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Fiction Literature

The Songs of the Spirits – O. N. Michael

  • November 22, 2023
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The Songs of the Spirits – O. N. Michael

Here comes he whom you shall call king…

My life played like a movie; glitching clips of pains and sorrow, joy and triumph. I watched myself in the mirror and wondered if the man staring back at me was indeed the man I knew. 

Who are you?

The voices in my head growled, whispering in my soul. I was too focused on trying not to listen that I was torn between reality and my subconscious. It is like being in a void; you’re running from what was real because your reality was your worst nightmare manifesting, you’re running from the vagueness of your thoughts because they unleashed the troubles of your past…

My past…

I could remember as vividly as my distressed face stared back at me. My past was one that only a few were privileged to have. 

Privilege?

I couldn’t say whether I could call whatever past I lived a privilege. I grew up here, within stories of gods and men; spirits and demons. I grew up with a crown not too far from my head, born in blood and stone into the whirl of royalty. I was not like children that grew up learning to ride bicycles, writing on sheets of paper, running to and fro with a pair of white socks and black shoes on…

I grew up a prince.

I grew up learning the rules and rudiments of the fathers. I grew up practicing our ancient tongue. I grew up watching men get elevated for their brave and courageous deeds and others condemned for slander and hypocrisy. I sat in the midst of the judges when they decided who lives and who gets thrown into the evil forests, like gods holding the lives of men in their hands. I knelt in the midst of the chiefs and elders and watched them make laws for the young and weak, the great and small like they were the pillars that held the sky above.

This is the life of the child who was born to serve the land, who was born for the land to bow at his feet. Still, I wasn’t the only one whose destiny was pruned by the thongs of royalty. There were brothers – princes like me – but it never seemed so. I was like an only child for I was the only one my mother had, at least  I grew to realize this was who I was.

In the times of my youth, when I became a fine, young man; attracted to the arrow and bow, dedicated to the soil and fields, I got to know someone who had always been present, a familiar stranger. I called him “Father.” He was King.

Perhaps, Father was too engrossed in being the king the people wanted that he forgot his sons needed him more than his kingdom. In his later age, I realized it was not as I thought. This man was not just a distracted king – he hated me. Perhaps, he portioned the same hate for the rest of his sons, like dinner dished in tiny calabashes. All that mattered was that Father hated me more for one reason – I was the weak one.

He would arrive at shooting practice in the morning and praise my elder brothers. He would then watch me as I shot my arrow past the bull’s eye into the aso-oke the women were busily weaving.

“Useless!” He would cry as the women tore apart in terror. My brother would laugh at me as he made me take another shot. With my arms trembling now, and my palms sweaty, the arrow would take off like dust in a whistle, full force but no direction, no future…

“In battle, you will die like a slave!” He’d spit and stump away.

In the afternoon, he would come into the medicine room where we learned and studied the healing and relieving practices that the elders used to survive through thick and thin. He would watch my brothers as they made potions and elixirs, presenting them at his feet. As he approved their products, he would seek me out. I was always in the corner of the room, sweating and shivering; with hot skin and a cold soul. I would fiddle with the herbs, tear at them, and spin scalding soups in jars. He would watch for a while and then shake his head slowly. As he walked away, he would murmur to the physician: – “He is only fit to brew a poison…”

During the calm and windy evenings, we would sit together with Odafe the Priest. In silence, with our legs crossed and our arms raised to channel energy – a beautiful seiza. We would watch the sunset and let the elements whisper in our souls. We would listen to the hums of the Spirits…

Father would come to the first and he would tell him what the Spirits say and always, it will be: – “I heard them call me ‘King!’” Father was pleased. He would move to the second and always he would say: – “The Spirits made me stand at the top of mountains, and the kingdoms lay at my feet. I heard the people sing to me. I was a god!” Again, Father was pleased.

Whenever Father came to me, I was speechless. He would demand what the voices said, and trembling, I had only one response: – “Nothing…”

Disappointed, Father would bow his head and walk away without looking back.

