In Ignorant Bliss

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Masquerade Leaves

As modern as the world has become, no male hanging a penis, born of Hometown could be inducted into the age-old masquerade cult without going through the rigorous week-long initiation rites. Of course, this culminated with the plucking of the cryptic masquerade leaves from a branch of its tree that grows at the other side of the Okorokoro gorge. As it were, on this last and most important bit was all that stood between our inductee and the archival signature to the police men of the gods.

Though the Okorokoro could not possibly compare in depth and cleft with lesser storied rift valleys and canyons dotting the globe, it was undoubtedly the oldest. Also it is fabled to have formed when the rest of them were yet flat beds awaiting creation’s visit. The Grand Canyon in the South West of the United States of America with its running gash of five hundred kilometres on the face of the earth, for instance. Or even the Kafue gorge of Central Zambia – that awesome dry tributary of the great Zambezi River for that matter. Yes, that both end up attracting tourists in flabbergasting quantum is well known. But to what end? Just for mere sightseeing.

Any wonder the super heady laugh it to scorn compared to the Valles Manheris in the red planet. Five times deeper than the Grand Canyon and nine times as large it is. But they forget that a deity only thrives on the capacity of its worshippers and not the number of picnickers and tourists it attracts. Which is where whatever-it-is-called comes last. There being no living soul in Mars to pay even a demigod obeisance, it can only but wallow away in shame.

Conversely, this is where the Hometown’s Okorokoro gorge’s hidden forte lay. Sure it cannot boast representation in any cartographic work of note like these afore-mentioned glorified valleys. Yet none other vaunted a tradition more edifying. Unless the jury were outright strangers who – as always – cannot tell a ripe corn without the aid of a microscope. As always, they would rather refer to the Chedar gorge in Somerset England, citing that it bequeathed the cheese of its infamy to as far away as Wisconsin in the USA God knows way back when. And the two-million-year-old Olduvai of the eastern Serengeti plain in Northern Tanzania. No thanks to a certain Louis S. B. Leakey and his spurious discoveries on its bed. Then they would unleash a litany never ending: the Carpathian Iron Gate, Chinese Yangtze, German Rhine, Moroccan Todra, French Cote d’Or, Pakistani Bolan Pass and the duo of Dales and Rio Tinto way Down Under…

Perhaps a more threatening character would have served the Okorokoro better than the mere shallow red earth of its trite existence. More like the unassuming thin line fronted by the vagina that has often seen it at the butt of children’s jokes. Yet the gorge of all life had enough accommodation for all the heads of humanity – born and unborn, dead and living.

Nevertheless, tales are often told of sightings from distant flying objects of a glorious ravine of unforeseen proportions in an area that incontrovertibly ran along its otherwise simple course. From the East, North and South they always trouped. Wise men all, each band came along with its sacrificial gift to a hidden treasure of the gods and went home contented.

Only the foolish horde from the West came empty-handed. Of course, they left with their binoculars and survey equipment sulking. Still despite their hasty retreats disappointed at the deception, not a market week passed without another team arriving on their heels.

Like the inductee, on this day appointed by the forgotten gods of Hometown. Hours of endless wait had seen him pass out into a seamless sleep that would have chagrined Rip Van Winkle in the days. Then he awoke in pitch darkness. He was trying to fathom the cause of his sudden awakening when he felt the surreptitious poke of wizened fingers on my ribs. As he made to sit up the poker gripped his hand tightly in a motion for silence. In the exaggerated quietude of the hour the inductee clearly overheard the inimitable sound of a line of machetes being sharpened on whetstones. In the background a group of male voices chorused a terrible hymn off-key.

That was all it took to get him fully wake. At his unseen companion’s beckoning he crept out of the cove and kept moving in the thick darkness for close to half-an hour o end before a kind of respite could suffice. By then they had left the hidden areas of the gorge behind. From what he could make out in the dim brightness they were now ensconced in a clearing in a wood much unlike the arid valley he had journeyed into.

Only then could he make out the outline face of the grizzle-faced ancestor – he could have been nothing else – taking him on the journey.

Like him that still had his hand in a grim grip, everything he could make out in the enveloping twilight was old. If this was still Hometown, he imagined, it must be on the morning of its creation.

“What do we do next?” he asked, gasping and reasoning that at least his companion despite his new emanation must have been human upon a time.

“We have to stay here awhile,” he replied to the inductee’s relief though in that voice of the other world by which masquerades are known. But with all its guttural depth it still sounded cool, calm and collected like the half-gods they are rumoured to be.

“I’d rather we kept moving,” the inductee countered, “this may prove too costly by half.”

“Do not panic, my son,” the risen ancestor counselled.

More perplexed than convinced, the inductee decided to shut the hell up. Appeased by the quantity of water that must have been poured into the ant-hole before the ancestor’s emergence, perhaps; or again, the quantity of alligator pepper expended in appeasement afore.

