Ibinabo did not cry or frown when her Chemistry teacher predicted her zero in the upcoming test would be as round as her belly. She yelped, then cautioned herself to do nothing more than sigh, a sob burning her throat. No, her Chemistry teacher was not pregnant, she was a widow proud of her potbelly and puckered face. Whenever male teachers hugged her – only the desperate did– they were careful, fearing her stomach. She had strange strands of hair on her chin, hairs sticking out of her dirty ears and black spots splattered all across her face. She was better at insulting than teaching. She never ate before teaching and she lived too far away to brush before coming to school. Her dirty toothbrush had its special place in her laptop bag, beside her glasses case. On some days, which eventually grew more often for she was old, creeping towards that age where life becomes nothing more than memories and forthcoming bliss; she forgot to rush to the school toilet and brush before assembly. And so when she opened her mouth to reply neatly dressed students, they flinched, pinching their noses and frowning as though she had killed their mothers.
It was this kind of frown on the woman’s face when test results were out and Ibinabo scored the highest. “These useless glasses,” she shouted, “when would this son of mine stop telling me rubbish about his job and take care of his mother?” “Ehn, what is this now, has he forgotten who scrubbed his buttocks? Has he forgotten the breasts he sucked from? Only a fool forgets his mother.”
Her students, bewildered, anxious to see their scripts, said nothing, used to the woman’s habit of thinking aloud. It was this thinking aloud that made her say mean things she never gave any apology for –what nonsense manners was it to expect a grandmother to tell a teenager sorry?
Yawning, she skipped Ibinabo’s test script and began to call other students’ names. Half of the class had failed again and she was proud of it. Their parents who lacked manners, smelling of too much money, armed with fancy wristwatches, cars and handbags would finally abandon moneymaking for a moment on Visiting Day, grieving about their child’s poor results to an elderly teacher like her without that arrogant air of privilege.
When Ibinabo’s script was the only one left, the woman wiped her glasses, placed them back and looked at the script again. What nonsense was this? Was she seeing well?
Later that term, Ibinabo won the award for the most improved student academically. The old Chemistry teacher threatened to punish the students who did not applaud her loud enough on the assembly ground. She presented a wrapped gift and Ibinabo blushed as the camera flashed. She wouldn’t if she had known the gift: a towel with the woman’s name and a “Most Improved Student” inscribed on it.
Ibinabo testified of God’s goodness at her new church, Glorious City of Fire and Holy Medicine Assembly. Her mother liked the church because their holy medicines could treat a wide variety of problems unlike Ibinabo’s father’s church where there was too much talk about revelations, hidden secrets of the scriptures. A sermon was three sleepy hours of solid doctrine. Ibinabo and her mother were always punctual to the City of Fire and Holy Medicine Church. Although women were not allowed to usher and the pastor’s wife never preached, only wearing hats as large as the congregation’s hopes, hats blocking everyone from directly seeing the pulpit, Ibinabo and her mother tied their scarves tight and scurried to the church every Sunday morning, leaving Daddy to prepare his breakfast.
Pastor Miraculous, who had a big fat nose and wore brown suits too often walked like a terrible prologue. Slow, sluggish, he smiled a wry smile when he released some punch lines in the middle of sermons. “You will succeed where others suck seed. “ “No situation is permanent except tribal marks.”
Ibinabo’s mother knocked her whenever she did not shout her loudest amen prompt enough. Was it not the special academic excellence medicine responsible for her improvement in Chemistry? Was it not after drinking the holy wine for career issues that she got the multinational job offer? Was it not after the vigil for the barren that Dozie’s wife had conceived?
This was where God was, not in those useless oil bottles from the GIDIBA, she claimed. As the years rolled, spiraling into heavier weights and more miracle-thirst, Ibinabo and her mother were proud members of the church, often joking that her father attended a talk-talk church, where they talked about God who was too bored of their talk to show up. Ehn, after seven years, had Daddy gotten a better job? Had he built a house? Ehn, how could his wife now miraculously earn more?
Truth is like smoke, it cannot be covered. After ten years, it spread: Pastor Miraculous was the secret advisor who advised The Sent when he was still nothing but a Chemistry teacher. Pastor Miraculous had started his own church to spite him. Pastor D, The Sent, had stopped giving him his interest and this infuriated Pastor Miraculous. Pastor Miraculous, at the point where the 30, 000 seater hall became too small for the rapidly growing congregation, began to show truer colours, strategizing the best ways to get donations. He brought up the suggestion that interested members form a committee and organize a day to walk naked in memory of Adam and Eve. When the controversy sparked more attention than anticipated, he cancelled it and told the congregation that sometimes; the voice of the Lord was like the wind, you could not exactly pinpoint it, it could be too difficult to trace it distinctly. He apologized to the congregation, explaining that what had actually been revealed to him was a special anointed pool in which people swam, their troubles sinking into the water. Once they swam, the joy of the Lord filled them so much that they forgot all their earthly issues and received their miracles easily. Shrieks of shock and excitement filled the whole church as he announced this. Another Pentecost, wow!
He was smart however: it was not free. One had to be a member, receive a personal approval from him and empty at least 60% of their pockets in contribution to the church project. Whoever dropped less than 60% and jumped into the pool could turn to a pillar of salt. Journalists, both local and international, fed on the story like sweet cake; even the illiterates with menial jobs knew the laytes neus in town. Congregants from the GIDIBA disappointed with The Sent or simply curious switched to Pastor Miraculous. T.V stations and billboard advertisers were overly eager to offer the church slots – it was said that whoever did business with Pastor Miraculous had at least 300% increase in profits. The whole world shook, anticipating the pool of joy and miracles.
Meanwhile, Ibinabo’s grades began to dwindle and her mother lost her job at the multinational firm. The two of them spent nights together, silence sitting between them, grief stealing their voices, tears stinging their eyelids.
Ibinabo’s mother decided to put down money and seek approval to swim in the pool of joy. Ibinabo’s father, sharing new revelations from the Bible, which he read everyday, warned her, saying these were the last days.
She did not listen. Since they were early, Ibinabo and her mother were among the first batch able to swim after the dedication. On that day, Pastor Miraculous and his wife garnered a lot of attention with their matching swimwear. After speech and prayers, the first batch began to swim. Pastor Miraculous after severely warning those who had dropped less than 60% not to enter if they did not want to turn to salt, sat with his family sat at the edge of the pool, praising God for the forthcoming miracles.
An epileptic man cried as he got healed. Twenty deaf people were healed as they swam. Interestingly, ten seemed dizzy, whitish fuzz crawling up their skins. Whispers tore the air, were they actually turning to salt?
Pastor Miraculous motioned to assistant pastors who had emptied their pockets and hearts into his ministry. They joined him as he jumped into the pool, eager to carry the ten bodies out.
An eager videographer who did not know what would happen caught the scene: water splashing, the crowd cheering as Pastor Miraculous jumped into the water, the shock as he rapidly turned into a pillar of salt.
Ibinabo followed her father to his church the next Sunday. She paid attention throughout the three-hour sermon.