Nameless! Homeless! Lifeless!

Chukwuemerie Udekwe

© Copyright 2023 by Chukwuemerie Udekwe
Photo of the author.
Photo of the author.

Yesterday was one of those days that Ogonna visited his priest uncle, who now stayed at St. Mary’s parish in Awka. Yesterday was a Saturday, and he had proposed staying until the following Monday. Like always, Sunday was a stressful day for his uncle, who had to celebrate several masses and minister in some of the parish’s activities. Luckily, Ogonna was there today to assist him in whichever way he could. Thus, he too had his own share of 'Sunday stress.’ 

It was exactly 7:05 p.m. when Ogonna woke up from the sleep he had begun some minutes past four in the evening. The evening mass was still on. Ogonna lay on his bed, head tossed up, in thoughts about how to run the rest of the day.

I would have to say my prayers in full today. I missed some of them yesterday. Where? Oh no! I won’t stay here. That would only mean daring the devil himself with another doss of sleep. The chapel should be locked by now. It’s late already. And I will have to take my supper first.”

After moments of thoughts that took longer than he noticed, Ogonna finally went to the parish podium to take up his prayers. The mass was already over, and all had left the church, leaving everywhere unoccupied.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit..." Ogonna began his rosary with beams of gladness in his eyes. The kind of deep-seated gladness one experiences while doing the right thing—or what one thinks to be so.  Ogonna was not sitting. He would not dare do that. He would have preferred to kneel, yet he was not so sure of himself. In order to give every benefit of doubt to whomever it was due, he decided on walking around the podium. Sleep was an imminent obstacle already. As the procession took him to the back of the church, it was on the third decade that Ogonna sensed some movement. He saw the eyes—bluish and timid eyes. He immediately shuddered, trying harder to hold himself together than his instinct to run away. O man of little faith. Then he saw the sight clearly. A young man. twenty-three to twenty-seven years of age. The young man had raised his head when he sensed someone coming. He was planning to spend the night at the podium.

Ogonna felt pity. The young man before him, by all possible standards, seemed older than him. He was not as innocent looking as Ogonna. Neither did he possess the kind of innocuous oval face as Ogonna. He had a ringlet head of hair. Round face, which was rough by the standard of public appraisal and looked seemingly dirty, or it was only a bias shadow cast by his dark complexion. Ogonna was still in motion. He swayed his eyes quickly, staring at the young man for a length of time long enough to capture all the necessary details he needed about him without making the stranger feel embarrassed or troubled. With no exchange of words, only glances, Ogonna moved on. His rosary still clung to his hands. His mind was on the young man. Despite the young man’s discouraging characteristics and facial endowments, something still told Ogonna that the stranger was pure. His sixth sense kept insisting, “The dirty nylon bag lying alongside the owner is only a bag of clothing. He wants to stay here and then leave early in the morning to look for a job. Certainly, menial jobs. He is homeless!”

Each time Ogonna’s procession led him to the left side of the church, the young man kept looking up. Ogonna was beginning to feel guilty. He had been battling over whether to go back to his room and get the stranger a coat or at least a wrapper. The weather was breezy and cold. How could someone sleep in such a condition? While it took time for him to decide on the deed of charity, he should at least give the young man a peaceful environment to sleep in. Without much thought, Ogonna moved to the right side of the church, where he would be sure of not being a nuisance to the young lad he was already harbouring feelings of sympathy for.

At approximately the same pace with which he had flitted from the left-hand side to the right side of the podium, Ogonna saw the security man coming towards him.

Oga, it’s already late. You should be going home already,” the seemingly young officer addressed Ogonna in a manner so gentle but firm.

Oh! I live here. In the father’s house,” Ogonna responded, in the tone of a Chinese monk just disturbed in meditation. But that was not enough. The security officer kept looking at Ogonna, his eyes rolling like a facial security scanner. Ogonna read the signs. “I am the parish priest’s cousin. I came here yesterday. You won’t know me.” Ogonna added, in a now flustered voice. As would be the case when a security scanner recognizes the retina of its client, the security officer ticked, smiling.

Okay. I think say na ordinary person. Anybody dey that other side?” (I thought it was just anybody.) (Is there anyone on the other side?) The officer added in pidgin English, pointing at the left-hand side of the podium.

