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Conversation Piece 

By Ahmed Maiwada (Nigeria)

 

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Barrister observed the Sabbath. Like his bones, like God, his telephone sets rested on Sunday, for it was always call to duty when the gadgets rang.

However, Barrister switched on one of his phone sets one Sunday morning in March; the same month in the previous years he had discovered squashed earthworms in the visitors’ bedroom, while the bottles of water kept on the dining table dried up at night without anybody in the flat touching them.

He assumed that his act that morning was a venial sin, the kind that blew away the foundations of men who had stood on solid rocks; otherwise he was tossed into it by the Ides of March that might be blowing in that mid-March air. 

He was inside his bathroom, washing himself. His dark-brown skin was covered with lather that seemed like foam over a mug of hurriedly poured coffee.

As his neighbours left the compound for church, the sounds of opening and shutting doors, as well as car engine sounds – labouring into life, filtered into his flat through the half-shut, tinted, sliding glasses of the bathroom window.

The telephone rang. It was music – Boys II Men:…Still I can’t let you go/It’s so natural/You belong to me/I belong to you…

He stood rooted on the wet, cream tile flooring, thinking nobody could call him at 9am on Sunday morning except his mother back in the village – some three hundred kilometres away. She called only when necessary. It was therefore, unnecessary for him to ignore the call.

He could not see the caller’s identity on the screen of the telephone, being short sighted. He took two steps from the white plastic bucket of warm water toward the telephone, which lay on top of the water closet.

Up close, he noticed that the telephone set lay on its face. It was brand new, fitted with an 8-G memory card and a 5.0 Megapixel camera – his favourite.

He decided against handling the gadget with his wet and soapy hands, in order not to risk spoiling it, preferring to let the singing continue while he rushed through his bath.

Barrister discovered afterward, that the calls he had missed were made with a foreign number. It would not be to him any mystery if the number had borne the South African or British country code – he had a client in South Africa, whilst his boss was holidaying in Great Britain. The country code of the missed calls was strange to him.

He decided to suspend returning the call, since there was no urgency for it or importance.

Barrister returned his missed calls, as a rule. Yet, as he picked up his telephone from the dining table in the parlour, over a breakfast of black coffee and bread, he wondered whether or not to remain faithful. He had already broken another rule when he switched on the telephone set that morning. 

It was a lady’s voice that received his call, which added little to the mystery of the strange number as did the language spoken by the receiver.
“As-salamu-alaikum,”said the voice in greeting.

“Amin, wa-alaikumus-salam,”
he replied. His Arabic jarred in his ears, for he was lacking constant practice; it tugged at his mind when he considered that his reply might have sent a wrong signal.

“My name is Bilkisu,” she said with a musical voice – in perfect Hausa.

Check one! check two! Barrister did not remember any acquaintance by that name.

“Okay,” he replied. “Who do you want to speak to?”

“You, of course!” She sounded enthusiastic.

“Okay. Where are you calling from?”

“I’m calling from Ghana.”

Barrister knew no one in Ghana.

“Sorry,” he said. “You’re on to the wrong number.”

“No, no, please, don’t drop. It’s you I want to talk to. Is your name not Amin?”

“Yes.” He was quite surprised.

“I have a message for you from Baba, if you please.” Her voice was suave.

Barrister could envision her smiling; he could envision her face: brown, slender and smooth; he could envision a narrow, straight, pointed nose; red, half-full-half-thin lips; white, cornrow-teeth, probably spotting a gold tooth or two in the front ones. He could perceive the perfume on her Wax wrapper and blouse.

“Okay,” he said.

The line cut off. He already had received a warning on his finishing credit. He sighed in relief, took a glance at the wall clock and reminded himself that he was running out of time for church service. His wife, who was already dressed up, emerged from the kitchen and walked past him to the front door.

“I’m off,” she said, unlocking the front door with two rapid clacks of the lock, which made him to glance at the wall clock.

“Okay,” he said, swallowing bread soaked in black coffee. “Coming soon.”

His wife had barely jammed the door of her car outside the flat when his telephone began to sing. It was Bilkisu’s number once again on the screen. He considered ignoring it. The sin he had committed against the Sabbath, he knew, was forgivable; and in few minutes he would ask God in church for forgiveness.