I would sit in silence as dusk came on us, staring into the night, as still as ever. I would hear them, just as I did earlier and they will continue to show me what they’ve shown me earlier – what I hid from Father.

They would show me the light. There was another path to follow…

Finally, the day came when I listened. It came many years later when Father got older and the bloody thirst for the throne began between my brothers. What played out was like a movie – an insane and inhumane war where I lost Mother and many others that I grew up to love. The war tore our home apart.

The war took Father…

Knowing I was going to be next, I ran away into the wild; unknown roads my feet had never crossed with nothing to guide me or show me the way.

Then I heard their whispers…

They danced around me – Spirits of air, Spirits of water, singing solemn songs so sweet that it freed my soul and showed me the light at the end of the tunnel.

I did find it – another world I never believed existed – a different civilization. The people of this realm wore outfits I couldn’t understand, spoke tongues I couldn’t interpret, and carried out actions I couldn’t decipher. Such a learned prince like me – lost!

Then I heard them again, guiding voices…

They showed me the way to live among them, thought me their tongues, and gave me the grace to succeed in the midst of these strange men until they were nothing like strangers no more.

They became family…

I had found the life I was born to live – here among the civilized folks and away from the distant life I had lived in the past. After twenty years in the midst of these people, I wasn’t alone anymore but I was married to a beautiful woman and had birthed the son of my dreams – Addo.

I was forgetting who I was, and becoming who I wished to be…

Then there was Addo – a bright, smart, child of twelve but already too drawn into the tales of the ancient practices of our forefathers that I found something I had long forgotten coming into the light again.

What was going on?

He wasn’t the only one. There was Papa Obebo – the father of my wife. He was this quiet, calm, and wise old man. On the night of our marriage, I remember Papa Obebo had come to me quietly at the party and whispered to me: – “I know who you are…

Something had been queer about him since then. Why not? This man literally looked at me and could tell where I came from!

The bond between Papa and my son grew so strong over time. I knew what bonded them was the tales they shared, and it terrified me. These two had shovels, standing at the graveyard of my subconscious, they were digging at everything I had buried. In my fear, I cut off everything that tied my son to culture in every way I could. I tore down the pictures of the ancient gods he hung up and replaced them with cinematic superheroes. I burnt the stories of gods and kings he read and replaced them with lifestyle magazines and comic books. Of all, I warned Papa Obebo to end the stories he told my son. That night, he only chuckled, shook his head, and shut the door to his room.

Like a movie, the day finally came when I found Papa Obebo with Addo together at dawn with an ancient book inscribed: – “African Gods” in Addo’s hand. I tore out at them. 

“End the cultural and traditional stories! Read what daddy says you must!” I yelled at Addo who turned away arrogantly. Papa Obebo remained as calm as ever.

“You have visitors…” Papa said. I had heard them already even before he spoke and looked outside the window to see who it was. 

My breath stuck in my throat at the sight of the limousine packed downstairs and the two suited men staring up at the window. They could have passed for anybody but I saw the patterns of Ankara blended into the suits they wore, and read the symbols.

The people of my kingdom!

“You led them here?” I turned to Papa.

He scoffed. “For how long, young, ignorant prince? How long do you think you will keep running from destiny?”

The journey to the buried kingdom began that day with my wife and son by my side. It was on the way that I heard the narration I had missed out on. Father had died indeed, and his eldest son succeeded the throne after killing his brother in cold blood. He had sat on the throne for twenty good years and turned the kingdom my father had built into a prison of pain and sorrow. When calamities caught up with him, he became a madman and fled into the evil forest, never to return…

It was then that the people sought the final man who was to succeed to the throne.

Still, I couldn’t do this…

Sitting now in front of the mirror, dressed in the regalia of royalty, adorned with beads and cowries, graced with gold and silver, I knew the man before me was one lost a long time ago. The tape of my life was done playing and was now playing over again. I remembered Father in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening…

I can never be king…

“I can never be king!” With a loud yell, I stood from the stool beneath me and sent it flying, pouncing at the door to publicly deny whatever crown these people wished to put on my head and return to the life I had built for myself over the years. Stumping outside the door, all I found was an empty space.

