his soap and toothpaste and of course, the river. He did feel that the boy was going to be there.

The thought of the flood made him scared of the river. It took him a while of talking himself into stepping into it. When he did, nothing happened. He noticed, however, that the level of the river had fallen. Dry season was on its way. He could even feel some dryness in the wind.

The bathing session was without any quirks as was every other thing to the ritual.

After those, Zach cleaned out his clothes in the only fashion he knew, as before. It was easier now because he now had a bar of soap.

The washing of clothes for ‘leave town campaign’ now done, Zach now waited out for their drying in the rising sun. As he waited, the days he’d spent in the river flashed past him with their events. There was one observation that came to mind of all of them. It was an itty-bitty one but it had made a profound impression the first time he had taken note of it.

He remembered and I ask you my reader to remember, that there was something in the boy’s voice when he spoke about himself that was not there all the other times. Or rather, something that was there when he spoke about the miracle that was not now there. It was faint but Zach had taken note of it the first time. It meant a great deal now for it told Zach what he needed to know about the boy and of course his mother.

Apart from those ones they had shared the first time, none of those boy’s words and actions were truly his own. Maybe the boy was calling for help from the powers that had taken over his life and his condition and were using it for their purpose.

Zach could not remember the look on his mother’s face as he had seen it in the dream. But now it made sense to think that she was asking him for something all along. What could that be?

With that, Zach knew that he needed another meeting with that boy however it was going to happen.

He had walked the valley and had taken in a broad view of the riverside as much as he could. He now had no worries, not any about his safety.

  1. # #

Black grappled with his thoughts. It was not that he did not know what he wanted. It was just the anguish that such grave concern weighted on the mind. He was not going to be spared any of those.

While he carried his burden, Madam Békhtèn tried to carry hers. The thoughts of letting go of her vanities were heavy on her mind as it had been throughout her journey. They were losing the attraction they once held for her. More from grief for her daughter than for anything, that night, nothing of the usual happened between she and the boy. She just let the night pass.

The next morning, she woke in a bad mood. She could not explain why she was petulant and in a bad mood but she knew that it could not have been the news. It was something far more profound. It was time for her to let go.

Madam Békhtèn had some decisiveness about her that manifested when it mattered. She had carried the decision with her all through the journey and now she was going to make it after all.

She called Daniel to the veranda and sat him down. ‘I’m sorry but you have to leave now. I will pay whatever I owe.’ When she said it, she felt a weight off her shoulders.

Daniel could find no other reason in the decision other than Ūö. He wondered how it was that she could have found out. Did anyone tell her?

‘I will leave certainly. But the notice is rather short.’

Madam Békhtèn agreed to let him go the following day.

When Ūö heard the news, she did not see her mother’s search for redemption; neither did she see it as a gift that she was giving her. She saw the same thing that Daniel saw: herself.

She had confronted her mother that morning. ‘Why are you sending him away?’

‘What does he mean to you?’

‘He’s my friend. I like him.’

‘You like that tramp?’

Something in Ūö finally snapped in that moment. It was not directly related to either the accusation that had just been made or the disappointment that she now felt at heart. Something that slept all along inside had been rocked to the cradle. ‘You call him a tramp? You call him a tramp? You are the one who is a tramp and a whore. Yes, that is what you are! Leave him alone….’

Madam Békhtèn could have broken into tears if she could. But as she sat still, her heart beat with the ferocity of a steam engine. Those were the words that she dreaded the most. Now they had been finally put to her.

A silence colder than the ice caps fell over her. She died…

Chapter Twenty: Guilty Pleasures

Under different circumstances, Madam Békhtèn would not have seen the final judgement for what it was. She would have dismissed it as a mere child talking and would have forgiven her for her youth.

In the present circumstances, she wanted to see it as the girl’s despairs finally expressing themselves, not as hatred for her mother, but as frustration at life. If it was that, then she had no reason to make herself the victim. But she knew it was not it! It could not have been it.

Ūö had not forgiven her mother after all. It merely took the circumstances under review for her to finally utter it. It does happen that certain situations trigger other latent sentiments that otherwise have no apparent relation to the situation itself. The relation in this case, I judge for my readers, is indeed apparent. In any case, such reactions show more than the apparent; they show the connection that the apparent has with the unapparent in light of which we can then pronounce our judgement on the unapparent.

I have said it before and I wish to remind my readers, that Ūö begrudged her mother and her sisters. They were the only reason she needed to want to succeed. It may not matter much if we dismiss it as a youthful sentiment, which took the world and what one owes others for granted. It may not matter much if it passed as it had come. What follows meant that we must pay attention to it. It must matter to us because it is only in light of that can we really explain what followed.

As she sat back, Madam Békhtèn tried to follow the young girl’s thoughts back to her room. What she saw there was dreadful. She saw she was the one that the girl was hoping to escape from. In that dread, her own life sprawled in her face.

Madam Békhtèn had made much of what was her youth living among soldiers. Before the war of ’74, there was no other place for a young and ambitious woman to be. They ruled the nation at the time. Those men lacked the will and the sensibility to rule a nation. There the money flowed recklessly as the people suffered on the other side. She did not have any other thing except her body and with that, she’d made her way and her money through that life.

What made her special was that she had a mind and a will of her own. Many girls of her ‘profession’ did not. Some of them were naïve enough to not see that one could not give too much for too little. She was a survivor. There were things she held back, things that made her popular among the soldiers that paid her bills. Something that had earned her the title of ‘Princess’. She had opened her own prostitution ring that broke with the war. She had called her ring ‘Békhtèn’ and at twenty-eight, made herself a ‘madam’ over many other ladies. The reference to the Egyptian legend where Khensu Pa-ari-sekher had travelled to Békhtèn for seventeen months, on the invitation of the Prince of Békhtèn, to the healing of the princes Bent-enth-resch who was possessed by a devil.

Even if she could, she had no one to blame for her troubles. She was a strong woman and by her strength, she had prevailed.

There was no glory in that life. The reality of it was that men are vile in their desires and vile in how much they were willing to pay to have those desires satisfied.

With the War, things changed for everybody including her. She left the business and did a few investments before retiring to her hometown where she could afford to explore all her fantasies.

About Ūö, she did not see any reason to return the judgement. She was still a kid after all. But she was becoming a woman. She was trying to save herself.

  1. # #

Daniel managed to send some words of comfort across to the young girl. They were now on each other’s side. Or so it seemed.

  1. # #

Money fell into a worse mood than his younger brother. He could not continue his business as he was not in the right mental state to do so. He felt the victim of his brother ‘ingratitude’. He kept assuring himself in the quiet of his own being that all he had done was to keep the boy safe. He also admitted to himself that he may not have been the very best of brother but he had done for him what many would not do for their brothers. It was not that he needed anyone to convince of that. However, it was what it was: a power tussle rather than a service of a brother.

He agreed that there was sensibility in his wanting to leave the town. But he could not stand the boy being the one to call the shot, not when he had been the one with it for as long as they’d been together. Not when he had certified the boy a half-lunatic that lived at his mercy. Not when he’d constantly told him that he was the ‘burden’ of his life. They would leave when he said they would leave. It could not have been otherwise. They did things when he said they did them and how he said they’d do them. It did not matter anything else. He could take the boy sulking on him or playing tricks around his orders. His rebellion, however, was too much for him to take.

His own sense of self had been built around his being the alpha male in the world that the two of them shared. It was an impression he’d deliberately built into their relationship. It gave him security to do as he wanted to without any fear of dissension. And now that dissension had arisen, he saw that he was unprepared for any of it. Now he was finding it hard to accept that the boy had taken his own path. It was even harder to adjust to it.

  1. # #

On his own path, Brim did not have the courage for such self-assertion. He had stood in the shadows of his elder brother for all his life. Walking in the light was a tremulous experience for him.

His guilt stemmed from the obvious fact that he could not deny that his brother had been good to him. There were divergences to that, but he could not deny that his brother had fed him, clothed him and kept him alive for longer than he could have managed himself. He did not seek justification from this guilt. He bore it.

The rest of our talk and interviews did not have its original flair. So I suggested to him to go see his brother and talk to him in more respectable terms. ‘Do not seek to justify your own decision. Seek instead to gain your brother back. Leave me out of it. Make it a brother to brother thing.’ Those were my own words of wisdom.