But he knew of one sin that would not be forgiven: the offence against the Spirit, which Bilkisu was tempting him to commit by keeping him from going to church that morning, without reason.

Barrister received the call, after considering that God must have something for him to cause him to switch on his telephone that morning. He did not, after all, hear Bilkisu’s message before the line went off.

“Hello,” he said. “Mallama Bilkisu. Sorry. It was my credit that got finished…”

“No, no problem at all,” she said. “I imagined so. Hope it isn’t any offense that I call back.”

“There is no offence at all.”

“Thank you. I was trying to give you Baba’s message… He sent me to tell you to buy a dozen copies of the Holy Kur’an and distribute to mosques so that Allah’s servants might read. He said that all your expectations shall be met if you do so, insha Allah.”

Barrister’s first line of thought was that another fraud ring had found his telephone line. One he-couldn’t-remember-his-name gave him a call some months ago, from “NNPC Towers”, wanting Barrister to execute a contract for him in Abuja, as the caller claimed to have been summarily transferred by his company to the oil fields in the Niger Delta. Once, some years back, when Barrister was working as a law officer with a company in Lagos, a teenage boy had called his department’s land line, sounding so familiar and asking to see him. The caller had visited the office the following day, wanting Barrister’s investment advice on three million U. S. Dollars, which the teenager had stumbled upon at a white man’s warehouse in Apapa. When Barrister asked him of the money, the teenager said it was inside a locked briefcase with a security company somewhere in Ikeja, but that he could not secure its release until he paid several hundred thousand Naira for the demurrage the Dollar briefcase had incurred.

Barrister had escaped being defrauded on both occasions; he had dismissed the “NNPC Tower” caller with I’m just a Lawyer not a contractor, and he had told the Lagos teenager that he would offer him free advice when he reclaimed the briefcase of Dollars.

Barrister was younger then. Now older and wiser, he knew that Bilkisu and her ring of fraudsters were as good as catching the wind – up against him.

“Okay, Mallama Bilkisu,” he said. It was 9:15am when he glanced at the wall clock. He could afford to indulge the honey-voiced one on the other end of the line, since he was yet to finish his breakfast. “I’m so grateful for the message from Baba.”

“No, please don’t mention, Al-Amin,” she said kindly. He could envision her smile.“Just do as Baba has asked you to do, and by Allah’s grace you’ll encounter great success ahead...”

“Although, if you don’t mind, Bilkisu,” he blurted, “I wonder if it won’t offend Baba for me to send you back to him with my own message.”

“No, no, Al-Amin,” she cajoled. “Baba could have spoken directly with you if he were here. He is a father to all, including you. Therefore, you may feel free to give me his message, and I shall deliver it for you, insha Allah.”

“Okay. So, could you please ask Baba for me whether or not I should still carry out his assignment, even though I don’t go to mosque?”

“What do you mean you don’t go to mosque?” she snapped, like a sleeping dog whose tail a belligerent child had stepped on.

“I went to mosque before,” he retorted. “That was many years ago, when I was a little boy.”

“So, you’re not a Muslim?”

“That’s it, Mallama Bilkisu…”

“And you still answer the name ‘Amin’?  Don’t you know that it is a holy name? How dare you answer the name of the Holy Prophet, Peace of Allah be upon him?”

“Bilkisu,” Barrister called, after a brief pause.

“Na’am,”
she answered.

“I did tell you earlier that I went to mosque.”

“Yes, you did…”

“Look, I went to mosque. Now I go to church, to worship God, which I hope is the same Supreme Being you worship. When I’m done going to church, I’ll go to heaven…”

“You’re avoiding my question! Who gave you the right to answer the name, Amin, an unbeliever that you are?”

“Who gave you the right to deny me my name?” Barrister snapped. He had encountered outrage before, from people reacting to the sudden realisation of his faith – about two people had fainted! But this was the first time someone would react to the point of denying him the use of his own name.

“I was born into the church-going part of a large Muslim home,” he explained. “I went to mosque once, when my father’s mother was still alive – an erudite Kur’anic scholar. I stopped after she died. As for my name, I inherited it from an uncle, who in turn inherited it from his grandfather!”

