For the past ten days, I've been home working on my NaNoWriMo novel, now titled "The Golden Chain." The rough draft is almost done. I think I have four more chapters to write. Already, I've exceeded the NaNoWriMo challenge, and I've written more than 50,000 words. Yes, that's 5,000 words per day for 10 days. I had no idea I could make the challenge this month, and I surprised myself by surpassing it already.
Maybe when I grow up I can be a novelist?
For your reading pleasure, here is the very rough draft of chapter 1.
“In the beginning, there was nothing. Olódumare was that nothing and the nothing was asleep. When Olódumare woke up, that’s when all things began. He woke up, and things simply . . . were.” Evaristo Perez, 1999.
No one knew how heaven began; the earth, however, was a different story.
Olófin and the orishas stood in their world, breathless, as Olorún turned towards the empty void of space. Olorún was olo orún, the owner of heaven, and olo õrùn, the owner of the sun; he was all the fire that their world knew; he was their life and their ashé. He reached out with his hand, and placed a tiny spark in the wasted darkness. First, there was just that flicker of light, and then there was fire. It was a small flame, cold and sparse; but the fire knew hunger, and it ate the very blackness that sought to extinguish it. The fire grew. As they watched, afraid of the angry light but unable to turn their eyes away, it ate even the nothing that it touched. Soon it was a raw ball of flame rolling in blackness, red hot and angry; and, it was alive. Oroiña awoke in that fire; she danced, and jumped, and laughed. No one thought anything could live in such heat, but she was there, and the fire was her home. Her joy was maniacal. The flames in space roared; it was a chaotic music that filled the universe.
Some of the four hundred and one orishas who gathered to watch giggled joyously; the fire did not scare them, and it was yet another wonderful display of heaven’s ashé to which they had grown accustomed. It chased away the shadows of the wasted void, giving the material world an ember-like glow, the likes of which they had never seen. Others listened to the snapping flames and watched the strange creature dance and spin and laugh in spite of the painful heat. They were surprised that anything could enjoy something that looked so hot. Others hid their eyes, for they were new to the cosmos, and they were afraid. The orishas were like this for a long time, silent, not speaking among themselves but locked in awe of what Olorún had done.
They were surprised when they discovered the creature had a voice. It was strong and powerful, with timber that shook the fabric of space and time. Never had they heard such a voice. “I’m hungry,” she roared to the night. “My stomach rumbles, and I will eat . . . everything!”
The fire grew; it expanded outwards until the orishas thought even heaven would burn. She wanted to grow, to be powerful and fierce in space like Olorún was in heaven. She challenged him, “I will steal your ashé! I will have the strength of heaven’s sun!”
Olorún stood firm where he was. “Be still, Oroiña,” he called to her. “For things are only beginning and the hunger you feel will never be sated. You can eat, and eat, and eat, and never be full; and once you’ve eaten everything, you yourself will die.”
The power she felt was too great. She was young, new, fresh, and foolish; and even though she was fire, she understood not what that meant. “I must eat . . . everything,” she insisted again, dancing recklessly in the flames that were her home. Heaven shuddered with fear. “Olorún?” asked Olófin, who witnessed everything he did. “What have you done?”
“I created a world,” he said, smiling.
“You have given life to a creature of fire. And she is a lunatic.” Olófin’s brow creased at the growing flames.
Olorún took in a great breath and sighed. His breath was cold, like ice, and it froze the fire until it was a scarlet rock floating in the vacuum of space. Smoke curled around the planet, and Oroiña screamed; the rock cracked, and red lava oozed on its surface. Olorún took in another great breath and sighed. This time it was damp, like fog, and steam rose from the rock floating in space until even its brilliant reds and oranges were hidden from the orishas’ eyes in heaven. Rock and steam muffled her angry screams, but still, the darkness shuddered with her anger. Olorún inhaled one last time, and let his breath out like a powerful gale. It was wet, like water, and the steam thickened until dark storm clouds coated the earth.
