THE CHRONICLES OF PHILLIP JOE PART 5
By Damilola Akintobi
“Lord Jesus, I recognize you as my personal Lord and savior and I give my life to you to take over my spirit, body and soul. Forgive me all my sins. Send your Holy Spirit to guide me henceforth. Bless the Lord for you answered my prayers. In Jesus name I have prayed. Amen.”
Phillip repeated after him and he was surprised when Reuben seemed to have finished.
“Is that all I have to say to become born again? ”
“That’s all Mr Phillip.”
“So, what should I do next? ”
“Pray to God through his son Jesus, stop going to that bizarre church and read the Christian Bible.” Reuben replied smiling.
The smile vanished as Reuben suddenly realized how long he’d been away from home. His father’s voice resounded again.
“Reuben, are you there? Reuben?”
“I am so dead” Reuben said quietly trying not to imagine what his father’s reaction to him would be. He glanced at the grandfather clock on the wall and made a face as he realized he’d been at Philip’s for well over three hours.
Hurriedly, he dashed towards his father’s voice with a “sorry about this” and a timid smile to Philip as he got to the broken door. Michael stood in the middle of the compound with anger written all over him.
“I’m so sorry dad” Reuben started to explain as he took the stairs on Philip’s frontage two at a time. In his hurry, he miscalculated and jumped right into the broken stair.
“Haaa!” he groaned as splinters of wood pierced his skin and blood flowed freely. Michael walked over and bent down to remove him from his entrapment but Philip was faster. With the deftness of one who handled bodies daily, he lifted the young lad effortlessly slinging him across his shoulder. Without a word to Micheal or Anne who had joined him, he moved past them and across the street into their home. Tasha was dumbfounded and afraid when she saw her brother bundled on Mr Joe’s shoulder with blood dripping from his legs.
“Get me some water, soap, and wool.” Philip commanded as he dropped Reuben on the cold tiled floor. Tasha rushed to the first aid box and brought the whole thing to him watching as he worked quietly.
In three minutes, he’d cleaned Reuben’s cut and dressed it neatly. He worked with precision and efficiency; like one of the paramedics in the force. Michael wanted to ask where he got his training from, but he refrained.
“Goodbye Reuben” Philip said as he finished up. He wanted to say something, to defend the little boy, to instruct his parents to spare him whatever punishment they had in mind but he didn’t know how to. He looked at Michael, then Anne, then Michael again, and walked out of the house without a word.
Michael inspected the wound and satisfied with the first aid, he moved a seat over from the dinning set and proceeded to query Reuben.
“What the hell were you thinking?” The way Philip handled the boy, the way he carried him and gave his wound attention had all but dissolved Michael’s anger. But he knew his wife expected an onslaught so he kept his look serious and his tone firm. “Since when did you start sneaking around and breaking into strange houses young man? That’s what you do now?”
“I am sorry dad.” Reuben managed supporting the weight of his body with his hands as he got into a sitting position. “I only wanted to be his friend. He’s of a peculiar character and his life is like one giant riddle. I just want to get close to him. Please, don’t be mad, I sneaked out because I didn’t want anyone to stop me.”
“He’s of a riddled character and you feel that you are in the best position to solve the riddle, right?” asked Michael.
“Not that, dad. I mean…. I just feel that I could help him” continued Reuben.
“Help him like give him clothes, money or shelter?”
“So, what is it? He yelled at Reuben while the latter mumbled inaudible words. “Look here young man, it’s a dangerous world out there. If you think you can act recklessly because your father has a badge and a gun then you’re the greatest fool on earth. I can’t be everywhere every time! And how were we to know where you were? Do you not think what you did was plain irresponsible?”
Reuben began to sob. “I’m sorry dad. I should have told you, but you wouldn’t let me go.” He looked up and pleaded through his tears. “Please don’t stop me, I am safe with him. He’s interested in me too, he also wants to be my friend. Trust me dad, he is no harm. I just want to be his friend.”
Michael and Anne looked at each other surprised at their son’s words. Anne was worried.
“What do you know about friendship?” She asked him angrily.
Michael signalled her to stop.
