The Horse Of War

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By Mame Bougouma Diene

“Hey! Bring that back!” The fish salesman yelled at Neila, as she slipped into the crowd and disappeared from sight.

The young woman ran through some back-alleys and hid inside a torn down church. She pushed aside a large stone and crawled into a dusty alcove, caught her breath and began biting furiously into the raw fish she had just snatched from the vendor. She’d gone hungry for a few days, a nibble here, a bite there…

Her meal done, she stepped back out into Haiti’s fractured capital.

“What’s the news?” she yelled at another scavenger who was pushing a cart full of plastic.

“Transparent bottles go ten cents, dark bottles go five, that’s all the news I need,” he answered without slowing his pace or looking at her.

Something inside the people had changed with the First Caribbean War. There were fewer people now, but they shone brighter. You found more dead poultry on the streets; their necks snapped even where people starved. More prayers graffitied in blood against the walls, and little altars to the Saints flourished on every corner, their candles burning day in and day out lighting the streets more efficiently than street lamps ever had. And in some places – where even the rubble sought shelter – reality was thinner.

The warning sirens rang out weakly across the city. It was a miracle some still worked, even if all they did was announce early deaths. Several people hid behind rubble but the rockets flew overhead and landed somewhere in the outskirts of what was left of the city.

The rockets kept raining but Neila wondered why; most of the hills of Haiti had been flattened in the first salvos. Her family had died in the first few days. Bombing the city now was like stomping on sand after kicking down the sand castle.

The battlefields had moved to the Dominican Republic, and then to Mexico while the minor Caribbean islands were slowly being converted into garrison islands for the fence-riding European powers. Port-au-Prince was merely an afterthought.

Perhaps the war was Rapture and all the better souls had gone to Guinea, leaving the damned behind to their empty incantations.

Neila caressed the small statue of Papa Legba in her pocket and made her way downtown towards the coast for the evening. Staying in the same place for too long wasn’t safe anymore. The possessed wandered the alleys to dissonant drum rolls. Hiding among them were the winos and fiends, their eyes rolled upward and muttering gibberish, until they assaulted you. She had to keep moving.

“Incoming!” A random voiced screamed as the shrill sound of a missile rose above the coastline.  This time, no alarm rang from the few loudspeakers that remained. Perhaps the warning sirens had given their last wail.

In the candle-lit darkness of breathing shadows there was no telling where the rockets would land. Thankfully, Neila knew of a small hideout nearby. She made her way through a cluster of torn-down buildings and down a hole into the foundation of an older building whose solid structure was impervious to the carnage above. She risked being trapped beneath the rubble, but she could die any day, and her luck had held thus far. Her luck, and her pocketknife.

She sensed another presence in the darkness, and lit a candle.

A diminutive woman was hiding behind a pillar, sobbing faintly and mumbling something under her breath.

“Gerard, Gerard poukisa ou te kite?” The woman said, a little louder. If Jerry was the old lady’s husband, he’d left her for a better place – if there was anywhere else to go.

There was always someone hiding somewhere, no matter how improbable; some people would survive a nuclear winter along with the roaches.

Neila approached her and placed a gentle hand on her shoulders. She had needed a place to cry too, once.

“It’s alright. Jerry must be thinking of you,” she said softly.

The old woman flinched and turned, dropping a bottle of rum. Her braided hair was caked with mud and her threadbare red dress was barely holding together, but her eyes were eloquent and deep.  The depth of a sinkhole. There were things buried there, ancient things.

“Padon ti fi, padon,” she apologised, hugging Neila by the waist.

“It’s alright, grandma,” Neila said. “There’s plenty of room for both of us.”

The old woman picked up the bottle, dusted it off, opened it and proffered it to her.

“Rum? It’s good!”

Neila grabbed the bottle and took a swig. It burned her lips and her tongue, removed the plaque from her teeth and seared her vocal cords. But it sent a halo of warmth from her crown to her toes that momentarily lifted her over the rocky basement. Then the alcohol caught up with her and smacked her back to the ground.

