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Read Time:4 Minute, 47 Second

 

By Emmanuel Iduma

 

 

 

 

 

 


They came

When I heard the shouts of someone who sounded like Joshua at around 5:30 am, on the day after the elections, I walked out of my room, into the sitting room. The people in the living room must have heard the shouts too, because they were all standing when I walked in. I was surprised that Joshua’s mother was not crying afresh. I signalled to the young man who knew the penthouse. “Let’s go,” I said. Someone among the people asked, “Is it them?” No one answered this question, but everyone must’ve heard. 

I led them to the penthouse, staying behind while they climbed in. Not one of them complained about the tiny space, about how they were being cramped in. I was worried about that. But not one of them complained. When all of them were in, I stared at the stairs that led into the penthouse, thinking that if I was a sincere priest I would’ve prayed with them, prayed the twenty-third Psalm, and said the grace. Again, I realized that was an irrelevant thought, but I was powerless in the face of my habit of logic-resistance. 

I went to the living room and sat. I thought of escape, but I feared that if I climbed into the penthouse they would search there, find me and the others. Then I remembered Mr. Olisa and his children, because there were new shouts. Yet it was becoming difficult to think of anything for up to ten seconds; all things at that moment were thinkable, all possibilities became relevant. So I decided to think of nothing, trying again in vain to remember Taibat’s song. 

Then, they came; faces appeared in my living room. I stood up before they asked me to. I looked around the living room, realized I was alone.

There are times when I am dying but I feel like I’m being born again. There are other times when I believe that the world is not spherical, but a straight line. We keep moving, never looking back. I like to think that God found me, that he saw me as one who was in need of something that couldn’t be defined, and he gave me my life back. It didn’t matter that my life didn’t mean much; there were those who didn’t survive Jos. I have not given much thought to essence, or to why I survived. 

There are times when I climb the altar and look at everyone sitting and looking up at me. Then I feel that my life is yet to begin. But I am thirty-six, closer to forty than not. 

The only thing I remember is being carried up, with the noise having ceased. I was told the Police came to the church, or what was left of it, and the men who had been carrying machetes and calling Allah disappeared. I was told other things, fables perhaps: that the men suddenly took to their heels, and a schizophrenic passer-by helped me up, took me to a nearby clinic. But nothing seemed more questionable than the arrival of the police or the passing of a brave schizophrenic. I have lived with that question, and sometimes I have tried to forget it. 

I am talking with the Bishop of the Jos Diocese and he is saying sorry to me, saying these things are bad for the church, for the name of God. I expect him to speak of persecution, but he does not. Instead he speaks of how privileged I am to be alive, how miraculous, and how he is afraid that peace is not coming yet, that things will get worse. Then he says to me that he wants me to leave Jos, to get some air into my head, except if I desire otherwise. I tell him I do not know what I want and he nods, understandingly. He says he wants me to go to the Southwest, he has friends there—it was where he worked before being made Bishop of this Diocese. He wants me to apply for the position of Assistant Chaplain of the Interdenominational Chapel in the old University of Ife, now named after Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a rechristening he doesn’t endorse. 

I come to the Southwest without feeling. It is just like the absence of feeling that accompanies breathing. Before I take up the position in the interdenominational chapel, I go home. Upon seeing my father and my brother, I start to cry. They, too, start to cry even before we hug each other. I am walking with a limp now, it is the scar of survival. So when anyone who knew me before Jos sees me, they know that something is different in my body. I say to my father and brother that I am very sorry—I kneel. My father helps me up, saying forgiveness is the way to renewal. He is speaking about forgiveness in a way that makes me unsure of myself. I do not know whether or not I have forgiven the men who gave me a limp, who attacked my church, who killed Mr Olisa and his children, and Joshua. 

Every time I stand facing the church, I cannot tell whether I am feeling or not. I say the words as they exist in my head, with perfunctory precision, arithmetic compulsion. Whether leading a prayer or reciting the creed or preparing for communion, I make no effort. 

Excerpted from Farad, a novel by Emmanuel Iduma. Published in 2012 by Parrésia Publishers Ltd.

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