I get to see Wallace again after how many years? Twelve? Fifteen? And the spot fate chose for this great reunion is my hobnobs hideout. You’re probably wondering why I have a hobnobs hideout. Why do I have to hide to eat hobnobs? No, that’s probably not the first question on your mind. How can it be when you don’t even know who’s writing to you?
My names are- the boring ones among you will say that’s a wrong way to start an introduction but that’s your problem. My names are Adeleke Mojid Akanni, but some of my friends call me- those same boring people will say no one asked for what my friends call me. Again, that sounds to me like a you problem. Some of my friends call me Majid Michael, partly cos Mojid’s close to Majid but mostly cos I’m just as good looking. You see, I’m 5’2, sallow-skinned, my nose is a plum and my eyes are slits sitting a little too close. If you think I’m no Majid Michael, that is your problem. My other friends call me Fijabi. There’s a story behind that name, one I’m not going to get into. No. NO. No. I’m not talking about how I got into a fight with a girl in secondary school and she beat me senseless. I’m not delving into the story of my incisor got chipped. Naturally, Wallace falls in the latter category.
I was the closest thing Wallace had to a friend and he was the closest I had to a mentor. I don’t know when or how we struck it off, but I know that by JSS 3 third term, if people saw me walking alone, they’d immediately ask where Shoe-lace was and vice versa. Like you might have figured, shoe lace was his nick name and I blame his parents. If you’re going to give a child a bourgie name like Wallace, try to have enough money to raise him a bourgie neighborhood. Because if you put Wallace amongst Mojids and Seguns and Oluwanbelorites, you leave them with no choice but to make a shoelace of him.
Wallace was a fine boy and his gait told you he was aware. Maybe I got close to him for this reason. Maybe I thought my good looks would be easily swallowed up by his. What a fool I was. Wallace’s features only highlighted my you know, good looks and I low key despised him for being so tall and glorious.
Wallace would have been the ladies’ man if he wasn’t so inward. But his air of enigma only added to the appeal. Girls gravitated towards him and that was my good fortune. Wallace was probably a eunuch or something because he couldn’t tell when a girl liked him and didn’t care when they spelled it out. The girls he spurned, I gladly took up. By the time we were seniors, I had mastered the art of posing to be a go-between for Wallace’s crushes while wooing and winning them over. Shoelace did not mind. The only thing he cared about was shifting things. Boring people are wondering what shifting things mean. Oya, stealing. Are you happy now? Somebody must use full mouth to talk. Mtchw.
Wallace was a pro at scheming thefts and executing them. His whole face lit up like kerosene lantern when he pilfered off Mummy Abass or Aunty Fowoke or any of the other traders that lined the streets. The charm of his innocent face made him beyond suspicion that and the fact that he was a staunch church boy. Wallace would contribute profoundly during Sunday school and lift from offering bowls when it was blessing time. How do I know what happens at Shoelace’s church when I’m obviously a Muslim? Well, my mum made us understand that we all serve the same God we just take different routes. My mum, Iya Razaq as everyone called her, was the kind to call pastors and clerics to pray for her. She took us to the mosque at the end of the street every Friday, ensured we never missed prayer times but when there was a special program in church, she took us with her. I wish Iya Razaq was still alive. I wish to see the flash of her golden tooth in her lavish smile one more time.
Enough about Shoelace and related things. Why is a grown man hiding at the carwash to eat Hobnobs? I’m now a married man with two kids who’s starting to grow a tummy. My wife, Halima, has a lecture on calories lying on the very tip of her tongue, ever ready to be delivered at the sight of junks. This is mortifying, I know. But I might be slightly- only slightly- addicted to Hobnobs. If I eat it at the office, my wife will know. I still don’t know who her mole is, I don’t know if she has a camera tucked somewhere, but Halima would know if I eat Hobnobs at work. She’d know and she’d welcome me home with the lecture.
When I see Shoelace, I need a double take to confirm its him. He has a beard now; he’s filled out nicely- why won’t my body fill out like that? Food moves from my mouth straight to my tummy. Mtchw. Shoelace looks different. I’d rather chew gravel than say this to his face but man’s finer. Bastard.
“Fijabi!” He beats me to it.
I rise to my feet, laughing as we shake hands and thump backs.
“Ah ah, nice ride. Where you shift this one from?” I ask him.
