The undercurrent of Portal, is that many of us find ourselves held back by things in our past.
Like Tolu, some of us are encumbered by the fear of the future and its uncertainty.
Like Riley, many of us are affected by the pain and hurts we have experienced in the past.
And, like Frank, many of us are held back by the guilt of the wrongs we’ve done, and by the pain we’ve inflicted on others.
Moving on from these is never easy. I have experienced all three of these, and I have seen how they have influenced my actions, affected how I related with people, and determined the decisions I made. Unknowingly, I was trapped in those points in time and was navigating the present from those places. Influenced by the insecurities of my guilt, protective because of the hurts I experienced, limited by the uncertainties of what lay ahead.
I wish I could say there is a portal of some kind that you can pass through that will makes those things fade away. But then, I have found that there is. This story is a picture of how, through Jesus, we can find the confidence, healing and forgiveness we need to face the future.
For those of us afraid of the future and its uncertainty, He encourages us to trust in Him. Trusting Him means following Him. When we do, He will guide us every step of the way. We may not know where we ought to be five years from now, but at least we know He is with us and we know how He expects us to navigate the times. He is our Light, so we never have to walk in darkness. He has given us His Word so that we can learn of Him and know what He desires. His Word is like a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths (Psalm 119:11).
For those of us held back by the pain of our past, who find ourselves responding to people and circumstances from that hurt, He empathises. He promises healing for the broken hearted (Luke 4:18) and joy in the places of weeping (Psalm 30:5). He will carry you and keep you through it all.
And for those of us who can’t get past the fact that we have hurt someone, inflicted pain on someone, ruined something… Guilt is terrible in that it makes us feel we’ve earned the darkness it brings us into. Guilt is painful, no matter how earned it is. And while, yes, conviction is good, Jesus offers to all that come to Him forgiveness. Forgiven, He gives us the strength to forgive ourselves. And for those who we have hurt, we find the strength to apologise, to mend the friendships we can.
As one who is navigating these zones too, I cannot say I have all the answers. Many of these things, I have to keep reminding myself of every single day; that I have hope in Christ, that He has healed me, and that I am forgiven.
Our stories may differ, but there is the One Portal through which, if we take it, He will lead us in the right ways our souls have always yearned for. It’s called ‘the path of righteousness’ (Psalm 23:3). We will find our solace and peace in Him, and we can enjoy every moment of every day, just as He intended it.
In His Light, we see that He had given Time meaning.
Time in itself is seemingly amoral, giving as much opportunities for decay and corruption as it does for growth and development. The difference is what we do with it. When we are in Christ, He gives us wisdom on how to navigate these times and to make the best of them.
Ephesians 5:17 puts it this way:
Make good use of every opportunity you have, because these are evil days.
Don’t be fools, then, but try to find out what the Lord wants you to do.
I take special comfort in one of David’s Psalms in 31:15 where he says:
My times are in thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me.
He was confident that, even though he had enemies, he had help because his times were in God’s hands. It reminds me that, it doesn’t matter what season I am in: be it a height or a low, a win or a loss, as long as I am following Jesus, I am in God’s hands.
He will perfect all that concerns me.
From someone who is learning along the way, I pray you find the healing and strength in Jesus to move on. There is so much more to life that He has for you. You’ve got a whole lifetime to discover it.
It was December 31, the last day of 2019, and Riley Harris was back at the party in Brisbane. The house will flooded with pulsating lights and music blared from the DJs stand.
She blinked, taking in the world around her. She had thought she would die when stepping off that cliff, but here she was.
She was back.
Oh snap! She was back!
She fished out her phone from her pocket. It read 11:52pm.
Shannon tapped her shoulder. “Hey, girl friend!” She had arrived with the shots. “Where’ve you been?”
Riley collected her glass, studying her friend. “Shannon?”
Shannon cocked her head. “Please tell me you haven’t tried the good stuff yet.”
She wasn’t flickering. Riley reached out to touch her arm. She was real! “I’m actually back!!!”
She dropped her glass and embraced Shannon, jumping with glee.
“Shannon, I’m back!!!”
Shannon pulled away, picking her steps among the shattered glass at her feet. “OK, I’m completely freaked out now.”
“Shannon, what time is it?”
“What time is it? Are you OK in the head, Riley?”
Riley didn’t know where to begin. She didn’t know how to begin.
She hurried away, feeling the mass of humanity around her. They were all real.
It wasn’t until she eventually made her way out of the building that she could actually breathe fresh air. There were fireworks in the distance, and music from different buildings all around. Ah, how she had missed the feeling of the breeze on her skin. Back in the Timescape the air was still.
Shannon was not far behind. “Riley, where’re you going?”
“I’m sorry, Shannon. It’s just … all of this is so real.” She raised her hands to feel the breeze.
“OK, I don’t know what Todd put in your drink but you’re high out of your mind, girl. Now you’re going to sit down right now and get a hold of yourself—“
Riley grabbed her hands. “Shannon, Shannon, look at me. I am not high. I just … I feel alive for the first time in a long time.”
Shannon smiled. “I did tell you the party will get you out the dumps, didn’t I?”
Riley knew it wasn’t the party, but she didn’t know how to frame it. “Shannon I’ve needed help for so long.”
“Yeah, we tell you that all the time. You’re sick in the head, but we love ya. This New Year, we’ll make sure there’s no time to think too hard on all the trash that’s bothered you, alright Riley?”
She shrugged. “I, uh … I think I’m just going to sit outside here for a while.”
Shannon frowned. “Why don’t I feel OK about that?”
“I’m not going anywhere, Shan. Look into my eyes. I am fine. I just want some … fresh air.”
Shan actually stepped closer. “There’s a first. Usually you’re the party animal and I’m the sane one.”
“Go have fun, Shan. I’ll be right here.”
“Alright!” Shannon stepped toward the door. “Come in soon, OK?”
She nodded. “Now go!”
Riley sat on the doorstep, staring into the sky. It was so good to see lights again.
But she still had questions. Had all of that really happened? Had she been hallucinating? She knew she hadn’t. She just didn’t know where to go from here.
“God,” she said. “I still don’t know if you really are there. But if You are, they say you can heal me of what has hurt me. I admit, I have carried this pain all this time. I’m really not sure if you are listening. But now I know there is so much more going on than meets the eye. If you really have healing for me, I want that. I want it. If You’ve got something better for me, I really want to know You.”
It was December 31, the last day of 2019, and Tolu was back in the car, on the way to church.
The phone was in his hands, and his parents were in front.
I’m home! I’M HOME!
He was so overcome, he didn’t know what to say. He just reached over around his Mum’s seat and hugged her.
Thank you, God. Thank you!
Mum was shocked. “Ah-ah, Toluwanimi? Sho wa okay bayii? (Literally, ‘Are you OK?, but contextually, ‘Are you OK in the head?!’)”
“I’m just happy to see you again, Mum!”
She actually didn’t know how to respond at first. “Aw, my boy. I don’t know how God blessed me with a gift like you.”
Out of the corner of his eye he noticed his father smile.
“I love you too, Dad!”
“Hey, hey, don’t even try and touch me now,” Dad warned as he drove. “Nonsense. I’m still not buying that shoe for you.”
Mum turned to him. “Ah-ah, Honey! Appreciate your son, jo!”
“It’s alright, Dad,” he said. “The shoe is the last thing on my mind right now. I’m just happy to be back … here with you.”
Dad nodded slowly, taking it in. “It’s alright.” He shook his head, wondering what was wrong with his boy.
Tolu sat back in his seat, remembering the last time he had been here. Every second now meant something to him. He just kept staring at his parents as the whispered the rest of their conversation.
He remembered where he’d been, and he remembered what had taken him there. Was the Timescape real?
“Mummy,” he said. “I have a question.”
“What is it, my dear?”
“Is it possible for someone not to enter the New Year?”
She paused a moment to consider that before she hit the chair. “You will make it into the New Year in Jesus Name! Stop using your mouth to say dangerous things like that!”
“No, I mean—“
“Instead of you to be talking with God about your future,” Dad said. “You’re busy thinking about something like that.”
He figured it would be difficult to explain, so he let it lie. “It’s alright.”
“Maybe it’s those cartoons he’s been watching.”
“It haff do,” Mum said. “Oya, start praying in your seat. I must see you praying!”
Tolu smirked at his mother’s training methods, but he knew she meant well. He leaned against the window, praying. As he stared at the world around – living, bright, full of colour and moving people – he wondered what each of them was going through. The fears and concerns and insecurities they may harbour. Just like he had.
He had been quoting prayers he heard a lot when he stopped. It was time to actually have a conversation. “Lord, I don’t know what’s next. But I know You must. I don’t want to stay stuck in the past or in a moment. So I’ll … enter the unknown with You. I will trust You, and I will seek You. Help me find You.”
It was December 31, the last day of 2019, and Frank Aldrin found himself in Times Square, New York.
The sudden change of scenery jolted him for a moment. It was a cold night, with snow all around. Digital billboards on the sides of buildings were lit with motion adverts of upcoming movies and products. Some still had Christmas decorations on.
It worked! Good golly, it worked!
“…so that’s why I took Benny to his cousin’s school, instead.” A lady was walking beside him, talking to him. He wasn’t sure why he recognised her, but he did. It was when he saw her face that he realised who it was.
