I wake up draped in sheets of silk on a bed of tender foam. Pulling drips out of my arm and inner thigh as I try to stretch. The bed adheres to the weight of my body as I roll up to a sitting position. It could sleep six of me with room to spare.
Its corners are surrounded by four pillars of carved wood. One carved in the totem of a snake. One of a bird of prey, perhaps a hawk or a falcon. One of a baboon. And one of an elephant.
My eyes are pulled to the ceiling at this time. Pearls of varying sizes are lodged into the roof. Spinning in a slow perpetual cycle in some form of magnetic technology.
After watching the spectacle for a bit, I help myself off the bed. The gaping cuts and tendon bites are still visible but are now closed wounds. I touch them thinking, 'How long have I been asleep?’ I remember the short people licking me and that feeling of relief that came with the discomfort. Also how my skin began tightening up at the very end before I passed out.
My feet touch the floor. It feels like animal fur as I rub my toes into it. Perhaps fox or buck. It is reddish beige in colour and covers the circumference of the room. The length of 12 cubic metres on one side, to at least a half extra of that on the other side. More or less the size and shape of the abode.
There is no dresser table or wardrobe. Besides the bed and totem pillars, there are no furnishings at all. Only a pair of two-way mirrors fashioned as windows on either side of the room.
I refrain from behaving in any manner that might be considered uncouth, just incase there are uninvited eyes on the opposite side. I approach the nearest window.
Seeing my reflection reminds me of everything I have been through so far. My disfigured body the representation of bravery and resilience. “What am I willing to take to reach my goal?” I stretch my arms out. “Take a good look.”
The woman in the mirror looks like a forested mountain with solidified lava on one side. A portrait of wonder. Molded with sacred artistry. A lake of fire frozen in position. The perfection of nature accentuated by the imperfection that sits right beside it. My overwhelming burn mark no longer looks like one. I have seen it a hundred times. Avoided looking at it a thousand more times. It is an extension of my curved meandering features. The beginning of my formation when God was still learning to mould humans and had to make the first mistake through me. In this very moment, I am every woman. I have no scars. Only beauty spots. The biggest one runs from the left side of my neck all the way to the bottom of my breast. My admiration for this woman in the reflection grows exponentially.
There is steam rising from my skin suddenly. Causing me to back up and pat myself down frantically. It stops as soon as it started. I turn away from the window and walk quickly towards the door. It's a double door like you would have in a castle. Very bizarre to have for a bedroom. That’s when the flapping hits me again. But I do not fall this time. Only slightly rocked. Reminding me that my strength has returned.
Of course it has. My reflection showed me the weight I had gained back. My bones were back inside my flesh and I wasn’t trembling. I turn around with less fear than I did in the abode. I had scanned the entire room at each corner and had not seen anybody but myself. Let alone another throne. This one is made of precious stones which dazzle as a reaction to the spinning pearls above. Either I was ignorant to my surroundings or it and its occupant had magically appeared. My common sense is favouring the latter.
I have no words so I wait on his. "Good morning," he rumbles. "I wouldn't know," I reply. He gives a gentle measured laugh. "Yes. That's everybody's dilemma who enters Mpongo Dimawale." My lip twists upward. "Mpongo Dimawale?" I repeat. "Yes. Some call it middle earth. Others call it the deep. In your religion they call it hell."
A chill runs down my spine and continues all the way to the nerve endings in my fingers and toes. I attempt to show my cool by sustaining the conversation. "How do you know if I’m religious or not?" He smiles with his long lips. "The little prayer you made when my minions we’re getting too much for you, lets just say … the walls have ears."
His wings lift slightly as he adjusts himself before coming down with a breeze. Each wing is twice his size with a talon at the end. "So are you satan?" I ask. My brow dropping at the expected answer.
"Satan is not one person. Satan is all of us and none of us. You are satan if you choose to be." He begins rocking his knee from left to right.
"If you're trying to be smart I have no time for it. I know what the greatest trick is so you're not convincing me,” I say with an air of remittent irritation. He gives out a belly laugh.
"There are things you think you know just because you read a book or two. There is a lot more to learn from observation alone. But your programming tells you otherwise. You will learn quickly enough. The hard way or otherwise."
