Chapter 4: The Rituals and Beyond…


….How God showed up in my darkest hour

When the pastor left, Johnbull and his mother settled down to wait. It wasn’t noon yet, but the day was already busy and the noise outside was becoming deafening. The winds blew, throwing up dust as the clouds slowly turned grey.  Vehicles tapped their horns repeatedly as taxi drivers drove recklessly. From the makeshift curtains protecting the only window in the pastor’s house, Johnbull peered outside in time to see a driver swerved sharply almost knocking down a child who wanted to cross the dusty road without looking.  Thereafter, he relapsed back into the hard chair the pastor provided and tried to relax.

His mother was on the phone talking to her other children one after the other and hardly noticed Johnbull had dozed off–and began to dream of the past. In a flash, he saw himself way back when he finished school and first came to Lagos. He saw all the prodigious efforts he put in until he got married. He remembered when he enrolled to do his Master’s Degree in 1988. He was then living in Ikeja from where he drove to take his lectures at the prime University of Lagos. The course progressed smoothly until his only car—a Volkswagen beetle — was stolen.

That forced him to drop out from school because he was unable to cope with the long distance. Well, looking back now, that was the point Johnbull first made his big mistake. Had he the foresight, he would have braved the odds and continued. By dropping out, Johnbull was now technically diverted from one of his goals of becoming a professor. Instead, he went full-scale into business—which wasn’t his fort, and paid dearly for it. But two years later, providence smiled on him and he bought another car, and this time a small Honda sedan.

Of course this was mere consolation; as a talented young man, he could have bought bigger and better cars had he graduated at that time as a Master’s Degree holder. It would take another decade to come before he would eventually attempt another course to obtain his Masters. That wasn’t his destiny! Well, as time progressed, he eventually got married after meeting his old time school girlfriend. Johnbull was happy when he proposed and the young lady whose name was Destiny accepted. The fact that they had been separated for a couple of years previously did not ring a bell in Johnbull’s ears. Johnbull did not even seek advice—neither went for counselling.

This was to be another big mistake. Had he sought advice, there was no way he would have married Destiny. Both of them claimed to be Catholics but never attended weekly or Sunday service. They never prayed about such a crucial life journey which proved costly. True, some people who tried it may have been lucky, but not Johnbull. By May 1992, they were married in a glitzy ceremony attended by prominent men and women from all walks of life. Marriage always attracts dignitaries from all works of life. After the honeymoon which lasted for two weeks, they decided to return to Lagos.

On the way, few miles from the famous Ore town, along the Benin-Shagamu expressway, Johnbull’s car suddenly broke down—the engine had knocked! Man! What a disaster! What a way to start life. Johnbull’s heart melted when it was confirmed that the car had to be towed to Lagos. He pranced up and down, opened the bonnet of the car, closed it and opened again. He was confused and shaken. His newly married wife was dazed and rooted to a spot. At a point, she screamed at Johnbull to act fast to avoid the unexpected. Luckily, at that time, the Benin-Ore-Shagamu road was safe and bereft of criminals. As they stood there wondering what to do, a rickety towing van appeared.

They negotiated successfully and within minutes, were on their way to Lagos—in the towing van! This was bad luck pure and simple! How could you start your marriage in such cruel situation? That was the signal of worse things to come. By now, Johnbull was snoring; it was obvious he was in a deep sleep. The pastor was still not back and Johbull’s mother was relaxed and sat quietly on one corner of the only bed in the room praying. The towing van arrived Lagos late in the night at about 8pm leaving Johnbull and his spouse exhausted. The next day, a new engine was bought and the car was back to life.

Time raced and Johnbull worked hard to provide comfort for the new family; but the odds were stacked against him. Ironically, Johnbull did not improve on his spiritual connections to God; he worked only by the strength of his wisdom and understanding. That again proved bad because what confronted him was by far bigger than him; he was up against some sort of strange force; it was like an invincible hand shielded him away from good things; he couldn’t see it, but it was there!  By this time, he had veered into communications and was doing Public Relations job for clients.

The clients came and left but the money never materialized—only in trickles. He was earning peanuts which was barely enough to feed and nothing else. This state of life continued until he went unto partnership with some of his old school mates. The partnership did produce a new car—a straight engine Mercedes Benz. Here again, Johnbull did not act wisely; a man starting life ought to make shelter one of his key priorities; what was he doing with cars anyway?  If he had bought a piece of landed property, no one would have detected much less attract envy; for envy was the cause of the problems that followed.  Johnbull’s marriage was only one and half years old when his wife packed out of their matrimonial home.

There had been a small quarrel; it was actually about money and because Johnbull couldn’t handle it—a lot had piled up before then– he thought his wife would calm down; but she did not and without warning, secured a big 911 lorry, loaded her belongings and left. This was another heavy blow to Johnbull, who, for three days, couldn’t step out of his house. His neighbors trooped in to console him, but Johnbull knew they were only there to ascertain if indeed his wife had packed out—and then the usual secret laughter would follow. Fate! If only men knew what the next day holds for them, they may have been more careful.

