International Writers Magazine:Dreamscapes
all started when the Shepherd of the church that was located at
the far side of the compound behind the house pronounced that the
Nestbury tree in the yard was a haven for witches and had to come
Now, this was a
church my parents had built and the Nestbury tree was a tree my grandfather
had planted as soon as he bought the property. He had brought the Nesbury
sapling with him from Kingston in Jamaica when he migrated to Lagos.
It had been his most precious possession and he had guarded it diligently.
That tree had been in the yard before my mother married my father. In
fact, it was older than mother herself and was a defining mark in our
My grandfather was long dead before the Shepherd made his pronouncement
about the Nestbury tree, and so was my father. Actually, neither of
them had known the Shepherd before they died, which I think was extremely
lucky for him as Grandpa had had a ferocious reputation which preceded
him all over the country. Rumours have it that some people surreptitiously
referred to him as "the mad foreigner."
I really believe that if Grandpa had been alive, the Shepherd would
not have dared utter those ridiculous words and if he had done so, he
would probably have been dining with his ancestors in heaven or in hell
not long after. That is how much my Grandpa loved his Nestbury tree.
Daddy had told me years ago that Grandpa had had one of the gardeners
whipped to within an inch of his life for daring to "trim"
the branches of the tree without his authorisation and he had almost
shot some thieving neighbourhood kids who had sneaked in to steal fruit
from the tree. Nobody messed with the Nestbury tree and everyone in
the community knew this golden rule.
Grandpa had obviously instilled his great love for his Nestbury tree
in my mother because she guarded it almost as jealously as he had. She
swore that it was the only tree of its kind in the whole country and
to this very day I believe her because in all my sojourns throughout
Nigeria, I have never seen another tree like it.
Mum took great pride in the Nestbury tree as one would a unique and
gifted child. I often wondered how she would have felt towards the tree
had she been the one who brought it all the way from Jamaica.
The pronouncement made by the Shepherd followed by the death sentence
he passed on the tree seemed to unleash a demon in Mum when she learned
She stormed over to the church and started yelling that it was only
going to be over her dead body that anyone would cut down the Nestbury
tree. The Shepherd just looked on unperturbed and told her that whether
she liked it or not the tree was going to come down. He reiterated his
opinion that the tree was used by witches as a meeting place and that
this could clearly be seen by anyone as there were always bats hanging
around the tree.
"You are a good-for-nothing illiterate who knows nothing about
plants or animals," Mum shouted. "I want this church out of
my compound as soon as possible. When my husband and I built this church
many years ago, we did not intend to be stabbed in the back by a conniving
bunch of idle traitors."
"You are a witch," taunted the Shepherd. "Thats
why you dont want us to cut the tree down. You and your coven
meet there every night and now that we know your secret, you want to
hide under the umbrella of plants and animals."
I stared aghast at the Shepherd while he uttered those terrible words
to Mum. In all my life, I had never heard anyone speak so rudely or
disdainfully to her. Mum looked like she was going to explode. But remarkably,
she sucked in her breath and calmly told the Shepherd that she would
be getting in touch with the church headquarters to have him removed
from her property.
"I have seen off bigger and better men than you. You are definitely
no match for me," she concluded and turned on her heels gesturing
me to follow.
"Afefe ti fe furo adie ti wa nita," (the wind has blown and
we can see the fowls bottom), the Shepherd continued to taunt
at her retreating back in Yoruba. I felt like slapping his stupid smirking
Thus began the battle between my mother in one corner and the church,
led by the Shepherd in the other.
The day after the confrontation between my mother and the Shepherd,
a group of seven members from the church came to the house. They were
known as the Church Elders Committee and were led by the Elder Ojo who
was the chairman. I went to open the front door when they rang the bell
and Elder Ojo asked to see Mum. I made them wait outside while I went
to ask her if she wanted to see them. Experience had taught me not to
let anyone in without obtaining prior approval from my mother. Mum was
not happy to hear that the church elders had come to see her. She was
still sour from her encounter with the Shepherd, but told me to let
I returned to the front door and ushered them all into the receiving
hall. Mum made them wait about ten minutes before she went to meet them.
"Ekaale, Ma," chorused the elders in Yoruba. My ear was planted
firmly to the door leading to the hall.
"Good Evening," Mum replied.
Speaking up, the Chairman addressed Mum in Yoruba. Apparently he had
stood up because I heard Mum ask him to sit down. "We are here
because we were informed of the altercation that occurred between you
and the Shepherd yesterday evening."
