It had been raining heavily when Eshury appeared in the forest, his gray robe dirty, and his sandals worn. Eshury was your average looking boy with dark eyes. There was nothing remarkable about him, not even his afro, which was as big as a small hill, and which was now flat because of the rain, or his wonderful talent for climbing trees and killing snakes, even surviving their venom without antidote. In short, there was nothing from a first glance to show that he was special, but he was.
Elders were a set of human beings that had acquired supernatural powers enabling them to control nature and all its forces. For one to become an elder one must be able to command flowers to sprout from anything. For every elder to perform his duties however, they are required to wield a staff, which is sometimes called a Revlis, pass a couple of standard tests, and the rest follows.
From the day Eshury’s staff tip began to bloom with aster petals, he assumed his initiation would be quick, and soon he would be assigned his godly duties, but it had not happened.
Most people had trained for years to become elders but their staffs never bloomed, never became Revlis, and so they died unhappy. Eshury was the only person in many years whose staff had bloomed at a young age, not that he had ever considered being an elder; he was about sixteen or seventeen and had other interests in mind. He was, however, happy when one morning he woke up to screams and laughter from his parents, overjoyed that the staff he used in herding their cattle had begun to sprout aster flowers, something they never dreamed would happen again after Jelani had died centuries ago.
Putting his age into consideration, the older elders of the Ukoo clan thought they should give Eshury the task to guard a stone – a stone that looked like any other normal stone – a stone that if they had told him its properties, he would have taken extra measures to keep it safe.
He heard noises; people talking and they were coming towards him. He instinctively climbed up a tree, and looked down to see who they were. Some girls in wrappers were passing by, each carrying a calabash full of water on their heads. He thought of throwing a fruit or a twig in one of the calabashes to give him something to laugh about, but then thought better of it. He had more pressing things to do – pressing things that did not include stopping thunderstorms that were about to happen in remote villages, or acting as oracle and passing on information from the gods to the people and vice versa – but pressing things that included cleaning up the cave where the elders usually had their meetings, polishing their thrones till their animalistic eyes glowed brightly, and finally preparing the ornamental pot so it could be lit for the next meeting.
He wondered when his staff would be ready, and wondered when he would be able to move mountains or part seas with it. He wondered which force of nature he was going to be assigned control over.
The girls had gone far enough now, and he climbed down effortlessly from the tree. Ahead of him, the path became narrow as the trees grew into each other, and he made his way to the stream, which was the entrance to the cave.
The stream was beautifully bounded with different flowers as well as green weeds. Even the huge rocks that formed part of the boundary were growing with flowers too, and at the center of it all was an abnormally large tree draped with purely flame colored petals. It might have been covered with fire.
He stepped into the flowing water, and felt the cool water and more weeds brushing his legs. The stream bed was laid around with mud and little cairns of glittering stones everywhere. As he walked in further small fish darted past him like colorful tiny arrows, and once or twice a big fish would swim towards them, eating a few of the smaller fish.
He got to the middle of the stream where the glittering stones had turned to rocks and stopped in front of five rocks that were placed strategically in front of him; he bent down into the water to rearrange them, muttering as he did so.
“One left – two above – two right, and the one left, bring it down, yes.”
He finished, and stood up, not at all phased by his dripping wet robes, and said in a clear voice,
“I am Eshury, the last son of the second daughter of the sixteenth Elder – Jelani. Let me in.”
He expected the stone passage to appear as it usually did, but to his dismay, it did not. Instead the ground where he stood trembled, and then the water rippled. The rocks rearranged themselves, forming a circle around him, and then a whirlpool appeared in the circle; before he could shout or run out, he got sucked in, and he was gone.
He was coughing when he landed on the rock hard ground of the cave, lamenting uncontrollably.
“If this is what I have to get through to become one of them,” he said, standing up and dusting himself, “I resign myself from my would-be elderly duties.” He walked angrily into the cave which was bright from the illumination coming from the sky above, and took a long rag from his robe. He fetched himself a bucket of water, and began cleaning the thrones, complaining as he did so.
“This is something they can easily do with their Revlis,” he muttered as he started polishing the first throne, which reminded him of a raging bull. “Had I known it was an essential stone…”
The stone Eshury had been given the task to guard was an essential stone. The essence through which the elders lived. The stone belonged to a dark elder Aganjwe. If Eshury had guarded the stone for as long as was required, his staff would have been ready, and his initiation ceremony would take place, making him the youngest appointed elder ever to exist.
He finished cleaning the serpentine throne, and moved to the next one, starting with its clawed legs. He had just finished with the body, and was about to start cleaning the next throne, when he thought he saw something.
It was a wisp of smoke, and he thought he saw it drift out of the ornamental pot. He ignored what he thought was just his imagination, and then proceeded to cleaning the tabernacle-like Mimongida, a place where the elders kept their essential stones; a stone pillar, on top of which stood seven miniature statues of different animals, standing around a candelabrum, and looking up at what seemed to be ordinary-looking stones hanging from it. One of the animals however, the scorpion, was missing its stone, giving it the look of something beggarly. That was the stone that had gotten lost under Eshury’s watch.
