"Dare not tell tales of the dead, lest the living know no peace." a woman declared loudly at the Village square during a briefing by the elder concerning the epidemic wave of terror that was sweeping across the village and its environs. It was thought that the day of reckoning had come and that the gods struck dead, every night, those that were sinful. A wise elder offered that the spirit of Mmbekho was in a state of unrest, because the living had beckoned her and the gods must be vexed at the living for stirring chaos in the underworld.
There was a dire need for atonement and there was a call for communal day of repentance where each villager would carry with them a black cock and if you had a family, you carried as many as the household size. If you were pregnant, for the unborn also. All expectant maidens were summoned and assigned midwives to ascertain whether they were one or two or more in there, whose sins ought to be cleansed. The most unforgivable of all sins were folly, gossip and slander. Even if you were foolish but spoke not, you were counted wise and treated as such for the tongue was believed to be blasphemous.
On the seventh moon, seventh day, twelfth hour of day under the heat of the scorching noonday sun, they appeared of all ages in one spirit, dressed in sacks and smeared with ash. They lay and rolled, one by one in the pool of mud created the previous night. It was mandatory that you shed a tear as you walked past the village elder, to show deep grief and remorse, before you handed over your live cock for sacrifice. One was expected to walk without a tinge of fortuitism: draped shoulders, somber and sullen, walking as though starved or bereaved. It signified weakness, defeat, and desperation for divine intervention. If you looked strong, you were punished for having not fasted to your core. Curses were proclaimed upon your person. It was grave! Everyone went through the rituals up to the seventh step which was the final. It entailed drinking and smearing the body with blood it follows that one was not to shower for seven days during which the village harbored an air of pungent stench that disturbed the neighboring villages and woke the spirit of the dead.
Thrice in a row, delegations had been sent from the neighboring villages to make peace but the people of Ugo village were too conservative of their culture. The 'week of filth' was dreadful but important and women who were on their menstrual period were allowed to clean strictly their inner thighs, under tight supervision. On the grand day of bath, women would go first as men waited patiently by the Riverside. If you were unmarried, you were not allowed to marvel or lust at the heavenly sight of feminine nakedness. It was testing! The old men walked around with a keen eye to point out those whose trousers were too tight and if you were unmarried, you were thoroughly reprimanded and given a wife because a tight trouser was indicative of the potential to sire and raise a family.
Interesting to note, one of the villagers was always hesitant to indulge. He would present himself for such common gatherings but always sat alone drawn into himself, swiftly fidgeting with his miswak while staring blankly, in agony, at the mediocrity that seized their land. He sat and never said anything to anyone, except the occasional grin when he passed the miswak over his teeth in a consistent circular motion, many would pass and nod at him with a smile even though he was looking right through them and seeing no more than the different world he dreamed of in his paintings, sketches and carvings. He only nodded and waved at children, it seemed as though they belonged with him; more like he too was a child at heart, his soul though old, vibrating at a frequency that identified with the pure, genuine souls.
He was a sullied wonder with a touch of sanctity familiar to no one, everything about him from his form to his school of thought was just odd and placidly salient. Solitude was gratification and ultimate bliss for the lonely old soul that he was. Around him was an air of eeriness akin, only, to godliness. Occasionally though, he seemed utterly amuck. It was rumored that this was his normal self, Berserk! Something about the way he moved awakened my anxiety every time I saw him by the village market; Flexuous and sluggish. At a glance, he could easily pass for drunk or otiose, to one, from how he staggered when he moved. Word has it though that he could go without food for several days and while it was termed a hunger strike by the word mongers, he declared it a divine period of introspection and fellowship with divinity during which he stayed solitary and without bath. It is said that sometimes he disappeared for months without a trace during which it is believed he had returned to an unknown place to see his people and when he returned, his return was marked by a huge harvest that always lasted the villagers six moons longer than usual.
There always was an intense depth to his stare every time he returned from pilgrimage. Though lean and feeble looking, he was stronger than umezu, the most legendary warrior of Ugo village. It is said of him to have brought victory to the entire Ugo-Egbo kingdom during the gravest war that saw Ugo lose thirty of her best warriors to battle. He, just like David of the Bible, had appeared from his hideout after forty days of solitude and had walked up to the enemy and slain him with a single punch. He nonetheless had turned down any privileges to dine with royalty, unlike David. Though the legend had been told close to half a century, the yet to be born during the historical war of Ugo argue that it was all fiction while those present at the time say it was equally hard to believe what they had seen. it was as though they woke from a dream.
