Demons had possessed her child. She had heard this before, from several people. Heavy demons were what he now called them. Pastor Mike assured Clara that he had seen this sort of thing before. He told her that he saw it on his last missionary work, before he became a full-fledged pastor. He told her while he sipped from a huge china mug.
“It was somewhere in Cameroon,” he started. The child had had restless eyes like her daughter’s. She had been unable to form coherent sentences and always threw a tantrum, again, just like her daughter. He assured her he knew how to get rid of them. It had worked before and it would work again; it was the same God. She was to come in a few days, on a Saturday to be precise. It was on Saturdays that he received a fresh batch of anointing to be used the next day for all the six services. She was to come with her child, both of them dressed in white. She was also to come with an envelope, white as well, containing whatever she deemed her daughter’s deliverance worth. Before she left, he reminded her that these demons were heavy demons – the deliverance was worth much.
She had nodded when he had told her that, just like she was nodding again, slowly, mentally checking off items on her list of things to buy before going to the church the next day with her child. She had called her sister a few minutes before and was waiting for her to arrive before she left for the market. In the time she spent waiting, she looked at her child. She had named her ‘Chizara’ because God had indeed answered her prayers for a child but she also called her ‘Ibum’, my cross, because she was indeed a cross she had had to bear from the first day she noticed her restless eyes.
It was in the early hours of a day in June of 1990 that she had birthed Chizara, and after a long nap, she had been awoken to take a look at her beautiful baby. And beautiful she was, with fair skin and silky smooth hair and hands that reached out to nothing while her eyes squinted under the light of the ward. And noticeable on the left side of her neck was a birth mark. It was shaped like a leaf and was the colour of wet clay. It resembled the one her mother had had. Memories of her mother, with skin equally as fair, soon danced around in her head. She remembered her as she was before the sickness that eventually ended her began. She remembered her before the illness started taking parts of her mind and then her body. She remembered knowing it was over when she stared at her mother and the woman, who had given her and her four siblings life, could not remember her name. It was a sad day when her mother left her, and she had cried silent tears and looked at her lifeless body as it was returned to the soil. Those silent tears returned on that day, just like her mother had now returned as her child. The leaf birthmark was proof. Her mother was back again.
There was a rap on the door as Clara checked the last of the items on her mental list. She could not wait for Saturday. Things would be alright again. She stood to go to the door, she knew her sister Nkem was the one behind it, and she opened the door to find her there, smile on her face, novel in hand. She wanted to tell her that those books would not get her a job but she was quick to hold her tongue; she had asked her over to help, it would make no sense antagonising her.
“Mama.” she called her ‘Mama’. “Mama, listen.”
The girl looked up at her mother, tearing her gaze away from the blue mound of playdough she had been playing with earlier.
“Aunty is here and I am going to market, be good okay?” she spoke softly to her, unsure of what could spark a tantrum and not wanting one to start because then she would not be able to leave the house.
“Okay” was followed by a nod, and with that, the deal was complete. She could finally go to the market.
There was a gentle breeze outside as she made her way past the gated residence she shared with three other families in their building of four flats. She would need to get a bus to take her to Obalende. It would be easier for her to get to Balogun market from there. Balogun had everything, and so, she was sure she would find enough white fabric to make suitable prayer dresses for her and Chizara. She took only a few steps before the familiar screams of an unfamiliar man hit her ears. The screams were familiar because she had stood there many times, at this junction where buses came to meet waiting people.
“Obalende two hundred!” He screamed and screamed. The young man with dark skin sounded like his voice belonged to a being twice his age. He had the face of a 16 year old and was almost certainly younger.
“No be one-fifty?” she asked him, after she had boarded the bus. The fares were always increasing. She was going to pay but it was not without a little complaining.
“Two hundred,” he said. He did not look at her when he said it. He continued his screaming.
The bus stayed at the junction for what seemed like ten minutes before it started moving again. For all his shouting, the conductor had only managed to increase the population of the bus by three people, including her. They were soon on their way before she heard a voice behind her that reminded her of things she did not want to.
“Ahan, Mummy Zara. This one you are in the bus. Did anything happen to the car?” The voice belonged to Iya Kamoru. The woman was a pest and was unashamed in her poke nosing. She attended the same church, and hence, it was impossible to be rude to her without it getting to the ears of the pastor.
“Ah, Iya Kamoru. How are you? Yes the car has some problem. Daddy Zara will soon take it to the mechanic,” she replied as she turned to find Iya Kamoru’s oval face complete with its sinister smile, while she smiled a smile that revelled in its falsehood. She wanted her to see the disdain that lay, albeit restrained, behind the smile.
“Ah that is true, we have not been seeing Daddy Zara o. Hope he is fine.” Iya Kamoru’s face remained the way it had been when she asked the first one, her smile unwavering.
“Yes o, he is fine. Work took him away for a while but he will be back soon.” She spoke the lie and promptly returned her gaze to the panel in front of her, the one that separated the driver and passenger seats from the rest of the bus. Iya Kamoru responded again, something along the lines of “It is well” but at this time, Clara’s mind had taken a hold of the lie told and was now playing back memories in her head; of how things were before he left. Because the truth is, Daddy Zara had left her. It was after Zara’s episode at the church that people began to talk, and with the talking came his drinking and soon his absence followed, entering their lives with a calm.
It was a Sunday. The three of them had been in church. Zara was her usual restless self as they sat to listen to the preaching. Although unsure what it was that caused it, soon Zara was screaming. Louder than she ever had, not even when she had her usual tantrums at home. They both hushed her but she did not hush. It was then that the murmuring started and the eyes of people whose attention had been on the preacher and the verses he was yelling were now on them as they tried to leave the hall with Zara kicking and screaming. Visits to doctors ensued after. All the doctors suggested that she was only four and had behavioural problems, “but the eyes,” they said. The eyes had to be checked. Clara agreed. She had been worried about Zara’s eyes since the day she brought her home from the doctor and jangled the keys to the house in front of her. The eyes did a dance within their sockets, not once flinching at the sound or focusing on anything in particular; they just danced a lone dance that made it seem like she was in a trance – one that never ended. The doctors assured her it was okay, they would check again in a year or so. A year or so found her in the office of the doctor, with Zara seated on her lap. The paediatrician, a young bespectacled lady with freckles around her neck, motioned to Zara and pointed at things. But none of these moved Zara in the least. Her eyes, the colour of tar, danced in the sea of white that surrounded them and paid no attention to the objects the kind doctor pointed out to her. With time, the tantrums came, and soon Zara would make a mess and scream and sometimes hit herself for no apparent reason. It was after the church episode, the first time she’d ever behaved that way in public, that Clara had suggested a psychiatric clinic. She remembered the argument that ensued after the visit to the doctor. The doctor had said it was probably a mental disorder, autism from the looks of things. Daddy Zara had not waited to listen to anything the doctor had to say after ‘mental disorder’.
“Biodun, why did you leave just like that?” She spoke slightly above a whisper when she was sure Zara was asleep in her own room.
“Why won’t I leave? Didn’t I ask you to follow me?” He spoke sternly but was careful not to shout, he too was mindful of Zara in the next room.
“You could not wait for me and Zara, look at my leg.” She raised her leg at the knee to show him beneath her foot. It had stains the colour of red sand and smelled vile.
“He was saying rubbish. What does he mean by my daughter having mental problem? She is fine.”
“Biodun, she is not. We need to find some help.”
“I said she is fine. Now leave me.”
And she did. And he did her. His drinking started days after. While she searched for ways to cure the ill that plagued their daughter, he drank. He drank and came home less, and as the rumours started to go around the church that he had used his daughter’s senses for rituals, he drank a little more and soon he was never home. She heard he was somewhere on the mainland, staying with a friend or staying in his car. It all meant the same to her anyway; he was staying away from her and Zara.
“Oya last bus stop! Madam come down.” It was the conductor yelling in her direction. They were at Obalende. The market was only a few minutes away. She had found Pastor Mike through a friend and he was sure he would cure her Zara. The market awaited. Saturday would be a great day. Zara would become just Zara, an answered prayer without the cross attached, without the tantrums, without the dancing restless eyes.
