I was growing weary in the small house. It was a tedium that came from the heat, but which, I also suspected, had something to do with the darkness. The power had been out all day and the hours became more shapeless and stuporous as the evening lengthened. The house was quiet, I was alone, and the days, when I tried to recall them, were a blurred stream. Things seemed to have lost character.
Around this period, which lasted about a week, I called my mother after I had missed her call. Among the things we talked about was the Nigerian economy. Things were becoming prohibitively expensive. She talked about how only a few months back she knew how much foodstuff she could get for 10,000 naira, but now, with twice that amount, she still returned home wondering what she had used the money for. “No one knows where this country is going,” she said, and then added, “God will deliver us.”
In uncertain times, it helps if one can count on some solidity. A photograph I have looked at a few times in the last months comes to mind as an image of solidity, and also of invitation. I found it on Instagram and was compelled by how it held everything at bay in the mindless onrush Instagram can be. It is a photograph of a small portion of a neighborhood taken by the photographer and filmmaker Lidudumalingani Mqombothi. In the photo, there is a narrow path, a yellow door, and a wall of red brick shaded by the leaves of a tree.
The wall is centered and plays off the tree, lending a pleasing texture to the photo. I imagine the care and steadiness with which it would have been made. It makes me think of how a photograph—or more accurately, how the intimations of a photograph—can insert itself into the interleaved labyrinths of a life. I go out to do something ordinary like take a walk or buy airtime for my phone and everything is both new and not. Sights come into and fade away from view, and everything suddenly feels impermanent. And then amid it all, there's a photograph, a stay against transience and the inexorable drift of things.
Once, while in university, I was walking along a road I love. It was evening. There were people strolling, the air light with conversation, and I remember seeing a large moth hovering over the dull glow of a streetlamp. I remember slowing my pace to enjoy its carefree fluttering. It was on that road, with its tranquil ambience, that I first thought of my life as a prayer. It was a thought so profound that I muttered it to myself again and again. And there is a sense in which this prayer, this living, is tied to walking a path. The path, I hope, is leading toward a place of possibilities. I am not only walking this path; I know that I am also making it, each step adding to what this path is and where it leads. I pray that my feet walk true. Like my mother, I have faith that my prayer will be heard.
The photograph, seen about seven years after and shot at an angle that emphasizes the yellow door and the path to it, underscores this sentiment. The composition—the straight hard lines of the wall, the shadow of a pole on the ground leading toward the door, the sunlit path—and how in fact everything seems to taper toward the door brings to mind the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way.” It is a solid image, bracing in its composition and reassuring in its allusion: There is life on the straitened path and at its end a bright door.
Light pours from the general direction of the door toward us. It is light that touches some aspects of the day. The light is warm. I will myself to stand in this light and participate in this exchange.