Some Deaths are Worlds Apart

MANGU WAS something of a provincial rural town comprising several small villages with a large Christian population. The people were very generous to us, very kind, very accommodating. The medical staff, particularly the physiotherapist, Dr. Joseph Mamman, a native of Langtang, became our family. He was a very kind person, Dr. Mamman, and he treated Wura and me with affection and understanding, as though we were his younger siblings. He had taken a special liking to Wura on our first meeting with him. Wura, he said, had impressed him by the way he had responded to the various questions that had been put to him and by his zest for knowledge. He was around thirty eight, Dr. Mamman, and engaged to be married to Florence Ayuba, a very pretty damsel (that was what he called her, beaming with a smile, the first time he introduced us—“my damsel”, he had whispered) who taught English in one of the two secondary schools in Sabon Layi. Dr. Mamman adored her, and he made no bones about his intention to marry her as soon as she was ready. He had been trained, he had told me one day, at Ahmadu Bello University as a physiotherapist before proceeding to University of Illinois in the United States for graduate studies. When he returned to Nigeria, he joined the medical staff of Mangu Rehabilitation Centre on account of his father’s staunch membership of Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN), the church that owned the hospital. He enjoyed his work considerably, he said, and one could see that in the amount of time and energy he put into it.

At times Dr. Mamman drove me to Jos in his beat-up Mercedes to see the city or meet some acquaintance of his. That was how I fell in love with Jos, with the hills and the people, with the weather, which was pretty cold in November and suitably balmy in January. I fell in love with potato, and the variety of ways in which it was prepared, and with Mrs. Alice Pam, who helped us settle into the social life of Mangu. She was a very kind woman, Mrs. Pam, and often ensured that we were comfortable. She had recently been widowed—her husband had died while working in a construction site when he fell some fifty metres onto the piles of rubbles below from a scaffold—and had been distraught with grief for many months. When we came to Mangu, she had not stopped mourning him but she had become more cheerful, and because I loved to listen to her speak, I became something of her confidante, sharing in the solitude of her bereavement. She was the head of the kitchen department in the hospital and she taught me to cook traditional Berom dishes. Every evening after a session of physio-exercise with Dr. Mamman, I would wheel Wura to the indoor games section of the hospital where he would join other disabled students to play scrabble or chess, and I would return to spend some time with Mrs. Pam or with Dr. Mamman in his apartment in the staff quarters. Those evening visits to Dr. Mamman’s apartment were a welcome relief from the tedium of daily life in Mangu. Florence, Dr. Mamman’s inamorata—that was what he also liked to call her—was about two years my senior. Like Dr. Mamman, she was open-hearted, but she lacked the former’s enthusiasm for literature and philosophy, the two subjects that often featured in my discussions with Dr. Mamman every time I was in the apartment. Her main interests were music, gardening and teaching. Most time when Dr. Mamman and I were busily arguing one point or the other about literature, she would withdraw to the reading table in the room to commence marking and grading scripts, setting assignments and writing lesson notes while listening to music—usually gospel music—on a portable radio with the volume turned low.

It was in the course of these visits that, one Friday night in early December, Dr. Mamman suggested we drove to Jos for sight-seeing and to see a ‘special friend’ of his who had recently returned from the United Kingdom. This special friend, he told me, would interest me because he had strong opinions about books, about some of the things we talked about, although he was also queer in a funny way.

“How do you mean queer?” I asked Dr. Mamman.

“Well, let’s just say that he can sometimes say outrageous things, but you needn’t worry about that. He is a gentleman to the core.”

It was a great idea; at least it would free me from the ennui that often characterized Saturdays in Mangu. In the morning of the following day, I woke up early, washed Wura’s upper body with a light sponge and warm water (the whole length of his two legs was in POP), served him his breakfast, and at 9.30 I wheeled him to the workshop section of the hospital where he had developed a friendly relationship with the workers.

“We should be back by evening” I said as I handed him a small bag containing his writing materials, a novel he had been reading, his portable transistor radio, and a sandwich for lunch.

“Enjoy yourself,” he said as I left him to the care of Baba Patego, an old iron bender of whom he had become very fond. For the journey, I wore a pair of stone-washed jeans and a polo shirt—I felt comfortable in them, and I liked the freedom they gave me.

The thirty-five minute drive to Jos was pleasant, with the cool breeze of the countryside blowing into our faces and the idyllic view of the villages offering a delectable contrast to the anticipated hustle and bustle that we would soon get immersed into in Jos. In Jos, we drove round for a while, visited the popular Terminus Market where we shopped briefly, ate meat pie in a bistro in Farin Gada, and when the sun had begun to grow somewhat sultry, we decided that it was time we proceeded to Barkin Ladi to see Dr. Mamman’s friend. We listened to Fela’s ‘Army Arrangement’ on Dr. Mamman’s car stereo as the car sped along, and Dr. Mamman began to say something about Babangida’s latest political gimmicks.

 

“I wish Orkar’s coup had succeeded”, he said, sighing. I shot him a sidelong glance, and I saw that his forehead had furrowed over. When Major Gideon Orkar attempted to oust Babangida from office five months ago, he had, before the coup was consolidated, announced the excision of five key core northern states from Nigeria and had directed all citizens of the Middle Belt and the south living in the north to return to their respective states. This must have been what Dr. Mamman was thinking as we listened to Fela’s denunciation of the military class. Dr. Mamman was from the Middle Belt and many of his kinsmen had been indicted in the coup. I knew he wanted me to say something in response to his statement but I didn’t know what to say. At that time in my life I had become a little apolitical, a bit unconcerned about the issues of the time. This state of apathy had begun in the wake of Lawal’s departure for Kano where he served as a Youth Corps member, and it had worsened after the death of my mother. It was an apathy I regretted very much but one to which I had no solution. Even Fela’s music, which in other times used to move me, could not do the magic.

 

“If the coup had succeeded, nothing would have happened.” I said suddenly.

Dr. Mamman, visibly surprised, gave me a quick glance before shaking his head in consternation. “Why did you say that?” he asked me.

 

“Nothing ever happens after a revolution. Things either return to how they have always been or they get worse”.

There was a short pause.

Then Dr. Mamman said, “I’m not sure I agree with you. Orkar had good intentions. He was a revolutionary and he wanted to change the status quo. It is just unfortunate that he was a bit too impulsive. He should have waited until he was sure that the coup had succeeded before making that speech on the radio. We in the Middle Belt have long been side-lined, so we understand what he was trying to do. Apart from that, look at how things are; the country is going to the dogs. There is too much corruption and too much abuse of human rights…”

 

“Precisely my point” I cut in, suddenly feeling animated and in a mood to say a bit more. “When Babangida overthrew the government of Buhari in 1985, what did he tell us was the reason for his action? He said he wanted to purge the country of corruption and bring an end to the human right abuses perpetrated by Buhari. He also promised to return the country to democracy this year. Now, what has he done? How have things changed since he came to power? Rather than abate, corruption has continued to fester like an open sore.” Then I paused, trying to think through what I had to say next. Dr. Mamman had a look of intense concentration on his face.  “Our record of human rights abuses is one of the worst in the world”, I said, not really sure if I was making much sense to myself. “This is 1990 and as you and I know, there will be no elections. There is no assurance that the country will return to democracy even five years from now. I read a book once in which the author says that ‘Revolution is everywhere, in everything. It is infinite. There is no final revolution, no final number.’ One revolution will beget another. That is the point that George Orwell also makes in Animal Farm, if you’ve read the novel. The pigs become worse than the human beings they displace. If the story had continued, we would have seen another revolt, from the other animals, when the pigs, their leaders, become as tyrannical, if not more tyrannical, as the humans they revolted against. One regime is always worse than the one it dislodges. It is something of an eternal verity. I know this sounds somewhat simplistic and maybe threadbare, but isn’t it an eternal truth?”

I was amazed that I had said all that I had said. Dr. Mamman did not say anything for a while; he kept his eyes on the road as he drove on, seemingly lost in thought.

Finally, he sighed deeply and said, “I know there’s some merit in your argument but I always like to look at the brighter side of things. I like to be optimistic. What is there to lose in being optimistic? Truth is, revolutions may be infinite, as you said, but change is constant, and it is something we must always desire. Right now, this country needs a regime change”.

 

I wanted to say “Why should we have a regime change when it will not bring us out of the woods?” But I kept my mouth shut. I wanted to tell him that a revolution will not solve our problem, that we would never have a Chairman Mao because the political elite are irredeemably corrupt, and that what is at the core of our problem is the recycling of a self-serving elite class interested only in having Nigeria remain a rentier state, and that any revolution led by this class of profiteers would not lead us out of the doldrums, but I kept quiet. I was tired of hearing about or discussing the myriad problems plaguing the country. I wouldn’t bother my head with thinking about it. For all I cared, the country could go to the dogs.

 

By the time we got to Barkin Ladi, it was well past 5 o’clock, and temperature had begun to drop rather rapidly. I breathed in the crisp, tangy air and realised that it was almost Christmas.

 

“Where does your friend live?” I asked Dr. Mamman as the car turned into a road bordered by tall trees. Barkin Ladi was a rural town comprising several small villages, very much like Mangu, with an open market and plenty of rocks and cacti.

