None of the three men present when he made this announcement needed to make a move for the Preacher had used his hand to indicate what he wanted—a feat he had quite mastered since he noticed no one but my Papa could understand his words.
From our windows we had seen the gestures and we knew exactly what he wanted. We came out of our homes like flies to a rotten corpse. Men, women and children gathered around the coloured Preacher, waiting upon his words of amelioration.
He spoke. As usual, no one but Papa could understand. I could pick one or two words by now, but nothing concrete enough to fully understand him. And he was so excited with his explanations, he forgot his gesticulations.
So my Papa had to interpret.
“You have been plagued by a blood-sucking demon,” He began. “It possesses the soul and makes you do evil things before it finally eats you inside out. But the God I serve has a solution for every alteration of his creatures, for every anomaly that plagues us.” He paused to stare at the crowd, his blue eyes shining, his mass of brown hair waving gaily every time he moved his head. “I shall force them back to hell where they come from. Go home and pray, pray to God for the forgiveness of your sins. The battle is not yours to fight. Go home.”
The crowd dispersed.
Before we got home, word was about that Father Tom requested a parcel of land for every possessed soul he freed.
“He should simply have asked for farmland instead.” I overhead our neighbour, Adagola, telling his wife.
“Maybe he wants to bring his wife and children here . . .” the woman replied.
“Maybe. But why?”
I thought over Adagola’s conversation later that night when we lay down to sleep. Papa was out with a group of able-bodied men, armed with wooden spears. They had decided to take turns to guard the village from the demons. Papa had explained that demons were creatures from hell.
“Damn the devil!” he kept muttering as he spoke.
He had hurried off before I could ask him where hell was.
That night was especially cold. The wind did singsongs in frightful tones, hissing into the valley like an injured snake. Little Kasi was fast asleep. She was nestled between Mama and I. I listened to the crickets and their noisy screech. I enjoyed the occasional coo of the disturbed weaverbird. I tossed and turned but sleep was far away. So I sat up.
Mama stirred. She looked at me, a worried frown on her oval face. In her eyes I glimpsed the same fear I had seen in the eyes of my kindred.
“Mama,” I spoke after several seconds of daunting silence.
“What is the matter, Wura?” Mama sat up.
“Who is the devil?” the question had been burning holes in my head all day.
“The devil is one and the same with Patanimora, the dark one.”
I nodded my understanding.
“Does he live in hell?”
“Why then has he come visiting?”
“I do not know.” She said in a small voice.
I had always seen my village as Amekaleva’s abode. Why then would darkness come dwell with light, I wondered.
I lay back down and tried to sleep.
A loud inhuman scream pierced the night, jolting me and Mama upright from our bamboo bed. We heard shrieks, wild haughty shrieks. Mama was up and running to the window. I followed. The screams were followed by hurried but heavy footfalls. We peered into the darkness but saw nothing. A light suddenly sprang up in Otulobi’s compound. His ten year-old son ran out. He stopped and looked straight at us. I cringed at what I saw. Mama gasped. There was no way he could have seen us in that distance, besides we were shrouded in darkness. Even an adult with the eyesight of a dog could never have seen us. But I could swear Abela did see us.
He stood hands akimbo and began panting like a rabid Uhahoo. His eyes were fiery red and they cast a surreal glow upon the deserted plains. Abela exuded strength as he seemed to grow taller in the distance. Then he roared and the earth stood still. He reached for the towering anu tree in front of his father’s compound and effortlessly uprooted it from the earth—a feat that would have taken ten grown men the better part of a day to accomplish.
Mama shivered. She peered into the darkness, frantically searching for Papa. But Papa and his team were nowhere to be found.
We heard Abela curse and swear in strange words. His voice was loud, hoarse, like the voice of fifty old men amplified. It rang beyond the valley, shaking the mountain till I was sure more than a hundred pair of eyes stood behind each window, clutching their children in fright as they watched the impossible.
We turned our heads as we heard the familiar clack-clack of the Preachers shoes against the rocky pathway that led up the mountain. It grew louder and louder until it was the only sound that punctuated the night.
Then we saw him. Moonlight bathed him as soon as he climbed over the jagged precipice that was the entrance to the Hidden Village of the Leaves. He wore a black cape that billowed in the wind. Clutched to his chest was his big book, his holy book. The long silver cross he wore around his neck glittered like precious stones. He walked leisurely, like one who had all the time in the world, savouring the cool night air, his eyes, trailing the skies. On his feet were black shoes, shining in the moon-glow and rattling rather than calming our nerves with their ominous clack.
Mama stiffened as Father Tom strolled past the front of our hut. She gripped my shoulders till a soft moan of pain escaped my lips. I stared up at her. Her face was white against the moon. Two or three veins stood out on her forehead and her hair was a cacophony of wild black strands. Her fright was almost palpable.
Father Tom reached Otulobi’s compound. He stood before the possessed boy. Abela was on all fours now, a loud hiss spewing from his lips.
“You blood sucking demon,” The priest addressed the boy. “Are you going to come out or do you want me to force you out?”
The demon shrieked and laughed haughtily. Its voice was thunderous as it replied the priest. Its tone was so mangled and inhuman we shut our palms against our ears.
We heard Father Toms sharp laughter as he circled the beast, his right hand, which wielded his holy book extended.
“I command you in the name of God, lose your hold on this body!”
