Everyone stared intently at the Priest before the altar. He was becoming a bore. It was the mass before Christmas and Fr. Newborn was taking time too much than necessary; it was as though he didn’t realize the urgency with which the guys hoped to cause mayhem in the streets of Awka: the Anambra state capital.
If Uche had his way he’d be at the other side of the premises now, but the universe had other plans for him that defied the timing of the closing remarks by the Rev. Father.
Uche’s face forcibly turned the other side, and he started to convulse.
“Help him!… Somebody help, him!” Nekki found herself begging. Nekki sat by Uche’s right hand side, same as always: He was her object of thought and worship; she always took pleasure in his presence at any available time.
“Mother Mary!” Rev. Sister Maria shouted. Her rosary impulsively found itself moving through the dry feel of her skin.
The Church auditorium was in disarray, especially the area of the people previously seated around Uche, who was finding it more difficult to breathe with each passing second; even Fr. Newborn’s proclamation of life over death didn’t seem to be working.
Nekki’s eyes were now very swollen. No one really seemed to care about her, and the many negative thoughts that flashed through her mind about the man of her dreams dying.
“Make way! I am a Medical student.” A young man successfully drew the attention of everyone towards himself. He struggled hard to break through the raging crowd all clamoring to see the act first hand.
“My name is Emmanuel Okoro.” He said as he approached Uche’s almost lifeless body.
“His name is Uche.”
The Rev. Sister in charge of the Church’s clinic gave him the approval to go ahead; he obviously should know more about Uche’s predicament than her; it was obvious she was way out of her depth.
“Don’t worry, Uche. You’re not dying today. Not before Christmas. Not on my watch.” Confidence oozed out of his mouth.
Fr. Newborn, Sis. Maria, and other available men and women of the clergy stood over their position, chaplets still in hand, silently praying for the preservation of the young man’s life.
Uche, 22 years of age. The last ten years of his life he had devoted to the maintenance of St. Silas’ Parish, Awka. He was a perfect example of a youth who lives for the service of Christ. He was popular among all parishioners for his involvement in almost all divisions of the church. He was known to be healthy, and no one wanted to see him go this way, or go anyway.
“What is wrong with him, Doctor?” Nekki cried.
“I am not a Doctor yet.” His voice a bit strict.
Murmurs escalated. His reply wasn’t what the crowd wanted to hear, and Emmanuel could clearly see the anger in all their eyes.
“I do not know what exactly is wrong. But, I suspect he’s having an arrest.” He turned his head to the left. “Or, it could be an anaphylactic shock… I am not certain.”
He held his hands up, as though in concession.
The murmurs in the crowd got louder, fiercer; they wanted a piece of the seemingly incompetent final year medical student.
Uche’s left arm moved. Soon, his entire body followed, and he rose his upper-body to a sit-position, in silence. The auditorium was as quiet as humanly possible; all watched keenly. He soon burst into a thunderous fit of laughter.
“Christians!” He began. “No more strength to pray, no might to decree life any longer. No real ability to practice that learned in places of religion!” Uche said.
“Holy, Mother Mary!” Sis. Maria exclaimed. “So you were joking?” Her head became fizzy. She found a position to rest the failing strength of her feet.
He turned his head towards Fr. Newborn, behind him. “I am sorry, Father, but I had to do this. So we see how much we have lost our faith and purpose.”
The murmurs returned, louder than before.
The room suddenly became misty, and cold.
“How stupid do you think we are?” Pa Ezekiel, a retired soldier and faithful financial member of the Church asked with fiery eyes. “What sort of gimmick is this?”
Uche stared in awe. The mist certainly wasn’t his doing for it was beyond him. His head turned sporadically, left and right with far too much ease. His head turned all the way back, and his eyes became as white as ice. His mouth opened and frost melted from it. The congregation couldn’t really see his face, but the noise he made (the exact same as the convulsion’s moments ago) got them angrier.
The lights went out.
Ancient lamp-stands with lamps, mysteriously acquired and lined up from Uche’s position to the Western door, suddenly came on.
Uche freaked out. His fears and pains became real. The strange mist was worse now, but he couldn’t feel the cold, only the effect of the harsh breeze against his skin even though he had his cloth on.
He suddenly noticed everyone was frozen. This further aggravated his fears. He didn’t realize when tears began to escape his eyes. He jumped to his feet.
“Father Newborn. Sister Maria! Nekki!” He called. There was no response. He touched Nekki but quickly withdrew his hand, her skin felt so cold it burned hotter than human fire. He immediately assumed everyone’s skin had the same effect.
“What have I done?”
The Western-door flew open. Two figures, fully-clad in black cloak, and bearing large sickles walked in, headed straight for Uche’s position close to the altar.
