It is three in the morning and almost everyone is asleep.
I am in bed, wide awake, feeling so light and at peace. I am waiting for Chekube to turn off the light. Ordinarily, I would walk to the door and turn it off myself. I try to shake it off…the weightlessness, and perhaps the guilt of it. Chekube will not just…How long does it take him to pray? Must he pray with the light on? Hopefully one of the other boys in the hall will decide to go out to pee. Soon. Very soon…I might as well dart my plastic torch at the bulb and put us both to sleep. Naaaaa…I would rather not ruin it. I am still too cold, too at peace.
Tonight was a relief.
You cannot imagine how deeply intense I feel when I can no longer reach me. Perhaps when I am too coked up with the sound of my mind’s voice trying to echo and memorise lines from my Bible and other books that I borrow from Elijah. Priesthood! - Or the training for it. I wish there were other aspirations that were vast enough to conceptualise my dream- not the one I have when I sleep. But in some silly way, this ‘vastness’ often cages me in routines and one memory verse too many. I know I am salt. But somehow it gets to the point where I’d rather be washed away than have anyone taste the woodiness of my mind. Sometimes I just want out. I want to be touched. I want to be held. I want to be told that it is okay to have fantasies of being touched…especially when I do not go out of my way to create them, when I dream them.
Do not tell anyone: I have been dreaming some more these days.
Just now I dreamt:
His hands were laced with veins. They seemed to breathe as he clenched on his white Gideon Bible. His wrists were bound in cuffs, tightly. His bald head, skinny arms and feet stuck out of his blue uniform. Sitting in the midst of seven other accused persons in the court that day, he stood out. Let us call him Tobi. He caught me. Every part of him caught me- and the very other possible stories that there were to him.
I was all grown up and in training to be a priest. I do not recall what I wore but I am sure I had the white collar and the polite afro. Tolu, my cousin sat amongst the lawyers at the bar.. He did not say much to me. He seemed busy, they all seemed busy. He did not turn back to look at me. But I could tell from the gold spot on his head that he was him.
The court was full and everyone seemed to be presided over one matter or the other- Lawyer to lawyer, judge to judge, layman to layman, everyone except me. I sat still at the gallery waiting for the actual court session to commence, to see Tolu address the court…and to watch Tobi.
Tobi caught my eyes. I had never been captured by a prisoner before. I believed that once a person is incarcerated, or on the path to being so, he is as good as an outlaw. He is as good as a person not worthy of being looked at. But there I was stealing one glance too many. I found myself thinking of what could have brought such a beautiful black man to this point- the point where he is conscious of God and judgement. Perhaps he was like me a little. Perhaps he was like me a lot.
He probably had a good life before now. Perhaps he was such a reader and had kept a long hall of book shelves for a study. Perhaps, he took notes too. Or he wrote in his diary…perhaps he slept on his books .Or he stacked them away neatly. Perhaps he was not one to sleep on a book. Perhaps he was not one to sleep at all. My mind raced and stopped, then raced some more.
Had he not been surrounded by so many officials from the Nigerian Prison Service I would have approached him. I wondered how many matters would be called up before his. I looked through the window, shooting a glance at the ixora shrubs downstairs.
His case was called up. He was not Tobi. His name was Amaechi. His voice charmed the court. He could not have been anything above nineteen years old. He had been charged with unlawful assault. Though he had no lawyer, the court discharged him on health grounds. The magistrate addressed him as one who was on his death bed, he demanded that all the cuffs be taken off. Amaechi’s guilt was still hanging. Tobi remained a saint. He was free for the time, and I sought so much to see him. He was still clad in blue, and he was headed for the courts gate. He would probably be welcomed by the world with sympathy for the ailment that ravished his body or he would be embraced with the several questions that surrounded. Still I was on his trail, forgetting that Tolu was in court, I dashed out. Out of the court and out for Tobi.
He had covered some poles and I followed stealthily behind. I did not want to draw attention to myself. I regretted that I was not a lawyer, then I would have offered my services free of charge and I would be permitted long sessions to speak with him as my client- the questions that I would ask…God help me. Then again, I may not have met him, had I not been in court, that court.
I thought of the several other opportunities I may have in the future had I not had this one- Perhaps, when I had become a priest after my graduation from the theological institute. May be then, I would be there to christen his babe or he could come to me for counselling. Perhaps, at worst I could be the one with whom he would share his last prayers at the gallows or I could be invited to his funeral and never know who he was.
