“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”
The room is a lonely one. There are two lonely chairs with a lonely table between them, the windows are shut and the air is stale. I walk into the room and take a seat.
I cough and the dust in the room scatters.
Placed on the table between the chairs is a lonely tape recorder, an old windy annoying device that doesn’t have a screen, colourful case or ability to play J. Cole. Basically, a dinosaur.
I reach out to it — my fingers freeze for a moment, and then I press record and the tape starts spinning.
I cough again.
“You know,” I say, resting my back, “I’ll be honest with you, I don’t have any questions, not anymore sha. I’m just,” I sigh, waving the thick wad of papers in my hand, “I’m just tired. A lot of people have a lot of questions for you, you know that, no? They want to know how old you are, when your son is coming back. They want to know if you’re a man or a woman or both. They want to know if you’re black, Asian or Hispanic even — gods forbid — white. They want to know how you feel about homosexuals, and which comes first: milk or cereal. And I used to have a lot of questions too but now, I don’t know.
“Remember back when we all used to live on Adelabu Street, in Surulere? This was long before Peter was born. And it was just four of us — me, Rita, mummy and daddy. It was a nice house, I think, the carpet had this nice velvety feel that would ruffle under our fingertips. It was nice, I liked it.
“Mummy always used to tell me that when she was scared or alone, she would talk to you and you’d help. I don’t really have any questions so maybe we can just talk, is that okay?”
I wait for an answer.
There’s none and so I continue.
“I’m scared of crossing roads. It’s silly and I’ve never said it out loud but even hearing vehicles behind me chills my spine. I think it started after I got hit by that motorcycle when I was seven, maybe eight? We had just finished school and Mummy was walking Rita and I home. I remember my mother shouting and screaming, I remember the fear and panic in her voice and all I could do was lie there in pain and stare at the newfound stars and darkness that filled my vision. It’s silly, I know, but it scares me, being on the road. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t even learned how to drive yet, I just keep pushing it forward and forward. I don’t want to deal with it now.
“My mother,” I scratch the back of my head, “we’ve been through a lot, both of us, I’m eighteen now and we only just had our first honest conversation two years ago, but I’m partly to blame. I was a really stubborn child.” I laugh without humour, “Yeah, I was a devil of a boy back then, so angry and pretentious, but also sad. Yes, I was very sad. I got into a lot of trouble back then, and my parents must’ve been so tired of me, I wonder how they did it, coping with me. I almost got suspended in primary school, I hardly talk about that.
“It was in primary six and in the middle of phonetics class while the teacher was talking, I said, “We only speak Phonics when we want to.” I didn’t mean to hurt her feelings or anything but the whole thing just felt so silly and stupid, she made us talk in these accents that felt weird and unnatural and I just said what was in my tiny head. I remember the other prefects and I kneeling down in front of the headmaster’s office with everyone stealing angry glances at me every now and then.
“In Whitesands, now that was where I hit real trouble. I got suspended for the first time and that shook me a lot, it was also the first time my father beat me, so that was something,” I place my head in my hands, “gods, I was so stupid. So so stupid and careless. Maybe that’s why he chose Covenant, maybe he thought this place would save me, I don’t know, maybe he thought I’d meet you. I know my mother wants me to talk to you more often but after everything, I don’t know.” I gesture to the chair and myself, “Both of us, our relationship is broken and I’m not sure if it’ll ever be fixed.” I add quietly, “I don’t know if I want it to.”
I scratch my chin. “I’ve always been scared. At first, I was scared to be alone and that made me clingy. And then, I was scared to be found out. There’s a small number of people, very small, that think that I’m worth something and sometimes I want to shout and scream at them. ‘Can’t you see?’ I want to bellow, ‘I’m just a big screwup, that’s all I am. Just a failure.’ And I know that isn’t true but gods, on some days it feels true. I’ve been suspended twice now. One from Whitesands and one from Covenant. And in both of those, I was scared. God,” I look at the empty chair in front of me now, “I was really scared. I didn’t know what to do and it felt like the sky was going to fall on my head and I was just scared and…”
I cradle my face in my hands.
“I don’t talk about it a lot but when I was suspended from Covenant, I felt like a failure; the world’s biggest failure,” I wipe a tear from my face. “My father said as much and my mother tried her best but I felt like such a waste of time. And when those feelings hit, I ate and I ate a lot then one day I woke up and I was over a 100kg and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I never liked myself but then, at that moment, it switched to complete self-loathing. I felt so lost and alone and scared. I prayed to you then, did you hear me?
“Three years ago, I think, when I was 15, I tried praying to you. I remember the day in my head so vividly, I remember what lead up to it. I remember the words, I can’t forget them. I still have the scars on my arm, I definitely can’t forget these. I remember crying, I remember feeling so lonely in my dark room as I cried and cried. And I remember begging you to please, please, just help. I cried and I begged and I cried and I begged.” I look at the tape recorder, with wet eyes. “But nothing happened. No one came. Nothing changed and life went on.
“I think that was it. That was the day it clicked that maybe this was a lost cause and I was just fooling myself. My faith by then was the strength of a cobweb and in a breath, it was gone. I’ve gotten into a lot of arguments in the past over whether or not you were real, over whether you created us or not, I’ve written essay after essay after essay but now, you know something?” I sit back and sag on the chair as I let out a breath.
“I really don’t care, not anymore. It’s just not something I want to bother me anymore. People believe in you and that’s fine, I’m just tired, that’s all. And it doesn’t have anything to do with you. Not really.
“My mother,” I smile sadly, “She’s probably talked to you a lot about me. I love her so much. I still remember the first day we talked honestly in the car, the years that chased that day down were full of words, curses, beatings, fights and at that point, I think we were both tired. Neither of us would last forever and it just didn’t make sense to continue and — oh God, I miss her. I miss Peter and I miss Rita.
“The next time you and I talked was maybe last year. And that wasn’t for me. I didn’t want your help, not for me. On the off chance that you’d answer, I asked you to help my mother. She’s been through a lot, and her eyes are tired, so very tired and sometimes, sad. I wanted you to help her, in anyway you could. Rita was going through a lot too and I wanted you to give her guidance and strength. I asked you to help me keep Peter safe — that boy is a restless imp. My father…I asked you to give him peace. Just peace. Sometimes, that’s all we need. I asked you to keep my friends and relatives safe and happy too. I’m still not sure if you answered or not.
“Things right now are hard and they’re about to get worse and I’m scared. I’m very scared.” I clean my eyes and sit up. “But there are things I have to do, things I have to say and all they’ll bring is hell. But I have to say them, I have to do it, there’s nothing else. Just this.” I wipe a rogue tear off my cheek.
“I have no idea of what I’m doing. No clue, I’m just moving, hoping it’ll click. But that’s it. So, please, just for one last time, please could you just help out? Maybe just tell me what I can do. Something, anything. I just need help. Please.” I reach to the tape recorder and press stop. “Please,” I whisper.
I stand to leave but my hands pause at the door handle. I spare a look back to the empty chair, hoping quietly that there’ll be a sign somewhere. Maybe the chair will shift, the windows will unwind and a bright light will shine on the tape recorder and a man that looks a lot like Idris Elba but with white hair and a beard will materialise on the chair, cross legged, saying, “My son, I am here.”
But there’s no lightning, no thunder, no deep voice from the sky, nothing happens; there isn’t any sign. I sigh and leave the room.
There never is.
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