A kpopu uzo, a kpopu onu
(The dawning of a new day makes us aware of our struggle for the means of human life.)
They never passed up an opportunity to celebrate. These were the gods, and they had just won their first victory. Should they not be jolly and revel in their might? Sango sat down on a stool in the hall among the other gods and watched them eagerly. Ogun was—as always—trying to drink his way out of existence. The credit for the battle had gone to Sango, and all the other gods were celebrating in his name. But Sango could feel the cold glaze of Ogun settling on him. He was a large being, even by god standards. He wore nothing but a dark brown garb. He had a scarred face and a hard set jaw, and he always looked like he was contemplating the best way to kill you. He had blood rimmed weapons at his side and from experience, Sango knew he knew how to use them.
There was a time before all this, a time before man, a time before war. Now it was all he knew, all he breathed, all he felt. This war they were fighting would break their land apart, and they all knew it and yet, they fought. That’s why he had to overthrow Ogun as the general. He would destroy everything. Someone had to keep the others in check.
The great one himself, Shokpona was also celebrating, telling the others the (exaggerated) stories about his adventures in the human world. One thing that was not exaggerated was the fear the humans had for him. He could cause an epidemic of small pox at will. Shokpona was not called the great one for nothing.
Elegua, as usual, was being playful, moving around like a tornado, stealing kisses from the female Orisha. Oba, one of Sango’s four wives had also attended. She was dressed in a light blue Iro made of Aṣo-Oke, and she was adorned with many necklaces and jewels. She was the goddess of the river Oba; one she had chosen just to spite his other wives. She was a dangerous deity and considering their past together, Sango thought it best if he stayed out of her way.
Obatala was also there entertaining the hall by carving out small animals out of clay and giving them to his father, Olorun, to breathe life into them. It was something the gods never got tired of seeing. Sango was also impressed. He knew very well the wonders of creation.
Eshu had also come to the Great Hall to celebrate even though he had done nothing in the battle. But that was Eshu, he reaped the rewards without ever sowing. He was a trickster by name and nature and if you asked Sango, he was the most dangerous of the remaining Orisha. He wasn’t the strongest or the fastest, but he was manipulative. He was not much to look at. He always took the form of a curious teenager of slender build with little to no hair. He would’ve passed as a human if not for his eyes. They were a very sharp hue of green. Their color was, however, the least unnerving thing about them. If stared at long enough, his eyes could hold the onlooker under a spell. They were powerful enough to sway a god. Eshu walked drunkenly towards Ogun. He clapped Ogun on his back, and they laughed, conversed, and drank. Not many of the gods could even go near Ogun. Eshu was clearly an exception.
A cold chill spread along Sango’s back. The humans assumed that the gods were high and mighty and that they did not feel trivial emotions such as fear. But Sango knew very well the truth: they felt it alright, even more so. If Ogun and Eshu united against him, all hell would break loose. He looked over at the Orisha; the ones that were remaining, actually. Something was happening, a darkness was rising, amassing power. He felt it every night, and he knew deep inside him that something was coming. The Orisha were disappearing, and he could not ignore it any longer. He could feel the sense of unease from the other gods. They were all mighty once. Their number once stood at 401. Only 50 of them were now left. They were all connected through Olodumare, all branches from the same tree, and now that same tree was being felled by some unknown power. Who or what could be powerful enough to kill not just one god but hundreds of them?
These thoughts paraded around his head. He stood up from the stool on which he was sitting and left the hall. He needed to think. He stepped out and stared in awe at the heaven that they had created for themselves. The humans worshipped them but the gods—secretly—modeled themselves after the humans. Their heaven resembled the town they had called Ile Ife; it was truly something to be admired.
He was thinking of all their new troubles and this oncoming war when he felt a warm familiar hand on his back. He looked by his side, and he saw, in one person, all he had ever needed. Oya was his favorite wife among the four. She wore a deep blue buba with nothing but a simple pearl necklace he had given her when they had gotten married. Her hair was plaited into small Bantu knots. Her skin was the color of the brown earth, and her eyes were a deep blue. They entranced everyone that had the pleasure of looking at her face. Her eyes were like Eshu’s but different at the same time. Eshu inspired fear and wanton violence but just staying next to Oya would make even Ogun feel at ease. Her very presence inspired goodness and peace. She truly was an amazing goddess. She represented the river Niger as his other wives represented other rivers, and he dared to say that she was the most beautiful among all the other female Orishas.