  1. # #

Zach returned to the wardroom to set his plans straight. He had achieved the most already. But the prospects of getting the people off the town seemed to downplay all that he had seemingly achieved. That was the hardest part. He would have to try. He was condemned to even if he could not try.

There were so many things to it. He could not say that he was certain about anything, not to any other person. It would take more sensible people to understand the situation. ‘It’s going to be hard. I can assure you of that. It’s like taking people away from what has been their lives.’ Nurse B had told her.

‘Well, the flood, when it comes will take all of that away all the same. What difference will it make?’

‘People will appreciate your zeal but I doubt they will follow it.’

‘So what is your advice?’

She had taken a while before giving Zach a brilliant answer. ‘It was the boy that brought them here. It’s going to take him to….’

‘But how?’

‘I don’t know. It’s yours to figure out.’

‘What about you?’

‘The break I have been waiting for. I’m going to write the nursing board and tell them of my desire to retire from the profession.’

It did make enough sense, except that the how to it was still missing from the picture. He had pushed that one idea aside. He would have to try other options.

That one would be for the worse when it came.

Chapter Twenty-One: A Revenge Against the Witness

The next day came and saw off Daniel. He had the chance for some last words the night before his departure. They were in the girl’s room.

‘You have to forgive her.’ If he stressed the ‘forgive’, it was not in admonishment. It was rather to stress the fact that her mother was to be forgiven as a sinner and that as the one to forgive, she was the saint.

Daniel had mixed feelings that night as they both sat it out in silence. It puzzled him like it should, that she had not forgiven her mother when she had forgiven him.

‘I want to get away from her. I want to get away from here.’ It was as if he’d been waiting for her to come at it: ‘Take me with you. Anywhere.’

It did not matter that she was exposing her vulnerability. It did not matter that following the boy was like jumping from frying pan to fire. All that mattered was getting away from her mother whom she had demonized in the depths of her heart.

Daniel knew that something close to that would come up. He had foreseen it and had made preparations. ‘She can’t let you come with me.’

‘She does not own me! Not anymore!’

‘Well, I can help you get away.’ They had made arrangements about how to meet up to their satisfaction and promise of a new life as promised by the boy.

He would wait for her somewhere in Mōia . She could not follow him the next day. It would be perceived as his own decision. She had to make it her own.

  1. # #

Money did not say it but there was no telling that he had only one condition for accepting his brother again. The condition was that things would be as before. He would have to live as if he owed him his life. There was also no telling him of the fact that it would never again be as it once was. His brother had seen the light of the day. Whatever he’d seen of himself in the new mirror meant that the past was forever past and every other thing with it.

Brim on his own path wanted to win his brother back unconditionally. But the new life held so much promise for him.

His guilt told him that his brother had truly been a blessing and that he was truly ungrateful in the way he’d acted. He did owe him his life even if in the least ways for if not for anything, his brother meant that he was spared the anguish of making his own decisions and bearing the burden of his life.

  1. # #

Madam Békhtèn hardly slept that night. She had the words to ponder. It would not have meant much if they had come from elsewhere. Considering where they came from, she could not ignore or downplay them. More than that, they put a lot of other things she could not possibly ignore into perspective. If she had any doubts or fears about giving up her vanities, those doubts and fears did not survive that night.

She would do it for her. She would use it to prove to her that she loved her. Things could be better after all. She could earn her forgiveness after all from the good works that she promised herself that night.

For her reflections, she had gone to bed late and by the time she was being woken, it was mid-morning. There was bad news, she was told. She had followed the alarm to the door of her daughter’s room. From under the door, was a strain of dried blood.

‘We have been trying to open the door.’ They told her.

‘And why haven’t you knocked it down?’

They did and there lay her daughter, in a pool of dried blood. She had cut her two wrists the night before. They did not find any note for the girl was in a hurry to move on.

If I have stressed the complexities of the girl’s character, it was in light of this tragedy. Without it, I would have no explanation for what was the defining event of Madam Békhtèn’s adult life.

If Madam Békhtèn had known that she had plans of escaping with the boy, she would have let her have it. She would have let her have anything other than what she eventually had. But Ūö had chosen to escape from her through another route.

  1. # #

I was not there in person but permit me to rummage through Ūö’s mind that night. If there was anything to see, I will tell my reader that, it was the best way to give revenge to her mother that she sought. She wanted to cause her mother pain. Not that it was hers to repay, she wanted to repay her for her sins. And more than anything else, she wanted to deprive her mother of herself knowing fully well that she had placed all hope for the future in her.

It was from that crack that she had carried in her soul that the demon had slipped in. She could have waited and would have ran away the next day and even that night. Even though she would never have been better off for it, she certainly would not have been any worse. But she wouldn’t. She had never once thought of suicide before. But that night, in the darkness of her soul, as she stroked her pride, and the hatred and contempt she carried with her of her mother, she saw that such would be the ultimate pain for her mother.

As to whether she achieved her aim, she did for Madam Békhtèn had a stroke two days later. She could not bear it.

She did find her redemption, but at so great a prize.

She did not think it was worth it.

  1. # #

Madam Békhtèn had no other person to hold responsible for her daughter’s death but herself. ‘It was all because of me. I’ve killed my own daughter.’ She saw it as such. If her daughter had not forgiven her after all, she could not deny that she owed it to her to seek her forgiveness. But she hadn’t. And the boy? Since he had something to do with it, it had to be her fault. Was she not the one who had brought the ravenous wolf to her home after all?

It was not about the news. It was not about the boy as well. If it were, she could have let him have it. It was the guilt feeling of being the remote cause of someone else’s tragedy.

It was not to say that if Ūö had lived a while longer that she would have seen everything in different shades. It was also not to say that she did not have the nerve to handle the truth. It was a genuine acceptance of the fact that she had not done enough to protect her daughter from her own fate.

  1. # #

The news reached the other two sisters that their other sister, the one they loved had taken her life. They were left with broken hearts. There was no consolation in it for them. For Borûn, none of the patronizing comparisons mattered again. She was the angel that guaranteed their redemption. She had truly been a part of their lives in different way. She was their symbol of hope and the only consolation they had for their lives. But in remembrance of her, none of that resonated again with her death. She had betrayed them. She had denied them their redemption.

—Good things do not last.

—They broke her heart.

—It could have been that boy. He may have betrayed her.

The news that followed the suicide was that she had fallen in love with the boy and her mother had deprived her of her love by sending the boy away.

That was the way they saw it. But I had seen too many failed young loves that I would not see it as such. She had lived in a world where more flexible ideas about love were being thrown at the world by those who knew better. She was, however, not the victim of those ideas, which could better be described as cynical mockeries of actual love. If she were, I stand to be corrected. But how could she have been when she never was exposed to them in an upsetting measure?

Was her mother’s sins hers to forgive?

At the same time, I must insist that this is my own judgement of the tragedy. I have no other. I could not have ignored it as I could not have taken it for granted. It had to mean something deeper.

For the wordiness of my treatment of her story, I ask to be forgiven except that I could not have done otherwise.

As to Daniel, we shall let him pass on with our forgiveness for he was much of a victim that he was the cause.

Borûn on her part, could have taken her life, only if she could. But she couldn’t—not in the same way as her sister. To the same degree that her mother was shaken was the same degree that she was, and perhaps even more. It was the reminder that she was alone in the world.

She knew too well that she could not hope too much or for too much.

  1. # #

In the midst of all the grief, Rev Iňaō was blasting off from his pulpit that it was all as he had prophesied: God was judging sinners. And more judgment awaited sinners who do not repent from their sins and turn to God. He was too certain of that.  

Chapter Twenty-Two: Murder Was the Case

As the chill-goose-bump-worthy news was spreading the town, the uneasiness was spreading in everyone’s mind. Some things was not what they should be and certainly not what they once were.

Nurse B sealed her letter to the nursing board and placed it in her bag for tomorrow. A lot of queer things meant that it was time to leave town after all. Anybody that did not see it was a joker. Something had hung over her sister lately and that night, they had a conversation.

‘What was his name?’

‘Who?’ Nurse B thought it was Zach. ‘You mean the one that comes around?’

‘No, the one you two spoke about the first night he came. I overheard you.’

Nurse B’s face flushed in the dark. ‘Oh, forget it. It’s nothing.’

‘Tell me, what did it feel like?’

‘Ethuniä, forget it. Those are not the kind of things one asks for in life. They come to you.’

‘Do you like him? I mean the other one.’

‘Don’t be silly. He’s married.’

