GOD AND OTHER GRIEFS by Ohioleh Osadebey

We know the day Tejiri stopped believing in God was the Friday, March of ‘86 when we, alone in Father Edward’s farm, saw a python swallow a she-goat whole. And we might’ve as well been four teenage ghosts, dumbstruck and inert, perched carelessly on different branches of a guava tree, watching the python constrict the she-goat’s bones till she stopped bucking her hoof and her bleating quenched with a whine. It wrapped its mouth around the goat’s head and slacked its jaw to accommodate the goat’s throat and fore limbs then her stomach and hind legs until her stubby tail disappeared in its throat. When the python was done, the entire goat was a mere contour in its stomach, flowing down to its rear.

Then in hours, the python became still. And I, sliding down the trunk of the tree, peeling my skin against its bark and the others jumping right off their branches, plotted to kill the snake. We became, like young Caesars, unimpressed by the python’s schadenfreude performance.

‘Digestion’ Tejiri called the python’s stillness. And for the most part, we’d known big snakes didn’t move after a meal the size of a fat she-goat, Tejiri just called it a name, as he’s used to. Once he’d said ‘gravity’ but we knew everything that went up sank back through the atmosphere. He merely named it. Osaro, the eldest of us, with a penchant for thoughtless danger, had already walked deeper into the farm and returned with three cutlasses. He’d grokked the art of killing things below his plane on the pyramid of energy. But he never spoke. Kene, Osaro’s step brother and the youngest of us four had one time whispered that his tongue was shaped like a serpent, split at the tip.

Osaro handed Tejiri and I cutlasses and had us stand at different positions of the python’s gargantuan, still, flesh. Myself towards the tail, where the frame of the goat ended, Tejiri where it started and Osaro at the head of the snake. Kene stood afar. Osaro raised the cutlass above his head and didn’t even signal when he dealt the first blow of the cutlass, cutting halfway into the flesh of the python. And we followed; chopping away the snake to split it into portions while it squirted cold blood in our faces.

Kene screamed through the entire course. I’d cut through my portion first and the dismembered piece thrashed about the place. Then Tejiri cut through his. Then Osaro. But his piece did not squirm aimlessly when he cut it through because it had eyes, and eyes meant intent, and intent was an instantaneous winding locomotion toward Osaro’s leg, quicker than Osaro anticipated and the python dug its fangs deep in his flesh. But Osaro, relentless and stubborn yet, kept striking the damn serpent, gashing it in the skull till Tejiri leapt in and cut it in another half and both the snake and Osaro stopped struggling.

Down the undulating road to the market we ran like wild deer to CK pharmacy, carrying Osaro and the head of the python tethered to his foot. By the time we laid him on the bed he was jerking all over the place. The black of his eye ran up into the back of his head and he died. And was buried the same day.

I did not sleep the night Osaro died. When I tried, I saw his mother asking me why we dared to kill a snake on our own. I got up off my bed and made it out the back of the house and ran to the guava tree in the farm from which we earlier perched. Tejiri and Kene were already there. They looked back at me and wretchedness sacked the air between us. My knees wobbled and I fell miserably and crawled in the dust to them and we cried, my God, we cried. We threw ourselves to the ground, to the tree and we smacked the earth with our fists and the flat of our hands. And when we had completed our round of tantrums we sat quiet again.

‘Father Ephraim said that God said snakes will eat our feet and we will break its head.’ Kene said. As if the quietness was weighing on his throat.

‘Pythons are not venomous. That bite shouldn’t have killed Osaro.’ Tejiri started. And it should have passed as thoughtlets somewhere through a sinus at the back of my head but he pressed.

‘My father said the snake bit a big vein that goes to the heart. An artery. That he bled out when Nurse CK pulled the snake’s jaw from his leg. I mean, the bite doesn’t kill but it found a way to. As if God just wanted to kill him.’ The silence came again.

I should know about God just wanting to kill people. Didn’t I grovel at the feet of the Saint Mary, asking her to ask God to breathe spirit back into my dying mother? But I don’t think anything of God. And I may as well not believe in God. But it was the aftermath of my grief.

But Tejiri, he was different, the way he deconstructed God that night and rebuilt him over the years from a compendium of science theories, whining about the order of nature and how God, if he existed, was just as dispensable as man who albeit the apex predator could be annihilated by the smaller.

So today, in this harmattan chill, over wine and kolanut in Tejiri’s Warri country home, where a scrawny white fellow has said ‘God rest your soul Professor Tejiri, bloody good man. May you be in heaven before Satan knows you’re dead.’ Kene steals a fine long glance at me and smiles wantonly because we know the day Tejiri stopped believing in God was the Friday in ‘86 when we, alone in Father Edward’s farm, saw a python swallow a she-goat whole.

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