When I was young there were no crows, now they are everywhere. When I was young, the owl ruled the nights. The hoot of the witch frightened us so much that we sought protection from Grandma’s withered breast. I could swear that the breast was full of sap – yes, I was filled, stomach gassed up after the ordeal of frightful cries from the dense forest across the refuse dump. When an owl strayed into the village untransformed during the day, it was stoned and burnt. Another witch bites the dust. But owls! My children have not even seen a picture. The owl is gone but has left behind its witchcraft. The crow has taken over from where it left off. When I was young, the cattle were different and they all ate green grass. Now they eat newspapers. Again, I say there were no crows in those days but today, crowah! Crowah! Crowah! is the fetish sound that creeps up the day. The vulture is gone from the market place let alone can one find it on the roof top of the house where death lurks.
The Harmattan is a fairy tale. I remember I used to call it winter and the thick fog I assumed was snow storm. All trees smoked in the morning and in the evening they entertained. The village is no longer cold in the morning. The cattle egret no longer returns to the land of origins, I left the village for a short while and no one could keep it safe for me. I returned to catch Mama’s embrace but she had flowed into the seven forests. I was told that she vanished with the larva of the yam beetle. I remember that pinkish thing that swarms before harvest. God’s worm, and a child’s playful mate. It swarms and in moments they vanish as if scooped by magic. Ule was a mighty river that flooded its banks and kept hunters and farmers on the rough side for days. The village Ne’er-do-well in search of quick flesh will pour Obe when respectable people had left for the farm. As they returned, they saw fish floating belly up on the river. Real floating bundles of belly-ache and wahala. Yet each time too tempting to pass by for witches have to find relevance in plagues and responsibility for disaster must be blamed on the usual suspects. That is their destiny!
Ule is now a brook. I stood at the bank but there was none. I used to dive in from here. There I put my fish hook. Everything is smaller. Have the dimensions of my perception been reconfigured by age? Perhaps! Distances have shrunk. That I understand. My legs are longer and my stride wider. But the river! Tinu drowned right there; an eleven year old. Were we a race of pigmies? Our elders used to bathe over there and submerge. Now the water is a mere ankle deep. They must all have been magicians to submerge in one foot of water.
I know that things have changed a lot. At least children now eat eggs and meat without any rebuke. But the old all look scruffy. Could these be the mouths from which I accepted pre-digested meals? No way! Why are all the youths bulging? They all walk half naked as if not sure if they should let one in into some secrets. What has gone bad with the tailors? I found no tailors though, only a second hand shed where assorted clothing are scavenged frenzily. No wonder size no longer matters. They even sell used underwear. That I guess explains the itchy under. The girls are all getting swollen bellies while the boys walk about gripping their crotches as if to confirm that something still hangs from the fork. Truth is, most girls have either hatched an egg or spoilt one. Can you believe that the village shrine is covered with weeds? The ancestral deity I was told has been exported by thieves. The gods are now impotent! No wonder there is filth everywhere. Ancestors helpless and taking orders from mere men? Unimaginable by any consideration! I was told that the oracle even rejects the cowry and Naira. It prefers the dollar. The priest said that it is globalization and that we are entering a new era. If I must be truthful, I feel like an expired drug on a dusty shelf; like a pot of soup that has gone sour.
The village air was once clean. I could eat from the ground. I detested mornings because I always got hungry before I was served. Grandma will not make fire before our surrounding was clean. It was a big taboo to eat from stale floor. Then I must go to the river to fetch fresh water. She scooped away yesterday’s water. Now everyone seems to be defecating around the house. Dung pops up in the stream as you bow to lap water. We cannot drink from the same fountain anymore because it is now a devil’s lake. In the village, weeds now grow on the beds; flood water runs through the king’s bedroom. I wonder if villagers now import refuse from Lagos and Ibadan. Maybe it is civilizing to them to so do. My brother, na wetin be this? Why did I come home to rest? Now I understand why the shrines are no longer effective. The deities have emigrated and the ancestors no longer reside with men. The river is fleeing from our excesses. Yes, the crow is a messenger from the devil. Yes the witches are on a killing spree. I came to rest but everyday people pick up a chorus of mourning. Once there was laughter, but now wailing is the major recreation in the village. Death is rehearsed and children play the game, “who’s next?”
21 January, 2007
Culled from Preying Mantis (Volume 1), a collection of socio-cultural commentaries by Professor Francis Egbokhare, available on Amazon via this link —> https://www.amazon.com/dp/1533608644/