The Garden of Old Lagos
This story is dedicated to us, for making it this far.For turning our little space into Eden.
In the old days that were new, in what was known as Old Lagos, when the gods descended from the heavens, there were but two humans remaining.
Her body shivered in the night, her hands clutching her bare skin. The garden was alive all around her: the crickets chirped, the plants sang, and the four rivers gurgled, indistinct roars and grunts could be heard if you stretched your ears hard enough.
He had told her to stay, he had told her to wait for him, that he was coming. Grunting, she stood up, her eyes looking up at the stars that twinkled in the sky, blinking in and out of nothingness.
Grunting, she began to explore.
The garden, they were both told, was the last thing on Earth. The last haven that existed.
But why? She wondered.
The more she thought about it, the more her mind raced. Mama smiled when she brought her thoughts to her, but there was something behind her smile, something that she did not understand, not properly. It was a…mix. A strange mix of two emotions. Sadness, and—what was the word for it? It was a small word, but bigger on the inside.
She would ask him when she found him again.
She would ask him about the word.
She touched a glowing leaf and felt it warm against her touch, the tree itself pulsed with a deep yellow ochre. The plants liked her, and she liked them, but the animals were a different story.
She walked deeper and deeper into the forest.
He had warned her about this, about travelling alone, about walking too deep into the forest, but there was something calling her, and she could feel it tugging the strings of her soul, undoing her. If she lifted her head up, only a little bit, she could see it, towering high above the others, a shadow in the already bleak sky.
She had asked him about it, once. She asked if he had ever gone to it, had ever tried to see what it was, what fruit it bared. Did it not tug his own soul? Did he not feel drawn to it the way she did? He shook his head. And that was when she knew, that he, as well as she, could lie.
Though, not as well.
Something rushed past her feet and she shrieked as a snake the size of her arm with black and green specks slithered through. Her heart pounded in her mouth and only pounded more when a hand clutched hers from behind.
She whipped her left hand and it connected with a face. A face like hers. The only other face there was on the garden, on Earth.
He held his cheek. “Ow,” he said, rubbing his face.
She winced on his behalf. “I am…sorry,” she said. She was still getting used to language, to speaking. It was strange, she could feel the words inside her, but when it came time to say them, they fell apart like the clouds at sunset.
He opened his mouth to talk and she placed a finger to his lips and shook her head. No words. Speak to my heart, and I will speak to yours.
He nodded. Then, I told you not to leave.
And I told you I wanted to see the garden, she said.
It is dangerous, he replied.
She whipped a dagger from her waistband. So am I.
He grunted and locked eyes with her. Then, he tilted his head. She wondered if he could sense it, as she could. The new heartbeat in the garden. The new heartbeat inside her.
She held her chin high, her shoulders up, and met his gaze.
For a moment, his eyes were the storm, angry and brown and grey, and then, they were the calm sea, passionate and all encompassing. In a moment, his body crashed into hers, and they were tumbling through the garden, their lips locked and waists pressed against each other. A feeling like electricity passed through them, and she knew that even if she could use the words, the language, she could not find a word—any word, that could describe the union.
And yet, that word lingered in her mind. The small word, that had so much on the inside. The grain of sand that held the whole world.
They lay on the grass and he held her close to his chest.
Mama has sent a dove, he said.
When this time? she asked, her fingers playing on his ribs, counting all the way to eleven.
When the night is darkest, he answered, his face moving toward hers. When the moon dares not show its face.
Where? She whispered in his mind, her body urging closer to his.
In the river of the body, he said, his lips closing over hers as their bodies joined again and all they could see were stars, though, their faces were turned towards each other.
The man was called Adamu, and the woman, Eveth.
These were the last two humans on Earth, in the Garden of Old Lagos.
He held her hand tight as they walked through the garden. He carried no weapon with him, he did not need one. The animals trusted him and never approached him with harm, but the plants…the plants made his skin shiver.