“Still you have no right to keep that precious name after you decided on becoming an unbeliever,” Bilkisu insisted.

“May I ask you one question, Bilkisu?”

“I’m listening to you,” she said insolently.

“Are you truly in Ghana?”

“I am in the city of Kumasi right now.”

“Then I am surprised?”

“Why?”

“Maybe it was just my foolish thinking that choice is a scarce commodity only in Nigeria, especially in the old Northern Region. But speaking with you this morning has enlightened me; that limiting a man’s right to choose is patently a Hausa/Fulani disease.”

“Is that so?”

“It is so!”

“Maybe I should tell you this Hadith: Ayatul munafiqina thalathat – is hadatha kaziba; iza imima khana; is wa’adan ktalafa. It means: There are three signs of a hypocrite – when he speaks he lies; when he is…

“I acknowledge your erudition, Mallama Bilkisu,” Barrister interjected. “But I did not lie to you! I have skinned the monkey for you, right down to its tail.”
“That’s not where I’m going…”

“No, please, Bilkisu. I’m used to your type of reaction. What surprises me in this situation is it comes from someone with your level of learning and also from outside what I imagined to be its natural habitat – the old Northern Region of Nigeria.”

“We’re talking about unbelief, here… and you’re surprised? You don’t want Allah’s servants to worship Him…”

“Allah created man with freewill; He gave man the right to choose whether or not to worship Him, just the same as the right to choose a spouse, food, friends, and so on.”

“When you advocate for unbelief, you ask for nothing but chaos amongst mankind.”

“There is no compulsion in religion…”

“Listen…Zionism is the only ideology that permits theft, murder, rape, prostitution, homosexuality… every kind of deviance, all in the name of right to choose a way to live!”

A fifteen-second silence followed Bilkisu’s yell and a sudden pause. Barrister could hear the anvil strike of the wall clock’s second hand inside his head now that the house and the compound were deserted by his neighbours and his spouse.

“Mallama Bilkisu,” he said eventually, envisioning the caller’s mad eyes. His eyes focussed on the wall clock at 10:43am – thirteen minutes after commencement of service at his church, “we are sabotaging our own story by carrying on in this manner…”

“Don’t tell me you care about sabotage, when you are guilty of sabotaging Allah’s injunctions to His servants. It is all about freedom, after all. So, let’s act free, for once, and see what chaos develops when man is free…”

“You must let Maiwada continue to shape his story toward a resolution, or you risk the consequences of rebellion.”

“Who is Maiwada?” Bilkisu snapped. “Is he Allah that cannot be rebelled against?”

“He is our creator…”

“Oh, stop the blasphemy!”

“He is our god. Just like Almighty though, he gives us – his creations, absolute freedom to live the way we wish. He always does…”

“La-ila ha illallah…”


“There is no God but Allah, but for now you must be quiet, Bilkisu, before you invoke your creator’s wrath, who, even though slow to anger, can kill you at once?”

“Look, if he is indeed my god let him grind me until I become powder and then blow me into the wind! But I must rebel against him by insisting that you tell me the reason why you stopped going to mosque?”

“I’m sure you don’t want to know…”

“I wouldn’t have asked if I don’t want to know…”

“It may be even more bitter than…”

“No, not at all…And I want to assure you that whatever you say won’t change anything.”

“Okay,” Barrister sighed heavily like the heavens, loaded with rainclouds – a sign of warning. He wondered briefly where to begin without causing offence. “I won’t tell you why I stopped going to mosque. Rather, I’ll tell you why I go to church…”

“I’m not interested in why you go to…”

“It’s about the same thing, though. So, don’t worry… I’m a Lawyer; and Lawyers value evidence so much. In becoming a Lawyer, I studied Islamic Jurisprudence. So, I know that the standard of proof in Islam is strict; it requires two men of impeccable character to establish a fact. Considering that, the
crucifixion of Jesus was established by four witnesses, all of impeccable character…”

Ayya, Mallam Amin,” Bilkisu lamented softly that Barrister imagined her smiling sadly. “I know where you’re going; I have studied the Bible myself. Can you tell me who those Bible witnesses are?”

