I attempted reading the Bible back-to-back for the first time when I was 12. I got stuck somewhere in Ruth. Men will always get stuck somewhere with the women, isn’t it? Well, I was later on able to get through the prophets and walked with Saint Paul to Apocalypse, the eschatological visions given to Brother John.
The stories in the bible impressed my young mind deeply. I just love the stories and started loving and developing a unique kind of relationship with the God behind the stories. A relationship that was strangely devoid of what I later found out was religion.
For instance, I learnt to pray a simple prayer asking God to do for me what He did for the folks in the bible stories. For instance when we were starving, I would ask God to provide food for us as He did for the Israelites in the desert or as Jesus fed the 5000. And He always did.
When I was about 13-14, something happened to me that made me pray a prayer that God answered instantly. That’s how I experienced my first miracle…
I came back from school one afternoon and my mum was still cooking. She pleaded with me to rush to the river and get some water, and by the time I got back, the food would be ready for me to eat. I grudgingly accepted, complaining loudly about “how person never chop sef, them de come send am. Mtcheeeew. Bad family!”
When I was going, my mum warned, “Isa, no swim o.”
“Just carry that small basin when you go fit help yourself. Abeg my pikin no swim o,” she went on.
“Mama, I don hear na,” I snapped. “I be small pikin? Abi you no trust me?”
When I got to the river, the whole place was deserted. The basin was small enough to help myself keep on my head. Just get the water, walk back home and eat. Just food on my mind, not swimming. Then I saw someone on the far end. I recognized him.
It was one of our neighbours, a mentally disturbed man. He behaved quite normally, with just occasional trips to the world of lunacy. On his good days, he was a lovely person, but we all knew that some nuts were not there. You know, that kind person wey de craze but e no de mad.
I walked to where he was.
He was standing on a cliff, about to take a dive into the water. He stood there stark naked. That was the first time I saw an adult penis in all its glory! It looked like a third leg. Nice, but I hoped mine wouldn’t grow up to become like that anyway. Lol. Hey, nobody should ask me whether mine has become like that o. That’s a warning.
He saw me coming, smiled and took a dive. Wow! My mother’s pleadings and instructions evaporated with that dive. I took off my clothes, stood there for a while admiring my nakedness. I made a mental comparison of the 13-year-old tag between my legs and what I’d just seen. The difference was clear.
Then I took what would become the very last dive I’d ever take from a cliff into any body of water.
I landed and found myself descending into a bottomless pit of water. I landed nowhere and started coming back up from somewhere, drinking tons of water on my journey up.
When my head bobbed out, I screamed for help. My mad friend cackled. Maybe he thought I was joking. I bobbed out again and screamed. He laughed. That was the wickedest laugh I’d ever heard by anything created by God. The laughter echoed around the environs of the deserted river and vibrated in the water were I was drinking to my certain death. So na so I go dey here dey di,e and this man go dey there dey laugh?
I was bobbing out and bobbing into my watery grave, drinking and drinking the very substance that was about to kill me. I saw my mum’s face, all teary. I asked her to forgive me as I prepared to die. I saw my friends, I told them goodbye. My porridge beans and yam – it was cooking when I left. It must be ready now. O beans and yam! Where I would have put you, water has filled it.
Then I remembered the story of Jonah and the fish, and I remembered my God, and I prayed my simple childish prayer: “God, You delivered Jonah from the fish belly, deliver me too please…”
Then it happened. Many people won’t believe what I’m about to describe right now, but it is the truth. Suddenly, where I was flailing became shallow waters! I didn’t flow out of it. I just found out that the water was at my knee level, and I walked out of it!
I walked out. I was flooded externally and internally, but I walked out. I called out to man for help; he laughed at me. I called out to God, He delivered me. I walked out. I took my clothes and my empty basin and started walking naked home. God saved me!
My penis had disappeared into my stomach, but as I walked home under the sun, it peeped out. I walked home shamelessly. People begged me on the way to put on my clothes; I ignored them and walked on. It is amazing how people notice your scars and talk about them without having a clue where God pulled you out from.
I negotiated a bend and came face-to-face with our neighbour’s daughter who was about my age. She looked at me bewildered. I made no attempt to cover my nakedness. Maybe she was also seeing a teenage penis in all its glory for the first time, I couldn’t care less.
I stood there and preached her a mute sermon: I know I don’t look the way you want me to look, but God saved me; I know I don’t meet your standards right now and here, but God saved me; yes, to you I might be the worst sinner in the world, but He loves me and saved me; complain about my nakedness, but you don’t know that a moment ago I would have had no skin to cover if not for God; He saved me.
Usually when we messed up like this, we wouldn’t even go near my mum, because she would beat the daylight out of you. But this day, here I come, naked and without water in my basin, and instead of running away from her, I walked towards her.
She stood there stunned. When I got to her, she took the basin and dropped it aside. Then she took my clothes from me and dressed me up. The only thing my mum said was, “Go eat.”
Eleven years later I asked her why she did that. Why didn’t she beat me or scold me. That would have been more like her. She told me that when she saw me that day, she just knew that God had saved her son from drowning and her heart simply flooded with gratitude. She was so overjoyed to have me back in one piece that nothing else mattered… I wept. I love my mum. And I love Jesus above everything else.
I still swim anyway, as long as the water is not above my knees.
Written by First Baba Isa, Twitter handle: @firstbabaisa, Facebook page: www.facebook.com/mrfirstbabaisa