I will never forget the day the sun refused to come out. In my school, we had been informed about the event days before it happened. A professor from Ibadan came to explain it better, but I didn’t understand what the man was saying; most of us in the hall had been too distracted by his grammar. He used words like ‘syzgy, annular, umbra and orbital planes’ to explain the coming event, and the only thing he achieved was to create new catch-phrases with which we would tease one another.
For instance, we would say to someone who couldn’t answer a question correctly in class, “Did you forget your orbital plane at home?” And everyone would have a good laugh.
It was Ade, the senior prefect who finally explained it to us. “It’s called an Eclipse,” he said, “and it occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth.”
Most of us believed that the eclipse was a great event to behold, more than just the moon blocking the sun, so we invented stories and theorised about what could provoke such a momentous event. At home however, it was a different case.
My parents were scared. They had also heard about it but said it was a bad omen from the gods. I laughed when Papa said this, and I was rewarded with a stinging slap on the cheek. Mama came to my rescue.
“He is only a small boy, he does not know what he is saying,” and motioned me to go into the house.
We lived in Osoogun, a town in Oyo that took pride in the fact that it produced the first Anglican Bishop, Samuel AjayiCrowther. But, many years after Crowther, a lean faced, hungry looking herbalist now delivered the verdict of the oracle from a hut in which that clergy man was believed to have been captured by slave traders.
From inside my room I heard Papa say, “We need to go and appease the gods with sacrifices so that they will protect our family,” and I imagined that Mama must have nodded in approval. It was the next statement that took me aback.
“And make sure that boy knows that he can’t go back to school until the evil day has passed.”
I almost wept. How could I miss this experience with my friends? Why did I come home for the mid-term break? Would something unusual indeed happen when the sun went blind?
On that fateful day, I had remained in my room, refusing to come out, and it had suited Papa. Even when Mama called on me to help out in the kitchen, he told her to leave me. Thereafter when I refused to come out of the room, they assumed I had accepted my fate. But that was far from the case. I waited anxiously for the light to fade, and I was not disappointed. The bright daylight soon gave way to partial darkness, a silvery darkness which permitted some measure of sight unlike the darkness of night.
When Papa came to check me, I had pulled a cloth over myself, I heard him heave a sigh of relief and leave silently. As soon as I heard the sound of electronic chatter and Ebenezer Obey on his favourite radio station with Papa’s faint humming, I rose and hastened to the kitchen to take the special eclipse spectacles where Mama had kept it when she seized it.
Quietly I stepped outside through the kitchen door, and put it on. As I lifted my eyes to view the darkened sun, I felt a sharp pain in my eyes and could not help but scream. I removed it immediately, but the pain wouldn’t subside. I was groping back to the kitchen to wash my face, when I fell flat to the ground. My parents rushed in.
One look at my eyes and Papa said, “The gods are angry; he has been foolish and they have rewarded him with blindness.”
My defiance of the gods has cost my sight.
A lifetime of darkness flashed before me and I wept. They washed my face with water while Papa murmured incantations, demanding that the wicked spirits of the dark dawn release me. Later when I opened my eyes, the sting remained. The oracle which was consulted later in the day, confirmed that but for the sacrifice made earlier, I would have been blinded forever. Papa swiftly untied a large he-goat that should have been sold to balance my school fees and gave it to the priest.
It was two days later while assisting Mama in the kitchen that I realised that I had taken the spectacles from a torn nylon bag of dried pepper.