The orishas, who had been watching from the windows of heaven – at first mildly curious but now with concern – wondered if there was a lesson to all Olorún had just done, a hidden meaning like the gems found in proverbs, or in the patakís, the stories the great Orúnmila liked to tell them at night when they were gathered together outside. They looked to Orúnmila, and to Elegguá, the two orishas who boasted that they were at Olódumare’s side when everything first unfolded, when their own lives winked into existence as had the creature that danced in the fire. They saw him bent over a great tablet, writing down everything he had just witnessed while Elegguá whispered into his ear. When they saw him writing furiously, they knew that not only was this something new, it was something meant to be witnessed and recorded, studied for the ages to come. For once, someone other than Orúnmila and Elegguá had seen a mystery unfold; and among themselves, they chattered about what it might mean.
Not one of the orishas noticed that the tragic fire-creature was now silent. The only sound in space was the snapping and cracking of cooling rock. Olófin strained his ears to listen, but there was nothing. Oroiña made not a sound. “Is she dead?” Olófin asked Olorún.
“She is mortal, and she is trapped, but it will be eons before she dies.”
“Then what was the point of all this, Olorún? What happens now?”
“We wait. And we watch. You’re good at watching, Olófin. Watch for me, and remember everything.”
“What do you call this thing you’ve done?” he asked.
“Creation, of course – that is what I’ve done. At the core of every living thing is the fire of life. From this fire will be born a complex creature, and we will call this creature Earth.” Olorún was thoughtful as he spoke, watching the billowing clouds that crossed its globe. “The life of earth will be greater than any other life we have created, for it will be sum of its parts. It’s pure genius.” He was proud of himself.
Olorún focused himself again on heaven, and left Olófin alone in the darkness to contemplate the mystery of what he had done. For what seemed centuries, Olófin watched. All he did was watch, even when the orishas grew bored and set their sights back on their home, heaven.
When Orúnmila and Elegguá had returned home to heaven, the sun was setting in the western sky. Everything was bathed in an umbrose light, somewhere between dusk and darkness. They walked by the river that wound through the center of their world, flowing gracefully as it circled their town and traveled to sea. Orúnmila hated being out this time of the evening; there was always a lapse between the setting sun and rising moon, and in the darkness he got lost easily. Thankfully, Elegguá was with him. No matter where he went in the world, he was never lost; it was as if Elegguá had a natural compass and always knew his way home. Quicker than Orúnmila would have liked, the sun slipped below the horizon; and with a final burst of red orange light that was the day’s death-cry, the world went dark. A blanket of stars unrolled in the heavenly sky, their pale, but useless light teasing Orúnmila as he looked up and watched them shine.
“Elegguá?” he asked, a slight tremble to his voice.
Elegguá reached behind and took Orúnmila’s hand. “It’s okay. I can see in the dark, and I know the way.”
Slowly, they followed the riverbank, Orúnmila matching Elegguá’s step so he walked neither too fast nor too slow. A high pitched vibration filled the night, crickets, and a balmy breeze blew back at them from the west. “What do you think we saw tonight, Elegguá?” Orúnmila asked. “I heard Olorún speak, and he told Olófin he was creating a world. That was just a huge, hot ball floating in space. That wasn’t a world.”
“He had to start somewhere, Orúnmila. This was only the beginning. And I hope you watched carefully, and recorded everything I told you to write.”
“But of course.” If Elegguá had not been intent on watching where he walked, he would have seen Orúnmila’s puzzled gaze. “Still, that’s not how our world began. We didn’t begin with fire and flames. Heaven has always been a beautiful place. What kind of world could that be floating in space?”
“And how do you know heaven wasn’t like that?” Elegguá stopped walking suddenly, and Orúnmila bumped into him. Elegguá held him back at arm’s length. “We didn’t see everything, Orúnmila.”
“But we did, Elegguá. We saw everything. That is why the orishas know me as ‘the witness to creation’. I was there when Olódumare began to create.”
“I know, I was there,” said Elegguá. The moon was rising, and it brought a silvery glow to the countryside. It also brought relief to Orúnmila’s face. He could see. “And that is why, Orúnmila, you are not the only witness to creation. We opened our eyes at the same time. And if I’m not mistaken, I watched you open your eyes, which made me first.”
Orúnmila ignored the question of whose eyes opened first; it was useless to argue with him. “Elegguá, this was already here when we were created. We didn’t awake to fire, or rock, or dark clouds. And today it was the face of Olorún who moved through space. He created a creature born of fire. When you and I were born, we awoke to the face of Olódumare himself, and we were creatures filled with heaven’s ashé.”
