The weather was different today. That was the first thing he noted. And the first thing that woke him up. The window had lines of water dripping from it as a result of moisture the dew left there. He loves the grass when dew falls on them. Without thinking, he reached towards the curtains to pull it wider so he could have a clear view of the grasses. He winced. He gnashes his teeth and rolled the blanket over him.
Uwesi will never tag himself “Religious.” But he is more comfortable with him been called a Christian. To him, Christianity is about believing in the existence of God. And yes, he does believe. He also believes in the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting. What more dose the church expects from him? He attends Mass on Sundays and observes the holy days of obligations.
It took only the sound of approaching foot steps to wake him up or rather to open his eyes. He wasn’t sleeping after all.
“I knew you will be up by now,” said Omba with a concealed excitement in her voice.
He acknowledged with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Can I?” she asked reaching out her hand to the curtains.
Uwesi’s eyes lit up at the sight. The grasses were even taller than he remember.
Omba would steal glances at him from time to time to see yet again the spark in his eyes she would never comprehend.
“Habits are hard to let go,” she said to him.
“Yes, once they become part of you.”
Omba was six and he was five the first time they came to the village. It was during the rainy season. The grasses were tall and green and the air smelled of moist dust. With the tall trees behind them serving as though their guardians. Omba was journey sick so that when they first arrived, she was led straight to the room. But it wasn’t so for Uwesi, while his parents were busy unpacking their luggage, the sight of the grasses caught his attention. Unlike the city where the houses were interlocked and flowers pruned weekly, they seem to be all around. The sight of them standing so close to the house stirred something in his young self. He couldn’t will himself not to go in even if he had tried. He walked into it without anyone noticing.
Two hours later, he returned and he wasn’t even missed. He wished he had stayed longer.
“So… you and the grasses…” Omba began. She walked over to him itching that he should confide in her.
He merely waved her away with a smile.
“You picked this room because of them, isn’t it?”
His smile was short.
The room was overlooking the grasses and its wide windows bring the grasses closer to him. The window was overlooking the backyard. It was only about ten paces that were interlocked. When Uwesi agreed to take the room there was nothing odd about it, or when he insisted that he should be called Uwesi, instead of Paul, his baptismal name.
“Hemba said you hired him to water it during the dry season. Are you trying to make them evergreen?”
He raised his eyebrows.
“I asked him last time we were here.”
“That was three years ago”
“He confessed he hadn’t stopped.”
“How will someone in his right senses pay someone to water grasses?” she wondered.
She walked back to the window. Rays of sunlight was pouring in now. And all Omba could see were grasses; tall grasses that nothing about them looked attractive. And yet, there was something in it… something eerie that seems alive. She couldn’t explain further.
“Is this a habit or is it that you are possessed?”
He gave her his full attention for the first time. His countenance was altered. The muscles on his face began to contract as his round white eyes began to narrow. His lips that were always parted as though in smiles began to fold so much as one angry.
Omba said, “Mama said so,” when she felt he would pounce on her.
He laughed cheerfully that its effect released the tension in the room.
“Should there be a fine line between habit and been possessed?” he asked.
He seems all mysterious to her. And she didn’t have an answer.
“I will come around once am done with my morning chores,” she forced a smile and let herself out of the room with long strides; the only thing she could since she couldn’t disappear.
Childhood memories are always the fondest. Especially when it’s created with someone special like a sibling. Omba and Uwesi used to be inseparable. They were often mistaken as twins owning to the fact that the difference in their ages was one year. And although been the eldest, Uwesi would boss her around and only agree that they play the kind of game that he enjoys. He would tickle and pull her ears. He would draw her pointed nose and cover her eyes from behind. One character of his was that he was always angry. Little things used to annoy him then. His tantrums came more often than they lasted. Omba loved the loud Paul and not the calm Uwesi; she loved the careless abundance of Paul and not this controlled and calculative Uwesi. It became pronounced during their teen age when coming to the village at every holidays became an obsession to him and the more they return home to this house, the more Uwesi recoiled from her and everyone else so much that the memories they created are now in fragments. He would disappear into the grasses or rather trees and would be gone for hours. At his return, he would look refreshed. Nobody said a word then, he was out of everyone’s way.
Two years ago, and last year their vacations were spent abroad. Uwesi spent it indoor. He hadn’t been willing to go in the first place. He had wanted the village again. On his return, he insisted that he must come to the village but there was no time because school was already on session.
