Your Brief Bio:
I am a 22year old final year medical student of the University of Ibadan with a deep love for writing. Born into a family of four children, I have come to appreciate using written words to ensure proper and effective communication. I am from Osun state but I have lived mostly in Ibadan, Oyo state. I have no favourite food. I enjoy reading, writing, public speaking, singing and making people happy.
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We all know that religious crisis is on the increase, especially in Nigeria. What most do not know is the ongoing war between the gods, who in the process of proving who is stronger, end up killing even those that seem to be fighting for them.
THE WAR OF THE GODS.
“Omolabake” my father would say, “Prayer is the solution to everything. Once you believe in God as you pray, it’s settled. Any iota of disbelief would render your prayer useless.”
Mother is a Muslim, Father is a Christian and his mother – my Grandma was a Traditionalist. Somehow, the God to believe in depended on who was on the ‘throne’ at any given moment in our family.
When father had just been paid at the construction company, God was in the Bible, Church services and the seemingly endless daily morning prayers. When his work takes him away from our two-bedroom apartment in Old Bodija to any state outside Oyo, mother takes over the throne and God is readily available in the Quran and daily morning prayers at the mosque. The mosque is in the compound right next to ours and God joins us in the five daily prayers. Her God seems more willing to answer prayers; I get more snacks, visits my friends across the street and watch television shows well past Ten O’clock at night.
The God everybody dreads is the one grandma worshipped. Truth is, she did not worship one God; Ogun, Osun, Sango, or Esu. She had devised a way of appeasing them all, knowing their likes and dislikes and their sacrificial preferences. Her visits from Osogbo were unpredictable but expected. The only consistent thing about her arrival was the smoking calabash in her left palm as she enters the front door. She would swirl back and forth, left and right, murmuring incantations. She would cast furtive glances at every corner of the house as if she could see things anyone of us could not see. She would then move in towards the kitchen.
I learnt an important lesson about this ritual when I was barely five years old. We were in the parlor, watching the one o’clock news; mother was plaiting my hair for the coming week. The vicious opening of the door net followed by the smoky palm oil smell announced grandma’s arrival. I jumped up from the concrete floor and ran to give her a big hug.
“Omolabake! Don’t go near…”
Grandma’s slap deafened me to mother’s concluding words. I found myself flat-bottomed on the floor, staring at grandma as she proceeded to the kitchen. I was too shocked to wail but the hot tears flowed down my cheeks. Later, when grandma was done with the ritual, she carried me off the floor and sang to me in Yoruba. I do not recall the words but I remember trying to relate the tenderness in her eyes to the fierce anger I saw few minutes earlier. She then explained to me that under no circumstance was I to go near her whenever she was carrying the calabash through the front door to the kitchen. I was given fried bean cakes as compensation for the unexpected slap. I blamed my mother for not warning me earlier. She must have assumed that her unwillingness to accept grandma and her gods was enough instruction for me on how to relate with the rituals.
In Grandma’s absence, father would tell me that God - his God frowns on man-made gods like the ones grandma worships. In fact, he frowns on all other gods except himself.
“But father, how come you married mother then?” I once asked. Father rubbed his scruffy chin for a second or two, he then said “I am just accommodating her because God loves her too.” I was taken aback.
He would go on to tell me how we are not supposed to bow down to any other God. I was not sure if he meant another form of bowing though, seeing that we followed grandma to her little shrine behind the house. We always sat with our legs crossed and put our heads to the ground in front of a black huge stone. The stone was usually sprinkled with palm oil, it was also flanked by red candles and two images carved from hard wood. The images had unsmiling faces and the candles added a haunted feel to the shrine.
At age ten, I started to see all the good and bad of being an only child. There was a lot of good and the only bad I saw was not having anyone to share the good with. I didn’t think much of the cold atmosphere that descended on our home during grandma’s visits. If I had, I would have understood father’s lengthened absences from home. Now I know he only tried to escape being the mediator in the cold war between mother and grandma. Grandma would not eat mother’s meals and whenever she got to do her own cooking first, she would make father eat with her. Mother never allowed me eat what grandma cooked. Mother would have lost her mind if only she knew that grandma made incantations on the food she gave me. The general prayer at meals was usually to father’s God; he was a passive participant in the war.
Towards the end of the year I turned ten; seven years ago, grandma was around and the cold war had turned fiery. The duo had bouts of verbal wars.
