If ever theres anyone to be happy in this part of town, it is me. Coming from a fairly rich home with a papa working in a snow crested building fashioned like Birmingham Palace in Amsterdam, Netherland and a mum who runs one of the prestigious stores in the capital of Ghana, Accra. My sister and me do not lack. My room is enough for Opanyin Nti and his family. Papa sends us toys and wads of dollars every two months to ensure the presence of meal on our table at all times. But for the past six months, the penny had dropped in our life. Mums shop was engulfed in fire and the officers of the national fire service could not contain it. As anticipated, the officers complained of water shortage when they got to the scene. This flushed the anger adrenaline of onlookers and shop owners to fly insult at the fire men on duty.
I stood, watched mum who could barely stand weeping as our livelihood sneaked into the thick smoke produced from the burning garbage in Opanyin Asares compound. It often stains the air making it difficult for one to make out the face of passers-by. The city mayor visited the scene as usual, he pledged sums of money for the victims but nothing has been heard again. May be hes still signing the check in his office. Papa sent five hundred dollars to mum after he was notified and has since tossed one promise to another. But he continued to send us toys through his friend Okine and not the essential commodity. The situation took a photo of us as we could not afford the possible. Fish was rationed as I ate sometime without it. Where the crates of coke, Fanta and sprite were kept had given way for sachets of mineral water as we could not afford to buy those drinks. In the meantime, our neighbors esteemed us in a kind reserved for children whose parents are overseas or have been there. The work Dad does is not of a bother to them as long as we look good. And yes the prestige title Borga a name that means someone who has been overseas or travelled outside were tossed in every direction I took. Parents no longer addressed me by my given name but rather Borga ba (Borgas son). Id always respond not wanting to embarrass them. I reckoned that puts no responsibility on my shoulder, so I care less.
I sat on a forgotten old tyre sleeping rejected in front of a green wooden shop overlooking a mushroom church without walls whose only protection in time of rain storm was a stained, unattractive white canopy and dotted yellow plastic chairs. The church has two artificial sunflowers in a broken flower pot sitting by a half wooden, half glass pulpit. The instruments sat separate somewhere as though tired of use. Most of the plastic chairs were empty. I counted thirteen members including the pastor and another man the same age of the pastor probably in his late twenties sitting in the front chair. He was later introduced as the new assistant to the pastor. I couldnt stand pastor Asamoahs long preaching so Id ran away from church which I did whenever he was about to give a long sermon. Often he would lead a tall prayer session beautified with worship songs rather than zooming to give the word. At least a two, three minutes prayer would be fine. I could not stand long preaching and prayers. And so was presbyter Amankwaa who left the auditorium under the guise of visiting the washroom. He took the path to the washroom and vanished. I wondered if hed been raptured the way the Bible described it. I turned around slowly not to be noticed for a confirmation. Everybody was perfect. Or could it be that, the rest of us did not make it? He was never back for the period I remained in the auditorium.
I see God wearing one of His unusual frowns on His golden shone face whenever any soul does that. I could almost hear Him speaks few words mankind. Few words. I was cladded in a T-shirt with a yellow GOD CARES inscription on my breast. Something I cant point about the church stole my attention. For the past thirty minutes I participated in the program of the church from outside. Occasionally, my bulging eyes would enter any passing car and scan the occupants as though a corrupt Kasoa police man on night duty checking for unsuspected criminals. He would leave his duty post home after his pocket is pregnant with GHC1.00 notes and coins.
I found myself kissing those women who were wearing thick lipsticks like Nkatie Borga a local coated groundnut, sold by Maame Darkwaa behind our house. The lipstick has thickened their already heavy lips.
Mum and Serwaa would not be in anytime soon from church since she would chair the emergency harvest after pastor Asamoah was done with preaching. Yesterday while woken by one of my scary dreams, I overheard mum on the line with pastor Asamoah who pleaded mum to chair an emergency church harvest as he called it to raise funds for something I didnt hear. Mum was silent as though her mouth was stuffed with huge slice of boiled yam. Or she spoke but I didnt hear her. But I heard her clear her coarse throat.
