By Eddington Obaro Jonathan
There is a heavy wind blowing in my country, a fiery anger dancing in the market square: a people silenced under the yoke of bad governance are now showing signs of lassitude. These protests are not just about police brutality: the truth is that we have endured so much nonsense in this country and it has to stop. As I think about our present realities, my mind flashes back to “The God of Small Ants”, a story I wrote seven years ago.
THE GOD OF SMALL ANTS
It wasn’t up to a week after those idiots who called themselves Ihwo people parked their belongings and left the community for the owners to enjoy that the devil came to terrorize the length and breadth of the village. The people had barely begun to breathe in the air of freedom when, one morning, the first set of farmers to answer their morning call to duty, those who swore to quickly cultivate their farmlands and take up those pieces of land formerly cultivated by those crazy Ihwo people, returned with their empty basins and cutlasses claiming to have seen the devil sitting on the road to their farms and asking everyone to return home.
“That must be an early morning joke”, said some villagers, “ever since those stupid Ihwo people were here disturbing their fathers’ heads not ours, there had been no such stories.”
So, they went their different ways, sharpened their cutlasses and set out for their various farms.
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It wasn’t long that everyone returned home, each with his own bag of stories. Those who went to Ibobo said they saw the devil sitting at the bridge facing Sapele. Those who went to Okwine said the devil was sitting at Ugbiroba Oshebobo. Those who went to Igbugwor said they saw him on the wooden bridge across Irenren stream. Everyone had something to say. Those who went to harvest palm fruits in nearby bushes said the devil was as tall as the palm tree they climbed, that he asked them to come down and go home. Others who went to plant cassava in nearby farms said they saw him pacing about their farms and in fear; they abandoned their work and took to their heels.
Those who saw him sitting said that he had twenty-one legs; others who saw him standing said he had seven legs. And those who on their way to the farm saw people running home and turned back, running faster than the cheetah itself, said he had fifty, a hundred or two-hundred legs. Some said he was the handsomest man they had ever seen; others said he was the ugliest and yet others were of the opinion that he was neither handsome nor ugly. Fear ran in everyone’s spines as each man narrated his own story. How do we handle a thing of this magnitude – was the thought that ran in everyone’s mind.
Only when the anger of the sun rose at noon did they understand the intensity of that strange presence. They had known angry suns with violent rays that beat the hell out of one’s body and made one blacker than coal but never had they experienced a sun this angry before and they knew it was that messenger from hell that had come to afflict them. The sun so angrily scotched their earth that the sand under their feet became a bunch of hot embers.
It wasn’t long that the small children began to cry of hunger and their mothers dished out foods in small plates for them. They too felt strange desires to eat because hunger, they said, was a sister of idleness. Only then did they notice that the foods were sour and they ran out to spit the sour taste from their mouths and to wash their mouths thoroughly with water so that they would not vomit the small foods that were still left in their stomachs. Then, they noticed also that the water in the buckets was red like clay and they ran to fetch water from their wells but ran back again, calling the names of their great grandfathers and mothers and telling their husbands that the world had gone adrift because the water they saw in the wells was pure red, worse than the pond water they drank in their farms. And then, they concluded that this must be the handiwork of that monster of a man.
Wait! Was he a man? They didn’t even know. Only that he had the face of a man and wore clothes like a human being but he had strange hands and legs that even their forefathers who understood the ways of the world would not have been able to explain.
That evening, the town crier went round the village summoning all the able-bodied men to the village square and warning seriously that those men who thought the pleasure-pike in between their legs meant nothing to them should start parking their belongings from the village because a worse fate awaited those who would dare refuse to answer this call to bravery. And before the town crier was done with his message, the village square was already a market place. Every man came with his cutlass even though no one asked them to do so. They knew why they had been summoned and they kept pacing about, swearing they would give the idiot of a monster shit to eat: if he thought he was a wizard, they would show him that there were greater wizards in their midst – so on they ranted. Even those notorious for their inability to fell a tree seemed to have contracted this talk-talk virus; in fact, they were the loudest in this market of men.
The chairman of the village came then to declare that there was a war between the brave men he was seeing and a foolish monster that had forgotten the road to his home and was waiting to be shown the path to his death. But then, he cautioned that such an idiot was not ready to die alone and so, caution was the stone to crack a nut of this nature. After a long debate on how to tame the beast, this angry congregation of men agreed to take him by surprise as early as 4:00 am the following day when sleep was sweetest and men roamed about in their dream worlds and when the world was blacker than soot. Everyone went home swearing that the devil must return to hell whence he came and filing their cutlasses as they hoped to re-converge at 3:30 am.
