Young man walks lazily, kicking the soft sand underneath his bare foot. The morning fog lies thick overhead. He looks up with dreary eyes. The fog is beautiful, but he feels it is hindering his sight. He kicks the sand and is quickly attracted to a green stick on the sand. He peers below at the sight. It is beautiful wood, he reasons. The wood moves. It is a green snake. He wonders how, why a snake would, could curl up itself and pretend it is wood. Or was it the fog? It has to be the fog. He walks faster towards the denser part of the road. The street is dusty and empty, devoid of human life. He doesn’t remember coming out of his room to this place. He only remembers being on this road. He remembers the fog. What fog? The wood, which turned into a snake. What snake was it again? A cobra? No, this wood snake was smaller, less lethal, at least from the angle it lay from his eyes. An asp? No, this snake was too big. Maybe a serpent. Should he have picked it to check its snakiness? Had he really, truly seen a snake now? He looks up again. It is still foggy and dense. Yes, he had seen a fog. This curtain over the face of the earth. He looks down again. Or he has his eyes brought down by a force he cannot control. He sees another wood. He quickens his pace, kicking more dust.
“How many men did you kill?” a voice comes from his head. His head?
“Two,” he replies. He is made to reply by that preternatural force. He lets this force take over. He would deny everything. Everything!
“Yes. How did you kill them?”
“I killed no one.”
“You just said you did.”
“A moment ago. You said you had killed two men.”
“Well, I wasn’t in control of my speech then. I, my mouth, this mouth,” he drew a lean finger vertically across thin lips, “seem to have been controlled by a force I can’t handle.”
“Well, if you want to leave here in one piece, you might need to come out straighter with me.”
“I killed no one. I only threw two harmless punches and used a knife.” He feels his hands rise and shadow punch, then make a cutting move back and forth with an imaginary blade. He forces them down. They don’t budge.
“You’re a pugilist, aren’t you.”
“What is that?”
“You know, a boxer, a puncher.”
“Well…” young man drifts off. He feels tired now.
“Help us to help you.”
“I can’t be helped. But I want a favour. Whoever you are. Can you help?”
“I am here to help you. Go on.”
“Teach me how to cry when I die.”
“I’m here to prevent that.”
“Then you can’t be of help. You’re just like everyone else. Leave.”
Leave? He was on a lonely road. To where was this man to go? The other side of the road? Perhaps, towards the fog?
“You’re hypnotic. It prepares you for the journey ahead, Kinte.” The voice returns.
“Wh—I thought I asked you to leave?”
“You’re in your head, Kinte.”
In your head. Kinte. The name sounds familiar. Kinte.
“You need to leave now!”
“You’re dying today, Kinte. You need to speak to me. I’m your lawyer, Kinte.”
The air is hazy, but not with fog now. Dust. Two men grab each other by the shoulder, their muscles rippling with the violent beats of the war drums. The name resounds in the air, across the Kama Jendo. Kinte. The name rebounds across the dusty earth and into his arms, empowering his sinewy muscles. The other man has no name. Kinte smiles to himself. The man has no name.
“Kinte! Throw him!”
“Destroy him, Kinte.”
The hundredth eye in the ancestral face of the masked spirits. The legs that carry the nocturnal spirits to their safe abode before the morning comes and they disappear to come again another night. The god eye. The…
The voices fade down.
“Who am I?” he asks the man he cannot see.
“A man with no name, at least from tonight.”
“What time is it?”
“I am not allowed to tell you that. I’m sorry, Kinte.”
“You call me Kinte, yet you say I have no name.”
“You have no name, Kinte.”
The young man feels the under of his feet sting. Has he been running? He couldn’t have been. He traces his way back where he came, taking care to avoiding the wood snake. I be, and yet I don’t. I live and yet I die?
He sees a person on the other side of the road carrying a pot. The fog. He can’t tell who it is. Is it a man or a woman? It is certainly a man. A woman wouldn’t walk around this time with nothing over her chest. His legs take him towards this strange person. He turns them around in one swing. She screams. It’s a woman. He closes his eyes, but they don’t shut. He looks defiantly at her breasts, firm and solid.
“Who are you?” she asks.
“I need an answer to that myself. I don’t know who I am or why I am here outside. Or why I am with you. I need to know my name.”
“You have no name.”
“You have no name, Kinte. You lost your name after you unmasked the governor.”
“You haven’t heard?”
“You haven’t heard the news of how you took off the mask from the face of the governor?”
“No. I haven’t.”
She starts to walk.
“Tell me my name, Mulami.”
“Oh now you remember my name. You only now remember my name after you stripped the cloth off my breast.”
“They say I die today.”
“It means nothing to you?”
“Not anymore, Kinte,” she says and hurries her feet into the fog.
Kinte feels the blood surge up his manhood as he falls the unknown man. He covers his erection with a hand and strikes a pose over his vanquished, one leg balanced on the other man’s chest. He awaits the Jendo’s arrival to the palace courtyard to give him his reward: the head of Ojuwa’s first kill, a lion, and the princess, Mulami. He glows with satisfaction. His erection relaxes and he lifts both hands up. The ground vibrates with the sound of a thousand spectators cheering his victory. No, it is for the Jendo, not he. The Jendo arrives with the large skull. The deity Ojuwa, chief guard of Jendo Nowu, first Jendo of Beree, had killed the lion with his bare hands. But he returned a different man. He returned a dead man, the bloody head of the lion tied to a string on his trousers, the fatal wound from the dying lion lodged in his chest. Kinte salutes the Jendo as he retrieves the head. But the Jendo does not have his bride, the beautiful Mulami. He reads the unspoken news in the Jendo’s eyes. The district commissioner, the leprous Hades Wilson, has taken his bride.
