It was quiet on campus as I left the cafeteria. A cold wind whipped past me, flinging up gritty brown dust on its feverish sprint to the forest. Most of my peers had gone to practice, or maybe were
still eating, or perhaps had gone somewhere to hand out – I didn’t really know. I never knew what people did between the end of school and the start of curfew. Come to think of it, no one knew what
I did either.
All I really felt as I trudged up the slanted, unpaved road was the cold. Kijabe is always cold. My fingers and toes were numb – they never were anything else; my sandals were covered in dirt; my worn green jacket offered minimal protection from the wind; short blonde hair flung itself about my face. I squinted against it. And somewhere, deep inside me, an icy fury had taken hold.
I don’t remember what I did after I left the cafeteria. Maybe I went to play piano, as I so often did that year. Maybe I climbed a loquat tree, to be more alone than I already was. Or maybe I simply wandered the dusty roads, searching, searching, searching for something with no name, searching aimlessly and indiscriminately, searching without a real hope of finding whatever it was. I don’t remember. But I do remember that, by the time seven o’clock curfew rolled around and I went home to my dorm, I was vaguely but thoroughly incensed. The fury’s fever had begun.
My rage simmered patiently, waiting for an opening. Dorm-mates arrived, showers were taken (though not by me; I stayed in my filthy jeans and shirt and skin), the mayhem of evening came and passed and finally everyone settled in at their desks for homework hour.
I sat obediently at my desk like the others but did not work, as my one-foot desk was covered in six inches of paper and junk, and besides, I did not feel much like working. I rarely did. My backpack sat unopened beside me. The cold stone floor stung my bare feet horribly, so I ignored them. That was how I dealt with most of life’s unpleasentries. Unless, of course, they were too cold or too hot or too large or too sharp to ignore. My fury was all those things, and here, now, it at last made itself unignorable.
My fevered rage spoke; I, its frozen, captive audience, listened. It whispered to me of doubt, of insecurity, of betrayal by the supposedly Constant and Unchanging One, of all the crimes and injustices done to me in the past two years. Its ice burned me. And it injected into my soul capacity for Deepest Doubt where there had been none before: that is, doubt in a Creator God at all. (It had been doing this for days, weeks even; now the disease was simply breaking out into its full array of symptoms.) I felt a prayer, a Final Prayer, spinning itself on my tongue; I searched, found, seized a battered cardboard square left over from a depleted pad of paper, and a pen, to unwind that prayer.
The cardboard is long since lost – I do not know if it even survived the semester – and the words escape my memory, but I do recall the gist of what I wrote down. It was, simply, an ultimatum. God, prove You are real by – [here I hesitated, with Matthew 3:7 in my mind, but then I carried on] – by three o’clock tomorrow, or I will stop believing in You.
I meant it.
God, being God, answered my demand within the deadline and it was wonderful, good, fantastic, et cetera ad nauseum, and I’m sure you could more or less write the rest of the story. But the rest of it is, in a sense, unimportant. The real importance of the story is its central conflict, Doubt, and the fact that Doubt has still got a hold on me. It is like malaria; once you contract it, it stays in your body, in your blood, pulsing through your veins, rushing through your heart and lungs and brain a million times a day, waiting for a single tiny trigger to resurface and wreak havoc upon your life. So it is with me. I recovered from the initial infection, but I never became well. Even today I am not well. In fact, I am showing symptoms all over again.
My faith is weak. If you were to ask me why I believe in the Christian God, I would sit silent for several minutes, quietly defeating every one of my own arguments, before answering your question with a simple, “I don’t know.” If you were to look at my life, your eyes would strain themselves trying to find God in it. And if you were to ask me, “Have you seriously considered atheism in the last six months?” I would say, “Yes.”
Doubt is like malaria in another way. If you live in Africa, then you will at some point contract malaria. You will retain the disease for no less than seven years. And you will be changed as a person by it. So it is with doubt: if you are a human, then you will go through doubt’s fevers and chills and you will carry its virus inside you for years – if not decades – and it will change you. To say my present struggles with doubt would not have happened if I had not experienced doubt in seventh grade is ridiculous. I was bound to doubt at some point. I am simply saying that, for me, seventh grade was the point of contraction.
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