The oracle of Griddock had warned that Zakari would be the one to lead the entire village to Lucifer’s Gate, and any time the oracle spoke it was imminent. His prophecies didn’t come without a way out, though. This time he’d carved it in the flesh of an old woman, just below her left breast, and everyday it was fresh—a deep cut patted with blood:
“Cut Zakari out.”
But the villagers were weak. Ever since Zakari came home one evening with an apple, which he shared with everyone, they lost the power to carry out the oracle’s instructions. Still for the last time the oracle had summoned them to the grove. It was by an ocean, a carpet of blue water which stretched endlessly and finally disappeared into the sky. All day long the ocean slept, and the villagers loved it when it slept. They’d sit by the shore and watch a host of water lilies dance spritely on the water to the whistling breeze. Large underwater mammals crawled from the ocean to mate on the glittering sand. Dolphins flew out of the surface, did a cirque in the air and dived back in, creating big silver loops of water. The villagers would clap, and then roll on the sand in playful jamboree.
“Stop!” Agatha yelled at a group of kids rolling on the sand, “Don’t you see today is not the time for this?”
“But the ocean is asleep,” one of the kids said, in mild anguish.
Agatha shook her head and waved her finger at them, and the kids got up, dusted their buttocks and stomped to the under of an orange tree. If only they knew what could happen—it wasn’t safe to play near the ocean anymore, she sighed and trudged back to the grove. Different species of trees grew on the borderline in pairs, and each pair bent forward, knotting its branches in never-ending embrace. Their fruits hung like bells from the ceiling and created a colourful festival.
She walked through quickly to the clearing behind the entrance, not stopping to pick a fruit from the low-hanging branches. Tangerines were her favourite. How come apples didn’t grow in the grove?
“Come on quickly,” someone from the crowd called out to her. “The oracle is about to speak.”
She scurried to the place where the women sat, avoiding the strange stares of two men. She noticed they were naked, and it was the first time such knowledge would come to her. No, not the first time: she’d been having visions of naked people walking about shamelessly in Griddock. If the men had stared at her, then they must have noticed she was naked, too. Maybe they’d eaten too much of Zakari’s apple.
She waved the thought away quickly and sat on a large cocoyam leaf.
“Let the day’s judgment begin!” cried a grotesque male voice. It belonged to the village chief. He, too was naked. “Step forward, Zakari,” he bellowed.
Zakari marched to the centre, shielding his eyes with his palm. He saw too much nudeness. Unshorn hair between the crooks of the body. It didn’t matter. The people couldn’t see that they were naked.
He’d sewn a raffia skirt, which he wore to cover his genitals. His feet were covered with hide. It was hard walking without them although he’d had to kill for the hide. And it felt good. This was what he wanted for Griddock, knowledge. How could they not see they’d overgrown the intelligence of the oracle?
His reverie was shattered by the roar of Angor nearby. He was a massive, bearded beast, but he was gentle as a lamb. The children sometimes rode on his back, and when he was having a nap, they’d weave his beards into locks of golden mane. He roared only when he wanted to eat.
“Shh!” The Chief cried to send Angor away.
Then he raised his arms with his palms facing the sky and slowly went down on his knees. The others joined him except Zakari. Suddenly, the wind gnashed noisily like bits of metal strung together and shaken to make music. A clap of thunder bolted from the sky and dropped just a foot away from where Zakari stood, and the villagers buried their faces on the ground except Zakari.
“No!” a brittle voice shrieked. It belonged to a little boy, one of the boys Agatha had warned to stay away from the ocean. He rolled across the field, twisting, clutching his chest. Blood oozed through his fingers as his screams swept through the air. Suddenly, he was still, and a friendly wind had taken over.
Then he rose slowly with his hair all over his face, and then uncovered his chest.
“Cut Agatha out from me.” The oracle had spoken.
The boy pranced forward as if he was guided by unseen hands.
“Ah! Not Agatha,” the villagers murmured.
“We must do what the oracle has said,” the Chief cried. “We must send both of them to Lucifer’s Gate.”
“No, the oracle cannot be right,” someone bellowed from the crowd.
“We will go with them,” another shouted.
Agatha glanced at the people who had spoken. They were the two men who had stared at her. But what was her sin? It was clear both men had eaten as much apple as she ate. All at once she cringed at the thought which pricked her now. She’d done the forbidden. She stared at Zakari, who was grinning like he knew what she—no—they had done. They’d made love, and it was the oracle’s instructions to wait till the time was right.
“We’ll have a better life somewhere else,” Zakari shouted to appease the people. “We’ll build for ourselves houses and things the oracle has hidden from us,” he blurted and ran to grab Agatha. Everyone was running now, both man and animal. The ocean had woken from its sleep and was writhing in anger towards the grove, chasing all of Griddock to Lucifer’s Gate.
About the Writer:
Ogbu Eme is an English teacher and a writer. He has always wanted to be a writer since his childhoodand is now fulfilling that dream as the publisher of www.draftspaper.com. He is currently working on a middle grade fiction that attempts to close the diversity gap in children’s literature read in Nigerian private schools.