By, Fatima Okhuosami
Friday Omokhudu Jimoh’s tale of woes began not as everybody thought, at the peak of noon on one of the hottest days of December when he dragged his feet towards the bleak cubicle inhabited by Prophet Jeremiah of Tabernacle of Blessings: Centre for miracles, healing and breaking of curses.
He knew the bearded barefooter whose fashion statement was pristine white flowing kaftans, would be in his room with its one permanently locked window, at this time. Prophet Jeremiah’s existence was so intertwined with darkness, he never stepped outside unless at midnight, to return before dawn.
Although the tabernacle—a sixteen by sixteen bamboo and thatch shed at the back of their face-me-I-face-you bungalow had a some total of adherents in the lower twenties, Prophet Jeremiah was famous for his art.
People said the holy spirit worked through him. They testified to his anointing. When he screamed “fire” at odd times or for no apparent reasons, he was fighting Satan’s warriors, we mere mortals could not see.
Friday’s predicament took shape four days earlier in the waiting room of Tender Mercy Health Centre. A nurse with skin, the colour of rotting mangoes peered out from a tiny window and shouted: “Friday Momoh. Who is Friday Momoh?” He raised his right hand, shouting “me o, na me,” pulled himself out of two plastic chairs stacked together, maneuvering past the mass of sick, dying and desolate, reluctantly taking his eyes off Jenifa—the most popular soap opera on TV.
He fell in beside her and as they passed a door labelled “INJECTIN ROOM,” she said: “Doctor wants to discuss your results with you.”
On the desk inside the doctor’s sparsely furnished office, there were scattered papers, some stationery and an overturned picture frame. Hanging from a nail on yellow wall, was an off-white ward coat. Body odour mixed with air conditioning, sweat and perfume made the atmosphere putrid. He collapsed into the only chair opposite the young man who bore a striking resemblance to his cousin. He was out of breath—again.
“Good afternoon sir.” He might stink but the person who holds your fate between his lips must be respected.
“Welcome back, Oga Friday. The results of your tests are out.”
“You don’t have typhoid fever. And your malaria is just one plus.”
Here, the doctor paused and attacked a big pimple beside his nose.
Friday waited. He wanted to crack a joke to ease the man’s obvious tension, but somewhere around his throat, the words absorbed doubt and fear, so he swallowed them.
“But doctor, if I no get malaria and typhoid, wetin kon dey do me?”
“We did another test laidat. Just routine. We do it for our walk-in patients. The nurse should have told you. You have heard of HIV abi?”
Later when asked, Friday would say this moment marked the beginning of his end. Fear struck at his heart freezing the lump of muscle.
His eyes went hot, then cold. He could feel his brain ring through his ears like an ambulance siren. His body itched in one thousand different places.
The doctor reeled off warnings, sad to be the bearer of bad news, but eager to fast-track this patient’s departure.
In the next office, somebody said more things to Friday before pushing large, cylindrical, orange pills in a small, white envelope into his palms. He caught the words: lucky, tuberculosis and hepatitis.
Somehow, he lost the medicine, his wallet and mobile phone that day. Having managed to reach his room by sheer will of fate, he fell into a deep slumber from which he woke the next morning to realise the solution to his problem lived five doors away from him.
The two men sat legs akimbo, facing each other. Silence had reigned for almost five minutes while the man of God digested Friday’s problem.
“So you have that bad disease.”
“Na wetin the doctor talk be dat, sir. Me, I reject am.” He circled his head with his left hand and snapped thumb against middle finger at the back.
“HIV no be my portion. You know all these people na. Maybe dey make mistake sef. Small sick wey I dey sick na im I say make dem gimme malaria melecine, dey say dey wan do test, I say okay. Dey come back con go dey talk HIV. God forbid bad thing.”
“That doctor ehn, he is not God.” Prophet Jeremiah shook his head several times, and a grimace worked its way into his features, as if any idea to the contrary sickened him.
“Only Jehovah can say what you have or not. Doctor na just ordinary human being. But you sef, how many women you dey carry?”
“Er mm, th..”
“One of them has been used as the devil’s vessel to attack, so we must fight back.
Fire. I say, fire! I know Titi, your madam. The one doing okirika business. She is not a child of God at all at all.
