Burning Altars by Masika Joseph

Burning Altars by Masika Joseph

A big stone was set at the centre of Ajibogun with plenty of firewood arranged around it. The stone was guarded with skeletons around to gauge it. I saw hungry people dancing around the fire with blood all over their bodies dripping continuously.   

A man was standing close to the fire with a knife and people were kneeling crying for help. I was shocked when I saw myself in the front line, I recognized Darasimi as well.  

For each person that was been killed and added into the fire, there would be an immediate increase and it keeps burning continuously.  

The man came to my side and jerked me up with his blood-designed hands."You are the next to be killed," he said smiling mischievously.  

"Help! Help! but no one could hear me in the thick bush".  

Orefasayo! Orefasayo! I jerked up panting as I saw mum." you have been crying out for help in your sleep Sayo, was it the same dream?"  

I shook my head weakly in affirmation."Dad has gone to the shrine" she placed her hand on my head. "I believe he would do something" she picked my scarf on the floor. It has been on my head.  

"... Fasayo the great goddess of war and peace will not let us down" she loosened the scarf and started tieing it back on my head before putting me back to sleep." Sleep, my baby girl, tomorrow is a big day". I lay down sweating profusely as I muttered "Big day my foot".


"Darasimi I saw you as well! you were just behind me, we will all die soon.  

More ladies passed us with decorative beads around their waists and necks and guys frolicking around them. They were all going to Ayomi's party.  

"Those could be us Sayo!" She adjusted her beads on her legs and ankles, "But you carry this dream on your head. Which guy in his right senses will ask you out in this state of yours?" She looked at me in disgust. "I dreamt the same dream too last night and every other day and you know it, but I am okay and calm" she lay her hands on my shoulders looking deep into my eyes she said, "We would do just fine".  
If only I can put off that fire on the altar but how would I? Daddy had named me after the river goddess. Could it be the reason for these strange nightmares and uninvited dance steps? I am 24 and no man had asked for my hand in marriage. What might be wrong! Am I truly fasayo's friend?  
If this is what her friends pass through I don't want to be her friend anymore, I will make sure I destroy that altar and set everyone free.  
Darasimi, my favorite cousin is the most beautiful damsel in ajibogun but she is still single like me. Everybody has known her for her uninvited epilepsy.  
The fact that I saw her in my nightmares just behind my back can only be a coincidence.  
"Orefasayo! I was awakened by the  loud sound of my name."What are you thinking of this time?" She put her two hands on her head in frustration, "you had better come let's go to Ayomi's party before it ends"  
"You know we are not invited, Dara!"  I hunkered down to pick a glittering stone. "I don't want another public embarrassment" I stood up and looked at her annoyingly. Everybody except our parents sees us
as bad luck. The last embarrassment was terrible, they even poured dirty water on us just because we asked to dance with them.  
"Come on! we will make sure she doesn't see us" she smiled mischievously patting my back smoothly. " You should be worried about your frequent epilepsy not Ayomi's eyes" I rolled my eyes immediately and regretted saying that but I can't take it back.  
"What am I doing in this wicked shrine? Why did you people bring me here? Is it not enough that Fasayo the river goddess had made me mad! do you want her to kill me, Dad?"  

"I won't allow you to talk to Fasayo like that! she is our messiah and defender. You must see her as one!" his eyes were red like fire and his hand in a fist."You and your gods are mad" I stood up leaving in rage.  

I knew I was brought to the altar by some of the village boys again. Darasimi must have seen me dancing uncontrollably again. I can't continue leaving like this! something must be done and it must be done fast.  

"Baba Orefasayo, the great herbalist of our time; the mighty one, one next to the throne of fasayo the river goddess! Please don't be angry. I will talk to her" closing the door hurriedly I continued, "I am her mother and I know she is already fed up with this constant madness".  
"You had better talk to your daughter. I won't allow her to disrespect me and the river goddess" walking up and down and trembling, he hunkered down the mat, picked his cap, and stormed out of the shrine.  
"Ema'binu' I will talk to her" I followed after him with shaking thighs.  
"Please move away from her, she needs air now more than ever," I said to the crowd of people that are gathered around Darasimi. She had vomited a lot of whitish foamy substance before fainting.  
"Sorry dear, please take water" fortunately for us we are already in the stream to fetch water when it strikes. I dip my calabash into the water and give her a little. By this time all the ladies have started leaving one after the other. Every group with their gossip.  

