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Fiction Literature

Whispers of Motherland – O. N. Michael

  • November 22, 2023
  • 22 min read
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Whispers of Motherland – O. N. Michael

This land knew not of the beauty of black, so all I found in the wanton white of the faces around me was deathly darkness.

I was the man they never wanted to see. Some called me “plague,” some called me “shame,” others say “I am the Son of the One Below All – the Banished Beast of Bedlam.” Whatever they said, I knew who I was. I heard the true me at night. She whispered in my ears. She sang solemn songs in my silent sleep.

Find your way home…

Here I was now, in this land that knew no day, where they called me an alien. Here I was in the trenches we called home, an alley submerged in the stench of a culture I couldn’t identify. I was walking in the midst of men, black and white, but I knew my people. I could see them.

The first was the politician—Hodan, his name. I knew him once when we were little, Hodan quite older. He was one moved greatly by the force of the Ones we served. His entire existence was sanctioned by a founding myth. He used to talk to me when he wore his flowing akwete. He will tell me tales of subtle kinship, gods and men, princes, of a land called Olomba…

He barely speaks now. His energy was still fresh and new as always, pouncing, but now he wore a strange attire. It was a straight piece that cut at the waist, with another that picked up from his waist and went to his feet. Stark black made the white skin glow. On Hodan – he was wearing his heart. These men called it “sweet,” and I could never understand. Ugly attire!

Hodan now carried a box too and walked side-by-side with these strange, drunken men, playing their games, not the agenda of his fathers anymore. No one listened to his rule again because we all knew where he worked – at the machine with the looms, spinning threads day and night, threads we call “lies.” He wasn’t even bearing his name anymore. He had a strange name – the white skins called him something that had to do with being rich and hard. Not like we cared, Hodan was poor as ever!

I walked on.

I looked into their faces, left, right, my people… There was Masozi, Mama with tears in her eyes, every morning, every night, and a piece of cloth in her hand, a dirty piece of brown cloth that never left her wrinkled fingers. One would think she used them to wipe off the dots of suffering when the white skins made her bend and submit. 

I knew what the cloth was…

It was all that was left of Hlengiwe for Masozi to hold on to. I knew Hlengiwe. We ran through the fields together, gathering corn and millet for a dinner that pre-blessed the coming day. We whipped corn stalks on our bare backs and laughed, pouring the brown, delicate sands through our feet. When the Oyibo came, Hlengiwe would not let go. He clung to the soil and sang to Motherland. That sunny sunset, I and Mama Masozi knelt by his side, our tears building him a tombstone. I watched as the placid pink flowing from the holes in him became the redemption red Mama would soon hold on to. As the white skins dragged us away, Masozi refused to let go. She held, to the white flag that clothed him and tore at it before they snatched her from his corpse and left him for the dogs, for Hlengiwe was never buried. 

That white flag, Masozi had today. A venerated memory that never left the arm that snatched it. The smell of Hlengiwe’s blood still sanctified my soul whenever I beheld it.

I walked on… Left and right, looking into their faces, my people…

I thought I heard something, but the “me” in me couldn’t get the sound to register, like a scream, the pervasive percussion of a pallid lullaby. These men sat by the corner, white skins, all of them, but they were looking up like they did to the cross. Yes, there was the pole, but the center of attraction was the lady I knew all my life. Here was Ife, beautiful, tall, slim, slender. Here was the black-skinned viper that breathed the soil of the deities of Africa. She had the courage of a beast, the body of a serpent, but the heart of a lamb.

Ife’s dance would make your shallow dreams come true. Ife brought the dead silence of your heart back to life. Here was a woman who was possessed by the spirits that brought the elements of dance to existence so that her arms and feet turned like nothing any has seen. With the power taking control, she would unleash the atilogwu, the kakilambe, the kwassa kwassa… 

She did them no more…

Ife was now swallowed up in a piece of fabric that hardly depicted her. Who was she, again? Now in a thick black unusual skin, fabric no animal or plant produced, pressing against her flesh to unveil her robust figure, showing off the sacred body the gods had blessed. She now held to a pole, like a thief to be slaughtered or a goat to be marred. Like a dehydrated fish, she wiggled against the pole, up and down in strange irregularities, dance steps no one could understand.

Someone could understand though. They were present, laughing, about four of them – the white skins. They sat with jugs full, getting drunk in the lustful desire for her, polluting themselves and wanting for her as well. 

When Ife’s eyes met mine, they were off that instant, clouded by shame, wounded by pain. Where was the love? It had been long replaced by the unharmonized craving from these strange men’s libido.