Her face. Her disfigured left cheek and smaller left eye. The tiny dots where repeated suturing had been done over the years. The girl he had known 37 years ago had grown. He couldn’t believe it.
She turned to him. “Hmm?”
He couldn’t believe his eyes. This woman, probably in her mid-thirties, was his own daughter, Darlene!
“You’re … here?”
She seemed confused as to why he would ask that question. “Yeah. I am here, like I told you before. My interview this Friday brought me to New York, that’s why I’m not with them. Brian and Benny understand that I’m here.”
This was his daughter, Darlene, all grown up and now a wife and a mother. Memories of the years since he’d been trapped in the Timescape came filtering in, as though he had been here all along. For some reason, Frank could put faces to those names she mentioned. Brian Pruitt was her husband, who was in Detroit with their son Benny.
“I have a grandson? Benny.”
Darlene looked a bit disappointed. “Gee, Dad, I’m sure he’d love to hear that his Grandpa forgot he exists. It’s not like we send pictures every year.”
They walked on in silence for a while. The crowd was filled with people running back and forth with firecrackers, some huddled together around street performers, some shops still with their Christmas décor still up. And up on a tall building, the ball drop was being prepared for the midnight countdown into the New Year. 2020 was written in sparkly letters at the top.
Darlene sighed. “Dad, I know things haven’t been the best between you and Mum, or you and me, all our lives. But I’m trying here. It took me years to come to terms with the fact that that’s how things would always be, but it never did it for me.”
Frank didn’t know how to respond. He felt like he barely knew her because he actually didn’t know her.
“You know, if I want to be honest Dad, there’s a lot I haven’t said in years that I need to let out. I grew up angry with myself, and angry with … with you, too. My face was a constant reminder that I have a problem. That I would never find love. That this was why our family broke apart, and why I went through life without a Dad. It kept telling me that I did have a father, and he hated me.”
He was shaken. The problem is me, child. Not you. It was me all along.
“But God healed me,” she said. “He heals me. Maybe not my face, but my heart. I’ve still had my periods where I fight with the reality that this face is going with me through my whole life, and I want to get angry. I think of how you never showed up for my graduation, or even my wedding, or every other things that’s important to me. Until I realised that I was trapped. I was letting my pain keep me from moving on to the much more that God has for me.
“But I look at all He’s blessed me with – life, joy, hope, my f… our family – and I see that He’s never left me alone. He’s never left us alone. Dad, I know it doesn’t always have to be this way.” She held his hand. “But I think you need to know that, whatever it is you feel you’ve done, I’ve forgiven you. I want you to know that you don’t have to shut yourself away from us. You don’t have to, Dad. I want my son to have his Grandpa. I know that we can.”
Frank didn’t know he had been crying until he realised he’d shed a tear. “I’m so sorry, Darlene,” he said.
“Me too, Dad.”
“No, I’m sorry for the years we’ve lost. I was so … I needed to get over myself, but I didn’t know how to.”
Darlene nodded, tears in her eyes. “God can help us. We can do this together, Dad. He can help us.”
And she embraced him.
For the first time in 37 years, he felt light. That burden that had been building up for three decades was gone. His daughter was with him. She loved him. They were willing to find a way to make it work.
He didn’t know what would happen, or if they would ever really make it work. He didn’t know what the future held. But what did he have left, except to trust God and see what He could do? If God truly is, and He had a purpose in time, Frank had no option but to wait and see.
Meanwhile, the countdown to the ball drop had already begun.
Tolu and Riley took the chance of plunging off the cliff, trusting that it would get them into the portal and out of the mad world they had been trapped in.
Frank, the old man, still remains contemplating what has occurred.
Those two kids had been the first people Frank Aldrin had seen here in years. He had initially feared for them, hoping they would not risk the pain of having their hopes dashed, but the boy had sold them his pitch. Watching them take the plunge off the cliff was a twist he had not foreseen.
Frank Aldrin blinked as Justin approached with that annoying smile of his. “Will they make it over there?”
Justin settled beside him. “From this point, there’s really no way for you to tell. Why don’t you take the plunge as well?”
“I already know what’s waiting on the other side. But it’s not for me.”
“How can you even say that? You don’t know that for a fact.”
“What? Platitudes and promises of a better tomorrow are for mindless weaklings, victims of a ruthless world. It’s all meaningless. There is no hope. And you should be ashamed of yourself for even insinuating otherwise.”
Justin fiddled with his fingers on the bench. “Do you ever wonder why I rhyme all the time?”
“I don’t care.”
“You’re not bothered? You’ve never wondered?”
Frank stared him down. “My guess is you’re going to tell me, anyway.”
“It’s because there is an order to my existence. I’m not left up to chance. God made me for His purposes. Time goes according to His plans.”
Frank wagged his head. “Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it all before. So if there is purpose, why is there pain and suffering in the world? Why are men prone to so much evil? Why do good people, great people, die in the worst ways while criminals get rich? Why do millions die in tsunamis, when ‘He’s got the whole world in His hands?’ To think that there should be some purpose to all of this is to shut my eyes to the reality.”
“No, Frank. It’s a broken world, we know this. But God doesn’t leave you in the abyss. He adds His light into your stories. Your existence is anything but ordinary. Even when it doesn’t make sense, He asks that you trust Him. He’s promised to work something glorious out, and He’ll start in you, from within.”
Frank shrugged. “I don’t need this.”
“You know, I had hoped that seeing those two find their exit would help you see, even just a little bit.”
“And what exactly would it help me see?”
“That there is help! That there is grace. That there is a way to move on from this place.”
Frank chuckled. “I’m not like them. They’re not like me.”
“Why do you think so? It’s been 37 years, Frank. I really want to know.”
Frank looked on at the cottage across from him. “I deserve to be here. I choose to be here.” He folded his arms to end the conversation. “I want to be here.”
“For your pain—“
“Stop it, kid! I’m not a gullible victim looking for healing.” Something in his peripheral vision caught his attention. It was from the cottage.
Justin followed his gaze.
“I’m not the victim here,” Frank said. “I’m the monster in this story.”
For the first time in a long time, a window of the cottage lit up. As they watched they saw a man through the window. It was Frank, a much younger version of himself. He still had a head full of hair, and his clothes fit him too.
“What … is … happening?”
Justin looked up at him. “It means that you must be remembering.”
“Whatever it is you’re trying to do, stop. This is in vain.”
“I’m sorry, but somehow you’re the one thinking about it again.”
“I think about it all the time,” Frank snarled. “It’s why I stay here watching this cottage. What, you think being face-to-face with this moment will change my opinion? Like those kids did before?”
As they watched, the Frank in the house was in an argument with someone. It was his daughter, Darlene. Watching it now he could not remember what she had done, but whatever it was, he had been angry.
He covered his mouth. Was it worth his anger?
“Take this away,” he whispered.
He watched as the man grabbed the bottle from the table. It had been in a fit of rage, a momentary burst of anger. It was not supposed to have happened.
He shut his eyes, but the scenes played on in his mind as clear as day. He stumbled off the bench, scampering away, but he could not escape it. He could not escape the memory.
He watched as he smashed the bottle in his daughter’s face. The glass shattered in slow motion, every detail imprinted on his mind in high definition.
It was not supposed to happen. Maybe if the bottle had not been there…
But he knew it was not the bottle’s fault. It was his. It was him that had damaged Darlene’s face for life. It was him that had doomed her to months of suturing and plastic surgery.
It was the last straw that had broken his marriage.
It was the brick that brought his family toppling down.
And it had been his doing.
Frank fought to keep all of this from getting to him, but he felt the emotions washing over him as raw as they’d ever been. He tightened his grip on the back of the bench.
“Don’t you see, Frank?” Justin said.
“This was 37 years ago. You haven’t moved on from this moment. You’re hurting more than you know—“
“I’m not the one that’s hurting. She’s the one that’s hurting. Darlene? My marriage? My life? They’re the ones that are hurting because of what I did.”
“So it’s Guilt,” Justin summed it up. “It’s driven a sword into your soul, to the very hilt.”
“And it’s well deserved.” He was heaving now. “I did this to my daughter. Whatever I am going through, I earned it.”
“Guilt has held you down. It just masks the pain inside. It doesn’t matter how you try to cover, there’s no way you can hide it.”
Frank shook his head, still staring at the cottage and the crying girl within. “I’m the scum of the earth, Justin. How could I do that to someone? And how can you even imply that this can be wiped away?”
Justin didn’t respond as Frank let of steam. He held his head in his hands and cried. It was too much. He didn’t know this reservoir had been stuck in there, but it was too much.
Perhaps Justin was right. Watching those kids believe they could trust something, or Someone, and how it took them away from this place got to him. It brought back that hope, but also a feeling of unworthiness. His guilt stared him in the face.
He dropped to his knees. “GOOOOOOD!!!!”
He wasn’t calling on God. He didn’t mean to. He didn’t want to. He was just letting out the exhaustion built up in his chest. But that was what his heart cried. God.
“I don’t know why I’m doing this,” he said. “I don’t know what to say. But, God … I can’t do this anymore. Just … help me.”
Perhaps it was too much to hope for. He didn’t even really believe those words, did he? He didn’t know why he said it. It came up from within him. Why did he expect something more to—
But suddenly, the ground underneath him cracked. He was startled. When he turned to Justin, the boy was smiling.
“It’s like I said, the hardest knocks are with your knees. The portal has been everywhere all this time. Just beneath what your eye sees.”