There was a moment of silence. Nurse B once had a curios thought, when she learnt that Zach’s wife was in mortal danger. What that thought was, I shall leave to the curiosity of my readers. She had brushed it aside quickly. It was a stupid thought, a very selfish one. One that took for granted many other things.

‘Do you think I can walk again just like he said?’

‘I would give anything to see you walk. That is if I were God. But it’s not for you or me to decide. You will walk again, even if not with your two legs.’

  1. # #

Nothing felt same for Borûn. Her world was now gloomy in an unmistakable way. She was not sure she could sleep that night. Her sister’s face had haunted her in life and there was no way it wouldn’t in death. She had changed her sleeping plans. Not in the small room she’d managed to put together for herself and certainly not in her mother’s place.

She had continued in whatever direction.

Atta Boy and his boys had enjoyed themselves the other night. Black was now impotent for anything. Therefore, there was no telling him that he could not have it again.

They had followed Borûn. There was nothing to stop them and nothing did stop them after all.

Borûn was too weak. She had passed out on them. They had new positions to try out on her and new techniques to put on her body.

When they were done with her body, they carried her and laid her by the corner of the street. More to the shame they wanted to bring on their enemy and more to their pleasure. They hoped to come back again, if they could.

It did not matter; it could have been her own death. She would not have withstood it even if she could. If she had died, her mother would not have cried a drop of tears for then nothing would have changed after all.

Chapter Twenty-Three: Can U Get Away

Black woke to the next morning with the news of what had happened to Borûn reaching him. If he had any doubts, they all disappeared with the news. And if he had forgiven Atta Boy once, he had no plans of doing it for the second time. He no longer needed a reason to do as his mother had told him.

He felt new energy flow through him, now that he had something to fight for. Even if there were no reason to it, he had his pride to protect.

The boys gathered in the gym that morning, and he announced to them in his usual low-toned voice: ‘Tell Atta Boy and his boys that they have till midday to leave this town. It’s no longer going to contain both of us. A second past twelve, I will start with Atta Boy’s two sisters then to his mother. I will slice them into small pieces and send them back to him to put them back together. Each for every one of them.’

They all knew that even if he could not do exactly as he’d promised, he could do worse. Atta Boy had given him the reason to do so.

  1. # #

Zach’s first stop in his campaign to have people evacuate the town was at the priest’s. The people of Nānti were predominantly catholic. As such, the priest had a measure of control over the fate of the most devout of them.

Reverend Francis was Jesuit-trained. He’d studied in Europe. He was a man of the most polished breeding. All of that were evident in the time they’d spent together. Both had earned each other’s respect on account of Pûjó.

Zach told his own story and waited on the priest.

‘I have heard stories myself. I heard that during the War that the town was invisible to government soldiers.’

‘How?’

‘They said that the town appeared to be a wide stretch of water to soldiers that they could not attack it. Well, it meant that the river goddess protected them at the time. And up till this date, they believe that the river has been protecting the lands from being taken over by the government.’

‘I’ve heard about the bridges they tried to construct over the river.’

‘Exactly. It’s one of those. The river seems to have been a symbol of protection and posterity. Their own ‘symbol of survival’. Why would all of that change in an instant?’

‘Well, you never can tell. It’s a new world after all and there are no places for old gods. And sometimes what you once held onto refuses to let you go. You’ve heard that expression before?’ Zach remembered Hééb’s mother’s riddle. It was the only answer to the question. I should ask my readers to take note of that.

‘Do you believe in all that, Mr Zachariah?’

‘In what?’

‘In the pagan gods and in the stories that are usually surround them?’

‘Anything is possible. Who wouldn’t see that?’

‘I’d rather see them as the way a people make sense and spirit of their worlds.’

‘That does not make them any less real or powerful. Or does it?’

‘It doesn’t.’

‘You wouldn’t think that these gods—or the ‘sense and spirit’—affect the lives of the people?’

‘Of course they do in a psychological way.’

‘Not otherwise?’

‘Well, these gods define their collective behaviour by defining the way they see themselves.’

‘You wouldn’t see in them something higher than ‘them’? Something that is greater than what they could control?’

‘Well as a theologian of the Catholic Church, I would see them as demons, evil spirits. More or less.’ The priest did not want to continue in that direction of the discussion so he switched it. ‘So what are we looking at here?’

‘Well, it’s a river goddess going on a revenge mission for all the years of neglect. Or for whatever reasons. It undoubtedly will be a flood or something of that nature. She wouldn’t be trying to make a return. She will be going for the kill, as much as she can take.’

‘How sure are you of this?’

‘I can’t be too sure.’

‘Well, I can only warn them. But to sound an alarm, that is beyond what I can afford to do.’ Zach had left knowing that he would not warn his people for anything. The answer was more or less to pacify him. The priest did not at all believe in his ‘hypothesis’.

Reverend Francis’ assessment of Zach left him ‘disappointed’ in a way. He could not understand how a man like that would submit to such a mindless idea. If he had any respect for him, that meeting reduced it by a good measure.

Zach on his own part felt again that there was something the man was protecting. Even though he did not expect the man to jump into bed with him, as he’d in Pûjó’s case, he expected the man to see beyond what he was trained to see as ‘a theologian of the catholic church’.

It was his plan to go to the three religious leaders in town and ask their co-operation. But after that, he could only imagine Rev. Iňaō’s response. That would be too much time to waste. He’d rather followed the nurse’s advice.

  1. # #

Hééb’s heart got darker until every light faded away. He had passed drunk for the past few days. He had one thing on his mind: how to avenge his loss on Zach. He had no reason to do so and needed no reason to do so. Zach had not harmed him in any way. But that was where his bitterness led him. He was going to kill Zach. That was all he cared for now.

In his mind, floated gross and bloody images of him stabbing Zach with a blunt knife in many places, then digging out the blade, then slicing him into many pieces. If he could afford to, that would be the only way he would kill the man.

  1. # #

Zach returned to the hospital and reported himself to the nurse.

‘It’s never going to happen.’

‘Yes, it definitely won’t happen the way you want it to happen. I’ve already told you how to go about it.’

‘You told me what. You did not tell me how. Mind clarifying yourself on that?’

‘I don’t know. For God’s sake, we went to see the mayor with you in a nurse’s garb. That, if I were to suggest is the how.’

‘You mean I get into a nurse’s garb again?’

Nurse B grunted.

‘Excuse me for that. I was joking. I understand what you mean.’

‘You have never backed down from any challenge before. It is beginning to appear as if you are scared of that boy.’

‘I’m not scared of him. Even if I did, a lot more than that is at stake here.’

‘Good. If I were you, I would go to the boy and convince him to lead his people away to safety. They came to this town looking for him and if he leaves the town, they will follow him wherever he goes. That is the only way you are going to get the people off this town.’

  1. # #

It was the only thing that Zach was now left with and so he took it. From the hospital, he had gone to the river hopeful that the boy would meet up as he used to. But the sun rose and fell and Ekeó did not show up.

From the river, Zach turned to the mayor’s place. He had not gone there directly from the hospital because as the nurse had observed, he feared, not the boy, but something about the boy.

  1. # #

Hééb did not need his mother for his next plan of action. His demons were enough. They preoccupied every space in his mind. He owned a locally made pistol. It was still fully loaded when he retrieved it. It did not suit the description of a blunt knife being dug in and out of Zach’s body but it sure would do the job.

He had gone back on his drinking spree so he could steel his mind. He then placed it in his coat and took a walk.

  1. # #

Borûn stirred. Pain rang through every inch of her body. The insides of her thighs and the area between her legs burnt with hot and fresh pain. She would not be able to walk for days.

Someone was leaning over her in the darkness. She could not make out the owner of the face. There were dabs of hot water on her thighs and her head and then her sides.

She struggled to see through the dark but she could not make out the face. However, the owner of the face was speaking in low tones. She laid back her head and took in the pain. She could have been anywhere.

  1. # #

Black watched his mother dab at the girl’s body wounds with a towel soaked in hot water. She’d picked her up from the street corner when no one else would. And as he sat and watched in silence, his heart dollied around what he’d told his boys about Atta Boy and the lyrics of the song courtesy of his guardian angel Can U Get Away. ‘I can see your state of misery from the introduction…Maybe we can see a better way, find a brighter day…Tell me can you get away….’

Black could not quite tell why he loved Borûn. It did not matter. I find it a mystery and for its own sake, I ask that you, my dear reader, do not insist that I demystify it. As I will insist that you try not to demystify it. Let it intrigue us by its mystery.

