Yesterday, I bore the world on my shoulders, strapping her extras on my back like a slave sent on exile. Her weight pressing mercilessly on my shoulder blades, I took a nascent step. Thus, began my journey to memory; a memory of all that has been, a memory of all that might be.
Earlier, Night was long, dreary and cold as with bathed breath I waited this trek. Dawn came crawling on all fours, scratching my will with long claws.
Morning sun streaked, striking the greens along my path with a kiss of joy. The forest was alive; the earth broke out in churns of ants and worms watching lazily, the wake of my troubled feet. Up in the sky, colourful birds flew, chirping happily at the gift of dawn, ignorant of my weighty plight.
With a little trepidation, of all that may, yet never be, my feet found a hold with every surmountable step.
I had traversed much more than a mile when without warning, the sun bared its teeth in a mirthless grin, pushing out the little strength I had in a fit of sweats, dragging my shadow across the weather-beaten earth. But deep within me, was a conviction that this particular path had to be trod: so I trudged, with not the slightest thought of surrender; with love and hope, my invisible umbrella. The loamy soil became rock hard, biting my feet through the worn sole of my shoes. The greens began to disappear, leaving behind; naked land, arid and humid.
The weight of the world had become almost unbearable at this time, forcing me to the earth till my walk was a rigid stoop. But onwards I trudged, tired, forced to tears at the thought of the unfairness of this cause, or was it not?
I was alone, in a land as stark and dark as used coal, without a single human soul in sight. My friends had stood at the threshold of my experience, jeering and laughing at my lot.
‘You’d never make it through!’ the ones I called my best friends sniggered.
‘You’d never overcome life’s travails.’ Biodun laughed, pointing fingers at my departing back.
‘Come, stay, drink with us, make merry. There are so many women all about, awaiting your sensuous call. C’mon my guy, be a man, Life is all about fun!’ That was Ahmed, poking at my sanity. And there were times when these voices endlessly rang, almost pushing the weight prematurely off my shoulders. But I held on for your sake.
I walked into a storm and gale. I was blinded with the fury as I walked naked against these bullies. I stumbled, falling to the ground. I stood up and staggered through the storm, falling again and again, till I crashed into Sawil. Maybe it was fate that guided me to his hut; maybe he had been there all along, waiting for me to come to him.
‘Welcome,’ he smiled, exposing perfect white teeth for an old man. Sawil was an ancient with white flowing hair and beard, and a thin bony face that spelt his age. His voice was rough, like granite against granite but produced a calming effect on my beleaguered frame.
Was I surprised to see an old man in the storm, living faraway from human cohabitation? Yes, of course I was! But my mind didn’t linger in the planes of wonder. I had come to understand that the world was like a magician’s bag, full of tricks that devour reason.
I struggled to sit up; squinting till my eyes got accustomed to the dimness of the little hut. I could barely make out the materials from which it was made albeit it gladdened my heart to know that it could keep out the gale.
‘My name is Sawil, and I have waited forever for you,’ the old man said with a kind smile and a glint in his tired brown eyes. Stretching to his full height, Sawil was a giant. He was draped in a flowing white garment without design or tell of ostentation. Stooping, he picked up a thick woollen wrap from a brass trunk and wrapped me up, and then from a metallic tray, he picked up what must have been the remnant from a just concluded meal: a thin slice of bread and a chunk of cheese. Then he offered me a bite.
‘Th . . . Ttthank you, thank you,’ I shivered, pushing the entire meal into my mouth. I only then remembered just how hungry I was.
Outside, the rain howled, hitting the little hut with a fury unknown to man. Sawil’s hut rocked and bobbed but stood, as solid as the Rock of Gibralta.
The old man watched me with keen eyes, drawing my worries out of me like he was some magnet.
I asked long before I realized I had spoken. ‘Have I lived as should man on earth?’
The old man’s voice was grave as he replied: ‘You alone earthman, can answer that.’ He grunted and spat into the fire that lit up the hut, rousing the tired flames. ‘So tell me,’ he coughed, then pulled back his long legs to rest under his weight.
‘Have you lived aright, according to the laws of your God? ’
His question took me by surprise.
Had I lived aright?
‘I . . . I do not know; I cannot tell; but I believe that if I had, I would never have borne this weight in the first place.’
Sawil smiled, baring his teeth again in a grin. ‘Hmm, you know so much yet you know so little.’ He sighed, ‘Do not despair, the answers you seek will find you when your need is at its greatest.’ He adjusted his robe and sat up straighter, looking dignified like a king on a stone throne.
His words were strange, their meaning even stranger. I stared at the flames, and watched as they cackled and sighed as if enjoying the cold breeze that came with the gale. Outside, the night howled, racing alongside the tireless tempest.
I dragged my eyes from all that held it sway and gazed instead at the knowing old man.
Then I asked him: ‘Will I ever know peace; live in harmony with my fellow man without conflict?’
His lips parted almost at once, and from his throat tumbled a jagged series of consonants.
‘Mua ha ha, ha ha ha’.
Then just as suddenly as he had begun, he became silent, his eyes piercing mine like daggers.
