I once got sick of math, once in my life, sitting in a class on Measure Theory (something I've always wanted to learn) and in a flash decided I didn't care about measure theory (or any more math) anymore. It's a little sad. I can't believe this even happened. It's been four years but pleased to announce that me and math have kissed and made
Took two months off writing, picked up last week, should be done by September. Know an agent or anything that can help me sell tonnes of books? Please email or comment. Thanks.
Started the outline on January 1 in Lagos. It's over 100pages handwritten in a really pretty notebook so you can't see it now. Wrote most of the outline in Cairo some mornings before work and some weekends at Cilantro or in bed.
Haven't determined the ending yet. The whole novel is 12 characters and an island.
Like many novelists who don't want to clutter with other writer's ideas, I wasn't allowed to read good literature while writing - though eventually caved and started reading, notably Elfriede Jelinek's Women As Lovers and a Reader's Digest Condensed Version of The Man by Irving Wallace, and I just read Robin Hood. Read The Man, it's a 1960s novel about a fictitious first black President of the United States of America.
Finally started typing July 31st, aka The First Edit. I figure it'll be 80-90K words when completely done and I'll make mucho dinero from selling it.
Hoping to finish these two characters next week. Tommy is a physicist and I'm about to resolve his academic life, so maybe that's why I'm thinking Physics nowadays :)
In case you read the excerpt below, Alto is a much different character from the one in the short story concept here. I just pasted that in as a reminder to use the mother's voice or something.
OK, here's the unedited status as at right now:
The Walls of Jericho
A Novel by Oluwatosin “Tosin” Otitoju
Master and Commander:
Little Louie is the master and commander over all of Jericho. Watch as he picks up a butterfly here and takes it across a field over there. He wipes his brow and throws his limb over the outstretched limb of the milk tree, in hunt of a bird who swiftly weighs her options and decides to leave the boy intruder to her nest. With its mother gone, Louie finds and fondles a soft egg instead, then he removes some thistle from the nest and returns to earth through a maze of sticky spider silk. Out of the bunch in his hand, he chooses one stick.
The little thistle stick is fun to play with. He scratches the leaning tree briefly until it sweats out a drop of milk which tastes unlike anything at home – sticky, sour. He abandons thistles, tree, and sap and presently swings on a long steel bar. Then he jumps off and releases his captive beetle which has been flying in circles at the end of a white thread tied on one of the uprights.
Butterflies and moths and beetles all know the master, as do the little crabs who sometimes crawl back into their holes in fear. Everyday this holiday has seen Louie picking and patting all manner of air, earth, and sea creature: cutting and tasting green and red and brown plant parts, finding eggs and clusters of newborn puppies and kittens and chicks, or shoving mealy worms in the water to entice the shiny little fish.
When the neighbouring kids were out at play, Louie was naturally Master and Commander there as well. While the other children only came out to play sometimes, he was the fixture outside the houses on the island of Jericho. He led them in fishing, swimming, and beetle-hunting. When they went to find out what lay beyond the sugarcane wall, it was behind Louie the children walked, bearing twigs to part the grass along their way. One day they decided to catch a lizard, which took all evening. By sunset, they were tired, hungry, little failed hunters – all.
With Louie, the other children could always find enjoyable things to pass the time. What they traded for this enjoyment was that they didn’t play enough games – you know, girly games like cooking and organized games like police and thief. When someone tried, for example if a child said, “let’s cut some grass and make food for everybody,” Louie simply said a little louder “hey, look at that red bird, let’s chase it away from our tree.” Promptly everybody followed and got busy hopping and cheering as he shook the branch and got the bird to leave.
Louie knew the most about the neighbourhood, so it was only natural that they followed him. He always knew what to do. He knew how to whistle and how to play the harmonica. He knew how to catch fish in a basket and how to trap a crab in a bucket. (insert…)
He was very lucky that his parents let him play so much. Most other children were only allowed out once in a while when their parents were happy. Otherwise they were locked indoors doing homework or household work or nothing at all. According to their parents, when they were in the home at least they could see them and ensure their safety. Many bad things could happen outdoors. It was also true that most parents didn’t like seeing their children so dusty as they were after play. So it was that only occasionally, the children were freed to play outside.