“You have kind eyes and a good heart,” the woman said and gulped down two large swigs without so much as a shiver.

They went tit for tat, each taking a swig, for almost an hour but the bottle never seemed to empty and the old lady never seemed to get drunk. Neila, though, was starting to have visions.

“What’s your name?” Neila slurred. “And what is in that rum?”

The old lady smiled. “I thought you’d never ask.” She pushed a cork into the mouth of the bottle. “I’m Maman Brigitte, and the rum has twenty-one spices to open the Loas to you, child.”

Neila tried to get up, but stumbled against a pillar. Her small statue of Legba fell out of her pocket and rolled to Maman Brigitte’s feet.  The old woman promptly poured some rum on it, kissed it and recited a quick Hail Mary.

“Elegua!” She shouted. “You carry Saint Peter; you carry Elegua, girl. I have to hear your story now; I have to hear your dreams, girl. Come, tell Maman.”

Her voice was making Neila drowsy, it echoed wrong inside her head, or perhaps it was hard for it to fit with all the liquor and herbs sloshing inside her brain.

But the bottle beckoned, and the old woman had found time to draw a chalk circle with some symbols inside of it, and light some candles around it.  Neila tried to make sense of them, but they kept shifting under her eyes, slithering to make new patterns and then change again.

Maman Brigitte handed her the bottle again.

“Have some more, and tell me your tale…”

 “Strike out!”

The umpire waved Neila’s brother Serge off the baseball field after he missed the ball for the third and last time, marking the end of the game and the end of the school year.  He walked away, his head high and a huge grin on his face. His teammates laughed him off and patted him on the back. Win or lose, the holidays had started.

Standing alongside the field with the other teenage girls, Neila looked down from their uphill slum of Ti Rivyé onto the residential heights of Petionville streaming from the city then farther down to Cité Soleil on the coast below.  Oil rigs dotted the sea as far as the horizon, reflecting the sun’s rays into mandalas over the blue-black waters.

Parts of the city were still dotted with thousands of IDP camps dating back to the earthquake 20 years ago. Her sheet metal home was among those in the treeless hills of western Haiti. Yet where others saw only despair, she imagined skyscrapers, sprawling shopping malls and parks, a city sprinkled with cranes around new neighbourhoods, new suburbs and new hopes.  

“Still day-dreaming, huh?” said Serge landing a huge paw on her shoulder. Her older brother was too big for his clothes, too big for his room and generally too big, even for baseball, but he kept her safe. “You won’t get your haute couture just yet.”

He was right: her country striking oil didn’t mean anything to them yet, but she was proud and looking into the shape of things to come she knew things would change for the better. Though she knew he would never admit it, Serge also looked at the gleaming oil rigs lining the horizon with envy, he usually spent his summers pestering tourists in Santo Domingo, but now Haiti had to shoot Dominicans trying to cross its border illegally. The world had changed.

“Dad’s got a surprise for us waiting at home,” he said. “Let’s be out of here.”

Their mother was deep-frying chicken and plantains when they made it home through the meandering alleyways of the slum. Dirty water streamed from under every porch, but the smell of dinner drowned out the neighbourhood’s refuse. Some konpa music, an old Martelli song, was playing on the transistor radio inside.

Their father stood by the door shaking hands with a couple of white men in suits flanked by two bodyguards. He smiled at their backs as the men stepped over the sewer and headed downhill towards another house, and his smile widened as his children walked up to him.

“Hope you didn’t make the pros this year, son!” he joked to Serge.

“As if…” Neila whispered under breath and earned an elephantoid elbow to her ribs for it. Her father laughed.

“Good! Because I just landed you a job working the rigs for the summer. Nothing big, part-time for both of us, mostly relaying tonnage on the coast. But maybe you’ll shed some weight – since running across the Dominican border couldn’t do it!”

“Odoya,” Neila said thanking the Mother Lémanja.

Her father grunted his approval and turned to his son. “Light a candle for John the Baptist before sleeping and ask for strength.”

