“If we laugh even though at all costs we should stop laughing” —G. Battaille
Lanre [lanray] stood outside his last door and knocked with the confidence only a devoted man of God could have. When the door opened and a dread-locked man peeked out cautiously, Lanre chuckled. He had the smallest eyes Lanre had ever seen, and they were blood red. Half his face was all mouth. Half his mouth was all gum. And the gumminess of the oversized mouth was accentuated by a thin line of tiny fish-like teeth.
Lanre greeted, “May the peace of the lord be upon this house.”
With a surprisingly birdlike voices, the man replied “Don’t need your blessing. Not from you. Not from this Lord of yours.” He went on and on about how he was a native doctor from the ancient city of Benin with a specialization in the cure of madness. Lanre would understand, he hoped, if he considered stupid the whole idea of redemption. “Faith,” he said with a passionate quiver in his voice, “is no different from sacrifice.”
Unable to restrain himself any longer, Lanre laughed. No one would ever know why he laughed. But it is most likely that he thought it absurd that a man who looked like he had been fashioned in the very womb of madness should also be a doctor of madness.
Still in the throes of laughter, Lanre found his voice and replied, “As I depart, I shake off the dust from my feet and the blessing I bestowed on your household returns to me.” “Very well then,” said the dreadlock doctor and shut the door in Lanre’s face.
Relieved, Lanre left the house. He loved the hardships of gospel preaching. Especially those trials that came with the agrarian project of sowing and cultivating the seeds of the Word. Lanre planted, reaped, sifted, bundled, slashed, thrashed, and burned people or parts of people everyday in his ministry. Tough job for a diminutive man of little means. But there was happiness in tribulation as any proselyte knew and as the writer of the beatitudes has so eloquently made clear. Trials gave Lanre feelings that were a little more intense than joy, feelings that were closer to a flagellant’s pleasure at being scourged. Nothing gave him more pleasure than meeting people like dreadlock doctor, mean spirits, who wanted to thwart the straight and narrow path of the Lord’s plow. But today, after he left the house, he noticed that a calm feeling of relief came over him. That was not all. He also noticed that he could not stop laughing.
He laughed continuously and with perfectly good reasons, for everything in the world had become a sign for laughter. The world had become one big comedy show, and he found himself obeying when prompted to laugh. Everything thing had a message for him. The stone informed him about the comic absurdity of its dead solidity. So did the sky, the baby crying, the bus conductor shouting gibberish, the boy hawking eggrolls, the Niger kid trying out a new technique of pity. Everything about the city flashed before Lanre the neon light of laughter, and he could not say no. Deep down, Lanre sensed that there was something amiss, but he did not know what. He was headed to the church, so no need to worry. The Pastor always knows, he thought to himself comfortingly.
As he approached the tattered signboard with the inscription, Fear Them Not Mission, Lanre laughed even harder. Was he laughing at the idea that his incontinent laughter would become, after the intervention of the lord, merely a thing of laughter? When he arrived at the church, everyone greeted him. He narrated the day’s event, with special emphasis on the meeting with the dreadlocked demoniac. He asked if they thought there was something strange about his own appearance. Some giggled. Others laughed back. Some shed tears of admiration. Some simply stared in bedazzled astonishment. What Lanre did not know was that the church could only hear him speak in the form of laughter. He said many things, but they came out sounding like a rumbling mix of belly laughs, shrieks, howls, light chuckles, and loud guffaws. There was a moment during his testimony when he spoke in tongues. But in the language of laughter, speaking in tongues translated into sounds of frenzy or spastic blurts of nonsense.
It took a while before he realized his predicament. Something was significantly wrong, but there was no way of expressing his anxiety. He stopped trying to reach across the chasm that had formed between him and what used to be his fellow comrades in the Word. By now, he could not stop thinking about the physical toll this strange incontinence was taking on his body. He felt tired and sat down on a bench facing the pastor who was standing on the podium proclaiming triumphantly the goodness of God’s work. Before long, Lanre’s breathing became irregular. A few hours later, he died in a monstrous fit of laughter.
The church members, who read his laughter as a mystique’s euphoria—the joyous laughter of the Lord’s children—praised God for the life and death of a man who died in the grip of divine joy. In delirious exultation they all shouted: “When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter…The Lord has done great things for us.”
Photo Credit: “Door and Window in a Spanish American Home” by Russell Lee