Ijeoma played with the beads on her handbag as Apham made a call beside her. They were heading to the airport, to board a flight that would take them to Enugu. She had never been more tensed in her life than she was now. When Apham told her that he had family problems, she had expected it to be something along the lines of a jealous family member that was bent on inflicting harm on them or a quarrel over land that had bred bad blood. Not once did she imagine that it was this serious. While he told her the story, she’d imagined that he was making it up, putting his nonexistent creativity into play. But no, he wasn’t making it up. It was true. Whatever caused his father to flee the village or his uncle to flee the country and never come back was real. Apham only visited the village once in two years and never stayed longer than a day. She was never inquisitive about the reasons for his travel as he was always reluctant to talk about it.
Apham’s grandmother had fallen in love with his grandfather when she was young. She was one of the most beautiful girls in the village at that time. But his grandfather didn’t give her a second glance. He was in love with another girl, from another village. However, his grandmother also had a good grasp of native juju. She charmed him, creating wooden stick figures that represented both of them and tying them together with a red cloth. It wasn’t long before he came to pay her bride-price. And soon they were living together as husband and wife.
There was no medicine that could last long. His grandfather found out about her treachery and was filled with raging anger. He went to a native doctor to find if he could suppress the effects of the evil spell. It worked for a few months and then lost its power. His grandmother didn’t stop in her efforts to keep her control on him. It was a complete cycle in a year: he would be madly in love with her, taking care of her and petting her, and the next few months, the house would be filled with quarrels that quickly became fights.
It was through this cycle that they gave birth to nine children. Nine children that lived under the terror of their changing emotions towards each other. When his grandfather couldn’t do anything to his wife to halt her manipulations, his next target was his children, beating them mercilessly and making them go without food. His grandmother couldn’t care less. She was more concerned about keeping her hold on him, spending hours concocting medicine that she fed him during the time that the potion was strong when he ate her meals.
The first child that died was from hunger, an irony given that his grandfather had the most fertile farmland in the village. But it was only the first of many other deaths. When he found out that he couldn’t do much to their mother, his targets invariably became his children, inflicting them with sicknesses that left them totally useless. It was horrible. Two parents caught up in fights against each other for over fifteen years, not tiring, not giving their children time to recover from the illnesses and psychological trauma that their parents were putting them through. One of his aunties died when she ate from a trap that had been set for rodents in a farm. Another didn’t recover from an illness inflicted by her father and died a painful death. One by one, they were dying, but their parents did nothing to help them.
His uncle fled the village when he was just seven years. At that time, there were only six children left. It was a wonder how he survived. Thomas often went to his maternal home with the youngest twins. They were always welcomed there, but even the hands of his father’s medicine reached them where they were. The twins were the last of the children that died. Both slipping away peacefully in their sleep but there was no argument about led to their death. How could two children die at the same time? Thomas, Apham’s father, was fourteen years when they died. He was the diokpara of the house, the first son. It was apparent that he would be the next. So he took refuge in a church, attending vigils and prayer ministries until he got the news that his father had died. A shameful death, his body had been swollen to the point that it almost burst. His body had even started rotting from the inside, some villagers said. For his mother, his father didn’t let her go free even after his death, leaving her in a bedridden state.
That was who they were heading to visit now, an old woman that was reaping what she sowed, a bitter woman that forcefully tied a man to her, making him reveal the evil and wickedness that resided within.
Ijeoma was surprised when Apham said she was the main reason he visited the village, taking food items and money with him. Going as far as to employ a maid to take care of her.
“She begs for death,” he had said. “She begs for someone to kill her. She suffers from nightmares. The girl told me that she complained of hearing cries of her children in her sleep. That was when she could talk, but now she is mute. She can’t say anything, she just looks. Like a dead log of wood.’
“So why are we going there?” Ijeoma asked. What couldn’t a prayer in the city solve? Did they have to go all the way to see this woman whom she had no sympathy for?
“Maybe it was something she or my father did. We have to invite a prayer group to come and exorcise the house. If there are hidden curses that are now extending to us, it’s when we go back to where it all started, who started it that we can have a chance. I don’t like her, but I’m glad she is still alive. There is no worse punishment for her than that. Death seems too easy.”
Thinking to it now, Ijeoma agreed with him. She was still apprehensive about visiting the said woman. The pastor had said that it was important both of them handled all the stumbling blocks together. So she couldn’t remain in the city and let him go do the dirty work. She had married him, meaning she had married all his problems as well. It was a cross she had to bear.
The car pulled to a stop in front of the airport. She heaved a sigh. Let’s hope it turns out well. Her hand enclasped in that of her husband, they walked into the airport.
Instead of a taxi as she had expected, a man was waiting for them at the entrance of the airport when they arrived in Enugu. He and Apham clasped hands and slapped each other’s back in greeting. Achike was Apham’s friend from secondary school. He was a member of an evangelism group in the Catholic Church that Apham had contacted when he was looking for a prayer group that was specialized in taking down ancient curses that were tying down families.
