IN HIS ELEMENT
It was my fifth day back to my roots; Ondo State, Nigeria. An escape from grey skies, monotony and the bipolar British weather, to blue skies, palm fronds, gentle calm breezes, beautiful sunsets and nature’s rhythmic sounds. I had not been home in fifteen years and it was having a massive effect on me physically, spiritually and psychologically. As I took a stroll back to my hut, which was adjacent, my cousin’s, I began to ponder if the journey back to my village was either a futile or a premeditated act by unknown supernatural forces that may be at play. What makes a man get up at five am on a Monday morning and book a flight from Europe to Africa, all because of a sudden haunch to come home? Travelling from coziness and comfort to lay in a cocoon of darkness and mosquitoes is not what an individual in his or her right state of mind will wish upon himself. Although, I was happy that I avoided the rush hour madness that London had to offer on a Monday morning. A break from coffee, black cabs, serious hegemonic faces and fast paces. I considered that moment in time to be a luxury.
The soothing and alluring aroma of pounded yam, vegetable soup mixed with prawns, crayfish, bush meat, beef and stockfish, interrupted my train of thought. The sight and smell of this palatable dish replaced my pondering with nostalgic memories from my childhood. It redirected my steps from my hut towards the large open space, where women of attractive physique dressed in colorful aso oke , gracefully wielded the odo and dished the food like goddesses of ancient times. This act was simultaneously accompanied by some sort of singing similar to Negro Spirituals. As they sang, they made rhythms and beats with their wooden serving spoons and calabashes, creating sounds and music that told stories of their lives, past, experiences and aspirations. It was six pm, the sun had begun to set, and it shone brightly on their sweaty dark skins revealing its aesthetic texture and glory. The scene was a phenomenal sight to behold, an integration of ancient music, art and craft; it would have probably made God smile. As nighttime began to draw near, the darkness grew stronger. The men began to pile up woods and sticks in front of a large hut in preparation for a campfire, the kids set up tree stumps in circular formations and placed feathers and animal skins on them for sitting comfort I assume. The actions unfolding before my eyes were bizarre and unnatural. I glanced at my watch; it was eight pm African time. By now, I would have been tucked into bed in my luxurious penthouse in London, sleeping off the stress and weariness of Wall Street. My cousin, an Oxford graduate who visited home frequently was accustomed to the lifestyle and culture. She noticed my anxiety and uneasiness
“Staring at that contraption of yours wouldn’t make a difference. Here we tell time by seasons and constellations.” She remarked.
Gazing at her oval face and thin lips in awe as they moved, I began to wonder if the construct of her statement was due to logic or dementia. Who calls a Rolex a contraption?
“Tell him aunty”
She pressed on, alluding to a woman opposite me, whom I assume is a distant relative. I had not notice her presence until now. I bowed my head and muttered the vague words “yes ma” in respect. Although that did not seem to be the appropriate form of salutation, she responded with a smile knowing I was a long lost family. I was supposed to prostrate fully with both hands on the floor and remain static in that position until I was told to get up.
Aunt Koye led my cousin and I towards the large space in front of the hut. The fire had been lit, it began to burn brightly and intensely. It was so bright that it seem to mysteriously change the atmosphere of open space we were in. It created beautiful colour schemes of orange, blue, black and yellow. Everyone’s face was recognisable; their patterned traditional attires glowed exquisitely and blended perfectly well with the environment. The calm breeze, tweeting birds, creaking trees and the water from the nearby natural fountain delivered captivating sounds. It would have made one assume that the whole setting was prepared in the expectation of a divine visitor. The decorated calabashes and gourds in which food and palm wine was served shone brightly as if they had been excellently polished by a professional concierge. The warmth from the fire had begun to engulf my body and soul, a smile emerged from the left side of my face, and I felt euphoria and peace. As we took our seats with other members of my family, few members of my clan and other strangers from the community to commence the feast, silence began to set in. The quietness and stillness aroused my curiosity; all that could be heard were the cracks from fire and nature’s sounds. I noticed all heads turned towards the hut and I turned too.
