Last Friday, Pamilerin had slashed at his mother’s arm with a knife, but this had been a mistake. He had meant to plunge it into her belly.
When he said “Mommy, I swear to you, if you take one step closer, I will stab you,” Olamide took a step forward, not because she wanted to dare him, but because she was swaying from the improbability; that her first child stood in front of her in their dimly-lit kitchen, cloaked by the shadows borne of the setting sun, threatening to slash her open with her own kitchen knife.
He lunged at her with an acuity that surprised her, the arm in which held the knife raised, ready to plunge it into the belly that still bore the stretch marks from his pregnancy. But, Iya Tomiwa yanked her backwards by her wrappa, so the knife tore Olamide’s arm instead. Iya Tomiwa screeched, “Pamilerin, what is wrong with you? This is your mother you’re talking to. Do you want a curse on your head?”
Now, as Olamide rubs the moist Lux soap against the bathing sponge and starts to scrub her daughter, Ayomikun, she glances at the thin slash on her left elbow. It had not occurred to her that her friend was right; a child that shed a parent’s blood is cursed. She must remember to tell the pastor this, that they needed to chase every curse Pamilerin had brought upon his own head by spilling her blood.
“Mummy, you’re not bathing anything,” Ayomikun says, and Olamide looks down. The sponge is long dried up, producing drying white lines rather than bulging foamy tracks.
“Pèlé, my dear,” Olamide says, as Ayomikun takes the sponge from her, douses it with water from the green bucket, and rubs it against the soap again. Olamide reaches for the sponge, but Ayomikun starts to scrub herself.
“Mommy,” Ayomikun asks as she washes her legs. “When is Brother Pamilerin coming back home?”
“Today,” Olamide says, ignoring the uncertainty gnawing at her.
“Will Iya Tomiwa bring him back or we’re going to meet him?”
“We’re going to meet him.”
Ayomikun’s eyes light up. “We will take bus?”
“Will you buy me gala?”
“Eh!” Ayomikun bends down to take a bowl of water. She holds it over her head, her eyes shut, and slowly upturns it. She giggles as the water splashes onto her head and, drops splashing onto Olamide’s buba. Olamide stares at her. She wonders what to expect of Ayomikun in ten years. Was the orange tree in their compound strong enough to bear her weight, or would the branch snap when she tried to hang herself?
On Friday, with hands that shook like leaves in the wind, Olamide had dialled Dare’s number. When he picked up the call, she said, “Your son wanted to kill me today.”
Dare was calm, almost detached, when he asked what happened. Afterwards, he sighed, as though he had been expecting it. “Give him the phone.”
“I can’t. He’s not here.”
“Where is he then?”
“At Iya Tomiwa’s house. She took him back with her.”
“So now, what do you want to do?”
Olamide swallowed the anger clawing up her throat. “What else would I do? What do you expect me to do apart from what I’ve been telling you for months now?”
Dare let out a huge yawn. He was tired. Another day, Olamide would have asked how his trip went, if he’d eaten well, when he was coming back. She would’ve listened to his diatribe on how terrible the roads where, how he had to weave through millions of potholes and quagmires, the hilarious conversations he overheard from his passengers, how many police checkpoints where he had to pay. But today, when fear had twisted her belly like wrung clothes, she couldn’t even remember what state he was in. Was he in Oyo, or had he made it all the way to Ondo? “From what he said, I don’t think he would have killed you. He’s not crazy. He was just angry. Okay, you know what will happen? You can just wait till I come back on Monday. I can talk to him and see what’s wrong with him. You don’t need to take him to Iya Tomiwa’s church.”
“Talk? Again? You want me to stay in the same house with a boy that tried to kill me till you can say your rubbish again? Until he decides to kill me or kill himself, abi?”
“How on earth would he try to kill himself if he…?” Dare started to say, but Olamide hurled the phone away. It hit the opposite wall of the veranda, splitting into separate components on the floor.
Later that night, as she sorted through her grievances to decide the ones she would keep, Olamide mulled over what Dare had said. When her father had announced his intent to take another wife, Olamide’s mother had stopped eating, stopped selling firewood, and sat at the same spot on the floor of their one-room flat all day, wiping tears from her eyes. Seeking help, her father had gone to the new Redeemed Church on their street. Afterwards, he had consulted the Alfa in the mosque two streets away. Finally, they had spent seven days praying at a mountain top in Abeokuta, after her father had consulted with a prophet. None of them helped.