Elegguá sighed. Orúnmila was just as short sighted as the other orishas. “What was it like before you were, Orúnmila? Do you remember? Do you know? You keep saying ‘we’ awoke to the face of Olódumare. But everything was already here. Olódumare was already awake and creating. We didn’t awake with him. We awoke with him before us.”
“We did, Elegguá. We did awake with him.” In truth, Orúnmila did not believe that. Existence – that was a mystery even he did not understand. A part of him believed that he was always a part of everything; deep inside his soul, Orúnmila knew he shared a connection with everything in the world: the sun, the moon, the stars, and the land; and he knew that a subtle thread wove a complex web between him and all the other creatures in heaven. That thread was the power they knew as ashé, a subtle, vital force that enlivened every shape and form. That thread of ashé emanated from Olódumare; it was Olódumare; and it was the same power that Olorún himself controlled and manipulated tonight when he formed the fire-ball he named Earth. But the creation of the earth disturbed Orúnmila, and not because he found the ball of fire frightening; it was because the ball simply was, and before it was, it was nothing. It was just like his own memories: One day, he simply opened his eyes and saw the face of God smiling at him. At that moment, nothing mattered – especially the how or why of his existence; but as time passed, each day he realized that there was a huge gap in his memories. He could remember nothing of the time before he opened his eyes. Like the fire that became the molten, rocky ball, he simply winked into existence. He opened his eyes, and there he was.
As Orúnmila witnessed the creation of each separate orisha, he was too busy to ponder the how or the why; he simply watched the air shimmer, and the great ashé that Olódumare commanded coalesced. One by one, he watched the orishas wink into existence, and never once had he thought to ask them, “What was it like before you were?” Orúnmila wondered, “Does Elegguá know where he was before he . . . was? Do any of the orishas know? Do they even wonder about it, or are they living their lives blindly, not caring?” Olódumare had charged Orúnmila with recording all he saw, and Elegguá was to help him record the things he missed; and each day Orúnmila fulfilled his duty, he realized that there were patterns and themes to the created world. Just as each day began with sunrise, so each day ended with sunset. Light followed darkness, and darkness light. There was youth, and old age. And if this pattern was found in each created thing, then what was the repeating pattern in their lives? If he simply opened his eyes one day, and was, then would he simply close his eyes one day, and not be?
“What if, one day, I closed my eyes, and they never opened again?” He shuddered at the thought. “Would I simply cease to exist in this world, or would I go somewhere else?”
While he was lost in his reverie, Orúnmila lost most of what Elegguá said. But when he focused on him again, Elegguá was still saying, “All we know is this – we were the first orishas created. We watched as they sprang forth one-by-one. This world,” and Elegguá raised his hands up and out, spinning like a small child, “all of this was already here. It began somewhere. It began before we were.” He stopped spinning, wrapping his arms around his waist and bowing slightly. “How do you not know that Olódumare didn’t do in heaven what Olorún did in the material world today? Neither you nor I know anything that happened before we were.”
Those were Orúnmila’s thoughts exactly, and having Elegguá voice them did little to console the conflict he felt inside. “Elegguá? If we began one day . . . if we simply winked into existence, and opened our eyes, do you think that one day we’ll end as we began? Maybe the day will come when we close our eyes, and that’s it. We fade away like the setting sun. But this world is based on patterns, and if we winked out here, would we wink back in somewhere else? Everything in this world ends – it is the pattern I’ve seen in all my work – and it begins somewhere else anew. How do we end? Will we go somewhere else?”
Elegguá smiled, and he stifled a laugh. “Maybe, Orúnmila, that’s what the new world is all about. Maybe one day we will close our eyes and be no more, at least here. Maybe we cease to exist here, and earth is the place to which we will go when we take our last breath in this world.”
It was something Orúnmila had not considered, and as Elegguá stood there with his head tilted and his eyebrows raised, Orúnmila wondered if the young orisha knew something he did not. He wondered if that world would still be hot and filled with fire when they went to it.
In silence, they finished their walk home.
