Special anointing loomed in the air. Who couldn’t feel it? The anticipation of receiving alone catalysed the environment, and like the Holy Prophet Ololade would say, the environment was hers and all that dwelled therein; the environment that Saturday was Amara’s, and the weather, and transportation, and clothing, and interactions, right down to the worship that dwelled therein.
Amara turned onto the street that led to her place of worship with the strongest feeling of expectancy she had ever felt. She clutched her big black purse firmly as she sashayed down the street. The other hand went to her head in an attempt to hold down the human hair she wore that swayed. It was especially windy that noon. Alhaji Sambo had gifted her that wig for being extra nice two nights before. He called that morning while Amara waited for her mother to be done bathing to ask if she needed another. She was so lucky it complemented her adornment. Only Amara and fellow attendees of the 5th Passover Service at The Gathering of the Saints of Wonder, GSW, would regard what she wore as adornment however.
“Matata, nawa?” a stranger screamed from the top of a cement truck offloading, from quite the distance. Amara was doubly amazed at the reach of his voice, and also by his choice of words. Since leaving house, all categories of men and some women had wooed and cooed and yelled sweet nothings at her – one haggard-looking old man had fully grabbed at her ass and then feigned lack of control of motor functions of the body when she turned to face him; the majority of women however had abashed her with carefully chosen lines of condemning criticism. Amara did not care. She paused at this recent shout, and reeling from all the attention slowly turned around, giving her admirer a panoramic view of her goods, while checking herself out too.
There was everything to check out. Most women are blessed with large breasts and then fall short when it came to their behinds. For other women, it is the opposite. Amara was among that rare fine specimen of women who had both goods, and not in repugnant extremes either—the quintessential coke body. The Holy Prophet had commanded during the 4th Passover last month that for the fifth, the Lord led him to believe that clothing would be an impediment to the receipt of the anointing. And that all who would be elected to be recipients must guide against clothing, but because one cannot be naked in modern society’s public, certain specifications must be followed when dressing for the occasion. For the women, the prophet had begun, ensure your navel and midriffs are well exposed to Mother Gaia. If the arms and shoulders must be covered, it must be by a thin line of clothing. There is no need to let the hem of the skirt go below the joining of the pelvis and the thigh. If possible, come barefooted to the gathering. Do not wear underwear. And then the prophet went ahead to elect the names of his members who would receive at the 5th. Amara’s joy at being called first knew no bounds. The accentuation her deeply-dimpled product-lightened foundation-masked smooth face, hazel drawn-out eyes, and slightly pointed nose added to the mix engendered all the admiration and jealousy that bubbled her insides with profound joy that afternoon.
The Holy Prophet had once healed the sick so rapidly, raised a comatose patient, and made money appear in the briefcase of a notorious city-wide beggar who was a mere invitee to that gathering, all right in front of her eyes. If stark nudity was required, Amara would dull the shame, and would adhere. It is not so different from the nocturnal activities that provided the next day’s bread for her anyways. Her sashays took on a fresh invigoration after her little roundabout performance. GSW Street smelled like home away from home for her, and as she moved faster, she took in the street. It would be the last day she would ever walk down its length as a poor woman. She had arranged how she would open her own house and employ her own girls. She would be the most loveable madam. She would also complement with a day-time business. Her brother’s mysteriously miserly onion-sales profits would not matter anymore. Her mother too can now stop complaining that she bothers her a lot anymore- she, her mother, can now have free rein to disappear for as many Friday nights as she wished without as much as a whisper of murmur from her.
The vertical-cross-shaped building of The Gathering approached her and she swallowed hard. There was no need to fret, she reminded herself. Today was her day. She stopped to ensure she had all her items of worship intact and complete: crucifix with a black and silver layered back, holy water from Kainji, scented candles, her branding tong with the words ‘grace’ carved at the tip, a copy of The Edicts of K. K. Onaghebon, a copy of the Principles of the Gathering of the Saints of Wonder, and a small Gideons International New Testament bible. She was set. As she zipped her purse up, a figure knocked her back with a heavy force and she fell with her knees to the ground in a scream. The object that hit her spun around and fell too on his side- a tall sprightly man who had all the makings of a standard Zungeru beggar, Amara deduced as she begun getting up on her feet.
