Sunday, March 31, 2013
Arrow of Proverbs
As soon as these words left his mouth, Ogbazulobodo swung round and cried: Ewo okuo! Ewo okuo! The drummer threw down his sticks and hastily blew out the offending light. The spirit planted the staff into the earth and it reverberated. He pulled it out again and vanished like the wind in the direction of Nkwo, leaving potent words in the air behind.
The fly that struts around on a mound of excrement wastes his time; the mound will always be greater than the fly. The thing that beats the drum for ngwesi is inside the ground. Darkness is so great it gives horns to a dog. He who builds a homestead before another can boast more broken pots. It is ofo that gives rainwater power to cut dry earth. The man who walks ahead of his fellows spots spirits on the way. Bat said he knew his ugliness and chose to fly by night. When the air is fouled by a man on top of a palm tree, the fly is confused. An ill-fated man drinks water and it catches in his teeth…’
He was at once blind and full of sight. He did not see any of the landmarks like trees and huts but his feet knew perfectly where they were going; he did not leave out even one small path from the accustomed route. He knew it without the use of eyes. He only stopped once when he smelt light… ‘Even while people are still talking about the man Rat bit to death, Lizard takes money to have his teeth filed. He who sees an old hag squatting should leave her alone; who knows how she breathes? White Ant chews igbedulu because it is lying on the ground; let him climb the palm trees and chew. He who will swallow udala seeds must consider the size of his anus. The fly that has no one to advise him follows the corpse into the ground….
A fire began to rage inside his chest and to push a dry bitterness up his mouth. But he tasted if from a distance or from a mouth within his mouth. He felt like two separate persons, one running above the other.
…When a handshake passes the elbow, it becomes another thing. The sleep that lasts from one market day to another has become death. The man who likes the meat of the funeral ram, why does he recover when sickness visits him? The mighty tree falls and the little birds scatter in the bush… The little bird which hops off the ground and lands on an anthill may not know it but is still on the ground… A common snake which a man sees all alone may become a python in his eyes… The very Thing which kills Mother Rat is always there to make sure that its young ones never open their eyes… The boy who persists in asking what happened to his father before he has enough strength to avenge him is asking for his father’s fate… The man who belittles the sickness which Monkey has suffered should ask to see the eyes which his nurse got from blowing the sick fire… When death wants to take a little dog, it prevents it from smelling even excrement…
The eight men who would sing the ayaka chorus were still talking where Obika left them. Ozumba had come to sit with them to await his return. They were talking about the big bull which Amalu’s children had bought for his funeral when they heard the voice already coming back. The ayaka men scrambled to their feet and got ready to break into song as soon as Ogbazulobodo re-entered the ilo. They were all amazed that he was already returning. Had he left out any of the paths?
‘Not Obika,’ said Ozumba proudly. ‘He is a sharp one. Give me a sharp boy even though he breaks utensils in his haste.’ This was hardly out of his mouth when Ogbazulobodo raced in and fell down at the foot of the okwolo. Ozumba removed the necklace from his neck and called his name. But Obika did not answer. He called again and touched his chest.
They poured some of the cold water which was always kept handy over his face and body. The song of the ayaka had stopped as abruptly as it had started. They all stood around unable yet to talk.’
“Arrows of Proverbs” is an extract from Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe, Heinemann, 1974; Pages 225 – 227