It wasn’t up to two minutes Chima Ikeji brought down his steaming pot of jollof rice from the fire that he heard his old, rickety wooden gate creak grudgingly open on its rusted hinges.
He turned around sharply. A wiry, middle-aged man whose thin neck stuck out of his shoulders, stood before him, one hand on the rickety, wooden gate, the other in the pocket of his faded, almost thread-bare pair of jean trousers and a sly grin plastered on his leathery, weather-beaten face.
“Ehe?”,Chima barked. “Who are you?”
The wiry man’s gaze travelled from Chima’s bleak face to the pot on the ground between his legs and back to Chima’s face. His grin widened. Deliberately, he detached his hand from the creaky, wooden gate, removed the other from the pocket of his faded jean trouser and advanced a few paces closer.
“I’m a messenger”, the wiry, middle-aged visitor quipped. “And I bring you good news”, he concluded, then grinned the more.
Chima Ikeji glared bleakly at the wiry visitor for a moment or two, his expression very bleak. He glanced furtively to his left and then to his right as if searching for something, anything with which to drive away the wiry, middle-aged man with the leathery, weather-beaten face.
“I say, I bring you good news”, the wiry, middle-aged visitor repeated.
“What news is better than this one inside this pot?”, Chima retorted, almost impatiently. The wiry man’s grin widened the more, like that of someone privy to an unusual secret and revealed the gaps in his upper dentition, where two fore teeth had been.
Then, the wiry, middle-aged man dipped his right hand into his trouser pocket and began to rummage through the pocket, his gaze fixed unwaveringly at the pot of jollof rice at Chima’s feet while Chima’s gaze never left the wiry man’s rummaging hand, thrust deep into his pocket.
Finally, the wiry, thin-necked man slowly pulled his hand out of his pocket with a flourish and in his hand was a crumpled piece of writing paper folded into quarters.
“Take”, the man said to Chima as he extended the folded piece of paper towards Chima.
Chima Ikeji glared at the wiry, middle-aged visitor before him, at the folded piece of writing paper the visitor extended towards him and back at the man’s leathery, weather-beaten face.
“What is that?”, Chima barked.
“Take it first”, the wiry man insisted, as beads of sweat formed on his leathery, weather-beaten face. Again, his gaze travelled to the pot at Chima’s feet and his grin grew wider.
As the wiry man’s grin grew wider, Chima’s expression grew darker, bleaker, almost despicable. His gaze solely travelled from the wiry visitor’s balding head down to his toes. For the first time, Chima Ikeji really noticed the wiry man’s torn, over-sized rubber sandals and a muscle on his chin, close to his bridge work began to twitch.
“What sort of problem is this?”, Chima hollered to no one in particular.
“It’s not a problem”, the wiry man replied.
“You walk into my house, you refuse to say who you are, you say you brought me good news and you’re now offering me an ordinary piece of paper”, Chima ranted, his voice quivered with latent anger.
The wiry visitor merely stood there and grinned. Then, his gaze darted to Chima’s pot of jollof rice and suddenly, just as twilight fades into darkness, the man’s grin faded, disappeared from his leathery, weather-beaten face and his countenance became serious, almost taut, the piece of paper still extended towards Chima.
“Mr. Chima Ikeji, you call this an ordinary piece of paper?”, the wiry visitor queried, his tone almost sounded sad. Chima peered at him and swallowed hard.
“How did you know my name?”, Chima asked him, suspiciously.
“I told you I’m a messenger and I brought you good news and you didn’t believe me”, the wiry visitor with the leathery, weather-beaten face replied in a low, almost hoarse voice. “Take this paper, Mr. Chima and it will change your life for life”, he concluded.
Chima stared at the wiry visitor for an uneasy moment or two and then launched into a long, mirthless laughter that sounded more like the howl of a Hyena. He stopped laughing and jabbed a finger at the folded piece of paper in the wiry visitor’s hand.
“You mean, this ordinary piece of writing paper will change my life?”, Chima asked the visitor, a sly, almost mocking grin on his face.
“Yes, for life”.
“Take the paper first”, the visitor retorted and his gaze darted from Chima’s face to the pot on the floor and back to Chima’s face.
The sly grin disappeared from Chima’s face as his gaze travelled from the wiry visitor’s face to the folded piece of paper in his hand and back to the visitor’s face.
