Ours was a small hamlet perched precariously atop a nameless rock, almost forgotten but for the healing spring that gushed forth from the base of the mountainous stone. We were a peaceful people, caring little for wars and modernity. We were content to till the earth and revel in natures blessings. We were content to play, pray and sleep. During the day, the village was a skinny mouse cowering from the harsh sun beneath tall, sparse and pale looking foliage. Most nights, I watched over the dark, listening to the music of the night till all was quiet and asleep. I would climb to the peak of the rock and look down upon my kindred; the village faced the dark skies like a supplicating hand. We all could understand why. Papa had explained it was our way of thanking the gods whom our spirits had unconsciously soared towards, in veneration. But that ideology, alongside many things, suffered doubt and ultimate demise with the arrival of Reverend Father Tom.
What lay beyond our valleys, we knew little about, save a few who had been opportune to serve beyond our borders, handpicked by the pilgrims to serve as tour guides. Papa was the only one of such alive.
Smart but weirdly dressed men, women and children converged at the foot of the mountain, bathing and drinking from the spring. My Papa had called them pilgrims, and that was how the name stuck.
The little we knew about the outside world, we gathered from the pilgrims, although we were never allowed near these August visitors. So from afar, we watched colourful procession upon procession file into the valley. The men were tall, but looked too lean or too fat. Their skins shone in the sun like the poop of a sick Uhahoo. Their hair was black and curled, falling down to their broad shoulders like a woman’s tresses. Their eyes were different hues of grey, brown and blue. Their noses were pointed like the tips of our wooden spears, and when they spoke, only my Papa could discern their words, all we heard was a mumble jumble of childish giggle.
The women were no different from the men. They were either too thin or too fat. Their voices were like the drone of insects, tiny and amusing. Their chests and hips were flat. Viewed from the side, they were one ridiculous straight line; their clothes hid too much for us to appreciate their beauty. Some said they were a rich people who clothed in gold and could touch the sun at will. Others said they were gods who had decided to live with mortals on earth. But we could all agree that these strangers were nothing like us.
It was during one of such gatherings we met Reverend Father Tom Weatherspoon. The amiable Priest had stayed behind after such a spring festival as was organised by the usual colourful procession. We thought he had lost his mind.
“Why would anyone forfeit the glitz and glamour of such colours for the drab sweetness of our lives?” Mama wondered aloud.
“Maybe he had lost his home and wanted a new life . . .” Kasi, my darling little sister said, hungrily drinking a bowl of milk.
“Maybe he is evil,” said Mama.
“Or he didn’t plan to stay for long . . .” I thought.
But that wasn’t to be the case as he had contracted Papa to build him a hut some distance from the village. There he lived like a recluse, feeding on vegetables and fruits till he was as lean as my thumb. But surprisingly that didn’t deter him. Most nights I heard him singing strange songs and making strange incantations to some god.
“He is praying,” Papa told me one night. He was worried for the strange guest. “May he not go mad,” he said and wandered off to bed. The next morning he charged my Mama and my little sister to take food to the Priest every morning and evening.
Father Tom took the kind gesture with such joy, it infected the entire village. He became Papa’s best friend, teaching him about the content of the big black book he carried about. Some called it a book of magic. Papa called it “the Holy Book – The Bible.”
“He teaches about a new god. The creator of some place called heaven where all good things abide. This same creator also made our village and me and you in his image and likeness.”
“Do you believe him?” I asked Papa, my eyes bright, my heart racing, waiting for his response. It was going to be my turn to stir the village with such juicy news—a new god!
“Hmm.” Papa was thoughtful. He scratched his bald head. “Yes, yes I believe him.”
And that was how every hut in the Hidden Village of the Leaves knew about this new god. Word spread like wild fire and by evening of the next day, we had a handful of villagers who came to enquire about this god.
But joy wasn’t the only thing Father Tom infected us with. Strange things started happening. The villagers dreamt of horrid monsters and man-eaters. The healing spring dried up, the sun suddenly became hotter than ever. A new sickness, the plague, was visited upon us. No one understood it, not even Dimoku, the village priest could combat it. The plague sucked the life out of its victims but first it distorted the victim’s form and made them howl and mutter insane words. Then came blood, plenty of it, from the eyes, ears, nose and mouth. And after several hours of imaginable torture, death came with a fierce struggle. Never had we experienced anything so surreal. It was only logical and normal when the villagers turned to the stranger amongst us, accusing him of killing our own.
“He brought a new god!” Mama screamed at Papa who was still not convinced Father Tom had a hand in any of it.
“What has that got to do with anything?”
“It has everything to do with this. Amekaleva is a jealous god, you know that. He is taking vengeance for our blasphemy. You and your preacher have sown a terrible seed in our hearts. Now see what is happening.” She wailed. She drew me and my sister into her fragile arms.
Just then, Father Tom stepped into our dimly lit hut. Mother was like a woman deranged.
“Get out! Get out of my home you evil one. Be gone!”
Papa pulled her back in reproach and approached the stranger. Despite the pain and sadness and gloom that ensconced our village, Father Tom remained his amiable self. He smiled at Papa, flashing bright white teeth I was proud of. He wore khaki shorts which exposed his hairy legs and on his feet he wore sandals made from animal hide.
“Do you have anything to do with this?” Papa scowled.
Father Tom placed a hairy hand on Papa’s shoulder. Papa shook it off. Father Tom drew lines in the air with his hands instead. “My friend, these are manifestations of the devil. The devil and his minions have come upon your village. But not to worry, the God we serve shall not fail us in our time of need. He that is in me is greater, far greater than he that is in the world.”
He wasn’t convinced but still he walked with the preacher at his behest. They walked towards Anukila’s compound where his only son had been devoured by the plague. The lifeless body lay on the red earth, draped with a black cloth, ready for burial.
Within seconds, the events that took place in Anukila’s house filtered into our ears.
“Demons are in our midst,” announced Father Tom. To no one in particular, he said: “Gather the villagers. We settle this at once!”
TO BE CONTINUED . . .