The Call of Duty
After the entire hullabaloo that followed his wife’s strange delivery, Tatu and Nnedi owned up to their incivility for, indeed, by the nature of their pastime they had almost always had to do it in daytime, under the unblinking blaze of the Eye of Heaven. Together like at the time of the commission of the deplorable offence, they religiously carried out the necessary sacrifices stipulated for their cleansing.
Quite auspiciously, it all came to pass in the days when festivities, during which time they had committed the offence, had all come and gone. Thus, they could embark on the tortuous routines without undue encumbrances. In no time, therefore, it was time for the last observance for which the foregone had only been preparatory psalms. Life, after all, is a little more than a song – sweet or sour. And this, like ordained in the sky, was to be carried out by the man alone behind the strict foreknowledge of his wife.
A few hours before the appointed time, Tatu made ready for the trip. Finding one subterfuge or the other, for the first time he made to leave the obviously more distraught Nnedi fir the first time since the debacle. As much against his wish as it was, he was also in the know fully that a man had to answer his name now and again as occasion demanded. At the appropriate time he set off, glad that Nnedi had known none of this, after all. By custom she was to have been sent back to her father’s house while this was afoot but modernization now meant she be locked up in her mother-in-law’s quarters at worst.
Rearranging all the strange paraphernalia for the inevitable trip, he made sure nothing was out of place. He was that scrupulous when matters veered on the sacred. It had been a hassle obtaining the white tortoise that presently crawled out of its bag to temporary freedom as he untied the rope with which he had tied it. He picked it up with his left hand and put it back where it was escaping from.
Bag and baggage packed, Tatu slung his machete in its scabbard on his left shoulders and, taking the bag by his right, stepped out to meet the Chief Priest at where four roads crossed, en route to the embouchure of the Great River that presented an easy access to its prodigious belly.
True to the directions, the Chief Priest was waiting for him as had been programmed - at the last crossroads to Tatu's destination. As Tatu approached, he made out the half-man-half-god's silhouette at a corner. He walked to the rather grotesque figure holding to yet another tied-up sack. Exchanging not as much as a pleasantry, Tatu took the added luggage from him and headed into the narrow path bounded by dense woods that led to his destination. How kind the gods were; but for the sickle moon that outlined itself in the distant sky, he would have found it dreary finding his way through the intertwining woods.
Being a seldom-trodden path, he even had to part his way through the enveloping foliage with his bare hands. He thanked his stars that the descent of dew was yet to happen or he would have been cringing to the wetness of the leaves that presently caressed him all over as he walked on saddled by the added luggage he carried like a bag of dung though well aware of its by-now-smelling content.
From the distance he overheard the eerie sound of the moving waters of his destination ahead. Fresh out of its eight mouths, it was there that the Great River formed the pool that would travel along feeding multitudes. He was headed to its head, where in a suspended waterfall it gathered enough pace to accept whatever sacrifice that was offered it in one gulp.
He parted the last shrubs blocking his passage, peered into the thickened darkness as a group of clouds momentarily obstructed the moon. In a jiffy, the clouds passed on to their unknown destination and the moon reigned yet again. Only then could he have made his rather complex entry.
As a rule, you turned your back as if you were turning back from your destination, and then concluded the rest of the journey proceeding rearwards. Lest the gods took offence. The Chief Priest had warned as much, pleading for compliance only on account of the enormity of the repercussions of a mistake.
When he was sure he had made the entire clearing, he waited a while. By then all the chicken in the distant village he left in his wake had all gone home to roost. Only the birds of the night were on the roam now. He then primed his ears for the only sound that mattered in the unique circumstances of his peculiar task. All the other indices had fallen into their places and there was no stopping its completion; the more so, given that he had not made the trip alone. He could sense his forefathers’ differential breathes suffusing the blithe pre-midnight breeze that wafted about, appearing the only elixir about in the dreary setting.
Just as his tortured imagination made to cross the line of apprehension, it sounded unmistakably – always as loud nearby as it was farther away. The legend of the king owl’s midnight hoot was known to even the babes and suckling. It was the knell for the sacrifice. Initially Tatu has thought it was not it, though; it had first sounded so faint and distant from where he stood. All in the village had taken it that it sounded so on account of it emanating from the source of the Great River. But here he was at the source and it still sounded as faint. Then it sounded again as clear as the quietness of the night.
Immediately, he turned and raising the bundle in the sack he made a sign of the crossroads and dropped his sacrifice at the whirling waters confronting him with their orderly twists. It swallowed it in one fell swoop. Turning, he headed home not casting a broken glance back or he turned into a pillar of dung.