Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

A Short Story

The dream master and the lost dream

By Hassan Ali Ganda and Diana Bruno-Gaston

The house was at the edge of the village in that area where it merges into farms and meets the forest. It stood a little apart from the others but like them was sturdily constructed of swish blocks capped by a conical roof of thick thatch. Ananse had passed by the house many times but he had never entered it. He had often seen its owner in the village but apart from hurried greetings they had as yet had nothing to do with each other.

Now, as he stood before the house, Ananse began to doubt the wisdom of the meeting. But he had sought it and having done so and come so far he knew that he could not turn back. He lifted his hand to knock but before it was anywhere near the door a voice from within called out: "Enter!". He entered.

The room was dark and it took Ananse some time to become used to it. He found that apart from the man, a large box and two mats it was otherwise bare. The man was sitting, his legs crossed and eyes closed, on one of the mats. Without opening his eyes and with a smooth gesture he beckoned Ananse to sit down on the other. In between them the box squatted issuing a delicate fragrance from its intricately worked wood.

The man began to speak. No greeting had been exchanged. "You have come to the Master, to the Great One. I am the Unmasker, the Lifter of secret veils... ." He had a rasping yet gentle voice. No dream dreamt by man holds its secrets from Me... in a dream we find reality... In life we are but in a dream".

It was an incantation spoken as if in a trance. At times, as he spoke, he would lift or lower one or the other hand in order to lend emphasis to his cadences. A quality in his voice compelled Ananse to listen. It was of peacefulness and it pervaded everything in the room. He, Ananse, had come unconvinced and half expecting to see through this man but as he sat on the mat, lulled by his even tones, it was as if he was in the presence of a friend. A friend from a long time ago. A friend who could be trusted. I was he who now felt exposed. As suddenly as he had commenced the Master stopped. For the first time he opened his eyes and looked at his visitor. He said nothing.

Ananse had prepared himself but now that he had to speak he was at a loss. His mind was confusion. He forced himself to be calm and hesitatingly, he began "I have come," he said, "to seek your assistance". He had not intended to begin in this manner but he pressed on . to seek your assistance in the search for a dream." He told the Master about how he had dreamt and how he had lost it.

By the time he finished all his confidence was gone. His eyes wandered about the room, his throat felt dry and his palms wet. He wished that when he had first come into the room he had been offered some water. He looked at the Master. Ananse saw that a shaft of light passing through the very centre of the roof bathed him and illuminated the whiteness of his robes. Though it was midday a chillness gripped Ananse. He could say nothing and a stillness hung in the room.

Slowly, the Master rose. He was a tall figure and with his face turned upwards he spoke. "I am the Dream Master... The Master of Dreams. I find the meaning of that which we have and that which we hold. I find not that which has been lost". He bent his head and, fixing his gaze on Ananse, he declared, "A dream lost is a reality lost and experience made dumb. Go, find it, bring it, and you shall hear it speak!"

The village had once been besieged by a thunderstorm. For three days and three nights sheets of rain had continued to fall down on it. The river burst its banks, crops were levelled and homes flooded. The morning the weather lifted the Master had appeared clean and immaculate. He had sought out the chief and asked to be permitted to reside in the village. He had claimed to be an interpreter of dreams and so the Chief had put him to a test. He had passed and soon his reputation spread far beyond and into the city itself.

The village became famous. The Chief important. Yet no one knew much about him. When he was not engaged in his work he kept to himself. He had a herb garden and he could often be seen tending it. The Chief and his elders began to fear that as he had unexpectedly come one day he would unexpectedly depart. The decision was taken. They would give to him in marriage the Chief's daughter. She was the comeliest of girls and the Paramount Chief himself was interested. The day after the Master had been informed of the proposal the girl had fallen ill. She died the same evening. It was said that she had never before in her life been ill. It broke the Chief's heart.

Ananse had not had cause to consult the Master for while others slept and dreamt his sleep encompassed a vastness filled with nothing. When tales of magic and wonder and witchery dragged out of so many dreams were exchanged and the Master's powers as an interpreter was talked of in awe by his friends he was silent. Gradually he began to feel left out. He began to feel different. His friends said that if indeed he truly never dreamt then he was different. "Everybody dreamt" they said, .. even the mad".

It was suggested that perhaps someone, some evil force was stealing his share. Could he trust his wife? He was told of the case of a man in a neighbouring village. He too never dreamt. Luckily, it had been discovered that his wife had taken hold of his spirit and denied it that freedom from which dreams emerge. He had sacked his wife and now he was as others.

That night Ananse could not sleep. He loved his wife but what if she was the culprit? What if she too had taken hold of his spirit? He had no children. No one to inherit him. He had once been troubled by this but in time he had grown to accept it as the unfathomable work of God. But suppose it was not? Suppose his love had shut his eyes to the truth? He had once, long ago, been told that his wife was eating his children in her belly. Perhaps those unborn children were not the only ones eaten before birth. He made up his mind. She would have to go. He sent word for her people to collect her. The night she left he dreamt. But when he woke he could not remember it. It too was gone.

The darkness of the Master's hut had not prepared Ananse for the heat and light which bore down on him when he came out. He felt as if he had only recently awoken from a deep sleep to which he should return. He was glad that he had gone to see the Master but he damned his stuttering confusion before him and he reproached himself for having forgotten his dream in the first place.

It occurred to him that he should forget the whole business. But now that he had met the Master he knew that he could not do so. The dream was a voice talking to him and who knew what it had to say. If the Master would interpret its message then he would find it. He had to find it.

But sleep itself now became elusive. Try as he might, he could not sleep. For days on end he would lie awake. His health was affected. He could not go to his farm. His friends reported that some of his crops had been stolen and his traps raided. Before long he could move about only with difficulty. With his wife gone there was no one to look after him. The Herbalist who came to treat him took all his savings. His case, he was told, was a difficult one. His was a sickness not of this world but of another. He was lucky to be still living.

One Friday in the dry season there was a storm. Thunder and lightning seized and closed the skies above the village. People asked themselves what it was that this unseasonal weather portended. But on that night Ananse slept. It was a deep sleep and in it he thought he saw his wife. She was in a far off land and she had remarried. She looked well and she owned a large farm and she had many servants. He, Ananse, was a spider caught in his own intricate web. His friends had turned into insects and were gathered round about him in a circle taunting and mocking him. FULL MEANING He thought that he saw his wife's husband. He was a tall man clad in white and he held a box. It smelt of sandalwood and when he opened it music poured out of it. He saw also that his wife had a child. It was a girl. But she did not look like him. It was the Chief's daughter. They were calling him but he could not break free from the web. He woke with a start, shivering. He rose from his mat and still shaking he peered out through his window. It was still raining. As soon as it stopped he would go to the Master.

When he went he saw that the storm had flattened the Master's herb garden. The flowers lay there, crushed by the rain. The door was slightly ajar. He called out but there was no response. With his walking stick he prodded the door further ajar. He could see that the room was empty. He entered it. It was cold and dark. He felt that he had intruded and that he should leave but he could not. Something in the room reminded him of his dream. He sat down on the bare floor. He could hear snatches of music being played far away. He remembered that sweet fragrance of sandalwood. Gradually it dawned on him that the Master would never come back. There was no need. Even he could now understand the meaning of his dream.

talking drums 1985-05-20 ghana must go the hazardous exodus from Lagos