My neighbor wants to save everyone in his compound and on the street. Actually his targets are more global, but let’s just stick to the local for now…
He is a fiery born-again fire-breathing Christian now. He wasn’t always like this, but then life caught up with him and threatened to run him over. My neighbour decided to meet life head-on. He is a survivor. He should be admired.
Problem is…he wants to save even the Christians too. If you ask me, I’d say he wants to save ONLY Christians…since nearly everyone I know around here goes to some church.
We were good friends. We laughed long and hard with one another. Our children played together. His wife popped in and out of our house often. We shared recipes…or rather I stole recipes from her. She was born to cook and bake…that woman!
My neighbour was no longer satisfied with just being a good-enough friend and neighbour. He loved my family too much to watch us go to hell. And so he undertook the project to save our souls. I reminded him that we are both acquainted with the same myth & history…well that just made my case worse.
I should have kept quiet. I should have told him I was a Muslim…I mean Christians fear that shit, I tell ya. Those Muslims don’t play! Ask the late Gideon Akaluka* if you doubt me.
Well…I did the whole Namaste thing with him & I got to ‘learn’ that the Pope Benedict is the anti-Christ and that all Catholics will go to hell for worshipping a woman…Like I didn’t know all this before!
I guess it would serve no purpose to tell him that I have no dreams of a home in the skies. I don’t think he would understand that ‘spirits’ have no need of an abode, whether celestial or mundane.
Now we barely speak to each other. Our kids will never play together again…Relationships where respect for difference & consideration for the others’ privacy & right to their ”error” & unique madness is trampled upon usually go this way.
It doesn’t matter that his wife cooks a ‘killer’ okra soup with lots of pumpkin, bitter leaf, periwinkles & dry fish. The memory of putting up my feet in their living room as she buzzed around, placing different treats in front of me, to hold my appetite while she finished up in the kitchen, feels like a stab now.
I won’t go to their house again. Their associating with me means hell fire for them. I love them too much to place such a burden on them…their having to justify to God why they keep me associating with me. They in turn love me too much to watch me perish.
Let’s face it…I’m past ‘’saving’’. So in their wisdom they must have decided to concentrate their energies on more promising buyers for their holy merchandise.
We are sick! Humanity is sick! Nigerians…we are more sick because even our ‘souls’ are damaged!
…While the country burns…while our children’s future is not guaranteed in the hell hole the society & government creates with their every act & utterance…while the streets on which our kids rode their bikes have been gradually & steadily taken over by shops, banks, internet cafes, bars and ‘yahoo boys’…and in the twilight hours…the women who own the night; while we sometimes drive past our houses on reaching home just because of ‘’strange-looking faces’’ around the gate; while our kids grow paler & more restless from being cooped up indoors so a random kidnapper doesn’t take a fancy to them…while our spaces shrink daily & back us into ever stricter corners…while the once passable air we breathed gradually chokes us with ever stronger stench from blocked drains & dust from never-completed road constructions around us…
…What do we do?..Me & my neighbors…we stop speaking to each other.
We inherit a battle from somewhere…I don’t know…Israel, America, Europe…somewhere! What does it matter where now? We are in this tiny, continuously dwindling space in a Nigerian town, and in our battle to survive our shared world as best we can…
…we stop speaking to each other.
When we meet once in a while around the neighbourhood, we compete for whose smile is widest…just so we can assure ourselves that we are civilized, loving folks. At least my neighbour won’t have to battle with his God that he ‘’doesn’t love his neighbor as himself.’’ As for me, I walk away with my nose in the air, telling myself that in my almost inexistent religiousity, I am more loving than their self-righteous pompous backsides! We are both fooling ourselves…but what does it matter?
We can’t talk about our individual problems and our personal triumphs anymore. We no longer trust each other. The conversations going on in our minds would block out any unspoken pain, longing or need…and so neither would reach for the other and say ‘’I understand. Just hang in there.’’ No.
It has to be the preaching…that’s suffices for the indifference. And then there’s the resentment. We use our different ‘Gods’ to protect our hearts one from the other. We’ve been hurt by life…but since no one can rail at life to much effect…we rail at each other instead…with our studied silence…and yes. The names. The labels.
And of course…we put God in the middle. We tell ourselves that one’s ‘God’ is hurt by the other’s ‘Non-God’.
She once opened up to me and told me things I know she wouldn’t trust anyone with. She is very shy & private. She told me about her husband…a side of him that she and the kids alone see. It is not a good side…at least in society.
Now she does not talk with me anymore.
Sometimes she waves cheerily when we drive past each other. If the space is smaller…like in the busiest neighbourhood supermarket, she would remark about how big my child has grown…and then our eyes fall away from each other’s…we mumble vague excuses about having to rush off, smile widely again, and say ‘’later!’’.
I fear that she regrets she was ever my friend. I fear she might lie awake some nights, wondering if I would betray her confidences in my new-found near-apostolic zeal to unearth reasons for every human mystery, and my sometimes myopic ‘stitch-in time-so-you-don’t--same-mistakes-I-did’ creed…and let her husband know that she has been ‘unfaithful’ to their marriage tenets – betraying him by laying him bare before a once-friendly stranger.
I hope she doesn’t regret trusting me.
We are moving away soon, and we might never see each other again. I’m sure both sides will permit themselves a huge sigh of relief for this.
I’d have loved to keep in touch though, just so we could swap stories about this ‘’the other side’’ they’re now so fixated on…depending on who goes first.
My child thinks that our irritation at the noise from their ‘home-church’ is what led to her not being able to play with my neighbour’s children anymore. I assure her it is not so…they have differing school schedules, and do home work at about the same time.
She asks why she can’t just do homework with them since there is always room on the large reading desk in their corridor, where they do homework. I say I can’t go over to help and their mother doesn’t like Math. She asks how her friends get their math homework done then. I say I don’t know.
I am ashamed that I can’t even pick up the phone and ask if she finally got the math teacher she had been searching for to help her children. I fear she could wonder if I had diabolical designs on her children’s’ brains and future, thus the question.
It’s not what she would think that bothers me. It’s the thought of her husband raising the tempo of their ‘’warfare’’ prayers and perhaps increasing the duration that scares me. Having to hear a litany of offences against them from 4.00 a.m every day is punishment enough for my eardrums and mind.
Their enemies never seem to die, and so we’re pulled into a vicarious battle with these evil men and women who won’t let my neighbour simply have peace of mind.
And so I parry my child’s queries hoping she would accept the inevitable soon and let the matter be. It breaks my heart sometimes when I see her cocking her ear to the sounds of their ‘morning devotion’, trying to make out her friends’ voices from the cacophony. Now she doesn’t have to bother. Father has introduced a microphone to the process…the fellowship is growing into a church.
Their tenants are mandated to attend their morning fellowship. The rent on their flats is reasonably low.
Their youngest daughter it seems is destined to be a gospel musician…at least in the parents’ estimation. My child knows the words to a lot of church choruses now. She at least knows that the Holy Ghost kills and destroys…and fire is his preferred weapon.
On my part, I am amazed that she can make out anything from that screeching loudspeaker.
Our moving away will settle a lot of thing I know. For one it would mean the decisive end to our farce of good neighbourliness.
It would mean a re-arrangement of our morning schedule, as our ‘church alarm clock’ would be too far away to rouse us up from dreamland.
…And sadly, it would mean any vague hopes of ever tasting my neighbour’s special okra soup again are perished for all eternity.
~ Temi Ahanmisi
c. Feb 2013.