Selected Fictions I: Twenty-Eight

“Girls’ problem?” she said.

He kept mum.

“You mean your problem is deeper?” she asked.

Readjusting the look on his face, “whose problem isn’t deep?” he replied.

“Well, I will grant you that.”

It was a rainy day, and the tall lady was the third human who almost fell from the slippery ground with meshed leaves. He gestured as if wanting to safe the tall blonde girl from falling. Another passerby saw it and smiled.

And he smiled back.

“You didn’t quite finish the story from the other time,” he said

“What story?”

“The story about tortoise,” he replied

“Tortoise?”

“Yea, Tortoise, you mentioned something about moderation.”

“Aha, I see. I never even started, it’s a really good story.”

“Well,” he paused and continued, “go ahead.”

“Tortoise is a nasty fellow as you might know, he in one lazy vessel. So, he went ahead and stole the yam of his in-law just because he couldn’t do any better. He did it a few times, and then got busted one early morning. Every day for the thief, only one day for the owner, you know the drills. And that one day was not good for the Tortoise. He was tied to a cocoa tree by the in-law at the entrance of the farm. The farm we are talking about here is directly adjacent to a walking path to the village square, so as people walked to the square in the morning, they were shocked to see Tortoise tied to a tree wailing in serious pains. They asked him what the problems were, and he narrated the events as it had happened. ‘Good for you,’ was the modal response, ‘It serves you well’.  Tortoise heard those two sentences a lot as people walked down to the village square in the morning. Some of the people who met the in-law at the village square praised him highly for administering such a good punishment to Tortoise. And then, the day went by, as every other day. At the end of the day, the villagers plied the same route back home. They were shocked to still see Tortoise tied to the tree, wailing and steeped in pains, one could even see stream of bloods that had stained his jagged shells. Immediately the villagers gathered themselves to meet the in law in his hut. ‘Ahaa, you must be a very wicked man,’ ‘Do you want to kill the tortoise?’ ‘Hasn’t he paid his price yet?’ ‘What sort of man are you?’ ‘Are you waiting for him to die?’ Those were the rains of comments and questions showered on the in-law, as he was forced to untie the tortoise.

She paused for a second and continued in the sweet-sounding language he loved to listen to.

“ebu alo ni t’ijapa t’abo ti ana e.”

“Meaning, the first scolding goes to the tortoise, the second, to the in-law.”

“In one word,” she said, “moderation.”

He turned left and saw that the lady is here, the lady he had mentally called chubby. She never smiles and she never frowns, she stood at her usual spot while they waited for the bus. He attempted to say a few words to her like: “Hey, I can’t track the bus on my phone, can you?” And he imagined her reply: “Oh yea, I can’t see mine too, perhaps we should walk to the next stop.” But he didn’t.

As before, her facial expression is neutral enough to be discouraging, neutral enough to be negative; and he barely look forward to speaking with strangers except they are promising a good talk about pan-Africanism, scientism, capitalism, free will or religion.

 But she is here today anyways, the eternal mother.

She is here.

And no wonder, the rain.

“And what mistakes have you made?” he asked the eternal mother.

“Many,” she replied.

“How could you have avoided such mistakes,” he asked again.  “I want to be sure I am not making mistakes, with all of these decisions made every day.”

The eternal mother replied, “there are two ways to this thing. By acting locally on all events, which takes a lot of effort, or by just saying the Truth. That way you take care of all mistakes”

“So much about truth these days,” he quipped.

“This is no ordinary truth, it is the truth with a capital T. Truth to yourself and to others, most people think only of the latter, but it’s deeper than that.”

“Truth cleanse all errors.”

“Hmmm” he thought about it for a minute, then he got completely lost in a day dream.

He was in his local church with his childhood friends. What a life he thought. He could smell the smell of the wood used for the window of the old Sunday school by the stream. He could see one or two termites and he imagined them literally eating the woods. He chatted quickly with his friend Segun about the commandos video game he just had to get himself to play. He told him about green beret and snipers, those were his favorites. He liked drivers too, but not as much. Then one of the Sunday school teachers saw them chatting and cautioned them without saying a single word. They got the message perfectly and acted accordingly.

