Ever since Jide was old enough to think for himself, it was rare for people to speak with him and not come out of the conversation with strong feelings. Some people came out annoyed about the challenge that their belief system just encountered and others came out excited that they had potentially learnt something new, but they couldn’t deny that they were fascinated by how he thought.
Unsurprisingly, he grew up to become a philosopher. Whenever he was asked how or why he felt that he thought the way he did, Jide always responded the same way. “The mind of a philosopher is a gift and a curse,” he would say. “It’s a mind that’s fed full on foods for thought.”
On the good days, Jide’s thoughts are geared toward a childlike wonder of everything imaginable; why the different objects in nature have the colours they do, how all the rules and systems in nature blend together so well to make a perfectly conducive environment for life and show the intentionality of a creator; the possibility that the creator has a creator; and who that creator’s creator was, and so on, like an upside-down pyramid; the creators getting bigger with each step. Creators all the way up. The picture made him laugh.
On the bad days, however, his mind wanders. He describes it as days when his mind gets tricked into making trades with the merchants of the black market of life. These are the days when he is plagued with thoughts like the amount of suffering in the world, the reasoning of the perpetrators of such evil and wickedness, why the creator would create such a world, and whether the creator has a creator he would answer to. These days, his pyramid of creators wasn’t so funny.
Yesterday, Jide was in his head again. This time all his thoughts were focused on one topic: Questions. His fascination was based on how simple they were. A question was just that, a question. It’s the answers that always seem to complicate things. Sometimes, the answers to the simplest questions can be the hardest to say and the most impactful to the one who asked.
One simple question, in particular, held his mind hostage: Where’s my mummy?
He struggled to think of something, anything, else; but, as usual, when his thoughts narrow down on a subject, it’s almost impossible to change course. After wrestling with his mind for a while, he thought it best to settle and let the thoughts flow.
The first thing on his mind was a memory. He didn’t remember what year it was, or where he was. All he remembered was that he was either a toddler or in his preteen years. He was about to step into a room when his friend at the time came bursting out, his expression frantic, only to pause in front of Jide and ask, “Have you seen my mummy?” Jide immediately replied that he had, then he pointed him in the direction where he had greeted her just a few seconds ago. His friend was grateful and he ran off in the direction Jide pointed to. There was a certain joy in answering the question and bringing relief to his friend had brought him. He smiled.
Without skipping a beat, his mind wandered again to another memory. In this one, he was a young man fresh into his 20s. It was a Friday night and he had chosen to spend it attending a vigil in the Redeemed Christian Church of God camp which is usually the largest gathering of Christians. On this night, the crowd felt like the biggest it had ever been and when the service was over, the hurry to the parking lot was more rowdy than usual. Jide rushed with the crowd. He walked briskly, weaving his way between the people and in his hurry, he wasn’t aware enough to notice the child walking against the flow of the crowd before he bumped into her. She fell and started crying and mumbling some words.
Jide hesitated, looking towards the parking lot and thinking of all the traffic he would encounter if he didn’t beat the crowd now, but he couldn’t leave her. He quickly whisked her from the midst of the crowd and set her down by the side of the road. He managed to calm her down and then he asked her the obvious questions, “What’s wrong? What are you doing here by yourself?” Between sobs, she wiped her eyes, looked at him and asked, “Do you know where my mummy is?”
Jide paused, then he looked around, making a futile effort to search for someone he didn’t know, before looking back at her. “Um, no, I’m sorry, I don’t know where your mummy is”
When she heard that, she started crying again. Jide pulled her into a hug and stroked her hair, “It’s okay, don’t cry. I’ll help you find your mummy, okay”
She calmed down again then he took her by the hand and walked back to the auditorium, the whole time he would look down and see her looking around, searching. He would look, too. He hoped that he would see a woman with similar distress evident on her face and she would lock eyes with him, then look at the girl and cry out for her daughter. He had never felt so anxious before.
When they reached the auditorium, he searched for the ushers and explained the situation. They directed them towards a special room for lost children and said he could leave her there and she would be in good hands. He looked at her and saw the look on her face as she gripped his hand. She looked up at him and for the first time he could see her face clearly; he saw a lonely, confused, innocent little girl that couldn’t have been more than eight years old staring at him with a little sadness and a bit of hope in her eyes. He didn’t doubt that she was going to be in good hands but he wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if he left her alone, so he stayed.
