The old man in his 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 where the gods were 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
letting anything grow. And so did the trees — turning giant oaks to dwarfs
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 father’s house they cried as they held
in one hand and their scrotums in the other.
Now that the gods are dying we have to go they told themselves.
We shall leave 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 at their sides and burn them in a big
fire and watch the smoke ascend into 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 to 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
Who knows, he too might 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
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 for joy “the gods are no longer dying.”
But the gods motioned to him to be silent.
And so they left him and the gods that were once ill.
And when he became too frail he lay down beside them and became one
E. C. Osondu was born in Nigeria and he currently lives in Syracuse, New
York where he is a Syracuse University Fellow. His work has appeared in Agni and Salt Hill.