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A small, crisp wind tore through the ornamental shrubs that lined the perimeters of Ulli Bier Arts Theatre.
It was the night Kelvin and Jordan performed at Ulli Bier.
A teaming crowd of spectators surged out from within the theatre, with many warm hands congratulating the two bright poets.
Jordan was pleased to meet Kelvin via this medium. Meeting to become buddies after a mighty clash on the poetry stage moments ago.
Kelvin and Jordan warmed up with a chat where they stood.
And then, Caleb walked up to the excited two and joined them in their chatter.
The semifinal stage of the contest Kelvin and Jordan were anticipating in since about a week or two, had held. But the poetry contest was suddenly wound up with today’s event.
The event that was meant to determine the runners-up for the final stage was suddenly made to produce the winner.
The boys talked and exchanged contacts. They talked about everything talkable. From everyone’s poetry to Jordan’s medicine. They talked about the relationships between poetry and medicine.
Their talk also led them into looking for poetry in everything in life and every field of study they could think of. And they garnished their discussion with jokes and laughter.
Kelvin liked Jordan already. He felt as comfortable with him as he was with Caleb.
And for Jordan, it was like the arrival of a long anticipated party.
It thrilled him the friendship he’d always wanted to weave with Kelvin was here. And he did savour every moment of their chatter.
The three young men were lost in the passage of time for a while, until Jordan’s phone rang.
Jordan picked up. It was his father calling and he needed to leave.
He told his partners he’d got to go; and then, disappeared into the darkness ahead of them.
◙ ◙ ◙
Kelvin and Caleb were seated now.
The fast racing winds have altogether softened into little breezes of moist air. And they whizzed past every once in a while.
The two friends were down on their butts to talk on some more personal stuff.
Kelvin went first. ‘You know why I wanted to see you?’
Caleb shook his head.
‘I have a secret I want to leave in your hand,’ Kelvin said, his voice both soft and low.
Caleb wanted to reply with a joke. I hope you didn’t commit a crime, son of man? That was what he’d wanted to say and then reek with a contagious laughter.
But then, Kelvin’s demeanour was always the serious one. And especially now.
Caleb wouldn’t know if his friend meant his words to be taken seriously. And so he wouldn’t joke about this.
Caleb was concerned about his friend already. ‘I hope you’re well. I hope you’re not sick, or something? Is everything okay?’
Kelvin laughed. ‘Look at you! D’ you think I got a medical report that I’m terminally ill, or something? Don’t worry, man. I don’t have any sickness I’m tending to. At least, as of tonight!’
Caleb chuckled. ‘C’mon, dude!’ he said, elbowing Kelvin.
He flashed an eager grin at his friend. ‘So Mister Man, what’s your emergency. That your face looked so serious?’
Kelvin looked at him, his eyeballs a dull glow. ‘Promise me you won’t tell anyone. Not even Yemi.’
Caleb shot him a quizzical look. ‘Okay, I promise,’ he breathed.
Kelvin began. ‘You know Professor Oni. You know I go to him often.’
‘Yeah, yeah… I know that. What about it?’
A poised silence passed between them.
Caleb’s gaze quietly searched Kelvin’s wan eyes. The glint in those eyes lacked lustre and vitality. It seemed too vague and expressionless that it made Caleb more perplexed.
Caleb lowered his searching eyes to Kelvin’s slightly parted lips when his friend spoke in a soft, low voice.
‘He’s helping me oversee the flat I’m building.’
Caleb was lost. ‘Wait a second, I don’t get it. You mean… no, I still don’t get it…’
Kelvin explained. ‘I’ve been investing in cash crop plantation farming since about three years ago.
‘That’s with the money I’ve been making from poetry performances, ghostwriting novels for celebrities and participating in art fellowships.
‘I own a plantain farm on a five hectare land I bought in a village. And plantain farming is one very lucrative cash crop agribusiness in West Africa.’
Caleb was speechless. He wondered how much he didn’t know about Kelvin.
Kelvin went on. ‘None of my family knows about this and you’re the first to know.’
Caleb muttered. ‘Wow, that’s unbelievable!’
‘Perhaps,’ Kelvin muttered with an acquiescing gleam.
He resumed. ‘I started to build the flat for my mother and my siblings. My dad wished to buy a land and build our family a house before he died three years ago.
‘We spent the entire money dad got to get this done on the illness that eventually took him. But since we lost him, I’ve wanted to do this for the rest of us—my mother and my siblings.
‘And that’s why I invested in agribusiness when I started becoming successful.’