I always catch her sneaking into your room during ungodly hours when I’m leaving for God’s work and rushing out, by the time I return from chaining Satan.
You allowed room for the devil, my brother. This world is not as you see it o.”
“Tayo nko? The girl that brought police to arrest you and all of us had to contribute five hundred naira for landlord to pay your bail. Have you given her the balance of her money? Shey she said it’s her mother’s salon money she borrowed you. You con use am print invitation cards and plan wedding. You be badt guy, Friday.”
Here, Prophet Jeremiah found himself attacked by a fit of laughter which cut short his monologue. His body shook in rhythmic gestures, embarrassing the other occupant of the dark room who nonetheless, remained quiet.
Friday remembered with piercing intensity, this man was the only one who did not come out during the commotion.
“No vex. There is no secret in the Lord’s house. Jehovah will not permit anything negative to befall you because of women wahala. God sef know say woman na problem. See case of Adam and Eve na. Anyway, is there anything you want to tell me before we proceed?”
Friday was caught between a desire to conceal that truth, his mounting disgust, and the fear that lack of absolute honesty might imply deprivation of healing.
The man of God seasoned in human relations, was conscious of a shift in his client’s mood and warned: “There is no place in God’s kingdom for a liar. Say the whole truth. Yahweh is watching. Fire.”
“Prophet, I get this guy… Some dey before am… Okay, dey be four total but na just one since around March…
Sometimes wey I no wan see dem Titi or Tayo…
I no even like dem, na dem no wan lemme rest… We… My guy be…”
Heaving a sigh, Friday consolidated on what was left of his courage and spoke, not caring if he doomed himself. “Me and one my guy laidat dey run package once in a while.”
If Prophet Jeremiah was thrown off by this information, he did not show it. A brigadier general in the holy ghost’s army must never allow himself be startled by evil machinations. He went so still it became almost impossible to breathe.
After what seemed like forever to Friday, the man of God pried him with questions.
“When did this start?”
“Why did you allow yourself be tempted into the most unholy of sins? Don’t you remember Sodom and Gomorrah?”
“Just for asking sake…You know I have to understand your issue before I can help you…What is it like? Better? Worse? Painful? Fun? One must come clean before the Lord.”
“Don’t worry sha. God is just testing you with HIV. No need for medicine. Prayer is the way. We must go to the mountain at midnight, but you have to make an offering, first.
Any amount is okay. Remember this one no be ordinary deliverance o. Satan’s bonds are very tight, and will be difficult to loosen. After freeing you, we must make sure, he can never capture your soul again. Fire.”
Friday hurried to his room for next month’s rent which he placed before the prophet, on a tray.
The men made their journey during the blackest portion of the night. They walked in a row, arms hanging stiff by their sides. It was a harrowing trip made more exhausting because of the freezing weather.
At their destination, Prophet Jeremiah released from his deep pockets, two bottles of olive oil, a bell, one horse whip and a worn-out prayer book.
Friday, out of his clothes, knelt in the shivering cold before his also unclothed saviour, punctuating the unceasing prayers with splashes of “amen,” “HIV die,” “eii,” “Satan die,” “eii,” and “hallelujah.”
Prophet Jeremiah, infused with a strange energy sang, beat, cursed and preyed on his victim.
As the first rays of light cut through the night welcoming dawn, the brigadier general grabbed Friday by his shoulders and kissed him on the lips, hard and hungry-like.
Later when questioned by the police, he would say Satan overcame him at that point.
His victim, stunned and sick, forced the naked man off. It was a terrible mistake.
Prophet Jeremiah, on instinct, pushed him.
Friday stumbled. The stone behind rolled over. He could not balance on his heels.
He tumbled with a dreadful scream.
People confessed it drove them from their beds.
As he fell, the wheels of fate spun, each turn taking him towards that bleak end.
Just before his head hit the stones and his brains dashed out, he cursed Prophet Jeremiah and the pitiless doctor and the nurse with the faux-yellow skin and Titi and Tayo and his long list of boyfriends.
Being “different” and having “that bad disease” paled in significance, compared to this thing in motion.
His whole life flashed before him like a motion picture. Like he was a spectator at his own art show.
He tried to close his eyes and calm the tremors that shook his frame.
The moment his forefinger moved for the last time ever, he pissed himself.
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