The night was unlike the others. The entire house was rotating, and her bed was revolving about the room. She grabbed the bed by its sides firmly with two hands. She felt drained, her bones numb and exhausted. She was not at war with any fiend, neither did she do any hard work in the fields the previous day. All the same, the sensation was redundant and annoying. She felt as weak as a crumbling wall.
Frogs started whistling high-pitched cries. Rain threatened to fall; nimbus clouds extinguished the fading moonlight. And soon, a hard storm began to rage. It pulled off the roofs of the troubled house. She found herself outside, amidst scattered pieces of wood and zinc, far away from the initial location of the house. She was surrounded by steep hills. On each of the hills was a giant, seated on pieces of the fortune of Alkebulan. They smiled, and their teeth were like a wolf’s. They transformed into human beings before her eyes.
“No,” she protested. “Never.”
She was standing, a burning sword spinning about her, cutting every tongue rising against her and ready to strike every giant in her way. If events were unfolding beyond the pace of understanding, could one speak of them as illusions? She stretched her right hand and held the glowing sword. A ray of light radiated from its tip and spread in all directions, dispelling every dark spot and exposing her. She made an attempt to move ahead, but the path was slippery. She stooped. She pointed the tip of the flaming sword to the ground, and a drop of fire, like burning sulphur, fell to the ground. A pool of water emerged where it fell, and from there a river formed. She was amazed that the river could speak.
“The wolves are on the hilltops. They may be coming. They may be going. But wolves they are,” it said.
Floating above the river was a creature seated on a solid rock, suspended in the air by two ageless hands. It opened its mouth reluctantly, as if its words were stuck in its throat.
On several occasions a voice spoke inside of her. Did it matter what it said? Rubbish. Who was she to do all the shit it obliged? Now, perhaps the figure behind the voice had come to face her.
“Stand your ground and do not be terrified. Before dawn, you will look and see. You will listen and hear. You will speak and be heard. With a word, you will have it all. Get ready for the mission.” The river disappeared, but the ageless creature stayed. It stayed suspended in thin air like an idling aircraft in space.
Tarfoni moved closer to the creature. She smelled its mouth, and it smelt bizarre. She turned to take her leave and did not pretend she understood anything. Nonsense altogether! Why must everything be obscure? Was she not looking and seeing before? What mission came with destruction? Homeless messenger! Rubbish! Rubbish altogether!
“Understanding!” she shouted. “Let me know what all of this means or stop troubling my mind. I’m fed up with all these mysteries.”
She appeared miserable. The droplets of salty sweat on her forehead looked like drops of condensed water on the lid of a boiling pot. Obscurity came over her in an unconscious moment but did not stay. Like the rush of time, it succumbed to more confusing mysteries.
Wind began to blow in the usual morning hustle, with fresh dew. A new day was born. It sprouted like a mushroom that cracks the hard earth, breathing the heat of the sun. Tarfoni watched the day seizing its turn from the claws of night with subdued anxiety. The birds were not noisy. They whistled the tune of reverence. They had no other choice. What would creatures that do nothing to eat do?
A weird feeling of an ancestral presence hung in the air. Such a feeling! She felt as though a fire had been lit on the fibres of her soul. She spotted a convocation of eagles hovering over the emerging world — Alkebulan. They were 54 in number, chirping and cackling harmoniously, sowing in unison and fluttering far into the clouds and back, a mirthful wind swaying beneath their wings. A cluster of palaces was spread in the cushy and cloudy scene. Alkebulan was surrounded by thick clouds against the choking hurricanes from without.
“How good it is for us to dine together!” one of the eagles said to the other.
“Indeed, brother. True power is one another. Oneness is us.”
“We have found ourselves.”
The eagles, progenitors of the expectant moment, were of a rare species. They lay eggs and hatched them with ancestral melodies. They were behemoths, well-built with sturdy aquiline beaks, broad wings, and mesomorphic legs armed with hefty, sharp claws. They, creators of the coming age, could see beyond the guiltless mantle of night. In their potent eyeballs were torchlights digging deep into the worlds — within and without — and spotting both prey and foe from distant galaxies. They soared higher than sharp mountain peaks, and farther into the sky beyond the clouds, piercing into heaven.
