Douglass would always make Montero see things from a new perspective. He liked to talk about what he called, metaphysics, the multiple planes of existence, reincarnation, and evolution. And Montero, always hungry for knowledge, kept his mind open to receive.
“God has always been interested in the affairs of Man,” he would say. “He has spoken to us at different times through different people from different nations.” And then, he would talk about Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, and other bringers of light like Martin Luther, Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, and Voltaire. Douglass always stood up for what he called ‘the truth’, even when some outspoken people ridiculed him, just like when he refuted their claims that fishes fell from heaven during rainstorms, and that monkeys were once humans until they left for the forest. His resort to Scientific Method and Empiricism didn’t make much sense to them. Once, he cautioned Montero to mind his actions and reactions. “Our thoughts, our actions and reactions are forces,” he explained. Be careful not to create a force that would go against the Will of God, which is the Ultimate Force. Bear in mind that anytime two forces collide, the lesser is bound to yield. That’s why anything that must succeed in life must agree with the Will of God, or else it is bound to fail.”
The address Douglass had given to Montero led him to a Government Reserved Area across the railway on his way from Nassarawa. When Montero had knocked on the wicket several times, he heard a door slam, followed by light footsteps. He stepped back to take a deep breath and put on a smile for whoever would show up, whom he was going to ask the way to the outhouse, where Douglass had to be staying. But when the wicket clanked open, it was Douglass’ smiling face that peeped out.
The walkway was covered with a thin layer of flowers which the bougainvillea overhanging the adjoining fence had shed. The tap beside the backdoor dripped water rhythmically into an iron bucket, and the jet of water that shot out from the head of the faulty faucet fell on a portion of the sky-blue wall which was already covered with moss. The backdoor opened to the kitchenette, where a pot of rice was simmering on the stove, charging the small room with rich aroma. The floor was a check of blue and white rubber tiles, some of which had peeled off. The small sink stood in front of the canister window, one of whose glass louvers had been replaced with a sheet of plywood. Douglass led him on through another door that opened to a narrow corridor and into one of the rooms with a soft brown rug. Because power was out, the room depended on daylight, which poured in through the open window, amplified by the milk coloured walls. Montero sat on the edge of the mattress, swallowing a lungful of the lavender-scented air. Once his guest had settled down, Douglass excused himself and left the room. There was a 21-inch LG TV on the ground beside an LG DVD player. Montero was still admiring the portable wardrobe and the neat row of footwear at the bottom, when Douglass’ whistle approached until the latter pushed the door gently with his left knee, since he had a bottle of Maltina and a saucer of digestive biscuit on his hands.
“The food is still cooking,” he said, placing the snacks at his guest’s feet. “Prepare the way with that,” he added as he dug out a photo album from behind the TV. The pictures seemed to have been arranged chronologically, starting with the earliest to the latest. Montero kept flipping over, through Douglass’ secondary school days, when the latter looked darker and thinner, and came to a group photograph in which Douglass was the smallest of twelve, all in school uniforms of purple trousers and sky-blue shirts. Douglass was sitting on the grass, flanked by two other boys, while the rest squatted behind, enclosing the three in a semicircle. The guy on the extreme left had a faze cap on, which was turned to the side. And to indicate that he was now late, someone had written on his forehead the letters R. I. P in red bold fonts.
“Excuse me,” Douglass sighed, pushing himself up from Montero’s side. “Let me check if the food is now good to go.”
There was a picture of Douglass in the exam hall, at the upper end of which was scribbled with a blue pen, First Semester, Year 1. Another one showed him sitting under a large oak tree with a group of other youths. Behind this photo was written, Hanging out with Pals @ Gossip Centre.
Douglass brought in a tray holding two plates of rice, each as high as the pyramids. After he set the tray on the ground, he left the room and returned with a bottle of cold water and two ceramic cups. It was not the numerous lumps of meat and fish that fascinated Montero. Rather, it was the look of the stew, which covered the tops of the rice plates, the way sheets of snow would enshroud the peak of mountains in the alp. Douglass called it Brunswick stew, and explained, in the course of the meal, that its main ingredients were chicken, corn, tomatoes, lima beans, okra, onions and potatoes.
