Apologies for my long absence on this here platform. Today, a story…
The words come to my blooming consciousness first. The spoken words. Hushed whispers trickling down to this place from another life. Like they have returned to me from a distant civilization, from an alternate reality.
“He’s been such a great husband. I feel so sorry for his wife and kid…”
“The best ones always seem to go first. He had so much potential…”
“No one deserves heavenly peace as much as he does. Such a saint…”
“Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust…”
Then the memories follow. The painfully contradictory memories. In vivid high-definition. More vivid than I ever remember experiencing them…
Borrowing that five naira I knew I would never return from mother’s purse without her permission when I was eight.
Playing truant at fourteen and then changing my grades to cover up.
At twenty one, handing cash to two of my girlfriends, within hours of each other, to terminate the blossoming life I had carelessly planted in them… and then directing them to the same clinic.
Defiling an ex-girlfriend’s matrimonial bed as my best friend smiled down at us from a picture frame on the wall.
Hitting my wife in the face repeatedly the morning of the day I was going to die…
These and many more images flash through my reintegrating consciousness even as my whole being begins to take shape. I feel like I am… how do I put this now? Brand new! Much like a human clone must as it comes into existence all grown up but with memories that it has never experienced but in actuality, belonged previously to an entire other person despite the resemblance in DNA build-up, physical features and even psychological patterns they may share.
Even as this assimilation settles in, more memories flash by. Good memories of myself carrying on genuinely saintly occur now but they are few and far between and in no way as vivid as the ones that have captured me as an unmasked perpetrator of evil. It would appear I did not live the most purposeful of lives. Even now, my last conscious memory replays itself in my mind’s eye and this one also has me playing the antagonist…
* * * *
As my car hurtled down the highway, I muttered under my alcohol-laced breath, in the words of a pedestrian road-farer as he barely dodged the missile I was driving, “…like pesin wey dey crase!”. He was referring to my driving but there was hardly any difference in the way you would have described any other thing about me that night. The very thoughts that raced through my head, a few of them exiting through my lips, were those I would have ascribed to a lunatic only that afternoon but here I was saying things I had sworn never to many years ago.
My seven-and-a-half month pregnant wife was in labour, induced, and I was beside myself with apprehension since I had received the phone call. I had been drowning my few but highly buoyant sorrows at my desk at the office when the call came through from my best friend. He was placing the call from the hospital where he’d rushed my wife after he found her unconscious in our living room. He believed she may have fallen down the stairs, but my still-bruised knuckles and I knew better.
The speed at which I sobered up as I dashed to the car was astounding and thus began my race to the side of my wife and, by extension, my unborn child. She must have been lying on that cold floor all day and I feared for the life within her. This suddenly brought upon me a huge wave of guilt. Not only at the part I had played in putting my offspring in danger, but also for my other offspring whose lives I had played a part in taking many years back.
The guilt, which I had kept at bay for so long then began to bring to the surface other atrocities I, only now, felt deeply ashamed of. The best friend whose trust I had betrayed and never confessed to, was the same one now being a friend in deed. The realisation of the undeservedness of the punishments I had meted out from time to time on my once-beautiful wife drove me to tears and I began to beg for forgiveness from ears that were still all the way across town. I cried out also to the God whom I had purposely turned my back on for forgiveness and begged Him to spare the life of the ones I had almost forgotten how to love.
And the tears flowed, tears of unabashed remorse. But as with any thing that is right, but has come at the wrong time, they only did more harm than good. The tears blinded me and with my emotions raging the way they were, I never though to stop and pull myself together. I drew my sleeves across my eyes to clear my blurry vision but, ironically, only succeeded in blinding myself totally… only for an instant, but one which turned out to be truly tragic. The car struck something, very hard, the impact sending the vehicle spinning and flipping along the bridge across which I had been racing.
I found myself screaming “Jesus!” repeatedly as the car rattled, rumbled and cavorted, pieces of plastic, metal and glass flying everywhere, some making impact with my body and inflicting some damage as they did. The car finally ground to a halt now resting on its roof, leaving me suspended upside down in the driver’s seat. The only reason I was still conscious was the seat-belt that had me still securely strapped to the seat. The air bags which had deployed on impact and the strong hull of the car which had neither crumpled nor fallen apart may have also helped.