On the other hand, Louie’s parents liked to be alone. They didn’t mind letting the boy go out to play every afternoon, even if he was dusty from head to toe afterwards. (insert…)
His parents liked that Louie had friends. They assumed he had a best friend among the boys he played with, but they didn’t know who it was. In fact, his most important friend was Prim, who was definitely a girl. When Prim was around, the kids cooked with grass, seeds, sand and water and sticks and flowers. Prim taught them to make new flowers by cutting parts of some flowers and joining them to others, like cutting the bright red crown of the hibiscus and inserting the pistil in the center of the white-and-yellow almond (insert…) flower, or like squeezing small (insert…) flowers in the deep bowl of the allamanda.
Louie wanted Prim to be happy even if it meant playing games that made him stiff with boredom. He preferred making her happy to anything else he knew of in this world. It wasn’t often that Prim joined the children, but when she did the play was markedly different. Louie watched and didn’t lead the play, while the other children found it just as nice to play serenely as to play adventurously.
His parents also liked that Louie was independent, a child who liked to learn a new skill and to show off his skills. They loved to teach him about independence as that would make him a great man in life. They taught him that a danger found in nature was to be seen as just a part of life. Sometimes, in following Louie, the kids fell or they got scratched or stung. Sometimes they cried. Louie had learned to endure these without a tear. When he fell out of a tree, it was recorded in his mind a mistake that he ought never to repeat. He just got up after letting out a firm “ow.” Also, the thrill of climbing and learning was so great that so far as the pain came from playing with the trees, he felt nothing. If he was scraped, he knew exactly what to do: usually nothing, save for stopping to glance at the limb to see if it was serious. When he was stung, he quickly asked one of the kids to fetch a leaf which he placed over his skin as he removed the sting, then he returned home to apply some oil that kept it from itching and swelling.
Some kinds of pain made him cry, like the kind that happens in your heart. This kind of pain came when his parents went away or when they fought. It also came when he heard about orphan’s stories. The dangers found in nature were just part of life. On the other hand, the dangers that people created punctured the heart of this vibrant young General.
When his mother first told him that some of his friends were orphans, he had started immediately to cry. His mother, Alto, shocked by this reaction, tried to console him. She told him that they were going to be alright since everybody helped the orphans by giving donations to the orphanage so that they could have enough money for food and school and to pay for their own mummies and aunts. She told him to just be a good and kind boy and remember that not everybody was so fortunate as he, but begged him not to cry. He grew more sober that evening. His life had changed, because he had learned something about sadness.
(insert… occasion for mother to tell him about orphans)
The other thing that made Louie cry, made him cry regularly, even now as a boy of age seven. It happened when his mother went away to work for weeks at a time. She told him that her work was very important. She was helping sick people, she said. His father even assured him of the same: that his mother’s work was very important and that was why she had to go far away to do it sometimes. He cried the night before as his parents usually spent that night bickering about Alto’s work. He cried again when she was leaving for the airport as she would pick him up and squash him to her chest with great emotion and call him her “darling darling baby.”
When his mother went away, he soon stopped missing her since his father Roger cooked the same foods and had the same rules as his mother. The mornings were the same: usually for preparing for school and then walking to the bus stop to catch the school bus. During holidays, he watched cartoons after breakfast, following which he was allowed to play in the house. He played with puzzle books, his drum set and his new electronic dog. In the afternoons, his mother or father read to him. He liked sitting in his dad’s lap or nestling in his favourite chair listening to his mum’s animated voice, yet he always looked eagerly forward to playing outside. Soon enough, it was lunch time and then time for his mum or dad to be alone and for Louie to skip through the lawns and fields of the island. After play and dinner, there was talking and relaxing before he had to bathe and sleep.
When his mother was at home, she gave him his baths most evenings. He considered her and thought her tall and kind. He knew her voice and knew how to smell her presence. Once he worried that if she was ever lost in the big town, he wouldn’t recognize her face among all the throngs of people. She could be lost forever, or, would she recognize him? He tried to look closely at her face at bath time so that he would know her well enough and avoid disaster.
His mother only went for about five trips each year, so she was at home most of the time. She studied and wrote at home when she had time alone from her young son. Her husband Roger spent the day making sales calls. He went to an office in town and also made deliveries and met clients around town, returning home tired. When Alto was off travelling for her work, Roger usually didn’t work. Instead he did things around the house and took care of the boy. Their life in this country was very happy. It was generally harmonious except that since Alto started working the parents fought sometimes. Although her work was important, Roger thought that she should do a different type of work now and not leave them alone for four months of the year.
