In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth
The car buckled and shuddered as it grinded to a halt in front of the hall, the driver craned his neck as he turned and reversed. My mother was in the front, adjusting her glasses as she looked up at the hall name. There were other boys stacked back to back with their parents armed with their colourful buckets and luggage, trapped in some long interminable line. We had arrived, this was the beginning of the days that would change my life forever.
“Otitọ,” she called. “We’re here o. Let’s…let’s start moving.”
“Yes,” Lọlá grumbled beside me. “Let’s start moving.” She glared at me and I glared back. What did she think this was? There were two years between us but anyone who had seen us through the window exchanging WWE level blows would’ve thought we were age mates. I know, I know. You’re not supposed to hit girls but I don’t think Lọlá even classifies as a girl. Ever since our father… Ever since then, she’d been so angry and irritable, scowling every time I breathed.
Our mother was powerless in our fights, we both knew that. Even the taxi driver probably knew it by now. Through most of the ride, she just tried to tune out as she stared through the window, her eyes fixed on the people on the road as they blurred past. Our father was gone, and now she was… different. Yeah, there were times when she’d smile and laugh like before but there were other times like on the ride when it was like she was a completely different person.
Reclusive and withdrawn.
I understood it, though. There was a lot on her now, more than ever before. When my — our father was alive, he was…strange. He ‘worked’ as an assistant to Pastor Philemon Joshua, a man who promised to pay my father in gold and silver but only ever delivered peanuts. Our secondary school uniforms were torn and faded, the original colour a mere memory, our food was bland and in small portions; there was no money for better. The bungalow he rented was being held together by Sellotape and superglue at that point, our father was almost always late with rent, no water was something we had to manoeuvre.
But through all this, my father maintained hope.
“You people will soon see,” he’d say, reclining into the long broken ragged sofa and patting his lap for my sister to sit on. “God is coming to multiply our blessings a hundredfold like our Daddy in the Lord has said. Our breakthrough time is coming!” He’d shout, to no one in particular. Then he’d settle down, his chin to his chest. “This is all just a test.”
Our mother was sitting beside me as were all huddled in our living area. They had taken light so it was the lantern in the middle that illuminated everyone’s faces. She was sewing together my uniform — it had torn again.
“God isn’t testing us,” she scoffed as she held a pin in her mouth. “We’re just suffering.”
Our father looked at her for a while and then rubbed Lọlá’s head. “You’ll all see soon enough, God is coming to save us.”
A month later, he caught malaria.
We tried, but we couldn’t get the money to buy medicine, my parents had no other person to call, they were both orphans, their siblings all abroad, all estranged. We called Pastor Philemon’s number again and again and again, for days and nights. We begged all we could. Even after we got him to a hospital, we couldn’t foot the bill.
We tried, we cried, we begged.
A month later, he died.
My mother, my sister and I were the only ones at the funeral — a small ramshackle happening, we had used almost all we had on a coffin. I heard Pastor Philemon got a new assistant.
My mum stared at me through the window, beckoning me to come out. It was time. I sighed, opened the door and came out.
We were in the train of a line as I watched the hustle and bustle everyone was going through. The security guards were searching our bags and things for some reason, maybe they were looking for sim cards.
I had heard about Covenant even before I got here. Everyone knew about Pastor Philemon Joshua’s infamous university. You weren’t allowed to have phones, or wear jeans or even keep your hair past a certain length. It was even worse for girls, I heard. But I needed to go to university, and she wanted to give us the best, no matter what. She clearly didn’t like the idea of sending me there, but what choice did she have? Public universities were all right, I guess, but she didn’t want to risk the strikes that always happened. So as soon as she found a job as a sales rep of a company on the island, she took a few loans and started saving up, saving up for me.
Covenant was the ‘best in Nigeria’, everyone had heard it and basically accepted it as true. But I don’t know, I just didn’t think being the least smelling trash out of bags of garbage was that much of an accomplishment.
I checked my watch — my father’s watch — as it glinted in the sun and I looked at how far we still had to go and I sighed again. This was going to take a while.