“It’s okay then young boy, have your way. Show your love but remember to be very careful. You can’t judge a man to be good by twenty minutes of interaction, you don’t know him deep down and you don’t know what he is capable of doing. Just be careful,” He rose from the chair and went into their bedroom with Anne trailing behind him.
“Seriously Michael? That’s all you have to say? You can’t just allow him to take to that man like that!” Reuben’s mother protested.
“Look here woman” Michael answered shutting the door to keep their conversation away from the children. “He is my son, he has my strong-will. He has decided to be that man’s friend and there’s nothing we can do about it. Threatening or forbidding him will only make him sneak out again like he just did, underline the word ‘sneak’. Let him be, at least now we can hope that he would tell us whenever he’s going there; that way, we can account for his whereabouts and keep an eye on him”
Michael walked to the window, pulled up the curtains and examined Philip’s house. The house looked empty and somewhat safe.
Michael had checked Philip out when they just moved in. He asked around at the station, he went into the archives in search of something, anything to substantiate the strange fear everyone had for his neighbour; he’d found nothing. He knew people were afraid, but there was no discernible reason why. He showered and changed into his tennis shorts and a white polo.
“I’ll be on my way to the tennis club” he said to his wife who watched him with a confused expression. At the door, he looked at Reuben and told him “whatever becomes of you in your new-found relationship is on you boy,” then he picked his racket from its place on the wall and stepped out into the hot afternoon.
Philip removed the clothes and stacked them in his father’s box in the corner of his bedroom. For the first time in ages, he wanted to lie on the bed, free to toss and turn, he wanted peace. His mind had his conversation with Reuben on replay, “In the Bible we use in my church, the stories say Jesus was a friend to sinners.”
All those happy people he ignored everyday because of their sin, could he truly have been misinformed? Different conflicting thoughts raced through his mind but he couldn’t shake the feeling off. Reuben was a happy young man, he had peace. Peace was the reason Philip joined the ‘Jehovah’s slaves’ sect, yet peace still eluded him.
The room felt hot, he removed his clothes and continued to think about what peace would feel like. “The Fall of Man” sat quietly atop his reading table, for the first time ever, Philip slept without reading from its pages; for the first time ever, he slept within minutes of lying on the bed, for the first time ever, Philip Joe smiled in his sleep.
The next morning, Phillip came out of his house and headed straight to Reuben’s house. He remembered the look on the face of the Johnsons the previous day and began to contemplate whether to go ahead or not. He was still undecided when he got there and pressed the bell; it was Michael who opened the door. “Mr Joe” he began but Philip walked right past him into the living room.
“How’s Reuben? I came to see how he’s faring and I want to also thank him for all the things he told me yesterday. For the first time in a million years, I had a sound sleep” Philip chattered excitedly.
Michael was both surprised and amused by him. He definitely did not know about pleasantries or propriety, and his look; he seemed different. Philip was as unkempt as usual, but there was some spirit to his demeanour, a new life about him.
“You have quite a precocious young man under your roof Michael, I would like to spend more time with him” Philip continued surprised himself that he was smiling.
“Reuben is fine thank you, and I am glad you feel this way about him. I don’t know about spending time with him though, with his school work and every other thing, I doubt there’ll be enough time for that.”
Philip’s face was clouded with disappointment at his neighbour’s words and before Michael could utter another word of explanation, he turned his back and left.
Michael felt like calling him back; he thought of what to say to him but came up short. He kept staring at his back till his wife, Anne tapped him.
“Who was that? Anne asked.
She went to the window to see who it was and saw Phillip at entrance to his own house.
“Honey, don’t tell me that man came here. What did he want? And who did he come to see? Why did you even answer him? You really should discourage this, he can only be bad influence on Reuben and you know it.”
“Next time our son wants to go there, do not stop him.” Michael’s tone gave no room for deliberation. “Reuben is going to make a change out of the unchangeable. He is making an impact in the life of this man already and stopping him would not be in anyone’s best interest” he spoke without looking at his wife.
Anne stared at him trying to figure out when exactly he lost his mind. She kept on tying to persuade him, telling him to help her discourage their son from going to Philip but Michael remained unmoved. He dressed up for the station and when he was about to leave, he went into Reuben’s room and told him to assist anyone he felt needed help without reserve.
