Sleeping really deep is one of my attributes, but only a man who was stone dead would have failed to wake up to the screams that pierced through my dreams that hot afternoon. I reluctantly but inquisitively dragged myself out of the house to find out what was going on, and my curiosity was only satisfied when I got to the source of the sleep-disrupting sounds. It was the home of the Ajabors, devout members of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, whose abode was less than a four-minute walk away from mine. (The proximity did not stop me from panting when I got there; weeks of binge eating had begun to take their toll). Mrs Ajabor was deeply engrossed in meting out discipline on Daniel her 12-year-old son with a thick long garden branch, with her husband looking on in a manner that suggested unreserved approval. Continue reading
You can’t provide yourself with an explanation as to why you are there, or even how you got there in the first place. You even begin to feel that somehow you don’t deserve to be here, as there is something about this place that should put it out of your reach. Minutes ago you were sitting on the sofa in your living room, tuned in to MTV Base and fixing your eyes on one of Rihanna’s raunchy videos before dozing off, and now you find yourself somewhere so beautiful. It’s everything the Scriptures said it is, everything you read about. Yes, this is Heaven, the place believers aspire to get to. It’s not a state of mind, not that feeling you get when you win a lottery, nor what Jane feels when Frank works his way inside her. The gates are twelve in number, the streets are made of gold, and the city walls are garnished with all manner of precious stones.
A creature resembling a man, with two pairs of wings, golden hair and clad in easily the purest white cloak you have seen introduces himself to you as your tour guide, and you just figure out that it’s Angel Gabriel. You don’t know how, there is no preconceived image in your awestruck mind, but you just get to be aware of who is who around here. He beckons to the direction in front of you, and you follow him willingly. Your mind is in no frame to ask questions yet, you just follow his lead in a manner the Lord would appreciate back on Earth.
As Gabriel takes you around, you find that there is no need for the Sun, or candles, or streetlights. The whole city is lit up with the glory of He Who Runs Things. You also don’t get to see any toilets, for the people here have perfect systems, and nothing they take in is imperfect. You follow your tour guide into a large mansion and spot David cleaning his harp (somehow you get to know who is who), and he tells you how much he would love to have Don Moen sing here.
“Yea, we could use some vocal adjustments here and there, you know”, Elijah cuts in, “David gets to go off-key sometimes.”
Somewhere around one of the many balconies you find Peter asking Paul a question. Paul responds in words which he doesn’t quite grasp, and he makes his feelings known.
“Why, why can’t you ever simplify things? Even in your epistles! Why won’t people misinterprete you”, Peter reacts.
Not too far off, Noah slips from his chair, and three other residents of this glorious city immediately come around to help him up. Everyone here looks out for one another, there is no giggling over the other person’s mistake. Samuel wishes to move a table from one corner of the mansion to another, and you find Jeremiah hurrying to give him a hand.
You take a look around and you see Manasseh bowed in deep thought. No, not Manasseh the son of Joseph, it’s the other one who ruled very wickedly as king of Judah and only repented at the end of his reign. You pause to think about how one could do so much wrong and at the end of it all, make Heaven just by changing course at the very end.
“It’s not His will for an evil man to perish, on the contrary He wants such a man to change his ways and live”, Gabriel says, patting your shoulder in a way which suggests that all your thoughts are audible round here. “Then again, he who confesses his sins and forsakes them shall obtain……”
He stares at you, waiting for you to complete that passage of Scripture, and after fifteen seconds in which you know no sign of remembering that part of the book of Proverbs, he adds “mercy”, smiling at you in a manner which suggests the words “Look who has not been reading his Bible”.
Looking at Gabriel’s opposite direction for a bit, you spot Esther, Mary Magdalene, Ruth and a few other virtuous women you read about when you still burned with zeal for His Word. They are busy with tablecloths and napkins. They do what they do with so much joy, and beyond that, you can’t help but feel an aura of pure beauty around them, the Proverbs 31 kind, nothing like what you have seen on Earth, a beauty not even the best makeup can bring about. You absorb the purity of what is around you, think of the way you have lustfully viewed other girls you know, and you feel ashamed of yourself.
You accompany Gabriel to the next part of the mansion, and you find the “hundred and forty-four thousand”, mouthing a special song to The Landlord which only they know. These are the ones who refused to taste the lips or thighs of women. “How did they do it?”,you wonder. They did not resort to soap either, you tell yourself, and you remember your friend Max who always says that every celibate man has a rapidly shortening cream jar.
In a matter of minutes, the table is set; you are just in time for lunch. The table is wide enough to accommodate every saint and angel in the mansion, and the glory of God is all around. It’s genuine glory, different from what you try to assume during Sunday service. The menu is unleavened cakes and broth (like what Gideon entertained the angel with), with that “Wedding at Cana” variety wine. You feel that sense of Communion like never before. It’s the real “Nni Nso”, of an even higher grade than that one which easily dissolves in the mouth, and which you often show reluctance to partake in because you are never sure of your “sanctity”. You get to “interview” some of the saints on how they overcame the sinful world you live in, and you notice that Faith and Grace are the common denominators in each response.
