Ham finished the last set of trellises as the sun began to set. His fingers were numb and his head ached. Tending a vineyard was not work that he wanted to do but he did it because his father had asked and he didn’t know how to say no. He did it because even after several years, he didn’t know what to do with himself. He didn’t know how to move on, to return to things as it used to be – baking with his wife and playing poker with his brothers. All he knew were the pain in his heart and the confusion in his head, the memories that invaded his dreams and the helplessness he carried everywhere he went. The ark had changed everything. When, finally, he was able to climb out of it, everything he knew and loved was gone. It was a new earth. His family had built an altar to God and God had responded with a rainbow and everyone, except him, had moved on. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw the earth submerged in water, trees uprooting themselves, buildings falling like ashes. Every time he closed his eyes, he heard wailing, screaming, ululations of regret. He heard Emeka, desperately hanging to a NEPA pole, shouting for him, “Ham! Ham, biko. Ham, you suppose open for me. Ham.” He had stood by the window, useless, watching the water swallow his friend, knowing that God himself had shut the door.
Even though he had helped build the ark, he had despised it. On many nights, he had stormed into his father’s room to convince him to change his mind. He had tried to make him see a popular prophet, even a decent Imam, because God must not have said what he thought God said. He must not have said it because the ark was taking too long to build, taking too much from their family. His children were bullied on their way to school and his mother’s family had come to “save” their daughter because they could not watch her remain married to a mad man. The unsuccessful rescue mission had ended in a fight. Lots of shouting and cursing. Lots of women tying and retying their wrappers. Each person disowning the other person, spitting into the ground, triple daring the other person. Someone even called him “radarada omo ark builder”.
If his father had let him have his way, he would not have made it into the ark. He would have stayed behind, manning up, drinking beer and discussing local politics. He would have hung on the NEPA pole with Emeka and the water would have swallowed them both. But he had indulged his parents. He had indulged his brothers. He had entered the ark certain he would say “I told you so” when the flood did not happen but the flood did happen. While the civilization they knew fell to the ground, Shem had tapped his shoulder and said “You better start thanking God for your life”. He hadn’t. Instead, he had cried and cried, his tears relentlessly springing from a place in his head that knew that if the righteous man God found had not been a member of his family, he would have perished.
After guiding the last tender vine to the new trellis, Ham started his journey down the slope. Even though farming was not his thing, he had been given the best portion of the land; the highest point facing south. A new way to start afresh, his father had said, showing him newly harvested grapes. “Ekiti grapes,” he said mid-chuckle, his eyes lit in awe as he turned the grapes this way and that way. “Who would have thought?”
Walking on, he saw Shem and Japheth. Unlike him, they were expecting their first vintage. They had started early, eager to explore the land and encounter differences, eager to make comparisons. Pre-flood and post-flood. As he neared them, he shouted some words of greeting. They chuckled and slapped his back playfully. They look genuinely happy to see him, perhaps glad that he was finally moving on. They didn’t know the half of it.
He made small talk before continuing his descent down the slope. As he walked, Ham thought of how happier than him they looked. They didn’t seem to have any problem transitioning from being CEOs of a fintech startup to being vine farmers. It was as if they didn’t know what it was like to have Google and Coldstone, to go vacationing in the Maldives. They, like every other person that was not him, had effortlessly thrown off one jacket to wear another. His chest tightened in envy. He hurried on, angry at himself, angry at everybody.
As he neared the end of the vineyard, he saw Folake coming towards him. He sucked his teeth. What did she want now? To remind him for the millionth time that she was his wife?
She curtsied before touching his sweaty cheek. “Olowo ori mi,” she said in her tiny voice. “You are sweating.”
He rolled his eyes. “I know.”
Undeterred, she used the sleeve of her blouse to wipe his face. “I would have said come inside let me serve you Amala but Daddy asked for you.”
Ham rolled his eyes again. Daddy was his father. “I’m finally tending the vineyard or am I not?”
She poked him with a lean finger. “You are but if you don’t go, how will you know what he has to say?”
She nodded but he could see she was getting annoyed. Though it made him hate himself even more, he brushed her aside and began the short walk to his father’s house.
