I wake to the harsh notes of atmospherics on my wooden Nigeria-assembled radio. My wife, Catherine had purposefully turned the volume knob so high to practically kick me out of sleep and then out of bed. And as I am not deaf, she succeeds.
I plug each ear up with an index finger. The volume goes down.
“Good morning, darling,” she says down at me, in her sweetest voice and cutest smile,”Merry Christmas. Time for church.”
Catherine is a natural, hard-to-follow quick-fire speaker but fifteen years of courtship plus marriage has helped me get used to her.
She reaches down to grab the duvet, but I quickly hold on to it.
“I am naked,” I yell
“So?” she says, laughing. Her laughter flaring short of hysterics.
I remain lying in bed following her around with angry eyes. She has on her floral shower cap and is clad only in a skimpy towel, ready to get in the bath tub anytime soon.
“Must we go,” I say in a grumble. I turn on my belly and press my face into the soft pillow. My doctor says this habit of pressing my face into the pillow was the cause of my premature nasolibial folds.
“What, honey?” her voice has a shrill note of surprise.
“I think we shouldn’t go.”
She stops parading and stands transfixed with something of shock, looking at me with an incredulous frown on her gelled face.
“Listen to the radio. There’s talk about terrorists,” I say, making a sweeping gesture in the direction of the radio.
“It is Christmas for Christ sake, honey.”
“I know but must we go to church when we mustn’t. You know how it is here in Maiduguri. What if they blow us up while we are celebrating mass?”
“What if they blow us up here while doing nothing?”
“The terrorists only mentioned that they were going to blow up churches, not residential places. And they promised to do it today, Christmas day.”
“Honey, I think we should go to church.”
“I think we shouldn’t. God will understand.”
“I don’t think He will, honey. If the apostles and the eyewitnesses who brought the gospel to our doorsteps didn’t take the grave risks, cutting through throngs of persecution to reach the sinful world, we wouldn’t have the grace we enjoy today.”
I try to think of the next thing to say, but nothing lends itself to me. I find myself reluctantly brushing my teeth at a time I should still be sleeping with the sheet over my head and the drone of the air-conditioning unit playing softly in my ears like a honeyed lullaby.
Soon I was ready to go in my navy blue suit and shiny pointed shoes but my wife is still not ready. She still sits in her towels, cleaning her cheeks with cotton wool soaked in cleansing spirits.
I sit on the bed in front of the radio and put it back on. The news is on and a female voice is issuing from the webbed faces of the tiny speakers.
…though, this audio note has gone viral, we are certain that not everyone has heard it yet. Here it is.
There is a brief static note before a masculine voice with a vibrating Northern Nigeria burr comes on against a background of slightly lowered harsh notes. It is the voice of Angra Mainyu, leader of the deadly Boko Haram sect. His voice has become more familiar than the voice of even the president of the country.
…The fight continues on the twenty-fifth day of December, 2012. Again, I warn all Christians to stay at home or go elsewhere but not to a church or they would get bombed and torn to shreds. We have never failed in our deliveries. In fact, we have surprised the Americans and their League of megalomaniac nations with our deadly accuracies. As I said earlier, do not go to church on that day. This is a strong warning to you Christians who may want to prove stubborn. Ignore us at your own peril.
“Kate, come and listen…”
“I can hear the radio,’ she cuts me short. ‘To hell with Mainyu or whatever he calls himself. I am going to church whatever he says.”
…If you want to be the dog that would be lost, dare us and see how like suya you will smell thereafter. Bleary Christmas in advance.
My wife, dressed up in sparkling lace and headgear as tall as Mount Kilimanjaro leads the way to my…our 1990 battered, Spit-smog Volvo, holding our two daughters who are primped in gaudy plastics and ribbons and so pumped up in their new red Christmas dresses that they look like giant bougainvillea flowers
The street is, or looks deserted.
“Look, there is not even a bird hopping on the street,” I say.
