“Girls’ problem?” she asked.
He kept mum.
“You mean your problem is deeper?” she asked again.
Readjusting the look on his face, “whose problem isn’t deep?” he replied.
“Well, I will grant you that.”
It was a rainy day, and the tall lady was the third human being who almost fell from the slippery ground decorated with meshed, decaying leaves. He gestured as if wanting to save the tall blonde woman from falling.
Another passerby saw it and smiled.
And he smiled back.
“You didn’t quite finish the story from the other time,” he said
“The story about the tortoise,” he replied
“Yea, Tortoise, you mentioned something about moderation.”
“A-ha, I see. I never even started. It’s a really good story.”
“Well,” he paused and continued, “go ahead.”
“Tortoise is a nasty fellow; as you might know, he is one lazy vessel. So, he went ahead and stole the yam of his in-law just because he couldn’t do any better. He did it a few times and then got busted one early morning. Every day for the thief, only one day for the owner, you know, the drills. And that one day was not good for the Tortoise.”
“He was tied to a cocoa tree by the in-law at the entrance of the farm. The farm we are talking about here is directly adjacent to a walking path to the village square, so as people walked to the square in the morning, they were shocked to see Tortoise tied to a tree wailing in serious pains.”
“They asked him what the problems were, and he narrated the events as they had happened. ‘Good for you,’ was the modal response, and ‘It serves you well.’ Tortoise heard those two sentences an awful lot as people walked down to the village square in the morning.”
“Some of the people who met the in-law at the village square praised him highly for administering such a good punishment to Tortoise.”
“And then, the day went by, like every other day. At the end of the day, the villagers plied the same route back home. They were shocked to see still Tortoise tied to the tree, still wailing, only now completely steeped in pains, one could even see the expired stream of blood that had stained his jagged shells.”
“Immediately, the villagers gathered themselves to meet the in-law in his hut. ‘Ahaa, you must be an evil man,’ ‘Do you want to kill Tortoise?’ ‘Hasn’t he suffered enough?’ ‘What sort of man are you?’ ‘Are you waiting for him to die?’ Those were the rains of comments, insults, and questions showered on the in-law, as he was forced to untie the Tortoise.”
She paused for a second, signifying she had completed the story, only to continue in the sweet-sounding language he loved to listen to.
“ebu alo ni t'ijapa t'abo ti ana e.”
And then she dared him to translate it.
“Beans,” he said
“The first scolding goes to the tortoise, the second, to the in-law.” He hurriedly added.
“In one word,” she said, “moderation.”
He turned left and saw that the lady was here, the lady he had mentally called chubby. She never smiles and never frowns, and she stood at her usual spot while they waited for the bus. He attempted to say a few words to her like: “Hey, I can’t track the bus on my app, can you?” And he imagined her reply: “Oh yea, I can’t see mine too, perhaps we should walk to the next stop.” But he didn’t.
As before, her facial expression was bland enough to be discouraging, and he scarcely looks forward to speaking with strangers except they promise a good talk about pan-Africanism, scientism, capitalism, free will, or religion.
But she is here today anyways, the eternal mother.
She is here.
And no wonder, the rain.
“And what mistakes have you made?” he asked the eternal mother.
“Many,” she replied.
“Enough,” she added quickly.
“How could you have avoided such mistakes,” he asked again. “I want to be sure I am not making enough mistakes, with all of these decisions hanging around my neck like expensive necklaces.”
The eternal mother replied: “The Truth.”
“Search for the Truth.”
“Say the Truth.”
“The Truth cleanse all errors.”
“Hmmm,” he thought about it for a minute, then he got completely lost in a daydream.
He was in his local synagogue with his childhood friends. What a life, he thought. He could smell the scent of the wood used for the window of the old Sunday school by the stream. He could see one or two termites, and he imagined them literally eating the woods.
He chatted quickly with his friend Segun about the commandoes’ video game he just had to get himself to play. He told him about green beret and snipers. Those were his favorites. He liked the character called drivers too, but not as much. Then one of the Sunday school teachers saw them chatting and cautioned them without saying a single word. They got the message perfectly and acted accordingly.
