The tree crushed the foot of the house as it rushed by. The storm had ceased but the flood still flowed fiercely. The air was filled with insects frolicking with the dew rising like steam from the top of the flood. The men stood on the roof of their houses trying to see further than where the flood turned into a new street. It was as if the flood was pursuing something. Then the sun rose from behind a black cloud & the flood glittered like a depressed jewel. This is not a piece of fiction. This happened on the 15th of January 2001.
You remember the rain, the way the butterflies came & left, the sirens in the tree tops, the flashing lights? I was struggling down the hill, keen on meeting with Eliza; beautiful Eliza. She looked so grown up with her sister's make up on. Their house was destroyed by the flood. When I last saw her, she was hugging her mother & weeping slow like the news. The radio carried the news; 175.3 FM. They come from the distanced frontiers of the mind.
Yeah Eliza. She and her mother appeared one wednesday in the town. I told her as her fee, she would go on a date with me. She smiled at her mother and her mother stared at the fountain in open awe. Her mother had awe for everything including her daughter's disappearance several weeks ago. Who stolen the goose and eggs? The time piece on her wrist had stopped to tell the time since past eight. It was nine when the fire started.
Our town is a very respectable place but it has its own secrets, secrets I'm somehow privy to. The ladies did not know the town that well & what I did not tell them was that at night we became ghosts. There's a highway from a forest that lead into the town. It is often covered with leaves but we knew it well. It lead to the centre of the forest where our dances were held. When Eliza's sister first disappeared, the townspeople thought the Onoli's, a mad clan who loved beautiful women, had taken her but it was not so. We found out later when the flood came but first the fire.
The fire was started by Eliza one night on the 1st of January, 2000. She lit a match with which we had lit cigarettes & tossed it against the moon, painted by a puddle of petrol fuming on the floor. She wanted to see the sky red. I told her that through the fire, she would see the dead. She looked in, eager to see her father who had passed on a while back. She wanted him back, she said. He was the key to unlocking her mother from her stupor. Since he died, she has stared at the world in awe. She did not plan to burn the forest. I simply wanted all evidences of her sister's disappearance to disappear without it pointing back to me.
You see on the morning of her sister, Betty's disappearance, she had come to me. It was the morning, Osongo's dog died howling at the fast fading moon. I don't know if you remember? The morning that letter came from the city for chief Alito, that his daughter drowned at sea, attempting to cross to America. Well, it was another difficult day.
She came saying that she needed to do a divination. She said she needed answers to a pressing issue. So I took her to the Dibia. She sat with the old man whose house sat just at the edge of the forest, on the teeth of the highway. You don't know he was a seer? Well now you know. I stood outside while they talked. When she came out, her hands were shaking and her eyes were bright with tears. I did not ask what she had seen; she did not tell me. That was the last time I saw her. The next thing I heard was she had been seen entering their small kiosk and she never came out.
Eliza believed my story when I told her then as I traced my name on her ribs and listen to her skin beat to the rhythm of her blood vessels. Sweat beaded our bodies like blood diamonds mined from our desire. She was a vision to see. I could not let her leave. I could not tell her what I had seen. So I lied even as I loved her again. When I realised that her thoughts had wandered, I knew I would lose her just as I have lost everything before.
The fire was the beginning. As it burnt the kiosk, I could hear the Dibia's voice;
Nothing good will come from your leaving hell to be here. You do not belong here. Anything you touch will turn to dust & ash. You will find & you will lose. You will attempt to build only to destroy
I pushed it away as we ran, Eliza's voice laughing with the evening breeze. Soon the breeze became a game, then a storm and it stoked the fire into an inferno. It did not stop until the forest parted and the masquerades came to command the rain. Soot stained, we sat on a hill and watched the kiosk burn until it spread to another house then another and then the horror began to jolt Eliza awake to her crime. I felt nothing but weariness; once again I have, in an attempt to save, destroyed. Yet I never wondered why she never asked me where her father was in the fire.
Sure enough when the rain came, it refused to go back into the pot it had been released from. Nothing the masquerades did could stop it. It fell until the river clambered out of an age old slumber & bleary eyed, wandered into town. Because the townspeople were mostly ghosts & memory, no one died but all they had worked for drowned. We watched the only humans among us; Eliza and her broken mother stand on the roof of their house waiting for a canoe to come and take them to a higher ground. I waited under the water for the sun to come up.
As I sat at my front porch, the Dibia passed and he nodded at me. Some minutes after, he passed again, dressed the same, going the same way. This was at 5:45pm. There was no sun in the sky. I greeted him and again he nodded like before. I was about to go inside to get my waterproof jacket for the cold and wet when the Dibia passed for the third time. Immediately a gong rang in the distance. Something was wrong.
Everybody ran out of their homes. We've not heard that gong in over a thousand years. It was the summons of our king. Something had happened. We all walked under the water, along the highway to the forest were the trees swayed slow, their eyes frowning in anger at us. We found the centre bare and in the middle stood Betty holding a pot. She had a white wrapper around her chest and nothing else. Immediately I saw her, I knew I had made a grevious mistake.
Not long after two shapes jumped into the water and began to swim towards us. When they neared, they became Eliza and her mother who was no longer in awe. In their lips was the Afela leaf. They stood at the bottom of the flood and smiled at Betty. She smiled back and broke the pot. She broke the pot and we were doomed. The trees screamed in horror even as the three witches began their incantations. The juju on their tongue was powerful because the townspeople obeyed and bent knee.
I stood though because even though I lived with the people, I was not really one of them. I am not a ghost. I am not even human. I watched the ghosts, my ghosts and memories that had followed me from hell slowly squeeze into a tiny kettle held in Eliza's hand. Immediately, the flood, the town, everything that I had built to keep me company in my exile disappeared.
"What have you done," I asked, fear beating against my chest.
"We have claimed you ancient one to serve our every desire until the many ends of time," the three said.
Betty stepped forward.
"I have been to hell. I have seen the seven pillars, touched the seven stones. I have drank from the lava field and fornicated with the highest prince. I am betrothed and I command your most prized possession; your memory. Will you bow to our wishes or should we deny you forever all that you hold dear?" She asked.
My heart broke that day, my friend. I tried to call my father but he had warned me; he had told me that the human race was far more dangerous than I think and more experienced at evil than I could imagine. I fell to my knees and kissed the earth before the three. I, the great prince who broke Assyria and Babylon, who tore emperors and gods from their seat; I kissed the earth and immediately I was trapped in this kettle with you. This is my story.
The rust coloured spider webbed body shuddered then broke open and out of the strange cocoon a butterfly was born. Inside the kettle, I laughed. A small miracle, a little push and my slow attempt towards freedom began. This time, I've learnt well. I will be ready for their wiles.