The Pentecost

This is a short story that tends to fictionalize the killing in Ondo state, in a church, and on the Pentecost Sunday.

6:35 AM Mother stood before the mirror, smiling accomplished at the beauty radiating before her. "Mama Sikirat just knows how to make so fitting for you," she mused. Two kids dashed into the room, Boy, and Girl, jostling for the pair of socks they think they found under Mother's bed the previous night. Mother hushed them. Told them off. Snarled that if they didn't get ready in the next five minutes, their noses would dance in that Sunday stew. An unnerving lull came over the house. The eldest daughter was chewing gum in her room, dithering between the flowered dress and the blue caftan. She needed the most exquisite, the most striking, so the choirmaster would look at her at last. A white towel straddled her lean frame. Hair bonnet sat imposingly on her head. She picked the flowered gown, at last, clicked her tongue, and danced towards the bathroom. 

Father was outside, gauging the oil in the car. His sagging singlet and ashy wrapper were the only things that shielded his protruding stomach and hairy chest. A chewing stick danced in his mouth, up and down, in an inharmonious rhythm. He grumbled about the cost of petrol, which was dreadfully accelerating to an unreachable, unfathomable height. The oil too. "This country," he muttered. Hissed. Helplessness drove his hands to his hip as he looked at the metal crap that only took the form of a car with peeling red paint. Mother came out to the verandah. Boy and Girl were still ambling about with their pants and singlets. Mother tugged their ears and barked that they move in at once. "Meet Olaitan. Let him dress you, people. We are let already. Kuro niwaju mi!" 

The girl lingered by the door as if she knew by the lurid greyness of the sky that something more unfortunate than just going late to church was imminent, as if she knew that the sun had delayed its graceful ascension to its territorial majesty as if she knew the car engine had refused to bulge, and Father was fuming that today was not a day to miss the mass. In the bathroom, Olaitan scrubbed furiously, humming the tone of Buga by Kizz Daniel. He made mock dances from time to time. Shook his head in breezy excitement. "Tiktok people will not kill someone o." Eldest daughter raged outside the bathroom. She had knocked twice, reminding Olaitan that the Holyspirit was not meant to fall on just him and Mother that morning at the church. "Iwọ kii se ọkan nikan ti o nilo lati lọ si ile ijọsin." She howled. "Ola!" And thumped the door. Mother snapped from outside. "Don't awaken the people of Ondo with your screams, this girl!" The cocks had refused to crow. Only dawdled about, chasing after the hens. Boy and Girl were ready now. In that shiny dress Mother had bought specially for that Pentecost Sunday. Girl dazzled in a childishly innocent glamour. Father's car engine revved at last. 

6:39 AM, Priest, was still in his cream-colored cassock, the one that tightened around his arms, so the Altar Girls ogled whenever he walked past. The mass server who had brought out the wrong color of chasible and stone was still nursing the deepening pain from the cracking knock the Priest had slammed on his head. The catechist shuffled in, gleaming in the white and red robe, in an alluring immaculacy. Spectacular. Priest beamed at him, his angular cheekbone jutting out. He was a fine man, he knew already. His fair complexion told him so, at least. And it really got into his head sometimes. The catechist submitted the novena masses for the week. Mass intentions too. Humble requests from honest, heaven-seeking parishioners for the Priest to project their needs to God during mass. A duty the Priest loved doing. Pronouncing the Yoruba names thrilled him. Gave him an un-dwindling sense of similitude because people had told him he pronounced the names so well anyone would take him for a full-fledged Yoruba priest. 

7: 00 AM, Bustling in youthfulness, the Priest and the mass servers with the sweating Lay Reader in red robes processed in. An angelic sight to behold. Graceful steps. Feline. Ethereal. The Holyspirit was indeed coming. A handful of the congregation tightened their lips in an otherworldly supplication as the incensed thurible whooped past. The church stood, grace emanating exceedingly. In the locks of their hearts were insurmountable challenges that they had packaged so well for the Holyspirit to dislodge. He is the comforter; the Priest had told them the day before. He comes to take away your pains and make you stronger. The choir crooned. "Come Holy Spirit…"

The congregation, with exaggerated dance steps - gele knocking gele, pieces of pieces of jewelry jingling - joined euphonically. An unearthly cadence."Lord. Send down your limitless light from heaven." The Priest beamed again. The church thrummed with people this Sunday. More than he predicted in his little mind while still in bed this morning. "Today, I'll launch the new project. There can never be an appropriate time than this."

