Lẹ́hìn òkùnkùn biribiri, ìmọ́lẹ̀ á tàn.
After a pitch-dark night, most assuredly comes the dawn.
It all happens in one moment, just one. When we’re called to action, called to be heroes, called to be more. We all get the call, so the question isn’t whether or not it’ll come. The question is, when the call comes, will we be brave enough to answer it?”
He remembers asking his parents for wallpaper that looked like Spider-Man’s webs. They agreed. They did everything to make him happy. He loved hearing his mother read to him. She was a relatively young mother. She was playful. He could still smell her coconut shampoo. She carried her hair in a ponytail. Lotanna worked as a history teacher in a nearby secondary school, and her job, it seemed, was the only thing she loved as much as her family. On rainy nights like this one, she’d read to Odion. She’d read him tales of heroes and villains, cops and robbers. Stories where the good guys always won. On that particular night, she shifted her position on the side of his bed as she brushed a stray lock of hair from her face and tucked it into her ponytail.
“Do you want me to continue or are you tired, dear?” she said in her kind voice, a voice that after so long, still remained embedded in his mind. Frozen forever in his heart.
“Yeah, I think I want to sleep now,” a twelve year-old Odion said. “Are we still going to watch the movie tomorrow?”
She smiled at his eagerness as she stood up and rubbed away the creases from her night gown. “Of course Didi. Your cousin Nadia is even coming too. We’ll leave in the evening.” She kissed his forehead for the umpteenth time. If only he’d known it’d be the last time.
“Always having secret meetings without me,” a deep voice boomed from the door of his room. They both looked towards the doorway and found Odion’s father, Wale, at the door still clad in his work clothes. He worked as a professor at UNILAG and like his wife, he enjoyed educating young minds.
“Daddy!” Odion shouted as he jumped from his covers and ran to hug his father. He smelt of old books and leather. His father laughed as he held Odion in a tight embrace.
Suddenly a thunder clap came out of nowhere and Odion flinched in his father’s arms.
“Don’t be scared, my boy,” he said. “That’s just Sango playing with his thunder stones.”
“That’s true, you don’t have to be scared Didi,” his mother said as she walked up to both of them. “Sango only punishes evil doers”
“But those are just stories. They’re not actually real,” Odion said in a muffled voice, his face still buried in his father’s chest.
“Sometimes, stories can be very powerful,” his mother said.
“But I don’t understand, you always said that Sango was a manifestation of Oludu-, Oludodu- “
“Olodumare” his father corrected.
“Yeah, so how can he be Sango and a part of Olodumare at the same time?” Odion asked in confusion.
His mother knelt down, took his hand and splayed his fingers. She placed her index finger on each of his fingers as she explained.
“It’s easy to understand. Just think about it like this: It’s one hand but with lots of different fingers. In the end they all work together to accomplish a task.”
Odion didn’t completely understand, but with his mother, he had learnt that it was easier to just nod in false understanding than bear the burden of knowing.
“That’s good,” she said as she playfully ruffled his hair and corralled him back into his bed. “Now go to bed and get some sleep. We have a big day tomorrow.”
As both his parents left his room, he should’ve said something else, told them how much he loved them. But how was he supposed to know that would be their last night together as a family.
“Do you want the lights on or off,” his father said with his finger on the switch.
“On, please,” Odion replied as he raised the covers up to his nose. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” his father said.
‘’Goodnight,” his mother said as she closed the door shut. “Love you,” He heard her say quietly from the other side of the door.
I love you too, both of you. One day I’ll meet you again, I promise.
Odion broke from his reverie as he thought of his mother’s words. He looked at the face of the old man or Sango as he called himself. The question is, when the call comes, will we be brave enough to answer it?
“How do I know you’re who you say you are,” Odion finally said after moments of stunned silence.
The old man looked at Odion with amused curiosity despite his mood. There was even a hint of a smile there. It was the same look you’d give a three-year-old if they asked you why you possessed your particular eye color. The old man didn’t speak though. He just kept on looking at Odion. It was like he was staring at Odion’s whole life, his past, present and future and discerning whether or not he was worth it. Finally, he leaned his back on the wall and stretched out his right arm, his left still clutching his side. The wound seemed to have stopped bleeding, but it still looked raw. He playfully splayed his fingers, moving them and making wave motions, and then he began to speak.
“In the beginning, there was nothing but the skies above and the seas below,” the old man said. His voice was a deep baritone. It was a sound that seemed to resonate in his very body, vibrating down to his cells. A sound that could only be likened to…thunder.
“The Orisha—sprung from Olodumare, first from creation—ruled all. But one of the Orisha, Obatala, wanted to create dry land, so he sought advice from the wise one, Orunmila himself.”
Odion watched the man, entranced by his voice. He noticed something strange about his outstretched arms. Miniature figures made of silver light appeared and danced on his palm, moving as the old man spoke, retelling a story as old as time itself.
“Orunmila told him that he would need a long gold chain, a snail’s shell filled with sand, a white hen, a black cat and a palm nut.” As he said this, one of the figures in his hand began searching far and wide for the needed items. “After he had gotten these items, Obatala went to the corner of the sky and hung from the long chain. He climbed down for a long, long time until he finally reached the bottom of the chain.
“Obatala poured the sand down into the mist below him and let the hen loose. The hen fell down on the sand scattering the sand to the west, east, north and south. The sand soon became vast valleys and mountains. Obatala then threw the palm nut at the earth. This grew into large palm trees and soon became a forest. Obatala was very pleased with him—”
The old man or Sango, as it seemed, abruptly stopped talking and clutched his mouth with his free hand as he erupted in a coughing fit. It was dark but Odion knew the smell and color of blood all too well. Sango slid down on his back onto the floor, and the light in his grey eyes flickered a little. Sango looked up at Odion standing above him, as if waiting for a response. He looked sick and suffered from a great injury and yet, there was still this undeniable smug look on his face. He removed his blood splattered hand from his mouth, looked at it grimly but seemed unshaken.
Odion who had been entranced by the story found his voice:
“But… but how is this possible?” Odion said. “You’re just a story, a story told at the firelight to explain the world around us.”
Sango smiled sadly and said, “Sometimes, stories can be very powerful.”
Odion just looked at him. A chill spread down his back as old memories flooded his mind.
“In some cultures, the word for storyteller also translates to liar,” Sango began, “because in truth, that was all they were, liars. But just for a moment, imagine this. Imagine a story so powerful, so needed, that the universe itself believes it. A story so powerful that it comes alive. Listen to them, the tales of the gods, tales that were powerful enough to travel through the minds of humans, travel through time and space. Tales that altered reality itself. Yes, we are stories, but in the end, that is what we all become. Stories.
“The worship of the gods died, but the gods themselves did not, at least not until now. The gods still remained, ingrained in you humans and your very culture. Forming an integral part of you, as you are to us.”
Odion sat down on the cold hard ground too and noticed that it had stopped raining. He had so many questions, so many things to ask, but only one came to mind, beating the other questions to the punch.
“If—and this is a big if—, if this is true, then why are you here and why are you wounded. Who could wound a god? Can’t you just heal?”
“I can’t heal, not from this,” Sango said. “I am dying, Didi, the gods are dying.”
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