The recurrent sound of the cock crowing that sailed over her neighbour’s backyard, working its resonance into Chika’s subconscious, determined her state of mind when she awakened. The light of the morning spilled into her small, compact bedroom, highlighting the corpuscles of dust dancing about in the swathes of light. The moment she opened her eyes, her bleary gaze fell on the calendar hanging on the wall opposite her bed. The page that faced her was a depiction of two natively-dressed men beaming wide smiles atop the Etisalat slogan, and beneath that, the dates of December inscribed in a neat order. It was the eighteenth of December, and Chika felt a slight niggling of panic at the advent of Christmas. There was so much to put in place to make the momentous occasion a celebratory experience for her and her family. She hadn’t shopped for the foodstuff – the bag of rice, the chicken and goat that would be slaughtered, and the bales of wrapper that her husband, Ebuka, intended would be a present to his mother when they visit the village on the twenty-third. It’s not like Ebuka has not given you the money for this errand, eh Chika. Yet you keep procrastinating, she reprimanded herself. Her husband was a traveling salesman, and was currently away on one of his trips. As such, the bulk of maintaining the household rested on her shoulders.
She had begun to throw away the bedsheet to rise and begin her day when her eyes fell on her bible on the nightstand beside her. She stifled a groan that sprang to her lips when she remembered she had yet to say her morning prayers. Quickly tying her wrapper about her thickset hips, she got on her knees and began her supplications. “Father, in the name of Jesus – I come to You, on my knees, Jehovah, this morning, to thank You for causing me to wake this morning, sound and healthy. Last night You gave Your angels charge over me and my family, You sent them to stand guard over our beds and because of Your goodness in our lives, we have risen this morning, everyone of us still living. For that I want to ascribe unto Your name all glory, all honor, all majesty, in Jesus’ name. Jehovah, king of glory, the fact that we are all alive this day is not as a result of our purity, or because we have been all that You expect us to be, but because Your mercies and loving-kindness endure in our lives forever. We are so blessed because You are a merciful God, and I give You all the thanks in Jesus’ name. Father –”
A soft knock sounded on her door, and she lifted her head from her prayer pose. The knock sounded again. “Who is that?” she barked.
“Mummy, it’s me,” the voice of her thirteen-year-old son, Nnamdi came through the door.
She got to her feet and ambled over to the door, unlocking and bestowing an affectionate gaze upon her son. “Nnam, how are you this morning?” Last night, he had complained of a headache and she had given him some drugs before bed. “Are you feeling alright?” she reached out her hand to feel his neck with the back of her palm. The skin didn’t feel hot to the touch. “No fever, eh?”
“No, mummy. I just wanted to know if I will still take any more drugs this morning. The headache is gone.”
She recognized the note of sullen displeasure in his voice, and smiled. Nnamdi abhorred taking medications of any sort, injections or oral. It was a good thing he rarely got sick like his other two younger siblings, and when he did, getting him to swallow his drugs was usually a bone of contention between him and his mother. “If you have no headache, then you won’t need to take anymore drugs.” A huge grin split across his face. “Ngwa, go and do your morning chores. Mummy is praying.”
He hopped off and Chika shut the door and went back to the bed and her knees. “Er…so Father, I rebuke…em…every contrary spirit that will threaten my life or the lives of my family today. Because You said that today is a day that You have made and we should be glad and rejoice in it. Therefore, Lord God Almighty, there shall be no tears this day for me. Even my husband who will be en route shortly fromEnugutoPort Harcourt– Jehovah, I’m praying that You suppress all evil bloodsucking forces that may lie in wait on the roads, waiting to cause accidents. Or armed robbers who will attack whatever bus he enters. Father, there shall be no loss of lives or property today. Even the spirit of grief and sorrow that usually comes after Your people during Christmas periods will not see either me or my family in Jesus name! Amen!” She was starting to get het up, and rose to her feet, snapping her fingers to underscore her prayer points. “Jehovah, King of glory! El-Shaddai God! The Great I Am That I Am! Your word says that whatsoever we shall ask in prayer, believing, we shall receive. And it also proclaims that no weapon fashioned against us will prosper! Therefore Father, I have asked, believing in Your power, for the protection of me and my family – both Mama in the village, and my sisters, Blessing and Amarachi who are in Lagos with their families, and my brother Joshua who is in the US – Father, I plead the Blood of Jesus upon them this day in Jesus’ name. Amen! I say, that no weapon –”
The sound of her phone ringing cut short the flow of her words. A bit disoriented, she opened her eyes again and looked down at the nightstand, where the intrusive object was. She picked up the Nokia phone and looked at the LCD screen; it was Sylvia, her friend, who lived in Trans-Egbu with her family. “Hello?” she answered.
