My skin looked paler. I was dying one second at a time. Everyone dies that way, but who’d enjoy the consciousness of it?
Pulling my cheeks downwards with both hands, I drew my face closer to the mirror. Sunken eyes and dry lips. Several overnight forehead wrinkles.
I opened my mouth to examine my tongue. Ugh, the stench. Who brushes a mouth that hasn’t eaten for straight four days?
My eyes ran again over my bedsitting room. The smell of abandonment everywhere. Was a miracle on the way? Hah, wasn’t that what I’d thought on each of the previous days?
“Lord, why have you forsaken me?”
I returned to the bed, to sob without passing out.
A few minutes later, toc toc on my door.
Tears, be gone. Smile, come here. I opened the door.
The visitor’s face contorted. “Martha, you haven’t dressed up for church?”
“Bih, I won’t be going today.”
I scratched my non-itchy arms. Two weeks ago, I’d awakened to a women’s storm commonly called severe menstrual cramps. Without money for painkillers, I’d skipped church.
Financial deficiency was no new disease to me. My mom, a single parent with three kids, was a peasant farmer. That explained my kerosene stove in a student residential area in Mile 3, Nkwen, where every other student used gas.
On the second Sunday, I skipped church again. My feet pained from trekking twice, to and fro church that week, a total two and a half miles, on a stiletto whose heel cap had come away.
Today, again, I had another reason not to tick my name in the attendance record. For three straight Sundays?
“Dress up, let’s go,” Bih commanded.
“I don’t have taxi fare,” I replied, my eyes to the cold cement floor.
Holding the door frame, Bih looked away for several seconds before facing me. “I’ll pay one way. You pay the other way.”
I should’ve sighed, but my energy stores were so depleted a sigh would have gulped my breath. “I don’t have money for one way. I haven’t eaten for four days.”
“Can’t you trek? Be a soldier for Christ. Man shall not live by bread alone.”
I had no strength either for laughter or anger. Without bread for four days counting, here was I dying. “I can’t go to church today.”
“Okay,” Bih said, her lips upturned. “Under the sun, in the rain, through the storm, I stand with Jesus.
“By the way, did you hear that Susan, the governor’s daughter, who miraculously joined our church, is sick? Every choir member is contributing some money for visitation. We have to be our brother’s keeper.”
I glared at Bih until she walked away.
In the space of twenty minutes, I received two other Bihs with different names.
In the evening, almost withered because of little water drunk that day, I dragged myself out of bed and grabbed my 10L gallon. Better to die outside than behind a locked door. My mama would fall apart seeing my decomposing corpse.
Ten minutes to traverse 200m to the tap at the roundabout. There, I tanked in a liter of water and got some weight in my stomach. Then I filled my container and yanked it up to my head.
Everywhere went black. Oh no, I didn’t pass out. Faithful servant, Eneo, was at it again.
The darkness gladdened my heart. No one would notice my insecure gait.
Forty meters away, a familiar voice spoke from behind me. Bih.
“She’s pregnant,” she said to her companion. “Christians of nowadays, fear them.”
Who was pregnant? I wondered.
Bih’s companion replied to her statements, “I doubt it. Martha can’t do such a thing. She knows very well she’s from a poor background.”
They’re talking about me? My heart thudded.
After laughing at her companion’s naivety, Bih said, “When I passed at her small room this morning, she looked pale, exactly like my junior sister when she was pregnant.
“She can’t come to church; she knows she’ll be exposed through the spirit in our pastor. I just pray the paleness is not as a result of abortion. That’s the worst.”
I can’t remember if I stopped breathing. Of course, I didn’t die; I wouldn’t be here narrating the story.
“Martha is only financially handicapped,” Bih’s companion said.
“Is she the only one? Every student on cam…” Their voices grew faint as my weak legs lagged.
For the next three days, I received a daily miracle. Celine, called the campus prostitute, fed me. With her help, I attended classes uninterrupted that week, a feat to which I’d already mentally surrendered.
On Thursday, provisions and money arrived from Mama. What a thunderous sigh of relief.
Sunday morning, I was in church, strong, healthy, and smiling. But a gnawing feeling clung unto me. Some persons appeared to look at my body with investigative eyes.
With nothing to fear, I dismissed the picture my imagination drew.
During prayer, Justin, aka GodsPower, an energetic youth famed for his dramatic visions, sang a sorrowful chant of invitation to repentance and consecration.
I responded to his invitation for all to stand. On and on, we chorused “Search me, Lord. Expose that in me which glorifies thee not.”
Suddenly, Justin said, “Fornication in the house of God.” He repeated the phrase thrice, each time increasing the volume of his voice, and taking jerky steps as if the heavenly download was erratic.
I stopped singing, knowing without evidence that he referred to me. My neighbor to the right glued her left eye’s corner on me. Fear hindered me from looking around.
Justin approached my row. “I don’t want to call names. You know yourself.
“I won’t force you out, but do yourself a favor. Confess your sin publicly and receive God’s mercy, or be exposed and disgraced.”
What happened next was a drama too raw to paint with words. The never-to-be written part two of my story can be titled The Church Hopper. You fill in the blanks.
I’d love to read your thoughts on this story in the comment section! Thank you