Five minutes after Douglass cleared the empty plates, he sat cross-legged on the rug, leaning his back on the mattress. A pack of fine quality rolling papers lay on the rug between his left knee and a black cellophane bag from which he fetched crumbs of dry grass. When he had transferred enough to the paper in the other hand, he started to wrap the stuff, picking up the crumbs that dropped in the process and either returning them into the cellophane bag or throwing them into his mouth.
“That’s how I do it,” Douglass grinned. “I eat, shit, and then smoke one or two wraps. I know you must have heard or read so many things about this,” he hummed, his limbs busy like a potter’s. “So many wrong things,” he stroked the entire length of the wrap, smiling reverently at the neatness and beauty of his handiwork. “Most lawyers and doctors and senators use weed,” he swore. Many lecturers smoke it before handling classes.”
He drew smoke slowly, making successive sizzles as he whiffed in air through his clenched teeth. He raised his head and shot out a sharp jet of smoke towards the ceiling.
“It awakens the sixth sense. It’s good. That is, if you don’t abuse it. It awakens the sixth sense. Gets you in touch with your body like never before. Want to try it?” He stretched forth the stick to Montero, who chuckled and said, No.
By the time the stick had burnt halfway, Douglass was putting finishing touches on a second wrap, twisting the tiny knot at the head after he had wet the flap with his spittle and had lapped it close.
“The first chapter of the book of Genesis explains how God willed everything into existence,” he coughed. “That’s what I’m talking about. The Power of the Mind. Like I told you before, every invention you see today had first existed in the spirit realm. All that their inventors did was gain access into that realm, get the blueprints and replicate them here. This is how it works,” he cleared his throat and shifted closer to the lost boy. “When you and I think, things take shape over there. When you wish there were a better tool than the axe for woodcutting, you have started up something; you’ve initiated a process. However, it’s possible you’re not the only person with that thought at that moment. There might be hundreds or thousands of others around the world wishing the same thing. But out of them all, the person with the strongest mind-power gets the picture of chain saw and then manufactures it.”
“If that is the case”, deduced Montero, “no single person should claim absolute ownership of any invention. Since it comes about by the joint effort of several people.”
“I am impressed at the soundness of your mind,” Douglass smiled. “You must learn to never underestimate the power of the mind. Let me show you something.” He got up and left the room.
Power had come on few minutes ago and Douglass had put on Enya. The room was now thick with the smoke of hemp. Montero kept inhaling successive lungful of air until he began to feel light-headed. He picked a seed of the grass from the rug carpet and threw it into his mouth. It was tasteless. He hid another one inside his breast pocket immediately. He would examine it later, when he got back to his room. He shot another glance at the brown transparent glass saucer, which Douglass used as ashtray. He flashed a glance at the door before he picked up the smoldering stud and gave it a mild suck, grimacing as his tongue turned bitter. He was going to give it another suck when he heard Douglass’ whistles approaching the room, so he dropped the stud and rolled farther away from the ashtray.
Douglas came in with a silver cup, which he placed on top of one of the speakers, and then he slot in another plate into the DVD tray. “You know why I like classical music and jazz? Classical music, mainly?” he asked Montero as Yanni’s With the Orchid started playing. “Even when they lack human voice, they speak volumes. My favourite track in this collection comes immediately after this one. I like to call it Funereal, because of its tune and mood. At the beginning, it paints the futility of greed, the vanity of the lust for power. It speaks of death and a procession to the graveyard. But towards the end, a shrill viola whispers comfort and hope.
“There’s what is called the Law of Resonance,” he said, holding onto the volume control knob.” I think you will understand it better with a practical example. Come closer,” he invited Montero as he turned up the volume slowly. “You’ll notice that as I keep increasing the volume, it gets to a point that this cup will start vibrating. Even if we remove it from here and place it somewhere else, it will still vibrate, depending on the loudness of the speaker. That is the long and short of what resonance and telepathy are all about.”
To prove this claim, Montero balanced the cup on his left palm and moved back to the bed, cackling as the silver cup trembled when Douglass increased the bass of the music some more.
“From your house”, Douglas went on, “you can transmit messages to ma, or even arouse in me some feelings. You can influence me to do things, even those outside my will. That, we call Hypnotism. But that will be a topic for another time,” he said, when he sensed bewilderment in Montero’s eyes.
“Have you ever had an experience in which you thought about someone for some time and shortly the person showed up?”
“Yes”, Montero nodded, “once or twice.”