“Chichi baby!” she screeched so loudly that Chika had to pull the phone away from her ear. Sylvia had a voice box that sounded as though she had a microphone installed inside it. Even her whispers could be heard a mile off. “You will not believe what happened toAda!”
She was also an incorrigible gossip, Chika thought wearily as she asked, “What?”
“Hmm. The woman has finally caught her husband pants down in the act. In Rapour Hotels, of all places. Shebi you know rumours have been flying around of her husband’s infidelity – the yeye-man has been sleeping around with all these IMSU girls that he’s supposed to be lecturing. Ngwanu! They say, everyday is for the whores, one day is for the madam of the house. So, someone called her last night to tell her that her husband was just seen checking into Rapour Hotel. TrustAdanow! She quickly got ready – jikere ofuma ofuma! – and went to the hotel to nab that useless man…” The narrative unfurled from Sylvia’s lips with frequent interjections of contemptuous exhalations and strident invectives aimed atAda’s cheating husband. Listening to her, one would think she was the wife who had been scorned.
Chika’s eyes strayed to the bible on the nightstand and she felt a guilty pang. Interrupting Sylvia, she said, “Sisi, don’t worry, later you can come to my house and download the entire gist for me, OK? I really need to finish up something now.”
“OK, my regards to Ebuka and the kids.”
“Greet yours for me too.” And she hung up and went down on her knees yet again. For a moment, her mind flailed as she strove to pick up the thread of her prayer from where she left off. Failing to find it, she jumped right in. “Father in heaven, I know that our sins are the obstacles that stand between You and our prayers. Therefore, I’m asking for Your forgiveness. Lord God Almighty, King of kings and Lord of lords, wash the hearts of me and my family and purify us from all our transgressions. For Your word says that though our sins be as scarlet, You shall make them white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, You shall make them to be as wool. Jehovah, there is nothing impossible for You to do. But for our sins, which make Your ears deaf to our prayers and Your hands too short to come to our aid. Father, do not forsake us especially in this season when we shall soon be celebrating the birth of Your son, Jesus Christ. Protect us from all the evils of this world and guide us into the New Year in Jesus’ name! Forgive us our trespasses even as we for–”
Her phone chirped again, this time, briefly, signifying the receipt of a text message. She opened her eyes again and picked it up. The message was from her husband. In digital black letters, the message said: Good morning, my dear wife. Hope you’re having a lovely day. Miss you and the kids. Can’t wait to come home. I’m on my way now to PH. She felt a burst of happiness at the intimacy of the message. Ebuka was a good man, and she was eternally grateful to the powers-that-be that she met and married him. She typed back on the phone’s tiny keyboard: We miss you, too. Journey mercies shall be yours as you travel. Take care. She returned the phone to its place and decided to round up her prayer. She husked, “Father, guide my husband as he goes forth now, and bring him home soon so he can join his family to celebrate this season of love and happiness and laughter. And to all our heart desires, grant us answers. For in Jesus’ name I have prayed, Amen. Surely, Your goodness and mercy shall follow us, all the days of our lives, and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord, forever and ever, Amen!”
And she got to her knees, firmed the wrapper around her hip, slipped on her slippers and walked out of the bedroom to begin her day, shutting the door and walking away from the sticker placed on it which read: Pray diligently and without ceasing.