Stabbed by my thoughts of Ife, the gbam-gbam of a hammer against the flattened head of a lamenting piece of nail shadowed everything else as I moved on to Baba, the smith.

I knew Baba Ameqran more than anyone else. He was the eldest of us.

Baba took raw pieces of iron and steel and turned them into what he wished; like a demigod. When the women wished to wear glitters for their flamboyant dances, he took the iron to the fire, melting its pride away. He grabbed the hammer and spoke to the unyielding metal, instructing it on where to bend and where not to. With such discipline, he will turn a once worthless piece into a dazzling treasure.

When the men wished to go to war, they ran to Baba. He will grab the arrogant iron again and beckon on his hammer. With the heat, he will jam its edges until they became a thin line, giving the iron an unbelievable ability – the ability to take a life with a single swing.

We, the colored, knew there was God above, so we called Baba the smaller version of him for he had the immense power of a god – the power of creation.

When we were to dwell with the white skins, they never tried to change Baba, for they could see in him an ability they would rather exploit.

So they made him work. Like a madman in a cell, they made him make nothing but weapons day and night. These were weapons that I couldn’t really get a grip of. Unlike, the slender matchette, they needn’t be sharp, but they killed. Baba could understand because all he did was tell the iron what to do and it listened. Still, the fact that he made only tools to end the lives of men changed Baba. He didn’t make the pearls and glitters anymore – just weapons.

So it was believed that Baba was a tormented man. The spirits of the black men that the Oyibos ended with Baba’s creations came at him with screams and yells at midnight. They whispered promises of taking away his gift – promises of vengeance.

Now Baba was a shadow of himself. He never spoke. He never said a word. There he was on this lane where our plague knew no end, with the iron and the hammer, striking day and night…

Baba only spoke to the iron…

Suddenly, my attention was moved by a strange spirit, a force that wasn’t me being on an empty stomach for days or wounded all around my bleeding skin. This was a spiritual entity with powers beyond what men could understand. It swept my attention to the corner where the white men were seated.

There were a couple of them, and many of them were the men and women who were closer to their graves. They were huddled together like wet chicks that have done no harm in their past lives. It only took a look into their eyes to begin the count of how many lives they’d ended.

The fact that a bunch of white folks was sitting together wasn’t what took anyone by surprise but what did was the black man that stood on their podium. He went by the name, Amadi.

Amadi walked back and forth on the raised platform in a black flowing robe that made him look like the chief member of an ancient confraternity. On his black skin, the robes looked like death made manifest. The saving grace was the touch of white that was fixed on his neck. There he was, speaking.

He was speaking in strange tongues.

I stood in sheer wonder as I had kept doing whenever I made my way through this alley. What was this God the white men worshipped all about? What was this religion?

Amadi moved back and forth, speaking in the language the Oyibos could understand, telling them of promises he could never keep but the God they served could. He was telling them of solace, of a comfortable place to rest their broken souls. He was telling them of a God who would give them peace and unending life, despite the fact that they had been the downfall of many men.

Yet, I knew who Amadi was – nothing but an alien.

In the days where we dwelt on Motherland, Amadi was hardly ever seen among us. He hardly associated with us, went to the markets, went to war, or spoke casually with the people. He lived far away.

Amadi lived in a place where he could hear the gods speak…

When they did have a message to give to us, you would hear the cry of his staff as he marched from afar. The jingles of the charms on the crooked stick screamed like the spirit of the air, clearing the path for the mouthpiece of the gods.

Amadi would march into the midst of the people, heading straight to the palace with his head bowed and his lips pursed, as if trying to make sure he didn’t spill the message before he got to who it is meant for. He would go topless and tie just a piece of red material that scared the young ones, depicting the dread of the powers of the gods. One of his eyes would be lined with the white of chalk; a symbol that reminded the people that the gods saw all their deeds so they couldn’t hide them forever. His bare chest and back would bear marks; messages he couldn’t deliver early were scribbled on it. Some of them were the details of occurrences the people dared not forget in form of tattoos.

He would walk straight to the palace, fall before the king, and spill. Afterwards, he would rise and march forth the way he came, except the king beseeched for further guidance. He would keep going until he wasn’t seen again.

Amadi had done the exact same thing the moment he knew we would vacate Motherland.

He came into the midst of the people, ululating like a widow with urgent screams of danger and death. We were all taken aback as he rushed into the palace, moving faster than ever. He fell before the king and had just a word for him – exile!