I had struggled to carry my luggage into my room, I was put in G205, Peter Hall. The room was bare, with two bunk beds and four wardrobes. The curtains were old and dusty and the fan looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in years. A dishevelled rat came lazily out of one of the wardrobes, inspected me for a moment and then scuttled away like it had a whole day planned and I was just a minor inconvenience — an unwelcome visitor. I sighed again, after making sure everything was locked and safe, I got out of the room and locked the door behind me, keeping the key in my pocket. My other roommates hadn’t come yet.
But the whole floor was buzzing with movement and excitement, old friends were being reunited, new ones were being made and there were voices all around. Peter Hall was arranged in this weird way with the wings A and G connecting in one horizontal line and the remaining wings sprouted from them like rays from an angry sun. I looked over the rail, looking for a familiar face, searching people with my eyes as they passed, but I didn’t see him. Where was he? God, why was Daniel always late?
I…I didn’t know how I felt about him lately.
I was — I don’t know, but I think I was angry with him. For so many years we prayed to him, worshipped him. We had nothing and yet my father struggled to pay those damn tithes to the church. We gave God everything. Every single thing we had: our lives, our time, our money and in return, our oh so gracious deity, he gave us…silence.
After my father died, I found it hard to pray like I normally did, it was like something inside of me was broken. My mother had stopped praying altogether, only Lọlá kept the fire burning. A piece of me had gone with my father, I think. And it was weird in a way, worse that while my father was dead so was the Otitọ who was his son.
We weren’t close at all, he always thought that I was stubborn and restless, and I never liked the way he wanted me to be exactly like him. It was like I wasn’t me when he looked at me but rather a second chance for him, to be better maybe. But still, when my mother gave me his watch, one of his only and last belongings, I took it with shaking fingers.
I was the only one it fit.
I looked at the watch then but not to find out the time, I was looking at a piece of his history, a bit from his past that would now grudgingly become a part of mine. I looked at the watch, scratches on the metal, the glass cracked, and I felt less grieved, it was like he was in the watch and I was carrying him with me. I imagined him scowling at me with all my blasphemous thoughts — that made me smile a little.
“Guy, move,” shouted a voice that blinked me back into the world. I looked to my right and he was a behemoth of a boy, if he could even be called that. He looked like a man with a wife and three kids. A Ghana must go bag was held in each arm and he glowered down at me with angry eyes. I gaped at him, he was easily taller than me by a few — no, a lot of inches, and is arm alone was bigger than my head.
“Can you please move?” He said, in what must to him have sounded like a nice tone.
“Oh, oh, sorry,” I said as I shifted away with my back to the railing. He nodded at me, put the bags down and fished his key from his pocket, proceeding to open the door, he was in G201. “Sorry, for shouting,” he said, “It’s been a long day, stress and all with those bastard porters. No vex abeg. Sometimes I get angry and I just…” He gestured to his head wildly.
I simply nodded.
He opened the door picking up the luggage like they were tea bags and entered the room with them. I waited there, still shocked, I didn’t know if I should move, or if I even could. The guy hadn’t said I should wait, nor did he say I should leave so I was just there frozen between moving and stopping. He came out a few moments later and brought out his hand.
“I’m Osagie,” he said.
“Otitọ.” I replied, shaking his hand. His swallowed mine and I tried my very best not to flinch.
“You on this floor?” He asked taking his hand and putting in his pockets as he leaned on the door.
“Otitọ.” I said again.
“Oh oh,” I said, shaking my head, “yeah I am, 205 there.” I said, pointing.
He nodded and went back into his room.
I stormed down the stairs, my mind whizzing. My mum must’ve been waiting. I had reached the crowded reception bellowing with the shouts of angry parents, confused boys and porters trying to maintain some semblance of authority. That was when I heard his voice for the first time.
“Ayce, you!” A man shouted from behind me. “Come here.” He beckoned. His face looked like it was set in stone, a sculpture of a man who looked completely and dearly hungry. With his angry eyes and a hairline that looked like it was trying to mount an escape from the back, he looked like all those funny characters on Super Story. But his eyes were far from comical, they were intelligent as they scanned the crowd, looking and observing the boys as they went.
