To Live Again

Nathan picked up his phone, calling Uche.

“Have you seen the mail from Pritzker?”

“Which Pritzker?” Uche sounded sleepy. Nathan asked Uche to look through the firm’s email, and Uche doing so, shouted “Wow! This feels like I am dreaming. But are you sure it’s not a scam?”

“I looked through their website, we are on the nomination list.”

“Let’s plan to attend then.”

The Haifa airport, Israel, welcomed Nathan with a burst of bright sunlight and warm air. From afar, domes rose in historic magnificence against a backdrop of mountains and arid land. A travel guide holding a paper with Nathan and Uche’s name written, welcomed them with a bow.
He spoke English heavily accented with Hebrew. “This way.” He led them to a car which would take them to their hotel. “You are welcome to Israel. We have so many things here for you to see. If you would like to see the zoos, markets and other fun places after your conference, just let me know.”

Nathan and Uche said they would.

The taxi driver breezed into the street filled with people dressed in both native Jewish and Western ways. White buildings from thick stone walls came into full view as they drove into Tel Aviv. Pots of flowers were perched at balconies and windows of homes, and in rapid bustle of city life, the people sometimes armed with guns, moved around in sheruts or private cars. At a
beach, people dressed in swimsuits, played football by the shore, while some others swam and surfed.

“Tel Aviv is completely different from Jerusalem.” The driver commented, pulling into Ben Gurion Boulevard. He parked by the hotel Nathan and Uche had booked for while in Nigeria. “Tel Aviv is where the fun is. Jerusalem is for solemn times. You should visit Jerusalem this Easter season though; it’ll be pretty much a worthwhile trip.”

Thanking the driver, Nathan and Uche handed him some shekel and continued into the hotel and checked into their separate rooms. Nathan settled his travelling bag by a chair, and the other containing his laptop on a study table. Moving to the window that overlooked the city, Nathan marveled at the beauty of Israel. Since studying the history of architecture in school, he’d always loved the plainness, streamlined aesthetics and straightforward simplicity of the
Bauhaus Design―a theme that rang through Israel.

Lying on his bed, Nathan replied some messages on WhatsApp and called Becky. He had last heard from her three days before leaving Nigeria. “Since you won’t call me, I’ve decided to be the good friend who calls.”

“I have no words for you. Are you in Israel now? How are you preparing for the award
ceremony tomorrow?”

Nathan told her he was tensed but trying to keep calm. “I hope we bring the award home.”

“You will, just relax.” They discussed where he’d be seeing during the trip and Becky asked that he snapped plenty pictures, so she’d look through when he arrived.

Ending the phone call, the stories Nathan’s mother told him of the people of Israel while growing up, came to mind:

“When they followed God, they had victory, and when they did not, they lost woefully to their enemies.” She’d explain to him, animating with her hands, telling him of how the Israelites had left slavery in Egypt to possess the land of Canaan. She’d tell him of how they served other gods despite God’s goodness to them. Through their stay in the desert for forty years, God had fed them with manna and had made sure they never got sick, but they’d turned their backs on God. “They broke the Ten Commandments, and other laws given to them.”

Nathan drew himself to the present, dismissing the thoughts, as well as the pain of his mother’s loss; he had the award ceremony to prepare for, and would love to move around the city later in the evening.

Nathan slept a while and awoke at six in the evening. Admiring the graffiti art on some streets which was still lively as the city of Lagos at nine PM, he strolled with Uche, visiting restaurants and ordering native Jewish dish―falafel, hummus, and couscous. When Uche returned to the hotel, he went to a pub to drink wine before retiring himself.

The award ceremony came with a breeze of events―meeting people, exchanging contacts and finally, granting awards. Nathan fiddled within, dressed in a black tuxedo, hands clasped together to calm himself as the various categories of awards were announced. Nathan and Uche’s names were called alongside several architects from France, Germany and Italy. The
perpetual wait passed, and the architects from Italy were announced the winners. A round of applause and handshakes from other awardees, and the ceremony closed shortly after.

“It’s all good. God is preparing better things for us.” Uche shook hands with Nathan as they took a taxi back to the hotel.

“Sure. It’s good to have been nominated.”

“Maybe we should check out more places before we leave.”

Nathan took his phone to inform their travel guide on the decision. They agreed to visit the Dead Sea and Masada the following day.