Tarfoni looked up, and the sky was not far from her, like she was sitting on a hilltop in the midst of higher hills. A jump could raise her head into the cotton clouds. It was not long before the atmosphere changed. Thunder crashed and slurred faint words from above. A flash of lightning, like a long, heated rod, sparkled in the thickening mists and brightened Tarfoni’s surrounding like ritual fire. A strong wind fell her to the ground. She felt the long bite of cool eating deep into her bone marrow. Kinsetishukekinyo, she said to herself to block out everything else from her mind. Eyes wide open. She was ready to fight back. She struggled and got up.
“Monsters! Do I know you? Retreat forthwith before I slit your throats.”
There was a plain and subtle scene in view. A new moon was emerging from its hideout. It grew steadily to a full moon in her sight and in the form of a silver plat — it hung in the sky, fearless. The rattling voices of leviathans pulled the strings of protest banners and raised battle alarms. They would cover the bright moon. It would not stand their fury.
The moment was, however, at the stage of nativity. Tarfoni was at a loss.
The sky, like a wolf luring a lamb with a kiss, smiled and stretched its arms to embrace the new world. But Alkebulan had known her kind. She had recovered from the maimed bygone and convalesced the consciousness of self. The leviathans would do no other thing but yield.
The entire universe began to swerve. It was not a wild wind that blew. The solace of fallow groves swallowed the moment.
“Alkebulan,” the strange voice came calling. Tarfoni listened. Was it another assignment? “I see the sky. I see the earth. And I call you, you. You are!”
Tarfoni woke up from her sleep and sat by the bedside. It was not morning yet. A plate of what appeared like sand was served before her by unknown creatures: they were colourless, their eyes shone like a constellation of stars, they bore burning horns and looked like primordial beasts about to launch a stampede, and their entire bodies were covered with masques of vampires — except for the human toes that were exposed. Tarfoni shrieked and started running, but she was trapped. A daring lake of wild fire glowed from behind her, and a mass of troubled waters blocked any forward move. The sky and the earth had joined forces to sever the new world and undress her and cover her face with their cloaks. They would not watch Alkebulan emerge between them, the giants of the universe.
Tarfoni fell down on her knees.
“I can’t breathe,” she cried to the god of her ancestors, her heart trembling, the chronicles of the ancients echoing in eternity.
Maybe she had died and gone to hell. No! She refused to yield to such hallucinations.
“Let me be. I am only me,” she protested.
“Eat, child of the universe. Do not be afraid.” As the creepy creatures whispered, strengthening the links between earth and sky, the heavens changed. The stars turned to ashes. The world dried up and became barren. Terror seized Tarfoni and fright tensioned her nerves. Why would earth and sky resort to such a menace?
“I want to be out of here. Let me be,” she protested one more time.
“How dare you raise your voice? What nonsense!”
“Do you own me?”
They laughed. “What are you? We own the universe.”
“You own you,” she retorted.
Tarfoni raised her hand and took a wooden spoon to dare to eat. It was a free gift, anyway. She examined the food closely, and behold, it was not sand. It was food from a different world. She tried to have a spoonful but nothing came out on the spoon. It was like tilling thin air. It was no material food. There was laughter in the background. She had perhaps become a comedian. Indeed, there is no free meal, she thought. She must continue speaking her own language. She would not waver.
“I say, who are you?” she thundered.
Tarfoni was alone.
Many other things were unfolding, though.
On transparent mirrors hanging in space were images of glorious worlds. She could also see, not far away, gigantic mountains — amorous and alluring — depicting an incredible panoramic beauty glowing in the morning sun like a bushfire at dusk. At the foot of the mountains were parks unmatched: mighty hippopotamuses, calm buffaloes, ambitious leopards, steady rhinos, lovely lions, smiling baboons, beautiful gorillas, witty chimpanzees, and sinewy elephants. There was an abundance of wildlife indeed! She wished they were pictures of home.
However, as abrupt and as vague as the scene appeared, it disappeared and another wonder of a picture emerged in the middle of earth and sky. There were 54 kings and queens. They took seats on beautifully polished wooden stools, each one of them holding a sceptre of authority and wearing a garland carefully woven out of peace plants. Their glaring eyeballs were as astute and shrewd as those of a fox, and their glinting faces glowed in bliss. Each of them led a multitude of smiling faces in a well-defined sphere of influence of a giant nation, surrounded by silent but daring waters. They had built mirror-walls above their heads and beneath their feet; being in the middle of earth and sky, they would need proper sight.