I take a deep breath and my eyebrows lift on the exhale. "With all due respect. I don't have much time. There is a crisis I need to attend to and I really need to make it back home. If you can show me how I can really appreciate that."
"I know what you really want. You want the dark man with the fedora hat. That's what you're really after."
My fists ball involuntarily.
"It's not really about your child is it? It's about getting to the dark man. Dealing the revenge you've yearned for your whole life."
He slinks his left foot then tucks it underneath the right.
"You want to punish him for what he's done to you. Growing up a freak. Never knowing what a normal life is for so long. And now, when you've finally mastered being normal, he returns. Threatening the thing you love the most."
I can't stop the tears escaping my eyes. My heart is raging as I stare him down.
"You wanted him so bad you were willing to do anything to stay a step ahead. Keep yourself available incase he shows up. Causing your untimely death in the process.”
I remember the unappeasable anxiety I felt in those final moments of the accident. The madness that ended my life. Yes my foot was in pain but that wasn’t it. I needed to get to my children incase that vile vindictive man showed up. I wanted to catch him in the act.
That nagging feeling had stayed with me all day, that he was there outside my home waiting for my daughter’s return from school. Threatening her in front of her siblings. The memory is fleeting but I see so much in that instant of time. It feels so real that the knots in my stomach begin to cramp. My arms wrap around my torso as my teeth rub against each other.
“But are you willing to get eternal damnation for your desire? Does anything and everything mean anything and everything to you?"
His skin is gleaming with beautiful soft browns as the spinning of the pearls intensifies. His wings lift and stretch out across half the circumference of the wall. They wrap inwards until they cover me. Pushing my caricatured body towards him. Placing my feet at one of his.
He pushes off the throne and leans in towards me. His head is the size of my body. I squint as his brilliant eyes lock with mine. But I don't look away. I want to show him my anger. Let him see my determination. My naked scarred body a testament of why I must have my way.
"You must know that once you move up, those healing powers you have will dissipate with each level you proceed to. Your propensity for pain will eventually become intolerable. So much so that you will be as a leaf in Autumn. And if by the gifts of the afterlife you make it to Vita Dimawale, the sixth and final realm before earth, that's when the real fun begins. Because then..." He leans in closer, "Total evisceration of your soul becomes possible. Your very essence, will not exist in any plain below or above. You will become absolutely … nothing.”
He retreats two arms lengths from me.
"That's just as bad for you, as it is for me. Therefore I have a vested interest in seeing you survive that portion of your journey.”
He places his index finger on one side of his chin. Retreating back into the throne. His wings retreating with him.
"I will be with you till the very end. Observing and Guiding you with as many telegrams as the constitution of the deep allows. So be careful what you wish for, because they will run out sooner than you think.”
"Why me?” I ask. Straightening my back as my stomach cramps ease up. “Of all the people dying on a daily basis, why have I been imbued with the honour of being here with you?"
His lips stretch across his face as his nostrils flex. “It's not everyday that I get to see the dark man be the hunted. So many fear his fairy tale. Others deny his existence. A very small percentage of human beings ever get to see him physically in the eighth realm. Appearing only when Maria is pre-occupied with the solar eclipses. Then rushing back to Vita Dimawale to hide like a cowardly dog. Stealing MY souls. Snatching recruits from right above me. Using fear magic to suck his victims compassion dry. Making himself stronger in the process. Perhaps in the hopes of becoming me one day."
"So why don't you just kill him yourself?" I say with an air of agitation.
"We're not allowed to kill our own within the hierarchy of angels. That is an instant death sentence. It's all in the name of ensuring eternal balance. Good and evil. Light and dark. A shift in the scales would spell complete chaos. Causing the earth’s poles to lose their positioning. The disastrous aftermath would lead to an earth that's void and formless. All of our hard-work, Maria and I, would be for nought."
“So if I kill him do I take his place?” “That would depend on what Maria decides. If she wants you on her side, she will search your heart to measure the volume of love and hate inside you. Enough love will take you to Jumbo Salava. Too much hate, and your soul will be mine.”
Is Maria God? I have to know. ”Who’s Maria?" I ask. Being familiar with the biblical Maria, I am curious to know if there is any correlation.
"Maria is my lover and mortal adversary depending on the season. We have suffered victory and loss at each others hands. But remain locked in a perpetual cycle of attraction. Unwavering yet possibly destructive to both of us. She is the order from my chaos. Our love is eternal."
