In heaven, Evi has memories of his life on earth, a life that was ugly, distorted and mangled. It makes him sore. He wishes he had the chance to live life on earth again. If he could have that chance, he would scour the jagged edges of his extinct life before returning to heaven.
One morning, Evi heard a loud bang on his door. When he opened the door, a man with greying temples stood behind a woman. His forlorn face revealed his ruptured feelings. The woman, at the dawn of her twenties, appeared broken, too. Her eyes were dull and had distress rings around them. There were two men standing on either side of the two. They were topless , the scary stacks of muscles on their chests contorting interminably. Evi knew what was up.
The older man looked at Evi sternly.
“She said you are the one, and I know she is right. My daughter never lies.”
“Is that so? Wait, I’m coming,” Evi said and shut the door in their faces.
“What do you mean!” the man screamed.
“I’m not the one,” Evi replied from inside, peering at them through a gash in the aluminium door.
One of the two hefty men took a step forward and caught Evi napping – his right foot swung like a windscreen wiper, hitting the door from the top. The door flew off its hinges and crashed on Evi’s forehead. That was how Evi gave up, becoming a husband and a father in six months.
In just three years, Ichi was carrying her second baby. But Evi wasn’t willing to become a man.
The men in Evi’s neighbourhood, like they often did, woke up in the morning. They bathed, dressed and went out to work – they had vortices of mouths around them. Evi woke up, went out to ease his bladder, but returned to his bed to start a slothful snore. The shack throbbed so vigorously you thought a drilling machine was making holes in it. Perhaps the traces of alcohol in his veins told him that it was midnight.
What angered Ichi, more than anything else, was the snore. A snore in the morning! She could forgive if it was in the middle of the night. But to snore when others were getting off to work was the peak of laziness. She scooped cold water, walked inside and rained the water on Evi.
Evi jumped awake, tangled in his thoughts. When, seconds later, his mind cleared, he saw the bed, the walls and Ichi standing like a tall building. He felt like bundling and squeezing her into a tiny ball. But it wouldn’t change her resilience. In the past, he had growled, roared and tremored without getting the result he wanted. Instead, she had only become more daring. He got up, pulled a shirt from one of a dozen nails jutting out from a wooden bar and roved around her – she refused to step out of the way. He felt her footsteps behind him and felt mocking gestures, too.
She had forced him out of the house when he wasn’t ready to leave. Ichi’s aim was for him to go to the nearby grain factory. At the factory, there was always something to do – there were always truck-loads of grains that wouldn’t come down on their own. But Evi had always cited hepatitis he once suffered as an excuse for his laziness, that the doctor had said he shouldn’t wrestle with heavy loads. But Ichi knew the doctor hadn’t said any such thing. If there was anything, it was something like, don’t drink.
Evi preferred to hang around land buyers. He and Du, a guy he was so close to that they seemed like twins, would guide land buyers to unsold pieces of land, help locate the owners and receive commissions for deals that went through. They would insist on supplying building sand and gravels. But land deals come only once in months and, with the economic recession, people were thinking about placing meals on their tables, paying tuition fees for kids, but not buying and developing lands. Worst of all was the fact that even when Evi and his friend struck luck, the money often ended at the liquor shacks that crowded the neighbourhood. It was most probably the place where Evi contracted hepatitis, drinking from reused but unsterilized calabashes.
When he was sure Ichi had left the house for the market, he returned, flopped into bed and snored for another two hours. While Evi failed to harness the minutes, hours and days that passed, Ichi toiled, selling petty groceries under a stabbing sun. From the miserable profit she made, she provided food for her two daughters. She also bought uniforms and books for the eldest, who was three.
When Evi woke up, he wired with Du at the liquor joints. The joints were rundown buildings guarding the dusty road across the community. There were always other indolent men who also desired to sit and drink in the bars that reeked of tobacco and liquor and the acrid stench of urine found its way from the rear of the shacks. Every nine of ten men was a fragile slave of one condition or the other. Through the door, Evi and Du would watch the blurs of cars that sped past. And every time that happened, the two jumped out and pursued the hazy car images in front of the curling cloud of dust.
Du was a shrewder friend who never forgot his wife and kids. He often went to the grain mill when times got bumpy and tough. Each time he tried to drag his friend along, the friend prompted him of the doctor’s instructions. Not wanting to sound insensitive, he stopped upsetting Evi. Evi was unruffled.
Despite the constant fights, Ichi sometimes showed love to Evi. Sometimes, she thought about his sickness and wondered whether or not it had truly healed.
“Have you been checking with the doctor?” she asked, one morning, before leaving for the market.
“Not really. I’ve not felt anything. So, I guess that everything has cleared.”
“What about alcohol. I thought they said that someone suffering from that disease should avoid alcohol.”
“That wasn’t exactly what the doctor said. He said I could take a little, once in a while.”