Preparing to sleep, Nathan started to think again on the stories his mother told him. She’d bought him a book containing Bible stories and had made him read several of them to her. His favourite had been the David and Goliath story.

He’d scream, reading the scene where David shot a stone into Goliath’s head, swinging his hand in the air. “David must have been very strong, Mummy!”

“No, he wasn’t. God helped him, and that was why he defeated Goliath.” His mother’s eyes would be lit by her smile, and she’d brush her hand against his low-cut hair. “When God helps you, you look strong. So, learn to rely on God and not your strength.”

Nathan replied with an indifferent “hmm.” Studying and topping his class at the St. Finbarr’s college had made him confident in his abilities. He believed anyone could be excellent at whatever it was if they committed themselves to it. David had, killing the lion and bear.

“Nathan, don’t boast in your strength. Boast rather in God.”

“Okay ma.” Nathan said, though he never really agreed to this.

Nathan closed his eyes to sleep. There was no need checking his WhatsApp before he slept because asides his chat with Becky, his other chats were dead―straight to business. He shook his head, concluding his life was just dead and empty. He had no one to share his pain or experience his joy, and deep within, he felt as though he’d been in an empty chase all his life. He had heavy bank accounts, and a good number of properties to his name, but still felt unaccomplished. What was the dissatisfaction in him, the longing for something, someone to complete him, to take away the pain he felt and give him joy? He thought to call Becky but guessed she’d be asleep already. He laid awake, face-up on his bed, and tried to sleep but couldn’t. He sat, trying to shake off the discontent he felt, but made a futile attempt. Tired, he reached for his phone and dialed Becky’s number. “I woke you up, right?”

“It’s fine.” Dull noise shuffled in the background, and she sounded less sleepy, a smile in her voice. “How are you?”

“Not fine.” Nathan explained that he felt troubled. “And it isn’t because I didn’t get the award.”

Seconds passed with neither of them speaking.

“Are you still there, Becky?”

“I am…” A sigh, and a short laugh, then she spoke. “Stop running away from God.”

“I am?”

“You are, Nathan. And I am praying that you return to God―I’ve always been.”

Morning came as easily the night had, and Nathan was off to the Dead Sea. He floated in the water, careful to not dip his head in because of the salt content of the sea―it way too salty. Uche took him pictures from the bank. After floating, he slathered some sand from the bank of the sea, on his body, following the travel guide’s suggestion to try it out. “Are you sure this is
not stupid?”

“Just try it.” The guide laughed, watching. “The sand contains a lot of cosmetic benefits.”

“If you say so.”

Nathan waited a while before washing off the sand. He ran his hand along his leg, feeling his skin. “It feels like a baby’s.”

“I told you.”

Laughter erupted and they set out again for Masada. They stopped by a market and bought some falafel pita. At evening they hiked the snake path to the top of Masada and watched the sun rise at one AM. Then they tramped to the nature reserve of En Gedi, the oasis between the Dead Sea and the Judean desert, snapping pictures of jumping ibexes, blossoming flora and splashing waterfalls. They slept the rest of the morning in camp houses and continued to Jerusalem.

A wave of pain enveloped Nathan as he walked through Tiberias―where Jesus had walked on water―as the tour guide explained; he wanted to tell God how hurt he felt to be an orphan and alone in the world. He wanted to ignore that he was a grown man and cry like a four-year old
boy. Jesus trod here; he had been baptized here in the Jordan river so he must understand what he was going through. From afar, Nathan saw Christian pilgrims march along the Via Dolorosa Memories in celebration of the Good Friday. A small girl and her mother approached Nathan, Uche and the tour guide, and handed each of them a rose. “Red is for love. Jesus died
for you today, many years ago, because He had you in mind.”

“How brilliant.” Uche said, smiling. He thanked the girl for the flower, and they continued to the Mount of Olives.

Memories flashed through Nathan’s mind in quick successions when they arrived the base of the Mount of Olives and stopped by the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus had agonized his impending crucifixion.

His mother had been diagnosed of cancer and was dying. He was in a bus to see an uncle at Victoria Island, and on reaching his gate, the man refused to pick Nathan’s calls. Nathan had begged the gateman to let him in, saying he was family but had been refused.

“If he is your uncle, call him.” The gateman had told Nathan when he fussed telling him he was an Esabamen too.

“Your oga is my late father’s immediate younger brother.”