It was barely 3:00 am when voices announced their presence at the village square. The village chairman came to cook courage in the minds of those whose hearts were now melting slowly like a cube of sugar in water. He told the men who had now formed a congregation that the monster was a tricky son of the devil who thought that by appearing in different places he could deceive the highly witted sons of ancient sages. The congregation became a talk show; they ranted and narrated anecdotes of past brave acts enacted by their fathers. They talked so much that if words were missiles, the monster would already be lying dead. The chairman drew their attention to a hidden fact that lay in everyone’s mind – “how does one kill a monster that seemed to be in different places at the same time?”
They concluded after much deliberation that Ugbiroba Oshebobo was the right place to get the monster; the roads in that place seemed to lead to other worlds other than theirs, they said. So, they marched like ants, singing war songs as if by singing the monster would suddenly pack his belongings and leave.
They were a stone’s throw from the devil when suddenly the stupid moon – or was it sun? (they never knew) – came from nowhere to announce their presence. It shone so brightly that if a needle fell to the ground, one would easily pick it up without stressing one’s eyes. The monster rose from where he had been sitting and looked towards their direction and his eyes didn’t look like one that had been sleeping. He was as tall as the rubber trees around him and they were like small ants in his sight. He said nothing, didn’t look as if he wanted to fight.
Only now they knew what they were up against – the god of small ants and they knew they were his ants. The songs ceased. Ten thousand thoughts ran in their minds. Hearts melted; courage flew and as if in a stream of passion mixed with fear, a student in their midst exclaimed: “the most handsome man in the world!”
“You have no eyes,” said another student, “this is that idiot that was killing Greeks because they couldn’t answer his riddle.”
Only these two small ants seemed not to have been cured of the talk-talk virus. And as if stung simultaneously by one insect, they all shouted: “Oduaran.”
Off course, they knew Oduaran, the giant. Their fathers had told them about that ancient uncle of theirs who swept his compound with nine palm trees. But Oduaran didn’t stop people from going to their farms, they thought, he didn’t have many hands and legs like jellyfish. Yet they called him Oduaran.
No one asked them to disperse before this army of men turned their backs on their defeat – this was a lost battle; it was foolishness to embark on a fruitless mission. Each man went home with the heavy hand of defeat on his chest.
That morning, their wives spoke different languages over their pots of soup that got sour while they were still cooking. Children vomited hot, sour foods. They knew it was that monster that had come with a load of curses to plague their village. Thenceforth, they ate sour foods and drank red water.
That was how seven hopeless years came to pass with many dead from hunger and those who had little opportunities parked to other villages. Their farms went fallow yet they dared not cross their “boundary” because of that idiot of a monster. So, they managed the little land around the village. During these hopeless years, three chairmen had ruled the village, each promising to kill the idiot that corrupted their foods and waters but later abandoning their pledge with the foolish claim that the monster was too handsome to be killed like a common chicken.
If there had been rain, they probably would have managed their lives until death came to snatch them away from the monster or snatch the monster away from their land. But the idiot came with him a devilish climate that forbade rain but whose sun was hotter than the fire that cooked their meals. Now, they had come to the end of that elastic that had held them bound for seven years: now, they swore to eliminate any obstacle that stood in their way of peace.
It was the poorest man who without thinking slapped the village chairman, claiming that the chairman killed his little cassava plant that was close to the road, that the chairman saw nowhere else to pass with his wretched bicycle but the only farm he had, attached to his little hut. He pushed the chairman from the bicycle and descended on him. Passers-by who didn’t know what had happened took off their foot-wears and descended on the idiot who called himself a chairman. By the time their anger subsided, their chairman was lying unconscious on the ground.
The news fled from house to house until everyone was burning with fresh anger, anger to be free. As if they were stung by a bee, every man grabbed whatever weapon was closest and ran towards Ugbiroba Oshebobo. The monster was seven times bigger than before but no one cared to notice his size. The first men to get there were without weapons yet they grabbed him but noticed that he was the lightest load they had ever carried.
“A strange creature”, they said, “he didn’t even bother to fight.”
The thunder rumbled when their monster lay dead on the ground. The rain that followed fell until the next day. They woke up to meet the most delicious food and the purest water they had ever seen.
Those who went to clear their farms came back with cassava tubers as fat as a rubber tree. Others who went to harvest palm fruits came back with bunches bigger than the wheelbarrow that rolled them home. For the first time, they noticed that their plantains were as big as their arms; their oranges were bigger than coconuts; their coconuts were seven times bigger and they became the world’s happiest people.
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