No matter how rich you are, you must strip naked to be embalmed – Iya Teslim
We will never know if my mother acquired this saying from mothers gone before, or made it by herself as a deployable missile to console herself for her many sufferings. I will never find out why Iya Teslim, mother with half a dozen offspring, did not reach for a better living in her lifetime. After my thirty-four years thriving in both worlds, angst continues to gather in my thoughts. I now create my own proverb: Choose the lesser evil; only then can you ignore the consequences.
My preacher husband bubbles his way up the shiny stairs with good news on his lips. His shiny three-piece suit glistens with the anointing of Christ. His hands reach for mine, those hands which heals hundreds of sick and paralysed. Each time I remember the historic tale, with embellishments, Prophet Elisha regaling how God anointed him from his mother’s womb, it feels like the Biblical Esther handed the baton to me. Who would not have fallen for this man?
“Finally,” he tells me, “we will be flying in our own Bombardier Global Express XRS. The airplane will be shipped tonight.”
“Hallelujah,” I remark before giving into a waiting embrace.
His Decoloure perfume lingers over my nose, choking me for a moment. His eyes glitter, unlikely to decipher how fearful I am. This should be the summit of five lifetimes for me; unrealistic childhood dreams that would have sent Iya Teslim cackling at my inherent foolishness and thrusting the fish-water from her sales bowl at me. My lips crack into a slight grin and then a grimace, not because we now own a private jet, but because its arrival signals my early departure.
I want to ask my husband how he managed to secure the aircraft so quickly when he only briefed me five days ago. Such is the sweet affliction of being suspended in affluence: anything is possible. The new cars in the garage, multiple bank accounts, unpacked sculptures, stacks of designer clothes piling up daily in closets downstairs, several others better off forgotten. Owning luxurious properties under such a short marital life is enough to terrify any Orile breed like myself. But then, saying it out loud will be greater sin. Prophet Elisha is already in the hot shower when questions gather at the tip of my lips. When he comes out supple and clean, I ask nothing.
When I arrive downstairs, Jane is already in the dining space finishing up my e-mails and working on my social media accounts. The challenge with being famous is staying famous; I would have nothing to do with creating long sermons on Instagram and choosing appropriate photos to go with the texts, so I employed Jane to do it. Her sweet smile reduces her actual age to about sixteen, and watching her every day, I stupidly wish I had been pregnant in my teens. Surely, I would have had a Jane to call my daughter.
Today’s four-hour church service should have been normal if only my heart isn’t thumping so fast. Every time I think I hear my name, my head swings sideways. The endless sea of Elisha’s believers—ultimately Christians—is usually comforting. Worship from thousands of people whose lives I have lived every layer and surpassed. The unshakeable faith in their gazes do not mean much today, not even the din of electrifying beats pulsing throughout the auditorium that remind me of Lekki clubhouses. I am fortified by a wide array of pastors’ wives, who struggle to imitate my last Sunday’s dress and yet, I do not smile in approval.
When Prophet Elisha climbs the wide stage, I do not see my husband but the god of this mighty church in sparkling blue. He starts to talk about this jet so intently, transporting his audience into a realm of bashful possibilities with God. The gyrations and screams in the auditorium are deafening. At this point, I wish I could conjure all the countless souvenirs from our storage and throw it at them if that will buy me silence. Then, I understand why we will continue to prosper in ministry and my eyes dart at my husband in pure admiration. Rumours of dead babies’ rituals, fornication with mad pregnant women and other callous things should have scared me away from my husband. Alas, I do not have it in myself to question him or leave. This is what I learnt in the School of Ministry for Pastors’ Wives in Sydney; in fact, the only thing I learned: how to worship my preacher husband.
The miraculous will break out soon, and I am disappointed that I have written only three lines of shallowness in my journal when it begins. As always. Because the miraculous will go on for hours and make me taste my uselessness as helpmeet like salt on an open wound.
Apportion all forms of blame to Iya Teslim; she never took us to church. Each day, she sat at the front of our wilting shack and cursed men of God. She also cursed the government and husbands and school owners in God’s name asking Him to give them all equal punishments. I am no accurate time keeper of the exact genealogy of my mother’s sufferings, but I can tell that this one was major when she grabbed me and advanced towards the church. That day, I accompanied my mother to humiliate the self-acclaimed pastor who tricked her into giving Teslim for immediate deliverance. The church; a converted shop which could barely host the lectern, prayer things and three other chairs, sat affront of the pastor’s uncompleted house. However, the man took greater pain to create a massive sign-board for the ministry’s details. His phone number was almost omitted; had it been the artist wasn’t creative enough to divide it into three rows. My brother, the poor boy, had been whipped mercilessly to drive out evil spirits and abandoned in dire need of intensive medical care; he died a few weeks later.
“Congratulations on your new acquisition, Mummy. The Lord is so good!”
“All the time!!”
“And all the time?”
“The Lord is good!!”
“God of Prophet Elisha and Mummy surely answers by fire.”
“Thank you all,” I say, but the eulogy has only begun.
