The Valley of the Shadow of Death (Part One)

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Jide felt like he had swallowed a storm, complete with its attendant flashes of lightning and ominous rumbling of thunder. Only the thunder was in his gut, on the inside of his impossibly clenched sphincter. The air around him was cold and stiff, bearing tidings of imminent doom. He was nestled in a Peugeot 504 station wagon, one of the dinosaurs that the Road Transport Union still kept and forced grumbling passengers to travel in. Outside, the clouds were dark and ripe with judgment.

Another rumble began in the pit of Jide’s stomach, greater than the first, and his gut churned in revolt. Uncomfortable, he began to shift in his middle seat, flanked on both sides by middle-aged women of the wild hair and heavy makeup persuasion, both of them ignorant of the bomb sitting between them and ticking away, keeping time to an imaginary metronome.

As is normal practice in motor parks, there was a sprinkling of young, energetic men dressed up in yesterday’s sweaty clothes around the garage premises, but mainly stationed at the entrance. They accosted potential travellers, running after them and shouting travel destinations in an acquired coarse voice, as if by running after a traveller and fighting over his bags one could truly persuade him to go to Ilorin when his mind was set on Jos, for example.

There were a couple of hawkers and beggars too, undaunted by the inclement weather and already about their business. It was a day like any other.

But it is the most ordinary days that spring the most perverse surprises, don’t you think?

Jide twiddled his thumbs nervously, thighs pressed together as he contemplated his fate. In an uncharacteristic fit of greed he had had too many helpings of eba and vegetable soup the previous night, much to the disapproval of his younger sister who had prepared the sumptuous meal, and now his nemesis had arrived in red stockings and a hat.

“Brother you go purge o,” she had said, gently pulling her right ear as she spoke, to lend her warning more gravity. He had ignored her. Frowning, she had poured cold water into a drinking glass for him, placed it on the stool beside him, and turned on the TV.
He had dismissed her with a casual wave of his hand, loosening his belt even further so he could wolf down the meal without hindrance.

“Brother you no dey travel tomorrow? Bele go worry o,” she said again, and disappeared into the kitchen when he gave no reply, murmuring incomprehensibly as she left the living room.

Brother was not interested in any late-night bickering, especially with a junior. ESPN was on, and there was plenty eba to eat.

Fast forward a few hours and here he was, Minna-bound from Lokoja, the third passenger in a vehicle that was expected to convey seven, with things about to fall apart from between his legs. Chinua couldn’t have been more proud.

Jide remembered how his sister had pulled her ear as she warned him, and the memory tormented him unrelentingly.

It is interesting how one is able to recall the finest, most absurd details during moments of great distress.

A fierce growl.

The lady on his right looked up from the lifestyle magazine she was reading (more likely than not she was looking for pictures of a Bella Naija wedding she would never have), and turned to him, staring worriedly for a while, looking back and forth between his potbelly and round face.

Jide tried to maintain a solid exterior though he was beginning to feel tremors ripple through him. He bit his lower lip until he could taste blood, and he knew that no amount of hoping and wishing would rid him of his morning diarrhoea.

The lady shook her head very slowly and returned to her magazine.

Jide pretended not to notice, but kept chanting “blood of Jesus” in his mind. It was the least he could do to ward off her evil aura. It was a pity he had never memorized Psalm 91 given his sporadic attendance at Sunday school; it would have come in handy. The blood of Jesus would just have to suffice for now.

Outside, it had begun to drizzle.

Jide scanned the garage premises. Several Union officials were huddled in small groups in different spots, smoking cigarettes, chewing kolanuts, laughing and swearing in Hausa. Where did these guys go when they had stomach trouble? Surely they had to go someplace. He didn’t think he could ask them. Instead, he assured himself that if he kept a stiff upper lip, this wave of evil would wash over him. Yes, his stomach would toughen and stop acting up.

Five minutes later, he wasn’t any better. Playing tough guy didn’t seem to be working.

When his suffering became unbearable Jide shoved his embarrassment aside and tapped the lady on his left. She turned to look at him, a sour expression on her face, as though he had committed some unmentionable offence by daring to touch her.

“Yes?”

Her eyes were big and hideous.

“I want to go outside,” Jide said shakily, gesturing toward the door.

“I can’t come down o. I’m tired abeg. Pass the other side,” she replied, and started searching for something in her bag. While Jide watched, horrified, she extracted her headphones and plugged her ears.

Jesus!

Jide sighed. Clearly this one was having serious marital issues, but he didn’t care.

He tapped her shoulder again. She jumped like she had grabbed a live wire.

“Bros please please please o. If them send you come meet me, tell them say rain dey fall abeg. I send you message? If bele dey worry you, pass the other side o. Ha!”

She hissed and started searching her bag for something else, maybe a knife or a pistol.

Jide had no suitable comeback, and given his peculiar situation he really wasn’t interested in bickering with a demon-possessed lady with husband (or boyfriend?) issues.

Exasperated, he turned to the Bella Naija woman. Before he could summon enough courage to beg she had opened the door and started to get out.

“Thank you,” he muttered meekly.

She only grunted, her face contorted in a tight frown as though he had already soiled himself and was beginning to stink, or she had slowly come to the bitter realization that indeed, her wedding, if it ever happened, would never make the coveted Bella Naija cut.

Jide, who had always prided himself on how long he could hold the fort until he got home, found a balance between running and jogging as he searched frantically for anything that remotely resembled a convenience.

He searched and searched, turning with every corner until he was convinced that even if God led him to a place where he could do his business he would never be able to find his way back in time to make the trip.

Then he saw it.

Just a few yards off, he saw what looked like the perfect place for taking a dump. It was a building under construction with blocks raised to lintel level. The growth of wild shrubs around it ensured that one could spend a few minutes inside it without worrying too much about being discovered.

Despite his fiery need for release Jide restrained himself from racing for it. No need drawing unnecessary attention to himself. This was a covert operation where stealth and the use of his keen senses would determine the success of the mission.

He looked around. Nobody seemed to be looking his way. He quickly went in.

Inside he marvelled at how more well-suited the building was for his business than it had appeared when he first observed it from outside. It was unbelievably clean. There were a couple of jute sacks spread in the centre of the room like a Persian rug. Then there was this glorious corner over there that spoke to him, beckoning him to come and be free.

Suddenly, his bowels churned violently. His sphincter began to burn with the pressure of imminent release. There was no time to unfasten his belt buckle or unzip, nothing fancy like that.

In one swift motion he yanked his trousers and boxer shorts down and stooped, his whole body rocking violently.

There was loud, almost thunderous flatulence, and then the dam broke. In a twinkle of an eye, the unrighteous deed had been done. The enemy of peace had been vanquished and put to flight.

Jide was too weak to clean up after himself or dress up immediately. He would have to savour the glorious moment first. The battle had been fierce, he had been sore afraid, and victory had nearly eluded him, but God was always faithful to His own.

He wiped the sweat off his forehead as he sighed in thanksgiving to God. For the first time that morning he felt the light drizzle.

While he remained in potty position, congratulating himself repeatedly, he heard the approaching low rumble of a man’s voice and made to get up and leave before he could be found.

However, before he could, he saw a man’s bald head peering down at him through the window, his eyes bulging with rage.

Jide was still trying to grasp what was happening when the man charged into the building holding an intimidating club with which he intended to crack open Jide’s skull.

In a flash, Jide knew.

You see, what had appeared a well-shrouded convenience to Jide was, in fact, a mosque under construction. No, there was no crescent or star atop the structure, but there is no excuse for ignorance in the real world, is there?

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