"I heard that Sayo's father deceived the former native doctor of ajibogun into making him his heir, because of the abundant fortunes that come with it. And now, he doesn't want it again", Ayomide said to her friend as she hunkered down to take her water pot.  
Areola shook her head in disappointment. " why would he want it again? he never knew that there is a lot more in becoming a village chief priest" she leans closer to Ayomis's ears and said something as they both laughed.  
They all shook their heads at us and move away. Some of them called us  "the sacrifice of the river goddess" I felt like killing myself and Darasimi. It is better not to exist in this world that is filled with denials and pains.  
Nobody was allowed to speak with us, parents have warned their children to stay clear of us.  
She opened her eyes slightly with a tiring look. " How long will this continue?" streams of tears began dribbling down her cheek. I know that the question was directed to me but I am tired of saying the same solution over and over again.  
I wanted to tell her that the only thing that can make us free is destroying the burning altar but she had laughed at me the last time I told her that. " you want to destroy the altar you see in your dream? You are been unreasonable sa'yo!" she had said between uncontrollable laughter.  
She stood up slowly, taking her water pot to the well "you are not strong yet Dara!" I said trying to stop her, but she waved me off. " I am better now. Please don't tell mum, I don't want to go to the shrine!" Her last word made me remember the last time I was in the shrine. "So you don't want to go to the shrine but yet you watch them took me there the other day" I rolled my eyes at her.   
She pouted her mouth. with her hands placed together, she said "please oremi"  
I came back from the stream exhausted.I decided to go straight to my bed to sleep but something brought me back as I was about to enter my room." what are they arguing about this time bayi?" I sneaked past the shrine to the back where I can hear everything. I can practically hear my conscience telling me how bad eves dropping is but I wouldn't budge.  
I heard mayowa, my little brother crying for mum's attention but she was so engrossed in the argument that she wouldn't hear him out." I thought the initial  plan was her living with the madness and her life will be spared?" Mummy said with a weak voice.  
"Iya Orefasayo! the gods have changed their mind! they said sayo is up to something that will ruin the village so she has to die" I heard the old man's voice. That man is not my father because no man will sacrifice his only daughter to the gods for protection.  
I was so disappointed in them. why will they treat me this way, what have I done to deserve all this? They are talking about me as if I am a piece of toy. Can't they just talk to me about it? I have been leaving a secretive life. Secrets I don't know myself.  
Mayowa stopped crying immediately mum took him up." I am not a party to this Baba Sayo. You want to kill your only daughter? That girl has suffered enough," she said pleadingly. "Watch your words, woman! do you think I have a choice in this matter? You should ask your daughter what she is up to, then maybe that will please the gods" with that, the silence was everywhere again as I rushed into my room crying uncontrollably.  
No wonder that man in my dreams wants to kill me. I can't let this happen. "Fasayo!" the sound of dad brought me back to reality. " that old man had better stop calling me fasayo. "My name is sayo fool" I muttered out of breath as I run out to meet him.  
There you are." what are you doing that is annoying the gods you good for nothing piece of trash!" I looked at the man who had claimed to be my father in disgust. Five years back, I would have been so scared of his rant, but he has lost his respect from me many years ago. I hate him now more than ever.  
He went into his room and brought a whip but I remain mute. All he ever does is beat me, what more? 
"You ingrate, you better talk before I kill you with my bare hands" he whip me thrice directly at my back and I fell immediately shouting for help. " is okay, leave my daughter alone, beat me instead, " mum said crying uncontrollably as she lifts me and hides me behind her back. he tried to reach me but he couldn't." Warn your daughter" with that he went back into the shrine.  
I was now in the middle of the bloody and smelling men. Their teeth as vampires. They have eaten a lot of flesh and drank lots of innocent blood for many years yet are unsatisfied.  
Their leader walked sluggishly with a lamp covered with blood. He was saying some incantation and looking at me straight in the eyes.  
He stopped abruptly when he was directly in front of me." This altar has been here for many years child!" He pointed at the altar, laughing mischievously as his cohort laughed alongside." there is nothing you or anyone can do about it" he added with no regret.  
