I was sitting on the balcony just outside my apartment, trying to take my mind off the sultry weather that the lack of electricity supply did nothing to suffice. Suddenly nine months felt like forever. I was undecided on whom to direct my anger at. The government who has resigned the fate of its best hands to a redundant system designed to break youths in every way imaginable calling it National Youth Service Commission (NYSC) or my uncanny neighbours.
There was Jaluu, the Babalawo (Native doctor/herbs man) third room from mine. He did not talk much, his only companions were his minions, wooden dolls, who would think a grown man like him would still find toys fascinating. That’s the way I saw it, but he took what he did very seriously and so did most of my co tenants. Many times, I’ve caught Amaka, Baba Emeka and Momi Tito paying him visits though they always deny it when confronted. Momi Tito especially, who was a single mother of two girls which she had for two different men, shared Jaluu’s love for toys. The girls, Tito, who was seven and Tiwa, who was five had someone new to call daddy every week. It must be confusing not knowing who their real father was.
Despite the interesting personalities of my co-tenants, we all attend the living church of signs and wonders two blocks away. It was amazing how they were able to display religious eccentrics with such abandonment.
Even more amazing was the pastor who was always fighting one to dozen imaginary spirits every church service. He knew their names as well as their likes and dislikes. I wondered if he knew his church members that well and what they did in secret. The real war would start then.
It was a sight every Sunday and I think that is one of the reasons why I attend apart from the fact that it was the nearest church in a thousand miles. Jaluu attended because according to him, there was one thousand and one ways to God, however valid, they should not be questioned.
‘We all worship the same God, we just have different nicknames for him’, he would say.
Personally, I think it’s because that’s where he gets his best customers from. Ironic isn’t it. For Baba Emeka, It was more of an avenue to invite everyone for a Sunday night drink at his local relaxation bar. It was the perfect get away spot for everyone to vent just before the Monday blues began. It was a small town. That kind of town where everyone knew each other.
This Sunday was different however, a man attended church service, a man they had not seen before! He stood in front of the congregation.
Man: Praise the Lord!!!!!
Man: Praaaaaaiissssssseeeee The Living God…
Man: Prai…prai…Praise Master Jisos!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Congregation: [ Silence]
Man: [ Singing ] I’m happy…I’m happy…I’m happy…Jehovah has done me well
Pastor Assistant: Err…Sir…Just say your testimony…we don’t have all day…
So the man began. He testified of how just last week he was healed of a life-threatening illness. He was healed of HIV. He was no longer dying. Hallelujah!
Everyone rejoiced with him as he danced round the altar, heralding the evidence of his miracle, a HIV negative result. Like the grateful leper Jesus healed in the bible, the man led the thanksgiving chorus again as he danced. Everyone echoed. Everyone except Momi Tito.
Curious. Why was Momi Tito not dancing elatedly with this young man who was lost but now has been saved? Instead she stood transfixed on the spot looking at the man in shock and then she blurted out in a display of despair.
Momi Tito: Ye…Ye …Ye… Mo ku o! … (I’m dead!)… Ina jo mi o (Fire is burning me) … Fire…Fire!
Baba Emeka: Fire ke? (What fire?) Where is the fire!
That was pastor’s cue. He was a specialist in these kind of things. After all, the bible is filled with stories of strange fires like this.
Pastor: Congregation, this is exactly what I preached about today, The Lord is good! The fire revival has started!
Then he turned to Momi Tito and said –
Pastor: Woman, thou art loosed!
I don’t think that was enough to unbind Momi Tito as she wrapped her arms around her upper abdomen tighter, crying bitterly.
At that point I had seen enough. I had to go sundry the remaining of my clothes before they all get back from church and there was no space left on the open cloth liner. Besides the ushers were already carrying Momi Tito to the special deliverance room cutting the action short.
Questions plagued my mind for weeks however. Why did Momi Tito shout like that? Who was that man that testified? How did his miracle happen? Well, Miracles do happen, but not in that church.
Well, after two weeks of dedicated snooping, I finally learned the truth.
Momi Tito was a sex peddler. The man was Segun. He had been Momi Tito’s regular client until he suddenly stopped coming. She never knew why he stopped coming, never bothered to look into it, never thought of him twice until now. She had been frequenting Baba Jaluu for drugs that would boost her immunity as she had been falling sick frequently. Also for the past few months, Baba Emeka too who had been in Momi Tito had the same strange illness and had gone to Jaluu for some explanation. Baba Jaluu himself had been. For you see, Momi Tito kept an unbiased clientele.
The air at 31, Bickersteth street has been sullen and remorseful for the past two weeks as my neighbours mourned their impending doom. They were all suspected victims of HIV- the disease without a cure. I tried to explain to them that it was a not a life sentence if they were positive.
“Don’t worry, I said. There are almost free ARV drugs available at -“
Jaluu looked at me with utter disdain cutting me short. He had an open aversion to modern medicine. He had a term for it – ‘ pretentious’.
However, I think what was more aversive was the fact that he was not the one prescribing drugs this time. And that he, the famed healer would have to beg Segun to take him to the place where he got healed. He would have to trust in Segun’s god now as that was the only god that could save him.