Why couldnt we give that to presbyter Frimpong? she volunteered.
Pastor Asamoah is a regular visitor to our home, often to ask for favor or something like that from my mum. She would wrap tubers of yam and plantain for him as gifts. Perhaps thats why he often found excuse to visit. Hes stout and horribly short passing for a dwarf. He has a heavy Fante accent when you hear him speaks as though he was holding water in his mouth. He boasted he divorced his wife because she was a cheat. At least he said that happened before he accepted the call of God on his life. It was rumored that he caught a tall man on top of his wife Felicia in their matrimonial home in Elmina. He couldnt bear the disgrace so he moved to this part of town and started the Resurrection Power Revelation Church of God. Hes a talkative so I screamed for mum to accept the role though the words climbed my throat but never came out. I was happy she didnt hear that.
Do that unto God sister Mary, he said patronizingly.
I heard Mum accept the role.
I noticed two men moved within the crowd and offered something in a tray to the members. Later a young woman went round holding a silver tray swarmed with tiny white glass cups filled with a red substance. She offered them too. Now take the body and blood of Jesus, the pastor invited. The church members lifted the tiny cups to heaven lazily as though saying drink your share quick God. Weve not got all day and dumped what looks like tiny sliced bread and the wine into their mouth. Thank you Christ Jesus for this opportunity they chorused and dropped the cups in a bowl on a table in front. I looked hard at them that my tongue scrapped my lips. My stomach cringed.
One man on the back roll bathed me with his gaze and turned swiftly to sweep his tongue through his teeth and swallowed the saliva. I imagined what hed seen about me. Or perhaps he heard the hollow rumbling sound that raked through my stomach. Hunger knocked my stomach together that I heard the worms marched in protest. They bit me hard the way a baby bites the mothers breast during feeding. The pastor called for those who want to receive the gift of tongue speaking to come forward. Five people walked to the front. One of them looked my age. Shes tiny like those cups offered to them and a lighter than a typical black Niger. The pastor held their lips one after the other in his hands and whispered something. I saw his lips running but could not fathom what he said. His assistant was now holding the microphone close to his mouth. I locked my gaze on him to have firsthand account of his miracle. Within ten minutes he was done and asked if they had receive the gift. My eyes parted with the rest of my body to the auditorium with no farewell. Some of the members had opened their eyes watching. They whisked their heads like a pendulum. They could still not speak the tongue. The pastor reached for the microphone and asked everybody to shut their eyes. Perhaps he sensed disgrace or was he afraid to fail? His face drooped as he looked at the members in front of him.
My mind went to the story my sisters friend Sandra, told us. She was invited to an All-Night service in another mushroom church in Kumasi by a friend. When the pastor had finished preaching, he prophesied into their lives one after the other. So after each prophesy, someone went round to take their is it true or not response. She said pastors do that to announce to the members gathered that God is using them, that they are the first point of call for matters of prophesy. She said one Ewe man told the pastor that, his prophesy about him was false. She said nothing moved in the auditorium. There was a disappointing look on the faces of the members gathered whose jaws had dropped from their face and the pastor who stood frustrated drenched in disgrace. The choristers stood with the words of do something new in my life song hanging on their lips begging to be let down. The man was whisked outside to avoid disgrace.
Serwaa and me enjoy these pastoral stories from Sandra who visits churches for the miracle. She went anywhere there was a miracle or the promise of that and comes with tales she has labeled tales from the pastoral room. TPR for short she would tell us and snap her left hand with right gleefully as though she would be paid for those stories.
I was scared for those innocent church members in front of the church. Is the pastor going to shout at them? Or would he call them Lucifer or devil because they have not receive the tongue speaking? He supported his waist with his left hand as though it was falling apart. His left leg stretched that the right one looked short while he stared closely at the church members whose eyes were now closed as though looking for an unfamiliar spirit near them. I caught him in my look. He nodded. I didnt know he meant me but I replied. His thoughts began to cut me lose. I was now wearing a sad look. He wrestled the microphone from his assistant.