They squabbled a few times already, raising their voices at each other, screaming at each other, and in Louie’s opinion, hating each other. Louie cried alone in his room because he thought this meant they could hate him too and that was confusing and scary – scarier than old lizards, cactus bushes, and angry teachers, and even scarier than his mother going away to work for a long, long time. It was usually that the night before his mother left for work, Louie would be woken by the sound of his verbal-duelling parents. He never said anything to them about how he cried quietly in his room and how he felt close to tears for a whole day afterwards.
Other than this strange affair whenever it was time for Alto’s work trips, his only other trouble was the matter of the orphans and how unfair it was that they didn’t have parents as he did.
The island, Jericho, is tropical and hot year-round. At its east end is the bridge that links it to the mainland, particularly the town called Refa. The orphanage is a fenced manor near the west end, large enough for hundreds of children. In addition, thirty families live in humbler homes on the island. The vegetation is dense in areas, especially to the north with the sugarcane farm that separates the houses from the waterfront construction site. Everything grows freely on this island. All its millions of plants and crawling things spell evenings of amusement for a child. (insert…trees etc)
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to thee,
How great thou art, how great thou art
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to thee,
How great thou art, how great thou art
As Tommy sings in the congregation with his arms stretched up to the heavens, he feels the warmth that washes over him when the Holy Spirit of God makes His presence known to the chosen ones among God’s people and this feeling always makes him weak in the body while his trembling lips are compelled to speak God’s name: “Abba, Father. Father. Thank you. Oooh thank you Father” and more words blessing God compulsively even in foreign tongues “aaah how great Father.”
The congregation is singing still “how great thou art” and the voices are not one but they are in harmony – the majority sings that chorus while the few speak God’s own words as the Spirit moves them. They sing, and Tommy prays until all has been said that is in his heart to speak and he feels quite light and relieved and then he joins in the chorus again, the chorus which has now been repeated a dozen times.
Presently the Praise and Worship leader changes the song: “He has given me Victory” he chants, “I will lift Him higher” and now all the people are singing and they are gesticulating (insert…correct word?) and dancing in one happy, bouncy rhythm. They have laid down their troubles down by the Saviour’s side and they aren’t worrying anymore. Tommy too has laid down his troubles.
His troubles are not many and the foremost trouble on his mind is that he not stray into sin, for temptations surround him but God has called him to fight the good fight. Shall he be unequally yoked with unbelievers? Should he, forsaking God’s word, allow himself to be led astray, tempted even by the devil into giving up his birthright for a false comfort, and all for a daughter of Eve? As simple as it seemed and as much as Tommy knew that a girlfriend was not his own portion, he still struggled every time her body found its way across his face in his school. She was everywhere, it seemed. She was in the dining halls, in his classes, and now in his prayer group.
His life with God began years ago (insert… how many years) . He was driven into God’s arms by fatigue. The story is not new, it has happened before:
One day in the middle of the last holidays of his first year, about a month before the final examinations, Tommy had been really tired – just weary from homework, from responsibility, and from the numerous disappointments with changing his Faculty. Yes, he was so tired that he walked into a church service. He had never gone to church alone before this – perhaps with his family when he was younger – but somehow that day, he needed to do something before all the stress drove him batty (insert… check on batty).
Being a first-timer at the Church, he received a standing welcome from the hundreds of other people at Church. They sang “You are welcome in the Name of the Lord” while a dozen or more of them stood in a line waiting their turn to hug him. Later, there was an impassioned call by the church leader for people to turn over their lives to Jesus Christ. Tommy and three other people walked down the centre aisle to the altar and after a prayer, they were pronounced born-again Christians. They were enjoined to return to church for further spiritual food. Tommy needed no reminder, since he felt much better after than before he walked into the church.
In those days, Tommy was a newbie at the university, land of his dreams. Although his entire dream was to study Engineering at this, the university near Refa, his entrance exam results were not good enough to get him into the Faculty of Engineering. It was like this: they could only take 50 students in each department, for a total of 300, but his rank was 361. He begged and tried in every office, he was a regular at the Dean’s the Registrar’s, Provost’s and several secretaries’ offices.
