My mother says we all carry God with us. He is everywhere. We are His temple and He lives in us. When we defile the temple, He steps out, he is there but outside our bodies with his back turned to us.
I always liked the idea of God stepping out of my body right before I sin. Privacy from an all-seeing God is as much of a luxury as it is an oxymoron. And on the day it all began, God was there in the room. He stepped out and watched me call Him, begging for His help as I felt a tongue on my nipple.
He did nothing.
Uncle Ugonna was the first person to drive God from my body. I was eight. The first night he came, he told me he wanted to play with me. He promised that I would enjoy it, assuring me of a painless encounter, then he showed me his middle finger and slowly inserted it in me. As his finger slid in I saw God slide out. Uncle Ugonna was my father’s younger brother. He only ever left his room to get food from the kitchen and wash my father’s car. The play did not seem like the type I played with Ijeoma from downstairs, it was painful despite his promise and he kept saying “sorry baby…” while touching himself.
God spent the entire night in the corner when morning came, He crept back into my body as I dressed for school.
It went on for a month, each night Uncle Ugonna’s plaything got bigger until all of him was in me. While the house slept, I whimpered in pain and God stood in the corner of my room, back to me but ears open to my cries.
The night after Uncle Ugo left, God did not step out of my body. He had no reason to.
My parents did a lot of involuntary waiting before I was born. Ten years without a child is a curse in a Nigerian household. My father’s mother did not let up, the threats of a new wife or a child outside was a constant. You cannot imagine the horror of not knowing the day you will be usurped from your position. Never knowing what day you will be asked to step out of the house you moulded.
Aunty Ogechi, my mother’s sister tells me my mother used to be a strong woman, who was unafraid, just like me, with eyes that asked questions before they came out of her mouth. She says that as young girls sharing the same room, mama was never still. There was a fire under her feet that made her restless, it only cooled when she read and when she was in an argument. Even while she slept the fire burned. She was brave and unbending in the face of pressure, but when life keeps leaning on your back, you either break or bend. My mother broke.
God was her new back. They became best friends and all the barren women of the bible her matrons. There was no doctor she did not visit, no remedy she did not try but she did not taint her body with traditional medicine.
She was the temple of God, a royal priesthood. God chose her and, in her suffering, she chose Him.
“She almost died that day.” Aunty Ogechi reminisced. I was over for the weekend; my mother had gone for a church retreat and my father went to the village. In the comfortable silence that stretched between us while we folded clothes and colour coordinated them in her wardrobe.
I asked, “Who almost died?”
“Your mother, she almost died the day you were born. She was in labour for almost three hours.
My mother had refused to have a cesarean section, she was going to have me as the Hebrew women had their children in Egypt. But we are not Jewish and those women were not almost forty. My father had to insist on a CS. When she held me for the first time she had cried silent tears, no heaves or sobs, just her eyes emptying themselves. Tears that spoke for all the years she had waited for and wanted me, all the chapped knees and groaning in her spirit. Finally, I was here.
The first thing she said was Ulochi; the house of God, in me she saw God and when I stared back He was what she saw in my eyes.
I did not see God again until I was in SS3. Tobi and I had been exchanging notes during classes. He was nothing like anyone I knew and he made me laugh. With him came warmth and my favourite snack; a pack of Super Two biscuits. On this day, the class was surprisingly empty and it was just the both of us, sitting with our hands in the other’s hand. Our notes no longer said the words we needed them to say and today he was going to ask me to be his girlfriend. Everybody knew we were more than friends. The denials we gave did not hide our smiles when the other’s name was mentioned. The empty classroom was planned, to give us privacy. Tobi had told his best friend his plans of asking me to be his girlfriend but what use is a relationship that would end with the release of admission lists from UI and UniZik?
“Ulochi, you know I like you” he started after clearing his throat.
“I do not want to continue without knowing for sure that you are mine, will you please be my girlfriend?”
All of this he said in a rush, his palm sweaty as his forehead started to perspire despite the open windows.
How do you say no to the question you had dreamed of for weeks?
Tobi and I kissed that day, and God stepped out. I saw a smile before He turned his back. Two weeks after, we had sex in Tobi’s house. His parents travelled and this time, God held my hand as I cried.
