‘…if you have ever experienced that mystery of nature that men call ebheshina…dream….then this is for you….’
Many years ago, as a little child, in response to one of my numerous and persistent questions, my father told me that when one dreamt, one was practically falling. That dreaming was like falling from the peak of a huge mountain or tumbling into the dark depths of a bottomless abyss. This definition-his definition- of ebheshina didn’t only scare me at that time, it also did a lot to confuse me and as well set the tone for what the concept of dream would mean for me in later years. In retrospect, I understand now that it was the sort of answer one gave to an inquisitive child. That kind of answer that was meant to scare and at the same time discourage the child from threading on dangerous terrains. Terrain of enquiries that was too problematic for young minds to process.
Despite this response, though scared and confused, I was not satisfied. Deep inside me, I knew there had to be more to ebheshina; more to why men dream.
Today, a close inspection of this Ososo word reveals ebheshina as a unique word that stomach so much mystery. What more, to a stranger to the Ososo dialect the word is as enthralling to the eyes when penned to paper as it jingles in the ear when spoken. It is a term little understood by many, yet so many more throughout history have claimed it opened windows in their minds to the unknown; vouchsafing them some glimpse of the divine. A term through which they claim their minds were illuminated with visions of the transcendent; revelations that transformed them into vessels bearing messages of hope to some and despatches of doom to others.
In the tongue of the Ghotuo-Uneme-Yekhee branch of the Edoid linguistic lineage, a tongue spoken by an inimitable people who today occupy the land we call Ososo, this word is most often uttered with some reverence. With some awe as if doing otherwise would attract some type of misfortune. This is the attitude of the people of Ososo- that scenic town of streams and rocks in the undulating Somorika hills in the northern parts of Edo State in Nigeria- to word ebheshina.
Even though I did not entirely agree with my father’s definition, as if to buttress his assertion, many times in the wake of a dream, especially my childhood nightmares, I would usually find myself convulsing on the ground from horror. I would have literally fallen from the spring bed which was my usual companion in those night, in those innocent days as a little boy. Though, the tumble from the bed would have been within a quarter of fraction because of the proximity of the bed to the floor, to me, it would seem like literally falling from the peak of a huge mountain or into a bottomless pit. The fall would be so long as if I had been falling the entire night. Accompanying those falls would my child-like, dreadful screams and beads of sweat casing all of my body as though I had plunged myself into a big bowl of water just seconds before the fall. Apparently, the shock from my nightmare and of seeing myself spread across the cemented floor of our room and parlour affair in those days, like a discarded empty sack of beans, was always too much for my immature psyche to process and so it was my mind that always shook me awake and back to reality upon impact on the plastic-tiled floor. This was the common experience as a child and the phenomenon I had had to live with most of my teenage years. It was spectacles like these that made the word ebheshina to keep echoing in my mind throughout my teenage years as if a lunatic was banging away at some huge church bell inside my head.
I didn’t understand what my childhood dreams were or what meaning they held throughout those days. As far as I can tell today, for me, there is still, as it was before, a stark misunderstanding what dreams are. Usually, when people cannot or do not get a full grasp of something, their misunderstanding most often tends to open such things as they cannot comprehend to tremendous speculation. And those speculations usually end up with the tendency of making such things either feared or misrepresented. All my life, apart from the fear of ebheshina that had become part of my psyche, my head has been filled with conjectures about the true meaning of dreams and the purpose they served. I have always asked and continue to ask myself, why do humans dream?
To this question of why humans dream, I am sure some people’s lips would stretch in a mocking and maybe knowing smile and they’ll say to themselves, ‘oh that’s simple. We dream for so and so reason…’ Yet I believe there is no simple answer to this question of why men dream. There are several instances throughout history for example, of people who have appeared and have even changed the course of events in history simply because they went to bed the night before as usual, but rose a different person the morning after following a dream they had. One of the greatest religions the world has ever known received a great boost around the 300s AD as a result of one of the dreams of Emperor Constantine. In what I presume may have appeared like a vision, the emperor claimed to have seen the Chi Rho sign, the Greek letters which he believed had assured him victory in battle. ‘In this sign, conquer’ the emperor was instructed in his dream according to Christian tradition. People believed him. His troops staked their lives, bled and died for it. For his ebheshina. The emperor went to battle and true, he won with a decisive victory. Even though the Christians were a persecuted lot before the emperor’s dream, their religion quickly rose to become a state religion at the behest of the emperor; the greatest the world has ever seen. This happened after his dream and subsequent victory in battle. This, to me, explains the power of dreams in a literal and very real sense. Why is this so? What really happened? Can there ever be a satisfactory explanation and definition of this thing we call ebheshina?
