Deep in the cavernous belly of the hospital, the frail old man was dying. Inch by inch, he contorted his body to rest on the side that did not hurt. He also wanted to avoid looking at the empty space where the other man had been; the only companion he had had in as long as he could remember. A few days earlier, he realized his friend was no longer replying. That was when he noticed the open mouth and vacuous eyes staring at something unseen on the ceiling. The smell was not long in coming, invading his space and worsening by the hour. At night, the fumes of decay mixed with the dancing shadows drove him half-crazy and addled what was left of his mind. He saw things. Frightful things. Bat-like demons with three heads and countless eyes zinged across the sterile room causing him to scream silently until dawn. For a week the dead man rotted away. For a week the demons pranced around his head. By the time they took the corpse away, the old man was half-dead himself.
Whenever the nurses deigned to pass by and clean him up, they crossed themselves and hastily kissed their crucifixes. Only a few days ago, a young, pimply faced new nurse had looked at him and screamed “Oh God, how emaciated he is! Why do his bones stick out so? And his leg, why it’s rotted away!” She stared at him, eyes bulging, until the more tactful nurses came and shooed her away. They all hated him. He knew it. He sighed when he saw how their noses crinkled up when they changed his diapers. He heard the well placed whispers about how he wallowed in his own piss and shit like a pig. The new nurses—the only ones without a choice—made a point of handling him as roughly as possible. One of them even asked him quite pointedly: “Mr Gbajabiamila, why don’t you just hurry up and die?”
Mr Gbajabiamila, in those rare moments of clarity afforded him by his cancer-riddled brain, asked the good Lord the same question. You see, Mr Gbajabiamila was a devout Christian. He would turn over painfully, taking care to avoid hurting a spine twisted by years of back-breaking labour, and balance himself on bony elbows. He would then lift his leathery, coal black face to the window, eyes pearly with tears and begin to lament in a wispy, barely audible voice:
“Oh lord, how I’ve suffered. My life has been nothing but pain and suffering. Yet I’ve stuck by you.” He would pitch into a fit of violent coughing. “Why do you forsake me so lord? Come and take me away on angel’s wings as you promised Holy Father. Let me too have my fill of the land flowing with milk and honey.”
And the poor old man would moan and groan in that position for hours.
He repeated those actions every day at the same hour. At the appointed time, the nurses would gather behind the door and watch, whispering to each other in low voices:
“That man has been here for so long, doesn’t he have any family?”
“They say he doesn’t. His wife and four children died in a highway accident years ago when a fuel truck fell on the bus carrying them. All the passengers were roasted to death.”
“Poor man. Well that’s just how things are.”
“Who brought him here anyway?”
“No one knows. They say he just appeared on the steps on the hospital one day and the doctor took pity on him and brought him in.”
“You mean Dr Alabi took somebody in without a bribe? Wonders shall never end!”
“What’s his deal?”
“He has a rare form of cancer that’s eating him out from the inside. I swear if you feel him over when he’s asleep, he’s as hollow as a drum.”
“Ugh, you pervert, why would you touch that disgusting old creep.”
“Well, why doesn’t the old fool hurry up and die? There’s a ton of people waiting outside who need a bed and who can pay. The old man hasn’t paid a dime in all the time he’s been here. Even Dr Alabi is complaining. Haba, hospital is not free.”
“Yes, I have children to feed. They must think we’re Red Cross or something.”
And the conversation would ramble on as Mr Gbajabiamila deplored his fate.
One morning, they sent the newest intern to clean up his excrement; their favourite way of breaking in new blood. The disgusted adolescent shoved Mr. Gbajabiamila this way and that. His stiff body was difficult to move and she could not reach the crusty brown mess that caked his diapers. His vacant eyes stared at the ceiling; his mouth, one black unending cavern. Not until a maggot slithered out his mouth and glared at her as if daring her to scream did it dawn on her. She screamed.
Mr Gbajabiamila was dead.
