I was tired. So I didn’t go to church. I seem to have reasons every Sunday not to. That’s what I tell myself anyway. Otherwise how can I explain the fact that the baby that was christened the last time I was in church should have started tottering around his parent’s living room now?
“We all know the number 3 has special significance in the bible.”
I wondered what I was doing there: at the fellowship. I think it was boredom at home that pushed me to go to the local fellowship cell meeting at 6PM in the evening when I hadn’t been there for so long. Maybe it was loneliness. Not since she …
I thought for an instant when I showed up that they were going to welcome me as a new member. I could see the surprise on the face of the cell leader. He had called so many times to convince me to come around for the weekly Sunday evening fellowship that he had finally got the message and stopped calling.
I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, but no such luck. I was invited to sit right at the front beside the cell leader. He seemed to direct most of the discussion on the topic at me.
“Three crosses on Golgotha. Peter denied him three times. Satan tested Jesus three times. The list goes on and on.”
“But today, we are going to bring it home to our level. We won’t be all spiritual about this topic. Someone said the best way to beat temptation is to avoid it, but that is usually not possible. In fact by the time you know about it, you are already being tempted. I have heard some people say if they had been Peter, the fact that Jesus had told them already what would happen would give them the courage to resist denying him. Especially knowing that he was the son of God.” said the cell leader.
“Well. Let me say if Peter had succeeded in not denying Jesus three times before the cock crowed, what would that have made Jesus? ” he continued.
Everybody was thinking it. Despite the fact that it was a reasonable answer to something that didn’t actually happen, I guess a lot of people still consider it blasphemous. You can see the discomfort on their faces and several people fidgeted on their seats. As he was looking at me again, I said “A liar.”
“Correct Bro”. I still don’t understand why he called everybody “Bro”. I guess it is more friendly and less “spiritual” than “brother this or brother that”
“But of course the Son of God cannot lie. So some people use this scenario as a basis for predestination or pre-ordination. But that is a discussion for another day, but note that the fact that God has given us free will means we are in control of the decisions we make and to a large extent the outcome. ”
“Now who thinks if he or she had been in Peter’s position, he or she would not have denied Jesus? Anyone?”
There were no takers. But secretly I thought I would have been able to damn it all and go for broke: that is, I would not have denied Jesus. The discussion wafted around me. I kept enough presence of mind to answer the questions asked directly of me. I literally thanked God when the fellowship closed with a brief prayer. I was invited to stay for light refreshments afterwards but I had a ready-made excuse: I just couldn’t wait to get away.
“Bro, I will call you during the week. There is a men’s meeting coming up and you should attend. Really.”
What have I got myself into?
The drive home was uneventful. But I couldn’t get the topic of discussion out of my mind.
I must have fallen asleep in front of the TV because I suddenly realized I was looking at “static” on the screen. I got up slowly, and headed to the bathroom. Paid my “water rate”, washed my hands then brushed my teeth, and hurled myself into bed after putting on my pajamas.
“Really Peter. You cocked that one up. But thank God for second chances.” I thought.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Think about it. Bill Gate’s got what – 67 billion dollars mostly in Microsoft shares right? Is that cash? No. Well you could say he could cash most of it out now, but would he ever? Capital No!” I thought I knew him. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place my finger on where or how I knew him. It was a feeling. Like someone you have been talking to over the phone for a couple of years but never met. Also, I was too busy wondering how I came to be dressed up in what looked like a mid-eastern costume. Maybe I was on some movie set?
“Stay with me now. I am trying to tell you something. Now what if, just for a moment, now what if you, yes you, could get the combined wealth of all the 100 men on the Forbes list in gold right now, right here?”
“Just think what you could do with that kind of money!”
“You could get any girl you want!”
“I know, I know. You don’t want just any girl. You want that girl. Story of my life. Remind me to tell you about it sometime. But really, you just think you don’t. But with that kind of money, you could have the last 5 Miss World lined up and attending to your every need! You don’t think you want them right now. I get that. But I assure you, you will change your mind if they are right here smiling at you. Tell you what. Just to sweeten the deal, let’s include Wunmi in the list. Fresh off the boat with a degree to boot. I know you liked those pictures you saw. What if you could meet her in the flesh and she said yes to your every question – even before you asked?”
“OK. OK. You are a brother right? Brothers know how to roll. You could have every luxury car brand out there customized for you! A different car for every day of the year. Not to talk of the bada-bling you can accessorize with that kind of cash!”
“All for the limited edition, limited offer of just saying I am the king of all there is. Don’t you think that is a bargain?”