Nobody could fathom his obsession with the village and none was willing to pause and ponder. Their parents gossiped that there was a girl. A month later their parents received a message from his roommate that he slumped in school. On their arrival, he requested that he wanted to visit the village. And today is the third day that they had been here.
Uwesi feigned sleep once he heard the approaching footsteps of his mother, Monica.
She let herself in and walked straight to his bed. The bed was lifted from the head so that he was lying in a slanting position. She stared at her boy for a long time.
He opened his eyes. “Mum.”
“Sorry, did I wake you?”
“No, it’s alright.”
He was trying to adjust his position.
She raced with outstretched hands to offer help.
“I will manage,” he said with clenched teeth.
She retrieved her hands and cupped her elbows with them over her stomach. There was awkwardness. Ever since she thought of her son been possessed, it had hunted her so much that she was finding every of his action tallying as one possessed.
She walked to the other side of the bed and faced the window, staring at it.
“Is there something about the trees and grasses you want to tell me about?”
There was a long silence.
“Am talking to you Paul!”
“Uwesi!” he snapped at her.
She turned sharply at him.
He lowered his gaze to his hands on his chest. He looked so fragile.
“Just four days back, you were lying numb in bed as though there was no life in you. The doctors couldn’t diagnose your sickness but back here, you seem to be recovering, healing and bouncing back to life too fast if I may say.”
She placed her hands on her hips and demanded, “Tell me or I will force you.”
He looked at her without emotions.
The words were not out of her mouth before Uwesi sprung to his feet effortlessly that Monica was taking shelter in the corner of the room. She was nervous, afraid.
He returned back to his bed but on a second though, he stood up and began to change into outdoor clothes.
Monica’s fears were confirmed –he hates to be called with his baptismal name save Uwesi which means “Our own.” Is she sharing her son with unknown forces?
Monica had never liked that name even for once. It was given to him by her father-in-law who came all the way from the village to the city on the day of naming. It was as though the name had gone into extinction until he turned thirteen, and declared he should be called with the name Uwesi which he explained points directly to his roots as a Tiv. Now she is realizing with a dread fear that he hadn’t been forthright. Her baby is hers; she didn’t give him out to anyone to call Uwesi –our own.
She raced after him, cursing herself for not waiting for the priest before confronting him. To her relief, she met the priest with Uwesi exchanging pleasantries. He was collected and in his normal self. The mother in her cried out for her to reach out to him and to wrap him in her protective arms but she restrained. Knowing that beneath him was a demon. She wondered why Father Julian had not begun the exorcism.
“Hello Mrs Nun, how are you and the family.”
Uwesi was making his way out.
“Father, don’t let him!” she cried. “We should get started,” she explained catching her breath.
Omba joined them.
“Uwesi,” Father Julian held him by the arms and guided him back to the living room.
They sat on a sofa while the rest look on.
“Your mother thinks that you might be possessed. Do you think she might be right?”
He chuckled and said, “No.”
“Those who are possessed do not know so.”
He looked offended.
“I know what this is all about; it’s the grasses isn’t it?”
“Now that you mention it, what is it with them?”
Suddenly Uwesi was defensive. He screwed his eyes and tightened his fist.
Father Julian moved closer to him and said, “Recite the Apostle’s Creed,” in an authoritative voice.
There was no hesitation on his part.
“I believe in God,
The Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth…”
Monica didn’t see what the Apostles’ Creed can do to deliver her son. What she didn’t know was that by reciting the Apostles’ Creed, Uwesi could not say no to Father Julian. And while Uwesi was busy with the recitation, Father Julian’s lips were moving in prayers.
“Paul!” Father Julian called out.
Monica held to the hem of her wrapper expecting a dramatic show but Uwesi turned so slowly towards Father Julian that it revealed his strength was draining .
“Do you believe in God, the father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?”
He answered, “I do.”
“Do you renounce Satan and all his works?”
There was a hesitation. He was at war with himself when he tried to speak. His words were sputters.
Monica wished Father would cut to the part where he would begin to call down the Holy Ghost fire.
“Pray Psalm 91,” Father Julian commanded Monica and Omba.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
And abides in the shades of the Almighty…”
Father Julian’s lips moved non-stop as he sprinkled holy water over Uwesi. He was staggering without moving an inch.
Father Julian opened the box he came with.
“Move this table aside,” he instructed.
Quickly, Omba moved the table away from the centre of the sitting room along with the rug.
Father Julian made Uwesi laid on his back on the floor with his hands spread out. He placed four lighted candles over his head, at his feet and at his hands. He picked up a prayer book and extending his hands he said, “The Lord be with you.”
They replied, “And with your spirit.”
He continued, “A reading from the first letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 3:16.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple is you.
The word of the Lord.”
“Thanks be to God!” They acclaimed.
Father Julian reached into his box and brought out a crucifix and with it, touched Uwesi’s forehead, feet and hands.
“Through the saving passion of Jesus’ crucifixion and death on the cross, the world has received a heart to confess the infinite power of God, since the wondrous power of the cross, your blood has been used to liberate us of every attachment of Satan and all his empty promises and so, by the power of the rising Lord, I command you hellish spirits to flee from this body which God the heavenly father has made His dwellings,” he commanded.
That command brought Uwesi to his feet. His eyes flared as he stretch out his hands towards Father Julian.
“What are you holding?” asked Father Julian.
“It is a calabash,” he answered. He looked scary.
“Where did you get it from?”
“From the hut. Grandpa Utsev gave it to me,” he spoke like an apparition.
Yes, there is a hut. A hut that is made visible even to Uwesi only when Utsev and his mates are in a meeting. Nineteen years ago, when he had first arrived, they were the ones that called out to him. They are about five of them and all of them dead. They represented two generations. They told him that he was lucky to had been invited to the “Fives Table.” At that time, he was both naive and inquisitive. He hadn’t been scared one bit, and he received his first lesson and instructions on his initiation. The name Uwesi –our own, signifies that he belongs to them and thus he is labelled as one of them. That name that Utsev had travelled all the way to the city to give him had been the pact that linked him to his ancestral spirit. His initiations were to be in five stages; first was his first meeting with them; second stage was his identification with them in the world by renouncing his baptismal name and clinging to the name they gave him. Third stage was to dine with them and declare a hidden covenant that his grandson and not son will be his successor. The fourth stage was to bring his first blood sacrifice that will be used to accompany his grandfather to an eternal rest. And the fifth stage was for him to take the place of his grandfather Utsev. But that cannot take place because stage four was not conducted; he didn’t come home.
It was Utsev’s spirit that has been tormenting him and drawing him homewards with fatigue. Utsev was dead only to the world but his spirit still lingers on and can only be set free by his successor even if it means taking forever. He needed to be accompanied to the place of his rest in a befitting manner by a carpet of blood.
Monica’s heart caught in her chest. Hadn’t she been suspicious of that old wizard all along? She wished her husband was here.
“Give it back to him and tell him that you no longer have any dealings with him.”
“Not without blood in it,” he said in hysteria.
“Then he will have the blood of the lamb; the blood of the crucified Jesus Christ-”
Father Julian stood behind him and placed his hands on his shoulders as a support and said, “Repeat after me.
By the blood and water that gushed forth from the side of Jesus on the cross, take your calabash and by this I break every hold you have over me and my generations.”
With that, he fell into Father Julian’s arms, spent.
Father Julian led him to the sofa. Taking the aspergillum, he sprinkles Paul saying, “Sprinkle Paul with hyssop, O Lord, and he shall be cleansed; wash him in the blood of the crucified Jesus and he shall be set free from the clutches of the evil one.”
There was something in the air when the priest ended; it was stillness.
“Let us pray,” Father Julian invited.
“Blessed be the God and father of our crucified Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy has given Paul a new life; a living sign of his existence and supremacy, through crucifixion, death and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead at Easter into an inheritance that will not perish, preserve for us in heaven for the salvation to be revealed in the last time make this exorcism permanent, and shield us from the plans of the evil one.”
“The Lord has delivered your son. He will be fine now,” Father Julian confided in Monica.
“Thank you Father.”
When Paul awoke, it was already dark.
He felt so light and serene and it was a feeling that he would not want to depart from him. Living a prayerful life had become his watchword and from today he would settle for been religious above all, he has become more fully aware of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and death which is his belief and the source of eternal life. He fell on his knees as words of thanksgiving flowed from his mouth. He was truly convinced that he was saved not by anything but by the blood of the lamb.
Doohemba Gwa is an introvert with a wild/wide sense of imagination.