Vizionz Stories

CASUALTY: THE DEMON WITHIN

Sulaiman Atofarati

It was a late evening in the little farm town of Akuro. My father and I were settling down to eat our evening meal when three bucolic individuals barged in, all in a terrified frenzy. They were in the congregation of the local mosque of which my father was the Imam. Surprise was etched on his face as the three men greeted him respectfully; we had just left the mosque some minutes ago and there was no special prayer slated for this calm Wednesday night. My father had led them in prayers for the past 2 years, so he listened coolly as they ranted. They spoke frantic, exasperating Yoruba. “Imam, you have to come, it is Baba Adini! He has gone mad! He is creating havoc everywhere. Come and see, come and help. He just left the mosque, got home, carried his granddaughter and started shouting obscenities everywhere, before rushing into…” My father stands up. “Take me to him.” My father. Ekun! People call him. The strong man. Cool and dispassionate, he never shied away from helping others; or showing off his awesome faith. He faced betrayed no emotions as his huge frame shifted gracefully on the cemented floor as he walked out the door and into the night. The three other bodies disappeared almost instantly with his as the darkness swallowed them whole. Electricity was rare in the small community and tonight was no exception. Grudgingly, I found my white prayer cap and put it on. Daddy had commanded me never to go outside without it. He said it was to avoid Satan’s crap falling directly onto your head. The story convinced me. The thought of somebody or something shitting on my head didn’t augur well with my childish perception of ‘good things’ and ‘bad things’. I obeyed and I was probably the only one in the whole village that did. I took a few spoonsful of the delicious ‘jollof’ rice and beans that I had helped to cook, (It was so delicious! Why did these people have to come and disturb us!) Only the thought of returning to it intact appeased me as I covered both plates of food before hurrying into my still dusty rubber palm sandals and running after them. I had been looking forward to another customary unflustered night with my Dad; him and me and his numerous enthralling historical tales of valor. Once, my father told me, we were a great nation with honorable God-fearing people. Now the gates of Hell hung upon the diabolic mess of a greedy unforgiving assembly of ruthless individuals ruling the country, people who did not care about honor, nor feared God nor even believed in a nation. They didn’t care about the hunger that striated the lands. They cared only about their pockets. the only hope is you, my son, your generation should never be like ours. I purred in silent pleasure. It was around 8:30 pm, the gentle tropical breeze soothed our skin as we moved quickly on unpaved footpaths through bushy undergrowth towards the scene of the commotion. “… ‘hand deeds’ and its consequences,” I caught one of them say as I reached the quartet of men. “Always, when they do… something bad happens. What manner of evil have they unleashed this time… why do they not learn? And why Baba Adini? He was devoted…” “You will never truly know people… what they do or say in secret. May God have mercy on us.” But my father remained silent, stoic. There was a large indigenous crowd by the edge of the little village; some way from the sacred land where the dead were buried near where was considered ‘the forbidden forest’. People were saying all sorts of things as we approached: “He has totally gone mad” “Nobody can stop him” “He has dragged Nofisat, that his sweet granddaughter, to the forest with him and what does he want with her…” “Nobody is ready to go and confront him… “Did you not see how he dealt with Okoro…Okoro that we thought is a strong man… a 77-year-old man!?!” “This one is strange o!” “And we thought he was a saint. Does he not pray all the time? Is he not a devout Muslim? Why will something like this happen to him? What then is the use of this their religion?” My father didn’t bother to reply and started walking across the bushy field. Someone shouted, “Wait for the baale! He will be here soon with his men. They know how to handle things like this. You alone cannot handle it!” My father ignored him: this man was a member of his mosque and a brother in Islam, it was his duty as the Imam to make sure he was alright. He was certainly not waiting for an unbeliever- who performed acts that could only be referred to as shirk. In Islam idolatry had no forgiveness. I followed him dutifully but realized I was the only one. The three villagers had suddenly disappeared. I also ignored the people around me. The thought of death and sacred grounds sent shivers up my spine, yet I could never abandon my father. He was not the easiest to live with, being very strict and all, but he was all I had and he was the only one I could trust with my life. I followed as quietly as possible not wanting him to think my presence would be a distraction. We entered the forest and thick foliage engulfed us into robust darkness. Lianas sprung from every corner of the green density. I could hardly make out the different trees and plants that surrounded us; the wild pawpaw, guava, mango and banana trees as well as all the other wild trees I had yet to explore in daylight. They now appeared like