Caleb gasped. ‘That’s so great, man!’
Kelvin continued. ‘I’m telling you this now because I really want to feel excited tonight. Why, tonight’s poetry win for me is a big crowning for the completion of the house last weekend.’
Caleb couldn’t hold his utter amazement. ‘Wow, wow, wow! You finished the house last weekend, too!’
Caleb sprang up on his feet and stood with arms akimbo.
‘No, no… this is great big news, Kelvin! Of course, it still remains a secret with me.
‘But seriously, this isn’t something to tell me with a dull face, man! Don’t you know? This is… my goodness, this is big news, Kelvin!’
Kelvin smiled wanly and pulled him down to his seat. ‘I know,’ he interposed. ‘Get your butt down.’
Caleb couldn’t hold it in, the excitement. He flashed a quizzical smile at Kelvin and elbowed him.
‘C’mon dude, be happy! What’s up? Why’re you all sulky, man? Come on!’
Kelvin’s voice was altogether hollow and shallow. ‘I’m excited, man. But it’s like this excitement’s got no real happiness as it were. I’m sort of happy, but it’s like this happiness has got no real joy or something like that.’
He paused awhile.
Caleb took his face in his hands, and searched his dull, dark eyes.
Kelvin pulled off and faced elsewhere. ‘I don’t know, but something has always been missing,’ he went on.
‘It’s a void I keep trying to fill up with more vibes around,’ he said. ‘I hate to hear you tell me something I know myself. I hate to admit it’s something about God.’
He bowed his head heavily and buried it within his cupped hands.
‘Ah, why do you keep haunting me? Can’t you forget me altogether, uh? Just let go; let go of me, huh!’
He held his head in his hand and cringed into a bundle.
Caleb patted him on the back, wrapped a hand around him and stared into the starless skies.
The sound of his voice was both soft and low.
‘You remember the Saturday night we went to the art gallery? That night you asked me to accompany you.
‘When you wanted to buy that luxury mixed media art classic you saw on Friday.’
Kelvin pulled out an acquiescing grunt from his throat.
Caleb mused. ‘I think we were told it was the only replica remaining that Saturday night.’
Kelvin raised his head up a little. ‘Yeah,’ he said in a dull, weary voice. ‘I met two replicas on Friday; one had been sold out by then.
‘Actually, Caleb, the gallery made an announcement that the legendary artist created just three replicas of the same design. But each having uniquely different colour combinations.
‘I told you I just went to appreciate the artwork the previous day and didn’t even take my credit card along. Really, Caleb, I didn’t know then I’d love it so much.’
He bowed his head into his laps again.
Caleb slapped him small on the backside. ‘Silly guy! You know I still won’t ever understand why you have to miss getting that rarity of an artwork!
‘Come to think of it, it was a sentimental exotic classic you wouldn’t ever get in that particular form, Kelvin!’
Kelvin moaned. ‘I was stupid that night, I know! You kept telling me that Saturday night that I was drunk.
‘That I saying the grand artwork was unimpressive was just because I wasn’t seeing it from the clear perspective. You kept telling me that.’
He raised his head, pinned his elbows over his kneecaps and sank his head in-between his spread palms.
‘I dearly wished I got it that night—goodness knows! I was told when I returned on Sunday morning that it was sold out that very Saturday night!
‘I realised how much alcohol blurred my sense of judgment that night. I stopped taking alcohol ever since. I no longer drink but the scar is still there. It was really painful.’
Caleb breathed. ‘I bet it was.’
Kelvin sat right up and shot a gaze into Caleb’s gleaming eyes. ‘But why wasn’t I listening to you that night?’
Caleb squinted at him. ‘Because you were drunk, brother,’ he said in a soft breath.
Defeated, Kelvin muttered. ‘Oh I was.’
‘And that’s my point all along,’ Caleb added, patting his sober friend on the back.
‘What is?’ Kelvin queried; his bland face turning a little quizzical.
Caleb’s eyes stared blankly into space; his face’s turned in an angle that casted its frame in a dark silhouette.
‘“With the merciful you will show yourself merciful,’ he mused aloud; ‘with a blameless man you will show yourself blameless; with the pure you will show yourself pure; and with the devious you will show yourself shrewd.”’
Kelvin was lost somewhat. He couldn’t place the words. ‘What was… who said that? I mean, those lines are from where in particular?’
Caleb went on in a bit.
‘And it added, “For you will save the humble people, but will bring down haughty looks.”’
He paused a little.
‘Sorry, bro,’ he said; ‘that was the Bible, talking about God. Psalms chapter eighteen; and verses twenty five through twenty seven.’
