And so Black continued to live with the priest whose name was Duba. Black soon became the right-hand boy of the priest whom he always accompanied to various religious gatherings and crusades. Throughout his moments with the man of God, Black had attended numerous revival meetings in various parts of the state. He had witnessed first-hand, among the various deliverance services, members of fundamentalist churches speak in tongues, and he had seen apparent cripples cast away their crutches or rise from wheelchairs tap-dance. On one occasion he had witnessed a blind man claim to have received his sight. There was a time when he had seen a woman scream and roll on the floor as one barefoot man dressed in a white gown continue to beat the unfortunate woman with a Bible and shouting ‘Loose!’ on her over and over like a parrot that knew only one phrase. Young and apparently naïve Black never believed any of the supposed miracles and deliverances, but his guardian, Priest Duba, didn’t share in his profanity. Many times, due to his credibility gap, the priest had given him different soubriquets for an unbeliever; a doubting Thomas, the boy from Missouri, a waverer and a flibbertygibbet. But the boy could not help his dubiety in that section of religion phenomenon. He could just not bring himself to believe that a cripple with twisted limbs would suddenly rise up and walk, no matter how convincing it might be, or that someone without sight for a long time would suddenly regain his vision. To Black, everything was a clever show of legerdemain; not much unlike the sleigh of a magician’s hand. Black strongly believed that all these wonders had always been orchestrated by an experienced preacher who was vast in all the buzzwords and phrases to lash his pathetic audience to a religious frenzy. And when it came to ‘deliverance’ they would perform the stance of a hypnotist on their chosen victims and thus bamboozle the crowd with their fraudulence. He pitied Priest Duba for being a believer of this religious hocus pocus.
Just in the same vein, the priest pitied the young boy for being an unbeliever. If only the boy could read the handwriting on the walls. The Lord had been so good to him; He had brought him out of the darkness into the light. If not anything, at least his life had been saved many times. And most of all, he was no longer a pilferer; thievery had been totally wiped off his personality. Just two nights ago, Black had come across the priest’s misplaced coin and had returned the money to its owner. The priest had not even discovered the coin missing until the boy placed it on his palm. It was almost hard to believe that this was the same boy who had stolen loaves of bread to stay alive. But despite Black’s unbelieving nature in the branch of theology, Duba still remained optimistic about the possibilty of the boy’s faithfulness in Christ. There was no doubt that the boy was going to grow up to become a very great person. One of the priest’s priests had prohesied fame in the boy’s life; but how the boy would achieve that popularity was not revealed. And Priest Duba had sworn to protect Black and help him to accomplish that greatness.
Black lived with Priest Duba for the next two years until the old man died.
Priest Duba had been battling with leukemia for over a decade. He never thought the disease would claim his life anytime soon because he had learnt to live with it. It got to a time when he believed he had been miraculously healed by God because he could no longer feel the pain of the infection. Besides, he never thought he would die now when he had an obligation to protect the child with him and help him become famous. But when he had suddenly slumped over his meal and woke up in a medical centre; the doctors had bluntly told him, at his insistence, that he had only forty-eight hours to live. But the doctors had been wrong, Priest Duba died in thirty-six hours.
All through the time he was bedridden and when he gave his final breath, Black had stayed with him. For once, the young boy prayed to the God he never believed existed. He prayed that God, if He really existed, should spare the life of the priest. But Black’s prayer was not answered. The few minutes before his death, Priest Duba had spoken to Black.
“I pray for you everyday,” The old man had whispered painfully, “I always pray that you find peace. I always pray you be successful in everything you do.”
Black was short of words; he knew of no reply to give the priest’s confession. All he could bring himself to say was, “Thank you, Pa. Now you need to rest. You have to conserve your strength. You don’t have to say anything now.”
Duba gave a brief but faint smile; a smile borne of pain and compassion for the poor little boy. “Soon, I’ll be having all the rests I need.”
Two years of living with the priest and relating with other humans had rubbed well on Black. He was now mature enough to understand what the priest had just said.
“Stop talking like that,” Black cautioned.
“Peter, I want you to listen very carefully to me. There is no denying the fact that my end is already imminent. My own life has ended but yours is just starting. You have a whole lot of opportunities ahead of you. The world out there is filled with only two kinds of people: the good and the bad. The bad ones outnumber the good by a hundred to one. What kind of person would you like to be categorised? You have to carve a life for yourself. Plan a good living for yourself; nobody is going to plan your future for you. The totem of your destiny lies on your palm. Don’t waste time harbouring hatred. Don’t spend your life seeking revenge; all these vices will only keep you many steps away from the good things you deserve. Give up revenge from your heart, let God be the judge of every circumstance. Let God decide the fate of the chief who destroyed your family. Spend your time doing better and more glorious things.” The priest suddenly reared his head up from the bed and stared into Black’s eyes as he said, “Promise me you won’t seek revenge. Promise me, Peter, promise me now!”
But Black was tongue-tied; he wanted to promise the man but he could not. The priest had been very kind to him; he had accepted him when the world rejected him. The old man had clothed and fed and put him in a school; he deserved to be promised, but Peter could not grant that promise. Giving up revenge was an impossible request. Chief Salami had taken everything that belonged to him, and part of his mission was to avenge his parents’ deaths on him. Black had already promised his mother that he would take back all that was taken from them. He would have granted the promise to the priest if he had not promised his mother already. Chief Salami deserved to pay for all what he had done.
“No, Pa, I’m sorry, I can’t. Chief Salami killed my parents. I can’t just let him go. I’m sorry, Pa, I can’t promise you.”
Having said those words, Black noticed the immediate change in the man’s countenance. He saw the mixture of disappointment and pity in the man’s eyes. Black felt sorry for the man as much as the priest felt for him.
A minute later, the priest gave his last word and gave up the ghost.
“Thank you for being a part of my life.” Duba said as he died.
Hot salty tears rushed down Black’s eyes as he watched the priest’s corpse. The unseeing eyes still carried the expression of disappointment it had borne before the mortal end. The nurses and doctors came around to resurrect the deceased.
As the priest’s chest was being pumped and punched, Black nursed a tiny hope that the old man would return to life, but resurrection was unfortunately not to be. Priest Duba had embarked on a journey of no return. The doctors gave up their efforts and covered the corpse with a white sheet. As he walked out of the hospital, Black returned the priest’s last statement:
“Thank you for being a part of my life.”
The twelve-year-old boy was there when Priest Duba was being buried. He gathered a handful of the loose earth and poured it on the coffin placed in the dug grave, then he said his final farewell to his deceased saviour.
A week after the burial, the priest apartment was ordered shut down by the church headquarters in Lagos. And because no one among the priest’s colleagues knew about the relationship between Duba and the young boy, Black was sent packing from the quarters.
And so Peter Black, the boy that was saved, the boy who was said to have a bright future, the boy who would become famous, was back on the streets.