When the smoke never floated as it should and the fire that burned remained steady, Uli the priest knew that a terrible omen had befallen the little village of Maijo. He stared at the fire; his thoughts had long fallen into a trance. His mind cast back long into a history, about a day when the New Year purification sacrifice was neglected by the gods and the fire of the sacrifice burning without the smoke ever floating.
For most parts of the year, Uli was a hidden sight to the people of Maijo; his appearance was only two folds. The first began on the day of the New Year celebrations, when dressed as the eternal spirit, he danced around the village. They say that the rhythms of his dance were how the spirits walked their path. He would gyrate, twist, turn and swerve with such viciousness; it felt like the dusty earth was part of his movement, not just the path that he walked. Thrilling as the dance may be, enchanting as the mask that he carried, the true gift of the day came not from his dance, beautiful as it may seem, and it came not from the words of wisdom that he granted the elders, pious though it may seem. It neither came from the fear that the little ones had, at seeing such an unwholesome sight, dressed in dry chaffs of carefully weaved grass without the semblance of a head, nor from the sight of a fabled spirit, which was only but famous in the tales that the young ones were regaled with at sunset. The true gift of the day came when the spirit that possessed Uli calmed its gyrations down and begins its long walk in search of a pious virgin. Some of the days he circled the town at least three times, through every pathway that came. When he had seen all there is to see, he appeared with a white flower, an emblem of purity. He would walk as the drummers followed, repeating circles after circles of incantations that seemed to replenish his strength at every stop, yet at last he will find the door that the spirits have led. There he would drop the rose, and the door will open, not by the hands of any who know, but by its own will, and the virgin chosen will come out, singing the cleansing song, also carried by the spirit. Together in tow, Uli and the chosen virgin will walk the path, both conduits of a higher spirit.
The ceremony of the cleansing was the second day in which the whole town saw Uli. This ceremony always happened a full seven days to the day that will mark the New Year. The ceremonies began with the drumming that fills the doors of the shrine. Like most of the things that couldn’t be understood, the drums for the cleansing ceremony were never played, all year long they sat, idle, lonely and dusty; waiting for a time to show their worth. And that time always comes. Early morning, the drummers are led, by a will so strong; their fingers always knew how to play the beat.
It is said that the beatings of the drum carry a thousand souls, the souls of the first generation who came to be upon this land. The old men speak of their tales; of the horrors that their ways infected on the land. For the land was a link of life, the more perversity that existed in the hearts of the people, the more empty the fields became as the seasons passed. For a moment as the tale had taught, the old ones were brutal; they pillage every sense of good that they had. And the land suffered. It suffered as the bees that often flew, never came to rest on the pollen, and the flowers that often flirted with the bees, never got to see pollination. When the plants began to die, the air suddenly seemed scarce. Yet the people still could not heed. They instead chose the path of destruction, taking whatever the other person had after the act of war. It was all meaningless distractions. They learned how to kill, how to lie, how to pinch the light off the face of the earth. And the land let them. It let them be when they ravaged the world of its innocence; it let them have their feel of greed and envy. The land let them do, for what other deed could he have done?
The idea of existence where all of life’s and nature’s gifts are necessary parts of an ultimate circle remained. But this circle is more than just a forewarning, it is the reality of the intricate path of nature, and its balance. It was worth showing how choices are all but linked with consequences, the eternal paradigm of creation and recreation reliving its worst fears.
Every year, seven days to the day when the New Year was nigh, the chosen virgin was trapped by the music that the sacred drums played. She will appear at the door covered in white linen, the material draped over her. Her feet were not to touch the earth, so her closest companions carried her. All the way to the shrine, the music softly called, and the maidens, they moved, caught by a trance. The old one’s say that if you stared into the eyes of the maidens that carried the chosen virgin, you could see the flashes of eternity; their eyes glowed even in the vastly dark moments at dusk. If you argued that they were only there to keep a tradition, none of the maidens ever remembered the voyage to the shrine. They were as much enthused by the stories of their feat as it was told by others, but they constantly felt troubled. To most of them, they undertook a journey that had no path. Yet for those whose minds were beyond the physical, those who saw fragments of the world beyond, they could remember the walk but not as the town did, they remember walking past the town of old. Their eyes are the ones who know the horror, of what the past had been and what the future could be. They distrusted the plight of men, forever living in that constant loop of intermittent reality, the “what has been” and the “what will be”.
The previous year when Semo was chosen as the “virgin”, something felt amiss to the crowd that watched. For long the spirits had always favored the simple; the beautiful but not so daring. Semo was as beautiful as all dreams will come. Her hair was jet black and curly, lush and running down the slide of her shoulders; her body flowed beautifully, sculpted like the mind of men on a fancy morning. She could rival all the favored goddesses in tales long past. Aphrodite would have loved her smile.
Yet time trickled down fast, the year ran as fast as the winds sail, and her day arrived.
Semo was dressed in the same white linen. The maidens came, distant, not uttering a single word. The room felt cold as she watched the maidens standing fast. She waited for the trance to carry her too, but nothing came. She wondered what had changed the day. Standing alone, floating in the river of her own doubts, debating constantly what will be.
Moment after moment, the minutes softly echoed, and the long wait for a trance could not be saved. The maidens, lost in their euphoric dream carry her. They could not know that she could see, that she was in all her mind and she was her. Yet they walked her through the hidden path, where the shrine will be seen. All the way she watched, the constant enclave of trees that brooded over her, the road was a familiar place, for she had walked the path with her brother.
