It’s dark. It’s ugly. It’s hot. There’s a fire…
‘Offiong’ is an Ibibio word. It means ‘the moon’. My name is Offiong. It used to be Ekim until I met Utin, the Sun Who made me His. Ekim means darkness – the obscurity of darkness.
I am a watchman.
Everyday I meet people who look alive but act otherwise. They see a fire, walk right into its flames; it burns, they burn. They walk out of it but soon seek occasion to walk right into the fire again.
Flames rise from their mouths when they speak; they burn their tongues, their lips. For a moment, they flap their fingers and dab at their lips to lessen the pain – unsuccessfully. But soon, they seek occasion to speak in the same manner again. These feel the hurt from the fire. There are others who don’t. The fire burns, they appear to feel no pain, and go on living like nothing’s wrong.
There’s more: their eyes, ears, hands, feet and other parts of their bodies burn too. Some suffer from one of these menaces; others suffer from several. They live like they can’t help but go through these things. Actually, they can’t.
In the past my eyes were set aflame when I gave them up to seeing things they shouldn’t. I couldn’t prevent the fire, felt controlled by them. It all changed when Utin came. The allurement to see the same things hangs around still but Utin keeps me sane, safe. Even others’ flames are put out when they see me.
I have never directly spoken to any of these burning people about what I see in them. There’s the scowl they give off if they ever suspect an attempt. I never want to hurt anyone’s feelings: I’d do anything to maintain peace. So I say nothing. I just hope and pray that they someday look up, observe how I never experience these burnings and ask how.
Last night, while laid down and thinking on my right to stay silent about the good Utin does me, I fell into a dream.
It’s dark. It’s ugly. It’s hot. There’s a fire. Twenty people stand round a fire and watch, rapt. They watch a small group of five, dance in the fire. Their clothes burn off by the fire, leaving little or nothing clinging to their skins. Soon, their skins begin to sing and come apart. The burning is deliberate.
I see the tears, I sense the pain. But just like moths make circles round a fire and never leave till they are caught in its flames, so these dance, losing strength, till they begin to fall into the fire, one after the other.
One falls, gasping for breath as he burns. The others dance on.
Those in the first group, fail to realize that their eyes are beginning to burn by some flame rising from within them as they watch the dancers who are left making indiscernible cries: riot, agony?
A dancer’s fall into the fire coincides with the blinding of one of the watchers. The watcher who goes blind then gets drawn into the inner group to begin his dance. This repeats itself a number of times while the number in the outer circle still does not drop.
I watch all of this from a short distance.
Then a giant of a man, a warrior of immortal kind, stands behind them all. They are in a circle and he appears to stand around and behind them all at once such that none sees him save me. His cloth, his skin, his hairs, his footwear, his weapons of war, everything is in shimmering gold and sparkling white.
He draws out his glistening golden sword poised to smite them in his fury. And in that instant, he turns towards me, points the tip of his sword at me and says:
“Be warned. Warn”
I awoke dowsed in sweat. My head hurt.
What just happened? That was just a dream?
Half an hour later, I succeed in calming my strained nerves, and soon go to see Utin as I often do:
“But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will die because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his death” Utin whispers.
I Offiong have written these for your salient consideration. Today perhaps, I’ll go close to a burning soul, tell him what I see, pull him out of the fire and take the fire out of him.
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