“I did not say he is not. I can’t just allow you in without instruction to.”

Nathan had squatted, bowed his head and had cried. How worthless was his father’s family! He wouldn’t be surprised if it was his late father’s money they’d used to build their mansions. “May God punish you.” He cursed and called his grandmother who promised to rally around for the little money she could find. The next day however, his mother passed amid the cold, windy rain.

When they reached the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, Nathan leaned by the wall and let out his frustrations and hurt. Uche seemed to notice the war going on within Nathan so he’d stopped to talk since arriving Tiberias. For some minutes nothing came out of Nathan’s mouth, just whimpers―like childly sobs. If God was good, why did he allow bad things happen to goodpeople? “God why?” Nathan hit hard on the wall, as if threatening to pull it down. “God why? Tell me.”

For what seemed like a long time, Nathan heard nothing. Nathan remembered hearing in Church then that God spoke to people―He had better speak to him now because he wouldn’t leave without an answer. “God why? Please tell me! My mum told me every day that you are
loving and kind, but I need to hear from You if You are. ” Nathan cried like a child, seeking his father’s love.

Becky’s round face with cheeks plump as puff pastry floated in his head. Though he hated Church, he admired her joy, her confidence even in the unknown, and couldn’t deny the affinity he had for her. Within, he coveted Uche’s marital success, and wished to someday have a home like Uche’s, but knew Becky would never accept the proposal of a guy who didn’t go to Church. He closed his eyes and cried, wondering why his life should centre around God. Everything he wanted directed him to God. He punched the wall and hot tears streamed down his polo shirt. He so desperately wanted to believe God loved him and was working all things for his good as Uche and Becky said.

I love you with a great love.

Nathan listened again and heard the reassuring voice of God within.

Uche walked up to Nathan, a solemn smile on his face. “God loves you. He really does.” He patted his back and gave him a tight, brotherly hug. “Can I lead you to the Lord?”

The awe of the moment startled Nathan, he wanted to laugh and cry all at the same time. He repeated all that Uche said, believing in his heart and confessing with his mouth, that Jesus was raised on the third day, and that He is Lord. “Congratulations brother. You’re welcome to the family of God.”

Another tight hug, and they returned to their hotel at Tel Aviv.

Three months passed since Nathan’s return from Israel, and he was back in Church, enjoying every bit of his time there. He was getting major contracts and was now considering settling down. He had asked Becky out a month ago, but she hadn’t given a reply. Fiddling, he wondered if he had ruined his chances by staying her friend for too long before expressing his interest. He drove into Becky’s street and picked his phone to call when he reached her gate.
“Are you ready?”

“A minute.” Ten minutes passed and she arrived in a red gown, which made caramel skin glow beneath the amber streetlight. She wore a wavy wig that extended below her shoulder, and she wore more lipstick than she usually did.

Nathan smiled, watching her, and seeing her face twitch in a shy grin, he hoped he would get an affirmative reply tonight. “You look good, stunning even.” His voice caught in his throat. He swallowed. Relaxing, he sang to Johnny Drille’s My Beautiful Love playing on the radio. When he started to sound squeaky at the chorus, Becky laughed and told him he sounded like a woodpecker. “You are throwing jabs at me when I’m trying to be romantic.” Becky chortled in
response, and Nathan admired her cheeks poking out like pumpkin fruits. He told her he liked her dimples and cheeks. “Would you consider it an insult if I called you bumpkin? Like Becky―Pumpkin?”

Becky laughed, shaking her head. “Dry joke.”

“But you’re laughing. Do you know the number of people who pay me for stand-up comedy?”

“Interesting. Tell me something I don’t know.”

They laughed and sang together as Uche drove.

Reaching a restaurant, Nathan parked and opened the door for Becky, taking her hand in his, both their grips, tense. When took their seats, and Becky gave the reply he longed to hear, they eased again to friendship, laughing and eating, Nathan glad he’d started to live again.

16 thoughts on “To Live Again (III)”

  1. Such a beautiful story of how God never gives up on us. He’s always reaching for us, always there in our highs and lows. Thank you for writing this wonderful piece. It was worth every second spent reading.

  2. I was going to skim through, then i saw the details at which you created imaginative pictures of Architecture in Israel, Bauhaus, Tel Aviv, this made me appreciate this even more… Well-done Ra5ma2

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