I inched gingerly into the church. I had never been here before when it was empty. It looked so forlorn, so deserted; dark even.
I had waited for this day to come; now it was here. I inched closer, making my way slowly to the front, passing the empty pews, fingers lightly touching the edges.
I had to go through two years of catechism classes, two Tuesday evenings in a month, and Saturdays at 1pm – Lateness was strictly frowned upon. I had had to kneel along with mothers with babies strapped to their backs; house wives who had no business being late anyway, errant children who felt they could play a little more, until the time went by. Even elderly men who had come back to the Lord were not spared — their arthritic hands and rheumatic diseased knees no excuse to avoid punishment. I endured it all.
At my confirmation, I wore the mandated all white outfit. I had gone to the market and bought china white; 6 yards I bought from the seller. She guaranteed it wouldn’t wash. If it did I should return it to her shop. As if it was that easy. Whoever heard of white washing anyway?
My tailor, a fellow catholic herself, took it upon herself to use up all 6 yards of cloth, to sew me a befitting outfit. That explained why I was covered from head to toe in white. The only thing visible was my face. In case you were wondering, I wore white gloves.
I took the name Josephina, finally laying Ndidi-Amaka to rest. Nobody agreed to call me that anymore anyway. It was too long, some complained.
“Can’t we just call you Ndi, or Ami? Come, don’t you have English name?”
Lazy people, I’m sure they’re happy now.
I stopped at the door, the side of the altar. It was the right one. I could read the confessional sign over it. I wasn’t quite sure what to do next. I pondered on if I should knock, or just go in. Pressing my ears to the door, I couldn’t hear a thing. I paused.
I had expected to feel lighter, better, but it seemed an added burden had been placed on me since I entered the church, much heavier than the one I already bore. Maybe I would feel better after the confession, I thought.
I glance at the altar, wondering how Jesus must have felt at the added weight of the sin of the world upon his already frail shoulders. I shuddered. At least I deserved my burden. It was the weight of my own sin. But, I thought, I’m in the presence of God, it should comfort me.
I knocked on the door.
“Come in”, a voice from within called.
Opening the door, I noticed a curtain and stepped through it. There was a lattice through which light streamed from. Everywhere else was in shadow in the small cubicle. There was a high stool to the corner of the wall.
Grief overcame me at that moment. I hung my head in shame. I chose to kneel instead. How could I sit in the presence of God? Who sits when praying anyway?
Tears filled my eyes.
“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.”
I choke out the words.
“My child,” a gruff, tired voice answered from the other end. “Tell me what it is you’ve done.”
Hope, like the flare of a newly lit match stick, came alive on the inside of me. I sighed. It would be alright.
“I slept with a man, again”, I uttered, my voice slightly above a whisper.
“Again, my child?”
“YesFfather. I had slept with four men prior. One was even married. And I knew. I’m so sorry.”
Tears flowed in torrents now.
The voice sighed.
“My child, you realise what you did was sin.”
“Yes Father, I’m so sorry.”
“And you do realise you must serve penance my child.”
“So child, you will say five hail Marys, five Our Fathers, attend five five morning masses and give five offerings to the poor and to the widows’ society.”
“May the Lord forgive you your sin?”
“You may take communion “
As he passed the sentence on me, all I thought kneeling still, weeping, was why I didn’t feel better. Why was the Lord still punishing me? I had confessed my sin! Well, maybe if I took communion, His blood would wash me clean.
“Anything else, my child?”
The voice jolted me back to reality.
“You may go now, and sin no more.”
“Thank you, Father.”
The voice sighed, even more wearily than before.
“Don’t thank me, child. Thank the Lord; always the Lord.”
He started to sing, in Latin. Words I couldn’t decipher. I stepped out, closing the door quietly. I had come to the presence of God. He had forgiven me. If I still felt poorly then something must be wrong with me. I pass by Jesus’ statue as I approach the altar. I look forlornly. I sigh.
I had met this brother. The same church as me, a catholic brother, you see.
He had said to me, maybe the Lord wanted me to be his wife. I was filled with glee. I thought that finally, the Lord had answered me. For 9 months we dated. It was then he told we needed to pray, to know if it was God’s will.
Every time I visited he would jump on me.
“You know, I can’t have a girlfriend and not touch her, mba!” Chukwuebuka would say.
He would also add that he needed to know what it felt like.
“I don’t want to marry a virgin oh, not at all!” He would say.
He wanted to marry a girl with experience, but not too much, because that would mean she was a good girl. I was happy, though it troubled me that I was committing sin. God didn’t want fornication, shebi? He would explain that so long as there was love, and he would marry me, there was no problem.
But Chukwuebuka had Fidelia. And there was also Nneka. I didn’t discover this until much later. When I found out, he told me,
“Let me not lie to you. I can’t leave her o. She always gives me money. She would call me and say. Oh boy, I don pay money into your account. Another time she go send me recharge card make I use call am. That kain person, the only time I fit leave am na one week to my wedding.”
His pidgin speaking baffled me. His words even more.
“In fact, I don’t even know when I will marry sef or who I will marry, so don’t bother waiting for me. Even sef, Fidelia is not even the problem. It is Nneka, my former girlfriend. She has come back, we have reconnected. You see, the devil you know is better than the angel you don’t know.”
I stared at him, then down at my hands, then at my legs stretched out in front of me. I was sitting on his friend’s mattress, placed on the linoleum carpet on the floor of his friend’s room in a dingy part of town. Here was a guy who was telling me how sorry he was and how he missed me when I got there earlier. He had even tried to sleep with me sef, but for the damp tissue he felt.
I had heard it all. I picked up my bag, and told him I had to leave. He saw me off to the bus stop, and advised me that I should consider one of those guys that I had told him about.
“Give them a chance, you hear.” He said.
I got onto the bus.
The next day I wrote him a long letter and I sent it via electronic media.
He replied, saying only “I’ve heard”.
I looked again at Jesus. I shook my head; I walked out of the church, into the fresh air.