Amaziah eyed his bowl of fufu and vegetable soup with relish. After all, hadn’t he worked hard enough that day to deserve it? And the bonus was that Mama Iyabo was in a good mood today, so she had added two extra pieces of meat to his plate. He looked at the food again, and his mouth began to water.
“Hmm… it looks like God has buttered your bread today, not so?”
Amaziah looked up at the source of the remark with surprise. Who was interrupting his daydream?
A tall, gaunt stranger smiled back at him in apology. “It’s OK… I understand that you want to want to attend to the serious business of feasting. I just couldn’t help noticing how happy you are, as someone who has finally got what they have been looking for.”
“Is it so obvious that I’m happy?”
The stranger angled his frame into a seat at Amaziah’s table. “Oh yes. And I should know – I used to be in that business of making people happy, when I was a god.”
Amaziah did a double-take. “A god? Are you serious?”
The stranger gave a wry smile. “Yes, I was once a god. A reluctant god, but a god nonetheless.”
“I don’t believe you. How come you’re no longer a god? Who would give up that power?
The stranger kept on smiling. “You know, that bowl of fufu in front of you looks rather appetising. Perhaps if you make it worth my while, I might consider sharing my story.”
Amaziah regarded the man with suspicion for a while, and then he relented. “All right, you can share my meal”, and he gestured towards the bowl of fufu.
The smile vanished quickly as the stranger stood up in outrage. “What? You expect me – an ex-god – to share a meal with you? My friend, you can do better than that. Ask the madam to serve me a bowl of fufu twice the size of that, and ask her to serve a bowl of soup that is swimming with meat.”
For the second time that morning, Amaziah was nonplussed. This man had real audacity – asking him not only for food, but demanding that he be served so much food. However, for some strange reason, Amaziah decided to humour him, and called out to the bukateria proprietor to serve the man as he had requested.
The meal was brought, and after the man had eaten a few morsels, he cleared his throat, and said “This is one fine meal. I must pay my compliments to the madam when I’m done.”
“Before you pay any respects, remember that you still owe me a story” Amaziah reminded him irritably.
“Ah yes… the story.” The man closed his eyes, as though trying to remember events from long ago. “It happened like this…”
“A few years ago, I had a good job in a big company. I was an aggressive go-getter, and I generally tended to look out for myself, so I was on my way up the company hierarchy.
“Anyway, I was parking my car outside my flat after a stressful day at work. As I got out of my car and walked towards my flat, I heard my name being called. I was irritated – who was disturbing me when I wanted nothing more to do than to get retreat into the comfort of my flat and forget about the hell outside? So I ignored the call and walked on.
“But the voice kept calling my name in a flat monotone… and finally I was forced to turn round and confront whoever it was that was doing the calling. To my surprise, I couldn’t see anyone. I scanned the darkness and called out for the person to show themselves… and in reply, I heard a voice that seem to come from thin air.
“‘Yes, I am here. Thank you for finally acknowledging my call at last.’
“I shook my head, as though I was having a bad dream that I was trying to wake up from – but the voice kept on talking.
“‘I assure you that you are wide awake in possession of all your mental faculties, and this really is happening to you. So I would like you to stop fidgeting and pay attention, because this is important.’
“‘As you know, there is a excessive amount of wickedness, pain and unhappiness in the world today. The good news is that an initiative has been launched to roll back the tide of badness; a drive has been started to recruit people who will act as agents of positive change. Where there is pain, they will bring relief. Where there is suffering, they will bring joy. Where there is starvation, they will bring…’
I interrupted him with a burst of harsh laughter.
“‘I don’t know who – or what – you are; I don’t know where you’ve come from; I don’t know how you know me – and you’re asking me to sign up to some crazy band of do-gooders? Especially when the only person I’m interested in doing good for is myself? Now I know I must be dreaming!’
