Old Mother Nitala crouched comfortably on her sun-warmed rock, as she had since almost the beginning of days, and prepared to great the next soul. This one approached tentatively, staring about her with wide eyes. When she saw Old Mother Nitala, she stopped.
Old Mother Nitala gazed at this one thoughtfully. She was dressed in white cloth from neck to her bare toes, and clutched a square brown object to her breast. A “book,” Old Mother Nitala had once heard a spirit call it.
“Hello?” the woman spoke. “I don’t seem to know where I am.”
“You are dead, my granddaughter,” Old Mother Nitala informed her.
“Dead?” Relief bloomed in the woman’s face. “Then I must be on my way to Heaven!”
Old Mother Nitala nodded gravely. “First you must travel this path and be judged.” She gestured at the trail behind her.
The woman frowned dubiously at the muddy path. “I’m sorry, but I was expecting something a little different? Saint Peter? Pearly Gates? A host of angels?”
Old Mother Nitala shok her head. “Down that path lies only your judgement.”
“How does it, um… work?”
Old Mother Nitala sighed. “There are three trials, my granddaughter. The first is through the marshes. If in your life you have shown wisdom, you will pass freely. If you have been a fool, the crocodiles will eat you.
“The second trial is through the forest. If in life you have been generous, you will pass freely. If you have been mean or unkind, the wild dogs will eat you.
“The third trial is through the plains. If in life you have been brave, you will pass freely. If you have been a coward, the lions will eat you.
“Pass all three trials, and you will return to the World to guide your children’s children’s children as a beloved ancestor.”
“WHAT??!!!?? That’s not how it is supposed to work!” the woman shrieked. “I taught Sunday School for years! I know my Bible!” She shook her book at Old Mother Nitala. “There’s nothing in here about crocodiles!”
“Look,” Old Mother Nitala said patiently. “This was all very clearly explained in the songs of your Mothers.”
“My mother taught me songs about Jesus, thank you very much, and the Lord our Father who created the world…”
Old Mother Nitala cackled. “You think a man could have given birth to the world?”
“Of course! The Bible says it, and I believe it! You’re just a… a… an old witch or something sent to test my faith at the last moment! Lucifer sent you! Well, I’ll show you!” The woman stalked down the trail to the marshes, indignation in every stride.
Old Mother Nitala shook her head, hoping the woman wouldn’t give the crocodiles indigestion.
The next soul approached. This woman had shaved her head, and was draped in bright orange cloth. When she saw Old Mother Nitala, the woman put her palms together and bowed respectfully. “Can you tell me where I am, Grandmother?”
“You are on your way to judgement, my granddaughter.” Once again, as she had since almost the beginning of days, Old Mother Nitala explained the three trials.
“Oh! So there is no Great Wheel of Transmigration? I cannot be reborn as either mouse or man?”
“No, my granddaughter.”
“It seems as though I’ve been wrong my entire life! This is very interesting! You said it’s down this path?” The woman bowed a final time and walked into the marshes.
Old Mother Nitala smiled. That one would do well, she thought.