He played games with her to keep her occupied and asked her about her life. Judith was her name. She was a talker. With every woman that walked in looking for her child, both Jide and Judith would look to see if it was her mother. When it wasn’t, Jide would immediately try to take her mind off it. She was a smart young girl, she knew what he was doing and she appreciated it. It was a few hours before she finally came in. Judith was asleep when she came in. She had already shown proof to the ushers at the door that Judith was hers but Jide had planned that he going to ask, too. He wasn’t just going to let any random person take his new friend away. He didn’t need to ask, however, when he saw the look on her face upon seeing her daughter and her voice when she cried out “My baby!”. That was all the proof he needed. She woke her up and Judith immediately jumped on her mother. The joy was unmistakable. Her mother thanked Jide and started leaving but Judith stopped her, got down from her mother’s arms and ran into a hug with Jide. She whispered a “thank you” into his ears and waved goodbye before her mother picked her up again and lulled her to sleep. Jide watched them leave with a mixture of relief and joy he’d never felt before.
The memory brought a smile to his face, for a few seconds. The smile faded when he heard the doctor call his name. He jumped up from the chair in the waiting room and rushed to meet the doctor asking him for any sort of update. Jide looked at his face and his years of experience with people told him that it would be bad news but he hoped against hope. The doctor told him that it would be better if they spoke in his office.
It was the middle of a Friday when they had called him to the hospital. He was informed that his wife, who was five months pregnant, had started bleeding before passing out on the floor in her office. He left everything and drove like a mad man to the hospital. As he raced through Lagos, his mind also raced through all the possibilities.
The walk there, just like the drive, felt long. His mind kept racing through the possibilities and he tried to keep himself from imagining the worst-case scenarios. He failed.
They got to the doctor’s office and Jide was asked to sit down. All he wished was that the doctor would give it to him straight, rip the band-aid off, but the doctor seemed bent on doing the exact opposite and Jide chose to exercise patience. If it was bad news, those few seconds before his heart got ripped out would be precious.
They turned out to be precious indeed; the few seconds between uncertainty and his worst fear manifesting into reality when he heard the doctor utter some jargon that ultimately meant that they had tried their best but their best wasn’t good enough. Not enough to save his wife, not enough to save Jason, their unborn son.
The doctor asked if he wanted to see the bodies. Jide hesitated before saying yes. When the white sheets were pulled back to reveal their bodies, the question sounded in his mind again, Where’s my mummy?
His legs buckled and he fell beside his wife’s lifeless body, weeping bitterly and begging her to come back while rocking her body back and forth on the cold slab. He asked her what she expected him to do without her? How did she expect him to carry on? Questions he would never get answers to.
He shut his eye hard, determined not to open them until, at the very least, his wife came back to life or the ground opened up and swallowed him. Either way, he was not prepared to face a reality where she was gone.
He didn’t know when he slept off but he woke up the next morning laying on the floor beneath his still-dead wife and son. He laid there for a few more hours thinking if he stayed still enough, he could die, too, and he wouldn’t have to face what came next. But he knew better. He gathered himself to his feet, kissed the foreheads of his wife and… Jason. Then he left the hospital to journey home. He stopped by the supermarket on the way to buy a full pack of candy.
On the rest of the drive home, his mind wandered to the same topic it had been on yesterday; Questions. He remembered when Judith asked him where his mother was and how helpless he felt in answering her. That had to be it, right? Answering a question shouldn’t ever be harder than that, right?
Wrong, he immediately answered himself.
He drove to the front of his gate, grabbed the candy and got down from his car. He walked past his gate to his neighbour’s and pressed the buzzer. A voice came from the speaker asking who it was. “It’s Jide,” he responded. The gate slid open automatically.
Jide hadn’t walked halfway into the compound when a little girl swung open the front door and started running towards him.
“Daddy!” she yelled as she jumped into his arms.
“Baby girl! I missed you,” he smiled wide and held her close, stroking her hair.
“Oooooh, candy!” she grabbed the candy from his hands and widened her eyes in excitement.
Tunde his neighbour came out and greeted him. Jide thanked him for looking after her for the night and Tunde told him it was no bother.
Jide’s daughter interrupted their conversation. “Uncle Tunde said you and mummy went to the hospital,” she said as she started looking around at the space behind Jide. “Where’s mummy?” she finally asked.
He knew the question was coming. He’d spent the past day trying to prepare for it, but his emotions failed him. His cheek muscles stopped cooperating with him and his smile faded, he tried to blink back the tears but the salty water was hell-bent on being let out. Tunde noticed immediately and his expression darkened.
Jide knelt, dropping his daughter to her feet. He looked at her, studying every bit of her face, the innocence, the joy, the childhood. His baby girl was about to grow up real fast and he wanted to treasure these few seconds before the emotional rollercoaster began. He had hoped the candy would be a more lasting distraction, but much like Judith—the inspiration behind his daughter’s name—she was too intelligent for that.
He steeled himself. The journey ahead would be bumpy but it was best to start as soon as possible.
“Baby girl, there’s something I need to tell you”
Image: Brecht Deboosere (Unsplash) kropekk_pl (Pixabay) remixed