But, talking had not helped either; her father’s pestering questions: “Yewande, kí ló selè? What is wrong with you? If is because of the new wife?” But even after her father called off the marriage, her mother remained the same; withdrawn and tearful. And Olamide had returned home one day and met her mother in the backyard, the noose around her neck cutting deep into the flesh, swaying back and forth from the almond tree.
The bus-stop is a skid-marked patch of muddy road. On one side, a huge MTN umbrella shades a woman sitting beside a tray of sweets. Ayomikun stares at the tray longingly, but Olamide turns away, looking at the passengers. The woman beside her, who is squinting at her phone, has skin the colour of a Lipton pack. She occasionally draws attention when she flips her long weave over her shoulder anytime the wind blows it towards her face. Another woman steps up behind her and whispers in a carrying voice, “Aunty, how much did you buy this your wig?” The yellow woman tears her gaze away from her phone and squints at the other woman. She mutters something that causes her to step back in alarm, arms crossed over her head.
The woman’s demeanour—slight frown, hand on her hip, her leg sticking out like she’s being photographed—reminds Olamide of Pamilerin’s first girlfriend. Although he had never admitted to having one, Olamide saw a girl like this woman in her imagination, yellow, slender, with foreign-looking clothes, when Pamilerin started to complain about the conditions of their flat; the fading curtains and untiled floors. When Dare had wanted to buy a phone for him, Pamilerin requested an iPhone, a phone more expensive than their monthly rent. Olamide was still using a tanosobe.
Olamide noted, with relief, that her son had lost interest in the girl, whoever she was, when he told Dare he didn’t want an iPhone anymore. Just a small Android was okay, thank you. “Your eyes have come down now?” Dare asked a mulish Pamilerin before they took the trip to Computer Village.
“What is going on over there?” A man with a huge Bible under his arm asks. He points across the road. Olamide turns. People at the bus-stop on the other side are scurrying away in all directions, as though a dead snake was dropped in their midst.
“Who is chasing them?” another person asks, but Olamide can already see the cause of the commotion: a naked mad man. Soot and dirt stick to him like wax on a leaf. He is grinning as he scampers after random passengers, bending to grab fistfuls of mud to throw at them, his manhood swinging obscenely. A dollop hits a hawker squarely on the forehead and drips onto her nose. She yells, raises the huge black bowl on her head and sets it down before she swipes mud off her face with the side of her hand, yelling, “Olóríburúkú! It will not be well with you, useless mad man.” The man skips away with his tongue out.
Ayomikun grips Olamide’s arm. “Mummy,” she whispers. “Mummy, he is behaving like Iya Panti.”
Olamide stares at the man, disagreeing silently. Iya Panti, the mad woman who lived in the dumpster down the road from their house, did not disturb passers-by out of pleasure. She used to stick to the dumpster; rummaging and singing, until her belly started to swell. An unknown man, who everyone agreed was spiritually mad, had slept with her. After all, who slept with a mad woman when there were sane women around? Months later, she had delivered her baby in the dumpster because no hospital would have her. Afterwards, the community leaders handed her baby over to an orphanage. Iya Panti did not appear to have paid attention to any of this, but a few months later, she started to haul herself out of the dumpster, grabbing random passers-by and asking them, “Where is my baby? Have you seen my child?”
“Cover your eyes,” Olamide tells her daughter.
“He’s coming, he’s coming,” somebody says, and Olamide, with a slice of panic, sees the mad man strutting across the main road, eyes fixed in their direction.
“Me I sha know that if someone touches me, I will beat his father o,” a young man warns. He is wearing a Naira Marley T-shirt.
Olamide grabs Ayomikun’s arm and moves away from the crowd, towards the MTN umbrella.
“Nobody should run away,” the man with the Bible says under his breath. “He will think we’re scared if we run away.”
The man strolls toward them. He squints as though he is searching for a missing person. He staggers right through the group, ignoring irritated protests. His buttocks are smeared with dried excreta. When he reaches the yellow woman, he wraps his arm around her waist. “My wife,” he announces. His muddy hands leave tracks on her flowery dress.
The yellow woman looks up from her phone, her face registers her horror. “Wha-?!” she shrieks, wrenching free and hitting his chest with her handbag. “Are you mad?”