"What about it?" Mum interjected testily.
"We think that it is bad that things got out of hand yesterday
and we are convinced that the disagreement only happened because there
was no elder on hand to bring the situation under control," the
Chairman continued. "The Shepherd had no right to call you a witch
and he has been admonished."
"That is not good enough," Mum shouted. "I want him off
my property, and if you people do not agree, you can all go with him.
I have telephoned the Pastor at the church headquarters, and he is sending
a representative here before the end of the week."
"But Ma, you shouldnt have taken such drastic action before
informing the Committee," the Chairman protested, to which I heard
murmurs of approval.
"Its my church, and I can do whatever I please," Mum
snapped in English. "Ill be damned if Im going to sit
around idle while some nincompoop calls me a witch. What has my Nestbury
tree done to him that he wants to destroy it?"
"But Ma," another voice said. I was not sure who it was, though
I thought the voice belonged to Elder Abiodun, a man who did not like
Mum one little bit. "That tree is not a good tree. It is evil,
and at night you can see strange birds flying around it. They dont
go to any other tree, only that one. Moreover, strange noises always
come from the tree at night."
"Bats," spat Mum. "Bats live in that tree, that is why
you hear noise around the tree, and they are the so-called "strange
birds" you say fly around the tree. Anyway, I dont care what
any of you say. That tree is staying, and if you people dont like
it you can all go to hell."
I heard a collective gasp from the elders. I scrambled to my feet and
quickly moved away from the door because I knew that with that blasphemous
pronouncement, the meeting would end soon, and I did not want to be
A few minutes later, the door to the hall opened and the elders filed
out. I opened the front door and bade them goodnight with a smirk on
my face, knowing that my mother was not going to be cowed on the matter.
Two days after the elders came to the house, the Pastors representative
came to the house to see my mum. He said he decided to come to the house
before proceeding to the church, as the pastor had told him to hold
peace talks with my mother and the Shepherd. He said he had also been
told to deliver a sermon on unity, and that was why he had not come
earlier, as he wanted to deliver the sermon at the Sunday service when
there would be a full congregation to hear the message.
Mum was unhappy with this news. She was incensed. When she had spoken
to the pastor, she had made it clear that she wanted the Shepherd off
her property, and that she was not interested in any conciliatory talks.
She wasted no time in telling the Pastors representative this.
He was quick to placate her, quoting passages from the Scripture and
telling her that as the matron of the church, she was supposed to be
slow to anger and quick to forgive.
His words must have touched a chord deep inside her, because after some
further persuasion, Mum allowed herself to be cajoled into attending
the church service that morning. This was an achievement on the part
of the pastors representative, as Mum had previously sworn that
she would not set foot inside the church until that upstart of a Shepherd
I was not going to miss out on the action so I went to put on my church
gear whilst Mum got ready for church. In no time, we set off for the
church through the back door of the house with the pastors representative
in tow. The church was fenced off from the compound to give us some
privacy. However, we had a private entrance from the compound leading
directly to the front of the church which Mum had kept locked since
the day she fell out with the Shepherd. She did not want anyone sneaking
into the compound to cut down the Nestbury tree.
The service had already begun when we got to the church, and a hush
fell over the congregation as we entered. I could see some people craning
their necks to see who was with Mum, and others beginning to whisper
amongst themselves. They had all heard about the altercation between
Mum and the Shepherd, and thought that there was going to be a showdown.
Mum proceeded to her special matrons seat while the representative
of the pastor went up to take a seat at the church altar. I blended
in with the people who were sitting towards the back. From my seat,
I could see Elder Abiodun frowning and fidgeting in his seat. Nobody
knew that the pastors representative was on a peace mission, and
people continued to whisper to one another. I even overheard two women
predicting that the Shepherd was not going to last the night at the
Upon seeing the pastors representative, the Shepherd looked nervous
and quite agitated. At that moment, I cursed the pastor for advocating
peace and unity. He should have done away with the Shepherd instead
of playing the peacemaker.
The service proceeded as normal with hymns and prayers. After the second
reading of the Bible, it was time for the sermon, and the pastors
representative gestured to the Shepherd that the sermon was going to
be delivered by him and not the person originally scheduled to do so.