His plea was the same for the entire academic year. “I really need this,” he begged. “I need an engineering degree, I’ll take admission into any engineering program. Please.” And when they kept ignoring him - being by now weary of telling him to give up hope - he kept at his pitch, “my results will bear me out. I’ll be the best student you’ve ever seen. If anybody pulls out of their program, please promise to consider me as their replacement.” Nobody could grant his wish. Although they had no doubt that he would make a worthy engineering student, they had to keep to the rules.
In his mind, Physics, the course he had been placed in was “not a course.” It had no future. It was plain to Tommy that a man needs money like the kind of money a good engineering job brings in. Since there were no good jobs in Physics, it didn’t count as a realistic option for him. The only option would be to switch into Engineering.
Since Engineering and Physics students took mostly the same courses in the first year, Tommy spent the whole year working hard at his courses while he kept trying for a transfer. He made brilliant results in both semesters, and thought these would make the authorities rule in favour of a transfer.
Heavens! A whole year has passed and it hasn’t happened yet. Armed with his excellent results our Tommy books an appointment with the Chief Academic Officer, the university’s Provost. During the first week of the long holidays, he gets an hour-long meeting at the Provost’s office. Tommy knocks on the door, then opens it feebly and enters. The Provost assesses Tommy and his first-year results. He sees a diligent student, one of the most motivated he’s ever seen, a young man eager to prove that he could do better than the top names in Engineering School. Although his results are indeed very good, he has no luck with the Provost today. The man starts his reply by offering him a drink. (Yes, the Provost stashes some brown liquor in the cupboard under his executive desk.) Tommy politely declines a glass, before the Provost eases back in his chair, exhales, and asks for the first time, “Why do you want to change to Engineering?”
Tommy thinks the reason is self evident but instead mutters something about seeking better opportunities to which the Provost launches into a convoluted story about meeting his wife for the first time twenty years ago because he did not make it into his first choice school back and “so, my son, this is life. We don’t always get what we want.” Essentially, he is to remain in Physics for his second year of university. (insert… past two paragraphs in past tense?)
Tommy got some well-deserved rest those holidays. At home he was the head of his family, which consisted of his brother and sister and sometimes his mother who - really you must believe me - behaved as though she wanted him in authority over her. She behaved so you couldn’t tell who was parent, of the two. Tommy took it all in his stride, and by the grace of God, all was tranquil in his family. His brother Dogo was naughty and yet the best brother a person could wish for. His sister Roman was rebellious but really sweet to her big bro Tommy. Tommy asked little of his sister, she loved the freedom and repaid him with respect.
Back at school for his second year, Tommy found a group of praying Christians. With a group, he could be consistent in his prayers and spend more time in Bible study. It turned out that he stayed with this family of believers throughout university. Once again, he tried everything to go from Physics to an engineering field and nothing worked. Other than this, his school career was going very well. He was getting used to doing well and being well-liked by his teachers in the majority of his classes. He liked to study methodically after class before attempting any homework problems. He also liked to ask questions in class and discuss with his teachers outside class. Thus went his first semester, and his second semester, and Tommy arrived at the third year.
Tommy’s belief in Christ made him focus on the most important things. He didn’t have room in this purposeful life for distractions. Daily he did physics and Jesus, bible study and physics. Every morning he prayed - sometimes on his knees at his bed in a dorm room shared with six other students. Other times he walked into the Faculty of Science and prayed while walking through the garden. Few people used the garden at the hours he chose, early morning and after class time.
The point is Tommy had a personal relationship with God. He could tell God anything and know that He cared and would answer every prayer. He wasn’t speaking into a black hole as many people perceive they are when praying; he was speaking to a person who answered him with just the right reply. By this time, the angst he had about being a well-paid engineer had vanished. God had brought Tommy from a place of despair into a life of dancing and praise. Thus went the first semester, and the second semester, and Tommy arrived at the final year of university.
The praying group at school had experienced so much together. They testified about the past and their daily struggles and how God had lifted their sorrows. They fasted together, studied for tests together, and prayed together. In the midst of this group was Tommy’s temptation. Remember her? She was a girl too tempting for words.
Perhaps because her beauty drove him to distraction, he believed she was not a real Christian. If she was really there to serve God, he reasoned, would she bite her lip just so when they were frozen in a shared glance? Would her skin, dark and even like skin – it was just skin after all – suggest so much more and make him see in his mind’s eye more than he could in fact see? And all this even there, in the gathering of believers, where God was present and Jesus was Guest of honour?