“The voice went on in the same monotone. ‘I am not asking you to sign up; I am telling you that you have already been signed up. There is nothing else left to say – you will understand all tomorrow morning. I must now depart, having fulfilled my mission’
“I stared for a long time into the darkness, but I heard no more. Then I shook my head again and trudged back to my flat.”
The stranger leaned back and smiled at Amaziah. “You don’t believe any of this, do you?”
Amaziah, who had been listening with rapt attention, said that he didn’t know whether it was true or not, but he was definitely interested to know what happened next.
The stranger went on. “Anyway, I woke up next morning, feeling no different from normal. I got ready for work, and I was just sitting down to breakfast when there was a knock at the door. I got up to answer it, and there was a man I knew from down the road standing there.
“I was irritated at having my meal interrupted, so I asked him brusquely what he wanted.
“‘You are asking me?’ the man responded incredulously. ‘Was it not you that asked me to come here this morning to collect the money that I need for my child’s school fees?’
“I looked at the man as though he had lost his mind, and I coldly told him that at no time did I do such a thing, and I would appreciate it if he could kindly leave me to finish my meal.” The stranger smiled, and went on, “As you can tell, I am a man who does not suffer fools gladly.”
Amaziah concurred that he himself would have been even less charitable.
The stranger went on. “But the man stood his ground – he was adamant that I had asked him to come round. He pointed to a book that I had on my table, and he said that I had told him that the twenty thousand naira that I had promised him was in the book at page 133, and that I should open to that page.
“Naturally, I was only too willing to accommodate him, since I believed that he was totally wrong. But imagine my surprise when I opened the book, and there indeed were forty crisp five hundred naira notes lying there as cool as cucumber! I was so astonished that I handed them over to him without protest, when what I should really have done was to pocket the money for myself. The man was so overjoyed that he thanked me profusely, saying that God would bless me, then he rushed out of my house a very happy man.
“After he had gone, I began to search my entire flat for any hidden money that may have been lying around. After all, if another person turned up asking me to give them some money hidden somewhere, I wanted to make sure that I got to it before they did. Unfortunately, my search didn’t turn anything up. I scratched my head in puzzlement, and I finally decided that perhaps this was one of those rare events that simply defied explanation. So I finished my breakfast and left for work.
“The moment I entered my office, I was accosted by a colleague of mine, who thanked God that I had arrived at last. I asked my colleague to wait a moment, and I proceeded to search my clothes and my entire work area for any money that might magically have appeared. I then excused myself and went to the toilet so that I could conduct a thorough strip search of myself. Having satisfied myself that I was ‘clean’, I emerged and asked him what he wanted.
“A look of surprise came over my colleague’s face. ‘You should know, now’, he said. ‘After all, you were the one who said that I should bring a white handkerchief to work so that you would use it to cure my daughter of the sickle cell anaemia that has troubled her all her life.’
“‘Oh yes’, I said – I was learning fast that pretended wisdom was better than genuine ignorance. ‘Yes, I remember now. Did you also remember to bring the ten thousand naira that I asked you to bring?’
“My colleague stared at me in silence as his expression turned from one of entreaty to irritation, then finally he spoke. ‘Why are you behaving like this?’ he asked. ‘Was it not you that specifically said not to bring any money, even when I offered you ten thousand naira? How can you be changing your mind like this?’
“I cursed inwardly at this ‘me’ who was so generous that he could afford to pass up a cool ten thou, and I sought to wriggle out of this bind. ‘Come on, now’, I joked. ‘You know how it is. Just because I said no doesn’t mean that I mean no. I mean, I’m going to cure your daughter – shouldn’t you at least show your gratitude?’
“My colleague was getting more irritated, and it showed in his raised voice. ‘Why are you playing games with me? I was minding my own business jejely when you came to tell me that you could heal my daughter – I didn’t go chasing you. And besides, you said that if you didn’t do it, there would be severe consequences. But if you are so confused that you don’t even remember what you said, abeg, let me go my own way – just don’t trouble me again.’ He moved to walk away, but I grabbed ahold of him.