Stepping up to the pulpit, he proceeded to talk about Christianity and
the concept of brotherhood. "It is not uncommon for people have
clashes with other people, what matters is that at the end of it, they
come out stronger and united. We all have to learn to be tolerant of
one another as we are one in Christ. We must be our brothers keeper,
slow to anger and quick to forgive. If someone offends you, call him
and tell him where he has gone wrong. Please do not bear a grudge. Love
your neighbour as you do yourself."
Asking the congregation to get to its feet, the pastors representative
proceeded to sing a hymn in the middle of the sermon:
Let there be love shared among us
Let there be love in our heart
May now your love sweep this nation
Cause us O Lord to arise
Give us a fresh understanding
Of brotherly love that is real
Let there be love shared among us
Let there be love.
He concluded by saying that God was the creator of all things, and if
the Lord was not happy with anything, he will in his divine wisdom take
care of that thing. He said that if anyone felt that they were being
oppressed by evil forces, they should take it to the Lord in prayer,
and they would be surprised that God does actually answer prayers.
Unfortunately, the pastors representative did not know that he
had unwittingly sowed a seed that was to germinate in the Shepherds
mind. His words were to form the basis for the Shepherd to launch a
stinging attack on the Nestbury tree, and by extension, my mother.
A couple of days after the representatives sermon, word came to
Mum that the Shepherd had told the congregation that there was to be
a night vigil which was to run for seven days at the church premises
starting on Friday night. The aim of the vigil was to bring the Nestbury
tree down. The vigil was to be done "Jericho style"; the people
would gather and march round the Nestbury tree singing, chanting and
praying that the tree would fall down the way the walls of Jericho had
in the Bible after the Israelites laid siege on the city of Jericho.
Mum was not pleased about this latest development. It annoyed her no
end that the Shepherd had acted like a hypocrite and pretended that
the issue with the tree was well and truly over. I on the other hand
thought that the Shepherd had finally lost the plot. He seemed so obsessed
with the tree that he had lost all sense of reasoning. I immediately
saw a massive flaw with the Shepherds vigil plan because Mum had
taken to locking the private entrance leading from the compound to the
church, and there was no means for the congregation to actually march
round the Nestbury tree since they did not have access to it anymore.
However, a minor technicality like the lack of access to the tree was
not going to deter the Shepherd. He decided that they would hold a modified
version of the Jericho style vigil. According to his revised plan, the
congregation would gather by the church fence at the spot nearest to
the tree. Once there, they were to point their fingers, and direct their
prayers and chants at the tree. This was to be done daily from 12 midnight
till 6am for seven days. He informed them that if they kept vigil diligently
and performed their prayers with faith and conviction, the evil tree
would fall down like the walls of Jericho did.
I was amused when I heard this, but Mum was not. She looked more than
a little perturbed. I thought that the Shepherd had finally taken leave
of his senses and I was determined to avoid a situation where he or
his cohorts would sneak into the compound while everyone was asleep
at night to cut down the tree. I informed Adamu, the security guard
to keep a vigilant eye on the Nestbury tree and the entire area leading
to the church. He was under instructions to shoot any intruders he found
in the leg.
On Friday night, we were in the house when we heard the vigil begin
at midnight. I could not help laughing as I thought that there were
many gullible people who were depriving themselves of much needed sleep
in pursuit of an elusive goal. It just showed how easily led people
could be and how blindly they will follow a person on religious or supernatural
The vigil continued for seven days. The pattern was the same; chanting,
singing and praying. For every one of those seven days, I woke up early
in the morning and went to check that nothing had happened to the tree.
Mum did the same. By the sixth day, I was already smug with thoughts
of victory thinking of ways in which I would ridicule the deluded Shepherd.
I kept wondering why the church members were bothering to waste their
time coming for the vigil when it was apparent that nothing could happen
to the tree. I could not for the life of me fathom how the Shepherd
hoped to accomplish his goal on this last day in light of the fact that
all his past efforts had proved abortive.
On Thursday night, I sat with Mum in the living room and watched the
news like we did every night. It had been a beautiful day and the weatherman
said the good weather was going to continue over the weekend with less
than five percent risk of precipitation. Earlier in the day, word had
come to Mum that at the mid-week service the night before, the Shepherd
had told the congregation that the vigil on Thursday night was to start
at 9pm and carry on through out the night until daybreak. I felt this
was his last desperate bid to secure the downfall of the Nestbury tree.