The man moves closer, grinning. His teeth are half-gone, the remnants coated with greenish-brown film. “My fine wife,” he says. He gropes for her, and the woman hastens backwards, gazing about wildly for help. No one seems to want to intervene, but people mutter advice.
“Aunty, better go before this man grab you.”
“You know he will not listen to common sense.”
“Better take off your kon-kon shoes and run. If he catches you ehn…”
The woman is wide-eyed and trembling with fear. She takes another step backward. The man lunges for her again. She turns and tears down the road. The man follows in hot pursuit, his manhood dangling obscenely, drawing the attention of everyone in the vicinity.
“This man has found someone to play with for the whole of this afternoon,” the Naira Marley man says. He looks relieved.
“I know that madman. He’s always disturbing people in this area.”
“He is not even mad. He’s just faking it.”
“We were many here, but he picked only her. Look at what she wore. What was she expecting?”
A bus screeches to a halt. Olamide hastens toward it with Ayomikun, taking advantage of the crowd’s diverted attention. After she bypasses the conductor and stumbles to the back seat, she looks out of the window. Her final glance is that of the woman racing like an Olympics gold medallist, the top of her head curiously flat; the mad man in second-place, a wig flailing in his hand; and a N.U.R.T.W. official, his green-and-white shirt improperly buttoned, hastily crossing the road from the other side to take control of the situation.
Iya Tomiwa’s living room smells of curry and crayfish; a smell that has sewn itself into the worn brown sofas and the browning white walls. Olamide feels panic settle in her stomach as she enters the room. She looks around before she realises she is searching for Pamilerin; half-expecting him to rise up, hulking, from behind a sofa, knife in hand. She sits on one of the sofas, softened with age and dirt, and tells Iya Tomiwa about the woman who was pursued by the mad man.
Iya Tomiwa starts to guffaw midway into the story. Her laugh is like her; loud, abrasive, and unrestrained. “What will we not see in this Lagos?” she asks. “I hope that woman will see a supermarket to hide so the security guards will chase him away for her.”
“He even took her wig.”
“Is the wig important here? Her life nko? He can pounce on her and naked her, he can even rape her. Who will say anything?”
“You didn’t go to church?”
“We went for the new early morning Coro service. If we had waited till morning service when everybody will be plenty in the church, who knows what we will catch and bring back home?”
Something rustles behind Olamide. She starts and turns, but it is only Iya Tomiwa’s toddler who sits by the dining table, turning over pages of an exercise book filled with drawings from a hand not polished in dexterity.
Iya Tomiwa is staring at her. “Pamilerin is still in church. He said he will wait for you there,” she says.
Olamide nods, her shoulders sagging. Her mind lingers on Iya Tomiwa’s last statement; she wants to unpack it, wants to know if Pamilerin had said “I’ll wait for her here” or “Let me just stay here.”
“You know, when we came back home on Friday, he just kept on saying ‘I’m tired of her. She’s always disturbing me. I’m tired of her’.” Iya Tomiwa says, and Olamide braces herself for the wave of pain before it hits. “I told him to shut up. I made him understand that all what he said and told you that day, even if he begs you from now till next century, even if you forgive him, his Creator will never forgive him. Because you wanted to talk to him, he pointed knife at you? Se è lè imagine? Both of us talked till twelve that night. I made him see many things.”
Olamide rests her head against the sofa, her eyes on the asbestos ceiling, her head buzzing slightly. She wishes Iya Tomiwa would stop talking, stop asking her if she could imagine something that happened to her. “She talks a lot,” Pamilerin had said of her. “And I hate the way her house smells. Do you know that when you and Daddy went to attend Baba Kazeem’s funeral that time, she cooked fried egg for me in the morning and put crayfish inside it? Why does she put crayfish everywhere?” Olamide had laughed as she revealed that Iya Tomiwa did not even like crayfish; it was Baba Tomiwa who loved it, who took jars of it everywhere he went so he could spill them onto his hand and clap them against his mouth. Pamilerin had been aghast. “I feel sorry for her,” he said. Tears sting Olamide’s eyes. It seemed almost unreal; a time Pamilerin did not look upon their conversations as a disturbance; the smugness she felt when other women complained about their teenage children ignoring them.
“I don’t even understand what is wrong with children nowadays,” Iya Tomiwa says. I sha said he must apologise to you when he sees you; he must roll on the floor and beg for your forgiveness. After yesterday, he calmed down. He was so calm and gentle throughout today and yesterday. He even taught Tomiwa small Maths yesterday.”