“What’s going on?”
“You called,” Justin said. “He answered. Your sojourn may be at its end.”
Light shot out of the ground underneath him. Enveloping him. Frank was scared.
With no hope of returning to their home timeline, Tolu and Riley take the only option available to them: to travel back in time and relive their favourite memories with the people and I the places they miss the most.
But the past is not always comforting. Little do they know of the trauma they will face.
It was the summer of 2015.
Riley Harris was at her high school prom, and the assembly hall was decorated in glittery banners and disco lights. The school hadn’t done proms in a long time, but ever since that 30-something new guy became principal, Southside High had begun to embrace many more ideas from the students in their programmes. And so the graduation ceremony was followed by an evening party they had decided to call their prom.
She especially loved this party because it was the first time she actually remembered having fun at a party. The first time she had an actual boozer, and not one from her Dad’s stash atop the fridge that she’d stolen a sip from. A full one this time.
Mandy and Shannon, her two best friends had come looking hot in ‘80s-themed outfits. She had won a dinner gown, but made her head up in puffy rolls to go with the ’80s fashion they were going for. She still had pictures of that day.
Watching it all play out one more time brought the memories closer. Standing there on the dance floor brought it even much more closely. What even made it better was that she could still interact with the inanimate objects, like the drinks in the bar. It sucked that everyone around her now was an after-image, flickering like static holograms, but who cared? She came back here to have a great time, and a great time was going to be had.
Oh, there was Gavin. She could still remember him. The hottie she’d always wanted to be noticed by. How she had been expecting a kiss or something that night, just like in the movies. How she had gone back home alone. And also…
Oh no! Now she knew why she had felt antsy about coming here.
“Get me out, Justin!”
A flood of blurry images wafted before her eyes until she was somewhere else.
It was now August 2018.
Rosetta Rhodes was in town for Rock Fest ’18. The city park was lit in floodlights and sparkling fireworks. Thousands were camped in tents for days, securing their spots for the 5-day rave of the year. Merch and memorabilia were on sale in hundreds of stalls, with no shortage of customers for their business.
It was here that Riley had got her first tattoo. Was she a fan of rock music? Not until today. There was something about the beats and strains that brought her a channel to release the pain and angst she felt often. Standing on the grass now, she could remember her spot over in front closer to the stage. She took a swig of the bottle in her hand. Good thing about this place was that there was no consequence. No matter how much she drank, she actually wasn’t getting drunk. She could do with more of this.
She felt a tap on her shoulder. It was…
She had not seen him in almost a year now. To see him in the sweatshirt he usually wore, or the one he wore that other day… “Where are you coming from at this time, Riley?”
But as far as she could remember, her father had not been with her at Rock Fest that year. Why would he? He wasn’t supposed to even be here. And since when could flickers interact with her in this place?
She held a hand to her chest to still her pulse. She wasn’t sure she was enjoying this place anymore.
A flood of blurry images wafted before her eyes until she was somewhere else again/
It was now November of 2018…
Tolu Alade was back in the car on the way to church earlier that evening. He had been in the backseat, fingers tapping rapidly on his phone screen, desperate to beat his previous record on Jumbotron Run™ before they got to church. Seated here now beside the version of himself that was engrossed with his phone, Tolu was more taken with his parents in front. How he missed them, especially the times ahead that he would never get to spend with them now that he was stuck in time.
“Mummy! Daddy!” he cried. But they couldn’t hear him.
He rubbed a tear off his face.
“…I hear it’s pretty serious,” Dad was saying.
“Have you been able to call them?” Mum asked.
“The number isn’t going. Funmi hasn’t been home since he was admitted.”
Tolu knew that the only person his father called ‘Funmi’ was Uncle Femi’s wife. Uncle Femi was his favourite uncle.
Something is wrong with Uncle Femi? He stared at the other him, the one tapping on his phone screen, oblivious to the misfortune awaiting him in only a couple of hours.
“And I’ve been telling him,” Dad said. “He has been overstressing himself. No single off day in 6 months.”
“Ah, Oluwa ma shaanu wa, o (Lord have mercy on us, oh). Awon omo won nko? (What about the children?) Where are they now?” Those were Tolu’s cousins.
“I heard they are staying with some of their friends over there. Ah, I don’t even know what to pray. If Femi wasn’t sick I’d have gone over there to beat him up myself.”
“He’s not a baby anymore, dear.”
“I know. I just wish … I don’t want to lose him too.”
Tolu had not realised his uncle was ill or that his father had been this worried. Had he actually sat through this conversation? Tolu didn’t remember this part.
“For years in school, I had to be shuttling to Zaria to get him his inhaler refill. He always forgot, saying he was too busy. I told him busyness would kill him one day. You see him now?”
“Femi will not die in Jesus’ Name! Don’t talk like that!” She placed a hand on his shoulder. “I know you’re just worried for him.”
It was when Dad turned to her that he noticed his son playing on his phone.
“Kinni problem omo yii?! (What’s the problem with this kid?!) You’re still playing phone?!”
He reached toward him and snatched the phone. Tolu watched with disgust as his younger self yelled at his father. “Ah-ah! Daddy it’s not fair!”
Now, even Tolu understood his father’s rage. Playing a game at a time when Dad was bothered by something serious did have a ring of lackadaisicality to it.
Mom turned. “Toluwanimi? Is that how you will be wasting your time? Playing game?”
“It’s even using WiFi,” Dad noticed. “Ah, it’s my hotspot! You’re wasting my money on this nonsense? Why did I even buy you a phone?”
“Toluwanimi! Instead of you to use internet to find things for your future, you’re busy wasting your brain on these things?”
“In fact, I’m seizing it. You will cry before you get it back. Nonsense.”
And the Tolu of that time was sulking and kicking his mother’s seat. The Tolu of now was so embarrassed.
“I can’t … I can’t watch this,” he said.
A flood of blurry images. He was somewhere else now.
Riley sat by the bar at Lorenzo’s, tracing her hand around the cover of her bottle.
The bartender came over to talk with another customer. Of course, he couldn’t see her. She laid her head on the bar, exhausted. Even downing a cold one had lost its appeal. These time jumps were draining her more than she expected.
This time she had chosen to be somewhere different from her memory of this time. Right about now, the Riley of March 18, 2019 was in a party across the road. But this Riley, the Riley at the bar, was avoiding those moments. Sadly she was doomed to only go to times and places she had previously been. This sucked.
“Hey there, beautiful!”
She slammed a fist on the table. “Are you kidding me?” She knew it was her Dad before she turned to look at him. In all the eight time-jaunts she had taken now, he had shown up. Even in places he had never been in her original memory. Sure enough, he was still in that green sweatshirt. “Have you no shame talking to your daughter that way?”
He still had that grin on his face. “Wanna see something you’ve never seen before?”
Why did that sound familiar? She spat in his face and swore.
“Oh … but I’m tired.” She stopped. That had been her voice. But she hadn’t said it, had she?
She turned and saw another version of herself seated at the same bar, still dressed in the gown she had worn to prom years ago. She was tipsy, head flailing.
Oh no. This was not supposed to be happening.
Dad held the other Riley’s hand. “It’s OK, lass. My, my, you really have matured, haven’t you?”
OH MY GOD, NO!!!
She hurried over to stop them, but they were already gone from the bar. No one else in the room was reacting to her or to the scene. She scanned the room, searching frantically for them. She couldn’t believe this. Her memory from prom night was crashing into this place.
This is all wrong, no, No, NO…
A green flash by the toilets across the room grabbed her attention. It was Dad leading her younger self away. He turned and flashed her a grin.
Riley shut her eyes and screamed.
Justin held her hands. “It’s OK, it’s OK… Shh, it’s going to be OK. Just breathe, Riley. Breathe.”
When she opened her eyes she was back on the cliff. The night was still dark and quiet. The grump was still on his bench across from a cottage.
She was out of the bar.
“I can’t do this anymore,” she said. “That was supposed to be my quiet place. He wasn’t supposed to be there. But he was everywhere. He followed me everywhere!”
“It’s OK, Riley. Just breathe, gently.”
Tolu was getting more disgusted with himself.
In all the memories he had gone back to, he always found himself on his phone during important moments, either playing a game or on social media. They had seemed like the most important things at the time, but now?
Here they were back in April 2019. He found the Tolu of that time playing a medieval war game on the TV as his Dad drove into the compound. Dad rested his head on the steering wheel for a moment. He knew what would happen next. Dad would come in and spank him for not opening the gate for him, pack up the PlayStation system and lock it up in his room until the holidays. Tolu used to see this as Dad’s standard wickedness. But now?
Now he wondered what got his Dad so worried. He wished he could go over and talk to him, to ask him how he was doing. He realised that he had had the opportunity before. But now it was too late.
“Looks like someone has a problem.” Justin was with him now. “We always find you online or playing a game.”
“It looks all suck-ish right now. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with playing games now and then, right?”
Justin arched a brow. “Are you actually asking me?”
“I don’t know. But my Dad was really going through some stuff. Uncle is probably dying. Mum is just trying to keep the peace. And look at me: wasting my time playing video games? I was missing out on so much. If I knew then what I know now…”
Justin stared at the boy playing games. “This doesn’t look leisurely. Looks to me like you were doing this deliberately.”
Tolu leaned forward. “You think so?”
“I mean, you’ve always had all these resources. You’ve got books, encyclopaedia and internet access. So much to do with what’s available to you. Why were games your go-to?”