“I know what you are thinking. What if the world ended right now? What if there is an earthquake and you die? What if the big man decides to drop down for the second coming right now? Are you going to live your life a collection of what ifs that may never happen. Even J.C. says not to worry about tomorrow, today has enough evil etc, etc. Well, let me tell you. Ain’t no earthquake going to happen in the city of God! And chill, smart boy like yourself know there are more people who haven’t heard the good news than you can shake a fistful of gold dust at. Besides, you could recite Psalm 51 in a minute and be home for dinner before the trumpet sounds. But in the meantime, get the cash while it is good for the getting!”
“Say it with me now. All I need to do is say I am the big boss man!”
“OK. You don’t believe me. Let me show you how we roll.”
In front of me appeared possibly the most beautiful women I have ever seen either in the flesh or on the big screen. Their smile was enchanting. It seems all they wanted to do was serve me. But they kept just out of reach. Besides them was stacked so many gold bars, they blocked my view of the valley beyond.
“See what I am talking about. Besides how do you intend to get out of this place?”
I wasn’t sure how I got there in the first place. It looked like miles and miles of desert in all directions.
“But check out that ride over there. Isn’t it just bad! That’s not Chrome on that baby bro.” I wondered where I had heard that “bro” before.
“That is Platinum. That car is got so much armor going on, a nuclear missile couldn’t scratch its fender. ”
“All you have to say is I am the big boss man and you have hit the jackpot baby!”
I licked my lips. Despite myself, I liked what I was hearing. I looked up guiltily at the sky. It was still clear. One couldn’t wish for a better day to be alive. Maybe I can beat this guy at his game. But it would be tricky. What if I said what he wanted without actually saying it. That wouldn’t be a sin right? But the question is how to say it without actually saying it.
“You mean I get all these if I say you are the big boss man.”
“Trying to trick me boy? Trying to be smart eh? I have been at this game before you were an embryo! Didn’t the good book tell you that out of the heart proceed all wicked things? Don’t you know it is not what you say that matters but what is in your heart?”
“Wrong answer padre. Here is your reward!”
Instantly I was at the top of a mountain looking down. I could see the world laid out like a vast map built of Lego parts. Looking down! I realized I was upside down! Something was dangling me by my left leg over the precipice of a very steep drop! I kicked madly with my free right leg and started to scream, but to no avail. Whatever had me by my ankle had a vice-like grip.
“See you in hell!” he said. I was free!
I hurtled down at break-neck speed. The ground getting ever so closer. I screamed all the way down. I could hear him all the way down taunting me. My face made contact with the ground! I could feel the dirt in my mouth. I am dead.
I was still l screaming when I came awake. I was gnawing on the sideboard of the bed. I sputtered and spit out the wood. My heart was beating so wildly I thought I had died and gone to hell. But the AC was going full blast and the sweat cooling rapidly on my skin as my heart rate slowed down to normal gave me a chill. I rubbed my hands over my arms and felt the goose pimples.
I sat back on the bed. I looked at the time. It was 2 O’clock. I don’t think I would be able to sleep again. That felt so real I could have sworn I was there. What was I going to do till the morning?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Wow! I didn’t think you had it in you. Forty days and forty nights! Just like the Israelite in the wilderness right? Well, it is over now. I am sure you are very hungry! And thirsty!”
The hunger was OK. It was the thirst that was threatening to drive me mad. I didn’t want a cup of water. I wanted a Jerry can! Or two!
“Luck you. See those water jars over there. ” There was a row of about 10 huge earthen jars right there in front of me in the desert.
“Just like the wedding in Canaan hey? I must tell you that wine was exquisite. I have never tasted anything like it before and since. The real Jesus juice! You cheated Mon Homme! You don’t have to tell me the secret. We both know you used grapes from heaven to make that wine. ”
“But that is in the past. The future begins now. Help yourself. Why die of thirst in the midst of plenty!”
It was all I could do to get to the first of the jars. I pried open the lead and dipped my cupped hands in and took a mouthful. It was very sweet wine! It did nothing for my thirst and I knew if I drank too much of it, it would just worsen my situation.
“Not wine! I need water!”
I went quickly from one jar to another. Same content. One more jar left, though I wasn’t expecting anything different. My despair and desperation was obvious.
“Wait. Wait. Look. If you can change water to wine, how difficult can it be to change wine to water?”
“You know you want to.” He laughed out loud.
I opened the last jar and was not disappointed: it was full of the same sweet wine.
He rubbed his hands together. “Why have power if you can’t use it? What is the purpose then? If you can’t enjoy it a little? Don’t you think you deserve some slack after your 40-day sojourn in the wilderness? Even the Israelite had manna and water.”
