There is something about Demi. When this boy is angry, rain clouds gather. When he cries, rivers burst their banks…
We’re excited to share an excerpt from The Half-God of Rainfall, an epic story and a lyrical exploration of pride, power, and female revenge from author Inua Ellams—available September 29th from Fourth Estate.
There is something about Demi. When this boy is angry, rain clouds gather. When he cries, rivers burst their banks and the first time he takes a shot on a basketball court, the deities of the land take note.
His mother, Modupe, looks on with a mixture of pride and worry. From close encounters, she knows Gods often act like men: the same fragile egos, the same unpredictable fury and the same sense of entitlement to the bodies of mortals.
She will sacrifice everything to protect her son, but she knows the Gods will one day tire of sports fans, their fickle allegiances and misdirected prayers. When that moment comes, it won’t matter how special he is. Only the women in Demi’s life, the mothers, daughters and Goddesses, will stand between him and a lightning bolt.
Òrúnmilà, the God of vision and fiction, whose unique knowing is borderless, whose wisdom unmatched, who witnessed the light of all creation, to whom all stories are lines etched deep in his palms, from the heavens above Nigeria read the qualm of oncoming conflict, shook his head and looked down.
The local boys had chosen grounds not too far from the river, so a cooled breeze could blow them twisting in the heat. The boys had picked clean its battered palms, leaves left from previous years, to make this their grounding, their patch, their pitch. These local lads levelled it flat, stood two shortened telephone poles up, centering both ends of the field. Then they mounted tyres, strapped one atop each pole and stitched strips of fishing nets to these black rims. Court lines were drawn in charcoal mashed
into a paste and the soil held the dark pigment, the free throw lines’ glistening geometry perfect.
They called it Battle Field, The Court of Kings, The Test, for this was where warriors were primed from the rest, where generals were honoured and mere soldiers crushed. Basketball was more than sport, the boys were obsessed.
They played with a righteous thirst. There were parries, thrusts, shields and shots, strategies and tactics, land won and lost, duels fought, ball like a missile, targets locked, such that Ògún, the Òrìs·à God of War, would stand and watch. He’d stand and watch. The Gods were watching on.
One child, named Demi, was kept from play. He was banned.
He’d crouch on the edge of the court watching boys turn and glide in the reach towards the rim, a chasm, a cavernous emptiness between him and them.
He was banned from games for if they lost, tears would come. Demi would drench his shirt, soak his classroom and flood whole schools as once he’d done their pitch, the soil swollen, poles sunk, it all turned to swamp for weeks. Their lifeblood, the balletic within them, their game had been stalled.
They never forgave him turning their world to mud.
They resented more than they feared Demi and called him ‘Town Crier’, loud, mercilessly chanting this as they crossed over the brown orb, dribbling, they’d call Town Crier! Watch this! They worshipped Michael Jordan, ripped his moves from old games. They’d practise trash-talking, those dark boys, skin singing to the heat. They’d try to fit Nigerian tongues round American accents—close but not close enough—Dat all you ghot mehn? Ghottu du betta mehn, youh mama so fat, giant clothes no fit cover her hass! till a fist-fight broke through their game and war spilled out, the Gods laughing, the ball roling towards Demi… who, that day, bent to scoop it up, desperate to join their lush quarrel and all he asked for was one shot, the five foot four of him quivering on the court. No said Bolu, stood tall, the King of the court You’ll miss and cry. Boys, grab him!
Demi fought in their grip, eyes starting to water, Just one shot or I’ll cry and drown this pitch he screamed, his voice slicing the sky, clouds gathering over. You small boy! You no get shame? Remember this belt? Pass the ball before I whip you even harder!
But the King’s voice hushed as the earth began to melt, the soil dampen, telephone poles tilt and great tears pool in Demi’s wild eyes. Far oﬀ, Modupe felt that earth wane. Modupe, Demi’s mother, her fears honed by her child, knowing what danger wild water could do let loose on land, left everything—her ears seeking Demi’s distinct sobbing—the market where she worked, utter chaos in her wake, in her vaults over tables stacked with fruits and fried goods, the air parting for her, the men unable to find fault in the thick-limbed smooth movement that was her full form. Back at the court, Demi held on as the boys waltzed around his pinned-down form beneath the threatening storm One shot oh! Just one! the arena turning mulch beneath them. Alarmed, the King yelled Fine! But shoot from where you lay. Demi spat the soil out his mouth, hunched till he could see one dark rim, gathered his sob back into him and let fly the ball, his face down, crunched.
Years later Bolu would recount that shot. Its arch.
Its definite flight path, the slow rise, peak and wane of its fall through the fishing net. Swish. Its wet thwack on damp earth, the skies clearing, then silence. Again Bolu said, pushing the ball to his chest. Again. Demi, do it again. And the crowds went insane.
The rabble grew and swirled around them on the plain of damp soil chanting Again! each time Demi drained the ball down the net. Modupe arrived and craned her neck but couldn’t glimpse Demi, so, a fountain of worry, she splashed at one. What happened? Tell me! You didn’t see? Town Crier can’t miss! He just became the Rainman! Make it rain, baby! Yes! Shoot that three! Ten more shots, each flawless, and they hoisted Demi onto their shoulders, his face a map of pure glee.
Two things Modupe would never forget—that glee when Demi became the Rainman was the second. The first, the much darker: how Demi was conceived.
Excerpted from The Half-God of Rainfall, copyright © 2020 by Inua Ellams