A peek into ‘This Side of Noth­ing­ness’

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Comment & Feedback - El­liot Zi­wira At the Book­store

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.

“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.

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