At this point, I shall allow Borûn to slip out of the story in peace. But she did find her redemption not that she’d earned it but because love had given it to her.

Chapter Twenty-Four: Like A Diamond In the Skies

Zach found a corner and looked on. There was much to see but the crowd was too much for his eyes. The cynosure still was at the centre. Zach could not make out what he was saying in his address to the crowd. It could have been anything from a sermon on the mount to a sermon in a valley to a sermon on a front yard. But it was certain that he mystified them enough for them to mistake him as the Christ, or as a nineteen-year old boy version of him and for him to play the Christ for them.

Zach felt sorry for the people as well as for the boy. They were making a mockery of themselves. Or rather, they were being mocked by someone that was now sneering at their backs.

By Zach’s estimation, there could have been three thousand persons in and the front yard, outside the gate and elsewhere waiting to see the ‘prophet’. Or rather, waiting to see their deaths—whichever one came first.

There was something overwhelmingly human in that moment for Zach. And I will ask you, my reader the permission to ramble about it for a minute.

Whether they be nineteen-year olds, white-bearded philosophers, great ‘moral teachers’, immortal gods, or politicians, every ‘Messiah’ is called into existence on account of the helplessness and hopefulness of men. He becomes the ‘messiah’ with the promise of fulfilling the ultimate for those that attend to him and to his words. He becomes a ‘messiah’ insofar as he can save a despairing and suffering man from his fate. It does not matter whether he succeeds or not, what matters is how much hopefulness he can extract from those who see him as ‘messiah’. All of that is for his claims to being the messiah and all of that is to how much he can betray those that trust in him since man’s hopefulness is an abyss that can never be filled expect by emptying an abyss over it.

To my dear reader, I ask that you do not be too quick to judge them. Forgive their hopefulness and be anxious for them for its looming betrayal. Never have there been more ‘human messiahs’ than in their century. It took them a while to dispense with the divine ones. For their humanness, they did not claim to be virgin-born neither did they claim to have existed before Abraham. They were ‘philosophers,’ ‘leaders’, and ‘philosopher-kings’—for their modesty and humanness. And for that, let us hail them for being all too human. Let us also forgive the hopefulness of those who followed them in the hope of the world that was promised according to their dreams. But let us mourn their betrayal and let us ever remember.

Zach was caught in thoughts similar to mine when he felt a hand tap him on his shoulder. ‘Are you Zachariah?’ He was. ‘Someone wants to see you,’ the owner of the hand reported.

Zach followed him without any suspicions. There could not have been any, not as they walked up to road that led down the road away from the mayor’s place. They made a turn and another turn and two more turns through what were alleyways till Zach looked up and the boy who led the way was not anywhere in sight. That was when he became suspicious.

He started back, having tried not to miss a turn. On the third, he burst out into what was an empty plot of land that had been converted into a football field, evidence that he’d missed a turn. It was night. The football field tailed into a pen, a dumpsite, and a footpath that separated the two.

‘My apologies. Forgive the boy. He screwed up the directions.’ a familiar voice called out.

Zach turned to meet the owner of the voice.

‘You’re looking for me, sir.’

‘Of course I am.’

‘Why?’ Zach asked covering the distance.

‘To kill you.’

A gun materialized in his eyes. The owner of the voice was Hééb after all.

‘Why would you want to kill me?’

Hééb gave an evil laughter before answering. ‘Because it is going to make me feel better about…’

‘About what?’

‘About everything that has just happened.’

‘How is that going to make you feel better?’

‘Well, seeing you alive makes me feel bad. Seeing you dead and cut into a thousand pieces would certainly make me feel the opposite. That’s logical enough.’

It was Zach’s turn to laugh. ‘You’ve been seeing a lot of movies lately.’

‘Movies?’ Hééb let out a shot in the air. ‘I’m not joking.’ Hééb may be in a cynical mood and even half-drunk but he had come for the kill.

‘Well, you know the first and last time I held a gun, a couple of people died.’

Zach could not quite tell why he was feeling less than afraid and more than amused about Hééb. ‘Well, if it’s going to make you feel better, then you can have it.’

  1. # #

Hééb was sure he wanted to kill this man. He was going to do it after all, whether it made him feel better or not. The man was still talking as his tightened his finger on the crooked trigger—.

  1. # #

Hééb woke a quarter an hour later. His legs hurt, as did his face. Instead of two, they were now four of them.

‘What happened?’

It did happen that just as the bullet was going off that two men had lunged into him, knocking him unconscious and the gun off his hands. But it was already a bit late for Zach for now he had a deep cut in his upper arm where the large bullet had grazed him. It could have been a second later though.

Hééb recognised the two as Silas Ańgō and the hunter, Othí. ‘What are you doing here?’ He addressed Silas.

‘You were going to kill him, you goblin.’ Silas answered.

The two were attending to Zach who was now in great pains. The bullet had left a hole its size in his upper harm. Thankfully, it hadn’t lodged itself in. It would have been worse.

Zach was sure that Hééb was joking until the bullet struck him. The power of that slug made him spin on his feet, and then to the ground.

‘We’ve all lost something, Mr Hééb. Your boss lost his family. My wife is probably on the other side by now. Everyone has lost something. Seeing me dead is not going to make you feel better about your own loss.’ Zach registered in the man’s mind before the two others led him away.

  1. # #

In the wardroom, the hunter and Silas sat and watched as Nurse B attended to Zach. She made the arm disappear under a roll of bandage after stitching the flesh. It still hurt badly.

‘I suppose you’ll send the hospital a check when you reach home?’ The nurse told him.

‘That’s if there’s a hospital to send a check to.’ Then to Silas and the hunter: ‘What happened?’

Silas had told his own side of the story. He had come looking for Kuniā. He’d gone straight to the mayor’s place and had searched into the night from the dusk when he’d arrived town. ‘The doors to the house was locked. I thought that Hééb might have some idea as to her whereabouts so I sought him out. I met him instead.’ He referred to the hunter. All eyes turned to him.

‘I saw Zach when he came into the grounds. I was on my way out. Truthfully, I had begun to be frustrated by everything. I mean, if it was not much of a show, then I don’t know what it is. But I could not face the fact that I’d betrayed a man who had been good to me. As I stood contemplating whether to face him with it, I saw a boy walk up to him. I saw him walk away and then came Silas. He knew me from before he left. I suppose everyone did. I was the drunkard, after all. He was asking after Hééb. He was very anxious about it. I thought you might know. I had him follow me while I followed the direction I saw the boy lead you. Then we burst into the field and saw the idiot holding a gun. It had our attention. We did not have to think twice before lunging into him and knocking him down. It was at a hunter’s instinct. For the hunter that I am, I could recognize any locally made gun from the sound of its shot….’

‘You’ve saved my life so I owe you one.’ Zach felt some displeasure at himself about the spite and hatred with which he’d regarded the hunter while he was all alone. Not when he’d assured him that he ‘owed’ him forgiveness. He was no different from the hunter, they’d betrayed each other. He could not face him with it either, not when for his spite and anger, he could have killed him.

For the guilt they both shared over how they treated each other—one person in the obvious, the other in his heart—, that did the job of reconciliation for both of them. They never referred to it again. It felt as if they never parted.

Zach told them his story.

‘It remains how to get them off this town.’

‘Maybe use the law’

‘People have a right to public gathering. Besides you can’t prove to the law that there are any conspiracies, not one of that magnitude. It could take months if not years. And you will give them the chance to play the victim.’

‘The whole town would have been gone by the time the paperwork is finished.’

‘Assuming we get the boy to renounce, what is the guarantee that he can get them off in the shortest possible time?’

‘There are no guarantees here. Not that he would even renounce. We need to get at him first. Get him to understand that he’s being used for a carnage.’

‘And how do you intend on getting him to understand that?’ It was Hééb. None of them saw that he’d been standing at the passage from which a door opened into the wardroom. He’d been listening for a while.

‘What do you think you are doing here?’ Silas fell on him.

‘And how do you think you can even get close to him enough to get him to listen to you? I could make that happen.’

‘He’s mad. He will betray us to him.’

Hééb stepped into the room. ‘Look, I started this in some way and I think I could help bring it all to an end.’

They listened.

‘Truthfully, whoever ‘they’ are, they used our deepest desires against us. Isn’t that what they always do? Every one of us here can attest to that.’

‘What is your point?’