With thoughts racing in millimetres, Ogonna replied, “I don’t think so.” He had just lied. In the middle of a prayer. Why was he protecting the young lad? Ogonna had heard the story of St. Athanasius being chased by soldiers. He had sought refuge in the midst of some fishermen he met at a nearby river and disguised himself among them with a cloak. When the soldiers came around and inquired from the fishermen if they had seen Athanasius, Athanasius himself replied, “He is not far from here,” giving an answer that allowed him not to lie, for he was indeed not far from the spot while not at the same time allowing himself to be caught. Ogonna had wanted to do the same thing. He was perhaps not smart enough. It was wrong to say he did not think so. He had seen somebody there just a few minutes ago. The boy he now felt sorry for. And the officer had seen Ogonna move from the left angle of the podium to where he was presently. Fear gripped him—the fear of being exposed and being thought insincere. Unlike the maxim that defined the emotion he was now feeling as 'False Evidence Against Reality,' his fears were now about to become reality. The security man was moving to the left side of the podium. Like Usain Bolt, Ogonna’s heart raced blisteringly. Not in a hundred metres now, or two, but on the lane of his integrity, now on the verge of being stained. Then, like relay, his fears changed baton, moving from his endangered integrity to the beleaguered situation of the stranger, who was under the dread of being chased away. Ogonna quickly added another intention to his prayers: “God, let him not find that young man, please. Let him not send him away.” The security officer did anyway. It was not up to thirty seconds, and Ogonna saw the derelict moving away, towards the gate of the church, his Bagco bag clutched to his side like a priceless possession. His only possession! It was seven minutes to nine. It was raining. Heavily. Ogonna’s resilience gave way, and silent tears dripped from his eyes. He could feel his skin peel. Excruciating—the pain in his heart.

I caused it. If I hadn’t created a scene and attracted the security by moving from the left to the right side of the podium and by coming here at all in the first place, this young man wouldn’t have been found. Where will he go now? Where will he sleep? Under the rain? Why did I come here?” Ogonna could see the poor stranger lying somewhere in Eke Awka market. Somewhere in the Aroma roundabout. The corridor of a closed store at Ukwu Orji. At Unizik junction, under the pedestrian bridge. Oh! My God!!!

This security man is heartless. Why did he chase him away? How can he forgive himself for that? The derelict stranger is innocent. He’s just a modest hustler! A man trying to make ends meet. Ife adighi ya easy!”

But the security man was only doing his job.” It was the first time an opposing thought had scurried across Ogonna’s mind. What if the young man was a spy? What if he was going to do something bad in the middle of the night? What if there was going to be a bomb blast at 2:13 a.m. if he was left to stay? No! The security officer was only doing his job. Sworn to protect lives. How would he forgive himself if any of these had happened under his watch? You, yourself, would call him reckless. Negligent. Qualified to be brought to the stakes. Burnt! 

Why were you protecting him? Social charity? Or flimsy and vulnerable sentiments? You lied to protect a brother?

Or did you just sacrifice rather than obey?

Many crimes have been committed under circumstances even more pitiable. Do not be a crybaby. Do not be foolhardy.”

Ogonna began to hate all those who duped people. Those who beg deceitfully. Those who borrow money and do not pay it back. Those who betray trust. They are the causes of all these. Their sins are public sins! Not just to their unsuspecting victims. Victims who end up never trusting. Never being charitable any longer. The story spreads, and everybody is scared. Inclining more to security than charity. They are the causes of all these.

Meet a man along the road and rob him outright. Do not beg him to give you a ride, and then, along the way, show him a gun. 

Sneak into my house and steal my penny. Do not prod me with your tears into lending you money, then refuse to remit it later. 

Lurk me from behind and take my phone. Do not tell me you are stranded and that you must make a call. Then I cannot find you or my phone. 

Lest, you are the cause of all these. You have a price to pay for my friend and every other one of his friends out there. 

Ogonna forced himself to the threshold of sleep. But the knobs were too stiff with grief. He lay in his bed. Tossing to and fro. Soaked. Feelings, worse than a lover whose beloved had just reneged on their wedding night. 

The stranger. My friend. What is his name, again?” Void. Ogonna could not recall. He never asked.


How long should we toll the line of the good seminarian, climbing down to help the man attacked by robbers with no reservations for security?

Security advocates the protection of lives. Without charity, we are lifeless!

Chukwuemerie Udekwe is from Nigeria. Born on the 30th of August, 1995, he aspires to reach out to the world through his writings and works. He loves reading and putting down things that would affect people's lives positively. 

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