It was a quite pleasant day for Phillip. He went to the mortuary by bus though he still kept to himself. He got to the mortuary early and did his rounds. On sighting the abandoned bodies again, he allowed himself to feel some pity for the bereaved families who couldn’t even afford to come and claim their departed.
“What do I do with you all” he thought aloud. While he was still thinking, the familiar whirring of an ambulance in the distance filtered through his ears. Before the Carriage man came down when the vehicle entered his morgue, Philip was already standing at the back of the van.
“How many?” asked Phillip.
“Excuse me?” The slender man was puzzled. “I asked how many are there, can you handle all or do you need my help?”.
“My word!” the carriage man exclaimed. “Mr Joe, you are ‘talking’ to me?”
He was surprised; Philip neither asked nor answered questions. The only reason Roberts’ morgue was still in business was that theirs was the best in town. Robert and Phillip were trained morticians and in addition to that, Philip never seemed to mind having unclaimed bodies in his custody.
He did not acknowledge the slender man’s comments, he hadn’t totally changed from his brusque mannerisms. They went through the same process: registration, numbering and payment, then Philip spoke in what seemed to be more of a warning than a question or remark.
“I hope these bodies will be claimed soon?” asked Phillip.
“Oh yes. Of course Mr Joe; they would” answered the Carriage Man.
“That’s what you always say, but what am I to do if I don’t see anyone to claim them soon” Phillip was not satisfied.
He wanted to tell him to eat them but he was not sure how the ‘new’ Mr Joe would react to that.
“Don’t bother yourself Mr Joe; in less than three weeks all these bodies will be asked after by their respective families” the Carriage man replied hoping the barrage of questions would stop.
Reuben’s mind wandered off again. He kept wondering if the new star that would adorn his crown in heaven would be big or small. With Philip, he concluded it had to be big; very big.
“You’re not yourself today Reuben” his friends remarked. “Is it your leg?”
Reuben wanted to tell them, that he’d made friends with ‘that man’ and he liked him, but he decided not to. As soon as he returned from school, he rushed his lunch, removed his new Bible from his bag and made straight for Philip’s screaming “I’m at the neighbour’s” to his sister.
This time, he examined the stairs critically and opened the door carefully.
Phillip’s house was still hideous. Reuben looked around and chuckled at the thought of what his mother would say if she saw this room. Without thinking, he started picking up, arranging and disposing. By the time he was done with the living room, Phillip had arrived. He was surprised and delighted to see the miracle little Reuben had accomplished.
He settled on the middle couch with his eyes on Reuben and a smile on his face. “I have questions Reuben, I have many of them” he finally said hoping Reuben could help him make sense of some of the things he had been keeping to himself all the time.
“Well, Mr Philip, I may not be able to handle all your questions but I’ll try to answer the ones I can.” He walked over to the table and picked the Bible he dropped there while he was cleaning.
“Here, this is a Bible. Remember I mentioned the King James Bible yesterday?” Philip nodded. “This is the Revised Standard Bible. It’s the one we use in school because the English is easier to understand so I think it’s the one you should start with.”
Philip gave the book a disapproving look remembering his ‘Spirit Book’ and ‘The Fall of Man’ again.
“This will answer most of your questions” Reuben added sensing Philip’s apprehension.
“I have to get back now” he said as Philip stretched his hand to collect the Bible. “I don’t want my parents to stop me from coming here so I’m trying not to make dad angry.”
Philip nodded and opened the Bible. He got engrossed and didn’t notice Reuben waiting at the door post. When he looked up, he was smiling.
“I almost forgot sir, they say ‘cleanliness is next to godliness, I used to think my room was dirty till I saw yours.” Reuben spoke with a smile hoping Philip got his message.
“Haaa!” Philip really laughed and it was a beautiful sight. “Thank you Reuben, I’ve never really cared much about such things.”
“I know, but you should sir. And one last thing; you’re going to need to come with us to Church on Sunday.” Reuben quickly chipped in.
“Why?” Philip asked.
Reuben smiled and started to go home.
“I think you should meet our pastor” he said before he disappeared from Philip’s sight.
The Chronicles of Phillip Joe continues