Everyone had gathered at the table for lunch, we had even convinced Grandma to come sit, although she had been strangely reluctant, muttering on about something she was looking after.
Come to think of it, Grandma had been distracted at the market. Rather than looking at what we needed for stew, she haggard over to stalls that were selling herbs we didn’t need. On the way home, she had actually made mom stop by the side of the road because she thought she saw some sticks that would be ‘perfect’, whatever that meant. Mom brushed it off, looking at me sharply in the rear mirror to not ask my old-aged grandma what she was doing. Her memory was already going, there was no point in making her feel bad about other things that came with old age.
At dinner, she was distracted by something in another room, and I was distracted by her distraction.
I snapped out of my pondering. “Sorry ma, what-?”
“I was asking about your flight…which you still seem to be on in that head of yours”.
“You haven’t seen your family in so long. Least you could do is join us in more than just body, ok?”
Grandma chuckled, “Don’t harass the child. This doorkeeper has more things to think about than this stew”.
Doorkeeper. It was that word again. The word I’d heard in my dreams, and something Grandma had called me twice now. It was starting to seem like less of a coincidence. Looking at Grandma, she winked at me before becoming a bit too interested in her stew. Looked like she wasn’t about to spill anything just yet. So we ate, me politely answering conversation from my family about if I felt the move was good, and other things. I felt a cloud cluster and darken in my head, and the meal climb out of my throat.
“Excuse me, I really need to go outside for some fresh air”
There is no such thing as coming back home. Home is always different. Or you are always different. It doesn’t just stop and wait for your return. Life goes on. I took a stroll around the house looking for something familiar enough to tether me. I watched as the clouds clustered and darkened. A storm was on its way. The sky is angry. Well, a little rain never hurt anyone, so I kept my pace. However, this rain felt different. There was a strange electricity in the air as the wind began to shift against the trees; I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck begin to stand in anticipation. Something was about to happen.
It was no sooner that I’d felt the first raindrop against my nose, that the sky opened up and let out a thunderous crack. My feet felt weary to move forward, as if my body knew the worst part of whatever storm this was, was about to arrive. Lightning had always made me nervous; it was chaotic and unpredictable.
As the first streak of lightning flashed across the sky it lit up the terrain above me and to my shock, revealed a strange figure in the distance… a person? But who else would be out in the middle of a storm on the loose? I covered my ears just as the thunder crashed above me again, but a second streak of lightning revealed that I had been right. Standing a few paces ahead of me was a woman. Unmoving and staring directly at me.
“Hello?” I stepped forward, a little alarmed that the woman did the same. I was startled to see that this was no ordinary woman. The light revealed a long crooked nose, almost similar to a beak. But that couldn’t be right.
As I took in her form, I noticed that along her arms, were a bright plume of long golden feathers that seemed to stem straight from her skin. Come to think of it, they were the same colour of the feathers of the large bird Akeelah had dreamed about on her flight.
I knew that voice. I’d heard that voice.
“Doorkeeper, we have to find it. You knew what would happen if I ever lost this”. The woman had begun to circle me as she spoke, as a vulture did when it spotted prey. I intended to keep eye contact as the woman spoke.
Her eyes turned into slits as she glared at me. “My blessing. My egg”.
The memory of Flying on the back of the large plumed bird, watching her carry a golden egg then watching horror struck as it fell out of its carry case and plummeted towards the ground came rushing back.
“I told you I’d destroy this whole Earth then myself if I ever lost it doorkeeper. Find it.”
Lightning struck, then she was gone.
My eyes suddenly opened to a pitch-black room. The plane ride had clearly made me loopy. The strange dreams were the only thing that really reminded me of home. Of how things used to be. Papa had always told me that dreams were a way of revealing something larger. Mum and Dad wanted me so badly to run away from them.
Yawning, I stretched and got out of bed, slipping into my slippers intending to head to the kitchen, but suddenly I noticed something in the corner of my eye. Something shiny despite the darkness of my room. I couldn’t explain the feeling, except that it felt as though I was being pulled towards it by an invisible string. The closer I got to it, the stronger the sensation within me felt. I could feel my necklace throb against my neck as I approached. Something here was special, and for some reason, it was calling to me.