“I was going to ask the same thing about the ring on your hand.”
Both of us laugh. We talk about our families. Shoe lace is married with a daughter. I ask him how he managed to toast his wife. He joked that he only had to beckon to her. We start talking about work and it’s at this point I almost piss myself laughing. Shoelace works as a Cybersecurity kinikan kinikan. The moment I hear security, I don’t wait to hear the rest. What can Shoelace secure? The company is supposed to put security around Shoelace 24/7 so he won’t steal all their properties.
“Stop jare. I’m a changed man.”
I tut. “If I hear. You watch that yesterday match?”
“You no go offer me biscuit first? You’re still as stingy as ever.” He jabs a finger in my face.
I quickly cram my mouth with what’s left of my Hobnobs and I say through a stuffed mouth, “Ewa b’awa re (come eat with me)”
Shoe lace shakes his head. “Just look at somebody’s Dad.”
“Na you know that one oh. Even my children no fit shorten my ration.”
“Thank you for the compliment. Since when have you been using this car wash cos I come here every other day.”
“It’s my first time actually. My car was embarrassingly dirty no thanks to the potholes of Laygurrs, I just stopped at the first car wash I saw. Wait, you wash your car every other day?”
I tense a muscle in my neck and goggle.
Shoelace starts laughing. “Start talking.”
“Lai lai. I don’t trust you. Come, let’s go to my house it’s a stone’s throw from here. I’ve told my wife a lot about you. She’ll want to meet you.”
“Good things I hope?”
“The things you’ve been telling your wife…”
I hiss. “What good thing is there to say? That you taught me how to rob my mum’s purse dry or that you pushed me to my suspension in secondary school?”
“You still never forget that matter.”
“Just pray I never meet your kids, cos if I do, I’ll make sure they know all the details of your doings.”
“Thanks for the heads up, shebi I’m meeting your family now?”
“Joke’s on you. My children are only seven months old.”
“Yep. I strongly do not recommend.”
Shoe lace laughs and then stops short. His brows tighten.
“Let’s go to your house.”
We start walking towards my house. Shoelace is no longer laughing, he seems distracted, no he seems concentrated on something I can’t see. I remember that Halima told me to buy carrots, green peppers and some other things on WhatsApp.
“Guy, I have to stop at the grocer’s my wife asked me to get somethings. How’s houseboying going on your end?”
Wallace doesn’t crack a smile. I search his eyes. “What’s up with you?”
He exhales. “We need to get to Halima immediately.”
“I just want to quickly… wait, how do you know my wife’s name?”
Wallace swallows. “I’ll explain later. We need to get to your wife now.”
Something about the way Wallace is talking makes me spook. Is he trying to prank me?
I laugh. “Nice one. You think you can scare me, abi? I’m sure you saw my wife’s name on facebook.”
Wallace shakes his head. “Call her.”
My smile dissolves. I bring my phone out of my pocket and I dial my wife. It rings and rings. She doesn’t pick. She always picks. Foreboding swamps me all of a sudden.
“What’s happening to my wife?” I ask Wallace.
“We must get to her immediately.” He starts walking again.
I break into a run and Wallace does same.
We meet Halima cutting her back right there in the living room. It’s startling, alarming, insulting. Insulting because on her back are scars and wounds of varying degrees of healing. It’s a slap on my face. How could I be living with, sleeping with, talking every day with this woman and not have an inkling? We’ve been married for two years. How have I never seen her back? What kind of husband am I?
I tell Wallace to excuse us. He’s reluctant but he leaves. My wife is not decent, I hate that Wallace saw any of this.
I edge closer to Halima.
“Mojid, please don’t stop me.”
I feel lightheaded as it becomes apparent that Halima is about to take her life. I don’t know what to say. I watch as she holds the knife close to her neck.
She’s going to do it. My wife is going to kill herself. I should do something.
He bursts in. “Halima, listen.”
She shakes her head. “I must.”
“Halima, God is not mad at you.”
She laughed. “Don’t say what you know nothing about.”
Is this what they call an outside body experience? I’m here and I’m not here. I’m witnessing this but I’m not experiencing it.
“If any of you knew what I’ve done, you’ll take this knife from me and kill me yourself.”
