The gift of Grace itself is private, only its overflows are sharable. Wherever you hear the words “May the Grace of the Lord be with you,” or similar be careful to ask what it means to you but engaging no one else. Those nine words are too wonderful to understand without wisdom, so I always exercise care as I receive or use them. While Grace comes in boundless forms and is unearned, it manifests in one form at a time; enduring, transient, or overlapping. People who enjoy sticky Grace have rivers of blessings flowing in their lives. Yet, Grace is enough Grace for me, my Nile. Hey! Please, I am not recklessly lustful or groundnut-oily, for even King Solomon, the wisest King in history, said three things were too wonderful; 81 and Grace sharing affection was one of them. My finding Grace was so brain sparkling and soul renewing, so wonderful. My purposeful freedom from the solitary life I bear witness to within.
Surprise” My atheist and non-Christian friends believe in the Grace of my Grace without question. Even the smart pretenders among them. They encourage, celebrate, and say good things about my new joy. A Yoruba friend nicknamed her Motunrayo, and an Urhobo friend Aghoghowvowe; synonyms of I have found or welcome my joy. Then, preachers and seekers of Grace tell me to beware of demonic set-ups and influences in the search / reception of joy. I often quiz them about Proverbs 18:22 and receive the counsel to fast and pray over it, for they know the Book of Proverbs well. I laugh and I laugh and I laugh. Grace is infinite and costless; it comes as it wishes unasked. How else do you think I found Grace through the ether? Fasts and prayers? What mufugbeneity!
Pleasures between two people at least double when shared. We shared warm suffusing texts, calls, emails, photos, and prayers daily, filling our lives with valued bits of each other without hurrying. Our debt to each other was meeting in person, breathing the same air separated by inches at most with mutual visuals, sounds, whiffs, and touches. A logistic challenge to both of us was Grace abides in Nigeria and I in Nodnol. Duty fell upon me to meet her at the soonest viable opportunity, and I am quite the expediter. My mind was now thinking of passports, visas, tickets, and places of interest, searching the Internet daily. Travelling long haul was inevitable for us, but I could not travel from Heathrow to Abuja. I had just been under a surgeon’s knife and needed fast access to high-quality emergency health services. She did not mind making the trip to visit me. We talked much about it; half-way meet ups in Dubai, Doha, Cairo or Casablanca, or a simple week in London. Somehow, our minds soon drifted from travelling to our lives.
Each time we spoke, for a few minutes or hours, the green bubble would emerge out of the phone and engulf me while my purple soul streamed faster towards her. My intuition sought to warn me, with a big voice, not to discuss either of our bubbles with Grace. The triggering of my intuition only occurred in spiky situations or when unknown dangers or opportunities were close by. Since my second chat with Grace, my intuition became so available and alert, it was hard for me to indulge my chaotic habits. I have less than normal attachment to things, thus losing them is not a big deal, though painful sometimes for a short time. What most people treasure, I do not. Contests that involve loss rarely bother me, but I know so many people are. My worst habit is walking into a trap I have seen in advance, then waiting to see the consequences, which are often no skin off my teeth where others would have long fallen faces and split hearts. Nowadays my recklessness and “Is that all you can do?” attitude has deserted me for Grace or by Grace. Is any distinguishing necessary? The Grace of my Grace is my taste of cool serendipity.
Our relationship moved up to a higher and more intimate level. She had children; I did not. We had some wonderful conversations about our past, present, and future. Talk of dowry, shared ambitions, recreation, living arrangements, and children was welcome. On two occasions, our calls ended with me resorting to ‘Testosterone Surge Quencher’; a cold shower for instant cooling of edifices. I forbid falling in love with my left hand.
“Hi Grace,” I said
“How are you, Big Boss?” she said.
She told me about her submission of exam questions for courses she taught to the faculty board and about some grocery shopping she did earlier. Her profession, I assume, had turned her into a healthy food aficionado. Hearing talk of her dishes made my mouth water except eating raw kale, and trust me, I always had ready something nice to drink.
