The Mocking Bird And The Magic Flute By Chuks Obinna
POSTED 01/05/2018 18:17:13
The tale has always been told of how a stubborn boy encountered some evil spirits who made him blind and deaf. It was said that the boy had a flute which he loved so much. It was a magic flute, not that it had powers, but it was magical because it made him happy. He always carried this flute wherever he went.
One day, while at the farm with his family, he kept his flute under a plantain tree and focused on the weed (Imperata cylinderica) he had to uproot. The work was hard and long that day and soon the golden rays of sunshine were beginning to fall behind a curtain of orange just as the sun set.
The family hurried home that day for it was said that spirits roamed the land when the sun was set.
It was not until the family got home that the boy realized that he had forgotten his beloved flute. Do not go back to the farm, he was warned, for the spirits are busy planting their spirit yams. He did not listen for he was stubborn and so he went back to the farm. It was then those bad things (the blindness and deafness) was said to have happened to him.
Now, this tale sounds interesting and colorful but that is not really how the story went. How do I know? Well, I was that stubborn boy. Let me tell you what really happened.
Years ago, while still a little boy in the village, I had a favorite catapult (not a flute, you see). I loved shooting small birds and lizards. I never killed them–my shots were never that fatal – but that was fine by me.
I always went into the small forest at the back of our house to hunt for my favorite targets. It was while on this favorite activity that I met that strange old fellow and, consequently, the mockingbird.
The forest around me was somewhat green and silent. It was the dry season so most of the leaves were orange and dust covered. I knew that the dry leaves would crunch as I stepped on them so I removed my slippers and moved barefooted into my hunting ground.
I was in the mood for some small birds (and by that I mean I felt like shooting some; I'd never kill any either ways). I spotted a small sparrow emerging from its half built nest. I watched it fly off and back with a twisted awn in its beak. I brought out my catapult, crafted by the gods (a man named Woke Madu a.k.a the gods) and stretched the rubber, aiming at the nest. Just as I was about to release my shot I heard a loud crunching sound, like footsteps.
I cursed (something childish) and turned to see who was invading my holy hunting ground.
It was a stranger; an old man whom I had never seen before. He looked crazy with his rough uncombed hair and scruffy beard (one that hid his mouth). He wore a faded white shirt, like a palm wine tapper, and had a wooden staff in his hand.
I shifted my position, making way for him pass. He didn't.
"You know, that bird is too small for such a lovely catapult." Lovely catapult, that sounded nice but I didn't say anything.
"Have you ever heard of the mocking bird?" I shook my head, I hadn't.
"Well, you will have to find out. It lives inside the tallest iroko tree right here, in this forest."
"I know that tree," I said with interest now, "it looks like a regular old tree to me."
"Not until you see the mocking bird." The stranger said.
This bird sounded so great already.
"How do I see it?"
The stranger dipped his hand into a worn satchel across his shoulder. I thought he wanted to give me a map or a whistle, anything to find this bird, instead he brought out a tin of chewable tobacco and began to indulge in it.
I watched him for a while, he seemed to have forgotten I was there.
"Oh, sorry." He chuckled and replaced the tin, "a nasty habit, don't judge me."
I wouldn't know about that, pa always snorted ground tobacco.
"Now, the bird." He said and coughed noisily.
This had better be good because I was pretty sure he had now scared all the birds away.
"All you have to do is knock on the trunk of the iroko three times."
"Three times?" I asked.
"Three times." He echoed and exposed his yellow teeth.
I nodded and tried to imagine approaching the iroko tree. I wanted to ask what would happen next so I looked at the stranger, he was there no more.
That day, I remember, was a Thursday. I knew I wouldn't be free again till Saturday so I spent most of my free time plotting my encounter with this mocking bird. I couldn't wait to hunt it, I bet the boys in my age grade hadn't even heard or seen one. I would finally be above Chike in the ranks (he had a record of four kills, five injuries and about 25 fly aways, impressive for us). Naturally, I had a record of just ten injuries and a lot of flyways; I ranked second. Most of the other boys either couldn't afford a catapult or were generally just bad at shooting.
After what seemed like two days (which it actually was), Saturday came. I wore my favorite camouflage shorts with a Tom and Jerry v-neck shirt. Taking the path behind our house I began my trek to the tallest tree in the forest, the iroko tree.
The tree was not hard to find – it was technically the tallest tree so I was able to spot it from afar.
The trunk of this huge tree looked old and wide enough, it would seem, to fit a small car. I walked around the tree, holding my breath and marveling at this wonder. How come I hadn't notice it?
I stepped back a few paces and looked up at the tree. The branches shot high up into the sky, far above the other trees which barely sprouted. There was a big hole somewhere in the middle of the trunk, probably for the nest of the mocking bird and her family.
I walked back up to the tree and placed my palm on it. The trunk was weirdly smooth and sticky in some parts. I breathed in sharply and knocked once, and again and the third time. Nothing happened.
I stepped back and looked up at the big hole. I had been expecting the ground to shake and the bird to fly out of the hole, screeching. I was disappointed.
I walked back to the tree, maybe if I knocked faster. And that I did. Still nothing happened. I knocked with my two hands and knocked even more times than I should, there was not even a squirrel. I sighed deeply, hissed sharply and went back home.