Well, I had a dream. And this dream was neither one in which I imagined myself falling as was customary in my childhood days nor was it one in which I was awake like some people have claimed to experience. It was nothing like day dreaming. It was nothing like the religious visions that some religious charlatans ride on to swindle gullible worshipers today. No. Again, it was not the usual childhood nightmares that characterized my early years. It was a dream so real it could have been Christmas day. A dream so real it could have been the lines in my palms, something that still confounds me even now that I am punching these keys-letters that are forming these words- on the keyboard of my computer.
It is a typical day. An ordinary day. For me, a lazy one despite the hustle and bustle around me, and I’m walking through the crowded Mayfair Round About area in the ancient yet fetish city of Ile-Ife in Osun State, Nigeria. The breeze around the Mayfair area is heavy with the choking smell of roasting corn and barbecue bolli those street sellers who are sitting underneath their umbrella sheds beside their fire places and by the roadside are selling. The galling smell of sweat and body odour which emanate from some nonchalant boys who bump into me amidst the rowdy crowd as I make my way pass them, only adds to my frustration with the commotion around me. Soon after I leave where the boys are standing, some near lunatic bus driver swerves pass me in his rickety vehicle on top speed, through a pavement on the road. He didn’t mind that by this action he is disrupting the normal flow of traffic in the lane which is actually for approaching vehicles. Yet he is carrying on as though he is oblivious of the Federal Road Safety Commission driving rules. His speed suggests he may as well be flying an airplane and that the tarred road is actually his runway. Or like a pilot who is about to lift off, maybe even some get-away criminal who is escaping from the authorities.
There are countless of these rickety vehicles in the street. Some of the conductors of these ugly moving machines we often call Sabo-Lagere buses are shouting their destination to prospective passengers. They are cursing traffic control officials with reckless abandon in their characteristic coarse marijuana infested voices at the same time. I ignore them all, disregarding all the chaos around me and make a bend into a crowded sidewalk where there is a collection of Electronics Shops. My mind is set on my destination. Ironically, I am not even sure where I am going in the first instance. I am in a hurry all the same as if am going to catch an important appointment. Funny. I navigate my way through the narrow sidewalk which bears a striking resemblance to a subway or an underground tunnel. I emerge amidst a small collection of people in what seem like a miniature market place. An old woman with sparse hair which are all totally grey who is standing by her tomato-grinding machine smiles and waves to me. She is almost toothless. Her gum is as black as night. Her skin is wrinkled and she is almost bent forward with a hump back that bears a striking resemblance to the lump of tissues, the bump on the back of a cattle’s neck. Even though I have never seen this figure before in all of my 32 years’ existence, I return her greetings with an anxious smile and continue on journey. As if to register her dissatisfaction with the manner of my greeting, a dog suddenly barks somewhere behind her as if it is summoning me to come back and pay proper respect to some deity. I turn my face around in an attempt to try and figure out the dog’s position, and suddenly my eyes catches about five children standing around the old woman, a thing I didn’t notice before, they are spread out sporadically, eating roasted corn and holding hands in an awkward circle that is reminiscent of scenes from a Yoruba witchcraft movie. I am a bit taken aback at the sudden appearance of the kids. Where did they come from? Who are they? Yet I discard these questions almost as soon as they spring up in my head.
I ignore them and continue to move only this time in a rapid pace. My mind is telling me that something is not right with this setting. It is an eerie setting for want of a better word. ‘Where exactly are you going?’ a voice inside my head queries. I ignore the voice and continue to brisk walk. Few seconds later, I see the same children, like dejavu, only that this time they are in front of me. I am in shock yet I feign manliness, even though my heart is in my mouth at this point. I put up a brave face and try to manoeuvre my way around them. Just ahead of me, after the children, there is a broad expressway. My plan is to maneuverer my way around them, emerge on the expressway and disappear into thin air. I assure myself that if I can make it to the expressway, I will run as fast as my legs can carry me, evaporate right there before their very eyes and then, minutes later recondense inside my room. As I pass by this group of children, one of them, a diminutive and threatening little creature around the age of six or seven, looks at me directly in the eyes. As we locked eyes, something like a spell dispatches from her eyes and hit me hard so that I quickly remove my gaze from hers. She is dreadlocked. Her hair unkempt, her eyeballs red as though she is high on weeds. Her skin is almost as wrinkled as that of the old woman from few seconds before. She looks tiny, as if it is an older person crammed inside her small stature; like an outsized corpse in a body bag that is too small to hold it in. Her visage expresses urgency that was just enough to refrain from devouring her frozen treat as her eyes glimmer like that of a cat in the dark. She abruptly pulls her hand from the hand of another girl in their circle, thus breaking the chain. Leaving her group of friends she begins to run after me. Fear takes the better of me and I increase my strides. Yet she catches up with me despite. She grabs my hand. Her tiny hand is as cold as steel. I violently push her tiny hand off me, breaking free from her grip more out of fear and reflex than out of a conscious attempt of an adult who knows exactly what he is doing. She continues to run after me despites. Moments later, unable to catch up with my gaits, she yells at me,
“Uncle! (sic) Where do you think you are going? How many people can you see in that direction you are heading? (sic)Mama is hungry and everyone is returning home. You had better stop and return to your house. If you don’t listen to me, you will be all alone. So, go back home right away (sic).” She is shouting at the top of her voice while trying to catch her breath at the same time.