Olamide does not say anything.
“Let’s just wait for Shepherd to pray for him. That man works wonders,” Iya Tomiwa says. “Did I tell you of that Americanah girl that Shepherd delivered two months ago?”
Olamide knows Shepherd is a term for the Senior Pastor in Iya Tomiwa’s church, but she imagines a white-skinned man with a full beard and turban herding woolly sheep quite unlike the scraggly ones in Lagos; like the images she saw in Ayomikun’s Book of Bible Stories. She shakes her head.
“Ha!” Iya Tomiwa’s eyes bulges. “It was a serious something. I can’t believe I didn’t tell you.” She shifts closer and lowers her voice. “This girl just came back from abroad o. Her feet had never even touched Nigerian sand. Her parents came to see Shepherd. She was behaving abnormally, very abnormally.”
Olamide looks out the window, where Iya Tomiwa’s children and Ayomikun are digging their fingers into wet sandy soil, trying to mould something that looks like a house. “How was she behaving?”
“She was eating shit, eating grass, eating everything.”
Olamide turns to Iya Tomiwa. “Really? Eating shit?”
Iya Tomiwa smiles wanly. “I am telling you, she was almost walking naked in the streets. I saw it with my own eyes. I could not believe it. She was screaming like a mad woman. They could not even hold her down. Five men, bigger than her, could not hold her. She just kept shouting. If you saw how the mother was crying. She said they’d taken her to hospital abroad, nothing happened. Kanipe my own two eyes did not see this, I will not have believed it.”
“What happened to her after?”
“Shepherd laid hands on her, of course. They prayed and prayed. Then she slept. Can you imagine that when she woke up, she couldn’t even remember all of this?”
“Ha. How is she now?”
“She’s fine now. She has gone back to ìlú oyinbo already.”
Hope knits itself over Olamide’s heart. “Really? Everything just stopped, just like that?”
Iya Tomiwa nods. “Of course. Shepherd is a real man of God. Even the parents could not believe it. If you see the way they were thanking Shepherd, if you see the money they gave him ehn.” She reclines on the sofa. “I knew from that Friday that whatever is doing Pamilerin is not of the physical realm. He just needs deliverance.”
The mountain prophet had used the same word – deliverance. When Olamide had asked her father what her mother needed deliverance from, he had given her a knock and whispered, “Don’t talk when a man of God is talking.”. She rubs her hands over her knees, over the blackened scars the years had formed out of bloodied knees. “Yes,” she says.
“When it’s not as if you starved him in the house. Or when did he start this nonsense?” Iya Tomiwa asked.
Pamilerin had been different for over a year. Still, Olamide mutters, “I don’t know.” Her mother had once told her “When we don’t have money in this house, you will swallow air and drink water on top. We don’t have to be begging-begging up and down.” Perhaps it was this; her mother’s insistence on secrecy concerning shameful topics, that had pushed her to never reveal how her mother truly died.
Iya Tomiwa narrows her eyes. “Okay o. Shepherd said we should come after morning service, so after eleven o’ clock. Let’s wait small.” She stands up. “Will you eat? I cooked jollof rice this morning.”
Olamide thinks of Pamilerin and crayfish, and bile rises in her throat. “No, è ma wori,” she says. “I have eaten.”
The church is on a dusty piece of land divided by a small gutter. Olamide lifts her wrappa as she crosses the gutter, the wrappa Iya Tomiwa had handed over to her before they left her house. “They don’t allow trousers inside the church,” she’d said, having changed into the regalia of her church; a white bonnet, long white pleated dress, and no footwear. Under her armpit is the white garment Pamilerin would wear for his deliverance. Yesterday, Iya Tomiwa’s tailor had complained about making it on short notice. “You will not let me attend to my other customers’ clothes. If not that I know Iya Tomiwa personally, I will not even collect it.” She charged more than twice the usual price, but when Olamide examined it, she found the edges were frayed, the seams unfinished, the material rumpled.
“Is the service over?” Olamide asks as they reach the church terrace, even though she sees people dressed like Iya Tomiwa straggling out of the church, all on bare feet.
Iya Tomiwa nods. She points through one of the open windows lining the side of the church. “See, that’s Shepherd there.”