“Do you miss any woman from your past?” She asked.
“Well, there was one girl,” I said.
I told her of a teenage love, Mercy, with plain honesty.
“Mercy was fifteen and I sixteen. She had quite a brain hidden by her deep, introverted personality. Mercy was always far ahead of her classmates in exams despite having little time for studies,” I said.
“Why is that?” she asked.
“Her mother made her do all the domestic chores, from cooking to cleaning.”
“Yes. Mercy’s mother was too busy minding other people’s business and dominating her family and friends, including her husband.”
“Mercy’s most obvious skill was concluding your ideas accurately before you could, especially if they were difficult to think and express.”
“My mother disliked Mercy’s mother, a known mischief maker, and did her subtle best to discourage me from her. She considered Mercy a tad too smart, like her mother. My mother often would tell me, ‘That girl get sense pass you O!’ Her mum died of a poisoning and Mercy moved to Maiduguri to live with her aunt. We never saw each other again.”
“Ah! That is so terrible.”
My description of Mercy did to Grace what unedited honesty sometimes does. The green bubble that had engulfed me separated itself and stood away in cylindrical form, touching the ceiling. When I spoke about Mercy’s good looks and her unusual adulation for a misfitting loner like me, the bubble shrank back into the phone till it was a blob the size of a kid’s marble. I had to change the topic with tact.
“Sokhunu, I live in the present. I cherish pleasant moments from the past, but the present is most important to me. Mercy was part of my evolution, but you are the new frontier and I hope, by Grace, you are the ultimate,” I said.
“If you say so,” she said.
“I say so, with love. With love.”
Grace let off a lukewarm giggle, which I could not interpret. The green bubble grew into a massive sphere of at least one metre diameter and semi-circled me on my armchair once, from left to right before standing still in front of my face. I reach to touch it but it engulfed me again, taking the initiative. Point taken: do not discuss your past affairs in too much detail or with nostalgia. She had cooking to do, and it was ‘Bye-bye, till tomorrow’ time.
Sokhunu [gun shooter] had two connotations. One who keeps me alert or adapting my personality justly and the one who shoots me in bed. Sokhunu was a word you use when dealing with a woman of chastity, or strict sexual discipline. Once we had an argument about miracles which she supported and destiny which I favoured.
“With faith, one can achieve so many impossible things,” she said.
“That’s destiny reinterpreted,” I said.
“Nope, they are not the same thing.”
“Yes. Did Michael Jackson pray to be a brilliant singer, or Muhammad Ali a talented boxer, Albert Einstein a great genius or Elon Musk a billionaire? And please don’t say I don’t know if their parents’ or ancestors’ prayers made them. Academics are in the business of knowing the unknown.”
“You have got a lot to learn about the scriptures and faith. You know that?”
“Yes, I do,” I said. I let that pass as I was a Kpoti.
“Miracles are not exclusive to greatness and success but also little things of importance.”
“Well, God’s time is destiny, the times for everything.”
“You cannot use logic to understand things spiritual. Minor miracles that fulfil small needs are as important as great ones.”
“Why are you making me look more rational than I am?”
“I beg go sit down.”
“You’re lucky. I would have finished you with hot ones.”
“You are making mouth.”
My landline rang, and I took the call. A delivery man informed me he would be at my address in fifteen minutes, then hung up. The call stole the momentum of my conversation with Grace, but I could imagine her eyes shining with intensity.
“Sorry about that. Are you a Surulere or Olorunsogo type?”
“Are you a patient long-enduring type who will struggle with her man till a time of flourishing arrives or are you one who expects that God has provided everything through her man upfront?”
“A bit of both.”
“Oh, if my mother were alive, she would have said, ‘Grace get sense pass you O!’” I said, making our diaphragms reverberate with noisy pulses to the confounding quip.
“Your mother, bless her soul, would have said I am honest. You have an intriguing way of diffusing your own blowback.”
The conversation was tense in places, but the green bubble never receded nor separated from me once.