While at table seated next to John the Beloved Apostle, your mind gets into pendulum motion with all the questions you have for the Lord. You want to know which pastors are doing it right, whether praying in unknown languages is superior to praying on beads, whether the books of the Bible are 66 or 73 or even more. You want to ask if it’s ok to twerk or do the Azonto so long as it’s in His name, whether it’s fine to have “God Will Make A Way” and “Oliver Twist” on the same music player, or whether there is somewhere in between Heaven and Hell where the torment is only temporary. You feel like asking if rap and rock music are admissible in this place, or whether people like Lecrae and Da Truth were missing the point. You feel the need to find out if it matters whether you approach Him on your knees, if it’s really wrong to kiss and touch your sweetheart until wedding night, and whether 20 naira offering really means “20 naira blessing”. Yea, you want to ask Him whether Grace overrides the essence of Karma, whether full immersion is a truer form of baptism than sprinkling, and whether the notion of “Once Saved Always Saved” really holds true.
Everyone at table seems to hear your thoughts, and a collective sigh slowly rings across.
“Leave doctrines, search and meditate on Scripture, and strive unto perfection”, Moses says to you. “When the time comes, all you seek to find out shall be revealed.”
“Fix your thoughts on Him and don’t let your questions stand in the way of absorbing his glory”, Angel Michael joins in.
All the while, you show hesitation in touching your meal, feeling so unworthy to partake in this communion of saints. Your mind digs out memories of how you tricked you uncle into giving you money for “legal field trip” when the cash was actually used to get Vivian’s handbag, as well as the night when you used your hands to explore Funmi after just 30 minutes of getting acquainted with her, and you want to make a run for it, away from this holy place.
“I know just how you feel”, Isaiah reassures you. “It’s that ‘I’m a man of unclean lips’ moment yet again, but never forget that when sin abounds, grace abounds even more.”
“It’s not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends”, James adds. “He chooses the unqualified and qualifies them.”
After lunch Gabriel takes you to a corner of the wall, and with a flap of his wings something in the form of a projector opens up. The next thing you see triggers a combined feeling of horror and pity. On the screen you see people wailing, their souls up in smoke and worms having a field day with them. You need no guessing where this is, and the time frame within which their pain will subsist. Your eyes pop up with shock however when in the midst of the flames you spot someone who was venerated as a man of God in his lifetime, and who is still being celebrated as a saint today. Gabriel responds to your thoughts with the words “The Lord knows those who are his” and “Not all who call him Lord will get into this city”.
Your tour guide takes you away from all that and taking you back outside on these golden streets, shows you a row of the most magnificent houses you’d ever come across. He points to one made of blue ruby walls, holds out a key, and says, “That, dear friend, is yours…..but whether you will be getting in there is entirely up to you”.
As he pulls back his arm, you wish you could get a chance to take a short peep and find out what treasure has been stored for you in that blue ruby apartment of yours. A crazy thought comes to your head, and when you think Gabriel is a little less watchful, you make an attempt to snatch the key…….
You are back on that sofa in your living room, your legs spread and the DSTV remote control nestling in your loose grip. It’s Wande Cole’s video “The Kick” on air, and you instinctively change the channel to TBN, which you haven’t tuned to in three years. After trying so hard to absorb John Hagee and Rod Parsley’s sermons (each for thirty minutes), your stomach gives a signal and you head to the kitchen to source for earthly lunch, your mind all the while re-echoing the words “If you want that key, you know what to do”.
(Follow this writer on Twitter @Le_Bouquineur)
The month of September is known for unannounced visits from Poseidon (the Greek god of rain), and on that late chilly evening it remained true to type. PHCN had been kind to this tiny neighbourhood at Trans Ekulu in Enugu for some weeks now, but that was not to be the case that day. Groans, shrieks and expletives greeted the air as PHCN promptly withdrew its services which, going by the nature of the weather, would probably not be available until sometime the next day. For the males in the hood, it meant that they had to find alternative means of watching Real Madrid and their fluid football that night; they would probably have to camp behind the window of Rev. Cletus’ house, as only he in the neighbourhood possessed a generator and loved football at the same time.
The power outage mattered little to Nneka however. She had managed to complete her Integrated Science Assignment in the nick of time and besides, the rain could only go to aid her sleep until early the next day, when she hoped to begin another day as a J.S.S Two student in a private school which was a forty-minute drive away from where she lived. To her, the only snag about PHCN’s cowering to the rain was that it robbed her of the chance to try out the new yellow dress, which her mother had sewn for her three days earlier as a gift for her 11th birthday.