He observed the game playing on TV. Age of Empires had always been his favourite.
“I guess, when I really think about it, these games are the only world I can really control. Y’know? Where I actually know what to do. Like once I get the skills and know the rules, I can just plunge in and win. Each new level is a new challenge. But once you know how to do what you need to do, you’re can just go and win it.”
“A world you can control? That’s odd. Are you saying you wanted to be … well, like God?”
“No, now. But like… in this real world, outside of my games, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know the ‘how-tos’ or walkthroughs. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing here. I don’t know what I’m supposed to become or what I should be doing. As a matter of fact, when I think about the future … I think I’m … actually afraid.”
They were quiet for a bit.
Until Justin spoke. “And that, my friend, is the reason you’re stuck in my Timescape. Your fear of the future is something you’ve not been able to escape.”
Riley was shaking now, crying, desperate to get out of this traumatic horror.
“Why did my Dad show up in those places? You never told me this would happen.”
Justin shook his head. “Believe me, I had nothing to do with that. The—”
“I haven’t seen him in over a year. I deliberately do not go home because he’s still there. I can’t bear to look at the face of that man, and yet he follows me everywhere here? Why would you do that to me?”
Justin sat in the grass beside her. “That prom night, what did your father do?”
She took a breath, and the tears rolled. The strong hard front she always kept up was to prevent this from happening. The last time she’d spoken about this that very next day, to her Mom. But she hadn’t believed her. She tried to speak, but she couldn’t. My father raped me. My own father raped me. But she couldn’t voice it now.
Justin must have gotten the picture because he just nodded knowingly and said nothing for a while.
“What he did left its scar,” he said eventually. “The pain still lingers, wherever you are. It keeps you from moving forward, that’s clear. Riley, that pain is why you’re still here.”
She stared at him, the implications of that falling into place. “What?”
“Riley, it’s not your fault. You were hurt by someone you trusted. But the pain keeps you stuck in the past. A tumor that’s growing like a grain of … mustard?”
“You’re saying I got trapped in this blasted place because of … this? Because of pain?” But Justin didn’t reply this time. He just stared, concerned. “It’s not like I’m a wounded animal or something. I don’t think about him all the time. I go weeks without giving him a thought.”
“But look how the very idea of him still affects you. You find it hard to love or trust. Riley, you’re wounded more than you even know. You know it’s true. You see that. You must.”
She sniffed again, rubbing her eyes. “I really could use a drink right now.”
“Riley, for months you haven’t gone a day without a drink. Why do you do that? What do you think?”
She sniffed, thinking about all the time since then. She really didn’t trust people, especially men anymore ever since. Every little tryst she’d gotten into since then had been momentary, just for kicks. She partied hard to get away from all the hypocrisy and pretentiousness in the world around her. But after the highs and hangovers, the pain was always still there. She never escaped it.
“I drink to forget,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “It’s why I party. The thrill, the fun, that’s my one escape.”
They were quiet for a moment. Was that really the problem? Had she gotten locked out of the future because of ‘pain’? What kind of existential nonsense is this place?
“So what do you expect me to do? Just let it go? Like it’s so easy? Like I haven’t actually been trying?”
Justin stared ahead at the expanse before them. “Obviously, that didn’t work. It comes back time and again. But what if, just what if, there was something more to all this? What if something could heal you of your pain, and give you the strength to go on?”
“Even if that were true, what if I don’t want to go back?”
“What if there was something worth going back to? What if you could face the future without all that’s bound you?”
Tolu was still back in March 2019, watching his Mum cooking in the kitchen. At that time he had been ostensibly working on his homework while actually chatting with his friends online. “You know,” he said. “if fear of the future is what’s holding me back, in a very small way I’m actually not surprised. I mean look at me. I’ve grown up believing what they said, that God has this Big Plan for my life. That all things work together for good. But in the real world, what does that even mean? How am I supposed to even know what that plan is?”
Justin folded his arms. “If your Maker has a plan, or a way you should follow, would He make it difficult for you to know?”
Tolu shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“No, think about it. Don’t let this slide. If He really loves you like He said does, would He leave you to your life without showing you the guide?”
“I guess He wouldn’t.”
“Exactly. If there’s something that conquers fear, it’s God’s love for you. Your Bible makes it clear.”
“You know, I think I’ve heard of that verse.”
“I’ll admit, I don’t read my Bible as much as I should.”
Justin only sighed. “You’re like the boy whose eyes were shut, afraid to open them and see. When he’s asked to move, he doesn’t know where he is or where he’s supposed to be.”
Tolu smirked. “If I recall correctly, that was you that time, not me.” But then he realised what was going on. Justin had been mirroring his own disposition all along.
“If you truly believe in God’s love for you, trusting your future in His hands shouldn’t be hard to do.”
“Just like that? I should just ‘trust’ my future in His hands? And I won’t be afraid anymore?”
“We only trust people we really know. Tolu, is God Someone you’ve tried to know?”
Tolu knew that he had not really given this much attention. If he really believed that God had a plan, why hadn’t he actually tried to find out? Spending his time in virtual worlds kept him occupied all this time, but they never answered the question that bugged him. But it felt more fun than reading the Bible. At least there were immediate visible results for every action in those games.
Tolu shook his head. “Pursuing someone you can’t see is … difficult.”
“How about trusting what He’s said? And going into the unknown, knowing you are led.”
Tolu sighed. “The thought of it feels like stepping off a cliff.”
Justin smiled. “Precisely.”
“You cannot be serious right now,” Riley exclaimed.
But he was. “It’s the only path forward. When I said that portal was the only way, I wasn’t lying.”
“You expect me to literally step off this cliff? That’s what you’re saying, that I should just … die?”
They were still at the Edge of Time, staring past the misty expanse at the light strobe connecting the sky to whatever earth lay below.
“What if this is the only way to truly live? You’ve trusted my logic this far. Is this one too hard to believe?”
“So you do want me to die?”
Justin leaned back on his arms. “Remember when you were sure you would get out? When the sight of the portal was exhilarating? But when you got to this cliff, you gave up hope. It was a cost you considered not worth taking.”
“This wasn’t even a choice. It was a freaking cliff. How do I drive from a cliff to get to that portal?”
“It’s not so much about the stepping off as it is trusting the one that called you in the first place. You got here believing in a way out, and all the time since. Why should it be different in this case?”
“Even if I end up splat at the bottom?”
“Who says there is a bottom?”
She stood and walked over to the cliff’s edge. There was no end in sight to its depth, he was right. Only the mist. But the portal across from her also looked so inviting, the possibilities it could hold. Somehow she was supposed to believe that the portal would help her out?
She turned and saw that Nigerian kid, Tolu. She couldn’t define the relief she felt at seeing him again. “Tolu? Where’ve you been?” she asked.
“My past, same as you,” he said. “And my guess is we each saw what we needed to see.” He joined her at the cliff’s edge. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking too?”
She looked back at the boy. “They do say that when you fall off a cliff in your dreams you wake up, right?”
He stared over the edge. “Funny, for something that should cure my fear, I’m actually afraid. But I don’t trust if I’m not ready to take a leap, right?”
She took a breath. “Trust? That’s a tall order.”
“I know. But what choice do we have?”
They knew what they had to do.
>>The journey hurtles ever closer to an end, here.
Tolu and Riley hurried as quickly as they could to reach the portal, but in the end it was all for nought. They stop at a steep cliff, contemplating the futility of their quest when they meet a man who claims to have been stuck in this place for 37 years!
All hope of returning to the life they knew may be lost.
“Thirty Seven years?!” Tolu Alade’s hands were on his head as he contemplated the possibilities. “We could be here for thirty seven freaking years?!”
Tolu realised he would never see his parents again. He realised this place had always existed, for at least thirty seven years, and at least one person had been trapped here in all that time. He realised that he was in more trouble than he knew. He turned to Riley. “But the boy—“
“I swear, when I get my hands on that blasted ankle-biter…” Let’s just say she had choice words to describe how she would dismember him.
The man shook his head. “So you’ve met the boy too? It figures.”
“For a moment I thought maybe you were the boy,” Tolu said.
“I’d rather lick the toilet. That kid has been a pain in my behind all these years.”
He humphed. “I remember when I was just like you. How afraid you must have felt when you saw the world changing around you. The exhilaration you felt at the possibility of beating the odds to get to that portal and back to the world you knew. That little glimmer that, if you tried harder, somehow you would get back to the way things used to be.” He shook his head. “But that portal, that light beam, just stands there to mock you. To make you think this could actually end, until reality dashes them here. It’s a fever dream, this business of … hope.” He spat that last word.
“You’re really not helping.” Riley’s voice broke, on the verge of tears.
“I never offered you help. If you’re looking for comfort, kiss my asphalt. There is no comfort, or hope, or light anywhere around here. Take it from me. There’s nothing I haven’t tried. You will all come back to where I am. You’ll see that nothing really matters. In the end, all of this, all of life is futile.”
Tolu was arms akimbo, staring out at the expanse beyond the precipice. There really was nothing beyond this point. “So this is it. The actual Edge of Time.” He thought about how long he had lived his life not knowing there was anything beyond the mundane. How much time he had wasted weighed on him, especially now that he realised that time was limited. Nothing in all his life had prepared him for this. He had barely eaten in all this time but he didn’t even feel hungry.