“Jesus knows what you’ve done and he still loves you. He said he saw you, knew every thought your broken mind feared to think. He heard every word your frightened mouth could not utter. He felt your pain when your innocence was ripped from you…”
“Shut the hell up, Shoelace. What nonsense are you talking about?”
Wallace goes quiet but he doesn’t even spare me glance. His eyes are locked with Halima’s. I don’t like this. This looks too much like one of those Zee world romantic scenes. Never let a thief into your home, guys. Even if that thief was your best friend growing up. In less than ten minutes, this fool has said some poetic nonsense about innocence and frightened mouths and now my wife is falling for him. Is he going to kiss her in my presen- Mojid! Your wife is about to commit suicide. You are about to be a widower and your great concern is Shoelace stealing her?
I still hate this. The way Wallace is looking at Halima, it’s obvious the both of them know something I don’t know.
“If he saw, why didn’t he do something to stop… them.” there’s so much venom in that last word it makes my skin prickle. Who are the ‘them’? What did they do to my Halima?
Wallace shakes his head. “Men are responsible for the wicked things men do. God can’t take the blame for that.”
Halima nods. “This is why I must take my life. I am responsible for the wicked things I’ve done. If your Jesus saw the things that were done to me, surely he saw what I did.”
“Then hell awaits me. I must go.”
“Stop!” I finally find my voice. “What did you do Halima?”
She smiles and looks away. A chill passes between my hands. “Uncles, clerics, seniors in school, they did things to me… made me do things. I think the first time was when I was 4? Maybe 3… not quite sure. But I know Boda Sodiq got me pregnant after WAEC. My parents agreed to send me to Ilorin. They sent me to a home run by one Aunty Sarah. She nurtured pregnant girls like me and when our babies were born, she sold them. I didn’t let them sell my child. As soon as I pushed her out…” Halima looks at her hands. The knife clatters to the ground as she opens her palms. The corners of her mouth tremble as her smile widens. “I grabbed her by the neck and krrrk.” She demonstrates it with her hands. Panting, she bends to pick up the knife but Wallace has put a foot over it already. He slides the knife close to his side and picks it up. I can’t take my eyes of the clump of blood on the knife. It looks like rust.
Halima goes down on her knees. “I must go. I must face my sentence. Let me go.”
“Jesus loves you, Halima. He died for your sins…”
Halima is screaming. She’s like a whirlwind now, swirling everything in her path out of position. Haaa.. did she just throw a vase at the TV? Auzubilah. What is Wallace saying? I think he’s talking tongues or whatever those extreme church people do. Now he’s commanding something to let lose in Jesus’ name. What’s all these talk about Jesus? Is this even right? Why is Shoelace forcing his religious worldview on us? Hei, Halima is calm now oh. It’s like Shoelace prayer worked. But Shoelace nauuuuu. Why you no start dey talk tongue before dey break TV? 47 inches that Halima’s daddy gave us as wedding gift. Nibo n’mo ti fe r’owo e?
Since Wallace has decided to come into my house to start a long talk on Jesus and the cross, I’ll show him that my years in ile keu were not a waste.
“Anobi Isa is a prophet just like our Mohammed. You need to stop this superiority thing church fanatics play. Your religion is not better than ours, we serve the same God.”
Wallace sighed. “You believe Jesus is a prophet sent by God?”
I nod. “Yeah. He’s a prophet sent from God. Sent from God. He’s not God.”
“So you agree that he’s a true prophet?”
“Of course. Of course, I do.”
“Do you agree that a true prophet won’t lie?”
“I never said Jesus lied.”
“Yeah, if he lied, he won’t be a true prophet, right?”
“Yeah.” I’m starting to get impatient. Why is Shoelace asking questions like a lawyer cross-examining a witness?
“Great. Can you read John fourteen verse six?” Wallace is extending his phone to me. I look at it.
“Do you read the Quran?”
He shakes his head.
“So why do you think I need to read your Bible?”
Halima exhales and takes the phone from Wallace. I’m telling you this guy is gradually stealing my wife.
“Jesus said to him,” Halima reads but I’m only focused on the melody of her voice. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” How could Halima keep all these things from me? We talk a lot; we talk about everything. How did she manage to hide all these in plain sight? Am I the one who wasn’t paying attention? She’s talked about having episodes of spontaneous violence in the past, she talked about seeing a therapist to that effect. I never thought much to it. Halima is rich man’s daughter, I simply thought she was doing what spoilt kids do by finding flimsy reasons to toss money at a shrink. She killed a child? Her child? Is she going to kill my children someday? Is she going to kill me? How is someone this calm, this beautiful so troubled?