Intrigued, I walked over and pulled back the little handkerchief covering it, only to reveal one very large gold egg sitting on a pile of sticks, cloves and herbs. I gasped.
So it hadn’t been a dream? This bird-woman was real? What on Earth was Doorkeeper? Why would this be here?
And it clicked. Grandma.
Grandma had been acting strange all evening. Gathering the sticks and herbs that were now cradling this egg. Being distracted at dinner and talking in riddles. Calling me by the same name the bird did. She was in on it.
As I searched the house, Grandma was clearly not there. The words of the bird-woman echoed in my head.
“I would destroy the whole world and then myself…”
I don’t know how I knew, but I knew suddenly that I had to return this egg or something terrible would happen. I could feel it in my gut, sort of like a churning in my stomach. I felt unsettled with Grandma’s disappearance but this feeling ran deeper than that. I felt a strange responsibility to return it and set things right. I’d have to summon that bird-woman.
But how does one even contact a half bird-woman from her dreams?
I suppose I’d have to just figure it out. I grabbed the egg carefully, only now realizing how hard and heavy it was and lifted it carefully into my bag and made my way downstairs, not before I was stopped dead in my tracks at what was playing out in the kitchen in front of me.
In the kitchen were all my family members. Mom was stirring something over the stove, while Abe was flipping through a book. Grandpa was pouring himself a glass of milk. What time was it? Why on earth was everyone up?
“Ma, have you seen Grandma?”
Nothing. That was strange, he hadn’t even turned around. I stepped into the kitchen, yet no one looked up. Outside, I could hear thunder begin to rumble. A storm was brewing.
“Ma?” I said, stepping up behind her. I heard the sound before I saw what was going on. A slow scraping sound of the pot spoon scraping against an empty pot. Mom was stirring an empty pot? My head snapped up to see if she was awake, and I frantically waved my hand in front of her face.
“Ma?” She smiled then, eyes fully wide. “Dinner will be ready soon baby”.
Outside thunder crashed and the house was illuminated by a flash of lightning. Turning off the stove, I walked over the Grandpa, whose glass was now overflowing with milk and dripping onto the floor. Abe seemed to be simply closing and reopening the same cover of the book over and over again. Everyone had the same smile plastered on their face, yet no one was conscious. Another lightning strike flashed across the house, illuminating the inside and as if on cue, everyone’s heads snapped to me. I stepped back. What on Earth was happening?
“Egg,” they all said together, and immediately I wrapped my arms protectively tighter around the egg. Abe stood up “give it to us”. Grandpa followed, stepping closer to me.
I dased from the kitchen before anyone could make any other move. I had to get this thing back to that bird. Without hesitation, I ran outside into the rain, which was coming down in thick sheets. It was nearly impossible to see even a few steps ahead of me. It took all of two seconds for my drenched hair to begin to cling to my face. Where was Grandma? I held back slick strands of my hair, willing myself to see past the heavy downpour. If anyone knew what to do, she would have been the person to know, and I was starting to feel anxious that she was nowhere near.
I called out to the Aziza, it had been year since we last spoke, and I hope they where real, and would hear me. The winds gushed, lightning roared, and the city, seemed to be at war with itself. Trash flowed on the sky, the ocean clawing its way onto the beach, and then onto the streets. It felt like my country was about to drown.
There were no sounds of sirens flaring in the streets, not children wailing, no sounds of mothers comforting them. I felt, like I was the only one alive. The rains now soaked my feet, and as I looked to the ground, a trail of ground nut shells unmoved by the winds and waters formed a path.
I hopped in Papa’s car, turned on the lights, and followed the shells until they stopped. It felt like i was navigating a boat. I did not recognize my city in the rains. I heard on the radio that rising seas could cause Barbados to sink, and I thought today was the day. I searched the radio for a sign of Prime Minister Mottley’s voice. Finally, I found it, she had one word.
