How do you measure time? Do you measure it in the number of hours or minutes? Or do you measure it in the amount of energy dissipated within a particular duration of time? Do you measure time in strength and weakness, tangible things that we can see and behold or in seconds and minutes, mental realizations that cannot be touched? Do you measure time in how hungry you are or in the number of days you have gone without eating?
On and on they walked. They had been on the footpath for what seemed like hours now and the sun was already going down. They were all tired and broken and there was no where they could draw strength from. They lived in weakness and in their weakness, they began to think of so many things.
The first challenge the climbers had was hunger. Kazeem had already stated ay the beginning of the walk that he was hungry and that was what triggered the heads of the rest that they too had not eaten. Kazeem really did not know how they could have forgotten. He had never gone a day without eating in his life. Even in dry seasons, he still found ways to satisfy his stomach. He never fasted. Even during the popular Muslim fast, he never fasted. He did not believe in the concept of fasting. How would abstaining from food, what God himself created make me closer to God? Is it not with my heart that I talk to God? Why then should I fast? It was a whole pointless practice and he did not care what anyone said, he would get to heaven whether or not he fasted…if there was heaven.
Hunger struck him now and he could barely walk. He was dragging himself down the path, resting on AK’s shoulder. AK did not complain. He could not complain. It would have been alright for him to just forget that he was the leader of this adventure but he could not. Someone had died. The small boy…Folu, had died. He had stopped breathing and life had disappeared from his body and he had become lifeless. Where was he now? AK wondered. Was Folu in heaven or was in hell? What would he, AK, say to God when they got to heaven…if they got to heaven? What would be the reason he would give for bringing these people to their doom? What would he tell God?
AK was confused. There were many things going on in his heart and surprisingly enough, the most pressing of these was not even getting home safely. In all honesty, AK did not want to get home. He had thought of it deeply and he had realized that it was not the best outcome for him. Getting home would mean facing judgement. He would firstly be rusticated from the university; he was certain of that. If not all of them, he, the ring leader would be sent out of the school and he would become a dropout. And if the others were sent out with him, that was even worse. That would make him the destroyer of their career. David was a medical student. He was in his final year already. He had his life figured out already. How would David ever forgive him for bringing them up here? Chisom, who was now away with Bukunmi, was an elect elect student. Although, he was not sure Chisom had his life figured out. But then, he was in 300 level already, studying the course he loved. That was enough reason to want to remain in school.
Of course, it had crossed his mind that he was giving himself too much credit for all that had happened. If Chisom was here, he would have told him that he was being too hard on himself. After all, he did not force them to climb the mountain with him. He did not collect any fee from them. He simply sent out an invitation which he put on his own WhatsApp status and before he knew it, these people turned out. But would that matter when they got out of this forest? Would it matter when they got to school and faced judgement? Would it matter when Folu’s parents come asking for their son? How was he going to tell them that their son was dead? God, what have I done? What have I gotten myself into?
Even though he was not ready for home, he did not know what he wanted. He certainly did not want to die. He had seen death take away Folu and he did not like the look of it. He just wanted them to remain in this region for as long as possible. He had fantasied already. In his fantasy, he had seen them living with a group of primitive beings, perhaps a lost civilization and then introducing modern civilization to them. But then, even his fantasy was too fantastic. He knew it was not possible. The only thing he wanted was for them to just remain in this forest. But for how long? For how long without food?
Tara was in front now. She was thinking about the fact that she was not thinking about David. She was not thinking about his whereabouts. She was not thinking about his safety. Was he alive? Was he not alive? Was he fine? Where was he right now? She was not thinking about this and she was not happy with herself. She could remember the time she used to think of him every day and night. They used to meet every day so it was impossible to not think about him. They would talk about everything they could think of. He knew everything about her. He knew her shoe size. He knew her best color. He knew her best hairstyle. He knew her fears. She could remember when he told her his greatest fear was ants; soldier ants. She laughed. She laughed now at the thought of him and at the distance growing fast between them.
Is this the definition of love? Is this how life, reality, conquers love? Is this the meaning of love? Is this how love ends?
The reality of going for three days without food did not dawn on them until that evening when Bisi collapsed.
They were still on the footpath. They had been on it for hours now, resting and getting back up. It was a large field and really, they could just be walking in circles. It was Kazeem that first voiced this thought and AK was quick to silence him.
Now, as they walked on in this dusk, Bisi started crying. It was all of a sudden. It was Akin who saw it first. He was the one with her in front. She started by squeezing her face, clutching her stomach and then, she began to cry. Akin thought it was a comic relief until he saw the tears roll down her face. Her face was squeezed in agony. She was in pain and she did not know how to express that pain in calmness. Excruciation took control of the body and turned her into a writhing snake whose head had just severed with a machete.
“Bisi! Bisi, are you fine? Bisi are you fine?” Akin asked nervously.
She did not say a word. She only shook her head. She shook her head vigorously and then, with her hands clutching her stomach, she threw up. She was still vomiting when her eyes closed and slowly, she crumbled to the floor like a house of cards.
“BUKUNMI! BUKUNMI! CAN YOU HEAR ME?”
Chisom kept on shouting but he heard nothing. “BUKUNMI! BUKUNMI! CAN YOU HEAR ME?” he shouted again, hoping against all hope that she would respond.
He had seen her drop into the chasm and he knew she was in there. What he did not was how deep the chasm was.
