It was a cold and misty harmattan morning as he walked down the familiar bushy path. He trudged along like a man with a heavy weight on his back. If your son was dying and you were not sure what to do, the weight of the world would be little compared. He ignored the dark shadows gathered around Mama Ngozi’s house. They didn’t seem to disappear with the rising sun. He did not acknowledge the grieving wails coming from the house, piercing the silent still air. They echoed his own inside.
His son had fainted on the way back from the farm with his mother. Chendu, himself had witnessed it. He had been on his way from a neighbouring village: a relation of his friend seemed to be dying and he, Chendu, had been called for a ‘confirmation’. He remembered Mama Nnamdi holding onto the boy, he had been laughing; and then on seeing his father, he had screamed and lost consciousness. Seven days later he still hadn’t being revived, but his heart was still beating. He wasn’t dying as far as Chendu could tell because there were no shadows around the house.
As he walked he recalled what the herbalist had said. “You, who has the gift of sight from the gods themselves, why consult me? If you say they are to die, they do. Who am I, to try to change fate?”
Chendu had being perplexed. Nnamdi was not dying, there were no shadows. “As in the case of when you DO see death, I am powerless to reverse your son’s condition. I have told you, his sleep is from the gods.”
Chendu tried to reason with him; if he was not dying then the herbalist could do something to revive his son, anything at all. He pictured Mama Nnamdi crying by her son’s side, wiping his brow, her only child. “Chendu, if the gods are silent, they are.” Then softening the herbalist tried reasoning with him as well. “If he were dying you would see it, afterall your sight has seen death in your family before.”
It was true, he had first seen the shadows when his father, whose head had been ‘touched by the gods’, had been dying. He had felt what it meant and 3 days later his father was dead. Since then he saw and warned his townspeople of their imminent death. And no matter what these people did; runaway to another village or appease the gods with rare and expensive gifts, death still came. The town saw it as a ‘gift’ and if anyone fell ill he was called first to see if it was the last battle or not.
He left the herbalist after extracting a promise to consult with the gods one more time. When he got home, he carefully looked over and around the house in the now risen sun, no unusual shadows. He steeled his nerves to face his wife.
As expected she harassed him asking if he saw shadows around their son. Such was her faith in his ‘gift’ that she did not even ask what the herbalist said. “Nnamdi is alive and will live to an age to see a thousand full moons. That is what the chief priest said, so don’t worry.” He said.
“Does he look alive to you? My son has been sleeping for 1 week and his flesh is wasting! Is that alive to you?!” She cried.
“The gods are just talking to him.” Helplessly he noticed Chinyere their niece was not in the room, she was probably cooking. Still young, her cooking was amateur, giving Chendu running stomach from time to time. He decided to go outside to inform her he had no appetite. He couldn’t wait for his wife to resume the cooking. Nnamdi was not dying so the herbalist had to open a channel to the gods; he would do anything at all they asked.
“Papa! Papa!” He heard screaming in his son’s familiar voice. He had woken up –“ Papa! Papa! I see birds, I see black birds flying!” The boy is delirious, was he seeing shadows floating in his eyes? He was instantly reminded of his father’s madness. He had talked about birds when he was really upset. Could his son now be afflicted with it?
“Papa I see them flying! – flying lower around your head!” That was the last Chendu heard. He felt a sting on his leg. He understood a moment before he lost consciousness from the scorpion bite. His poor father. . .