huge apathetic monsters waiting silently to pounce on us at the slightest goading. I was getting versed in their names and their usage, beyond enjoying the delicious fruits they produced. I smirked a little, thinking about my little skirmishes into the forest. Most times it was to play; thrill-seeking and adventures were part of growing up I convinced myself and in this small mundane village, it was the best we could do. The little band of village schoolmates I had managed to assemble on my escapades did learn a few things on the way. Especially, the occasional jungle animals we encountered. They gave us such thrills that we had to always come back for more despite the trepidation we felt on seeing them. It was only Babalakin, the veteran hunter we feared more, for he guarded the forest and its composition with a jealous rage. “What are you kids doing here! Are you out of your senses! Do you know anything about where you are? Let me catch you anywhere near here again I will feed you to the demons of the forest, you useless bunch of miscreants! I will…” If only Daddy knew, he would remove the skin off my buttocks with his flexible rattan cane. The forest was dark and foreboding, there was a deathly chill in the air; suddenly the country breeze became a callous cold that increased the shivers up my spine. Even the night animals and insects – I could not even hear the whining of mosquitoes- seemed to have disappeared. Was the forest forbidden even to them? My heart started to beat faster. I had always taken the rainforest around the village for granted from the day we arrived 2 years ago. My father was a teacher and part of the Universal Basic Education Scheme that sent teachers all over the country including remote out-of-sync-with-the-outside-world villages like Akuro. The little village was particularly surrounded by botanic pageantry and a lot of the green mass led to people’s farms which were visited daily; the only source of income they knew. It wasn’t uncommon or exceptional to be entering the bushy milieu at this time of night- well perhaps not this close to the ‘Forbidden Forest’- the area- earmarked long ago by the ancestors of Akuro as the domain of the spirits that both protected and punished the village. They also brought great woo unto those who dare trespass. Madness and death. For all the talk of modernity – electricity, water, roads even religion- people still believed the spirits of the forest haunted it with ruthless efficiency. Yet, it was also their prison. A prison which they could never leave, effectively negotiated by the mystic powers of the great ‘medicine men’ of old. Feet crunched broken twigs as my father called out in Yoruba. “Baba Adini, where are you, why are you behaving like this…. is this what I thought you? Are these the commandments of Allah and the Prophet. Do not behave like this. Come out, please. Let that poor girl go. She is only a child… remember there is nothing God cannot forgive…” It was only the white of my father’s flowing gown-like jalabiya I could see now. The darkness enhancing the thick foliage was absolute and it was terrifying. “Baba Adini… come out!” Silence gently crouching on the bushy land. “Baba Adini…” Fear running amok in me now, I gently grasped my father’s robe to help reduce the shaking of my limbs. “Daddy… they are not here…” I wanted to say. Hearing my shaking voice, my father stopped. Then we heard it… Loud terrify screams! Different voices, men, women, and children. Cries of pain and terror. And a gruesome guttural half human half animal cry that ripped through the land. With one swift motion, my father turned and rushed back through the busy entrapment, brushing violently against leafy razor-like sheaths that drew blood from the skin of his exposed arms. I scurried behind my father, moving as quickly as my smaller legs could take me. We reached the clearing before the cemetery and beheld a horrifying sight. There were bodies everywhere, unconscious, lifeless, wounded, we were not sure. But there was blood and there were cries from the women and those that had survived. What scared me was the blood. I could count six seemingly wounded bodies on the ground from the light of the kerosene lamps and torch lights that littered the ground. It was so contradicting to what we had left a few minutes ago that I wondered if we had come back to the same place. My father ran to them, inquiring; “What happened!? What happened?” People were crying over a small unconscious body. It looked like she was dead, for the cries that filled the air around the form was heart-wrenching. It was undiluted agony. And it reminded me of the only time I had heard my father cry. Then we heard it. It was blood-curdling, a howling noise that froze the blood in our systems. The howl was not a dog’s nor any animal of the kind we knew. It was a demon’s howl. And it seemed to gradually descend into the pits of hell as it faded into another part of the jungle. Someone volunteered, a boy, shaking: “It is was him, he suddenly ran out… as if something was chasing him. He started attacking everyone. Nofisat… O Nofisat… that old man is a devil!” Shaking, in tears… “He fled that way”. My father bent over the fallen victim. He felt her pulse, surveyed the horrible gash on her chest, where blood flowed freely. There was sadness in his face as he tore part of his clothing and used it to