The door of the hut opened slowly and gently, and to my amazement, a very old man whom I had no idea lived amongst us until now emerged from the hut accompanied by two other men to aid his balance. As he steadily and carefully approached us barefooted, his vague image began to become vivid. He wore a turban made of cowries and a patterned fabric, a full body length white tunic, and a white shroud made of sheepskin. His accessories included arm and neck beads in various shades of brown, a well-decorated staff covered in cowries and designed with mysterious cosmic patterns and symbols, which gave him authority and support. He seemed very fragile, but appeared to be a walking library full of ancient wisdom and knowledge. As he took his seat, he gave a deep sigh of comfort and relaxation. He sat like a god. His eyes travelled across the crowd and aimed straight for my face. Establishing eye contact, he gave a faint smile and beckoned to my cousin and I to come and sit in front of him. I was gripped with fear and anxiety as a million pessimistic thoughts ran through my mind. “E Kare Omo Mi” he said. After uttering few words in form of prayers, he ordered the commencement of the feast. The peaceful environment once again regained life, and the winning and dinning began.
As I allowed the mouthwatering dishes and delicacies to satisfy my hunger, engulf my mind and soul, the corner of my eyes could not refrain from scrutinising the old man and his body movements. He noticed my observation and again gave a faint smile. After about an hour of dinning, both men who had accompanied the old man out of the hut earlier, picked up two weird looking drums which seemed to have legs from behind a large tree and began to beat them rhythmically. They beat the drums so beautifully and powerfully that the resonance and melodies from the drumbeats seem to communicate with my soul. It seemed to call me to my purpose and brought me messages and reasons for my impromptu trip.
“Your mother instructed to have the same drums and melodies played when she brought you here as a child” Whispered Aunt Koye.
My jaw dropped in shock and astonishment. Immediately, I realised that moment Aunt Koye talked about had been deeply embedded in my subconscious self, which explains reasons as to why I have an odd crave to be a percussionist, and why my soul rises to an unexplainable dimension of bliss and ecstasy when I hear drumbeats on the busy and buzzy streets of London. As the drumming died down, the crowd began to assemble their seats close to the old man. My cousin gave me a nudge and told me
“It is time for some ancient wisdom and soul food”
With a smile and a jovial tone, I responded
“Why do you have to be so puzzling with your speech codes? Just say it is story time or something”
“Ah, such acts are expected from a goddess and an Oxford graduate” She replied.
I was impressed by her confidence and modesty. She appeared to be self-conscious, knowledgeable and wise. Perhaps she would make a good wife to Lanre a very good doctor friend of mine I thought. Just then, the drumming began to fade out, signifying the next line of action. The old man slowly gulped down the remnants of the palm wine from his cowrie-covered calabash, cleared his throat and prepared himself for a speech. I leaned over to my cousin and whispered into her ear.
“Who is this old man and where did he come from?”
She gave me a cold reprimanding facial expression, a long hiss and then replied
“I will not call you a fool, but you are not wise. However, I do not blame you. His name, age and background are unknown, but we call him Baba.”
“Ah I see. Wall Street guys are forever curious you know. At least you spoke in plain English, thank you.” I responded with a smile.
Baba laughed so hard it made me feel embarrassed and confused. I assume he overheard the dialogue between my cousin and I, and perhaps her response made him laugh in such manner. He cleared his throat once again and commented in a cheerful tone
“It’s alright my children. Wisdom and knowledge are available to those who seek, but it is the duty of the seekers of both to abide by the discoveries of their quest. To whom much is given, much is expected.”