I am confused. I am scared. Who is she? Who is mama? What is she talking about?
Yet I ignore her and start to run this time. I run for some minutes, my legs taking me as far away from the girl and the old woman as possible. Suddenly all signs of human life fades and I am alone in the cold breeze. Apparently I have reached a point in the area that is as barren of life as some Asian desert. I stop abruptly. I turn around but find uncannily that the tiny girl, the other children, the old woman and in fact everyone in the mini market behind me has all disappeared! Everyone is gone. A huge silence suddenly descends on the entire vicinity. I begin to run more desperately at this point, toward the pathway I had come. I pass the now abandoned and ghostly Electronic Shops until I emerge at Mayfair Round About once again. Only this time to find all of Mayfair totally devoid of any traces of life! In fact, my footfalls begins to echo in the distance. The silence at this point is so loud that if a needle were to drop, it would sound like plane crash. The ricochets of my footsteps as I am running begins to hum like the rhythm of the loud speakers of some huge Sony electronic sound-system that is playing some horror tune. Suddenly the cloud becomes dark and heavy as if it is going to rain. Visibility level begins to drop to zero degree at a rate that is comparable only to the speed of light. I continue to run. Faster and faster still. I begin to shout at the same time as am running, calling for someone to come to my rescue. Anyone. No one responds to my SOS except for the reverberating sound of my own voice. All of Mayfair all through to Campus Gate area of the city of Ile-Ife is totally devoid of life. Not even a bird, a goat or a hen is in sight! In fact, hearing the whizzing sound of a flea pass my ear would be a huge relief for me because I am desperate for some sort of company at this point. Any company, except for that of inanimate objects. I am feeling a huge sense of disappointment as I am running because no living creature appears in sight.
On my way to Campus Gate, when I reach the bend towards Parakin Estate which is an adjacent estate to the university’s main campus gate, I change direction and begin to descend the slope towards the estate but soon reconsider this decision. I make the right bend backwards, toward OAU Campus gate instead. The speed with which I reach the Campus gate is only comparable to that of a cheetah. Upon reaching the gate, I realize one of my shoelaces is losing off. Because it is uncomfortable and hampering my speed, I decide to lace it as fast as I could and continue on my journey. As I stoop to tie it, an excruciating pain suddenly hits me in my right leg and radiates from my hip and immediately brings me to my knees. I fall onto my back only to discover that I am not alone after all.
A shadow from nowhere suddenly falls on me. A figure more creature than human, an old woman who is half naked. She is wearing only a wrapper that could pass for a rag any day tied loosely around her waist. She is standing beside where I am lying. Her wrinkled breasts are flapping this way and that and she is looking down at me and smiling sheepishly at the same time. She bend over and touch my knee. Her hand is as cold as that of the little girl from a few minutes before. She is bending so that her wrinkled and hard lips are touching my ear, her breath smells like garlic mixed with rotten egg and she, in a scary and shaky voice whispers,
“My love, I have been waiting all day for you. My sweet heart. Darling. Though I am hungry I won’t eat you. Let me take you home, let me love you, I will take care of you. You will enjoy my company. You will surely enjoy the….”
A numb feeling descends on me upon hearing those words. Like some force, some spirit of incubus is holding me down. Like sleep paralysis. Like my spine has been replaced with ice, I cannot move. I am lying there, eyes wide open yet can’t move but listening to the words pouring from the mouth of this scary figure. Suddenly, as if some extra strength has suddenly been given me, I scream so loud my throat might as well tear……
And just about the time I start to scream, the dream ends. I awaken and in a scene nearly reminiscent of my childhood days, though I am not splattering on the floor but sweating as though a bucket of water had been emptied on my body, even though my LG air-conditioner is switched on and working at full capacity, I am spread out. I had rolled out of bed, staring blankly at the ceiling I am trying to convince myself that this dream means nothing. That it is just a by-product of work-related stress and the movie I had watched the night before on Channels Television in their late night programing. Yet this did not solve the problem. This is because the experience, the ebheshina I had just had was too real to be tossed aside.
