Each time I read the book of Genesis, my belief is reinforced that God intended that man would operate on the ground. Traveling underground for me, therefore, remains a daunting adventure. But the face of the earth, having turned treacherous due to a coating of snow, any kind of crevice underneath seemed inviting. I had been trapped indoors for a while anyway. And didn't a wise man once suggest that I was born free?
So, I slipped underground for a late train ride to Picadilly Circus. It was Friday, but only hardcore fun seekers ventured out. Fellow freedom seekers of sorts we were. Sitting at one end of the train carriage, I wondered how the chill found its way deep beneath the surface of the earth. Maybe it also craved an escape from itself.
A man was seated in the carriage when I entered. I sat opposite him. The pile of Nigerian newspapers on his laps was an attraction. His face was hidden behind another popular Nigerian daily which he read, and because he wore gloves, I couldn't make out what color of humanity he possessed. But he surely was male. The massive size of his hands was proof, in addition to shoulders that extended far beyond the edges of the fully spread daily.
But then, I thought, who else would invest so much in Nigeria but a fellow patriot? It seemed a logical thought in an incongruous setting. We were two Nigerians, all the same, with a buffet of home news between us. My next action, therefore, came naturally.
'Can I read one of your newspapers please?' I chipped.
Without the slightest movement, he answered, 'Free reader, abi?'
The accent was unmistakably African. Southern Nigerian probably. So I relaxed and spoke in pidgin.
'O boy, na so now. You no know say we no dey get these ones buy for here?'
Rather than reply, he simply folded the newspaper he was reading, and to my astonishment, revealed a very Caucasian face. He placed the daily on the pile and looked straight at me.
'Are you a Nigerian?', he asked.
'Ah,' I had meant to exclaim, 'Is the Queen British!?'
But all I managed was a meekly 'Yes, I am.'
'I was not asking you the question,' said my co-traveller. ' I was merely saying aloud what you'd like to ask me. What's on your mind. Well, the answer to that is a long story, and this journey is short....'
'You must be wondering what I'm rambling about,' he continued, stretching forward a large hand. His glove swallowed mine in the semblance of a handshake. (The thought of Moses' snake swallowing Pharaoh's crossed my mind. Not a very good thought, because I'd rather be Moses). 'My friend, forget all you read in newspapers. I've got more important information for you. A message for our people'.
I shrank a bit. Seven stops to Picadilly Circus.
'We haven't enough time, my fellow patriot. So you better don't interrupt me.... Not enough time!' he shouted like a disaster movie hero. Then suddenly, he bent forward, and whispered, 'Do you know Nigeria is ruled by spirits?'
I did not answer. I was awestruck.
Two lovestruck commuters had entered the carriage. Two lovers oblivious of the unfolding drama. Nevertheless, their presence offered me a sense of security.
'That is what those news writers don't understand. Nigeria is ruled by spirits.'
'That's true,' I said, 'Like the spirits of compassion, love, excellence...'
He regarded at me with disdain, 'You can afford to be sarcastic? Typical, eh? Look, those who can see beyond the ordinary do possess this knowledge. But their mouths are sealed. Not me, though! ....When blind ones like you look into the assembly, what do you see, eh? Men in overflowing agbada and sharp suits, and women in all manners of fashionable attires. Not so?'
'Well,' I answered, though I wasn't sure I needed to, 'That is our contribution to democracy.'
'Democracy my fingernail!' he screamed. 'Demoncracy more like!'
One of the two lovers said something like 'Sod off, you demons!' But he seemed to forget us before he finished the sentence, as his female companion reclaimed possession of his wandering lips.
Three stops to Picadilly.
My acquaintance continued hurriedly now, with the eloquence of a megalomaniac. 'You see amiss, my fellow Nigerian. What we see are men and women dressed in rafia palms, faces made up in chalk and charcoal. Where you see headgears and tall caps, we see feathers and horns. When you see debates take place in state-of-the art chambers, we see them gathered around giant anthills, jackal-cackling with bloodied dentitions....'
I was now convinced that the man was insane. 'You are a bloody crank!' I was furious, 'Who do you think you are, talking about my beloved fatherland like that?!' I wondered if I should have said motherland. But no matter, because I definitely made an impression.
My acquaintance was suddenly soft-spoken, 'Don't let us get angry with each other. This message is too important. If you can't digest what I've said, let me give you a few spirit characteristics. You can begin to observe them. Spirits can appear and disappear at will. They are sit-tight beings, never let go, undying. This category of spirits loves absolute power and darkness with equal passion. They travel at incredible speed, assume different forms for different occasions. In fact, they are formless, speak through many mouths at once and many times operate through mediums. These guys take over your whole life and livelihood and only give you grief in return...Want more? They are merciless and extremely greedy, omnivorous carnivores'
Two more stops.
'There must be exceptions,' I argued, 'Those of the angelic variety perhaps..like Mr. President, for example.'
He thought for a while, 'Hmm..The lion was sick, and could not go out for many days...'
'But when the lion was sick, antelopes did not try to overthrow him, did they, spirit man?'
He ignored the name-calling. A man? With a purpose. 'You see, I have the greatest respect for Mr President. But the country's politics is littered with examples of angels that became demons. God forbid that his case is of that sort. Yes, angels do become demons, and once they do, the change is irreversible.'
'But this I know,' He spoke even faster, 'Man is made of Body, Spirit, and Soul. The President's body may be receiving treatment anywhere on earth. But because of his love for Nigeria, his spirit remains at Abuja, communing with the spirit of the Constitution, and contending with the spirits of various assemblies. Who needs the body when a man's spirit is active across the oceans, aided by a coterie of mediums? After all, governance is a spiritual thing... What better form of government can there be than Spiritocracy?...'
'Spirito-what?..' I attempted to interrupt him.
'Yes, my friend,' He snapped. 'The dark calling to the dark, as the deep calleth to the deep, government through mediums, government of the people........by spirits.'
'The next station is Picadilly Circus'
I interrupted him, 'Who are you? Where do you stand?'
'Don't worry about me, just....' The door opened, and I rushed out, exhausted.
Exhaustion changed to relief when I emerged to the glittering lights of Picadilly Circus. Ah! Nothing like the chilled snow-faced earth!
Nothing like the unforgiving shrill of an alarm clock rousing you at daybreak, from the chilling, strange underworld of spirits.
-I wrote this article for TheNEWS in 2010 (when former President Umaru Yar’Adua was sick), and it is relevant to the present goings-on.
Ifedayo Babalola, writer and satirist, writes from Ibadan. ([email protected]).