8:05 AM, The young Priest, vibrated. The speakers amplified his already searing voice. The congregation nodded to his words. It was something that affected them all. A relatable malady. Something like an incurable disease, like the bug lounging and feeding on their testicles. "This is the most degenerative government I have ever seen. See what is happening. ASUU Strike all year…." The young people in the choir murmured. "Fuel price is never stable. Running around like a madman that is struck by a fiercer demon…." The men hummed their agreement. "Things in the market are no longer reachable. You go to the market and return with an empty bag. Empty bag." His vein rippled through his neck, and his face became taut. Empty bag! He resounded. Venomous disapproval. As if the reality was just dawning on them. The women wailed. "Ati ku ninu orile-ede! We will soon die in this country." "Insecurity everywhere! You can't travel in peace! Bandits here. Herdsmen there. Boko Haram today. Gunmen tomorrow! We deserve better, people of God. Let's pray for the Holy Spi…."

The buzz did not speak of approval to his tirade now. People were glancing backward. An unsettling worry hung over them. From the back, people ran. Something infernal, something unspeakable, terrible, was clamping their lips shut. They only ran. They couldn't say what it was. The congregation stood, their feet wobbling in apprehension. The choir scattered. "Church Warden, check what is going on there, please." The vibrancy in the tone was gone. In its wake was a cool, petrified voice that managed to sound like an order. The crowd surged. Overwhelmed the church Wardens. Made for the altar. "Father, they are coming." Some shouted. Others just cried. Urine trickled down the trousers of the choirmaster as he scurried about. An amusing cataclysm at first. Then, the gunshots. Rapid. Tearing. Booming. Children wailed. Women clutched as many as they could. Left others to weep despairingly. 

The altar became inundated. No-one stopped to notice the tabernacle that demanded absolute serenity. Hands outstretched. Fear bloomed in the still air. It grabbed their soul. A disbelieving fear, a fear that was far from reality. A fear that happened only in fiction and the newspapers. A confounding fear. How could they have imagined? How could they comprehend and contain this new terror? Something unidentifiable. They had never run like this before. No, it didn't happen here. Thieves and rogues could go on a rampage in the streets, but not here. The Priest stepped back. He saw the man now: black trousers, a black fez cap, two rifles in his hands. He beckoned on the Holy Spirit. "Don't wait, Lord. Show these fools what you can do. Your people must conquer!" The people did not wish to conquer. They longed to be straddled, to throng the heavenly chariot, where safeness was as sure as daylight. 

They held their hands out to the Christ on the cross. Christ hung, his head tilting to the left, blood streaking from the punctured palms and thorn-pierced head, unmoving. Christ, too, was not moving. The grey coating was just there. Like a stone overran by moss. Bold men scaled the altar railings. Women who could jump did the same. The men in the black hood were there. A man, whose boldness allowed him a chance to peek at their faces, screamed."Gunmen! Ibon Okunrin!" Did the people care to know? Girls in the choir threw their wigs. Short prayers seeped through their mouths. Gunshots rattled on. Women fell. Men fell. Youths are stacked on each other like wrinkled bodies at the mortuary. 'Our Father, who art in…' could be traced in the movement of their dying lips. The Priest was not found. Men followed him into the sacristy. The girl wept over the bloodied, mangled body of Mother, vulnerability caressing her ill-fated world. When she looked at the men, she did not cry. She knew. The hand on the trigger did not slacken. The palm clutching the dagger did not unfasten. She shut her eyes and never opened them again.

Ola was gasping for air, blood streaming from his neck like a burst oil pipeline of the Niger Delta. A girl folded her scarf in his mouth, so he would not give them away with his raspy, noisy gasps. The eldest daughter was scaling the fence of the Parish House when the bullet caught her spinal column. She didn't struggle. A ready death. Her energy had been sapped by running too much. Father jumped into the car. He forgot the combat he had this morning with the car. It coughed and jerked. Never gave in. The men advanced. No one understood what they were shouting. Fear stifled the people's ears and blurred their visions. Father saw the bullet whizzing towards him, yet he couldn't duck. An overpowering and inescapable fatality. It met his chest. His hands-on ignition moved then, and the car roared into life. Boy was in the Priest's kitchen. They couldn't come here. He knew. He didn't know how he came here even. His head was full. He would check Girl and Eldest's daughter later. And Father too. He was sure Mother ran with the women. To nowhere he could think of. They would be safe. He was sure. 

The rattling now intensified; he was tempted to peep. The window was right above him. A good chance to take a glimpse. As he slowly slid up, holding the walls, his head met the morning sun, now out, yet standing mournfully as if recording all that happened and announcing, through a voice-over, to the Holy Spirit to quit his coming: the ground was unsafe. As if it was waiting for Boy, a fiery, silver-colored bullet splintered through the glass and caught Boy in his forehead. He struggled like Ola was struggling at the confessionary. Stillness cradled him. An undesirable death it was. 

8:59 AM, No one around now. The air is now humid. Bodies splattered on the altar, on the marbled floor of the Priest's sitting room, on the floor of the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, before the tabernacle, on the catechist's desk, and on the pew. Everywhere! Blood streamed. No one knew whose blood glided into another's.9:15 AM, The siren blared into the compound. 

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