Threshold of the gods

For those who knew, in the small enclave that is Idaza lies untold mysteries only understood or experienced by those who loved adventure. For those who don’t, these mysteries were nothing other than mere stories told for entertainment by the moonlight. Most of these mysteries were left unsolved for ages, and some of them were unravelled by men who were not satisfied with simply accepting things as they were; men who were prompted to explore the profound depths of woodlands in order to understand other forms of life; men who were triggered off to travel around other worlds adjoining our own. Secret, dark places inhabited by benign and cruel beings of different sizes and shapes: deities, fairies, sprites, elves, gnomes, ghosts, goblins and the likes. In one epochal moment, it finally became apparent to the inhabitants in Idaza that there was a threshold of the gods.

It was not always so, although all around our home in Idaza in those days, one could come across varied kinds of strange creatures and kindred spirits gallivanting freely especially during night-times. Even somewhere just by the perimeter fence at our backyard, spirits walked ceaselessly during nocturnal hours as though they were in their own supernatural environment. At first it was alleged that only the clairvoyant few could see them. Later Idaza people realized that this was not true, rather only those with guts could. This was why it seemed like only hunters who usually went about in the night could tell the stories. But deep down within my young mind, I knew there were unfathomable life-forms at the invisible borders encircling the Idaza countryside. These other planes that branched off beyond the veil of Idaza walls were called urolo, thresholds of otherworldly places filled with the cacophonies of sinister laughter; lands of nightmares and of hallucinations; eerie abodes of horrid creatures with varying temperaments; ghostly presence crowded with spiritual bodies; hideous corners often haunted by divine entities; these and many more fiendishly monstrous, animal-like creatures were the manifold elements of our surroundings. Sometimes, with the innocence of little children, we would laugh and play with benign mermaids and listen to the music of the gods. We would swim in the purest fountains of Idaza, relishing in the sunshine. At other times we would pray that we should come across mammy water, the goddess of love. Those who came across her in the past were said to have been enchanted in her legend or blessed beyond measures. But this was not always so with some other deities that we knew.

The story was told of one Mr. Ukavwe, a very agile and widely celebrated hunter and warrior, who for many years brought home as trophies the heads of enemy-warriors slain in battle. Ukavwe was confronted in a combat by aziza, that mischievous deity that abhor people coming to its territory at night. Ukavwe refused to have the deity threaten him in its usual manner and he even called its bluff. To be sure, that was not the first time Ukavwe was challenging the demonic, for he often went home telling everyone who cared to listen about his intriguing experiences and eventual conquests. He saw himself as a demigod. But this time, he simply met his waterloo. In the horrible scuffle that ensued, Ukavwe who strongly trusted in the efficacy of his charms was reduced to a grovelling wreck. One wonders why the god didn’t take his life rather his left hand and leg were chopped up in the midst of the fierce tussle. The deity was far too angry to show compassion.

Back then some people in Idaza expressed the view that aziza didn’t chop up Ukavwe’s hand and leg for nothing. Aziza was after all a one legged and one handed deity hence he is often filled with a consuming passion to create its own kind.  Not a few villagers still believed that Ukavwe didn’t merely dare the god, but wandered into its sacred abode and defiled it. Others claimed that it may be that Ukavwe attempted to take his belongings such as its precious hair, its conjuring mirror or its walking stick. Truly, it was said that Aziza has a walking stick which he carries along to anywhere. This stick is one of his power-house and most valuable property. Another area of its power lies in his long plaited, thread-like hair which many claimed could be used for several amazing things. This hair has three notable features; it can suspend in the air when thrown up, it doesn’t deep when in water and it can walk by itself. Another school of thought argued that it was possible that Ukavwe was presented with food by the deity which he ate, meanwhile Aziza detests greedy people.

