“Wanna know how I got these scars? My father was … a drinker. And a fiend. And one night, he goes off crazier than usual. Mummy gets the kitchen knife to defend herself. He doesn’t like that. Not. One. Bit. So, me watching, he takes the knife to her, laughing while he does it. Turns to me and he says, ‘Why so serious?’ Comes at me with the knife: ‘Why so serious?’ He sticks the blade in my mouth – ‘Let’s put a smile on that face!’” – The Dark Knight
Tunde woke in a sobbing fit, curled up in a foetal position at the corner of the room like he had done yesterday and many days before. It had been that way since the accident – he’d go to sleep on his bed and wake up on the floor.
At work, he trudged through needless meetings, tedious paperwork, and idle chatter. He was an anomaly, a body without a consciousness; a smile, a look of interest without desire.
As had become customary over the past couple of months, the chisel of despair went chip-chip and little bits of his old self flitted off with the wind.
He had a date with Chika. They met at the restaurant across the road from the office – a large, homely place.
The date ended. Chika left the restaurant, happier than she had been when they arrived earlier. He watched her through the large window, his hand in his pocket, tracing that hollow piece of jewellery he had come to love to a point of obsessive attachment. It was a link to a much happier time. A time he desperately had to get back to.
His goal was clear. He stood. The pain in his side, the blood in his nose – he wasn’t going to let them get in his way. He took the ring out of his pocket and—
A bump from someone sent the ring spinning out of sight. He searched frantically.
The cleaner – an elderly woman – helped. Her name was Patience. She found the ring under a chair and handed it to Tunde.
She pointed out his bloody nose. He dismissed her caution and left for home.
By the day’s end, he would hang from a ceiling fan, dead.
Patience disregarded the thought of Tunde’s unfortunate nose and returned the mop and bucket to the store room. She had pressing matters to attend to.
Her boss, Mr Kenneth Obiora, was – to put it mildly – a colossal chauvinistic prick masquerading as a human being. Anything in a skirt caught his fancy. Anything.
Patience met Mr Obiora in his office and reminded him of his prior promise to excuse her from work for the rest of the day.
Mr Obiora took his sweet time assessing her appearance – a faded bland uniform wrapped around a thin, worn body. He imagined things Patience had no business thinking of, not at her age.
Once he was satisfied, he reiterated that this was a one-time favour. She thanked him and departed the restaurant.
She got home and found her daughter, Sally, at the backyard, doing her laundry. They talked. Sally mentioned that she had chanced upon Okon on her way from the market.
Okon was a chubby young fellow who always had something to smile about. Sally liked him, and he liked her, but that was the end of it.
Patience could never convince Sally to take a gamble with Okon. Every time she brought up the topic, Sally only had one answer … an answer that got the cold tendrils of fear clawing through Patience’s insides: you know my condition.
It was that condition that had brought Patience home from work this early.
After months of feverish searching, Patience had uncovered the most viable solution to Sally’s problem: Pastor Chris Oyatie.
Handsome, charismatic Chris Oyatie – a man as flamboyant as he was larger than life, with a voice that tamed legions and brought them to their knees in reverence.
That afternoon, Pastor Chris Oyatie had the auditorium teeming with worshipers. He and his team had evaluated Sally’s case and resolved that her special healing would be an appropriate spectacle, an indisputable phenomenon from God that would convince unbelievers to turn from their depraved habits and embrace the light … the light of Jesus Christ … and the awesomeness of Chris Oyatie, of course.
Sally knelt before the young pastor on the vast stage and he addressed her as he would a filthy pig that grown too proud and foolish as to eat from the table of Kings.
‘You. Agent of Satan. What is your plan?’
Sally had no plans. She stared at Pastor Chris, puzzled. He slapped her across the face, and the force of the blow threw her to the ground. She whimpered.
Patience, standing amongst the congregation, winced.
‘You will not take this girl. I command you, release her!’
The foot of Pastor Chris struck hard against Sally’s stomach. She wailed.
‘Release her, I say!’
Another kick. Another howl.
Then Sally began to convulse, eyes twitching, limbs writhing. Patience wanted to comfort her, but the bodyguards kept her well away from the stage.
The convulsion got worse. Pastor Chris kicked and slapped and spat and spoke in tongues. The congregation lent their voices in loud prayer.
Suddenly, Sally stopped moving. The voices dropped. Eyes watched.
Patience clutched her chest. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
And then, the most amazing thing … Sally rose. Not to her feet. No. Her body rose off the stage.
Bewildered cries. Even Pastor Chris Oyatie seemed perplexed at the turn of events.
Sally’s arms stretched out on their own accord, her head lolling. The crucifixion.
The ground quaked. The pillars trembled. The roof split to a terrible sound. And out of Sally came a blinding white light.
It was all too much for the congregation. They took to their heels. The bodyguards were the first the run.
Patience fought against the surging sea of bodies, her objective to get to the stage, to save her daughter.
The light grew bigger, enveloping half the auditorium.
Pastor Chris stood his ground. This was his moment of truth, his chance to prove – beyond reasonable doubt – the legitimacy of his claim that he was more than just a showman. He shielded his eyes and peeked through his fingers, gingerly approaching the centre of the light.
‘The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men,’ he said. ‘Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.’ His voice grew louder and bolder: ‘And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers-’
The light went out. Sally stood, eyes glowing white, face expressionless.
‘-and you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee,’ she finished in an eerie voice.
Pastor Chris Oyatie blinked: what the-? She moved like lightening – in a matter of seconds, she was at the far end of the church, hands wrapped around an iron bar stuck to the ground. She tore it out of the concrete floor, zipped to the stage, and impaled Pastor Chris.
Pain, disbelief and horror were amongst the myriad of emotions that played on his handsome face.
‘Ezekiel twenty-five, seventeen,’ Sally said, smiling. ‘Where is your God now?’
Perhaps the good pastor meant to answer – he opened his mouth, but all that came out were an unintelligible croak and a generous flow of blood. He dropped to the stage, unmoving.
The glow in Sally’s eyes fizzled out. She staggered. Patience was right behind her before she plummeted.
Sally trembled and sobbed in Patience’s arms, her wounded voice ricocheting off the walls of the empty auditorium. Patience pleaded with her to stop crying and get up. They had to leave before anyone came back and found them with the dead pastor. They would be branded murderers and most likely lynched. Pastor Chris Oyatie’s followers were quite notorious for doling out retribution to those who crossed their man of God.
‘Tunde… Oh, Tunde…’ Sally wept.
‘Who is Tunde?’ Patience asked.
Sally looked at her mother with round, wet eyes, her desperation palpable.
‘Tunde,’ she said. ‘Mummy… I understand now. I know what I have to do.’