“The only place where you can be free from the encumbrances of love is in hell”. (Elizabeth Elliot)
He was born male like his peers in the village, and grew up like them. He was christened Valentine by the Reverend Father who had baptized him. He was fondly called Vali Vali by his folks but he didn’t know whose name he had acquired. He was told that his patron saint was called St. Valentine, a monk who was canonized centuries before he was born. There were no signs that he’d ever be entranced by this phenomenon of monk hood pretty early in life. The reverend father loved him so much and would sprinkle ‘holy water’ on him each time he visited their home to administer sacraments. With time, he began to dream of becoming the first, and maybe the monk that his quiet village would produce in his generation.
He played football at the sandy playgrounds, not with an Adidas-made or Nike-made ball but with light weighted balls called “felele”, worn-out lawn tennis balls, or with unripe oranges. Together with his buddies, they built sand castles that they couldn’t live in with their little wives. Yea the fellow little girls who cuddled and straddled “dolls babies” to their backs as they “cooked” inedible “food” for their mates. They’d rehearse “husband and wife” roles and play hide-and-seek games, not without some match making and unsupervised courtships that were transient.
When and how he became a child-monk remains so vague to him, but he does remember that he was reared to be one. If not, why did he become a companion of priests so early in life, and waited on them at the altar, night and day? He loved the Gregorian chants, and the soothing aroma of the incense. So it was not a misnomer when he later acquired the sobriquet, “nwa fada”, the child of a priest. But was he? His father was never a priest and who has ever seen a priest father a son when the vow of chastity holds him captive for life? Anyone who claims to be the son of a ‘chaste-priest’ must undergo a paternity test but would a priest submit to such base things that mortals fall into? But Val was made one both by association and by informal induction. And a priest’s life he lived without the paraphernalia of priesthood or the attached benefits. His peers and buddies lived as part of the huge congregation of the laity, while he was subsumed into the clergy precociously.
As a child-priest, he thought he had immunity against those little evils that lurked behind the recesses of the mind. He thought he could live life without thinking twice about that “little wife” with whom he played hide-and-seek after the moonlight tales. They would clutch each other’s arm, and walk hand-in-hand like the couples they had seen on cinema who muttered English words they didn’t understand. There were even times they embraced or rather thought they embraced like older people did, but didn’t know why bodies touched. All the same, they just aped what their uncles and aunties did sometimes!
When his semi-circled arms were able to cross and touch his ears on the opposite side of his face, then was he allowed having his first contacts with western education. It was the average “Ota Akara Primary School” that dotted the landscape in his stead. They sat on the floor while the Teacher, (a Madam) thought them rhymes using the Igbo alphabets. He’d recite stuff like “Aka Bekee Gbo…” He’d remember poems like “There were two black birds sitting on a wall, nwannem( one named) Peter, nwannem( one named) Paul, fulaway ( fly away) Peter, fulaway (fly away) Paul…” They are glorious days he remembers with nostalgia and there were no Pre-KD or Nurseries then. Rather, they launched deep into the main stuff, and their major snack was “akara” which they hid in their “short knikas”.
Things began to change no sooner as he entered primary school. He began to notice one little girl, Chichi. They sat next to each other on the same desk. His tin-made school box was new, and had a glistening interior that reflected like a polished mirror. They’d be distracted during lessons giggling at each other, and her envious dimples ever flashed at him. They saw themselves as husband and wife, and viewed the “picture” reflected by the box as the portrait of a couple. There was something he felt but didn’t know the name, or what it meant, and why it came in the first place. With a smile, he ruminated over the thought of marrying Chichi when they grew up. Unknown to him, in Chichi’s dream of adulthood Val was also at its central motif!
In the same class was another girl, Jane, whom his extended family called his first wife. They were conceived separately but born at same hospital. It’s possible they’d communicated telepathically such that a natural chemistry got them entwined too early in life. Maybe they talked to each other during ante natal visits though locked up ‘in utero’. They liked each other but were too shy to talk to each other, and he’d feel like hiding his head like the ostrich’s whenever his buddies taunted him about her. Each time he drew closer to her, he felt some rumblings in his stomach like butterflies flapping their wings. He didn’t know what adults called it, but it was there all the same.
Then there was this other girl, Adaego, whom he met in Primary 3 and her mom was a top ranking civil servant. She looked fresh like the children of “Sesame Street”; with white socks and sandals, and a haversack while he and his buddies matched on bare feet and carried school boxes on their heads. Her black gums and white teeth got him reeling. She and her sisters used toothpaste whereas he often left his oily teeth unattended to even though chewing sticks did wonders. Fellow little boys like him would “mistakenly” brush her body just to have a feel of this pretty girl. They wanted more than a touch, and more attention, from this pretty girl who disdained them. But in the class, Adaego would beam out smiles that caught him napping. He wondered why she batted her eyelids and pursed her lips at him. Worse still, he couldn’t return her endearing gaze which blanked out his mind.