At the end Ukavwe was brought home groaning like a demented being. Before long Idama and Udi, the two most revered herbalists in Idaza were called upon so as to salvage the situation. Chief Abuku and priestess Edijana were also called upon for their ability to commune with the spirit world. And so work was began to revive the ailing Ukavwe from the throes of death. It was tough! When it seemed as though Ukavwe’s soul had transcended mortal realms, Chief Abuku and Priestess Edijana would call back his soul from ethereal plains into his mortal body, while Idama and Udi did justice to Ukavwe’s corporeal nature. The team was a well-balanced one indeed and at the end, Ukavwe did not die but saw death. He was however left with one hand and leg even after he was healed of his wounds. Idama and his team could not give him a leg or hand despite their supposedly widely rumoured powers.

It was also recounted that Aziza began to frequent the length and breadth of Idaza looking for Ukavwe, who was now its kind. Once, he saw Ukavwe lying on a mat in his compound, somewhere in the vicinity of the forest surrounding Idaza and there they established a great intimate relationship. At a point, Ukavwe became what one might want to describe as an enigma or a mystic so that, even his speech became esoteric and his appearance became like that of a monster. It was alleged that one day, just before it was agreed that a two days ultimatum be given to him to leave the village, he went with his new master, Aziza. It was also alleged that Ukavwe had neither wife nor children. Not a few villagers still believed that, after his encounter with aziza, he was converted from humanity to inhumanity as he started constituting evil in the village with a somewhat magical ability to enter into people’s dreams while they were asleep; making love to other people’s wives with reckless abandon; deflowering nubile virgins in strange ways; wreaking untold torments on those who cast aspersion on his looks and all of such sundry acts. He was said to have come back in full spiritual form to carry out his vindictive motive until he was stopped by Odivwri and Akeni, the priest and priestess of egborode and ogorode shrines. After then, Ukavwe was no longer seen near our village.

But it was Aputu who claimed that he saw Ukavwe somewhere around the borders of the Akpobrisi tree. Aputu was a very adventurous and daring fellow and so, everybody in Idaza believed he could be telling the truth, for no one wanders to the Akpobrisi zone except for those with unusual guts, and Aputu was said to have gone beyond all the areas bordering the Onerho temple, Ogabor forest, Inare woods down to the Esaba sacred groves. These regions in Idaza were regarded as the ‘killing fields’, for no one went there and came back alive. Those who went to these places in the past were said to have encountered cruel, callous beings who took delight in wreaking havoc on humans. Before Ukavwe, many other gory stories were rife in Idaza. But now, Aputu went to these places and came back alive! He seemed to have taken after his father Ogbeta, and his grandfather Agbuna. These were people who had also gone and came back alive. Some other people who went include Umukoro, Enita, Okpako, and Akiri. Except for these ones, the vast majority of hunters who went didn’t lived to tell the story. Ukavwe who would have been celebrated for valour as Idaza tradition demands, could not make it up to Akpobrisi zone where Aziza and other menacing deities dwell.

Well, this was not the first or second time Aputu had gone to those places. The first time he went, he had followed his father as was the custom in the family. His father had also followed his grandfather and it has been so even till now. The entire village of Idaza and the neighbouring ones therefore celebrates the Agbuna’s family for bravery especially during festive periods. The other men who could not make it to places as close as Onerho temple were taunted with ribald songs. The traditions of our village was such that, when someone got to any of these places, his footprints was carried by the Idaza shrine and accompanied by a huge “gboooom” sound that would record the whole individual’s profile and his level of exploits.

Rumored had it that when Aputu saw Ukavwe, he had completely taken up a monstrous shape so that Aputu could almost not recognized him. Ukavwe had now turned a full-fledged dweller of the woods where he lived as a god. He was married to a goddess with whom he had two children. One version of the story says that the age-long family of Agbuna, where Aputu was from, was not really the bravest of people as everyone was made to believe, but that they had a well-kept secret. In the distant past, Okposio, their eponymous ancestor had a pact with Akpobrisi and Aziza, the two principal deities of the forest depths. When Christianity was about to be introduced into Idaza, these two deities, who were the central of devotion by the ancient people of Idaza realized that human attention would be shifted from them if they did nothing about it. And so, they sought the assistance of their most faithful worshipper, Okposio, who left no stone unturned in thwarting the efforts of those who came to spread the gospel of Christ. It was the duty of Okposio to report happenings in Idaza to Edeki, the priest and mediator of the Onerho temple. Okposio did everything within his power but a great majority of Idaza inhabitants were converted to the new religion all the same. And so, the entire community of the gods presided over by Akpobrisi and Aziza were angry. They were ready to destroy anybody in sight except those from the Okposio lineage.

