– Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
(The World is Too Much With Us)
Hometown was basking in the throe of a cuspidate dream. One so acute virtually all the townsfolk could die on an unholy day to see it come to pass. Everything stood as if at standstill; as though an unseen drill commander standing at a hidden corner had given the order and metamorphosed into a shrub or other of the evergreen fauna that carpeted the entire town seen in panorama from a passerby UFO.
Yes, for save for the few spaces occupied by households, the serene town was indeed a lesson in greenery. Much like the rumored garden at Eden, one dares say.
Yet, because the trance was mostly envisioned in polarities as diametric as none so ever before, all awaited its fond promise in tickled but suspended sensibilities. The lowly as well as the mighty, the learned as well as the stupid as all of the town is often colored in disparity. Much like a unit, though, all looked forward to what was programmed to be an unparalleled spectacle, come rain or shine.
No pair the more so than Obumneme the wine tapper and his bosom friend Ogbonna the woodcarver-cum-diviner. Even up until as they maneuvered in hopping gaits through the oft-trodden paths towards the venue where it was set to unfold, they were still suffused with expectation. Though they had set out leisurely at the onset, their steps soon acquired the urgency imbued by the severity of their longing. So much that as they neared their destination, they were only scarcely restrained from breaking into a trot by the civility imbued by their maturity.
They have been friends from the cradle and did not expect anything to come between them till death. Of differing temperaments, carriages and mannerisms, they tolerated themselves well enough as never to come to fisticuffs even when they disagreed. Like before they assumed their latest haste.
“Why are you dragging your feet?” Obum, the more athletic of the pair had rebuked his often laggard friend as the journey wore on to its conclusion.
“As if we are been awaited there,” Ogbonna replied, ever inclined to an easiness of pace even if his very own house were to be on fire.
“I don’t want to be told any bit of it by word of mouth. Please hurry up,” Obum persisted, adding a little more urgency to his steps unconsciously.
“You still doubt how it’ll come to pass, perhaps?” Ogbonna replied struggling to cope with the upped tempo.
“Not exactly, but hurry up all the same,” Obum appealed as they walked along in the silence of the implied urgency.
With hindsight it was easily decipherable that what really lent exigency to the situation was its connection with the Hometown’s annual festival of native regeneration. In fact, had the event been scheduled to come and pass on its own like was initially prospected, half the town would not have bordered to see it – let alone in a rush. But as if the gods had a hand in it, its executors had with sleight wangled it into the events that counted the local New Year and it became the talk of the town.
Any which way, whatever reservations Obumneme harbored about the event, he was nonetheless for it – at least more than his friend. But though his uptight optimism was only sustained by a waxing zeal for derring-do, his friend was nonetheless the more pessimistic. Ramrod straight and of a nimble gait from birth, Obumneme believed firmly in the capacity of the human ability to accomplish all goals it genuinely sets for itself – like him ever tapping palms of heights that beggared belief. In the same vein, he trusted that another person born of a woman could venture that which most others would not even dare. His robust visage itself, with its bridgeless nose and high cheekbones that stood it out in any crowd, teemed with confidence even as unannounced as it is.
Much unlike Ogbonna, as any observer would easily discern. Like all prone to the vagaries of wood and the spirits that are claimed to rule the earth inhabiting therein, there was always more to everything than met the eye. He often saw issues where no one else did. Regarding the unfolding event, he had a mind as crossed as his fingers. Avowedly not a one to be fooled by the shenanigans of any Johnny Just Come, he waited the judgement that would only be passed by his ever discerning eyes at its denouement. In fact, he was the first soul to raise a hue when Ahamefuna had returned from wherever he had sojourned for close to a decade with a strange woman. And now the woman had assembled all the virgins in the land to tutor them a dance. Put simply, he smelled a rodent rutting in the ensuing mess. But he was never a one to blow against the wind as someone had put to song.
Often considered too gaunt for his profession, Ogbonna was the kind of pot its mates called black without any feeling of reflexive guilt. Indeed, his spindly legs and arms that presently swayed as if in obedience to the mild evening breeze told everything about him. Rather taciturn by half as almost always, he labored to his friend’s pace as if his either foot were laden with a contradictory dose of pessimism each.
“So this dance will out at last?” Obumneme enthused at the peak of a small incline on the path that presented yet another declivity.
“We are on our way already,” Ogbonna replied, more for want of what else to say.
“I cannot wait to see it,” Obum continued, his voice ever coated with cheerfulness.
“Why did it have to take so long?” Ogbonna queried, perhaps to stem the optimism decipherable from his friend’s tone.
“You did not hear that it was a dance like no other?”
When Ogbonna says nothing to this, his friend observed the truce and they walked on in silence once more all over again.
At length they could overhear the rumbling tumult of the crowd already gathered at their destination. It rose and fell, cadenced by the mild wind that had the trees lining their route salaaming as if in genuflection. Unbidden, they quickened their steps somewhat and no sooner rounded the last of the many bends they encountered en route, joining the chorus they had been chasing.
Emerging into the square, its anachronistic outdoor-rural-stage setting, famed amphitheater to gods and men, embraced the two friends with wholesome affectation - its outstanding odds notwithstanding. True it boasted no raised platform, bleachers or the like, they easily found a space from where they could see everything that would transpire without any glitch whatsoever. At once, they melded with the crowd as though they had been there ever since. Sans fanfare, they easily joined their own voices of inquiry to the rising crescendo of expectation.