There are a couple other incidences that dotted his days in primary school that one could only remember faintly. Sometimes he giggled when girls smiled back at him. There were times he did crazy stuff, which smacks of pure mischief, never to be mentioned or heard. Oftentimes he was too shy to be seen talking with a girl. He faced his books and hid whatever he felt in his stomach about any girl from the glare of curious eyes
. He wouldn’t be caught napping before his teachers who looked at him with sanctimonious eyes. So did he push through primary school, and skipped through secondary school unscathed with the hallowed toga of “nwa fada” still intact. He had kept his cool…!
No one knew the raging battle that ensued as he contemplated joining the monastery as was expected of him. To live a ‘secular’ life was far from the dream his mentor (Rev. Fr.) had helped him craft in his imagination. But he had to face the taunting and orchestrated mischief of his peers. They’d dare him to gulp beer and show face at disco parties. They offered him the luxury and pleasure of life outside the walls of a priest’s abode. They gloated about the valleys of pleasure they had traversed and the ecstasy that became their lot. As a lad, he had glimpsed into that world. And as a teenager, he saw his body change and the embarrassing feelings that the sight of a beautiful maiden had elicited in him. But he resolved to still be a monk!
A few days before his final exit from the land of mortals into the monastery, an unexpected visitor came knocking at his door. It was St. Valentine’s Day and she had come with a card for her Val. He could not believe his eyes. His childhood wife, Chichi had blossomed into a beautiful maiden, so fair to behold. They were all alone for hours and reminisced about their primary school days; when they role-played and acted as husband and wife. There giggled and laughed. There was much talk which was interspersed with stretched moments of silence. They talked about dreams and aspirations.
Chichi was about to enter the university while Val expressed his desire to serve God in the reclusive walls of a monastery. So dazed was Chichi that she unwittingly began to sulk and tears glistened her lovely eyes. The Val card she had brought for her Val got stuck in her little bag. Then the teardrops fell of her eyeballs and traced a snaky track along her well-sculptured face. The dimples had become so accentuated over the years, and they still had their grips on Val’s heart. He had assumed that living in a monastery would help him run away from the temptations symbolized by women which pummeled his mind at will. To him, women are the greatest evil a man must avoid, yet something in him liked, maybe loved them.
What would Val do? So confused was he and never has he seen a woman cry without a hand laid on her. With trembling hands he tried to console her. He then drew closer to where she sat, offering her his white handkerchief. She ignored it. He reckoned that sometimes when his little sister wept, dad would draw her closer to lull her to sleep. It seems that was the best way out of this ensuing melodrama for Val. He drew much closer and held her hands, then tried to pat her on the back. No sooner she quietened save for short sobs. Then Val helped her mop the drained out tears. But without warning, that thing he felt as a little boy was awakened and this time came with such a ferocious intensity. It came all over him and made his thoughts fussy and whirly.
She told him how much she had loved him and that she wouldn’t bear to live without him. She said she loved him so much and felt something special for him which no other man has been able to stoke in her. That sounded so sublime and somehow it got into his heart. He recalled that they later embraced like two earthworms in copulation but that was all he could remember, or rather was willing to talk about days after…!
When the time ticked, and the day dawned for him to go to the monastery, Val developed cold feet. He told his parents he had changed his mind and knowing how resolute he was, their frantic efforts yielded no fruits. No one knew what came over “Val the Monk” for he withdrew from everyone and locked himself up for days. His parents made knowing not what to do decided to contact his mentor, the Rev. Fr whom he had so much respect for. Val never would hide anything from him. He was too ashamed to path his lips and utter that which was too heavy for his mouth. But he had no other option, than to confess to his mentor.
The clergyman delivered a soul-wrenching sermon to his one-man congregation. He has had similar experiences as a young seminarian and had capitulated to the whims and caprices of many a smiling damsel in his parish. And that was one thing he had hoped his mentee would overcome. Val would learn a very important lesson that monks also faced the same challenges that confront mortal men. That it takes more than the piety of religion to conquer and overcome the unwholesome desires of the heart. He was told by his mentor that love was not just a mutual feeling one felt for someone special. That love was far more a decision, and an informed action than just mere feelings. That love is all about desiring the best for someone. That it’s better to allow love to sleep on in limbo than rouse and stoke it. That love when given and expressed improperly would in its wake, leave both parties scarred, and sometimes charred for life. That there’s a time to love…and that it does all sides a lot of good if “true love waits till the appointed time’ earmarked for its consummation.
Happy Valentine Day to you all; friends and all!
NB: The author is a Physiotherapist and moderator of Cry of Adam Network, and currently lives and works in Abuja Nigeria. He can be contacted via:firstname.lastname@example.org
Caveat/Disclaimer: the above account is a fictitious story and the names cited are the purely the imaginations of the author, and thus should be treated as such.