Written by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo 12-08-15
There was something deceptive –almost sinister about the born-again phenomenon; I thought of this every Sunday when I drive down Church Road to the golf course to honour my weekly challenge with a couple of friends. The buildings-some mere batchers- of different designs which lined the entire length of that Road with their noisy loudspeakers directed at each other told many tales of what cynicism and hopelessness could do to a people. But perhaps more absorbing were the church goes themselves, clad in their Sunday bests with Bibles or hymn books in hand, waiting for buses, crossing the roads, emerging from or disappearing into those rat-holes of church buildings, bringing to reality one of Karl max’s most popular quotes.
But that wasn’t what the deception was all about. Since I caught or rather chanced on my roommate back in the University, a pastor of one of the hip and happening campus fellowships necking feverishly with one of the “sisters” who supposedly visited for a special Prayer session, I had ceased to take any one who flaunted a born-again status seriously.
I was then just a fresh man and before my second year, I had come to appreciate the easiest tactics for acquiring a new girl friend on campus. All you needed to do was to attend a fellowship session and make sure you walked out to the dais when the call for “those worshiping with us for the first time was made”. Sisters were always assigned to follow up the new male members and for so many, I inclusive, the follow up visits of these sisters ended up turning from spiritual to emotional sessions. I have never ceased to marvel at just how creative these “holy” girls could be behind closed doors.
So when I first sensed the born-again thing in her, I knew I was in for some thrilling experience. Stacy was her name. We met at a poetry reading. I wasn’t a big fan of poetry my appreciation of it not going quite beyond Twinkle Twinkle Little Star but on that day I had gone all the way to Wuse II to listen to the shy Jumoke Verissimo read from her new collection; I am Memory. A review of the collection I had seen in a local daily had one of the most respected names in Nigeria’s literary circle remarking that “Miss Verissimo remakes language beyond lyricism”. I wanted to be a witness.
Just as the usually drab Q&A session began with such banal questions as why do you write, what inspires you, who are your favourite writer’s etcetera? beginning to fly around, I felt a soft touch from behind accompanied by a soft voice demanding to have a peep at my copy of the collection. She had just arrived I guessed and still had this look of a pupil arriving late to a mathematics class- cursing herself silently for coming late and wondering just how much she had missed. I felt some pity but I didn’t however fail to notice the radiant beauty, one which had me speechless for a couple of seconds before my hands got to pass the book over to her.
I saw something more to the beauty; brains, later that evening as we shared a meal at the Wuse II Mr. Biggs outlet and all the way as I drove her to her house in Lugbe. Before that evening was over, I knew we were going to repeat this and indeed we did. We met every day of the coming week talking -arguing really-on a wide range of issues; on why Kongi isn’t the greatest, or why Achebe deserved a Pulitzer, or just what could be done to restore the glory of creative writing in Nigeria. She was passionate and I had often intentionally taken the less popular side in the argument, making very illogical claims just to tease and get her adumbrating to the point of near infuriation.
We took the same stand on an issue for the first time when we made love on one hot Saturday afternoon at my place two weeks after the poetry reading. In a way, it was essentially also an argument, she on top riding, whining, moaning and digging her finger nails deep into my flesh, me, beneath bearing over 60kg, galloping in the alternate direction with my waist doing the salsa dance. Her sensual vituperations sounded as though she was speaking in tongues like I had heard her do the other day she invited-virtually dragged me- to the mid week fellowship of her church.
I had entered the place feeling like an alien. I was an orthodox Christian by birth but I had not been to a church in a long while. I had found it almost impossible to justify why I should toil so much only to deposit a share of it weekly for a man who does nothing but tell me about what is already written. One day I decided I had had enough of contributing for the Reverends new car or his wives new adire business, so I stopped going to church. I knew what it entailed to hurt another person and I avoided such. That to me satisfied the primary requirements for living a good life. It wasn’t long before I started feeling that familiar irritation inside Stacy’s church. Without sounding insolent, the place looked more of a social gathering than a church with girls so lewdly dressed, gyrating excitedly, their firm mounds joining in the rhythm, inviting-tempting- any man who decided to take more than just a careless look.
The pastor, one of those returnee Nigerians dished out his American accent-coated sermon like water from a sprinkler. Better came out as ‘berra.’ His hair was curled and a glistering suit, the type with price tags that ran like telephone numbers clung to his shoulders. He was saying something about Psalm 23, a psalm I had memorized at age six, and for some reason his congregation kept jumping up excitedly at the end of his reading of every sentence like they were hearing it for the first time. The high point of the day was however when the prayer started and I heard and watched Stacy reel out phrases, which became sentences which soon turned into pages and pages of incomprehensible jargons. When I asked later in the car what it was all about, she had told me she had been overtaken by the spirit.