 

“Patrick is temporarily in the seminary. St. John Vienney. We are almost there.”

“Is he a priest, your friend?”

“No.”

“So what is he doing in a seminary?”

“He was there before he left for the UK.”

“As a seminarian?”

“He taught there briefly.”

St. John Vianney, the small signboard hanging on the wall of the building announced, was a junior seminary, established in 1956 by Society of Jesus. It was largely stone-built with a spacious compound housing several small buildings serving as dormitory, offices and refectory. A chapel, also stone-built and complete with a spire and all the iconography of the Catholic Church, was situated in the westernmost part of the compound. There was a cosy quaintness to the surroundings that I found rather appealing, a quaintness that was accentuated by a certain air of antiquated splendour—I can’t remember which writer used that phrase—hanging over the buildings. A young seminarian who introduced himself as Bitrus directed us to a bungalow comprising three or four rooms. It looked like a guesthouse. Dr. Mamman’s friend was staying in the first room. The door was ajar so we did not bother to knock. Dr. Mamman’s friend was sitting on a chair, reading a book—Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose—when we came in. He rose from his seat, surprised to see us but pleased. He embraced Dr. Mamman warmly and shook my hand. I was astonished at the firmness of his grip, the warmth he radiated. The room was sparingly furnished—a table and two plastic chairs, a well-made bed, a small bookshelf, and a TV set. The bookshelf, which quickly drew my attention, held all kinds of books, including volumes that I thought would be anathema in a seminary—David Yollop’s In God’s Name, Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, Paul Blanshard’s American Freedom and Catholic Power, Lawrence Lader’s Abortion, and Reginald Montanus’ A Discovery and Paline Declaration of Sundry Subtle Practices of the Holy Inquisition of Spain.  There were also several novels, plays and books on philosophy and culture that I didn’t recognize from their titles and that I wished I could borrow. We sat on the two plastic chairs in the room while Dr. Mamman’s friend sat on the bed. He wore glasses, which he kept pushing back each time he spoke.

 

Patting me on the back, Dr. Mamman said, “Aiyedun, meet my friend Patrick”.

 

“How do you do”, Patrick said, stretching out his hand, “Are you, er, Yoruba?”

 

“Yes” I said. I shook his hand for the second time and thought that he looked familiar.  He spoke in measured tones, rather hesitantly, like someone weighing every word, as though considering whether or not each word was appropriate for the situation or good enough to convey his thoughts before saying it.

 

“Her brother is one of my patients. He is undergoing rehabilitation,” Dr. Mamman offered.

 

“Polio?” he asked, his brow briefly knitted.

 

“Yes. She came with him.”

 

“I see. I’m, er, pleased to meet you. What would you like to, er, drink?”

 

“That won’t be necessary Patrick,” Dr. Mamman said. “We’ve been eating and drinking all day. Besides, it’s a flying visit and it’s getting rather late.”

 

“Yes, yes. I’ve been, er, indoors all day. I thought you’d be here much earlier”

 

“That was what I thought too but we did not leave Mangu early enough and we spent too much time driving round Jos. Aiyedun wanted to see some places that she’d never been to.”

Patrick turned to me and asked, “is this your first time in Plateau?”

 

“Yes” I said.

 

“I see”. There was a slight pause. Turning to Dr. Mamman, he asked, “How’s Florence doing?”

 

“She’s fine. She sends her greetings. She wanted to be here but something came up at the school so she had to stay behind.”

 

“Ah. I’ll see her, em, next week then. I brought something for her.” Another slight pause.

 

“Have you been to see Pascal?” Dr. Mamman asked.

 

“He was, em, here to see me yesterday. I haven’t really been to see anyone since I came back. I came here, er, straight from Enugu after I concluded my business with Father Domingo.”

 

The mood in the room was a bit stilted, a bit uneasy, and the conversation between Dr. Mamman and Patrick remained casual. They did not talk like two people who hadn’t seen each other in a long time. There was something indefinable about Patrick, something elusive, especially about the way he shifted his gaze from Dr. Mamman to me and from me to Dr. Mamman, and the way he hesitated a bit each time he spoke.  He was, like Dr. Mamman, probably late thirtish, but unlike Dr. Mamman who had a tall burly frame, he was slight of build with a lean and brooding face and a goatee that gave him the look of a Fulani. He spoke English with an accent, a vague Igbo accent, but nothing else about him suggested to me that he might be Igbo. Then I began to wonder what he did for a living because nothing in his conversation with Dr. Mamman revealed what his vocation might be. He could be passed for a priest, I thought, considering the air of asceticism hanging over him, or he could be a detective. Then I shifted my attention to the bookshelf.

 

“May I look at your books please” I asked him, gesturing toward the bookshelf.  “Please, be my guest” he said. I pulled an old copy of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince from the shelf; it had dog-eared pages and several lines and passages underlined and annotated. I thumbed through it, restored it to the shelf, and selected another book: C.G. Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections. I had read a couple of Jung’s work when I was in school, but I hadn’t read this particular volume. It was Jung’s swan song, completed shortly before his death on June 6, 1961 at the age of eighty-five, and published posthumously. I flipped through the introduction, written by Aniela Jaffé, Jung’s colleague and friend with whom he collaborated in writing the book. It was something of an ‘autobiography’, Jung’s attempt to provide a glimpse into what had otherwise been a hermitic existence. I hadn’t gone beyond the third paragraph of the introduction when Dr. Mamman announced that we had to be on our way. It was getting late, he said, and it wouldn’t do to travel along Mangu road in the dark. “May I borrow this book please”, I asked Patrick. “Oh yes, yes” he said. “I see you have quite an impressive collection” I said, gesturing at the wall of books, “you sure read a lot”.

“Well, I, er, used to.”

“You don’t anymore?” I asked as he escorted us to the driveway where Dr. Mamman had parked his car.

“What I mean is, I don’t read as, er, often as I used to when I was in the University”.

“Aiyedun is an avid reader. That’s why I brought her to see you. She likes literature and history and holds some very strong opinion about them. Maybe when you come to Mangu you’ll get to know her better” Dr. Mamman said. Patrick tilted his head and smiled. “It’ll be a pleasure to talk to you” he said. I smiled at him, uncertainly.

Darkness had begun to fall and the air was misty and cold. At the driveway, Dr. Mamman and Patrick shook hands, promising to see each other again next week. I also shook hands with Patrick. His palm felt very soft, like a girl’s.

“I’ll see you when I come to Mangu” he said to me, “and give my regards to your brother.”

“I will. I shall have been through with reading this book before you come,” I said.

In the car, as we drove along, I felt fatigued. Although my eyes had begun to feel heavy and my level of concentration had dropped, I asked Dr. Mamman to tell me more about Patrick.

“Patrick and I have been friends for more than twenty years, since we were teenagers in secondary school”, he said. They both went to Barewa College in Kaduna, he said, but after completing their final exams in secondary school, Patrick had gone to the seminary. “He had always wanted to be a priest,” Dr. Mamman said, “although some of us, his close friends, thought that he had a delusive belief in the priesthood. He was possibly the most brilliant student in our class. He loved reading and his taste was eclectic. He had read most of the books that many of our teachers had not read. He had a penchant for religious texts, and for poetry. I think that is what explains his decision to become a priest.” Silence fell between us for a brief moment, shutting out the whirling of the passing wind and the whirring of the car.

“Was it a seminary in Kaduna that he went to?” I asked.

“No. He went to Enugu. He had to start all over.

“How?”

“Something must have happened to him. I think he was bitten by some sort of bug. I didn’t understand him at all. Anyway, he was on his way to becoming a priest. But something happened and he left the seminary. That was three or so years after he left for the seminary. He never told me what happened. He wrote me a letter, telling me that he was coming to Kaduna, and two weeks later, there he was in my house, all skin and bone and with a terrible determination that startled me. He wanted to go to the University, he said. I asked him what had happened to him but he would not say a word. I cajoled him but it was to no avail. That was when he took up a teaching appointment in a catholic secondary school in Kaduna. He taught English. He was in his second year in ABU when I graduated.” Dr. Mamman paused, a faraway expression on his face.

From the distance, rocks rose to meet us as we approached Mangu. “After his graduation, he came to Plateau and served here, in St. John Vianney, as a Youth Corps member” Dr. Mamman continued. “I think it was when he left the seminary that he became a changed man. He used to be quite active and outgoing before he went to the seminary, but since he returned he has been very reticent. When you ask him a question about his life at the seminary before he left and why he left, he would become evasive. But he is always a great person to be with. You’ll like him because he likes to discuss deep things, philosophical things, the kind of questions people are afraid to ask. You’ll like him when you get to know him better. Sometimes, I can’t help thinking he has something bottled up, something that is eating him up.”

