The tarred road was hot against my feet, I could only ignore it. I was quickly losing my breath but I could not bring myself to take a break. I quickly looked behind to see an empty road. I didn’t feel relived yet, there was no need to. I could hear the sounds of the TankerMobil. It was not in sight, but the sound of its powerful engine was loud in the empty streets.
From the corner of my eye, I could see people looking through their windows, wondering who had the guts to come out during the epidemic. But they wouldn’t know. The figure of Miss Stone-face was still bright in my mind, as well as the short man that had come into the room behind her, on his hands a tray of surgical instruments. I didn’t want to be the messiah. I was still young and had not had enough of life. I wanted to be a dutiful son to my aging mother. I wanted to marry Kiro and watch her give birth to our children. I had not been initiated into the men’s cult. Kiro had promised to let me kiss her after the initiation. How could I become the messiah? I wouldn’t be able to feel her warm skin against mine, and have blood rush to my legs when she wiggled her waist at me. I’d have to watch her give birth to another man’s children.
‘No!’ I shouted and increased my pace. I couldn’t let them catch me.
The Day Before
We took the helicopter to the capital. I stared down from the sky, watching as the village grew smaller. I wasn’t afraid as Toge had said I would be. He said that it would feel as though I had left part of my soul on the land and the other half would keep on reaching for its missing part. I felt a tinge of nostalgia though, watching the thatch roofs become mere dots on a green sheet. The cows and goats grazing on the grass-field had disappeared totally. In my vision, a lone figure stood among the dots of thatch huts. She was far away but I could still picture the teary look in her eye as she bade me goodbye. I was sure that she was still waving even though we had disappeared into the clouds. I wiped a tear from the corner of my eyes. When I settle into my role as the messiah, I would bring her to join me soon, I promised to myself.
The helicopter landed after flying for two hours. I had expected the journey to take longer. From our village to the capital took eight hours with a car.
I followed Miss Stone-face out of the helicopter. She was the person that had visited our village three months ago. I could still remember how my mother had laughed at her statement. I too had laughed. She was tall and thin, like the stick figures that stood in front of the Okume shrines. Her face too was smooth, unlike the pimpled face Kiro, and didn’t have the dark spots that designed my sister’s face. Her mouth too remained in a constant line, she only released them when she wanted to say something. And it was rare. She seemed to communicate more with the device on her hand than with her mouth. The two men that followed her were used to her silence. They had something plugged to their ears, and sometimes they would pause briefly tilting their heads as they listened to some unknown commands. I imagined that the plugs were connected to the device on the woman’s hand. Kiro had given the name Miss Stone-face, and using it to refer to her made me seem closer to Kiro than I actually was.
The helicopter had landed on a grass-field. It was different from the fields at home. The grasses were stunted, and too stiff to be eaten by the farm animals. The field of green went on for a long distance. I looked around, were we going to walk to the capital? I turned the woman to ask, but the words clung to my tongue as three cars pulled up in front of us. I blinked at the one in the middle. Toge had spoken briefly of it, TankMobil, he called it. When he spoke about it, there had been a glimmer in his eyes, one that ora soup couldn’t put there. I had listened to him open-mouthed, finding it hard to believe that there were cars that used water for fuel. This car was blacker than the charcoal we used in the kitchen back at home, and it had a glossy shine to it. When I stood close to it, I only came up to the bonnet even though I was one of the tallest boys in the village. One of the men opened the door. I didn’t wait for the woman to tell me to go in, I hopped into the car. The temperature inside the car was just right, not too warm and not too chilly.
I took a deep breath, the car smelt of opulence and strangeness reminding that I knew nothing of what awaited me in the city. Toge had said there were only two of its type. One was among the president’s motorcade, and the other? Toge had researched but couldn’t find out who held possession of it. And now, I was in that car. I ran my hands on the plush seat, my mouth opened in awe. The cars made a U-turn and began the journey into the city. I plastered my face to the window, more interested in the view of the city than the flat TV screen that hung in the middle of the car.
The first day Miss Stone-face had come to the village, she had come with another man. A thin man clad in monk’s clothing. He had counted beads as he looked at me. He looked me in the eyes, whenever I tried to look away, some kind of force would make me remain there. It seemed like he was searching within me. I felt the power in his look right down to my toes. When he had broken the eye contact, I shook so much, and would have fallen if Toge hadn’t held me up. He turned to the woman and muttered in a firm voice. “He is the one.”
It was then that the woman had told my mother that I was the reincarnation of the messiah. My mother had been stunned for a minute, before she burst out in a full-blown laughter. Even Miss Stone-face had been so startled by her laughter that her hard mask loosened for a moment. We had waited for my mother’s laughter to die down before the woman repeated her statement. This time, her tone left no room for disbelief. She handed my mother an envelope. It had the stamp of the Superior Archimandrite, the highest ranking monk in the country. My mother opened the letter, her actions were reverent. The other people in the room also bowed their heads in reverence. Her hands shook as she read the letter. Her expression changed as she got to the bottom of the letter. It wasn’t the happy expression one would expect her to have. I didn’t understand why she was sad, to be a messiah, the spoken savior that was to overthrow the current government. My youthful mind was filled with excitement. The movies we had watched on the topic kept coming to my mind. My statue would be built like the ones at the entrance to every village. My name would be added to the long line of messiahs.