“See,” she says pointing at a man who has just emerged from a dark street corner.
Secretly, I curse the man.
I drive towards a smoldering tyre and I slow down for my wife’s benefit.
“What is that about,” she says looking plastic with her thick mask of cosmetics.
“A protest against today. I still think going to church today with the threat of terrorists hanging in the air like bad breath is a bad idea?”
“I think it is a good thing that we are not cowards. A good, God-loving Christian will not let the threat of a Godless fanatic get at them.”
“It is better sometimes to flee from the presence of one’s enemy. It is not cowardice, it is commonsense.”
As we approach the Central Market, which is just before the church, I pray in my heart that it be empty so as to have something else to help me convince my wife to let us return home. But to my disappointment, the market has never been fuller.
“You see,” says my wife with something of triumph.”If the threat of bombs couldn’t stop people from selling and buying, I wonder why it should stop Christians from worshipping and celebrating the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
I had a ready answer for her,”Catherine, the threat was directed at churches, not market-places.”
I turn to the window of my side and instinctively duck as something like a stick of cigarette wrapped up in its grey nonsensical trajectory swirls towards me. It is a banger. It lands near Catherine and erupts almost immediately turning on a commotion in the car. I mistakenly floor the gas pedal as the burnt-out wreck of a car appears suddenly in my path like an obstacle out of a dog-leg.
“Hold on,” I say and turn to be confronted with an empty seat beside me.
“Catherine!” I yell, looking up at the rearview mirror. I see her running away in the direction whence we had come, flanked by our daughters.
I unwittingly ram into the burnt-out automobile carcass and my legs disappear. I can’t feel them. I panic as cloud of thick grey smoke pour out from my mangled bonnet. Then my legs return with a twinge of pain that leaves almost immediately. I undo my seatbelt and turn to the door to get out before I roast. My jaws drop and the barrel of a Kalashnikov fills my mouth.
“Come down!” says the luxuriantly bearded dark-faced horror behind the gun.”Come down now, or I blow your head off.”
I come out with my hands raised. I see other men now, brandishing flintlock muskets, machetes and charm necklaces. I swallow drily.
“Sit on the ground,” says the one with the Kalashnikov. I swear the voice sounds familiar.”Sit down, I say.”
I sit on the ground quickly, not wanting to give them even a kindergarten excuse to splatter my blood all over the law.
A crowd gathers in no time and a kangaroo court hearing begins.
“We are the JTF civilians. We can finish you, you know?” says the one with the Kalashnikov.
“You are a Boko boy?”
“No, I am not, I swear.”
“So why you come here to bomb us?”
“Check my trunk. Check my car. Turn it upside down. There is no bomb anywhere on it. I was going to church,” I explain, my heart thumping with maniacal force.
“Liar!” the crowd ripples. The roar feels like a death sentence. Like a tyre dumped around my neck for a necklace lynching.
“Why don’t you check?” I yell.”Check my car. Check me. I have no bombs to hide. I am just a simple Christian.”
The inquisitor bends towards me and fingers my suit as though to tell the quality of its material. Then he shouts,”Take it off.”
I obey quickly. I am so nervous that I get entangled in the simple process of getting out of a suit. I fling the suit some yards away and look up at the grim face of my tormentor. He lays his hands on my collar and rips my shirt to pieces. Then he stands to his full height and turns his back to me. He barks out some gibberish. A man emerges with a rusty tin of something and empties its content on me. It smells like… Petrol!
“What!” I scream in panic.”What do you want to do? I am not a Boko Haram member. I am not even a Christian fundamentalist.”
The inquisitor turns to me. A sinister smile appears on his face. He produces a queerly-shaped lighter and flicks out a blue tongue of fire.
“Bleary Christmas,” he scoffs through kolanut-brown teeth.
“Angra Mainyu,” I whisper, finally placing the voice.
The lighter leaves his hand and spins dangerously towards me.
Post image by Denis Bocquet via Flickr
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