There’s a line you shouldn’t cross; a point at which you’ve exhausted all your good luck, all your goodwill, and all the protection of all the prayers ever said for you.
Beyond that point you’re at the mercy of every misfortune you’ve managed to dodge. Every mistake you’ve gotten away with, every accident you’ve walked away from, even your death that you cheated, they are all waiting for you there.
That line appeared before me when I was detained at that police station, and it surprised me that so early in my sinful life, I’d already used up all the grace I had.
If I crossed this last line, if I did this last selfish daring thing, I knew, I just knew that I would regret it in a painful way and in a permanent way.
I cannot say I wasn’t warned, and like all sins, I was given many chances to resist the devil so that he may flee from me. The first was in the form of a thin dark lady who had managed to hide every strand of hair on her head beneath a tightly wound scarf that was the same dark shade of brown as her nylon skirt that started from above her waist and didn’t stop till an inch above her ankles. She had come with a group of prison evangelists to try and save the souls of those who had been arrested and may soon end up in jail for their sins.
She found me in my cell, shielding the wound on my lip against flies that had taken over from mosquitoes. They let her in and brought her a chair, and when they left they didn’t lock the door.
The Bible she clutched against her chest could have been a subconscious habit to hide the fact that she had no breasts.
She asked me if I wanted to sit, and when I declined, she also remained standing. She told me her name was Esther, and God had saved her twelve years ago. Good for you, I thought.
She asked me if I was a Christian, then she asked me if I knew that Jesus died for me. On a good day I would have pointed out to her that my answer in the affirmative to her first question made her second question superfluous, but my lip was bleeding, my nose was bleeding, my body was dying, and my wit was waning.
Sister Esther asked if I was ready to accept Jesus into my life as my personal Lord and saviour.
My body was broken but my mind was not. In me I smiled at the question I would have asked her: If he becomes my personal lord and saviour, my own, who would be other people’s personal lords and saviours? Even in my battered state I thought it through to the realization that the joke would probably fly over her head, but that wouldn’t have stopped me making it – even if it meant I’d be a comedian facing an audience but entertaining only herself.
Sister Esther also had pamphlets, and when she had to lower her Bible to fetch them from between pages of scripture that had been keeping them spiritually charged, it was a very fast affair and the Bible was quickly back pressing against her flat chest.
I took what she gave me. I would use it to fan my face in the night when the heat is unbearable and the mosquitoes have returned.
She told me about her ministry – hers and her fellow prison evangelists, and she most have taken my silence, broken only by yeses, to mean she had found in me a repentant soul ready to be forgiven unto righteousness, for she then went full throttle into Bible-quoting, demon-binding preaching!
“In Proverbs twenty-three, verses twenty-seven to twenty-eight, the Bible says “For a prostitute is a deep pit and a wayward wife is a narrow well. Like a bandit she lies in wait, and multiplies the unfaithful among men.”
She had to consult her Bible to read out the passage, this made me feel short-changed: if you are going to come and call me a prostitute and tell me you are the one sent to save me, at least have the decency to memorize your lines in advance.
“A deep pit!” She said it again. “You know what a deep pit is, sister Amaka? It is a bottomless hole that just swallows everything up. The Bible is telling us that a prostitute is like a deep pit and men will stumble into her and lose their way.”
I was willing to overlook the fact that she had made assumptions about me before even asking me what I was. If she had asked, I would have told her that I’m a student and it would have been the truth. After all, had she seen me standing in front of Ynot at night, smoking St. Moritz? Had anyone seen me standing there?
Like I said, I was willing to overlook this because the police probably told her there was an ashawo in the cell, upon whom she could practice her preaching. But the way I saw it, she was right out-of-order to make such a personal statement about the state of my vagina.
A deep pit! Whadafuck!
Again, I only laughed at my own joke, but I was now finding that not making them actually made them funnier, in a way.
“…But God is willing to forgive you anything. He said that though your sins can be as black as scarlet, he will wash them to be white like snow.”
“Scarlet is not black.”
