Marking Time On Life's Treadmill

Sometimes realization only dawns when the loved one has crossed over to the other side. The veil falls off faces. Hidden wrongs are unearthed and the could-have-been rear their heads but it becomes too late to cry over spilled milk. If only lessons can be learned to benefit new relationships.

When I look back now, I realize that my friend stayed back in Neverland, the Neverland of his mind. Pius lived in Gboko, a beautiful town in Benue State, Nigeria. Geographically, Gboko is situated on a highland. Its temperatures are just right, especially for people that are more warm-blooded than others. Air currents are mild, and the weather is suitable for human, animal, and plant comfort. Pius did not travel much, but he sought information from other travelers and then compared the weather in different states and towns of Nigeria with that of Gboko. He concluded that Gboko was his home of comfort. He made grandiose plans for his life, hoping to become one of the richest persons that occupied space in Gboko. He dreamt of a fleet of cars, property, business establishments, and the most lavish form of philanthropy, seeing that he was surrounded by mostly the lower class, the deprived. He had a big and kind heart, perhaps too kind to belong to the family he was born into, but Pius was a very shy and fearful man. His boldness and achievement seemed alive only in his dreams.

The imposing plans he conjured up and the magnificent pictures he painted for those that would listen were hardly backed up by tangible, creative action. It was difficult to understand why someone would be that fearful. Bracing new challenges was always a daunting task. When it became necessary, the bottle had to be dawned to borrow some degree of courage if his knees were not to wobble under him. It hurts to see how a dearly beloved one watched his own life zoom off and leave him behind. While his life lasted, it was a great puzzle, but now that he has left this terrestrial ball, the seemingly hidden pieces of his life appear. The puzzle rearranges itself together before my eyes automatically. Now I know his, mine, and others' omissions in his life. It is obvious, only now, that the person I befriended was only a shadow. The real Pius was lost in Neverland. A forbidden chord on the guitar of time was struck, and he stopped growing when he was still a teenager. Pius remained a teenager in his mind, but his body grew, matured, and even started aging. He thought he would always have time to start over.

Starting over was a continuous thing in his life. It was a daily routine. Whenever he made a decision or started a project, a little setback meant a brand new beginning with an altogether novel decision or project. Pius left a myriad of unfinished projects in the backyard of his life. Surprisingly, he never lacked the zest to begin anew, even when he clocked forty years of age. It was an easy task for him to flush forty years down the drain and, once more, start afresh. The mistake he made with every project was to not learn from the faults of the previous. Carrying the same attitudes and methods into new terrain continuously yielded failure, but he never stood back to critically assess each failed situation. Again, he felt he could see the world from a better stance than any other, hence hardly welcomed suggestions or pieces of advice.

We met when he was twenty-seven years old. Looking back, I realize now that he thought himself to still be eighteen years old, my age-mate at that time. He behaved like a teenager, and sometimes I had to call him to order as though he was my younger brother. He approached me with a proposal of a relationship; he was in love. My youthful tenderness dazed him and aroused his passion. He told me how beautiful I was and how he needed me to quench his thirst. I thought of his words as just a 'wooing line,' but now I know better. He sounded like a thirsty tree struggling to thrive in a parched land. Pius was truly thirsty. He did not know what was needed to quench his thirst but perceived that I had it. He declared that he needed me.

Now I know he needed what I carried on my inner man, the serenity and contentment of a life yielded to Divine operations. He had related with me for a few days but knew I had a heart of gold. He told me I was his only earthly joy, and he had to have me as his girlfriend. Truth be told, I liked him from day one. I was not ready for what he seemed to put forward, but I knew I wanted him in my life, perhaps as my friend; but friends can grow to become a married couple, of course. Something attracted us to each other. My heart told me there was a role I had to play in his life, a crucial role, but the ignorance of youth would not lend me the foresight to see the need. It was the first time for me to let a male into my life as a friend. Previously, only girlfriends occupied that space of friendship and constant closeness. Of course, I was still a teenager heading into young adulthood. It was time for adventure with my heart.

The entire thing was absurd at first. Then he started the visits after receiving assurance that the 'no' I gave him to his request for a passionate relationship was not rejection. We could be platonic friends, just not the kind of friends he initially intended. Pius wanted a friend, lover, and bedmate. I was ready only to be his friend. It was a sealed decision for me; I was not going to be involved in any physical intimacy before marriage. Pius and I belonged to a clique of friends and siblings, and we were always in a group, but even within the circle, we seemed to possess some couple privacy. Topics for discussion and fun-making were for everyone, but we spoke to each other in ways only Pius and I could decipher. The relationship was healthy. It grew and flourished in the daily abundance of each other's enthusiastic presence. I gradually became as hooked with him as he was with me. One single day gone by without spending time with him was the worst deprivation ever. We took long walks together. We talked a lot and delved into each other's beings. We discovered each other's strengths and weaknesses and laughed together about anything and everything. It was beautiful just knowing we were there for each other.

It was during the walks that I learned about his worst nightmare. He came from a broken family. When his father took up a second wife, nothing was the same in their home anymore. Pius' father cared little about his mother and her children. They suffered want of food, not to mention other necessities. The burden of her children's provision shifted to Pius' mother, and she could hardly cope. She was a petty trader in vegetables, and her income was meager. Putting balanced meals on the table for six sons and a daughter was now a daunting task for their mother since their father's financial, emotional, and physical support had dwindled to embers.

