Perfect Day for Banana Soda
The Beggar finds God in the marketplace and gives chase…
“In your light, everything is right!”
A little food for thought is all Marcel hoped for walking into the Marketplace that day — carrying nothing but a pocketful of revolutionary rhetoric. Adults who avoided him like a leper broke ice around fiery oration, amused how a child’s mouth could spit forth words too big for their understanding. Today, however, the sun in the cloudless noon sky was the only oppressor worth cursing out. “Where are these chains, boy?” The street vendor asks holding out naked wrists. “Where are these masters? Shoo! You’ll disturb paying customers!” Sapodillas and breadfruit rot unmolested by human hands — perhaps the flies paid their francs sight unseen and were entitled to their over-ripeness more than he.
The boy’s fruitless harangue continues: “We as inheritors of the black struggle…”
A flying carpet circling the perimeter of the last decaying mosque never breaks its tight orbit. The Beggar used to travel the entire city performing his Whirling Meditations. Now old age has confined him — rendering his decision to sew his prayer rug into a djellaba (tunic) and turn himself into a portable PrayStation an eccentric gesture hardly worth bumping up against blasphemy over. He figured the same principle applied whatever activity level his ailed frail rail of a body could muster: “Prayer was action. God could be found anywhere. The devout shouldn’t need a compass.” Thirsty, The Beggar achieves escape velocity heading toward the Marketplace seeking out a banana soda.
“Kids these days!” An adult grunts.
“Talking down to us like he’s grown!”
“I’d say beat him until the white meat shows but looks like his mama already tried that!”
Laughter accosts The Beggar forcing him to turn toward the crowd gathering to mock an albino child. Shameful sport for the ignorant. Eyes locked with the boy’s grow wet then drown in recognition. This spent firecracker of Man reignites burning away his pseudonym; true name written in the ashes left beneath: Ibrahim.
Marcel hadn’t yet grown to adore his mentor Baba Ibrahim. Every vein in his seven year old body boils over, throbbing hot-blooded humiliation. Standing stupidly. Watching a sick-minded transient crumple to his knees before him. Trembling: “Mashallah! Mashallah!” Anointing bare feet — which it must be said were in far greater need of cocoa butter than slobbering servility — with kisses. Living punchline to the crowd’s jeering question: “You ever seen a black boy blush!?”
Words escape a mouth faster than cowardice can bite the tongue they slide off of. Renewed purpose birthing a dragon in his gut, agitated out of a decades long slumber. “Fatherless fools!” it bellows breathing fire and brimstone into the crowd, “Do you not recognize your own ancestors!? Who offer themselves as blank canvas — weaved by every member of our race raised on cotton fields from conception ’til death — upon which we can paint our own future! Our own light! Who will guide the living and the dead both across Night’s Savannah! Call him by his name! Dam — ”
Alas! The ancestors have fled this Marketplace while Ibrahim’s back was turned. Only their jackals remain. Truth is wasted on these penny-pinching pickpockets who could rob a wise man of all good sense without spending two cents of it toward their own benefit. No. A serpent’s venom kills long after white fangs have been removed. These bourgeois nègres were already delirious in their lethargy and comfort allowing cruelty to set in further. Too far removed from any remedy of days past.
If you wanted to follow God, talk wouldn’t cut it: you had to pray with your feet.
“Even gods get turned around traversing the Deep Dark…”
Lantern inches in front of his nose, Ibrahim could stir ancestral fears of Obayifa — the dreaded firefly vampires of his native Yorubaland — even in apostate passersby wandering that night. Streetlights a distant memory. Main roads to be avoided lest one fall victim to robbers. Few trees still stand to obstruct nevertheless nonexistent vision in what used to be forest outside the city. Judicious government, wielding Lafcadio Mining and Logging Company as its machete, cleared a path for Ibrahim over a century ago. A continent still dripping revolutionary blood footed the bill (principal and interest) for its freedom after colonizing forces died-and-dashed. The cost? A hundred years worth of exported timber.
Ibrahim listens to the sound of the river hoping he’s correctly interpreting its babbling southward.
Some time around 8 or 9 in the morning, a terracotta compound covered in immobile pinwheels greets a weary traveler. Said traveler finds himself climbing uphill loudly damning arthritis to the farthest depths. A pair of adolescent girls ditch their jump ropes twirled akimbo and run inside. The Nun, kindly and handsome enough in her habit, leads Ibrahim into the mess hall. Albino orphans line both sides of a long wooden table; half slurping up Espaghetti with hot dogs while the other half fussily prod mashed corn with their forks. Ghost children. Silly superstitions over “bad omens” clung to cosmopolitan nègres even where Enlightenment had cast out God. Bah! Beautiful pale black faces all! Okay — two or three children, The Nun doubly reassures Ibrahim while he licks the bottom of his porridge bowl, were blessed instead with ‘personality and strong character’.
“Marcel. Yes. He wandered off the week before last insisting ‘word’ must be carried down to the ‘middle-class bourgeoisie’. He hasn’t returned yet but I can show you to his room.”