A nondescript man dressed in white is kneeling in front of the altar, head bowed in prayer. He wears a white robe like everyone else but has a white sash which is embroidered with yellow sash tied around his waist. People bow slightly when they walk past him. Olamide stares at him. She could have walked past him without registering he was there.
“Let’s enter,” Iya Tomiwa says. “Off your slippers.”
Olamide slides her feet out of her slippers, bends and picks them up, and holds them under her armpit. The Shepherd stands as they walk in, rubbing his hand over his face.
“Let me go and talk to him small,” Iya Tomiwa says, walking away.
Olamide lets her eyes roam over the wooden polished pews. A few children are still seated. She plays a private game, trying to spot any child without matted brown dreadlocks, so she does not notice Pamilerin walking up to her till he says, “Good morning ma.”
Olamide takes a step back, her heart hammering within her chest. He looks the same; reddened eyes and pimples stretched across his cheeks. He seems slightly cautious.
“Pamilerin,” she says, fighting to keep her face impassive.
“I just wanted to beg you,” he mutters.
Olamide is not certain if it is shame or disinterest that makes him squint at his feet, examining his toes like they are a national treasure. She wants to yank at his shirt, ask him if he thought his apology was decent enough, if he still wanted to stab her. She looks away, towards the veranda at the other side of the church. A wooden poster at its doorway reads, “Ile Isegun- Deliverance Floor.”
“Mommy,” he says. “I don’t want to do this deliverance today.”
Olamide’s heart misses a beat. “Why?”
Pamilerin shrugs. “Nothing is wrong with me.”
A mild panic ropes itself around Olamide’s chest. After her mother had died, when her father had stormed up the mountain to request his deposit back, the prophet had calmly gone through his instructions again. “Did you do this? Did you do this?” he had asked. When her father had admitted that they had not, after all, said Psalms 27 three times a day as he had instructed, he said, “Ha-ha! That is why your wife died.” And here was Pamilerin, refusing to go through the deliverance at all.
Iya Tomiwa strides over. “Shepherd said we should go to the ìlè ìsegùn now, that he will meet us there.”
“I’ve told Mommy I’m not doing the deliverance,” Pamilerin says.
Iya Tomiwa’s eyes widen. “Pamilerin,” she starts, but Olamide raises a hand.
“You’re doing the deliverance. Do you hear me? You’re doing that deliverance today,” Olamide says. Her voice shakes and her hand wobbles, but she does not care, or wait for a response. She turns and marches towards the doorway of the ìlè ìsegùn.
The cold cement floor of the ìlè ìsegùn stings Olamide’s feet. She digs her toes in and lifts her heel, both wanting to distance herself from the cold and peer over the shoulders of the men in front of her; the Shepherd and his three junior pastors. They are arranged in a circle around Pamilerin’s kneeling body, and although she cannot see him, Olamide imagines Pamilerin’s grimace, the twitching of his jaw, when the Shepherd splays his fingers over his head and begins to pray in a voice that thunders around them.
“Ní òrúkọ jesu, The I-am-That-I-am, Host of Heavens, Magnificent Messiah, Lily of the Valley, Righteous Keeper, we have come to you today on behalf of your child Pamilerin…”
Beside Olamide, Iya Tomiwa nods to every word Shepherd says, her eyes shut and her fists bobbing along with her head. Olamide closes her eyes and tries to pluck prayers from her mind, tries to squeeze exultations through her lips. But her mind is stormy sea; waves of thoughts crash against themselves till she can’t peel them apart, and her lips are numb. She opens her eyes again and stares at the Shepherd, the bobbles of spit flying from his mouth, the throbbing vein in his temple, as he screams at God to heal Pamilerin, to drive evil spirits from his body. The junior pastors, who have their eyes shut and mouths sealed, say “Amen,” anytime Shepherd pauses for breath.
Finally, Shepherd says, “In Jesus name we pray,” and the junior pastors scream “Amen”, with all of their might, as though loud voices drove out evil spirits more efficiently. The word drums into her ears. Olamide expects to feel a surety in her spirit, a benign assurance that everything is well, like the way she felt when the Redeemed pastor had prayed for her mother and said, “Go home in peace. Everything is fine now.” But today, she feels nothing but the word “Amen” buzzing in her ear like a mosquito.