“Why us?” he asked. “What did we do to deserve this?”
The man shrugged. “Kid, you’re going to go the rest of your life wondering the same thing. ‘Why me?’ I used to think I missed a portal into the next year, but that’s just absurd. The calendar is man-made and not an existential absolute. Theoretically, there should be such waves every 24 hours, nothing special. But on what basis do we get left out? Morality? Whose standard of morality? Body chemistry? Mental acuity? This unforgiving universe doesn’t offer much answers, does it?”
Tolu turned to Riley, but she was majorly fuming and muttering to herself. He was actually concerned now. “Now would be the perfect time for your boy to show up.”
The man chuckled, but with disgust. “Oh, the irony. Turning up now is so like him.” He took a breath. “He’s right behind you.”
As one they turned and saw the boy standing, with his arms behind his back. He grinned sheepishly and waved. “Hi everyone,” he said.
“Why you little…” Riley hurried to her feet and charged at him, swinging a fist in his face. But the boy wasn’t there anymore.
“I’m so sorry I’ve annoyed you to no end,” the boy said, now seated on the park bench beside the man. “Oh hello, Frank, my dear old friend.”
Tolu blinked. “He does talk in rhyme.” The fact that his translocation was the least amusing fact now wasn’t lost on him. The world had been all kinds of crazy already.
“It’s getting him to shut up that’s the trick,” Frank muttered.
Riley’s hand was still in a fist. “You tricked me. You made me think I was getting out of here.”
The boy was actually smiling. He was actually having fun at their misery. “That’s oversimplifying it really, but I did say you were in for a ride. The sights, the road trip, the adrenaline. Like, isn’t fun what you’ve always wanted, deep down inside?”
Riley shook her head. Whatever spunk she had was gone. “You’re sick. In a bad way.”
“Did you do all of this?” Tolu asked. “Who are you, really?”
The boy still sat, swinging a leg in the grass. “Sometimes I just want to pause and play, and see if I actually can. I’m always flying when you’re having fun, and I’m wired to wait for no man.”
“What does that even mean?” Riley glared.
Tolu’s eyes widened after a moment of thought. “Time.” He stole a glance at Frank who still looked away. “Think about it. Time flies while you’re having fun. Time waits for no man. It’s like a riddle, right?” He suddenly realised what this all meant. “Are you kidding me? Are you serious right now? You are Time?” Tolu said the words, and the fact that absurdity made sense in this mad world astounded him.
Riley’s face lit up with dawning realisation. “You’re joking.”
Frank still didn’t look up.
“You can call me Justin, please,” the boy said with a shrug. “It just rolls off the tongue with ease.”
“You’re Time and you are Justin?” Riley bit the bait. “Justin Time? Are you serious right now?”
The boy slapped his knee on that one. “She got that one! Ha! Finally, someone gets my pun!”
Tolu was still amused that an abstract concept stretching millennia could be standing before him, here, and in this form. “He really is just a kid. Even thinks like one.”
“What, you think I age like you guys do?”
“How is that possible? What’s going on?”
“You’re really taking this in stride, aren’t ya?” Riley eyed Tolu.
“I just want to get back to my family,” he said. “I’m trying to make as much sense of this as you are.”
“Don’t do that to yourself,” Frank said. “Don’t give yourself Hope. That’s the worst thing you can do in this place.”
Justin shook his head. “Ok, yes where were we? You wanted to know what’s happening, oui? The Timescape is what you see around. You can call this my own playground.”
“But why me? Why us?”
“What you humans don’t understand is that time is linked by pathways. These ‘portals’ connect each second. It’s your path to each new day.”
“I never needed to find a portal before,” Riley said. “And I’d been living just fine.”
“You’ve never needed to, Riley. It’s the same with everyone. But something in your space this time stopped you from moving on.”
“Space,” Tolu chewed on the word. “You’re talking about the time-space continuum?” He had wanted to sound smart, throwing in some science fiction lingo to keep up with the conversation. But hearing it now he realised he really hadn’t needed to.
Justin winced. “Time’s always tied to space, in science this is true. But the component you often miss is that your Time is tied to you.”
Riley folded her arms. “This is really freaking me out,” she said.
“A time to be born, a time to die. A time to laugh, a time to cry. The process intervening these is you, my friends. It’s true.” He nodded. “It is.”
Frank grunted. “Like that’s supposed to mean something.”
“So we’re trapped here in 2019?” Riley surmised. “And we can’t get back?”
“Yes, this is 2019,” the boy said, standing on the bench now. “In many ways, that’s true. It’s the very last second, but it is so much more, too. In this Timescape, I’m not tied to your laws. I come and go when and how I want. I run, reverse, or pause. Every moment of every age has left remnants all through history. In this dimension we’re not bound to serial chronology.”
In any other scenario Tolu would have loved the rhythm of his words, but it was more distracting if anything.
Riley was pacing now. “So where does that leave us. Stuck here for years to become like the Grump here? No offence.”
Frank didn’t even flinch. “I’ll take it.”
Justin was balancing on one leg now. “Aaargh, you lot are so boring! Can’t you see the fun? So many times and realities before you. This isn’t the only one.”
“Except the future,” Frank said. “That’s the one we’ve all missed.”
“Wait,” Riley took a step forward. “Are you saying we can travel back in time?”
Justin cocked his head. “That’s oversimplifying. I’m saying now’s as 2019 as it’s 1999.”
Tolu exhaled. “Am I ever going back? Back to my parents and the life I had?”
Justin tapped his head. “I may not promise the future, but what about the past? You missed out on the coming moments, but what about the last? In a flash you can be with your family in the places you loved the most.”
“And risk the weirdness of feeling like a disembodied ghost?” Frank added.
Justin was actually leaping now. “You actually rhymed that time!”
Frank shook his head. “I refuse to let your weirdness get to me.” He might have smiled that time, Tolu wasn’t sure.
What a world it had become. Tolu wondered why he had never been told that there was a layer like this to the world he knew. The possibility that he would never be with his family again felt like hell. What if this was hell?
God, are you there? Are you here?
“I’ll go,” Riley said.
Tolu shot her a double-take. “What? Where?”
Her eyes were still teary and her eye makeup ruined, but she wasn’t smiling anymore. “He’s right. There’s really no place else to go from here. It’s over. Might as well enjoy it while we can. It’s gonna be a long one.”
“Are you serious? You’re going back in time?”
“Well it’s better than sitting on our nubs and navelgazing at how hopeless it is.”
Justin leapt to her side. “Now this is my kind of girl. You ready to go for a whirl?”
She still looked on him with disdain. “Just get me out of this dump.”
“WAIT!” Tolu yelled.
And just like that, Riley was gone.
Don’t leave me here. He had only known her for a few moments, but somehow she had become the closest connection to the sanity he missed, the only connection he still had to the world that was. And now she was gone.
“Another one bites the dust,” Frank said, leaning back in his seat.
Tolu felt awkward standing before him. “So what happens now?”
“Now, you get to decide what you want,” Justin was suddenly behind him. Tolu actually shrieked in shock. “You can stay or we could take a chrono-jaunt.”
Tolu’s hand was on his chest as he tried to still his breathing. “Must you always be like that? Wh-where’s Riley?”
“Her time is not the same as your own. Each of you has to go it alone. Come, Tolu, tell me, where would you rather be?”
He stared out over the precipice and the empty expanse. He had come face to face with reality gone insane, and he felt exposed. He was not prepared for any of this.
“I just want my Dad and my Mummy.”
Justin walked over to him, concern in his eyes. Tolu wasn’t sure if he was about to mock him when Justin suddenly embraced him. “There, there.”
And they were gone.
Frank smirked, crossing his legs once again.
“Yet another one takes the bait,” he muttered.
Justin was back, seated beside him. “Hope I’m not too late.”
“Stop doing that!”
Justin raised his hands. “Sorry, that’ll do. But I think my charisma is rubbing off on you, eh?”
“You’re trying to give them hope, and that’s worse. The façade will crack and they’d see just what a hard-knock life it is. You didn’t tell them the horror they would see. What it would do to them.”
Justin nodded, staring in the distance. “Quite a hard-knock life it is. But I find the hardest knocks are with your knees.”
Frank stared over at him. “What’s that even supposed to mean?”
Justin shrugged. “Sounded deep. Might come in handy sometime.” He nudged him. “Get it? Some time?”
Frank shook his head. “I hate you.” He kept his eyes on the old cottage before him.
Tolu Alade was at his church on the 31st night of December when, all of a sudden, everyone seemed to fade into flickering holograms, and all clocks and timepieces are stuck at 11:59pm. Lost in a world he has never known, he’s been picked up by Riley, another survivor, as together they try to make sense of the mad world they find themselves in.
The more Tolu Alade made sense of this world, the less sense it made. He now leaned against the window of the front passenger seat, staring at the flickering after-images of men, women and children by the roadside as they sped past them. It had been a while now since he got in the vehicle as Riley regaled him with her story.
“I was at a house-party at a friend’s when the flickerings hit for us down under,” she’d said. “I thought it was the end of the world until I learnt about the portal.”
Every time he thought this all weird or made up, the flickering people around them kept proving him wrong. Every time he blinked the world around them was different. One moment they were within a city, the next they were in a desert. The next they were in a countryside with medieval buildings in the distance. He barely had a moment to register all of this before it changed again.