The car appeared to be lying across the bridge and with my head crooked at an angle which had me looking out my window, I saw what appeared to be another wreck. One far worse than the one I was in. The danfo bus, which it appeared was what I had struck, lay propped up on the crumpled railing of the bridge like a child’s forgotten plaything. From where I hung, with my head so close to the ground, I could see blood, flesh and body parts litter the tar leading to the mangled bus and could hear a few passengers, alive and still trapped in the yellow and black metal carcass, scream and moan for help. As I watched, horrified to my very marrow, the twisted, distended railings which had hitherto held the bus half-suspended over the lagoon below gave way and the danfo fell out of sight, taking its few living passengers to their watery deaths.
All the pain I was beginning to feel across my body and even the blood rushing to my head and making me feel faint could not keep the horror of the fact that I had just killed all those people, and possibly my wife and child also, from my fading consciousness.
The dust was settling and I knew witnesses and onlookers would soon begin to arrive, some with help and others with accusatory stares. Suddenly, the eerie silence that settles briefly immediately after accidents like the one I had just been involved in was cut by a sharp, increasing sound. I turned my head in the direction it seemed to be approaching from, the passenger’s window, and saw the unlit headlights of a large vehicle bearing down on me. The screeching from the tyres’ frictional romance with the road got louder and louder till it was deafening.
I never even heard the impact that killed me.
* * * *
My new eyes flutter open as the memories come to an end. I look around me and see that my new body, clothed in swaddling apparel seems to be suspended mid-air in some tiny room padded all round with soft fabric. No, this is no room, it is a box… A coffin!
This sudden realisation would ordinarily throw me into a panic trying to figure out how I have come back to life in the coffin I must have been buried in and how I will get out of it but they do not seem like such a big deal at the moment. Somehow, I can tell the answers will present themselves in due time.
As I try to figure first how I can see anything in an enclosed place with no visible source of light, the door opens… I think of it as a ‘door’ because in the apparent absence of gravity, I had not realized that I was actually ‘floating’ upright and not face up and also the lid of the coffin had opened much like a double door and unlike any coffin I had ever seen in my short life on earth.
The door must have been opened by this beautiful, huge, winged person in front of me. Behind him is a huge, huge room that seems endless yet has a sky, mountains and hills, bodies of water and an ecology all its own. The best way I can probably describe this place is as an inverted planet. Creatures fly, soar, hover and walk all over the place as far as my eyes can see.
The winged one speaks holding out one hand towards me
“I am Elon Unya, welcome to The End of the Ages”
With his other hand he makes a sweeping gesture towards the room, which I now notice has its source of light in its centre. I take his hand and he begins to fly me towards The Light at an unfathomable speed.
“We have all just now relived with you the memories that make up the life you lived on earth and it is now your turn to take the witness stand and make account to The Creator how that life was spent.
“It is the life you lived, the decisions you made, that shall determine whether you shall now live… Or die…eternally”
We arrive at The Light of the World and I take the witness stand which is really no stand at all. Just me ‘hovering’ beside Elon Unya in the midst of the greatest presence ever experienced. As I look up on at His tripartite being, I see immeasurable mercy and grace look back upon me, but also see in His eyes that the time for grace is over.
As I open my mouth to speak, to try to make what I already know will be a pathetic attempt to make a case for myself, I hear His unmistakable voice, the one I ignored for so many years on earth, speak into my very heart, but somehow, also to the hearing of every being present.
Judgment is passed.
As Elon Unya takes my hand to take me to the place where I shall be spending eternity, I think to myself:
Apparently, here too, actions speak louder than words.
Considering the scenario painted above, where do you think our ‘saint’ will end up? Does making a careless mistake that results in such a tragedy count as ‘sin’? Would you say he deserves the grace, made available only while he lived, which he had consciously turned down most of his life or do last minute ‘repentances’ count?
Say your piece…