Her mother appeared by the door and grabbed Neila by the shoulder.

“There you are! You thought you’d have it easy, heh! School is done. Now help me with the food!”

Neila stuck her tongue out at Serge and followed her mother to the mud stove. The music on the radio was suddenly interrupted by a newsflash:

“Dominican warships have rounded Jaragua National Park and are making their way towards Jacmel. The government is calling a state of emergency and an immediate curfew over all urban centres. The United States is sending in aircraft carriers to counter Dominican manoeuvres. All residents are requested to remain indoors and keep their radios on until further notice. … Dominican warships have rounded Jaragua National Park…”

Drums beat and herbs burned through the night. Further up the hill someone was allowing themselves to be possessed.

Neila turned on her small cot, drifting in and out of sleep as smoke made its way over and around the shanties, cloaking them in hauntings from another world. Her father and her brother were spending more time out on the rigs. The stand-off between Haiti and the Dominican Republic had drawn in most of the region; destroyers lined the maritime borders of the Hispaniola, and the rigs desperately pumped crude 24 hours a day.

The ground shook violently under her and a blinding flash broke through the window leaving a flurry of black flecks dancing across her vision. She pushed herself up and ran out of the house in her underwear, her mother on her tail. Every resident in Ti Rivyé who was spry enough to move stood outside starring slack-jawed into the clouds.

An unusually large number of shooting stars bisected the night sky; and in the distance, the oil rigs spurted geysers of burning petroleum under a billow of grey smoke that was spreading towards the city.

The shooting stars didn’t disappear but kept getting closer. Narrowing down towards the city, they revealed themselves as scud missiles. Transfixed, Neila barely felt her mother’s hand shaking her shoulders roughly.

“Girl!” Her mother yelled, her eyes locked with hers. “Run in, grab what you can. We have no time. Hurry!”

“But…Father and Serge…” Neila said looking over her mother’s shoulders. Her mother slapped her across the face.

“There is no time!”

 Shaken, Neila ran back into the house, grabbed one of her brother’s shirts and her mother’s pocket radio, and together they ran as far up the hills and away from the city as they could.

“…And that was that.” Neila finished. “My mother was dead hours later, Serge and my father probably never made it off the rigs. Even if they did, there’s no way they survived the early bombardment.”

The old lady seemed younger under the glow of liquor and spices, she stopped drinking as Neila finished her tale, put the bottle on the ground and wiped her mouth with a dirty sleeve.

“So. You want to stop this madness do you?”

Neila nodded.

“And bring your family back?”

She nodded again.

“Tsk, you can’t bring your family back, girl – unless you’re looking to trade places. And I don’t think anybody can put an end to this,” Maman Brigitte said. “But you were kind to an old woman and others wouldn’t have been. I can help you ask for a favour – that I can. If you’re ready for it.”

The tale had brought something back. For a moment, she had reconnected with who she had once been. Her mother’s radio was all she had left, but none of the voices on the airwaves sounded like her.

Neila nodded vigorously. “I’m ready.”

Maman Brigitte leaned over her ear conspiratorially.

“First you must find an innocent,” she whispered.

The baby screamed and coughed, the lesions on his skin oozing with blood and pus. Each cough rattled his small body and little red flecks appeared on his lips with every raspy breath.

The candle burned slowly in the centre of the small white circle Neila had drawn on the ground. The old lady had left her with a bottle of that foul concoction and it sat next to her along with her knife, and her mother’s pocket radio. She lifted the knife, but found her hand shaking. In fact, her whole body rocked along as the child coughed and cried.

Finding an innocent in the skid row of lower Port-au-Prince had made sense before she’d passed out, but less when she woke up alone with a hangover searing through her brain. Still, the old woman’s words had been unequivocal.

The child had been abandoned in the gutter. If he’d been old enough to think, his mind would have been filled with hate for what had been done to him, but an infant – the true innocent – screams only in pain, hunger and loneliness, without greed or malice. She had picked him up, wiped him off as well as she could and carried him down to the basement where she had met Brigitte the day before.