Slowly, his movement deliberate, Chima Ikeji extended his right hand and retrieved the piece of folded paper in the visitor’s hand and slowly unfolded the piece of paper, as if he expected the piece of paper to explode in his face, while the wiry, middle-aged visitor stared fixedly at the pot of jollof rice sitting by Chima’s feet.
Chima Ikeji unfolded the crumpled piece of writing paper and to his chagrin, found scrawled on the paper, like where the chicken scratched the face of the earth, three odd numbers:1 ,5 , 7.
Slowly, Chima lifted his gaze from the piece of paper in his hands, the muscles on his cheeks twitched and the vein on his temple pulsated. Then, his eyelids narrowed and this gave him the expression of deep, latent anger.
“What is this?”, Chima hollered impatiently, almost angrily.
“What sort of useless and senseless message is this?”, Chima exploded.
“Mr. Chima, this message is neither useless nor senseless”, the wiry, middle-aged visitor said and looked like he had been offended by Chima’s last statement. Then, just like it disappeared, the grin returned to his face.
“It will change your life”, the wiry visitor continued. “Only if you do what I tell you to do”, he concluded.
Chima Ikeji stared speechlessly at the wiry, middle-aged man for a brief moment or two, which seemed like eternity to the visitor. Then, he flexed his fingers like he wanted to squeeze the piece of paper and stopped. He then glared angrily at the wiry visitor who appeared to have stiffened, but somehow managed to leave the grin planted on his face.
“If not for God, I would have squeezed this rubbish and thrown it into this fire”, Chima blurted angrily.
“Now, you call this rubbish?”, the wiry visitor queried.
Chima Ikeji hurriedly folded the piece of paper and offered it to the wiry, middle-aged visitor with the leathery, weather-beaten face and the torn, over-sized rubber sandals. The wiry visitor merely stared back at the folded piece of paper being given back to him and shook his head ruefully.
“Mr. Chima, many people are still waiting for the Messiah to come”, the wiry visitor began. “But, Jesus has come and gone back over two thousand years ago”, he concluded, calmly, the grin still planted on his weather-beaten face.
“People are still waiting for His second coming”, Chima replied.
“This is His second coming for you”, the wiry visitor said. With a flourish, he gestured at the piece of paper still in Chima’s extended hand. “I’m still telling you, it will change your life for life”.
Chima Ikeji heaved a deep sigh, glanced at the piece of paper in the hand he extended to the wiry visitor. Slowly, he withdrew his hand, unfolded the piece of paper and studied it again, as if he wanted to make sure the Messiah that would change his life, was truly inside the piece of paper. He heaved another deep sigh and then folded his arm around his chest.
“Why is it my own life this message will change for life and not yours or your brother’s?”, Chima asked him and his gaze curiously never left the wiry visitor’s face.
“I am a messenger and it’s whoever they send me to meet, I meet and where ever they send me to go, I go”, the wiry visitor explained, calmly.
“Who are they?”, Chima asked, puzzled.
“You won’t understand, Mr. Chima”, the visitor replied and grinned widely, almost mischievously. “It’s just to do what I tell you to do and your life will change for life”, the visitor concluded.
“Don’t you have chair in this house?”, the wiry visitor with the leathery, weather-beaten face asked.
“I do”, Chima replied.
“Bring it first”, the visitor cajoled him. “I bring you good news from a distant place”, he concluded.
Chima Ikeji peered at the wiry, middle-aged visitor with the leathery, weather-beaten face and torn, over-sized rubber sandals for a moment or two, as if he wondered if the visitor was nuts or not. Then, he turned around to leave and stopped suddenly, his gaze focused on his pot of jollof rice.
The wiry, middle-aged visitor still stood rooted at the same spot, his own gaze darted momentarily to the pot of jollof rice too. He grinned from cheek to cheek.
“Mr. Chima, go and bring the chair”, the wiry visitor urged him. “Nothing will happen to your pot of jollof rice”.
Chima stiffened and then swallowed hard, his gaze still fixed on the visitor’s face.
“How did you know it’s jollof rice?”, Chima stiffly queried him, the muscle on his face, taut and a slight quiver in his voice.
“Mr. Chima, I told you I am a messenger”.
Chima Ikeji stared briefly at the wiry visitor with disbelief and left to bring a chair for the visitor.