“This is how I understand it,” she said as she pulled a map from the glove box and shoved it in his hands. “It’s crazy, that’s what it is. But every New Year begins in the East, yeah. We’re usually the first to enter in Australia and the islands, then Asia, you guys in Africa and the rest of the world. See how it moves west. So at midnight my time in Brisbane it was 2020 already, but the rest of you were still in 2019. Ok, yeah so Australia entered the New Year but I was left out somehow. That line has reached you in Africa, and you were left too. By the time it gets to the west of the West, the earth would have made one full earth rotation and there would be no trace of 2019 left in current time.”
Tolu placed a hand on his temple. “This is insane,” he said for probably the three-hundred-and-thirty-ninth time.
“That’s how I understand it.”
“In one breath you said the earth is flat and that it also rotates. Do you know what you sound like?”
“That’s your take away from all this?”
“I’m just saying. I suck at geography, but even I know that this is messed up. How can you have driven all the way from Brisbane to Ibadan in minutes?”
“Yeah, that makes more sense.”
Riley shot him an incredulous stare. “Wherever it is that we are, this is not the world we used to know. If you’ve got a better explanation for this madness, kid, I’m ready to hear it.”
None of this made sense and it made him peeved. “You know, we’re about the same age. You don’t have to keep calling me ‘kid’.”
She smirked. “I’m not the one that’s still going to church with his parents. I mean, can you even drive? Ever had a ciggy? Probably never even slept outside your house for one night.”
He wanted to respond, but he couldn’t think of a smart comeback. He wondered if he would ever see his parents again. And considering how much he argued with them over their ideas of how he should spend his time, missing them felt strange. For all the uncertainties of the future this was the last thing he imagined. Being separated from his parents by a temporal phenomenon felt like something straight out of a bad sci-fi flick.
“So you believe in all that?” Riley asked.
“Church and God stuff. You believe in God?”
He shrugged. “Who doesn’t?”
She arched a brow. “Who doesn’t? If you’ve been that sheltered then you’re in for quite a shocker, k—iiid. Sorry for calling you kid, force of habit. Your name’s hard to remember.”
“It’s Tow-LOO. It’s just two syllables.” And for good measure he added, “Riley.”
“Ok, Tolu.” She smiled. He didn’t. “So, how do you think God figures into all of this?”
He never thought about that. “I don’t know.”
“But you believe He has a plan over everything. ‘God works in mysterious ways’ and all that. Think He did this too?”
Tolu had never engaged with someone that didn’t believe in God. It was absurd to him, to say the least. But as he realised that she was genuinely asking, he also realised that he really didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t really bought in fully into all of this ‘God stuff’ as she called it. He believed God was real and in control. Knowing whether he was in God’s good books was where he parted company with most. And he had his own questions too.
“I just want to get back to my family,” he said. “That’s all I care about right now.” They rode in silence for a while. “And thank you for the ride.”
“A ride to a place you don’t believe in?” she winked.
“As long as it gets us home.” He noticed that the landscape changed anytime he looked away. It was always something new. The only constant in this place was that light ahead, this supposed portal. What if she was wrong? “Do you think we’ll ever make it back home?”
She kept her eyes on the road. “I don’t even know if there’s a home to return to. For all we know, this could be the end of the world. Armageddon and all that Bible stuff. What if this is the literal end of time and you and I are the only survivors?”
Tolu recoiled. “That’s a scary thought.”
“Guess we’ll find out, now won’t we?”
Tolu groaned, holding his head in his hands. “I just want to wake up from this nightmare.”
Riley didn’t joke this time. “You and me both. Half the time I’m trying to convince myself this isn’t my nightmare.”
“You say you got this from the boy? Your theory, I mean.”
She nodded. “Well, not all of it. He just told me that if I head for that light, it’s a portal out of here, but that it won’t be open forever. The rest was just my idea, but it fits, don’t you think?”
“Who is the boy anyway? And why does his opinion count?”
She shrugged. “In a world where the rules of reality are wobbly, he seemed to know what he was saying. I don’t know how to explain it. Until he told me where to go, I really was clueless.”
“This ten-year old boy told you what to do?”
“It’s panned out so far, OK. And—” she gestured ahead. “—you do see the light ahead too, don’t you? Nothing makes sense, but at least he did.”
Tolu backed off. “In my case this boy was a silly cry baby.”
She didn’t respond to that. “Hmm…”
“So … how could it be the same boy? What is he?”
“What is aces, mate. I don’t think he’s real, like you and me, but like something that’s a part of this place. I don’t know if that makes sense.”
“You’re not serious.” She didn’t respond to that. “Oh, you are. So, what, he’s like the Agent Smith to this system?” She was blank. “The Matrix? You haven’t seen that one?”
“Is it any good?”
“Is it?! It’s just like asking if Endgame is any good. And that doesn’t even come close to The Matrix. The first one, at least.”
She shrugged. “I’m more of a DC person, actually.”
“Seriously? You probably think BvS was a masterpiece too.”
“Don’t even go there, mate. We could do this all day.”
“I understood that reference,” he said. At least they were able to finally share a laugh. In the face of these dark moments it brought some relief, however brief it was.
“I think he’s like the universe’s response,” she said. “Something’s gone wrong, like an imbalance of sorts. Maybe we are just victims.”
Tolu had a hard time following her supposed logic. “So you believe the universe is … what’s the word? Sentient? But you don’t believe that God exists?”
“I’m a free thinker. I don’t believe something just because one person thinks he knows the way.”
“Like believing a boy?” She arched a brow. “Sorry, the parallel’s too easy to ignore.”
“He told me about the light and how if I drove in this direction I would reach it. Said I was in for quite a ride. Not in those words exactly, it was in sickening rhyme. Don’t know why he does that.”
Tolu tried to juxtapose the image with that of the boy he’d seen in church. “You sure this is the same boy I saw?”
“I hope so. Otherwise, we just may have left a poor kid behind in the fading moments of 2019. Man, I never thought those words could ever feel so ominous.”
Tolu leaned against the window once more, staring at the passing scenery. It was now a grassy forested area almost like one they’d passed before. Even the flickering man in red overalls reading a book by the railroad looked like one they had passed earlier. He sat back. The green hill in the distance hadn’t changed. But the light had been ahead all this time.
“How long have we been here?” he asked.
“Something’s not right.”
“I thought it was just me.” Riley eased back on the accelerator.
“Do you think we…?”
“We’ve been here before.”
“Yes, we’ve been here before.”
She pumped the brakes and the Suburban ground to a halt, sending exhaust fumes ahead. She scanned the land around. “I think we’ve been going round in circles.”
Tolu squinted. “How is that possible? The portal is still in front of us.”
“I don’t know, OK!” Her sudden retort surprised him.
She cursed as she got out of the car, surveying the area. She kicked the ground. “I don’t believe this!” She cursed some more. “Are you kidding me?”
Tolu got out as well, shocked by her sudden shift in attitude. Her confident happy-go-lucky composure was now gone, replaced by the frantic and confused girl that lay underneath.
She rested her hands on her knees, heaving with every breath.
Tolu had never had to calm someone down this way. He really didn’t know what to say. “Are you OK?”
She looked up at him, her eyes red. “Take a good look around, doofus. We’re trapped here for good.”
“But I thought…”
Tolu walked up to where she stood and now he saw. They were parked on a cliff, but beyond this cliff there was nothing. Not a waterfall, not a valley, not any landform. Just whitish vapours wafting in the breeze. The sky was still dark overhead, and the portal still shot into the sky probably millions of miles away.
“Maybe … maybe this is just another reality shift,” Tolu offered. But no matter how he blinked, nothing changed. I can’t believe I actually expected it to.
But she pointed ahead. “Don’t you get it?! That lousy boy tricked me. There was never going to be an end. You were right.”
“But … but what about the 24 hour window? Doesn’t the portal close soon?”
“How do you plan to get across?”
“There has to be a way.” He didn’t really know that for sure.
“No, she’s right.”
As one they turned to see the man that spoke. He was in an old tweed jacket, with graying hair and stubbly facial hair, and he wasn’t flickering one bit. He sat on a park bench in front of an old cottage.
He rested his hands on a walking stick. “You must be new here,” he said. “Get comfortable. You’re never getting out.”
“And who the hell are you even supposed to be?” Riley snarled.
He folded his arms and cocked his head, staring her down through his bifocals. “Someone who’s been here thirty-seven years.”
Tolu Alade would rather be anywhere but here, especially at this hour. On any other day he should be asleep in bed, but he figured because it was the last day of the year his parents considered it best to spend the night praying in church. But no one ever gave him a choice because there really was none, now was there?
“We are going to praaaaay,” Pastor Oladele’s voice rang, from the stage below. “That every sorrow that followed you throughout 2019 will end with this year.”
All around Tolu, the men and women on the gallery and across the large auditorium clasped their hands in prayer, muttering their affirmation. Everyone was decked in jackets, not because of the cold but rather to ward off mosquito bites. He couldn’t recognise most of them, as many were visitors from the neighbourhood who would probably not return to church until Easter.
Such was the norm every year at the December 31st Cross-Over Service.
He tried to pay attention, but some boys playing a game on a phone a few rows away caught his eye. Tolu smirked. That’s what he’d rather have been doing if Dad hadn’t seized his phone before they entered the church. To think that somebody’s parents had no issues with that.