After Sunday school, they went into the main church, he greeted Mummy Idowu at the usher’s spot, as he bent below the usher’s rope to get in. Then he saw the image of Christ, Blood, and the Cross right in the chancel. Suddenly the great choir started. They started the old great song, by the American composer, Elisha Hoffman. He sang along in his head:

🎶 Are you washed in the blood,

In the soul‐cleansing blood of the Lamb?

Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?

Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?🎶

At the end of the song, he figured: The Truth is the blood, it’s the death of Christ, it sets free of errors, of all mistakes.

“And what should I do about money eternal mother?” he asked

“And what have you done about it?” she replied by asking.

“Well, not much, I really don’t care about it, I just want to live my life, never to worry about money. Then I woke up one morning to an aggressive capitalist world,” he said.

“You must have slept for too long,” she replied.

“I must have, and what should I do now?” he asked again.

“There are very few ways to live your life never to worry about money in your world today; make an awful lot of it, that’s one way.”

“But then, isn’t money a trap, a seductress, the serpent?” he said

“I am glad you saying this, very glad.”

“It could be. But, perhaps you can have your cake and eat it. But not many people can do this.”

“You have got to be bloody careful”

“And one more thing, as you might know, if you think it will make you happy, forget it.” She paused in her usual fashion and continued almost immediately.

“It is just for you to have so you can pretend to be happy. Or worse, to confuse other people who have less that you are happy”.

And then he sighed.

The bus picked him up, together with chubby and a few college students who were glued to their cell phone until the bus arrived. It was thirty minutes late, and the driver was a pale black man who must be in his 60s. He anxiously waited for the bus to reach the Colden bus stop as he continued to listen to a podcast about the obscure 17th century African philosopher, Zera Jacob.

As his bus arrived, he hurried along. He was late for his class on Tuesday, and he didn’t want a repetition. He hates being late to events, just because that gets him anxious, especially academic classes. He was shocked in his second or so class when he first came here. A tall blonde girl had walked majestically into the class that had started twenty-five minutes earlier. His thought swerved to Uncle Chukwuemeka who would have beaten the hell out of him if he had tried that back home while in primary school. He couldn’t even try it in secondary school, not even in college. It’s not something anyone could try, not even Tobi, the bravest of them all.  

He got into the class just on time.

“The idea of linear discriminant analysis originated from a classic result in probability theory called Bayes’ Rule.”

The calm, young professor spoke in his characteristic soft voice like Michael Jackson, except that he is no Michael Jackson. He is a machine learning professor.

“Motivated by the decomposition in the last slide, we can then begin to unpack our simplified discriminant function,” he said  as he wrote on the glossy white board with the same old black marker he used from Tuesday.

Simplified indeed. He thought one of the younger students would have thought. And not that it’s simplified for him too, but just manageable.

“Eternal mother, what should we do with these funny equations taking over our lives and jobs?” he asked.

“Use them.”

“Use them?” he replied with slightly high-pitched tone.

“And what else are you going to do?”

A short silence followed those words, so he quickly added, “These days elections, people, are manipulated with all sort equations camouflaged in like-buttons on flashy LCD screens.” he said.

“Not new my son, and people are saved with the same sets of equations,” she responded

“No need to sweat it, all too human.”

She continued, “technology is amoral, those equations are mere mirrors, it only helps you to see yourself.”

“Use it.”

When he left the class, he saw Jack. He took the same thirty-minutes-late bus, driven by the same pale black man who must be in his 60s, only this time it was five minutes early. He was calmer this afternoon, and He finished his Zera Jacob podcast before he got home.  

“One more thing, eternal mother.”

“Am all ears.”

“They say age is just numbers, do you believe that?” he asked.

“Of course, age is number but it’s not just number,” she replied.

“Why?” he said, with a slightly addled look.

Just is a deep word, and you can’t be seventeen again.”

He looked dull and wished he was seventeen. Then he began to change his mind the same moment he had wished the naive wish.

The eternal mother could read his mind, and she interjected.

“No need to be seventeen, and twenty-eight sounds kinda cool. After all, at that age, you are old enough to know better, and young enough to do it anyways. ”

“You can have it both ways.”

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