He held her cheek softly and pulled her into a kiss. He loved her so much and would never do anything to hurt her. He just prayed he would never lose her. It was a curious thought, though. Which god would the gods themselves pray to? He smiled at the thought, and Oya pulled away from the kiss in her usual quizzical way.
“My husband,” she asked while placing her hand on his strong chest. “What are the things that trouble your mind. The others are celebrating, why won’t you join them?”
He wanted to tell Oya all that was bothering him. He wanted to spill his entire burden on her and tell her things he had never told anyone. But he knew he could not. He would not allow Oya to know the true extent of the danger they were all facing. He could not allow her to know the truth. It was too much to bear.
“My wife, nothing is on my mind,” he said as he gently stroked her cheek and placed his other hand on her back. “I was just thinking of how soon we could make Eshu leave.”
She gave him that look again, the one that seemed to say, you know I know that there is more, but I will give you your space.
“Well, whatever is bothering you, just know that I will always be here and no evil shall befall us. Just come inside and celebrate with us. We were victorious today,” she said as she playfully dragged him back into the hall.
He allowed her drag him in. He would do anything to make sure that the smile she had on her face remained there. Even with Oya’s kind words, he knew she was wrong about this particular issue. The gods were disappearing and some kind of darkness was working against them. And yes, they had won the battle today, but Sango wondered, at what cost? He would soon come back for revenge sooner rather than later; Sango knew that much. Amadioha was not one to forget an insult.
Ẹni tó ńbẹ̀rù àti ṣubú, àti dìde á nira fún un.
Whoever is scared of falling, would find it difficult to rise.
His head was swimming, and he gladly welcomed the mind numbing feeling that came from smoking whatever was in his right hand. Odion didn’t know what it was, and he didn’t care enough to find out. The local area boys had given him some upon welcoming him to their gang and ever since then, he’d been hooked. Once he smoked his first one, he suddenly couldn’t get enough of it. He dragged his hand across his hair and laid back on the ‘chair’.
They were at their normal hangout, under some bridge. He had forgotten the name. He couldn’t even get his thoughts straight anymore. All he could think about was this amazing feeling, and how he could keep it forever. He just wanted to forget. He wanted to forget it all. His parents, his old life, everything. He shouldn’t have thought about them; he knew very well that they were a land mine in his memory. A land mine that could explode at any moment into a torrent of sadness and guilt.
Before he knew it, his mind had already travelled back to that day about four years ago. He and his parents had just come back from the cinema. He had loved the Spider-Man movie they had watched. Spider-Man was undoubtedly the best hero ever. He loved how even after losing so much, he just kept bouncing back, never giving up. That’s the kind of person Odion wanted to be. A hero.
They settled into their home in Lekki that night. Odion remembered the house all too well, how couldn’t he? He had grown up there. His parents had brought him up in that very house and now it was all gone. Everything, just gone.
He stood up from the makeshift chair in an attempt to run from his memories, ignoring the gazes of the others looking at him. He stumbled across the barely green lawn and walked on to the road, raising his hand up to protect his eyes from the bright street lamps. It was raining heavily, abnormally so. He couldn’t even remember the last time it had rained so hard. He looked down at the puddle that was forming and stared at his reflection. He almost couldn’t recognize himself. His skin had gotten darker, and his face was now sullen. There was a hint of a beard forming to join the mustache. At sixteen, he was tall for his age. His muscles had grown from the two years of exertion, and now he resembled his father more than anything else.
He breathed in the cold air. Lagos was beautiful at night. It almost seemed like a completely different city. All activity seemed to slow down to a resolute halt. He sat down on the pavement and just thought about everything while the rain used him as its personal drum, splashing on him and making his clothes wet. The high was already starting to fade, and his mind was coming back from its short, though pleasant vacation.
“Didi the boy,” a deep voice said from behind him. Odion looked behind him to find Emeka walking towards him. Odion stood to greet him. Emeka was the infamous leader of their little gang, and Odion owed him his life. After what had happened, he had to leave. He had nothing and no one, but Emeka took him, brought him into their gang and almost made him feel like he had a family again. Almost.
