When the prophet prophesies nonsense
Just like I predicted, Papa lost the contract; he ignored my greetings and stared at me like I was the witch of Narnia, a prophetess of doom and the bearer of evil. A month ago, I had told Mama that her close friend, Madam Kachi, had died in my dreams; she covered my mouth with her hand and urged me to swallow the remnants of my words, but they were already spoken. That evening, she received a call that Madam Kachi had been involved in a fatal accident on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway which had claimed the lives of all the passengers. She looked at me in shock, then she threw down her phone and wailed. Papa had pursued the contract with unflinching zeal. It was a government contract that would redirect the wheel of our lives to wealth. Then I woke up one morning and told him that I had seen him crying in my dreams because he had lost the contract. His bloodshot eyes blazed fire, and he ordered me out of his room; that morning, Mama paused breakfast and initiated prayer and fasting for the family. It was that evening that Papa came home devastated; I thought I saw him on the brink of tears, or maybe that was my imagination. My greetings hung in the air like a rotten stench from unidentified perishables, and he gawked at me before he walked into his room.
The thump of the car from the bad road had me jumping slightly in the back of the old-model Sienna. The loud gospel music from the car radio made my head feel some sort of heaviness, and I wondered which was worse: the dusty, narrow road that had an exorbitant chunk of it eaten away, or the poorly rhythmical music Papa had to force down the ears of the car occupants, or Mama’s messed up lyrics of the song. It was a ten-kilometre journey from Awka to Agulu. My stomach lurched in symphony, and I closed my eyes to drown in the symmetrical echoes of my thoughts, tempted to tell Mama to quit spoiling the music with her borrowed lyrics and Papa to turn down the radio. I imagined what Prophet Onukwube would look like: maybe a tall, lanky, honey-complexioned man with a meek demeanour and emphatic, sad eyes. I smiled a knowing smile that maybe I might like him and he would take a look at me and tell my parents that I wasn’t possessed by a thousand demons.
We got to Nkwo Agulu, and Papa took the road to the right. “We are almost there,” he uttered, and I sat up and watched as he drove into a fenceless compound. It wasn’t the type of space I had imagined; this place was a gloomy space of uncompleted buildings with shiny zinc and wooden windows. Heaps of sand barricaded the end of the building. Later, I learnt that it was a new site built by the congregation. The entrance to the church was lined with alternate block stairs and a wooden door. The compound smelled damp, a mixture of urine and citrus. Later, I came to understand that they had held a vigil the night before, termed fruitful night, in which worshippers brought different types of fruits, and, due to the lack of toilets, they relieved themselves outside. I followed my parents to a bungalow at the back of the church, and we walked into a dark hallway which led to an office. The strong scent of incense hit my nose, and behind a plastic blue table was a man who smiled and stood to welcome my parents. I noted that he was dark in complexion and averagely built, and his eyes pierced into my soul and regarded me expressionlessly. He ushered us to a seat, and Papa expressed his apologies for inconsistency in taking part in fellowship activities, blaming it on distance and the bad road.
“I totally understand, Oga Uwakwe; the road is very bad, and the government has remained negligent in its duties. Our brother who is a member of the house of representatives lives just a few blocks away, and we had thought he would at least help with the construction of the road for us,” he remarked, unimpressed.
“They always forget to bring development to their community, once in office,” Papa concluded. I shifted my attention to the rest of the office; the walls were unpainted, and on the wall hung a crucifix, a red chieftaincy cap and a supposed picture of the Messiah. I had always been of the strong inclination that no one had seen the Messiah, so whatever pictures depicted his image were absolutely none of my business. On the table at the other end of the wall were some oranges and apples, with some white clothing material.
“You, stand up,” the muffled, heavy voice commanded, and I was jolted back to reality. The prophet had ordered me to my feet, and I stood up, disarmed. He stood and walked towards me, and I saw for the first time that he was a man endowed with large buttocks. He didn’t mean for them to jiggle when he walked, but his bow legs were of no help, so the large buttocks unceremoniously jiggled to every step, and, unable to contain my amusement, I burst out in laughter, which surprised my parents, who shifted their weight on their chairs, and halted the prophet in his tracks.
