Fiction

The Last Messenger: A Short Story by Anietie Isong

They called him The Last Messenger. His predictions had the uncanny precision of a chisel. Word went round that many heads of states consulted him on the calamity that might befall their nations. But where the presidents stopped, the public proceeded. In The Last Messenger’s website, followers posted volleys of questions: Will Mugabe be ousted? Who will discover the cure for AIDS? What will be the fate of Neverland? Who will arrest Osama?

On 12 May, The Last Messenger presented a lecture at the Centre for Religious Studies in London. When he appeared on stage, nine people on the front row, (mostly his followers), fell to the floor, in reverence. The man wore a red robe and black sandals. The followers analysed that. They said that the colour was symbolic. Red was the colour of earth, of fertility. His voice echoed in the hall as he spoke of his role: “I am not a medicine man. Neither am I a prophet. I am just a messenger of the ancestors. We cannot possibly speak of religion without touching the subject of the ancestors. Since ancestors are nowhere and yet everywhere, it is difficult to speak of them comprehensively.”

He paused and mobbed his brow with a handkerchief. The audience struggled to catch a glimpse of the piece of cloth: it was red. They exchanged knowing glances.

“Many of you would wonder who an ancestor is,” The Last Messenger quipped. “I will tell you. An ancestor is someone who died a good death after having faithfully practised and transmitted to his descendants certain laws. An ancestor is a link that fosters communion between the living and the dead.”

The Last Messenger argued that the living must expect much from their ancestors: protection from sickness, death, the acquisition of wealth, long life, wealth or many children. An ancestor, he announced was expected to be faithful to his earthly kin, to provide answers for their many needs.

He spoke: “In Africa, religious beliefs are found in everyday life and no distinction is made between the sacred and the secular. The African therefore does not need to prove the existence of the Creator to anyone. He is self existing and needs no proof.”

There were many questions afterwards. Someone wanted to know why the ancestors did not stop the Tsunami. If the creator had so much power why couldn’t he end poverty in Africa? Why didn’t he do something about the corrupt leaders in that continent? Why did the genocide in Rwanda happen? Were the ancestors not drunk from drinking so much blood?

The Last Messenger answered these questions. The press reported that his countenance did not change, that his smile illuminated the hall.

“The Creator is an angry and merciful one,” The Last Messenger revealed. “He is behind all the events in the world. He is the Fountain of life and power. What the world is experiencing is a phase. And like the night, this will pass.”

The Last Messenger could only spare a private consultation with Ralph, a professor of history.

“Professor Ralph,” The Last Messenger offered his hands. “How may I help you?”

The professor remained silent. He tapped his feet on the padded floor. Perhaps he was crazy to be there. He had written several papers on religion in Africa. He had dismissed the likes of The Last Messenger as fakes, evil geniuses who manipulated the poor people of Third World countries. Why was he there then?

“Professor,” the Last Messenger called softly. “Your heart bleeds.”

“Yes, my heart bleeds.”

They stared at each other while time seemed still and framed.

“Life is made of journeys,” the Last Messenger growled. “For some the journey never ends, it’s almost everlasting. Many journey in search of wisdom, love and fortress. Many unfortunately, never find the solace they seek.”

The Last Messenger noted the discomfort of the professor fading away, falling off like dry leaves on a harmattan morning.

“Messenger,” Ralph’s voice quivered, “do you think that I am losing my sanity? It worries me, you see, the way my mind goes back and forth, the way my heart hammers and peace eludes me.”

The Last Messenger laughed. It was said that he rarely laughed. Ralph was just one of the privileged few who witnessed his laughter.

“My dear professor, you belong to that category of people who journey in vain to seek inner peace.”

“Why? I have read books. I have written, observed and studied . . .”

“Knowledge is not hidden in books. Knowledge is bestowed by the Creator.

He alone decides who to give wisdom…your hands.”

“What?”

“Give me your hands.”

The professor extended his arms. The Last Messenger traced the lines in his palms. He closed his eyes. It was said that he saw well when his eyes were closed. He began the journey then. A mazy journey of torment and discovery. He entered the professor’s innermost chambers. He climbed several staircases. But on each level of the step was a mask, a mask that shed tears. He moved quickly. But the mask was everywhere. He tried to walk with great care…

“I see a mask, professor.”

Ralph was petrified. “A mask?”

“A weeping mask.”

The professor felt a sensation in his throat. Perhaps he was going to die. He was going to die then in the presence of this African. Would he be mourned?

“What type of mask is that?” He was surprised he could still speak.

“An African mask with whiskers. That mask is in your bedroom now. It does not belong there.”

The professor fell to the floor. (Later when he reported this to his friends, they said it must have been his knees. Professor Joe said he suspected Ralph had always had arthritis.)

“You may think that a mask is just a mask,” The Last Messenger said. “But I am afraid it is not. A mask has its own soul. It has the capacity to hold and evoke memories, to build bridges to past times, peoples and places. You must return this mask to its original peoples and place…”

When Ralph rushed out of the private room, covering his ears and screaming invectives, his colleagues in psychiatry offered to treat him.

Nobody knew how the Last Messenger left England. Critics of the Labour government swore he took advantage of the lax immigration system in Britain and sneaked out through one of the loose borders.

But his followers said that he simply vanished, as he was known to have special powers.

However, in his website, the following week, The Last Messenger wrote: “Never mind the calamities we are facing now. Like night, this will pass.”

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