The woman had left that day, and we didn’t see her or any visitors from the capital for the next month. I would wait at the entrance of the village, looking into the distance for any car riding towards the village. I soon gave up. Maybe it had been a mistake. I was no messiah, I was just a young, lanky village boy. I didn’t have the sophistication of the previous messiahs, I didn’t even have the standard level of education that most of the children in the capital received. I resigned myself to fate and went back to tilling the farm with Toge and the other youths.
It was Kiro that had called me when Miss Stone-face and the two men came to the village again. At first, I thought it was her way of making me abandon the farm work, so we could go to our meeting point under the palm trees that surrounded the village river. She had pulled my hand, saying in her shrill voice. “Quick, quick. They’re here again.” I was disappointed that we were not going to our spot.
As we rode into the city, I regretted even more that I didn’t have the chance to hold her close one more time or run my hands down her full waists.
The city was quite different from what I’d imagined it to be. Sure, it had tall buildings that threatened to touch the skies. The roads were wide and tarred, with traffic lights. I looked from the window. Everywhere was empty though. We had heard rumors of the disease that had caused a number of deaths in the city. Toge was my source of news from the city, but he too couldn’t confirm this. All news had been locked within the city. I saw it now. The roads were deserted. Once or twice, a lone car would drive past us. The traffic lights seemed to have a life of their own. Even the car didn’t stop when we came across a red light.
The disease that had suddenly overcome the boisterous city was a strange one. Once contacted, it was hard to recover and the death rate increased by the thousands. When the stone-faced lady had come with the news of my being the messiah, my mother had been scared. She had a right to. Even though I tried to ignore the racing of my heart, I could hardly forget the stories of the messiah who had lived during the last epidemic, which coincidentally happened hundred years ago. We heard the stories when we were younger. The messiah that had killed all those who had contracted the illness to stop the spread. He had become the villain in his own story. Of course, no one failed to think of how the illness disappeared after his seemingly heartless act. We had held debates over his action. And as we drove deeper into the city, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would have to do to stop the situation from escalating. Was I really the messiah? I thought.
The car drove into a large, heavily guarded estate. The estate was hidden by tall and thick trees. The tires of the car crunched against the graveled ground. The estate seemed like a different world on its own. We drove for a distance before a building came into sight. I opened my mouth in awe. It was a gothic style building, but I could still modern elements added in the thick doors and the pillars that supported it. A large fountain stood in the middle of the compound. When the car pulled to a stop in front of the house, guards in black uniforms rushed and stood on both sides of the passageway to the wide metal door.
I felt queasy as I stepped down from the car. Were they lining up for me? When they bowed slightly, I took it as an affirmation. I was really the messiah. I would become the messiah. I tried to maintain a straightface as I followed behind Miss Stone-face. I could feel the curious gaze of the guards as I walked past them. I could guess what was going on in their minds. They were wondering if I was really the messiah. I wanted to shout it out to them, beat my chest and say, ‘Yes, I’m the messiah.’
A small group of monks were waiting for us when we entered the cold hall. I shivered, more from fear than from the cold. The looks on the faces of the monks were stiff and their sharp gazes fell on me. It felt like their looks would pierce a hole right through my forehead. The monk that had come with Miss Stone-face stood at the front of the crowd. He bowed at Miss Stone-face when we stopped.
“This is he.” There was a finality in his voice that made it seem as though there had been argument between them before I came into the hall.
There was murmurings among the monks, and some of them drew closer to me. One placed his hand at the back of my neck. I felt a piercing feeling where he touched and hissed. The man grumbled disapprovingly, “He is too young.” A few others mumbled in agreement.
The monk shook his head. “We have to have the inauguration ceremony tomorrow. We cannot question his age when the disease has already gotten majority of the population. We don’t have the time to start questioning all that now.”
“What if he cannot do anything about the matter?”
The monk looked at the other monks with a heavy gaze. “We just have to try.”
Back in the village when we were told stories about past messiahs and their heroic acts, we were never told of what they went through before they became heroes of the nation. I sat in the cold white room listening to the monk that was explaining what I had to do before I would be inaugurated as the messiah. His voice was dreary and the more I listened to him, the heavier my eyelids became. There was only one thing on my mind as I listened to him talk about the history of the messiahs and how they came about—Kiro. Her sweet smile, her well-formed waist, and my mother in the background warning me not to ruin Kiro before I took palmwine to her parents. As soon as the inauguration was over, I was going to marry Kiro, I decided.
Because the monks were in a hurry to carry out the inauguration, a lot of protocols were ignored. But there was one that couldn’t be, and when I heard it, whatever fantasy I had of being the messiah disappeared. I stared at Stone-face mouth as she spoke about the importance of castrating messiahs. She lost me at the beginning when she used the word ‘castrate’ and ‘messiah’ in her first sentence. All that was in my mind as she continued her speech was to escape, to run away from the madness.
I wasn’t sure how I was able to make it out of the estate in the middle of the thick security. I didn’t think much as I climbed through the iron fence that surrounded the perimeter. I didn’t even think about where I would hide. There had been just one thing on my mind as I created distance between myself and the madness of becoming a messiah.
I would live in the streets of the capital for weeks before I would return to the village, but it didn’t matter because one day I would tell my children the story of the messiah that fled from his fate when the nation had been facing an epidemic. Kiro would watch me from the fireplace, a knowing smile on her lips. I would have many days to tease Kiro and caress her smooth skin, but for now I focused on hiding from the TankMobil and the hovering drones.
I was no messiah, nor a hero. I was just a young boy, a young boy with dreams for the future. In the minds of the people, I would become the failed messiah, but it didn’t matter. I got the life I wanted.