The speed with which she shot up the podium suggested she had been waiting for that part of the service. It was testimony time and eager testifiers were finding their way onto the podium as the coordinating pastor’s countdown got closer to ten.
She was short, round and her greying hair was braided into four quadrants. The way she wore her multi-patterned brown Ankara Iro and Buba complete with matching head-tie she threw around her hair gave her away as a sixty-something year old grandma. Her dressing suggested a semi-literate, churchy individual. When she was handed the microphone, all suspicions were confirmed. She promptly knelt down like an errant child and despite the pastor’s prodding that she stand up, she refused, insisting she must give her testimony on her knees. Her wish was granted.
“My name is Akanke Mary Alebiosu,” she spoke rapidly, her voice strong and heavily accented. “I am here to gif this testimony for my son, Adisa.”
“During our end-of-the-month night figil last month, our pastor say we should pray against efry devil attack that want to attack our family. I pray the prayer and I want to thanks to God for gifing me this testimony.” She paused to catch her breath, retie her head-tie which had come loose at one end, and continued.
“I am gifing this testimony for Adisa my son, that Jesus haff not let me cry on him. Upper upper week ago, his bus get assident when he travel to Benin. The assident happen before Ore. Inside the assident, efrybody die except Adisa. Even though Adisa get wound for left leg and still at hospital, I thank God that Adisa is alife. The Bible say it is a good thing to praise God. Satan want to make me cry, but Jesus haff shame Satan. Adisa is alife, I know his leg will heal in Jesus name. The doctor haff do scan and they say his bone break but I know that my Jesus, who raise Lazarus from death, will heal him, in Jesus name. I want to use this testimony to remind Jesus that my Adisa must walk again o because he haff save him from death and he must not left him to suffer.”
As the woman rounded up her testimony, the pastor got up from his reserved seat and approached her. He took the mic from her and asked her to wait.
“Brethren, this woman has come to give thanks to God who has kept her son alive,” the man of God started, his right hand holding on to the woman’s left like a referee about to announce the winner of a boxing fight. “Though the son is still at the hospital with a broken leg, she deemed it fit to come remind God by thanking Him for sparing her son’s life and to restate her belief and faith in Him that He will heal her son.” He paused to let his words sink into the congregations open heart.
“I know a lot of you would be wondering why she didn’t wait till her son was discharged or something, but I am telling you, her testimony has reached God in Heaven and the Almighty is by now healing the son, Adisa, wherever he is!” Loud shouts of amen, reminiscent of a multitude of screams, rang through the auditorium.
“No, no, no! That’s not a prayer; it is a statement of fact! Her unyielding faith, devotion and belief in Jesus has brought healing on Adisa as I speak!” Another shout of amen rented the air in spite of the pastor’s previous chastisement.
“Now brethren, we will pray. Jump on your feet and say this prayer, however you know how to do it, in your own words; you say: Father, let me have a bigger reason to come testify in your presence,” he took a sharp breath the mic refused to miss, “Father!” he screamed, sweat beads embracing his face like cheap make-up, “Give me a testimony of testimonies. Oya pray in the mighty name of Jesus!”
Like a herd of startled bulls, the congregation bombarded heaven with supplications in various dialects and languages. All of them asked for just one thing: a greater testimony.
Tucked in his preferred seat close to one of the church’s exit doors was Lekan. Lekan detested vigils. To him, it was akin to a deliberate punishment all in the name of serving God. Who says God cant/wont listen when one prays during the day and at reasonable hours? He believed coming to church at night, even staying overnight, was tantamount to harassing God.
He craved the comfort of his two-and-a-half inches mattress and he yawned as one of the pastors handed over the microphone to an elderly woman who had gone upstage to give a testimony.
He checked his watch, 2.31 am.
“2.31 lataaro!” he sighed and turned to look at the exit. His house was just on the next street and many times in the past, even during normal Sunday services, he had left for home whenever boredom overtook him during services. The vigil was boring to him and he desperately wanted to leave. But he couldn’t leave yet, the reason for which he came hadn’t been met. The only reason he had attended was the ‘special prayer and anointing for the unemployed’ the pastor had promised and campaigned so vigorously over the past weeks. Technically though, he wasn’t jobless. His twenty-thousand-naira-a-month teaching job at the private secondary school where he taught Further Maths, Maths and Physics was barely able to keep him sane in a Lagos where insanity reigned like a long-term dictator. He wanted one of those six-figure-salary jobs. Didn’t they say some Oil Companies pay as much as a million naira for graduate engineers? Who says he can’t work there? After all, the certificate OAU gave him read Electrical/Electronics Engineering, Upper Credit.
“…Adisa must walk again o because he haff save him from death and he must not left him to suffer.”
The rapid, heavily accented voice drew his attention to the podium. He focussed on the kneeling woman and saw as the parish pastor, his white suit glowing like a firefly in a dark enclave, went to her and helped her up.
Lekan didn’t hear a word of the woman’s testimony but the pastor’s charge helped him out. By the time the pastor’s charge came to an end, the auditorium was charged.
“Father!” he heard the pastor shout, “Give me a testimony of testimonies. Oya pray in the mighty name of Jesus!”
Lekan joined in the prayer for want of anything else to do. Maybe an Oil company or a telecoms job would be his own testimony next vigil, who knows; only God knew and unto Him he prayed.
It was the first of June, the first Friday of the sixth month. Two days later, his testimony came fully made.
Sunday service finished around noon and, as always, Lekan rushed home.