At this time, I was half way across the town- a few seats behind him, in the same bus. I had ignored the several opportunities I had to approach him- even when we locked eyes on my entering the bus.
I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. However, it fascinated me.
Where was he going? I wondered if he had family…. I had never been in so much thought while remaining so lucid. I wished…I saw that it was just Tobi and I on the bus. If we had met before now, perhaps I would have driven him home in Tolu’s SUV.
We had boarded another bus and we were leaving Enugu when I sent Tolu a text message letting him know of my plans to sleep out for the night. And like Tolu, he called and called. I never picked. He should understand…I had never been so enchanted, so caught. Enugu was now far behind us and evening had come. He had been awfully quiet throughout the ride. Though we sat next to each other now, I had still not said a word to him. I was uncertain of the first words to say. I wished that I was an artist so I could sketch him a rough portrait- in hopes that it would thrill him.
‘What brought you to court today,’ he finally said. He knew that I had followed him.
‘I came with my brother,’ I said, ‘He is a lawyer and one of his matters was in court today.’
‘Oh..ok,’ he said turning to face the window. ‘ So why are you headed to Osha?’
‘My name is Wole, by the way,’ I said reaching for a handshake.
‘Ameachi’ he said, shaking my hands. Leathery palms…firm.
The bus jolted as it ran across a pot hole, and I woke up. Tobi had still not said anything to me and we had not yet shook hands.
I felt a strong connection. We must have met before. Perhaps I even followed him Twitter. Perhaps, we had shared an earlier life. Perhaps, he was one of those strangers with whom I locked glances, uncertain of whom there were or where they were headed.
On a closer look, he had little strands of curly hair on his chin. Perhaps, we had appeared in the same picture previously, or he had once dated my friend. ‘Who is this boy?’, I thought, ‘...this man.’
I imagined that we had visited the same places, but he had always left in good time before I walked in and I may never be as lucky again. I could not take that chance. I leaned over and kissed him. It was beautiful, and he did not flinch. I knew I was dreaming. This could not be happening. I tried pulling away but I could not. I felt Maleficent fly past. Then another Maleficent flew past. My eyes were open now. I was atop a hill. One so high I could reach the clouds and pluck it. Tobi…no Amaechi…no Tobi…whatever his name is, he was with me. We were standing by each other, holding hands. I willed him to speak. I willed him to speak again. I searched for words too. His palm grew warmer. Or what is it mine? Suddenly, the clouds seemed to descend like cotton drapes. I felt someone embrace me. I could no longer see. I felt. I only felt.
It is cold in my bed, wet on my crotch and dry in my mouth. There is no Tobi here- just nineteen other male secondary school students of Amara Government Secondary School, farting at intervals and talking in their dreams. I am still turning on my bunk bed, in attempt to out-squeak the two ceiling fans- that have been threatening to descend since we resumed this session. It is not working.
I am wondering what Elijah will say about it. He had earlier warned me not to eat in my dreams so that I do not get initiated into the witch-craft. Then he warned me to stay away from Bisi and Olumide-who he said turn to ikwi-ikwi the night bird at night to attend ikwi-ikwi meetings on the school’s cashew tree. He even told Kayode that it was revealed to him that his mother would die on one of her trips to Dubai. He then sold a bottle of Olive Oil to Kayode for the contents of a fat white envelope. Things turned around for him soon after, I mean Elijah. His seatmate, Fola, could not bear the strong smelling perfume he wore to classes. His inner vests got brighter. He bought new locks-the ones with codes-for his locker and Ghana-must-go bags after someone accused him of being too stingy with his Corn Flakes and threatened to raid his locker. And to say the least, he has never run out of Cornflakes, even in the toughest of times. Since he came back with that Jerusalem cap, and accurately predicted the questions of the last mathematics examination, he has become supernatural.
I admired him.
But I want to be a priest too, knowing stuff before they happen. I want to have inexhaustible cornflakes.
The lights are finally off. ‘Nepa’ took light. I jump down from my bed, groping in the darkness to the end of the hall. I am trying to keep to the middle of the aisle so as not to bump into metal suit cases or knock over water stored in plastic buckets. Sweet Lord, guide me to my locker.
Now, I am stark naked, staring into distant dark, holding my penis up with my right hand, blindly wiping off nearly dried semen from my scrotum and thighs. Suddenly, someone barges into our dorm room. A bright beam of torch light scourges me. It is the house master, Mr. Okpati.
Battery take light. Battery take light now.