‘My point is this: if there has been a moment for all of us when we all realize that we have been betrayed by our own desires, then we have to take same to the boy. Get him to see the point between his desire to save others from their fate and the manipulation of those desires by someone greater than him. I mean, he’s still a kid after all….’

‘What exactly did you do to him?’

‘I was going to come to that in a minute. I threw him into the river and I can’t say I saw much in the vision that followed. But I did see a tide that rose so high till it covered the skies. It was dark. It all makes sense. It could be a flood, it could be something worse. I mean, people do survive floods, right?’

‘Why did you not tell anyone?’

‘I had no one in mind. It was just me. I was following my mother’s word. She assured me that the boy had some connection to the river. It was a risk that I could take or not take. But she was sure that I would be rewarded for it after all. I thought it could be the mayor’s place and position. But I don’t see any of that, not even one remaining after the flood has come and gone. I wanted to see some gains in it but I couldn’t find one.’

‘What about Kuniā?’

‘Oh, the last time I checked in, they had her locked down in a room like they did to her father.’

Silas was at him again. ‘Why would they do that?’

‘She’d begun to question everything.’

‘But it would hardly have mattered.’

‘It matters everything. It does with the child inside her.’

A blanket of silence fell over them.

‘Truth is,’ Hééb continued lifting the blanket. ‘I have betrayed my master. What does it matter? I felt all was lost already and I thought that maybe I could salvage something for myself. That does not make me any less heroic, right?’

‘So, what exactly do we do?’

‘Kuniā is locked down so she comes first. Or we could risk her.’

‘How do you mean?’ came Silas at him again.

‘If it’s possible to get the boy to renounce, we could get him to let the girl go.’

‘If not?’

‘Well, we risk her life. If everything falls apart, she will count among the numbers.’

‘You’re crazy.’

‘Can we trust him?’

‘I’m a changed man. Not that I was ever the villain. I merely needed someone to give me the chance to be the hero.’

‘We cannot not trust him either.’

‘When do we start?’

‘Tomorrow definitely.’

Chapter Twenty-Five: A Journey Back To Reality

Into the night, Zach had the nightmare. He was back at the river still. The black-haired and green-eyed woman still sat on the stone. It was daytime. There was some rumbling in the river. Zach was standing on the bank and looked on. In a sudden, the river began to rumble more violently.

Zach called out to the woman jump out of the river and save herself. The woman called out to Zach to jump into the rising tide and save her. Behind her, the tide approached with the ferocity of a warhorse. Left without any other options at saving the woman, Zach dived into the water.

He woke with the plunge.

  1. # #

Zach, Nurse B, Silas Ańgō and the hunter Othí arrived the mayor’s place with the dawn. People still lay about under canopies that had been provided for the occasion in addition to smaller pavilions. The morning session with their hopes and their messiah would soon start for the day and whatever space was left in the front yard and on the road, which was now blocked, would be filled up with wishes and hopes. And with wishers and hopers.

Hééb was not in sight. The guards still held the doors to the main building. They walked past the now-ever opened gates, found a corner, and waited.

‘I’m feeling creepy about everything,’ Silas announced to them.

‘I couldn’t feel otherwise. I’ve never done anything adventurous in my life before.’ Nurse B spoke for herself. ‘I could have been at home preparing to leave this town.’

‘It does not matter. God will help our mission.’

In no time, Hééb was sighted. A second later, he was out of sight. The next time they saw him was about half an hour later. By then, the crowd had roused themselves and were now waiting for their plaything.

‘This is disastrous.’

‘Not yet.’

‘But it could still be.’

‘I hope they have not done anything wicked with Kuniā already. It would be pointless.’

‘It wouldn’t. For all this people.’

Hééb gave them glances and disappeared again.

This time, he returned in a second. ‘This way.’ He had them follow him.

They made a pass through the guards into the house, which now seemed to have lost all of its colours. He led them up the stairs and they followed him at each turn until they were standing in what Zach and Nurse B recognised as the mayor’s bedroom.

‘I’ll be joining you in a minute.’ He said and closed the door behind them.

While the hunter had the room to his eyes, Zach kept his mind on their mission. It was possible that Hééb had just led them into a trap. Anything could be possible.

Hééb returned as he promised—in a minute. And with him, was the boy Ekeó. Zach noticed that he still wore the black dress from the very first day.

They all looked on when he entered as Heed whispered into his ear from behind him. After that, he locked the door behind him again leaving them to the boy.

‘Good morning to you all.’ He greeted with his usual smile. ‘Hééb has intimated me of your conspiracy to undermine what we are doing here.’

Zach had his heart in his mouth at that, as did the others.

‘You know I cannot let that happen.’

Silas walked up to him, his fist clenched. ‘What have you done to her?’

‘Kuniā, oh. It’s not what I have done. But what you have done. And you Mr Zachariah, I thought you would have come around yourself by now. Why be so faithless?’

Whatever it was, Zach knew he had to take hold of the situation, the dialogue and everything else. Only by that could ne control its outcome.

‘I saw your mother in my dreams.’

‘Don’t bring my mother into this.’ Zach saw that the boy was agitated, except that he was trying to hide his agitation behind his good manners.

Zach could not have known what the nightmares he’d been having of his mother meant until then. He knew he had to lead the boy back into the world of reality, using familiar images—if he could.

‘She had your eyes.’

‘You’ve been looking at her photos, huh?’

‘Not quite, you must understand that I spoke with your father before he passed.’

The boy kept his silence while the others looked on and listened.

‘Your mother, I met her in my dreams. She asked me to save you.’

The boy managed a laughter. ‘You are the one who needs saving now. You—’

‘Your father also asked the same of me. Why do you think I was always meeting you at the river? It could not have been anything in a coincidence. It was because she led me there in my dreams. She led me to this town, every step of the way. She loves you and she saw your fate and she wanted me to help you.’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘From when you were a boy, it has been your dream to save people, to lead people, to guide people. Moreover, you don’t like seeing people suffer and you would give everything you can to save them. You told me that yourself.’

‘Good, that is what I’m about. And that is what all this is about.’

‘Exactly, this is your chance to be that.’

He had the boy’s attention and it was a good thing for Zach.

‘A flood is coming.’

‘What flood?’

‘Those who are manipulating you have used you to gather all these people so they can cause a carnage. And you don’t want to be the villain. You wouldn’t want all of these people to die on your account. You’d want to be the hero; you’d want to save thousands of lives. That is why you are their messiah. That is who you are….’

The boy was trying to interrupt with objections and questions but Zach wouldn’t let him. He was speaking over the volume.

‘You have to listen to me. The same people that tried getting at your brother are now doing the same with you. They are taking advantage of your good-heartedness. They want to use it against you. You need to realize that none of this is real. None of this is truly who you are.’

The boy wanted to calm the tension in the air and turn the dialogue in his direction but he could not now do that.

Zach kept on: ‘You need to listen to me. You need to tell those voices to shut up. They tried doing the same thing to me, to your mother and to your twin brother. They are taking advantage of who you are. They are taking advantage of you. You need to tell them to—

‘Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!’ The boy screamed with a piercing voice. That ended the session. With that, he opened the door behind him and stormed out.

‘He did not say anything about his sister.’ Nurse B observed.

‘Maybe we should save ourselves. What does it matter, we’re all going to die after all.’

Zach ignored the nurse and walked to the door. It was locked from the other side.

  1. # #

‘There has been a problem, sir’ Brim reported. ‘Two boats capsized just this morning. All on board dead. They were sighted by other boatmen.’

‘What happened?’

‘There was sight of a high wave in the river. There was a collision, sort of, between the two boats.’

  1. # #

Over the crowd, the clouds thickened and rumbled lightly, not enough to cause any alarm. In fact, it passed the noticed of only a few.

Inside the mayor’s room, Zach and the others (except the hunter who was exploring the room) tried to figure it all out. Had Hééb betrayed them? What was going on? What was going to happen next?—

The door clicked and they all looked on watching it open slowly. It was Hééb.

‘Oh, how did it go?’

They told him.

‘That was our last chance. I had to get him to believe I’m on his side. That was how he managed to show up. Thank me later. Now, let’s go. This way….’

‘This indeed is your last chance.’ A voice sounded from the other side of the door. It was Ekeó.

In a minute, Hééb was huddled with the rest inside his former boss’ room, with the door locked behind all of them. ‘I think we’ve just made matters worse. I think I overheard someone saying that two boats capsized not long ago.’