The demon screamed and wreathed in agony. It lunged at the priest who was prepared for just that move. He sent the content of a small vial flying into the face of the beast who had at this time, gained complete control of its host. It had grown ten times in size. Its arms were long and muscled, black and shapeless. Its head was small and grew a horn between its two red eyes.
The demon cried out in anguish.
I heard Mama mutter incantations to Amakaleva for forgiveness. She tried to shut my eyes from the beastly sight but I peered through the small space afforded me by her shivering digits.
Father Tom stepped forward and began muttering incantations in a foreign tongue. Within minutes the moon had disappeared, and in its place stood a huge black cloud. The wind whipped into a frenzy, driving all the elements to bersekdom. Lightening shredded the skies, thunder clashed, tumbling from one end of the earth to the other. The violence of the erupting gale sent everything that hadn’t a firm root on the earth flying. It drowned the preacher’s incantations, billowing his robe in a ferocious swirl. His hair was not spared, as the wind flung the brown strands in all directions around his head.
Just then, Papa ran in, his eyes were as gaunt as his soul. Even he with all of his wisdom and knowledge had seen nothing like this in his entire existence. He trembled when Mama draped her arms around him. She breathed a sigh of relief. She led him to a chair but Papa was up before his black bottom could touch the wood, hurrying to the window to witness the happening. His mouth fell open when bright white light fell upon the beast from the sky. His eyes became tiny slits of wonder and awe and I could hear strange sounds spill from his lips.
My fascination overshadowed any fear I should have felt.
The demon shrieked and howled. Its voice was like the clash of many waters, resonating beyond the whistling din of the elements.
The light was white, with the brightness of a million stars. Father Tom shook as he ranted incantations we no longer could hear.
At once, a black formless mist swirled from the beast and rose into the light. It writhed and twisted into several ugly shapes until it was completely swallowed by the light.
The light rolled back into the skies the same way it had come and all was dark again. Abela’s ten-year old form lay curled in a foetal position on the cold earth.
Otulobi tiptoed from hiding and with a little persuasion from Father Tom, he carried his son into his hut. The preacher turned and marched triumphantly down the slope, and back to his shed.
Papa kept murmuring English words I had never heard. He stared with disbelief at the retreating cloak of the strange priest.
“Reverend Father Tom Weatherspoon, who are you?” he asked, staring me straight in the eye.
I shook my head from side to side. “I do not know, Papa.”
By dawn, the village was agog with the unexplainable sight of the previous night. Aniku, the village messenger, said the Priest controlled the demons.
“He sent them upon us to make us worship his God. Beware of his trickery,” He warned.
“What God does he serve? Where is this God?” Many asked.
Mama was quiet. Nothing made sense.
The afternoon sun pelted the earth with a vengeance, withering every leave on its path. Papa had become ten shades darker than he already was, so had many others. Even Father Tom’s skin had become browned and now looked no brighter than the bark of an anu tree. The natural lake that flowed through the village was drying up too. Panic spread like a virus through the hearts and minds of my kindred. Dimoku, our native priest, sacrificed a dozen chickens and a dozen goats to Amakaleva but nothing changed, things only got worse.
The men were huddled in large groups, whispering frantically, most pointing towards the direction of the preachers shed. The women bundled together, discussing the next course of action to be taken since the men had decided to fold their arms and watch them go into extinction. The children looked pale, hungry but fascinated by the turn of events.
“My Papa said the Preacher is evil,” Dmitri, my bosom friend told me in confidence. “The men would probably go and burn him alive by nightfall.”
I gasped at that piece of news, wondering why it hadn’t circulated like was the norm. That was when I began to feel fear sucking away the wonder that had fuelled my courage. I looked into the eyes of the sun and noticed the stifling silence. Everywhere was quiet. Even the birds that usually dotted the skyline at this hour were absent. The insects were gone. We were alone, and that realization made my tender skin crawl.
I noticed the men suddenly started drifting towards Dimoku’s compound. I searched for Papa but his shiny black head was nowhere in sight. I had to warn him; he had to protect the preacher.
Loud inhuman shrieks rented the air.
Then I knew why the men had been trooping to Dimoku’s compound—his wife had been possessed by a demon. First she cried out in pain, then her voice became guttural like all the beasts of the earth had assembled in her throat.
I ran to see firsthand. Mama was there. She defied all signs and cradled her friend, who roared and wreathed in her arms. The skin of the possessed woman darkened, her eyes reddened and her nails grew long and sharp like the claws of an Uhahoo. No man dared go close, not even Dimoku.
“Ah! The gods are cruel. What has my innocent wife done to you?” Dimoku cried. He pointed an accusing finger at the sky. “I, who have served you faithfully for all these years, doing your bidding, making the necessary sacrifices. . . Oh! Amakaleva thou art cruel!”
The plagued woman turned suddenly and glared at Mama. Her eyes were coloured with disdain, her teeth were fangs that grew longer with every passing second.
“Get away from me!” she screamed, flinging Mama into the air.
I held my breath as I saw Mama toss in the air like a rag doll. The men ‘ahed’, the women ‘oohed’ as they shifted further away from the condemned. I found my feet and ran forward, arms outstretched, trying desperately to catch Mama as she began her descent. Her death screams made the men shudder and the women cover their eyes and ears.
“Cursed! We are cursed.” I heard a bitter voice from the crowd.
“Patanimora has come to dwell amongst us,” said another.
“Where is the Preacher?” others demanded in unison.
Arms outstretched, tears pooling in my eyes, I watched Mama plunging to her death.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .