Mama only brought one big tuber of yam, but she gave the errand boy #3,000 with it and went in to see Pastor. #3,000 was my school fees, and I was almost angry that she did not pay it to my school so that I would be there by now, learning, instead of here with her, smelling the church’s annoying smell. But then, I remembered that she did not go to the market to sell just so she could see Pastor. Seeing Pastor then must be a very important thing. I calmed down.

I sat with the boy and wondered why many women, like mama, kept their children with the errand boy and went into the office alone. I wanted to ask the boy, but I didn’t because he might not answer a small girl like me. Maybe Pastor did not want the children to see when the devil was coming out of their mothers so they wouldn’t start crying, I thought.

The boy did not talk to me, and I could not talk to him, though he was maybe just            4 years older than my sister. I prayed for the devil to come out of mama quickly, so we could go home. I was tired and hungry. But we did not bring canes, so I wondered how Pastor wanted to bring out the devil from mama. I wondered if mama would tell Pastor that papa beat her.

I heard mama’s voice just few minutes after she entered the office.She was crying loudly. I looked at the boy. His eyes were on the food things at his feet, as if I wanted to steal them and jump out of the windowless window. Mama was crying loudly, and I was hearing the Pastor’s voice, small-small, unlike his normal volume that always sounded like thunder, like God was talking to us.

But his voice now was small-small, and I wondered why mama was already crying when Pastor had not started casting out devils. When mama suddenly stopped crying, I looked towards the door. The boy looked up at me then, and told me to close my ears.

I laughed, and he laughed back. But I knew his laugh was fake, because he did not know I was laughing because he had sounded stupid. He didn’t know why I was laughing at all.

The sounds from behind Pastor’s door had changed, but I did not know what I was hearing. Pastor was sounding as if his body was paining him, and somebody had closed his mouth so that he will not cry out; mama was making some sounds that were like small-small cries of cat. But I did not know what I was hearing.

The boy started to talk to me, and made sure I answered him. I didn’t want to answer him because I wanted to understand what was happening to mama and Pastor, to know if it was the devil that was changing their voices. But the boy was funny, and I would laugh and keep laughing, and when I answered him, he laughed louder than me, with ease, as if laughing was his job. Between both our voices, the noise from Pastor’s office was lost, and time was passing.

I was holding my belly in another round of laughter when mama came out some minutes later.

I stopped laughing.  She looked different. She looked just like the other women earlier, the ones who came out with shifted wrappers and sweaty faces. Pastor really needed fan in his office if casting out devils made everybody sweat so much.

But her sweating face was different from the one of those other women. Their own had looked…somehow. But she, she looked satisfied-happy sef.  I became happy too. I was happy mama was happy now. I did not like it when mama cried and was sad and was beaten by papa. There were so many things I did not like but I could not change…or say.

The boy ran in to get instructions from Pastor when Mama came out. Mama and I were at the gate of the church compound when I heard the boy tell those outside: “Pastor wants to take a break for 30 minutes. I will call the next person after then.”

I thanked God Pastor hadn’t taken the break before mama was called. I could not imagine waiting 30 minutes longer to get out of a place we had been since morning.

Mama was singing as we went home, and I forgot to think about why the boy had kept making us make so much noise, and if the yellow woman’s girl-boy son would start behaving like a boy after Pastor flogged the devil out of him and prayed spit-spit prayer on his head.

I forgot everything and became happy like mama. Mary was at home when we got there.  She greeted mama, and mama answered without looking at her. I believed it was because papa had beaten her because of her and she was angry.

Mama went to the bathroom first to bath, before she started making food. Mary took me to papa and mama’s room— No, she dragged me there. “What happened?” she asked me.

Her mouth was smelling. I wondered if she had brushed since she left home the previous morning, but I did not dare to ask her.

“Papa beat her this morning because you did not come home yesterday. Where were you?” “Again?!” “Yes, he thinks everything is her fault.”

“How is all of this,” she swept her hand across the room, “her fault?”

I did not understand what she was saying, so I kept quiet and realized that her armpit was smelling too. “Where did you people go to? And why didn’t you go to school?”

“To church to see Pastor.” I left the second question. Mary laughed.  “Did you see or hear anything?” I did not understand her question, so I just looked at her.

“He’s better than him, that’s why,” she said. “His is working; his is not. She needs help; he likes taking advantage—that’s what’s happening.” It was like she was talking to herself all the while.

My brain was getting hot. I felt Mary had gone mad. What was all the nonsense she was saying?

I looked at her. Her face was serious. “I will tell her…if papa beats her again, I will end it all if she won’t.”

I was still confused. The way my brain was hot was not making me think well.

“Mary,” I said, calling her from wherever it was her sense had taken her, “have you brushed today?”

I regretted it before I could take it back.

The slap landed on my cheek, and it sounded in my head and in the house, the way papa’s loud beating of mama used to sound.

“Children should learn to shut up,” she yelled at me as her eyes sparked like fire and water started to fall from my eyes.

She was just a few years older than me, and I wondered if she did not know she was a child too.

I wanted to ask her why she did not know she was a child too, but the tears in my eyes shut me up.

To be continued

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