Mr Gbajabiamila’s ears came alive long before his eyes. They caught the melody of exquisite harp music. Never in his entire miserable life had he heard music so gladdening, so wonderful. The music was honey flowing through his bones. He had the splendid feeling of his body wrapped in something like cotton wool; he was floating on a cloud. May I never wake up from this wonderful dream, he thought. When he finally dared open his eyes, the sight before him was more awe-inspiring than anything his unconscious mind could have dreamed up. He drifted among soft, bluish-white clouds in a vast expanse of space. The cloud he lay on conveyed him lazily towards the largest pair of gates he had ever seen—if they could be called gates. They resembled two enormous mountains crafted out of solid gold. Precious jewels, the likes and size of which Gbajabiamila had never laid eyes upon were circumscribed along the length of both. From behind the gates came periodic flashes of lightning which lit up the entire expanse. Gbajabiamila got off the cloud and fell to his knees on the fine, feathery floor. Tears streaked down his cheeks and he clasped his hands in reverence. In this position, he crawled towards the pearly gates, one knee at a time, mumbling and crying in worship.
A few feet from the gate, a great shout of exultation rent the air and the tallest, most handsome man he had ever seen descended majestically on a cloud from which occasional flashes of lightning burst forth. The man’s diamond eyes darted flames. His face shone like bronze burnished a thousand times over and his silky hair flowed like a halo above his head. The robes draped over his body seemed to be of the purest wool; pure and blemish free. When his jewel-encrusted feet touched the ground, their radiance could be seen for miles. Such beauty contrasted sharply against Gbajabiamila’s blackness.
“Holy, holy, holy,” Gbajabiamila muttered over and over again. “What beauty, what wonder, oh Lord, I knew that thou wouldst never forsake me. Ah, Ah blessed Gbajabiamila, your sorrows are at an end. You did not serve in vain.” He would have continued mumbling had not the angel boomed out:
“Yes lord! Yes sweet lord!” He crawled like a leper and prostrated himself at the angel’s feet, kissing them tentatively. A shadow of a sneer marred the angel’s lovely face.
“That will not be necessary,” he said. “Rise!”
Gbajabiamila rose and straightened out his back before setting himself in position as if he intended to spring through the gates.
“Let us proceed,” continued the angel. “We must be sure you are cleared to enter.”
A smug smile established itself on Gbajabiamila’s face as a show-reel of the sufferings he had endured on earth rushed through his mind. Years and years of devotion in spite of the agonies and yet I stuck fast. Yes, yes, I held steady and now I shall be richly rewarded. In his reverie, he missed what the angel was saying to him. “Forgive me master, my mind wandered for a moment, please repeat.”
“I said, I shall have your passport.”
“My, my, pass…passport?”
“Yes your passport,” the Angel replied with a weary look as if talking to a deaf child.
Gbajabiamila felt the first drops of cold sweat gathering on his forehead. It briefly crossed his mind what an odd request that was. In his confusion, he saw the edge of something green sticking out of his loincloth. He grabbed at it and whisked it out. To his utter joy and amazement, it was a passport. He handed it to the angel.
The angel opened the passport and slowly perused its pages. A frown etched itself ever deeper in his fine forehead as he turned each page.
Gbajabiamila’s smug smile had reappeared and now split his face from ear to ear.
The angel looked up from the booklet and glared at Gbajabiamila. “I don’t see a visa here,” he boomed and thunderclouds began to form in the expanse.
The smile vanished from Gbajabiamila’s face. Rivulets of sweat coursed down his back.
It was the angel’s turn to smile. “My friend, I said where is your visa. Did you think you would enter this holy ground without one?”
“But…but what? So you think this is your godforsaken country without any rules.” His voice rose ten notches. The expanse rolled and boiled, greying at an astonishing speed. The clouds blackened and the lightning multiplied in size until it became positively terrifying.
When Gbajabiamila finally spoke, his voice came out as a squeak:
“But I didn’t imagine…I didn’t think heaven was…”
“That, my friend, is the problem with you and your kind. You never think. Amin! Mobutu!” Out of the now blackened sky, two hideous roasted gargoyles materialized on a flaming chariot.
Gbajabiamila fell down in a daze.
“Take him away!”
Gbajabiamila could already feel the searing heat from hell consuming his insides as they ferried him off. In his dazed state, he fancied he could hear the shrieking of his long dead wife. He fainted again.
That was the end of Solomon Gbajabiamila.
Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Eviano George is an ESL teacher somewhere in the vast wilderness that is the Mexican countryside. He has unhealthy obsession with learning new stuff; He is a bit of a jack-of-all trades and competent in a few--the poor man's Leonardo da Vinci, or so he likes to think. Fiction happens to be the latest in a long line of obsessions.
Located in Oaxaca, Mexico.