“Good. You see, when you think deeply of someone, and maintain the tempo, if not increase it, the person eventually starts thinking of you. It may begin in flashes. Your picture may flash in the person’s mind. Then, as you remain focused and strong in the practice, it may get to the point that the person will ring you or come over to your place to see you. It’s common to hear them say something like, ‘I just thought of you, so I decided to come over’, not knowing that it was you who first thought of them. Sometimes, when they run into you days later, they might say things like, ‘I thought of you the other day.’ But, like I said, it depends on the frequency and intensity of your thought vibration.”
He stretched forth the smoldering stick to Montero again, and this time the latter took it without hesitation, as one hypnotized. Perhaps, he thought, he would understand the weed better than Douglass’ words. Perhaps, he believed, it held innumerable secrets. But the first inhale sent him whooping, so much that the muscles of his chest ached.
“Take it easy,” Douglass urged him. “Take it slowly. See,” he took it from Montero to show him what he meant. “Don’t draw long from it,” he said, after he had handed it back to the novice. “Then, try to inhale through your mouth. The smoke has to get into the head.”
Five minutes later, the king-size wrap was less than two inches long, as Montero increased the frequency at which he whiffed.
Out of the several paintings on the walls, Montero could only identify two: Mother and Child by Yusuf Grillo, in which the Child looked on to the ground, heavy with guilt, while the Mother’s was indulgent and encouraging, like God’s. The second was Cornfield and Cypress Trees by Vincent Van Gogh: a world of vegetation; of sky; of space. There was this other one, which had always remained incoherent, of a Man in a white jumpsuit and skullcap playing on a wind instrument for a dancing Woman in orange gown and headgear.
“I remember telling you some time ago”, coughed Douglass, “that this realm of creativity is beyond the reach of slumbering minds. For example, there are many forms of fuel, but the best are often located farther down the earth. From primitive times, men had employed all sorts of tools to get to them. But one of the best ways to get to them is by the derrick, which enables the drills to bore through rocks, past the underground waters, to the very core of the earth to get the real thing. It’s the same with ideas and insights. The purest and noblest of them float farther above their baser counterparts. And the mind works the same way as the derrick. Imagine this realm of the imagination as a world with a tough outer shell. Success at breaking through the barriers and getting to this realm of the imagination depends on the intensity of the force employed and the sharpness of the point…”
First, it started like a thought, like a wish. Montero wished he was far away from here. Far away from the present. And then, he felt he was far away. Douglass’ voice came to him as from a distance, in echoes, in swells, in whiffs. Sometimes, blurry. The latter was saying something about spiritualism, or spiritism. When he roared that the air was full of powerful thoughts projected by active minds, Montero saw them as thin laser beams or infrared rays flickering in the dark sky, like whizzing bullets. Sometimes, he saw two or more of them colliding to form a stronger force.
HYPNOTISM… RESONANCE… TELEPATHY…
If so, Montero thought, Samantha’s case had a solution. She had remained elusive all this time. But now, with this new awareness, he could just sit at the comfort of his room and control her. He was not thinking of magnetizing her instantly. He would first start with the ‘flashes’ Douglas talked about earlier on. He would make her think of him for at least ten minutes every day. He would make it lightly at first, and then intensify it, eventually. He would make her think of him, like him, admire him, and miss him for no special reasons. He smiled at this exciting prospect, and brought out a piece of paper from his hip pocket, straining his eyes to read its content. It had the fragment of a poem, the only three lines he could salvage from an oil- soaked paper, which had been used to wrap akara for him at Mama Christy’s the previous morning.
“… the night shall be filled with music
and the cares that infest the day
shall fold their tents like the Arabs…”
Now that the smoke had diffused his whole system, the depth of his sensory perception quadrupled. He could feel the rhythm of his blood flow. He could feel the air he breathed gush into his lungs like a spring of cold water, cooling and caressing his airways. Blinking no longer occurred in a wink anymore, but took a longer time, during which the lids seemed to be propelled by some fan belt or cog wheel.
“… the night shall be filled with music…”
He was in space. Clusters of stars hung here and there. The Milky Way Galaxy was just an arm’s length away.
First, the music turned loud like the grinding and pounding and draining peculiar to large factories, and then it grew into horrid groans, like of prisoners yearning for freedom.
“… and the cares that infest the day
shall fold their tents like the Arabs…”
Montero heard an enormous bell strike seven times. And at each strike, his head ached. When he would be sober, he would think it was the clock alarm at seven.