Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Kevin Gachagua Rigathi
A lone man climbed a mountain. His palms were rubbed raw against the rocks and the wind beat against him mercilessly sending the tail of his ripped shirt flapping behind him. If he had paid it some thought he would have realized he did not know where he was or how he’d got there. But such things did not occur to him. His mind was tuned to a single focus, the sound of a drum beating. The reverberations echoed through the mountain and shook the man to his very bones with each thump. The beat so consumed him that he could feel his heartbeat twist from a natural pattern and take up the tempo. Even in his single-mindedness, that managed to pierce through and register as something disturbing.
He climbed on following the sound of the drum, following his heart. The higher he got the more bloody handprints he left behind him, the stronger the pull was and the harder his heart beat. As he pulled himself up into the mouth of a cave in the mountain’s side, he was almost sure his heart would kill him. Each beat was so strong it was surely just a matter of time until it broke through his rib cage. He struggled on anyway. The drum was near.
The sounds of his steps echoed through the cave augmenting the drum’s rhythm. Far off into the cave he could see a light. While his heart did not give any sign of relenting, his obsession was fading the closer he got to the light. The hypnotic trance he had been in was giving way to lucidity. He could think now. As his mind cleared up he realized something, a feeling that he had been there before. Not once or twice, several times. But how could he have forgotten. This did not seem like the kind of experience that could easily slip from one’s mind.
He stepped into the light and his eyes adjusted almost immediately. It was a round room. He decided to ignore the mystery for the moment. After all, it did not look like answers would be easily forthcoming. At the room’s centre was a drum, the drum. He could feel its beat all over the room like tangible thing. As he walked towards it, he felt like he was wading through waves pulsing from it. His heartbeat still held the unnatural pattern. On the drum he saw something he had missed, a book. The book was bound in the same brown leather the drum was made of. He reached out and touched it.
The moment his fingers touched the book it felt like the entire universe had lurched. Something had changed. At first, the man could not decide what it was…and then it hit him. His heart was beating normally now. The drum had taken up the cadence of a normal heartbeat. The roles had reversed. As his panic reduced so did the drum’s rhythm, taking on the pulse of a calmly beating heart. He refused to contemplate the mystery again. It was all too much. Instead, he opened the book.
On the third of April, 1985, Mark Boinnet was born.
That was the first line. He blinked. That was his name and his birthday. He could no longer ignore the strangeness of the situation. What in the world was going on?
“Welcome back, Mark Boinnet. It has been a while since you were last here.”
The drum thumped faster at his shock. It hadn’t been a voice that he had heard, not really. It was as if the waves of sound around him had twisted and turned and he had understood.
“I’ve never been here before,” Mark managed to whisper.
“Of course you have. Fifteen times now. All forget what happened when they leave the mountain of fates. But usually, they remember when they return.”
As if his mind had been waiting for those words, he remembered. He remembered all the times he’d suddenly been on the mountain, the call of the drum and the rhythm in his heart. He recalled the voice and how it told him about people slipping into fate. He remembered going back and his confusion. It made sense now that he knew. All those times he’d found himself in a room and couldn’t remember why he had walked in there. Every time he’d found a wound and couldn’t remember getting it. He looked down at his bloody hands and all the wounds on them.
“No,” said the voice as if it had read his thoughts, “You won’t return with those wounds. You’re healed when you go back. It isn’t always perfect so maybe some small mark will make it through.”
“Why do I come here?” he asked.
“Why does anybody trip and fall? Why do they stumble? Why do you make a step that’s too long or too short? Slipping into the fates is not a plan. It just is and it happens to all.”
“Everyone? But…ah, they just don’t remember.”
The voice said nothing. Mark looked down at the book and remembered that too.
“This book…this is my life.”
“Yes. It is your fate. Do not read ahead.”
“You always say that. You always tell me not to read ahead. Why?”
“I already told you why.”
“Yes, but tell me again. And this time, make sense.”
“You humans. You come here and then you tell me to make sense. All I do is make sense. I cannot be blamed if you do not accept it.”
“Then make it simpler!”
“Even now, in this place, you dare to yell. Is it foolishness or courage? I’m not sure which. You humans, you do keep things interesting.”
“So will you tell me?”
“As I’ve told you before, I’ll tell you again. That book is your fate. For all you know, every page that hasn’t happened yet may be blank. But once you open them, I assure you, there will be words. You will be compelled to read them and compelled to live them out. That knowledge should only be earned. If you read it, it will end you. Once you know your fate, you cannot stray from it.”
“And if I do.”
“As I said, I am not to blame if I give sense and it is not heeded.”
“What if I just read the last page?”
The voice did not answer.
“If I just read the last page,” said Mark, “then I only know how I die. Doesn’t matter if I can’t change it. It’s the end anyway.”
The voice did not answer.
Mark hesitated. For just a second, he understood something. Something grand, something he should have seen before but it was gone just as fast as it had come. Once again, he ignored the puzzle. He opened the last page. It read.
Mark had not understood why the voice had compared entering the fates to tripping or stumbling. It was a world eagerly awaiting people to trip in…and perhaps fall. For it was a world of tests, tests seen differently through different eyes. Mark had seen a mountain, a drum that spoke to his heart and a book that contained unknowable knowledge and- life, it contained life as well. He had heard a voice that spoke to him in terms he did not understand. This was his test.
In that last moment, he had seen it all make sense. He had seen a different version of this very test, the very first version. Not a mountain, but a garden. Not a drum, but a fruit. And trees that contained life and knowledge. The voice was there but it did not come from the air. It was spoken by a serpent. For just a moment he had seen the world before it had been hidden, before it was called the fates, when they had called it…Eden.
The voice had tricked him as it had tricked many before him. It had trailed his curiosity to search for knowledge. And the warning had always been the same. The knowledge was death. As the first ones had been warned, “for when you eat of it you will surely die.” And as Mark had been warned, ‘If you read it, it will end you.’ So it came to pass. Mark knew what he had set to look for. He truly knew his death and the drum…was no longer beating.
©Kevin Gachagua Rigathi 2013