The king had barely understood when we had vacated Motherland…

Now, before me was Amadi, and you would never be able to tell who he truly was. Still, I knew him. As he dramatized the religion of the white skins, he had once dramatized before the people the message of the gods. The Oyibos had needed him to hear from their God as well. I could still see him, right there on that podium, wearing the red around his waist, holding his screaming staff in place of the quiet cross. I could still see the scars and signs on his skin even when the black robe had masked it all.

The true Amadi was still within, waiting for the spark. When he locked eyes with me, he paused and kept the stare, until the other white folks all turned to me, staring, watching…

I moved on, knowing the stare lingered on, knowing Amadi had seen me see him – not him on the robe, but him in the eyes of the gods.

“Help!”

Anything that would make me ignore that voice was yet to exist. I knew the voice before I did the face, for we grew together, not as siblings, but as two individuals that have realized that one cannot do without the other. She was the most beautiful black woman you’ll see among us. She was Tageddigt.

The urgency of her voice was totally irresistible, and hearing her cry for help was piercing. I leapt to the sound, turning into the narrow way by the left of the alley from which the voice had come. 

“Taggedigt?” I cried, releasing my voice into the wind for the first time in a very long time. I could hear the plea in my voice as I ran towards her cry, wishing she was completely fine. In the brief seconds of me leaping towards her plea, I could picture again, our future together – the plans we had made in the fields when we went out in the evening to gather wheat and barley.

“I love female children.” I had said to her, smiling like a hyena, admiring the beauty of the golden rays that illuminated her glowing skin.

She chuckled and blushed. “It is every man’s dream to have a male child.”

“It is mine to have a girl child that will look just like her mother, a daughter that will be another man’s delight and comfort in times of sorrow.” I replied with my entire sincerity.

“The people don’t like to see female children.” Taggedigt replied. 

“If your parents had gotten a boy in your place, perhaps, I’ll be a nobody, sitting in silly maudlin.” I replied. Our people always wanted male children, they adored them more and placed them higher. This was one painful part of my priceless black culture I never truly understood.

What made the woman less? What made us think that men had a better position in society? From the life I had lived, everything I had seen a man do, I had seen a woman do better. If the gods gave me a male child, I’ll be happy. If the gods gave me a female child, I will be the happiest being alive.

The flashing memories suddenly seized now as I laid eyes on Taggedigt and froze like a portrait. There she was, staring back at me. Our eyes locked, and all I could see in hers were her silent cries for help as she watched me. I could hear the voice of her soul, beckoning to me, the man she loved to come to her rescue and deliver her.

Still, I stood frozen.

“What do you want, nigga?”

The sick words rang like venom in my ears. The two white men that stood around her now had their eyes on me. One of the men had his hand on her back and arms, laying pressure on her; pressing her against the wall. The other had his trousers down and was on to proceed with his actions.

If I couldn’t save her now, I couldn’t anymore for good, but no one fought the white folks…

“Please…” I began. “Let her go.”

The men barely said a word. The one with the trousers down took out the weapon from his pocket and raised it at me. It was the weapon that ended a life from a distance and the wielder never needed to come close.

“Out.”

It wasn’t the language of the man I was listening to, but the language of the gun. I turned to Taggedigt without uttering a word, but the tears in my eyes and the emptiness of my arms pleaded to her. I was sorry, but not enough. I knew I was going to be even more broken when the time came for I would never forgive myself for letting the molestation of the woman I loved take place.

Still, here as aliens, we had only one rule and everyone kept to it – be the nobody you are; for the extraordinary never lived too long.

I turned away, retreating to the little cottage in my home, so broken that I did not notice the neighbors that dwelt beside my cottage – Chancel and Mide – watching me come in. The duo was like no other among us for one belonged to us from the beginning and the other didn’t.

Chancel was a white man of white origin and grew up with their culture and lifestyle. Mide was a black woman who grew up in Motherland and was one of us until we left home for this strange land. Somehow, as the gods would have it, these incompatible persons were happily married with children. We all in this alley could still remember the day of the union. 

The parents of Chancel had done everything they could to make sure it was never so, but Chance was a grown man who could make his own decisions. He had seen black and loved it and even though I would never really understand, he had appreciated the beauty of it and chose to live the rest of his life in the embrace of the black culture. 

Chance was my only hope in believing that the Oyibo could be human if they chose to. Every morning before I left the cottage, I would look at Chancel and remember that I could tolerate the filth of the actions of the white skins, for they were only humans after all!

So we were all happy for Chancel and Mide, and no doubt, Mide loved Chancel just as much as he did her. Now, they both stood in front of their courtyard with worry on their faces as they watched me return. It wasn’t surprising to see their faces that way. The only time they’ve truly smiled was during the union. Aside from that day, they only wore worries on their faces for they feared one day, the sanity that kept me together was going to give.