The beggar who had crashed onto her, quickly as he fell, darted up and offered a helping hand. She rejected it and got to a weak slouch, squeaking in pains. Of all days! She cursed. The beggar, feeling terribly sorry, made to kneel down and apologise. Amara held him by his tiny forearms, and dragging him up, was hit with recognition. He too, it seemed. He blushed instantly and produced a revulsive oblique smile to accompany, which almost matched whatever Amara’s face did in response for disgust.
“Am—Ama—ra—Am—ho—how—is—you—dey?” His rapid stuttering magnified his obvious lack of an English language command. He never stuttered the first—what seemed like a hundred—times he had asked her out back when he stationed at the front gates of Kananan Zungeru and Amara was helping her brother hawk onions. Maybe he was nervous seeing her again after such a long time, or perhaps he was trying to catch his breath. He did seem in a haste. His awkward smiling and servile demeanour was still as recognizable as ever however. Perhaps if he had put some effort into getting some game, Amara might have obliged; she had agreed for far worse, on far less an incentive; but not today; maybe yesterday, but not today, and not ever again. Her levels were changing.
“How your mama?” She asked him in an effort to let him catch some breath and maybe articulate his proposal to her. She had never bothered to know his name. “She dey. Onions market dey. She sell onions market with my dan’uwanku.” He struggled and gave up search for the words, ‘your brother’. His head was bent the entire time, avoiding her gaze. His feet began shuffling irregularly. “Be my wife,” he blurted out. That was the boldest thing he had said to her in years. Amara pitied him. If only he came yesterday. “No,” she bluntly replied. GSW Street being like second home to her came with the perks of knowing exactly what was not being said at every moment; she purveyed those unsaid goods on regular basis, its number one rumour monger. Now, there would be many unsaid things about her— the girl (some would rather, thot) whom a beggar had the courage to ask out…how wide was her spectrum of service rendering exactly? Amara didn’t want those poisonous sentiments had about her. So, she turned on her heels, refocused on her mission that afternoon, and made to leave.
The beggar’s hand clasped on hers and stopped her mid-rotation. She turned to him. He stared her blankly and expressionless, straight in the eyes. Something had rapidly changed. “Why?..I no get money, kwo? No. I no go church, kwo? I no go your church, kwo?” She expected to see tears. His words welled from a deep place within. There were none. She should have at least tried to oblige him this time. Amara’s was a pretty considerate soul when you get down to it. She opened her mouth. She would give him a shot.
“No worry. I know. Church.” He drew that last word long and hard. Amara could nearly feel the heat of the rage burning inside of him. His hands were trembling, face trained on hers. He shook with anger and sped away in his fit with his begging bowl, and nylon of what was presumably clothing. Amara was distraught. She had never seen him this way ever before. A real-life Jekyll and Hyde situation, her mind got to thinking. He reminded her of her father. Philip Ukadike was always loving husband and father by night, menacing monster by day, and sometimes reversed. One never knew with him. Some assumed it was the fact that he was the chief importer of Italian furniture in Minna that got to his head. He never ceased to make her cry, until he did, by being brutally blown to bits eight years ago, in Farin Gada, Jos. She remembered being in such a happy mood that day in February until she received the news from her brother, and for the first time, she did not cry for her father. The news was more devastating for her than it probably was for all who had shed a tear, but she never showed it. That was the day her outer shell against society’s cruelty began forming, the very reason she could manage a place like GSW for a place of worship, the same reason why her mother had blatantly refused to follow her to such a miracle-seeking occult church. The real reason was that her mother had no shell of her own. Recent Friday outings tended to prove this false however.
An irreconcilably loud blare of a keke yanked Amara away from her reverie. She pinched herself to dispel the feeling of trouble that had just knocked away her feeling of anointing. She regained the environmental anointing steadily, and the moment she entered the wide, scented and gilded church auditorium, she could feel it in full blast. The Holy Prophet called her name immediately she stepped in and instructed her to sit at the front of the church. The attendees, she noticed, were only those whose names were called during the 4th Passover; no guests today. For a place that housed hundreds during regular Sunday services, it appeared starkly empty with the forty-seven men and women in attendance that Saturday. Amara reached the front line and sat on the cold iron chair. She was the only one in the front row, and she noticed each person occupied a row for themselves. That meant the front was reserved for her. She felt special and blessed.
