By Udeme Nana
I arrived at the Library some minutes past 3pm and went straight to the section which holds classics. I wasn’t deterred by the dust-covered titles as I searched for a one of interest. Finally, I stumbled on the book, Five Fables from France. Was it the alliteration in the title which caught my fancy? Was the book really about fables set in France? I discovered that the author, Lee Cooper hailed from Oklahoma in the United States of America.
As I moved away from the shelf, I observed that the seats in the section of the library arranged for the session were fully occupied and I found a place for myself in one of the rows of seats. I was delighted that the building which before June last year had seemed like a haunted house was now lively – open to readers – all thanks to the efforts of Mary Jonas, the Coordinator of Abak Book Club, who took the gospel to re-awaken the culture of reading among our people to Abak town.
The first fable in the book, ‘The Girl Who Played A Trick On The Devil’ was about a certain Simon who went hunting but mistakenly shot his dog in place of a rabbit. He loved his dog so much and the misfortune of that accident forced him to swear that he would ‘give his soul to the devil if he could save his hapless dog from dying’ and “just at the very moment those words left his mouth, a little dark man appeared” The little dark man healed the dog but when Simon offered him all the silver and gold he had, the little dark man refused but rather said ‘I don’t want your thanks or your silver or your gold’. “The payment I want for my work is your soul”! Simon begged to be allowed to keep his soul and ‘offered his vineyards, his cattle and his chateau’ but the little dark man shook his head and disappeared into thin air, taking Simon’s soul with him!
Immediately after the little black man left Simon, a witch named Betrande appeared and told Simon that she had heard all that transpired between him and the little dark man who had now dissolved into nothingness. She offered to help Simon if he would bring the same amount that he had initially promised to pay to that little black man to her cottage at midnight. Simon agreed and his midnight visits to the witch became a routine ritual. Simon said it wouldn’t matter if the visits would make him regain his soul. On one of the visits, a young, well-groomed girl saw him and asked to know why he was always going to see the old witch. Simon spilled his frustrations and the young girl offered to help him out. Simon wondered how such an innocent girl would go to war with the witch and the devil and win. However, he didn’t voice his fears.
The young girl went and teased the witch with a present and thereafter goaded her that she had lost her magical powers to accomplish impossible feats. Challenged by that young girl, the witch asked her what she wanted her to do to prove that she was still a potent force who could command the wind, and fire and was adept at extra mundane communication. The girl responded by telling her that she wanted her to invite the devil, that little black man to the scene for a contest with her. Pronto, the witch waved her wand, and that same little black man who had taken the soul of Simon appeared. The girl engaged the devil and told her she wanted him to return Simon’s soul back to him. The devil asked the girl what he would take back in return for such a princely exchange. The young girl offered her ‘soul’ and the devil was happier because, in his fertile imagination, the “soul” of such a nice young girl was even better than that of a man like Simon. He returned the soul of Simon. But to formalize the deal for the exchange, the devil suggested that an agreement be signed and sealed between them. The young girl wrote the terms and signed them.
The devil was so excited, indeed, he was overjoyed and signed his part, even piercing his body to seal the contract with his blood.
Only that when he demanded his prized item, the soul of the girl, the little girl presented him with the sole of her shoes. The devil said that wasn’t what he had bargained for and the young girl told him to read the agreement closely. The little black man who got Simon’s soul earlier read the signed agreement more intently and realized that he’s been snookered. The little girl told him boldly to return to hell because she only offered to give him her SOLE and not her SOUL!
The experience of Simon, the hunter, who sold his soul stresses the need for people to be hesitant with making offers when frustrated even when no one else is nearby. People should also be more circumspect about wishing for evil because it’s most likely to happen. Walls have ears and so does empty space. Even the whistling wind is a company and hears whatever is uttered.
The lesson provided by that girl is that one should know enough words and ideas and always have one’s wits with them. Intelligence is vital for success in life. The girl was bold and courageous also.
The story of Eve in the Christian Bible tells about Eve being the first human being to come face to face with the devil. In this fable by Lee Cooper, it’s a young girl. The question is, why are they always women?
The young girl in this fable went on to marry Simon and they lived happily thereafter.
Kudos to Mary Jonas, Uko Edet, Inyene Peter, and other reading enthusiasts at Abak Book Club because its advent has attracted folks around Abak back to the Library building which hitherto was deserted, unkempt and under lock and key months ago.
But that facility could serve its purpose better with public power supply.