There was one being that had meant him harm, though… but she was long gone. She had been his first. And after she had been banished, he had prayed with tears and a broken heart that she would be his last.
But Mama had other plans.
On some nights, he could still feel the dull ache in his chest, in a small spot is twelfth rib used to be.
Ever so often, a shadow would pass above them and they would feel a vibration through their souls. He would bow and urge Eveth to do the same.
Why do we bow? She had asked.
Because they are gods, he had answered.
You have told me what they are, she said, but you have not told me why we bow.
He continued to lead her through until they heard the faint gurgling of the river of the body, the one with a name that was so old, only Mama remembered it. The night was dark but the trees glowed the way. They were never, truly, alone.
She was the god who brought them here, she had told him, made him of the four rivers that she herself had created: Body, Mind, Heart, Soul. He was all of those, as well as Eveth.
Though, Adamu suspected she had gotten too much of the Mind river.
While her curiosity was a never-ending flame, Adamu was content with sitting in the fields, and watching the animals graze. They had food, they had water, they had shelter: everything they would ever need.
What more could she want?
Adamu stopped and Eveth stopped with him.
They had reached a clearing where the river seemed to part way for a small patch of land that sat on the water.
And they both bowed. For, on the small island, was a being who looked like a woman, but was a goddess. The goddess who had created the rivers, created the boundary. She had created the garden, the plants and the animals. She had created Adamu and Eveth.
They called her Mama, but she had an older name, one that she had from her time in the heavens.
Adamu did not know how he knew, but he knew the name nonetheless.
And it was Ọya.
He hair was as dark as the night, and her eyes as brown as the earth. She smiled as she beckoned them to stand. Her gaze lingered on Eveth, and Eveth shifted her feet uncomfortably.
“My children,” she said, her hands outstretched, and the river surged with power as if responding to her. “You have come.”
“You called us,” Adamu said, with his words.
And we would never disobey our mother, Eveth said, with her heart.
Mama looked at her, and cocked her head to the right. You do not speak with words, my dear?
Adamu shook his head. “I keep telling her…”
Eveth paused and shook her head, then, I do not trust them.
Mama observed her for a moment, then she laughed. It was a beautiful sound, and the fishes in the river rushed to the surface to hear it better.
“You are wise, my dear,” she said, finally. “Words can be deceiving.”
Mama stood and blue energy crackled around her. “I have called you both here because I can sense a prescence I have not felt in centuries. A chaotic one and you must be careful. He is a wily one, and only comes to steal, kill and destroy.”
But, Eveth said, you are the All-Mother. Can you not just erase him from existence?
“Don’t question Mama,” Adamu warned.
Ọya only smiled. “There is only so much I can do when it comes to my ilk. We are a…stubborn breed.” She saw the look on their faces, the look that they had never truly had to have, to express an emotion they were unfamiliar with.
Ọya willed herself into water and flowed in the air, materialising as she reached them. She held both in a close embrace. “There is no need to worry,” she said. “Nothing can hurt you here, except yourselves.” She let go and touched their dark thick hair, it had grown into dada, studded with green leaves. “This life I have given you, it can be bright, and dark, painful and full of bliss. It can be honey and also salt. Nothing, and everything.”
Then, Eveth asked, which is it?
Oya looked at her and smiled that sad smile of hers. She winked and then said, Why, my dear, can it not be all?
And her lips did not move.
She could not sleep.
She tossed and turned. She was in Adamu’s arms, and then on the bare ground, and then on a tree bark, but nothing would calm her mind.
She stood, looked east and tilted her head just a little, and then she saw it.
Almost nothing would calm her.
She had to know. There was nothing else.
She had to know what the tree was.
She crept through the forest, her fingers brushing the leaves as she passed. The smell of dew floated up to her nose and she felt her stomach rumble, but she pushed on.