The younger Christians would be watching to see how he responded to this temptation. He didn’t dare imagine that they didn’t know. The only way would be to date honourably and then get engaged properly on the path to marriage. If only. But he could see that she was not for marriage. She was a cross for him to bear, and the cross would only become heavier with time. Most of all, she would drag him down in his faith. How did he know?
First, he had been a Christian longer than she. In fact, she was one of the newest members of their group. Second, he or anyone could see that she was not the strong type. Not longsuffering. Not chaste or patient. He could just see their future: they would fight and it would destroy his image. So really the only thing that could be done was to continue into the tabernacle and plead for God’s help in this battle.
As the group sang that day, Tommy’s mind drifted to thoughts purely of God. His were thoughts of gratitude to begin. Enter His gates with Thanksgiving. He had much to be thankful for as usual: God brought him out of the darkness and into a great light. He who was lost, now was found. God was his provider. Every day, every hour, every moment, God was there on his side. His God would not let him fall into sin. His God made him head and not tail in school. His God made him a strong student, where he had been middling before. His own God kept him at the head of his family and at the head of his university. Praise be this mighty God.
Enter His courts with Praise - this was the second half of the Psalmist King David’s injunction, as found in the Bible. Therefore, Tommy praised the Lord along with the small congregation of students. He praised the One that was and is worthy to be praised, for His goodness and His mercy. He praised God as the all-powerful and ever-living, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He praised, affirming that it was not because God needed the praise of he, a mere mortal. Yes, God had choirs of angels with glorious, shiny garments of white and who from eternity to eternity praised in unimaginable soprano and baritone voices and with every instrument. He praised God not because his praise was of comparable quality but because he was made for that purpose. Or, what would his tongue do if it did not tell of the glory of God? From whence would his joy come?
For several minutes Tommy had been engrossed in thoughts about God. The classroom in which the group prayed was abuzz with the voices of three dozen people in individual prayer. Having entered the royal gates and the courts, he continued this spiritual conversation as he prayed that day. “Ah, but you have shown me the way, the way of the chosen sons…now that I know the truth, every day will find a song of praise upon my lips and the dance of joy upon my heart…I will have a song for you all the days of my life on earth and, when you call me back Home, I will surely continue to sing for you, heavenly Father.” Joy, joy, waves of joy, washed over Tommy’s soul as he rested in God’s presence.
He warmed in the feeling of God’s arm, which was now wrapped around him, holding him close to His bosom as God whispered to him, “My son, my son, you please me. With your life, you please me. Every day you walk in my light and that pleases me. Every day you try to forgive and that pleases me.” God also had these soothing words for Tommy: “The women in your life have hurt you, yet you try to forget, in prayer you ask me to wash away your anger that you may be full of love only.”
These words caressed Tommy’s soul, and God continued, “Even when you came to me full of anger, asking why, wondering why I watch while people do evil. You asked then why I let the wicked get away with mistreating the gentle agents of good? You asked then that I do something, show my power. I loved you even then, even in your childlike ignorance.” God said, “I knew I would mould you into a vessel of honour for me. Ah, my child! How you have grown. My son, your life pleases me and yet you must know that you are a child. I care for you and I reveal my glory to you one bit at a time. For who could withstand it if I revealed myself at once? No human can bear it.”
Tommy understood all these words better than he understood human talk. The message was impactful on his soul. And God continued, “Today I tell you that I will always be with you. You are the apple of my eye. I am moulding you and refining you. These are my words for you today.” All this was so much love for Tommy to bear. He blessed God’s Name and smiled with his whole being in the presence of his dearest friend.
He began to pray again, bouncing on slightly bent knees, praying in words and then singing the words. Nobody else mattered as he prayed to God for the strength – always for strength Tommy prayed – to love God so much that he rejected evil. He wanted the strength, he said, to cherish God’s word so much that he forgave. He had forgiven the same woman so many times yet often discovered after some time that he had not fully forgiven her. So now he prayed again to be able to remove this stain of unforgiving (insert… correct word?) and to be clean again before God.
Now his prayer shifted outward, as he asked for blessings upon the prayer group. The group also organized study sessions so he asked for blessings on the study hours. He prayed for all who would teach others, and for all who would use the sessions to prepare for their exams. He prayed that a difference would continue to show clearly in their exam results, only to display to the world how blessed the children of God were in their academics.