Zach could not believe that what he would thought would not come for another week or two was already home.

‘It’s already started.’

Chapter Twenty-Six: No Boats for the Flood

‘We are all going to die,’ Nurse B exploded. ‘And my sweet sister, how is she going to make it out of this town? Who will carry her?’

‘Yanda, what have I done? I should have fulfilled her wishes of leaving town long ago. Now we are going to leave after all in body bags—if they manage to find one for everybody. What have I done?’ The hunter agonized.

Hééb sniggered foolishly in one corner. He could not understand his own cynical calm.

‘Kuniā, what have they done to her?’ Silas was more articulate than the rest. ‘The door, let’s get the door.’

They could not get the door.

In his corner of the room, the window actually, Zach was confident of one thing: the boy had heard him. The ‘Shut ups’ were not meant for him but for ‘them’. He felt that one like he’d felt all of those other presentiments that had led him this far.

But the anxiety in the moment could not let him trust that one faint feeling of the spirit.

‘I think I can use the window,’ Sails observed. He tried and couldn’t. The ceiling could have been next but it was made of concrete.

  1. # #

Outside, drizzles filled the air. The sun had gone down. A light wind was blowing.

‘I don’t know. But dear sir, we have to leave this town now!’ Brim announced. His reaction to the news could not have been anything else.

‘Not yet, young man.’

He would not pay any further attention. He paced off and I followed him. Without being told, I knew where he was headed: to his brother. ‘Wait up!’

  1. # #

Madam Békhtèn’s hall was the first to close followed by Black’s shop. The other places where people gathered for discussions were no longer much of it for they could have perchance made something of the news after all. But all eyes were now on the boy prophet. Not many could see nothing more than an accident in the news of the capsized boat, until it became a bit late.

In the mayor’s room, Zach paced with his hands folded across his chest. He was oblivious of the others as they were of him. Silas was still pounding had at the door. But he was not getting anything out of it.

Outside, the drizzles had now grown into raindrops, large ones, though not enough to make for any haste. It was not unusual for it to rain in Septembers. In Nānti, the line between ‘rainy’ and ‘dry’ season was rather thin. The rains fell at will, and sometimes in January and in February. But this did not look like the normal September rains.

Zach managed to calm down and take a look at the wall clock. An hour of waiting had passed as if it were a second—as if it were an eternity. He was sweating very profusely. He was now not certain of any other thing. Was it all going to pass?

  1. # #

My dear reader, I don’t know how much more time passed when the door finally opened and standing before them was Kuniā. She stood there for a while before someone else emerged from behind her. It was Ekeó.

Kuniā was pale and by every indication, she’d had very little for food or water in a few days. She slumped and passed out before them.

While they took care of her, Hééb and Zach attended the boy. He too looked pale. He was bleeding from the nose as well.

‘Here,’ the nurse said handing him a towel. ‘When did that start?’

‘What do you all want me to do?’

The rains were gathering strength outside and they had very little time before it all burned down.

‘Think of anything to get them to walk off the town. Go confess to them.’

‘You might start a riot at that. Besides, they would not believe that you were a fake after all. They will see a conspiracy in it. Believe me; sane people will follow lunatics to the asylum. It has happened before. You’ll need something urgent.’

‘No, wait. Tell them that you had a vision last night and that God told you to tell them to follow you. Do not tell them where. Just walk them off it.’

‘That will take ages.’

‘There is no other choice to it. We leave immediately.’

Zach saw that the boy was getting weaker. The towel in his hand was getting redder with each wipe of his nose. In short, by the time they were done talking, Ekeó had slumped to his feet. They had to hold him together.

‘Can you do it?’

It was then that Zach saw how weak the boy was in himself. He had very little will of his own, very little control over his own life. He was very self-less. Those who were seeking a revenge had turned all of that against him.

It was this weakness, this non-resistance and abandonment to the powers that tried to control him, was what scared Zach. It meant that it could all mean nothing at the end.

‘I can’t.’ He was beginning to cry.

Zach would not allow him. He needed his word for it. ‘Yes, you can. And yes, you will. This is your true destiny as a messiah and you will fulfil it. Are you with me?’

The boy managed a nod.

‘Help him with a glass of water.’

They did and set him on his foot again. But the traces of a lost battle with the powers that were trying to control him were all over him.

On the other side of the room, Kuniā was catching her breath. She had had a long talk with her brother after he’d come to see her. She had continued from where Zach had ended. She had more materials at her disposal and had prevailed.

  1. # #

‘Someone needs to warn the rest of the town that this was not a mere rain.’

That would have to be the hunter. ‘No, you don’t know me. I’m a drunkard. They are going to take me for a joke.’

‘Silas, you will go with him. Anywhere you find people gathered. Tell that to leave the town, any way they could. Immediately. In no time, the whole town will have disappeared under water.’

‘We go to the school first and then the market.’

‘Where’s Hééb?’

Hééb had slipped out of the room to no one’s notice.

‘They certainly can’t take the river. What other roads lead out of the town?’

‘The bridge and the boulevard.’

‘The boulevard?’

‘Yeah, it runs through the other towns.’

Zach’s heart sank when he heard the bridge.

‘The bridge, where does it lead?’

‘There is an interstate expressway, a double-lane past the woods on the other side of the bridge.’

‘What about the bridge?’

‘Yeah, it’s off the town in some ways. That’s why they managed to construct it.’

  1. # #

From the north of the town, two men ran up the boulevard screaming: ‘Wave, wave, high tide. The river has woken.’

From the west, two women ran into town, screaming that they’d sighted a high tide from the river.

From the south, the hunter and Silas were screaming their lungs out to whomever they saw.

From the east of the town, the crowd followed the boy from behind. Behind him walked Zach with Kuniā in his hand. Everything was going on as planned.

Above, the sun had disappeared under the rain clouds that had thickened. Lightning and thunder now splashed themselves across the darkened skies. The rains were increasing in intensity but not enough to make the people start scuttling yet. The procession that had managed to kick off was going on still undisturbed.

  1. # #

It could have been anything but it did not matter what it was: the people were being evacuated in relative peace. Zach saw that the boy was getting weaker with each step and so he eased off Kuniā’s hand and held his.

By the time they arrived the boulevard, it was already packed. Explosions were sounding in the distance. Fissures were opening in the ground and forming violent fountains that rose into the air ripping off roofs.

The boy kept walking and the crowd kept following.

They had not gone a hundred metres into the walk up the boulevard when the boy slumped. He could no longer continue. With his slump, the skies burst open in great rage and the long awaited flood started its journey to the town. The earth under them shook. Every light in the skies disappeared under the thick clouds. It was apocalypse for the men and brethren of Nānti.

It would be less than fifteen minutes before the flood—or whatever it was—arrived.

They crowd needed no other leader apart from their own fear of death. Deathly screams were heard as people lunged into any direction that led away from the town.

Zach had to carry the boy off the road in order to avoid him being trampled upon by the surging mass of people racing off.

None of them seemed to care about him. Not one.

Zach laid him by the road and leaned over him. ‘Can you hear me?’

The blood from the bleeding noses had now covered much of the boy’s face. The boy was muttering things under his breath. Zach bent down and listened: ‘This is my town. No man shall look up to the skies with hope. This day shall be cursed….’

Zach took it back with a ‘Shut up!’

The boy stirred and opened his eyes. ‘Did we win?’

‘We did.’ Zach answered.

‘I’m sorry.’

‘You don’t have to be. We won after all.’

‘It’s not easy being the one that leads the way.’

‘It never is.’

There was a lot the boy, now in his own skin, wanted to say. But he felt that Zach would figure it out on his own—somehow.

‘I can feel the ground under me shaking. They have come to take me, haven’t they?’

‘No, I’m with you.’

‘It is cold out here.’

The Kuniā joined them. She was carrying a stray child on her back. She leaned over her brother, tears mixed with the rain streaming over her face. ‘You did it.’

Zach excused them. A look at the boy’s face showed that his face was gradually returning to the original deathly look.

‘I’m sorry. Forgive me.’

‘You don’t have to be. You did it. Mother is waiting to take you home.’

‘Yeah, I can see her. She has my eyes. Promise me one thing Kuniā.’

‘What?’

He wanted to tell her to remember him but she did not pick out the words as he slipped out of this world into the other.

Zach now had to drag her along in the walk to the bridge where his last confrontation with the powers that be—or the powers that once were—awaited him.