Uche started to walk backward. He tripped and fell on his steps. “Have mercy,” he pleaded.
The two men stopped half-way, close to where the bulk of the people who had originally helped Uche but bashed him when he revealed his act to be a false one. They both placed their sickles on the nearest body-vessel to their position, a young man, about the age of Uche.
The vessel opened his eyes and moved his body. “It feels good to be here again.” He stretched to send home his point.
“Jesus! Jesus! Jesus, help me!” Uche screamed.
“Ucheeee!!!” The vessel called out to him. “Call me, Mister D.”
Mr. D started to walk towards him, and Uche started to crawl backwards, further towards the altar.
“My God! What did I do wrong?” Uche cried out in frustration, momentarily looking up to the ceiling, as though he could see the heavens through the POP-boards. “I only wanted to use this season to remind people of their duties to you. To remind them to love you, and live their lives modeled after you.”
Mr. D laughed. His laughter was so great that he momentarily stopped walking towards Uche, because he had to hold back his belly from figuratively bursting open.
“You know who I am, Uche?”
Uche nodded in the affirmative, fear still written all over sweaty face.
“Do you know who I really am?”
Uche nodded again. “The Dev…,” he swallowed his saliva to help his heavy jaws.
“Exactly. So you can understand when I don’t agree with what you said moments ago.” Mr. D stood at akimbo now. “I am here to take you away for your many sins.
“No!” Uche jumped to his feet. He ran to the other side of the altar. “You can’t be!” He managed to say amidst his incessant stuttering. “I am a child of God, and I am protected, because I am under the shadow of the Almighty.”
Mr. D followed after him, in quiet. Uche took him on a small journey of three loops around the communion-table. In a moment of miscalculation, Uche found himself stumbling and coming face to face with Mr. D who stared evilly at him.
“I will only run you through the highest-rated sins you committed within the last twenty-four… Your simple tryst with Nekki before the service started.
“It’s a lie! It’s a lie! Nothing happened.”
Mr. D laughed.
“The irony here is that you’ve been actively serving me for some months now, with your recent fanatical views and how you want your brethren to better serve the man upstairs. And I’m here to reap your hardworking soul on the special occasion of today as a reward for your good works.”
Mr. D stretched forth his left hand to have a feel of Uche’s skin, probably to begin reaping it himself.
“Please! Please!” Uche begged with more tears. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus!”
Mr. D laughed again. He turned to face his larkies, who had been immobile all the while. “Did you just hear that?” He asked them rhetorically with a wicked laughed. He swiftly turned back to Uche, and the reverberations of his voice changed with the speed. “He cannot save you, not today anyway.”
He raised his hand to strike Uche, to mark his soul for an eternity of damnation, but stopped mid-way in the air.
A heavy wind blew through, and with it came on a fluorescent-bulb of the Church, situated exactly above them. The light flickered continuously. Mr. D sulked, and began to throw a heavy tantrum. He smashed his fist repeatedly on the communion-table. Uche remained still by his side; he was certainly ready to give up, all that was left was for his body to flip the switch and move from living to dead. The pain he was feeling had become unbearable.
“I will see you some other time, Uche. Very soon!”
Mr. D began to walk away, through the aisle. His larkies too started to walk away; through the Western-door they went, and it shut behind them.
Uche found himself walking after Mr. D as he went away. He didn’t know if to blame it on impulse ot instinct, but a force was certainly pushing him.
Mr. D got to the position were his vessel was frozen before. He turned to Uche (still at the position of the communion-table) and cut him an eye.
“Fare well.” He said. And conformed to his former position.
Everyone in the Church auditorium started to move again. All was back to normal – The mist had completely disappeared, the clock was moving again. It was as though the last fifteen minutes didn’t happen. Or didn’t it?
Uche stared blankly into the emptiness of the hall even though it was filled with living beings. He was the complete definition of a wreck. He stared confusedly as he thought about his life, and what his encounter with the man downstairs meant for his present, his future, and his eternity. The middle finger of his right hand trickled down the left side of his neck. He felt a bump there, a little above the junction of his clavicle, it was just as painful as the feel of Nekki’s skin wherever it was he inadvertently visited moments ago. He didn’t used to have the mark.
“What does it mean?” He screamed with more tears, as he asked the same emptiness. “What does it mean?… I need an answer… Please!”
“Nnamdi, Emma, Mike. You all should carry Brother Uche to the clinic. It is obvious he needs help.” Fr. Newborn instructed. He still bore visible disgust over the kind of trick Uche played on them.
Uche kept shouting, What does it mean? It was obvious, Mr. D had left an indelible mark on his psych, and probably his soul too.
TALIUS DIKE WISHES YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS.
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