Neto sat comfortably in the back seat of the SUV as it breezed to church; it was a bleak Sunday morning. Turning his head to the left, he couldn’t help but notice how the landscape, the feel of the vehicle and the cloudy weather of the day threw him back to a fateful Sunday morning in August, five years prior. Then, an Indomie-branded bus transported him and forty-plus weary, homesick souls back to church after a week-long teens camp. He couldn’t exactly call it a camp, but a mass gathering in a not-so-secluded posh school which felt like home in every way, only that it wasn’t. The night before his return was camp fire night. It was supposed to be an epic conclusion- not just to the undeniably eventful camp, but possibly to his seventeen years of living and studying in Nigeria. Like Batman v Superman, it fell below his expectations.
Yes, the food and snacks were good. The open-air performances next to the camp fire had a primal feel to them. He had a decent time with his friends. But when he gazed up at the silver-dotted indigo sky that night, after his ‘good’ bye, he knew it just wasn’t it.
The ride back to church that bleak Sunday morning was almost wordless. His phone was long dead, so he couldn’t listen to music or play games or chat with his friends after being AWOL for seven long days. And he wasn’t much of a reader. He could barely talk to the pretty girl seated next to him. There was no point starting anything transient, as transient as what he and Ebiere had. At least, what he thought he and Ebiere had. The very impetus behind his embarking on a final camping experience became the very one behind his desire to depart. Stripped of his companions, with an undesirable weather, Neto’s thoughts revolved around the uncertain life ahead and the painful one behind. He was indeed kissed by a rose. The only problem was that its thorns sunk in deep, so deep that its petals fell helplessly to their demise, leaving Neto to reel from the searing pain.
The same pain he bottled up within and corked so tightly for so many months.
Neto remembered how everyone was told to drop penned-down prayer requests into a set of boxes, before that night. He remembered his parents were on the brink of a divorce, prior to the commencement of camp. He didn’t even care if they still loved each other or not. All he wanted was for them to not separate. He penned down the request. Neto also desperately wanted New York University to consider his application and admit him. He wasn’t considering his Nigerian option in CU. He knew what he wanted and he had faith in the possibility of success. He penned it down. Having stood to submit it, Neto remembered Ebiere. Inasmuch as he wanted to be with her, to spend the rest of his life with her, his ambition was also important. He wasn’t even sure if she still felt the same love, like or whatever it was she felt. If indeed she ever felt anything.
Nevertheless, he got back down and wrote that he did not want to be separated from Ebiere. It contradicted his second request, but he didn’t care. It was very kamikaze, since only one of his final two requests could logically be fulfilled, or even none. But he wrapped it, went to the platform and dropped it in one of the boxes.
The day after that, he watched as the numerous boxes rose up to the heavens and Heaven in flames after being prayed over. He turned to his left. He saw her standing alone, in the dark. At that moment, Neto had his own camp fire burning within him. He approached her. He made to ensure a most satisfactory goodbye, with a most memorable parting gift. But the rest as they say is history.
Neto got down from the SUV as his eyes ran through the church building. God had granted his second camp request. And his first, too. He hadn’t returned to the country ever since he left. He hadn’t been to the church since that bleak Sunday morning. Basking in the spirit of homecoming, a wave of nostalgic feelings swept through him. The grey clouds still hadn’t ceased, similar to the way they didn’t cease when he got down from the bus five years prior. He had returned then, as well. He said his goodbyes to everyone he could see, to every soul he could salvage. Five years on, on another bleak Sunday morning, none of those faces could be seen. Apparently, everyone had their respective five years to change, to evolve and for some, to conclude.
As the clouds began to drop snippets for the upcoming blockbuster, Neto made it to the spot he and Ebiere last saw before they parted ways. As expected, she was already standing there, her back turned to him. She was facing the same iconic landscape he faced five years prior. The blockbuster loomed even greater; neither he nor Ebiere moved an inch. He remembered how, at that same spot five years ago, she placed her hand on his shoulder and changed everything. The look in her eyes that day could have meant anything. What she said could have meant anything. What they actually meant, Neto still didn’t know. He would never know.
The blockbuster began in earnest. Inevitably, slowly, she finally turned back to face him. The same gap between them as they stood five years ago repeated itself as lightning streaked well above their heads. Lightning could strike the same spot twice, after all. He saw the same look in her eyes. He saw the same hand making it towards his shoulder, but he caught it gently. As he grasped it, lost in her eyes, an avalanche of memories came crashing down; memories of a not-so-distant life that felt like an eternity prior, memories that could never be re-experienced. But he let go.
Slowly, he turned back and made his way to the interior without looking back at her as the blockbuster neared its climax. Nothing had changed. Nothing would.
Written by Clinton Durueke
Published by Great Opara