“You foul spirit, be still, for you are in the presence of the Almighty,” he spat out in fury, clutching a Bible in one hand and anointing oil in the other. He started blasting in tongues, jumping and slapping my face with the worn-out Bible, and emptied generous amounts of olive oil onto my head. I was forced to stop laughing, almost blinded by the olive oil. I wiped some off my eyes, and this time the prophet was hitting my head, chest and stomach with the Bible. “How long have you been in this body?” he demanded.
Aghast, I looked at my parents, who stared at me eagerly like I was some intruder.
“Speak, you foul spirit,” the prophet continued.
Then, a resounding slap, which I would later term the unholy slap, forced my mouth open, and in despair I blurted out, “I am Nnedi Uwakwe, the daughter of Mr Okechukwu Uwakwe.”
“You liar from the pit of hell, you are loosed from this body,” the prophet said and continued in tongues. I looked at Papa with disgust and threw a glance of disappointment at Mama. Betrayed, I regretted having entered the car and following them down to Agulu. The prophet stopped abruptly and walked back to his seat. He picked up a pen from his pen cubicle and started writing on paper. As he wrote, he spoke to my parents. “You will buy large yam tubers, one bowl of pepper and onions, four litres of red oil, two robust white fowls and a doll.” He lifted his head and handed the written note to me; reluctantly, I took the note, and it contained Bible verses with prayer points for seven days of dry fasting.
He turned to my parents. “As I was praying, I saw an old woman who died some years ago; she happens to be her grandmother.”
“Her grandmothers from both her maternal and paternal sides are still alive,” Mama said.
“Oh, I meant her great-grandmother from her maternal side,” he said, and shifted in his chair.
“My grandmother is still alive,” Mama replied.
“Oh, the good spirit has just revealed to me that it was her great-grandmother from her paternal side.” He dabbed the prickly sweat that creased his forehead, and gazed askance at Papa, who stared at him, perturbed. He continued, “She initiated her at birth, but I have booked her for deliverance; once she is done with the fasting and praying, I will complete her deliverance.”
“My great-grandmother died even before Papa was born, so how could she have initiated me?” I snorted. I knew it was a question my parents were afraid of asking, maybe for the fear of the prophet’s wrath or to save the man from embarrassment.
“My child, you wouldn’t understand the spiritual things,” he said dismissively.
“Well, you can monetise the materials, so you wouldn’t bother to stress yourself.”
He smiled and his eyes shone as Papa dipped his hand inside his pocket; the smile on his face disappeared when Papa dropped a 500 naira note on the table.
“Man of God, this is our offering; once we get to Awka, I will call you to see how I can send the money.”
He stood, and we stood with him. “A stitch in time saves nine; please send the money as soon as possible so the prayers and assignment can commence.”
“Of course,” Papa replied.
On our way out, in the hallway, we met a pregnant woman. Oblivious of our presence, she screamed at the prophet, “What of the money wey you suppose bring for food?”
“Oh, Mr Uwakwe, meet my wife,” he said, clearly embarrassed. The slim, scantily dressed, pregnant woman eyed my parents, trying to decipher whether to be rude; then, she must have remembered that their next meal might be provided from Papa’s pocket, and thought otherwise.
“Good day, sir and madam,” she said gently with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.
“The Lord be with you,” Papa said in mock reply, with an unbiased tone.
“Oh, I was just trying to see them off; I will be with you shortly,” the prophet dismissed her, and escorted us to the car. “I will forward my account details right away. Remember, the earlier, the better. God bless you, sir.” He waved as we settled ourselves in the car.
Papa turned on the ignition and acknowledged the prophet with a wave. He reversed the car and we zoomed off. My heart leapt with an inexplicable joy as we drove out of the compound. We drove in silence, then Mother cleared her throat.
“You never told me that he was one hungry prophet. Don’t tell me you have any plans of sending the money,” Mama remarked, genuinely concerned.
“Didn’t you witness your daughter’s strange attitude there? She needs deliverance.”
They both turned to stare at me, while I pretended to be fast asleep from exhaustion. I was really tired and wasn’t up for conversation. Let them think whatever. I couldn’t wait to get home, have a cold shower and jump onto my bed. Their discussions trailed on, and Papa insisted that I would undergo the deliverance. Later, the car was filled with awkward silence, and I could tell they were lost in their own thoughts.