They would go to the church first before lodging at a hotel in a neighboring village to Apham’s. Ijeoma was grateful for the arrangement. She would need time to mentally prepare for the ordeal that awaited them. Throughout the journey to the church which was almost an hour and a half from the airport, Ijeoma was quiet, only muttering single words when Achike directed questions to her. Achike was quick to understand this and allowed her some peace as she sat alone in the backseat of the car.
Ijeoma listened halfheartedly to their conversation. Achike was telling stories of deliverance programs that they had held in the past. Ijeoma had been concerned when Apham told her that he contacted a Catholic group to carry out the deliverance. While she had no misgivings against other Christian denominations, both she and Apham were not Catholic. It seemed hypocritical for them to go to a different church to handle a problem of theirs. But hearing the stories that Achike told cleared some of her doubts. Achike claimed that most of the people that contacted them were not Catholics but they were happy to do their work for very little sums of money.
“It is better than those fake pastors that ask for thousands, right?” he said and laughed, but neither Apham nor Ijeoma laughed.
When Apham said they would visit the church first before retiring to a hotel, she had expected a similar structure to the Catholic church in their street in Lagos. She would be surprised. The building was located in a residential area and instead of the huge, pentagon building she’d expected, a small, rectangular building stood between high blocks of apartment buildings that towered over it. It was plain, made even more so by the rather colorful and lavish buildings that surrounded it. There was no gate separating it from the eyes of the outside world. A heap of sand and blocks sat abandoned in front of the building. The tag over the building read in bright letters- Angel Micheal Evangelic Ministry- and in much smaller letters, Our Lady Of Immaculate Conception Parish.
“Where is the church?” Apham voiced the question that was running in her mind.
“Oh!” Achike bared his teeth in a wide smile. Ijeoma cringed at a piece of green that was lodged in between his front teeth. “This is just one of our outposts. The main headquarters is in Nsukka. We have outposts like this in different places.”
Apham nodded with disinterest. Ijeoma wondered how little the ‘little sums of money’ were to be able to carry more than three outposts. Inside the building, a group of about seven people was kneeling, engaged in prayer in front of a set altar.
Achike placed his fingers on his lips. “Come and join them,” he mouthed, gesturing at the kneeling people. He was doing the same, lifting a plastic chair with exaggerated quietness and placing it in front of him.
With a questioning look at Apham, Ijeoma joined him. She brought out a handkerchief from her bag and placed it over her head. They were reciting prayers that she had heard before but still sounded strange to her.
The prayers lasted longer than she had expected. By the time the prayers were over, her legs were stiff, seemingly glued to the hard floor. She stumbled as she stood up. Apham reached to steady her. A series of greetings took place. It was when they had exchanged brotherly and sisterly handshakes and hugs, that Achike introduced them as their next client. They sat down and Apham explained everything to them.
Ijeoma tuned out of the discussion as soon as Apham started talking about it. She wasn’t sure she could listen to the story again. It was even more annoying because halfway through the discussion, one of the men stopped Apham and started praying for the souls of the children that died. It went on for almost five minutes with the recital of requiem prayers before the man let Apham continue his narration. Apham seemed undisturbed by the process. In fact, his voice was lighter as he continued the other half of his story. Ijeoma tuned back into the conversation when he was done with the narration.
A minute of silence was observed. The other members bowing their heads. A man that seemed to be the head of the prayer group, a middle-aged robust fellow dressed in clothes that looked too casual to Ijeoma, said a prayer that God sends the Holy Spirit to give them proper guidance on what to do. It was not a long debate. The members of the prayer group took their work seriously, each offering bits of advice, asking non-intrusive questions, and waiting patiently for answers. Ijeoma was pulled into the conversation a number of times. And even the situation with her family was brought into consideration.
It was good that they had settled that problem before coming to the village, the leader said.
By the end of the hour, they had prayed five times, sang three songs, and settled on a routine that worked with all members of the group. A Catholic Priest would be presiding over the whole program. And since he would be coming from a neighboring town and had other things to attend to, it wouldn’t be until the weekend that they would be able to start the deliverance.
Apham told her later while they prepared to go to sleep in their hotel room that he had thought they wouldn’t get a priest. “They are always so busy, so even though I will be happy with just the prayer warriors, having a priest works even better.”
“I don’t know how we are able to do all these things without being Catholics. I thought it would be a problem.” Ijeoma relayed her fears.
Apham shrugged. “I thought so too. I still feel guilty when I tell them that we are not Catholics. They don’t seem to have a problem with it, so let’s just focus on the main cause of our problems now.”
Ijeoma threw a leg over his, snuggling deeper into his body. “I hope everything will turn out fine.”
He kissed her forehead. “Yes honey. God is on our side this time. So nothing will go wrong.”