Ham heard laughter as he neared his father’s house, an unfenced duplex they had renovated after the flood. Many of such houses were left behind; empty or filled with skeletons of people who once occupied them. Now at the door, the laughter was louder. He could hear its unrestrained quality. It was his father’s laughter. He knew it from before the flood, from before its eventual disappearance necessary for the creation of the ark. In the many years that building the ark took, his father’s smile had dimmed and dimmed, his laughter less loud each time. He had been summoned to his village council, time and time again to explain the futility he had embarked on. Didn’t he know that he was contributing to climate change? Didn’t he know that he was misrepresenting Yoruba men all over the world? Didn’t he know that some people in senate had presented a bill to outlaw religion because of him?
Once, a hammer had collided with Japheth’s fingers and a doctor had failed to treat him for “bringing it upon himself”. That night, after they had shabbily treated the wound, his father broke into tears. He sat on the floor and cried like a baby. “Am I not a fool? Am I not a fool?” His mother, just recently forced to leave the market after she had been ostracized and called “wife of a religious extremist,” sat and tried to console him. He was inconsolable. Sometimes, at night, his father would wake up shouting, “Devil, get out! I know what I heard. I said I know what I heard.”
He fared worse when the preaching didn’t go well, which was every day. He would sit and brood by the verandah of the bungalow they lived in then. He would ask why people were so stubborn. Didn’t they see that judgement was coming? Could they not tell that God was angry with the world? He would ask questions far into the night till his wife came to drag him to bed. He would then weep on her shoulders. “You know, maybe it is me. Maybe I can’t just preach well and I’m spoiling God’s plan. I even told Mr. Okon that he could just enter the ark for entering sake but he still refused. It must be me.”
These memories made Ham grateful for the now. Even though his father’s boisterous laughter was deafening, Ham was grateful he could laugh now.
Ham saw that the door had been left unlocked. He should knock before entering but he didn’t want to interrupt his father’s laughter. He wanted to hear more of it, to be a part of it, to soak it in, to see if he could have it by watching and wanting it and so, he did not knock. Gently, he pushed the door open and tiptoed in. He saw his father naked and drunk with wine they had made many months ago. He held the glass in one shaky hand; drinking and drinking, laughing and laughing. His beards were wet with wine. Wine slipped from his mouth, down his beards to his chest, his belly, his phallus, his legs. Ham watched his father sip and laugh, sip and laugh. Occasionally, he would say an incoherent thing or two. Disgust washed over Ham. Is this what they had survived the flood for? To get drunk? He remembered his brothers out in the vineyard, laughing and making jokes too. Is this what they had survived the flood for? An apocalypse had happened and now everybody wanted to laugh and play? Well, he too shall laugh and play.
Ham’s laughter started slowly, cautiously, afraid to take up space in the dim living room but soon, it became louder, louder than his father’s, more ferocious, more careless but his father did not notice. Ham laughed and laughed. He laughed with the naked old man, he laughed for the naked old man, he laughed at the naked old man.
Choking on his laughter and unable to bear the thought of enjoying it alone, he stumbled out of the duplex, eager to fetch his brothers. He hadn’t sauntered long when he found Shem and Japheth walking to their homes. He rushed to them. “Guys, you have to come and see.”
“See what?” Japheth asked. They looked at each other with eloquent eyes; their faces shocked at the suddenness of his happiness, the suddenness of his grin.
“You just have to come and see. Father is naked! Mehn, did God know this was going to happen after the flood? Naked Noah and the barrel of wine.” He giggled. “What a reason to be the saved ones!”
Shem and Japheth pushed him aside, a frown on their face. They dragged a wrapper hanging from a line and walked to their father’s house. He followed them, laughter still spilling from his lips. He watched them walk backwards into the living room, the wrapper stretched between them, poised to cover their father. He imagined them using their father’s laughter as a map to his location and the mere thought made him laugh even harder.
Ham laughed throughout the night. He laughed while he ate the Amala, he laughed while his wife scrubbed his back and his sons told him stories of their hunt for earthworms. He laughed when he laid with his wife, the first time since the flood. He did not sleep. He laughed and laughed. Even when his father stormed into his house, angry and unable to understand why his son would scorn him in such a vulnerable state, he laughed. His father became furious and resorted to curses. Ham wasn’t listening but he heard something about him serving his brothers and his brothers being greater than him. He laughed some more. Were they not already greater? Was he not the black sheep? He heard something about his son, Canaan, being cursed and anger erupted in his heart. What did Canaan have to do with any of this? Just what? Silly old man. He would confront him tomorrow but today, he had to laugh. He was finally moving on.
Image by Peter Ahrend from Pixabay (modified)