Kamarudeen Mustapha

- Kamarudeen Mustapha

His sickness was spiritual, diabolical, and unnerving. He lived every time on the fear of his impending death, and that unsavoury expectation had taken away all happiness and sway from his hapless life.
    He knew he was going to die. He knew he had been dying fifteen years ago when he committed the abomination that had denied him the life of achievement for which he knew he was destined. But that noble destiny had been blown away before him like a powder in the wind. Consequently, he had thrown his parents into an everlasting sorrow and his grandmother into regret and penury after a long spell of prosperity.
    Fifteen years ago, he was a bubbling youth of twelve years in a junior secondary school. His parents believed they had a world beater in him due to his many brilliant feats. He was to be a conqueror that would suppress all adversities and bring the coveted laurels home to them. Because of this beckoning future of glory, they vowed to make every sacrifice possible to launch him on to that space where every spot of opportunity would be laid bare before him and be accessible to him.
     It was the end of the session holiday, Akin who lived at Ibadan had to travel to a roadside bustling little town in Ondo state. The town was a popular stopover for passengers travelling from the south western parts of Nigeria to the northern parts. They usually stopped there to refresh themselves.
     There were different varieties of food and local snacks to eat. Akin's grandmother had a stall in the town where he sold bean cakes roasted in edible oil to the stopping - over travellers, and she made brisk business. From the proceeds from the seemingly increasing sale, she had been able to build two big houses in the town and a bigger one in comparison to the former in the state capital, Akure. She had a car also, and two buses used for commercial transport.
    All the food and snacks sellers that dotted the roadsides were becoming prosperous, but Akin's grandmother's prosperity was more spectacular. It might have been the fact that she was the first of the numerous beancakes makers and sellers to have started plying the trade there, but there was another factor worthy of mentioning.
     Some twenty years earlier when Akin's mother was a student at the only secondary school in the town, an itinerant Islamic scholar was passing through the town. He was an Ilorin man, and was obviously vastly equipped with the knowledge of of Islamic spirituality and traditional magic. He was dressed garrulously in flowing gown, though, brownish dirty, due to his endless wanderings which didn't afford him much space or luxury for laundry. He donned a mammoth turban that strapped most of his face, except his eyes and nose. If not for his coal tar black gleaming skin, one could have mistaken him for Tuareg from the sand spewing Sahara desert.
     He came into grandmother's spacious stall and gave the salaam. The aura of mysticism and spiritual importance which seemed to be oozing out of him like water current from a fall immediately overwhelmed the grandmother. Streams of sweat were coursing through her face and buxom chest at the blazing fireplace where she was busy rolling the massed bean into balls and dropping them into white boiling oil. She was not rich then. She was simply a hardworker who also prayed she sold the few number of beancakes made from her modest bean supply.
     When the Mallam came into the stall, something told her that the visitor was no ordinary visitor, but a benevolent angel primordially programmed to oil her way to prosperity. She stopped stuffing her blazing fire and the moulding of her massed bean into balls, washed her hands and stood up to welcome the man.
     " Alfa, you are welcome," she said. " Please come inside here where smoke will not sting your eyes." She led him deep into her stall to where a table sat surrounded by two sifas.
    "Our mother. Did you stop what you were doing to welcome us? " he asked. He was drawing continuously at his big dangling chaplet that had two leather covered charms sewed into it.
     " Yes Alfa, there is the sign of God in you. And something told me you need a good rest and refreshments," she said. Smile of willing hospitality creased her lips.
    The Mallam smiled too. His eyes were blinking with unremitting benevolence. He said to her, " your inner eyes are not blind like most people's. You are able to identify real men among wee little ones and lions among rodents."
       He sat down. He gazed at her. " Feed me, wise woman as much as God direct you. I'm sent to someone here. If you were that person, your fortunes shall surely change for the better. You will prosper, and this town also will because of your gift of insight.,"
     Grandmother didn't think she was about to be conned as most people would think because she was a generous woman. She went to the pot on her blazing fire and scooped five big balls of her beancakes, wrapped them up in a paper and gave one of her two girls to take to the Mallam who was busy muttering prayers and pulling at the seeds of his chaplet in unsparing velocity. She gave the other girl some money to go and buy a loaf of bread and a bottle of Fanta.
    The Mallam broke his supplication and said, " this is what Allah requires of good people. Hospitality from the heart -- from the core of your heart. A good woman. Hmmmmm...... A good woman. And Allah will come to your aid. I know you don't pray like we do, but you are generous.Wallahi! And Allah loves he that gives generously of what he gives him." The Mallam patted his turban and readjusted its lower rump that held closely to his chin. He whispered a bismillah and began to eat his loaf of bread and the beancakes. He washed it all down with the soft drinks.
