These birds never sing. They rendezvous on withered branches retelling tales of their former lives, much to the younger ones’ scepticism. They claim they were once stars in the most resplendent corners of the sky. That they flew high into the sky shaping our fates and deciding on our destiny. They say these trapped souls of theirs are a form of punishment for their disobedience to the supreme deity. Apparently, they had wandered off their hedge, accosting female stars with an audacious air of insolence and an expected automatic compliance. They say they flew as if they played an integral part in the rigours of creation, often stretching their ability and challenging their limits. I heard them say- in a husky whisper- that they even contacted the Lord of the underworld which they conceded to be the height of their transgressions, hence, their flitting from pillar to post, building nests that do not only demean their former place but expose them to the brimming sun and a once sympathetic rain.
As the younger ones half listened in disbelief, dreams seduced them into its perfection, and they were lulled into sleep on account of their will, painting delectable portraits of decayed fruits and rotten moin-moin on canvasses of incinerators and putrid bins. Noticing its younger ones were traversing out of attention, the Father-Bird poked their heads with its big, sharp and painful beak. ‘This is an important part of your history, you monkeys’ it said. ‘Listen, or I’ll make you fly with broken wings’. The mean reality in their father’s voice sprung life through their dimunitive bodies, they flapped their wings sequentially- they say it is an old Rheidae tradition embedded early in the little ones; a symbol of complete submission. Their father continued in the glorification of their past lives, reiterating their rank amongst the higher stars; the esoteric teachings through which they soared and the mystical doctrines which can only found in the holy scroll of birds. The rather peculiar one was the mysterious means with which they claimed water sprung within coconuts. They exposed their little ones to many truths, speaking in the language of moths so as to scramble my dream, from which I perused their gathering. However, they were glaringly ignorant of my own pedigree, that I’m half familiar with the language from the twelve seasons I spent in the six illuminated realms of fireflies, where we all day wove beautiful tapestries that came alive on even nights. In return for the favour they taught me their language (which they said was close to that of moths) and they shared with me their dreams and secret teachings.
The Father-bird looked forlorn, it stared at the little ones with distant eyes, its quest into their past had re-invited nostalgia and sorrow into their lives, it wanted to return to its days of grace, it wanted once again to be a celestial body, to fly lofty beyond the clouds and to be regarded high in the scheme of things. Its countenance inspired a little one to ask a question. It wanted to impress their father; to at least appear interested in what they all thought to be arrant folklore. It said:
‘But father that’s our past and from your teachings you say although there are many things in life we’ll miss, it’s important to keep moving forward. Wouldn’t you rather complete your transformation? I mean becoming a human being, we the chicks have always dreamt of being human and grandfather told us it’s the last stage in the cycle of transformation, till the ouroboros effect begins all over again’.
The reflection of wit in its chick’s speech thrust upon the Father-bird an expansive smile. Although it didn’t agree with the doctrine its father had imparted into its younger ones, the understanding of elements such as transformation and ouroboros were things it was happy its chicks had some comprehension of. But these things should not be misconstrued it thought.
‘Now listen, human beings are not that special you see’ he started. ‘Here in this dimension, they are the highest in the hierarchy of favour, understood. No! Okay! I think I should start with this: there are so many things you chicks still need to know and understand, then you’ll become wise. Firstly, there are seven dimensions in this reality, you see. Seven dimensions! In each dimension, reality is regarded or lived differently. Don’t ever look down upon yourself because in another dimension you are kings. I’ll give you an example, in the fourth dimension, cattle are the favoured beings. They take the place of humans while humans replace them in the order of things. Here, you see cattle being slaughtered by humans and you feel pity, do not, there’s an inexplicable complexity to this universe. In the fourth dimension it is humans who are slaughtered by cattle to appease Zahia (the cattle form of Gaia), the great mother of Earth who springs forth grass for their upkeep. ‘Yes, transformation does occur, but it’s for us to return to immortality, our former place, our permanent place’.
The Father-bird’s knowledge of the mazy layers of reality mesmerised the universe. I heard two sylphs ask each other how these birds knew so much. The power and authority in the Father-bird’s speech made even the wind seize in order to listen. I felt an overwhelming heat beleaguer me. The moon abandoned its nightly duty and snuck out of the sky just so it could gain in the wisdom that fluttered through the mist. They didn’t notice its lunar immanence; I did. It was large and brilliantly illuminated, which I thought was quite ironic.
