“My name is Baba Isa… I want to go to hellfire!”
When I said this many years ago, I meant every word of it. I said that as an expression of love. Many people will dismiss this as the foolishness of an eleven-year old. Don’t be too fast, hear my story first. I knew about all the horrors of hell, but I wanted to go there oh-so-badly.
I was about ten, eleven years old. My elder sister (actually a cousin) had a friend. Her name was Kate. There were both in their twenties. That girl was impeccably beautiful. Everything about her was glorious and bespoke paradise.
I loved her madly, I adored her, I worshipped her. I made her a religion and became her chief priest. She was my oracle and I was her babalawo. She could do no wrong; Kate was always right. Later on in life, I learnt that what I felt for Kate is called crush.
Crush. The Encarta English Dictionary defines it as a temporary romantic attraction, especially in teenagers and young people.
What the dictionary did not add or maybe couldn’t possibly understand is that when a teen or young person is experiencing a crush, he doesn’t know it is a crush and the feeling doesn’t seem temporary at all. And his actions are not based on some dictionary definition, but on his feelings; and that is something the dictionary surely cannot capture.
Yes, I was almost a teen. Yes, looking back now, it might have been a crush. But back then, it was love, pure love that I was feeling. QED. My actions then were not based on what I know now or even what I knew then, but on what I felt then.
I loved Kate so much I used to hide in the dark and watch her laugh as she conversed with my cousin for hours and hours on end. Most times, I would go into a trance from just watching her. Whenever they called me her husband, I would beam like a bulb. Most times, she would stroke my thick black hair and call me, “Isa, my husband.” I would nearly die from joy, raw joy. Maybe she was just being big-sisterly, but I was so excited. I loved Kate.
I would miss her sorely whenever she didn’t come to visit my sister. And when I tactically asked of her, she would teasingly say to me, “Your wife go soon come, you hear?”
I go smile, come de hope. I loved Kate.
I hated every boy that got close to her. Bloody baggers! One day, one of them had the guts to come with her to our house around 7pm. Kate stroked my hair and passed. The idiot stroked my head too. I moved instantaneously from melting-with-sweet-sensations under her sweet touch to freezing-with-anger under his unwanted touch. I didn’t forgive him.
They went to sit under one mango tree. I hid in the darkness, with a piece of rock meant for the guy. I fired the stone. Lo and behold, it went straight for Kate, hitting her.
I died a million deaths when I heard her cry. I didn’t wait for anyone to search for the stoner; I stepped out of the darkness and stood there weeping and condemned, even before I heard the sentence. In between bursts of sobs, I told the little crowd that had gathered that it was the boy that I wanted to stone.
They were shocked that I could be that jealous. The boy was shocked and angry. Who cared? Kate asked them to forgive me, but my mum didn’t miss an opportunity for a trashing. She gave me twelve strokes of the cane. I took it gallantly. I took it for Kate.
One day, I started hearing whispers – whispers that Kate was pregnant. I didn’t understand fully, but I was deeply hurt. My sister joked that I was the one that got her pregnant. They laughed. I didn’t laugh, nothing was funny.
At eleven, I had done Integrated Science and I had a fair understanding of how a woman gets pregnant, and yet, I somehow believed my sister, that I was somehow responsible for Kate’s pregnancy.
This is one of the things infatuation does to you. It makes you responsible for things you are not responsible for. It makes you guilty of sins you have not committed. If you are sincere enough to remember when you were infatuated, you would understand what I mean.
And then, it was a cold Saturday night. It had rained in the afternoon and it was now drizzling. We had just finished a miserable supper of cassava fufu and bitter leaf soup – I hate this soup! – and we were crowded in our dingy one room, trying to keep warm and hoping to sleep.
Then my cousin, Kate’s friend, walked in sobbing.
Kate was dead!
When she delivered the news, there were screams and wails, sounds that were heavily laden with shock and sorrow.
I heard the news and I did nothing.
I didn’t know what to do. What was the appropriate thing for an eleven-year-old to do? I was too shocked and confused to think or do anything.
