Elliot Ziwira At the Bookstore
“The word, the word, the different meanings of the word, that’s the source of unfaith. Those who have faith follow the established meaning of words; those without follow the metaphorical implications . . .

“(Satan) makes you imagine the thousands of metaphorical implications of every word; you now have variety, as the situation predisposes you jump from one meaning to another, you become untrustworthy, sceptical, without faith in anything, you become a heckler, a munafiq, and unbeliever”, says the Preacher in Mohamed Gibril Sesay’s “This Side of Nothingness” (2009) published by Pampana Communications.

There is so much hope in the knowledge that in the absence of satiation, as it is wont to be in an oppressive environment, one can still feed on one’s faith, unperturbed. It is this unrestrained faith in the multiplicity of outcomes that breeds hope and a reason to soldier on to the next hurdle.

But what happens then, gentle reader if that faith is expunged, not so much as a result of the lack of it in others, but the way life deals the same cards from its deck to the same people, with corresponding results and the same trophies for both losers and winners?

Life itself loses lustre if all that one can think of is one’s demise, as if death is not borne of life. Death drives life in the same way it is derived from it, therefore, one can only decide how not to live not so much as how to live or die, which is circumstantial.
Faith or lack of it is what life is premised on, and it is this that is always used against individuals as new gods take the place of old gods in a new deification spree spurred on by avarice, hypocrisy, deceit, individualism and voyeurism.

Gentle reader, take a moment to reflect on your faith or lack of it and determine its source in the metaphysical or spiritual realm that shape your being. Yes, at one point you believed in something, gradually shifting to another standpoint through acquisition of knowledge, or experience or both, but to what end?

Is knowledge reliable in explaining your condition and that of others around you? Is faith enough arsenal against a myriad missiles thrown your way? How better off are you as an agnostic wayfarer in luminous vapours, whose source you scantly discern, as compared to the believer who gropes about in the darkness for a handle to a door he believes exists, but has never seen?

It is against this backdrop that the reading of Gibril Sesay’s “This Side of Nothingness” (2009) becomes revealingly apt.
Set in war-torn Sierra Leone, the book hoists the reader on a whirlwind voyage of intrigue, suspense and hilarity, as the struggle to keep body and soul intensifies with brother hacking brother’s throat for lack of trophies, and puts sister in the family way for the thrill of it.

The writer draws the reader into the narrator, Momodu’s life, as a child, through adolescence to adulthood in a country torn apart by civil strife, suffering and abject poverty. After a near fatal experience the narrator christens himself Adam and his wife Hawa, meaning Eve.

Central to the fragmented plot, which allows for the merging of the different episodes that shape the narrator’s experiences, is the issue of faith. Through the narrator, the artiste creates a repertoire of the bizarre, mystique, hilarious, gory, glorious, ennobling and enervating by merging individual experiences in a country burdened by its own foibles, yet seeking solutions from outside its own parameters.

Characters whose experiences are made to interact and merge with Momodu’s to converge on the national discourse are the misunderstood man-woman poet Sana, the atheistic Duramani, the ever inquisitive Younger Brother, the astute messenger of the word The Preacher and Maimuna, the heroine in Sana’s stories within the story, who embodies women’s struggles against societal whims enshrined in religion and culture, which reduce women to objects of carnal pleasures.

The narrator hews the different stems that make up the forests of his existence in an attempt to understand the different granules that fashion life, and finding no explanation to the senseless slaughter, brutality and molestation characteristic of war, he seeks solace in his faith.

His father, a Muslim tells him: “Be good son . . . fear none, but The God/ess, don’t take your passion for the God/ess beside your creator.”

He believes in the existence of evil as outlined in the Koran, but hypocritically takes advantage of desperate girls and women fighting against the pangs of hunger that lay base at their homesteads, to quench his carnal desires. He also sleeps with married women, who are also ensconced in their own fears. Inasmuch as he seeks the elixir in sex in an attempt to even scores with the merchants of sorrow and death, he also becomes a merchant of the same.

Duramani, his cousin tells him: “Momodu, let me tell you what I have gone through . . . I was like you . . . Mine was a heartful of tears watering the fields of our sadness — evergreen, ever young; I never allowed my sadness to mellow. I was a very committed gardener of sadness, a man who freely gave barns of unhappiness to all.”

Sadness is a weakness that many have a way of dishing out to others, because of their masochistic pessimism and sadistic nature. Had it not been that, perchance the world could have been a better place for all, without despondency, evil and pain; but is such a utopian world in existence outside the crevices of our imagination?

Probably the old sage is right for telling Duramani that “the pot of what we call life stands on three stones; one stone is called good, the other evil and the third hypocrisy. The day one of these is removed shall be the end of life.”

Without that ancient part of the human mind, which derives excitement from trauma and suffering, there is no life for “evil” as the philosophical old man has realised, “is an equally important prop of the illusion we call life”.

There is so much suffering and pain as women and girls are raped like lovemaking has gone out of fashion and children born out of these ungodly unions are ostracised as the harbingers of sorrow, even though they play no part in the whole matrix called life.

Maimuna, who epitomises the crusade against molestation of the fairer sex, realises that the only weapon to use against men is the same weapon they use against women — sex.

Along with a group of six beautiful girls from their secondary school, she is raped by much older men invited as important guests to the school, with the assistance of their devious headmaster. She later on falls in love, but she is robbed of her freedom to sexual pleasures through genital mutilation, as culturally prescribed by her maternal aunts.

Men are circumcised to heighten their sexual prowess and virgin girls are circumcised against the knowledge of the existence of sexual pleasures. It is considered an abomination for women to be privy to the existence of sexual ecstasy.

As men derive excitement in puking at women and expect them to drool over their vomit, women should remain stoic recipients of spew, and willing givers of pleasure to caress chauvinist egos.

Armed with this knowledge Maimuna mobilises 12 beautiful victims of these carnal purges each representing her province, to start a “clinic”. Any man that sleeps with one of them is rendered impotent for life and with their exceptional beauty many perverts are drawn into the web.
Sadly, as is the case with life, Maimuna dies.

On the other hand, the inquisitive Younger Brother, questions the essence of “religious myth” in one’s attempt to fathom creation. He takes to task the authenticity of science in the same vein, with its evolution, molecules and the like, calling it all “science-fiction”.

He also rubbishes the adequacy of “generalised history” and doubts the significance of the poet/writer and his or her metaphors and gatekeeping inclinations, in the same mould. Reducing everything to nothing, just like breath and darkness.
However, as death is an appendage of life Younger Brother dies in defence of his people against rebels, at the hands of “a group of soldier-hating vigilantes”.

The narrator’s attempt to immortalise him through the birth of a son by his pregnant wife Hawa (Eve) yields nothing, as she delivers a baby boy resembling the rebel rapist, who violated her womanhood before she met her husband.

In a fit of rage, she strangles the baby and is arrested. And all is reduced to nothing in a world devoid of answers in response to the void within, beneath and yonder; where truth is a conflagration of one’s mind, as the path to heaven passes through hell, which in the narrator’s area means “food”.

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