It did not seem tom come just from her, but the whole country at the exact same time. In the distance, something suddenly loomed ahead of me…a tree? I squinted in the rain as I stepped closer to it, nearly dropping the egg when I realized where I was. Kapok – The Cotton Tree. But how was this possible? This tree had been cut down. I’d stood exactly where the tree once stood, but on plain dirt. I’d literally planted myself here.
I paused, realizing what I just said. I planted myself here. I looked up at the incredulous tree that towered above me. Was I responsible for this? It stood tall and mighty in the otherwise empty yard. It’s bark was ridged with the age that it could not possibly be. Was that the imprint of a door against the bark?. I could feel my necklace glow and heat up in anticipation. I reached forward to touch the imprint when a sound from above me caused me to look up. There on top of the tree was a nest. Moreover in the nest was Grandma and the bird-woman, who seemed to be unfazed by the torrential rain !
“Grandma, are you okay, I am coming to get you!”
But it seemed my voice was drowned out by the rain.
“BIRD?” I screamed louder into the night, “BIRD-WOMAN?!”.
I heard her clearly. She scoffed “ she doesn’t even know my real name. What kind of doorkeeper is this?”
“Do you know her name?” Grandma snapped back !
“BIRD?” I screamed into the night, “BIRD-WOMAN?! Grandma !”.
The thunder grumbled again in the distance, but nothing. I thought about the beautiful comet-coloured plume of feathers she had and closed my eyes. I pictured soaring through the sky on the back of this bird, and the feeling of intimidation I felt when she later approached me. I searched my heart, my mind, my memories, maybe a story from uncle lucious had the clue.
“Impundulu!” I called out louder now, just another streak of lightning appeared in the sky. I waited. “I HAVE THE EGG”.
In another streak of lightning, she appeared in front of me , with Grandma standing still as a leaf beside her. My eyes searched her face, looking for a sign of distress but there was none. I ached to run forward.
“How do you know my name?” She asks?
“ You knew about us all this time, and did not come for us ? “
“ What do you mean you have my egg, Doorkeeper? It was your Grandma that found it, although I shouldn’t be surprised”-she smirked- “having someone else take on your responsibility”.
That one hurt. I willed myself not to think about how my lack of responsibility in the past had nearly cost me Abe. I shuddered quietly, not knowing what to do next. Yet I was surprised when Grandma reached forward to take the egg from me, nestling it close to her as she turned to the bird. The bird’s neck now lowered, the rain splatters on her beak, grandmother’s hair loose and dangling with the wind.
“I told you she was the one. You have to give a child a name, before they can respond to it. Doorkeeper. Now take your child, leave mine to me, and be gone!”
The egg slipped from Grandma’s hands into those of the lightning bird, who seemed transfixed.
Impundulu now fixated with rage crows out;
“She had the key all this time and didn’t even think to set us free? All you did was to save yourself like you are the only one who needs saving!
Give it back !”
I had almost stopped listening to the lightning bird, this was too much? Doorkeeper? Key? I wanted to believe that what was playing out in front of me was a dream, but the heat of the necklace pressed against my chest told me otherwise. In fact, it was starting to burn. As the lightning bird spoke, I pulled it out of my shirt so it wouldn’t touch my skin. I wanted to do what she had said, just to give it back, to throw it away and be done with all of this.
Impundulu turned her direction back to me, her eyes pitch black, filled with anger.
“The only reason we entered this door was we were told you would come for us. That you would be brave, bold, and true. I see none of this in Akilah. SHE IS NOT FIT TO WEAR THAT KEY”
I am sorry,
I was afraid !
I did now know
“Fear is a choice !” Suddenly she lunged towards me, screeching. Although I stepped out of the way, I felt her grab my necklace, only to howl, and recoil and she nursed her hand. I could feel the necklace growing red hot through my shirt. She did not have to explain what had happened. The lightning bird sobbed.