And then he saw it again out of the corner of his eye, and this time it was clear. He was sure smoke had drifted out of the ornamental pot. After examining the statues, making sure they were clean enough, he went and bent over the pot, and then touched it.
It felt warm, like the fire had only been put out a moment ago; a surge of excitement went through him. He figured he could not get into more trouble as it was as he walked back to the Mimongida, and carefully plucked two of the essential stones, one from the wolf and the other from the bull.
But before he could do anything he had to settle down and think. How long would it take before the elders had resolved the mystery behind the disasters that had happened in Ouagadougou a few days ago? It was strange for an earthquake, then a thunderstorm, and then a landslide to occur in the same place all at once, unless there was some power behind it.
He stretched out his hands towards the pot, and struck the two stones together, but nothing happened. He did it again and again, till on the tenth time and with so much frustration, blue and red flames in the form of a wolf and a bull danced from the stones and into the pot, causing a great fire to billow out of it. He jumped back as the flame singed a part of his afro; the resulting smell forcefully reminded him of a burning bush.
“What next?” he muttered as he ran to replace the stones, taking care to put them exactly as they had been when he took them. He went back to the pot and watched as the flames billowed, thinking of what to do next. He began to panic as thoughts flooded his head. How stupid he was to have lit the pot, he realized. How was he going to put the fire out? He knew it wasn’t normal fire burning, and putting it out would require ways that weren’t normal – ways he did not know because he had not bothered to pay attention during the meetings.
He began to run around, flailing his hands like a little child in trouble, muttering in some language when a small voice in his head told him something, reminding him of whom he was. He stopped his flustered running about, and went back to the pot, kneeling towards it. He was now sweating profusely as he said, shakily,
“I am Eshury, the last son of the second daughter of the sixteenth elder, Jelani, show me what I seek.”
Nothing happened immediately, and he would have given up, prepared to get a bucket of water to see if that would quench the blazing fire, when suddenly the fire began to change color. It turned red, and then it turned blue. It became a bright yellow and then suddenly became all three colors at once. A face appeared in it, and then a full body, a figure so vivid he might as well have been peeping through her window.
It was a girl he did not recognize. She was in a big room, with pillars and statues, and she was waving at somebody. She entered a room, and unhooked the phone, ignoring the voices coming out of it.
“What’s the pay for engineers these days?”
The girl was searching for something, and he needed to know what it was, but then he heard, “May I speak to Andrew?”
At the sound of the name Andrew, Eshury noticed, the girl stopped moving, like something had entranced her, and turned towards the corner of the room. There was a big raffia bag sticking out of a closed cupboard. She rushed to the cupboard, and pulled its doors open.
“Really,” he heard.
It was a boy’s voice this time, probably Andrew’s, but this did not interest Eshury. He was interested in what had happened to the girl when the boy had spoken. She had run to the cupboard, had hastily pulled out its contents, then at the bottom of the cupboard she had seen something because her eyes widened in curiosity, and then took out a wooden box. She looked at it for a second, and then her countenance changed. She suddenly looked fearful, and then began to sway around like she was going dizzy. She tightened her grip on the box now shaking violently, but before she could brace herself, an invisible force slammed her backwards unto the ground.
Eshury strained his eyes to see what she was holding, and singed his hair again as he leaned towards the pot. He put his hand on that part of his hair, and watched desperately as the girl in the fire fell and opened her hand to reveal an old-fashioned box, which had something, shiny and coiled, embossed on its top.
The voice through the phone continued, and a second later a man came into view, and carried the girl to his bed. The man went back and took the box, and Eshury saw it better this time. An old-fashioned box embossed with a very familiar silver snake.
He heard clapping, and wondered where it was coming from; he would have poked his head further into the flame, his hand shielding his afro this time, if he hadn’t heard that unmistakable slippery voice.
“I see you’ve finished cleaning.”
Eshury cringed from shock, pulling back his hand which he had placed on the pot as the fire burned yellow flames again.
Ever since Eshury had been invited and had met with all the elders, Osirik had been the unhappiest and the coldest to him. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Osirik had worked really hard to become an elder, and thought it wasn’t fair that someone else didn’t have to do anything to become one.
As Eshury remained facing the pot, he tried to think of any excuse he could give for lighting the pot, but none came to mind, so he waited for Osirik to say something else. He’d have to wing it from there.
“Osirik,” Eshury replied fearfully, finally turning around. He was still kneeling, and had to look up to take in Osirik’s appearance (he was in his usual black hooded robe, and his gash, which had healed a little, was still obvious). “I thought you were all in Ouagadougou.”
“I don’t do natural disasters,” Osirik replied calmly, walking to his throne and placing his Revlis on it.
“I knew I shouldn’t have,” Eshury started without prompting, “but I came to clean, and the door would not open for me. The pot was hot, and I wanted to know who was here, so …”
Osirik folded his hands together, listening as Eshury spoke.
Eshury explained everything, stopping at the part where he had started the fire. He did not see why he should talk about what he had seen in the fire. “That was when you came in. Please do not tell the others. I am in enough trouble as it is,” he begged, even though he knew it was of no use.
“There is nothing bad in wanting to know,” Osirik replied simply. “We should, however, only try to know the right things, and exercise caution while doing so. Can you put it out?”