The Games

The way the people who still remembered talked of them, these had been festivals made for keeping a people together. [...]

They were reminders that no matter how painful the journey, our people would finish it, survive it and thrive again at the end of it, as long as our people moved together. That was the spirit of the first rituals. But the hard realities of our scattering and our incessant wandering had long disturbed the oneness these festivals were meant to invoke, to remember, and to celebrate. [...]

The question started like a spark in his head. It became a light, small but sharp, steady, insistent. What were these games for? He felt the disturbance in his body also. There the question was a sort of warmth, a kind of heat that spread itself throughout his being: what was the purpose of these games? The agitation he felt grew so intense it became unpleasant. Densu wished the question would go away in time. It did not. Rather, it drew itself more of his interest. It took more and more of his mind's energy, until he was driven to seek answers from people who might know. [...]

But they had not been brought up in the habit of thinking of all these as parts of a whole embracing themselves. The meaning of the ceremonies of unity had faded. [...]

The games were now trials of individual strength and skill. At their end a single person would be chosen victor, and isolated for the admiration of spectators and the envy of defeated competitors. [...]

Where was the root of wholeness in such a strange ritual of separation? Densu searched his feelings for some possible affirmation, for some hope that the things going on around him could make sense. But his feelings rebelled at being forced to look for some sense in nonsense. The truth Densu saw was a sharp image: a single winner riding over a multitude of losers. Unwilling to accept the meaning of the harsh image, Densu searched his mind for reasons to soften the truth he had seen. But his mind refused to show him any of the smooth roads to self-betrayal. The only reason he found in the nature of the games was something monstrous, a perversion that repelled him naturally, powerfully.

-Ayi Kwei Armah, "The Healers" (Part 1)


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