Mother took me to her pastor friend’s church today. It is a Sunday morning in February; there is unease in the air: a fullness of gray and a background whispering of something- that dull peculiarity of Lagos mainland. It is an effusion, seemingly sourceless and a steady shadowless illumination that could’ve emancipated from the falling trees. A small cabin full of more women than men, seated on an exiguous street in Yaba; its walls plastered with Bible verses and the dos and don’ts of the heavenly kingdom. The altar is narrow, and the yellow, green and red of the flowers around it bears the sheen of plastic.
We do not sing for too long before we start praying. Here I am, in mother’s pastor friend’s church; around me are women with dried up skin, whose faces have taken a familiar handsomeness of one whom, simply, did not wear makeup. There are the men with the sleeves of their faded mismatched suit, eating into their fingers. There are the little children, outside the cabin and under a small canopy, oblivious to whatever it was hovering right now.
And what was it hovering right now? This icy presence against my neck. This intoxicating poisonous sensation that hovers, but does not quite descend. My skin prickles; heat rises to my head.
“You my enemy, gathering on my behalf, catch fire and die. Say this seven times and then turn to seven people and say, your enemies have been destroyed by the Holy Ghost fire”
I am here, my skin shivers like it is in mourning – these people who have disappeared, lost that beauty, those that have morphed into a realm of absurd spirituality. Here, in this cabin is youth. Here is the grayness and grimace of old age. Here is accidental grace, doom and hope in all of its humanness. Here is worrying cupped in the arms of madness; here is an inability to slice through the world; here is an inability to love people with direct, unwavering ferocity.
Then we pray with another magnitude of force; mother’s pastor friend said: “Today, you are receiving the key to your Hummer jeep. Today is the turning point in your life. Today, every spirit of poverty has been removed”.
This is when the beautiful girl next to me begins to pray. My eyes are open; I see the movement of her hips as her body shocks and quivers. Still, she is beautiful in all her grandeur, but she is not quite aware of it. There is something about the strong-jawed, slightly archaic lines of her face. My heart races.
“If you know you want God to bless you like Abraham, run to this altar and drop a seed.”
Now, there is an urgency, a rush and quiver of white plastic chairs. There is the lady who, later, at the bus-stop going home with her fussing children, will be looking for change at the bottom of her purse.
“As you drop that seed, the lord is multiplying them in millions. You are receiving favors that would produce millions for you. Starting from today”
There is a rush of blood to my head as I am murderously angry with everyone. Here is a band of ordinary people searching for extraordinary things, passing through interludes of their regular Sundays. There is no spectacular beauty amongst them; no uncontainable brilliance. There is no kingly, unstoppable ambition beyond the frailty of sweat-drenched flesh and an eagerness to sow seeds. There are no golden halos and no one will print these names of ordinary people on the streets of Victoria Island. In all of this is mother, and the undercurrent of mmm sounds she makes when her pastor friend releases a prophecy. She is here, just like the rest, waiting politely for a plane that in all likelihood is never going to land.
Mother makes her way to the altar after she zipped up the side of her purse, where she had pulled out a checkbook. She is speaking in tongues, it seems.
Look at the firmness of her brow; look at the shy parentheses of lines around her mouth. How did she grow out of her youthful eccentricities and age into this low-grade insanity? She would later say it was father’s sister, “you won’t understand the revelation I received there. Aunty Yemisi is the reason why I’ve been unable to have another child. And why I have only a female child”. Me.
But here, in this cabin, surrounded by high poles with tangled electrical wires stretched from one to another; here with sweaty neck rolls, stampeding feet and a building headache, was mother – alive, amongst these other women and few men, who made her panic for the unknown. She had seen the tiny flickering essence of me when I was brand new. She saw the pinkness of my skin; she had tried so hard- and failed- to cover up father’s infidelity and all of his betrayals. So why does she appear to me as a total stranger? Why is she sniffing around this betrayal of a far greater magnitude?
The uneasiness crackled through me. I imagine the clouds opening up, a splattering of rain, something beyond our physical assumptions. I look around this cabin and wonder if Jesus knows some people are just pretending to like him so they can live in his rad cloudy city. Mother’s pastor friend looks to my direction, and briefly, I’m consumed by that same poisonous sensation. It doesn’t descend, but it is tightened in my breast. She is calling the beautiful girl next to me to the altar.
This is her voice when she leads the choir for the altar call- a time when everyone craves a newness of soul; this is the crispness of her voice, an undercurrent of burr, like a stick drawing on dry sand. Look at the firmness of her mouth and the prominent bulb of her chin; is there a liquid avidity in her eyes as she sings? I can’t tell as they are shut. But this is her, with one hand raised and another holding a black microphone, moving melodiously. I imagine the shock of dark hair that would have trembled on her pale forehead, if it hadn’t been tightened with a chiffon scarf. There is no denying the force of her humanity or her beauty. We never fully understand the beauty in our hands, until we are out of time.
I am struck with envy.
The singing is over. Mother’s pastor friend says something, “someone right here is receiving a miracle. You out there, your husband shall locate you. That woman, that man, working against you shall die. You are not the same person you were when you walked into this place, into the presence of God”
I look at mother with her hands spread upwards. She receives this with a peculiar impassivity; only her eyes show something: they take on a wet glow. It is almost like she is about to cry, but not fully certain why.
They share The Grace with a gleeful ambiance. They want to believe they are changed, brand new. But this time next week and the weeks following, at this same cabin surrounded by a brown and gray rectitude of buildings, they will gather again to pray about the same things.
Photo Credit: theprayingwoman.com
Keside Anosike is a 20 year old who spends his days as a realtor and his nights as a dreamer. An avid lover of wine, indie music and art- all forms and types. He’s a story teller; a little reluctant to call himself a ‘writer’ because he feels it’s a bit disingenuous to hang his entire identity on an activity he does only 5% of the time.He spends 33.3% of his time sleeping (or trying to sleep) and he doesn’t go around calling himself a Sleeper. Or even (more accurately) an aspiring sleeper.