Excerpt of You Must Set Forth at Dawn by Wole Soyinka
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I cannot wait to repossess the bush, or maybe it is the other way
around, let the bush repossess me. The bush and its furtive breath.
Refuge and solace. The mere thought brings in its train the smells, and
soon my seat is isolated and wreathed in nothing but the very smells of
the bush! The thought of resuming my forays into those silent growths
finally quickens my pulse, hesitantly, just perceptibly, sobered by the
thought that Femi, whom I also taught to hunt, will no longer be a part
of it. Yet there, perhaps, is where I would most painlessly recover his
presencein those swathes of isolation, that terrain of so many sensory
ambiguities. Enfolded within the tropical bush, the effect is
tranquilizinguntil of course the moment of the approach of a
quarrynot that the pulse quickens all that noticeably even then. It
does not matter whether it is the Harmattan season of dry air with its
parched or burnt vegetation except in the early morning when the
foliage is misted over and even the earth is deceptively dampor the
rainy season, which leaves you tangling with moist thickets, fording
swollen gorges, sliding on treacherous rocks, and being sucked into mud
gullies, day or night, at night with nothing but a few stars seen
through branches or fireflies to test your patience and judgment as you
wonder whether they are the eyes of a wildcat, a tree cyrax, or twin
raindrops caught in the light of your night lamp.
matters is the escape into timelessness, interrupted by furtive pads of
a four-footed quarry or the sudden burst of the brown bush fowl or
gray-streaked guinea fowl soaring and screaming over trees. An instant
only to decide whether or not the latter is worth the tryeven if you
downed it, how much time would it demand to plunge into the hostile
fastness to retrieve your booty? In the process you become insensitive
to the rank presence of a far larger quarry, the prized egbin* or
igala, or a patriarch or matriarch of the etu family, the
archsurvivor of the speciesadimuwhose heavy meat could feed a
fair-sized company of guerrillas long lost in the bush. . . .
Definitely it is the bush, the bush aloneits smells, muted sounds,
textures, and often impenetrable silence that finally bathe me in a
glow of warm anticipation. It is that, that alone, not any other
resumption of relationships or recovery of suspended voices. Is this
some form of misanthropy?
Or perhaps it is the suppressed fear that my house is gone anyway, that I am returning to a conspicuous gap in the landscape at which I had
hacked and quarried, years before my departure, to give expression to
my appetite for space. News of the invasion had reached me, but the
dimension of destruction had been vague and guarded, as if the kind
couriers had agreed to hold back the worst. In truth, regarding the
building itself, I had not planned to encase so much space within
walls, just a small cottage, after my retirement from university
service, but with as much ground as I could afford. Still, hovel or
mansion, the soldiers violation hung over it, as it hung over many
other homes that were owned by perceived enemies of the dictator, Sani
Abacha. The house had been built almost entirely from the windfall of
the Nobel Prize. I had expanded it from its original design only
because I wanted to create a space for periodic retreat for writers and
artiststypical of the fantasies of those who are suddenly bombarded
with more money than generations before them ever laid eyes on! Thus
was born the notion of the Essay Foundation for the Humanities, named
after my father, whose initials, S.A., had coalesced in my childhood
mind as one word: Essay.
* A quadruped of the deer/antelope family.
Same as above.
A large specimen of the rodent family.
Excerpted from You Must Set Forth at Dawn by Wole Soyinka Copyright © 2006 by Wole Soyinka. Excerpted by
permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random
House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be
reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the