Predicting his failure, I wondered what he would say to the tired idiots
who had shunned their cosy beds in favour of waging a war against a
I went to bed against the now familiar backdrop of chanting, singing
and praying which had become the norm over the last six days. On this
night however, the chants and prayers were louder and sounded much more
ferocious. I snuggled up in bed and eventually fell asleep.
I came awake startled. There was no power supply, the wind was howling
crazily outside and there was a terrible storm raging. I could hear
things being flung about outside and some doors or windows that had
no locks slamming shut repeatedly. At intermittent periods, I saw flashes
of lightning followed closely by terrible bursts of deafening thunder.
I peeked out of my window and could make out the shapes of the dogs
huddled together on the piazza. Whenever there was a streak of lightening,
I could see them clearly for a split second. A few of them were howling
Not for the first time, I cursed the incompetent Nigerian Meteorological
Service. It was less than five hours since the dumb weatherman had said
the weather was going to be beautiful. This was almost as bad as the
blunder Michael Fish made in England all those years ago.
Settling back into bed, I tried to fall asleep. My ears however picked
up a strange noise. It was not the rain and though it sounded akin to
a rumble, it was not thunder. Incredulously, I realised what the sound
was. It was the chanting of the church members. They were roaring with
prayers. I could faintly hear the clapping of many hands as well as
what seemed to be the stamping of a great number of feet, and I could
not believe that anyone would be out in this appalling weather.
At that point, it finally dawned on me how powerful a weapon religion
was. This was fanaticism at its worst. I fell into a deep but troubled
sleep, only to be woken less than an hour later. Once again, I woke
up startled. This time however, what made me wake up was a mighty crash,
which made caused my bed to vibrate. I could feel the earth shake beneath
me, making me wonder if the house was collapsing. I dashed out of my
room and almost collided with Mum in the corridor. The loud crash had
woken her as well. As there was still no power supply, we lit some candles
and together we walked from one room to another, ensuring that everything
was in order and that nothing was damaged.
Neither Mum nor I could go back to sleep after that. We stayed awake
and sat in the lounge speculating about what might have caused the loud
bang and made the earth to vibrate so violently. I came up with some
earthquake theories, citing ground movements in California and Mexico
to buttress my point. I kept telling Mum that we needed to flee the
house because it might disappear into some crevice soon and she kept
retorting "Dont be silly" or "Dont be daft,"
saying we were safer indoors than we would be outside in the storm.
After a while, I gave up and shut up. I could see that Mum was worried
and more than once, I wondered if I should be worried too.
The storm abated about forty-five minutes later and not long afterwards,
we could see the nimble but tentative fingers of dawn stealthily snaking
across the sky. The dogs had long stopped howling and everywhere seemed
eerily quiet, like a deserted battlefield. The silence was broken by
a cock crowing, followed by another, then another.
Mum told me to go and get the two hurricane kerosene lanterns we kept
in the pantry. When I brought them to her, she lit both of them, passed
one back to me and ordered me to follow her. We were going on an inspection
tour of the whole compound to determine the extent of damage the storm
might have wrought.
We exited from the front entrance of the house and made our way towards
the western-most part of the compound with the lanterns boosting the
visibility that was available from the poor natural light of the daybreak.
The compound looked like a mini-war zone. There was chaos everywhere,
with debris strewn wherever our eyes touched. Many of the trees had
been stripped of most of their fruit and leaves, and there were mangoes,
paw paws, almonds, oranges, avocado pears and a few coconuts lying on
the ground in disarray. The banana and plantain plants had collapsed
under the barrage of the wind and heavy rain with their fruits lying
limply on the ground. The corrugated roofing sheets which had been stacked
neatly next to the security-guards outpost were all over the place,
grotesquely bent and twisted out of shape. My eyes took in the scene
of disarray, before coming to settle on a gap in the fence next to the
front gate where the wall had collapsed.
By this time, the dogs had run up to us, their tails wagging gleefully.
I did not share their morning enthusiasm and tried to shoo them away
from the fence, to prevent them from running out of the compound. Mum
had been strangely quiet all this while and I wondered what could have
been running through her head. Together, we gathered a few of the roofing
sheets strewn about and tried to make a temporary barrier to cover the
gap in the fence. We secured them with some of the large mortars and
blocks from the collapsed fence.
When we were through, it was already light and Mum said that we needed
to take a look at the rest of the compound. We walked along the side
of the house, bearing northwards. Everywhere we looked, there was debris.