I opened my eyes, and we were already home. Papa drove into the compound, and I got out of the car and briskly walked upstairs to my room and lay on my bed. I think I went to sleep immediately once my head touched the pillow. I woke up towards evening, light-headed and famished. I heard the chatter of small talk and the crack of laughter. Slowly, I got up from the bed and traced the voices to the sitting room. My siblings, Nkoli, Dalu and Emeka, were cracking jokes and hushed when they noticed my presence.
“Now the sleeping beauty is finally awake, come and gist us on the journey to the prophetic house,” Nkoli said with a glint in her eyes and a knowing smile. I knew Mother had told them all that had transpired in the prayer house, so I ignored her and walked to the kitchen. The sizzling aroma of jollof rice arrested my nose. I took a plate and dished some for myself. I sat in the kitchen and ate slowly, while ruminating on the day’s events, especially the episode at the prayer house.
A hand rested on my shoulder, and I turned to see who it was. “Nnedi, don’t mind Papa and Mama; they are being delusional. You are fine; we know nothing is wrong with you.”
I smiled and nodded weakly at her. It was later that I came to understand that they had been laughing at the ignorance of our parents and their blindness at the deception of the prophet.
“Nnedi, you will start the prayer and fasting today, so there will be no breakfast for you,” Mama said the moment I greeted her good morning the next day.
That morning, my siblings ate boiled yam and egg sauce, and I watched them eat. Later, when our parents left for work, Nkoli and Dalu brought my share of the food. They had hidden a portion of the breakfast, and they made sure I ate lunch; then, when Mama came back in the evening, she concluded the prayer with me and gave me dinner. The procedure continued till the seventh day, and Mama ended the fasting with me, oblivious to the fact that I had not really fasted.
The next day, Papa informed me that the prophet had got the materials for my assignment. We would go to the prayer house the next day with a long stick. The prayer house had a programme themed: “Operation flog the devil”.
The prayer house was filled with an eager crowd with a maddening pulse, bulging in rows of excitement to beat out the frustrations in their lives back to the devil. I entered the church, clutching my own stick which Papa had torn out of a tree at the back of our house. Mama loosely held a funny-looking, weak stick with an unconcealed hint of amusement and riddle in her eyes. This was all Papa’s idea. Papa hadn’t come with us; he had gone to work. We found a seat at a corner beside the window at the back of the church. The prophet mounted the pulpit amidst cheers and claps like a politician mounting the podium to make promises of sweet nothings.
“If you are ready to flog back your frustrations, poverty, stagnancy and joblessness into the devil’s life, shout hallelujah!”
The crowd clapped and screamed hallelujah at the top of their lungs.
“Position yourself,” he ordered. He wiped off sweat from his forehead. “At the count of three, start hitting the devil with all your might.” He counted one, and the crowd braced themselves. Two, and sticks were raised. At the count of three, a new madness inhabited the church. The crowd flogged the ground with resolute concentration, hitting with all their might. Some flogged the wall, while some flogged their chairs. Mama and I looked at each other and began flogging the ground. It was like a strange spirit had possessed Mama, and she hit furiously at the ground. She broke her weak stick and snatched the one in my hand without an iota of care whether I minded.
“You devil sitting on my promotion, I flog you out of my life today,” she chanted and tore the cement floor open with my stick. The mama hitting the ground with unrecognisable fury was different to the mama I had entered the church with. The church was filled with chaos; the prophet also battled with his own devil in the pulpit. I sat on my chair and watched the church perform their enterprise on the devil, their eyes filled with hunger, pain and hope. These people, on whom the toils of life had trademarked their bitterness in their bodies, and stamped lack into their heart – the shout of hallelujah was a safe place, a lackadaisical mirage of a better tomorrow.
Then I heard her.
“You strange woman in my husband’s life, out of his life!” Mama was flogging out a strange woman from Papa’s life. Then it resounded in my heart. Does Papa have a mistress? Mama flogged the ground like a woman in a trance.
“And the church shouts amen!” the prophet said, and they chorused amen, and silence filled the church like water poured on a fire. “This time next week, you shall testify.”
Shouts of victory filled the air.