Chisom was lost. For the first in a long while, fear and uncertainty took hold of him and he did not know what to do. He was alone now. He was alone on the mountaintop.
“Bukunmi! AK! Kazeem! ANYBODY! HELP ME!” Chisom screamed and he did not know when he broke down to the ground and began to cry. He was hungry. He was alone. And he was lost.
“Somebody should answer me, please. I am alone here,” Chisom was crying. His face shrank in cold terror and his teeth were gritty.
He had never been in this kind of condition before. He had never been this lost. He was lost physically and also mentally. He had no idea where he was and what he was going to do. Bukunmi had just fallen into a deep gap and here he was, sitting on the edge of the gap, looking down into the hole. There was nothing there but pitch darkness. It was as though he had just reached the entrance of hell, as though the devil and his demons had just had a feast and they were waiting for him to come clean the plates.
“Oh, God, what have I gotten myself into?”
He sniffed and dried his tears. He had to do something. He did not have to think much; he did not have many options. He could do just three things. He could keep going down the mountain, reach school and get help for his friends who were stranded on the other side of the mountain and also find help for Bukunmi before something terrible happened to her in the hole. That was one thing he could do. There was a second option. He could just turn back and return to the rest. He could tell them what had happened so they could all come up together to help Bukunmi out of the hole. The last option he had, the last thing he could do was just jump into the hole and remain there with Bukunmi. If death should come, it would meet both of them. But then, even in his desperate state, he knew that was the coward way out. And he was not a coward. I am not a coward.
With this in his heart, Chisom dried his tears completely and began to descend the mountain. He was going home. He was going to be the messiah of the lost Israelites.
Bukunmi was crying. She did not understand. David was beside her. They were both sitting on the wet ground, thinking.
“But why can’t he hear us?” Bukunmi kept on asking. “I mean, we could hear every single word he was saying. I could hear him clearly. Why can’t he hear us?”
“I don’t know, Bukunmi. I am a doctor, not a sound engineer,” David said again and again.
“I mean, this hole is supposed to enhance our voice, right? It is, right?” she turned to David for an answer but when she got none, she pushed her knees up to her chin and hugged herself.
David did not know what to do. He was thinking Bukunmi would be strong for the both of them. He could remember how she was always frowning and talking sternly as though she had it all figured out. He expected that now. He expected that boldness, that life, to still be in her even in this period of weakness. But then, it was not there. And now, he was beginning to think it was never there.
Bukunmi closed her eyes and tried to imagine that she was dreaming, that she was not stuck in this hole with David. It was impossible. Her mind drifted to him. Michael. They were together for months before they finally fell apart. At least, she thought they had now. But then, it seemed as though he was not done with her yet with all the incessant calls and messages.
She did not know how to explain what he had for her. It was more than love; it was an obsession. She would wake up in the morning to a poem. He did not miss a day. They were lovely poems and she kept some of them in her bag wherever she went. She reached for her bag now and pulled out a small notebook. In it were small sticky notes where she had copied his poems to. Without much thought, she lay on the floor and began to read them to herself.
I woke up this morning to the songs of the birds
Why the noise? It’s too early to leave your beds
I said to them. They blushed and together said:
You are luckiest of all men, Michael
To have such an angel as your girl.
I did not sleep yesterday night
I was not thinking about you.
I was trying, with all my might,
Not to think about you.
So, I thought about the future
In all its glory and magnificent hue
And there, in the center of it all. You stood.
Alas, I am thinking about you.
“Did you love him?”
She startled and looked up, closing her book.
“Did you love him?” David asked again.
“Yes,” she said, and then, “I don’t know.”
“Well, he loved you.”
“How do you know that?” she asked.
Davis sighed and sat beside her. “I am a guy, Bukunmi. I am a doctor and I know a bit of psychology. It is not easy to say ‘I love you’ to a girl. It is never easy to acknowledge an emotion that is invisible, something that is happening only within you. It is always difficult and so we try to express it in other ways, not the verbal way. Some go ahead to buy things. Some sing for their loves. This one, he wrote poetry for you. He loved you. Did you love him?”
Did she love him? She did not know. She could not say. She had never felt about him exactly the same way he felt about her. He would call her early in the morning when he was going to pray. He would call her afterwards. They would not talk after that until evening when they both were done with their classes. And then, they would see. They would talk about everything and anything. There were days when she would be calm and remorse for no particular reason and she would see concern in his eyes. She would also see pity in his eyes. And she would not know how to tell him that he was being too emotional, he was doing too much, he was loving too much.
Did she love him? She did not know. She could not say. What is love?
“Was he the only one?”
“Bukunmi, was he the only one?” David asked again.
Was he the only one? No, he was not. She knew that. There were other guys, other cool and rich guys who were calling her, who were pestering her, who wanted her. They were ready to spend on her and spoil her with love and affection. And she did not know what to tell them. She did not know what to tell them because she wanted them, she wanted a part of them and she did not want a part of them. She wanted to eat of the Tree of Good and Evil but she wanted only the Good. She did not want the Evil.
“Was he the right one for you?”
She did not say a word.
“Bukunmi, was he the right one for you?”
Was he the right one for her? Maybe…
An explanation is in order. This was supposed to be out over a week ago. What happened, really? Many things. I got too busy. I am sorry. This won’t happen again. I will try my best. We’ll see next week.