The child cried in her arms. He didn’t deserve this, but he did not deserve to die chocking on sewage either. Maybe, just maybe, if her favours were granted and she could bring an end to all this, his painful life would not have been in vain.

Neila found her strength and sliced the baby’s throat before death could take him.  She let a few crimson drops hit the ground inside the candlelit circle in front of her. She put the corpse down reverently and closed his eyelids. She wiped her bloody knife on her jeans and pocketed it.

She picked up the bottle of rum, took a hefty swig and sprayed a fine mist in the four cardinal directions. Then she began to chant:

“Papa Legba ouvè baryè a pou mwen, Ago eh!
Papa Legba ouvè baryè a pou mwen,”
Ouvè baryè a pou mwen, Papa, pou mwen pase,

Le’m tounen map remesyè Lwa yo!”

She poured rum out of the bottle three more times, mixing it with the infant’s blood in the circle on the ground. She chanted again:

“Baron Samedi

Brave Gede

My own ancestors! I offer you food and rum.

I offer an innocent

Hear me! And open for me the gates.”

The basement shimmered around her, changing into a field of high grass under the moonlight.  She took a step, and a fingery mist spread around her feet turning the moonlit field into the lurid darkness of a graveyard.  The smell of cigar smoke hit her and footsteps echoed between the graves followed by the grating of a glass bottle being dragged and bumped against the tombstones.

A shape outlined itself against the mist, revealing a tall man wearing a top hat and tuxedo, his face painted like a skull, taking a sip from a bottle.

“So girl? What have you called on me for? A favour or a thrill? My mojo or my manliness? You know how strong both are, yes?” The man asked in a rumbling baritone, chuckling lewdly.

“Baron Samedi?” Neila asked.

“No, little girl, Baron Jeudi Après-midi,” he said sarcastically as he drew on his cigar, coughed up some phlegm and spit it against a grave. “Are you crazy, or have you forgotten the life you took? Ou te pèdi, ti fi?”

“There was a lady – Maman Brigitte, her name was – she said I could ask you for a favour, but not for my family.”

“You met Maman? And she promised you a favour from me, huh? She drinks too much, she does, Maman Brigitte.” He paused, sombre. “Never get married, little girl, it’s only trouble.”

“Can I ask you to stop the killing?” Neila asked quickly.

Samedi threw his head back and laughed, a hearty belly laugh mixed with wheezing giggles. He wiped his eyes and cheeks of tears, smudging the white paint on his face.

“You need higher Gods than me for that favour, little girl, and you cannot find them at the Gates. They require other rituals to make it through – and more sacrifices.” He smiled slyly. “Do you wish to meet their companions? I cannot favour you, I’m afraid, but since Brigitte promised, I can do that much.”

The graveyard disappeared and Neila found herself in a stable amidst an endless series of stalls, but the ceiling was concealed by a fog that occasionally lit up with flashes of lightning. The air smelled like hay and horse droppings. The floor was wooden and covered with straw. Neila followed the old lecher down the aisle for what felt like hours, but the far end of the stable never got any closer.

The Baron turned and smiled at her.

“Don’t worry, little girl, time runs differently on this side.”

They passed a sickly white horse, its skin covered in boils, panting in a stall.

“The Horse of Pestilence,” introduced Samedi, and they marched on.

Then in another stall she saw a thin brown stallion, its ribs showing through its hide, all the muscle on his legs and shoulders long atrophied

“The Horse of Famine,” said Samedi.

Further along, a pale, almost translucent horse neighed in his stall. It had no eyes yet it stared directly at her.

“The Horse of Death.”

Something battered against the wooden doors of a stall further down the corridor. Angry neighing followed each crash of hooves.

A huge stallion, matte black with burning red eyes, huffed and puffed like an enraged bull. It kicked furiously, crashing into walls that should have shattered under such blows. When it saw Samedi and Neila it charged the door with all its might. The impact shook the ground and the other three horses neighed loudly, but the wood held. Neila patted the knife in her pocket for reassurance.