“Some of you don’t know the importance of that prayer,” the pastor continued. “When the Israelites were escaping from Egypt the Lord said, ‘These Egyptians you see today, you shall see them no more!’”
“Amen!” the church chorused.
“There are some things you have to drop. Some things to let go…”
Tolu thought about what he was looking forward to in the coming year. There weren’t that many great movies coming out, except maybe WW84 and Black Widow. This time last year, his mind had been taken with the possibilities of Avengers: Endgame and how its story would turn out. And while it beat his expectations, he could not think of any other movie that held his fancy in the coming year. So beyond movies, what else did he look forward to?
Ok, by this time next year he should be out of secondary school. He couldn’t imagine life outside of the six-year school bubble, but whatever lay beyond had to be better. But what did lie ahead? Exams? Maybe University? Adulthood … ugh. As far as he was concerned it could all stay in the arbitrary future where it always did.
He didn’t even know what he wanted to be in future? A pilot, a veterinary doctor, a teacher (God forbid, he thought)? He hadn’t the foggiest, and he chose not to think about it much.
He checked his watch. 11:55pm. In 5 minutes the year when he would have to face all these decisions sped ever closer.
The cacophony of fireworks and banging knockouts from outside carried on in the background. Yes, perhaps he wished he could get lost in the moment too, playing with bangers bothering not the slightest about anything. Why did the future always feel scary and abstract?
Well, here it comes.
Pastor always did this, getting them into a prayer point that would keep them all praying as the seconds ticked past midnight. It would be about five praying minutes into the day that he would then shout, “Happy New Year!” and then the church would be agog with everyone greeting their neighbours, hugging their loved ones and altogether welcoming one another into the New Year.
Tolu clutched his eyes shut as the seconds ticked.
The prayers faded to a lull.
He opened his eyes.
And blinked. Two things dawned on him in that moment.
First, there was a power outage and church was cloaked in darkness. The only light in which he saw were the rays of moonlight casting patterned shadows of the window frame into the building as they filtered through. Power outages were commonplace in his country, so that was not the biggest surprise.
He was taken with the fact that something was wrong with everyone else. They were still standing where they were alright, but they were … flickering. One second they were there, they were gone for two, back for another two, gone for a microsecond, and back again.
Perhaps it was the lighting, but there was none. Tolu turned. It was happening all around him. And they weren’t moving either. They were frozen in their last pose, and they flickered.
Tolu rubbed out whatever sleepiness remained in his eyes.
Is this really happening right now?
He looked down at his hands, but he wasn’t flickering. Everyone else was. He hesitated a moment before reaching out to tap the huge man beside him.
His hand went through. The man still flickered, but then something changed. The man was gone. And so was everyone else. Tolu was alone now.
Now he knew that he truly was in trouble.
What just happened?!
He was standing among seats in the gallery of his church auditorium, and he was alone. Church was empty. The last strains of the murmur of the crowd faded away like a distant echo. Everyone was just … gone. He really was alone.
He felt a chill run down his spine. His pulse thumped in his chest. God…
He hurried away from his seat scanning the rows around him, trying to make sense of it all. He stared over the balcony. Church was exactly as it would have been, except that now it was empty. A microphone was rolling off the stage. The bass guitarist was gone, but his guitar lay broken on the floor. There were no clothes on the seats, just Bibles and bags. The whole church was empty. The silence around him was deafening. His breathing thickened.
No … it can’t be!
It took all he had to keep himself from vaulting over the railing. He hurried down the staircase, high on adrenaline.
“Mum? Mummy?! Daddy!!!”
The moonlight shining through the high windows illumined the empty seats before him.
Everybody’s gone! How?!
He ran through the auditorium passing rows and rows of empty chairs, his footsteps echoing in the vacuum. A buzz still played from the audio speakers. He picked a phone from a chair. 23:59, the lock-screen read. Where was everyone? Where were his Mum and Dad?
This has to be a dream. Please let this be a dream!
He had grown up hearing stories about a Bible prophecy that when Jesus returned all the true believers would vanish and go to heaven, and the rest of the world would remain, or something like that. They called it the Rapture, and that was the only idea that played at the back of his mind.
“No … no…” He stared at his quivering palm. What is going on?
He struggled to breathe as he sank to the floor, picking through the details he could recall. Within a second something had caused the power to go out and simultaneously to make everyone flicker out of vision. Were they just invisible or did they just disappear? Was this a prank? Had they planned this? Was it even possible? There had to be some explanation. He needed to come up with an explanation. He frantically searched the chairs around him again.
Now he screamed.
He turned. There was a boy seated a few rows away, his eyes shut.
Oh, thank God!
Overcome with the relief of seeing someone, anyone, and desperate to hide his fear Tolu rubbed the tears from his own eyes. “Hey! Hey, did you see where they went?” He hurried towards the boy.
“No,” the boy’s voice squeaked. “Where did everybody go?”
Tolu wasn’t up for comforting, so looking out for the kid’s feelings was the last thing on his mind. “I don’t know. I don’t understand. Did you see it too?” The boy shook his head. “You didn’t see them vanish? Disappear?”
“I didn’t see anybody disappear. I closed my eyes and was hiding here.”
The boy’s eyes were still shut. Did he think closing his eyes would change what was going on around them? Was he that afraid? “When you closed your eyes, how will you see?” Tolu sat beside him, more to calm himself than the boy. “You can open your eyes.”
“It’s dark but we can still see. Ok? Just open your eyes. We have to find—“
His sudden retort jolted Tolu. “What?”
“NO! I don’t want to!” His face softened. “I don’t know what to do.”
Tolu was confused, but he had more to worry about than the insecurities of a scared brat. His insistence was becoming irritating by the second. “I don’t have time for this.” Tolu hissed and hurried out the church door. He could come back to check on the kid later. He needed his parents. Where were they?
Where is everyone? Was it a prank? Could they even do that?
All the apocalyptic and dystopian stories he had watched and read collided in his mind. Could this really happening?
The paved ground of the church compound stretched out before him with cars parked in formation along the wall. No streetlamps were on, except for a strobe shining into the sky somewhere in the distance. Probably an End-of-Year rave. Papers wafted in the breeze, but there was no one in sight. Not even a sound. The dark night sky still loomed overhead and he shivered in the cold breeze. It was eerily quiet outside. He struggled to breathe. It’s going to make sense. It has to make sense.
He ran to the gatehouse. Uncle Stanley, the gateman was there, thank God, but he was flickering too. In his last pose he had been leaning in to his radio and was still stuck there. Static radio noise blared. He was flickering. Outside the gate everyone else was frozen, flickering. Some mid-jump, some grinning, everyone celebrating the coming New Year, but now frozen.
He ran back in and saw people back in church, flickering. He grabbed his head in his hands.
Was this happening everywhere?
Frantic, he paced back and forth trying to understand all of this. Someone was playing a cosmic joke, and he was the target. His hands were quavering now.
In his mind he asked God’s forgiveness for his sins over and over.
Riley gripped the steering wheel of the Suburban as she made her way over a bumpy road. She was in unfamiliar territory now, but that didn’t matter anyhow. The world had gone insane for her hours ago, and she was getting used to knowing that losing her grip on sanity was the closest thing to a grip she would get now.
Insane? So was the world. The town zipped behind her in a blur as she sped. There were more potholes here.
How long had it been now? She checked the clock. 11:59.Why’d I expect something different?
The bottle on the dashboard filled her vision, but the last thing she could afford right about now was to drive drunk. But she really could use a drink right about now. When the flickerings began she had first thought she was high, but this was the worst trip she had ever been on.
She sniggered. ‘Trip’, ha. I made a funny.
She peered at the sky again. The beacon still appeared further away.
But something caught her eye. A dark boy sat by the curb ahead, hands resting on his knees, rocking back-and-forth. It was after she was a few yards ahead that she realised why he stood out. After hours passing flickering after-images on the road, this was the first person she met that was actually still moving.
And he wasn’t flickering.
She swung into reverse and pulled up beside him. He raised his head and his tear-filled eyes widened as realisation dawned. She recognised the feeling, but she was more relieved to find someone else.
“You’re not flickering,” she noted.
He shot to his feet. “Oh thank God!” He had a weird accent. “Thank God! Please … what’s going on? Do you know?”
“Not a freaking after-image…” She reached out to touch his hand.
He recoiled. “I-I don’t know what’s happening. We were just in church for Cross-Over, and everything started happening. Everybody started disappearing and appearing. I thought I was running mad. I thought I was left behind. I thought I was alone!” He was crying, trying to squeeze his words in.
“How long’s it been?”
“I don’t know. Thirty minutes? My watch is broken.”
“Makes two of us.” She shoved her phone in his face. The clock on the lock screen read 11:59. He actually looked more confused, if that were possible. But Riley was on to something else. “For me it’s been hours.”
“Have you seen the boy?”
“The boy? Which boy?”
“Ten-ish? Annoying? Talks in rhyme?”
His shock answered her question before he did. “That boy? Him? He was just with me here…” He turned only to realise that somehow this was not where he thought he was. “Where’s? I was just… Where am I? Church was just … here!” He paced frantically, his hands on his head. “This is a nightmare. This is mad!”
The first time she saw the reality shifts she too had thought she was going insane.
“I know it’s a lot to take in, but I’m going to need you to answer me, and fast. Now do you know where we are?”