You cant put up this attitude and expect to attract miracles into your life. Anything spiritual is taken by force and not soberness. Please practice the tongue home and God will help you, he said in a disappointing tone.
I saw beads of sweat drape his Adams apple. I wanted to wipe them. They took the blood like drops shape of Jesus sweat as He prayed on Mount Olives on the eve of His arrest. I stood and wondered if the man is being betrayed by his own need to milk miracle without counting the cost. He prayed for an uncommon miracle in the life of his members and shared the GRACE.
I straightened my blue black trouser which looked wrinkled then took the dusty road home. It still wore the same look five years ago. The Member of Parliament for the area promised to fix it before elected three years ago. Perhaps the Nigerian oil workers labor union strike has impacted the construction of the road. Cars that filled past, smeared dust on me while the wind tossed the remnants on my lips. I tasted the salted sand with my tongue. It felt salty so much because of the accumulated dirt. I spat on the ground. I ran into church members on their way home sharing their plans for the Easter. Others promised to refrain from sin.
I also came across naked and semi-naked children playing mum and dad out of the watch of their parents. I didnt enjoy this game when I was their age. Adwoa, my playmate squeezed the joy of the game from me. She would be absent when needed that I gave up the game for something else.
When I got to our metallic gate fabricated by Joe Mensah the popular fabricator in the area, I pushed it with my left hand to find out if someone was in the house. It opened. I thought and examined the footprints left on the sand outside. There were several of them but the obvious ones were of two adults though one looked bigger. There are only three keys to the house. My parents have one each and Serwaa and me have the last one. I knew Dad is thousands of millions miles away so my bet was on mum and Serwaa. I thought of what to say was I quizzed on why I left early.
I left for the gents when service was over and couldnt locate you people after that. Id lie.
Or I joined presbyter Safos children home today.
This sounded convincing since the Safos leave early before pastor Asamoah gives the blessing for the week. I slammed the gate for my mum to know I was back. I did that often when she was keeping long in preparing meals.
I met mum standing at the entrance of the kitchen that still holds the luxury of life.
Good afternoon Mah, I said not looking at her.
My eyes went to the coconut tree on the compound with its bent branches being tossed by the wind as though saluting an unknown force. The weather is changing.
Mah Good afternoon, I repeated this time I caught her gaze.
She undressed me with her look. I saw her hand soiled with palm oil as though she just stabbed someone.
Hurry to change the rain should be in anytime soon, she said hurriedly.
Dark clouds began to gather. They looked close. I wanted to reach up to squeeze the water out to end it all. I removed my shoe and placed them outside.
Mah did you or Serwaa take my Bible? I continued.
She stared again at me only this time it was plead laden.
Its in my bag. Ill give it to you when am done. Kwabena change quickly and come for your food.
She reached for a rag to lift the dish from the fire. She walked to the sink and drained the water the ampesi.
Ask Serwaa to bring those bowls for the food, she continued with sweats dancing on her face.
I hurried into my room to change out of my church clothes. Mum dished the ampesi into our ceramic plates and called us in turns for the meal. That night she didnt ask why I couldnt join them home. Perhaps she thought I joined the Safos as usual. At least my lie could perish in the tomb where Jesus resurrected. I didnt want to wound Jesus the more after what hed gone through for the humanity. Pastor Asamoah said that anytime one sins, he crucifies Jesus Christ and deepens his grief on the cross.
I started to wolf the ampesi in silence smiling apologetically to the pastor with his church members who could still not speak the tongue. Will he lose his already few church members? I know Sandra would have parted with the church as fast she tells her tales. If the members had forced something out of their mouth, the tongue speaking would have come. At least anything. Aba-aba-ta-ta-da-da. Or anything. They only needed to force these words out.
Papa phoned as usual from Amsterdam to speak to us and to find out how church was. He talked to mum for twenty minutes. She then handed me the phone to talk to him. I put the phone on loud speaker for Serwaa and me to speak to him.
Good evening Papa, I said. Serwaa too greeted. We didnt care to know the time in Amsterdam because the wooden clock in our hall read 8:12pm.
