The Mass has just ended and the procession is about to begin. I already feel famished, after skipping breakfast and lunch. The thought of trekking to the Cathedral in Aba Diocese is enough to make me faint. I do not intend to join in it, so I wait until the priests and knights carry our Lord down the exit door of the parish.
I pack up my Missal and prayer books into my Mass Bag and I quickly make my way out of the parish, through the back gate. My mind is all fixed on the plate of eba and egusi soup that awaits me at home.
Just as I quickly make my way through the back gate, I find an old man rushing to come in.
‘My daughter, have they left for the cathedral?’
‘Yes, sir. They have just left.’
‘I have to quickly catch up with them. This is my seventy-third long walk with Jesus.’
‘Yes, my daughter. It is an encounter that I do not want to miss.’
It is unbelievable. Here’s a man full of grey hairs and beards, struggling with his gait an with a slight slur in speech. Does he intend to take this long walk with Jesus with just a long black staff in his hand?
So? Here I am, rushing to go get lunch; when an old man in his eighties is taking his last baby step.
‘Papa, wait for me.’
‘Your legs are stronger than mine.’
‘So, where were you heading to?’
‘I was about to go home but I changed my mind.’
I try to keep to his pace as we walk slowly behind the Knights of Saint Mulumba. Just then, the bell goes; everyone turns to face the Holy of Holies, and to bow in adoration.
‘O Sacrament divine. Everything moment thine’, I hear the old man say. Sometimes, he skips the words. On other occasions, he struggles to add the word tainkusgiving to the prayer. Tainkusgiving was his own word for thanksgiving.
‘Papa, you are old and weak. Why do you want to do this?’
‘Everyone is old and weak. Those who are strong and young do not need help.’
‘I am strong and young, Papa. And…’
‘And spiritually?’ He interrupts.
‘Spiritually, we are old in our bad addictions, evil habits and stubborn characters. These are also the things that make us weak.’ He replies.
‘We are weak because this life is a battle and the world is the battlefield. The man who must win, must engage the supernatural against the natural inclinations.’ He continues.
We are both silent. The music from the choir is all that we can hear. It is still a long walk, but I ponder on his words as I let them sink in. The bell goes again. the people respond with silent chants, bows and kneels. I observe the sweet smell of the frankincense, as the thurible goes back and forth in the hands of the incenser.
As I stand up to help my new-found old friend get to his feet, a familiar face approaches.
‘Hey! Long time no see!’ He exclaims.
‘I can’t believe my eyes! Ejike, what are you doing in Aba?’ I ask in surprise.
‘I now work in this town, my dear.’ He replies.
Ejike did not change at all. We were students for five years in the same faculty. He was also the music director in the university’s catholic chaplaincy.
‘So do you worship here?’ I ask.
‘Yes, I do. I am the music director here.’ He replies
‘Again? Did you look for the choir or did they fish you out?’
‘All of the above. I looked for them, then they fished me out to lead them.’
We exchange pleasantries and contact details, with the promise to hook up later. A third time, the bell goes.
‘My daughter, did I also mention that in this long walk, you will find so many familiar faces.’
‘Hmmm? Do you say this because you have seen Ejike?’
‘Familiar faces are people who burn for the Lord like you do.’
He taps me quickly like a man wakes his son from a deep sleep. Then, he points towards the little shade away from the railtrack.
‘Do you see that woman over there?’
‘Yes, Papa.’ I reply.
I look intently. A woman from the congregation leaves the procession to take a little rest. She places her handkerchief on the pavement below the shade and sits down there.
‘She is tired. She needs a little rest. She needs some water too.’ I continue
‘I do not know how much long I have to live in this battlefield, my daughter.’
‘You will live long and enjoy the fruits of your labour. God forbid bad thing.’
‘I am eighty-four this year. Is that not long enough?’
‘You will fulfill your destiny sir, you will not die in Jesus’ Name.’
‘Yes my daughter. I have fulfilled my destiny on earth. I want to also partake in the joys that my ancestors share.’
The bell goes a fourth time. We are one-quarter kilometre away from Christ the King Cathedral. The excitement of making this pilgrimage is all over me. The thoughts on the things I have told Our Lord goes through my mind. I am grateful, to Him and to the old man by my side. The sight of the pinnacle is the hope that I finally have approached the place of rest. The old man taps me abruptly again.
‘One more thing, dear. I almost forgot to tell you this. If you ever get tired in the battlefield, remember the perfect place of rest. Jesus is the home that you must retreat to.’