Photo: A. Elmi
Jesus' Carving (3/6)
By: A. Elmi
24th of November 2022
The afternoon weather was perfect, and I was hopeful that after two fruitless days I’d finally get Maryan to speak. Mum was planning to send her on an errand to the Lidl not fifteen minutes away on Paul Krugerstraat, and I’d decided to offer to join her. I was hoping the warm spring weather would draw couples outside, so that I could gesture at them and move naturally on to the topic of marriage. I was going over the plan, mumbling it to myself, as I inserted one of my keys into the front-door lock of our house. As I made to turn the key, a gigantic hand closed around mine and, treating my hand like a bottle, squeezed the key out of it.
I yelped and whirled around to see a tower of a man. Wrapped in a creased and stained three-piece suit, he squinted down at me through even more stained glasses and forced his cracked lips apart into a grin. A puff of cigarette smoke burst off his clothes as he took another step away from me, my keys clutched tight in his right hand.
‘You must be Sharmaarke’s daughter, Safia,’ he boomed.
I stared at him, unnerved more by the depth of his voice than by his knowledge. ‘How do you know my Aabbo, Father?’ I managed to ask, my voice quavering on the words.
His lips turned down, as if to say he did not know the answer. He twisted sideways to look up and around at our house. ‘Didn’t know my cousin lived this well,’ he muttered to himself. He gave a humph, pivoted away, and marched over to one of the crumpled bushes in our front garden. He dove into the bush and drew out several suitcases that were so swollen with things he grunted and sweated the whole while. I briefly wondered how he’d managed to stow them in there and if he’d had help.
I suddenly felt like Maryan in Grandfather’s garden, rooted in place with stones anchoring my feet to the ground. Although I wanted to move, I couldn’t. There was no way I was leaving this sophisticated burglar with the keys to the house when Grandfather and Maryan were inside. But if I couldn’t leave, I had to do something.
‘What ar—’ I swallowed and cleared my throat, my voice having collapsed into a broken whisper. ‘What are you doing?’ I demanded, my voice firming with each word.
The only sign he’d heard me was a brief pause in his movements. He maintained his silence until he’d arranged the three suitcases in a neat row between us.
‘Where’s your Aabbo?’ he asked, straightening up from the last suitcase and bringing his right hand up and around his head to rub at his broad neck.
‘Why do you ask?’
‘Well,’ he said, shoving me gently aside as he flung a long leg over the suitcase barrier. ‘I’m staying, and I need to have a word with him.’ He drew up by the door, pushed my key back into the lock, and turned it decisively. ‘Now, help your dear Adeer, Uncle, with these suitcases.’
‘Aabbo isn’t here. He’s in Ghana,’ the words tumbled out of my mouth. ‘You’ll have to stay with someone else or go there to visit him.’
He laughed as if he’d heard a very good joke. ‘I can’t go anywhere else,’ he said, swinging the door wide open.
I wanted to look around, search for clues to drive him away, but as if fastened to him by an invisible string my eyes could follow only him. ‘And why’s that?’ I asked.
‘I am here,’ he said simply.
The way he looked at me, like a child pleading for confirmation, made him suddenly appear less dangerous. Relaxing a little, I said more steadily, ‘I can see that.’
‘I have returned,’ he added with an emphasis that indicated this should make more sense. ‘I am here,’ he dragged out his words and hunched over to look me in the eyes, ‘to claim my people.’
I leaned back from his stale, smoky breath and piercing hazel gaze. ‘What people?’
Frowning at me, he stood up straight and dusted down his dirty suit jacket. ‘You may know me as Ciise.’ He brushed past me again to collect a suitcase. ‘But others know me as Isa, Yeshua,’ he began listing, ‘or, my personal favourite, Jesus Christ, the great Lord and Saviour.’
I tore my gaze away and flung it over to the open door, where Maryan stood just behind the doorway. Her face said everything I imagined mine did, and I gestured at her frantically, mouthing Call the police, while Jesus Christ busied himself over the suitcases. Clutching her chest, Maryan lurched backwards a step and spun away like a ballerina. I edged past Jesus and ran after her. But as though she’d been a vision, she was in the house one moment and gone the next, and search as I might, I couldn’t find her anywhere. So, I scrambled into the front room and briefed Grandfather on the situation as coherently as I could.
Grandfather fumbled for his tusbax, prayer beads, and began counting them rapidly with his right thumb. ‘Bring in the imposter. I’ll make him comfortable,’ he said.
It was surprisingly easy to usher Jesus into the room. All I needed to do was signal to him to follow me, and he gave a silly smile and fell in behind me like a lamb behind a Judas goat. As he was lowering his huge body into the armchair beside the sofa where Grandfather sat, I slipped away into the adjoining kitchen and closed the door behind me discreetly. I fell on the landline and punched in a Ghanaian number. While listening to the ringing tone, I winced at the muffled voice of Grandfather issuing biblical challenges to a sputtering Jesus.
An age later, a voice said, ‘Hallow, Hello?’
‘Aabbo!’ I whispered into the receiver. ‘Ii dhegeyso, Listen to me! A man grabbed my keys, entered our house, and won’t leave. He says he’s Jesus, as in the prophet.’
‘What else did he tell you?’ he asked in a calm, unhurried voice.
‘That you’re cousins, and that he’s come for his people.’
‘Mm. Yes, that’s Ciise,’ Dad said. ‘This “Jesus” thing comes from some delusion he developed many, many years ago. It’s seen him sectioned on and off for decades in France. I wouldn’t say he’s dangerous or anything so long as he’s without his pack. You see, he’s amassed quite the following over the years, and whenever they get together, they cause a lot of trouble. When he breaks out, it’s usually to gather his people, his followers.’
‘Should I call the police?’
‘What’s going on?’ Idris tapped my back and wagged his brows at me.
‘Is that your brother?’ Dad asked.
‘Good. Stay together and watch Ciise. Keep him there, and don’t phone the police! Just . . . treat him well while I find a solution together with your Hooyo and your Adeer Long Nose.’