Once Born: A Poem

Once Born: A Poem

by Denis Kabi

The bus departed from the terminus

and drove through the bumpy winding roads

of the stuffy congested city,

steadily gaining speed

as the traffic gradually cleared up

the more distance the bus put between itself

and the big city.

It was a typical hot sunny day

and the air inside the bus was humid,

a riot of odours clashing,

making breathing a conscious chore

of labored inhalation and exhalation.

All the seats of the bus were packed

with animated travellers  heading home,

away from the big city;

or perhaps they were travelling away from home

to the countryside.

Who knows where they were going!

Rich timbres of varied mother tongues

flowed freely from all corners of the bus,

like a hotchpotch simmering in a pot,

the voices in conversations as loud as the bright colours

of their intricately patterned and embroidered attire.

The loud rattling noise of the bus engine,

and the thick black acrid cloud of exhaust fumes it belched,

competed for attention

with all these sights and sounds and smells

within the now speeding bus.

In one of the worn upholstery seats of the bus

sat a weary passenger,

his shoulder leaning heavily against the window,

his scarlet eyes cast forlornly out of the glass,

passively observing the rushing blur

of bushes and trees and fields

beyond the shoulder of the tarmac road.

In his travelling bag was a packet

filled with white powder,

an illegal substance which he was going to sell upcountry.

He slowly raised his right hand

and slid the window open,

hoping to get a bit of fresh air.

A gust of wind rudely hit his face,

and his breath caught in his throat.

The rushing wind made breathing difficult

and he now preferred the labored chore

of breathing the strange mixture of odours in the bus.

He tried to pull the window shut

but realized that he couldn’t,

for it had stuck.

The gust of wind hitting his face

was getting more and more forceful

as the bus gained more speed.

And since his breath caught in his throat

and he couldn’t breathe,

he was forced to lean away from the window

to avoid the wind hitting his face.

The woman passenger whom he shared a seat with

clicked her tongue in annoyance,

and asked what he thought he was doing

leaning so close to her.

As soon as she said this,

the passengers on the seat behind his seat

too clicked their tongues in annoyance

and loudly demanded that he close the window immediately,

for the gust of wind was ruining their hair-dos.

He lifted his hand again

and tried to pull the window shut,

but again realized that he couldn’t,

for it was stuck.

And so he raised his voice

to inform the annoyed grumbling passengers about this.

More passengers soon got drawn into the issue,

as the gust of wind grew stronger

the faster that the bus travelled

over the winding bumpy tarmac.

Because all other windows had been shut

to keep away the rushing wind,

this sole open window became the focus of attention

and source of great annoyance to many passengers.

Various angry voices speaking in varied mother tongues

called for the window to be shut immediately,

and if it could not be shut,

the bus should be stopped to fix it.

Neither did the bus driver hear these voices

calling for him to stop,

nor was the window problem fixed.

The gust of wind rushing into the bus

was getting more and more forceful

as the bus gained more speed,

and the angry voices irritated by it

grew angrier and greater in number.

Passengers on the rows of seats

on the right side of the bus

soon got up from their seats

and found someplace else they could squeeze into

on the left side’s rows of seats

while some stood on the aisle.

He didn’t follow the other passengers,

but remained seated on his seat on the right side

and kept tugging at the window,

desperately trying – without much success –

to pull it shut.

It was at that time

that the bus driver wrenched the steering wheel,

upon spotting a huge pothole

on the inclining curving road ahead,

and the bus swerved to the slanting dusty shoulder

of the tarmac road.

The weight of the passengers

packed on the left side of the bus

made the speeding bus tilt dangerously to that side,

and its right side’s front and back wheels spun crazily

as they rose from the ground.

Voices of panic-stricken passengers

yelling in varied mother tongues

collectively asked, “What’s going on?”

as their hands flung out to grab

at whatever firm thing they could cling to.