He ran a hand across his face. “I was … we were in Bodija.” He must have seen the confusion on her face because he continued. “Ibadan … Nigeria?” He was still pacing. “What is happening?! My family was in that church. I have to go back! I have to…”
Nigeria? Ah, here we go then. She shook her head, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel. Her theory was correct. “Ok, this is how it’s going to be, so listen well. Somehow you and I are stuck in time at 11:59. Reality is shifting all around us because time has stood still. For us at least. In case you don’t get the gravity of this all, I was in Brisbane just hours ago and I’ve only been on the road all this time. I don’t understand it all, I’m piecing it together as I go along, but the only thing I have to go on is that that portal over there—“ she pointed at the strobe that lit the sky in the distance. “— is our only way out of this. I would tell you more but my understanding is that we have a window and it probably closes in 24 hours. I don’t know what happens when that window closes, but I sure as hell don’t want to wait to find out. Now, you can sit here crying your eyes out wasting the hours we have like I did, or you can buck up and get in because I’m leaving now.”
It’s December 31 and as midnight approaches, the world prepares to enter into the New Year. But 3 find themselves trapped in the final moments of 2019. The world as they know it goes insane as reality, time and space collide. As they struggle to make sense of the madness around them, they seek to find a way out.
Enter a world where nothing is as it seems. Where yesterday and today are one and the same.
It’s a parable in six-parts. Think of it more like a Netflix miniseries. You can binge-watch by reading in one sitting, or you can pick each episode anytime you want.
We did not set out for Bethany until two days later. Lazarus was, no doubt, dead by then. Mary and Martha were in deep mourning by that time.
When my disciples were gathered I told them. “We need to get ready. We’ll be setting off for Judea today.”
To say they were astonished would be like saying the Jordan is wet.
“But, Master … Judea?! They’re out to kill you over there. It’s not safe to go now.”
“We’re just coming from there.”
“Can’t it wait?”
I turned to them. Yes, there were logical grounds for fear in Judea. But fear is never a good option. “Wouldn’t you rather walk in the day, when there’s light?” I told them. “Or would you prefer to walk in the night, when there’s no light? That’s an invitation to stumble.” Besides, I needed to be in Bethany. I wanted to get to my friend.
But they could neither see it, nor understand it. Not yet.
“Our friend, Lazarus, is asleep. I’m going over there to wake him up.” Oh, what a glorious sight it would be. Sickness thought it had its day, but Lazarus would not stay dead.
Andrew perked his ears at that. “Oh, so you’re saying he’s better now?”
“I mean, if he’s asleep, then he must no longer be sick. He’s alright. That doesn’t require a visit now.” The others nodded in agreement.
“Wisdom is profitable to direct,” Thomas counseled. Interesting. “These times are dangerous in Judea.”
I eventually had to use the ‘D’-word for them to understand what I was saying. I wanted their faith to be strong enough to see these things the way I saw them. But for now, it’s just one step at a time. “Lazarus is dead.” The room fell silent. “And I’m glad that I was not there earlier, for your sakes. You’re about to be given new grounds for your faith.”
The silence lingered for a moment.
I stood. “So it’s settled then. Let’s get ready to tell the others. We’ll leave after lunch.”
I could feel their stares as I walked out of the room.
“He is serious … isn’t he?”
“Does anyone understand the Master these days?”
“You did see him leave the room. He means to leave now!”
“Sometimes I worry about him.”
“He’s been talking about dying and stuff. Now this?!”
“This is trouble, I tell you. Is he suicidal?”
“Don’t say that! You know who he is…”
“OK, alright. But still…”
“We’ve sworn our lives to him.” A loud sigh. “We might as well go and die with him.” That was Thomas’ voice.
I shook my head. Not even my closest friends could trust me on this. They just couldn’t see the Bigger Picture. They however trusted me enough to come along with me.
Looks like it’s just You and me, Father.
For as long as sin has existed, man has been subjected to death and the pain it brings. I’ve seen and felt that pain many times. I should know … my father on earth, Joseph Bar Yacov, died years ago. The pain of separation can be gut-wrenching, from this side of heaven. Death has been holding humanity in its grasp, bringing fear, oppression and despair in its wake.
But there is another side to these things. I am the One that brings life to the dead. There was Jairus’ daughter back in Capernaum; and there was also that young man in Nain. I brought them back to life.
But one day, I will be the death of Death itself … by my own death. It sounds crazy to the human mind now … but the Father knows what He is doing. We know the evil principalities will orchestrate my death, not knowing that they are bringing Life to Death’s very doorstep. It will be painful … torturous … the pain of the punishment for millennia-worth of the sins of men … Sometimes I wonder how I can go through it all. But I trust my Father to give me the strength when I need it.
In many ways, this whole experience reminded of me of my own coming sacrifice. Like Lazarus, I too will die. But I will rise. My friend has been given a front row seat on one of the greatest stories of all.
By the time we approached Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days already. We were still about a mile away from the village when I noticed the woman in black coming down the path towards us. Even from that distance I could tell who it was. Martha. The news of our coming had reached her already. I hurried ahead of the others, extending my hands for the embrace. She just stared at me as I approached, her face quivering. She had cried so much, her eyes were red. She willed herself not to cry anymore. With Lazarus gone, she and her sister would be at the mercy of their relatives. At least, that’s what she probably expected. Oh, Martha…
“It’s OK,” I whispered as I embraced her.
“Four days, Master,” she whispered into my shoulder. “Four days. If … if you had been here … my brother would not have died.” I stared into her face. What could I say? I knew waiting would hurt them, but I could not have done otherwise. If only she knew the great miracle waiting ahead. Would she understand? She inhaled deeply. “But I know that God will still give you whatever you ask.”
She still believed in me? Underneath all that pain and hurt, could she see what was really going on? Or did she think God was unfair in granting my requests but not healing her brother? “Your brother will rise again,” I told her.
She avoided my gaze. “I know. I know that he’ll be raised up too at the Resurrection at the end of time, when all the dead will rise—“
“Martha! Don’t be afraid to get your hopes up. You don’t have to wait for the end! I am —right now— Resurrection and Life. Even if they’re dead, if anyone believes in me they’ll live! And everyone who believes in me while they are still alive will never ultimately die. Do you believe this?”
It must have been hard for her, I know, demanding such faith. But it’s the truth. After all this, she would be able to believe in God for anything. That’s what I want. She nodded. “Yes, Master. All along, I’ve believed that you were … are the Messiah, the Son of God come into the world.” She knew and believed all that, but now it probably just felt like nothing but words. Was she reassuring herself? Did she really believe? She inhaled deeply. “Ah … I must go, get the house ready … please excuse me—“
“We’ll go with you—“
But she was already hurrying back into the village, desperate to keep the tears from falling in our presence. It was definitely not going to be easier. There was so much fear and doubt out here. It hurt that my friends had to go through so much pain. Was it necessary?
Father, thank You because in the end … it is all worth it.
“He really is dead, isn’t he?” Peter said behind me.
I turned and nodded. My disciples, the ones that would be my witnesses when all this is over. “For your sakes, I’m happy I waited.”
“You said so before. But…”
“Trust me,” I said. “This is so that you all –everyone— can see what my Father is capable of. Through me.”
We waited for the others to catch up. We had barely left that very spot when Mary came hurrying toward us. Friends and family, all in mourning, accompanied her. Many halted when they saw my friends and I. But my attention was on Mary alone. She did not hide her tears. She had believed in me for so long, and I had not come when her brother was ill. How should I expect her to feel?
She fell to her knees at my feet, crying. “Master! If only you had been here, my brother would still be alive!” No, she was definitely not happy.
“It’s too late! Now my brother is dead. He died, Jesus. Lazarus is … gone.”
This was more difficult. She was crying. The pain… It was as though we were swallowed by this barrage of wails, as the mourners raised their voices with her. Dear Father…
Father, they’ll know this was worth it in the end. Let their faith be strengthened.
The fear and gloom and despair out there left a bad taste in my gut. Death had left its footprint, and it was a painful sight. Death, you will be the last enemy I will defeat.
I felt a lump in my throat when I asked, “Where was he laid?”
“Master, come and see,” one of the mourners said.
And they led us to the graveyard outside the village limits. It was a bare wasteland that reeked of loneliness and gloom – the opposite of what I have come to give humanity. These were my enemy’s stomping grounds, and my friend had been brought there as its trophy. Just like all humanity.
Lazarus in a grave.
Before I knew it, I was crying. I let the tears fall. I let the sobs turn to wails. Pent up feelings gushed out to the surface in that instant … and I wept. My disciples were troubled to see me cry, but I couldn’t help it. This was man’s lot because of sin’s curse. Death. So far, so opposite from what We intend for them.
But I will end this.
I will surely end this.
It is worth it, Father.
“Aw, he must really miss his friend,” someone said. “See how he loved him.”
They did not know that it was because I loved him that I had delayed my coming.
“Love, schmove! If he really loved him, why couldn’t this ‘Healer’ make his friend well before he died, eh? But call him to make a blind man see and he’ll show up. But for his friend? Meh!”
Not on a day like this. Not adversity now; not today. It will be worth it, my friend. It will all be worth it. You may deny me now, but this is for you too. Your faith will be energized.
No one saw what I was seeing, or expected what I was expecting. But in the midst of the doubt and adversity, the fear and gloom – I held on to my Father’s words.
Lazarus, I’m bringing you to life today.
When we got to the grave I lifted my eyes. “Thank You, Father! Thank You because You have heard me!”