“It will be in your third year. On a Wednesday, the third day of the week, three girls from your department will ask you to come pray for a roommate who’s fighting a headache. And by the next morning you will begin to reconsider the word pure.”
Bolade had not expected the response and when Peter did not smile and say it was a joke, he hit his roommate and said, “You are joking, right?”
Peter smiled. “Scared already?”
A small smile formed on Bolade’s lips and his breathing returned to normal. He smiled at Peter’s smile and moments later, a gentle air had settled into the room. They talked about the remaining exams and about the windy break. Peter wanted to see some movies, visit some girls, make some money. In that order.
“You are crazy, right?”
“Not half as you,” Peter said.
Bolade cut his gaze and stared at the walls, at the scriptures emblazoned with black marker. Romans 6. Romans 8. The last verses of the opening chapter of Ephesians. Verses he wrote to ward off evil spirits and temptations lurking at the bend. Yet, when he looked at Peter again, his heartbeat ceased and something nibbled at him, something dangerous, like a tiny virus waiting to explode.
That evening, he left Bolade in the room and went to church, wearing a white shirt. At the entrance, where he logged in his name on the worker’s form, he stared at the usher with dimples and wondered if she too had engaged in a dialogue similar to his, if she too had reconsidered pure. The usher sighted him and smiled, a harmless expression, but in her face were dangerous stones, as if she would rather be alone with him.
A numb headache seized Bolade’s brain. He closed his eyes and breathed, telling himself he was having the strange thoughts because of Peter’s words and that he should not have listened – he should have shut his ears and prayed in tongues.
Later, when the President spoke on the importance of praying in tongues, the microphone firm in one hand, the free arm flailing at the end of each word, like a virtual stamp, Bolade turned his back to the church and squeezed his eyes the tightest and prayed.
He did not wait for Tope after service and, on his way out, the usher smiled at him again.
He did not smile back.
He stood on Stateline road, edging towards the junction, studying the night traffic. The moon was in hiding and the air had a mustiness to it, like wine abandoned in a cellar. He watched as humans drifted by, male and female, young and young, old and young, the stupid and the more stupid, and after many minutes, he began to feel like just a number, as if his purpose was just to fill up one more hole.
A boy hawked moinmoin, the transparent container perfectly balanced on his head, like it was his conjoined twin, reminding Bolade of the couple he’d seen earlier, fingers linked as if they were born like that. He closed his eyes and opened them only when a hooter drummed into his hearing.
The driver yelled from inside the cab. “You fool.”
Bolade started to respond then choked on his words. He faced the other side of the road and watched the approaching van, a white van with no plate, and for a brief spell, he considered rooting his legs in the middle of the road, and how Mama would cry that the village people had finally gotten to her, taking her only child, her okansoso.
The word lingered in Bolade’s ears long after the van had faded. Okansoso.
His phone buzzed. Tope. He watched the call fade into voicemail and heard her voice, soft, warm, fragile, suitable for the usher she was, and he imagined if she too had been told to sell out. Like the usher who smiled at him.
A couple walked by. Bolade noticed them because as their shadows covered his, the guy hit the lady on the butt. Bolade’s eyes froze. Stopped moving. He watched as the lady looked over her shoulder, a grin consuming her features, as if she just won a major feat, and the guy whispered, and then they walked on, nonchalantly, like hitting someone’s butt was tradition.
He realized the meaning of the word, impure then. Impure was hitting someone’s butt in the middle of the road and laughing over it while you bought fried yam and potatoes. Impure was plastering a poster with a lady clad in bikini at the main gate. Impure was thinking about an usher’s lips.
His phone buzzed again.
“I’ve been calling you since eternity.”
“Sorry,” Bolade said. A soft hum filtered into his hearing. “Are you at home?”
“Yes, I am in my lodge.” Pause. “No, you are not welcome.”
“Wait outside,” he said and ended the call.
Minutes on, he stood in front of the gate and listened for the creak of the lock. A flashlight shone under the gate. He closed his eyes and when he opened them again, lights blinded him.
Tope hit him. Her hand was soft. Her skin was soft. He told himself it was wrong to think of a worker’s skin as soft, but then she touched his cheek again, in a way that surprised him, in a way that he assumed she felt was perfectly normal, in a way that tingled his nerves and set his hair on an electron-charged path.
Slowly, he removed her fingers.
“I couldn’t see you in church.”
“Yeah,” Tope said.
Bolade wanted to tell her about his roommate’s statement, and how he felt so odd and so weird, and how odd and weird felt so feeble to describe how he actually felt. He held her fingers because he was beginning to feel cold, and she wrapped her skin around him.
“It will be fine,” Tope said. Bolade nodded, his head bobbing like a pendulum fitted to a thin limb.
Tope drew him into a hug. He did not think about the coldness of her skin. “I wanted to bleed my skin,” he said, his voice cracking, like the surface of an icy pond. “He was saying all stuffs about sex and I should have hit his face but I did not.”
He drew away from Tope’s hug, stared at her face highlighted by a dull moon. “Imagine. He thought it was ridiculous I hadn’t kissed anyone at nineteen.”
Tope smiled. Something sparked in Bolade’s head then, when Tope smiled, her lower lip and her upper lip blending together like they would if they were locking on watermelon. And he knew. He just knew.
He suddenly wanted to puke. He ran backwards till his head smacked a fence and turned and punched his stomach, the points below his navel, but nothing came out. He heard Tope come towards him and he ran, his rhythm uncertain, with a dangerous swagger, like someone who had drank too much stale wine. He ran past the main gate with the naked poster, past the sheriffs controlling the flow of cars. He ran to his room and flung himself on the bed and began to cry.
That night, he dreamed. He sat on a bench with weak limbs, his bible spread open before him, his eyes sullen from a truckload of tears. The door to the church drifted open and Tope entered. She reached him in four strides and sat on the bench, their knees touching.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”
And then, they began to cry.
P.S: Try to think of purity as a tomato fruit. A chunk, however minute, off the smooth, succulent skin would leave the fruit deformed till kingdom come. Even if you are justified in taking the chunk. It’s simply logic to wait till the time when you can have the whole fruit to yourself.
Jesus would say this to the multitude. Parables. Go figure.