“I’m happy to hear he said it should be taken once in a while. Please, stick to that.”
Ichi wasn’t fully satisfied with his answers, but she knew very little about the sickness and wished there weren’t defying traces of it.
That morning, after Ichi had left for the market, Evi’s heart overflowed with joy. He felt being loved and what feeling loved could do to a man’s heart. But he was so strongly shackled and enslaved by his squalid life that he missed the joy of the immortal love that Ichi was willing to offer.
One morning, Evi was awake but couldn’t get up from his bed. When Ichi came in with a cup of freezing water, Evi begged her not to sprinkle it on him. Ichi hardly heard him begging. So, she knew something was wrong. Hepatitis had returned. By then it had eaten so deep, and it was too late to reverse.
Heaven is as beautiful as Evi had heard when he was on earth. The air in the streets of heaven is perfumed by the scent of floral nectar. There are avenues and happy people strolling leisurely along them. Some enjoy the camaraderie of wild animals: lions, tigers, leopards that would have assaulted them on earth. Some are in the company of other humans. Evi’s closest buddy is a grizzly bear. You can wish for something but not everything. Evi wishes the bear doesn’t make the mistake of considering him a meal. He gets the wish.
As beautiful as heaven is, Evi’s haunting thought is the warped life he left behind on earth. Every morning, he walks his way to the mountains. There, he watches the boundless beauty of the universe. The clouds are snowy white and flow so low that they leave lumps of white on his hair, eyebrow, chin, and everywhere. Sometimes, he holds spread fingers in their way, trapping some and bringing them point-blank so he can study them.
The greatest of the wonders of heaven is the privilege of watching the planets spin by in the glow of the morning skies. Bewildered, he raises the line of his view into the skies, as if expecting the epiphany of a supreme being. The planets spin by in the order he had been taught in school when he was on earth: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. They move in slow motion, about a kilometre away. They are, most times, blurred by the clouds in which they swim – he sees only patches of them as they jostle through the clouds.
Evi focuses hard, trying to get details. Then realises that, each time he focuses, the planets seem magnified. Then, it dawns on him that he can zoom to a scale where he is able to see his home on earth vividly. It’s not only that – he finds himself in the centre of his house, sharing a seat with his widow and watching his kids. But there is one big problem –they can’t see or hear him. By now, it’s been four months since his death.
On the second day, Du visits his wife and children. He comes in with a swollen polyethene bag, which he hands over to Ichi.
“How was the day,” she asks.
“The day was as great as always. I’m sure the next few hours will even be greater,” he answers, a roguish smile on his face.
“This your naughtiness won’t stop, eh?” she asks.
This your naughtiness won’t stop, eh? Her question suggests the naughtiness has been going on for some time. When Du came in with that bagful of items, Evi thought it was a rare visit, Du’s way of helping the widow of a late friend. Now, it’s clear to him that the visits are regular. Perhaps, he is wrong. He needs to confirm if, indeed, his friend has been having an affair with his widow – it’s the picture that seems to be manifesting. He doesn’t have to stay long to confirm it – Du releases a bomb shell:
“How is my daughter?” he asks.
“She is sleeping inside,” she answers without a trace of surprise in her face.
The hint is that the younger of the two little girls isn’t Evi’s but his Du’s.
What? So, it has been happening even when I was alive, Evi cries so loud that he thinks they should hear him. But no one reacts. He suddenly feels his heart contorting, the hepatic pain that had killed him seeming to return, something he would never have felt if he hadn’t visited. He looks right, then left, searching for a weapon with which to kill Du. He tries to grab an idle stool at the corner of the room, but his hand just dashes past as if the stool isn’t really there but something he imagined. The truth is that he is the one who isn’t really in the room. There is a conflagration in his heart. He feels the evil of the world. As a safety measure, he suddenly withdraws. He finds himself at the foot of the mountain in heaven,and there is no pain.
He spends another thirty minutes thinking about earth’s nature and how it contrasts with heaven: dystopia at the far end, utopia in his own end. He wonders whether the other eight planets resemble earth or heaven. In his mood, he refuses to consider zooming in any of them to see things first hand.
Despite how he felt thirty minutes back when he was on earth, he is curious and wants to go back to see what had transpired since his withdrawal. He zooms again and finds himself in the living room. The eldest of the girls is alone in the sitting room, scribbling something that he thinks is her homework. So, she is my only daughter, he thinks. Then he hears his widow groaning in pleasure inside, as Du struggles between her legs, one crinose pad crashing into another, the bed squealing with a pulse. They care less if his daughter is listening. He feels pain, but it’s less than he felt previously – it’s anticipated. He withdraws and he is on the mountain. He retires and goes home.
