Let's start from the ending.
In the cramped space, we tried to stretch our hands but found no contact. We breathed the crop of our misery; the foul stench of helpless tears, the sour taste of fear filled sweat. There was no one to scream to. We had waited too long and now how tragedy becomes us.
They came in the dust, their eyes bulging with malice, their lips twisted with curses. They came with guns and many bullets beyond counting. They used it all on our small town, tearing open bodies that once hid behind the cloth of civilization. They showed us the truth of the whip, of the spurs, of the spear in the rib. We tried to fight; farmers bending hoes to blunt force trauma, fishwives raising harpoon through the throat of night, seeking enemy. We were brave. It was not enough.
It was not enough because we were betrayed by our own selves. Hunger and thirst, greed and ambition drove men forward like cows to the slaughter of their own kin. We were desperate to survive. It never occurred to us to die at the feet of our tormentors. No, we chose the strange thing; we turned on ourselves. It was a brutal season. And while we died, our tormentors egged us on, placed bets and even contributed with weapons of attrition.
How could we have won the war? How could we have been able to look beyond language and God for something more; solidarity, shared pain, shared dream? Our masters did their work well. They came prepared to leave us with nothing. We stood and watched our houses, filled with treasures of ancient times become the roosts of geckos and dead moths but for some reason, we refused to rebuild. Instead we turned to our tormentors and begged them to save us from the geckos and the ghosts of butterflies. We begged them to use our ancient treasures to save us. We forgot who we were.
It is how we found ourselves in the keel of old ships, snuck in like aliens. Our bodies were chained to our dreams and prayers and each person acted as if the next was a ghost of somebody they used to know. We found ourselves among the dead salt of the Sahara, trekking through that hot, seeking a path, any path away from the nightmare we had made. We became bones, signposts to weary travellers, victims of human ability for cruelty, unnamed gravestones in the ever shifting sands. It was how we entombed our bodies in the Atlantic.
Our masters pretended not to need us. They broke us first with whips and salt on our wounds. They sold our children into slavery and our women they bribed with diamonds bloodied by our father’s hands. They showed us the lights, the music, the dance wafting from their debauchery and we hungered for it. We forgot that we once owned a life of our own. We forgot that we once loved and fought, once were imperfect in our own gruesome ways. We forgot who we were and slavered like dogs at our master’s table.
They fed us. They gave us meaning and sometimes they used us to perpetuate the common good. That this good often coincided with their unnamed hunger did not matter to us. We wanted to be free. We thought that if we worshipped their gods we will get that freedom but the god seemed to change his face each time we looked. How could we worship Esu? How could a trickster god be their alpha and omega? What does that say of their intentions? This meant nothing to us because we fought to be in their cities and when we were successful, we did not hesitate to inform those back home that we were free.
But the price of this freedom; seeing how our own estranged sisters and brothers were being broken and we walked on by silent, looking only forward towards the next pay check was the saddest thing. We betrayed ourselves each time. We sat in that cramped space, waiting for our names to be called and we said to ourselves: do anything to stay free. So we lied, killed, denied, betrayed to stay on that shore. It did not matter that we had ankle monitors on or that the chains that held us were made in our home. We died for that freedom so it was worth everything.
Yet, what did we do wrong? We had welcomed them with open arms. We had not judged them their gods. Why did they have to break us so? Why did they look into our eyes and found nothing but use for our bodies? What god thought it wise to bend history towards this direction? Do you ever wonder what it would mean for the victim to be the perpetrator and what that means for our tormentors? Would my people have been kinder and more accepting? Would we have looked at our tormentors in the eye and call them human? Would they have been naive about the grand possibilities of human cruelty as we were? Would they have fought? Would any of it have mattered?
Here is the tale of how the crows came, of how the vultures fed fat, of how the hyenas cackled. Here is the tale that never ages well, stinking of carcass and detritus, blood and earth. This is our tale and i tell it to you, as we wait for the custom official to eye our skin, scrutinize our filth, segregate our accents and determine who the devil is and who Lucifer is.
Shift as close as the manacles will let you. Let me tell you, once upon a time, there was an empire named Benin. The king was god and the people proud. One day, a day set aside to worship, a strange people came and they did an evil thing...