stop the bleeding. What manner of human could do this? For the first time in my life, I saw the confusion on my father’s face. Then almost instantly, it lit up. “She is not dead! Take her to the clinic in Arogbe quickly. It is not far. She has lost a lot of blood. You must go quickly! Go go!” Just as two villagers picked her and raced towards the only clinic in this remote rustic lands, we heard another bout of blood-curdling howls and without thinking people started to run, leaving suffering victims. “Stop!” My father cried. “Do not leave these people like this!” But nobody obeyed him. We watched as assembles of full grown men and women, wounded and not, ran for their dear lives, leaving the dead and those too broken to move. You couldn’t blame them, could you? Their life was now their primary concern, nobody wanted to be a helpless, inert hump of meat. Nobody wanted to be a hero. Except for my father. My father’s shouts died as a young man rushed back, screaming: “Baale has arrived! He has arrived with his men! They have captured him! They say he is possessed by a demon… they are taking him to the shrine!” Some of the villagers decided to respond to this, cautiously returning to help the wounded. They were more assured with the arrival of the Baale and his men – the hunters and priest of our ancient beliefs, they were more experienced in the mystery of the world. His gods and ancestors had all the answers. They had lived and collected these secrets from their forefathers who got it from theirs and theirs from theirs, and so on and so forth for eons. This was more knowledge than any leader of the new religion could fathom. What did he know but to lead people in prayers daily to a God they hardly understood; a God that didn’t ask for sacrifice, who did not perform any miracles, or show his might in any way they could see or identify. My father quietly left my side, helping those he could as he made his way into the dark premises of the forest around the village. He would not allow one of his congregation to be subjected to rituals of an idolatrous cult. He had worked too hard… I wanted to follow him but something kept me motionless. I watched him as he disappeared into the thickness of the vegetal land. He wouldn’t want me to follow him. That was sure. He would want me to stay and tend to the wounded and give a helping hand to those that needed it. That was my father. And tears of childish pride filled my eyes as I thought of his selflessness. I realized it every time he stroke me to punish a wrong I had committed; I saw more love in his eyes than in any other circumstance; for the pain, he administered was seen clearly in his own eyes. It was that love that dried my tears and lifted my spirit after his scolding. I was loved like nobody else could be; his eyes always said so and it was all that any child could ask for. I picked some leafy sheath of a nearby plant and proceeded to rub blood off one of the wounded bodies. “Your help should be blind. Do not let your left hand know what the right is up to. According to the prophet (s.a.w), the most acceptable of charity by Allah is one that is done with the right hand without the knowledge of the left.” I calmly sat, cleaning a wounded leg, a slash on an arm, a swollen knee. I grew excited at the prospect of telling my father of my exploits. After the uproar had died and the little village had settled back to its normal mundane routine, I would sit by his side on the dining table as he read the Quran or the sports section of his favorite newspaper. I would tell him how I had helped people; cleaned their wounds and whispered endearing words of encouragement in their ears. I would tell him it was what he taught me that I had practiced and it felt good. I could imagine the glowing smile on his face and the gentle patting of my clean-shaven head. “Good boy, Kabir. Good boy, now go to sleep, you know you have school tomorrow” I would scamper away, joy feeling my heart. It was all I longed for… Suddenly more screams filled the night. And the small peaceful village became a scene of another would-be macabre show. I woke up from my musing to chaos; men, women, and children running again. There were agony and fear in the air. “He is killing them! The demon could not be tamed! He has gotten loose! Run for your lives!” “Death and punishment are ours this night! But what have we done!?” “We have aggrieved the gods! We have angered Oludumare, and we will suffer for it!” My heart started hammering as I realized the running was coming from the part of the jungle where my father had just entered. The portion of mysterious bush that hosted the shrine; that portion that was revered and feared by all. Dread filled my mind, and horror rose like bile in my mouth… there was something I dreaded so much in that part of the forest. My father was not among those that came running out. Fear filled me as I got up, shaking. Why was he not running out with the rest? I remembered that my father never ran from his fears. He would stay and face it, no matter what it may be. It was the thought of my father’s horrible meaningless death that propelled me forward, into the heart of the area I feared the most. Babalakin and his magic… but today I would face my fears because of him that I loved so much. I worked gingerly into the thick foliage again. I took in the freshness of the greenery, the scent