Within the earth, Oroiña would not be still. Her world was hot, filled with stifling smoke and angry flames and molten rivers that conjoined and became a great sea of magma. In the midst of it all, in the harsh red glow of her world, her prison, she could not help but laugh and dance, and her movement kept the heat rising, and the rock molten. There were times when her frenzy was too much for the earth to endure, and great plumes of lava broke free from the earth. From the sky where Olófin watched, he saw these explosions like smears of red through the dark clouds covering the earth; and as the air under them cooled the rock, it faded from his view. The surface changed with Oroiña’s passions; there were towering mountains that sought to break the clouds, and indeed, some did; there were yawning canyons that dipped so close to the earth’s center that the rock melted, and rivers of molten rock sliced through their core. There were flat lands, and raised lands, and slanted lands; and parts of the globe cracked, rose, and sailed over the fiery sea.
The fire from the center of the earth was all the light there was in space; it was a liquescent, pulsing glow that left the world hanging in twilight. Still, it was enough for Olófin’s preternatural eyes to watch by; and watch, he did. It was all he did.
As he floated in space, and watched, the fire at the center of the earth cooled. In spite of the fire-creature’s lunacy, the damp mists, the dark clouds, and the cold vacuum of space sucked the heat from the earth until the fire was forced to hide deep within. Oroiña went with it; the surface was too cold to keep her bones warm, and if there was one thing she craved, it was the heat. As she withdrew to her own realm, the air above cooled and a great storm came; rain pelted the earth. The gentle heat left in the rocks made steam rise again; but it wasn’t like before, and Olófin watched as a great cycle of steam and condensation cooled the earth until it was just the right temperature for a great ocean to form. All the water in the sky was now water on the earth, and everywhere Olófin looked, there was a vast, rolling sea.
“Once, it was all a sea of fire, and it cooled; and now, it’s a vast sea of water. Was this Olorún’s plan all along?” Olófin asked himself, curious about the watery world.
As the fire had risen, threatening to engulf space, so did the ocean rise until water touched the place that the dark clouds once were. Something stirred in the depths of the primal sea; and Olófin watched as the waters moved. There was ashé in ocean, the same ashé that moved the original fire and made it grow, the same ashé that gave life to the flames, and now, it gave life to the sea. Something not unlike the orishas themselves moved in its depths – it had a head, and a neck, and two arms, but the legs were curiously formed, powerful, scaled appendages that ended in webbed feet. They were suitable for swimming in the water, but not for walking on land. And while the figure was powerful and strong like a man’s, it had a curious grace that made it seem . . . feminine. Just as Oroiña had danced maniacally in the flames, trying to hold all that ashé to itself, so the watery figure swirled in the water, trying to hold all the ocean’s power for himself. Seven great currents spanned the globe. When the creature realized he controlled the water, he laughed, and his laugh created great waves that rocked the sea.
Olófin dove; his spirit moved through the water until he was at the bottom with the strange, deformed creature. He looked at him lovingly. “I am Olófin,” he said, reaching a hand out to it. “Why did I not try to greet the creature who lived in the fire?” he thought. “For surely, the fire was no more a threat to me than is this water and its deep, crushing weight. The spirit can endure anything.” Perhaps that was why Oroiña was so crazy and bitter – she was created alone in a strange sea of fire; and alone she now lived her life. But if there was one thing Olófin had yet to learn, it was this: Fire was feared by all. It was primal, instinctive; and the wanton nature of its power would always need to be contained. Only the most powerful orishas could harness its ashé, and Olófin realized, sadly, that fire would never empower him. It belonged to his brother, Olorún, and he guarded that ashé well.
“And who am I?” the creature of water asked. “Who am I that I stand at the bottom of this wet, watery world, and can control its very tides? Who am I that I stand here, the owner of all this wetness, yet I know not my own name, or how I came to be here?” There was arrogance in his questions; the creature knew he had power, but had no idea from where that power came.
“Was it like this for us when we awoke?” Olófin thought. He tried to remember the moment when he knew, “I am,” but the memories were not there. There was only blackness, and then there was breathe, and then there was light; and then, he was staring into the face of God, Olódumare. Oroiña had seen only fire; and this creature awakened to the dark sea. “You are the owner of the ocean,” said Olófin. “You are olo òkun.” Names had strong meanings to the orishas; by their names, one knew their natures. And, truly, this strange one born of water seemed to be the owner of it all.