Home was a one-room affair in a face-me-I-face-you two-storey building somewhere in Iju. The room itself was modest: a tokunbo 14” TV stood on a 3-loader CD player, an OX standing fan, a reading table and chair, a small bedside fridge and a mattress above which hung a wall-hanger on which his travel bag rested was all he could boast of. By the door sat an I-beta-pass-my-neighbour generator, his dependable source of power.
Asides the fact that Lekan hated staying extra minutes in church, his School Lesson Notes for the new week was yet to be written and there was the senior National team, the Super Eagles, playing later in the day. Having been part of the privileged few who saw the Super Eagles of the mid-90s in action, he looked forward to the new-look team promised the country by Stephen Keshi, the skipper of the successful Eagles of the 80s/90s, who had just been appointed the team’s Technical Adviser.
As soon as he stripped off the Ankara he wore to church, he settled at the table and delved into the school notes. Writing of Lesson Notes was one task he wished he could do without. He never got to terms with the place of Lesson Notes in teaching. No be to enter class teach students wetin him know? Severally, he’d argued his point with the school Principal but the woman would just not listen. He’d given up when he saw it was the only acceptable way. Seven months into the teaching job, he still hadn’t reconciled the importance of Lesson Notes with the impartation of knowledge.
For two straight hours, he wrote. As much as he wrote, he hadn’t gone beyond Physics, SS1 to 3, when his phone rang. It was Bisi, his girlfriend of ten months.
“Hello baby,” the voice came over the phone.
“Hi, how are you?”
“I’m good. You at home?”
“Ok, i’m close to your place now. I hope there’s food o.”
“There will be.”
“Ok. Thanks baby.”
When the line went dead, he knew his plans for the day had to be readjusted. Not only would he have to postpone the Note writing till later in the day, he’d have to get some packs of indomie and egg -her only delicacy- available for her before she arrived.
He pushed back the table, reached for the drawer and took a one thousand naira note from amongst the amount there. When he stepped out of the room into the corridor, his peripheral vision caught his I-beta-pass-my-neighbour generator and he instinctively went for it, shook the tank to feel the fuel level. Sensing it was low; he took the 4-litre keg beside it and made for the stairs.
“Broda Lekan, e kaasan,” Iya Ibeji, her next door neighbour, a large basin of water balanced on her head, greeted him at the landing.
“E ku ise ma, e pele,” he answered, stepping aside for her to pass.
“E fe sare jade,”she inquired as she passed him.
“Beeni ma, mo fe sare ra petrol.”
“E ma pe o.”
As he strolled into the afternoon, he never knew he was seeing the last of Iya Ibeji
The loud noise of an approaching aircraft was something residents were used to. When he was a new resident of the area, he had had difficulty sleeping at night. The loud noise that emanated from some of the planes made him mortally conscious of his own mortality. Thrice, he had considered relocating, thrice, house rents discouraged him. He gave up and accepted his fate. Time eroded his fears and not only did he get used to the droning sounds, he also miraculously began to sleep better than before.
That Sunday afternoon, as Lekan stood by the roadside, awaiting an okada that would take him to his preferred Filling Station, he felt something out-of-place with the particular aircraft he was seeing on the horizon. Not only was it flying unusually low, the sound coming from it was louder than any he could remember. He stood and watched as the plane approached from his left, flying lower still. Just as he was about to shout, he saw the plane attempt a sharp ascent. It was almost going back up when one of its wings caught a mango tree. The impact made the aircraft swerve and it went into a freefall, smoke billowing from the wing that had been plucked off its side.
Pandemonium suddenly grew amongst residents and the entire area became a stampede of people running away from the line of approach of the crashing plane. Lekan was transfixed at the spot, the airplane clearly visible a few metres from where he stood. He was speechless as he watched the aircraft’s belly scrape off the roof of one of the Pentecostal churches in its path, missing another by whiskers, before it ran through half of the building that was his abode, destroying the entire upper storey where his room was. The aircraft dove into another church, levelling it before it landed in a staccato of metallic sounds and falling bricks. A mixture of dusts and smoke covered the area as residents stood in shock.
Within minutes, as the plane smoked, Lekan joined the mass of people running towards the crash site. He was not interested in the plane itself, his certificates, well-kept in a transparent folder at the bottom of his travel bag on his wall hanger, were his only concern. If he’d ever get an Oil Company job, those certificates were his only hope.
He didn’t need to get close enough to his ‘apartment’ before the futility of it all hit him. The entire floor was levelled; various rooms’ contents strewn all around while the decking had collapsed at the far end of the building. He could go no closer. Feeling helpless and hopeless, he went on his knees and broke down in tears.
“God! Why? Why?” he shouted repeatedly. No one gave him any attention; rather, people rushed towards the plane while some tried rescuing those who were in the various affected buildings.
“Mummy!” a kid shouted behind him, the shout heavily sliced with panic. He looked towards the direction of the sound and he recognised the kid. He was Taiye, one twin of the children of Iya Ibeji whose room was next to his.
“Taiye?” he called, but the boy didn’t answer. All he did was point towards the house, his shouts of “Mummy!” “Kehinde” punctuating his wails.
Lekan reached for Taiye and cuddled him closely.
“Mummy will be fine,” he whispered into the boy’s ears even when he knew the truth. At that moment, the loss of his certificates was nothing compared to the loss the kid would grow up with. It was then he understood the testimony the woman gave in church two days earlier. Hadn’t he joined them in asking for a greater testimony? Surely, his prayers had been answered.
Inspired by the unfortunate Dana Air Crash of the fourth of June, 2012…That we may not forget.