"Stupid old man!" I cursed.
The next week, on a Thursday, I was back in the small forest at the back of my house (I was that passionate) and just like the previous week, I heard that same crunching sound and when I turned, the strange old fellow was there.
I ignored him at first but I was curious. Why hadn't the mocking bird shown up? I asked him exactly that.
"Oh," he groaned, "my bad."
I just watched him.
"I forgot to tell you, the tobacco sometimes clogs my memory, the mocking bird only comes out at night."
I gulped, night? Meaning I had to stand in front of that iroko at night, the thought of that didn't seem too pleasant or bright, but I felt like I had to do it.
"You see, the mocking bird sleeps all day and comes out only at night for you see, it has a very important task every night."
"You'll find out when you get there. Just remember, at nightfall, when the moon is high up in the sky."
At nightfall the following day, I set out for the iroko tree. Now I know you're probably wondering about my family and/or siblings. Well, that is a story for another day.
The moon was a half crescent, crystal white in its awesomeness, sprinkled with stars all around. I walked quickly and steadily, steeling my nerves and ignoring my nervous heartbeat and sometimes fidgeting hand.
The light from the moon was helpful, aided by the beam from my year-old flashlight. The forest was alive now, I could tell with the noises all around and the noises of hooves around me. The animals, creatures of the night, were watching me and this creeped me out a lot. I had to focus the beam around me every once in a while and make as much noise as possible as I walked so as to scare whatever critters lurked around.
I got to the iroko tree in no time. I stood in front of the massive trunk and breathed out. Was I ready for this? I thought so.
Crack! Crack! Crack! My knuckles made contacted with the tree trunk. I stood back and waited.
At first it seemed like nothing would happen, then something did happen. A long steak of white light, like a thunder bolt, escaped from the large hole in the middle of the trunk. The ground shook mildly and a dark cloud covered the moon, darkening the forest. I heard a large flapping noise and then a heavy gust of wind blew over me. It was then I first heard the sound of the flute.
Soft rising tunes, wind-like in its fluidity and oddly calming, the sound of the flute terrified me.
I looked around but found no flute player. And then I looked up.
"He said I should expect you, that silly old man."
I watched for the speaker, the voice had escaped from that hole.
"Who said that?" I said in a shaky voice.
The bright light came again and then the flapping noise. The light flowed down the side of the trunk and unto the roots, building up slowly and taking form right in front of me.
"It is I, the mocking bird." It said and bawled loudly.
I was staring at – well – I had no idea of what I was staring at. This thing, whatever it was, stood like a man. It even had the feet of a man. It was human-like up to the torso and that was where the weirdness started. Now I recount this meeting, I think it was some sort of anthropomorphic being. Back then I had no idea what that was.
Starting from its waist rose a covering of yellow feathers. Its chest was broad, also covered with feathers, and it had wings. The tips of its wings came out into four long fingers.
It had long ears and bright yellow eyes. Its beak was long and curved at the edge (this made me wonder about the flute). A long feathered tail swung from behind it.
"Don't look at me that way, its rude." It said and laughed out loud.
"You're only a–" I pointed at it and then it interrupted me.
"A what, bird, man?" It laughed again, "I am the mocking bird to you. You want to know why?"
It jumped up and moved closer to me. It eyed me carefully and then blew a note into the flute. It began to jump around, fluting at a tone that was fast and sharp. It sang as it danced around me.
"Look at you, little boy, you're scrawny and thin and all so lean like toy, messed up one."
I frowned, "That's mean."
"Ah, you think I'm mean? Just so you see, I'm very very, all so very, clean?" It paused, "I don't think that's hurtful enough."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"That's what I do, you see, I am a mocking bird. I mock people, make them cry."
I squinted at it, "That's not very nice."
"No? It seems to work on the spirits." It answered.
"Come here." It grabbed me–"hold on."
"Can you stop calling me 'it'?"
"What do you mean?"
"In your narration, you keep saying 'it', I'm half man you know, a 'him' or 'he' would be nice."
"Oh, okay, sorry about that."
He grabbed me by my waist and we lifted off the ground. Moving fast, he flapped his wings and we were immediately inside the hole, high up in the middle of the tree trunk.
"Those spirits." He said and went deeper into the tree, "just be careful not to look too much at them, they'll get you."
I moved towards the edge of the hole and looked down at the floating white people moving about. It was a whole different world out there, like a village. There were people, albeit near invisible, walking about carrying out various businesses. Farmers and traders, all ghost-like. They walked around the iroko tree, not moving beyond it.
I moved closer and tried to get a better look. I saw two spirits, like mighty warriors, walking close together. They suddenly stopped and looked upwards, at me.
I gasped and tried to look away but I couldn't. I felt paralyzed, like that feeling you get when you're in a dream and it feels like you're held down by an object and you can't wake up (Ma said it happened only when demons sat on you as you slept).
I screamed and fell.
"I warned you child." The fading voice of the mocking bird filtered into my ears. I felt myself get covered by the ghost-like men and the next thing I knew was…nothing.
So you see, I never turned deaf and I never went blind. I just never went home again. I became a spirit. I saw them when they searched for me for many weeks. I heard them when they fabricated that silly story you heard. But now you know, the mocking bird and the magic flute means nothing when you're among the spirits.
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