Pamilerin springs to his feet and bends to pull his garment over his body, but the Shepherd says, “Young man, kneel back down. We are not finished yet.” A junior pastor retrieves the fresh palm fronds propped up against the unpainted wall of concrete blocks that fence the ìlè ìsegùn. Another one fetches a white bowl sitting atop a huge coil of black electrical wires. “We still have to pray for you with holy water,” Shepherd explains. He takes the bowl from the junior pastor.
The corner of Pamilerin’s lips curve downwards. He kneels again.
Shepherd takes the bowl of water. He scoops a handful and holds it over Pamilerin’s head. “We beseech you to leave this man in peace. From today, he is under the anointing of God,” he says, as the water drips onto Pamilerin’s face.
“Amen,” the junior pastors chorus.
Shepherd grabs a palm frond and dips the tip in water. He swipes at Pamilerin’s shoulders; with the same motion Dare used when he wanted to wipe the dirt off his bus seats. “Thank you, Father. Thank you, Lord. Thank you Holy…”
Pamilerin lets out a howl. “It’s paining me,” he grumbles, before he stands up again. “I’m tired. Is the prayer not enough already?”
Olamide’s heart misses a beat. “Pamilerin, kneel back down,” she whispers.
He ignores her.
Shepherd is unruffled. “Young man, kneel down so we can continue this service,” he says. “The spirt of disobedience has been awoken by our prayer. We need to pray more to drive it out.”
Pamilerin raises his brows. His nostrils flare. He bends, grabs the hem of his garment, and pulls it over his head. He lets the cloth fall at Shepherd’s feet. “No,” he says. A junior pastor grabs his arm, but Pamilerin twists his wrist free.
“Young man, come back here.” Shepherd says, but Pamilerin is already marching away.
Panic sears through Olamide. She runs for the exit before she can stop herself. Planting herself in the middle of the doorway, she stretches her arms out.
“Pamilerin, go back and let them pray for you,” she says.
Pamilerin does not look at her. He does not break stride either; does not pause when he lifts an arm and shoves her away as easily as he would kick a stone out of his path. Olamide flails her arms to break her fall. She hears Iya Tomiwa yell, “Pamilerin,” as she hits her elbow, hard, against the concrete floor. Olamide shuts her eyes, the pain is sharp and blinding, it washes over her and grinds against her skull. Despair gnawing at her, certainty that whatever is wrong with Pamilerin can’t be fixed anymore.
A loud crack, like the sound of a Christmas banger, forces her eyes open. Shepherd has a firm grip on Pamilerin’s ear; he is pulling him, like an obstinate bull, back to the prayer ground. As Pamilerin struggles to free himself, Olamide sees the finger marks on his cheeks. Iya Tomiwa is beside her, pulling her upright, asking if she broke anything. A junior pastor is loosening the wire coil. Another one takes hold of the unfurled coil with two hands, stretching it until it fills the space between his wide open arms. Then, he snips away the connection to the rest of the coil with his teeth. When he lets it fall on the floor, the last junior pastor twists the wire around itself, making it look like two snakes curled around themselves. He is twisting the fourth wire when Shepherd drags Pamilerin over.
Shepherd bends to pick a wire, letting go of Pamilerin’s ear. Before Pamilerin can regain his balance, the Shepherd cracks his wire on Pamilerin’s head. Pamilerin screams, lifting his hand over his head. The junior pastors surround him and begin to whip, vicious slashes that tear into his skin and send bits flying off when they raise the wires again. Pamilerin kicks and screams and struggles to get away, but the men close in tighter. Olamide looks away, fixes her gaze on the leaves of the plantain tree peeping over the unpainted fence. Still, each stroke tears into her and scoops away more of her forced stability.
When Shepherd slashes the whip across his face, Pamilerin collapses onto the ground. The men continue to whip, but Pamilerin lays on his side, holding his legs to his chest with his arms, unmoving. Shepherd raises a hand. The junior pastors stop whipping and retreat. “Evil spirit, are you ready to leave this young man’s life?” Shepherd asks Pamilerin.
Pamilerin’s eyes are bulging, his eyeballs dilated over the drying tear tracks. He is staring at nothing in particular. He seems unable to hear.
Shepherd bends and grabs the bowl of holy water. Some drops splash, and Olamide sees that the water has a murky colour; like water used to rinse soapy clothes. Shepherd upends the bowl on Pamilerin’s head. Pamilerin is woken up from his trance. He screams; a high pitched yell that reverberates around them.