Therefore, it began. A voyage into various dimensions of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, perception and depth. I clutched, wrapped a shroud around myself to induce warmth, buried my feet deep in the sand, clenched my right fist and placed it underneath my chin to act as a support; a gesture a curious mind would display I suppose. I stared intensely at his face, seeking answers. I decided to get lost in the moment. He stamped his staff on the ground three times, looked up towards the sky and uttered some sort of prayer or incantation saying;
“To the all-seeing One who knows all,
To the Magnificent seated in indecipherable magnitudes of honor and glory,
To the One who set boundaries to the land and seas,
To the One who feeds the tiniest of insects and beautifies the lilies in the fields,
To the One who defeats the wise with their own foolishness,
Olodumare, in humility I bow in worship. Iba .
As you have commanded the wind to transport words to its recipients,
And the cock to crow at dawn to announce the birth of a new day to farmers and market women,
In such unexplainable medium, you proclaimed the message of liberty to a long lost soul.
I am nothing but dust; I am nothing but a vessel.
Iba, iba, iba.”
As he spoke, I could not help but gaze at his lips in amazement wondering where those short but enigmatic words emanated from. It would have taken years of training, self-discipline, mental and physical strength to master his art. A part of me wished I were him. Simultaneously another part of me was pleased with my life as a Wall Street trader. After his prayers, he paused for few seconds and began.
“On the coldest night of the year when the heaviest tempest known to man raged, the boy was born. He dropped out of his mother’s womb crying and laughing. In the thick slimy fluid of blood, sweat, tears and water, he laid. What a mystifying way to enter this cold world.
As the years went by, he grew rapidly in height, knowledge and strength equivalent to that of a hundred men. No one matched him. Realising his abilities, pride germinated within his soul. “I am stronger than the strongest god, death sees me and run.” He would proclaim.
On the other side of the village was the Forest of Light, which glowed at night due to unknown reasons. Inhabited by gohmmids and other grotesque supernatural beings, this forest is rumored to be where every rainbow ended its curve and a portal to the dwelling of the gods. However, some profess other myths.
The boy randomly got up one afternoon, packed his bags and announced his departure to the Forest of Light. Amidst wailing and tears, his mother begged him to stay. With courage and pride, he said, “I will go and return with the heads and riches of the gods.” As he departed, he never looked back, and that was the last time he saw his village and mother
Arriving the Forest of Light, a voyage that took him fifty days, he sat down to rest. Noticing a gohmmid who was going about its business, he approached it, grabbed it by its hair and shouted, “I will kill you, eat you and become a god! Where is the rest of your kind?” The gohmmid begged profusely for his life to be spared, but the boy listened not.
As he hungrily and tastefully devoured the gohmmid, a thousand gohmmids emerged from the shadows to retaliate in anger. The boy murdered half of them, and the rest fled to report the strange occurrence to the other supernatural beings of the forest. Perplexed by the boy’s act, they all in one accord reported him to the Creator.
The Creator let out his anger by blinding the boy. He felt no remorse and laughed at the Creator saying “Is this all your might?” Furious, the Creator caused a ferocious earthquake, storm and wind to ravage the hut in which the boy dwelt. Still, the boy felt no remorse. Immediately, the Creator in all His might and strength caused the ground to open up and swallow the boy, thus transporting him to another dimension of space and time. This inexpressible journey lasted for two hundred years and was filled with torment, torture, pain, anguish, pestilence and gnashing of teeth. At the end of his journey, every ounce of his spirit, soul and body was shattered and crushed.
The boy found himself sitting in a scorching desert broken, naked and stripped of his confidence and identity. All he wanted was water and a piece of fabric for his dirty, lacerating skin. Rocking back and forth on his numb buttocks, he kept uttering the word “Maktub”. A dozen and two days passed; he was still sitting there in his weak state, still rocking. His experience paved way for humility to reside within the innermost parts of his spirit and soul. With seven minutes of life left in him, death stood by, waiting to harvest his soul.
He faintly uttered the word “Ma-ma-ktu-bb” and he delved into a mystifying mirage. He saw the past, the present but the future was withheld from him. The words “you are an image of the Creator, speak!” echoed continuously in his enigmatic state.