“Mama, we are fine with just one child. I and your son had this discussion even before we got married.”
“Kunle would never agree to such nonsense, he is my son. Who gives birth to just one child?”
“You! Mama, you! Kunle is your only child. Why have you not had more children?”
I hid behind the big sofa mother was sitting on. There was a kerosene lantern at the center of the room, the flickering yellow light cast shadows on the walls. Grandma started to pace the parlour, my eyes followed her shadow.
“You are ignorant and I can see Kunle has lied to you. Me? Only one child…”
She laughed in mockery, her voice was laced with sadness and anger. She faced my mother again, and her words spilled out with fresh venom “Kunle knows better as the only surviving one of the six sons I had. Yes, six children, all boys.”
“Mama, that is impossible. I and Kunle tell each other everything. There is no way he lost five siblings and would not have told me about them.”
“My son is a weakling. If he ever agreed to your one child policy, he did it out of fear. He is just a coward, that one I call my son.”
“I will not take lightly to your insults, my husband is no coward. I don’t care that he is your son. This is his home and he deserves your respect…”
“Shut your mouth! I gave birth to him and not the other way around, I use whatever words I choose to use on and about him. The same applies to you woman.”
The intensity of their feud had slowly crawled into my consciousness that year. That was the year I realized being an only child was the root cause of this war; it had never crossed my childish mind.
“If the one child you even had was a boy, maybe it would make more sense.”
“Mama! Enough! She is worth to us everything a son could be. I know what we went through before having her and the ‘encouraging’ role you played in those ten years of waiting.”
“Oh please! don’t give me that tone. Of course, I am sure your loving husband did not tell you of the sacrifices we made together so you would not lose the last pregnancy too. Or did he?”
Mother had no response to this. She stood up, put on her rubber slippers and walked out. She did not return for two days.
Father came in about an hour after she left. From grandma’s intense concentration on a spot just above the hanging wall clock, to my nervous look, father knew something was wrong and whatever it was had triggered mother’s absence. He dialed her number. It rang at first but later stopped going through at all.
The day she finally returned, she gave father a look I had never seen on her face before. That look held a lot of questions in it, questions she somehow already had answers to. I was not sure if grandma had disclosed to father the details of her verbal exchange with mother. He looked very confused and afraid.
Grandma left the next morning.
She did a reverse of the normal ritual she performed when entering the house. I had never seen it done and as usual, I did not know its significance.
Life went on. The remaining Gods at home were at peace with each other. The alternating prayers continued. In fact, a consistent pattern developed and it seemed some previously missing tranquility had been found. There was more laughter; more moments father and mother spent talking, teasing each other. Father spent less time outside the house. It was like they just found each other again, after many years. It was the calm before the storm.
A year after grandma left, mother got pregnant. Father was not pleased at all.
“Bimbo, how did this happen? We were not to have more than one child.”
“Yes Kunle. I remember we agreed on that. I just never got around to asking you why.”
“Why not? The economy we are in does not support having many mouths to feed. I thought that was an obvious reason for our decision.”
“Kunle that was the reason I gave when you asked why I wanted just one child. I asked you for your reason but you smartly evaded the question. So, I am asking again, why just one child?”
“I do not understand why this is coming up again. What is this all about? Omolabake is almost twelve, why should she have a younger one now?”
“Just answer the question or I will assume mama was right after all.”
Father was about to give a reply when his phone started ringing.
“Hello? Yes, speaking. Yes, I know her. Oh God! Where is she?”
Grandma had just been rushed to the state hospital in Osogbo. From her neighbors account, she had gone into her shrine to make sacrifices as she was known to do. About fifteen minutes after she went in, they noticed smoke coming out of the small opening that served as an entrance to the shrine. They had been warned never to go into the shrine uninvited. The smoke got thicker and bigger, accompanied with fire, they still kept their distance, not sure if it was enough invitation just yet. When they finally went in, grandma was close to dead.
There was no burial ceremony. No tears shed. No mournful songs. Just some shoveling and hasty placement of her white linen wrapped body six feet under. Her carved images and sacred stones and candles were buried along with her; official goodbye to those too I guessed.
The conversation about mother’s pregnancy ended abruptly and for two months after grandma’s death, it did not come up. Other things had taken center stage until recently. Mother’s shop at Bodija market had been razed by the government in preparation to widen the road. Father’s company was getting fewer contracts each new month and there arerumors of people being laid off. Everything bad seems to be happening fast. When mother mentions registering at the antenatal clinic, father’s reply was a pent-up response to how things had been going.
