The girl’s train of thought returned to the Pastor. She glared at him, contempt forming a fiery ball in her chest. This devil, the reason for my discomfort. She thought of all the things she could do to him. Stab her fingers in his eyes. Hit his head with one of the three candlestands on the small altar behind them. Suffocate him with her puny hands. All the curses she would rain upon him if she could talk. What sort of man would do this to a fragile ten-year-old?
Even after three attempted exorcisms, this man still couldn’t see she wasn’t controlled by any demons.
She knelt in the centre of the half-circle, watching the evangelist with disdain. Together with a few prayer warriors and junior evangelists forming his supporting cast in the church’s Upper Sanctum, they rained down words and spittle on her fat cornrows. She flinched with every plosive they uttered in the gibberish they spoke, the one they called tongues, as with each came a fresh burst of saliva rain on her small frame.
She hoped this wouldn’t go on for more than the three hours they’d already been here. She was already weak and hungrier than she had been at this stage of the last two sessions. She couldn’t tell Father she was hungry; she feared for his response, his anger; what he might do to her. She glanced at him now as he closed his eyes in feverishly loud prayer; waving his arms sometimes, clenching his fists sometimes. She looked at Mother, who stood there, hugging herself, eyes closed and weeping silently.
She could signal to Mother for some food. Maybe some water to liberate her parched throat. Mother would listen to her. But not Father. Father could kill her with his bare hands.
Siodi wiped his brow with a formerly white handkerchief. Something needed to happen fast. This was the third successive deliverance session he was holding for this Maeka girl, yet nothing was happening. She was as unresponsive as anything. Other children would usually have given subtle signs by now, maybe cry or exhibit unusual behavior after a while. Those were his moments of truth. It came naturally to him to capitalize upon such situations, expounding them until everyone fell for his words, like fish to his hook.
This girl was giving him no such opportunity. He had to change tact, and fast.
He sighed dramatically. “This one is more serious than I thought.”
The girl’s father put his hands on his head.
“Hei! I’m dead. This thing cannot come back to my house, Pastor. It must end today! Either you deliver her of this filthy evil, or I will kill her myself!”
Siodi glanced quickly at the girl’s mother. She was the weak one, as expected. The mothers usually became skeptical once his exorcisms were underway. They were bad for business. He would rather have them kept out of these sessions, if not that he required as many witnesses as possible to make a case for his credibility.
“Pastor”, she said, “Please, are you sure? Maybe…” She broke off.
“Maybe what?” Siodi raised an eyebrow.
“Eh…maybe she isn’t possessed.”
Siodi frowned. Why was this woman trying to rain on his parade? Thankfully, it was her husband who jumped in to his defence.
“What do you mean, Abeo? How can she not be possessed? I mean look at the devilish thing! All skin and bone. We have six children and none of them are like that. And all of them can speak. We both can speak. So, why is she dumb, Abeo? God cannot be the one to give us such a vile creature.”
The woman cowered, but managed to mumble her refute.
“Eh…but these sessions have cost us too much already. We are not even sure of next rent, and we’re here spending money on spirits we are not sure exist.”
The man’s face registered disbelief. “I can’t believe you’re saying this! Even after all we’ve experienced, you still can’t see? Maeka is a witch! I’m sure of it. It’s no coincidence that we lost our jobs, lost our house, lost everything right after she was born. Nothing good has ever befallen us since she arrived.”
He stopped for a while to breathe. “Lookat where we’re living. Weren’t we enjoying life in Calabar before? Wasn’t it after her evil had sucked up all our money we had to move to Eket, here? You know all this is true! Just say you’re not strong enough to handle it and leave here. Don’t come and bring the anger of God on us by disputing what Pastor Siodi, a great man of God, has confirmed.”
Siodi eyed the woman, preferring not to interfere. She was a thorn like that. She even initially refused the sessions. He was grateful for her husband, who always managed to keep her in check. Now, though, she was getting out of hand. If he didn’t do something soon, she would completely lose her belief in what he had taken years to build, and many more would follow if she managed to convince them. He couldn’t afford to have that.