* * *
Saturday arrived with a feeling of hope that wrapped Clara like an embrace and held a promise of wonderful things to come. They both dressed in the white garments Clara had made for them. Zara liked hers. You could tell from the slight catwalk she did when she put it on. She acted this way whenever she got new clothes. And that was what these were for her.
With a white envelope in her bag and both of them adorned in impeccable white, Clara and Zara soon began their journey to Pastor Mike’s office.
It was a small building adjoined to the church. It was mostly dark during the day, save for a dim bulb that dangled in the middle of the room. The darkness was caused by the thick red curtains that kept the sun’s light out. He welcomed them in. He too was dressed in a white kaftan with matching white trousers. Zara’s grip on Clara’s hands tightened, and she comforted her. “Mama, it’s okay”. This did not ease the grip but a slight calm fell on Zara’s face and that was enough for Clara; it assured her there would be no tantrum.
“Welcome my sister. Is this your demon-child?” He said, pointing a finger with an overgrown nail at Zara. She noticed herself flinch, ‘demon-child’ did not sit well with her.
“This is Zara my daughter.”
“Okay…” his voice trailed off as he shot a menacing look at Zara. “I trust you have brought the money.” He said this turning back to Clara, his look morphing from menacing to charming, smiling a giddy smile that showed no teeth.
“Yes pastor.” And the envelope emerged, fat it was, and soon exchanged hands; from Clara’s with a look of worry on her face, to the pastor’s, a giddy look still on his own face.
“Ah yes, you really want her to be healed, this envelope is good. Da lord will give it to you.” He smiled as he said this, baring his incomplete dentition as he put the money in a compartment of his desk.
He stood and gestured for Clara and Zara to join him in the middle of the room. As they stood from their seats, with Zara holding tight to Clara’s hand, his face took on a sternness as he pulled out a bottle of olive oil from the pocket of his kaftan.
“This is how we will start. She will kneel down in the middle and you will stand behind her and hold her head.” He spoke to Clara before he started mumbling. He had started communicating with the spirit.
“Mama, stay put okay?” Clara guided Zara to her knees and stood behind her, holding her shoulder.
“Yes! Yes! The delivering spirit is here. The demons are in trouble.” His voice increased as he said each word. He opened the bottle of olive oil and began dancing around the both of them. Clara looked down and found that Zara’s head turned to follow him, while her eyes danced their pointless dance. She could not tell what she was looking at in particular, but the fear that lay in her eyes was not one to be ignored.
Then came the dousing. The bottom of the bottle faced the roof and soon all the contents of the bottle were soon dripping down Zara’s head, past her face and onto her new white gown.
Then came the screaming. Zara’s voice must have echoed beyond the office and into the streets as she screamed with no words. She made to stand even as she screamed and that was when he hit her. The slap startled Zara as much as it startled Clara.
“Pastor Mike! What was that?”
“Do you want the demons gone or no-” He started but stopped because Zara’s yelling was louder now. “Shut up there you foul demon!” He turned to face her.
“Mama, please don’t cry. The pastor wants to help us. Please don’t cry.” Clara knew all she could do was try to soothe Zara. She wanted her to be normal. If this was the only way, then it was the only way.
“Now sister Clara, we are going to pray. We are going to tell the demons inside that they have to leave now or else…”
She wanted to ask him “or else what?” but he had already begun his prayer, muttering words that were not English, or from any local language she had ever heard. She too began her prayers.
“Leave my daughter.” Hers were English words. Said with a softness. Almost like a cooing and this unnerved Pastor Mike.
“Why are you begging it? Ehn? Do you not know we are not fighting flesh and blood? Are you not aware? You need to shove it out!” He yelled the last part as he held Zara by the shoulders and shook her till her head bobbed back and forth like she had no bones in her neck.
“Mummy, mummy. Stop.” Zara’s voice came with tears and tore at Clara’s heart.
“Mama, we will soon be done.”
“Now pray, sister. Pray!” Pastor Mike ignored the moment. He was sweating now, there was no ventilation in his office.
There were more unintelligible words spewed by him and Clara prayed too. Forcefully, like he had asked.