The weight of the yelling passengers

packed on the left side of the bus

made the speeding bus tilt further to that side,

and its right side’s front and back wheels kept spinning furiously

and rose higher off the ground.

The driver screamed from the front of the bus

announcing that he’d lost control of it.

The voices of panic-stricken passengers

yelled in varied mother tongues

upon hearing the driver’s unnerving proclamation.

The inclining curving road passed over a bridge,

and below the high bridge,

fifty metres below,

was a wide gushing brown-watered swollen river.

With no one to control the fateful bus,

it hurtled down the inclining road,

and broke through the bridge’s steel railings.

For a few seconds,

everything was quiet in the bus,

as it flew over the edge of the bridge,

and flitted down towards the brown gushing waters

of the swollen river.

His hand was still holding the handle of the stuck window

and he tugged at it one last time,

and this time the window easily slid shut.

Ah, finally the gust of wind

that had irritated the passengers was shut out.

Now every passenger who’d abandoned their seat

could return to the right side

and settle down on their respective seats

and enjoy the rest of their journey home

– or away from home –

depending on where they were going.

When he didn’t hear the rustle of movement

of passengers returning to their seats,

he turned to the left side of the bus

to look at the frozen passengers.

Everything moved in slow motion.

Their mouths were ajar,

their eyes wide,

their faces twisted into incomprehensible expressions.

He turned to the window on his right

and looked through the glass.

He saw what a person sitting on the window seat

of a low flying aircraft sees.

It was not the most pleasant of sights to see,

especially if you’re not in an aeroplane,

but are in a bus.

With a monstrous splash,

the bus plunged

into the brown waters of the swollen river,

and was swiftly swept

by the powerful river currents downstream.

All the passengers, including the driver,

drowned while struggling to scramble out

of the sinking flooded bus.

The man who’d sat beside the stuck window

suddenly opened his eyes.

His entire body was in excruciating pain.

He began to cry out in anguish.

He tried to move this way and that way,

but there was no relief from the excruciating pain.

In the surrounding area he could hear various voices

crying out in varied mother tongues,

sickening anguish in their high-pitched tones.

There was great heat in that place,

and when he looked around,

he saw flames rising up from the surface.

It seemed like a kiln,

a vast subterranean kiln

filled with wailing convulsing multitudes of humans

– both women and men,

from all races, nationalities, ethnicities, and religions.

Though the fire was endlessly burning,

none of the wailing humans was consumed by it.

The fire scorched them without consuming them

– similar to holding ones hand close to a candle’s flame

and losing the ability to pull back the hand from the flame.

The flame inflicts unbearable pain on the flesh,

though the flesh is not destroyed or altered.

In the subterranean kiln

the man who’d sat beside the stuck window

looked around and could see people he once knew,

people who’d been his friends and family,

people who’d been his acquaintances and business associates,

people who’d died and been buried,

people who were atheists

and people who were religious,

people who were wealthy

and people who were not wealthy,

people who were highly educated

and people who were not educated at all,

people who were stingy

and people who were philanthropic,

people who were nice

and people who were not so nice,

people who were famous

and people who were not famous,

people who’d lived decadent lives

and people who’d lived lives that were not decadent,

people who were good

and people who were not good.

As the man who’d sat beside the stuck window

looked around the crowded subterranean kiln,

a gentle force suddenly lifted him up and out of that terrible place.

He then heard voices screaming in alarm

and again he opened his eyes.

He saw daylight

and realized that he was floating belly up

in the gushing brown waters of a wide swollen river,

and there was a crowd of horrified people

looking down at him

while standing on the edge of a bridge

built above the river.

The steel railings of the bridge had been torn apart.

Two young men from the crowd of onlookers

swiftly removed their shirts, shoes, socks, trousers,

and remained in their shorts.

The two young men then hurried

down the steep walls of the river bank

and once they reached the edge of the embankment

they dived into the river,

and swam towards the man

who was floating downstream.