“Nobody needs that thing growing in you, especially now!”
Mother goes on to register herself and she is dedicated to her scheduled clinic sessions.
“You have to terminate this pregnancy. It is either he dies or you die. Mama was right, I am afraid.”
“Of what? What are you so scared of?”
Father sits and starts to cry; a very strange sight. He continues weeping till I feel tears prick my eyes too.
“Daddy, please stop… please… “
Mother just stares. I could almost imagine the emotions coursing through her; fear, sadness, anger.
“Kunle… please talk to me. What is going on?”
“It was my father’s fault. He told only me, not even mama knew.”
Apparently, his father, my paternal grandfather, had offended the chief priest of our village. Grandpa had slept with his youngest wife and she had given birth to a son, the only son of the chief priest’s eleven children. The chief priest felt slighted that the only son he could call his own was not actually his. He promised to make grandpa’s life miserable. One after the other, father’s siblings started dying. Grandma had no idea what was killing her children. She ran from shrine to shrine, making sacrifices, some even needed her to walk naked at midnight, all in the bid to protect her remaining sons.
When it remained just father and his younger brother who was already terribly ill, grandpa went to beg the chief priest. He was told it was too late for the sick one but father was to be spared, with a condition. He was forbidden from ever having a son.
“Bimbo, you remember the first scan you had when you were pregnant with Omolabake? You recall it said you were carrying a boy…”
“Yes, I remember. A repeat scan two weeks later said it was a girl… something about an error with the first scan.”
“It was not an error. I tricked mama into carrying some sacrifices to change the sex. She thought they were to protect the pregnancy from being miscarried again. Although, that is somehow true. Your previous miscarriages were because you were carrying male children.”
Mother’s face turns ash with fright. “Okay. Why can’t we just make those sacrifices again? Why do I have to kill this baby? Kunle, why?”
“Because that last sacrifice had a condition to it, it cannot be repeated.”
At this point, I am also as angry as mother. What’s all this nonsense about chief priests, curses and sacrifices? What nonsense did it all mean? I think. All of them giving solutions with conditions attached.
“I am having this baby. I do not care what your father or the chief priest did or said. I am keeping and having this baby and no one is dying. Kunle, are you not a Christian? Have you not always said your God is greater than the rest? How about you go talk to Him to do something in this case?”
“Bimbo, please, you will die. Please do not do this.”
Needless to say, the remaining months of the pregnancy have been sober and filled with many prayers. It seems there is more cooperation between the Gods at home. Mother joins in Father’s morning prayers and church programs. Father sits with her during her daily prayers. All prayers center on safe delivery.
On the D-day, father drives to the hospital and I tag along. It’s a Saturday. The hospital gates are locked, no security personnel around. Many other cars with bewildered drivers are parked outside the hospital gate. I see people in pain and distress; accident victims with varying degrees of wounds, some even looked dead. The health care professionals, all of them, are on strike. The hospital is on lock down.
Father orders me into the car, he tries to explain to mother what is going on as we drive out. I don’t think she heard any of what he said. Her eyes are shut tight, her lips pressed together, sweat drops all over her face. The pain occasionally spikes and she is breathing fast through her mouth, clutching whatever she can.
We finally get to a private hospital that agrees to attend to her after hours of driving around. The nurses help mother unto a stretcher. They keep shouting orders to one another with a lot of urgency in their voices. Father and I are shown to the waiting room. It has chairs, charts and other people waiting.
My confusion over the true God has not been resolved up to this moment. I am not sure which of the Gods to pray to or not to pray to. The weird amalgamation between father’s and mother’s Gods over this pregnancy has not helped either. Grandma’s Gods seemed powerful enough while she lived but I can barely see any good thing come from them right now. Grandma died worshipping them.
“Mr. Kunle Olujimi…”
I hear the doctor mention blood transfusion a few times too much and worry lines deepen on father’s forehead. He tells me to stay put while he goes in search of blood for mother. There is no mention of the baby. He comes back into the waiting room really late in the night. The room is empty except for me and a snoring hospital attendant.
It’s twelve hours since we helped mother into this private hospital, we are leaving without her, without the baby and with many questions for the Gods.