Above, she could hear the gentle pitter-patter on the surface of the shield that protected the garden. They were shielded from the external weather and rain that hurt the outlands. The rain sizzled as it hit the shield. Eveth wondered what kind of rain it was.
The tree was in the centre of the garden that seemed to stretch to infinity. She had heard the animals whispering about it once. They called it a name that rang in her ears, that shook her heart.
The Tree of What Was.
She reached the clearing, her eyes dancing at the sight; in front of her, lay the largest tree trunk she had ever seen. It could have fit nine of Adamu and there would still have been space to fit ten of her.
But that was not what caught Eveth’s eyes.
Sitting at the base of the tree, with eyes of piercing emerald, was a man.
He looked at her, and he smiled.
Eveth knew she should run. She could feel the danger on her skin, the way her hairs jumped. There was something very strange, very wrong, very dangerous about the man.
So, it was strange then, when she took another step towards him.
He wore things she had never seen before. A garb made of shadows, flecked with green, and his eyes were like that of a serpent, glowing emerald. He was beautiful in the way a storm was: wonderful to look at, but fatal to be close to.
Who are you? Eveth asked.
The man regarded her for a moment, then he beckoned to her. And Eveth walked forward. She had to know who this man was.
When she was close enough to smell the storm on his clothes, he smiled.
“Who I am is unimportant,” he said. “And who you are isn’t very important either.” His voice was like a river flowing softly across stones.
What— Eveth was about to say.
He put his finger up. “Use your words, my dear,” he said. “Speak like you were meant to.”
“I…” Eveth began. “What do you mean?”
In a moment, he was in front of Eveth, his face a patchwork of emotions. He towered above her, easily, and she shrunk in his prescence. “I am Èṣù, and I walked this land long before you were created from your husband.” He peered into Eveth’s eyes. “What is important is not who I am, or who you are, but who you were.”
Eveth swallowed. “How did we become like this?” She asked. “What happened to the rest?”
The man’s smile widened. He stretched his hand out, and a branch from the tree stretched down, and on it, was a fruit made of memories, with the colour of lost dreams.
Eveth gasped. She did not know what it was, or have the words to describe it, but she knew it was important. She could feel its significance.
Èṣù took the fruit and held it in his delicate fingers. “Eat this,” he said. “And you will know all you need. You will have the answers to the questions that burn your throat at night.”
There were things Mama—Ọya—had told them. They had but one rule. They were to eat of all the fruits, eat from any animal, but there was one plant, one tree, that they were forbidden to eat from. And in Eshu’s hand, was the fruit of that same tree. But the curiosity… it burned in her throat.
Just like he said.
As Eveth took the fruit with shaking hands, as she chewed the forbidden fruit, as she swallowed, her life began to unravel. She saw visions of a different life, of the past, of their ancestors. She saw the people, she saw their wars, she saw their diseases, and she saw…she saw their end. And then she saw Adamu, and then herself. And she saw the new beginning.
Then, and only then, when Èṣù disappeared, did she realise her mistake.
She carried the fruit in her hand, and she ran to Adamu.
The day after their eyes had been opened, the sky, the earth, the animals, and the plants all mourned. They mourned because they knew what had happened.
They mourned because they knew what was to come.
Ọya stood at the foot of the garden, her eyes stone. No, not completely stone, for stones do not shed tears. She stood there, unmoving as her children, her own flesh and blood were forced out of the garden.
There were forces at work that they did not understand. To know, is power. And to know of your past, to have that burden on your shoulder, is a responsibility—one that must be taken. Olodùmarè would expect no less.
Once they knew their past, they had to leave, to forge their own future.
She wished them farewell, as any mother would, but her heart bled for them.
Maybe it was the fact that she would no longer be with them.
Maybe it was the fact that she knew Eveth’s secret, the life that was now inside hers, the pain she would face.
But maybe, just maybe, it was the painful truth that, as they left the garden into the world, what was remaining of What Was, the rain would begin to fall once more.
Rain of acid that scorched all.
"Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers."