Ekpere Bu Ogwu Anyi Gworo
Auntie is quivering like egedege waist beads. An invisible creature is chasing her around the pulpit, and she is fleeing from it with remarkable speed and palm-tree-climber agility. Her leaps are those of a toddler crossing puddles during rainy season. Her back, an arched gele. A scarred face is offered to a peeling ceiling.
They stare at one another.
“Come,” she says, ominously, to a pathetic looking man sitting on the last pew.
His face is a wooden mask hung precariously from a single iron nail. I am surprised Auntie’s voice has not already knocked him over.
The man gulps deeply, stands up stiltedly, and begins to approach her. He takes ji sized steps.
Pounded yam for a pummeled spirit.
When the man reaches the pulpit (Auntie had to drag him the rest of the way there) he is doused like a market thief and set on fire.
In place of gasoline, Auntie uses oil. Instead of a lighter, she uses God.
My name is Chinyere Victoria. About a year before I was born, my mother went Home. She had heard there was a woman in her village who helped women conceive, and, at the time of her departure, she had just finished miscarrying her fourth child.
Inside the rancid shack, scalding hot charcoal was placed on her womb, and thick, tar-like liquid was forced down her throat.
I was born, alive, on February 12th, 1997. Chinyere because God gave me to her. Victoria because I was her victory.
I asked my grandmother what religion was like before everyone pretended they were Christian. She told me she remembers her father giving offerings to the various household gods. Animals slaughtered to feed the family were taken into his shrine and killed with a decisive slit of the throat. Their blood, flung liberally onto his carved idols. He would recite:
Le kwa obara nkea. Gwere ha eri nri. A ziela m unu obara ewu. Gwere ha ri nri.
Look at this blood. Take it and eat it. I have given you goat blood. Take and eat it.
When the family ate meals together my great-grandfather would crumble up his portion and throw pieces of it outside.
Ndu, ndu umu m. Ndu, ndu umu m. Ndu, ndu umu m.
For life, for the life of my children. For life, for the life of my children. For life, for the life of my children.
He told my grandmother and her siblings to eat the meat. My great-grandmother would grimace every time. His response? Their god was forgiving; his gods were not. Eat the meat. They could pray it off on Sunday.
My father invites us to pass around his phone. The screen is taken up by a single image, and the image is of a small doll-like figurine, tied with ribbon to a piece of animal bone.
The charm was found among the foundations of his construction site in Nigeria.
A priest was called in to pray.
Father, smirking. Uncles, panicking. Grandmother, quiet.
I didn’t know the Devil used Pinterest.
In the center of the room stands my brother. His head is tilted to one side as he ponders what he will ransack the fridge for when dinner time arrives. His eyes are unfocused; his feet, firmly planted on the ground. Hands in sweatpant pockets. Occasionally he looks down.
He is a three-hour lecture in an achingly bright auditorium. The fourteen hour flight from Houston to Lagos. Reincarnating Facebook tab, Firefox. A tabloid magazine, absentmindedly leafed through.
If boredom had a face, it would be Kenneth’s.
Yet, his body is shaking viciously.
On top of his baseball cap rest oil-soaked hands. They are egusi-seed-grinding his head. When they move down to his back, they pound him with whipping-stick force. He begins to take slow, deep breaths.
In our humble kitchen, a demon is being cast out of my brother.
WHATEVER DEVIL HAS POSSESSED MY CHILD; I COMMAND HIM TO EVACUATE HIS BODY IN JESUS’ NAME. KENNETH, REPEAT, “LEAVE ME. LEAVE ME. LEAVE ME. LEAVE ME.”
My mother is screaming like she wants to stockfish-snap her vocal chords. Kenneth does as he is instructed. For extra effect, he raises his arms in surrender. (To whom he is surrendering, I cannot tell. Luckily, it does not matter if it is to God, the demon, or my mother. All three require it.)
One of his pleas to the devil is interrupted by a yawn. Before the sound can fully escape his body, he is struck down with a blow that makes every shaman hut ever built collapse. His knees are made to bow. He blows holy oil out of his nose. From the crash, the entire room rings.
One must take their redemption seriously.
Africans are infamous for their bribery. Sometimes, I wonder why this stereotype is such a negative one. The principle itself is quite harmless: if you want to guarantee that your blessings reach their rightful owner, it’s a good idea to do a few favors for the procurer of those blessings.
The fridge is full, but there is no water.
(Mom paid for Auntie’s $700 plane ticket to Nigeria.)
The fridge is full, and the water is running, but there is no light.
(Mom is out of town securing a hotel for Auntie, her family, and the visiting pastor. Housing them for a week will cost $1000.)
The fridge is full, the water is running, the lights are on. With them, we read a foreclosure letter.
(A $500 seed is sown.)
My head is full, the water is running, the lights are on, the house is empty.
The fridge is full, my eyes are running, the lights are on, the house is empty.
The fridge is full, the water is running, Okeke is on, the house is empty.
The fridge is full, the water is running, the lights are on. We are all empty.
A chicken head is slit.
When you’re African, all you have is God.
When it’s war time, and you’re six years old, and your father tells you that your aunt’s corpse was found on the side of the road. When he tells you that his brother cut her head off and sent it to the village so part of her would return home; all you have is God.
When tiny Emeka who shared pencils with you in class has grown a stomach to rival Uncle Uche’s. When that stomach is drum-cover-stretched but cassava-gourd-empty; all he has is God.
When little Chioma is born with groundnut skin and hair that slips out of thread. When her mother wails and faints every time she passes the army barracks. When rumors are leaping like mancala beans on a summer day; all she has is God.
When the women in your village wrap their waist cloths tight and go to the city to protest the British tax. When they carry babies on their backs and machetes on their fronts; all they have is God.
When they give your twelve-year-old son a gun bigger than he is. When your height becomes no longer a measurement of your body, but rather of your privilege. When both water and its absence kill you. When the refugee camps hold people who never had a home to begin with.
All we have is God.
When you are African you quickly learn to believe in miracles. Not because you have read about them. Not because you have heard testimonies. Not because you have witnessed them.
Because you are one.