      Grandmother took him home as he required. He spent the night alternating between prayers and counting his chaplet to the accompaniment of divine mantras. The following morning, he asked the woman to bring two fresh beancakes. She rushed to her stall and brought them. They were still hot and drippling oil. The Mallam prayed over them for a very long time and put them in a thick chinaware. He covered the chinaware and gave it to the grandmother and told him : " Keep this very safe in your wardrobe for as long as you want to remain in this beancakes business. And when you decide to abandon the business, throw the cakes into a pit latrine or bury them deep in the ground. As long as you keep these beancakes with you, your business frying and selling beancakes will flourish. You will become a success. You will make money, you will make fame. This is the little way I can help you. "
     Grandmother knelt down before the mysterious Mallam and said her gratitude. She took the chinaware into her bedroom, opened her wardrobe and put it behind and underneath her clothes. She rummaged through the recess of of the wardrobe and brought out her whole saving ---- ten thousand naira. She divided it into two and took one half of it to the Mallam in the sitting room.
    " Take Alfa. It for you," she said.
    The man regarded her and laughed. " A true alfa is a single man who is equal to a thousand. The word alfa is taken from alf which means a thousand in the language of the people of the leader of men. There is still another half of this where you brought this." He said and regarded Grandmother who stood trembling in front of him. He smiled and told her, " relax, good woman. Go and bring the other half. "
     Grandmother turned meekly and went to her bedroom. She opened the wardrobe and brought out the other half. She took it to the Mallam, she knelt down and gave it to him.
    " Good! I'm not fleecing you dry. I just want to go with relics of your days of want because your days of plenty begins tomorrow. "
    True to the Mallam's prediction, the following day marked the beginning of Grandmother's fifteen years of abundance. It was during this period that the fortune of the roadside town where she lived also peaked. It began two months after, when a new four lanes road was constructed over the erstwhile old one lane old road. The road became a popular one that linked the South western parts of Nigeria to the north. It brought more road users, it brought more cars and commercial vehicles and more passengers, and thus more patronage to Grandmother and her fellow roadside traders. More than anybody else, Grandmother became a great success.
    In the fifteenth year of grandmother's successful turning point, Akin, who had been born twelve years earlier came from Ibadan to spend the end of session holiday. He was bubbling with life. He was exceptionally happy because Grandmother had promised him a lot of things. Grandmother promised him all these goodies because of his impressive performance in school. He regarded himself as a special breed who could tread on the pavilions of the titans.
     Wherever he was alone at Grandmother's house, he ransacked every part of the house. One day, he opened grandmother's wardrobe. He rummaged through the assorted clothes Grandmother kept there, they were mostly the traditional types his mother didn't have. He wondered how most of them would look on his mother's slender figure. He continued his exploration and he came upon the fifteen-year-old ritual chinaware. Without a thought, he opened it, and the two beancakes kept inside were as fresh as if they were just fried, and they sent out such sweet aroma he never knew exist. As if he was being compelled by a higher force he fell on the beancakes and began to eat them like he had not eaten for days.
     The moment he finished eating the beancakes, a million tragedies began to assail him, Grandmother and her little flourishing roadside town. For him, he went into a trance and started foaming in the mouth. While he lay there with twitching limbs and nobody to help him, his spirit was roaming the wastelands of Mars which was dry and hot as he read in his junior encyclopedia. He ran and ran until he was tired couldn't run again. Soon he began to feel choked until he couldn't breathe freely again. His breathing came out with panting and hiccups. And as he coughed and hiccupped, he thought he was vomiting some unseen components of him into thin air, and his body shriveled until he became a rack of bones and ragged skin. His bones, muscles and veins seemed to have been hiccupped and coughed out. He lay there unable to lift an arm or a leg. He had become even in that dream state, a helpless vegetable. That was what he woke up to be.
    For Grandmother, a car lost its control and rammed into her stall. It swept straight through the cooking stones, upturned the giant flat pots in which the beancakes were being fried, four benches and two tables at which six people were eating. The car caught fire and the whole stall was afterward set ablaze. Three people including the driver of the car were killed and Grandmother herself sustained a fractured leg.
     For the roadside town, the Government evacuated the thriving roadside market and relocated it to about six hundred meters away from the former place. Many of the proprietresses of the stalls and shops, after dismantled their former establishments were not keen to set up again, they moved to another roadside town about ten kilometers away. They began another thriving market that soon catapulted the new settlement to another bastion of prosperity. The former roadside town quickly went out of reckoning.
     Akin was still a living dead fifteen years after. He could walk about, albeit like a gasping chameleon, he could discuss fairly intelligently, albeit haltingly -- words didn't easily drop to his tongue, but he seemed to have no flesh inside his wrinkled acne infested skin and brittle bones. There were also times he was rendered immobile by excruciating pain that seemed to be constant in every part of his body. And then there was also that unremitting stomach ache that throbbed within him forever.
    All these had made him to stop going to school twelve years ago. Likewise, he couldn't pursue any occupation to earn him a living. At twenty-seven, he still depended on his parents for sustenance. The parents themselves had become impoverished as they had always spent all their earnings in pursuit of cure, both orthodox and non-orthodox for him. The sought-after cure remained elusive.
    In the last three years however, the parents put a stop to their unrewarding search for cure for him. The education of his three younger siblings had always suffered in the past because of him. Now they made up their minds to do something towards giving the long-denied children strong footholds in life too. Thus, they resigned themselves to the uncharitable reality that Akin could not be helped again.