From my learning, I know dreams are successions of images, ideas, emotions and sensations that occur usually involuntarily in the mind during stages of sleep. The content of dreams I am told, are not definitively understood though they have been a topic of scientific speculation, as well as a subject of philosophic and religious interest throughout recorded history. The scientific study of dreams is called Oneirology. And I have read a number of books on Oneirology. In modern times, dreams have been seen as a connection between the real and the unconscious mind. They range from normal and ordinary to overly surreal and bizarre. Dreams can have varying nature, such as being frightening, exciting, magical, melancholic, adventurous, or even sexual. The events in a dream are generally outside the control of the dreamer, with the exception of lucid dreaming, where the dreamer is self-aware. Well, this to me is the literal definition of dream. What deeper meaning does dream hold? What is the real meaning of dreams?
Again, opinions about the meaning of dreams have varied and shifted through time and cultures. The earliest recorded dreams were acquired from materials dating back approximately 5,000 years, in Mesopotamia, where they were documented on clay tablets. In Greek and Roman period, the people believed that dreams were direct messages from one and or multiples deities or from deceased persons and that they predicted the future. This I know, may have led even some cultures into the practice of what is called Dream Incubation with the intention of cultivating dreams that are of prophecies for use in the future. Even in the Holy Bible it is written, ‘…..your young ones shall see visions and your old ones shall dream dreams….’ This may explain, like I pointed out earlier why the emperor Constantine took his dream about the Chi Rho sign so seriously. He eventually made Christianity, a group of a small, yet once persecuted people into a state religion, part of the reasons why the faith became the greatest religion planet earth has ever known.
Well, to my mind, all of this is theory and scholastic paper works which does not really satisfactorily explain dreams to me. But even so, can I reasonable wish away this dream that I have just had? This experience, the little girl, the old woman, the ebheshina, what meaning does it hold? Why was it so real? I am not a religious man. I don’t believe in signs and omens. I am a man who believes in the rational explanation of things. Of science. Of knowledge painfully extracted from nature over the millennia, through many trials and errors, empirical studies and rational thinking. Not some dogma as propounded by some religious creed. Despite this, I still am not all that convinced of the process and meaning of dreams as propounded by science. For this reason, I will not be quick to find some spiritual explanation to the dream I had. Maybe this is the reason am still a bit confused. What does this dream mean? The scary tiny girl, the old woman, the dog and so on.
This questions kept dancing about in my head at about the time I rose from bed. Even though am not a religious man, my ebheshina had given me some real reasons to say a prayer before getting myself prepared for work. As I hum songs inside my bathroom, as the warm water from the shower trickled down my body, the trees that were now forming a forest of questions inside my head began to take root. It was a Monday morning and my boss doesn’t tolerate late coming. I left my home a little over 8 AM. I soon arrived our office complex, manoeuvring my Toyota Corolla into the staff parking lot, amidst the vast arrays of staff cars, signalling the fact I was already late for work, I pulled over. Nodding my reply to the greetings of Seun, the ever lousy MTN card dealer whose little kiosk was situated near our office complex to tend to the communication needs of staff, I made my way to my office, clutching my laptop bag. Instead of going through the usual main gate that led directly to our office, I decided to pass through the small gate behind a corner where the office canteen is located. Through that gate was a lobby. This hall was always unlit and a bit dark because of the electrical fault with the Junction Box that supplied electricity to that section of our office complex. This electrical fault has defied all solutions over the past months. I had decided to pass through that gate through that lobby because I had seen a colleague I didn’t like and didn’t want to spoil the rest of the Monday by allowing him to be the first staff I would exchange pleasantries with that morning. To avoid bumping into him, I took this decision. There is a superstitious belief amongst my people that, the first person one saw and exchanged greetings with in the morning would determine how the rest of the day went. Why I decided to act on this superstition even though I didn’t believe in superstitions is strange. It was this fetish colleague I wanted to avoid when something uncanny happened…..
As I was coming close to the canteen, I bumped into an attractive young woman. She was walking a little girl of about 6 or 7 years who I assume is her daughter to school. So we both walked into the dark lobby together through the other gate. At first I didn’t bother to take another look at the woman and her little girl until she and I exchanged greetings. Soon after the greeting, I had barely walked pass mother and daughter, just a few feet from them inside the lobby when her daughter, the little girl turned around and,
“Uncle! Where do you think you are going? How many people can you see in that direction you are heading…mama is-”
She was addressing me for sure because apart from her mother and me, there was no one else inside the lobby. Not just that, the words that poured from the mouth of the little girl were chilling and frightening. They stung me in the ear like a rapacious bee for one single reason; they were strangely familiar words. Shocked, I turned to face the little girl and her mother and then…….