“Come, I have something to show you.” Jesus led Adilah out of the back door, round a corner and through a small garden. Jesus held a gate open, and they entered a field with grass greener than Adilah had ever seen. There on the grass was a winged creature. At first Adilah felt panic as it lifted its head and looked at her.
Jesus approached it and put a hand on its head.
“Adilah, meet Cynthia the Seraph,” he said with a smile.
Adilah giggled nervously and approached the creature, mimicking Jesus’ action in stroking Cynthia’s head.
“Hello Adilah.” The Seraph spoke with a deep but clear voice.
Adilah giggled again and looked at Jesus. Jesus nodded, acknowledging Adilah’s surprise at hearing a non-human speak.
“Are we to leave now?” asked Cynthia.
“Yes, let’s go!” exclaimed Jesus with excitement.
Cynthia lowered herself down to the ground and Jesus climbed onto her back, shuffling himself up to the base of her neck.
“Come on up,” he invited Adilah, offering her his hand.
Adilah took his hand and as she did so, noticed a huge scar running up from his palm to his wrist. She flinched slightly. Where she came from, it was usual for people to have scars. Years of civil war had left many permanent reminders on the skin of her people.
“What happened to you?” she asked matter-of-factly.
Jesus looked at his scars as Adilah shuffled up behind him on Cynthia’s back. He held up both arms, clearly displaying a mirror image scar on the other arm.
“I was killed by the leaders of the country I lived in.”
“Killed? Why?” asked Adilah.
“They didn’t like what I said and what I did. They saw me as a threat to the peace.”
“Oh, did you lead an army?”
“No. I never spoke against the government. My followers were few and we were never violent.”
“So why death?”
“The religious leaders thought I was disrespectful to God; a blasphemer, and in league with demons.”
“So, you were … rebellious?”
“No, I always said to love God and love each other. I followed the laws, but I said that the laws were about love and that all people were equally loved by God. They didn’t like that.”
“How did they kill you?”
“They nailed me to a wooden frame. I hung by my hands. The weight of my body tore the flesh. I bled a lot on the frame, but it was also very hard to breathe as I had to pull on my hands and push up on my nailed feet to get air. Eventually I lost the strength to breathe, and I died.”
Adilah had seen some horrific things but had never seen such a cruel death. The thought of it moved her deeply.
“I am sorry!” she said loudly. “I am so sorry they did that to you.”
Jesus turned around and smiled at Adilah.
“Thank you,” he said genuinely. “You know, they didn’t understand what they were doing. Very few people in the Previous Age knew what they were doing! I had to die to show everyone that death is not the end. I had to die so I could come back to life.”
“What do you mean?” asked Adilah.
“Well, I was given a special job. I had to go through death, and all its horror. I had to demonstrate that God overcomes death. Because so many did not believe that Papa would resurrect them after death, I was made alive again to show them he would.”
Adilah was both awe-struck and confused by what Jesus was saying.
“Let’s go!” said Jesus in a loud voice, and Cynthia’s wings began to flap, creating ripples in the grass. Gently they began to ascend into the sky, which was radiant with a thousand colours.
Adilah looked around, the most stunningly lush landscape filled her vision. Trees, hills, far off mountains, small lakes and all sorts of living creatures made up a patchwork quilt of beauty that Adilah felt was pulsating with life. It made the forest she knew as a little girl seem like an arid desert in comparison.
Adilah was not used to being this close to a man, and not feeling threatened. Jesus was like no-one she’d ever encountered in her life. Somehow, she felt safe, even though she was high above the ground with a stranger, and on the back of a talking winged beast.
On the distant horizon Adilah could make out a structure that took all her eyeline, bigger than anything she’d ever imagined. It seemed to glow, and the seraph was headed toward it.
The structure was truly vast. As they approached, the end of the walls could not be seen. Adilah had spent her life in the small villages of the Savannah, and never once visited a city. This structure was not what she had ever imagined a city would be. Beneath their flight path, Adilah could see various roads leading to passages so wide and tall that they couldn’t possibly resist any attacking force. There were no gates, only arch ways. Beyond the arches, Adilah could see walkways, abundant plants, and various towers that were made from giant trees.
The sight was overwhelming, almost frightening in its awesome size. Adilah realised Cynthia was descending and soon they were on the lush grass some way from the walls of the city.
Two people approached.
“Adilah, let me introduce you to my friends, Anne and Harmony.”
“Hello Adilah, welcome to Beulah. The region nearest the city,” said Anne.
Adilah smiled a shy smile. Meeting so many new people in a day was exciting and yet a lot to take in.
“Anne and Harmony will show you to your new community,” said Jesus. “I must go now, but we will meet again.”
Adilah was sad to see Jesus go, and nervous about meeting more unfamiliar people.
Harmony could see she was feeling uneasy. Motioning to Anne, Harmony sat down on the grass.
“We can just sit here for a while,” she suggested. “Let’s just talk for a bit.”
Adilah was relieved. She sat on the grass, legs crossed. Her hand found its way to her forehead again. Adilah was still getting used to not having scars. She smiled at Harmony and Harmony smiled back, a big toothy grin. Adilah liked Harmony immediately. She’d never met a white person before and had always been told to fear them, but this one seemed like a safe person. Adilah was not afraid of silence. So, the three of them sat there on the grass, content not to speak.