So as we lay backs to the bed and eyes to the ceiling, exhausted after our feverish bout of desire had expired, I imagined that she must have been overtaken by the spirit a while ago. It had all happened in a flash. She had arrived looking edible in a tight jeans and a sky blue blouse which gave more than a generous view of her twin pointer. I remember swallowing hard when I first caught sight of them while opening the door to let her in. Her demeanor betrayed her desires. I didn’t need to demand, she gave. I was afraid that perhaps the spirit might have now left her and she would soon begin to regret every thing. But not so, it soon became a routine, at her place, in my place and once even in the back seat of my car. The sex was good no doubt, but I couldn’t help the feeling of guilt that seemed to sip out along with the sweat as we lay gazing at the ceiling and the circling fan hanging from it after each bout.
I wasn’t a righteous person, I never laid claim to being one. Issues like fornication mattered very little to me but with Stacy, a supposed born-again it felt so wrong. Unrighteous people appreciated the existence of the righteous and wished they remained so, at least to maintain the balance between good and bad while nursing a silent desire that perhaps one day, they too would become righteous. My born-again girl friend was born-again in every other issue but in my bed. Every speech was laced with lines like “My pastor said”, she paid her tithe as at when due, had every tape of all the Sunday sermons in a rack in her house, spoke in tongues and was a worker in the church. Often she rushed off to one church meeting or the other right from my bed still reeking of the Passion play we just acted. It didn’t feel right. It filled me with a dizzying urge to act out on God’s behalf, like it hurt me so much that He was being cheated.
My discomfort which came in the form of a needle-like pricks beneath my feet had every thing to do with my strongly held principles; you are either here or there, no in-betweens. I felt those pricks each time Stacy’s actions had to conflict with her born-again status, like when we met one of her fellowship sisters in Ceddi plaza and she introduced me blankly as Mr. Bode, like I was some stranger she just met, or when I on her invitation attended a Talk their sisters fellowship organized for singles. Stacy had been one of the speakers and had with a lucid oratory spoken on a wide range of issues among which was a reminder that “our Body was the temple of the holy spirit”.
I had felt those needle-like pricks, so strong it felt like I was going to die of them on the day we broke up. It was a Sunday afternoon. We had just exhausted with a wave of desire and she was her hand mirror in hand making up to meet up with the Evening Service of her Church. She had spent the night at my place and had a ready excuse for any one who asked why she wasn’t at the morning service; “ I was on Night shift”, an excuse I had heard her give on the phone to her co-church workers right from under the covers of my bed on countless occasions. The excuse found justification in the fact that she worked at The Sheraton and sometimes, she was genuinely on Night shift. As I watched her artistically line her eyes with a pencil that evening, the pricks of guilt overwhelming me, I decided to tell her I didn’t think it was right for her to still attend Church that evening.
Initially Stacy thought it was a lure for more. “Common baby, can’t you ever get enough of me?. I mean I was here all night.”
“You seem not to get me”
“I understand baby just that I have to attend church. Ok, I will head back here and go to work from here tomorrow. Is that alright?” She spoke with all her attention at the mirror.
Her reply only served to increase the pricks.
“Must you go?”
“Of course you know I have to”
“Because…why all the questions?” she dropped the mirror and turned to face me. Her face had that look she always had when we argued. She thought I was in for an argument. She always won the arguments or rather, I always let her win just so as to make her happy. Like some days ago when while watching television together, an advert on the new Information ministers effort at Image laundering was aired and I had made a derogatory remark about it, describing it as another ill fated effort at deodorizing dog poop, Stacy had taken it personal saying every thing good, or she thought was good about it. Essentially she was celebrating the Minister whose efforts at freeing Nigeria of fake drugs is celebrated, not offering any logical justification for the millions to be spent on trying to ‘pancake” our image as a nation. I knew better, that over a billion was expended by a similar effort in the past that yielded no result and that common sense provided that you don’t succeed in riding a room of the foul smell of a decaying rat by spraying an air freshener. You had to take time to find and remove the offending carcass before your air freshener would be of any worthwhile effect, but I just let her talk and talk, at the end, I planted my lips against hers, conceding defeat.
She wasn’t going to win this particular argument however. It wasn’t really an argument; it was me telling her that she was doing a lot of disservice to her self by living a shameful life of deception. The loud bang of my door as she stormed out summed up how she felt at hearing me say all I said, and those I did not have to say. The pity I felt for her was genuine and I thought I needed to apologize but she wouldn’t pick my call and when I called at her place, she refused to let me in.
I saw her again at the next Reading. She was sitting three rows behind me. The Guest writer this time wrote short stories, and while he was busy explaining the complex use of present and past tense in his stories, I turned my neck in an effort to make eye contact with Stacy. I had done that repeatedly all evening without success, but this time, our eyes met and I could see that beyond the chairs and people that separated us in that little hall was a mutual feeling of regret; gallons full of regret flowing from the knowledge of what was and what could now never be. When I turned my neck again, she was gone.
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