“The Horse of War.”

Unlike Samedi, who seemed as solid a human being, the beasts all seemed ethereal, like creatures out of a dream.

“Are they… real?” Neila asked.

Samedi didn’t turn. He stared into the stall, fascinated by the red-eyed beast’s mad cantering.

“They are and they are not. When the gods ride them they are invincible, otherwise they are transient and ephemeral, like the human soul.”

The Horse of War stood across from her, its burning eyes intent. So that’s the beast, she thought. The beast that thrives on desolation. The beast that makes people tear each other apart limb from limb, the beast who took my family, my dreams, everything… You took everything from me! The horse seemed to gain consistency as if feeding on the anger and pain she felt. She forced herself to calm her mind. The quieter her breath, the slower her heartbeat, the calmer the Horse of War became, until she saw it flinch and the power in its legs begin to weaken.

She took a step back and when the Baron, still distracted by the horse, didn’t turn she took a few more. Then she broke into a run, past Samedi, and leapt over the door into the stall.

She heard Samedi gasp. “Ti fi!” He shouted his deep voice rumbling threateningly across the barn.

The huge beast towered over her, filling her entire field of vision. It shook its head furiously, its man-sized hooves pounding the ground in anticipation of a fight. Neila threw herself between the animal’s legs, pulled out her knife, and sliced the horse’s stomach open. A rain of blood and guts poured over her and she ran towards the wall at the back of the stall. She began to chant:

“Maman Brigitte, Queen of the Dead, beautiful woman, healer of the sick!

Brave Gede, first among Ancestors,

Open for me the gates!”

The Horse of War neighed and grew thinner, the luxuriant black of its coat fading to grey, to white, then it was transparent, and then it was gone.

The barn wall shimmered, the ground turned to grass, and then to the humidity of the Port-au-Prince basement where the candle still burned in the chalk circle. Neila landed on her knees, out of breath and dripping thick droplets of preternatural blood that singed the floor with a sizzle. Maman Brigitte appeared from behind a pillar and dropped her bottle, shattering it on the floor.
“Bondye, ti fi! Kisa ou fé!”

“Relax, it’s not your husband’s blood,” Neila said, getting up. Brigitte backed away from her, slipping on the broken glass and leaving a trail of blood.

Neila ran for the small transistor radio. While Brigitte wept in a corner, she flipped through the frequencies and found a frantic voice:

“…has withdrawn its support for the Dominican Republic. Brazilian warships are retreating from the region. The war is over. I repeat the war is over. Vive Haiti! Vive Haiti!”

Neila breathed a sigh of relief, let herself slide against a pillar, and fell asleep…

She couldn’t recognize the landscape or the city across the hills from her, but she knew it wasn’t Haiti and she knew she would need to reach it before nightfall.

Everywhere around her long blades of grass grew, withered, and grew again in endless cycles of death and rebirth. A little boy appeared on the road beside her. It was her Innocent and he was smiling. He caught her hand and pointed ahead.

 “It’s this way,” he said.

“Where am I going?”

“To Ifé.” The boy responded. “Come.”

She paused.

“In Nigeria?” she asked, surprised “Why am I in Nigeria?”

Something in the young boy’s voice changed, it sounded deeper, angrier.

“The Horsemen want to see you.”

Panic cut through the dream. Neila looked down at the little boy, his eyes were falling from their sockets, his skin bubbling and melting slowly like running paint.

She screamed and turned to run, but he caught her wrist, and started burning through it.

the war horse sketch

 “You are not done,” he said, his fingers cut through her flesh and into her bones. “You owe me. Come to Ifé.”

All around them the hills burst in flames.

 “How? The world is burning!”

The last of the boy’s faced melted and disappeared. “Come to Ifé. Ifé will remain.”

And Neila’s hair caught on fire.  

Neila woke up with a scream, alone in the basement. She checked her wrist for burn marks, but found none. She shook the nightmare off, packed her things and walked out from her hiding place into a Port-au-Prince revelling in the euphoria of peace.