With a lot of difficulty,

the two young men managed

to pull the man out of the river,

and dragged him up the rising riverbank

to the tarmac road above the river.

He was the only survivor of the bus tragedy.

A selfless motorist stopped and volunteered

to rush the injured drenched man to a nearby hospital,

where he was hospitalized and treated,

and discharged three days later.

The bus tragedy was widely reported in the media

and the sole survivor was besieged by news reporters

who asked him how he felt being the only person

who lived to tell the tale of the fateful bus journey.

Though he said he was a Christian,

he had not prayed

or gone to church

or read the Bible

since he was a boy

attending Sunday school,

twenty or more years ago.

Despite his religious indifference,

he didn’t hesitate to answer the reporters

by attributing his miraculous escape

from the grisly bus accident to God.

But he was hesitant to reveal to anybody

his short visit to the vast subterranean kiln

where he saw multitudes of humans wailing

and convulsing in unending torment.

The sights and sounds and smells

of that terrible place played and replayed vividly

in his mind for several weeks after the bus tragedy.

Sometimes he couldn’t even sleep at night,

for he feared closing his eyes

only to see and hear those hellish images and voices

of that vast subterranean kiln.

Was that place hell? he wondered.

Is it possible that he’d gone to hell

and escaped from it?

What was that gentle force

that had suddenly lifted him up

and out of that terrible place?

What was the meaning of all of this?

Why was he the only survivor of the bus tragedy?

Why did the gentle force save him from the kiln

where the departed dwelled in unending torment?

And now that he had experienced

this shocking series of incidents,

what was he supposed to do with this knowledge?

Now he recalled a story,

a story that the Sunday school teacher had once read aloud,

from the children’s Bible,

a story describing a rich man and a poor man

who both died and went to different places

– one to heaven and the other to a fiery place.

For the first time in twenty or so years

he searched for his copy of the Holy Bible

and once he found it,

he blew the dust from its cover

and opened it.

He flipped through its densely printed pages for a while,

desperately searching for the passage he wanted,

until he found it.

With his hands trembling,

he began to read:

There was once a rich man

who dressed in the most expensive clothes

and lived in great luxury every day.

There was also a poor man named Lazarus,

covered with sores,

who used to be brought to the rich man’s door,

hoping to eat the bits of food

that fell from the rich man’s table.

Even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

The poor man died and was carried by the angels

to sit beside Abraham at the feast in heaven.

The rich man died and was buried,

and in Hades, where he was in great pain,

he looked up and saw Abraham, far away,

with Lazarus at his side.

So he called out, “Father Abraham!

Take pity on me,

and send Lazarus to dip his finger in some water

and cool off my tongue,

 because I am in great pain in this fire!”

But Abraham said, “Remember, my son,

that in your lifetime you were given all the good things,

while Lazarus got all the bad things.

But now he is enjoying himself here,

while you are in pain.

 Besides all that,

there is a deep pit lying between us,

so that those who want to cross over

 from here to you cannot do so,

nor can anyone cross over to us

from where you are.”

The rich man said, “Then I beg you, father Abraham,

send Lazarus to my father’s house,

where I have five brothers.

Let him go and warn them so that they, at least,

will not come to this place of pain.”

Abraham said, “Your brothers have Moses and the prophets

to warn them;

your brothers should listen to what they say.”

The rich man answered, “That’s not enough, father Abraham!

But if someone were to rise from death

 and go to them,

then they would turn from their sins.”

But Abraham said,

“If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,

they will not be convinced

even if someone were to rise from death.”

It seems that once a person is born,

and after their allotted time here on earth expires,

their spirit will live for eternity somewhere.

Heaven or Hades, which one do you choose?

This man chose heaven.

He decided to confess his sins,

and ask Jesus to come into his heart

and be his Lord and Saviour.

He got born-again!

© Denis Kabi, 2011


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