“Wine is after all not good for the king so the good book says. That should encourage you to do what you need to do. There is no way you are going to make it to the city of God in your condition. Talking about wine. Why are some of your devotees so hard-assed about it? All that nonsense talk of non-alcoholic wine. When we both know it was about 10% proof and wine was a stable in those days. It is mentioned at least 235 times in the bible. Believe me I counted. Yeah. I know. Too much free time. What is a man to do?”
“Wine. Wine. Wine. In the good book. Almost always along the advice to enjoy oneself. Along with bread, honey and milk. And talking of time, my minions are on a roll convincing men of the implausibility of your actually being the son of God not to talk of the second coming being something that would really happen. In fact, we have achieved the “perpetual motion” of unbelief and sin if one could call it that. We don’t even need to do anything anymore. Men are so busy putting up laws that aid and abet our purpose and killing themselves that we just sit back, relax and have a Saturday evening out eating pop-corn and watching them: one continuous sinful movie of blood, sin and gore!”
“Where was I?”
“Yes. Yes. Yes. Wine is good. Wine is not good. Enjoy your wine. Wine is not fit for kings. Wine is not for princes. A little wine for your many infirmities. Make up your mind would you!”
“Well, no one ever said that about water. So go right ahead and change the wine to water and have a good long refreshing drink!”
“OK. OK. I know what you are thinking. Thou shall not live by bread alone. I agree with you completely. But nowhere did the good book mention water. What are you waiting for? You know you want to do it. Just go ahead and will it. I can see it in your eyes. Don’t be a blushing bride now. It is only you and I here. And I won’t judge you. I promise.”
I was shaking from the thirst. I was close to being delirious. The Sun beat down mercilessly. Maybe he was right. A little water would help me resist any temptation he may have up his sleeves to tempt me with. But then maybe not. Maybe this was the ultimate temptation in progress already? If I just think it and don’t say the words, does it count? I stared into the depths of the wine-filled jar and my eyes swam. I grabbed hold of the lip of the jar with such force I thought it would crumble under my fingers but I could feel from the smoothness that it had been fired to a rock-hard consistency.
Suddenly I could see all the way down to the bottom of the jar. The wine was no longer wine. It was water! I dipped in my hand and sucked hungrily at the content of my cupped hand. It was so cool it could have come from a refrigerator.
“Gotcha!” he screamed with glee behind me. I felt myself upended into the jar head first. I tried to struggle but it was no use. He was too quick. I was drowning in less than 5 feet of water.
I came up gasping for air. I was in the sea! Fortunately, there was a plank floating past. The seas was so rough, the plank almost brained me in my attempt to get on top of it. Lightning flashed across the sky. It was dark. The sea raged. The rain came down with such force it stung my face, my arms and my back.
“Don’t look so shocked. That is what we call a storm in these here parts.” I couldn’t see him. But he was there. His voice came from above; from around; from within. “I am everywhere!” he laughed.
“But not to worry. You are the original storm trooper right? Just command it to stop if it is getting on your nerves. You are not scared are you?”
The waves were 100 feet high. It was all I could do to hold on to the plank. I was drinking the salty water every few minutes whenever a wave broke over my head.
“Or you could walk on the water if stopping the storm needles your need not to interfere with the grand scheme of things: the grand design. How about it? I have seen magicians do a similar trick, but I have to hand it to you, no one comes close to your showmanship. I could almost not believe my eyes that day so long ago. You doing the moonwalk on water. And believe me, I have seen it all.”
“What’s one more sin. Do it already!” he yelled over the thunder from the lightning renting the skies.
“You are going to die if you don’t!”
I realized I was in more trouble than I could handle.
A gigantic wall of water rose up in front of me and blocked out the sky. Here is why I die I thought. Heaven or hell? I got pulled under and dragged this way and that, but then I was up again and the rains beat down like heaven was weeping? Weeping?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Weeping? Water on my face? I must have drifted off. I didn’t realize I had left the windows open. I could see the lightning and hear the subsequent thunder. The wind was blowing the rain into the room and I was almost drenched. I got up and dashed over to the window slamming it shut. The bedding was soaked.
My second pair of pajamas was in the wash so I put on a dry pair of briefs. I dragged the mattress off the bed and put it on the floor. I went over to the wardrobe and brought out the Duvet. I spread it on the bed’s frame. It won’t be comfortable but at least it was dry. I didn’t expect I would get any sleep before morning anyway. But it was still too dark to do anything else.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“What insolence! Speaking back to the high priest like that!” it was the slap that brought me to full consciousness. I tasted blood on my lips. I could not keep from blinking my left eye continuously, something was trickling into it and it made me very uncomfortable. Probably blood. My head hurt. A lot.