 

ÿ

 

In the last week before Christmas, the days went by rather slowly, and I had to orient myself in the relaxed pace of life in the centre. Most days I stayed indoors, reading while listening to music on a Walkman I had bought the last time I was in Jos with Dr. Mamman, and in the evenings I strolled in the village, chatting to the villagers and leprosy patients. The harmattan season was at its most severe, blowing dust into our eyes and hair and making visibility difficult because of the haze. Leaves had turned yellowish brown on trees. My skin and lips were chapped in the dry weather. There were many dead leaves, blown about by sudden gusts and occasional small whirlwind, many dead branches falling off trees, many parched areas of the earth. Each day began shrouded in cold, and by mid-afternoon the sun would be out in full glare, and by evening it was soon very cold again. We had been in Mangu for nearly three and a half months and I was glad that Wura’s medical rehabilitation had been progressing very well indeed. His legs had been encased in POP since we came and every other week he was taken through rigorous physiotherapy session that often left him terribly exhausted and in great pains. But he was happy at the progress being made as he absorbed the pains with stoicism. Later he told me that at first he had not been enthusiastic about the procedure but seeing the progress that had been made so far had reassured him. On Christmas Eve, my father came to see us, and he almost collapsed with surprise when he saw that Wura’s legs had become straight, and later when he was informed that Wura would be able to walk with the aid of crutches and articulated steel braces in a few weeks, he could not contain his joy. He brought us some money and more supplies, and promised to return again in two weeks. When he left, Wura was tearful and I found myself scolding him, rather unfairly, for behaving like a little child.

The week in between Christmas and New Year’s Day found me thinking about my mother and the circumstances of her death. On account of those thoughts, I had a few sleepless nights, and most mornings I was bleary-eyed. I read without pleasure and my mind became a block. I tried to scribble a few things that came to me in fragments, like seeing through a glass darkly, but other things began to interfere with my train of thought. While doodling, at times, I thought of Lawal, whom I had not seen or heard from since that distant day in July when he went to Kano as a Youth Corps member. Lawal’s disappearance from my life had been very difficult to come to terms with and, for nearly two years, I had avoided getting involved with any man. Later, shortly before my graduation when I flirted with a couple of boys in my faculty, I had done so with very little interest. In the course of my one-year stay in Enugu, I had turned down many of the advances that were made to me, and every time my father tried to ask if I was in any relationship, I always deflected the question with an incoherent answer. Thinking of these things now, I was not sure whether my lack of interest in a relationship was due to the memory of Lawal which I still clung to or the fact that, by nature, I was sometimes somewhat dour in my response to men, especially men who wanted to make me theirs, men who wanted to possess me.

 

ÿ

In the first week of the New Year, Wura’s hip was in traction for three days after a minor corrective surgery, and the following week, after intensive physiotherapy with Dr. Mamman, he was ready to take his first step with the help of a Zimmer frame. It was in that week that Patrick came to Mangu. He looked much younger, I thought, than the first time we met in Barkin Ladi. I was in the gym with Dr. Mamman, watching as Wura was being taught to use the Zimmer frame, when he came, clutching a small briefcase under his arm, and smiling somewhat sheepishly. He was dressed smartly in a pair of faded jeans and an open-necked shirt. Dr. Mamman was very busy, for beside Wura, there were two other patients waiting to be attended to, so after a quick exchange of pleasantries with Patrick, he excused himself and returned to his patients. He would be back with us presently, he said, and could I keep Patrick’s company in the meantime? Of course, I said, and, turning to Patrick, I said, “It’s nice to see you again”.

“Thank you, er…”

“Aiyedun”.

“Ah, yes, yes. Aiyedun. Which of them is your brother?”

“That one” I said, pointing at Wura who was trying gamely to follow Dr. Mamman’s instructions.

“Ah, I should have thought so. The resemblance is unmistakable.”

“Is that so?”

“What is the meaning of your name?” he asked me, ignoring my question, and catching me by surprise.

“My name? It means the world is sweet. Why did you ask?”

“Sounds like the kind of name you give to an abiku.”

I was startled. How the hell did he know that?

“Obviously you knew before asking.”

“Were you an abiku?”

“I don’t know. Can we change the topic please?”

“Does it make you feel uncomfortable?”

“What?”

“The talk about being an abiku.”

“I’m sorry but it is not the kind of thing I like to talk about.”

“Ah, sorry about that. How about taking a stroll? I haven’t seen this place in a very long time.” I was indignant at the way he had spoken to me. Was he trying to humiliate me? What was he getting at? I barely knew him and here he was trying to make me feel bad. Was that the queerness Dr. Mamman had hinted at? As we strolled in silence, I braced myself for more insolence from him but he didn’t say anything again. His visage had become slightly broody. When he spoke, he did not hesitate, like the way he had done the first time I met him in Barkin Ladi. His speech was smooth and without a hint of stammer. It was a languid afternoon, with the sun shining brightly but with little heat. We walked round the wards, the workshops and the dormitories.

 

After a while, I began getting cramps in my legs and Patrick suggested we sat down at the small kiosk behind the gym for some refreshment. He bought a can of coke and meat pie for me and a bottle of Sprite and biscuit crackers for himself.

“Don’t you like meat pie?” I asked him.

“I’m a vegetarian”, he said between munches on his biscuit.

I sipped my coke but didn’t touch the meat pie. I made a mental note to keep it for Wura. He loved meat pie.

“So, why did you acquire the vegetarian lifestyle?” I asked him.

“Is vegetarianism a lifestyle?” he asked, smiling.

 

There was a sudden gust of wind. Patrick was silent, thoughtful, for a while. Then he said, “I began to develop a revulsion against meat the first time I saw a freshly disembowelled woman by the road side. The entrails were fresh and it was during a riot. Later, I learnt that the woman had been set upon by a mob. The mob had disembowelled her. She was pregnant when it happened.” He smiled mirthlessly and leant back in his chair.

I was shocked; appalled not by what he had said but by how he had said it, without emotion, without flinching, like a Doctor using an impersonal tone to inform a patient about something dreadful. The blood rushed into my face and I almost puked.

“I am sorry if this is distressing for you, but I thought you’ll like to know how or why I became a vegetarian. There were other sights of horror, sights that filled me with utter disgust. During the riots in Zaria in 1987, I saw decapitated bodies. Human bodies. I saw pigs feeding on decomposing bodies. I saw a man being set on fire. The smell of roasting human flesh has clung to my nose since then. How could anyone still have appetite for meat after such sights? I just couldn’t stand the sight of meat, especially red meat, any more. There was a time when even the very thought of meat made my gorge rise, made me feel sick.”

I felt sweat on my palm and in my armpit and my head began to spin. I wanted to ask him to stop but my mouth remained shut. The slight heat and dryness of that afternoon had seeped into my brains, as if trying to asphyxiate me. Why do we have a fixation with the morbid? I thought. Did he have to give all the lurid details of what he saw? At that moment, my mother’s image flashed across my mind and I shivered.

“Are you alright?” Patrick asked me, seeing how I had shuddered involuntarily.

“I’m fine” I said, managing a quick smile, sighing.

“Were you in Zaria during the riots?” I asked him, unsure really what to say.

“Yes. I was a teacher in St. Barth’s. You’ve heard of St. Barth’s?”

“Yes. I think it’s either an Anglican or a Catholic college.”

“Anglican. I was there when the riots broke out in Kafanchan.” There was a short pause.

Then I said, “My brother was in Kafanchan when the riot started. He was caught up in the fight that broke out in his school. My mother died less than seventy-two hours after the killings spread to Kaduna.”

“Ai! I’m sorry. How did she die?”

“She was killed. Her head was split open with a club.” I shuddered at the words I had just used to describe my mother’s death. My eyes were fixed on a spot in the distance, momentarily numbed. A group of disabled children was playing football with their hands, with some of them dragging themselves on their buttocks while others crawled on all fours. As I stared at them, the scene suddenly transformed before my eyes, and an eerie feeling of déjà vu settled on me.

As I had done repeatedly in the past three years, I found myself reconstructing, picturing the moments of my mother’s death. A neighbour who had seen it all while hiding somewhere in our house had told my father what had happened on that day. It was the second day since the riots broke out and it had spread to Kaduna. Many houses and beer parlous had been burnt across the city. Schools were hastily closed down and houses, shops and hotels were wantonly looted by rampaging youths. My parents were worried stiff because they had heard that the riots had started in Kafanchan College of Education where Dade was a student, and for two days since the orgy of killings and destructions had been going on, no one had been able to reach him or provide my parents with information about his whereabouts. My father told me how he had had to restrain my mother from finding her way to Kafanchan, in the midst of the danger and the lack of public transport to that part of the state at the time. He explained how my mother had been desperate, crying inconsolably because they could not get to my brother. There was nothing they could do. It was as if Kaduna had been placed under a virtual state of siege. Despite the presence of police and the army, killings and arsons went on unabated. In Enugu, the newspapers brought the stories to me.

 

On the day that my mother was killed, my father had been hastily summoned by some elders in our church because an irate mob had arrived threatening to burn down the church. “It was in the afternoon” he told me, “and we thought we could stop the church from being burnt. You see, most of the churches that were burnt were attacked in the night, when no one could stop the attackers. So, when we learnt that a group of Hausa youths were heading for our church, we quickly organized ourselves into a small vigilante group, to stop them from burning the church. We armed ourselves with hoes, cutlasses, clubs, knives and everything else we could find. But we were too late. We were only a yard or two from Kasuwan Gwari, just a stone’s throw from our church, when we saw a blaze. Our church had been set on fire and the youths who did it were still there, chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and threatening to bring down hell on us. We didn’t wait for anyone to tell us that we were being foolish. We all fled in different directions. By the time I got home, another group of rioters had already invaded our street. They seemed to have a list because they were systematic in their attack. They knew those of us who were Christians, especially those of us who wore white garments. In fact, I later found out that those who invaded our house were led by Mustapher and Ado, Mallam Shehu’s children. You remember Mustapher and Ado—they used to come here, to see Dade. Remember they were Dade’s playmates from childhood. The same boys whose birth your mother supervised. Anyway, by the time I got home, your mother had already been killed. Iya Dayo, God bless her memory, who witnessed it from where she was hiding in the toilet, said your mother had pleaded to be let alone but her pleas fell on deaf ears. Iya Dayo said she, your mother, was asked to recite something they called Kalmar Shahada or face death. When she refused, one of the boys who had invaded our house suddenly descended on her with a club. Two others also attacked her. By the time I arrived on the scene, all of them had fled, leaving your mother to die slowly. We couldn’t get her to the hospital before she died.”