The altar was burning continuously. I wondered why it just wouldn't go off. "Your lineage was cursed the moment your father became the village chief priest and that is why every firstborn will be struck with an ailment till he or she dies" no wonder  Darasimi my cousin is epileptic as well I thought.  
They laughed again and again." This altar will keep on burning as long as generations after generations are been created in your lineage!" He said as they laughed again.  
"......you can't destroy that altar lest you shall die!"  
"Sayo! Sayomi!" I griped mum's hands in fear as I woke up. She came close to me and lay me on her shoulder sliding my scarf with her right hand gently. "I heard you shouting help again. for how long will this continue, was it the same dream?" I remain mute. I was shaking terribly.  
"...it was different mum! this time, they were all over me" I said quietly. " Go to sleep, I will talk to your father tomorrow" I reached out to her hands again." No mum, don't tell him. There is nothing he can do this time.  
I leaned over the tall iroko tree waiting for Sayo's reply after telling her what I saw last night.  
She stood up, leaving her yam seed uncovered." I dreamt the same thing as well, this is strange" she moved closer to me and stood." Did you see me in your dream again this time?"  
I knew she was very scared and I didn't want to scare her the more by telling her the truth." No, I did not"  I hunkered down to complete covering the yam seed for Dara before leading her to play knowing fully well I saw her last night.  
Ayomide had been cast out of the village for many years because of his belief in the strange God. Many people in the village still follow him secretly.  I remember how folashade was thrown into the river when she was caught with a Bible in her room. Since then, everybody was scared to be seen with anything related to Ayomide's God.  
"I must Go to Darasimi's house and tell her this. Only her would believe me and my plans" I muttered out of breath.  
I met her dropping the big broom in her hands sweating profusely. Just the perfect timing, I sigh out of relief. "Sayo what again? anytime you come to my house, I know is of no good!" She said with dissatisfaction.   
"...Darasimi I need your help and I need it fast", I said anyways. "Do you remember Ayomide?" She jumped out of her shoes as if she was been chased by a beast.              " Nobody talks about him and you know it," she said uncomfortable and scared. She looked left and right suspiciously before dragging me out of the compound.  
"Oresayo! This is a dangerous part you are about to tread, please don't do this!" I neglected her pleading look and continued. "I have to destroy that burning altar and it can only be possible with his God. I believe in his God Dara!" She increased the wideness of her eyes. She does that anytime she is paying close attention to things." They will throw you in the river of no return just as Folashade" she said turning off, I held her and turn her to face me. Looking deep into her eyes I said " Folashade is still alive!"  
She put her hands on her mouth in disbelief." How?" I lean my lips right to her ears. " I saw her korokoro!" I shifted back to narrate what had happened.  
"I went back to the river 30 minutes after the incident happened because the king had asked me to deliver a message to Ba'ami. I thought he was still there because he was not at home and you know he was always the last to leave the river when any rites are been performed?" I looked at her to see if she was following and she shook her head immediately in affirmation.  
" I saw her across the river bank sitting down and dusting sand out of her body, I was so scared that I had to run back to the village and I was scared to tell anyone. You are the first person I have said this to Darasimi" I looked at her scared with threatening tears. " I believe in their God Darasimi!"
She held my hand leading me away." Where are you taking me to Dara?" I asked surprised. "We can't discuss this here, the walls have ears, let's go to the iroko tree", she said walking again dragging me alongside.  
I stood close to the iroko tree adjusting my knee-length red Kampala wrapper. "So what are we going to do now Sayo?" She said to me walking to and fro."We go there first thing tomorrow morning after filling the drums with water. The earlier the better" she stopped abruptly and looked at me. "Have you gone knot? it's like you have already planned all this before now ahbi?" She said with regrets but I have already made up my mind! if she won't come with me I will go alone.  
I went close to her and hugged her tightly. " help me to save us and the generation yet to be born, help me to destroy the altar of Ajibogun" she hugged me back as we continue crying together.  