Tarfoni screamed, struck by temporal blindness. Her ears caught up with the piercing whispers of hair-raising, nerve-stretching music produced by the concordance of fluids. It sounded as sharp as the bleeps of a great summon, as from the abode of the ancestors. In her mind’s eye, she could visualise, though faintly, the re-emergence of a prodigious hero; the legend of the visionary ideology of reunion sprouting out of solid ground and now germinating. The legend wore a robe crossing from his right armpit over his left shoulder, and the white hair on his head rustled in the freshening breeze. A thunderous and sequential blast of trumpets, cheers, and ululations saluted his presence. The 54 kings and queens fell to the legend’s feet, and he smiled. Flickers of light followed the echoes of the rumbling, the quacking and the salutary yells in the background. It was only a solemn transition to living words.
The unknown creatures made a calm show one more time. They were obliged to coordinate earth and sky against the new world. However, they were impotent. Their plans had failed. Tarfoni would not be a co-author to her people’s misfortune. She refused to yield. She stayed in her being. In her heart she sang the verse of reawakening:
Archpatriachs of our land
We at last have seen
The object of our search
The path that we must tread
Grant in abundance I pray
That the tongue may not rest too soon
Of the word it must sing unending
Till all your shoots have learnt
The tunes of us on our lips.
The hero of the resounding creed of liberation and reunion turned to his left and wept at what he saw: the ground boiled with blood, Lukong persistently breaking the skull of his brother Bamenjo. Earth and sky rejoiced. Epidemics chiselled out helpless bones of miserable bodies to coggle around like strange species in a strange land. He frowned at the egos of servants who had cast to the pit ideas of the primacy of common liberation and self-conceptualisation for individual pride and primitive accretion.
“Beware! The crack outside breathes from the crack inside,” he admonished. “Keep away the foe within, and the foe without will not have the guts to call neither the piper nor the tune. Unless you bend low, none can ride your back. Speak, Alkebulan. Live, Alkebulan.”
As he spoke, the 54 kings and queens held hands together and crossed to his right. It was not time to read history. It was time to make it. The outstanding hero smiled! He smiled at the new picture to his right: the 54 eagles had reached the summit of glorious adventures and triumph. The resilient and unbreakable descendants of Alkebulan broke the seal and beat up the yoke and seized the stage.
There was a transition of seasons. Lizards lay calm and their skins moulted. Coarse shackles stained with the blood of ancient heroines and heroes were gathered in a heap. The whips of the ghost masters formed another heap. A spark of fire fell from the clouds on the two heaps concomitantly, and they burnt to ashes. The ghost landlord’s fishing net broke and tore. Their catch reverted to the bliss of adventures in the depth of bountiful waters. A slippery fish by-passed the fisherman’s net and smiled from its left jaw at the bite on the bait. The winds and currents and storms of time broke the spider’s web and unfettered its prey.
A choir of parrots as bright as precious stones perched on a hunter’s bow and arrow and began to sing:
Alkebulan Alkebulan Alkebulan
You have worked and sweated and bled
You have cracked and wrinkled and sighed
All this while playing the miracle of growth.
Alkebulan Alkebulan Alkebulan
Like a moulted lizard
You have transformed to be quicker and safer
Can you count the sparks of smiles?
Alkebulan Alkebulan Alkebulan
Keep upright, earn your peace
Teach your children the sting of greed
Your back never again will touch the earth
Alkebulan Alkebulan Alkebulan
See the power beneath your wings
One mouth, one mouth, one mouth
One mouth — peace, two mouths — woe.
As the choir quelled, 54 aeries of varied colours and textures were spotted on the hills that made up Alkebulan. The malignant giants were all gone. The beings inhabiting the eyries did not have a name. They looked like eaglets. However, as they grew to assume the responsibility of adulthood, their form was more perceptible. They were human from neck to feet, bearing eagle-like heads and wings, with talons as sharp as a double-edged sword. They were like the creatures of the novel age in power and deed. From above, they could determine the passion of the sun by day and the intensity of moonlight by night. Their kind looked up to them from their dwelling haven in the valleys below. When they fluttered down to the valleys, they brought new secrets — about nesting, brooding, cosmic patterns, and transcendence.
Tarfoni saw herself at leisure, strolling around their house, the courtyard prettified with various hyssops in clay jars. She was surprised she had grown up to be a married woman. She gazed at the linings of the new world, and on them were shadows of the long gone, spread upon the wings of clouds and immortalised for posterity. They sang the same ancient songs and suckled from the breast of the splendour of Alkebulan. They were happy.
