It was Aunty Imelda’s fault.
The buka rice and beans I had eaten had barely digested in my stomach when she said, “Is God not wonderful? We have success anointing at our church today. Go and receive anointing for your exams tomorrow.”
I was taken aback. It had been barely 2 hours since we arrived and she was poised to send me out into the dark streets, alone. Streets I didn’t even know.
She sensed my reaction because she suddenly said, “No it’s just down the street. Listen, they are the ones singing. Can you hear?”
I nodded, even though I wanted to say, ‘Aunty with all due respect I can’t go. I don’t want to go.’
“Immediately you step on the street,” she continued, “you will see the light from the church. If not for this headache I would have come.”
Then she picked her handbag from the vanity, rummaged in it and produced three crisp five hundred Naira notes.
“Put one for each offering,” she said.
As I walked towards the church in the dark street with only roadside vendors selling by later light and their occasional buyers, I became fully convinced that Aunty Imelda was really mad as people said in the family. Because what sane person would send a child put in her care into the streets alone? Barely two hours after I arrived Calabar, here I was, alone, in the streets, going for an anointing I did not want.
The church wasn’t really ‘not far’. But the closer I drew to it, the more convinced I was that the noise coming from it was excessive. The drumming was deafening, the keyboard was literarily screaming at the top of its voice, and the congregation and whoever was with the mic seemed to be jostling to outshout each other.
The moment I peered into the church I knew I had hit a madhouse.
The pastor’s hair was dyed a startling pink. He wore crazy jeans, an unusually large white t-shirt, and sneakers the colour of his hair.
The whole congregation seemed to borrow their fashion sense from the pastor: dreads and tints and fake eyelashes and female trousers. Ungodly dressing, my mother called it.
I stood in the middle row where the usher had dramatically led me to, and watched the drama with horrified curiosity.
Fleet-footed praise songs followed one another in quick succession, and the pastor and the congregation danced with reckless abandon.
The pastor was the most dramatic. He ran from one end of the pulpit to the other, changing the fleet-footed praise song every four seconds. And every now and then, he would turn his buttocks to the congregation and dance a dance frighteningly similar to twerking. And the congregation would go mad with cheers.
We were on our feet for over two hours, and my knees were threatening to buckle.
As my aunt had predicted, three offerings were offered, and I parted with the crisp bank notes. Immediately after the offerings, the pastor held up his hands and the congregation suddenly stopped singing. But the instrumentalists increased tempo.
“Everybody, close your eyes!” he shouted, “Close your eyes! The spirit is about to move!”
My heart did a gentle somersault. What now? I thought.
I kept my eyes open, determined to see what the pastor was up to.
Actually, it was my mother’s fault.
My dad had given her the money for my JAMB registration just two days after registration started. But she’d refused to release it to me. “Where are you rushing to? Is the registration running away?” she would snap at me each time I asked her for the money.
It was a week to closure that I finally found out why she’d not given me the money; she’d used it to do her church women’s contribution and was secretly working round the clock to recoup it before the registration deadline, and it explained why she was overworking us at the palm-oil mill. I was mad, and so were my siblings. But we kept it to ourselves. My mother brooked no insubordination.
So, I ended up registering on the very last day, and when the placements came out, my centre was in Calabar. I was terrified. Everyone in the house was terrified for me.
Calabar sounded like a thousand miles away, and for us whose whole lives revolved around the tiny village in Akwa Ibom, it might well have been.
The day after the frightening news of my exam centre came out, my father returned from his masonry work in Ikot Ekpene.
He went livid with my mother when he found out her role in the issue, and I feared he would hit her as he used to. But he stuck with shouting at her, and saying what I and my younger siblings had been saying quietly amongst ourselves – that had my mother allowed me to register the exams immediately he gave the money, I would have been placed in a town within the state, nearer home.
“Who do we know in Calabar?” he kept asking no one in particular. The same question we’d been asking ourselves since the previous afternoon.
It was late that evening, and my father was still talking, when my sister, T, suddenly shouted, “Aunty Imelda! Aunty Imelda lives in Calabar.”
And that was it. Aunty Imelda, my dad’s crazy sister, came to my rescue, or so I thought. That we’d not remembered her earlier spoke for itself.
The pastor was now holding his right hand to his head, his back to the congregation, speaking rapid gibberish.
I watched him, wondering what he would do next, apprehension quickening my heartbeat, making the instruments sound louder.
Then in one quick movement, he turned and jumped from the high pulpit and landed in front of the pew with a resounding KPAI! Then stretched forth his right hand and started shouting:
“Receive the anointing! Receive the anointing! Receive the anointing!”
And all around me people began to collapse on plastic chairs like storey-buildings in Lagos
About the Author: Sito Udofia is a Nigerian writer.
Facebook: Sito Udofia
A melting pot of profound African literature and Lifestyle.