By Mukhail Suleiman
It was nearly a year before I saw the reckless infidel, again. I had almost forgotten about his existence after continually timing my departure time to Gwagwalada to coincide with our first meeting, so I could have a rematch. I had even contemplated arranging for him to be ‘fixed’, if his tongue proved too sharp to be countered.
‘Fixing’ him was not a problem. I either planted a few Arabic inscriptions or scriptures around him and accuse him of blasphemy or desceration; or the easier method of following him to an area peopled with adherent like me, and simply screaming ‘blasphemer’. That would be enough to have him lynched. But that method would have to wait as a last resort.
In the weeks after our encounter, a few other preachers had suffered in my hands, because they got argumentative with me. I proved to them that, like their colourful and mouthy types who prance about on stage on television, they were hypocrites. Smooth-talking, suave, and very lacking in character. One came preaching to me and she ended up in my bed after a few days. Another turned out to be a business partner for weeks, only to end up trying to short-change me. He has scars to show for it.
When I tried pointing out his hypocrisy to him, Samuel brazenly told me: “Let us keep God out of it, business is business, after all you rejected my God”. I left God out of it, and he landed in hospital for stitches. To think that I was beginning to really like the infidel until he tried short-circuiting me.
Samuel was the one who kept insisting we were serving different Gods. “How can one God say he has a son who he sacrificed for the sins of mankind, raised from the dead on the third day after he tasted death and hell for anyone who believes in him; while the other God was unequivocal that he begat no one. How can you say we are serving the same God. One has to be the original and the other a fake.
“Mukhail, we will have to arrive there to God to know who is right and who is wrong. But by then, it would be too late,” he once told me. This comment of his and the prayer that God should have mercy and prove one of us wrong and save the wrong fellow before we die never stopped rankling me.
That was what began a friendship that dove-tailed into business which brought out the wily nature in him. And the beast in me. Kaffir, kowai! I missed his friendship, though.
The pretty young lady was truly sincere, even inviting me to her church; but I refused while pretending to be interested in her message. Then, she made the mistake of not coming along to the eatery with the serious-looking, serious-talking young man, Felix, I saw with her the first day. He, it was who punctured so many holes in my arguments that made me agree to give them my number for follow-ups.
He had pointed out when I accused him of seeking to convert me to Christianity that it was far from his intentions.
“Christianity is a religion and meant only to be filled out in forms. What I seek is for you to have an on-going, daily relationship and devotion to God…”
“And you think praying five times daily is not better than a party-like, dancing session in your Sunday-best one day of the week?” I deliberately and rudely cut him off.
He exploded into an infectious laughter that got us all into it. But he suddenly stopped, stared at me with those serious eyes for a long time before speaking up. Did I see pity in those eyes? Was this idiot pitying me?
“I wish you knew the Bible, I would have told you the story of Naaman, the Syrian general, who when he met the true God, embraced him, but as an aide to the king of Syria still went with him to the temple of the idol gods. But his heart was with God.”
“I know the story from your Bible, but is that not kind of hypocritical and treacherous?” I asked.
“Some judgments are best left to God, my friend, he sees the heart and not the hypocrisy of the soul or mouth.”
“What is your point?”
“My point is that it is not about people putting on Sunday-best, dancing, or what many describe as praise and worship in songs; it is about a heart dedicated to God and his ways in spirit and in truth. My point is that if you believe Abraham offered his son, but God stepped in by sending a ram, why do you not believe it was a fore-shadow of sending his own son, Jesus Christ, as the ultimate sacrifice for mankind because there is nothing anyone, born of a woman, can do to please him and win his favour…”
“What a beautiful and creative, crafty rendition. Let us talk about Prophet Ibrahim and his son, Ismail…”
“Ismail or Isaac?”
“It is Ismail, not Isaac. Your Bible says Isaac, but it is Ismail!”
