It is easier for you now.
The road is familiar and the soles of your feet have begun to blend with the rough terrain of the pathway. It is not dark today and you can see what the night hides from you the other times you have walked the path. The trees are too high up for you to reach any branches, too full with leaves to allow much sunlight through. Your sky is a blanket of leaves and branches with narrow blanks of filtered white sunlight and your earth is thick with the green that shoots up from every crevice. There is an eerie quietness this time, the breeze hardly rustles the leaves and the seeming echoing whistling conversation of the birds are absent, wildlife has silenced itself to herald your arrival. And when you breathe, your lungs are not filled with the silent screams of preys hunted in the dark, instead, they are filled with the moist air that carries with it petrichor, the scent of damp earth and the odor of wood rot. Today, you do not feel as if you are being watched; you are sure as your feet make silent foot falls upon the forest floor that nothing is behind you, that nothing has its eye on the slightly heavy white mesh bag that you tight hold in your hands. You try not to think about your hands and what they hold. You try to move the feelings from your fingers into your thighs, into your feet and you find yourself wishing, quietly, that your hands would begin to go numb. Your wishes do not come true and your fingers press tightly into the bag. They clasp over the softness of the ears on each side of the bag and meet in the middle, just over the bridge of the nose. You just want to walk, to move your legs in quick successions and get to the end of the pathway as quickly as you can; so you don’t notice, as the red begins to seep through the bottom of the mesh bag and drip slowly onto the forest floor leaving bread crumbs of red dots in the path that you have walked.
This is not the first time you are bringing them a head that is not your own. But it is the first time they have asked for it in the sun. Their messages to you are always in the same format; “Pickup Crown, Midday.” ; the only thing that changed has changed is that the word after “Mid” is “day” and not “night”. You are not used to the sunlight on your path, you are not used to the openness of dawn and if you’d had a choice, you’d have preferred dusk, you’d have preferred the shade of night to hide the sin in your hands. This was your father’s job and your grandfather’s before him. You know that this is your destiny, it is your fate. Every first born from your lineage must walk the path for them; it is either this path or the one to hell. You are still not sure the one you have chosen. You are not the one who severs the bond of the neck and the head; you are not the one who robs another of their life. You are the one who always walks into the confession booth at St. Josephine’s Church to pick up the white mesh bag that sits hidden beneath the soft red cushion on the bench; you are only the messenger, the one who delivers the head; the herald with the bloody crown. Your life feels like hell either way.
The end of your path opens up to a round clearing. The trees that border the arch of the clearing are old and gnarled. Their trunks have grotesque motifs on them that look like faces frozen midway in agony; the tiny holes in the barks bleed with colorless sap and there, in the clearing, the vegetation has stopped. Nothing grows there, no blades of grass shoot up from the dead earth, and even the air here is thinner and other than the stump of the tree in the middle, it is empty and devoid of life. The sunlight shines on the clearing, the forest canopy is absent. You cannot see anyone in the clearing, but you know they are there, you can hear the silent impatient gasps – they are waiting for you to drop what is in your hands, their precious cargo has arrived. So you walk to the middle of the clearing and stop in front of the stump, the insides have been hollowed out and the empty space calls for the head. You do not put your hands inside to grab the head, instead, you drop the bag, head and all, into the hollow trunk ann you turn back and start to walk away. The sounds arise just as you are about to begin your walk on the pathway; the boom of a bass drum, the rattle of stones in a calabash, the gurgling sound of a re-animated drowning head submerged in blood and the sonorous laughter of someone becoming rich, the sounds of a ritual.
You do not turn back, you are not supposed to. But you know what the sounds mean because you have watched them once, after all, it is the reason your left eye is made of glass, it is the reason you still walk the path, it is the reason you do not defy them. That night, you had stood at the edge of the clearing and hid yourself behind one of the horror-esque trees. The moonlight lit the Clearing and you saw the naked fat man walk out, his stomach protruding, the palpitating flesh covering almost the entire length of the flesh between his pudgy thighs so that only the tiny head peeked out from beneath it. He walked trembling slightly as his bare feet touched the cold soil or perhaps at the thought of what came after him. As he reached the stump, you watched as they jumped down from the gnarled trees, eight of them wearing gowns of hay, floating off the ground and closing the circle around the fat man. You watched as Conga drums and calabahses apperead from thin air – transparent, diaphanous – and began to move themselves making sounds that sounded so primitive to your ears you forgot you weren’t supposed to be watching and let out a quiet gasp. The music stopped and air stood still, .the moon shone it’s eyes upon you as a statue of hay floated towards you and outstretched an arm of rickety white bone towards your face, grabbed your thick dark hair and dragged you – an effigy of hysteria -to the stump, the altar, where it dumped you at the foot of the fat man. The music resumed and the fat man, oblivious to your presence, brought his knees to the ground and dipped his head into the blood-filled hollow of the stump. You heard strange chants in the air and watched in horror as the dead head came alive, dead screams alighting from its cold lips as it floated in the blood, crawled upon the fat man’s submerged head and slowly melted away. The fat man brought his head up, his face bloody, stuttering and coughing and the last thing you see before bony fingers pierced your eye socket to pluck your left eye out, the last thing you see before a blinding pain knocks you out are the gray Naira bills that froth out of the fat man’s mouth as he violently coughs onto the black soil. You woke up, disoriented – at home, in your bed – your father stood over you and he brought his left foot up to the edge of the bed to show you the number of his toes, four, his big toe was gone, “An accident,” he had always said. That night, before he left you to dwell in your new-found sorrow, your half-sight, your Father said to you, “You saw the ritual and they took from you an eye. I dropped the head on my foot and kicked it across the ground after it had fallen and they took my toe for it, I don’t know, why they did not take the whole leg but perhaps it is the same reason they didn’t not take your head. This is why we cannot leave, Kachiri, this threat is why we must continue to be the Heralds.”
Now, as you walk away, you know as the sounds become louder, that the deed has been done and your job is complete, at least for now and another fat man has just become affluent.
You leave the clearing as quick as you can. You are afraid of the eyes of the head you held in your hands which have now come to life and of the fast fading sunlight, the forest too is coming back to life. You will push the images out of your mind and the thoughts of white mesh bags, bloody crowns, drums and laughter will not bother you until the next message comes in. When you get to the edge of the forest, just on the outskirts of the city, you know that in a few hours, you will be in one of the high rise buildings in the distance, a steaming cup of coffee in cradled in your tainted hands, dressed in a navy blue uniform standing amongst your comrades , your badge in your right pocket, your gun in its holster, as the Inspector General of the Police Force, your father, announces to you all that the headless body of a young girl has once again been found, naked and ascribed with strange markings, beside the river behind the Government Day School in Aramoko.