I got to the reception desk and the man looked me up and down.
“Do you know who I am?” He asked.
I nodded. “You’re one of the porters.” I answered.
“What?” He asked with a sour face.
“Porter,” I said again, slower this time. Maybe he didn’t hear me. “You’re one of the porters.”
He laughed a laugh devoid of any such humour. “Do you think you’re funny, is that it? You think you’re a funny guy, ehn?”
I looked at him and started edging backwards quietly. “Uhm, no.”
“No, sir.” He corrected. “Let me just tell you now, I am not a porter, I am your Hall Officer. Do I look like a porter?” He gestured to the two men beside him who were checking students in. “Do they look like porters?”
I didn’t even bother looking, I just shook my head.
“Good.” He said, smiling. His teeth were dirty…and barely there even. “I hope you don’t have secular music on your laptop.”
I shook my head again, edging outside little by little.
“Because if we catch you…well, let me not say anything now.” He said. “Just know that here, we don’t suspend for one week like those other places. Here, it’s 4 weeks or one year. Straight.” He gestured with his hand. “So, remove all your secular music, sim cards and all of those nonsense. And then —
He was cut off by a portly woman who was shouting, asking why parents couldn’t enter the room with their children. “This doesn’t make any sense at all, why can’t…”
I used this as my chance and rushed through the hall doors searching outside for the faded Toyota Corolla we came in. I jogged to the car and tapped the window and my mother came down and hugged me fiercely. It was a tight embrace that felt like more somehow. She held me at arm’s length now, her eyes staring holes into mine. They were full of history and life but I could also feel the pain there, the emptiness.
“I know it’s hard, and it may get harder, my son. But please, just hold on, Titi,” she said, her voice cracking as she hugged me again. “Because I’m holding on too.”
I nodded simply and she got into the car, Lọlá in the backseat stuck out her tongue at me, but there was no poison in the gesture, it was more for show than anything else. We were all tired then, I knew. Things had been hard and they’d continue getting hard. And all we could do then and now was hold on.
Because we could do nothing else.
The rest of that day felt like a blur, people passing, instructions given, everything felt like it was happening to someone else and I was just in the passenger seat, watching, observing. My roommates were nice enough, I guess, but even their presence wasn’t enough to lift me out of whatever I was in. It was like I was under a thick murky liquid that kept dragging me lower and lower and lower.
He was actually dead.
And there was nothing I could do about it.
I climbed on the upper bunk to my bed that night, numb to the guys playing FIFA ’12 on a laptop, shouting as someone scored. Everything blurred and quieted, mixing and mingling with the dark that followed sleep.
I roughly unstrapped my father’s watch and held it tight in my hands. He used to wear that damn watch everywhere. It was a gift from Pastor Philemon, he said, it would bring him good luck, he said. He was sure of it.
He had been wearing it when he died, alone on that musty hospital bed.
I hated him for being so foolish and throwing our lives away. I hated him for not loving us enough to drive him out of the mania he was buried in. I hated him for being so poor and so wretched, damning us to the same bloody fate.
But mostly, I hated him for making me miss him so much.
I hated him because I couldn’t.
I tightened my fingers around the watch until the ridges cut my palm, the pain blossoming in my mind as I surrendered to sleep that night — my first night in Covenant, my wooden pillow a mess of blood and tears.
I bolted out of my bed, spinning my head wildly as I saw my roommates rushing into corporate clothes. Guys were shouting outside, running. The whole hall was chaos embodied. My roommates were rushing into corporate, barely caring if the clothes were the right way on or not.
“What’s happening?” I asked my head felt like it was going to split in two.
“He’s coming.” One of my roommates said, picking up his bible from his locker. I think his name was John or something.
“Who,” I asked, leaping to the ground. “Who’s coming?”
“KAZU.” He said, his eyes wide. “KAZU is coming to the hall. Right now.”