I was barely 4 years old, away from my mother who was heavy with my younger brother. And while I loved being with my doting aunt and cousins, I pined for home. I missed my mum sorely as she was so close to my chest. Like Yoruba’s say, they say you should eat it, you say it’s bone. O da o, drop it, you say meat is still inside. I was torn between two world.
That was my dilemma at the time. Confused by everything happening around me and no one cared to explain. Everything happened so fast and blurred into another. But of all my confusions, none compared to my frustrations with a painting of Jesus hanging across my aunt’s bed.
Okay, a brief profile of my aunt…
My aunt was raised on colonial values and Victorian manners. She set her table European style – complete with china, porcelain, cutlery, glassware, silverware, lacy tablecloth, flowers and vases – each time she hosted an important visitor on her grand Formica dinning table.
Often, she said “pardon”, “excuse me”, ” may I”, and other paraphernalia of good breeding. She loves children and would always ask you, “shall I make you tea?” If she doesn’t add “shall I” to her inquiry for tea, just know it’s not her talking, someone probably wore her skin. And whenever she said, “my one and only Arin. Arinola temi nikan” that moment that moment, I knew I was the preciousest thing with a beating heart in this ohh why world.
She has a penchant for arts and filled her living room with a plethora of shells held in different glasswares, which she delicately placed on ornate stools. Her walls held pictures of relatives both dead and alive. How she loves pictures.
You can call her cosmopolitan, for she was atune with both local and foreign cultures. But in spite of her western leanings, she too wasn’t free from the whims of religion. One among her collections was a life size picture of Jesus. She had to place the picture across her bed, so he’d watch over her and ward off evil spirits while she slept, you know.
If you grew up in a Christian home in Nigeria in the 90’s, you probably had this fake reproduction of The Sacred Heart on your walls too. But it’s okay if you didn’t have one on your walls, here’s what it looks like.
It had acquired a few more shades and strokes here and there, the lighting and saturation be playing Russian roulette. Several hues and tones away from the originals, not quite how Florence painters intended, however, it didn’t detract from the divinity of the picture. This is Nigeria, after all. You’d be lucky if our saviour’s neck doesn’t sport an excuse of a crucifix.
So, Jesus’ lustrous hair and beard shimmered against his pale skin; parted at the centre so the tips of his hair can rest on his shoulders – the same shoulders that carried the weight of the world. Silky brows watched over his soft blue eyes; the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen in this “oh why world.”
I don’t know how they do it, but “Jesus” would make eye contact with you anywhere in the room. So, his thin red lips would be drawn in a soft smile, so faintly you could’ve imagined it. The type of smile a Yoruba mother gives you and you’re wondering if it’s okay to put the hot pot on her head as she requested.
His somber eyes, still reminiscent of the betrayal at Golgotha as familiar voices trailed behind him: “CRUCIFY HIM.” The mouth he recently fed: “CRUCIFY HIM.” The feet he washed: “CRUCIFY HIM.” He just had to post this selfie on Instagram so y’all can see what you did to him.
But in spite of it all, Son of Man merely sticks out two fingers in the air “PEACE Y’ALL” so you know he’s got no hard feelings. This is the part you tearfully wonder “… what manner of man is Jesus?”
Please note that Jesus’ long and graceful fingers never betrayed a hard life as a carpenter. So, his right hand touched his thorn-wrought heart, juicy with blood. And since you are looking from behind the camera, it would be nice to see the ugly hole you people dug into his hands. His head, tilted at an angle that made your heart knot in agony.
But this Caucasian representation of Jesus tortures reason. The saviour of the world just has to be white, you know. The type that embroidered your native name with British accent.
So, every night after my aunt had bathed me and tucked me in her bed, my mind would fasten on this life-size picture of Jesus hovering over me daring me to take a peek. That picture was the loveliest but scariest thing I ever saw. This was long before I learned about Renaissance artists and their penchant for details.
Arts filled me with such awe and horror back then; it was a study in extremes. But in spite of my resolve, I couldn’t resist his gaze burning my forehead. I would peek, wide-eyed and what followed was a gut wrenching
My aunt almost tripped as she raced towards me. But as always, I couldn’t put my thoughts to words, so I’d point to the painting of Jesus and cry “it is too fine” that she should “merove ” it.
“Merove what? Is like your enemy is not feeling fine .”
“How else can we remove this ogbanje in your chest if you won’t allow Jesus?”
This went on every night. How can somebody be afraid of Jesus Christ, our personal Lord and saviour? Surely I must have been possessed to be scared of Jesus. Familiar spirit, they called it, and so they took me for deliverance. How laughable!
Funny how folks attach much spiritual importance to a token. If only they knew that the Jesus who hung on the cross looked nothing like the ones hanging on their walls…
To be continued…
©Arinola Ogunniyi 2019