“Life sha,” he said. Little droplets of tears had gathered by the side of each eye, but were taking their time to fall. “This life is a mystery.” He was seventy three and mourning the loss of his wife of forty years. He was my great uncle, my grandfather’s brother, but they say there’s no such thing as a grand uncle.
So we had gone to visit him, my aunt and me. Everyone else had the perfect reason not to go see him. He was mean to my grandmother, their mother. He favoured the other wives of my grandad, who had three and half wives. He was a diabolical man. They had businesses to run, important things to do. All their excuses were infallible. So we went, me with my heart in my mouth. I hadn’t seen him since I was six, and if all the stories I heard were true, he was an ogre.
But the voice I heard, the one that responded to our knock on the gate, didn’t sound like the voice of an ogre. It sounded like what it was-the frail gruffness of an old man’s voice. And even though I shouldn’t have been, I was surprised at his pleasant welcome. He even remembered me from 26 years ago.
We sat with him and listened to him recount the events that led to his wife’s death, and I shed a few tears when he told us that only a handful from his brother’s (my grandfather’s) family called to condole him, even though they all heard what happened.
My grandmother was the best friend I ever had, and that someone ever treated her unjustly is a bitter pill to swallow, but she’s been dead for eleven years now. Who keeps a grudge for eleven years? Several people in my family apparently. But seeing this man, meeting him and listening to him, but more importantly seeing the pain on his face as he spoke with us really just broke me.
You know, polygamy is an integral part of the African lifestyle, and polygamy carries offence on its back, it’s favorite travel companion. The end result is broken relationships that sometimes are generations old. But where is the love in all of this?
Another very big part of the African lifestyle, especially here in Nigeria, is our people’s love for God. We love God so much, the average street has up to four churches situated therein. Yet we’re highly intolerant of each other, and our propensity for forgiveness is extremely low, especially among those who constantly profess their love for God.
We conveniently forget that according to biblical standards, your love for your neighbour is directly proportional to your love for God. The latter is impossible without the former. Once again, I’m compelled to ask, where is the love? Where is it?
“I love you”: The most abused phrase in the history of the English language if you ask me. Abused because everyone says it, but very few truly understand it. Feels good on the tongue so yeah, we use it. People will define it in several ways, but I’ve chosen to stick with the definition in First Corinthians 13. Some versions of the bible replace “love” with “charity”, and maybe if we saw love as charity, we’d understand the concept better. Because there’s simply not enough charity in the world today.
I’ll never forget this one time, on my way to work. My almost husband had dropped me off under the pedestrian bridge at Ikeja. It was drizzling as I hurriedly made my way to the bottom of the stairs. And then I saw this tall dark man, wearing dark sunglasses in spite of the weather. He was walking quite blindly in the middle of a huge puddle, a cane stick in his right hand helped him navigate his way. And then I knew. He was blind. And people were watching him make a complete mess of himself, but they couldn’t be bothered, because they had jobs to get to. Even a policeman who was there for reasons like this one, couldn’t care less.
I went to the man and grabbed his arm. It turned out he was trying to get a bus to oshodi, and because he couldn’t see, he thought he was going in the right direction. After I got him into a bus, I couldn’t help the rush of angry tears as I climbed the bridge. It was raining now, but I didn’t care. I was angry at a system that made people so occupied with their own survival that they cared nothing about the survival of another.
Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, doesn’t keep a record of offences. Love is patient, kind, gentle, not boastful. Love is sacrifice, a way of life, a commitment that never dies. Love is a force so powerful it can do the impossible. Love is God. This is what Jesus stood for, and what we who profess faith should stand for, regardless of what we go through. Regardless of who hurts us.
Life is a mystery. My great uncle must have said this over twenty times that day. And I’ll never know why he feels life is a mystery. He may have done bad, but who is really innocent? A fundamental law that governs life as we know it, is the law of seed time and harvest. You never really get away with anything you do, whether good or bad. It’s best you do good, be charitable, show the world love. Forgive. Go out of your way to be kind. Above all, love. Where is the love? I say it’s in you. It’s in all of us.