Somebody in the congregation called out an “amen,” signalling the end of the individual prayer time. Now Tommy closed quickly, telling God that his prayer was just to continue to love God and for people to see the light of God in him and give glory to God as a result. Then the congregation recited The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven…
The prayer completed, they split into small groups for study. Tommy was tasked with helping some young science students prepare for Physics and Chemistry tests. With them was another strong brother-in-Christ who usually taught Economics and sometimes taught Mathematics. Though he was very young – just in his second year – his faith and his academics put him in the leadership cadre of the prayer and study group. In fact, he was likely to take over as prayer master once Tommy graduated. Another strong sister was present to lead the sessions in pre-medical subjects. She helped the younger students review Microbiology, Biochemistry, and Anatomy.
There were four other people who taught occasionally, all were boys in the third year, but none was considered a mature spiritual leader as the former three were. Close friends, the third-year clique was a reliable followership. From their first days in the group, they were known for being on hand to help the leaders. Their faith was strengthened by their interaction with the leaders, but more than that, their faith was strengthened by their friendship.
Tommy’s life was very clean, with not many influences. His mind was pure, borne of his hour-a-day of conversation with God. It made him a little surer daily. His mind was mostly praying or thinking of prayer. When it was not, it was doing Physics – teaching, homework, and studying. And when it was not, well, it was blank. Resting. Hence his mind was uncluttered with garbage. This was what made it possible for him to be a star at university even though his secondary school background and performance was far from stellar.
It was for his soberness and his academic promise that Tommy’s teachers liked him and steered him towards a Masters degree. Being a clearheaded chap, he followed their advice and stayed for two more years of study after his four years for the Bachelor’s degree were over.
(insert… joiner paragraphs)
Tommy’s areas of academic interest were more or less adopted from his favourite Professor. He wanted to study theory, of course, Systems Theory, adopted to studying classical equations arising in elementary particle studies. This, in fact, was the one sentence description he gave to those who asked what he did as a Physicist. If they were not scientists, they usually didn’t understand it nor wish to get a simpler explanation. He couldn’t really tell them details, but they should be able to appreciate the description, he thought, just as he could appreciate the sense of what a journalist or a sales agent’s did for a living. His school work was simple enough, probably no more or less difficult than journalism or business. (insert…another+4pages)
Dogo joined the same university two years after his brother Tommy. He was likewise a star student in the Art Faculty but something of a disgrace with all his girlfriend-ing. The brothers had once been very close, but now spent few hours together in spite of spending most of their lives at the same school. This was to be expected, really, since either man was obsessed in his own way with his activities.
One weekend after the short holidays, they shared a taxi ride from their island home back to university. The pair of them rode in the back of the taxi to Refa and then forty minutes further east. All the way to Refa they didn’t find any words and then for most of the long drive, Tommy sang “I’m not alone, Jesus is with me.” Dogo is a little walled in (insert… walled in? or better, claustrophobic?) behind the taxi driver and with nothing to do but listen to this singing. At a point he smiled, thinking to himself that he might never be able to get the song out of his head for as long as he lived. He squirmed and said nothing. By time they neared the university, Dogo was not going to endure any more.
“Please Love, sing another song or be quiet.” Tommy smiled vacantly at him and Dogo repeated “just what are you thinking? I’ve heard enough of the same song over and over.”
So there started another song: The Lord’s My Shepherd, a song with considerably more variety than the never-ending “I’m not alone - everybody’s not alone – Jesus is with me.” It was five stanzas of beautiful music from their childhood school days. This time Dogo, who could appreciate the richer melody sang along with his brother and there was apparent jolliness as they reached their destination. After they got out and picked up their bags full of clean clothes from the trunk (insert… American trunk? Boot?), Dogo paid the driver and the brothers hugged and parted, hitting the pavement purposefully in opposite directions wearing identical walking shoes.
Tommy had a number of roles waiting for him, which you already know: he had the lessons and prayer meetings to lead, as well as his own homework and research project. Dogo rushed to his dorm and as soon as he made it to his room exploded in tears because today his brother had reminded him so of his father. The figure that shared that taxi ride with him, first lost in thought, then tapping his seat while singing – even his fingers as he tapped the seat – and seemingly drawing a steady stream of calm happiness from somewhere distant and mystical, that figure was his father who he remembered now more vividly than ever. And after the taxi ride when he and Tommy hugged, he felt like he had hugged his father, the rock of the family.