“Do you know what I think about religion?” Patrick said all of a sudden, breaking into my thoughts, into my recollection. He had also obviously been silent for a while.

“What?” I asked him, sighing deeply, recovering my self-possession.

“It is something we invented, or something that was invented for us, in order to control us and with which we can control others. It is an instrument of deception. It is also an instrument of violence. Check the history of any of the world religions, any of man’s religion, and you’ll realise that violence, naked, sometimes disguised violence, has always been used to bring people to submission.” I was slightly surprised to hear him say that, as if he was echoing my thoughts.

“Is that why you left the seminary?” I asked him. He shot me a quick glance, surprised.

“Which seminary?”

“Dr. Mamman told me you were once a seminarian. Before you went to the University. Why did you leave?”

Patrick was silent for a while, a ruminative expression on his face. Then he reached into his pockets, brought out a crisp naira note, and asked if I’d like to have another can of coke. I declined and he bought himself a pack of crackers from the little girl minding the kiosk.

“Are you homophobic?” he asked me all of a sudden, taking a swig of his Sprite. I was not surprised at his question; I was learning to cope with his habit of flying off at a tangent, of making non sequitur statements.

“No. Why did you ask?”

“You wanted to know why I left the seminary.”

“Is that why you left? Because you were homophobic or because you—sorry if this offends you—because you were gay?”

“No. By the way, I did not leave the seminary. I was expelled. Mamman does not know this, and, honestly, I do not even know why I am telling you now.”

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t feel up to it” I said quickly.

“Oh no. It’s nothing. I think I can say these things now because there is a distance between them and me. A few years back, I wouldn’t have talked about them. But things have changed now. I can also talk about them with you because, I think I like you”. He passed his eyes over me and I quickly averted my gaze. What game was he trying to play with me now? Did he want to flirt with me? I adjusted my shirt, to cover my slightly exposed cleavage.

“The priesthood had always held a kind of attraction for me, you see. When I was a kid, I had on several occasions flirted with the idea of joining a monastery, or of living a life devoted entirely to the service of God. I wanted to be God’s vessel of honour. But I didn’t ever openly express this desire. No one knew I harboured that aspiration. So, my decision to abandon secular education for the seminary was not something out of the blues even though my friends thought that it was something I did impulsively. It was a calculated decision. I went to Sacred Heart Junior seminary because I wanted to become a priest, to fulfil a childhood aspiration.”

He paused for a moment, chewed a bit on a piece of biscuit and gazed into the distance. The group of disabled students playing football in the distance was arguing excitedly. A male nurse from the hospital section walked past us, mumbling a greeting. We responded with the nod of our heads.

 

“Sacred Heart was a new experience for me. I went there with few supplies. My parents didn’t understand why I wanted to become a priest but they supported my decision. They gave me what little money they could afford and I augmented what they gave me with my own small savings and what I’d racked up from my friends. In Sacred Heart I was pleased with the new schedule, the asceticism of the place, and the various lessons in how best to serve God. I was pleased with the way things were done. Although I came without a mattress—because my parents could not afford one—I gladly slept on the spring bed that was provided in the hostel. I wore my rosary always and never failed to attend catechism. We were all boys, although some were men among us. Some came from rich homes while others could boast only of humble backgrounds. But we were all united in God, and in the death and resurrection of His only Son Jesus Christ, and the protection of His mother Mary.

In the first few months of my stay in the seminary, I immersed myself in the daily routine of attending classes, the rhythms of prep and manual labour, the observance of siesta, and the daily celebration of mass. I was excited about the prospect of becoming a priest. It was during that time that I met Donatus, a fellow seminarian from Mbaise, who offered me a mattress and we became friends. He came from a rich family, and his singular aspiration was also to become a priest. His bed was next to mine, and his ‘corner’ was one of the best equipped in our hostel. He had supplies in abundance, and he gave me whatever I wanted. He was older than me by two or three years, but he treated me as his equal and he often tried to protect me. We went to mass together, recited the angelus together, and read together in the library whenever we could. For a while we maintained a sort of harmony and friendship that provided me with an opportunity to luxuriate in my studies and in my devotion to God. This was how things were until one night when something happened that shattered everything.

Before that night, I had observed that Donatus liked to sleep in my bed. In the seminary, two people were not permitted to sleep in the same bed, and anyone caught doing so would be severely reprimanded. Each night, after light out, an auxiliary seminarian would go round the hostels to ensure that everyone was in his bed, but once the seminarian had left Donatus would come over to my bed. At times I would wake up to find him snuggled up beside me. I wasn’t alarmed; I was only worried that we could be discovered. I tried to dissuade him but he said it was nothing. Then it happened one night. I woke up suddenly, feeling that something was crawling in my shorts. I opened my eyes to find Donatus holding my penis, stroking it and rolling his eyes in ecstasy. My hand was on his penis too. I was shell-shocked. Then he began to beg me, saying that it was the devil and that I should not mention it to anyone, not even during confession. Throughout that day I was dispirited. At first I was sad. Then I became angry. But after a while my anger turned into bafflement. I couldn’t understand how anyone in a seminary would be a pervert. In my naivety, I never imagined that such a place could be home to boys given to such a practice. Blind with rage, I decided to report the incident to the priest that heard my confession the following Thursday. Telling the priest would not only help mollify my feelings, it would also ensure that my innocence was established before God and man. The priest would be horrified, I was cocksure, and measures would be taken to forestall a recurrence. But I was mistaken. When I told the priest, who listened to me impassively as I made my confessions, his reaction was placid, like a mule drinking from a pool of water. Adopting an impersonal tone, he simply counselled me to avoid sleeping in the same bed with Donatus, and that I should always read the Bible in order to keep impure thoughts away from my mind. After asking me to recite Hail Mary six times, he dismissed me.

I was, to put it mildly, completely flummoxed by the way the priest had treated the issue, the way he had heard my confession with a pinch of salt. I think that was when I began to have doubts about what I was doing in the seminary. I became disillusioned, not just because the incident had not caused even a stir, but because I soon found out that masturbation and illicit sexual conducts were rampant among the boys. I was even startled to discover that a certain auxiliary seminarian that I held in high esteem was having a liaison with one of the young girls that came to help out with some routine works in the seminary. To be candid, however, I stopped being bothered by those issues after a while. I thought to myself that it was not my business if they interfered with their bodies or did what the Bible says is unseemly. It was something else that became a source of concern to me. What began to bother me was the litany of confessions we were obliged to make. We faced the same confessor every week and confessed the same misdeeds, the same sins, day in day out, and as soon as we were done, we returned to them. I thought it was absurd. So I decided that I would stop going to confessions, that it didn’t make any sense. But I didn’t stop at that; I began to ask questions from senior seminarians, from colleagues and friends, and I began to influence others who also thought that the confessions were useless unless we could find a way to put a permanent stop to sinning. Words soon got to our Rector that attendance at confessions had dipped and that I had been influencing young seminarians to ignore confessions. I was not surprised when I was summoned and, after a summary trial, expelled for heresy. I think the ‘religion’ in me died that day.”

A silence fell on us. Then there was another sudden gust of wind. I wondered to myself how Patrick could be so fluent in his narrative, so different from the first time I met him when he had spoken in stammers. Ahead of us, in the lengthening shadows of the afternoon, the game of football had ended and another group of disabled students was chasing one another around in the field.  Some of them were on tricycles fabricated at the centre, and others were on crutches. I cast a cursory glance at Patrick; now, having narrated his story, he had a peaceful expression on his face.

“At the beginning, you asked if I was homophobic—was it because of what you have just told me?” I asked.

“Well, partly because of that. I wanted to ask you, actually, if you have an opinion about homosexuality. I wanted to be sure that you wouldn’t consider it a risqué subject. That’s why I asked first if you were homophobic.”

“I am not coy about sex. I believe that people have different sexual orientations and, in my opinion, everybody should be allowed to live the way they wish to.”

Suddenly, Patrick glanced at his wristwatch and, as though on cue, I glanced at mine too.

“We had better be leaving” he said. “Mamman should be through, I hope. I have to return to Barkin Ladi today. When will your brother be discharged?”

“In a week, I imagine”, I said, getting up and smoothening my skirt.

“I’ll be back in two days. I’ll like to take you out when I come. Let’s have a quiet dinner together. What do you say?”

“There are no interesting places here” I said.

“Don’t worry about that. It doesn’t have to be here.”

“Let’s hope we’ll still be here by then.”