I woke up as early as possible, did all the chores before carrying my water pot to Darasimi's house. "Good Morning, ma. Is Darasimi around?" I said to the fair slim woman whom Dara has grown to look like. "How are you, my daughter? Wait let me call her" she added without waiting for my answers."Darasim! Your friend is outside oh! Pick your water pot while coming out.  
"Remember our meeting point. immediately we droop the last pot, we move" I said fearlessly. "Okay" she replied like a 2yr old baby paying allegiance to her elder sister.  
Everybody knows Ayomide's house, he still stays close to the village but far from his people.  
We were shocked to see Folashade as she ushered us in smiling sheepishly. "Ahhh Orefasayo! Darasimi! what brought you, people, here?" He said shocked at the sight of us. I was not surprised at his look,
everyone knows my father is the village chief priest and the fact that Dara is my cousin. Everybody knows we are the sacrifice of the river goddess.  
I was not ready to back down, not just yet!. "I need your help sir, there is fire on the mountain" Darasimi held my hands and looked at me, my eyes were red. I was ready to do anything to destroy the burning altar.  
"You mean there is a burning altar at the center of Ajibogun?" He said after I had narrated my dreams to him. "It is a dream sir, not in real life," I said surprised at the fact he brought life into the dream."Don't be deceived; your dreams are reality.         
You must be ready for the battles ahead Sayo!" Immediately he said that fear gripped us. "I am ready, I will do whatever it takes,"  I said like it was the last word I would ever say.  
He picked his bible from the table and ordered Folashade to get us food. We spent all the day listening to how mighty and merciful Ayomide's God is. He told us to come to his house for 7 days of fasting and prayers which we obeyed since going to his house was just a 30minute walk, we were ready to do it for our lives.  
On the fifth day, Daddy became very sick and the village became very dark with thunders here and there. Mummy has been crying continuously and mayo who is only 9 years old was already fed up with everything.  
The goddess was angry with Dad and they think striking him will make us stop praying but we continued going to Ayomide's house.   
Darasimi's Dad became very sick as well. When we told Ayomide about our dads' condition, he told us to go back home ask them if they want Jesus to take the sicknesses away from them which we did but they refused to accept Jesus.
Mum was confused." What is going on Sayo? what are you up to this time?" I watched mummy wet in her tears. I wished I could answer her but words failed me.  
On the last day, Ayomide and Folashade came to Ajibogun with us. Everybody was afraid to go close to him.  
We marched straight to my dad's shrine as mum rushed out. "Sayo what is going on here?" She came close to me with a questionable look." You have been behind all the calamities falling in this village" she shook her head and spite on the floor. "What are you doing with that man?" She tied her wrapper firmly and jumped on Ayomide's body ready to fight as Folashade held her." You have finally initiated my daughter" she fell rolling on the floor. " death come and take me home" she continued rolling on the floor as she sings "death come and take me home"  
Folashade went close to mum as she hunkered to calm her down."you are alive?" Mum said in shock as she fainted. I ran to her crying but folashafe lifted me. "Now is not the time for tears, we must act fast" Darasimi was crying, holding Mayowa tightly. Poor boy!  
Go and get matches, this shrine must be burnt down. I went quickly. I came back seeing the gods broken on the floor and scattered everywhere, Ayomide was still destroying more with a stick. "Give me the matches" he ordered, Speaking in tounges he lit the fire in the shrine as we continued praying.  
Darasimi was lost in thought thinking of her father. I went close to her and hold her and Mayowa's hands speaking in tongues  
The man and his cohort were shouting for help as the fire was burning them. I stood up immediately and took Darasimi up as we started untying the other captives.  
We ran out of the place victoriously as the altar exploded and was destroyed with the men in it.
I woke up at the site of Darasimi and Ayomide. "What am I doing here?" I said as I tried to get up. "You fainted while the prayer was going on, we saw you smiling in your sleep what happened?" Darasimi said with a trace of tears on her cheek. "The Burning altar has been destroyed," I said out of happiness as they all jumped up shouting praise to the Lord.  
Darasimi's dad got well, my dad died a painful death, mum cried for many months but was finally healed.  
Ayomide and Folashade were brought back to the village, the king died and the mighty river dried up mysteriously.  
The village was brighter again and we all live happily ever after.   

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