Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The World in Which I Dream

A group of four or five of us moved slowly along the dusty trail towards the low rhythmic singing. The red light of the setting sun moved quickly in the tropics, our shadows reaching out ever farther ahead of us into the African scrub, and over the cliff above the oxbow. We came upon the singers suddenly, surprising ourselves because they were standing on a ledge several feet below the rim of the cliff. Four grey figures sang on, oblivious to our appearance. Covered in mud and dusty rags, their bodies vibrated with the sound from the lowest registers. Two of the singers had no heads. Their windpipes took up most of their raggedly cut necks, and it was from these that the hypnotically low sound came. The two on the ends were half as tall, and their mud-caked dreadlocks were full of cracks. Their torsos were covered with designs in red, orange and grey clay; some with simple triangles and circles, others with complex saz-like patterns. The sound held us immobile in front of the frightening quartet until the song suddenly ended, and the singer nearest me quickly reached out and clamped down firmly on my privates, dragging me down the cliff and out onto the muddy shore of the river. At this point I was overcome with extreme terror, knowing that we were waiting for something large to appear from the river. My captor began a keening, and I heard his companions back up on the ledge take up the same song. Panicked, I strained over my shoulder to see if my companions were still there, but there was no one besides the immobile singers. I had been left alone with these creatures, and I could only guess that my colleagues and our guide were still running breathlessly into the sunset. A light splash brought my attention back to the river, and I whipped my shoulders around, the pain telling me that I had been twisted for some time, desperately hoping to see any threads of help. The quiet moving in the water brought my heart to a stop. A long dark shape had approached our shore, and I began to shake as an enormous crocodile's head became slowly more defined in the fading light. The glassy eyes fixed on us, and I knew we had been spotted. My captor seemed unperturbed, and did not loosen his grip or cease his wail as the reptile's head came out of the water onto the silty slope. As the neck and forelegs emerged, I noticed that the rest of the crocodile was strangely light colored, matching the river's tans, rather than the dark greenish brown of the head. Even more strange was that the forelegs had no scales and the feet had no claws. Confused, I gazed down, and noticed that my own feet had disappeared into the mud, and small bubbles were rising out of the imprint they had left on the surface. A deep rumble made me look back up, and I could not breathe. I had to look above me to see the crocodile's head, which I realized was now about ten feet above the ground, as the monster was standing up to his full height. I was about even with the crocodile's belly button— which I immediately realized no reptile could have—and nothing made sense any more. The crocodile's head was on an enormous man's body, and I could just make out small drops of water running down his stomach and arms in the last light of the fast tropical twilight. My captor had stopped keening, and I realized he had also released me. However, between the depth of the mud around my feet and the confusion I felt at being in front of this _thing_, I was immobilized. The crocodile's head dipped towards us, and I heard a voice that gave me gooseflesh: full of sibilants and guttural notes, I knew that a question was being asked of me that I had no hope of answering, let alone understanding. My chest hurt with anguish and loneliness, but my captor began a high piping chant within which I caught some very old Somali words that I struggled to follow, piecing together a litany of crimes. "Sobek wishes to know why you are here, where you do not belong. He wants you to realize that he has come far, far from his home in the land of his lake to this place, to reunite what you have torn apart." ... "Sobek says that he has judged you, and your soul is found wanting. You are full of lies that you call truths. You have brought thousands of strangers here, and they have moved things that were not to be moved. You have moved the Nile. You have moved Sais and Philae. You have moved the dead. You are a thief and a plunderer." ... "Sobek says you have moved His Mother and Father, His Brother and His children. He says you have hidden your wives from Him, and He is full for them, having not lain with them for millennia. Your soldiers have slain His priests, pulled down His temples, and hacked His name from countless walls." ... "You have made images of his Mother that are untrue, and built temples to this lie. You have brought pestilence to both the dark waters. He says he can taste it in them, along with the blood of women and small children, killed by centuries of your brothers for false beliefs." ... "Sobek sentences your soul to the Devourer, and He shall cause you to be shat out into the Lake of Fire." The rumbling voice had stopped, and the last notes of my captor's chant floated out over the dark ripples. I slowly moved, and could see the figure ahead dimly against the dark sky. I began to croak, my voice sounding weak and childish as I shook uncontrollably. I spoke of my years of work trying to bring help to this region, to build schools, to build networks that could reliably distribute food, and the drilling and digging of so many wells. I tried to explain that many of these things I was accused of were not of my making, and were far beyond my control, were not of my people, nor even of my time. I spoke of my wife who was waiting for me, and expecting a child we had hoped could replace the one recently lost. I cried openly, and began to heave with sobs. The singer became agitated, and began to slap me, but I only stopped when a deafening roar came from Sobek, which made me stumble as I struggled in the stotches I had made. I fell forwards, and put my forehead on the cool mud, my arms stretched out in front of me, my weight on my knees and elbows. I heard a rustle and felt Sobek move, and then felt the air hurriedly rush out as His jaws closed around my head. I could see my decapitated body slowly get up, and my companion took me by the hand, and led me back to the group. I could hear my notes joining the others as we resumed the low rhythmic chant I had first heard on the wind a few hours before. Sobek slipped back into the water and headed back down river to the Fayyum and into his own insanity, caused by ten thousand years of watching Man change his land, and not understanding any of it.