And minutes later when he crept under his bedcovers and looked around him at the essence of his life, his guitar, his pictures, his life - as this was really most of his life - he felt again that he was without some eminent person. Without a captain, without father, he was adrift and alone and so afraid, so afraid, he didn’t know what he was doing and he had no father. He was alone and adrift and it would all have been so much better with a steady hand to guide him through.
Dogo felt sorry for himself today and launched into another round of crying. He was going to be an artist, yes. He was going to be alone, alone surrounded by women and easels and paint and yet alone always. And he wondered how they did it – his father and his brother – how were they calm and in charge? But he, he was alone and not sufficient at all and he felt sorry for himself and he couldn’t imagine his life if he didn’t find a solution. What a sorry fate, he thought, to always be respected among peers and to never lack company yet always be alone.
Soon enough, his girlfriend came over, so he rose to eat the food she brought. They sat in his bed and kissed while sharing the food and then Dogo went back to business: he worked out the chords to “I’m not alone, Jesus is with me” and when he played the whole chorus, she beamed and clapped and said how clever he was. He played it a couple of more times and then continued work on his homework for a painting class. He was painting a bust from a photograph, although his painting was enlarged and her face was done in surreal cool blues and purples while fantastic chaos swirled around her in fiery reds and yellows. He didn’t kiss his girlfriend when she announced that she was leaving for the night. He just said goodnight quickly and kept painting.
At home, their sister Roman wanted to go for an exchange program abroad. First her mother had said it was too expensive and there had been a huge row over this program. Then she suddenly came up with the money, “a gift from a special friend,” she said. (Cora had been so upset about this disagreement that her boyfriend learned of it and insisted on paying for her daughter’s travel.)
Roman was ecstatic. For four months, she was immersed in an exciting culture among ancient ruins and a race of tussle-haired (insert… tussle?) blokes with searing brown eyes. It had taken Roman’s fierce lobbying to earn the trip, and it was more than worth the work. Her sojourn ended far too quickly and soon she was returned to Jericho and finishing secondary school. Although she was still in school and in the band, most of her time was now spent at work for the radio station in Refa. She was also known for publishing some sort of social consciousness newsletter.
Their mother was brimming with pride, enjoying the fact that her children were so successful: her youngest applying to top universities overseas, her middle child a precocious artist, and the oldest one going to work at a very nice job at Miz. This irritated Tommy no end, notwithstanding five years of God working on him to be patient with his mother.
He must really find a way to set her free - and set his own self free, he thought - since it seemed he was being punished for his grudge. His mother was returning to Jericho, with a promise to have this rigmarole of a wedding to which everyone was invited. Horror of horrors! Tommy could not really bring anyone to this party, as it was all so wrong. It had too much of the wrong things, from the overspending and drinking to the worldly music. The whole event was not right for him or for his friends or his image. Truth be told, the couple was not right with God. He was some kind of divorcee (insert… right male term?) and she, well, you know what Tommy thinks of her.
One thing Tommy was certain of: he would never need this man’s money. He was almost there now – just a few months and he would have a good job. On the other hand, Roman loved the arrival of this man who would pay for more of her travels. How convenient! Dogo was a little amused by the wedding but thought that she was entitled to her laughs and her passion. His mother was amusing, dynamic, and most of all a woman. He hadn’t decided yet if he would use the man – financially speaking.
What could be done? Tommy had to attend his mother’s wedding so he did. All day long, he waited on his mother, who needed people to phone and run myriad errands. “Has the priest arrived? Does the organist have the program? Did you remember to tell him of the pause for the surprise?” All this Cora called out as her boy darted about the compound before the start of the ceremonies.
She was dressed lavishly, as one who would hold court as a reinstalled queen. Tommy squirmed at her embarrassing lavish dress. “She is too old to be trying to look so young,” he thought. The boys wore the obligatory outfits for the day. In their classic tuxedos, the brothers were a handsome pair of penguins. They would change into jacquard prints in ivory shades for the evening party.
That evening, Tommy was helter-skelter again, as his mother consulted him incessantly over the wedding details. “Have the video people arrived? Did the chocolate chef return the keys to the kitchen? Could you fetch your sister so that we can take a family photo in our ivory clothes?” With some meditation, a few moments stolen here and there to reconnect with God, the event proceeded without too much pain.
At the party there was (as you already know) a lot of chocolate. The children went especially wild for the chocolate fountain, so that there was a mess of fruit in the fountain when Dogo’s friends reached it. The children also had their fill of pastries, and thusly stuffed with sugar had a happy evening bouncing and screaming until their mothers took them away to their homes or to the orphanage.