“Wait – what was that you said? ‘Severe consequences’?
“My colleague moved to shake my hand off. ‘Look at you – feigning ignorance again. Anyway, I’ve said my own – if you don’t want to do, just leave me be.’ He moved again, but I said ‘No – wait. Let me see the handkerchief’.
“He calmed down at these words, and smiling, he produced the handkerchief and looked at me expectantly.
“‘Erm… remind me – what am I supposed to do again?’
“‘You said that you would roll it up in a ball, lift it up and shout ‘Yarooooo!’ in the office in a loud voice, seven times.’
“I briefly pondered the situation I found myself in. On the one hand, I was going to suffer a huge amount of embarassment by shouting like a madman in the office. On the other hand, an unknown terrible fate awaited me. I figured that better the devil you know…”
The stranger observed the naked relish on Amaziah’s face and fixed him with a fierce glare. “If you are expecting me to recount the humiliation that I suffered that day blow-by-blow, you are very much mistaken. Instead, I will fast forward the story to the evening of the same day, when I returned from work and I pondered the day’s events, thoroughly confused. Obviously, there was something strange going on – and it most likely had something to do with the visit of the previous night. I wished I had found out some more then about my new-found status as god, because I could now foresee every Tomi, Dike and Haruna approaching me to grant this or that favour.”
“With all due respect, I don’t think you could have called yourself a god”, interjected Amaziah. “The way I see it, you were more of a messenger than a creator.”
The stranger jumped to his feet in indignation. “You are talking nonsense! Who was the one granting the requests? Was it not me? Isn’t it the case that a god grants the requests of those who pray for them?”
Amaziah thought that it was actually some other unknown person granting the request – at least according to what he had heard – but he realised that keeping up the argument might end the story, so he placated the stranger by admitting he was wrong, and he urged him to continue.
The stranger settled down in his seat again, and went on. “Anyway, as I feared, it did get worse. People began showing up at my house with all kinds of crazy requests. Some asked me to spit in some holy water that they had brought. Some asked me perform bizarre dances. One person even brought a cane, asked me to flog him twelve times and hand over the cane when I was done. It got to the point where I was afraid to go out, because I didn’t know what crazy thing I would be asked to do in public. And all this while, I granted these requests because of the unspoken harm that could result if I didn’t.
“Anyway, several days later, I decided that enough was enough, and I wasn’t going to do any more healing for anyone. So for the next few days, when someone came knocking on my door, I would open it slightly, shout rudely at the person at the door to disappear, and slam it shut.
“‘I can see that you are resisting your calling.’
“I had just sent away another person requesting my help when I heard these words. I turned round to look for the face behind the monotonal voice, but again I could see nobody. ‘OK, whoever you are, explain yourself! How could you saddle me with this burden that is disrupting my life? Couldn’t you have chosen someone who was more interested in the welfare of humanity? At least, they would have been happy carrying out your assignment.’
“The voice spoke again. ‘We are choosing these people – but we also believe that people who are passionately against an issue make excellent advocates for that issue once they have been converted to support the issue. So you would be a very effective agent for good, if you could be made to care.’
“I was annoyed. ‘What makes you think that I want to care? I don’t want to do any more work on your behalf any more! And I’ll damn the consequences, whatever they are.’
“‘I would suggest that you allow a few days to pass before deciding you no longer wish to continue, instead of rushing to a decision.’
“‘No!’ I shouted. ‘I want my life back! I don’t want any more people bothering me, especially as I’m not getting any reward for this!’
“There was a long silence. Then voice said ‘As you wish’, and that’s all I heard from it.
For a while, I heard no more from anyone. Then one day, while I was getting ready for work, I heard a knock on the door. I opened it, and I saw the man who I had given twenty thousand naira to for his child’s school fees. Standing in front of him was a child.
“‘My son wanted to us to come here so that he could say thank you to you for the money that you contributed to towards his fees. Jonathan, here is the man who has helped you.’