“I disagree with you, but let us continue…”
“Disagree or not, I will rather believe a scripture delivered by an angel of God than one written by a man, no matter who delivered it.”
“But are you aware it was written by Moses, who heard the story directly from God on the mountain?”
That caught me on my blind side. “What did you say?”
“It does not matter, what is the point about Abraham and the sacrifice of his son?”
I was relieved that he provided an escape route for me. But I made a mental note to research into how Prophet Musa got the scripture from God directly. “My point is that it was Ismail that was to be sacrificed,” I said.
He smiled, looked at Joke who appeared so quiet and exquisite in her sitting position, looked at me; and asked quietly, “so what point was God trying to make by telling that story?”
“Please tell me,” I said, getting bored with this serious man telling me tales that confuse.
“But I already told you that it was meant to prepare us for the ultimate sacrifice of his son,” he said.
I yawned deliberately, and he fell for it, but not without sharing a piece of paper I knew was going into the waste basket as soon as I left them.
When we exchanged phone numbers, the serious moron did not know I did that to get Joke’s number.
After that day, I ignored his calls, but made my own calls to Joke, immediately after his calls, acting as if I mixed up their numbers.
I had never been with a Yoruba lady, even though in the University I was attracted to many. I had dreams concerning them, and when this delectable Christian one began to show ‘brotherly’ interest in me, I played my card well.
I cooked up stories about challenges she eagerly rushed to the popular eatery to come and pray over. Once, when she told me I needed to surrender my life to Jesus to end what she called my incessant spiritual problems, I restrained myself from reaching across the table and strangling her. I kept a straight face, and simply told her I was going to think about it, but she should keep praying for me. Every time I left her, I kept looking forward to our next meeting, because she was so sweet in her character I actually contemplated conquering her. She had this innocence that could have been unnerving had I not had my lustful motives.
Rape was out of it, because I feared for the bad publicity it could bring. My mother would simply kill me, though I was sure the menfolk in Katsina, Zaria, and Maiduguri would raise me shoulder high over the conquest. The urge to lure her elsewhere for the forceful settlement was strong; but so also was my love for Mama, who tthrough thick and thin, when Baba was busy marrying, divorcing, and re-marrying saw me through secondary school and university. He could not divorce Mama because he knew the consequences.
But the Joke urge was just too strong for me.
That was when the plot came to my mind: agree to follow her Jesus, play along, act as if I have fallen in love; ask her to marry me; and voila, that would be it. I made the call.
“Hello, Joke, I need to see you. Can we meet at the garden beside our regular meeting point?”
“I am kind of busy now, I hope all is well, Mukaila? she asked.
“I have told you it is not Mukaila, I am not a Yoruba man and will never be”.
“Are you sure? Are you sure you will not end up with a Yoruba wife, half-Yoruba children, and Yoruba in-laws?”
“Mukaila! Mukaila!! Mukhail, are you still there?”
I was still dumbstruck. My heart was racing.
“I am still here,” I muttered.
“What happened, Mukhail? I am sorry if that offended you”.
I quickly composed myself. “You know that will never happen. Not here on earth,” I bragged as I weighed what she just said.
“Okay o, but never underestimate heaven o”.
Now, I was confused, really confused. I hope I was still the hunter, not the hunted. I hope this pretty infidel was not playing games with me. I cut off the call unceremoniously. She couldn’t be serious. What was that a Christian Fulani girl from Malumfashi told me. “I cannot be unequally yoked in marriage with an unbeliever. I know your motive. It is to conquer me back to Islam, and that is over my dead body.” I vowed to see that dead body for describing me as an unbeliever, but she suddenly withdrew from Ahmadu Bello University, and no one heard from her again.
Joke tried calling back, but I ignored her.
And then the text message.
“Please forgive me.” I ignored that, too. For two weeks, I cut off communication with her.
By the middle of the third week, I sent a message: “I wanted to meet you to tell you about my decision on Jesus as I guess you may have prayed, but all that was on your mind was tribalism. I forgive you, but can’t see you again. Goodbye”.