Good. How was church Kwabena? he asked.
I mumbled something but couldnt hear myself. I didnt want to lie here.
Serwaa how was church? Hope you didnt have trouble with anyone today? he continued.
Church service was great Dad we said. I looked at Serwaa and wondered if she doubted me. She knows I left the auditorium because I was sitting by her. Mum was by then in pastor Asamoahs office preparing for the emergency harvest. I shot her a friendly look, full of pleadings. Dont give me up Serwaa! I told her, with a tightened wink.
Your mum said she chaired the emergency harvest today. I hope you gave her moral support? he continued.
I was losing my breath since I didnt witness the harvest. I wished papa would talk about something else. My mouth was dry that my tongue struggled for survival.
Hed be disappointed to find out that, I left church. Hes always against that act which he called a deadly sin. I know he would have sympathized with the pastor and his church members as I did. Sweat swarm on my forehead so I walked to up the speed of the fan which was stuttering in its pace.
Papa it was great. Mum was at her best as usual, Serwaa intervened.
Mum was in her room so she didnt witness my hell on earth. I decided to change the topic since I was uncomfortable with matters of the church.
Papa how are things in Amsterdam? I said having found my thoughts. I read in the papers that things are getting tough over there?
The economic crunchthat crunch is having a kill on us, he said requesting for sympathy. But were trying our best.
Serwaa winked for me to hold the phone since she was tired. I motioned her to put the phone on the fully glass center table in the hall.
God will see you through Dad. You will make it beautifully, Serwaa said.
Hes ever faithful Serwaa, Dad said. I could tell he was proud of Serwaa. I wished I had said that.
Ive moneygramed $2500 for your upkeep and Ill send some more for your mother to secure a new shop, he said softly. I wanted to scream but held my mouth with my teeth.
Thank you Dad, we said.
Serwaa gave the phone to mum after Dad cut the line.
Your Dad will be fine but he needs prayers, mum said proudly.
I know he will be fine with God I said.
She motioned us to our room to sleep. She held our hands and offered prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus Christ for resurrecting our dying lives. She summed her prayers with tongues.
Raba-dosh-hebron-lebron-lebro-ma-ma-ma-da-da-tito-tito-to-ti-ta-sando-le-ba-do-le-ma-sandole-ga-ga. These and other blessings I ask of you my strength. In the name of Jesus I call it done she prayed.
I opened my left eye to watch her mouth as she speaks. It was so effortless. At least she didnt have any pastor hold her mouth to force the tongue out.
Amen God, we said but I heard Serwaas words climbed the TNG roof over our heads.
After we shared the GRACE, mum hugged Serwaa and me, and I smelled her mint-scented spray she put on her every evening before bed.
I retired to bed coaxing sleep to take me but it never came at least for the period my eyes were on. I saw thoughts competing for space in my mind. The pastor in that mushroom church. Sandras tales from the pastoral room. The $2500 Dad is sending to us by Wednesday after so many promises. The church members I filled pass who pledged never to sin again. And yes that woman in the Peugeot car who had heavy lipstick on her convoluted lips. She scared me. I thought to myself how it felt to receive a miracle. How would those church members have reacted if they had spoken in tongue? Will they have jumped onto the adjoining street screaming to everyone passing come and see what Jesus had done again? Or they would have swam in the dirt on the floor in excitement? I didnt know how to celebrate the miracle now taking shape in my family.
Things seemed to be resurrecting. Perhaps because today marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Or could it be the prayers offered by the mushroom pastor? I didnt care at this stage so far as things are working.
I saw Mum holding the money in her right hand. She waved the wads of notes towards my direction as though saying, the money is all here Kwabena. The $2500 is all here.
She smiled and gave me one of her Ill not give you anything look and disappeared. I popped up my head slowly as if I was scared of what I would see. There was nothing in the room. It was my excitement that was feeding my fertile imagination. I chuckled and shook my head. I entered the comforter on the bed and was lulled to sleep by the cry of the night birds and the barking of Saddam our pet dog who guards the compound. Whatever happen hereafter is in the hands of the watchman up in heaven.