The man who had slapped me looked ready to repeat the action. I cringed.
There was a crowd. Their laughter was one continuous taunt. “Safe yourself, Son of God!” they yelled. Then they burst out laughing. The crowd moved in on me. Poking me in every conceivable part of my body. I twisted every which way in reaction. Some of the jabs were merely ticklish, but several were really painful. The spite was palpable in the air. I felt as if I was suffocating. My body felt as it had been stretched and passed through a ringer. Every inch was on fire from the pain.
I realized they thought I was Jesus. I could hear the shouts of “crucify him” emanating from the crowd. It started low then built up into one continuous chant. “Crucify him!” they screamed!
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! How could I be there? Their cloths didn’t look like anything I had seen before. And I was in something similar but it was in tatters and soaked through with blood.
In my bewilderment, only one thing came to mind. I needed to get out of there! I needed to make them understand that I was not Jesus!
“But I am not Jesus!” I screamed as I was dragged across the courtyard of the high priest’s compound.
“Well, why didn’t you say so since? You had your chance. You refused to answer the high priest. Sorry, Barabbas disappeared like the wind once we released him. Though I don’t think it would have made a difference even if he was here. The pardon is already granted and there is no reversing it. But not to worry, knowing him, he will soon be back where he rightly belongs! Unfortunately for you, we have to hang someone or forfeit our own lives. We go to the hill! Let us string him up!”
The crowd roared its satisfaction!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I must have blacked out because when I came to, I was lying down with my back to the ground looking up at a huge man standing over me. I tried to move but could not. I had been tied to a cross with heavy ropes across my forearms. I felt a pinch in my left palm. I looked over and watched in horror as a man kneeling down balanced a huge nail about 10 inches in length and as thick as a finger in the palm of my hand. He was trying to find a “good” spot. Silence descended on the crowd. I looked up in the direction in which the faces I could see were pointed expectantly. The huge man had hefted a big iron-headed mallet in his hands. He brought it up over his head, and held it there for a moment. I heard several people in the crowd gasp. Then the mallet descended like a ton of bricks! The pain of the nail going into my hand was unbearable. I saw the end exit the back of the wooden beam to which my hand was tied. I started screaming . The crowds scream mingled with mine. But they weren’t screaming from pain. They were screaming from pleasure!
I came awake. I had got my hand trapped in one of the curled springs in the bed and the sharp end had scoured my palm. There was some blood but not a lot. I was trying not to get it on the Duvet when the cock crowed?
But that is not possible! But it crowed again. Twice.
I was living in a concrete jungle. I could bet my last Naira that there was no living animal except maybe cats and dogs anywhere in my immediate neighborhood. Any chicken around was lifeless, plucked, cleaned and frozen solid. I am on the 7th floor of a serviced apartment building. There could be no cockerels around.
My computer’s screen was flashing in the dark. The “crowing” sound came from the digital software alarm installed on my laptop. I couldn’t honestly remember if or when I had changed the alarm’s sound to the crow of a cockerel. But more surprising was the fact that the alarm had stopped after the second “ring”, when usually I had to get up from the bed and shut it down as it never stops by itself once it starts. It just blinked silently in the dark.
The Sun was starting to rise.
I closed the laptop’s lid and sat there immobile in the dark. I don’t now for how long. I thought of Peter and Jesus. Then Peter. Then Heaven. Then Hell. How easy it was to get it all wrong.
I picked up my phone from the bedside table. I dialed the cell leader’s number. It rang repeatedly but no answer from the other end. It was quite early but not that early. Most people should be up and about by now. If only to beat the traffic going into the Island. It was after all a workday: the first working day of the new week.
I pressed the re-dial button. This time I got through after the third ring.
“Hello Sir. Sorry to bother you so early. When is that men’s meeting again?” I asked the cell leader over the phone.
“Bro, let me get back to you in a couple of hours.” The line went dead so quickly I didn’t even get a chance to say anything further. I could almost “see” him turn over and fall back asleep.
Maybe if I called once more. That will make it three times. Maybe I will get the answer I want: on the third call.
I pressed the re-dial button.
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Update (09/06/2013): I think most of what an FB contact said (below) after reading the story (above) may be true. I lost my muse (my lame excuse for the uninteresting stuff I have been writing). I promise to try harder to “change” – it hasn’t been easy – but the best I can do is continue to try (I think?)
“Ur story is too long and boring. Same story, unarranged . No wonder your stories don’t provoke discussion or argument.
Though you can write but you are not dynamic in your style of writing.
That makes it boring and very unstructured.
It lacks that sense of humour you have. And your writing shows how stubborn you are and that you lack change.
And don’t respond to change.”