Exactly one month after the marriage breakdown, fight broke out between Johnbull and his business partners. They raided his office when he was out and grabbed the air conditioner in the office and yanked the telephone cord out! This was absolutely uncalled for. When Johnbull heard, he was stunned and once again broke down, depressed. Mercifully, he held himself and picked up the bits and pieces. What would make two good friends to suddenly quarrel to the point of parting ways? To Johnbull, this was yet another mystery—unexplained. Up to this time, the thought had not dropped on him to go for spiritual consultation.

He was still relying on his brute force and energy to see things through. This was another mistake. Clearly missing in Johnbull’s life was wise counselling. There was no one to advice or support him with prayers. He was again removed from his parents who ought to have played greater role in his maturity stage. All that is in the past anyway. The more the misfortunes, the more forceful Johnbull threw himself into job searching. He never returned home before midnight each day. What ought to have baffled him was that he had the “connections” to attract “deals”. So, why was none working? After the bitter separation from his so called friends, Johnbull tried his hands in other things. Very resourceful and unyielding, Johnbull succeeded in writing a book for one of his highly placed friends named Alhai Shahu Masa, who at the time was head of a lucrative government agency.

When the first copies were printed, Johnbull announced the project to a supposed close friend, a former colleague, who visited him in his scrappy one room Surulere office, somewhere in Adeniran Ogunsanya Street, Lagos. Unknown to Johnbull, the success of producing that book angered his so called “friend”, who, on leaving his office went straight to the recipient of the book and soiled Johnbull’s character! The fellow by the name Mr. Lateef Gbadamasi lied to the recipient that Johnbull was using the book to extort money from unsuspecting people—a very big and wicked lie! The very next day, the recipient called Johnbull and distanced himself from whatever he was doing for him and told him to forget it!

That was how another brilliant project was destroyed. Remember now that there exists a parable that says where there is no result, failure occurs! Still Johnbull was not deterred. He moved on and this time circulated among his friends in the military circles. Two of them, Generals Banaya and Mbanefa were very kind to him. That’s what God does to his children; He won’t leave them entirely empty! Johnbull would come to know in later years that God indeed make ways in the Atlantic Ocean and create paths in the ordinary Seas! They received him warmly each time he visits and left with some “handouts”. All the while the relationship lasted, it never occurred to Johnbull to ask for anything substantial. This was another strange mystery; perhaps Johnbull’s upbringing contributed a lot to his demeanor—he was to honest and straight forward.

He did not know how to tell lies and so did not occur to him to “create” stories for pecuniary gains. It was though his mouth was shut whenever he visits until his friends lost their positions. By now, Johnbull had met another lady and life was not as harsh as the first odyssey. They got married in a low key ceremony and stayed that way. Johnbull began to experience blissful marital life and he craved for financial success to put icing on the cake. He worked hard and struggled. Somehow, that cloud of limitation still surrounded him. Frustrations were rife and so were the setbacks. It would seem when Johnbull was on the cusp of breakthrough, something pops up to stop it. That was the manner life continued. Johnbull couldn’t figure out what was happening. The type of friends he had were not the church going type.

They smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol frequently. They call it “chilling” out. Rather than go to church, they would hang out in beer parlors to “cool down”. That was the way things played out and some say that was where they exchanged ideas to work on. One Saturday morning, Johnbull washed his car, a Volkswagen Jetta thoroughly; as he did so, the car suddenly rolled back and knocked Johnbull down. As God would have it, Johnbull fell into a gutter while the car rested above him. What a narrow escape!  This thought was so real and fearful, Johnbull felt so hot and suddenly opened his eyes; at that moment, the pastor walked in.

‘Oh, you have been sleeping’, he joked at Johnbull.

‘I just took a nap’, Johnbull replied.

‘Alright, let’s go to work; you would read these three Psalms into this water and then follow my instructions’, he told him

‘I will mix this water with 7 bags of small salt and two bottles of anointing oil’, he told Johnbull

‘Why? For only me?’, Johnbull asked, raising his voice.

‘Your problem too much, na your papa people caused your problem’

‘Truly? What are you going to do to help me?’, fearful Johnbull asked.

‘You will bath with this salt and olive oil and then sponge yourself make enemy hands commot’, the pastor said.

‘This thing go work?’, Johnbull asked, his voice hoarse.

‘Yes, it will work’, replied the pastor, saying that the enemy hands were too much on John bull.

‘Oya, go and bath my pikin’, Johnbull’s mother interfered, cursing those behind her son’s travail.

‘How will somebody be doing business and won’t see result?’ she questioned.

Nevertheless, the pastor led Johnbull to the back of his house to a scrappy bathroom, hedged between some banana tree, where he mixed the bags of salt and olive oil into the plastic bucket of water. Then, using walking stick he picked from his altar, he read a portion in the Bible which says “make haste Lord to come and help us!” With that, he pushed the bucket of water to Johnbull’s corner, who was already standing naked.

‘Look into the water and tell God what you want him to do for you’, he said and left.

Alone, in the makeshift bathroom held together by zincs, Johnbull gazed at the bucket of water filled with bags of salt and shivered. He did not notice a white pigeon that had perched a little above him also gazing at him!