He paid little attention to his first family, and the parental bond he formed with his first children developed a strain that stretched over years until it shattered into shreds. The closeness Pius shared with his father was also broken. But I deduced all these from the various conversations we had. He never seemed to dwell much on his family's relationships. Now I know it caused him much pain. He was too disappointed in his father and hurt to mouth the words that declared that distress. I remember him saying that he would NEVER go to school again if his father would not take charge of his tuition. He only graduated from high school. It sounded perplexing to my ears as I knew a few people who paid their way through school. I laughed at the statement then and told him not to talk in that manner. But I do not laugh now. He meant every word of it. If only I knew. I would have found a way to dissuade him from such a path. But how was I to know for sure? I was still too young to understand such utterances and to see the immense hurt behind them. I enjoyed his company thoroughly and also shared his burdens, but I could not see the scars he carried, the burden he bore on his slender frame, obtained from a broken home. It had been years since his father turned away from him, but it seemed fresh on his mind each passing year.

Pius was stuck at that moment when he learned that he had a stepmother and discovered in total dismay that he had lost his father. Now I see clearly that he hoped he was in a dream from which he yearned to awaken. Everything he did revolve around that moment his heart was broken. His body moved on to other activities like physical growth, businesses, and the like, but his personality was stuck, held captive by a broken heart. His personality grew very little from that point. When I was close to him, he talked and acted my age. I did not notice much stagnation, only a slight form of marking time. Sometimes I wondered at his ability to dissolve the nine-year gap that existed between our ages so he could be my friend so thoroughly. I expected him to exude more maturity at his age because I was, of course, surrounded by men his age, but they were more their age than my friend. This did not bother me at all at that time. He was my friend and loved my company enough to stay out with me in our group, sometimes late into the night. That was enough for my young heart that would not see beyond my nose.

Pius was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but his father was financially buoyant enough to fend comfortably for his wife and children. But for the polygamous streak he succumbed to, Pius and his siblings would have been fine. When an earthen pot shatters, its shards travel far. Pius and his siblings were like chicks that lost their mother. There was no one to gather the children together properly in one cozy home. The firm hand they needed to grow well and be taught moral ideals was absent. They had an easy-going mother who loved them very much but failed in the area of strict discipline. She tried not to offend her children. To a large extent, they came and went as they pleased. Keeping her children healthy and getting them fed and clothed was her priority. She could not spread herself thinner than she already had.

There was no moral and character guide whatsoever for Pius and his siblings to emulate. They all did what seemed right in their eyes. The onus to train his younger siblings fell on Pius, but he was not ready in any way to do that. He was struggling to make sense of his life; he could coach no one. A father figure was missing in his life. There was a lot he needed to know. Stuff like the proper way to court the woman of his dreams, how to save for school without a father, and how to become bold and courageous to face the challenges of adulthood. His father's disappearance from his life had threatened the very foundations of his life in ways he had no words to express. The once bold and confident high school student who stood out among his peers educationally and in moral rectitude became timid and cowardly. Perhaps his father thought him unworthy to spend time with and for him. Perhaps he was no good. If he was good enough, his father would have remained with them and nurtured him to become the man he was born to be; or perhaps he had offended his father grossly without knowing. These and many more condescending thoughts took hold of Pius and reduced him to a timid and cowardly individual.

He became afraid in the slightest way of offending others, especially the older folk. Whenever he noticed he had offended someone, he apologized quickly and made amends. If his apology was delayed, his sleep on such a night was hindered. The little he had learned from his father, he kept and practiced dutifully. His father loved to drink beer. Pius used to get a little shot at it alongside. He was no longer close to his father, but he kept that habit and later discovered that it gave him an advantage. His voice was louder and bolder when he was under the influence of alcohol. As a bottle of beer emptied its contents into his stomach, he could feel courage rising from within the inner recesses of his being. It shook itself and stood tall in defiance of any challenge that would dare. It would feel momentary, like all his troubles had vanished. Pius liked this feeling. He had found a way to escape his painful and defeated reality. This newfound way passed right through an alcoholic bottle. 

Pius could not face my parents. He tried his best to avoid meeting them, especially in broad daylight. I would have suspected foul play. I would have accused him of ill intentions towards me, but I knew he was afraid, morbidly afraid of them and what meeting them would entail. So he never walked up to them to declare his intention of marriage to their daughter. He declared it to me, but I wanted to go to college before considering marriage. I expected him to develop a relationship with my parents, one that would ease him into my family's life; instead, he adored and respected them from afar and feared them when he was physically close to them.

Pius was born an unrepentant romantic. He held his emotions on his arm. He possessed a tender personality, bruising easily, but he hid his brittle nature carefully from the eyes of many. He wanted to seem tough and independent but was the opposite. If I had eyes to see into the future and could have borrowed maturity of mind ten years from when we were close friends, I would have handled Pius differently.

The first thing would have been not to have ever broken my closeness with him. I went to college, and he stayed behind doing odd jobs to keep life going, and he did that till it was time to leave planet earth; he kept life going, living from hand to mouth. Now I know how much he depended on me to help him grow from his stagnation. If I had the full knowledge of his predicament and possessed the proper maturity, I would have done my part to help my beloved friend. Now that I know this, he is no longer here. When I broke our closeness, his hope was lost a second time. He was too bruised to try to heal anymore. The one person he expected would understand him and stick to him had left him hanging on a thin rope. He gave up trying to piece his life back together. It was too painful. He would rather delve into activities to keep him less bored, put food on his table and clothe him. Yes, he would go through the motions of life, so he did not have to bare his soul to another. But he believed he would never heal.

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