The men begin to whip again, this time chanting a song. Olamide digs her toes in. The plantain leaves are swaying slowly. They’re not flogging him, she tells herself. He can’t even feel it. It’s the evil spirit they’re beating.
“I will leave!” Pamilerin suddenly screams, his voice dry and parched. “I confess! I will leave!”
The flogging stops again. Pamilerin collapses onto his back, his arms spread. “I will leave,” he whispers again as his eyes flutter shut.
Shepherd tosses his whip aside. “It is done,” he bellows. “Praise the Lord!”
“Hallelujah!” the junior pastors scream.
“Praise the Living Jesus!”
Olamide waits for the pastors to retreat into the church before she stumbles to where Pamilerin lay, atop a pool of red water. He is drawing deep, ragged breaths through his mouth. She crouches by his side, wanting to touch him but unsure of where to place her hand. His skin has been whipped away; there are white and red spots everywhere. She places two fingers on his forehead, it is like burning coal; her fingers are smeared with blood when she pulls them away.
“I told you it will be fine,” Iya Tomiwa says. “Shepherd is a miracle…”
Olamide turns to the woman. “Fine? It was fine?”
Iya Tomiwa raises her brows. “What else will I call it? He reacted to the Holy Water, he confessed. He is already fine. But we must come back tomorrow and next tomorrow to complete the deliverance.”
Olamide clutches at his hand. He used to love holding Olamide’s hand on the way to school. But on his second day as a JSS1 student, he had let go of her hand as they approached the school gate. “Mommy, stop holding my hand,” he whispered. “People will be laughing at me.” But he had grabbed her hand when they set out the next day, only letting go when they were his school gate came into view.
Tears sting her eyes. “Why did they beat him like that?” she asks.
Iya Tomiwa shrugs. “The Word of God says, ‘when madness resides in a child’s heart, whipping will bring it out.’ Don’t you see how calm he is now? He is okay now, the esù has left him.” She sighs. “Glory to God. By the way, did you bring the money?”
The money was the sum Iya Tomiwa asked her to bring. “Just to thank them for delivering your son,” she had said. Olamide stares at her friend for a moment, before she discards the wrappa around her waist and reaches for the bunch of crumpled one-thousand-naira notes.
They walk into the church. The Shepherd is kneeling near the pulpit, his hands clasped in front of him, his eyes shut.
“Let’s wait for him to finish praying,” Iya Tomiwa says. She trots towards the nearest junior pastor, the one who had bitten the wires to create whips. “Thank you, sir,” she says, bending her knees. The corners of his lips rise slightly and he nods. Iya Tomiwa shakes his hand with the palm containing the money. Suddenly, the man is beaming with brown-stained teeth, shaking his head and pushing the money back. Iya Tomiwa persists, saying, “E jòor, take it. You have tried.” Finally, he accepts, full of smiles and thanks. Olamide imagines Dare saying, “So you paid them to flog our son?” She stumbles back to the ìlè ìsegùn.
This time, Pamilerin stirs when she puts a hand on his arm. He sits up.
“Pamilerin? Báwo ló wà?”
He looks around him. “Is the prayer over?”
Did he not remember? “Yes. Yes, it is.”
“Can we go home now?”
Olamide stares at her son. Hope and relief crash against the walls of her stomach. “Yes, we can go home,” she whispers. He does not recoil when she holds his arm to pull him to his feet; does not mind putting his arm around her for support.
They stagger into the church, his eyes half-closed, wincing with every step. The junior pastors are missing, Olamide smiles as she imagines them huddled in a corner, sharing the money. Iya Tomiwa clamps a hand on Pamilerin’s shoulder and says, “Pèlé dear,” when they get closer.
Shepherd waves them over. “Young man, I hope you are well,” he says. He looks softer and gentler.
Pamilerin squints at Shepherd, as though he has forgotten who he is.
“He is fine,” Olamide says. “Thank you, Shepherd.” She feels Pamilerin’s hand twitch on her shoulder.
“The thing about our deliverance session in this church is…” Shepherd starts, and suddenly, Olamide feels herself being pushed to the side, stumbling backwards on the concrete floor. When she looks up, Shepherd is gurgling and choking, beating against Pamilerin, who has his hands firmly wrapped around Shepherd’s throat, slowly squeezing the life out of him.
About the Author:
Jadesola Ajao is a writer living in Lagos, Nigeria. She has been published in Kikwetu Lit, Punocracy, MANI Anthology, and MONUS Anthology.