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A moment in the other world

By Pius Nyondo

Spirit Abdullah says I must breathe from the chalice again. It is a big, shiny cup with a mouth the size of an aged pothole. It is an appetite collector; he has told me times without number, to keep me from getting hungry.

Food, he brags, is for the living.

He is a talking machine, with a thunderous voice and a gaping mouth. He wants to talk all the time. Sometimes when I want to concentrate on a game I am playing on my Tab, Spirit Abdullah comes over and begins to talk and talk until I can concentrate no more. Sometimes his stories are a bore but sometimes they are sweet and appealing, especially the ones he reads from the Diary of Sinners.

Once he picks up the lone and tattered copy of the Diary of Sinners, he asks me to take in a deep breath, concentrate and think about the worst insults I remember from my time in the other world. Then he asks me to let them out, spiritedly, as if I were reciting a eulogy or a Catholic hymn in the Lenten Season. It is to blur the Big One’s attention from noticing that we are reading forbidden literature, he says. Sometimes a spirit must steal a moment or two and become human again – even for a second – he adds.

The Diary of Sinners has in it a stack of compact and digital versatile discs containing some of the worst sins the Big One’s surveillance team has recorded from the other world. They range from people stabbing each other with sharp razor-like objects, which Spirit Abdullah says is X-rated Murder, to people doing push-ups on top of each other. First Degree Adultery, Spirit Abdullah calls it. They are serious crimes here, he adds.

~~~

My name is Spirit Abu-Bakr. The Big One has sentenced me to eternal condemnation for X-rated Murder, First Degree Adultery and Herjury – the offence of wilfully telling an untruth or making a misrepresentation under oath before the Big One’s court. I have also been found guilty on ten other counts.

I have appealed against the Big One’s ruling, against my eternal condemnation. A few other spirits support me. Many say my decision is awkward and unspiritual. They are sure the Big One will double my punishment, or even quadruple it. No one has appealed against the Big One before.

Interestingly, Spirit Abdullah is optimistic I am going to win the case. He says he has seen it all as librarian in the Big One’s kingdom. He guards top-notch secrets and documents. It is his punishment for Third Degree Homosexuality for his escapades in the other world. Unlike those of us who have not been judged yet, Spirit Abdullah has the liberty of doing anything, even if it means flouting the Big One’s law. It does not change a thing, he says.

He is only on punishment for a short while, so he brags many times. After which the Big One will let him enter the special homestead. There is no eternal condemnation for third degree offences; no matter how nasty.

There is no sky here. No sunrise and sunset except for never ending kind of disco lights and a heat the warmth of smouldering charcoal. Matters of time and her cousins are a mystery. But Spirit Abdullah talks the language of today and tomorrow and months and years like a time professor.

‘The hearing of your case is tomorrow. Don’t use your lawyer.’

‘Why?’

‘Someone who was a lawyer in the other world can’t defend you here,’ Spirit Abdullah argues. ‘He is a sinner too.’

‘Here,’ he hands me his Tab. ‘That’s the lawyers’ section. What’s happening to them?’

‘They’re on fire.’

‘Lawyer saves no soul here. They burn.’

The response plunges me into a vault of consternation. Eternal condemnation is the severest punishment here. I’m afraid to stand before the Big One on my own.

‘We must find your file in the Diary of Sinners. It will acquaint you with most of the information the Big One will use against you.’

~~~

The library is opposite the river of milk and honey. As we walk towards it, three boys and a girl are scooping some of the milk and honey into their alabaster jars made of gold. Everything is made of gold here. From tea spoons to chairs to locomotives. Gold, Spirit Abdullah says, is as easy to find here as are sins in the other world.

After walking past the four children, we tiptoe to the library building made of golden bricks and covered with corrugated golden sheets. As usual, I am asked to take in a deep breath and, for this purpose, Spirit Abdullah asks me to recite the worst insults during my time in the other world. Like an award winning performing poet, I do.

‘Good,’ he says. ‘The signal is gone. It is completely gone this time around.’

He smiles and laughs and coughs and spits. You must have been a great sinner, Spirit Abdullah says, suppressing another cough and spit. Are they still awarding the Nobel Prizes there? If they didn’t give you one for your insults, he says, you were quite unfortunate. Then he laughs and smiles without coughing and spitting.

‘They don’t award insults.’

‘Well, but you’re an exception. Eh-eh- stop.’

The thick glass that is blocking our way slides open. We enter – Spirit Abdullah first. A tee-tee sound echoes from his Tab. We stop.

‘Signal is coming back.’

I’m at the insults again, swearing at the Big One’s mouth and legs and eyes and buttocks. Spirit Abdullah smiles, and gestures I should stop.

‘Signal is gone.’

~~~

‘Yes! I got it.’

Spirit Abdullah fishes out a thick file from one of the shelves. It is a black file with a big X on the cover.

‘This is,’ he tells me, ‘your file. Every single thing you did in the other world is filed in here. Come on. Let us play your DVD.’

We walk to the other end of the library where there are Plasma TV screens. Spirit Abdullah inserts the DVD, plays it, and there it all comes up – me, Spirit Abu-Bakr, in the other world.

‘You were a politician?’

‘Yes.’

‘And, all those people died because of you? You stole from all those? See? You were all over in the news for bad things!’

‘I know. But you said I can win.’

Spirit Abdullah does not say anything. ‘Signal is coming back. Try your insults.’

I am at them again – the insults. But it is Spirit Abdullah’s look on his face that scares me. ‘Look,’ he says, ‘I don’t know where this is coming from.’ On his Tab a video is playing.

‘What is that?’

‘The politicians’ section.’

Author Bio 
Pius Nyondo is a Malawian journalist and writer. Recipient of the 2012 First Merchant Bank Short Story Award, he is editor at Nyasa Times, Malawi’s leading online news publication. He lives in Lilongwe.

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