Squatting in the darkest corner of the hut, Adilah strained to hear what the men were saying outside. They spoke in a different dialect, but she had been around them for years now and had picked up several words. It was nearly midnight and the men’s voices could just be heard over the chirping cicadas. The embers were now dying in the fireplace and Adilah wished for more wood so she and her sisters could keep warm. The West African nights could be so cold. She looked at her two sisters as they slept. Adilah had given them the only available blanket. She shuffled on her haunches closer to the fire, when she felt Friend draw her attention to a large log under a table near the doorway to the hut. Without hesitation Adilah got up and retrieved the log. She had become used to Friend’s gentle guidance in her most desperate situations. Thanking Friend, she placed the log on the embers and blew gently, hoping the log would catch.
“Help me please,” she whispered, and blew again. Somehow the breath was enough to see sparks leap into flame and catch the rough bark on the outside of the log. Before long the log was burning and Adilah was warmed by its heat.
Stirring, one of her sisters smiled at Adilah. Adilah smiled back, grateful not to be alone. She had been the property of the armed militia since they had burnt down her home village and killed her parents. She and her sisters had been captured and forced to be slaves for the militia. Day to day they cooked food for them, cleaned weapons, and sometimes had to give their bodies to the higher-ranking men. Adilah was not the oldest of the three young women, but she had somehow become the mother-figure of the group. The militia men had cruelly nick-named her older sister “Pirate” as she only had one eye and wore an eye-patch. She suffered regular beatings at the hands of men and boys intoxicated with various stimulant drugs. Adilah had affectionately shortened “Pirate” to ‘Pea’. Her younger sister was favoured by the men for forced sex. She was cruelly nicknamed ‘Mama’ by the men as she had lost two babies to miscarriages. Her real name was Eshe.
Eshe had gone back to sleep in the glow of the fire. She looked so peaceful there in the orange light, but the momentary respite was shattered when one of the militia men approached. Reaching down, he grabbed Eshe by the hair and pulled her up. Her eyes blazed with terror at being so violently awoken, and before Adilah had a chance to think, she had flung her arms around Eshe to keep her from being raped. The man pushed Adilah to the ground.
“You should know! You should know!” he screamed, kicking Adilah in the ribs. “How dare you!”
The man took handfuls of Adilah’s shirt and lifted her, dropping her headfirst into the open fire. He held her, face down in the flames, with his boot on the back of her skull. Adilah screamed; the searing pain overtook her body. Pea and Eshe screamed with horror as Adilah’s hair caught fire.
Adilah didn’t know how long she was in the flames, but it felt like a long time. The man released his foot and Adilah pushed herself away from the fire, clawing at her face and head. She fell back onto the floor of the hut and passed out.
Adilah couldn’t find words to explain the peace and joy that settled within her. She sat in silence, a golden silence that seemed to work its way through her skin and into her bones. Her new friends sat with her, also relishing the peace. Eventually she noticed that the colours of the sky were changing, and she felt like enquiring where they would sleep but didn’t want to ask for anything. Harmony perceived a shift in Adilah’s countenance and pre-empted the question.
“You must be wondering where you’ll be staying, honey?” she said gently.
Harmony stood to her feet and Anne followed suit.
“Come with me,” she invited.
“I must leave you now,” said Anne. “I’ll see you soon, ok?”
Adilah raised a hand to wave goodbye to Anne, and Anne reciprocated.
The two women joined a path leading down a slight incline into a woodland. After a couple of minutes of walking, they emerged into a large clearing that had eight round log cabins equally spaced on its circumference.
“This is a safe place. It’s only for women,” said Harmony.
Adilah nodded with understanding and felt relief that there were no men here.
“This is where I stay,” continued Harmony, touching the outside wall of the cabin to her left.
“And this one is just for you.” Harmony touched the cabin immediately to her right.
Adilah was overjoyed to know that Harmony would be so close. She followed as Harmony came round to the front door of the cabin.
“This place has been prepared for you,” said Harmony. “It is yours alone.”
Adilah was once again overwhelmed with realisation that everything was so different now. For the first time, she had her own space.
“You have clothing in the bedroom, food and drink in the kitchen, anything else you need, come and talk to me and we will see what can be done?”
Adilah danced a jig of pure delight. Harmony laughed with her, seeing the greatness of Adilah’s joy. Adilah reached out and took Harmony’s right hand with both of hers. She raised it to her forehead as she bowed.
“Oh sweety,” cooed Harmony, “please, don’t thank me. All of this is a gift from Jesus. Now, you must come and meet your neighbour.”
Still bouncing on her tip toes, Adilah came outside with Harmony. Harmony knocked on the door of a cabin to the right of Adilah’s. She turned to Adilah and raised her eyebrows, forming an ‘o’ shape with her mouth in exaggerated expectancy. Adilah looked back at her, puzzled.
Suddenly the door to the cabin was opened inwards. Adilah gasped and then screamed with surprise.
The two sisters embraced and began to jump about, loudly laughing and crying. Harmony grinned broadly as she watched the beautiful reunion.
“You two, have some time. I’m going to cook some food for us all.” Harmony turned and headed into her cabin.
After a hearty meal it was time for Harmony to take her leave. Emerging out of the woodland she found Anne standing with some deer, stroking one on the nose.
“Meeting time!” she called on seeing her.