It worked like magic. She called nearly a hundred times. She sent profuse apologies. Meanwhile, I was on a fast, consulting my Mallam on my plot, and hustling about Abuja, seeking to make ends meet. After the 30 days fast, I got in touch with her. I was now ready for the culmination of all things, backed by heavy prayers. It is now or never. I asked for a meet at the eatery. I made sure I was five minutes early.
She was five minutes late. And had Felix, the serious one in tow. I was mad. My brain was boiling. I was shivering in anger, gnashing my teeth.
They sat down. My head was bowed as I tried to calm down. And then he spoke: “Good afternoon, my brother”. Brother? I was clenching and unclenching my fist under the table as I raised my head.
He screamed, “Jesus Christ!” so fearfully loud that all eyes turned on us. Joke was so scared of the shout, she jumped. I was so very scared my anger disappeared. I was now shivering in fear. Something left me so forcefully, i was rattled.
Felix was the first to regain composure, and reached to balance Joke by the arm…. I gradually regained composure, but was very, very scared like a trapped rat before a big cat. We were still the cynosure of all eyes, until the manager walked up and asked what was wrong.
“Nothing. It is well,” Felix said reassuringly. “Please, get us that your sweet Zobo drink,” he added, with a smile.
As soon as he left, Joke asked, “Bro. Felix, what was that?”
“Nothing, Sister Joke, I thought I saw something,” he answered.
“What? You screamed like you saw the devil,” I managed to say.
“Well….Hmmmm…what I saw looked like it, but let us not dwell on it; it is gone now”.
“Where did you see that” I asked as I cast furtive glances over my shoulders. I was now really scared.
“Let us pray”, against all odds I joined as he said something like, “Satan, I send you packing. I ask for the spirit of God to permeate this place”. Like magic, I became completely calm, but I couldn’t speak for them. Our drinks arrived as we all remained quiet and savoured it.
“So,” Felix, sounding like his former serious self, “Mukhail, I understand you want to take a decision to follow Jesus Christ?”
My guards went up. My anger began building, but I whispered what sounded like a weak ‘Yes’. He peered at me from those serious eyes, and asked, “are you sure?” I just felt uncomfortable with this guy around…
“I mean, no!” He peered closely at me again, was quiet for a while, making me flustered. Joke was obviously nervous.
“But that was the impression you gave me,” Joke said.
I laughed. “My dear, Joke, that was the impression you got”.
Felix stared at us as we fidgeted, stood up and went to order for something.
“How could you, Joke? You want to have me killed? Do you know what it means for a Muslim to repent and become a Christian? I should have known you couldn’t be trusted. You are so naive bringing a third party. I am finished!” She just kept staring with those wide, innocent eyes, (deceptively innocent eyes) as Felix walked back. He placed a bowl of fried chicken and we all ate the well-spiced delicacy.
Unable to bear his poring looks amidst small talk, I excused myself for a non-existent appointment.
As I was leaving, I thought I heard Felix telling Joke to be careful “with this one”. Or was it my imagination? I needed to get my plan back on track, but it was a no-no to a three-some meet again.
Just before I drifted to sleep, I thought of the discussion with the infidel in the bus, my different encounters with many others, including my business partner, Joke, Felix, and others I blew off in the past, and wondered why I was such an attraction to them all. Or was it me who was seeking out the trouble? Joke swarm back into my thoughts.
The ringing phone startled me out of the beach walk I was having with Joke in my dream. The ringing tone persisted. Irritated, I answered half asleep, not wanting my beautiful dream to be cut off. “Mukhail,” the soft voice on phone said.
“It is Joke.”
I was fully awake as if a bowl of iced was water poured on me.
“Let us meet at the garden beside the eating area”.
“Let us meet there in an hour before people start flooding there”.