“I waited for you Doorkeeper, 1000 years I waited for you. I waited for you to come so my egg could finally hatch, so my child could be born. I waited hoping you would open the door so it would see the sun. And now, it will not hatch. Her voice shook with the thunder, laced with pain as she sank to her knees.
“You killed my child!”
I stared at her unmoving, trying to process what was said. I could see everything that had happened to me over the years. The reason the Douen came for me, how the Pobowa punished me, why the Hyena hunted me. And now the Impundulu’s child, they were all waiting. They were waiting for me.
I looked down at the Impundulu. How much pain had I caused this one creature- getting to be near her egg but never meeting the little one inside. How many others are waiting for me ? I could not bring myself to ask her, fearful of the answer.
No wonder she had threatened such destruction if the egg was lost. How many others like her had I hurt because of refusing to truly see? My necklace had been a critical part of my interactions with everyone, yet I had never taken notice of it. I knew better than to ask questions. Instead, I shut my eyes and thought about all that I had been through. I let the tragedy of this mother wash through my veins. I felt her, pain and sorrow flood through me. I felt the key pull me, almost as it had with the egg. I opened my eyes and I stood in front of the cotton tree, my best friend. It was the root of it all. I had planted myself here, I had grown here. It was only fitting that I ended whatever this was. I took the key off my neck. It did not deserve to be there, and for the last time. I began to dig, to weed, to uproot.
I reached forward to press the necklace against the tree, but noticed a shimmering light around the edges that teased a glance into a leafy-and strangely familiar-background. The door was open already. Wide open. The creatures were free to come out. I had missed my destiny. What was my body for. I had run away, escaped, and now, I am too late.
Should I close it ?
The creatures would be loose in Bridgetown, the world ! Who knows what havoc they would cause. I turned to look at the lightning bird, the question bubbling to my lips, stopped only by the look on her face.
“You think you were the only one who could set us free?
If you close it, She will open it again! And again and again! ” She smirked.
“You think you are some kind of destined child, chosen one, you are not our savior! We save ourselves !” And with a clap of lightning, and the roar of thunder, her, her egg , and the rain were gone. Underneath my feet, I hear the city slowly come back to life.
“She’s right you know.
You can go off and be your normal, self again.
They didn’t need you to open this door and they don’t need your help.
Maybe it was not a game of broken telephone over a thousand years. Maybe it was silence. Maybe they wanted us to forget.
The return is not a right, it is not promised.
Who said when we return,
the door will be open
the trees will be planted on the earth
and the earth will be planted on the ground
Who said there will be saints waiting at the door singing your praise song
Who said the rite will still be yours to return,
The lands will still be yours
The Helpers will still be yours
Who said the Helpers will be smiling
Who said they will look you in the eyes , Smile
And not walk through you
Who said the people will be a people
And they have not set their country on fire
Looking for themselves
Who told you their king will be noble
And when he opens his arms to embrace you
There will not be a knife in his hand
Or it is you he embraces
Who told you, you will be the first to return,
And the ones who have come before you will show you their hand
Who told you when you come return
Home will not be on fire
And you will not be on fire too ?
Bury the necklace under the tree, and come home. To your real home. To your mother’s arms. Walk away from it all. For all our sakes.”
Every word she spoke cracked a piece of my soul. I felt a wave of shame come over me then, watching as Grandmother leaned forward and delicately lifted the necklace from its resting place against my chest.
“You deserve to be a normal child
Everyone kept calling me unfit like it was a dirty word. Hearing it made the bile rise in my stomach. I had already let down an entire set of people. No different than how I was never enough for my mother, and always on the outside of my family. My meddling in this would only continue to bring misery. The only person I trusted right now was Grandma. She looked directly in my eyes.
In the last few minutes of the altercation I had never thought of the idea of being able to walk away. The way everyone talked about me was as though this identity was thrust onto me. I looked down at my necklace, cradled in grandma’s hand. She did not snatch it from me. It would just come back to me. I had to give it up freely. I had to bury it in this tree. I knew that I had danced with the mysterious and magical, and I knew that my necklace had something to do with it. I just hadn’t known where to look for answers to what was happening around me. I often felt out of place in this world-perhaps it was an indication that I’d fit in better elsewhere, with another kind.