MANGU WAS something of a provincial rural town comprising several small villages with a large Christian population. The people were very generous to us, very kind, very accommodating. The medical staff, particularly the physiotherapist, Dr. Joseph Mamman, a native of Langtang, became our family. He was a very kind person, Dr. Mamman, and he treated Wura and me with affection and understanding, as though we were his younger siblings. He had taken a special liking to Wura on our first meeting with him. Wura, he said, had impressed him by the way he had responded to the various questions that had been put to him and by his zest for knowledge. He was around thirty eight, Dr. Mamman, and engaged to be married to Florence Ayuba, a very pretty damsel (that was what he called her, beaming with a smile, the first time he introduced us—“my damsel”, he had whispered) who taught English in one of the two secondary schools in Sabon Layi. Dr. Mamman adored her, and he made no bones about his intention to marry her as soon as she was ready. He had been trained, he had told me one day, at Ahmadu Bello University as a physiotherapist before proceeding to University of Illinois in the United States for graduate studies. When he returned to Nigeria, he joined the medical staff of Mangu Rehabilitation Centre on account of his father’s staunch membership of Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN), the church that owned the hospital. He enjoyed his work considerably, he said, and one could see that in the amount of time and energy he put into it.

At times Dr. Mamman drove me to Jos in his beat-up Mercedes to see the city or meet some acquaintance of his. That was how I fell in love with Jos, with the hills and the people, with the weather, which was pretty cold in November and suitably balmy in January. I fell in love with potato, and the variety of ways in which it was prepared, and with Mrs. Alice Pam, who helped us settle into the social life of Mangu. She was a very kind woman, Mrs. Pam, and often ensured that we were comfortable. She had recently been widowed—her husband had died while working in a construction site when he fell some fifty metres onto the piles of rubbles below from a scaffold—and had been distraught with grief for many months. When we came to Mangu, she had not stopped mourning him but she had become more cheerful, and because I loved to listen to her speak, I became something of her confidante, sharing in the solitude of her bereavement. She was the head of the kitchen department in the hospital and she taught me to cook traditional Berom dishes. Every evening after a session of physio-exercise with Dr. Mamman, I would wheel Wura to the indoor games section of the hospital where he would join other disabled students to play scrabble or chess, and I would return to spend some time with Mrs. Pam or with Dr. Mamman in his apartment in the staff quarters. Those evening visits to Dr. Mamman’s apartment were a welcome relief from the tedium of daily life in Mangu. Florence, Dr. Mamman’s inamorata—that was what he also liked to call her—was about two years my senior. Like Dr. Mamman, she was open-hearted, but she lacked the former’s enthusiasm for literature and philosophy, the two subjects that often featured in my discussions with Dr. Mamman every time I was in the apartment. Her main interests were music, gardening and teaching. Most time when Dr. Mamman and I were busily arguing one point or the other about literature, she would withdraw to the reading table in the room to commence marking and grading scripts, setting assignments and writing lesson notes while listening to music—usually gospel music—on a portable radio with the volume turned low.

It was in the course of these visits that, one Friday night in early December, Dr. Mamman suggested we drove to Jos for sight-seeing and to see a ‘special friend’ of his who had recently returned from the United Kingdom. This special friend, he told me, would interest me because he had strong opinions about books, about some of the things we talked about, although he was also queer in a funny way.

“How do you mean queer?” I asked Dr. Mamman.

“Well, let’s just say that he can sometimes say outrageous things, but you needn’t worry about that. He is a gentleman to the core.”

It was a great idea; at least it would free me from the ennui that often characterized Saturdays in Mangu. In the morning of the following day, I woke up early, washed Wura’s upper body with a light sponge and warm water (the whole length of his two legs was in POP), served him his breakfast, and at 9.30 I wheeled him to the workshop section of the hospital where he had developed a friendly relationship with the workers.

“We should be back by evening” I said as I handed him a small bag containing his writing materials, a novel he had been reading, his portable transistor radio, and a sandwich for lunch.

“Enjoy yourself,” he said as I left him to the care of Baba Patego, an old iron bender of whom he had become very fond. For the journey, I wore a pair of stone-washed jeans and a polo shirt—I felt comfortable in them, and I liked the freedom they gave me. 

The thirty-five minute drive to Jos was pleasant, with the cool breeze of the countryside blowing into our faces and the idyllic view of the villages offering a delectable contrast to the anticipated hustle and bustle that we would soon get immersed into in Jos. In Jos, we drove round for a while, visited the popular Terminus Market where we shopped briefly, ate meat pie in a bistro in Farin Gada, and when the sun had begun to grow somewhat sultry, we decided that it was time we proceeded to Barkin Ladi to see Dr. Mamman’s friend. We listened to Fela’s ‘Army Arrangement’ on Dr. Mamman’s car stereo as the car sped along, and Dr. Mamman began to say something about Babangida’s latest political gimmicks. 

 

“I wish Orkar’s coup had succeeded”, he said, sighing. I shot him a sidelong glance, and I saw that his forehead had furrowed over. When Major Gideon Orkar attempted to oust Babangida from office five months ago, he had, before the coup was consolidated, announced the excision of five key core northern states from Nigeria and had directed all citizens of the Middle Belt and the south living in the north to return to their respective states. This must have been what Dr. Mamman was thinking as we listened to Fela’s denunciation of the military class. Dr. Mamman was from the Middle Belt and many of his kinsmen had been indicted in the coup. I knew he wanted me to say something in response to his statement but I didn’t know what to say. At that time in my life I had become a little apolitical, a bit unconcerned about the issues of the time. This state of apathy had begun in the wake of Lawal’s departure for Kano where he served as a Youth Corps member, and it had worsened after the death of my mother. It was an apathy I regretted very much but one to which I had no solution. Even Fela’s music, which in other times used to move me, could not do the magic.

 

“If the coup had succeeded, nothing would have happened.” I said suddenly.

Dr. Mamman, visibly surprised, gave me a quick glance before shaking his head in consternation. “Why did you say that?” he asked me.

 

“Nothing ever happens after a revolution. Things either return to how they have always been or they get worse”.

There was a short pause.

Then Dr. Mamman said, “I’m not sure I agree with you. Orkar had good intentions. He was a revolutionary and he wanted to change the status quo. It is just unfortunate that he was a bit too impulsive. He should have waited until he was sure that the coup had succeeded before making that speech on the radio. We in the Middle Belt have long been side-lined, so we understand what he was trying to do. Apart from that, look at how things are; the country is going to the dogs. There is too much corruption and too much abuse of human rights…”

 

“Precisely my point” I cut in, suddenly feeling animated and in a mood to say a bit more. “When Babangida overthrew the government of Buhari in 1985, what did he tell us was the reason for his action? He said he wanted to purge the country of corruption and bring an end to the human right abuses perpetrated by Buhari. He also promised to return the country to democracy this year. Now, what has he done? How have things changed since he came to power? Rather than abate, corruption has continued to fester like an open sore.” Then I paused, trying to think through what I had to say next. Dr. Mamman had a look of intense concentration on his face.  “Our record of human rights abuses is one of the worst in the world”, I said, not really sure if I was making much sense to myself. “This is 1990 and as you and I know, there will be no elections. There is no assurance that the country will return to democracy even five years from now. I read a book once in which the author says that ‘Revolution is everywhere, in everything. It is infinite. There is no final revolution, no final number.’ One revolution will beget another. That is the point that George Orwell also makes in Animal Farm, if you’ve read the novel. The pigs become worse than the human beings they displace. If the story had continued, we would have seen another revolt, from the other animals, when the pigs, their leaders, become as tyrannical, if not more tyrannical, as the humans they revolted against. One regime is always worse than the one it dislodges. It is something of an eternal verity. I know this sounds somewhat simplistic and maybe threadbare, but isn’t it an eternal truth?”

I was amazed that I had said all that I had said. Dr. Mamman did not say anything for a while; he kept his eyes on the road as he drove on, seemingly lost in thought. 

Finally, he sighed deeply and said, “I know there’s some merit in your argument but I always like to look at the brighter side of things. I like to be optimistic. What is there to lose in being optimistic? Truth is, revolutions may be infinite, as you said, but change is constant, and it is something we must always desire. Right now, this country needs a regime change”.

 

I wanted to say “Why should we have a regime change when it will not bring us out of the woods?” But I kept my mouth shut. I wanted to tell him that a revolution will not solve our problem, that we would never have a Chairman Mao because the political elite are irredeemably corrupt, and that what is at the core of our problem is the recycling of a self-serving elite class interested only in having Nigeria remain a rentier state, and that any revolution led by this class of profiteers would not lead us out of the doldrums, but I kept quiet. I was tired of hearing about or discussing the myriad problems plaguing the country. I wouldn’t bother my head with thinking about it. For all I cared, the country could go to the dogs.

 

By the time we got to Barkin Ladi, it was well past 5 o’clock, and temperature had begun to drop rather rapidly. I breathed in the crisp, tangy air and realised that it was almost Christmas.

 

“Where does your friend live?” I asked Dr. Mamman as the car turned into a road bordered by tall trees. Barkin Ladi was a rural town comprising several small villages, very much like Mangu, with an open market and plenty of rocks and cacti.

 

“Patrick is temporarily in the seminary. St. John Vienney. We are almost there.”