“Olo õkùn,” he repeated, mispronouncing the words. Instead of ‘owner of the ocean,’ the creature said, ‘owner of darkness.’ “Or owner of the horrors,” Olófin thought. He trembled where he stood. From the fire was another terrible thing wrought. These primal, earthly orishas had awesome powers, unlike what he knew in heaven.
“I am Olokun, the owner of the ocean and the owner of the darkness.” The strange orisha smiled a wicked grin – he liked the name. Olófin, thankfully, noted he did not mention the darkness. With an icy stare, the creature looked at Olófin. “And you, strange one, are trespassing in my world. Leave. Now.”
“But I have come to great you, Olokun, and welcome you to this world.”
“Welcome me?” asked Olokun. “You came to welcome me to the world when this world . . .” he slung a powerful arm through the water, and a great wave struck Olófin when he stood, “. . . when this world itself gave birth to me? I am a God here, old man,” he said, looking at Olófin’s aged features. “I woke up, and the ocean itself embraced me. It worships me. It does my will. What need of any greeting from you do I have?”
Sadly, Olófin’s spirit moved back to the surface. Greed and arrogance seemed ingrained of the creatures born in this realm, no matter the element from which they were born.
As Olófin began to rise from the sea, something stirred in the salty water around him; and Olófin watched the ocean’s ashé move again. Try as he may, the strange creature could not hold all its power to himself. At the surface of the ocean, where the seven tides met in a great whirlpool, something else took shape. Where the creature at the bottom of the sea was frightening to behold, this one was beautiful to his eyes. Her skin was dark, darker than the night, and the water made her skin soft and creamy. Her hair was in thousands of tiny braids that trailed off into the ocean, and her full breasts floated in the surf gracefully. Olófin felt something like desire rise in him; it was warm and dangerous, like the spark of fire from which Olorún began all this.
Gently, so as not to frighten the creature, Olófin’s spirit moved over the face of the water. “Who are you?” he whispered in the darkness.
“Who am I?” The beautiful woman was lost in thought, lost in the foamy waves and the crashing sea. “Who am I?” she asked again, a bit more loudly. Something swam by her feet; it tickled her skin and she laughed. Soon, the ocean was filled with tiny bubbles and splashes.
Olófin’s jaw dropped, and he trembled with excitement. “You are the mother of fishes,” Olófin said with awe.
“Yemayá? I am Yemayá. I am the mother of fishes.” She giggled girlishly as they swam about her legs.
“And you are beautiful,” said Olófin. The fire that burned within him was too great, and moved to embrace her with his spirit. Something changed, and for a moment, Olófin became more than spirit in this strange world; he was solid, and something not unlike the flesh of which the watery creature was made. “I love you.” It was all he said.
“I feel funny inside,” said Yemayá. “My stomach trembles, and I feel . . . fire . . . burning inside me.”
“It is love,” said Olófin. And for what seemed an eternity, Olófin loved her and made love to her, and he swore, “Yemayá, you will always be honored in my house, the house of the initiates.” Olófin trembled. Why had he called his house the house of the initiates? There was no one initiated to anything that he knew of.
“Yemayá Mayéléwo? Is Mayéléwo part of the name you give me as well?” For in their native tongue, Mayéléwo meant ‘honored in the house of the intiates.’
Olófin smiled. “It is. Always: your name is Yemayá Mayéléwo.” Names were power, and Olófin was discovering that this creature had great ashé brewing inside of her.
“Look at the sea around us,” said Yemayá Mayéléwo. “It is such a curious thing. The sea dances. Its waters whirl. And they sink. They do all this around us. Is it not beautiful?”
Olófin looked in her eyes, and smiled. “Yes, Yemayá Mayéléwo. You are the sea, or don’t you know that? You are the sea dancing, and whirling and sinking.”
“So I am Yemayá Mayéléwo Òkunjómu?” In the tongue in which they spoke, ‘Òkunjómu’ meant ‘the sea dancing and whirling and sinking.’ She smiled; it was warm and radiant, filled with a gentle light that seemed to suffuse the darkness, fighting it back. “I am the mother of fishes always honored in the house of the initiates, the sea dancing and whirling and sinking?”