My first year in school was a blur, I was too busy catching up with classes, to think of Tobi or his predecessor. No one told me that school will be this hard. Each came with its own version of more work and to forget the things that plagued me, I welcomed this reprieve. Every week, my mother checked in to make sure that I was fine and on the last Thursday of the month, she made the trip from Lagos to Ibadan. She needed this. A woman who had gone through the throes of death to have me was ready to face a journey she detested, just to see my face.
The first thing she always asked was “Why did you run away from me?”, not with malice but with the tone of a woman who missed braiding my hair and making me dinner.
“I am not that far mummy” I would retort my hands rummaging in the bag she brought for me.
“Your father is too busy to come with me” she would sigh. “Tell me, how are things?”
“Things are the way they were last month, nothing has changed.”
“Have you been going to church?”
Just like the previous months, I lied “Yes mummy”
How will I explain to her that I was no longer friends with her best friend? I only talked to him because she made me, not because I wanted to.
The last time I saw him was that day in Tobi’s room. Now it seemed ages ago. Unlike my mother who always had conversations with him, I only saw him when another man was in me.
On my first holiday, my life changed. It was a Saturday, a crispy harmattan wind blew while I read on the balcony. For the first time in a long time, peace resided in my stomach, I had no worries other than getting to the end of my book. There was no school work to worry about and the burden of my childhood a distant memory, almost forgotten.
Almost, until the gate opened its mouth.
It was my father’s car rolling into the compound. In the passenger seat was the first man who ever sent God out of my body. He was older now, more seasoned.
Uncle Ugonna had gone to America in search of greener pastures. My father was proud of his younger brother, making it in faraway America. Sending money back home to build a house is the pinnacle of success for anyone who migrates to America and Uncle Ugonna had gotten to that height
I avoided the stories of his life. Telling myself that if I forgot him, what happened all those nights will vanish. The memory of my pain will fade with the memory of him. But that is not how pain works. When triggered, you are thrown back to the place you said you will never go.
His presence was the only trigger I needed-the sound of his voice, gruff yet gentle and the way his eyes flickered before he laughed were the things that had not changed. For the first time in a long time, I felt God stirring in me.
There was only one way to fix my pain.
When night came I waited quietly, I knew he was coming. Men like him are not afraid of anything, their mothers had told them there was nothing they could not achieve, imbibing them with confidence to take on the world. For Uncle Ugonna, I was part of the things he wanted in the world, nothing could stop him.
Throughout the day when he was not following me, his eyes did the work for him. Trailing my body and turning my stomach. As the day grew old, my conviction got stronger. If my devil could not remain in
America, I will deal with him in Nigeria.
Like that first night, he waited until only the crickets were speaking. But unlike that first night, I was ready. The books that lined my shelves told the stories of women who ruined the lives of men, avenged their wrongdoings and tonight I will join their ranks.
The door creaked a little and I was ready. I could see his silhouette from where I lay on my side feigning sleep. As he crept to my bed, I steadied my heartbeat, if this was to work I need not falter or fear.
He got to my bed, saying: “Ulochi, I have missed you”. His voice was slightly different, his Igbo accent had faded, but a hint of it still remained.
With these words, he put his hand on my feet and started his upward progression. This night I wore my pyjamas, I had fought myself for the appropriate armour for this battle and my hello kitty pyjamas was the best choice.
He started to shake me lightly.
“Ulochi, wake up” Have you not missed me?”
Anger, rage and bile settled at the bottom of my throat, my eyes were clear. I was not crying, not yet. The tears would come after. His hand was working the band on my trouser, he was ready to resume from where he stopped all those years ago. I was not going to scream. I should have many years ago, but fear held my throat and only let go this afternoon. He had turned me from my side and successfully taken off my trousers, I was still asleep. You cannot wake up someone who is pretending to sleep. Then he stood up and pulled his boxers down.
As he aligned himself with me and readied to put his penis in me, God started to retreat. He was ready to leave my body. This battle was one I had to do solitarily. The very moment I felt Ugonna slide in me, I whipped out my weapon and started to slash.
I cut with the anger I had ignored all those years, with the pain I felt as the child and with the aim to maim. His face was my target, so I slashed above me, as my knife worked, so did his voice. His screaming woke my family, the way my voice should have woken my parents on that first night. As he screamed, my tears started to flow, cathartic and cleansing.
God smiled from his corner of my room.
Nkem Oyaghire is passionate about stories that explore the human condition. She is a researcher who moonlights as a writer. When she is not analysing data, she is reading or catching a show on Netflix.
Her twitter handle is JesuisNkem