“Is he a priest, your friend?”

“No.”

“So what is he doing in a seminary?”

“He was there before he left for the UK.”

“As a seminarian?”

“He taught there briefly.”

St. John Vianney, the small signboard hanging on the wall of the building announced, was a junior seminary, established in 1956 by Society of Jesus. It was largely stone-built with a spacious compound housing several small buildings serving as dormitory, offices and refectory. A chapel, also stone-built and complete with a spire and all the iconography of the Catholic Church, was situated in the westernmost part of the compound. There was a cosy quaintness to the surroundings that I found rather appealing, a quaintness that was accentuated by a certain air of antiquated splendour—I can’t remember which writer used that phrase—hanging over the buildings. A young seminarian who introduced himself as Bitrus directed us to a bungalow comprising three or four rooms. It looked like a guesthouse. Dr. Mamman’s friend was staying in the first room. The door was ajar so we did not bother to knock. Dr. Mamman’s friend was sitting on a chair, reading a book—Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose—when we came in. He rose from his seat, surprised to see us but pleased. He embraced Dr. Mamman warmly and shook my hand. I was astonished at the firmness of his grip, the warmth he radiated. The room was sparingly furnished—a table and two plastic chairs, a well-made bed, a small bookshelf, and a TV set. The bookshelf, which quickly drew my attention, held all kinds of books, including volumes that I thought would be anathema in a seminary—David Yollop’s In God’s Name, Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, Paul Blanshard’s American Freedom and Catholic Power, Lawrence Lader’s Abortion, and Reginald Montanus’ A Discovery and Paline Declaration of Sundry Subtle Practices of the Holy Inquisition of Spain.  There were also several novels, plays and books on philosophy and culture that I didn’t recognize from their titles and that I wished I could borrow. We sat on the two plastic chairs in the room while Dr. Mamman’s friend sat on the bed. He wore glasses, which he kept pushing back each time he spoke.

 

 Patting me on the back, Dr. Mamman said, “Aiyedun, meet my friend Patrick”.

 

“How do you do”, Patrick said, stretching out his hand, “Are you, er, Yoruba?”

 

“Yes” I said. I shook his hand for the second time and thought that he looked familiar.  He spoke in measured tones, rather hesitantly, like someone weighing every word, as though considering whether or not each word was appropriate for the situation or good enough to convey his thoughts before saying it. 

 

“Her brother is one of my patients. He is undergoing rehabilitation,” Dr. Mamman offered.

 

“Polio?” he asked, his brow briefly knitted.

 

“Yes. She came with him.”

 

“I see. I’m, er, pleased to meet you. What would you like to, er, drink?”

 

“That won’t be necessary Patrick,” Dr. Mamman said. “We’ve been eating and drinking all day. Besides, it’s a flying visit and it’s getting rather late.”

 

“Yes, yes. I’ve been, er, indoors all day. I thought you’d be here much earlier”

 

“That was what I thought too but we did not leave Mangu early enough and we spent too much time driving round Jos. Aiyedun wanted to see some places that she’d never been to.”

Patrick turned to me and asked, “is this your first time in Plateau?”

 

“Yes” I said.

 

“I see”. There was a slight pause. Turning to Dr. Mamman, he asked, “How’s Florence doing?”

 

“She’s fine. She sends her greetings. She wanted to be here but something came up at the school so she had to stay behind.”

 

“Ah. I’ll see her, em, next week then. I brought something for her.” Another slight pause.

 

“Have you been to see Pascal?” Dr. Mamman asked.

 

“He was, em, here to see me yesterday. I haven’t really been to see anyone since I came back. I came here, er, straight from Enugu after I concluded my business with Father Domingo.”

 

The mood in the room was a bit stilted, a bit uneasy, and the conversation between Dr. Mamman and Patrick remained casual. They did not talk like two people who hadn’t seen each other in a long time. There was something indefinable about Patrick, something elusive, especially about the way he shifted his gaze from Dr. Mamman to me and from me to Dr. Mamman, and the way he hesitated a bit each time he spoke.  He was, like Dr. Mamman, probably late thirtish, but unlike Dr. Mamman who had a tall burly frame, he was slight of build with a lean and brooding face and a goatee that gave him the look of a Fulani. He spoke English with an accent, a vague Igbo accent, but nothing else about him suggested to me that he might be Igbo. Then I began to wonder what he did for a living because nothing in his conversation with Dr. Mamman revealed what his vocation might be. He could be passed for a priest, I thought, considering the air of asceticism hanging over him, or he could be a detective. Then I shifted my attention to the bookshelf.

 

“May I look at your books please” I asked him, gesturing toward the bookshelf.  “Please, be my guest” he said. I pulled an old copy of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince from the shelf; it had dog-eared pages and several lines and passages underlined and annotated. I thumbed through it, restored it to the shelf, and selected another book: C.G. Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections. I had read a couple of Jung’s work when I was in school, but I hadn’t read this particular volume. It was Jung’s swan song, completed shortly before his death on June 6, 1961 at the age of eighty-five, and published posthumously. I flipped through the introduction, written by Aniela Jaffé, Jung’s colleague and friend with whom he collaborated in writing the book. It was something of an ‘autobiography’, Jung’s attempt to provide a glimpse into what had otherwise been a hermitic existence. I hadn’t gone beyond the third paragraph of the introduction when Dr. Mamman announced that we had to be on our way. It was getting late, he said, and it wouldn’t do to travel along Mangu road in the dark. “May I borrow this book please”, I asked Patrick. “Oh yes, yes” he said. “I see you have quite an impressive collection” I said, gesturing at the wall of books, “you sure read a lot”.

“Well, I, er, used to.”

“You don’t anymore?” I asked as he escorted us to the driveway where Dr. Mamman had parked his car.

“What I mean is, I don’t read as, er, often as I used to when I was in the University”.

“Aiyedun is an avid reader. That’s why I brought her to see you. She likes literature and history and holds some very strong opinion about them. Maybe when you come to Mangu you’ll get to know her better” Dr. Mamman said. Patrick tilted his head and smiled. “It’ll be a pleasure to talk to you” he said. I smiled at him, uncertainly.

Darkness had begun to fall and the air was misty and cold. At the driveway, Dr. Mamman and Patrick shook hands, promising to see each other again next week. I also shook hands with Patrick. His palm felt very soft, like a girl’s.

“I’ll see you when I come to Mangu” he said to me, “and give my regards to your brother.”

“I will. I shall have been through with reading this book before you come,” I said.

In the car, as we drove along, I felt fatigued. Although my eyes had begun to feel heavy and my level of concentration had dropped, I asked Dr. Mamman to tell me more about Patrick.

“Patrick and I have been friends for more than twenty years, since we were teenagers in secondary school”, he said. They both went to Barewa College in Kaduna, he said, but after completing their final exams in secondary school, Patrick had gone to the seminary. “He had always wanted to be a priest,” Dr. Mamman said, “although some of us, his close friends, thought that he had a delusive belief in the priesthood. He was possibly the most brilliant student in our class. He loved reading and his taste was eclectic. He had read most of the books that many of our teachers had not read. He had a penchant for religious texts, and for poetry. I think that is what explains his decision to become a priest.” Silence fell between us for a brief moment, shutting out the whirling of the passing wind and the whirring of the car.

“Was it a seminary in Kaduna that he went to?” I asked.

“No. He went to Enugu. He had to start all over.

“How?”

“Something must have happened to him. I think he was bitten by some sort of bug. I didn’t understand him at all. Anyway, he was on his way to becoming a priest. But something happened and he left the seminary. That was three or so years after he left for the seminary. He never told me what happened. He wrote me a letter, telling me that he was coming to Kaduna, and two weeks later, there he was in my house, all skin and bone and with a terrible determination that startled me. He wanted to go to the University, he said. I asked him what had happened to him but he would not say a word. I cajoled him but it was to no avail. That was when he took up a teaching appointment in a catholic secondary school in Kaduna. He taught English. He was in his second year in ABU when I graduated.” Dr. Mamman paused, a faraway expression on his face.

From the distance, rocks rose to meet us as we approached Mangu. “After his graduation, he came to Plateau and served here, in St. John Vianney, as a Youth Corps member” Dr. Mamman continued. “I think it was when he left the seminary that he became a changed man. He used to be quite active and outgoing before he went to the seminary, but since he returned he has been very reticent. When you ask him a question about his life at the seminary before he left and why he left, he would become evasive. But he is always a great person to be with. You’ll like him because he likes to discuss deep things, philosophical things, the kind of questions people are afraid to ask. You’ll like him when you get to know him better. Sometimes, I can’t help thinking he has something bottled up, something that is eating him up.”