  1. # #

Othí stood in the door of his home. It had been almost a month since he last stood there. He knocked but not a sound replied him. He looked down to see that cracks were appearing in the ground from which water was seeping to the surface.

Without any further deliberations, he stood back and jammed at the door with his back and then his leg and then with his whole body. It budged after all and he stepped in.

‘Yanda! Yanda! Omila!’

There was no answer as he rummaged the two-room apartment he’d shared with them.

‘The school! The school!’ he muttered under his breath as he headed towards the town centre where his children went to the local primary school. If Yanda had anything left in a life, it was her children. Being a proud woman, she had high hopes, all of which had betrayed her. And for the pride of her heart, she could not let them go, instead she carried them into the next generation. She invested all her high hopes for the future in her children. They were all she had and for her lofty dreams, she gave them all she had. She was not educated herself but as she would tell her drunkard husband, the world had no place for drunkards. She was sure that the best way to make a living in the world was to put a collar on her children’s neck or a title to their names. And she was going to give them the chance at whatever cost.

It could not have been any other place. School had resumed two and half weeks ago. Yanda made sure that her children started school not a day later. She would oil their legs and faces with Vaseline every morning and when she returned from the market, she would wash their school clothes till they shone and sometimes, till they tore. But those sacrifices were the expression of her hopefulness that one day she would put high-sounding titles to their names and a high position for them in the society. No one had given her a guarantee that she would not be betrayed by them, for she needn’t none. Those hopes though they belonged to the future, were enough to take her through every other day of her life.

When the brouhaha ensued and people ran for their lives in whatever direction, there was only one direction for Yanda: the school. There was not another. The distance was not much and she had covered it in a flash.

The hunter arrived the school. The skies above him were pitching in their blackness, it could have been the end of the world—their world, as prophesised. But it hardly mattered. They meant something to him. They were the more reason for his guilt and self-loathing. It was not just the wine. It was the fact that his life belonged to them, the life that he was bent on wasting on beer and local gin.

The surprise of which he had spoken to Zach would have him give Yanda the only thing she’d ever asked of him—get out of the town. He could sell a plot of land, the last of those he’d inherited from his mother. He had put out sales notices. If he could manage to sell one before the end of the year, he could give Yanda a New Year. He had sold many lands before but had drunk the money he’d received from them, which for his reputation and weak-mindedness, which were easily exploited, had turned out to be pittances. That had been the chief source of the quarrel between him and Yanda.

The flood, which had turned out to be more than a flood, had eliminated that surprise. Now he had a different surprise. He ran through the school, which had now been cleared calling out Yanda and Omila, the boy that had once carried his drunken father home in a wheelbarrow.

  1. # #

Yanda had picked up her three boys, when all in a sudden and in the commotion and the running over slippery ground, her ankle had slipped off the joint. Fissures were appearing in the ground and fountains were springing up violently.

As she collected her last boy from a classroom, the roof fell and hedged her in from her broken ankle. She was shaking with pain as she screamed to her boys: ‘Run! Go! Omila, take your brothers and get—

But they were not moving an inch. She saw it in their eyes that they were not ready to step an inch out of her sight. The other two slipped into her arms while Omila found a corner and prayed the Breastplate of St Patrick with frantic lips.

It could have been an eternity but she heard someone calling her name in the distance. It could have come from the Other Side.

She wouldn’t walk again, not with her left leg. But Othí had given her reasons to be grateful.

  1. # #

The boulevard was jam-packed with people trying to make their way through the rising water. The rest were headed towards the bridge. Zach was among the later. There could have been the whole world around him but the only picture in his mind was the bridge.

It did look like the end of the world, like some apocalyptic drama.

Not far from him, two men were holding Ben Capital who was crying in a very womanly way that he wanted to die. Behind him, Kuniā tried to keep together a number of stray children together.

Underneath him, the water level continued its rise.

By now, more people were branching off the jam-packed boulevard and into the farms and were heading to the bridge. In no time, it would be jam-packed as well.

Zach’s lips were moving in prayers. Only God could save them now, not from the flood but through it.

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Judgement! Judgement! Judgement!

Rev. Iňaō could have been the proudest man in the whole world. His prophecy had finally ‘come to pass’. He was sure the same thing was happening all over the world. The flood would pass and the sinners would pass with it. Only the righteous would survive the apocalypse. In fact, he could even hear the trumpet sounding.

I am quite familiar with that ‘I-told-you’ feeling. If it happened, one’s trust in one’s prophetic vision and powers grows stronger. If it fails to happen, one revaluates one’s position on the matter. The answer is and always will be: ‘I will get back to you on this.’

My dear readers, when a whole town disappears under a river that was not known to have ever flooded two weeks after a prophet, a self-proclaimed messiah had made his appearance, one must ask questions. It will be immoral to take things at face value or to take the easy way out. The easy way out of course, will include conspiracy theories and end-of-the-word bullshit. Or in the cases of most people, to reduce the event to mere accident or natural disasters. But just as there are no natural deaths, there are also no natural disasters. You have to indulge my curiosity and my superstitiousness. One ought to ask questions. One ought to seek out the ‘inner dialectics’ of what is presented to his senses. No fact constitutes truth in itself. One must grapple with the facts to the point of despair at least, for the sake of truth.

But this excursus aside, let me return to Brim. Brim did not know where to look for his brother as the disaster in its final lap. Their home was on a row of single rooms like one of those found in slums. On the door was written: PLEASE KNOCK ON THE FLOOR, OUR DOOR IS FRAGILE. Upon his arrival, its roof had gone off. He checked the safe where his brother deposited their savings and it was gone. It was indication that the money-loving boy had fled.

  1. # #

Nurse B arrived her home quite on time before any explosions and fountains. Her sister was waiting for her with more catastrophic news.

‘I’m sorry sister.’ She apologised.

‘For what?’

‘I…I….’

‘Grab something. Your books. Place them in a backpack. We are leaving immediately.’

‘But I….’

‘Don’t bother. I will carry you on my back.’

‘Sister B, you have to listen to me!’ She finally got her attention.

‘What is it?’

‘A letter came in last night. Evening actually. You never came back.’

‘What about it? It’s from the board. Forget it. We will have time for all that.’

‘It’s not from the board.’

‘Alright then, pack the letter. When we leave town, you can give me.’

‘I’m sorry I read it.’

‘Why would you do that?’

‘I was curios.’

‘Whatever. Move your big head and let’s get out of here.’

‘He’s alive.’

‘Who is alive?’

‘Steven.’

Nurse B could have fainted if she could. Her heart could have crumbled into a dead mass if it could.

‘Can I get you the letter?’

‘No, no. tell me what did he say?’ She could not possibly stand it.

  1. # #

“Dear Blessing, My name is Steven Sarno. Your memories of me are ten years old and that is enough time for age to grey the most colourful photo.

Ten years ago, intending on a surprise for a woman that I loved, I took a bus journey to Noiā from Third from which I only recently came back. Her name was Blessing but she let us call her B. I wanted to get her a new typewriter. I cannot now say exactly what happened and how I got to spend eight years in a federal building. I cannot say I was innocent.

There was a drive-by shooting after which they robbed the shop and the shoppers of whom I was one. They had used the drive-by as a decoy for the main event. I could not stand it. The typewriter had cost me all I had. I went after the robbers. There was a fight. Then double manslaughter. The court gave me twelve years.

Truthfully, I could have self-destructed and I did try to self-destruct. I was mad at myself and even madder at the world. But after the first year, I realized that I needed someone to save me from myself. There was none. All I had were memories of the times I’d shared with her. After all, some things never change. Those memories were the only lesson that I needed to know that we cannot repeat the past but we can redeem it. They were the best years of my life. I had said a lot of things to her about the sort of life I want to share with her. God knows I can still become that man. But even if not, those dreams were enough to keep me from the dead end.

I may have outgrown the child that I was then but I paid for it in full. I had my redemption and I managed, for good behaviour, to serve only eight of the twelve years. It has been a year since I left. I suppose you are married now and with your own children. I would be surprised if you were not for you are a good woman. I cannot ask for anything and I am not asking for anything. I merely want to thank you for saving my life.

I would not be angry if you’d forgotten me. But if you remember me, then I am fortunate for the chance to express my gratitude. If not then, I cannot say I know the world, not anymore. I cannot say I wish to know that world anymore. I wish you all the best of what you have in a life now.”