I frowned.

“Guards!”

There was no one… There was only…

Mist?

I frowned as the atmosphere around me darkened and the mist before me grew thicker until it was the only thing around me. Still, I could spot a figure in the midst of the mist, one I knew too well – a silhouette I was yet to forget.

“Who are you?”

Silence.

“Who are you?”

“Who-are-you?”

The voice echoed back like the ring of a trumpet. I fell back, trembling. When my lips opened again, all that came out as they trembled was one word – “Father!”

I watched as the silhouette disappeared into the mist.

“Father… wait!”

Believe it or not, from this man, I still had too many questions I wished to hear him answer. I followed the silhouette through the mist, struggling to keep up until suddenly, there was nothing again. He was gone!

“Father!” I screamed. Trembling, I turned around over and over, the fear eating at me like blood-sucking demons. My fingers were cold and trembling, and my feet were immobile. My heart pounded so hard, I could feel it knock against my ribs. I was drowning in the cold grasp of all the phantoms I had buried and burning to ash in the relentless flames of the past I had fled.

“Father!”

Like a child again, I wept, calling out to the echoes. At first, there was nothing, but then his voice came.

“Don’t look for me, find you…”

“I’m scared, Father…”

“The anxiety that plagued your childhood has returned to eliminate your future. Find yourself…”

“I can’t!”

“Son, unleash the king in you!”

“I don’t want to fail you again…” I wept and with a final sigh, I shut my eyes as the last of the air escaped my lungs, falling.

Who are you?

I searched… Who are you?

“King…” 

My eyes shut open as my feet rested on solid ground.

“I am King, Father! The King is me!”

I opened my eyes but squinted in the presence of the dazzling light that enveloped me as a being hovered above me and not until he drew close enough could I tell who he was.

“Father…” I whispered.

“I tried, son…” He drew closer, tears welling in his eyes. “…I tried to tear down those walls you built, destroy those fears you fed. I wasn’t doing so the right way. Now, the only way to defeat the monster of uncertainties plaguing your life is to forgive your father.”

Tears ran down my eyes. “You remain my Papa. There’s no changing that.”

I gasped. 

My eyes came open and there I was, staring at the man in the mirror again with tears streaks on my cheeks.

Something was different…

I knew who this man was!

This man was king!

“Guards!”

Two men ran into the room instantly. “Let the people have their king…”

With drums and whistles, I stepped out of the room and faced the people, my people… I looked at their tired faces and remembered they didn’t have to bother anymore. Their king was before them and when I would have seen the people I fled from, I saw the people that I was born to serve.

Then there was my wife, smiling back at me. There was Papa Obebo beside her, brimming with wisdom, congratulations in his bright eyes.

Alas, there was Addo, dressed in royal garments, grinning and enjoying every moment of this boring exercise. I chuckled. I could see the future. He would make the perfect heir.

Indeed, this is where I belonged…

As the crown rested on my head, placed in by Odafe who had survived the days of travail, I heard them again – the whisperers. In a split second, they showed me the end of my visions – the light at the end of the tunnel of the foreign culture I had lived in, and in that light, I saw what I was meant to see.

I still hear them… the Spirits still sing; they’re singing…

About Author

Okpala Michael

"Behold He Whom You Shall Call King..." WRITER| MODEL | POET | AUTHOR | NOVELIST | THESPIAN At Your Service. Follow and Link Up!

7 Comments

  • This honestly touched me… Like I had to stop and think to understand who I truly am

    • The story is so touching

      • The call of who we are should be! Thanks dear

        • Short but precise. It’s downright captivating. More grease to your elbow.

    • Brotherly! You should. Thanks sir

  • Honestly, when I started reading this, I was like “okay, let’s see where this is going” but, when it got to that part where “who are you” was repeated, I felt it. I felt the guy’s emotions, his fears, anxiety and helplessness and I had to ask myself, who am I. This piece was great..

    • Thank you so muchhh dearest! Glad you enjoyed it!

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