Later, when the meeting ended, the prophet invited us to his office. He looked worn out.
“I am visibly tired, but not spiritually tired,” he said with a smile, like he read my mind. “Did you do your fasting?”
“Yes, I did,” I lied.
“He whom the Son of Man sets free is free, indeed. You are free,” he said. “My wife is boiling yam; it is part of your work. You will eat it and drink some mineral water, and then I will pray for you.”
A few minutes later, his wife entered with a plate of boiled yam and red oil. Mama and I washed our hands and feasted on the food. We hadn’t realised how hungry we were. He gave us soft drinks – Fanta for me and Coca-Cola for Mama. When we were done, I knelt down and he prayed for me, then handed me a porcelain doll to hang on my window when I got home.
“Get up; you are a new creature,” he said.
“Does Papa have a mistress?” I asked Mama as we drove home.
“There are things you wouldn’t understand,” she said dismissively.
Mama wasn’t fluent in her pain, so I left her to flutter in her thoughts.
“You know, every man at a point in his life has a mistress,” she said.
“My husband won’t have a mistress!”
“You are still a young girl,” she smiled weakly.
If my husband dared to have a mistress, I would prepare his tea with urine and remove the brakes in his car, I thought.
Was I that evil, I worried.
Evil resides in every one of us, I concluded.
I was worried about Mama for making a mistress the subject of her spiritual attack; in a life full of anomalies, there were many important things to pray for. Papa was at the gate when we got home; he helped open the gate and ushered us into the compound. I alighted from the car; he opened the door for Mama and helped her alight from the car, and I watched them lock in a warm embrace.
“You look tired,” he complained.
“It has been a hectic day,” she replied.
I entered the house, and I realised that Papa might have no iota of an idea that Mama knew about his mistress, however real or imaginary she might be. He was afloat on the oblivious, and I wished Mama would confront him with her findings, however vague they seemed. Expression was one quality Mama wasn’t adorned with; she was comfortable in silence. I closed my eyes and imagined her furious, holding on tightly to my father’s balls and demanding to know who the other woman was, or she would tear out his scrotum, while he winced in pain.
My siblings were napping. I crawled into bed and squeezed myself between Dalu and Nkoli. My parents’ hushed voices were unavoidably audible to me; they were already upstairs and sitting in the sitting room. Mama narrated the incidents that had transpired in the prayer house, excluding how I hadn’t been able to participate in flogging the devil because she had snatched my stick to flog a certain woman out of his life. “She is delivered from evil spirits,” she finally said.
“I hope a kind spirit of good fortune has entered her,” Papa remarked, and they laughed heartily. A few minutes later, everything was silent and I lapsed back into sleep.
Papa struggled with some men, who pointed a gun at him and ordered him to hand over the key of his new Toyota Corolla. They snatched the key from his hands and shot him in the leg before they drove off. I woke up panting and drenched in sweat; it was a dream. I dashed out of bed and rushed to my parents’ room. Papa was getting ready to go out, and Mama lay on the bed in her underwear, her face glowing like a sated baby.
“Young lady, did you forget your manners in the prayer house?” he asked, irritated. I hadn’t knocked before entering their room, but it didn’t matter now; I needed to tell Papa that he must not go out.
“They snatched your car and shot you in the leg; please don’t go out tonight,” I said to Papa, my eyes pleading. He looked at me like a puzzle he was trying to solve.
“You said the prophet declared her free?” he asked, looking at Mama.
Mama sat up and clutched the bedspread to her bosom. Papa took the car key from the table, pushed me aside and walked out of the room. Mama stepped out of bed and walked to the bathroom without sparing another glance in my direction.
I stood there by the door with a numb feeling of helplessness. I heard the sound of the shower, and walked back to my room. Nkoli was already awake when I entered the room.
“Tell me all about it,” she demanded. I knew she meant the deliverance session in the prophetic house. The next hour had me describing the several events in the prophetic house, deliberately leaving out Mama’s personal issues. A shrill sound came from Mama’s room, and we rushed to see what it was. She had just got off the phone when we entered.
“Your father has just been rushed to the hospital; he was shot by some hoodlums,” she whispered. Nkoli and I exchanged a quick glance, then stared back at Mama, and fresh, hot tears rushed down our cheeks.