 

ÿ

 

In the last week before Christmas, the days went by rather slowly, and I had to orient myself in the relaxed pace of life in the centre. Most days I stayed indoors, reading while listening to music on a Walkman I had bought the last time I was in Jos with Dr. Mamman, and in the evenings I strolled in the village, chatting to the villagers and leprosy patients. The harmattan season was at its most severe, blowing dust into our eyes and hair and making visibility difficult because of the haze. Leaves had turned yellowish brown on trees. My skin and lips were chapped in the dry weather. There were many dead leaves, blown about by sudden gusts and occasional small whirlwind, many dead branches falling off trees, many parched areas of the earth. Each day began shrouded in cold, and by mid-afternoon the sun would be out in full glare, and by evening it was soon very cold again. We had been in Mangu for nearly three and a half months and I was glad that Wura’s medical rehabilitation had been progressing very well indeed. His legs had been encased in POP since we came and every other week he was taken through rigorous physiotherapy session that often left him terribly exhausted and in great pains. But he was happy at the progress being made as he absorbed the pains with stoicism. Later he told me that at first he had not been enthusiastic about the procedure but seeing the progress that had been made so far had reassured him. On Christmas Eve, my father came to see us, and he almost collapsed with surprise when he saw that Wura’s legs had become straight, and later when he was informed that Wura would be able to walk with the aid of crutches and articulated steel braces in a few weeks, he could not contain his joy. He brought us some money and more supplies, and promised to return again in two weeks. When he left, Wura was tearful and I found myself scolding him, rather unfairly, for behaving like a little child.

The week in between Christmas and New Year’s Day found me thinking about my mother and the circumstances of her death. On account of those thoughts, I had a few sleepless nights, and most mornings I was bleary-eyed. I read without pleasure and my mind became a block. I tried to scribble a few things that came to me in fragments, like seeing through a glass darkly, but other things began to interfere with my train of thought. While doodling, at times, I thought of Lawal, whom I had not seen or heard from since that distant day in July when he went to Kano as a Youth Corps member. Lawal’s disappearance from my life had been very difficult to come to terms with and, for nearly two years, I had avoided getting involved with any man. Later, shortly before my graduation when I flirted with a couple of boys in my faculty, I had done so with very little interest. In the course of my one-year stay in Enugu, I had turned down many of the advances that were made to me, and every time my father tried to ask if I was in any relationship, I always deflected the question with an incoherent answer. Thinking of these things now, I was not sure whether my lack of interest in a relationship was due to the memory of Lawal which I still clung to or the fact that, by nature, I was sometimes somewhat dour in my response to men, especially men who wanted to make me theirs, men who wanted to possess me.

 

ÿ

         

In the first week of the New Year, Wura’s hip was in traction for three days after a minor corrective surgery, and the following week, after intensive physiotherapy with Dr. Mamman, he was ready to take his first step with the help of a Zimmer frame. It was in that week that Patrick came to Mangu. He looked much younger, I thought, than the first time we met in Barkin Ladi. I was in the gym with Dr. Mamman, watching as Wura was being taught to use the Zimmer frame, when he came, clutching a small briefcase under his arm, and smiling somewhat sheepishly. He was dressed smartly in a pair of faded jeans and an open-necked shirt. Dr. Mamman was very busy, for beside Wura, there were two other patients waiting to be attended to, so after a quick exchange of pleasantries with Patrick, he excused himself and returned to his patients. He would be back with us presently, he said, and could I keep Patrick’s company in the meantime? Of course, I said, and, turning to Patrick, I said, “It’s nice to see you again”.

“Thank you, er…”

“Aiyedun”.

“Ah, yes, yes. Aiyedun. Which of them is your brother?”

“That one” I said, pointing at Wura who was trying gamely to follow Dr. Mamman’s instructions.

“Ah, I should have thought so. The resemblance is unmistakable.”

“Is that so?”

“What is the meaning of your name?” he asked me, ignoring my question, and catching me by surprise.

“My name? It means the world is sweet. Why did you ask?”

“Sounds like the kind of name you give to an abiku.”

I was startled. How the hell did he know that?

“Obviously you knew before asking.”

“Were you an abiku?”

“I don’t know. Can we change the topic please?”

“Does it make you feel uncomfortable?”

“What?”

“The talk about being an abiku.”

“I’m sorry but it is not the kind of thing I like to talk about.”

“Ah, sorry about that. How about taking a stroll? I haven’t seen this place in a very long time.” I was indignant at the way he had spoken to me. Was he trying to humiliate me? What was he getting at? I barely knew him and here he was trying to make me feel bad. Was that the queerness Dr. Mamman had hinted at? As we strolled in silence, I braced myself for more insolence from him but he didn’t say anything again. His visage had become slightly broody. When he spoke, he did not hesitate, like the way he had done the first time I met him in Barkin Ladi. His speech was smooth and without a hint of stammer. It was a languid afternoon, with the sun shining brightly but with little heat. We walked round the wards, the workshops and the dormitories.

 

After a while, I began getting cramps in my legs and Patrick suggested we sat down at the small kiosk behind the gym for some refreshment. He bought a can of coke and meat pie for me and a bottle of Sprite and biscuit crackers for himself.

“Don’t you like meat pie?” I asked him.

“I’m a vegetarian”, he said between munches on his biscuit.

I sipped my coke but didn’t touch the meat pie. I made a mental note to keep it for Wura. He loved meat pie.

“So, why did you acquire the vegetarian lifestyle?” I asked him.

“Is vegetarianism a lifestyle?” he asked, smiling.

 

There was a sudden gust of wind. Patrick was silent, thoughtful, for a while. Then he said, “I began to develop a revulsion against meat the first time I saw a freshly disembowelled woman by the road side. The entrails were fresh and it was during a riot. Later, I learnt that the woman had been set upon by a mob. The mob had disembowelled her. She was pregnant when it happened.” He smiled mirthlessly and leant back in his chair.

I was shocked; appalled not by what he had said but by how he had said it, without emotion, without flinching, like a Doctor using an impersonal tone to inform a patient about something dreadful. The blood rushed into my face and I almost puked.

“I am sorry if this is distressing for you, but I thought you’ll like to know how or why I became a vegetarian. There were other sights of horror, sights that filled me with utter disgust. During the riots in Zaria in 1987, I saw decapitated bodies. Human bodies. I saw pigs feeding on decomposing bodies. I saw a man being set on fire. The smell of roasting human flesh has clung to my nose since then. How could anyone still have appetite for meat after such sights? I just couldn’t stand the sight of meat, especially red meat, any more. There was a time when even the very thought of meat made my gorge rise, made me feel sick.”

I felt sweat on my palm and in my armpit and my head began to spin. I wanted to ask him to stop but my mouth remained shut. The slight heat and dryness of that afternoon had seeped into my brains, as if trying to asphyxiate me. Why do we have a fixation with the morbid? I thought. Did he have to give all the lurid details of what he saw? At that moment, my mother’s image flashed across my mind and I shivered.

“Are you alright?” Patrick asked me, seeing how I had shuddered involuntarily.

“I’m fine” I said, managing a quick smile, sighing.

“Were you in Zaria during the riots?” I asked him, unsure really what to say.

“Yes. I was a teacher in St. Barth’s. You’ve heard of St. Barth’s?”

“Yes. I think it’s either an Anglican or a Catholic college.”

“Anglican. I was there when the riots broke out in Kafanchan.” There was a short pause.

Then I said, “My brother was in Kafanchan when the riot started. He was caught up in the fight that broke out in his school. My mother died less than seventy-two hours after the killings spread to Kaduna.”

“Ai! I’m sorry. How did she die?”

“She was killed. Her head was split open with a club.” I shuddered at the words I had just used to describe my mother’s death. My eyes were fixed on a spot in the distance, momentarily numbed. A group of disabled children was playing football with their hands, with some of them dragging themselves on their buttocks while others crawled on all fours. As I stared at them, the scene suddenly transformed before my eyes, and an eerie feeling of déjà vu settled on me.

As I had done repeatedly in the past three years, I found myself reconstructing, picturing the moments of my mother’s death. A neighbour who had seen it all while hiding somewhere in our house had told my father what had happened on that day. It was the second day since the riots broke out and it had spread to Kaduna. Many houses and beer parlous had been burnt across the city. Schools were hastily closed down and houses, shops and hotels were wantonly looted by rampaging youths. My parents were worried stiff because they had heard that the riots had started in Kafanchan College of Education where Dade was a student, and for two days since the orgy of killings and destructions had been going on, no one had been able to reach him or provide my parents with information about his whereabouts. My father told me how he had had to restrain my mother from finding her way to Kafanchan, in the midst of the danger and the lack of public transport to that part of the state at the time. He explained how my mother had been desperate, crying inconsolably because they could not get to my brother. There was nothing they could do. It was as if Kaduna had been placed under a virtual state of siege. Despite the presence of police and the army, killings and arsons went on unabated. In Enugu, the newspapers brought the stories to me.

 

On the day that my mother was killed, my father had been hastily summoned by some elders in our church because an irate mob had arrived threatening to burn down the church. “It was in the afternoon” he told me, “and we thought we could stop the church from being burnt. You see, most of the churches that were burnt were attacked in the night, when no one could stop the attackers. So, when we learnt that a group of Hausa youths were heading for our church, we quickly organized ourselves into a small vigilante group, to stop them from burning the church. We armed ourselves with hoes, cutlasses, clubs, knives and everything else we could find. But we were too late. We were only a yard or two from Kasuwan Gwari, just a stone’s throw from our church, when we saw a blaze. Our church had been set on fire and the youths who did it were still there, chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and threatening to bring down hell on us. We didn’t wait for anyone to tell us that we were being foolish. We all fled in different directions. By the time I got home, another group of rioters had already invaded our street. They seemed to have a list because they were systematic in their attack. They knew those of us who were Christians, especially those of us who wore white garments. In fact, I later found out that those who invaded our house were led by Mustapher and Ado, Mallam Shehu’s children. You remember Mustapher and Ado—they used to come here, to see Dade. Remember they were Dade’s playmates from childhood. The same boys whose birth your mother supervised. Anyway, by the time I got home, your mother had already been killed. Iya Dayo, God bless her memory, who witnessed it from where she was hiding in the toilet, said your mother had pleaded to be let alone but her pleas fell on deaf ears. Iya Dayo said she, your mother, was asked to recite something they called Kalmar Shahada or face death. When she refused, one of the boys who had invaded our house suddenly descended on her with a club. Two others also attacked her. By the time I arrived on the scene, all of them had fled, leaving your mother to die slowly. We couldn’t get her to the hospital before she died.”

