“All you leg shakers and rats, do you wonder why you are dullards in the classroom, unproductive in the fields and listless with your families? Of course you are. Your gift of vitality and energy is being wasted on silly things. You may think your leg shaking and breadcrumb eating is good, but it means that you are not living well. Oh no!” the pastor shouted. “You can do better. You will do better. You must do better.”
Some of the very young boys had their brows furrowed and some shook their legs as they dangled above the floor trying to work out what the fuss was about. I wanted to laugh aloud at the general feeling of discomfort that the pastor was causing. I noticed a few of the men shooting quick glances across the aisle at the women’s section. I tried to work out who was looking at whom.
I saw Caleb glance three times in the direction of the women and it was on the third snatched glimpse that I thought his gaze locked with that of Adabeth … my sister! I gasped audibly, at which Gideon and Ignatius turned to me with questions in their eyes. I set my jaw firmly and ground my teeth.
Ignatius looked down at my bunched fists and I shook my head at him as a signal that I would tell him what was wrong later. I hoped I was mistaken and that Caleb, the son of the man who wanted my father dead, was exchanging meaningful looks with another woman, not my sister. As this new and turbulent thought roiled in my chest, the pastor moved to the women’s side to berate them.
“And you women, ladies of the church, are you hearing me?” he shouted, looking wildly back and forth at the women. The responding silence only served to embolden him more.
“Women of the church, I said ARE YOU HEARING ME?” He repeated the question with a deafening roar. The women, sensing that they were sure to be picked on individually if they did not respond, began a furious head nodding and murmuring. This was not good enough and the pastor bounded side to side, and down and back the women’s section waving his arms wildly as if giving complicated directions.
“I will ask you again if you are hearing me. If I cannot hear you respond then, am I to assume that you are not living well and that you are not supporting the men of your village? Women, ARE YOU HEARING ME?”
His third cry was a shrill exhortation that even moved me to say yes. In response to him, the women pointed their fingers above their heads, nodded with authority and repeated a resounding “YES!” which pleased the pastor, who smiled contentedly in his pulpit area. Sweat glistened on his brow and darkened his sky blue shirt. The men waited for their clarion call.
The pastor – his first name was Ezekiel – looked intently at the men, his right index finger pressed firmly against his temple. “Can you be so easily won with small temptations?” When he said this, he happened to be standing next to my row. I became a study of concentration of the back of the head of the man in front of me. I developed a fascination for the detail of each hair follicle as I imagined the pastor, snorting like a bull and glaring at me with a fury, to my right. I did not even blink for fear of giving him the slightest reaction that would cause him to single me out. My skin burned with his scrutiny.
Amazingly, the man in front of me turned back to see what pastor was doing and his silly curiosity invited the full attention of the pastor who strode up to the man and asked him passionately and loudly, “My friend, my brother, would you rather pick maize that has fallen on the ground or do you pluck the ripe crop from its plant? Do you cast longing eyes at your village women? Why? Why, my brother?” The pastor shook his head solemnly, as if very disappointed with the man, who in turn raised his hands to gesticulate his innocence, aware that all eyes of the congregation were on him.
“I will help drive out the leg-shaker spirit by force … YES!” the pastor shouted. “All men of age come out … line up and come to me and let the leg-shaker spirit be cowed. Single men, be first in the line.”
The pastor stopped pacing back and forth and first glared at the empty spaces in front of him, and then at the men’s section. He tapped his foot, impatient to start banishing leg-shaker spirits. The single men were understandably nervous. I for one did not want to go up there for the pastor to administer whatever healing he had in mind. His shoulders seemed bunched up as if waiting for an explosive release. Fathers shoved their sons out into the aisle – with much protest from the sons. I am sure the fathers were glad it was their sons rather than them.
Gideon sprang from his seat and near sprinted to the growing queue in his pell-mell fashion. Ignatius and I dragged our feet and stood behind him. From our vantage point – being taller than the other men – Ignatius and I peered over the row of heads to the front of the queue to see the healing unfold.