The Holy Prophet, a visibly stout short man with Gandalf-black-beards, a white robe lighter than a cassock but very much more embroidered with symbols than an average one, and an indistinct face that somehow manages to charm all the women, and a few men, walked up to her, placed his hands on her bare thighs as he gave the 1st Admonition of the Passover, and opened up her legs wide. He instructed her to leave it that way for the entirety of the service. He categorically maintained that the anointing would flow through her for that service as far as she remained open. That was his vision, that was why she was in front. She was the conduit. True to words, the moment he let go of her to continue admonishing, an unmistakeable electric current ran all the way from her head, down through her body and out through her legs. Her divine veneration was complete.
Service lasted three hours and every time the Holy prophet raised his voice to shout a declaration of grace, the exact same sensation overwhelmed Amara. Her joy knew no bounds. Her story was changing indeed. At a point, she thought her body could not take it anymore, but she persevered. As benedictions began, the sensation took on a more lengthened stream, and along with it came a fast-rising sexual tension. It was very embarrassing at first, until the prophet assured her that her release was coming. Her vagina’s wetness became so uncontrollable she was dripping. Amara pulsated and caught deep breaths. Maintaining the legs open became the Rubicon she had to cross, and cross she must. Her body began thinking for itself. She clasped her breasts and rubbed it, intermittently pinching her nipples to mix pain to the pleasure. She rubbed down her entire feature and then raised her legs, planting both heels onto the edge of her seat. Her panting heaved her body now. She was almost there. The tempo and volume of the benediction rose. For a brief moment, Amara realised everyone else, male and female, were experiencing the same release. “Amen,” the prophet said, and the longest sweetest hardest orgasm Amara had ever felt in her life hit her. She trembled, fell, and all went black.
The smell of wind caressed her senses. The taste of nature was in her mouth. She felt bliss. She needed to see it too. Her eyes opened. There was green everywhere. A sweet pain by her left and right hands. New tattoos? No. A brand. The Holy Brand of Grace. She finally got them on both shoulders. There was a woman’s bare bottoms in front of her. She grunted and lowered her head to the ground. Beside the woman, a man was doing the same. He was on his boxer shorts alone. She noticed her clothes weren’t taken off. They were all on all-fours. She lowered her head to the ground. Green. Nature. She took a bite and chewed. Bliss. She raised her head again. A heavenly white robe stood beside her. The bare feet that protruded through them holding the angel were so beautiful. She lowered her head again to the ground. Green. Nature. She chewed. Bliss. Hands touched her head. All went black.
The smell of wind caressed her senses. The taste of nature was in her mouth. She felt bliss. She needed to see it too. Her eyes opened. A man, chewing. A woman, chewing. Blessings all round. Angel legs approaching. The ground. Green. Nature. Bliss. Chew. Darkness.
The smell of wind caressed her senses. The taste of nature lead her awake. She observed, and she followed. Darkness.
The smell of wind took its course again and again.
The smell of fire tore her awake. There was no bliss. It was rude and it was a harbinger of doom, this feeling. Amara remembered her name. She remembered the last six hours. It was cloudier than usual and the windy ambience had passed. The heat of fire refused to let her turn her face. It scorched. Then she realized what had happened. It was not the smell of fire that had awakened her this time. It was the explosion. GSW had been bombed. Fear immobilized her, but not before she got out of her animal stance and sat on the grassy field. There were men in long black caftans, faces hooded except their eyes, chattering loudly in Hausa and intermittently praising, “Allahu Akbar.” They were all dressed in assortments of ammunition, and they kicked and slapped people mercilessly, rounding them up and pushing them to a corner. A pyre was raised at that corner. Crying and screaming everywhere. A heavy hand knocked her on the head and pulled her short wig completely off. “Hanlele!” the owner of the hands shouted and the familiarity of the voice startled her.
The back of his gun rushed to Amara’s face and she squinted, but it did not land. He brought his gun down and bent over her. Amara looked at him. Those eyes were unmistakeable. He laughed, heartily and loud. “Church, eh?” he finally said after his bout. It was the same way he said ‘church’ earlier. The back of his gun kissed her face, and all went black.