He whispered to a junior pastor and turned to the girl’s parents.
“Madam, maybe you should wait downstairs while I confer with your husband here for a while.”
The woman’s forehead creased before she walked out, taking one last pitiful look at her daughter as the girl’s eyes too followed her. The junior pastor helped her unlock the door to the Sanctum, then ran off. Siodi noticed that when Maeka’s eyes returned, they were terrified. Good, he thought. He turned to the father.
“I needed your wife out of here because we will need to employ another method, and she may not like it; but we have to rid your daughter of this evil in any way possible.”
The man nodded earnestly. “Thank you Pastor, I appreciate it. I’ll do anything to make sure everything ends today. What’s this method?”
“This spirit possessing your daughter must be an inherent one. They must be tied to one another. To separate them, we have to get her to separate from it by herself. This means we must push her to a point where she would be forced to do just that. We have to place her in a situation where she has no choice but to dispossess the spirit herself.”
The man’s look was a puzzled but appreciative one. “What do you suggest, pastor?”
Good, Siodi thought again. He had bought the initial garbage. All that remained was to convince him to agree to pushing the girl as far as possible. She would confess now.
The junior pastor returned with the Purging Canes. Siodi presented the thick, fat polished woods, unbinding the knot that tied them together. Maeka had caught on now, terrified eyes peering around Pastor Siodi as he blessed the canes and shared them around.
He offered one to the girl’s father, nodding him on.
“Join us to purge your daughter of this evil”, he said.
Her father eagerly accepted the cane, eyeing her as he did. Maeka suddenly grew alert, her face contorting in apprehension. She began to shake her head, crawling to her father and pulling at his trousers, making low pleading noises.
There, Siodi thought. Now, we’re talking.
“Child of God,” he said to her, “are you ready to renounce the devil and all that he stands for?”
Maeka looked at the man, afraid. Her eyes returned to her father, who was looking down on her with that face. She knew that face. She had seen it before. The first time when the Pastor had come to visit the family.
She remember that day in your family’s run-down one-bedroom flat. He had sat in Father’s armchair, lapping up praises from her family. She had never really liked him. She thought he was a liar with a sweet tongue, all with his funny haircut and marble skin. And somehow, that day he became aware of her indifference, taking interest in her reluctance to join her siblings in ogling him. She noticed a cunning darkness in his eyes then; the eyes of a snake, an exploiter, the devil that he was. He asked for her name. They told him. Then he called Father to a corner and they spoke in low tones.
When Father emerged from that huddle, there was this new glint in his eyes; a look that she had sensed before, but had never seen this magnified. She knew Father had always secretly despised her from the way he treated her. He had never forgiven her for being the mistake child, the one they never wanted to have. He secretly blamed her for the downfall of the family, always making references to what life would have been like if she wasn’t born. So this look wasn’t new at all; it was the final stage in the manifestation of a hatred that had been budding since she was born. It told her she would see no sympathy from him.
She tried to tell him now; tell him she wasn’t a devil or anything. She didn’t make him lose his job. It wasn’t her; she hadn’t done anything. She tried to tell him, but her mouth couldn’t form the words.
The pastor was asking her the question again.
“Answer him, you child of Satan!” Her father raised his cane and brought it down.
The force of the blow threw her on her back. A fire erupted on the left side of her face where her father had swiped at her. She smelt the blood before she felt the warm trickle. She yelled with all her might, making the only sounds her mouth could make.
“Shut up!” her father thundered in his booming voice, towering over her now as she lay on the dirty floor, squirming. “Answer, evil child! Answer!”
He brought the cane down on her again.
“Come out, you evil spirit! Come out!” Pastor Siodi shrieked, rushing over to lay down two successive lashes on her exposed legs. Maeka howled.
“Pray, brethren pray! Pray and beat out the evil!”
Then came the rain of pain.
Continued in Part 2