“Come.”

The voice rang inside her head as she made her way through a lunar landscape of slagged hills. The hills from her dream, but this time they stayed dead.

In the three weeks she’d spent inside the tanker making the trip back to Africa across the Atlantic, Neila had tried to close her mind to the voices of the dead. But when she shut her eyes, all she heard was Brigitte’s cackle, Samedi’s suggestive laughter, and saw things fall apart all over again, in blood and dreams denied.

Nothing made sense… For a few months things had gone so well. The world had healed: full unconditional denuclearization was underway, terrorism had disappeared overnight, an all time drop in crime; for the first time a woman could walk around safely without fear of aggression. She’d steered clear of the oilrigs, there was too much pain there yet, but she worked construction, one brick at a time, one building at a time, and she taught.  Teaching one child and soul at a time. Then China declared war on the world.

The world had won the war in less than two months, but there were no transatlantic flights left, or airports to take off from. Anywhere.

When the first rockets had landed the voice had started ringing again. Come. It had been lingering in the back of her mind ever since she’d woken up, but she’d let the clank of machinery and the questions of eager children drown the voice out. Now it came louder than the explosions, drowning out the screams of her new friends, and tugging at her sanity like a compulsion, until – finally – she listened and obeyed.

Gritty radioactive dust slipped into her lungs with every breath. Her eyes watered, but the dust on her sleeves stung her when she tried to dry them. At the centre of the wasteland a city glowed like an old gem in the evening light. Its buildings were intact and its people healthy and celebrating. The boy in her dream had spoken true: Ifé remained untouched and beautiful.

Come. The voice thundered inside her mind. Come.

She entered the city, exhausted and in pain, every person she approached backing away from her in horror and fright.

She let the voice guide her to the centre of the town, where a belfry stood in the middle of a grassy square.

You are here now.

And the world disappeared.

Neila came to in a dark cave, the pain gone.

Four people stood around a stone table staring into a shimmering screen that showed a scene of carnage in a city she didn’t recognise. They were each cloaked and hooded in different material: white, black, red, and a translucent substance that revealed the wearer’s bald head and thin features. The figure in the red hood had its fingers on a glowing ball.

They lifted their hoods, revealing uniformly bald heads and scarred faces, and turned their eyes on her. They all looked exhausted, but the being in the red hood looked ready to tear his face off. Only the being in the translucent hood seemed fully awake, and furious.

“Where am I?” She asked, picking herself up and adjusting to the gloom. “Who are you?”

The being in the white hood spoke first: “You have come a long way under Olokun[1], Daughter. And not a moment to soon.” His tone was even, but anger simmered through his exhaustion. “We have been waiting. You have no place to keep us waiting.”

“So you’re the higher gods Samedi told me about.” Neila stated flatly. “I hope you’re nothing like him.”

“Why is she allowed to speak, Babalu Ayé?” asked the being in the transparent hood in a snarling voice said that turned to a growl. “Silly little girl has no idea what she’s done.”

The being in the black hood raised his hand to silence the speaker. “Calm down, Eshu, we’re just starting with her.” He turned to Neila his eyes burning. “Samedi was much like you, once. Young, defiant…” his eyes narrowed on hers “…and foolish.” His smile turned predatory. “Now he guards the Gates.”

“I was offered a favour for my kindness!” Neila retorted, more forcefully than she would have thought, given there was fear in her spine. “The Baron let me in and told me what the horses were but I killed the Horse of War. I freed us! And everything got better, didn’t it? The people, the world… The war – it stopped!” She remembered the parades, the shell-shocked joy on her countrymen’s faces as they celebrated with a new hope. “Why else would he have let me in? I needed a favour, the world needed a favour and I took it. I–”

“Silly girl!” Eshu interrupted harshly. He pointed at the black-hooded god. “Heed Oxossi’s words, heed them well!”

