Waiting for the gods to die

The old man in the grey robe was the one they left behind to close the eyes of the gods when they died.

The gods had been sick for a long time. The people could not watch their gods being ill.

They packed the few things they had left into bags and began to walk away.

The children walked in front followed by the women and the few goats and cows that had survived.

They looked scrawny and haggard but their eyes looked bright as they made their way to a new land were the gods where still alive.

First they had watched the men take the huge stakes out of the bowels of the earth

They watched them uproot the pipes that ran through the earth's stomach like giant intestines.

And the huge fire that blazed forth like an eternal scorching sun both day and night.

The fire that made the animals in the forest run amok and hit their heads against the trees as they preferred to die than live their lives in a world where night never came.

The men had finally left, these men that paid the same amount to copulate with virgins and other men's wives.

The gods had been sick for a long time and as they fell sick so did the fishes, they all turned dark brown and floated belly up

So did the soil too- scorching everything that was planted in it and not letting anything grow

And so did the trees- turning to dwarfs giant oaks and cedars becoming stunted frail poplars

So did the children who were lucky to be born- they looked perpetually five- their skins grey, their bellies distended, their noses running, their foreheads protruding, their eyes bloodshot and bulging.

Many had not even been born at all; they curdled and congealed in their mother's wombs

Sometimes taking their mothers with them to their graves.

Some of the men complained that their seeds had dried out.

Who will worship the gods of my fathers house they cried as they held their chins in one hand and their scrotums in the other .

Now that the gods are dying we have to go they all told themselves.

We shall live the old man to stay and tend the gods, they need someone to close their eyes and put strips of cotton wool in their noses when they breathe their last.

To put their hands on their sides and burn them in a big fire and watch the smoke ascend into the seventh heaven where gods go to rest before they return again as men.

He watched them depart and shook his head.

He was happy to have the gods for company for he knew they were once men like him

The one that the earth trembled when he walked had lived not too far from his grandfather's homestead

The one that invoked lightning and thunder whenever he shouted at his wives in anger.

The one that spat while clearing his throat and his spittle became a giant lake.

Who knows, he too would have become a god one day if things had not gone wrong.

He watched the people go and he smiled. For once he felt at peace.

Days turned into nights and became days again.

A few tiny fish waved at the old man when he walked down to the river.

The trees began to sprout broad green leaves.

He could not be sure because his eyes were growing dim but was that not a young antelope he saw over that crag?

The sky cleared up and he could see the blue sky once more, for years the sky had been perpetually grey.

He wanted to scream in joy the gods are no longer dying

But the gods motioned to him to be silent

And so they lived him and the gods that were once ill

And when he became too frail he lay down beside them and became one of them.

About the author:

E.C. Osondu was born in Nigeria. His work has appeared in AGNI and Salthill. He is a Syracuse University fellow and lives in Syracuse, New York.