After another eternity the ancestor averred they move once more. Headed towards the thickest side of the bush, startling a colony of strange birds, the inductee noticed they were climbing a little gradient that made movement slightly more difficult. As soon as they arrived the peak of the hillock they ancestor motioned that they stopped.

“We shall wait here till daybreak,” he said assuming a seat on a fallen tree stump.

The inductee promptly lay down and passed out. When he opened his eyes moments later, day was slowly breaking. Noticing there and then that they were actually on top of the hill they had climbed in the darkness, he vaguely made out that they were apart from an inhabited island that ran on one side of a misted sea that, in turn, ran along the other side of his view. The sea, tranquil like a distant mass of mist in the distance, painted a colourless picture of haze.

“Isn’t it time we moved again?” he asked his companion whose face as close as it was to him he could never quite make out still.

“I can see that you are refreshed,” he said his visage as deadpan as ever. “We have to be here yet to find out where we are headed.”

“Perhaps I should have known about Hometown a little more before embarking on this trip.”

“Why? Then you wouldn’t have ventured.”

“What do you mean by ‘why’? Look at where we are now. Is it normal?”

“I anticipated this twist but it is a long story…”

“But you can start telling me some of it now that I am still alive.”

“I will tell you all of it when the time is ripe.”

“Why not right now if at all?”

“We have to arrange for something to eat and set up a temporary home before attempting anything else.”

No sooner was this said than the ageless former man got busy.

“Here?” the inductee asked, aghast at the possibility.

“Wherever else, do you suppose? This is our home for now.”

“Then you might as well start telling me the story while we make amends.”

Getting up, the inductee joined the ancestral spectre as they wandered away from the base-to-be towards the small woods ahead of their trajectory.

“Where do I start the telling?” the rather spritely-for-his-age elder asked as the inductee caught up with him.

“At least I know that one of the eventual occupiers of this land did not arrive as early as the other two.”

“Aaah! That’s bringing the story forward a lot. That one happened just yesterday…”

The inductee turned to see why the pause and saw the bunch of ripe berries that had attracted his companion’s attention.

“Where do you think you are going?” he asked, more in exasperation than enquiry.

“At least we have to eat something.”

“Sure they are edible?”

“Well, you must not join me immediately. Give me thirty minutes. If I have not died by then you can then come tumbling along.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem as long as you tell me the story.”

In a spirited jump the otherwise bent old man reached for the lowest branch of the tree and pulled it down towards him. The fruits were ripe and wasting. Perhaps no mortal had ventured here for ages. It was only as they settled down to brunch that the ancestor opened up at last.

In between mouthfuls of the sweet delicacy he told me of how the islands used to be an unbroken landmass – like the famed Gondwanaland before the continental shift. Until one Caligula of a king decreed that rights to the constituent villages should be ceded on the basis of the number of alphabets in their nomenclatures.

“How could it have been possible to pass such a law?” the inductee queried at last.

“According to legend it all started as a rumour on a market day. Then the people, idolaters as they were, started seeing sense in it…”

“As per how?”

“You see, there were a total of ten villages at the time. The names of two contained five letters, three had four, four had three while one had only two. The people just reasoned with their king that the creator must have had a purpose for variegating the number of letters in them.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that but trouble didn’t start until the king after that one. A well-known weakling he was only chosen because he appeared the sheep in a den of lions. The kingmakers perceived him as a moderating influence, his other brothers being too highhanded. All the oracles in the land were consulted and, for once, were in agreement.

“Immediately he ascended the throne, however, he changed for the bad. First he eliminated his brothers. Then he faced his opponents. Under him the numerology of nomenclature decree achieved meanings hitherto unattached to it. Being the worst afflicted the village with only two letters in its name returned to the first law of self-defence – they returned to the ways of their forefathers.”

“What could that be?”

“Cannibalism and human sacrifice.”

“You mean they would have eaten us?”

“Oh yes and it wouldn’t have been the first nor the last for that matter. They do it whenever they are pushed against the wall to appease their gods. As you heard, they were in the thick of the preparation for an auspicious headhunt.”

“What gods!”

“That will suffice for now. Let us look for solid food. There are signs that they are about.”

Only then did the inductee take time to survey their abode. Looking at the distant settlement from which they had fled he realised that it had only appeared closer in the morning because of the lights in homesteads. In spite of how grim the result of their capture by the villagers now appeared he felt no qualms whatsoever.

“That should in no way debar you from telling me the story you have started,” he said as if in answer to the ancestor’s latest suggestion.

To the inductee’s surprise the ancestor in a rather bizarre show of grace beheld his forefinger of his right hand between his upper and lower dentition in an exaggerated bite. Promptly removing the finger – lest it be bitten off, perhaps – he flagged it to and fro in a gesture that locally signified reprieve. As though much more than harm would have befallen the inductee had he not persevered to importune him to bequest these tales from way back when paths yet coursed routes beneath the breadfruit trees of Hometown.

Notwithstanding that even though more than a million more of them are told, half its story would not even have been told.

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