Kate had gone for an abortion, unknown to many, unknown to me, her eleven-year-old husband! She staggered home after the quack had butchered her womb. And then, she suffered through that night in excruciating pain. She was however soon discovered and rushed to the hospital. She didn’t even make it to the hospital. My Kate died on the way.
My Kate bled to death. O my Kate. I was stunned. I was numb. I was confused. I was dying inside…
The next day, they hurriedly buried Kate. The graveside was crowded. Some came to weep. Some came to curse. Some came to watch. Some came to get lessons for their daughters. Some came to say, “We told you.” And yet, some others who had done abortion and survived came to thank God.
I also came. I came to watch the woman I love with the whole of my heart being buried. I was too small and insignificant to be noticed. But in that crowd, I was the most bereaved. I was the most hurting.
They buried Kate, my Kate.
The crowd went sorrowfully away. I was left alone in the vicinity of the grave, hiding somewhere in the bush. When all was quiet and calm, I stepped out and on the wet muddy grave of my sweetheart.
Then I cried and cried and cried. I cried until I felt I could cry no more. Moments later, I felt a heavy and loving hand come down on my shoulder, pick me up and lead me away. It was my cousin, Kate’s friend.
I wept for days. I wept for my Kate.
Somehow, I felt responsible.
A couple of weeks later, I went to church. The preaching was about hellfire and things that can take one there. One of those things the preacher mentioned was abortion. I was stunned. Did that mean my Kate was in hellfire? I couldn’t understand it. It couldn’t be. Kate was too beautiful and lovely to go to hell.
After the service, I went to a bunch of adults and told them what was bothering me. They told me that abortion was a sin and that those who did it would go to hell.
“What about the boy who gets the girl pregnant?” I asked.
“If he repents, he will go to heaven,” they replied.
I shook my eleven-year-old head vigorously. This was not fair, this was not fair. He gets a girl pregnant, cajoles the girl to go for an abortion. The girl does so and dies, goes to hell, and the bagger repents after that and goes to heaven. This was not fair! O my Kate!
“I want to go to hell!”
My declaration hit the group like an intercontinental ballistic missile. I have never seen humans that shocked in my entire life. They were rattled to the core. Some of them were visibly frightened.
What the heck?! I was hoping to see Kate in heaven. But now they said she was in hell, why should I bother to go to heaven anymore. Let me go to hell and see my Kate.
“What did you say?” one managed to ask.
I did not answer.
“What is your name and what did you say?” he commanded.
I looked at him straight in the eye and said: “My name is Baba Isa… I want to go to hellfire!”
They looked at me as if they’d just seen a ghost.
“Do you know what you are talking about?” a woman whispered.
They reminded me of all the horrors of hell.
They didn’t know I had not forgotten. They also didn’t know that my Kate was in hell, at least according to their eschatology. They preached to me a sermon. They begged me to change my mind. I didn’t say anything. I walked away. My mind was made up. If my Kate was down there, then I wanted to go to hell.
Three roads led to my house from the church, one through the main gate with OCC by your right, onto the main road, the second through St. Theresa’s main school compound, and the third through the church cemetery, onto Eziegbo road. I took the third.
When I reached the graveyard, I sat on one of the graves, unafraid. I sat there and wept. I must go to hell fire and reunite with my Kate. Let the fire burn, let Lucifer charge with dragon’s teeth and lion’s tail. If Kate was there, it would be paradise.
From the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, I gathered that you could see hell from heaven. How could I be in heaven and be seeing my Kate in hell? No! I must go to hell and meet her. I wept and wept and wept on that grave. I wept. O my Kate.
Looking back now, I know no one can really be sure whether Kate is in heaven or hell. She could very well have repented before she died. Maybe I didn’t even love her that much. Maybe I was just an eleven-year-old fool who thought he was in love.
But I’m afraid that even right now, there could still be someone in my life that if I was sure is in hell, I’d follow there. Someone I love so much that even if she breaks my heart, I will still go on loving her with the pieces.
Curse me if you like, preach me a sermon if you want, I’d love her that much. I might be a fool, but don’t forget that that is the basic ingredient love is made up of.
Written by First Baba Isa, Twitter handle: @firstbabaisa, Facebook page: www.facebook.com/mrfirstbabaisa