of leaves and flowers. They filled my nostrils but it was an acrid, nauseating sensation that followed. I smelt it as I hunkered through the little footpath and neared the embankments of mystery and terror. The smell of death, of blood, filled my head; fear for my father was a fuel that left me without control. My legs picked pace almost on its own and my hands swung as I ran forward and within seconds broke into an open patch in the forest that marked the shrine of the gods- was it Ogun’s or Sango’s or Esu’s, I couldn’t remember. But it was horror that met my eyes; blood and bodies. If I wasn’t sure of the bodies I had just left, on seeing these I knew they were lifeless. The bodies on this patch of open grounds in the forest were dead. I scurried through the bodies, about six of them, recognize the body the Baale (in a grotesque deathly pose) but I did not see my father. I looked around the tree, the center had a scarf around it, with a necklace of cowries; beneath the tree, there were three weird figurines carved in stone. A few feet away was a burning bonfire that lit the whole portion of the forest in a morbid dance of light and darkness. Then I heard a moan, a shout and several words spoken rapidly in a language I could not comprehend. I heard my father’s voice replied as he spelled out verses of the Quran. I moved towards his voice; there was chagrin in it and the verses flowed crooked and uneven. I could hear pain and fear, confusion, almost hopelessness as his breath seemed to be strangled. I rushed behind the tree and saw them and instantly fear and relief ran through my soul. Bent over my father, who was groveling in the sand on his feet and buttocks, scrambling away with one of his hands, was the grotesque figure that was the casualty of the occult. It was no longer Baba Adini, the amiable oldster that I remembered. He was still old, wrinkles of flesh adorned his gruesome aberration of a face, but he was a demon, a product of the strange arts of my people, of sacrifices and secret rituals that was as old as time yet as dark and horrific as its source; jinns, spirits, deities that reigned in darkness. His head wriggled left and right, his hands reaching out with deformed fingers, seeming longer than a normal man but with no fingernail, dripping blood. Lots of blood. “Leave him alone!” I shouted. Whatever had been my fears; the sight of my dad cowering away in fear from this figurine of nightmares was all I needed. Fearlessness from who knows where engulfed my mind; I ran forward anger in my heart and a burning ferocious glare. I picked up a broken branch of timber lying coincidentally at my feet and I moved aggressively forward. The creature stopped and turned my way. His eyes were glowering in the darkness, amassing the colors of vegetation and the fire around him. His mouth was a snarl that provoked an orgasm of ancient hatred bound in a temporal being. His face was wrinkled, twisted and rumpled, it reminded me of the local Fulani beggar who always sat outside the school compound, the creases on his face marked the beginning of time and his very existence connoted an archaeological discovery. His startled look changed to bemused anger before it shifted as he grasped the fearless puny figure approaching him with vengeful fury. Fear crawled its way into the shadows of the ancient eyes, and his growling, aspheric captions turned to whimper whispers. He pulled his ancient hands up to fend off my brutal assault. He backed away, the fear clearing his visage. I reached him and in a wild angry assault thrust my tree branch his way with my puny strength. The branch touched the horrible figure and a huge hurtful yelp escaped his lips. With trembling limbs, it backed away and scampered fearfully into the woods like a once powerful animal suddenly turned prey. I dropped the branch and rushed to Father’s side. He was still reciting the verses of the Quran. His eyes fixed on the ground where his left fingers were grating the sandy soil uncontrollably. “Daddy. Are you alright? Are you okay?” He did not answer. His eyes not leaving the solid earth, his lips not refraining from reciting the verses he knew by heart. Fear was still trembling through his body “Daddy, it is okay! He is gone. Everything is alright. We can go home now.” I touched his shoulder to get him to look up at me. Tears filled his eyes. “Inna lilahi…” he was softly reciting the Islamic saying for the dead. From Allah we come and to him shall we return… “Daddy it’s me! Everything is alright. The demon has gone. I have chased it away” There was no recognition in his eyes and his voice manifested only fear, confusion, and misery. “…wa innalilahi rajuun” he continued. “But it’s me, Kabir. It is me! Your son, it is me! It is me! Your son! Your son….” Then I saw it, the white handmade tightly knitted Islamic cap, now bloodied, held tightly in my father’s right hand. The incantations were not for the demonic apparition; not for the corpses of the idolaters that surrounded us… That was when I understood his tears. It was not fear. Like the first time I had seen my father cry, these were tears beyond agony, tears of haplessness, of great pain. These were the tears of somebody who had lost everything… I sighed. Like the first time I had seen my father cry, this time it would be the last. THE END  

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