We knew this day would come.
The prophecies warned about it, the priests moaned about it, yet we didn’t think too much about it.
“We’ll spend the night here,” Father said.
I wanted to go back and fetch Mother, but Father wouldn’t hear of it. “She’s at peace now. Let her be at peace,” he said.
What did peace mean? I thought to myself.
For me, peace meant lots of food, laughter and running around in open fields.
What did peace mean to Father?
“How do you know when you have peace?”
He didn’t seem to like the question. “You know when you stop worrying about how to live.”
“Do we have peace now?”
“Will we have it?”
He moved away from me, curled up and laid his head on his left arm.
He didn’t look like he was at peace.
I still don’t know why he was the only person who knew when Obodo would be destroyed.
We had barely finished breakfast when he told me to get ready to leave Obodo. “Where are we going?” I asked him.
We then trekked to the city gate.
A few people asked us where we were going.
Father blurted out the answer. “Obodo will be destroyed today.”
The guards at the gate laughed.
A trader haggling with a fat man laughed.
We were a couple of steps from the city gate when the first tongues of fire descended.
The screams started next.
Father rested beside a stout tree. I knew he wasn’t asleep. If he was, he would snore.
He stood up abruptly. “Let’s head to the mountains.”
“We can’t go there,” I muttered.
He looked at me with determination in his eyes. “We will go there.”
We started walking toward the mountains.
I was in front, Father behind.
I had heard rumours that Father and the witch Belinna were lovers.
And that she had given him spells for divining the future.
Sometimes, I would come into our house and see Father making incantations.
He would act irritated and leave the house without saying a word to me.
I turned around and realized that Father was no longer walking behind me.
“Father!” I called out.
Fear washed over me. Where was he? Did he go back to Obodo? Did he stop to rest?
I retraced my steps.
I had never been without Father close by.
Mother came and went.
Father was the one I stayed with most of the time.
He was difficult.
But he was my father.
My heart was thumping. Why would Father go back?
I stopped a couple of yards from the city gate.
The fire burned still. But the screams had died out.
I watched the smouldering city gate, wondering if Father would emerge and tell me he had forgotten something.
I stood, confused and alone.
Something touched my right shoulder.
A giant stood a few feet away from me.
“Who are you?” he roared.
I was dumbstruck.
With a shaky hand, I scrawled the symbols of my name in the sand.
I had been taught to write my name at an early age.
Mother taught me that my name, Duru, could be represented by the symbols for di, master, and uru, profit.
The giant gazed at the symbols and bellowed with laughter. “Master of profit!”
I thought the symbols were funny too.
And if I wasn’t so scared, I would have laughed along with him.
The giant pointed at the ruins of Obodo. “Tell me, master of profit, where are the people who will buy your goods?”
“I’m not a trader. The symbols only represent my name.”
The giant stamped his foot on the ground. “The symbols represent your occupation. You’re a trader.”
“No, I’m not. I’m just a boy from Obodo.”
I broke down.
I didn’t know whether I was crying because I was terrified of the giant.
Or because I couldn’t find Father.
The giant’s massive hand touched me.
“I know where your father is,” he said.
“You do?” I was elated.
“Yes. But first, we have to make a trade, master of profit.”