Evi’s heart bleeds, he can’t sleep – he has exceeded the threshold of the peace by looking too far into a mundane past. He tries to gather his thoughts, to see if he can guess how they had been doing it when he was alive. Now, it isn’t difficult to figure out such moments. It occurred each time Du made money, when he had been paid for signing as a witness in a land deal, or when someone developing his piece of land contracted him to supply trucks of gravel and construction sand. At those moments, Du was oddly generous. In the evenings of such days, usually at about 7:00pm, he would tell him to drink and eat whatever he wanted. “I’ll pay when I return. What one does to a true friend is never too much. I only wish you recover fully from that disease,” Du would say.
What made the kindness eccentric was the meat: he often told Evi to eat as much as he wished, even when he hardly bought meat for himself. “Please, don’t leave until I return,” he would plead.
Evi refuses to end his visits to earth, even when he often regretted it and wished he never lived, whether on earth or in heaven. He visits again and Du is there again. He wonders how much time Du gives his own house if he has to be with Ichi every night. Now, he sees Ichi’s worth. If she isn’t of any worth, Du won’t leave his own house every evening, to spend time with her. He wonders how many times Du makes love to his own wife. If he spent every evening with Ichi, he would have been totally drained. Ichi is cutting something for the supper she is preparing. The little girls are playing on a mat. He now knows the younger one isn’t his daughter. Ichi steps out to the kitchen, carrying the kerosene lamp with her, the room getting enveloped in darkness. Evi can’t believe what his eyes see. Du draws the eldest of the girls closer to him. Then he runs his right hand down her little thighs, lifting her skirt, his finger aiming into her tiny gash that is barely mature for urination. When he hears Ichi’s footsteps, as she returns, he swiftly places the girl where she had been.
Evi jumps at Du, his hands aiming at his jugular. He simply glides past as if Du is a spectre. He recalls the frustration of trying to use the stool, but he tries it anyway. It’s futile. When Ichi steps into the room, Evi screams: he is trying to defile this little girl, he is worse than me, please do something about it! There is no sign that Ichi, or any other person in the room, heard him.
“I’m so hungry today that I think I’ll eat this food half-done,” is all Ichi says.
“As for me, this is what I will eat. It isn’t half-done,” Du says, slapping her left buttock. She turns, swings her hand to hit his but misses.
“Can’t you wait? Is it running away?”
“Yes, you’re right. I’ll wait,” he says.
Evi is frustrated. His ghost dashes frantically from one corner of the room to another, wishing something worked for him. He needs to do something to protect his daughter, but every effort turns futile. When everything fails, he goes down on his knees in front of Du, begging him not to violate the little girl (if he has not done it). But Du can’t hear him. Evi straightens up from his crouched position. He wanders around the room, thinking that, perhaps, an idea will reveal itself on how to protect his daughter. He sees a pencil and a notebook belonging to his daughter. Her handwriting has improved remarkably. It means that she is doing well. If she continues this way, it means that the future of her little life would be a ruthless tangent from the misery that was his life and the miserable struggles of her mum. But it all rests on how she comes out of the cruelty that now lives around her on a daily basis. He tries to grab the pencil to see if he could write, but all he feels are the tips of his ghostly fingers connecting, nothing between them. He would have written something so Ichi could read and protect the girl.
Evi moves across the room, walking against the furniture and not colliding. Becoming conscious that real, tangible barriers don’t hinder him, he walks across the wall and finds himself outside. Every space, between and around the houses, is dark – the place, neck of the wood for poor people, isn’t electrified. Even though everywhere is dark, he sees so clearly he could detect a fallen pin. He looks around to see if anything in the neighbourhood could throw up an idea on how to protect his daughter. He looks up, then down, sideways and into his head. Still, he comes up with nothing. He wanders around the neighbourhood to as far as the drinking joints. It’s a few minutes to nine in the evening. Some folks were still there, fooling around. Then he begins to feel something like tiredness. He returns to his house. Du and Ichi aren’t in the sitting room, but he hears that rhythmic protest of his bed. He withdraws and finds himself on the mountain. It takes less than two seconds.
Now, his heart continues to burn. He wonders how his daughter is going to end up. If Du is so evil, it means that even Ichi isn’t safe. And if someone now tells him that Du, in fact, caused his death, he would believe him. Perhaps Du is alien, a creation of another planet. He wishes for a single chance to meet with Ichi and solicit her forgiveness. It will take off the haunting burden in his heart. He isn’t angry with her anymore – being a husband isn’t in words but in action. He never lived up. He never cared.
Evi comes out of his heavenly home. He views the blue sky, the giant spumes of brilliant clouds, the snow-capped mountain tops and the green stretch of the rolling landscape. He turns left and sees pelicans on coastlines. He hears flying birds chirping, and the drone of waterfalls. These things make heaven a place of peace. But he doesn’t feel the peace. He realises he could find peace in another world, one that was higher. He doesn’t even consider going inside his home. He stands in the middle of the avenue and wishes for his death. There and then, he finds it.