The couple dedicated songs to each other, danced to lively music before all their guests, then they sat and talked, smiling deeply all the time while the festivities swirled around them: delirious screaming children, flirting teenagers, and dancing grown-ups.
Around sunset, Roman and her friends moved a few tables away from the blaring music under a separate tent amongst the low palm trees to one side of the house. They proceeded to talk and laugh loudly while drinking wine and champagne. Dogo’s artist friend and both their girlfriends were present. They found and joined Roman’s friends under their canopy. Soon enough, Dogo got quite drunk and the whole mass of them started singing and drumming on the tables and dancing.
Tommy was alone at the party but God was with him. He couldn’t possibly do Physics now – it would be too strange – but he could pray anytime, he thought. He retreated into his room to pray and read God’s word for a while. When he returned outside to join the party, he found his brother - with face flush warm red and lit up in a drunken smile – laughing with his sister, the band and their other friends. He smiled shyly at some of the jokes and got in a circle with everyone to dance. The youngsters took turns to dance in the middle with everyone else clapping and cheering.
They music changed, prompting them to enter a conga line, after which of course someone proposed the limbo. They picked up a long cane and held it up at both ends a few feet above the ground. It started easily enough, but a few minutes later and one foot lower the game got serious but still almost everyone made it across the bar. Suddenly everyone erupted in a huge laugh when one of them lost his balance before reaching the horizontal bar. It was this kid from band, who approached the limbo bar and just kind of stooped like there was a chair beneath him and then in a flash he was crumbled to the floor. The startled look on his face as he rose was priceless. Tommy ended up trying some wine, and that day for the first time in many years he had fun in a worldly way. Everyone ate more marshmallows and pineapples and chocolate and drank more wine and had a merry time.
Tommy spent hours absorbed in guilt after the party. The wedding day may have been fun, but that didn’t make it right. Further, his conduct rated below his ideal, to put it mildly. He got angrier to think that his mother was not showing him the right way. She never had, in fact. She was ordinary and she was disappointing – not at all like a mother, the mothers that give love, LOVE, that sacrifice and are towers of strength, and not at all like the mother that his own children would have.
Now his thoughts shifted to Selim. His father was a greater man than this Selim. Selim was strange. He was like a puppy, not like a man. He lacked strong moral fibre. Selim was just part of his mother’s habit of wallowing in slimy licentiousness. Nothing great could come out of a man like Selim. This man had no past to commend him on the island or in whatever faraway place he came from. He had no game plan, didn’t think or see what valuable thing their marriage could produce. Selim, he thought, was just drifting. Lost. Wasn’t the son supposed to be movable, volatile, unsure? No, he Tommy was not, but his mother was, and her new husband was too.
I'll do anything not to work on my research at the moment. I'll write a story, in fact. June 29, 2006 around noon.
Laetitia liked the army. She acted like it was some kind of Jesus or something. Army this, army that. Her man was in the military. He was white, though. She used to buy their groceries and everything real cheap on the base. She said when she got promoted, she'd go to Germany and Japan and that she'd travel everywhere for free. She'd already written us from all over, she'd gone to Virginia, Louisiana, Delaware, California, and some places I forget. Did you know that Puerto Rico is like part of America? I thought it was a different country, like Mexico. I can just go to Puerto Rico and people from there are US citizens automatically. My daughter went to Puerto Rico. She said it was real nice. She sent pictures even. Looked just like Jamaica.
A woman at my job, her kids sent her to Jamaica for her 50th. "The people there are just like us, maybe they dance a little different," she'd said. "Oooh, so you been dancing," I told her. She looked like she'd been dancing or something, that girl was happy. Puerto Rico looked just like that Jamaica: nothing but water and coconuts and black people who don't like to wear too many clothes.
Laetitia really liked the army. She always had a good head on her shoulders. She wanted to move up, she wasn't just going to stay in Texas and be nobody. That's all good, but I feared they had a hold on my girl's soul in that army. God forgive me, they did something to her. I'm not saying they do pagan voodoo or anything, but how she used to just be so ready to do anything they wanted, how do you explain that?
what's my story: t is in intelligence. she got the name, t-bird in training. she went to iraq. she left to improve her arabic in yemen. other kids thought she was cia or something.