Village man Simeon’s son was at the front of the queue and to say he looked nervous would have been kind. The pastor quickly scanned the men’s section to see if all eligible single fellows had joined the queue, then, without further ado, and with surprising speed, the pastor grabbed Simeon’s son roughly by the arms, yanked him forward and bellowed, “Leg-shaker and rat spirits you have no business with this boy, I banish you!” With that, and without warning, a terrific clapping sound rang out as the pastor smacked Simeon’s son across the top of his head, sending him airborne in the direction of the women’s seats.
There was no pause as he strode forward again and grabbed Marrok’s son, Caleb, in the same fashion. He yelled another war cry against any lustful spirits seeking to manipulate Caleb and then thrust his open hand to the pit of Caleb’s stomach, doubling him over, and then slapped his open left hand forcefully on Caleb’s back. The sonorous whack of the back slap served as a warning alarm to the men in the line who began to mutter aloud and prance in fear.
Caleb, still groaning, had toppled to the side. I grinned at the attack on Caleb and looked at his father who seemed to be amused at the proceedings. He shook his head and his shoulders danced their merry dance again as he pointed at Caleb and turned to say something to his younger son, Channing.
And so, it went on. The pastor mowed down each man in line with a chop, a thrust or even a slicing sweep of his leg. Like stubborn crops in the fields, some required a few chops before they fell. Gideon barked and leapt in the air before the pastor levelled him with a mighty slap to the side of his shoulder. I recognised the bass chimes of laughter coming from my father and uncle as the pastor turned his attention to Ignatius and me.
Here we go, I thought, as he eyeballed me with conviction. He leapt high and brought his hand crashing down on my shoulder. I stood there and looked at him. He looked at me with fresh determination as he blew on his hand, shaking it as if he had just burned it. He actually took a little run up before taking off again and bringing both hands crashing down on my chest. I remained unmoved and the pastor buckled into me, ending up in an untidy hug. I helped him stand upright again and then he nodded at me as he breathed heavily, bidding me out of the queue.
To ‘heal’ Ignatius, the pastor actually performed a pirouette before snorting and charging like an angry rhino and thrusting his hand at Ignatius’s midsection. His wrist jammed against the solid mass and his momentum carried his head into Ignatius’s chest, bouncing comically away. The pastor decided against exhausting his reserves of energy to make Ignatius budge. I was sure I heard Iggy exclaim quietly, “Hot Dog!” as he left the healing line.
The women seemed in turn amused and welcoming of the tough healing being meted out by Pastor Ezekiel. They wanted only good men amongst and with them and, in any case, they were glad they were not the ones being slapped and prodded in such a manner. As I walked back to my seat, I saw Aunt Salacia pointing and gossiping furiously with those around her. I shook my head at the frivolous behaviour but was unsurprised. Iggy and I had named Salacia ‘Oven Mouth’ because everything that came out of it was hot! As trifling as she could be at times, she had the same gift of seriousness that my father and Uncle Ifedora had. She nodded solemnly when pastor slapped his hands on Ken’s thighs, then picked him up and dropped him so that he fell on his back.
The now weary pastor pronounced himself satisfied that the bushes of the villages would be safe for the moment – if for no other reason than the bruising he had handed out to some of the likely transgressors. The sermon petered out with quieter musings and the pastor soon bade us all farewell until next time, and began to mingle with the congregation.
Groups of people left the building with ill-disguised haste, anxious not to get caught by the pastor for even a friendly discussion on any topic. Gideon bounded off to find his family and Ignatius and I went to the pulpit area where my father and Uncle Ifedora were exchanging pleasantries with the pastor. I could see my mother and Adabeth also making their way there.
The tone was light and Ignatius’s mother and mine invited the pastor to dinner during the week. The pastor was accepting warmly when Marrok approached and inquired, “Is that an open invite? I would like to make merry with my fellow chiefs.”
H. C. Chuks is a first time fiction writer who is seeking to shake-up the adventure fantasy genre with a story that aims to be the ‘Harry Potter for Africa’. The Lion of Umuna is based on family folklore as told to him by his late father, with a mixing of Hebrew mysticism. The author usually spends his time helping entrepreneurs and start-ups companies as the founder of the Gorilla Theory project management framework (www.gorillatheory.com). Lion of Umana can be purchased here on Amazon.