So far, they have succeeded in maiming, killing and taking hold of several persons since this whole episode began. Who know if they are still angry or whether they are still going to take more people as prisoners. Abugo and Egodi, two young, energetic and daring hunters disappeared last year and no one has heard anything about them up till now. Papa Otiti died last month after he dreamt that his trap caught an antelope attired in human clothes. Adaigho’s grandmother was seized by the god in the village stream some two months ago when she went to fetch water. Imina reported that he heard strange voices when she and her younger sister went to fetch firewood. Odibo claimed he saw a woman with seven heads appearing and disappearing when he went to tap the evening palmwine. My friend Ugono and I took to our heels last week when we saw some dwarf-like goblins. Just this morning, I ran into a full-size mermaid bathing her three tiny children in where I fish….The stories are becoming too recurrent to the extent that most persons in Idaza who are chicken hearted could no longer go to their farms.

Anyway, Abido advised people to go to their farms, declaring that “in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, and even Akpobrisi and all the deities of its kingdom shall be wiped out. Well, I am still waiting for such a moment when I would be confronted with one of those goblins and I would echo “in the name of Jesus” as Abido had said. I trust Abido. Since he became a member of this new religion, he had prayed for different persons with diverse life challenges and most of them are still sharing the testimonies. But Abido claimed that those stories that were told by people in Idaza were figments of their imaginations and that deities have no power except the power given to them by humans.

I have no cause to doubt Mr. Abido, but I was worried-sick when he could not give a satisfactory answer the other day when elder Edojah asked him why God, an all-knowing, supreme being created Lucifer and all these cruel and evil deities in the first place? Well, as for me, I believe in these stories of our traditions as they mirror my existence and remind me of my root. What is more….I must go back to my root. I want to experience and drink from the fountains of my heritage. Why not? I longed to meet my ancestors somewhere beneath the crossroad. I was about to take a step but my instincts ordered me to follow Abido…Perhaps it is high time I really followed Abido and partook in this born again experience. My instincts have never failed me…

8 thoughts on “Threshold of the gods” by Ochuko Tonukari (@ochuko)

  1. This is a writing with either talent or expertise of first generation Nigerian writers like Chinua Achebe and Chukwu emeka Ike.

  2. Thanks for your wonderful comment, Ife. This is really a surprise coincidence. I was just reading through your profile for the first time when i saw that you commented on my work about 1 minute ago!

  3. This is really a nice one.

    the only prob i keep having with your work is the paragraphing.

  4. Very nice story. Your style is as adeniyi said reminiscent of the classics but I got a bit tired of all the he said/she said/they said etc. Also capitalization of the first letter of nouns (Aziza most especially) was missing in quite a few places. check that.

  5. This is a very clean and straight forward work.

    However, it may be like Achebe’s work, but Achebe was writing in the sixties and seventies. You need an upgrade, IMO (in my opinion)

    I wanted more action instead of so much telling narrative, bring in some dialogue, some conflict and tension…

  6. Nice idea, but I failed to see the subject of the story. Just when U got me thinking it was Ukavwe [which U didn’t handle very well, IMO], U took him away. Paragraphing as well. This story gave me the run-around.

    Not bad, but needs some improvement.

  7. Ochuko, I liked the beginning of the story (especially when you started by describing the adventures of Ukavwe). But it slowed down as you went on, and felt more like a history narrative than a story, with so many digressions into the mythology of the area. I don’t think that such digressions are a bad idea, but I think that they are better in a longer story.

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