“The others talk say you don leave,” he said. “I hope you no dey think of going back.”
Odion understood why Emeka was so worried he’d go back. They were planning something, something that involved the whole gang. The whole plan would fall apart if just one person was absent. For all the ‘good’ Emeka had said he had done for him, Odion knew he was just doing it for himself.
“I’m not going anywhere. I just wanted to clear my head”, Odion said standing up and brushing off the dust from his trousers. “I’ll be back soon.”
Emeka gave him a puzzled look, but he left Odion to do whatever he wanted to do. Odion watched him leave and wondered how he had gotten mixed up in all of this. He had always wanted to be something more. He had always wanted his life to mean something. But here he was. A drug addict and a gang member. His mother would have been so proud.
Dammit, he did it again. He had to stop thinking about them. His parents had no place in his mind right at that moment. He couldn’t afford to breakdown, not yet. He had to be strong. His father had always taught him that.
He missed home on nights like these. His father would come back and grab Odion and his mother in an enormous hug. It was almost like he had been waiting all day, holding on patiently just for that one moment of happiness with his family. Odion had liked that feeling, the feeling that he was responsible for someone’s happiness. He smiled at that memory. He felt a tear drop from his eyes and realized he’d been crying. He wiped his tears and realized he’d been standing in the same place for almost thirty minutes.
He decided to get some sleep. He was tired. It had been a long day. Something was strange about this rain though, the lightning and thunder seemed almost…violent, like it was sentient. Odion put that thought out of his head. It reminded him of the folktales his mother used to tell him at night.
He mentally slapped himself for that. He needed to leave the past where it was and just move on. So that’s what he did. He moved. He walked along the pavement under the rain and walked his way towards the shack that the gang had taken and dubbed ‘Home.’
He was walking, thinking of how he needed to get an umbrella when he heard a coughing sound from an alley way in between two buildings. Odion stopped walking and peered into the darkness with squinted eyes. There was someone there, a man by the looks of it.
“Hello,” he called into the alley. There was no reply, just more coughing.
Odion walked into the alleyway and saw him. He appeared to be a very old man. Odion couldn’t see much in the dimly lit alley, but he could tell the man’s clothing was expensive. They seemed to shine in the darkness. Odion also noticed something strange about the patch of ground on which the man sat. It was dry even though the rain fell heavily all around. Odion was now close to three feet away from this stranger who didn’t even acknowledge him. Perhaps, he didn’t even know that Odion was there.
Odion was about to say something when the man suddenly looked up at him from the ground. The first thing Odion noticed about the man were his eyes. They were bright grey, almost silver. They were flickering now, like a light bulb with a faulty filament. But even then, they were bright, and they reminded him of the lightning that now streaked the sky.
Odion finally mustered up the courage to open his mouth and finally talk.
“Baba,” he said with concern. “Are you okay? Do you need help? Is there anyone I can call?”
The man just looked at Odion. He didn’t say anything. He just looked at him. Finally, the man struggled to stand, using the wall for support. Odion moved to help him up, but the old man waved him off in defiance. Whoever he was, he seemed to be strong. While he was trying to stand, Odion noticed for the first time that the man was holding his side and was bleeding. He looked down at the ground and realized that there was blood everywhere. How could a normal human being much less an old man bleed so much and still be able to stand?
After minutes of trying, he finally stood. He was easily taller than Odion who was about six feet tall. The man’s grey hair was long, and his beard followed suit. His face was covered in an array of wrinkles, and his once dark skin now had a hint of grey in it. The man was still holding his side.
Odion had hundreds of questions to ask, but only one came to mind, pushing the others out of the way.
“Who are you?” he asked with alarming curiosity.
The man looked at him with those cold grey eyes of his, and just when Odion was about to run away, the man opened his mouth and a surprisingly deep voice answered weakly.
“My name is Sango,” the man uttered with dignity and authority. “And I need your help.”
About the Author:
Anthony Azekwoh is a sixteen year old Nigerian who graduated from Whitesands School. He started writing at the age of thirteen and since then some of his work has been published online and in his school’s annual publication in which he won the first prize for both fiction and poetry.