"How do you love someone who could potentially destroy you?"
"Hahahahahaha!" His laugh shakes the foundations of the four walls. Lodging some of the pearls in the roof out of position. The smaller ones popping out completely with two or three landing on my head. I am confused as to where the humour may have been present in my question.
"Child of the earth. Come out of that land of dust so you may achieve understanding for that which is told. Coming here with the logic of the flesh will get you nowhere. Be of the soul and your wisdom will surpass the stars. The veil will then be lifted from your eyes and what you need to see will be seen."
This is the kind of sermon my pastor would give me. Not as complicated though.
"Turn around," he orders.
"Ok er, er… what do I call you?"
"Hahaha," he cackles. "Smart. But it won't be that easy," he says.
"If you do kill the dark man, I might just give you my name as a reward." He side eyes me. "That's not a guarantee, but what an incentive right?" "Whatever you say satan." "Ha! Calling me names is such a kindergarten thing to do. You're more likely to win me over with your actions than your insults. But then, your mind is still immature. Relying on human intellect to find reasoning in a spiritual realm. Now turn around." I oblige.
The room has changed once again. The floor is cold and rough. A quite breeze brushes my skin. We are no longer indoors but on a mountain ledge overlooking a vast stretch of land. Perhaps the size of a small country. It is cut off by a body of water in the extreme horizon invisible to the wandering eye.
The roof has been replaced by pearly clouds. Where the wall stood on my left is now a metal rack. On the rack hang an assortment of weapons. Bows, spears, swords and hammers of all shapes and weights.
"It is time for you to ascend." "Don't you mean descend?" I ask. He stands up off his throne and walks towards the edge of the ledge. Each of his footsteps is the beat from a bass drum.
“In Mpongo Dimawale, what is down is up. What is forward is backwards. An apple might be a tomato or grass might be sand. You must descend to ascend in this realm. Now pick your weapon. Time is of the essence."
I contemplate which weapons will be best for me. Most convenient to carry and most effective for my body size. "Can I take more than one?" "You can take as many as you want."
I sling a crossbow behind my back along with a dozen arrows. Then I take a hunting knife and a sword. This is when I remember that I'm naked with nowhere to put these. "I need clothes,” I say. He turns towards me and says, "You will have to fight for that too." Disheartened, I put the knife and sword down. Opting for a short blade sword instead. Easy to carry and swift with the silent kill.
My self defence instructor had made us research deadly weapons as part of an assignment at one time. Portia got top marks for firearms. I wasn't interested in guns. Bombs more so. But blades fascinated me the most. Their silence. The up-close nature of the action of slitting a throat.
I had studied further after the assignment was over. Learning all the alternative soft spots for a good stabbing when the throat was out of reach. I knew my stuff, theoretically. But I had never stabbed anybody before, let alone kill. I am being thrust into the real thing and I don’t think I'm ready.
The panic in my heartbeat is exposing my true self. But the giant is turned away. Staring into the distance. Distracted by his own thoughts. So I kneel down on both knees. Taking deep breaths in the hopes that my heart will slow down. Forgetting the sword in my hand, I drop it in a moment of carelessness.
The blade clinks on the ground just before I catch the handle. But it’s too late. The giant is not as distracted as I wish he would be. "You had your chance to be afraid when the gatekeeper issued you your ticket. You could have turned back and waited for the next train. But you chose to continue.”
His wings rise above his head. Making him look bigger than ever. And a lot more menacing.
“Your hour has arrived. Your heart chose the expedited route. That was the wish you expressed to the gatekeeper. Now stand up and face the demons. They roam the land hoping to stop you. Take away the only opportunity you have to protect your daughter. To protect her and the rest of your children and THEIR children. This is where you end it all. But you must get past your fears, or you will be of no match for my demons. And especially for the dark man. He will crush you for it. Now stand up!”
His voice roars inside my abdomen. Revitalising my innards. Encouraging my muscles to flex in preparation. I take one final deep breath before rising to my feet. Sword in hand. Crossbow on my back. It’s not much but it's enough. His left wing stretches out then sweeps up behind me. Urging my body up to his leg. The wind is stronger here, and more audible. "Good journey," he says. His wing nudging me off the edge. Sending me plummeting towards the earth below.