I had already failed these magical beings so many times without knowing. How would I be able to care for everyone knowing only a little more?
“Do you know this woman?”
Azizia ! All of them came rushing down the tree forming a rainbow colored cyclone around me!
Suddenly I felt the necklace begin to glow, and I looked down. Inside, I saw something amazing. I saw my bloodline, of doorkeepers past and present. I saw the division of the magical world and ours. I watched the first doorkeeper in her pursuit to create the key. FInally I saw the dream of reconciliation of our two worlds, played out before me and looked so real. At the centre of it all, was….me.
They words they weaved where magical, words spoken in centuries of creole, and libraries of Twi,
“Se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yenkyiri
It is not taboo to go back for what you forgot “
And the words spun me around and around until I believed them.
“I recognize that I have failed you and everyone else up to this point. This however was a duty that was now thrust upon me, but blessed unto me. I take responsibility for the task I have been charged with, in pursuit of a reconciliation of both our worlds. I have seen my ancestors and the sense of duty and discipline that has passed between them. I am ready to accept this and pick up on my previous slack. Grandma, thank you for passing the key to me. But it is my turn from here on out.”
But when I returned, only a web, and the stink of sulphur stood where she did.
I straightened my shoulders.
“Impundulu, your master commands you !”
“And with a stroke of lightning, she appeared. Her egg dangling on a basket on her beak.
“ What do you want this time she beckons”
I tell her, “I am sorry for being late. Your child is a victim of the world who had forgotten, and a mother who had not. But it is never too late to go back and claim what you have forgotten.” I press my hands on her egg and I remember words I have not spoken for over a year. The words Kwesa wrapped me in, the words my father opened up for me. I draw the magic from my necklace.
“Odo Nnyew Fie Kwan! ”
I feel my necklace burn on my chest, and a fire raging through my body. My hands begin to boil, and a bright light shoots from my chest blinding my eyes! Louder, I scream “Odo Nnyew Fie” I am interrupted by the sound of a cracking, and the chirps of a little hatchling, and its cry when it sees the son for the first time. This gift from God, born into the new world. Sitting in my arms. I hear the weep from Impundulu as she cries, watching her baby come to life in my arms.
I bear witness to the birth of life in my arms forged from love of liberty in the fires of hope and prayer.
“Hey little one, I am Akeelah. Welcome to Bridgetown. I am sorry it took so long. I know you don’t know me, but i just want to let you know, that i am your doorkeeper. Our heritage, won for us through the blood and toil of our mothers; and I pledge to you, i will be here for you in Plenty and In Times of Need. I have not been present but I will work to earn your trust and be the doorkeeper you need me to be. For you, your mum and all the Helpers. At the right time, I would like to welcome you all to Bridgetown. Will you Help me ?” It looked at my, eyes bulging, Impundulu calls out to me, and walks me to the glowing aperture at the side of the tree. As I return to the door, the promise of Bridgetown, of Barbados, of Freedom, guides my feet though the ground.
In plenty and in time of need
When this fair land was young
Our brave founders sowed the seed
From which our pride was sprung
A pride that makes no wanton boast
Of what it has withstood
That binds our hearts from coast to coast
The pride of nationhood
We loyal sons and daughters all
Do hereby make it known
These fields and hills beyond recall
Are now our very own
We write our names on history’s page
With expectations great
Strict guardians of our heritage
I pushed the door open a little further, standing in front of the door for the very first time. Baby Impundulu shrieks as it sees the vastness inside it. For so long I had felt like an outsider. Among my own family I felt out of place. I know now that I have always been a bridge between cultures. Between what is, what was, and what is possible. This was a chance now to become the person I wanted, and shape the lives of those that would one day shape history. Is this what it means to be a doorkeeper, to be the guardian of my heritage. I accept this task.
May the ground meet me as I walk.