Today was the day…

I found the door to the cottage ajar. It was never that way. To maintain the little privacy that we could achieve, Papa and Mama never left the doors open.

Then there was the white man’s voice.

I leapt into the house like a panther and startled them. One of the white skins turned to me, his gun raised to my face. I froze instantly, my heart racing; not from fear but from the uncertainty of what could be.

There was another white skin and he had his gun at Papa. Mama stood beside him, her hands raised, her eyes glaring at me like a warning to do nothing stupid.

“Please…” I muttered. The white skins exchanged words, saying something about Papa’s heresies. They weren’t heresies. Papa was always the village chief and when the king and his sons died in exile, Papa was going to take over leading the people forward. So Papa never forgot the culture and even with everything the white skins did to us, Papa never failed to remind the people where they came from. He would whisper it in their ears day after day.

Remember who you are!

“Son… Son…”

I was lost again in the thoughts of the past, and my happy place where my heart rested. I flashed back to reality.

“Just leave, son. We have something to talk out.” Papa was saying.

“We’ve got nothing to talk out, you preach to the people, yeah?”

“I encourage my people.” Papa shot back.

“Well, just to remind you that your people never gave a fuck. Let me tell you who has given us this enticing information – Richard!”

Hodan!

Hodan sold Papa out!

“Hodan may say as he wishes…”

“Richard!” The white man retorted.

“Richard may say as he wishes, but I’ve preached nothing to the people.”

“What if I don’t believe it?”

“He says the truth!” I shot back.

“Son!”

“He should really shut up!”

“Hey!” 

“Wait!”

A loud bang and I shook like someone in a convulsion. I didn’t even know how it worked. All I knew was that Papa was on the ground already, his eyes wide open but he wasn’t present in the body I was looking at. 

Papa!

Like Hlengiwe, Papa’s striped shirt was already soaking up the thick red blood on the concrete floor. 

I screamed. Like a fireball, I reached for the weapon my arms knew, drawing the matchette from its sheath where it hung in our kitchen, I leapt at the white skin as he stared at Papa and swung. He fell like a piece of meat, splitting as the flesh and blood spewed against the cabinet. The other fired, but not me for the energy in me was enough to nudge him against the door so that he banged against the metal door and the gun fell from his hand. He reached for the gun again but was late. The careless swing of my knife sent the blade into his skin. He screamed but was silenced at a second swing. 

The silence that followed was deafening.

Four bodies lay around me including Mama and Papa, the former lying against the latter, motionless.

Beautiful people.

Tears flooded my eyes, but it was too late to cry now. It was time to end it now. It was today!

I could hear the screams of rejection in the silence, ringing in my head.

Alien!

Still, from the midst of the screams was the gentle call of a woman. Her name was Motherland.

Home!

I burst through the door with the bloody matchette. Everyone in the alley was already gathering towards the noise, waiting for me, watching me.

I looked into their faces in silence. There they were – Ameqran the creator, Amadi the chief priest, Ife the dancer, Taggeddigt my love, Chancel who is now one of us, Mide, his wife, and Masozi. Beside her, stood her bloody-bodied son, holding her hand, invisible.

I could hear her still – Motherland…

Home!

“Home!”

I screamed as if my life depended on it. 

It did. 

I lifted the knife up and the blood dripped, tears flooding my eyes.

These people needed the first person to yield the knife and somehow, Motherland had chosen me.

“Home!” They all screamed and marched forth. I could see the white skins from afar, pacing, gathering their guns. I could see Hodan in their midst, in his stupid attire with a gun in his arm, giving the soldiers their command as we marched through the alley, picking the weapons we could lay our hands on and singing chants of war.

We marched forth, towards the wall that separated us from Motherland and the human wall the white skins had formed, their guns raised.

“Step back in three!” One of the men cried on Hodan’s command.

My home… I was remembering my home where I found my rest. I was remembering the fields, the sands, the black of the native soils… Sweet home!

“Step back in two!”

I refused to be an alien anymore, to be treated like rags in the hands of white folks. I only listened to Her now, Her gentle voice whispering in my ears,

Home!

“Step back in one!”

Even if this was the end, I would be home. My spirit will be carried in the wind, my soul will dwell in the existence of black culture itself, my body will rejoice in its soil… When I closed my eyes in final rest, I will be indomitable.

I will be immortal!

With a scream louder than I have ever done before, knowing I would never speak again in the cold world we dwelt in, every one of us, the black family, I cried out loud: –

“Home!”

The response thundered. “Home!”

We were home…

Together…

About Author

Okpala Michael

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

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