“That describes you perfectly.” Olófin kissed her. She kissed him back. He rubbed her skin with the salted water until she sparkled like onyx, even in the darkness. She rubbed his hair until it was wet and dark with water. He lay back in the ocean; and she straddled him on top. He grabbed her waist. She held on to his shoulders. He thrust into her, and she rode him like a horse. He screamed in ecstasy, and she cried in pain.
“Did I hurt you?” he asked.
Yemayá rolled back into the sea while Olófin treaded water. In the duskiness now passing for daylight in this world, the subtle ashé that spilled from Yemayá herself into this realm, he saw her grab her belly. It was growing. “Yemayá?” he whispered, fear having frozen his voice. He watched as her womb bloated, and the secret place between her legs split. She screamed; and the world echoed her pain. “Yemayá!”
Olokun roared at the bottom of sea. Already, something was happening that threatened the darkness he craved; and the ocean seemed to boil with his anger. Olófin was afraid.
Yemayá Mayéléwo Òkunjómu went limp in the water as something huge escaped her legs; it fled the waters and flew to the sky. “The moon,” said Olófin as he saw its pale glow enlivening the dreary sky. She moaned, and thousands of stars fled the sea and took their place by the moon; and suddenly, the sky twinkled with thousands of heavenly lights. “The stars,” Olófin whispered. “What is this power this woman has?” he thought. Olokun screamed as Yemayá moaned, and the waves tossed and thrashed her limp body in the sea; when she rolled to her back again Olófin thought, surely, her body must burst. The scream that came from her lips was something mortal; it was a fatal plea for release from her pain. And something brighter than a thousand candles slipped from that secret place between her legs. The moon and the stars fled the sky as the world was ablaze with . . . sunlight.
“The sun!” Olófin yelled over the crashing waves. “You gave birth to the sun, and the moon, and the star,s Yemayá.”
Then, he saw Yemayá Mayéléwo Òkunjómu’s body floating lifelessly in the surf. “She can’t be dead, not yet,” he thought as he gathered her lifeless body in his arms. “Olorún . . . what have I done?” Olófin cried in the ocean, cradling Yemayá Mayéléwo Òkunjómu’s head against his chest.
There was a rushing of wind; and where before they were wet, now they were dry, and they were back in heaven at the place where land and sea touched, the shore. “She’s not dead,” said Olorún, and Olófin looked up to see the world’s source of life and ashé glowing in the eastern sky. “She’s an orisha, like you, born of the waters of earth, not heaven’s pure ashé. But she’s not dead. No, she was the first orisha to create on earth, and her power is as eternal as the sea.” There was a great sigh. It was like a strong wind through the trees, and Olófin heard a thousand voices clamoring in that wind. “She is Iya Moayé,” and when the voice said those words, it sounded so much like the name Yemayá that Olófin barely noticed; but Olorún had called her ‘The Mother of the World.’ “In time, everything thing that lives and creeps and crawls on the earth will know her as such.” There was warmth in his voice, and if Olorún had face and form like the orishas in heaven, Olófin knew he would have been smiling. “The water in heaven is the source of the water on earth. Lay her there so it can fill her with its ashé.”
Gently, Olófin put her still form in the heavenly ocean, and watched for the rising and falling of her chest. It was there; it was subtle and slow, but it was there. When her eyes fluttered open, Olófin rejoiced.
Yemayá Mayéléwo Òkunjómu smiled. “Things are different. Is this your house?”
“This is my home,” said Olófin, “and you are welcome here, in heaven.” As Yemayá watched, with his hands Olófin fashioned a bright, multi colored crown. It was a rainbow, and it was fashioned from the ashé of the love that he felt in his heart for the beautiful creature. “Olorún himself has brought you here, Yemayá, and you are the mother to the world. You are a queen in heaven, and you are a queen on earth, and a queen needs her crown.”
Gently, he crowned her with the rainbow; and lovingly, he kissed her on the cheek. There, in heaven, Yemayá swam away to find the place where the seven great, heavenly tides of creation met; and there, alone in the celestial ocean, she contemplated herself and her crown.