“Matthew, Mark, Luke, John… They are many.”

“They are Jews, Allah’s archenemies; the most rebellious people on the surface of the earth! Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, can’t be men of impeccable character since they’re the same people who conspired against the prophet of Allah, but Allah caused His servant to escape by substituting him with another person who looked like him. Mark you; they’ve killed many other messengers of Allah before him. And if only you’ll be true to yourself, you know that the Jews do not like even you Christians. How then can they be men of impeccable character, capable of giving credible evidence?”

“And yet, Bilkisu, those witnesses were not amongst the killers of Jesus. They were amongst his disciples, who witnessed the entire proceedings…”

“Now, let’s assume they actually wrote what they witnessed, Mallam Amin. But their testimonies were corrupted by Al-Nasara, the white-skinned Zionists!

What you believe in, Mallam Amin is the corrupted version of the truth. The original version is that Allah’s prophet was not killed on that cross. Allah would not allow that disgrace to befall his own messenger!”

“Pardon me for asking this, Mallama Bilkisu – I don’t mean any disrespect for your learning. But I wish to know whether you have seen the original version of the truth.”

“Of course I have. That is why I speak to you with authority.”

“Have you read it?”

Bilkisu laughed derisively and said, “I called it a ‘lap’ and you called it a ‘hind leg’.”

“I’m asking just so to be sure you read Greek and Aramaic, the two languages in which the original Bible was written.”

“Alright, alright…” Bilkisu said. “Please hold the line for Baba. He has just walked in and wants to speak directly with you.”

“Salamu-alaikum,”
said a gruff, hushed male voice on the other end of the line where Bilkisu’s voice had been. Barrister could envision the dark, wrinkled, and wry face of a septuagenarian, probably turbaned and grey-eyed – the Hausa/Fulani man being the guinea fowl that has no change of feather patterns.

“Amin, wa-alaikumus-salam,
Baba,” Barrister answered the old man’s greeting. His Arabic had profited from recent practice.

“Mallam Amin,” Baba said, in rapid and smooth Hausa that seemed devoid of commas and periods, “you said you do not believe in our Prophet but we believe in yours…”

“Baba,” Barrister attempted to interject, “I have studied Islam in school, and I know for a fact that belief in the Prophets is one of the Pillars of Islam…”
“…let me tell you this we have seen your star in the sky shining very bright and want to inform you that Allah has lifted you amongst human beings it is just a matter of time before the design of the Almighty becomes real in your life you don’t know who I am but I can tell you where you are right now and what you are doing this very moment I am not a man I am a jinni I am three thousand years old I want to tell you that if you say you believe in Allah just continue in your own belief without shifting to the left or to the right it is still the right path it is because of your personality amongst men that we chose you to carry this message to humanity which is that Allah is against anybody who fights in His name He doesn’t want all this bloodshed no matter by any section of His servants it is most unfortunate that man uses the name of Allah over time simply so that he can promote his economic or political ambition when man neither knows nor fears Allah all these three religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam are true religions and all their true adherents shall surely be rewarded with Al-jannah on Judgement Day I therefore urge you to keep faith with your own choice of how you want to worship Allah and Allah shall surely be merciful unto you.”

“I’ve heard all that you’ve said, Baba,” Barrister said when the old Jinni paused. “And I’m so glad to hear this from you…”

“I didn’t ask you to worship me” Baba exploded once again. “neither did I ask you to fear me even though I am not human but I enjoin you to worship Allah and He alone and use your position to call others to true worship which is impossible when there is bloodshed everywhere this must be condemned for Allah Himself condemns it in absolute terms I hope you’re following?”

“Yes, indeed, Baba…”

“Now as I’ve told you I am three thousand years old I was a thousand years old when the incident of the crucifixion took place I am an eye witness to what actually happened so call me on this line in two hours time and I’ll tell you exactly what transpired between the Jews and Jesus.”

“Okay, Baba. Thank you so very much.”

The line went off.

Barrister sprinted to his bedroom and hurriedly dressed up for church. He would be late by more than half an hour. He knew men would accuse him of late coming. But he knew also that the Spirit would forgive him for the wrongdoing.

-END-

 

 

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