  1. # #

Their walk to the bridge and beyond the woods to the expressway was in silence except for her intermittent sobs and absentmindedness. The weight of her sister on her back amounted to nothing. The world around her disappeared into the one of she was once a prisoner. If she had any unease over the world that was now behind her, she had none for the one before.

Now as they sat by the expressway and waited on Zach and the others in silence, she reflected on the story of Lazarus. For many others, it would have meant nothing but it was the score of her life. And in that moment, it meant everything.

As the ten-year old dreams reappeared, she felt reborn. Life, for all its promise was just about to begin. But more than just life, it was her life. Moreover, it no longer mattered its promise.

For so many years, she had lied to herself about the reality of her situation. For the years that her hope turned to despair, she he had tried to convince herself that there was nothing to it. She was an inch from convincing herself that she was a cynic after all and that was why she was keeping her heart to herself. No, rather to her sister. However, she wouldn’t let her sister perceive that one sentiment for the crippled girl’s pride, she would never have wanted to be a burden to anyone. The little girl, who never wanted to be anybody’s victim, would have felt betrayed for all of that sacrifice instead of grateful for it.

All of that furnished her with premises for her escape from reality. All of that left her with guilt feelings over the fact that in her escape, she’d betrayed him. But she knew she was forgiven.

She was almost succeeding in lying herself out of it all until Zach came around and reminded her of where she truly was.

How best do I describe it? If you asked me, I’d tell you that she had shared that prison cell with him for those nine years. Its bars for them were made, not of iron, but of hope.

  1. # #

Brim could have traversed the town in search of his now-missing brother and he was ready to do just that. But it was too senseless and I wouldn’t let him on the grounds that Money could take care of himself and that I would fulfil my promise now that he had fulfilled his. I had to drag him with me until he had to accept the fact that it was too much to risk.

What can I say about Money? It’s been years and we have not seen or heard from him.

What do my guts tell me about the boy, of whom Brim speaks painfully, thankfully and hopefully too? Well, my guts tell me that he lays buried with many others under the now cool but once angry waters. I trust my guts. However, I cannot ask you to do the same.

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Over the Bridge In A Stride

As expected, when Zach arrived the bridge with Kuniā and a number of children behind him, it was jam-packed. He had to wait until it had emptied its load onto the other side. On his own side, the water had risen knee-high. The tide in the canyon under the bridge was now sweeping against the bottom of the bridge as it galloped its way in the rage of a swollen bladder.

Zach stood and helped many others cross the bridge till he was the only one left.

Kuniā and a few men stood at the other end of the bridge waiting for him. But he would not step onto the bridge. His legs shook causing the water around them to ripple violently. With robotic strides, he approached the bridge. As he’d seen in his nightmare and for his vertigo, he stooped, held the rails and began crawling.

  1. # #

Time halted. Everything seemed normal again—to Zach. It was only him on the bridge. On the other side was his wife, his mother, Biyar, the hunter, Ekeó, Pûjó, and his father among a few others whose faces were very familiar to him. They were calling out to him in frantic tones of voices.

He looked on with surprise. Nothing seemed to be wrong with the bridge nor with him. They had no reasons to be in such alarm. But apparently, they did, for the sound of rushing waters interrupted his surprise. He looked up the canyon-like valley to see that a very high wave was hopping towards him.

He stooped and grabbed the bridge and just as he had seen in the nightmare, the nuts that held it began to fling off their bolts in wide angles. The bridge itself began to creak. As he moved on it, it receded in the opposite direction. The shouts from the other end kept increasing both in its frantic tone and in its loudness.

Zach looked down the approaching tide to see that it was in the shape of a horse being ridden by a huge and gigantic woman. She was speaking though her mouth was not moving.

Zach held on as the woman finally approached and as the tide washed away the bridge and him with it.

  1. # #

Zach was sweating, though the rains did not make that obvious, when he woke back to reality, he had not even gone a quarter of the bridge when he looked to see that the nuts that held the bridge were flying at wide directions. There were people on the other side calling out to him.

There was no distinction between reality and nightmare and Zach knew that. Anything could happen.

There were no approaching tides this time but the bridge was breaking as the nuts fly in wide angles.

There was not an extra reflection, or hesitation to what followed in an instant that could have been a millionth of a second. Not a bit of it. Zach stood and without any thought to it, started down the bridge in steady strides until he was on the other side.

Upon his arrival, not a thing had happened to him. The bridge fell into the canyon like it had been waiting to do so.

  1. # #

At the expressway sat Nurse B with her sister, Othí who had no place to go with his family, Silas among many destitute others. They were waiting for him and Kuniā, the last to finish the journey. ‘We never walk alone. We could not have left without you.’

‘What if I’d died?’

‘Well, you didn’t so that scenario is totally out of the question.’

‘Besides we knew you wouldn’t.’

‘What happens next?’

‘We hitchhike to our destinations.’

The news had spread and many motorists on the expressway were helping people find their way to safety.

Much of the journey home for Zach and the others was in silence. They thought about their lives, and all about it that had changed in a day.

They had promised to meet up when they’d settled with their new lives.

Nurse B was too excited to tell her story. She promised Zach a surprise when they meet again. ‘I already know the story.’ Zach assured her.

For the hunter, and his boys and his wife, it was a new journey to a new life with new promises.

Silas had Kuniā with him and an excitement for the life that he claimed he loved. His mother would explode with joy at her sight. Not all was lost after all. They had about four stray children with them for their journey. Two of those children found their parents while the other two found new lives.

There was however, a thought that appeared in the calm that put tears on Zach’s eyes: his wife. He’d come to believe that she was dead or very close to it.

But he was wrong.

Ruth was in the hospital but not in any complications. If she was certain of anything, it was that her husband would come back amidst the news. She had waited and waited and waited, not without losing an iota of her hope. Anyone could have accused her of anything but none of that mattered. She had heard Zach talk about the child and of the names he’d want for it according to its gender. There had been no hesitation to the fulfilment of his wishes when it happened to be a girl. She had named her after her father’s wishes, to her grandmother’s second name: Beauty.

As to the phone call, Zach’s father could not remember ever haven spoken with him since he left. Nothing happened to the telephone after all. They had enough money for the bills.

  1. # #

All this was a long time ago but all those faces are ever before me: from the vegetable boy’s to Mwāi’s to those other boys’ who had followed him on that adventure to Wonderland, to the hunter’s wife as she watched her children grow to Zach as he held his daughter standing on the edge of eternity. In those faces, I see a reflection of the Face of God. For it, I am consoled.

For the sake of their stories, which I find myself most privileged and honoured to tell, I am reminded of a saying that has never stopped to haunt me in my own nightmares: IT IS BEAUTY THAT WILL SAVE THE WORLD. Like some sacred memories taken out of a childhood dream, I have tucked them away in the corner of my heart for the evil day when it comes.

THE END.

The day ran to the river

for a baptism

But there were no priests

& there were no rites

At the passage

 

 

& the face ran to the mask

& the sword to the scabbard

& the midwife closed her eyes to the pregnant clouds

& the hero departed without a song

Leaving us to the captivity

Of dogs and demons

 

 

& the ram colluded with the tether

& the tether with the post

& the post with the earth

& the earth…

 

& the moon dragged us to the

Snow-blanketed mountains

& left us…

With wishes, wizards and were-wolfs

 

& a new day came

Sang us a song

Foretold its own demise

& left us on this shore

 

 

& the prodigal breath

Ran to the winds

& the winds to the stranded seas

& the sea to the earth…

& the earth…

 

 

A star came out of the east

Weathered our skin for their hide

& then the journey began

& the journey continued

& the journey ended

 

Now my breath paws the air

Unclutches itself with a goodbye

Thrutches itself through the flute

To make its passage to an eternal exile…


Homecoming of the gods

Nanti is a small town haunted by its demons. Nothing could be more tragic for the townspeople than their final homecoming in September '96 with a deluge into which their vanities, hopes and desires were drowned. From the edge of madness, Zach Badu, a man who risks his sanity to penetrate the mystery of the town, points us to the invisible grace at work in their quiet lives and in their strange world. The author of There Will Be A Country, H.i.T, What Shall This Man Do? and The Bastard offers us another profound reflection on the mystery of our present historical situation and the demons of the past that still haunt us today.

  • ISBN: 9781311106360
  • Author: Frank Achebe
  • Published: 2015-11-09 16:20:23
  • Words: 112928
Homecoming of the gods Homecoming of the gods