The Father-bird continued as if it were reading out of an ancient scroll of ethereal knowledge. Its eyes were bright and curiously human, its pupils glistened as it gesticulated. It spoke with so much eloquence and conviction that I started to wish I were a bird. I continued to peer into their little lives with menacing admiration. It appeared little to me, perhaps, because I looked at them from the outside in. I was able to peruse their entire existence through a prism of complete oneness. Their past, present and future co-existed simultaneously, we floated in a timeless space. I saw their confined souls, their fixated ability and their frustrated dreams of time travel. Even with all these limitations, something peculiar attracted me to the realm. I wanted to be part of their world as the little ones desperately wanted to be mine. I wanted to soar into the world on nights the deepest self would enjoy but those conscience would judge. I wanted to perceive the many hideous things only the night permitted. Their world looked superficially simple, as if they were without worries; as if their primary fear wasn’t death; as if they had no pressure of continuity; as if they weren’t competitive amongst themselves. I thought like most mortals, bereft of imagination, devoid of the concept of possibilities, ignorant about the actual essence of all existence, but that was soon to change, I was soon to be transformed, my mind was soon to be refined by birds who now spoke in the language of shadows that had a baritone sweetness and equal encryption to it. But above all, the many doors that locked us out of all spheres of reality were soon to open.
I all along thought they hadn’t noticed the sylphs, but the Father bird suddenly turned to them and spoke in the most subtle of tones, as one enchanted. It said softly:
‘You find the meaning of life incomprehensible don’t you?’ The sylphs nodded their heads as one ashamed after being caught and questioned in an abominable act.
‘Well, do you believe that the most easily accessible knowledge in life is the essence of one’s own existence?’
‘How is this possible father when Grand-Father said most people live their entire lives without even knowing why they were born.’ The same chick interjected, however, this time, with genuine interest.
‘It is because they have forgotten’.
‘Forgotten what? I don’t understand’.
‘You see my dear, like I said earlier, there is a place where we all belong, our permanent place, a place where we were before we came to this world. A place of utter tranquillity, simplicity, knowledge, innocence and bliss. But, because our wants were insatiable, we struggled for elaborateness, we weren’t satisfied with simplicity so we asked the creator for more. We saw earth being built and we wanted a part in it. All of us: birds, sheep, humans, lions, tigers, spiders; really, all of us. And then because our desires were directed towards a uniform place, our daily lives became insipid; we found our cocoon of perfection boring. We wanted imperfection, we wanted novelty, anything but the conventional, so we contacted, invariably, the Lord of the underworld for his most grotesque vices. Doubt, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, dishonesty and gluttony were channelled as a way to infuriate the creator so we could be banished. These vices soiled our impeccable home so much that the creator acted accordingly. We got our wish, we were sent out. Sheep left in numbers and chickens came hatched in eggs. We were thrown into the many layers of reality and reminded that one day we’d come back after we’d suffered for our sins and atoned for our misgivings. However, the creator felt there was no positivity to this end so he gave us tasks and purposes that would bring our minds back to the inception. We all had to further our different races and build on in our various capacities the work he’d already started. You see, we all have to keep building in as many batches as we come because no work is ever truly finished. Each of us has a role to play in the continuity of this universe. We were shown in great detail but the rigours of birth superficially liquidate the brain to newness. We knew all about our lives and our purpose but the herculean struggle to begin erases the accessible parts of that memory. Hence, dejavu: a slight flash of detail about a life already seen but forgotten; a life we know like it’s already been lived. The truth about all is tethered to our personal unconscious, this is why often times the future is revealed to us in dreams because although we by all means cannot remember it, it is locked somewhere in our minds and the subconscious sets it free to roam. However, I can teach you how to remember all,’ it smiled.
The last sentence caught our attention, everyone drew closer with great attentiveness to learn what could perhaps be the most evolutionary ability the mind could ever conceive. Noticing our eagerness for knowledge and power, the Father-bird withdrew, realising it’d perhaps said too much. It looked around with eyes that had suddenly withdrawn from trust. ‘Not today, however’, it said aloud. ‘Maybe some other time’, winking at its chicks.
We all dispersed in disappointment, displacing all the things taught like they were mere ramblings from a creature that suffered from a severe case of logorrhoea. At this time the sun began to tower above us in its suffusing brightness. Cracks began to show in my dream, I saw a gaping hole within the moon. In it were frogs whose heads drooped over a quantum of indescribable equipment. They had melancholy etched on their skin. I looked closer and realised it was another reality where frogs were erudite scholars. They attempted to solve mystical mathematical theories they believed would give definitive meanings to the complexities of faith and reason. A frog looked up, saw me and released an unearthly squeal that broke the barriers of reality. Suddenly, all became one. The seven realities converged into a single sphere and strange things began to happen. People walked into the wind and were never again seen. I saw goats with heads on both ends of their bodies and tortoises that beat the speed of sound with their pace. They boasted of it as they strutted in front a clan of patient cheetahs. Those who woke up into the sun’s dream lost their sanity instantaneously.
I saw the sun fishing with the rain. They both complained all afternoon that the fishes had become clever; the rain lamented that the sun was too bright to be inconspicuous, that its reflection was felt at the bottom of the stream.
‘So now, what do you want me to do about that ‘Mr Camouflage’, it’s not like you’re better hidden yourself, are you?’ the sun said.
