by Orhemba Mhembeuter Jeremiah
It is over.
With every passing second, the truth is more searing than the thought of the impending flames awaiting us. I bow my head, weary of seeking pardon in the twisted faces of the villagers standing few feet away around us. I tilt my head onto the vertically rising log separating me and Igba, onto which our hands have been bound.
“Hey,” Igba whispers, finger brushing mine, and I understand the probe. I let his finger slip through and lock with mine. “Don’t cry no more, Sena. We are going to a place where their hatred can never catch up with us. Nothing can sever our love, not them, not death. Close your eyes and think of Tartor. It will make the dying less painful. They don’t accept us, but Aôndo will accept us.”
I tighten our grip, chest heavy with emotions that want to burst out. There’s nothing that has not been done on these grounds – pleas from our mothers for their sons, mothers who were dragged through the sand, shouted at to hush their incessant wailing. Even now, mother’s voice rings in my ear. She is still wailing. Igba’s mother is still wailing, their voices a discordant medley grazing my eardrums. I dig my toes into the thick layer of hay cushioning my legs, fuel to the impending flames dancing on the torches of the guards surrounding us, waiting for the king’s go ahead.
The guards part as the king comes through. He stops beside me, eyes seizing me up with disgust. He moves onto Igba and I hear a vehement throw of spittle. “May you both rot in Gyan-usu. Burn the filthy men!”
Raspy breaths escape me without control. My heart palpitates overtly fast. I wriggle my hands as the recognizable screams of our mothers assail my ears. The guards approach with their blazing torches and my skin prickles already. Igba reinforces our grip.
“Look at the stars,” he says, but I am concentrated on the hay crackling as they catch flames, as more lit torches are held under them. It feels like darts are been shot and pulled out of my feet as the fire begins to scorch. The flames build around us, flickering against the night. Igba struggles as the heat blister our skins, making sweat gather in beads and trickles all over our body.
For a long time, all I know are our shrieks, as we twist and resist to the unbearable heat. The heat is a hand, tugging at every tendon and nerve, an agony beyond the ability of words to describe. It becomes hard to breathe. I choke, fighting for air. I scream, twitching from pain.
But then the fire begins to morph into white, thick billows of smoke engulfing us. It wretches a cough from my chest. My hurt skin rapidly finds relief in the surprisingly cool of the smoke.
“What’s happening?” I am asking Igba, when a grunt escapes both of us. A delicious warm sensation swirls fiercely, ticklish, as if ants claw at the cover of my chest. From my chest, warmness so sharp surge through my body, tickling and clawing at the tip of my fingers. I feel as if I’m splitting. Force pushes underneath my bones, spiking pain.
Howls and awed screams thicken in the air. Our coughing worsens.
As the smoke grows, so does my vision blur and diminish. Strings attach and pull inside my body, gathering concentration at my chest. I scream. Igba screams.
I gasp for breath. My head aches with threat as it constricts. For a while, I feel it’s the smoke, the smoke of the fire, but it is then I notice the whirling of light at my chest.
It shoots up into a blade of light, the smoke clearing in its wake. I see it crisscross with another blade of light, supposedly Igba’s. My widening eyes glow with iridescent light, transparent for me to see the shock dripping from the villagers’ faces. Slowly, the ropes unwound. I snap my hands, and feel it fall.
I turn around. Igba looks dazzling, iridescent light radiating from his eyes. His hands glow with colourful light that reach out to me. When we lace hands, I notice the golden gleaming on his forehead. Inside a small circle, two opposite facing crescent sit, joined at their backs. My mouth falls open. Igba smiles.
Looking around, everyone is on their knees, heads touching the ground —-except for one person.
The king stands with one leg in front of the other, teeth bared.
Veins bulge in his neck.