“If Jesus said he’s the way, the truth and the life, it’s either he’s a liar or he’s the only true way to the Father.”
I stare at Wallace. Why is he so passionate about this? His passion irks me. Why is he so bent on controlling our thoughts and belief system? Why won’t he just leave us to what we choose to believe? For crying out loud, my wife is just recovering from a near death experience, if he’s trying to stir her upset emotions to his religion, it reeks of callous manipulation.
As though he can hear my thoughts, Wallace inches forward in the sofa he’s occupying and says, “Mojid, I love you like a brother. We grew up together and I won’t just want to upset you for no reason…”
“Then just respect our beliefs and leave us.”
“This is a matter of life… and death. Jesus is the only way to eternal life, to the life of God.”
I chuckle. “Are you using the hell threat here?”
Wallace sighs. “It’s either Jesus is a liar or he’s the only way to God.”
“Mohammed is a way to God.”
“So, you’re saying Jesus is a liar?”
“Don’t put words in my mouth, Shoelace.” For the first time since I can remember, I say shoelace like a cuss. “You can’t make your argument from just one verse of the Bible.”
“Then let’s see John chapter one, let’s start from verse one.”
Halima is reading again. Saying some gibberish about word being there at the beginning and word becoming flesh. Who did this to Wallace? He’s talking about Jesus being there at the beginning of time, he claims he’s the word and the word was God. I swear I can strangle this guy. Look at Halima’s face! Shoelace is really getting into her head. She’s reading a passage from Isaiah something about the prophecy of Jesus coming. Hang on, did Isaiah really call Jesus the mighty God? This is starting to confuse me a bit. mighty God? Snap out of it, Mojid. Don’t let this guy get into your head.
“Shoelace, let’s talk outside.”
It’s like he knows I won’t let him enter into this house once he leaves, he’s started talking fast. Quoting romance… romance is a Bible something? He’s talking about believing with the heart and confessing with the mouth.
“Shoelace, I am not interested in your Jesus. I pray to Allah and he answers me.”
“How about you, Halima…”
“I speak for my household. Let’s go outside.”
Why is this bastard not taking his eyes off my wife? If not because I’m Fajibi and my luck with fighting is not very great, I for black this guy eye.
“Salvation is a personal matter-”
“Shoelace! Get out of my house.”
Wallace sighs and stands up. He stares at me. “Mojid,”
I walk to the door and open it. “Goodnight, Wallace.” Why does my chest feel like there’s a block of lead on it? The last time I felt like this was when I caught Boda Rasaq in bed with Rofia when we were still dating. Why is my chest squeezing with every step Wallace takes out of my house? Yet I know. I’m losing the closest friend I’ve ever had over something so silly. Why won’t Wallace respect me enough to let me stay with my beliefs. Can he just stop staring at me? Oh, days. He’s trying to hug me. Moist, man. I’m not going to get soft here. I push him away. How could you insinuate that we’re on our way to hell? My mother fed you, Shoelace. She welcomed you in our home. Boda Rasaq helped with our assignments. You were family. How dare you walk into my home with this air of sanctimonious superiority to tell me all of us are on our way to hell?
I slam the door behind him and turn to go into my room. Halima is on her knees talking to Jesus.
Nice one, Shoelace. I knew you were here for my wife. Bastard. Is this some kind of payback for all the girls I took from you? Haba, this is my wife now. Shoelace, why will you take my wife? A voice in my mind is arguing that if not for Shoelace, I’ll be standing before my wife’s corpse. I silence that voice. There’s another and this one is difficult to silence, it’s the sonorous voice of my Halima saying, ‘No one comes to the Father except through Me.’ I’ve never thought of God as Father. I’ve never really known a Father.
Shoelace, what are you doing to me?
Trust me, I know that evangelizing to people of other religions can be hard and dicey but it must be done and the onus lies on us to do it. We must trust God for wisdom and utterance. We must labor in study, intentional prayers and preparation. We must go with love and boldness. We must ensure that we don’t compromise the integrity of God’s word and doctrine. As he has said, we must go.