Talk of weathered anchorites needing neither cowl nor cape to decode mantissa - odd and even - conjured in the parched logarithms veiled underneath overcast vertices overhanging the painted catacombs of the hallowed sanctity of hermits on faith’s deserts and wetlands. Or even thick cloth and masquerade, when spirits long dead and snoring, can effortlessly be woken on occasion – like the developing. But not until after apt sacramental inundation of the haloed basement domicile of otherwise phlegmatic civilian ants with blessed liquids, topped with apposite pinches of pungent alligator pepper, kola nuts and the herald of fresh palm-frond salutes.
“You want to tell me that this woman, whatever she is called, can teach a dance more splendid than the one Omenuko was shown in a dream by a long-gone ancestor?” Ogbonna asked beneath the rising mayhem they met as they settled in properly.
“Didn’t you hear that this one was learnt from the winds?” Obumneme canvassed on.
“Can the wind dance?”
“There you are; it can’t, or can it? But at least you must admit that it it sways. Or haven’t you seen the trees bending to the beat of its invisible drums, or the waves rippling to the caress of its silky fingers?”
“And there had been no winds about till Ahamefuna and his mistress discovered them?”
“Well, ...” Obumneme started and stopped. Firstly, it appeared as though it was out of not knowing how to reply to his friend’s poser, till it dawned in that split half second that his thought had only been diverted by the promise the vacant stage had spawned as he opened his mouth.
As it turned out there and then that the silence that would otherwise have arisen between the friends now had company, as it were. Mortified by expectation they now moped as the pendent intermission clutched unto the paraplegic footing afoot. They subsequently diverted their vision to the new spectacle, a clutch of instrumentalists taking their place at one end of the square.
As the crowd breathed in wait, the instrumentalists deployed their weapons of ethnic audio hypnotism to good effect; serving up in their wake, a torrid and arcane dish all the ears in the assemblage flared to heed. In the ensuing minutes,the melange they conjured – beat, its counter as well as syncopation – did an invisible dance of tones in a preparatory meal that readied the turf for the feet of the predictable dancers that were bound to be the next in line.
By now the venue had been filled to capacity with a motley crowd that comprised all the sexes, ages, genders and professions of Hometown. Tip-toed latecomers queued-up at the rear, nudged the backsides of the earlier arrivals as if they held the keys to the imminent. As all sidled up to their fermenting emotions, invisible in the mass, a twitch for consensual involvement in the inevitable sensual bacchanalia supervened. As if force-fed via the umpteen orifices of hominid extrasensory appreciation, it held them – one and all – in an unbreakable bond.
Then from the opposite side she emerged.
The crowd exhaled as though in unison. Her hair was a sight to behold. Woven in the castellated coiffure of yore, its turrets and battlements reached for the heavens – though more in ornamentation than fortification. Its adornment of phylacteries – beads, coins and shells – proclaimed the patent parity of king, knight and knave in the esoteric tongue of its bizarre utility. The hand that wrought it appeared to have copied its lines from the very winds that are avowed to have tutored her dancing steps.
Her gleaming feminine frame, as if just off a compassionate god’s smithy, tantalized the senses like a realistic will-o’-the-wisp. The more erogenous zones in their uli and cam wood tints inveigled the eyes with its deft accentuation of her ripening adolescences. Her boneless waist gyrated at angle abandon; its adorning jigida beads, a la whorls of unbroken turd, outdoing host with a superfluous jangle that appeared to out-weep the bereaved. A silent mnemonic, no doubt, to the surreptitious salsas they would tango to in the nearest future in the dark corners of the huts of Hometown.
Dumbstruck by an incandescent wave of awe that appeared to grip them all in an unbreakable bear hug, the crowd heaved as if to the slide of her dainty steps. Flummoxed, to say the least, coalesced admiration strayed on the coppice of decision and sought solace soldering susurrant senses sundered so soon. Tautened like the flute notes of an elfin minstrel, imagination sold them a fancy daydream each, till the pooled synchronicity clenched everyone in a pert embrace. Hearts as well as chests skipped beats, scaling bounds in lieu of a psychedelic mass orgasm adumbrated in proffered ambrosia it adumbrated.
Impromptu, heads filched the job reserved ab antiquo for the feet. In process, the crowd as if a sea of agama lizards fallen from a height of heights were caught off guard in an orgy of self-congratulations. As heads nodded, mouths – in their turn – gawped in ovine harmony: a la Yoruba expletives paused midstream, conned by an abracadabra of insinuations:
“Aaaaah!” a middle-aged man to the right of Ogbonna named Nebeolisa managed.
“Wooooo!” Ogbonna himself appeared to have ventured before the stilling of exclamations.
“Shuoooo!” Obumneme exhaled as he came tumbling after.
Stranded on amplified silences as it were, their mouths hung open on the tenterhooks of passion at a decussate cross of emotions.
As it transpired, none in the massed crowd could as much as overhear hum or hiss thereafter. Not until she made the encroaching circle hemming in to their stampeding hopes and exited from whence she emerged.
Meanwhile, their ecstatic appetites awaited the remainder pledge announced by the spontaneity of her spectral entry and exit. In the interim, you could overhear their heartbeats sustained as though by her waning shenanigans that yet hung on the surrounding atmosphere even in her reverberating absence...