Laolu stood looking in to the eyes of his heart- Oge and all he felt within himself was contentment, peace and joy. What he felt within was in contrast to what was going on from without.
The country was in chaos and was on the brink of another war. The civil war this time was not because some ethnic group wanted out of the political entity called Nigeria. It was rather the fight for dominance among the two major religions in the country. What had begun as subtle killings by some fanatics in the northern part of the country had spread like a wildfire in a harmattan struck bush with vengeful retaliations of death by other Christians who had now shunned peace talks and decided that their lives were not at the mercy of some herdsmen. What began as a crisis in some part of the north which if attended to and tamed at that point, would have been just one of those crises. But unfortunately nothing was done, everybody felt it was time life repaid life and that peace was no longer a symbol and teaching of either of their religions.
There, began the religious war. Bloodshed was no longer a site that made men cringe. The flow of blood, of life from a man was like the sight of water flowing from a fountain. Christians butchered Muslims; Muslims butchered Christians. It was a terrible sight. Regardless of tribe, people were united as Christians, Muslims or the indifferent.
Laolu knew how bad the situation had become. He belonged to the group who prayed daily that the whole nonsense be ended and normalcy returns. Earlier in the day he had seen a woman who at the mention of her name ‘Christiana’ had had her head chopped off from nowhere. The shock was registered on everybody’s face on the street and soon another war began there, Muslims fighting Christians. The situation was a palpable one in Lagos where tongue and faith met, so much that Laolu’s father had at the earliest signs of an impending strife built a bunker in his house at Ipaja. It was in this bunker that Laolu and his family hid when the war resulted into a raid of houses for people of the opposite religion of the raiders.
However, he wondered how much longer he would survive like that when he knew his heart(Oge) was vulnerable alongside her family who lived in Surulere.
Bracing up, he had set out to meet her and urge her to come with him. To do this, he had carefully avoided the Christians as he was a Muslim and as a way of not being killed by the Muslims either because of his fair complexion and clear English accent, he had held his chaplet in such a way that it was not so visible but was noticeable.
Seeing Oge meant a lot to him that for a long time he was satisfied with just beholding her face and knowing she is safe. His insides burnt with a fiery love that he was not scared would engulf his entire being. They had decided towards the end of 2017 that in early 2018 they would get married. He did not care that their differences was as clear as the moonlight in the blackest night or that the disparity in their faith was the very reason that the country was at war. Oge cared less too. She had loved Laolu for the longest period she had found herself love anybody. Her parents knew him for the gentleman he was since their days as students in the University of Lagos; so all was well with their families blessing their union but their country was at war and that threatened their union.
“Come with me Obi’m” he urged Oge as they settled in the living room.
“My father’s bunker is practically non-existent. Nobody will find us there. When all of this is over, we can get married,” he said with fervency in his voice.
Oge who had been silent all the while looked at him as fear mingled with tears filled her beautiful eyes.
‘I am scared Laolu. My parents are leaving for the east by nightfall and they will be disguised as the traditional people to avoid being attacked by Muslims. I am supposed to go with them but I want to be with you. My father may have approved of you, but he will not approve of me leaving with you”
Laolu’s spirit sank at the thought of never seeing his heart again. He held her close as he thought of what to do. Just then, they heard a noisy uproar across the street and on instinct went to check what was happening from the window. There, they saw a mob chasing a man who as he ran kept shouting “Allahu akbar”. There were two things that may happen at this case, Oge realized, it was either the man dies at the hand of the mob or that the ‘brothers’ of the man will in a zeal to defend their faith and their brother rise up and fight.
As the mob ran past, a thought occurred to Laolu.
“Marry me now Oge”. He said firmly. “The catholic church is not far from here, we can go there and get married”.
Oge looked at him like he was mad. “The church has her processes Laolu. She cannot just join us like that. We are supposed to go through a course…”
Laolu cut her short drawing her even closer to him and cupping her face in his hands said,
“Shhh.. Obi’m you have told me the whole process many times and I think I know it more than you do sef. See, where’s Chidi your younger brother, he can be a witness. Someone may be in the church praying for peace. We will beg that person to also be a witness to our union. Plus we have read a lot and done much study into marriage, have attended so many seminars on it; we love and understand each other and already have the blessings of our parents. So why not? If we go there and they refuse us, I will ring my Imam and see if he can join us or we look for another church.”
Then adding quickly, he said, “Once you are married to me, your father cannot deny me of you again”
Laolu sounded so convincing that Oge became excited at the thought of what he had suggested. Marrying him meant being with him and not having to travel with her parents. So she immediately summoned Chidi and asked him to accompany her to the church without telling him her true intent even as he asked repeatedly on their way.
Unafraid of the danger that lurked outside, the trio made their way to the church.
There, they met the parish priest who sat in silent prayer by the chapel where the tabernacle was. Oge who was familiar with him, tapped him gently and when he looked up, she beheld a deep sadness in his eyes, as if he was on the verge of tears.
“Ogechi how are you?” he greeted her with a sad smile.
