A WHISPER IN THE NIGHT

The church feels cold, like you are standing inside a mammoth fridge. The vesper has begun, but your fears have stopped. You can now feel a new courage seizing your arms. You suddenly don't want to be here any more. You suddenly want to go home.

You look around for your mother. She is not in the church; perhaps her phone has rung again (how many times this day alone?) and she has gone out to pick it.

A hand settles on you, like a rough àpo saka. (Sack.)

"Seun, mummy e dà?" 
Seun, where is your mum?

You whirl around towards the owner of the hand, ready to slap them. You saw the shoes first: Pastor Ladegan . Your fingers curl back as you look up at him.
No matter what they are going through, nobody slaps a Man of God. 

At least not anybody you know. At least not yet.

"She seems to have gone out to attend to some exigency," you reply. You are one of those young educated people who always reply Yoruba with English (it is the same way you prefer English songs to Yoruba songs), but this time around, there is a deliberate edge to your tone, and you actually enjoy the momentary glint of incomprehension in Pastor Ladegan's big eyes before he says, with a light chuckle, "Okay. Jé n rí e ta bá parí revival."
Let's meet after the revival service.

"Absolutely, sir," you say and turn back with a smirk on your face to the prayers being led by a buxom woman in front. You love getting funny with these pastors, especially the uneducated and half educated ones. You just love it.

***

It is the first smile, that same smirk, to spread over your face since your principal called you into his office on Friday of last week to tell you that you had been chosen to singularly represent your school at the National Writing Competition.

"Sir?" you almost stuttered out.

He leaned forward across his file-filled table and stared pointedly at you.

"Oluwaseun Isaac. You have displayed quite an impressive singular academic record so far. You are a spectacular member of our Jet Club. Besides, you've gone on competitions before, various tough competitions, and come back home with the laurels. You are one of the special few who make our school proud."

"But sir, I have always gone with others. A team, sir. I've never gone alone."

The man locked his knuckles like a zip; for a while, your dislike for his potbelly mounted steadily.

"Well, this time, you will go alone," he said dismissively.

You gazed at the paperweight on the table and wondered briefly, wildly, what would happen if you stood up with a straight back and said firmly, No, sir. I'm not going. Period.

***

The prayers are over, repetitions after repetitions that made you wonder while you shut your eyes tightly and prayed whether God was deaf in one ear after all, and so words had to be repeated and repeated in crescendo so they would get through to him.

Now, as the Grace is being said and people are already curtseying to each other in that fake annoying manner, asking after Brother Lagbaja and Sister Tamedu and why they did not come to revival, you also wonder if "not forsaking each other's fellowship" also involves prying into each other's private affairs.

Like this Pastor Ladegan is doing now.

"Mummy e so fún mi pé o fé lo fun competition." 
Your mum spoke to me about the essay competition you are going for.

"Yes, sir."

"Ojó wo ni?" When are you going for it?

"In two days' time," you say.

"Monday yìí mà nìyen kè." That's this Monday.

"Yes, sir." You hate him already. Can't he make a simple sentence in all-English? Can't he?

"Well," he continues, startling you, as if he has read your mind, "relax your mind. Remember how young David face the giant Goliath, ALONE, and yet he defeat him."

"Yes, sir."

"Also, young Daniel is able to talk bold to King Nebuchadnezzar. God give His children boldness. Remember Jesus boldness, too."

You roll your eyes, quite obviously, despite that he is watching you closely. For a second, you think he has noticed and will now take offence, but it seems he hasn't even noticed the rude action.

"It will be well. In fact, it is well."

Then he asks you to kneel down so he can pray for you. You shrug. As long he doesn't start rolling back his eyeballs and shaking and seeing visions. You are not aware that your mother has entered the room, until she smacks your occiput and says that your "Amen" is not loud enough. What is wrong with you? Don't you want to take the first position again? Don't you know that this time it is different? You will be competing with many many brilliant students from other schools in Nigeria. What is wrong with you!

You rub your head and wonder how God, with His deaf one ear, is going to hear the prayers after all, with your mother interrupting so loudly.

***

She is hollow, your mother, she is. The moment you told her about the writing competition, she had picked up her phone and called all the Men and Women of God, both those she knew and those that friends and neighbours recommended. And since then, her phone had been ringing or busy nonstop. Calls. Incessant prayer texts. Prayers said over the phone. Amens shouted with a frequency that rang clearly with fear and doubt. Sometimes, when you watch her pray in church, you imagine cutting her up just to see what beats inside her. She has nothing inside her. Not even faith.

Yet, you wonder just how different from her you are. When you were in JSS2, you had taken ill with typhoid. You had taken all medications prescribed. For six months, nothing happened, nothing apart from your ailment worsening and worsening with every passing day. The doctors gave up. Everyone had prayed, even your dad had prayed. And, lying on that bed, you had secretly sneered at them all, you had thought you would die anyway.

But you didn't. You lived. You barely have any faith yourself. But then, as you walk back home with your mother that evening after the revival, you wonder to yourself: What has faith got do with it?

You take supper that evening feeling a strange sad pity for your mother. You want to prostrate full-length to her and apologize for your contempt. At the same time, you want to scream at her for dragging religion into everything and yet managing to step out vindicated in the end. She always talks about some Holy Spirit, a Comforter, a Blessing. That night, just as you prepare to shower and go to bed, she makes a statement about the Holy Spirit convicting you of your righteousness.
You very nearly laugh out loud. Having the Holy Spirit? You have never flattered yourself that much. Did Pastor Ojo not say once that, "Faithlessness is unrighteousness", and that "all unrighteousness is a sin"? Sin is filth. Holy Spirit does not dwell in filthy areas.

***

Yet, sleeping that night becomes so different. Something that has never happened before in all your fifteen years happens. The most irrational and unnatural thing ever. As you start to fall asleep alone in your bed, thinking of the competition, you feel someone's breath against your ear.

"Good luck," they whisper.

-------------------------
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