Tarfoni heard the loud clanking of tools, large pipes, and equipment in human hands — stretching and running in different directions, channelling the boundless waters from along the banks of giant waters into the hinterlands. Dry soil breathed moist air. Flourishing vegetation and a vast botany conquered the dusty extensive stretch to the north of the new world. The sun-baked soil, hitherto beaten by arid whips to crack and break like bread forgotten in the oven, became soft and moist in a wink of an eye. To the south, vibrant hands carried significant cans of fresh fruits and vegetables from previously thirsty lands across the great waters to other worlds. Being in the middle, they either carried the products sky-ward, or earth-ward.
A gentle breeze flew along the street of fruit shops with the flavour of freshness. There were cucumbers, pineapples, apples, guavas, oranges, pears, melons, mangoes, and bananas on the shelves of fruit shops. There were also cabbages, huckleberries, carrots and more. The fruit shops were filled with buyers and sellers speaking in varied tongues. There was abundance at the beginning of the year and abundance at the end of the year. The giant nation rose from derogation to become the hub of the universe. The ghost landlords bowed to Mother Alkebulan, afraid they were going to get reparations from their new masters for errors of the past.
Tarfoni looked into the hearts of the inhabitants of the new world. In each heart, she saw a box in which greed was caged and staggering incompetence and chronic corrupt governance crippled. There was peace — no wanton gunshots and no fidgeting under the table. Hunger and famine were wrapped in a wooden mat awaiting burial. Sunjo the priestess lifted the relay lamp of ancestral benediction and performed the last rituals for the farewell ceremony for the pernicious realities. As she lifted the burning flame of liberation, Bati sprung from behind her, blazing with youthful exuberance, his swelling muscles reknitting in firm resilience the fragments of ancient glory. It was a great world, a world as ideal as real.
Tarfoni saw in the clouds a shadow with the face of her grandmother Ntang. When Ntang was alive, she was only a healer, a poor healer forgotten in her hut. Now, a crowd in fibre jackets was lined up behind her. Some touched human hearts and they healed. Others touched people’s heads and they stopped aching. Broken bones and dislocated joints became strong again, and only songs spoke of kinja — malaria.
Then, the clash of cosmo-visions and modes of being in the world settled down to brotherhood and sisterhood. Sunjo shook hands with Mary and Mohamed as she finished the last crumbs of the roasted sacred fowl. “Who else are we except brothers and sisters?” she grinned.
The sneering elite, together with the blind winds of coercion, got lost in the vast sea of patriotism and love of Fatherland. Tarfoni smiled as she watched the nakedness of the messengers of the strange giants. They were vain, entangled by their obnoxious deeds. There was no use for snake oils anymore.
A great silence followed for a while, and its authoritative presence was felt throughout the lands. The 54 hill-dwellers appeared again. This time, they were human in every way — except for the toes. They were the new kings and queens of Alkebulan. Like sparks of cosmic purity and divine splendour, they spread their immortal wings, hovering over the splendid fatherland, guarding against any disastrous fate, whether it was cooking beneath the sand or beyond the heavens. Fire burnt and glowed from the fibres of their souls — the fire of love leading all and sundry to divine humanity, where no bit of knowledge is higher than love, nor any religion greater than truth or sisterhood or brotherhood. Love, like the resplendent rays of the morning sun, diffused to all the hidden corners of Alkebulan, penetrating and melting hearts of stone, dissolving the hardness in each of them. Darkness was condemned to live in hiding, for it could not confront the light of love, and when it did, whether by accident or divine providence, it either got consumed altogether or exposed and shamed.
And oh, the cockcrow!
“Tarfoni! Tarfoni!” It was her mama calling. “Get up. Today is reopening day. Get up, it’s time to go to school,” she insisted. Tarfoni got up and prepared for school.
“Mama, I’m ready. I have eaten my morning dish.”
“Yes, my daughter. Take the path through the daring groves, and bring back to us what we could not find in our days. Take this.” Her mama presented a bleeding sword to her, the immortal sword, the wondrous wet stick — the full strength of a people. Then she raced at high speed to live her dream, the dream of a compelling rebirth, the dream of a new Alkebulan, rising never to fall again.
Speak, Alkebulan. Live, Alkebulan. She repeated these words in her heart on her way. From that day, she changed from being just another figure in the conscious reawakening to living a life of purpose for Alkebulan. Her eyes took the colour of rain, of the water that wipes huge fires and waters the ground. She became a moving work of the gods for the life that is Alkebulan.
Fomutar Stanislaus is a Cameroonian writer and editor of short stories with Writers Space Africa (WSA). He holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a secondary school teaching diploma in the teaching of philosophy.