The memories come flooding fast. They are of a moment when she was just but a little girl in progress. When in that innocence she walked the same paths they walked that day, she was with her twin brother, the loving and amiable son of memory. She remembers then that he had carried her snail shell, and round the village she chased so hard and never relented, just to get the shell back. They ran around, from one corner to the other, till he led them into the forest. When he had disappeared into the trees, Semo called out, the silence made her voice echo; she tried moving towards the trees but remembered their mother’s terrifying stories of the angry old man who guarded the tress.
In her fear she waited, but her brother never returned, moment slowly waned as the night beckoned and her brother never showed his face nor his wry smile. The whole village had begun searching for the two missing kids then as night began to take it’s hold. Semo grew restless as the darkness grew, and as it did it lessened her fear of the trees. When finally she walked into the thick of the forest, nothing seemed clear.
From one spiritualist to another, the town tried to help the little girl remember what had happened, but nothing ever came. All that the town saw was a little girl carrying her brother out of the woods, her body covered in blood, not from her lifeless brother and not from any wound that may have been on her for she had no wounds, not even a little scratch. It was an eternal mystery to the town folk, the blood on the little girl. All wondered what may have happened, none could tell.
Yet eleven years later, she was being led through the same path, the seemed to be familiar with the terrain, but no memory came from every image she saw. It was a constant de javu.
“The sacrifice that the virgin did could not have been wrong” Uli pondered as he watched the fire burning, the horror in his eyes said it all. Questions rained through his mind as he watched the virgin, he wondered what had happened. But in a flash, the thought hit him. The sacrifice was only to be done by a virgin female and for some reason, the virgin that the spirit chose had suddenly become a non-virgin. He watched her quietly, stealthily moving his feet towards the direction of the door where his machete lay, the young girl could not have been sharper, like a gazelle she anticipated the doom that awaited her and she ran, she ran like all her life had finally been left for her legs, Uli, the priest, raging, follows in chase. The men of the priestly cult all followed the chase, none aware of the new need for speed.
Semo ran, for her life depended on it. Uli ran, for he needed to be correct. The chase passed through the village square, where drunken men followed suit. They carried clubs and pointless sticks, running to a chase without a hint. Semo ran past the white man’s shade, the picket fence seemed like a refuge. But her mind never rested there. She ran, hard as she could, till her legs felt the strength of the soil beneath her. Exhausted, she sees a gathering of mothers, and there she slumps, hardly able to utter a word. The women carry her into the hut, yet before they could see her plight, a loud bang comes at the door.
“Give us that whore!” Uli commanded as the door opened, “she must meet the wrath of this betrayal” he growled out furiously. The women are afraid of the revered presence that stood at the door. They move to carry her but a voice interrupts their fear. “ Go to that faceless room, where they sell desire, but here in this place, our daughters will not be soiled with such vicious accusations” the voice blurted out, the women turn, forming an arc around the young woman, invigorated by Adayi’s defiance. Uli stares, shocked and unsettled by this act of stupidity. “They don’t know” he thought “the doom that awaits us because one lady could not keep a flower”. He looks into their faces, half filled with defiance, half ridden with fear. “Give us Semo, she is a snake, for she has lost her flower, and tainted this sacrifice” he orders. The women stare at each other, and watch the eyes of the child behind them. They watch as she stares at them, giving in to a darker fear than death. The women knew then, for they had all been through it too. “Semo is not lost, Semo’s flower was stolen, maybe in the dark night, if we really needed a blood to spill, should the thief not be first?” the women replied standing their ground. The priest is furious. “How can these women not understand the darkness we are in, we are all doomed.”
“You women will doom us all with your recklessness, the sacrifice was not accepted and you protect this impostor, who claimed to be the virgin” he angrily blurts out. The women hold their ground firmly around Semo as Adayi walks to the priest. “We cannot blame the victim again and again, her eyes carry a fear that is worse than death, she is afraid of man, and I know she has seen them, her eyes carry the burden of a tortured secret, a doom locked up underneath, so no, it is not Semo that has doomed us but the men whose greed was so great, they had to touch from the vessel of the spirit. Semo remains our virgin, she is our ceremonial virgin. The spirits would understand, they know the wrong and right, and the innocent cannot be punished, so use your weapons on us all if you can, it’s better to spill all innocent blood, than just the one” She calmly replies. The compound remains silent as the men who had come without a clue begin to disperse. The women turned to Semo, who scantly breaths, they carry her tired body, washed her blood stained feet. The songs that they sang was of the night thief, who stole the pot that was on the fire, when the morning came, the thief realizes it was his own pot he has stolen and has to stay hungry. The priest looks on dejected, finally admitting defeat and walking away. Seven days later, he was back to choose another virgin.
That year turned out to be a beautiful year, the land gave us more fruit than we had ever seen and the rains never raged on the lands. Seven days after the priest had left, sparing Semo’s life; two men died on the path that led to the forest. It is said that the spirits restored Semo’s innocence by their deaths. The town remembers her, not for her flaws, for she may have had a few as she grew in life. They remembered her for her one perfect moment, when she showed that truth is not always as clear as it may seem. The town always remembers Semo, the “ceremonial virgin” and how having a good heart was as important as being physically pure.
As for the tales of her dead twin brother, no one ever knew. But those who saw fragments of the time beyond say that on the day she was buried, a sepia colored horse came with a man, who stayed well into the evening and rode off into the dangers of the wild, On her grave were snail shell. That story we do not know, yet who knows, someday we may tell it.
BY Elijah Abuni Peter