The peace the crown stole, he wore like a medal; a reward for the hard years. He hadn’t a care in the world who offered it as long as he had it. It was the most valuable thing he had next to his mental capacity which he discovered was larger than he was made to believe by people around, by himself. Before he died he had called me and told me his life’s tale and as he did; he looked up at the paintings of Jesus and his disciples at the last supper and a few angels whom I named Michael, Gabriel and Raphael because of their distinct characteristics. He mentioned that he had painted them himself when he was still young and agile.
“There was a time, yunno? When I cared about all these”
He raised his right hand which dangled off the long couch and waved it around before dropping it again. He had only seen three decades and I had been scared to ask if he was sick. He was one to question and not be questioned.
“I wish to divulge my life to you. I have been told of your savviness when it comes to crafting words into enticing shapes.”
I nodded at first before I remembered he wasn’t looking at me. At least, I didn’t think he needed to have his eyes on me to look at me. He had told me to stop fiddling with my fingers, even though he had his eyes fixed on the ceiling. He seemed to know me more than I knew.
The room was grand; it smelt of strawberry and fresh paint. The shelves on which encyclopedias stood were covered with thick transparent nylons. His camouflage was crisp and his boots were polished. It was obvious. I felt like I could see the reflection of my face if I stared at it.
“Y-yes” I whimpered.
“You like my boots, er? It’s too good for where we are”
I mustered a smile. There was a large Chandelier hanging in the middle. It had been placed in such a way that it appeared as if either Michael or Gabriel or Raphael was holding it. I couldn’t quite remember anymore. I just wanted to leave
“Yes! To the reason why I have invited you!
He bounced up with such a strength I didn’t know he had in him
Come! Sit close to me. I don’t want my secrets flying around”
He laughed with his head thrown back. I laughed harder like an employee waiting for a raise. I stood slowly, something told me my skirt was stuck between my butt-cheeks, but shame did not allow me release it from its prison. I dropped my note pad and spread my legs, then bent. *ahh, there dear. I was accomplished. He noticed. He smirked, suddenly looking his age.
“Something wrong with your skirt?”
My face became so hot, I thought it would burn if I touched it. I smiled, ignoring his question. I sat, my pen in my hand, ready to write while the recorder worked on, on the center table where he placed some magazines.
“My first war was…I fought my first war as a child. I had struggled with some things, yunno?”
I looked at his lips; his upper lips decorated with defined moustache. I wanted to ask why he said ‘you know’ together.
“My mum…okay! The things! Things such as accepting who you are and learning from a strange woman that I was never too young to, yunno?”
I shifted in my seat. I should have asked, but how else would I have had something to write?
“Did that make you uncomfortable? I heard looking for unnecessary knowledge could confuse you. Even after a long day at work, my mother’s hands worked tirelessly: chopping vegetables for dinner, stitching our clothes, whatever needed doing. I loved her hands and admired them. I wanted to be strong like her. But at that time, I couldn’t be. I would have, and gladly, if I weren’t…”
He stared into the far distance, trying to avoid eye contact. His jaw tightened, then his expression closed. He seemed to remember he was not alone.
“Come, Toyin. Walk with me.”
“Yeah, yeah. Come, Titi”
He couldn’t even get my name right. I decided from then that to anyone up there, you are still upcoming, except you were standing by his or her side. I decided that I would ignore all to get what I wanted and writing his biography would mean that I get to be a bestseller in a nation where books were slowly going extinct. I had to skip from time to time to meet up with him. The penciled heels I had chosen to wear wasn’t the best choice I had made for that day.
He turned suddenly, almost bumping into me. He smiled then laughed, snorting as he did.
“I’ve lived in this town my whole life, and most of the time that’s fine by me. But in the latter part of the rainy season, when the sky fills with birds migrating south for the harmattan, travelling thousands of miles, I get homesick for places I’ve never been. Places like Calabar”
“You have never fought outside of here?”
He mocked me with his eyes, but his lips remained pressed in a line.
His hands seemed to be introducing his uniform.
“I wear it because I am a fighter. I am soldier on this earth. I have to fight to remain relevant at times. Badging into places I am no longer wanted”
I couldn’t believe it. I was standing beside a philosophical soldier. One who made a medal for each challenge he had overcome. They were many. I looked back at the house; the splendor of the architecture. I wanted to know the secret of his wealth, his story.