Of more fright was the deliberation. He clearly avoided people especially crowds. It was said of him: "he's known no liquor since birth and that he's never fallen ill". He never looked up! In his right hand he always held a miswak (a custom made tooth brush from a special herb) and his left palm ever folded into a fist. Some said he was born that way, that the miswak was his way of connecting to the divine. Others believed he was violent and having the miswak with him at all times, according to the Egbo community, was a way to calm his demons, while the rest took him for paranoid.
He spake to no one and visited no one. Nonetheless, you would find him on the streets playing with children. They, unlike the adults, were never scared of him. Every sunset, he would sit on a rock by the river, close to the spot where the women took their bath beneath the scorching heat of the noonday sun. If you ask them, he always had his legs crossed eyes shut and fingers crossed as though he was hoping for a miracle. This is the only time older villagers saw his face. Those who did, tell the story of a wrinkled, dimpled, long face with large eyes, voluptuous lips and excess facial hair. They say he is awkwardly beau. He had a smile for all by the river and children in the streets. But his teeth, he showed none. On his feet were the same pair of sandals and his faded khaki pants, a trademark. In his world, time seemed to have frozen for eternity.
He always wore a unique maroon knitted sweater or a grey jacket that looked worn from years of great suffering and toil. His hair was always well combed but his shoe laces ever untied. He lived by the river in the suburbs, away from people. Those who had stalked him say he has no family.
He curves wood, paints and draws. He also writes and once in a while if you are keen to detail, you will listen in to a very oddly sad tune he is always humming to himself, almost like a dirge. He is a complicated mess some say. Possessed. To some, he is vile while to some he is a product of the circumstances he'd interacted with since conception. Yes, conception.
It is told of his maiden, the paragon of beauty and decency by the local parameters of Ugo; elegant and self-absorbed; Unschooled but wise and courteous. it is said that at the time, getting educated was a waste of time for women as their biological clock ticked faster than their male counterparts. otherwise, it is believed that she was sharper than was expected of a woman and stronger than three men put together. She was reserved in disposition and said not much to no one in her lifetime, except maybe her dead mother who was now, well, dead. She was a different and only child. She is rumored to have had a miserable childhood but no tongue dare detail for her death was a historic tragedy yet to be seen if only one's generation is cursed and they happen to be seventh in line.
Though unmarried at a rather senior age, none of his village mates dared offer their daughter for fear that she would be used for ritual or maybe even eaten raw. He looked rather harmless to me when I first saw him and I found it impossible to see any cannibalistic tendencies in him. He was mystic alright, but not to a man-eating degree. It was also believed that his appearance at the Village market, at whichever time of day, was a sign it would rain and it always did.
While everyone else ran away from him, I wanted to find a way through to him and have an open heart-to-heart talk with him. I knew if I wanted anything bad enough, I could get it and I sought him tirelessly, having been intrigued by his strength of will and character to remain an individual despite the winds of trends that blew over the village time and again, sweeping away with it its unique identity. People swam with every current that swept through Ugo but this strange soul chose his identity and took the road less traveled, walking it all alone relentlessly and fearlessly. He was an individual, liberal minded and deeply compassionate in a way people found strange. To me, he was not what he seemed to be, at least, he was not as superficial and pretentious as everyone else.
There seemed to be a dark bottomless pit of mystery and pain at the back of his teary sunken white eyes. His back was arched as though he felt the weight of the entire universe upon his shoulder and when he spoke, I felt the intelligence of the universe escape right through his lips. Everything he said was deep and alluring and I wanted to keep digging without end. This would not be easy because of the layers of walls he had built all round himself. He would talk, reservedly, about everything else with ease except himself, not even a mention of his name. The villagers named him ‘the voyager’; they argued that he was ageless and had traveled across lifetimes and that he might have been a demigod living among mortals, each lifetime changing only his residence and his physical form. It is said that he is just a sojourner at Ugo. The unconventional voyager.
"They are all so scared of me because I don't subscribe to several of their norms." said he as he caught my eye. There was something mystic in them, eerily beautiful. I could see a vast unconventional ocean and I did not care about losing myself or soaking and being washed over by the turbulent waves that carried with them overwhelming waters of uncertainty. As I prepared to dive into his dark and beautiful world, I knew that still waters run deep but I was prepared to drown for all it was worth.