After Sunday school, they went into the main church. He greeted Mummy Idowu at the usher’s spot as he bent below the usher’s rope to get in. Then he saw the image of Christ, Blood, and the Cross right in the chancel. Suddenly the great choir started. They started the great old song by the American composer Elisha Hoffman. He sang along in his head:
🎶 Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul‐cleansing blood of the Lamb?
Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? 🎶
At the end of the song, he figured: The Truth is the blood, it’s the death of Christ, it sets free of errors, of all mistakes.
“And what should I do about money, eternal mother?” he asked.
“And what have you done about it?” she replied by asking.
“Well, not much; I really didn’t care much about it. I just wanted to live my life, never to worry about money. Then I woke up one morning only to be assaulted by an aggressive capitalist world,” he said.
“You must have slept for too long,” she exclaimed.
“I did, and what should I do now?” he asked again.
“There are only very few ways to live your life, never to worry about money in your world today.” She paused.
“Make an awful lot of it, that’s one way, or just get yourself very quickly to the closest monastery.”
“Monastery is not an option for me. I kinda like burgers and coke.”
“They don’t allow that in the Kilode Monastery the last time I checked.”
“Yes,” he said.
“Anyways, back to money, isn’t money a trap, a seductress, the serpent?” he asked
“I am glad you are saying this, delighted even.”
“It’s not money per se. It is the prestige. It is the desire. But perhaps you can have your burger and eat it too. Not many people can pull this off. You have got to be bloody careful; it can quickly become an idol. Remember the Tortoise tale?”
“And one more thing, as you might know if you think large doses of it will make you happy, forget it.” She paused in her usual fashion and continued almost immediately.
“It is just for you to have so you can pretend to be happy. Or worse, to confuse other people who have less that you are.”
And then he sighed.
One more thing, “you want to be careful with burgers.”
The bus picked him up with chubby and a few college students who had their eyes glued to their smartphones the entire waiting time. Unfortunately, it was thirty minutes late, and the driver was a pale black man who must be in his 60s.
He anxiously waited for the bus to reach the Colden bus stop as he continued to listen to a podcast about the obscure 17th-century African philosopher, Zera Jacob.
As his bus arrived, he hurried along. He was late for his class on Tuesday, and he didn’t want a repetition. He hates being late to events just because that gets him anxious, especially for academic classes.
He was shocked in his second or so class when he first came here. A rough-looking dude had walked majestically into the class that had started twenty-five minutes earlier. His thought swerved to Uncle Chukwuemeka, who would have beaten the hell out of him if he had tried that back home while in primary school. He couldn’t even try it in secondary school, not even in college. It's not something anyone could try, not even Tobi, the craziest of them all.
He got into the class just on time.
“The idea of linear discriminant analysis originated from a classic result in probability theory called Bayes’ Rule.”
The calm, young professor spoke in his distinctive soft voice just like Michael Jackson’s, except he is no Michael Jackson.
He is a machine learning professor.
“Motivated by the decomposition in the last slide, we can then begin to unpack our simplified discriminant function,” he said as he wrote on the glossy whiteboard with the same old black marker he used from Tuesday.
“Simplified indeed,” he thought one of the younger students would have thought. And not that it’s simplified for him too, but just manageable.
“Eternal mother, what should we do with these funny equations taking over our lives and jobs?” he asked.
“Use them?” he replied with a slightly high-pitched tone.
“And what else are you going to do?”
A short silence followed those words, so he quickly added, “These days elections, people, are manipulated with all sorts of complicated and incredibly effective mathematical equations camouflaged as like and share buttons on flashy LCD screens.”
“Well, that is a mouthful.”
“That is not new, my son, and people are saved with the same sets of equations?” she responded
“Use it and stay ahead of the bad guys if you can.”
“The genie is out of the bottle, and people will always do people things.”
When he left the class, he saw Jack. He took the same thirty-minute-late bus, driven by the same pale black man who must be in his 60s, only this time it was five minutes early. He was calmer this afternoon, and He finished his Zera Jacob podcast before he got home.