I am a sinner. I wake up embroiled in a quagmire of debt, debris and decay. I have two men on my bed and bottles all around. I see the remnants of the “croaker”, my private name for the cocktail of drugs we indulged in the night before. I recall that the proceeds for my misdeeds are tucked into a drawer on my vanity, along with the condoms and femidoms for the men who want the taste of the real thing.
Decadence smells, it stinks, it permeates every pore in my body. It suffocates.
The men snore, glazed. My body is sore, bruised. Sado masochism is not my thing, but the money it scores is the real deal. I could get rich if I let more men lacerate me in the throes of their orgasm.
But I am afraid, so lost, I hate me. I know I need help, I know. I drag my broken self out of bed, step to the oval mirror which is set in the crook of a cherub’s arm and almost ask, “Mirror, mirror, who was the fairest of them all? Who seemed to have a purpose, focus and a life until the lust of the eyes got in the way? Who wanted more, more and more? Me?” I study my features with little more than clinical interest and a cruel sense of detachment. The body is luscious and full in the places where a woman should be. I am about 5ft9 inches [a tall woman by any standard] so the weight which will make a shorter lady appear overly voluptuous is evenly distributed. The face is not beautiful in the traditional sense, but it is striking nevertheless. The full lips which appear to be in a permanent pout is offset by wide set eyes and a nose so straight it appears as though it was drawn on with a ruler. I stand aloof because my body is just a well-oiled tool, performing its duties in due course as called upon to.
I need help, I stagger into the bathroom. The Jacuzzi, my favorite spot in here accuses me, reminding me of the lechery that has defiled its porcelain tiles. I weep, but it’s a dry hack because there are no tears, I am drained, completely. I stagger back into the bedroom, to the chaise which is completely covered in hurriedly discarded apparel. I pick a pair of hot-red pants and slip into it, a bra, a sleeveless top which is the colour of the setting sun. I push tired feet into flat slippers. I stink, but I don’t care. I need help, I need God, and God is in church aint he? I know its Sunday morning because Saturday is my multi night; when I entertain more than one client. I step out of the building; shut the door on the snoring pigs and the sty which is my apartment. I feel the stares on the street but I don’t care. They are not in church on Sunday morning and unless they are all Muslims they can’t be much better than I am. White washed they may be, but the sepulcher is still full of bleached bones.
I hail a cab. I could have used my car, a sleek, midnight black 2008 Range Rover jeep, but it seems to reflect the blackness of my soul. Besides, I am still too tired to be bothered and I am not sure where exactly I am headed. His instructions are clear, “Take me to Church”.
“What Church?” he inquires, wrinkling his nose in distaste but willing to take my money anyway.
“Any Church,” I reply, tired, very tired.
He shakes me awake. Sleep crept in unbidden. I open tired eyes and gaze out, I am awed. Opulence is the watchword here and I feel better. God has to be here. There is an assortment of cars, the latest pleasure cars, space buses, jeeps, hatchbacks and even the odd power bike here and there. The brands are endless. Though it’s almost 10am, the good church people are just arriving, and they look like they just stepped out the pages of Vogue. Psychedelic families and exclusively kept robust children. I am filled with a deep longing and I practically fall out from the cab in which I had dozed off and awoken seconds ago. I am eager to partake of this contentment of prosperity.
“Wait for me” I tell the driver, “I will pay you”. He looks like he would like to refuse, but maybe he sees something on my face; hungry desperation perhaps and he relents, “Okay,” he replies in a barely audible tone.
I join the throng as they approach the palatial structure; hope and hunger [not of a physical kind] give wings to my feet and strength to my spine. I unconsciously try to blend in, but that would have been as impossible as a blue whale attempting to blend in with a school of Tilapia and earnestly trying to convince their mama that her blood flows in its veins. I sense the aversion of the beautiful people around towards me, before I even start to hear the comments which they make no effort to mask, not even for propriety’s sake.
“Her colour combo is blaargh!” the woman on my left giggles to her male companion in a shrill voice which sounds strained from the effort to infuse an American accent into an obviously home-grown intonation.
“How can anyone be so wretched?” Two teenage girls to my left titter in genuine wonder and shock though I sense they have innocuous intents.
I ignore all these for I am sole proprietor of the proverbial elephant skin; mere words will not annihilate my resolve.
I reach the ornately carved mahogany doors. On the other side, I see a lush red rug which is incredibly clean despite the number of shoed feet which have surely trodden over it. Then I espy a young lad standing unobtrusively to the left. He is dressed in a uniform of some kind [a white long sleeved shirt tucked into a pair of blue chinos trousers with white stripes running down both sides and an indistinct logo on the flap of the breast pocket]. He holds what I would later identify in my quieter moments as a mini vacuum cleaner. The worshippers brush past him, nobody inclines a head to acknowledge his presence or usefulness. He might as well have been a fixture like the beautifully lit chandelier hanging just inside the door or the water dispensers lined up like dutiful children waiting to receive the reward for their rare and possibly temporary compliance.
A very macho man who looks vaguely familiar, bars my entry into the Promised Land. I stop, and the tears rush to my eyes in a dizzying hurry to be let out. Words indeed may not raze my resolve but a man of this size?
“I I ne need to me meet GGod” I stammer, the streams threaten to overflow their boundaries and my voice sounds croaky even in my own ears.
