"Jude, what are you planning to do with your life?"
It was the second day in a row that Mum had asked me that question. Tessy had gone back to school and I was left at home with her. I had thought long and hard but came up with nothing.
"Do you still want to be a priest?"
I glared at her. "I cannot even remember ever wanting to be one. I am glad they expelled me."
She shook her head. "You know Cynthia would be going to medical school. I would have loved you to follow suit. Your late Dad would have wanted that." Her voice faltered.
I let out a sigh. " I don't think I was cut out to be a doctor. I would be bored to death."
She smacked my head. "Look at who is talking! Confused boy."
Later that evening, I dialed Cynthia. I could hear the baby crying at the background.
"Nanny, what's up?"
She laughed. "Na your namesake o! My mum took him for immunization today. He has refused to stop crying. How are you?"
"Well, you know. Awake most of the time. Recently started thinking of what to do with my life."
I heard her chuckle. "You think it is funny?"
"No," she said, apologetically. "Not at all. What was your occupation in Judea, in your past life?"
I scratched my head. "Buying and selling. Fishes mostly. But I also sold anything that gave me a tidy profit."
"Hmmm. Then, I will suggest you do something that is money-related. Business. Accountancy. Economics. You seem to come alive anytime money is mentioned."
"Chai!" I said, laughing. "And you die anytime money is mentioned, abi? Continue."
"Na true I talk nau! Anyway, I will come over tomorrow. I have missed your madness."
"I missed you too." I heard her breath slow down on the other end of the line. My heart raced, pausing momentarily when the line went dead. I clutched the phone as I lay down on the bed thinking of what Cynthia said. Counting money seemed more fun than touching bodies.
I looked up. It was John, the beloved apostle, beckoning on me. We were seated in a clearing under the shade of a sycamore tree, resting. John had been discussing with the Master. I stood up and approached them.
"My time is close at hand," the Messias began, looking at me intently. "We are going up to Jerusalem for the Passover. It is already evening and we are going to pass through that Samaritan village." He pointed at the distance.
"I need you to go with James and John ahead of us and prepare a place for the night."
I nodded and set out with the brothers.
"What happened on that mountain last week?" I asked them, as we walked. "I noticed you have been behaving strangely since then, Simon inclusive."
They exchanged glances but said nothing. I shook my head.
We entered the Samaritan village before dusk. We asked for the village head and were led to him. We introduced ourselves. His eyes lit up.
"I have heard so much about your Master and his dazzling miracles. It would be an honour to host him here."
A small crowd had gathered in his courtyard.
"How long would he be staying?" he asked as we stepped outside.
"Just a night," I said. "He would be leaving for Jerusalem at dawn for the Passover."
He frowned. "Jerusalem?" He spat out in disgust. "Mount Gerizim is the rightful place of worship. Not your temple in Jerusalem."
The crowd chorused in agreement. He turned to them.
"Should we allow Jews going to Jerusalem to pass the night here?"
"No!" they shouted.
He turned to us. "You heard them. Tell your Master to go through another route."
We left the courtyard, disappointed. James fumed in anger.
"Ingrates! Just last week, we healed all their sick. I will call down fire from heaven to consume them..."
His statement was interrupted by shrieks coming from behind us. We turned. The courtyard and the adjacent buildings were on fire. People scrambled for the door. A burly man emerged, his burning robes gathering more flames as he ran. After a short distance he fell, the flames engulfing him. He gave a blood-curdling cry.
I sat up, panting heavily. I was drenched in sweat. Mum was at the door, a curious look on her face.
"You were tossing and turning in your sleep. What is wrong?"
I shook my head. "Another bad dream."
She folded her hands across her chest and approached the bed. "What was it about?"
"Burning Samaritans. It was horrible."
"Tufiakwa! God forbid." She snapped her fingers. "Any recognized faces, names?"
I shook my head. "Everything happened so fast."
"Nwa m, don't worry." She rubbed my head. "The God of Mama Cynthia will not allow this happen. Oya, come and eat."
I followed her downstairs for dinner.
The next morning, I met her at the door on her way to court.
"Are you going driving today?" she asked.
I nodded. "I would be entering the main road again today. To build my confidence."
"Ok o. Be very careful. Take the Corolla. On no account should you remove the 'learner' sign on the car."
I nodded again, looking away. I had removed the sign two days ago and Mum was furious when she found out. I saw her off to the garage and walked back to the house.
An hour later, Cynthia came. We ate breakfast together.
"I had another dream last night," I said, sipping the hot tea.
She almost choked on her bread. "What? I thought they have stopped."
I shook my head.
"What was this one about?"
I narrated the dream to her. She stood up and picked her phone.
"What are you doing?" I asked, surprised.
"Calling the Enugu State Fire Service. They need to be warned."
I watched her pace the room as she awaited a response from the other end.
"Hello, is this the Fire Service? Ok, good. I am calling about a fire... No...It has not happened yet, but may happen today...No, I am not crazy. What do you mean?... You don't understand me? Oh...Wait. You are calling me an arsonist? Hello...Hello..." She threw up her hand in defeat.
"No one would believe you," I said.
She was still shaking her head. "He hung up on me. He was even insinuating that I was planning to burn a place down. Could you imagine that?"
"I just pray nothing happens," I said. "I need to go driving and clear my head. Do you want to come with me?"
She rolled her eyes. "Is that a question? Seriously?"
I lunged forward to tickle her ribs. She ran out of the house, laughing.
I steered the Corolla expertly down the street and onto the main road.
I made sure to stay at the right side of the road. Driving an automatic vehicle seemed quite easy. The car's stereo blasted Naija hip-hop music as Cynthia nodded to the beats.
"Where are we going?" she asked, as we passed a traffic light.
"Nowhere in particular. Everywhere. Just driving around."
"I hope you have enough fuel."
"Sure." The fuel tank was half-full and that, by my calculation, was enough. We made a right turn and entered Agbani Road. I pressed harder on the throttle. The car accelerated. Cynthia tapped me. I slowed down.
"What is happening up there?" she asked, pointing ahead.
"Where?" I asked, following her hand.
At the middle of the road, a bus was making a hasty U-turn. The persons standing by appeared to be shouting. I looked further ahead to see the cause of the panic. A petrol tanker was approaching the turning bus at top speed, swerving from side to side.
"That tanker is moving too fast," I said, alarmed.
"It is headed in our direction. The way it is swerving, I doubt if the driver has it under control," Cynthia said, her voice filled with concern.
What happened next was shocking. The tanker rammed into the bus and swerved, landing on its side. It skidded for some time, and stopped three vehicles away. I had brought the car to a screeching halt and held the steering wheel, paralyzed with fear. I made to reverse the car but another vehicle was blocking my rear. In an instant, the tanker's lids opened and a near-colourless fluid gushed forth spilling on everything nearby. It showered on the Corolla's windscreen and roof. For a moment, I wished it were water. But I knew better. Even the car's air conditioning could not suppress the choking, nauseating smell. Petrol.
I turned in time to see the blood drain from Cynthia's face. Hell was here.