“Samedi thought that if he let you into the Stables, he would have your soul. He did not expect you to kill the horse. No one has ever tried to kill the horses.” Oxossi, the black-hooded God, shook his head in disbelief and stared at her as one would an infant. “Do you know how many people they tricked before they found you? Did you really believe there was something special about you? Something stronger than the Gods?” His contemptuous laughter bounced around the cave. “You were presumptuous and selfish,” he snarled. “And now you have unleashed War.”

The being in the red hood was looking weaker by the second. He let his hand rest on Eshu’s shoulder.

“See! See what you have done to Ogun?” Eshu said, turning violently on Neila.

“The horse you killed…” Ogun started, his voice tired and shaky. Then he paused as if trying to focus his thoughts. ”The horse you killed was War and bloodshed and every person’s passions… their desires, their greed… and I reined them in. I tamed them and you set them loose.”

“That’s not what I wanted!” Neila said turning to the gods around her. “Not any of it! All I wanted was peace, I wanted to…”

“You cannot kill war without killing peace, Daughter,” said Ogun. “The price of peace is not the death of war. The price of peace is eternal war.”

He paused for breath. His knees buckled, and his three companions lunged to catch him. He managed to stand upright, waving the others off.

“Had we had your soul we could have carved a new horse out of it. But you fled and then you hid, and now the cycles are spiralling out of control. I can no longer tame your passions; I can no longer rein in War.”

Something minute snapped inside Neila’s chest. The ground was solid rock, and yet she felt an abyss open beneath her feet. It was filled with the angry voices of people killed before they could find their peace, of people who had died aching with regret. She hadn’t just killed the horse, she had slit a child’s throat and watched him burn, and yet she hadn’t saved a single soul. She had gotten drunk with a stranger and the world had paid for her hangover. Her head started to spin, tremors rocked her body. She looked into the abyss, but she would not let it swallow her.

“Take it now!” She yelled. “Take my soul now, I beg you. There are still people out there, millions of people who can be saved, millions of lives who shoulder no blame.”

Eshu leaned over and smiled hungrily.

“Not for much longer,” he said. “Soon Ogun shall fade. Then Oxossi will weaken and there will be no crops, and then Babalu Ayé shall weaken and disease will run rampant, and I… I will collect. For I am Eshu, and I am always.”

“When the cycles spin into infinity, the Orishas will withdraw and all will begin anew,” said Ogun. “For the soul you took for the crossing, you shall become the price of peace. You shall become War and I, Ogun, will rise again to tame you.”

The gods hummed. Several screens appeared circling her and the Orishas. In one, a tidal wave washed over hundreds of thousands of refugees; in another, cave dwellers descended into cannibalism over the body of a dead companion; in a third a mass of people looked like a den of cockroaches as they piled and stepped on top of each other, trying desperately to flee some unknown catastrophe. The screens merged into one, tightening, closing in on her and the humming gods, and then snapped shut.

The darkness was, and then it was no more. She was then, she was now, and she would be again. Through the obscurity she sensed something different: a mind with a purpose.

A small band of bipeds were crossing the border of their traditional hunting grounds into unknown territory for the first time. There were only a few tribes roaming the world, and fewer yet that had decided to expand beyond the bushes or rivers that marked their little territories.

She let herself drift over to the band, swirling unseen around their rough animal skin clothes, pricking her finger on their spears. They were fit, they were hungry, and they were nervous.

A few miles away, she sensed another band was also taking its first timid steps into the wider world. The two tribes had lived next to each other for hundreds years but had never met, and now both had depleted their resources.

She probed into the mind of a single deer, bringing it to graze halfway between the two tribes, and waited. They would meet soon and one of the tribes would want that deer more than the other, but which one?

She waited for them to meet.

This would be fun.

[1] Olokun: Orisha of afro-descendants taken into slavery.

Mame Bougouma Diene
Mame Bougouma L.P Diene, is a French-Senegalese American development worker based in Paris with a fondness for progressive metal, tattoos and policy analysis. He is working on his first publications this year (The Horse of War is his first) and blogs for the Times of Israel when he needs to blow some steam.

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