“The child shyly said his thanks, and I felt a strange sense of gratification within me. ‘Oh, it’s nothing’, waving it away. ‘You can repay me by doing well at school’, I teased. The man explained further how grateful he was, because his child was really intelligent and loved learning; he would have found it heartbreaking to have to have been pulled out of school. Then they both bade me goodbye and left.
“I finally finished getting ready and drove to work. As I was parking, I saw the colleague whose daughter I was supposed to have healed. He saw me, beamed and walked across.
“‘I just wanted to personally thank you for making my daughter better… you have no idea how traumatic it was for us to have to watch her endure her crises time after time. Even though you rejected this before, I would actually like you to have this…’ and he offered me an envelope. I opened it, and in there was a picture of his daughter, as well as twenty five-hundred naira notes.’
“‘Now if he had offered me that envelope several days before, I would have taken the money without question. But today I felt different… so I gently took out the picture, and returned the envelope with its contents to him. ‘Thank you for sharing your good news with me’, I said. ‘That is all the reward I need’.
“And for the next few days, that is how the story ran. The various people I had helped came up to me with personal testimonies of how I had made their lives better. Of course they had thanked me the moment I had attended to them, but to see the healed bodies and happy faces they showed me was an indescribably gratifying experience. I began to look forward to the next person to show up at my door with another request, but the stream of people who had been previously calling seemed to have dried up. As I sat at home one evening, I wondered whether this had something to do with my outburst at the voice a few days ago.
“‘Yes, it does’, said a monotonous voice.
“I turned round, but again I saw nobody.
“‘So are you saying that my powers to do good have been stripped away?’
“‘Yes, they have’, it replied.
“‘But I’ve changed my attitude, as you said I would! Why remove the powers now? What about all the people who still need to be helped?’
“The voice was silent for a while. Then it spoke up. ‘You changed your attitude – but you changed it too late. Change happens when a critical mass of people believe that they can achieve something. The initiative to bring about positive change was no exception; it was hoped that there would be enough people to willingly act as agents of change. Unfortunately, too many people took your attitude. Even those who we thought were passionate about caring for people decided that there was too little benefit to them. As a result, the initiative is at an end.’
“I was stunned and disappointed. ‘I understand what you say’, I went on ‘but at least tell me who you are, and who you represent.’
“‘I cannot do that.’
“All right, what about me? Some of the people who came to me said that there would be severe consequences for me if I didn’t do what they had requested.”
“For the first time since I had heard it, the voice laughed. ‘That was your selfish self talking. I believe that they said that there would be serious consequences – but they did not say who for. Your egocentricity led you to believe that they were referring to you. As you probably realise now, they were referring to themselves and the rest of the world. You can see the consequences of putting your interests first; other people will forever be denied the benefits of the initiative.’
“‘But I am done speaking to you. I must depart – my mission in this dimension is done.’ And for the last time ever, the voice faded into silence, never to be heard again.”
Amaziah sat back smiling. “A fascinating story full of imagination and creativity”, he said, “I like the part where you talk about the voice returning to another dimension.”
The stranger returned Amaziah’s smile with a lopsided grin of his own. “You are free to disbelieve if you want – it doesn’t change the fact that the events I have related are true. You might even want to tone down your scepticism, because I might still have some residual divine powers left over from the encounter.”
Amaziah continued smiling. “I’m not afraid. After all, your powers are supposed to be used for doing good. I don’t mind someone doing some good for me right now. But thank you for the story – you have definitely earned your meal.”
The stranger shrugged. “And thank you for the meal”, he said. “I must be on my way now”, and he rose and left.
Amaziah watched him for a while as he ambled off. Then he turned back to his half-finished meal – except that it was no longer half-finished.
Strange, he thought. I’m sure that Mama Iyabo hasn’t been near this table. Where did this fresh bowl of fufu and vegetable soup come from?