The mobile network reception was poor in her area, so we had to make calls with pre-paid phone-call cards most of the time, but WhatsApp was worth trying. Erratic and long power failures coupled with goodish telecoms were pulling Nigeria out of the information age. We could only make one video call via WhatsApp. That evening, I was sitting on the leather settee in my living room under an abstract painting and holding a petite bottle of Yakut. The black T-shirt and black tracksuit bottoms gave me an athletic appearance. She was not to know I was wearing Testosterone Surge restraining underwear. On my first glimpse of her, she was wearing a stylish multicolour flowing gown with fine embroidery. Relaxing in front of her computer with fingers circling a tumbler of bright sorrel brew. I complimented her by halving my cold Yakut. The images in her background were blurry, but her expression was as tense as curious. I could feel her eyes as if she was observing me through a pair of binoculars. The connection was unreliable and “Hello Hellos” made up two-thirds of the conversation. Throughout the call, the bubble was absent, but when we switched to normal calls, it appeared.
Grace called me at an unusual time, 11am. We never spoke between 9am to 12 noon.
“Big Boss, good morning,” she said.
“Good morning, Sokhunu,” I said.
“God is great,” she yelled.
“What is it?” I asked.
“A German research association has just awarded me a $6,000 small research grant to assist with my research publications and to attend a genetics conference in Milan in June 2020.”
“Shuor! Milan! Congratulations and well-done! This is great news.”
Milan had never hosted me nor Grace ever. I had visited places such as Rome, Naples, Livorno, and Porto Fino, but never Lombardy or the industrial north of Italy. I was looking forward to the adventure.
“Will you meet me there, in Milan?”
“Sure, I will. I’ll pick you up at the airport on your arrival and take you to the hotel.”
“Is it safe for you?”
“Yes. Very safe.”
I tried to make a video call to her but it could not connect. I wanted to see her face.
“My body just dey sweet me like sugar,” I said.
“Not more than me,” she said.
Her surprise joy was equally mine, and I celebrated her award by pouring myself few flutes of Kir Royal, the prosecco version. Like Mercy, of decades before her, Grace was worldly wise and circumspect besides being book smart. Her advice on planning and investment were so eye-widening, precise, and workable they opened new frontiers for me. I have kept them a private trademark of hers. She was also very savvy with strategies for managing chaos, opposition, and undesirables. Sapiosexual love reared its head again, but I skipped it.
The announcement of the Covid-19 pandemic was to disrupt my relationship with Grace and her conference in untold ways.
“Hi, Sokhunu, how are you today? The Covid-19 virus has been the centre of an announcement by our Prime Minister of a pandemic and all travel and movements are now subject to strict restrictions, even bans to prevent its spread and save lives. These announcements are global,” I said.
“That is propaganda. How can anyone say a virus will disrupt all international travel? Let us talk about something else, Big Boss,” she said. I suspected her response was outright denial and perhaps someone else should have given her the information.
A mobile network glitch or failure ended the call and my redials of her number did not get through. I did not like her brusque rejection of my information, a fact easy to verify. Her conference in Milan and the opportunity to meet me in person were probably the most important things to her, behind her children, whom she loved so much. I tried to understand but I was still upset by her. She should boss or talk down to someone else, not me.
Two hours later, Grace called me back.
“Big Boss, I am sorry for the way I spoke to you earlier. Don’t be angry with me.”
“It’s okay. We set your mind on Milan and disappointment chanced it.”
“God bless you. The shock and instant frustration with the news was so overwhelming.”
“There will be another time.”
“Have a little faith.”
She kept silent. Whether she was weepy, sad, or speechless, for some other reason, I was none the wiser. The green bubble emerged but did not grow beyond the size of a grapefruit. It hovered one foot above the phone with its slinky narrow tail in the phone’s mic. I rethought her mood and was now sure she was flat-voiced by the travel bans.
