I'll Take You There
Whose mother was it that told the tale of the foot and the path to the the wind is unknown. But, like retold, it came to pass one fateful day when the former encountered the later at a crossroads when all the earth was yet malleable and only the chameleon trod it.
“Just what are you, long, winding, straight and twisted?”
“I am Path, on whom you must trod to go anywhere.”
“I am desirous of a free passage.”
“Where are you headed?”
“When are you set to go?”
“How do you want to go?”
“Hop on,” an elated Path enthused, “I’ll take you there.”
According to legend, so was the first step in this long journey of life taken. And the foot and the path, ever since, lived happily ever after.
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Viewed from outer space, Hometown presented a rugged crisscross pattern of paths and pathways. Who indeed could say many paths they were. Not when, in spite of the already existent, newer ones keep springing up every day with the rise of new homesteads, farms and trysts in places that had otherwise been jungles. Wherever one was billed, there sure was always one to take you there gratis. Indeed, there was one to afford the wayfarer’s feet thoroughfare any time at all he so ever chooses. Daring your fears and scruples, you could even hit them - one and all - as the gibbous moon ascends the clouds to sweep the earth clean with emollient brooms lent it by the sun’s spiked variety.
And then you would not walk alone or in silence. You strolled along to the coos and hoots of the birds of the night accompanied by a never-disappearing shadow that repeated your every motion with a credulous panache. The rodents of the night would often cross your path or vice versa; which will end up not amounting to any distraction ever, so along it does not awaken your culinary propensities.
Which would never arise if you were like Okolonji the mystic yam husbandman. An ovolactovegetarian before his time, he was said to be a frequent night walker. On his frequent night-time patrols, it was said that the hapless beings that humans would rather use to decorate their dinner plates followed his trail, even making their presence known to him from time to time.
“They are the best companions a guy could have on a night out,” he had told an aghast hunter complaining of nights spent on the hunt and not sighting a game to try an aim on. “They have heightened instincts for extrasensory perception and could smell an enemy from afar. You needn’t, for instance, be afraid of long things with them in tow. But when you are out on a hunt, forget it.”
“Then we can go together,” the abject opportunist had pleaded.
“So I should cross your fate with mine?" Okolonji had retorted. "To what effect my brother. We were given this earth to cohabit with them and instead we turn to killing them to satisfy our ravenous appetites. I cannot be party to that. Not in this life or the subsequent.”
Nights later when all the game that crossed his path appeared to be ducking to his rear till he came face to face with the selfsame hunter, Okolongi obtained the first convert to his religion.The proselyte was to joined by another group who had listened to his next sermon on the theme of paths.
“There were many of them only visible at night,” he had opened.
“Visible at night?” one not easily convinced of newfangled ways asked. “And why so?”
Okolonji in his trademark surefootedness spared his listeners a grin, in the process scratching the coiled beards of his lower jaw with the rear tips of his right fingers.
“It is through them that benevolent spirits pass to aid mankind. Time was when these tracks were visible by day. Not any longer; not even by the sharpest of eyes. But come night time and they are illumined by fireflies that line their borders.”
“What will it take for one to see it?” an unconvinced youth in the group queried on.
“You cannot,” Okolonji explained further, “unless you live clean enough to be numbered amongst the chosen from the many.”
“And how is this attainment possible?” yet another asked.
“First you must desist from the carefree murder of innocent animals. This world is full of things to be harvested and eaten upon their ripeness other than fellow beings with blood in their veins...”
While a couple of them saw him as academically mad, a few saw some sense in his nascent philosophy and joined him.
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Paths: the all emanated or ended at homesteads depending on your bent in the affair of things. Like Ihuoma the village belle soon found out. It is your hut that you had to leave to step unto a path to entice passersby with your god-given charm. Each egress will thus see you honing your instruments to perfection. Dotting yourself with uli at all the erogenous spots, applying camwood dye where it would attract eyes the most.
