Birds had barely begun to sing when Tapiwa was hurled out from his tent.
He knew the rebels were close but he had hoped for one more night
One more night with his comrades
Disciples and brothers in arms
Defending the remnants of dignity their city once had.
Homes were razed and forests torched
The city burned bright in gold.
Tapiwa marched along familiar forests
Led by rebels, to a dreadful and certain end.
He’d often played here as a boy
And now a fully-fledged man, he still gawked at the splendour of the maze.
Forest left, forest right, forest two-turns left and one-turn right.
He remembered his and Mala’s games
Wandering around the forest for hours, only to end up where they’d started.
Tapiwa snickered at the thought
That the medicine to the poisons of his city was prescribed by the serpent that…
Quiet! March faster!
Tapiwa remembered his impending fate.
To die with no family, no house, no title.
To die fighting for a city that brought pain to itself.
Tapiwa remembered his loud screams as he fought to hold
Hold onto Mala’s hands as he hung from the edge of the gold mine
Tapiwa had held for life, for his best friend
But Mala let go and died in gold.
City of gold had swallowed another son
And many others with each passing moon.
That was a dozen years ago.
Tapiwa winced as he marched on
He knew the rebels were as blind
As infatuated as Mala
Although they lay claim to change and glory
The gold was the locomotive for all actions.
And as they led Tapiwa to his last day
He knew a dark secret they did not.
He would be buried underground and swallowed by the city
But its gold would surely resurrect him
And he would be another rebel, father, clan chief, or Mala
And the cycle would continue until the end of age.
As they left the forest and marched towards death, Tapiwa looked back and wished
Wished he’d burned the forest, its earth; the riches of the city.
Burned it and watched it turn bright gold.
Tapiwa regained consciousness five miles later.
Death had not yet visited but he was still in chains.
Rebels had decided to recruit youth from the city, so through the narrow streets, they walked.
Tapiwa knew these streets
He knew them by sight and smell
The summer breeze wafted the scent of the city’s treats through Tapiwa’s nostrils.
The trader fried her plantain slow
Yellow, brown, then gold
Never too fast to upset the natural course.
Tapiwa smiled and ate them in his fantasies, that golden place where Mala still breathed.
Road, street, alley.
Rebels led Tapiwa through his childhood playgrounds
Melancholy sought to regain her place in his heart, but for the sounds of children cackling.
They danced and pranced and drank each other’s delight
As they made rings and squares, and clapped and sang and shook the earth.
Sing us a song!
The rebels sneered and carried on
But Tapiwa stopped and smiled
These ones don’t fear today or tomorrow
Gold, do not steal their innocence away.
And it happened as they reached the rivers
The regal sun, set upon the city again.
The glory and pride of the city’s life
Her radiance glistened along the riverbed.
She, whose shine prickled even the brightest stars
She was worth living and dying for.
Gold in sight, but not in heart
Always acknowledged but never appreciated.
She set her head down and bowed again
Giving way to darkness and fool’s gold to shine at night.
Tapiwa took steps closer to the banks of the stream
Rebels discussed his fate as they did miles ago.
He washed his face with water clean and pure.
As ripples subsided, he stared back down
Looking for his face, before his final sunset.
The river, stained by the sun, as she ushered her rays down, seeking rest.
The children, the plantain, the splendid sun.
The air, the river, the splendid sun.
City of gold had treasures in spades
But above the surface of earth, they lay.
Draped in life and love, and joy.
Kissed by the golden sun each time at dawn.
The author is Tobe Ofili, and he is a Nigerian poet who happens to do other things in his spare time.
He works full-time in finance, while part-time teaching in tandem.
He believes poetry is one of the essential forms of artistic expression, and it should be practised in ink and life as well.
He feels poetry permeates all areas of life, and he is rather passionate about helping people draw out their innate poetic tendencies.