By 8:15pm, Nneka already had her seatbelt fastened for an early flight to Dreamland. Back there, power outage did not exist, she had fairies at her beck and call and everywhere was as colourful as a wedding ceremony. Sadly for her, she had to get back to Earth less than 20 minutes later as the door of her room gave way. In the darkness, she tried to make out who it was had had interrupted her dreams. Her eyes met with little difficulty. It was Sam, her mother’s younger cousin who had been living with them for two years since he was relieved of his position as an Accounts Clerk at the Lagos branch of Nigeria Breweries Plc. In family circles, it was somewhat odd for a 30-year-old man to live comfortable off his relatives without doing so much as fend for himself, but Sam couldn’t be bothered. Afterall, Nneka’s parents didn’t seem to mind, he provided much help around the house, and on this particular night, only he was around to look after Nneka. Her parents, both evangelists, had travelled earlier in the day for a Leaders’ Conference in Akure, and would not return in the next 72 hours. Her elder brothers, Kene and Uche, were boarders at missionary schools in Lagos and Edo states respectively.
“Good evening Uncle Sam”, Nneka mumbled in her still sleepy voice.
“Good evening”, replied Sam quickly. After about two minutes in which he treated her to a long surveying stare albeit in the shadows, he eventually let his lips part with the words, “there is something I would love to tell you.”
Nneka was uneasy now. She was wondering what it was that would soon come to her knowledge. Was she to go out and get yet another item from Mama Eze’s kiosk? Sam seemed to love sending her on late errands. Or was it the empty pots of stew she had failed to wash? Sam was not the type to spank her. What then would it be, she quizzed herself.
“I want you”, Sam said.
Want! Want!! WANT!!! Whatever could that mean, she asked herself. The word kept making dance moves in her head. WANT! She was still trying to digest the statement when without warning, she felt her feet leave the floor, and in another four seconds, she felt Sam’s 71kkg frame on her, and her lips swallowed up in his.
Nneka was confused, and not without good reason. Sam was virtually chewing up her lips. She had no idea that lips contained nutrients. She had been taught the six classes of food in school, but which category did LIPS fall into? Carbohydrates? Proteins? Vitamins? Before she was able to dwell on that, Sam had got to work again. His hands had found a pair of soft pawpaws, and he didn’t seem willing to let go anytime soon. Her small low cut night gown meant easier access. It was Christmas come in September for Sam. A wide grin strolled across Sam’s dark face as he treated the pawpaws to squeeze after squeeze. Rather firm and full for an eleven-year-old, he mused. It would be fair to say that no word exists to explain how Nneka felt. Shock? Fear? Confusion? None of these would fit in.
Sam wasted little time there. In a matter of minutes, his hands slid further down her anatomy, where he gently negotiated through a small shrub of grass before proceeding to explore the Wonderland. As his fingers surveyed, Nneka had terror written all over her face scarcely visible on this half-mooned night. There was somewhere there that caused her to jerk as Sam perused. It was as if he felt the need to reassure her, accompanying his movements with whispers of “Trust Me.” A stare which conveyed all she felt was her reply to Sam’s words. He returned a blank stare and a wry smile, then went about his business. Nneka’s confusion showed no signs of going away, but she was wrong to think that this was it. Ten seconds and a loosened zipper later, Sam began to put his most effective tool to use. Sam’s thrusts, which began deceptively gently before going full throttle, showed a release of bottled up energy. He couldn’t be blamed though, being placed on a two-year long libido leash since that evening with the daughter of his former colleague at the NBC was by no means amusing.
Sam’s movements brought back to Nneka memories of a wildlife documentary she had seen four weeks earlier. It had been about a large restless snake which kept crawling in and out of its hole, spewing out thick venom at intervals. Superlatives are lacking to describe the pain she felt. As the minutes rolled away, pain was replaced by resignation, and resignation by desire, which came to play as she held on to his black singlet with a loose but inviting grip when it seemed that his lust had begun to wane. She now felt a strange warmth for the man whom she saw as a monster only few minutes earlier. Her eyes lit up, and even more strangely a smile found its way to her face for the first time that night. Was this love? The love she saw in movies and those of her elder brother’s novels she often sneaked away to read? She couldn’t understand this feeling that now made her receive him with all innocent eagerness, and which was expressed in a fiercer way two weeks later when she tried to fight off the police officers who came to put Sam in chains and whisk him away at the request of her parents. It appeared that the men in black, whose faces seemed unwilling to accommodate any pleasant expressions, would need a lot more than repeated screams of “Leave Uncle alone” to let Sam go.
As Deaconess Mary-Margaret tried in vain to console her daughter who felt so sore at being parted from the man who had let her taste the forbidden cucumber of love, her mind took a short trip around what would have been. She should have acted upon the suspicion which arose every time Sam gave Nneka that shifty look, or the times he went on his tickling routine. She now wondered if the events of that night could have been avoided if she had explained to Nneka those chapters on reproduction which she had curiously stumbled on in Uche’s biology textbooks, rather than going ahead to shout her down. She pondered on how things could have been different if only she had explained to her inquisitive daughter what Antonio Banderas was doing with Angelina Jolie in the movie “Original Sin”, rather than place her palms over the child’s eyes. Oh, if only she had treated Nneka to a discussion about men, about feelings, about the Bedsheet Olympics. She had failed to give her child the sex education she needed. Well, the vacuum had been filled. Sam had taken it upon himself to do the educating, in his own way.