“Go and get tidied up woman!” he orders in that voice which is subtly familiar. He unceremoniously redirects my path, not through the doors to paradise however. It’s to let all the tidy people go in and meet with God.
“Puh p please let me in” I cry, in vain for more ushers have arrived to act as buffers to ensure that the fine people gain access to the Promised Land without suffering the stain of my uncouthness. I need help, I need God, I am so tired and I turn and leave.
The cab driver has the door open, “They didn’t let you in did they?
My shock knows no bounds. I am stupefied beyond words. How could they do that? How? This is the House of God, or isn’t it? How could I possibly be put out of the very place where I sought succour? Thrown out like a vagrant? Maybe this is not the true House of God. Perhaps I was deceived by the opulence. Simplicity may actually be the key. I am encouraged to persevere, and my smile is as a ray of sun through stormy clouds. I redirect the cab driver to the new house of God, and I sense his amusement co-mingled with bewilderment from the glance he sends my way just before he revs the engine and we reconnect with other road users heading in our general direction.
I am much more cautious this time around, although the difference between this house of God and that other building is like the difference between watching pornography and actually having sex. I take a deep breath, direct a watery smile to the Driver who has inclined his head to watch my progress or lack of it, and put my slippered feet to the muddy ground. These class of Christians are obviously not bothered with external or earthly matters like landscaping and beautifying the environment. Neither are they interested in grandiose ornaments and embellishments. This is stark simplicity. The congregation hurries in, no conversations or side talk here; just fearful glances cast in my general direction and a shaking of the head. The atmosphere seems overwhelmed with the drabness and sobriety which these people literally wear as a cloak. Heads are bent, hands are clasped, and prayers are muttered. My soul weighs heavy with each step I take towards this temple of somber sorrow. I enter the House of God. I suppose the ascetic layout is intended to inspire spirituality, and my aversion to it is simply because of the extravagance of opulence I am accustomed to seeking. There is a funky unwashed smell pervading the atmosphere. Slowly, they start to notice my presence and the reaction is varied. Some pause from their prayers, give me the eye and upturned nose, and continue to seek their God, others stare at me outright while others seem to be afraid…of what? I ponder as I look for a vacant seat where I may in try to commune with my God and receive the solace I so desperately desire. The heaviness of my soul is nonetheless in attendance. Something is wrong. I had expected a joy, an infilling, a welcoming, a relief. I was a sinner who had voluntarily come to God. Was that not sufficient reason for this grave congregation to smile, give me encouraging smiles as I tread this lonely path? Instead they view me with resentment, fear and even anger.
I settle into my seat. I cannot recall the last time I entered a church. Must have been 12 then. I do not know how to pray, or if I am even allowed to pray. I am still a sinner aren’t I?
I see that the Pastor has mounted the lectern. He is raving into the microphone about marine spirits sent to destroy the souls of men, which must be killed by fire. I am totally stumped. How do I meet with God if marine spirits are on the rampage? Something must be done about this quickly.
Then I realize that something is being done. The congregation turns to face me on my lonely perch[the young man who had been sitting there scrambled away the moment he saw me heading in that direction]. I notice then that the men and the women do not intermingle, and maybe my inherent sense of sin has brought me over to the men’s row. Before the thoughts are out of my head, the entire congregation erupts in thunderous prayers. Spittle flying, hands flaying, feet stamping, women weeping, children yelling; it’s a macabre carnival especially since the venom in all of this is directed at me. The pastor is almost hysterical as he whips the church up to a frenzy. I take a step towards the general mass of people just to make sure and the prayer level goes a decibel higher. Some women take a few steps away from me, while some men actually advance towards me with menacing gestures. I get the hint loud and clear, they are praying me out of the House of God. I backtrack and head for the exit with angels wings on my feet. The prayers turn to shouts of joy as I make my broken way out of the premises. I am shaken to my bones, and out of breath from having to beat a hasty retreat. The cab Driver has reclined his seat and is trying to catch a nap; probably assuming that I had settled in for the long haul. I beat a frantic tattoo on the windows and he jumps up and opens the door at the same time he starts the engine. The hysterical look on my face must have conveyed the urgency of the moment to him, for he puts the pedal to the metal the instant my butt touches leather.
“Where are you going?” he asks, giving me the once over from his rear view mirror.
For a moment I do not say a word. Where am I going? Back to my den of sin? Another Church? Where was God?
“Take me back to the street you picked me from”.
Already, I am strengthening my back bone for the ride ahead. I thought something would happen, I thought something would change. Is there God? Do I have to be a particular way for God to love me? I know I am a sinner, but did that preclude me from love and acceptance from God’s family?
My head aches, I drift off and the cab Driver very gently shakes me awake. He has a look so tender in his eyes that I almost flinch. Nobody ever looks at me that way. All I get are looks of lust, sneers, leers, revulsion and rebuke.
“You are home” he says.
“Thank you” I reply. I turn to open the door and he thrusts a book into my hands.
“That is God’s Word, young woman. Read it from cover to cover. My number is on the inside page. You may call me”.
My mouth falls open, and I shut it. I cradle the book in my arms as though it is the most important possession I own. I step out of the car, still speechless and shut the door. As he drives off, I remember my manners.
“Thank you,” I whisper into the cloudless day. Thank you.
Culled From “Golden Apples In A Silver Basket” by Jennifer Nkem-Eneanya