“Mtchew!” Moomi hissed for the sixth time that night as we waited at the bus stop. We were going for a night vigil and as usual, Moomi insisted that we all go, all four of us, leaving out Daddy, of course. I looked at the wristwatch on Brother Dele’s hand and the red digits saying 9:30 stared back at me. I said a silent prayer telling God that he should keep away all buses from going to Jimeta tonight. I don’t want to go to church because Baba scares me.
My mind strolled away from the bus stop like the smoke from our kitchen, hanging around for a while, and then going to where I don’t know. But my mind went back to that day behind the church, the “white garment church” Moomi takes us to. The pastor is an old man who we call Baba for he has long white beards that reached his chest and long white hair on his oval head. That day, behind the church, when the pastor was bathing everybody, I was chatting with a boy whose name I don’t know when it was my turn and I asked another boy behind me to go. Baba looked at me and laughed, then he went stiff as if he was electrocuted. The chatter that enveloped the place stopped all of a sudden. Mama, Baba’s wife, froze too and when Baba started chanting and talking gibberish she burst into a song.
“What’s wrong with all of them?” I asked the boy I was talking to and before he could answer, Mama dragged him away from me.
I noticed that everybody has formed a circle around me. Confused, I turned to go to Moomi then Baba gave a shrill cry. By now, fear has tightened its grip on me. I found out that I could not move my legs. I looked down and saw that the ground was wet under me. Did I piss or what?
“Hold him!” Baba shrieked. Brother Segun, his son, and Moomi held me. Brother Segun gripped me so tightly that for once I thought I was the job he has been looking for all these years. He gripped my left arm so tight I could feel my heart thumping in my ears. While Moomi was soothing me with words, he mumbled something about sparing rods.
Baba moved close to us with his cane-like rod. He held it with his right hand and was tapping it lightly against his left palm. He looked at me and smiled and then I felt relieved but all of a sudden he frowned again and I became confused. He looked at me so hard that I thought he was reading my soul. I heard he can do things like that.
“Who are you?” he asked without taking his eyes off me or softening his stare. I became more confused. Does he not know that I am Moomi’s last born? I looked at Moomi but she was not looking at me. She was looking at Baba as if to say ‘he is my son, of course.’ I turned to Baba.
“M-My name is Ola,” I stuttered. I looked at Moomi, she was still looking at Baba, still confused. I turned to Baba and said, “She is my mother…”
Hardly was I done answering him than he burst into another round of laughter, exposing his dark-brown teeth. I looked around again and saw that all the little children were held by their parents. Some of the parents were glaring at me and they seemed to be saying ‘who are you, demon?’ They had never wanted their children to play with me because of the way I sneak out of church to go and buy biscuit and Choco Milo.
“Yes, they call you Ola,” Baba’s voice brought me back to the back of the church, “but you are the son of the devil.”
“But I am not, Baba.” I replied sharply. “And the devil does not have a wife to give him children.”
I did not see it coming. Something rough landed hard on my face and the rainbow together with coloured stars covered my sight. I could not even hear the sound of my cry and I struggled to breath.
I knew I was in for serious trouble when Baba said the spiritual bath will continue on Wednesday, Mama was asked to lead the rest of the people back into the church. I was left with Baba, Brother Segun, Moomi and one other man who we call Seke-seke, fond coinage for secretary. Moomi was crying too.
“ Go inside,” Baba commanded her while he made sure that the sash around his waist was firmly in place. She rose reluctantly and started to leave. She stopped and without looking at him, she told him to take it easy with me.
“Go inside,” he repeated.
I cried more, not because of the pain of the slap or Brother Segun’s grip, but the manner by which Baba addressed Moomi. Just like Daddy. Always ordering people except, of course, when they talk to other grown-up men. But then, Baba always commands even grown-up men, so I guess no part of his heart is soft unlike Daddy’s.
Seke-seke brought a wooden chair from somewhere around. I was made to sit on it and my hands were tied to the arms of the chair with ropes. The whole operation was mechanical. Brother Segun brought out three candles from the pockets of his garment and gave them to Baba. They all stood before me and began clapping and dancing their funny dance while mumbling incoherently. They stopped after a while. I have stopped crying then. Baba lighted one of the candles and started calling out the names of angels. I looked on. ‘Finish and let me go home.’ I thought.
Brother Segun went behind me and jerked my head backwards, making me look directly at the leaves of the nim tree above. Baba closed in on me like a predator creeping on its prey. Sure, yet wary. Oh God, my lower lip. It is burning. Baba had let some candle wax drop on my lips.
“Who are you?” he asked me after my shriek died down and I was heaving rhythmically. I did not say a word. He let drop more candle wax on the back of my palm. I stifled my cry. I had a feeling that Moomi is somewhere around.
“See,” Baba said to his son, “he is growing strong. The demon is manifesting.”
Only then did I understand what the torture was about. Holy water was sprinkled on my face, then Seke-seke rubbed anointing oil on my lips. Hot candle wax followed. I could not stifle this scream but I brought it down when I heard footsteps.
“How old are you?” Baba asked me.
I took a breath and said: “Seven.”
“Who are you?”
‘I am Ola,’ I thought, ‘but I will tell you what you want to hear’
“I am a demon,” I said and tried to look fearful too, then I softened and broke down. “I want to go home.”
Baba looked at me and smiled. “Good,” he said, “but not before we deliver you.”
“What is the matter?” Moomi’s voice brought me back to the bus stop. I had been crying.
“N-Nothing.” I replied, wiping my tears.
“If I slap you ehn, you will wonder what hit you.” Moomi said again while Brother Segun and Sisi looked on in amazement. There was a glint of pity in Sisi’s eyes though.
Sisi is the most soft hearted of my two elder siblings. She is just ten but Daddy insisted that I call her Sister mi instead of Funke. With her consent, I shortened it to Sisi. She always came to my class during break time ever since I started school and since my brother, Segun, went to a boarding secondary school, she has made it a duty to protect me from the bullies in my class.
“What happened now?” Sisi asked me, putting her right hand on my shoulder and using the other one to wipe the tears from my face.
“I don’t want to go to church,” I whispered. But Moomi heard. She sighed and looked at the time on Brother Segun’s timepiece.
That day after the show and torture by Baba, she made me promise not to tell Daddy. She said that she did not believe Baba. Ever since then, I have been asking if we could stop going to the church or at least, switch to another church. “Soon,” Moomi will always say. But I am fed up so I thought I should ask one more time. Tonight.
“Moomi…” I started.
“I know,” she interrupted, “let’s go home.”
Tayo Oladipo (Real name, Olutayo Oladipo Andrew) is an undergraduate in the department of English Studies, Adekunle Ajasin University, Ondo state. He flirts with poetry and fiction and enjoys being single. He loves food, books, riverine witches and prayer warriors.