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Going The Distance...

The Trance of the Living

NIGERIA | Thursday, 15 May 2014 | Views [139] | Scholarship Entry

Fat droplets of sweat hit the dusty ground in the crowded roads of the midday sun. Doubled over as red talons for nails wipe my brows, breath raggedly passing through unfamiliar lips. The world was upside down and garish all about and for a split, agonising second, the pounding beat of my heart was louder than the screams and excited screeches of the women and children about. And as far as everyone was concerned, this was having a good time. December in Calabar – chaos in carnival yellow.

All around loud music and scantily clad women in feathers and fishnets danced about under the scorching rays of the tropics, gyrating to the rhythm of the loud speakers driven behind pickup trucks. Our darken skins pulsating, roasting in the open fires of the harmattan heat. The spiked leather jacket swallowing the brunt of the rays, I sweated out the results.

Suddenly, the Efik dancers stained with body chalk and pink velvet crashed passed my bent frame, jolting me back to reality. I stood straight, tall and strong; the three feet high afro wig aided my otherworldly aura of insanity, eyes hidden behind spiked dark glasses, swollen lips sealed across by thin strips of jagged black tape – thick red liquid seeping through in fusion with grime and sweat. Spirits have no words to share with the living: a masquerade the native symbol of man’s link to the spirit of ancestors long dead, but never far away.

The people saw the spirit of the recent dead in her earthly battle with tradition and modernity, the new brash versus the old world respectability. My gnarled fingers slinked around the neck of the sacrificial men kneeled at my feet for the slaughter, nails digging into taut flesh and protruding veins. The death rattle belled at my ankles to warn the unwary of death at their door.
Earth soiled tears moistened my taped lips as I kissed the baby of an onlooker who begged for the child to be blessed by the deceased. To the mother I am She of the newly departed. The embodiment of the brazen, reckless spirit of the corpse laid to rest, celebrated in life – revered upon demise.

Lost in the fabricated trance, my left index shoots one blood red fingernail to the grieving family across the coffin of the decaying remains, slowly, deliberately. The hand then rests softly across the chest of She half hidden beneath the black veil of mortality in the wooden box, ears pressing closer to listen at the lips of the silent whispers of the dead.

It is well.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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