    Akin himself had resigned himself to his fate. He was expecting himself to die anytime. He had often been told in his many trances that he would surely die, and he was ready for it to come whenever it would come. He had also become a born again Christian. He thought he had nothing at stake in life again except his life which was forever ebbing away. Whenever he felt his pain, he would open his bible and read and read. Many times, also, he would talk to himself: " I know you this pain will go away like you always go away. But it would have been better for you to kill me so that I will go and rest." At times he would say: "This life is always a tragic affair, and everybody feels his own type of pain. This is my own type of pain. One has to be a living being to have a pain. Thank God for my life, thank God for my pain."  When the pain became very intense and the urge to cry was so great, he would say in between sobbing. "Heaven is our true home. We are mere sojourners here. One can never be happy in exile. That is why I suffer this much. I'm a prince of heaven, that's why the principalities of this world hate me so much and torment me so great. One day death will come to redeem me of this pain. My sweet Jesus will send me temporary but sweet death to rid me of this painful body. He will give me another healthy and beautiful one instead of this wrecked one. Then he would feel happy in his pain. He would even have smiled at the prospect of death. He had learnt to be valiant and happy when the pain subsided.
    And now his youngest sister, Lara came to him, and sat on a chair facing him on his bed.
    " What now, brother Akin? Are you thinking of the future? " she asked.
     " Future? No, my dear Larry girl. I'm thinking of sweet death and Lord Jesus, " he replied with a smile on his spent lips.
     " But death is not sweet. People don't want to die."
    " And life is not sweet either, especially mine. It has been constant pain, and occasional relief like I'm having now. Death must be an elixir. "
     "What is an elixir? "
      A relief....  a solution ... a panacea."
     Lara laughed. " Panacea. Another big one. Brother Akin, you are a brain. It is a pity you couldn't go beyond junior secondary school. "
     He took Lara's right hand and squeezed it. He laid the hand on his chest and said, " Lara. Elixir and panacea are not big words for a twenty-seven years old man like me. I shouldn't be here if not for my sickness, I should be at the right place where I could use bigger words than elixir and panacea. And I could conveniently give you all that you need, my little sister. "
     " But you can still give me. When there is life there is hope. " She stared at him with big unhappy eyes on which traces of tears were beginning to form.
      Akin said with slow flat voice. " I'm going to die, Lara. I won't be able to give you anything like a big brother. I won't also be able to give our parents anything in return for their sacrifice and love. But Jesus is always there, he will reward them. "
    "But brother, why won't you stop thinking of death for a change? Think of life. There is possibility of it. You have been like this for fifteen years and you are still here. Many with lesser degrees of sickness have died." She continued to stare at Akin with wide unhappy eyes. Akin looked at the roof from the bed on which he lay. And Lara continued. " Pray to God --- Pray to Jesus too. We are born to live and contribute our quotas to make the world a better place than we met it, not to die. So, think of life. Jesus can give it." Lara said, close to tears.
    Akin smiled. "Lara, think of this. Now you are thinking of life and almost crying while I'm thinking of death and smiling. Do you see, life and death are two sides of a coin, the important thing is to be happy…"
     "And hopeful. "Lara put in. " You've been like this for fifteen years, two years after I was born. Wallahi, you may not die. "
     Akin sighed. " Do you know why I pray to die? I don't want to remain like this - an invalid who siphons our parents' meagre resources and deny you and my two brothers the chance to go up in life. Without my sickness draining our parents' purse, Dare and Tayo could have graduated from university. "
      Lara dashed to his table, ransacked the books piled on its top and brought out a copy of bible. She opened it to the book of Job.
     " Have you ever read the book of Job? "
     " Yes, many times. "
      " Don't you believe in his type of miracle? "
     " I have never thought of it. "
     " Think of it now. Claim it for yourself. The miracle of Job can still be repeated in your life."
     Akin looked at Lara and smiled. "You this girl sha!"
     " Yes brother. It shall happen to you! "
     "Amen. "
     " It shall be your lot! "
      " Amen. "
     And that night, Akin thought of Lara and the miracle of Job till the day broke anew. That day, he stopped thinking of death. The possibility of life filled him to the brim. He dismissed the voices from his dreams that told him he would die and proclaimed to himself every time: I will not die but live.
     Another day in the afternoon, he woke up from a troubled dream in which he was told he would die again, and he answered. " I shall not die but live. "
    "You will die because you have no discipline. You ate what you were not supposed to eat. "
     "I have learnt my lesson. "
     "It is late. What you ate was poison, it has done its damages. "
    "Every damage can be healed if God wills it. "
     And he woke up, and the Mallam of thirty years ago who made the fortune charm of fried beancakes for Grandmother entered into his room. He was very old and shrunken now. But the big turban still sat upon his ancient head. He lay his shivering right hand on Akin's spent chest and mumbled some prayers. Akin sat up like a spring released and threw up. Two fresh beancakes like the ones he ate fifteen years ago fell on the floor of the room. He fell asleep afterward.

    When he woke up, all his ailments were history. 

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