‘Yes you will. You will have no choice in the matter.’
Then I asked again: ‘Will I see Alexander again; hold him in my arms before the child becomes the man?’
Sawil stared into the dancing flames, deep in thought. Then he directed his gaze at my blistered feet, and then finally, his eyes rested on my tired face. Then he spoke: ‘Yes you will. You will hold your son again, and in your arms, watch him grow.’
At this, my heart grew, and for an instant, the weight I bore suddenly became weightless.
‘But . . .’ Sawil thrust his gravel voice into my joy, ‘you must first put aside that weight!’ He said, pointing a long bony finger at the load strapped to my back. ‘Put aside the burden you bear, become natural and fluid like the waters from Lake Zanaka. Only then will you know the joys of true love, be it in friendship or in fatherhood. Let everything in you become new. Dump the old and become a new man. Do not brood, the past is past! You of all creatures know the laws!’ he coughed again and flung phlegm from his sore throat onto the burning embers. Then he continued, ‘It is how you stand, today, not how you stood. Let go of that weight. Only emptiness will come out of brooding, whereas, upliftment follows he who lives in the present.’
The severity of his words struck me deeply. But how could I let go of this weight of sins without proper atonement? I had done so much wrong, hurting her whom I loved most. And now she was gone, gone like the wind, taking along with her, our son, my little boy. No! Not at any rate must I listen to this old man. Yes, I would become a new man, but first I must find proper ground to lower this weight. With that I thanked my benefactor, and setting out into the rain, which had become a cold drizzle, I found my tired steps.
Soon I came upon a steep lake. Thirsting for drink, I lay by its side to rest a while. So steep it was that I could only stare at the shiny liquid below and wish I had wings or maybe the power to suddenly become a fish, drink to my fill and become human again so as to continue on my way. My wish was hardly thought when from within the sparkling depths sprang forth a mer-girl. Tall like a princess from an ancient kingdom, tail as golden as the gloaming, her face as luminescent as a crescent moon; she swarm to me. Cradled within her fingers like an egg was an emerald goblet. She stretched forth the most delicate hands I had ever seen.
‘Drink, oh mortal man to your fill.’ Her voice was the rustle of lilies and roses in a soughing wind.
In awe, I accepted the goblet and drank till my thirst was gone. But speechless I stared into the blue eyes before me.
‘I am Miriel, daughter of the Lake.’ She sang again, ruffling the air with a wave of her long and curly black hair. Her skin glistened, fairer than the fairest of earths women.
I could only stare, what with the weight on my shoulders pressing in on me, forcing me to my feet like a jack-in-the-box. In my peripheral, was a flower in bright pink and dew; a daffodil. I staggered to its side, stooped and plucked it. Still dragging my feet, I walked back to Miriel and handed her the bloom.
I could see her eyes light up, and her chin become ever slender, her being ever more luminous, radiant. ‘Discard the world,’ she sang, with pain in her eyes at my discomfort. ‘She would slow you down. Let go . . . please let go and by my side do dwell – a prince!’
With a gentle nod, I refused and bidding her goodbye, I set out again.
I could hear her wail as I walked away. For a long time her voice rose above the stillness of the earth, calling out to me, pleading with me. No one had ever given her a gift, and as such, I was a gem. But her cries meant little to me, my goal was to live as should a human on earth; to dump the weight of my past wrongs at the end of the earth and walk tomorrow a free man.
One foot in front of the other, I traversed many more acres: past beguiling forests of death, clothed in shimmering diamonds and adorned with azure skies; past mountains of lust and greed, dressed in every hue of grass and tree; through seemingly endless rivers of pain, snared with golden nooses and spikes; through contraptions that loomed before me, beautiful flowers ready to snap their jaws and ensnare mortal man in a binge.
I saw it all.
No longer did any of it hold any allure.
It was almost midnight when I met Alexier, queen of nymphs and pixies. She fluttered around my ears till my tired heart came awake and could hear the music of her call.
‘Here,’ she offered a hand, ‘Let me help you. You have done enough.’ And with a swoosh she lifted my burden. I fell to the ground as light as a feather, feeling the tensions of the past day and years easing into the cold night. I struggled up to say to her a word or two of thanks, but she was long gone, leaving behind the musical notes of her sonorous voice: ‘I am with you, through thick and thin. Though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, though you hunger and thirst, remember only to look up to the heavens from whence cometh your help, and in a flash I will be there. It is no mistake that Alexander is here, and what is, is what is; so worry not, instead learn the lessons of this tour and rise above your fears, a new man!’
And the earth fell dead silent. The night bowed to the mediator in countless sighs.
Free at last, my charge dropped at last, I moved on, carrying with me, a new garb, as weightless as air, as calming as lavender. In it were the lessons of patience, love, peace, service and humility: patience in the little things of life; love from the scorching sun and from the burning earth that blistered my feet that day; peace from the discarded weight of atonement; joy from selfless service and gratitude. And in the end, I groomed the strength to look on high and await your return.
Your Father, Ominiabohs Anthony Othuke