A twin-size mattress and unfurled white sheet lie on the dirt floor next to little brown sandals nursing a broken strap. Bookshelves — splintered and sagging beneath the weight of Great Men ranging from billy goats Plato and Marx to venerable Brothers Baldwin, Fanon, and Malcolm — surround it on three sides. Any scholar of unsung black history would feel exaltation akin to Ptolemy wandering his Library of Alexander. Cradling a leather-bound volume by an unknown brother titled The African Origin of Civilization: From Kings to Slaves, Ibrahim thinks: Tsk. Tsk. I must introduce the boy to the second sex. Sisters hooks and Hurston to start, perhaps. 7 can never be achieved by 4 alone —
What an ass Ibrahim has been! Saul in Damascus could just as well have fallen off him! Blinded by the light as performatively as that old pious Pharisee…
Never a rain priest according to bloodline, the ruby-red kola nut adorning a divination chain around his neck possessed enough sacred blood to afford Ibrahim great prescience. Greater, even, than his kinfolk to whom gifts of future-sight is birthright. Foresight comes with its own pitfalls. A psychic wandering spiritual deserts foolishly perishes attempting to bask in the shade of an acorn. Whatever destiny Ibrahim saw for the boy, a child simply wants to be acknowledged for who they are in the here-and-now. Neither Holy Ghost nor ghost child. Just a child. Eagerly seeking approval from his elders over his first taste of knowledge. Instead, hot coals had been heaped on the poor boy’s head by disgraceful crowd and flagrant philosopher alike.
Ibrahim makes the return trip to the mosque with his own head hanging in shame.
At the entrance, Marcel waits. God isn’t chased down like some fugitive in the night. Ibrahim speaks:
A brick falls from a pale hand echoing against the cobblestone next to pale feet. Marcel no longer wonders whether the vagrant’s leather bag skin will bleed or split apart dry like a sun-cured tobacco leaf.
Make no mistake. God is more lion than lamb. Good-intentions could have you thrashing between the jaws of a Hellmouth just as readily as sin.
Ibrahim thinks to himself: You’ve laid down the first brick. The roads left in your wake will require countless more.
“No hard feelings, little one,” Ibrahim smiles, “Would you like to get out of this sun? I think I may have a banana soda inside.”
Ibrahim wipes crust from bloodshot eyes hearing the young shepherd bleat with less sense than given to a sheep. The ancestors have abandoned their charge in the middle of night. Leaving in his care alone Marcel crying lost in the vast emptiness of the prayer room. Only a candle lighting his way, Ibrahim finds all three pupils grasping in the dark for familiar shapes. He grabs the boy by the shoulders to steady the wobbling of a hysteric: “Marcel! Calm yourself. Ibrahim is here. What is it that ails you so?”
Several more minutes pass before words assist the budding orator.
“…Nothing?” Ibrahim asks.
The boy’s constitution is unfamiliar with oblivion and its bittersweetness has given the poor lad indigestion. Palate soured by even a drop of Death. He’d close his eyes back at the orphanage only for them to reopen amidst servants’ knees buckling beneath the weight of Mansa Musa’s pocket change. His restless gaze would blink tomorrow then blister from flames consuming castle walls centuries ago, watching Master Nobunaga bleed out in a puddle of guts. He was Consciousness never lost. Forever Woke — until tonight. Tonight: Nothing. Marcel sleeps his first dreamless sleep only to awaken feeling the heavy hangover of sleep-drunkeness.
After an uncomfortable amount of contemplation, spent rubbing the red kola nut between bony pointer finger and thumb, Ibrahim speaks:
“Ah. So you’ve stood at the edge of Night’s Savannah. Where deadbeat Father Time lies by the wayside, feasted upon like carrion by a ravenous, ever-expanding Deep Dark. No compass to guide you — ”
Bah! He was doing it again. Addressing child as adult. Resorting to empty rhetoric where pragmatism is better-suited. Let poets bore their poets! How to comfort the boy now… Problem is, our profitless prophet thinks in the very same riddles he speaks. Brain bunched-and-knotted by a lifetime of isolation with no common hand capable of parsing out coherent lines of thought. He was become a preacher of Death. His dogma an epitaph etched into stone above a mass grave; corpses making the stronger argument with their silence — at least a corpse had the conviction to lead by example! What counsel could he offer Living Marcel?
Ibrahim firmly plants the kola nut in the boy’s hand cupping the little closed fist with both hands. Ibrahim speaks:
“This is Spaceseed. It only takes root in the darkest of places. The flower inside will bloom when the mythical words are uttered by whoever carries it. A tree with a trunk sturdier than steel, under which our ancestors will return and gather — ”
“What words?” Marcel asks.
Ibrahim digs deep inside himself, searching his memories for oral tradition he’d last heard from his own grandfather. He dusts off an old psalm:
“Gulooxar! Gulooxar! You! Who is never late. You! Illuminate, illuminate! Thou, light! Me in your light! That which can delay thee, take power over me! But what cannot delay thee, has no power over me!”
Marcel returns to his pallet, chanting over and over until refrain turns to snoring. Ibrahim lays back on his own mattress staring up at the ceiling. Wrestling thoughts of futility — Was tonight an ill omen? As if left by an ant circling a dropped coin, could humanity’s arbitrary sign posts like “Past” and “Future” help direct Divinity lighting a path across Eternity? — but mostly Ibrahim is relieved to need not risk a fire hazard keeping a candle alight next to the frightful boy. With a sharp exhalation extinguishing his own flickering light, Ibrahim allows Night to overtake his racing mind.
Such questions really are best tackled during daytime hours.