Justin shut his eyes and shut the world out. It had been one month following his daughter’s death yet it felt like it had just been yesterday. He was told he would heal, that a time would come when he would begin to smile. They were wrong. He hadn’t healed; in fact he was even more saddened than the day she had died. His state of mind was still lost in her and it was beginning to eat what little was left of his soul. Plainly put, he was going mad.
Familiar faces came in and out of the house with food and to clean the place but no one could reach past the force-field around him. All that he loved had been taken away from him in an instant. Why then should he have to give a damn?
As he spread out on his bed, his subconscious took over and he slowly fell into sleep. A sharp crunching sound seared through him and he knew that a familiar stranger was in his domain. The entity filled him with a probing presence and he began playing the story of the landmarks of his life, retold in unhurried movement. Justin knew who this stranger was that forcefully shut his mind and made the world fade away in an instant. As a mix of foreboding and feverish sadness shook his insides, he embraced the familiar darkness enshrouding him and fell through. How many times this happened within a day, he couldn’t tell and how crazy he had become, he couldn’t compute. All he knew was that he had lost his mind in profound degrees and he wasn’t ready to gain it back.
Demon, some might call the stranger in him, or a ghost from the past, but Justin knew it was neither; he knew it was the twain spirit of his soul come to torture his heart and mind. When Gift had passed, that moment she had breathed her last in his arms, the entity was born. Like something out of a movie, it detached from him and stood in a corner, watching him go through the pain of his loss.
Gift had been Justin’s strength, his little angel when the world had become a dark place around him. And it didn’t matter where he turned, she was always on his mind, the one thing he had left, the only thing he told himself he was going to live for. She was more than her name destined and he always kept thoughts of her to help him stay grounded.
The night she had passed had been like every other. The only difference was that the rains had doubled that day, causing massive traffic gridlocks on busy streets. Justin turned on the television to one of the local stations to listen to the evening news and get updates on the endless downpour that had halted businesses and daily activities for five days but Gift showed up at his bedroom door with a large board in her small hands. On the board were pieces of Buckingham Palace, the building model Justin had given her on her birthday just a couple of months before.
Gift had been model-crazy ever since her genius brain was developed enough to put things together. It started with the Lego bricks her aunt bought for her on her third birthday. Before the party was over, she had created something beautiful with it; and a week later, had tired of it entirely. Putting things together seemed to come naturally for her and when Justin realized that her brain was too advanced to play with model toys for kids, he boldly moved her to work on more complicated structures. The first was a house with a picket fence but Gift had it pieced together before bedtime. Ships, cars, planes and more intricate structures were bought for her and as usual, she completed the elaborate models in an astonishing time and with such thorough effort. Justin had watched her from the sidelines and lent a hand a few times and without his helping it, had become addicted himself. Many times he had had to pull her away from the models and forced her to eat. Kicking and screaming, she would cry and make a fuss at mealtimes until she got a good spanking. But he understood her addiction because he shared it too and at bedtimes, would walk into her bedroom and together, they would piece the models.
“Daddy!” Gift impatiently called to him from the door as she tried to keep the pieces on the board from falling. Justin sighed. Just recently, out of lack of what to do as the rains pounded on the roof, he had slipped into her room while she slept and built the palace completely. How she had presently dismantled it all was a mystery to him.
He walked to the door and helped her in with the board but when he tried to assist her put the pieces together, he got shoved away.
Not long after, a call came from one of his political associates and he was wanted at an impromptu meeting somewhere in town. With heavy eyes that desperately craved for sleep, he dragged Gift to his neighbor’s, an unkempt but kindhearted woman who sold smoked fish outside his house. With clear instructions to the woman to put Gift to bed immediately, he hurried on to his meeting, listening to the dull patter of the rain outside his luxury car as his chauffer drove him to his destination. In no time, stretched out on the backseat, he fell into deep sleep and had a peculiar dream.
He was in his bedroom, putting together Buckingham Palace from the scratch. It seemed a lot easier in the dream than it did in real life but what was so different about it was that he was building it on its board which strangely stood on a ball. And for the whole time he worked on the model, the ball never moved. It was as still and steady as a rock. When he completed his work, he smiled satisfactorily, admiring the little people that surrounded the palace, and the animals, trees, flowers and grasses he had given life to. Of this, he congratulated himself and sat down to rest. But suddenly, without warning, the lights in the room went out and a gloomy presence took over, forcing in a terrible wind from the windows. Fearful that his masterpiece was threatened, Justin sprang up to protect it but the more he walked towards it, the farther the palace seemed, like it was literally moving away from him. Then as if jolted by an unseen force, the ball began to rock and swirl dangerously and try as he might, the palace rolled away from his grasp. Finally, after spinning perilously for an unending moment, his creation fell to the floor, crashing into tiny, singular parts. In trepidation, Justin stared at the people and animals and trees. Everything had been destroyed right under his nose. Some of the figures were lost under parts of the building and some were under the trees; but others were still standing erect, immobile, unmoved and untouched by all that had happened. Now, everything was left for Justin to restore, but when he bent down to pick the pieces, he was jolted away from his dream.