“And you have never got beat up?”
“Well… not quite. Threatened? A lot.”
He suddenly looked old again. It made me wonder why he sounded like all hope was lost.
“Are you truly dying?”
“A lot of times I have referred to myself anything except what I have been. I have called myself a maze in a labyrinth and even hid behind a quote I wrote a while ago. If I remember clearly ‘if motivators need motivation.”
“Are you dying?”
“It’s weird, yunno.”
I rolled my eyes at the frequency of the distorted word. It was a part of him, one could tell. Probably a habit he picked up in school or in a bid to mimic a character on TV. I didn’t know and I didn’t ask
“Soldiers fight to keep people alive, to ensure they don’t die themselves while saving lives. It is a scam. They die either way, slowly. Here”
He hit his left chest where his heart was locked away in the ribcage. His self-awarded medals jiggled. It was then, I saw it. Peace. For some reason, it reminded me of something I used to have. Something I couldn’t quite recollect. Apparently, he had kept on talking and he had caught my eyes were on it.
“Oh! This! I had got it from a child who didn’t need it. In fact, she kept it where it was easy to find.”
He was a thief? He didn’t look like one. He had a mischevious smile plastered on his face. One that seemed to announce he was proud of himself. His hair was growing into an afro. It looked like he meant for the strands of hair to interlock.
“She had the love and care from people around and while she slept, I snatched it from her. In an attempt to escape, my bracelet dropped near her bed. And if I remember clearly, she had a b-r-acelet just like yours”
I touched my left wrist and felt the faded green bracelet I have had as a child. I had seen it in my room. I never asked how it got there. It came back to me. I had one just like that. It had been gifted to me by a kind old man called Yeshua. He said he was Hebrew and visiting his own.
“My real name is Past. I am indeed an outcast. All these you see?”
He spread his hands and turned around, admiring his assets.
“I built them from the happiness and joy of the people who still cling to me. They can’t have them if they don’t let me go. But you see this one, yeah? I need to let it go.”
At that time, I was ready to snatch it and run, but that would have made me like him. I wanted to ask how old he was, but the words had rolled off my tongue before my brain caught up.
“I am as old as my host claims I am.”
I asked again
“Are you dying?”
“Time is no man’s friend. Always in a hurry, that fellow. We used to gamble at a local pub while I was but a suckling”
“You see the problem with people is that they never admit they need help. Let me know if you need help. I want to help you”
“First of all, I am not a person. Two, I get my strength from the mind of the person who keeps me around. In this case, it’s you. So you see, dear Tope, you have done more than help.”
“Are you dying?”
I asked again, my strength drained from me. It annoyed me that he had mixed up my name again, but something else made my legs give way and I fell to the ground and cried.
“I am, if you wish it be. The magic words? Die and never return.”
I said, looking at the grasses that grew in between the interlocking bricks. That moment, I realised no space is too small to grow. I snapped out of it. How could I be bringing out life lessons when I was planning on immortalizing the one who had stolen from me?
“Say it like you mean it.”
“Die and never return!!!” I cried out. I needed him to die as much as he seemed to be the only one entertaining me. He turned into smoke and there it was on the floor in front of me. Peace. Yeshua’s peace. It was a piece of me.
I picked it up, got up, and dusted the dirt off me and ran. I could hear the wind whisper words of love to me. I didn’t stop. No, not for a little bit. I never looked back.
The peace the crown stole was mine to begin with. I thought it fit me better. My grandma thought so too. The peace the crown stole belonged to another gentle, patient crown.
The past is a constant threat to the gift of peace God gifted you with when He sent His son to die for you. To get your peace back, you need to stand firm, unwavering. Just like when as a Christian you confess with your mouth what you believe in your heart. You get the peace back from the old man.
The past if one allows, builds a permanent house with one’s joy and happiness. You can’t be happy with your past around. You will be scared, uncomfortable. The past’s mental capacity goes as far as the events that make it. The past is nothing except you give it recognition and therein, its strength lies.
Let go of whatever is taking up so much space in your head or heart that shouldn’t be there. Don’t be scared of something dead, slowly fading away. The power lies in fear itself not in what you fear. Learn to live, forgive and heal; else the past builds a mansion of your joy and happiness.
Love and be open to love.
LAUGH. Out. Loud. In. The. Face. Of. FEAR.
Written by Adedoyin, Adetutu .O, Senior Literary Editor