Whether it was out of concern or a reaction to the travel bans in force, our conversations became more health and prayer oriented. I hoped it remained encouragement. She began sending me photos weekly, which buoyed my optimism. My favourite photo was of her in a laboratory. She had a curly afro rather than her usual straight hair and was wearing a white lab coat with her name pinned to an upper pocket. Under her lab coat was a Tommy Hilfiger T-shirt, but I could not see below her waist. Her doe-eyed smile had a special message I could not decode.
Ill health befell me during the pandemic, making me unavailable in any sense. I decided long ago never to blame myself for my health challenges. I did not cause any of them. The pain I willingly bore was the effect it had on people close to me. Some sympathised, others disappeared, some feigned concern, and others blamed me for lacking faith or neglecting prayer. I was not in the mood nor willing to absorb foolish and insensitive blame on my troubles. Grace never blamed me for my challenges nor suggest in any way she would. I intended to cherish the experience and memory of my Grace and the bubble forever without blemish. I could only interact with medical, health and care staff. It was not an easy storm to navigate with vulnerable sails and leaks to manage. The storm I took head swearing to win and live or lose and die. Diomuemor!
The forever part was reasonable. I requested a nurse print a photo of Grace and put it on my bedside table with a photo frame someone had left in the ward. I believed looking at the photo whenever I was awake would help my recovery. Sometimes the glass pane on the photo frame would assume a tint of green but if some touched it, its verdancy would disappear. A nurse, Aphrodite, who cared well for me began a conversation one morning after making my bed.
“Do you eat much kale?” she asked.
“No. I don’t like the taste,” I said
“Doctors gave my father a few months to live back in Athens. But he rejected the bad news and went to the Twelve Gods to ask for mercy, offering a vow and sacrifice at the foot of Mount Olympus near the town of Litochoro. He has lived another decade in relative good health. Every morning he would eat fresh kale and drink a shot of honey diluted with water exposed to sunlight in a blue bottle, have a proper lunch, and gluten-free bread and olive oil mixed with a tot of wine for supper. After a while, his glass would turn light that would vanish if someone but he touched it.”
“Are you referring to the photo frame?”
“Yes. I didn’t ask questions but told you my experience instead.”
“No. When someone touched his glass, my father would say ‘Sas efharisto ya ton hrono pu perasate mazi mas.’ It means ‘Thank you for spending your time with us.’ My mother, if present, would respond ‘Efharisto, Asclepius,’ but no one in our household knew who or what to thank.”
“Interesting, efharisto,” I said, making her do a 5 per cent giggle.
“Life is greater than questions and answers. The will to overcome death trumps everything,” she said. Tears rolled onto her cheeks but met resistance from her make-up. She rubbed the back of my right palm tenderly with gloves on and left.
Well, I recovered, but I still display the photo at home. I put my recovery down to the Graciousness allowable in my destiny. Yet, the truth is I had offended the lady in the photo frame. To what extent I know not. It was a betrayal by self-isolation. Love is the liberation from self-isolation, self-isolation is the loss of that liberty. It is like freezing oneself solid out of all fluid social interactions. The thawing is an uneasy recovery to behold. I compare the fluid of social relations to rivers and lakes. Was I worthy of a second chance at liberty? I found myself totally slammed on the concrete floor of reality regarding my worthiness. My head and body would shudder and joints ache, not as a symptom of illness. That is ‘affection malaria’ for you.
On Christmas Day, Willy Y surprised me by visiting me with his three children and his son’s mother. They brought so much party food, drinks, and presents with them and were interesting company. Willy made me tell the unusual story of The Tooth Slapper, about an ancient Urhobo Equaliser-type personality; my audience pulled their faces, taking in deep breaths through their agape mouths and laughed a lot in alternation. Eight good hours they spent with me. It was an oasis of happiness for me after a difficult emotional parching of indefinite duration. The memory of that day was self-propelling emotional fuel for my existence. But by mid-January 2021, my graceless life returned. Every day ever since I play Steve Williamson’s A Waltz For Grace when I can; it’s the only medicine working the sublime parts of my being. It makes cool living possible amid the unsparing drought.
Be Good, Not Lucky