Thursday, November 3, 2016 12:19 pm
By Ifedayo Babalola
The room just went dark, pitch black even. That though would ordinarily not shock The Magic Writer. For, he is no stranger to darkness. In spite of his privileged status, he still copes with hours of darkness outside his plush office. Besides, his vocation as government critic burdens him with the responsibility to run stinging commentaries about darkness of all hues.
But power failure at Apata Oosa, as the palace is named, had been unthinkable. The Rock of the Gods is itself the throne on which the power sits. It is the shrine at which the mighty in the land worship the mightier one, where they stretch through the throng to touch the soiled garments of kitchen priests and of pompous priestesses tugging the reins to the Oosa’s heart. But as he was about to find out, this rocky cavernous hole is also a hallowed conclave for demons great and small, ghommids ancient and modern.
For a brief moment, and despite the crushing, surrounding eeriness, his thought drifts to the job he is about to leave. He’d miss it very much, but his readers would miss the weekly deliveries from this foremost newspaper columnist even more.
‘I am not just a writer,’ He mused. ‘I am the guardian angel of the nation’s conscience. All others are mere pretenders…’
A loud thud, then a heavy grunt. Thud and grunt echo endlessly across the expansive hall. It unsettles The Magic Writer that he is no longer alone. And how did that happen? Just how? When he was led into the conference room about ten minutes earlier, it was well lit and he saw there were no other persons there. He had also thought it strange that there were no furniture save the lone, red barber chair placed at the center.
Another thud, this time louder than the first, interrupts his thoughts. A muffled male voice pleads for mercy.
‘Help me! Help me! Give my head back!’ The voice reverberates for a few seconds. Silence again.
The Magic Writer thinks it wiser not to talk. He remains frozen, hoping that the lights would come on.
‘This is the Okuta Oosa for God’s sake!’ He whispers. ‘What happened to the heavy diesel and generator annual budgets…..?’
He tries to run his mind over the details of a day that had begun like any other. Well, not like any other really, for not daily is the Oosa’s own jet sent to ferry a newspaper man into the presence of Him-Who-Hath-The-Power-Of-Oil-And-Wealth. The notice was short all right, but The Magic Writer had been waiting for a year; had even written, bullied and front-stabbed desperately for it.
When finally he had been ushered into the Oosa’s presence, words were few and the eager reply came right on the tail of the quest.
‘Yes sir, I will gladly be your spokesperson.’
He knew it was a bribe offered not just to silence his pen. Nay. Dry pens are, in the circumstance, even more honourable tools. His mighty pen on the other hand, will be ferried across the tiles to the other camp where it transforms to a cross. It’s ink will no longer be black but dripping blood-red. The Magic Writer realizes his new words will sprout like thorns, tearing into the psyche of his readers.
Yet, he had counseled himself, the prize is worthy of worse tribulations.
A man must stand up to be counted; and there are other things that must be counted in top-end denominations, especially if you are fast closing in on fifty.
‘I am smart and I am good!’ He had assured the holy hand tugging at his heart. ‘I’m gonna play it right. Just four years, or eight and I’ll be back. My fans will be waiting for me, utterly famished.’
But that was in the daytime. It’s probably close to midnight now and The Magic Writer is drained of his usual self-confidence. He had been ushered into this room at exactly 23.30 hrs for what his guide, a short, greying man with a limp, described as an inductive interview. He had tried to get more information while they walked the short distance but the man did not talk much. Well, this is one of the reasons he’d have to take the job. Communication flow inside the Apata Oosa Palace itself needs improving. He’ll surely see to that.
Then the man stopped abruptly at a dark-varnished doorway.
‘You’ll find out soon enough, my friend,’ He half whispered. ‘You’ll need all your communication skills in that room. There’s a chair in there. Sit on it and wait. You’ll soon be attended to.’
Then the man swung the door open before the last word exited his mouth. With the other hand he shoved The Magic Writer inside and locked the door firmly behind him. He heard the lock turn. Twice.
The short greying man was right. Just one chair placed dead center in the large hall. The fact that it was a barber chair amused him, not much for the oddity of it’s circumstance, but because he had not visited the barber’s for as long as he could remember.
