|Print | Back||March 03, 2015|
African VoiceCloak of Invisibility
by Imo Eshiet
Mother came to a sudden stop. She hushed and we froze. It was war time. Fiery and staggering violence could simply open its maw and gobble anyone at any time. Life was cheap and chaos was order; folks were devious and capable of any depravity.
Unlike Lot’s wife who froze into a pillar of salt, we reeled into statues of fright and shock. The hair on our bodies rose in the chilly, creepy morning. The dawn was night-black, the moon having hidden itself so that the sky, usually ablaze with stars, was now charred.
When Mother gathered us in her arms like a hen its chicks under her wings, adrenalin set in. Fear, which had stiffened us, freed our limbs momentarily and we scampered into the bush. Mother whispered for us to be dead silent.
I felt a strong urge to cough, but choked the treacherous feeling. I could hear my heartbeat and those of my siblings as we crouched, crawled, and crept in the tangled vegetation. I wished we could slow down our racing heartbeats and stop them from throbbing so noisily.
But the more we held our breath, the more our hearts stormed and raged. As my chest tightened, my imagination flashed with images of our village master drummer. When excitement drove him into overdrive, he pounded the very daylight out of his drum such that it agitated every heart in the community and made it pump in unison with his suffusing rhythms.
That drummer was something. He could unclog any blocked artery and make sluggish blood rush to the head.
Yes that dark morning, my blood was like the spray from the blowhole of a whale. I could feel it jetting as from a spray nozzle inside me. The earth was unpleasantly damp and the moisture seeped through our clothes. The decaying leaves that blanketed the underbrush were disagreeably cold, sticky, and dank.
Something lacerating about the morning air, like the sharp serrated edge of a knife, heightened our uneasy, apprehensive mood.
Just moments before, we were chatting happily with our mother even as we used our arms to clear cobwebs from our path. We were eagerly looking forward to the next hour when we would see another day for whatever it was worth. Now even my younger brothers and sister who were sleepwalking were suddenly jolted into full wakefulness.
It was a lesson in how moods could swing and drop all too suddenly. Though we did not have time enough to process our fear, it was clear we were certainly in the teeth of danger.
In the darkness I sensed Mother silently praying as she often did, in a state of surrender to her creator. Like us, she was trembling from fear.
If we were not in a situation that robbed her of her voice, Mother would have chanted, “Lord if you be for us, who can be against us? Have mercy on your handmaiden and on the fruits of the womb with whom Thou has blessed her.” She would, referring to us, add: “If these were to be shared by the world, who would have cast a glance on a wretched soul like me?”
And then concluded, “But Thou in Thy infinite compassion has allowed Thy daughter to find favor with Thee and mercifully granted them to me. I ask Thee therefore, that Thou should allow neither hawk nor kite to snatch them from me.”
As I recalled this, her favorite prayer, a powerful light tore through the bush. Actually the searchlight and when we took cover in the bush happened almost simultaneously. Mother stiffened and tugged us to her side.
We heard men swearing in language Mother would in normal circumstance never allow anyone to utter in our presence. One of the drunks spoke gruffly, “Did you hear that prostitute? I bet the slut even takes her brood along when she is on overnight duty.” The gang laughed coarsely and swung the light searching for us.
One unsheathed a long knife and savagely sank it into a nearby tree in a bid to startle us from our hiding. Another felon reminded his irate companion that day was fast breaking, so they needed to be on their way.
The one who pulled the knife swore savagely, “Let her thank her stars. If I had found her I would have taught her what all the men that have used her have never shown her all her miserable life.”
I do not know if it was fear or my mother’s unspoken appeal as she sank her nails into me that restrained me from giving up our cover and clawing the eyes out of that devil. Even though I was a mere child, I never could stand anyone insulting my mother and getting away with it.
What made the insult even more aggravating was that we were on our way to early morning devotion at the Qua Iboe church. The church had a huge bell imported in the early 20th century. The bellman would climb up the belfry at three in the morning to ring and ring again thirty minutes later to wake the faithful for morning devotion at 4 a.m.
Mother usually woke us up at the first bell, so we could make the one and a half mile trip to the church. Though we often slept lightly during the war as we could be on the move any time, yet my siblings and I initially resisted being woken so early. We got to liking it when the preacher repeatedly blessed us against arrows that flew by day and pestilence that killed by night.
We had been in difficult situations as the war progressed, but miraculously survived. Mother said the unmerited fortune was from God and that is how we came to appreciate every little mercy that came our way. Sacrificing sleep for early morning worship was nothing compared to the blessing of life we enjoyed amidst widespread indiscriminate killings.
That memorable morning, Mother had received a strong impression to stop and listen. As she did, she picked up the thieves celebrating their loot after a successful night raid. Sensing danger, she instantly headed us into the bush. That split-second inspired decision spared our lives. The villains we ran into were men we knew in the village. They certainly would have killed us to protect their identity.
That dawn the headhunters failed to see us even as we virtually lay at their feet because a power beyond ours spread a cloak of invisibility over us. It was that same power that saw us through the evil war alive. I know there are miracles all around us.
That dawn experience succinctly brought home what the Psalmist meant by, “The sun shall not smite thee by day nor the moon by night.” It convinced me that prayer solves problems and makes peace possible in the midst of turmoil. After that I no longer needed persuasion to kneel beside her each time Mother dropped on her knees to pray.
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