I used to think God a sadist. Killing people in Iraq and blinding generations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; killing parents and leaving behind scores of hungry orphans; denying boys their teenage queens; making uncles flop at the elections; Tsunami; El Nino; many, many things. How does one who is not a sadist leave women barren and insist that so-and-so should always fail their high school exams? He should otherwise not allow the fat Arab downtown to fire me in the middle of the month when he knows everything about the bills to my name.
There are many more. Imagine you decide to pluck that splint part of your nail and thus you won’t have sleep for two consecutive nights. Such a small thing, but, son, you won’t get peace today, God says. And in life such small pieces of shit are what keep our happiness or the lack of it. Only a sadist could automate such a programme as this.
A memory happened.
If you visit my childhood you’ll get this man Indumuli. We all called him Ninja. First, his name was too long and we needed talk about him every day. Second, his ways were the ways of a ninja. Not that he dressed like those Ninjutsu Japs. I think it was because he was a loafer with a very mysterious lifestyle. And everyone feared him just the way they’d fear a dozen hands from Okinawa.
I never wondered why Indumuli was homeless. I think it is because we never regarded him as a living person. Even thinking about him was unthought of. Or because I was small. No one pointed out that he dressed in things that somehow resembled, and went for, clothes. People said his weed had no jokes.
Picture this. There is this guy who is always drunk. Smokes marijuana too. He is very hostile to children and very cold on adults. He sits by the road selling plastic bottles and you have never seen him sell one even on credit. You go through your memory and you can’t remember seeing anyone stand by his shop, which is an ant hill by the roadside where he sometimes sleeps deeply in wait for that miracle client.
Every time you come from school at the lunch break, you will keep passing by him in deep sleep under shelter of the sun itself. In the evening when you rush past, he sneers at you with cold red eyes. If you stare at him, his face contorts deeply as a first and second warning that you should find something better before it is found for you.
As kids we had different narratives about him. But the dominant and most terrifying was that Ninja was a threat to all the menfolk. There was this story that one kid once reported him home over some sin. So when father and son came to confront him, he beat the father up as other villagers looked on and then he forced this father to laugh. So we always feared to cross his line since we couldn’t imagine the fun in laughing when just fresh from a beating.
One day I was rushing to the chief’s centre to untether and drive home Maridadi, our cow. It was going to rain heavily. Now it happened that as I ran, someone on a bicycle almost rode into me and I had to do the sidestep. There was a trench by the side and so to keep balance and still avoid breaking my leg, I leapt far to the side of the road. You can guess whose bottles I rammed into.
You may also guess the terror and the speed I took off in.
The guy had actually not been asleep. The moment he heard the bottles crack, he shot up, first in fear, then in furry. He needed only a fraction of a second to identify the intruder and device a counter attack. With my daily fear of the mystery that he was, I was already some metres away in that fraction of a second. Even as a kid I understood how difficult it would be to be slapped and told to laugh loud. So I only heard some thunder behind me, and soon the market place was to witness a sprint marathon pitting a boy and a seller of bottles.
Perhaps people thought we were running from the rain too. But here was a matter of life and death. I don’t clearly recall how it ended. What I remember is that I was to change my route of going to school for the rest of my primary school studies. I also had to change the route of fetching the cow back from the chief’s camp.
It is now years later and I’m beginning to think deeply about this man. He didn’t die. Nobody knows where he is. The marijuana and brewer’s glass were not a choice he’d make by himself. It was something society assumed. It was something about being alienated from the rest; being made different.
He was sadist because he was lonely. Of course I have not made up this story. There are trusted guys I can take you to and they will narrate it exactly the way I have.
So back to God and being sadist. Got something about the whole affair? He doesn’t hustle at the bus stop for the congested last bus. Before he travels to another point, he is there already; always been there. He only talks to angels – angels who are very foolish, very mean, very dead unless he gives them wisdom, generosity and life. He doesn’t have a friend to confide in. He doesn’t have an equivalent with whom he can consult. He doesn’t call at the local FM station to ask about El Nino or the coupe in Burundi. What a life of (Shakespeare’s) aloneness!
Yet he is not alone. Yet he is not sadist. He simply plays his cards. He makes us only like the locust to the wanton boy. Every time he lets us loose, we call it a miracle. Widows, the sick, the lonely (etc) keep receiving the miracle. Yet their number of miracles do not supersede that of job seekers in a strange jungle.
Have you ever hustled for a job in six sexing months and then received that call on one hot Friday of October? And the guy on the other side clears his throat and asks if you are Mr Were (insert your ugly name)? And you say you are? Then she asks whether you remember applying for a job and attending the interview some two weeks back? And you start to sweat? And then with a grunt voice you say YES? Then she asks may you come over for salary negotiations? Then you praise God and put it on social media for friends and enemies? Have you?
Last Friday I received a call from Egypt. Hey, let’s all have a moment of silence and visualise where we left Egypt on the map. Egypt! Think of the Suez Canal and Aswan High Dam. Up there in the heart of the Sahara and pierced in the chest by the Tropic of Cancer. Egypt where my grandmothers once lived and whipped the asses of Jews. The cradle of civilisation. Think of the pyramids. Now, my call came from that Egypt. An Etisalat number.
She asked me to confirm my name and country. From the heavy accent on the other end, I knew without doubt it was an Egyptian woman, not some con in a maximum security prison. By the way, why do Egyptians fondle with the /r/’s when they talk?
It was the Director of the college. She asked whether I had applied for a teaching post at her facility. I nodded and said yes. Then she asked if it was me she had interviewed on-line. I said yes, yes it was me.
This came as one of those shocks that throw you to the ground. I had been walking along a street in Kayole checking new routes just in case fire broke out or the boys in the hood became interested in my phone. So I halted, moved to the edge of the streets, put the other hand in the pocket and smiled broadly. Every dog has its way of celebration when dung unhappens. In my mind I have already decided the maisonette I’m moving to when I get to Misri.
So the big message comes.
“We hiyarr-bai regret to info-rr-m you that yua-rr application did not go through,” she says. “Please try again next yia-rr.”
Sometimes the world around you has to stop so you choose how to be sad. This was that time. Everything remained still and mute for a decade. Gaining strength, I walked slowly to the nearest police station, didn’t enter, walked further home past the guy who sells ropes and went to bed for sixteen hours. When I finally woke up, I was still asking what the friend above gets when he makes me go through this. Didn’t I promise to fast if I got the job?