Was he being mocked? Or trapped? He checked to confirm there were no electrical cables connected to the chair. Feeling as safe as the occasion permitted, he had settled his bulk on the crimson-leathered seat.
It was in that instant that the lights went off.
He figures now that before the next thud or something worse happens, it will be best to feel his way out. If the door is locked, he will at least bang at it. There’s probably some light along the long corridor leading away from here. This darkness must be a local, isolated problem. Having guessed the direction in which the door might be, he makes to lift himself up.
Then suddenly, the barber chair begins a furious rotating movement as if protesting the impunity of premature baldness. The Magic Writer’s neck spins along with the reeling violence. He holds the chair handles very firmly. He tries to shout, but no sound comes from his throat. Sweat pours from all over him and his grip on the handle becomes slippery.
‘Welcome! Welcome to the concrete jungle of a million demons!’ Booms the voice like the sound of simultaneous thunders. ‘Welcome to the confluence of all evils of this land and beyond!’
Everything freezes. The air thickens so much the swirling chair no longer is able to cut through. The only motion is of The Magic Writer’s heart, seeking to jump out of it’s natural cavity.
Then, as if on cue, there begins a flurry of activities.
Massive wings are flapping. Birds chirping.
Pinyan! Pinyan! Pinyan!
Hooves against concrete. Horses neighing in their hundreds. This dark nocturnal market. There are cries too…, moans and evil laughters. Tiptoes and heavy steps like a thousand soldiers marching in unison. The clashing of swords and the clanging of shields.
Strangely, his pounding heart is now settled. For, a real man dies only once.
‘What is going on here?!’ He shouts, still a little surprised at his own courage.
The market responds with a burst of choreographed laughter, cackles and yelps.
‘Turn his lights on then,’ Commands the voice. ‘Turn him on so he might perceive!’
Something flips inside of The Magic Writer.
Electricity is unrestored. Yet to his dismay, he suddenly is empowered with a substitute inner illumination flowing from somewhere beyond his two eyes. Darkness no longer poses any hindrance and he even sees in all directions without turning. He attempts to rise from the chair and does so easily; but finds it bizarre that his motionless, duplicated body sits on the barber chair still.
‘Do I live still, or am I….?!’
‘Of course!’ Comes the chorused answer to his unspoken question. ‘You live now, more than you’ve ever done! Welcome to the real palace, O Son of Dust! Welcome Welcome!……Welcome from all!’
Having been welcomed, The Magic Writer’s spirit assumes a level of understanding beyond his normally vast knowledge. All around him in the now boundless expanse are countless spirits. Some float, some fly while others metamorphose, taking positions beyond human vocabularies.
‘How nice it will be to float around too!’ He mused.
And float around he did, leaving behind his immobile body, resting peacefully on the barber chair.
He recognizes Eru (Fear) from Igbo Irunmole. Eru moved into the palace with the first occupant. Oh! There is Aka Manah. With a head like a ram’s face, the demon of evil intentions is another long time resident. Belphegor too is here, taking charge of orgies and and assorted depravities. Omugodimesan is present to afflict Oosa’s counsellors. This great grandson of Omugodimeji from the city of Edidare is trying most clumsily to saddle a hen. Iku and Arun (Death and Sickness) are having a heated discussion on who will be next.
The Magic Writer hears his name being called by many voices. He must return to his comatose body. But this feeling is good. Too good. He must explore more. There is actually a particular spirit he dies to meet.
‘Can you help me?’ He approaches a three headed demon in an inverted pose.
‘What?’ Queries the middle head.
‘Is Mammon here?’ He asks with a knowing wink. ‘You know. I’d like to go worship him.’
‘Hahahah!!!’ Three heads laugh as one. ‘Is there water in the oceans? You Son of The Dust. Mammon is a most elusive of demons. All of your stock want to drink from his cup. I’ll take you round though. If we come across him, grab the chance. Time is short..
‘I’m only doing my job.’
They float and weave between and through countless other forms.
‘I am The Guardian Angel.’ The Magic Writer ventures.
‘I know. The new voice, aren’t you?’