He hit Zara a few more times. On her face, on her head, on her arm and on her leg. He said these would force the demon out. Each of those times he had his palm covered in what he called the holy powder. The powder smelled of talc. He left white hand marks wherever his hands landed and with each hit, Zara’s crying intensified. Clara cried too, but the tears lingered on her face only a little while because she cleaned them as soon as they started to run down her face, she could not be weak, the demons had to leave.
“In Jesus name!!!” came his voice after they were done. He was sweating buckets now.
“Amen!” Clara responded. She held Zara in an embrace now. The girl had cried herself to sleep and was now resting heavily on her mother.
“So sister, that was the first part. There are still other things to do. Only some of the demons were removed today. You have to do some removal at home.”
She arrived home that day with the pastor’s words running through her head.
“You must not give her any food for the next three days. And on the third day, when you finally do, you will add this.” He had handed her a bottle filled with a brown powder. He said it was mustard seed powder from Jerusalem.
“Starve the demons and then feed them this from the holy land and watch them flee.”
And starve she did.
The first day was the hardest. Zara threw tantrums and hit her head on the cupboard repeatedly until she started to bleed and for that night Clara was a nurse, dressing the wounds and soothing her even as she cried. Trying to explain that it was for her good. But Zara looked back at her with her restless eyes saying all that she wanted to but couldn’t. Clara did not eat on this day, she could not eat and watch her child not eat.
On the second day, Zara did not stand up from her bed. She stayed put and cried. Sometimes loud enough for Clara to hear and come running, at other times silently, into her pillow. That night Clara fell, because she too was dizzy.
The third day brought doubts into Clara’s mind and it also came with quietness. Zara said nothing for the entire day.
It won’t matter. I just need to put the mustard seed powder. I am sure we can eat.
These were the thoughts she thought within herself even as she served up two plates of porridge and poured a spoonful of the powder into one of them.
Zara ate very slowly when the food came. She was weak.
Things did not change after the meal. Zara got even quieter and did not make even a sound after eating. She simply set her head back down on her pillow and stared at the ceiling.
The fourth day was worrisome. Zara had vomited during the night and it was not bile or the food she had eaten but blood. Clara did not think to take her to the hospital. She dialled the number that Pastor Mike had given her as his and waited as the phone rang.
“Yes who is this?”
“It’s me, Sister Clara, I came with my daughter on Saturday.”
“Oh yes. Bless you sister. Have the demons left?”
“Well, she was extremely quiet yesterday, the tantrums stopped but-”
“We thank the Lord. His spirit has quietened them.”
“But pastor, she vomited blood this morning.”
“Did you do everything I told you to?”
“Y-yes pastor, I did everything.”
“Well, in that case, whatever happens, just let the Lord’s will be done.”
“Pastor, what do you mean by the Lord’s will? You said my daughter will be healed.”
“Her healing is only as strong as her faith and yours. I have done all I was commanded to do. The rest is up to God.”
“Don’t call my number again.”
A loud beep announced the end of the phone call and the beginning of Clara’s panic. She was not sure but she might just have tried to kill her own daughter.
The moments before their arrival at the hospital passed in a blur and soon, she was sitting by her daughter’s bed, watching her chest go up and down rather slowly.
“Mama… mama, look at me.” She said this as she held her left hand. Zara stayed still.
Her ward was painted a shade of green and it matched the beddings. Zara lay still in bed with her mother’s hand clutching hers. After asking her to look at her, Clara had slept off, Zara’s hand still in hers. It was when she awoke to find Zara lying too still that her screaming started.
“Doctor! Nurse!” she called out again and again until the doctor in her coat and the nurse in her dress ran into the room.
“Doctor, she-she-she…” Her explanation ended there, with her finger trembling pointing at her daughter. She is not moving.
“Madame, you have to let us work.” The doctor said this to her after signalling to the nurse to get her outside.
“No.” She said as she held on tighter to Zara’s hand. The nurse left the room and returned with two other nurses who eventually managed to take her out of the ward, kicking and screaming.
Zara died on a Wednesday. Four days after the visit to Pastor Mike. Clara remains haunted by the last view of her daughter she had seen as she was dragged out of the ward. Her eyes were wide open but they had stopped, they had stopped their dance.
Cover photo of Luscious demons by Victor Ehikhamenor from Ikhide R. Ikheloa’s blog