If you are of a different make a la Obiageli the fishmonger, your steps from the market home cannot terminate till walk into the shrill welcome of your household. Where else can all the roads lead but home when it is your beacon wherever you roam.
Sticking to a track, we can be everything else but lost. Yes, because we shall always be on a path and whoever keeps to a path must end up somewhere. What if it is not your, our destination of choice? Then just a simple ask of questions and we are redirected to our dream depot. Or the cul-de-sac that turns us back, opening a new vista of choices that may even end up leading us to the proper path we should have taken ab initio.
There are well-trodden and seldom-taken paths. Like the path to the disused shrine of an ineffectual god and that to the market square in comparison. While the former is overgrown with weeds and twines, the later keeps widening out to the mass tramping to and fro to its mountain of promise. The priest in charge at the former keep tuning his ears to hear if anyone would come, but the later often directs outright strangers to her by the hum of the ever-present charivari of its congregation.
And why wouldn’t it widen? Not unlike the one the market. In fact, there is no lie in the truth that all roads out of homesteads lead to the market. Whichever side of town you lived, you are willy-nilly bound to head to it with the dawning of each market day. Perhaps you had a thing or two surplus that you would not mind to have a guy price; or somehow you needed something else to buy off another bloke with the money you made off your own bargain sale.
Yet many there are who headed to the market square empty handed of wares, with only money made elsewhere to spend in these days that barter was slowly taking a back seat. These arrived and without the forgone waiting to make money from their own sale went ahead to make purchases. Among this rising class, no doubt, numbered the thieves and crooks who had no handiwork to trade ever but had cash to spend. The type their judgement was reserved for the day they would bury their mothers; when all would use the opportunity to forage their compounds for their missing items. And most importantly, on this day too, all will come trooping to the venue via the umpteen paths of the village.
Of course, many there are who made the trip to the market for its social dimensions. Like the men who will gather at their section to share drinks. The most important implement they took to the market being their drinking horns. More than the venues for meetings, this gathering was often where matters that mattered most were laid bare and digested for the betterment of the holy town.
All these and more trooped to the market endlessly making its path as broad as that the abode of a god that answered by fire. By implication, this also made the path even a figure of speech as long as length itself. It does, for instance, become a metaphor; as in the culinary detour turned by Mgbagafor by default that terminated her matrimonial responsibilities. Though, like she was to confess after the mishap, she always knew her stay in Ogidiga’s house would come to nought earlier than then. Like she recalls succinctly, she knew the auguries were not in her favor ever since her covered wicker basket caught fire in the rafter within the first market week of her arrival in his house.
But the path remains infallible even before the commencement of its trial. For one, it is always there for you to come along with whatever you have, thus belaboring you with the onus of proof. Any wonder that when it is your guide you have nothing to be afraid of as dramatized in the oldest prayer in Hometown.
“My son,” an old man will address a young one he wants to bless. “May the path be your guide in life as only then will you be as persistent as tomorrow.”
And the young one so blessed will hit life headlong. Wherever his path led him, he did not want to swap his for another’s.
Now and then paths do cross – literally and otherwise. The one path you had been on for so long would now and then fork out into a two-pronged footway, tasking your geography. Sometimes they do branch out into a trinity of choices that more than all before also test your cartographic potentialities. Faced with such options, a squirrel is aid to look for answers on the palms of his hands. Being no squirrels, humans have no options but to search for mementos.
But then we do get to the mother of them all; where a path each comes from the four cardinal points. It is often the spot where universal gods, too dynamic to be enclosed in shrines, stay out to meet the needy. Lucky is the man or woman who leaves them votive offerings there for bounteous shall the returns be.
The one must pertinent, however, remains the path home. The one all and sundry must take at the end of our sojourn here to the land where return is anathema. As the corporal is shed for the spiritual, we take it to meet our maker. Here it is said there are no bifurcations; no one needing any maps to locate it. You are just flung unto it and all you do is follow your nose through. Then, judgement of how you trod on the path of your life while you yet lived...