‘I suppose so. What’s your name?’
‘Have you met Jezebel?’ Asks the spirit guide in place of an answer.
‘I’ve heard of her…….. Where is she?’
‘Perceive under you.’
He does. And there she is! The queen of seduction herself turning and twisting, a phallic symbol of arrogated manhood held tightly in her grip. With vulgar acrobatic incantations, she fends of a group of Mammy-Waters trying to snatch her prize.
A giant bat-like creature whips The Magic Writer’s face with its webbed wings.
‘You looked too long,’ Says the guide. ‘Never look Jezebel too long in the eyes. She’s too high in the order. More powerful than the Oosa himself.
Now that you’ve gotten hit by her bat, you’ve caught the infirmity bug in region below your belt line.’
‘If that happens, she will kill me!’ He panics.
‘Who? Queen Jezebel?’
‘Not at all. I mean my own queen.’
‘I know.’ Agrees the spirit guide. ‘And you won’t be the first around here.’
‘What else must I do and not do? Please.’
The Magic Writer hears his name being called again, this time by several voices urging him to return to his deteriorating body. But the body can wait, while he hears the guide out. And he must worship at the feet of Mammon!
‘The fire-breathing dragon visits Okuta Oosa palace once in a while.’ Continues the guide. ‘Atimes, a few apartments catch fire when in contact with the its breath. If you are lucky, you may find some of its scales fallen off around the palace. Or a merchant might offer you some at a good price. Keep them in your apartment. They are better than all fire prevention devices invented by Sons of The Dust.
You will need “Egbe” if you work here. Diabolical cowries along the route will always result in crashing convoys and satanic birds will tumble your aircrafts. You need the power to disappear from the scene and reappear in your own house, even safely tucked under your own duvet.
‘Ah! Be aware that your boss is an offspring of Bacchus. He should head this meeting tonight but is currently in stupor, mired in his own vomit.
And remember this…Love and appreciate your family as if it’s their last days on earth. Or yours as the case may be….. Same thing really.’
The voices calling his name now assume greater urgency. Get out while there’s time, they cry. But The Magic Writer is distracted right now. He can’t take his eyes off a group of vampires sharing some blood-red liquid with relish like there’s no God.
The spirit-guide grabs a skull-shaped golden cup and is served. He gulps the liquid content in one swig. A fanged, youthful vampire grabs The Magic Writer by the shoulders and sniffs his neck.
The guide quickly fills a cup and hands over to the novice.
‘Drink it now!’
The young sucker draws back. All eyes and fangs are on the guest.
The Magic Writer slowly lifts up the cup, tilts back his head and parts his lips.
Then pandemonium. There is a stampede on a scale he has never imagined.
Mammon! Mammon! Mammon!
He drops the cup and joins in the milieu.
Stuffed deep-bellied bags are falling all around him. Some of the bags burst open. Hard and soft currencies whip his face. He’s heard of these bags before, even dreamt and written about them. Now they are within reach. Several Sons of The Dust emerge from the darkness chasing after Mammon. The Magic Writer recognizes many. But it’s no time for salutations. They scramble. They claw. The novice grabs several bags.
The calls get more frantic now. Come back! Come back now or never! Join your freezing, lifeless body! But just one more bag! And another! Come back immediately in the name….. Something very hot hits both sides of his chest.
He recognizes that voice! He’s being pulled down now. Against his will.. Oh! The gravity of Mammon, And the pull of rapacity.
‘I’m falling… Oh I’m falling!
I’m falling very fast… I shouldn’t fall!
I’m an angel… Where are my wings gone?’
Drop some bags?
No, I won’t…. I will not drop my inheritance.
Heavy thud. A collision of burdened spirit with weak flesh. Awaiting the soul.
The Guardian Angel’s eyes open into the light. He is lying on a prison hospital bed. Drained and empty, he is surrounded by warders, nurses and policemen, all guardian spirits of the real world.
‘Welcome back, fallen angel.’ Says the doctor, pulling off his gloves. ‘We were scared you had flown the net.’
(Ifedayo Babalola, a writer and commentator, lives in Ibadan). Ifebabs@hotmail.com. 09097214976.