Cutting sharply round the utilities wing of the house, Mum abruptly
came to a halt, causing me to run into her back. I heard her sharp intake
of breath and tried to peer past her to see what had made her stop so
suddenly. The sight that greeted my eyes was unbelievable. Where I had
thought there had been chaos up front, mayhem greeted us at the back
of the compound. But all these paled into insignificance at the sight
of the Nestbury tree lying full length on the ground, completely uprooted,
with the topmost point of the tree less than two feet from the house.
If the tree had been a human being, I would have said that it lay spread-eagled
on the ground. Paradoxically, it looked quite resplendent in the midst
of the debris, as if it had decided to take a little nap after standing
in all its glory for so many years.
Fascinated, I moved over closer to the Nestbury tree and tried to inspect
the exposed roots. It had been uprooted like a seedling in a nursery.
I had never seen anything like it in all my fifteen years on earth.
Realisation dawned on me that this must have been responsible for what
I had earlier speculated to be an earthquake.
There was a strange moaning noise emanating from Mum as she knelt beside
the crown of the fallen tree. She looked as if she had been pole-axed.
Never had I allowed myself to entertain the thought that the Nestbury
tree would end up like this.
I had never seen Mum cry like she did that morning. Great big wracking
sobs that shook her ample frame. The tears ran down her cheeks in torrents
and looked for a while like the Nigerian map showing the Niger and Benue
rivers running separately before merging in a confluence on her chin
and finally dribbling off to the ground.
Mums tears seemed bizarre to me, as I had always known her to
be tough, strong and a pillar to be relied on when a person was in distress.
Now she was apparently in distress herself. She cried like she had lost
one of her children. I guess the tree had been a kind of offspring to
her, but the way she carried on was reminiscent of the weeks following
my fathers death.
I became absorbed with trying to work out how the Shepherd had accomplished
the impossible, and I was surprised when I felt Mums hand grasping
my elbow. Her eyes were red and swollen, making her look like she had
developed a sudden attack of conjunctivitis. When she suggested that
we proceed indoors, her voice sounded hoarse; rasping. In less than
one hour, she seemed to have aged several years. Oddly, she stooped
as she walked, leaning heavily on my arm and causing me on more than
one occasion to stagger.
Once inside the house, Mum went to her room and immediately took to
her bed. This was very unusual, as she could never be caught in bed
once the sun was up. She gave me strict instructions that she did not
want to be disturbed by anyone. Under no circumstances was I to let
any visitor into the house.
Mum stayed in bed all day, refusing to come out of her room despite
my pleas. All efforts to cajole her to eat some food failed. At intermittent
intervals, I heard mutterings and sobbing coming from her room.
By nightfall, I felt helpless and made a resolve to go early the next
morning to see Mums brother, Uncle Jacob, to intimate him of the
Very early the next morning, I went to Mums room to find out if
she was feeling better. I knocked a few times, but did not hear her
call out to me to enter. Afraid that she might snap at me if I woke
her up, I retreated to my room to get ready to go to Uncle Jacobs
I took a shower and after dressing up, I went back to Mums room
to inform her that I was going out. Again, I knocked on her door and
still she did not answer, so I eased the door open.
She was lying in bed asleep.
"Mum, Im going to Uncle Jacobs," I said. There
was no reply. I thought this was strange, as she was such a light sleeper.
"Mum," I called.
"Mum?" I went to open the drapes. Yet she slept on. With the
first few rays of the early morning sun now streaming into the bedroom,
I turned to my mother on the bed. There was a knot of anxiety growing
at the bottom of my belly as I tentatively reached out my hand to shake
"Mum, Mum," I called again very softly, almost whispering.
Still she remained unmoving.
"Mum?" By now, I was shaking her almost vigorously, my voice
trembling as I called her with urgency, trying to quell the rising hysteria
that threatened to overwhelm me.
"Mum, MUM, Mummmmmmmmm," I screamed, clawing at her desperately,
tears streaming down my face.
I could hear a high pitched ululating noise escaping from somewhere
in the house and did not realise that it came from me. I continued screaming
even after strong arms pried me away from my mothers dead body.
© Ayodele Morocco-Clarke June 2008
is a Nigerian of mixed heritage currently living in Scotland. She
is a qualified Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria
and has a Master of Laws (LL.M. Petroleum Law and Policy) degree
from the University of Dundee in Scotland. She is currently studying
at the University of Aberdeen for the award of a doctorate degree
She hopes to publish a novel in the not too distant future.
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