Ngozi must get to church on time. It was almost time for praise and worship and she has always assisted the worship leader. She definitely would be late today. She had a harder time getting up today. The swirls in her stomach were like an anvil; they pulled her further down as she struggled to stand from the mattress two hours ago. Then, there was the grind in using the toilet, struggling with the mixed odour of vomit, urine, and something else she could not point out. Her daughter was desperately waiting for her to finish, and would have barged in had she not received a phone call. That saved Ngozi some thirty minutes to run a cold shower across her body, scrub with her worn sponge, trip and fall out of the narrow bathroom, ruffle through her ghana-must-go for her best buba and hollandies. Picked up her ready-made gele, run a quick-fix makeup session on her face, and an extra thirty minutes after that, she was turning into Kaduna Street, headed for church.
The swirls in her stomach were still there, and she wondered if she would end up belching notes of “Good Morning Jesus” as against belting them. She knocked off that feeling. All will be fine. No one would notice. She was Sister Ngozi, wasn’t she? – substitute minister when others wouldn’t; substitute prophetess when the prophets grow tired; dependable counsellor and bible teacher, when those that should aren’t. If she were to leave The Bible Way Church today, she would really garner a following and would nearly split the church’s congregation in half. But she loved the church. It was a bible believing church, keeping the edicts of the Christian faith to the letter, maintaining holiness as its watchword, unlike all these new-age churches springing up everywhere. Sometimes she grew ashamed that she was categorized as Pentecostal with all these other church goers; I mean, there was nothing remotely alike in the way she talked, walked, dressed, and worshipped with theirs. On the other hand, she swore to never return to her orthodox roots however…those Idol worshippers, she’d say.
Kaduna Street brimmed with all kinds of people. It was the typical sunny morning one would expect in Niger State, Minna specifically. Traders purveying goods here and there, farmers on old gigantic bicycles rolling them to their farmyards, fishermen arriving from the riverside villages and towns outside Minna, turning into Kananan Zungeru with their fish-loaded trucks, delivering wholesale goods; the occasional collared-up nine-to-fiver darting to all the tall glass and concrete buildings that have given Minna the modern beauty it boasts of today. Sister Folake was ten paces ahead of Ngozi and Ngozi, despite being late, decided to maintain that distance. Folake was a mouth-breather as far as she was concerned. She’d leach onto Ngozi and ask so many questions and end up suspecting what she was trying so hard to hide from the rest of the world. Folake would decipher the essence of the swirl, and Sister Ngozi would lose her half of the church.
Ngozi pulled out her mirror the moment she sighted the blue roof of the rounded church building. There were facial features that needed inspecting. She pulled the mirror closer to her eyes. No bags; they were as brown and thick and tiny as they have always been- the very feature that charmed her late husband Philip to her. The mirror drops down to her lips. Not chaffed. Only red, small, and moderately made up; she smacked them and tasted chapsticks. Perfect. Her cheeks were the only features that announced her true age. She wished she could subtract twenty-five from fifty there and then. At least her height masked the fact that her growth curve had approached the stage where the very word ‘growth’ in ‘growth curve’ becomes ironical. About returning the mirror to her always-ready go-to church bag, a very rapid activity by the corner of her eye caught her attention. It was a sight one does not see every day, especially in a predominantly Muslim land.
A young girl, very easy on the eyes, and fair as the sun, ran, with all her strength, pursued by someone who looked just like her, a much older man, fair too, handsome features – her father, one would very quickly note. She spoke rapid Hausa as she pulled away her hijab from her head layer after layer with all fervour, revealing the softest silkiest darkest hair Ngozi had ever laid eyes on. Her right leg struck against a large upturned shrapnel in front of a welder’s shop. She yelped in pain, but was lucky enough not to have been scratched by it. She slowed down, breathing, clutching her legs and looking for where to sit as the welder himself approached to offer succour. Ngozi could make out some of the words she uttered – she’d lived in Niger State almost all her life, so she knew sufficient Hausa – “…munafuki…mahaifin hekara…” Hypocrite. Father of the Year. Ngozi wondered what that was all about. The father, unable to keep up with the sprightly daughter’s pace had just come into full view. The daughter was preparing to dart away again. He was on top of his voice, in Hausa, then in English, “Oh, you want to go to school, ehn? You’re nineteen, and you’re still thinking about school, you this girl! After six years, you choose to rebel, kwo? Degree! Ba Degree! Look at Rufiyat! How has a degree helped her!?” His English was impeccable. The daughter only cried louder at those words, turning on her heels, crossing the road, and ensuing the chase in the other direction, back from whence they came.
These adherents will not cease to surprise me. Which one is my own joor? and Ngozi immediately forgot completely about the incident that had drawn the attention of the entire street and quickened her pace to church. Folake had not been distracted and had gone out of view, so she could safely make her footsteps much brisker. Right at the front gate of The Bible Way, the chime of her phone brought the second distraction in her journey. Worship session had begun already, and from the tempo and amplitude of the voices raised to heaven, they had been on it for quite a while. She must hurry. She pulled out the phone so as to put it in silent mode. She quickly remembered how her son taught her to do so. The church maintains doing away with all worldly distractions in God’s presence; how could she be so careless this morning as to forget to silence her phone? She thanked whomever had messaged her on WhatsApp at that moment, because she would not have known the phone was potential for distraction otherwise.
She immediately regretted feeling so elated and thankful for the message. She had opened the WhatsApp message, and before her was a middle-aged woman, Hendricks in one hand, top opened, drained to half, and the thick bulge of a headless man’s penis, scantily hidden behind a painfully stretched cotton-blue three-quarters squeezed by the other hand. This woman’s hair was so cheap and tardy, ruffled up by a familiar female face equally as maudlin as the woman. They were both having a laugh as the still showed, reasons very blurry to Ngozi. They were sat on a lounge, two huge bulky strangers on dark shades flanking them, room thickly red, and a tray with scattered beer bongs, assortment of rice papers, cigarette packs, and a stack of condoms on a dark glass table at their feet. The logo of the establishment was boldly emblazoned on the wall behind them, above their heads: 100/100. The people in that photo disgusted Ngozi as much as they excited her. The photo was captioned by the top: “Can’t Wait For Round 12! Let’s Rule Minna!” Under the base of the ‘2’ of ‘12’ was the bare left side of the neck of the middle-aged woman connecting her half-exposed chest in a see-through tank top. Right there on the neck was a birthmark shaped like a blacksmith’s anvil, and this jerked Ngozi awake and away from staring at the picture. She recovered quickly before anybody spotted her and wondered what was wrong. She noticed a beggar by the gate and jumped, and then realised he had been there the entire time, and even in times before. He does not count. She quickly silenced the phone, tossed it in her bag, pulled out a scarf, and as she wrapped it around her neck, she caressed the left side a little self-consciously. Her stomach swirled again, and she shrugged it off, and put on the proper visage for the day, majestically walking in to the church to assist worship.