You know how people always say that your life flashes before your eyes right before you die? Well, they were wrong. Or maybe they were right. Who knows? Or cares? But one thing I know for sure is that I’m not dead. I wish I was, but I’m not. But I could see my whole life flashing before my eyes right then, in that very moment. As the doctor walked slowly towards me, face impassive, I knew he had terrible news for me. Sure, he had a great poker face; all the good doctors have it, and I know he is good at what he does. Very good, but I am also good at reading him; I studied the way he walked towards me, slowly and almost dejectedly, as if he would rather be anywhere but there, to deliver what was most likely bad news to me. But I understood. It had to be done. I stood up from the old rickety wooden cane chair and turn to face him. Time to face the music. I couldn’t postpone it any longer.
‘I’m so sorry, Nneka, your mother had a heart attack which proved to be fatal. Her heart stopped before she arrived at the hospital. We did the best we could but we couldn’t get a heartbeat.’ he continues mumbling words and some other medical jargon that I could not possibly comprehend. Not at this moment. But I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t even sure that I was there. Physically, I was, but emotionally and spiritually, I was back at the church, where it all started.
The Sunday started out like any other Sunday. The cock crowed, the goat bleated and my mother screeched with timed efficiency “Nneka, if you don’t get up from that bed this moment eh, chineke ga agba isi gi oku’. And as usual, I ignored her for the warm comfort of my bed. It was a cold Sunday morning, in the harmattan season, and I didn’t understand why I needed to get up at the crack of dawn for a church service that started 2 hours away. Suddenly, the covers were ripped off of me.
“Nneka, biko get up now! I don’t want to be late for church. Today is prayer Sunday and I want to get there early to get a good seat. You know I hate sitting at the back where the fan won’t touch me and your father has already left for work’.
I cringed internally. Prayer Sundays were the worst (God forgive me). For four whole hours, the congregation had the option of either standing up or kneeling down (no sitting), praying nonstop in a hot, small cramped room with only a ceiling fan that seemed to blow hot air on the people below. It was not my best way to spend a Sunday. My mother loved it though; she always said it made her feel a lot closer to God. To each his own, I suppose, but it just wasn’t for me.
Two hours later, we arrived at church, after being squished in a bus between two fat women with body odor mixed with perfume, who found it perfectly satisfying to carry on a loud conversation about their families and friends as if I was not even there. I even offered to switch seats with either one of them which they ignored, while my mother sat in front with the bus driver chatting away happily. I was admittedly, in a very grumpy mood. The pastors booming voice did nothing to elevate my mood. It was going to be a long Sunday. I knew this deep in my heart. The prayer session started shortly after we arrived. ‘Children of God!’ He started, ‘we need to pray. The spirit has informed me that there is a demon here, an evil spirit, looking for somebody to possess.’ (Cue some eye rolling; from me of course). ‘We need to pray that it won’t come near us. Pray!’ The whole congregation began praying furiously. Including my mother.
She had already begun sweating and a fat vein in the middle of her forehead popped out, a sure sign that she was stressed. Now, it seemed to me that the best way to avoid this evil spirit that was reportedly looking for someone to possess was to avoid the church entirely, but nobody apparently shared this sentiment with me as they all continued to pray fervently. The ceiling fan slowed to a stop above me. NEPA had struck again. The power had gone out. This didn’t deter the pastor however. He continued on without his microphone. ‘Some people are not praying!’ he bellowed, shooting me an evil glare. ‘They feel they do not need to pray. That they are above the evil spirits lurking around this place. Well, I am here to inform you that you are not!
Only Jesus Christ is! Are you Jesus? If you don’t want to be possessed, better start praying now!’ his already bulging eyes seemed ready to pop out of his forehead due to strain. I decided it was a good time to close my eyes and pretend to pray. I knew the drill. I closed my eyes and swayed in a spot and started mumbling the lyrics to my favorite song by Olamide. What? Shakiti bobo was a very catchy tune. I knew God would understand. It wasn’t as if I was a heathen or something. I prayed to God every morning when I woke up and at night before I went to bed. I read my bible a few times a week. I wasn’t a bad Christian. I was just not as impassioned as the other members of my church when it came to praying for long periods of time, on my feet. Without a break. Not even for water. The horror!
Suddenly, I heard a loud crash beside me. I immediately opened my eyes to search for the source of the crash only to find my poor mother on the ground, clutching her chest, her eyes opened wide and her tongue lolling out of her mouth, sweat beading on her forehead. I screamed and rushed suddenly to her side. The ushers and some church members rushed around her like a headless chicken. Nobody seemed to know what to do until I screamed ‘please who has a car! We need to rush her to the nearest hospital!’ An old man of about sixty, who was generally known as Baba Ijebu replied ‘yes, I have a car, its parked outside. We can use it. But you’ll have to pay for the fuel, because of the fuel scarcity, shey you understand’.
Suddenly, the pastor bellowed from somewhere on the pulpit. ‘Leave her alone! The evil spirit has taken control of her! Anyone that touches her risks being possessed by the same spirit!’.
Baba ijebu stopped suddenly, and so did all the other member of the church. His dark skin paled suddenly, which if you had asked me before today if that was possible, I would have vehemently denied. The three tribal marks decimating each cheek stood out starkly from his face. His mouth began to open and shut confusedly like a fish out of water. I noticed all these things happening at once. What I also noticed was that he was slowly withdrawing, taking away his precious car keys along with his much needed car with him.
My mother continued writhing on the floor while the pastor continued praying. The church was silent now except for the praying pastor and my wheezing mother. I couldn’t take it anymore. If it were up to the members of this church, she would be dead. I rushed out of the building and stood in the middle of the road, praying for a taxi but on the lookout for any vehicle at all. At this point, I wasn’t choosy at all. I would probably even take an okada at this moment; even though I wasn’t sure how that would work. A lot of cars passed by, and after honking loudly and shouting obscenities at me, they sped off quickly. But I didn’t care. My mother was probably dying in church and the pastor was probably throwing a bible at her at this very moment.
I was finally able to hail a taxi, and the nice taxi driver helped me put her in the car. As we sped off, I could hear the pastor saying ‘the evil spirit is finally gone, thank God’. I used my offering money to pay the cab driver and I didn’t regret it.
Finally, I look up into my father’s face. Tears are rolling down his cheeks but he continues staring at me, as if waiting for me to come back from where I went to. ‘Nneka, did you understand what I just said? Your mother is dead’ he says again quietly. I stare at my father, the doctor who could not save his own wife from death and reply. ‘Yes, I’ve heard, mama is dead.’
And like I said earlier on, I’m not a heathen, I just haven’t stepped foot inside a church since then. Not even for weddings. But I’m sure God understands. Sometimes I try to think, to ask myself, what I could have done differently, what I should have done that would have dramatically changed the course of events that day and I always remember the song I sang instead of the prayer I should have been praying. And when I do, I say a little prayer, to God and my mother to forgive me. But I never feel forgiven. Just hollow.