Ogbonna became inured to the rigors of his current ordeal as soon as he convinced himself of its necessity. From that point on, it all came to him as all routine is wont – an exercise to occupy the time. Thusly, enisled in the warm embrace of his sapient cocoon, he waited patiently for the smooth passage of the fortnight it had been scheduled to last – by the gods! The expletive which he never forgot to append – like a doxology in a modern-day prayer – almost always let a reflexive chuckle out of his otherwise placid visage.
“They only want me to think something special was afoot,” he had arrived on the day, some three days into the drill. It was at the end of another goose chase in the jungle at midnight. On that occasion the initiates were made to tank endless draughts of concoctions his rural taste buds easily deciphered to be a permutation of harmless roots and barks soaked in wine from the pith of the raffia palm. Quite aptly, the malodorous rank of the rancid punches actively made tracing the bark or leaf of which trees were at play in their bases nearly impossible. Even for one as well versed in the endless possibilities of local cocktails as Ogbonna.
“These elders,” he chuckled, “couldn’t they have come out plain?” He always wondered so in conclusions he arrived at himself at the foot of another effort by them to hide the truth from children.
But this could not have taken him longer to decipher. Day break that day had met him in an open space in the woods. There were only shrubs dotting the landscape as he came to. He and the rest of the gang of initiates had been left at these different locations to wake up alone after the soporific effect of the last tipple they had been fed at the third cockcrow cleared. Prior to passing out, he vaguely recollected a masked elder trying in vain to coax him into a blatant lie, permissibly to save himself from instant death. In the dank darkness that had prevailed, the code came clear to him.
Knowing the game as well as its precedents by intuition, he had played along and passed the tests in flying colours. Of all the youths selected for the exercise from all the villages of Hometown their rural federation, he had come out tops.
And that was how he graduated to the brass stacks of this solo initiation. In turns, a select group of elders – a little less clothed now – started letting him into the secrets of the town. Also, this time around the proceedings took place in broad daylight and in more inhabited places. With the heightened verisimilitude, it was turning out into a mere shoo in without doubt.
This latest aspect had gone on for a market week nonstop and Ogbonna had not summoned the reserve courage to pose the question that had been gnawing at the innards of his thought all along. Perhaps, or more so, because the tutors had thinned down to the likes of Mmayienwata whom he had always seen as a kind of role model.
More than the more abrasive junior custodians of their culture, Mmayie as the moniker was abbreviated, went about the job as if it were nothing. Where the others would threaten hell and brimstone, he would align his argument to an ethical foundation. More often than not, this always saw even outright culprits capitulating, finding themselves truly at the mercy of the gods.
“You are making good progress,” the always genial old man said at the end of their third appointment. Each succeeding day had ended with his student wondering when the teaching would commence. This after umpteen hours spent without respite together, much unlike the brief periods the other tutors had taken to literally drive in their own lessons.
Ogbonna could only smile to the compliment then, weighed down by the suspended expletives in his thought.
“You have nothing to say to that?” Mmayie had continued then.
But when he ended up only eliciting even more smiles in reply, he thought otherwise than pushing on - like the wise man he is.
“Perhaps you have always had something on your mind?” he asked instead.
It was like something between a question and a suggestion; needing the addressee to either answer verbally, or concur via silence. As if struck by the elder’s clairvoyance, Ogbonna could not as much as manage a smile this time; apparently giving the old man the opportunity he had baited in his oblique accolade.
“The problem with you young men,” he continued in a more solicitous tone, “is that you imagine a world where you will remain young forever. You know too well that such a world will be impracticable. Grow up you must, and one day become the elders we presently are. Then the onus will be yours to do what I am presently doing. Now we are with you but tomorrow can only be yours. Do not swallow your questions when you have somebody to answer them, for the time will come when you will have the question and have no one else to throw it to but yourself.”
“It is not as if it is a question,” Ogbonna heard himself say.
“Whatever it is, just make it heard.”
“I’m only wondering why we had to go through all those trials only for it to come to this.”
“You want to know why?”
“But it wouldn’t have worth the effort had it been anyhow else.”
“It aptly dramatizes the burden put on the hearer of the tale by its author.”
“Yes, for want of a more engaging term.”
“I still don’t understand why I’m put through all these rigors for market days on end only to be told a story I have been hearing snippets of for goodness sake.”
“I thank you for that," the old man replied beaming from ear to ear. "You must have been hearing it alright, but the one you have presently been regaled with remains the authentic version. The onus is now yours to see that it passes on to the generations that will follow us without blemish.”
“That question is for the gods who chose you.”
“Without my consent?”
“The gods choose who they want.”
“Are you now a god?”
“I didn’t choose you.”
“Then who did. After all, it is you that I know and see all the while.”
“My son, I was also inquisitive like you in my time. It is the way of the gods – at times capricious, at times vain but it has seen to the survival of this community since creation. Who are we to discontinue it?”
“If it continues like this, it shall one day discontinue itself.”
“Tufia kwa! Clean what is crawling on your lips. Not in my lifetime and not in yours my son. Say not in yours’.”
“Not in mine.”
“Good. You are slowly becoming a god yourself.”