The next day was a Sunday. As usual, Gbemi and her mother had set out for their weekly visits to church, although her mother had begun to say that this act wasn’t enough and there might be need to join in the day-to-day ‘GOD AGAINST SATAN FELLOWSHIP SERIES’ organised by the church authorities.The church itself was named ‘THE CHAPEL OF GOD’S FIRE’, and was located at the farther end of the town in which Gbemi and her mother resided.
Before Papa and Segun; Maami’s only son and Gbemi’s younger brother had died, they had been devout Catholics. It was during their moments of emotional instability, a friend of Maami’s, from the TOWN’S WOMEN ASSOCIATION, suggested she join her church,reason being that she believed Maami had been serving the wrong God. According to Maami’s narration, the woman whose name Gbemi later discovered to be Mama Rebecca had gone on and on about how many people’s lives had turned around for good since their commencement of worship at The Chapel of God’s Fire. “Hmmm, my sister, this thing I’m telling you is not a joke, you have to be there to witness the testimonies. You too could become a testimony.” Maami had mimicked her friend’s words. With her vulnerable state at the time, it had been very easy for her to give in to Mama Rebecca’s proposal.Gbemi would never forget the day Maami had returned from her day’s job and had delivered news. “I think she’s right. I mean look at all we’ve been through even before your father’s death.”she spoke softly as they prepared the evening’s meal, her eyes seeming as if she were about to let out tears. Gbemi assumed the smoke from the makeshift woodstove caused it.”Ah, and I remember, as a young girl, one of my old boyfriends then warned me about this Catholic church, ” she went on, ” and now this woman, this is God speaking through these people, and I mustn’t fail to listen this time. Come next Sunday, we’re starting worship at Mama Rebecca’s church”. Gbemi who was beginning to get fed up with the sudden development had responded to her mother by saying she’d rather not go to church anymore. “These people promising heaven and earth, Maami, were they without problems? Could anybody honestly say they never had worries or difficulties in life? I’ll not step foot in that church, or any other for that matter” she’d said. “Shut up this child!” Maami had rebuffed. “You demon, yes , it’s a demonic spirit speaking through you. Who knows, you might be the witch behind our problems, you’ll go to church, as long as you remain under this roof”. Gbemi had simply ignored her mother’s declarations.She picked another piece of okra from a bowl which held about 20, and continued with the grating, while Maami fanned the flames.
The Chapel of God’s fire was a building with room for only about 600-800 persons. The congregation was a mix of both the lower and middle class rankings of the society. But sitting on the plastic chairs arranged in rows, they all looked the same now. It was obvious that only few of them were listening with rapt attention to Pastor Jimi’s words, with some being distracted by their kids and others looking distant. ” So you see brethren, that’s the logic behind giving and receiving. A plant cannot be brought forth from the earth unless it’s been bestowed with seeds” he spoke using a strong voice, while bringing out a piece of white handkerchief from the pocket of his trousers. This he used to dab his face. Gbemi was amused by this. She always wondered why despite the number of ceiling fans in the church, Pastor Jimi never seemed to stop sweating. Perhaps, it was as a result of the heat from the fire he claimed was burning within him during a previously held Sunday service. She reasoned to herself. “So in order to reap these desired fruits, you have to sow, Hallelujah somebody” Some of the members chorused an Hallelujah in response. Pastor Jimi seemed to be sweating more than before as he lectured on, moving from point to point across the altar, also stamping one foot against the other with every movement.
Gbemi now getting tired turned to look at her mother. Maami’s worn out eyes were intently fixed on the pastor. From the corner, Gbemi noticed three of the church ushers separating baskets in preparation for the first offering. At this, she smiled uncontrollably. Maami observing her daughter’s behaviour turned to stare at her with an expression that seemed to say, ‘This isn’t a comedy show.’ But as usual, Gbemi simply ignored her, instead, she chose to occupy her thoughts with something else, something that didn’t have to do with the church. She thought of the 3000 naira she had earned from her pure water sales. She had divided the money into halves hoping to save one half. The other half, she’d intended to use in purchasing new stationeries for herself. She’d also have to buy some packs of sanitary towels as her period would be due the following week. Yet, she found herself listening to a man preach about planting seeds. We had suddenly become the machines Pastor Jimi and his cohorts used in their farming and harvesting. What an ingenious technique. “Mtcheew” she subconsciously hissed. At once, the man seated beside her, clad in faded buba and sokoto raised his bowed head and glanced at her scornfully. This didn’t faze her, by now, she was used to receiving nasty shots from both strangers and family alike. She’d lost count of Pastor Jimi’s words and didn’t even realize when the associate pastor; Pastor Deji announced the time for offering, signally the end of the sermon. “That explains Maami not hearing me hiss” she whispered as she saw Maami and others rush forward to deposit their offerings and in turn receive blessings. But this was her blessing, why had she decided to shower another man with it. Maami sometimes forgot she was just a petty trader, with little or no gain from her daily sales. As far as Gbemi was concerned, whatever she made was for her daily bread. Yes, that was the Lord answering her prayers. By being of service to others through sales, she had made offerings to mankind, God’s people. When you serve His people, you serve Him. Why did Maami and others alike fail to understand this? Gbemi hadn’t finished her thoughts before her mother walked back to their seats and nudged her to go drop her offerings.
Gbemi was just a young girl in her late teens. But she had attained a great level of reasoning to know when and where to act , if there was need for it.And she knew full well that this would be a wrong time. She wasn’t about to allow these people rain judgements on her, these ones who had deemed themselves righteous.Was anyone without faults? She often wondered. “I’m not ready to give that Mama Rebecca more reasons to believe I need deliverance. Just because I refuse to go by their ways? Mama Rebecca needed to be delivered of her stupidity” she vowed she was going to tell Maami this one day as she stood up almost rocking her chair out of place. When people put so much focus on another’s problem, they sometimes forgot life had also given them a fair share of problems to deal with. She straightened her gown and made way for the altar. By now the choristers had switched their chants. “Give it shall be given unto you, the Lord of Abraham shall reward you” their voices trailed the air softly. Pastor Deji , with his grey coloured suit that seemed to look funny against his dark coloured skin could be seen standing behind the pulpit, singing along with the choir, so much enthusiasm written on his face.Some of the church members sang as well.Pastor Jimi on the other hand had his fashionably dressed wife by his side, both seated on chairs resembling thrones, with faces carrying radiant smiles. To Gbemi everything seemed like a planned scheme. There appeared to be a sudden drop in temperature as she got nearer to the basket standing in front of the altar. She couldn’t explain why she felt this way. She reached for the basket and feigned dropping something in. Refusing to make eye contact with those who cared to look, she made for the exit and walked out of the building.
“Maybe Maami is right, maybe I’m demonic afterall, but don’t we all have demons living inside each one of us?” She spoke to herself as she advanced towards the gate. Out of the church premises, Gbemi observed a disabled man struggling to move while begging for arms from passersby willing to offer any. She strode towards his position and placed some money in his palm. “God go bless you my sister, God go bless you.” he repeated as she sauntered off into the distance.