“Do you know what I think about religion?” Patrick said all of a sudden, breaking into my thoughts, into my recollection. He had also obviously been silent for a while.

“What?” I asked him, sighing deeply, recovering my self-possession.

“It is something we invented, or something that was invented for us, in order to control us and with which we can control others. It is an instrument of deception. It is also an instrument of violence. Check the history of any of the world religions, any of man’s religion, and you’ll realise that violence, naked, sometimes disguised violence, has always been used to bring people to submission.” I was slightly surprised to hear him say that, as if he was echoing my thoughts.

“Is that why you left the seminary?” I asked him. He shot me a quick glance, surprised.

“Which seminary?”

“Dr. Mamman told me you were once a seminarian. Before you went to the University. Why did you leave?”

Patrick was silent for a while, a ruminative expression on his face. Then he reached into his pockets, brought out a crisp naira note, and asked if I’d like to have another can of coke. I declined and he bought himself a pack of crackers from the little girl minding the kiosk.

“Are you homophobic?” he asked me all of a sudden, taking a swig of his Sprite. I was not surprised at his question; I was learning to cope with his habit of flying off at a tangent, of making non sequitur statements.

“No. Why did you ask?”

“You wanted to know why I left the seminary.”

“Is that why you left? Because you were homophobic or because you—sorry if this offends you—because you were gay?”

“No. By the way, I did not leave the seminary. I was expelled. Mamman does not know this, and, honestly, I do not even know why I am telling you now.”

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t feel up to it” I said quickly.

“Oh no. It’s nothing. I think I can say these things now because there is a distance between them and me. A few years back, I wouldn’t have talked about them. But things have changed now. I can also talk about them with you because, I think I like you”. He passed his eyes over me and I quickly averted my gaze. What game was he trying to play with me now? Did he want to flirt with me? I adjusted my shirt, to cover my slightly exposed cleavage. 

“The priesthood had always held a kind of attraction for me, you see. When I was a kid, I had on several occasions flirted with the idea of joining a monastery, or of living a life devoted entirely to the service of God. I wanted to be God’s vessel of honour. But I didn’t ever openly express this desire. No one knew I harboured that aspiration. So, my decision to abandon secular education for the seminary was not something out of the blues even though my friends thought that it was something I did impulsively. It was a calculated decision. I went to Sacred Heart Junior seminary because I wanted to become a priest, to fulfil a childhood aspiration.”

He paused for a moment, chewed a bit on a piece of biscuit and gazed into the distance. The group of disabled students playing football in the distance was arguing excitedly. A male nurse from the hospital section walked past us, mumbling a greeting. We responded with the nod of our heads.

 

“Sacred Heart was a new experience for me. I went there with few supplies. My parents didn’t understand why I wanted to become a priest but they supported my decision. They gave me what little money they could afford and I augmented what they gave me with my own small savings and what I’d racked up from my friends. In Sacred Heart I was pleased with the new schedule, the asceticism of the place, and the various lessons in how best to serve God. I was pleased with the way things were done. Although I came without a mattress—because my parents could not afford one—I gladly slept on the spring bed that was provided in the hostel. I wore my rosary always and never failed to attend catechism. We were all boys, although some were men among us. Some came from rich homes while others could boast only of humble backgrounds. But we were all united in God, and in the death and resurrection of His only Son Jesus Christ, and the protection of His mother Mary.

In the first few months of my stay in the seminary, I immersed myself in the daily routine of attending classes, the rhythms of prep and manual labour, the observance of siesta, and the daily celebration of mass. I was excited about the prospect of becoming a priest. It was during that time that I met Donatus, a fellow seminarian from Mbaise, who offered me a mattress and we became friends. He came from a rich family, and his singular aspiration was also to become a priest. His bed was next to mine, and his ‘corner’ was one of the best equipped in our hostel. He had supplies in abundance, and he gave me whatever I wanted. He was older than me by two or three years, but he treated me as his equal and he often tried to protect me. We went to mass together, recited the angelus together, and read together in the library whenever we could. For a while we maintained a sort of harmony and friendship that provided me with an opportunity to luxuriate in my studies and in my devotion to God. This was how things were until one night when something happened that shattered everything.

Before that night, I had observed that Donatus liked to sleep in my bed. In the seminary, two people were not permitted to sleep in the same bed, and anyone caught doing so would be severely reprimanded. Each night, after light out, an auxiliary seminarian would go round the hostels to ensure that everyone was in his bed, but once the seminarian had left Donatus would come over to my bed. At times I would wake up to find him snuggled up beside me. I wasn’t alarmed; I was only worried that we could be discovered. I tried to dissuade him but he said it was nothing. Then it happened one night. I woke up suddenly, feeling that something was crawling in my shorts. I opened my eyes to find Donatus holding my penis, stroking it and rolling his eyes in ecstasy. My hand was on his penis too. I was shell-shocked. Then he began to beg me, saying that it was the devil and that I should not mention it to anyone, not even during confession. Throughout that day I was dispirited. At first I was sad. Then I became angry. But after a while my anger turned into bafflement. I couldn’t understand how anyone in a seminary would be a pervert. In my naivety, I never imagined that such a place could be home to boys given to such a practice. Blind with rage, I decided to report the incident to the priest that heard my confession the following Thursday. Telling the priest would not only help mollify my feelings, it would also ensure that my innocence was established before God and man. The priest would be horrified, I was cocksure, and measures would be taken to forestall a recurrence. But I was mistaken. When I told the priest, who listened to me impassively as I made my confessions, his reaction was placid, like a mule drinking from a pool of water. Adopting an impersonal tone, he simply counselled me to avoid sleeping in the same bed with Donatus, and that I should always read the Bible in order to keep impure thoughts away from my mind. After asking me to recite Hail Mary six times, he dismissed me.

I was, to put it mildly, completely flummoxed by the way the priest had treated the issue, the way he had heard my confession with a pinch of salt. I think that was when I began to have doubts about what I was doing in the seminary. I became disillusioned, not just because the incident had not caused even a stir, but because I soon found out that masturbation and illicit sexual conducts were rampant among the boys. I was even startled to discover that a certain auxiliary seminarian that I held in high esteem was having a liaison with one of the young girls that came to help out with some routine works in the seminary. To be candid, however, I stopped being bothered by those issues after a while. I thought to myself that it was not my business if they interfered with their bodies or did what the Bible says is unseemly. It was something else that became a source of concern to me. What began to bother me was the litany of confessions we were obliged to make. We faced the same confessor every week and confessed the same misdeeds, the same sins, day in day out, and as soon as we were done, we returned to them. I thought it was absurd. So I decided that I would stop going to confessions, that it didn’t make any sense. But I didn’t stop at that; I began to ask questions from senior seminarians, from colleagues and friends, and I began to influence others who also thought that the confessions were useless unless we could find a way to put a permanent stop to sinning. Words soon got to our Rector that attendance at confessions had dipped and that I had been influencing young seminarians to ignore confessions. I was not surprised when I was summoned and, after a summary trial, expelled for heresy. I think the ‘religion’ in me died that day.”

A silence fell on us. Then there was another sudden gust of wind. I wondered to myself how Patrick could be so fluent in his narrative, so different from the first time I met him when he had spoken in stammers. Ahead of us, in the lengthening shadows of the afternoon, the game of football had ended and another group of disabled students was chasing one another around in the field.  Some of them were on tricycles fabricated at the centre, and others were on crutches. I cast a cursory glance at Patrick; now, having narrated his story, he had a peaceful expression on his face.

“At the beginning, you asked if I was homophobic—was it because of what you have just told me?” I asked.

“Well, partly because of that. I wanted to ask you, actually, if you have an opinion about homosexuality. I wanted to be sure that you wouldn’t consider it a risqué subject. That’s why I asked first if you were homophobic.”

“I am not coy about sex. I believe that people have different sexual orientations and, in my opinion, everybody should be allowed to live the way they wish to.”

Suddenly, Patrick glanced at his wristwatch and, as though on cue, I glanced at mine too.

“We had better be leaving” he said. “Mamman should be through, I hope. I have to return to Barkin Ladi today. When will your brother be discharged?”

“In a week, I imagine”, I said, getting up and smoothening my skirt.

“I’ll be back in two days. I’ll like to take you out when I come. Let’s have a quiet dinner together. What do you say?”

“There are no interesting places here” I said.

“Don’t worry about that. It doesn’t have to be here.”

“Let’s hope we’ll still be here by then.”

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