The end of Sunday service usually precedes the little chit-chat with other pastors’ wives which strangely required me to deliver a brief sermon. I watched, every week, how these highly competitive women waited at my very word, quick to applaud my speech, clothing and even makeup. Now, they cluster around me for this Sunday’s ritual, and I wish they would stop yammering about the jet and how favoured I am. Prophet Elisha had insisted that the jet be launched today, and I did not argue. I wish that maybe one of these wannabes would see through the plastered smile—the death that loomed ahead of me—grab me by the hand and whisk me out of the church auditorium.
“Mummy,” Pst. (Mrs) Robert probes, “last week you emphasized on the need for us to put faith in the words we speak. Was that how you and Papa got the jet so quickly?”
I want to drag her tall gele to myself, scream, infuse these words into her bloodstream until she believes it; that I do not know anything. That the almighty prophet I married is a complete stranger who never translated to soul mate since the day he found me at the Muritala Muhammed airport where I served drinks at a restaurant. He had called me nice, homely but never talked about us in the way I would have loved him to, nor baptised me into his Igbotic background as I had expected. Even when I told him my mother and siblings died in a fire, he didn’t question the exaggerated lie; never discovered the autopsy read acute malnutrition. That till date, I never actually believed in God and my prophetic husband has never caught signals. That my husband never spilled his seed inside of me, and I am too cowardly to confront him. That I am clueless and terrified by everything yet somehow safely tucked in that cloud of oblivion. That Iya Teslim would roll in her grave, laughing at this beautiful nightmare I found for myself. Instead, I say something about how in-the-spirit Pst. (Mrs) Robert is, and weave a romantic tale of the entire adventure of sitting on our cushion, arms in arms, plotting the big buy. The others roll their eyes at this woman, hoping for a little of her newfound attention, oblivious of my doom. There and then, I conjure a more solid proverb: When you’re talking and no one’s listening, you are either poor or dead.
The jet launch is a small ceremony with a few members of the church council, lots of cameras and white clouds as witnesses. Jane is busy with my tablet, grinning at the pictures she is probably scheduling to upload. Someone has started passing pieces of cake around when Prophet and I clasp hands and board the plane. As owners, this is compulsory privilege; we are like the royalty of England about to ride into space. Deep within me, I wonder if this is my husband’s lifelong dream, and if I had known, maybe he alone would have gone in first.
Inside the XRS, I am confronted with the luxury Iya Teslim never experienced and I stall at the threshold. Eight comfortable seats were designed as though each boarder had to have a companion. It is comical enough that my husband thought of me a worthy companion. I am worthy.
Prophet is already settled in his customised cushion when he calls out to me, breaking into my endless stream of thoughts. He loves it that I am awestruck; I bet that is the kind of woman he wanted for a wife. Someone who would never get used to luxury; who still thinks it’s all a dream, a woman who is continually scared of the what-ifs, too conscious of keeping her paranoia at bar.
The jet’s engine kick starts and I feel the slight tremors in my seat. I have been flying for some years now; this particular flight should not be a problem at all.
“Do you like it, Miriam?” He says, pouring some velvet liquid from the wine bottle.
“The interior is majestic, proportionately fit for a king.”
“Ah. Of course. When they call God King of Kings, they are somewhat referring to me, you see.”
“Hmm. My king.” Eager to believe my words, I reach out a manicured hand to take his.
“And you, my Queen, are most beautiful.”
I smile, pull my hand quickly and turn my gaze to the small window. On the other side of the glass, we are already piercing through the clouds, high up in the air. That sensation stirs awake again, willing me to act, to talk, gain attention. The timing is so perfect, both of us alone, wine, clouds…
“It’s yours. Let’s talk.”
He nods. “The jet, Miriam. I got it for you.”
These are the kind of words that would have sent any woman—who has not tried my shoes—up in the air and pressing kisses on her husband’s chubby cheeks. Perhaps, a more sensual woman would have undressed and allowed her husband thrust in and out of her, relishing in the goodness of doing it up here, closer to God. This is what we eventually do, our thick clothing scattered on the feathery rug and in between, forgetting to breathe normally. Except that when we climax, my husband is still careful to leak outside of me.
“I will leave for East Africa for a few months,” I say.
He smiles, shoving legs in his trousers. “Why do you need vacationing? It’s only midyear. Miriam, there is plenty of church work to do and I need you by my side.”
“It can only be that long. There’s plenty of things I need to figure.”
He stared long and hard, pinching for truth but refusing to seek it. “Take the jet. Take as long as you like.”
When we land the plane and reemerge, fully clothed and bright eyed, in view of all our admirers and on safe ground, I create another soothing proverb: Better to shoot with a canon than a Dane gun, you’ll surely hit your target.
Favour Iruoma Chukwuemeka
is a creative writer and poet from Eastern Nigeria. Her works have appeared in Conscio Magazine, Mbari Story Place, Kalahari Review, The Shallow Tales Review and elsewhere. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s plotting the next story. Find her on Twitter @heeruomah.