‘At least I’m not as irritating as you’ replied the rain. The sun laughed, the reverberation of its emotion shook the grounds of the river. Something caught my attention as I struggled for balance, I saw something strange within the sun’s mouth. There were dead stars in it. A sudden education, one that surprised the sun itself as it looked ignorant of their presence hitherto. The stars had died for thousands of years yet their light shone through the timeless enclave, they had deep history and many forgotten secrets of astrology etched on their remains. In it, I learned that rats fart recklessly and as frequently as they dream, and that they possess a far tranquil subconscious. I stared deep in disbelief.
‘Idiot’, the sun said.
‘Try to act civilised’, replied the rain. ‘A little argument and you start to throw around insults’.
‘That wasn’t an insult, it’s what you are’, the sun laughed louder and suddenly the fishes emerged, scampering, screaming and warning one another in their language. Their words were inaudible. Soon afterwards, they all disappeared again. The rain shouted,
‘They came out, I saw them’.
‘Nonsense,’ the sun retorted.
‘You’ve started with these your stupid jokes’.
‘No, I saw them when you were laughing’.
‘No, you didn’t; I was laughing not sleeping’. They bickered for long in their contrasting grace. I was bemused at first then wondered at the ridiculousness of the picture. This pandemonium lasted a while then order was restored. Realities refilled their spaces, animals looked and acted their usual selves but the insane could no longer find a way out of their labyrinthine confusion. People later convinced one another that their insanity was as a result of their consumption of Indian-Hemp. Something happened to me too after normalcy was restored. My sight took an acute turn from its vivid clarity. My stomach became taut. Everything darkened. I became lost within my own dream; I struggled to see. The world suddenly became filled with secondary and balanced colours. I saw trees with wings protesting to the sun about its bias. They claimed its favourite was Africa, that it abandons the rest for many months each year. They chanted ‘EQUALITY FOR ALL’ in their language that had a sweet rustling sound. I began to feel overwhelmed from the after-effect of the convergence. My brain began to feel heavy within my skull. I wanted out. I tried to wake into the bigger dream of reality but I couldn’t. I tried many techniques to no avail. I gave up momentarily and decided to enjoy the mystery. I walked a short distance and came upon two young men who waited for their friend so they could all dream. They were aspiring singers. Their ambition made the air dense. I greeted them as I tried to squeeze past but they looked on, completely ignoring me. Suddenly, they turned to me and raised their palms, I stared back in slight bewilderment. They asked if I were a seer.
‘Young man, he asked if you’re a seer’, the other one said in an authoritative tone.
‘No, I’m not.’
‘Cause I’m just not’,
‘If you’re not a seer, how did you get here then? You’re a liar.’
‘Please, help us’, the first one seemed more accustomed to manners.
‘I don’t know how to, I’m sorry’,
I walked on. Although I could see their future – as their fates were to an extent parallel shaped and inextricably linked-, I had to lie to them. I did because of their misfortune. Their futures were bleak. I saw that although they’d become a famous and popular group, greed and selfishness would tear apart their union and the least talented of the group, the one they awaited, would go solo and become the immortal star, but they would be buried in a forgotten past.
‘Ignorance isn’t bliss afterall’, muttered the one with better manners.
I stopped and turned around, they looked at me with a lustful burrowing. I asked for directions and they smiled, pointing in opposite directions; they then released a jagged laughter they borrowed from the depths of spite. I ignored them and walked on. After walking a short distance, I saw a portal. On it was a banner that read:
‘Òré kan kítíkítí, ìye kan kàtàkàtà, ijó t’òré kítíkítí bá kú, ìye kan kàtàkàtà ni’ókù’.
I digested the profound words and sighed. I walked into the portal and everything went completely dark, then a dim light shone at the end of the portal. I walked carefully towards the light ignoring the different sounds that reverberated within. Suddenly, I found myself traversing without effort towards the light. I realised the light shone brighter as I moved closer. The light affected my eyes and I could feel my mind fattening. My head grew bigger then everything turned yellow, then pitch black.
I woke up to find myself in my father’s barn surrounded by sheaves that breathed heavily above me. I heard a familiar voice from a distant space. It took some memory searching before I realised it was the Father-bird’s voice. It sounded like something struggling to reach the four corners of the universe. It screamed as one being subdued by the guardians of the first teachings.
‘Rejoice in whatever form you find yourself’, it bellowed. ‘We are all kings. Many will come back in different forms. Men will come again as spiders and sheep will be pirates’. I looked on with eyes adjusting to the spells of colour. I was already late. It was 11:27am.
Adé Sultan Sangodoyin is a Nigerian filmmaker and writer. He studied English Literature with Journalism at the University of Buckingham in England. He’s known for the films, “Different Plains” (2015) and “A Cemetery of Doves” (2019). His short story, “Dad Attempted Many Things and Failed” and “The Charred Flower” have been published in the Kalahari Review. His creative aesthetics are driven by a host of things that range from the quiet rhythms of nature, to the works of, Oscar Wilde, Ben Okri, Soulaymane Cisse, Mahamat Saleh Haroun, Wim Wenders, Bernardo Bertolucci, Kore-eda and David Lynch, as well as old, new and emerging mediums of dreaming.
This entry appeared in The Limits Issue