“Their queen wants the head of Kinte,” the voice returns.
“What queen? Ajebi, queen mother? Wife of Jendo? Mother of Mulami?”
“You remember them now, don’t you?”
“You just mentioned names now. It seems your trance is clearing.”
Kinte looks up. The fog still lies heavy and cloudy up the road. No, the fog hasn’t cleared yet.
“It hasn’t cleared yet.”
“The fog. It is not yet gone. Look.” He makes to move forward, tilting the unseen head of the man in his thoughts towards the foggy road. “The fog, still there.”
“I wasn’t referring to the fog. I was referring to your trance, Kinte. This phase you’re in, this moment. I understand how it is to be on the verge of death at the height of your life. I have witnessed many like yours, but yours, yours is quite peculiar. There was a young teenager some years ago who asked to eat a most distasteful thing before he was hanged.”
“Remember the favour I asked of you?’
“Yes, Kinte, and I declined. Now, about that young boy. He asked to eat shit. And listen to this, for it would go a long way in letting you know who you are dealing with here. These Brits are mean suckers. They declined to give him shit to eat. Not because they couldn’t let him have it all spiced and flavoured with Arabian lavender. Oh no, they refused him his strange request because he could die from the meal. They needed him to die their own way, in their hands.”
“The fog, Murphy. The fog…”
“You just called my name. You know me, then?”
“Of course. You represent the legal interests of the Jendo. He asked you to save me through this?’
“Yes, he did. Your king wants your release, but he can’t press the governor so much. Politics, you know.”
“The fog, it’s clearing.”
“There’s no fog, Kinte. You’re imagining things.”
“I will, when the fog clears.”
“You now see the fog!?”
“Oh yes. I do. It’s beautiful, Kinte.”
“I’m glad that you see it now. You can stay. Tell me about the Jendo.”
Kinte kicks up sand. He fetches a buried white shell, specks of smooth sand lining its shallow ridges. He blows off the sand. Everything makes no sense. He should not be out here seeing wood snakes, shells, hearing voices and seeing Mulami with her royal breasts bare. But the fog. He walks faster. Perhaps, the fog is less dense in the farther distance. He increases his pace, kicking up more sand. No shells are exhumed. He is disappointed. He looks back. He has walked a long distance. He looks forward again. The fog stays as dense as it was a while ago. What changed? He stomps his foot on the ground in rage. He bites the shell. It cracks and he spits out white hardness. Kinte keeps walking into the fog. Maybe it would clear if he gets to the end of the road, and so he keeps walking.
“The Jendo?” the voice returns.
“Yes,” Kinte replies.
“I don’t know who the Jendo is.”
“The king, my king, your royal employer, Murphy.”
“What happened to your breath?”
“I just woke up.”
“It happens to everyone else. Maybe except you white people. We in Beree don’t wake up with cleansing sticks in our mouths. You delayed my mouth cleansing with your coming.”
“What happened to your front tooth?”
“What’s with the questions, Murphy?”
“I bit a shell in anger.”
“A shell? What’s that?”
“I really don’t know. We pick it up from the banks of rivers. They flow away from the waters to us. They are believed to be blessings from the water gods of Beree, and whoever finds them finds a purpose.”
“You found one?”
“A shell or a purpose?”
“Well, a shell.”
“Yes, I just said I bit one.”
“You found purpose?”
“I believe it should give me one…in time.”
Kinte’s eyes shine in the darkness. He looks down at his hands. The prize is in his hands now. At last, he has fulfilled his longing. It is warm and slippery. The night is particularly dark tonight, as black as death. He transfers the object to the other hand. It feels good. A white heart. He looks at it but sees nothing. He decides waiting would be dangerous, risky because he knows what he has done, and he knows it would cost him his life. But what is life when your honour has been taken…by a leprous-white stranger? Kinte walks into the blackness. His next line of action is clear. He remembers. The fog.
“Why are you here?” Murphy asks.
“Awaiting my execution,” replies Kinte.
“That’s a fire! It burns bright.”
“I see no fire. It only exists, burns in your thoughts.”
“Then I see no fire, then.”
“Maybe you should bite a shell, too, Murphy.”
“You can’t bite mine. I bit it. My mouth stinks. You said so.”
“I did? I said so? That your mouth stinks? That’s a most impolite thing to say to a man!”
“Well, you were right. I am yet to chew the cleansing stick this morning.”
“How do you know it is morning?”
“The fog, Murphy. It clears! I have to go.”
“A favour, please?”
“Anything for you, Murphy.”
“Teach me how to cry when I die.”
“How do you mean? You are not dying, Murphy. I am the one dying.”
“You’d find purpose with the clearing of the fog, Murphy. Chase it.”
The young man walks further into the morning fog. In the distance the fog gives way to the sign of a rising sun.
is a Nigerian critic, writer, journalist and editor. He is the founder and chief editor of The Shallow Tales Review literary magazine.