Justin banished the dream away without giving it a second thought, on and ordered his chauffer to hurry on to his late night meeting. It was something he was used to now, being called at odd times to deliberate over matters concerning state and financial policies. Many times his conscience bugged him for abandoning Gift in the hands of strangers but he told himself he was doing a public service to the people and lesser issues had to be put aside for the greater good. So much did he believe in the idea of his goodness that he didn’t notice when he lost his humanity as he got caught in the daily struggle to make his mark in the world. He had also lost his purpose and deviated from his dreams to bring healing and relief to those who weren’t as fortunate as he was. At that point, it became necessary for him to focus on being a leader but he easily forgot that his people needed him. Legislations came into play, red tape and endless protocols took over the comforting presence his lowly company once offered the simple people who came to seek his service. Then came the pleasures his office presented which included meetings with men of high repute, the holiday trips to exotic lands, and the gift bags and envelops that turned his eyes away from what had to be meticulously watched. With time, his mind delved into other pursuits as he sought for higher opportunities to better his career and lifestyle. Ultimately, he forgot about why he was who he was in the first place.
“Justin?” someone tapped him and he stirred weakly, raising an eyebrow to stare at the image of his sister standing over him.
“What is it?” he asked gruffly, scratching a disheveled stubble.
“Some delegates from your constituency are here to see you.”
“I don’t want to see anyone. Didn’t I tell you?”
“Justin, these people need your help, they need their homes rebuilt. The flood devastated everything and they have nowhere to stay…”
Justin turned away from his sister and her voice quickly faded off. He shut his eyes again but the dreadful twain entity that was his detached conscience sent from hell to punish him took over his mind and began to assault his thoughts once more.
This time it began fixing images from a recurring nightmare into Justin’s mind—a dark and empty street, a moonless sky, the absence of electricity, the sound of dogs howling, dead bodies strewn across the street, the stench of death and finally, rubble in the place that had once been his neighborhood, the place Gift had breathed her last. These were images and sounds of a world gone under.
Justin was forced to blame himself for her death, even though he made it in time to save her from the drowning shack of the fish woman whom he had left in her care. Now in his head, as he sat and watched the ruin before him, he couldn’t help but see the sharp contrast his house threw against the woman’s. Though his remained standing and hers was completely brought to rubble, they had both lost everything to the flood that night. It tore him to think that every day he had driven past her and sometimes honked to have her move her wares out of the way but it never stirred him to affect her world for better. He had been convinced that the few notes he shoved into her hands every time she watched over Gift was more than enough for her just because she curtsied appreciatively whenever she received them.
Like a broken record, he sat himself on the pavement of the street of his pain where his nightmare had abandoned him for the past twenty-eight days and there he stared at the same dead bodies with the same aching in his soul. He had not met any of them in reality but he met them on that street every time his head hit the pillow in his sleepless dreams. They were people like the ones he almost encountered in his office every day, the folks with one problem or the other that came in for help only to face the legislations that barricaded him from them. Everyone knew the flood was not his fault but only he knew where he had failed. Didn’t he call himself the man of the people?
Now, more than ever, he was aware that the shadows in his heart like every man’s, each day, darkened the light of life that humanity had been given as a gift, and spread like a dark cloak over all that once was good, leaving the world which was formerly a beautiful garden, a haunt for jackals. It had become a place where wickedness thrived and justice was seldom heard; where evil and good were no longer white and black but were now pictured in relative terms till neither was what it was known to be, just grey edges smudged over by lies. Justin knew he had been part of that evil torrent that drowned the innocents and the helpless of this world. It was also made clear to him that man who never made anything out of nothing had to destroy in order to create, and the result was the irreversible death of humanity and the intractability of extinction which most dare not look into. Yes, the human race would rather continue their arduous laboring and long before nightfall draw the curtains over the windows of their souls so desiring to reason than stop for a second to ponder the state of things to come. For perhaps if they did, they would have changed a thing or two around them, there would have been a safety net to cushion the fall when everything crumbled and they would have found that the power to control their fate actually lay in their hands.
Justin lifted his head and faced his torturous twin entity as it stood before his house, the only building left standing like proof of his cold-heartedness. The entity beckoned Justin forward and he followed without demur, even though it took everything out of him to make it to the door. Pulling his heartstrings till they tore, he trudged forward, drawn in by memories of Gift and happier times. Her essence floated all about what was left of his shredded being and though he reached out to grasp it, all he caught was the air. When he couldn’t hold it in anymore, he fell to a heap at the door of his bedroom, the place he had last been with her. At this point, he was left alone, his twain friend gone from his cognizance. It seemed like an eternity as he lay there on the floor, mourning her one final time but even if he was given the whole of forever and then some, it wouldn’t have been enough for him.
He heard his sister’s voice far away, calling him back to reality, dragging him against his will, and he knew it was time to let go. There would be no coming to back to this place. So he crawled with all his might even as the world around him began to fade to nothingness, taking the essence of Gift away. He crawled to the place where she had settled by his feet that night and there he found the model pieces of palace and he began putting them together, bit by painful bit…
He eyes forced open and he looked up at his sister. She was still standing above his head, still talking to him.
“Your people are waiting for you, Justin. I think it’s time you listened to them.”
Many people died to the floods last year and we have been informed that there would be more flooding this year. Our government officials, as usual, were too preoccupied with bettering themselves to care about what the little people went through, how much they lost, and how many lives were taken during that time. Women and children were raped in relief camps, people were killed, diseases spread and many lost their occupations. It was a terrible time and people are yet to recover from it. We can’t fight nature but we can fight our nature if it is killing us. Every day, I see helicopters fly over my house here in Lagos yet people were stranded on the major highway that connected the north to the south for days. Imagine what difference these private companies or individuals would have achieved if they had helped. I know sometimes talking about bringing a change in Nigeria seems like a futile effort but we can try with the little we do.
To whom much is given, much is expected. Even your little can do a lot more than another person’s much. Let this be food for thought.