“What did you say?”
I had to press down the wound on my lip to stop pain from talking making my voice almost inaudible.
“Scarlet is red.”
She was confused. Stumped. She didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. I pitied her.
She leafed through her Bible as if searching for a spell that would bind my demon infested tongue.
“Even Mary Magdalene, she was a prostitute but Jesus forgave her and even allowed her to use her hair to anoint his legs.”
It really hurt to talk, but she had been asking for it and now she had gotten it.
“Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. She was one of Jesus’ disciples.”
“Mary. She was a prostitute but Jesus forgave…”
“No! Show me where in the Bible it says she was a prostitute.”
She had forgotten to cover her chest with her Bible. He arms dangled checkmated by her sides as she looked at me with eyes that betrayed pity from a sanctimonious point of observation, and a little annoyance or impatience creeping in. She didn’t have a comeback.
“Your time is up, you may go now.”
I loved the way I said that last line so much that I smiled through the pain.
Sister Esther stood there looking at me, perhaps silently praying for me – or praying against the demons in me. I looked away the casual bitchy way you’d take your eyes off an irritant and be fascinated with the state of your nails instead – only that my nails weren’t worth looking at right then.
“Amaka,” she had dropped the ‘sister’, “This way you are living your life, it is only grace that is protecting you. Look at you now, young fine girl like you, in prison. Is this what you are seeing as life?”
“It’s a cell, my dear, not prison.”
She shook her head at the audacious temerity of the demons in me.
“I will pray for you, but you have to change your ways or else even the grace that is protecting you wouldn’t be enough again.”
That was my first warning.
Sister Esther left, but not before hiding herself behind her large Bible, then another woman came in. It was the bitch who had tricked me on the phone.
“Amaka, there is one man here who has paid your bail and he said he wants to take you to his house. Or do you want to call your family to come and collect you?”
Her tone was sympathetic and I knew this was all I was going to get as far as an apology was concerned.
“What happened to Johnny?”
“We don’t know o, but his son will be able to explain further to you.”
“Yes. He just fly down from America yesterday night. They are handling the matter themselves; they say they don’t want to involve police. He said his father said he should look for you and explain everything to you.”
“Yes naw. You didn’t know that he has a son before?”
“What is his name?”
“John, too. Amaka, if you don’t want to go with him I will arrange a taxi to take you to your place.”
John, Johnny’s son. But why did I sense that she was hinting for me not to go with him.
“Where is Kike?”
“Kike? Your friend? We have released her since day before yesterday.”
“Is she alright?”
She understood what I meant. “They didn’t touch her,” she said.
“Why does he want to take me with him?”
“See ehn, Amaka, these Lebanese people they have their own ways of dealing with something like this. He told us that his people are already working to get his father out, but let me tell you, I can’t be sure they are not suspecting that you’re involved. And anything that happens to you there, we wouldn’t be able to do anything.”
So that was her concern; laughable – as if I could possibly meet a harsher fate than that which I’d endured in her custody.
Stupid, ill-trained, irritating and downright offensive to my spirit as she was, she was my second chance not to cross the line.
John took me away in Johnny’s car. Johnny’s driver from many years ago, a man I assumed he’d sacked, was at the wheels and he recognized me. He was old when I knew him but he had grown much older. He greeted me with an affectionate hug then with a pained face as he looked at my own face.
“This is your papa’s good friend,” he told John. “She is like daughter to me, and oga too. Oga will be very angry when he see how they have done her.”
John asked him to take us first to a clinic. There, John watched over me with arms crossed over his chest and concern deep in his face as nurses tried to repair me.
A nurse, when she thought no one else could hear, asked me in Igbo if he was the one who beat me up like that.
I managed a smile and I told her it was the police. Then, before she could ask why I got arrested, I told her he was my lawyer and he was suing the police for me.
She looked at him and gave away the fact that we’d been talking about him. I smiled at him to let him know that whatever was said wasn’t bad. He smiled back and my line began to appear – the line I should not cross.