With the last ounce of life and strength in him, the boy yelled, “I am a god!” The sentence echoed throughout the desert, and the desert felt a distinct energy, an energy that was present during the moments creation. His weak spine straightened up, his Horizon was opened, his dry tongue regained moisture and he began communicating with the Forces of Life and manipulating matter with the usage of celestial words and proverbial incantations.
He conversed with the four elements of life and commanded them to do his wish. He sent them on individual tasks. The sun and moon came down to cloth him with their glory. Rulers and principalities of earth and other planets stared and marveled in awe at his magnificence. He humbly knelt down in prayer to the Creator of the universe. Still in the act, the wind came and carried him away, far away from the desert.
The boy sat there; on a mat, amongst presidents, kings and aristocrats suggesting schemes and policies for docile minds and poor souls. He mostly spends his evenings giving out soul food to those in need. One evening he decided to take a stroll in the fields. A bright light flashed; there in the northern section of the sky appeared a chariot of fire and a whirlwind, which came to take him to the innermost part of the Heavens. He humbly knelt down and thanked the creator of the universe for granting him a spot in His presence. In the beginning was the boy, the boy became a man and the man became a god.”
As baba concluded his tale, a cool breeze began to blow, which meant the skies could burst open and at any moment releasing its blessings in form of rain. I could not hold back the hot tears that formed in my eyes while the story was being told, because I could relate with the protagonist in the story. The story touched the depth of my soul. From a tender age, I have been labeled as a genius, and described as an individual who would rise to influential positions of power and authority. Now forty-two, I hold one of the most prominent positions on the London Stock Exchange. However, the city life engulfed me. By ethical and unethical means, I became a chronic capitalist. I failed to find and understand my life’s purpose. This gave greed, pride and vanity a foothold in my life. My moral compass was reprogrammed from purity to filth, I hosted and attended some of London’s most influential parties in Knightsbridge, Chelsea and other luxurious party spots, where drugs alcohol and women had to be present in excess or the party was futile. A capitalist state of mind was all I had. I had lost the notion of self and masked my identity from society, a different self for a different occasion. God was a myth; neither church nor priest existed in my vocabulary. I had it all. Countless Omega watches, tailored Saville Row suits, bespoke Oxford shoes, a, two penthouses, thriving investment portfolios, two trendy Bentleys and was on the verge of purchasing a yacht. However, deep down within my soul, I was broken, wrecked and disconnected from the Source of Life.
The rain had begun to pour down heavily; I had not noticed the absence of the crowd and the quenched fire, because I was deep in thought and tears. Still clutched, wrapped up and seated facing baba, I began to rock back and forth, and my cousin who stood there staring at me, was mesmerised by my actions. For unknown reasons, unshaken by the storm, Baba was still seated in the same spot with his escorts staring at me, perhaps waiting for me to shed all the “crocodile tears” as my mum would describe it, or he was waiting for me to make a move. Nevertheless, I did notice his lips move, probably uttering prayers. My watch struck twelve AM, and the storm got heavier. Still in my reflective and remorseful state, I suddenly leaped up and ran towards the river screaming,
“I surrender! I surrender!”
As I ran, I began to strip off my cloths shoes, and watch. I dived into the river butt naked with the aim to swim towards liberation. Uncontrollably, tears rolled down my cheeks, I felt sorry for myself and those whom I had offended. Still in the river, and the raging storm, I raised my head towards the sky and began to confess my wrongful deeds. This lasted for about forty-five minutes or more. In his feeble state, Baba walked to the bank of the river and stretched out his arms in a call to acceptance. Like a child running to receive a precious gift, I ran into his arms and gave him a tight hug. He said to me
“Son, tonight you shall attain liberty and greater heights.”
He submerged me in the river and lifted me out. Repeating this act seven times while uttering powerful prayers, which I could not recollect, I finally understood the reason for my sudden premonition for me to return home. Thus, I began my voyage of soul searching, seeking my purpose, self-awareness and aligning myself with the Infinite. All I could do was weep, weep and weep. Tears of joy and repentance