“Fine Father” she responded quickly and then without mincing words told him why they had come. He was shocked. On the other side of him was Chidi who looked at his sister in wild astonishment at why they had come to the church.
The priest soon recovered from his shock.
“Why Ogechi?” he asked her.
“Father, the crisis will separate us if we do not do this now. Even though he is a Muslim, we share a deep understanding and love.’ She said with fervor
“He is the young man you always speak about?”
“His faith does not bother you and will not hinder you from practicing yours?”
“It doesn’t Father”
Still troubled by what he perceived in his spirit and unable to say no to a young love united in difference, he proceeded to solemnize their union in the chapel where Chidi and two other women who were praying there were witnesses to.
It was a dire situation the country was in and who knew what may happen in the next minute; and so dire decisions were made.
Just at the moment where they had exchanged the rings Laolu bought from a small shop on their way to the church, and had kissed his bride dressed in jeans and polo, did they hear voices raging outside the church.
Knowing what that meant, the priest who remained calm as if he had been waiting for the moment bid the young couple and their witnesses leave the church through the other hidden gate of the church.
Chidi who knew just where the priest was speaking about called out to his sister and dashed out accompanied by the other women. Laolu tried to get Oge to leave with him, instead she stood urging the priest to go with them.
“we cannot leave him alone Olu’ she said pleadingly.
“Child, I am not alone”. The priest said quietly.
The voices were drawing closer.
“Father please come with us”, she begged again
“I have nowhere to go child. Here is my charge, here is my house. I gave up everything for this. I won’t leave it, not now. You leave here now!” he commanded her.
Dragging her, Laolu left the chapel unaware of his way around the church. Oge who was still crying saw where he was headed and dragged him away from the heart of danger. But it was too late. Someone had seen them and shouted pointing at Laolu –
Scared, they ran faster headed for the gate the priest had told them. As they ran, they were unaware of the foe that lay in wait for them, set with his gun.
Laolu saw him soon enough and stopped his wife Oge. Immediately, the man cursed Laolu whose chaplet was still noticeable, “You Infidel! You come to a church with a Christian girl for what? Ehn? Answer me!”
Hearing no response from either of them, the man pointed his gun at Oge and set his forefinger on the trigger. Seeing what his intent was, Laolu stood in front of his heart just in time as the bullets left the gun hitting him in the chest. He fell at the impact, held by his heart, Oge, who was at this point shaking and crying at the sight of her love dying.
“Obi’m.. My Love.. Olu, please… please” she said in between sobs. They both stared at each other as Laolu who was trying to fight the blackness that was covering him frailly raised his hands to her face. On reflex, Oge bent to kiss his quivering lips. As she did this, the man let out another rain of bullets which hit her from behind, piercing right to the chest. Her face met Laolu’s as the effect of the bullet hit her. There, they quit struggling to live in the world that had murdered their love. There, they who had hitherto being joined in love were now united in death carrying their love with them.
Despite having reported so many deaths during the period, the media could not stop talking about the martyrdom of love as they called it. It became an agenda. They became symbols of what religion was supposed to be – a uniting force of love that should help the country sail through the sea of differences it was swimming in. But no, they had all shunned the gospel of their faith, the gospel of peace and forgiveness and embraced fanaticism depraving themselves of the humanity in their hearts.
The duo had died united in a love that was bound tightly by their shared differences; whereas the country had decided to die in discord tied strongly by an instrument that was for peace but now a harbinger of pain and death. The murdered priest became to the clerics who had advocated for retaliation a cause for self-reprobation and shame; he proved that there were still sane men in a world raving with madness. Their death reawakened the humanity in the populace so that whether it was a Muslim or Christian that was killed; the killers were apprehended and made to face the law.
The government who had done little to stem the tide of the war lost its relevance to the people who became their own government and decided with a fervent zeal to end everything. The Muslims fought hard to root the fanatics among them who had begun the war in the first place while the Christians did the same to those who may still be thirsty for blood.
Oge woke up with a start at the sound of roaring laughter from the living room. The laughter sounded like a roar of the sea, startling her. Waking, she saw how soaked in her sweat she was and then realized she had fallen asleep over the book she was reading – Chinua Achebe’s There was a Country.
Heaving a sigh of relief at everything being just a dream, she knew it was not entirely impossible. She feared for her life and Laolu’s; hoping that religion does not become the thorn in their rosy love. The events were too vivid to be shaken off.
Soon afterwards, her attention was drawn to the small transistor radio that had been on all the while. The voice of the man over the radio was so serious that she listened in –
“Religion is supposed to be the light to men who on their own search for the Light fail, it is supposed to be the upholder of good and the promoter of love, peace and faith not a cause for man’s inhumanity to man. Man cannot fight God’s battles; He is able to fight for His holy name and will raise up men to extol his power. We must shun religious violence and intolerance; nip it in the bud before it blows up in our faces…”
Turning the radio off, she knelt down and prayed for the safety of her life and that of Laolu, for Father Isaac; for peace in troubled places especially Southern Kaduna, for the preservation of the country and that her frightening dream never kiss reality’s cheek.
This story has also been published on http://www.lagosconvo.com