Kelvin would’ve flared up. But he was curious to know how Caleb was going to tie things together. And so, he listened.
Caleb resumed. ‘If you’re looking through a broken lens, you know the resultant vision will certainly be broken.
‘Well, Kelvin, I remember what you told me before about what made you rebel against God. How you like to call yourself an atheist, or at least an agnostic since you lost your dad.
‘Look, I’m really touched for the costly loss of your dad and I know how much that is hurting in itself.
‘I understand it can be really more hurting to have seriously prayed to God to heal your dad of the acute jaundice he suffered from; only for him to die eventually.
‘And that’s after you’ve spent his entire fortune on making him well!’
A slight grunt escaped Kelvin’s throat. And his eyes were moist.
Caleb went on in a moment.
‘You see, when we lose a loved one in this part of the world, the general thing people do to console is to present the bereaved with worst case scenarios. Things more horrible than death.
‘Like the deceased having a lifelong acute schizophrenia instead. Or they becoming brain dead and lying in a vegetable state for life.
‘Or, otherwise turning a sickening monster or a serial killer. Or even becoming a carrier of a major pandemic instead.
‘People often get consoled hearing these worse cases that just didn’t play out; they become grateful to God and move on.
‘Bereaved people sometimes don’t even wait to be consoled by another person before they try to comfort themselves along that line.
‘And if this method doesn’t work for them, time eventually makes them heal up.
‘But then, my concern is why you haven’t been consoled for the past years, Kelvin.
‘Your mum lost a husband; your sisters lost a father. It wasn’t your loss alone. I’m sure your family have all moved on. Why haven’t you been consoled? That’s the only question I’ve always asked myself.’
Kelvin made a rough, weary grunt.
Caleb continued. ‘And, of course, after I thought of it many times, I found the answer.
‘It is not that the incidence was so peculiarly grave that you cannot just be consoled. The issue is with you.
‘Your service to God then has given you some kind of justification for pride. Yes, pride; not to a human being, but to God.
‘To a great extent, you’ve forgotten the Almightiness of God that you thought your service and loyalty to Him in the past has leveled you up to Him.
‘God’s not the president of your country that you can protest against. He’s God Who knows what’s best for you and does what pleases Him. You can’t make a case against God. You don’t even have a case against Him.
‘Have you served Him more than the angels that worship Him day and night; and yet He never gave them a free will like we humans?
‘No matter how fatherly He was to you, how friendly He was and how much you think you’ve served Him before, He is still not your mate. He is God!’
Kelvin heaved a deep sigh.
Caleb resumed. ‘Have you ever wondered why Abel’s accepted prayer would make him love God more but Cain’s denied prayer would make him hate God even more?
‘Have you ever wondered why hearing about God will be like a soothing massage to some people but to some others it’ll be like touching an open wound?
‘Have you ever wondered why hearing about Jesus Christ produces a beautiful smile with some people but with some others it makes their blood boil.
‘God is ever good, gracious and righteous; but our heart’s window pane which is sometime stained with sinfulness gives us a tainted view.
‘Just like the alcohol blurred your sense of judgment, the windowpane through which you peer at God’s Almightiness is stained with pride and a haughty feeling of entitlement.
‘And no matter how hard you look, you can’t see Him right.’
Kelvin was still and quiet.
The words had reached deep down into the soul. Kelvin had no objection. His good friend had read him through and through and every word resonated with his heartbeat.
A tear appeared in the corner of Kelvin’s eye. He sunk his head as the words soaked him like rainfall.
His silence was surrender.
‘You see,’ Caleb went on, ‘you being drunk that night we went to get the masterpiece didn’t reduce the worth of the artwork one tiny bit, does it?
‘The fact that your sense of appreciation was beclouded by the drunken state didn’t lessen the work’s truest value.
‘As a matter of fact, the masterpiece found a home in a grateful art lover’s collections the moment you decided to not take it home.’
Caleb looked up into the vast sky.
‘Kelvin,’ he whispered, ‘that emptiness or void you talked about some moments ago is simply unavoidable when someone throws God out through the backdoor of their life.
‘It is a God-shaped vacuum that doesn’t get filled up no matter how much stuff you stack into the vast cavity!
‘People who throw God out of their souls grope for Him throughout their entire lives with a haunting emptiness.’
Caleb ran his gaze sky-wide and took in the sight of the vast night sky.
‘Like the loss of that priceless masterpiece. That still keenly haunts your art sense up until now!’
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Copyright © 2019 by Kayode Olla