“Why”, I repeated feigning anger. She switched off. I laid on my bed for 30 minutes wondering if I was in charge or she was. Has she cast a spell on me? Did she also embark on a fast and other spiritual exercises like me? I sat up for another 10 minutes, thinking of the odd job I now had and wondering if it could take care of this Yoruba girl with her expensive tastes in perfume and clothes.
There was only one way to find out. I was in and out of the bathroom and was on a commercial motorbike to the rendezvous. I missed Maiduguri. I missed Zaria. The only person I missed in Katsina was Mama. Baba was a huge disappointment, and it was to defy him that I headed for the North-East. Now those thoughtless BH boys had made it unlikable for me.
I saw Joke sitting so delicately on a bench as I approached from behind. Wow! This infidel is just simply a delight to behold. I just must conquer and dominate her.
“Good morning, Joke.” She was startled, but quickly recovered.
“I am fine, and you?”
“Could be better. So to what do I owe the summons?
“I wanted to apologise for putting you in a dangerous situation yesterday, and to find out why you really invited me yesterday.
“Apologies accepted as long as it does not repeat itself. Two, will you lead me too your Jesus, get me an easy-to-read copy of your Bible?”
She just kept staring at me. When I made to speak again, she hushed me, patted the space beside her on the bench. I acted like I was in a trance and obeyed her. She muttered some banal words and made me repeat some words. After the process, she looked so happy and said something to the effect that I needed to be baptised in water, and receive a baptism from the holy spirit. I almost exploded in laughter, but controlled myself.
Just like that! How foolish these things are. How naive. How so simple-minded. So, that is how to become a Christian.
We made arrangements to see for a detailed study of the Bible, as a prelude to my baptism in water (Allah forbid the anathema!) She gave me some literature to read; but there was now a problem of a meeting place. Since I had so cunningly laid the ground rule of secrecy, we had two options: Gardens and my place!
Her place was ruled out because she lived with a strict Christian aunty. We agreed to meet at the particular garden I met her for fitness exercises, before it got crowded every Saturday for starters. I was to read the materials she gave me before our next meeting.
I struggled to read them just to impress her. I read like someone preparing for exams all through the week. Acting like I was very interested, I made calls during the week to ask questions. She provided very brilliant answers. Some confused me, but I attributed her brilliance to her education, after all she was running a second Masters programme at the University. I just wish she was a Muslim from a good Fulani family!
When we met the next Saturday, I found it difficult concentrating because of what she wore. I was going bananas and stuttered through. She observed it because she caught me more than twice staring hopelessly at her cleavage and backside.
“Am I making you uncomfortable?”
“You know you are,” I said matter-of-factly.
She smiled and said she would address her manner of dressing the next time. I knew there was not going to be a next time, if I didn’t want to end up in prison for rape.
“We will meet in my humble abode the next time, and you will be properly dressed,” I said rather stiffly. She nodded like it was a rebuke from a big brother.
To cut the long story short, she ended up in my house for weekly bible studies, where acting like I was spiritual I played on her emotions, asked for marriage, got what I desperately wanted.
Felix resurfaced to rescue her, but I had conquered. Felix saved her from being enslaved, but I made sure we never saw face to face. There was something about him I feared saw into my soul.
I missed her. I missed her innocence and openness, but she was so naive, so stupidly naive, perhaps too trusting in a world as complicated as ours. Did I have regrets doing what I did to her? Never! She was a victim of the battle of the supremacy of faiths. I enjoyed dealing a blow to her, just as I did Samuel.
I could not help thinking if I could have defeated Felix, or even the first man on the bus.
Three months later, I met him again. On a bus. From Gwagwalada to the city centre. He didn’t even know I was in the back of the bus as he raised his voice to preach. I blind-sided him, and though I was carrying my short dagger on the fateful day, I stabbed him real good with my dagger of a tongue. It was such a relish. It was a bitter-sweet revenge served cold. It was…a beautiful day for me.
It started quite uneventfully…