I heard the commotion when I got to the front of the hostel and I have no idea how my mind did it but the thinking was quick and my reaction quicker. He was running towards my car, the look on his face like he was looking death right in the eyes. The students were yelling vile insults at him
“Yɛbɛku wo nnɛ wo! Gyimifoɔ! mmaa abu so wɔha sei, wosee wompɛ! Yɛbɛbo wo ɛku wo!”
The bloodthirsty young man screaming that out was right behind the terrified softie running towards me. It was fluid, the way I opened my passenger door. He dove in and I sped off as the students ran behind me to a point and finally gave up. Adrenaline had me speeding even after we were clearly away from a possible bloody scene. My heart was beating too fast and for a moment I had forgotten he was sitting beside me. I turned to look at him. He was looking down at his hands in silence and his shoulders were shaking.
“awɔ de wo?”
I asked, turning up the temperature. He nodded and I sighed. He’s traumatized, I thought. I wanted to know exactly what led to him nearly being lynched. By the little I heard, it was obviously a homophobic crowd ready to mete out ‘fair punishment’ to an allegedly gay boy. As to how they got to know he was gay, I could only know by asking, but I did not want to; at least, not yet. When we got to the main campus gate, I slowed down, suddenly remembering I was driving out without even asking where it was the boy was going. I stopped the car and turned to him. He was tracing his hand round the edge of the Bible that lay on the dashboard.
“I’m a sinner.”
He whispered and pulled his hand away, like the Bible had turned hot. I wasn’t surprised to feel a lump form in my throat. I had been staring at that Bible all through that evening before I decided to go visit my cousin in that hostel. I had been staring at it like it had just dropped from space and had appeared in my car. It looked strange, disturbing. I had wanted to pick it up and shove deep down the glove compartment but that would have meant touching it, so I let it be. I felt the boy’s pain too well.
“We are all sinners”
I finally managed to say, my voice raspy from the crying I had done earlier.
He added, shaking his head.
“Wonte ase3 koraa”
I had the urge to wrap him in my arms and rock him as I stared through the thin sheet of tears that had glazed my eyes. He looked so fragile and it was funny how connected I felt to him. He was a total stranger but I could have known him his entire life. Tears were streaming down his face and he pursed his lips, taking in a long deep breath.”
“It is true”
He said through the breath he let out.
He continued, adjusting himself in the seat so he half-faced me.
“I don’t know what happened tonight. It all happened too fast. Before I knew it I was being dragged down the stairs. I knew I was going to die.”
He smiled slightly and went on,
“Mob justice, they call it.”
He coughed and picked the Bible up slowly.
And the car felt extra warm. My mouth had become dry and I just waited for him to come out with all he had to say.
He burst out again through tears. He let his face fall in his open hands, with the Bible on his lap and he kept crying. I cleared my throat.
“It’s okay to cry.”
He looked up and sniffed.
“No, it’s not okay. I am going straight to hell.”
“Why are you saying that?”
I wanted to know.
“Because I am an unpardonable sinner”
My heart could have stopped as my mind went back two years, when I was in my final year in that very University, that very school, after I had had my third abortion. A pregnancy that had resulted from my affair with a married guy whose wife had been crippled after she had their last child, due to complications. I had been with two of my closest girlfriends and I was forehead deep in depression, believing myself to be the worst of offenders, because my sins were great. Not once, not twice, thrice. That day, the only way I got comforted was when they compared what I called sin to that of a homosexual.
“At least you had natural kind of sex”
I remember one of them saying and I felt okay. Not because I had gone back to the God I feared I had failed and had asked to be forgiven. No, I had fed off the satisfaction that someone else was in sin greater than mine. I could stand a lesser sin if I knew there was someone out there who had no chance of being forgiven, as my friends made me believe. I was stupid. A lot had happened after. Too much had happened after. I had questions, and I had only my head as a platform for such questions so I kept throwing it at myself. I gave the Bible on his lap a side-glance. He was still crying.
Lord, are you real?
Is there heaven above where saints immortal reign? Is there hell below where unrepentant souls are cast?
I shivered as the word hit me. Unrepentant.
I did not understand what I was doing, or whether or not the idea of God and sin and heaven and hell were things to go by or hold on to, or believe, but right that moment, the word stood bold and highlighted and everything I did afterwards was probably not me.
I took his hands in mine and asked him to look at me.
“Yes, you are a sinner, but so am I. Greater than, less than…those are our own grades, not Gods. If we should die now, and there is hell present, we will both end up there because we died not repenting of our sins, greater than, or less than.”
“I’m sorry I desire men”
His lips quivered and the questions came back but I kept on with what I was doing.
“I’m sorry I desire men too”
I said and he stopped trembling.
“Create in me a new heart and renew a right spirit within me”
He said slowly and I could tell he had relaxed completely.
“If I am wrong, Lord, make me right”
He looked up and broke out in song, with the sweetest voice I had ever heard, the softest alto. Goose flesh spread all over my arms and legs, with his hands still in mine;
“He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean
His blood availed for me.”
So beautiful was this hymn I had never heard that my heart softened some more and the tears overwhelmed me. I turned back to face the steering wheel, holding it with both hands, I laid my head to rest as the tears flowed. It had started to rain and according to news reports I had not parked too well. The car that skid off the road and hit us sent mine somersaulting into the nearby bushes. I woke up in the hospital the next morning. The boy had died on the spot, they told me and I cried half with joy, half with sadness at a life so short-lived in fear, because of his inclinations.
It was later that I heard his name was David. At the funeral, I kept replaying the night in my head. Students refused to attend the funeral. There were those who said God had punished him and that was why he died that very night. Others said he was burning in hell. I sat in the back of the church replaying that night in my head and peace settled over me. I did not cry again, even after he was carried off in a white coffin and buried, I did not. I still wondered what his sin was – that he desired men; that it is unnatural and that he succumbed to unnatural desires?
The rain began soon after we left the burial ground. Violent wind blew and everyone ran for cover. I managed to drive through, and seated before the TV that evening, my hair still wet, my feet in socks, I was transfixed, not feeling the hot chocolate burn my palms through the dark blue mug the pastor from the church I started attending after I came out of hospital had given me the day I got baptized. It had “Jesus Saves” hand-painted on it. The fire that blazed on my screen had all my attention. The anti-gay activist had been in a meeting when someone barred their door and set the single room building they were in on fire. By the time the Fire Service got there and the rains came down, they were all dead; all 53 of them. I sat staring, too shocked to move. One gentleman was being questioned by the reporter and he was saying how lucky he had been for deciding not to attend that afternoon’s meeting, giving his thanks to God.
David’s voice came back to me.
I got up walked slowly to my room and as the voice on the TV faded. I could not sit through him talking about purging the country of sinners who invited doom…with the questions causing a ruckus in my head.
I lay there on my bed and said a silent prayer for the self-righteous souls that had perished that afternoon. “May they find rest.”
I turned to my side and looked straight at the mug I had placed on the bedside table
JESUS SAVES it read, and I kept wondering which of us were truly lost.
And I slipped off into sleep, asking myself why I had gone to church in the first place.