A succint flashback to my teenage years. I had failed an exam in school. I was at church when a successful classmate was announced for thanksgiving for exam success in church. She felt closer to God, as closer as other people felt, the few who were able to pass the exam. She danced happily amidst those of us who had failed, I wondered what her image of God, was. I surmised there was more to church thanksgiving. Many people do show off in church, they are the ones being praised and not God.
WHO DANCES NEXT? (SHORT STORY) ANTHONY DIM
The rain clouds massed after scudding in slow motion, and the recurrent flash of lightening gave a false alarm of a thunder that wouldn’t strike. Toyin was getting impatient, pulling at thanksgiving items, her head buried in the boot, her haste could tell that the muscles of her forehead was congested in annoyance, her bums like a sack of grain, her thighs pronounced because of her high hills, she could trip at the slightest misstep. Leafs bristled in the breeze and produced a crispy sound, the wind quaked the tiny plants in the premises and compelled the frangipani trees to dance reluctantly. There was the smell of rain, a wetness was finely suspended in the air. Toyin’s Mercedes was beautiful but not as exotic and spotless as the other cars that drove into the arena, their headlamps flashing brightly even in the day, their beautiful rosaries hung on their rearview mirrors dangled prestigiously, engines made little or no noise, the wheels solemnly screeched upon the brown dusty ground, as though the drivers were mindful, else the floor might crack into ditches or break.
They parked with pointed courtesy, careful enough not to get too close to the young dandelions planted at the edges of the church yard, tiny flowers that surrounded the white gothic building of St. Agnes’ Parish, Molete, Ibadan. A stained glass window was above the building facing the entrance gate, the string sounds of boring preparatory piano escaped from it, the pianist was rehearsing the commencement hymn. “Shola be fast please. It would soon be time for the priest’s procession. I don’t want to be late, you annoy me with your painstaking slowness” she snapped at Shola in her foghorn voice, he shuddered, he was Toyin’s youngest cousin who moved into her house after his parents gave up on borrowing money to cater for his many needs. Toyin found it unwise too to give money to such an aged couple. Their pension had not been paid since they retired. Shola called her Aunt Toyin because she was twelve years older than him, as every other Yoruba child, he wouldn’t find it respectful to simply call her Toyin, it was unheard of. He picked the small tubers of yam, hastily and carefully, something befitting for a boy of fifteen, he looked attritional in his ill-fitted T-shirt and bogus pants, tightened with leather belt on his waist so that it dared not sag.
The other congregants alighted from their cars, they dropped their legs gently and proudly as though the legs were insured by a company that could refuse to pay for damage over careless walking or unwarranted misstep; they maintained springy steps as they went about greeting each other and gossiping, some of them exchanged greetings with Toyin, congratulating her for her new job, she received them with husky chuckles and rehearsed smiles that widened her nostrils. Shola watched them passively, having emptied the boot of thanksgiving items; a bag of rice, a dozen of bottled water, many tubers, including a hen that kept flapping her feather in attempt to escape, candles and detergents. Eniola was also there to help them, he had worked with Toyin for seven years since he dropped out of secondary school after his father committed suicide back home in Ijebu-Imusin by overdosing himself with aspirin, it was after reading a letter from Toyin, nobody knows the content, he burnt it before he overdosed himself. All items were conveyed to the church entrance, the position from which they would dance to the sanctuary when it was time for thanksgiving. Stringent and extroverted perfumes interfered with each other as the greetings continued until the sprawling church yard slowly emptied of people, everybody walked into the church auditorium. It was moderately dim inside.
The florescent and bulbs were switched on, as every time when it was dim in the auditorium. Some of them blinkered intermittently. There was something glorious about blinking church florescent, it gave a divine theatrics to the building, blinkering like lightening, over the hallowed heads of heavenly introverted-like statues such as St. Theresa of Liseux who looked excited about the sculptured flowers and crucifix in her hands. Some congregants crouched themselves slightly with holy water, making their way to their seats, some pressed their bibles or missals to their bosoms and walked briskly. Women’s heads were properly covered; their faces were blond and somewhat gloomy despite their smiles and pleasantries. At the entrance was a wooden door engraved with an illustration of Jesus holding fishes and loaves of bread. A lady with a skimpy skirt and spaghetti straps and another wearing a cross-no-gutter skirt over a pencil trouser were held at the entrance by church warders for indecency; they argued in whispers, the ladies looked contrived and full of regrets. Above the sanctuary was a mosaic writing in Latin “Dominus Est”, then there was a chubby smiling statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe that stood adjacent the altar, watching dreamily blank like one whose cognitive contents had been erased. A crucifix was at the center; Jesus was black and chubby too, like a well-fed Yoruba man in his thirties. Toyin had a personal sitting position, she had sat there for seven years, she could engrave her name on the seat if she was permitted.It was a vantage position for her showoff, her dangling earing, nice kinky hairdo, shiny necklace and heavy shades of lipstick would be noticed by men especially political bigwigs in church, close to the bald-headed statue of St. Anthony of Padua in brown vestment, carrying an excited baby on his left hand.
A bell shrilled from the sacristy, she stretched her neck to watch the isle, the priest and altar boys seemed to float into the church in their nicely measured purple and white garments; the smoke, the titillating smell of incense seemed like a magic of aphoristic euphoria, an aura of earned grace. Their steps were accompanied by a rousing hymn that lightened up remorse “emaa wole, emaa rora o”, orotund orthodox soprano voices like singing swallows in an empty echoing hall. Fr. Kehinde’s sermon was as boring as usual with his singsong voice and Yoruba ascent that could almost be represented in sofa notes; the sickening banality served as lullaby that helped Shola sleep peacefully, almost nudging at Toyin’s breast whilst nodding his head.
After the liturgy of the Eucharist, wonderful choruses resumed from the gallery; the talking drums and the lead singer seemed to be having a joyful conversation “Would you stand up from there boys! come-on, move it!. We shall be called soon, other people are going now. You’ll carry the yams, my friends will carry the other stuffs. Seyi, remember to dance well and Shola make sure you smile, Idupe la fe se o (we are about to do thanksgiving), don’t frown like dried cow dungs” Toyin said in a silvery voice of brisk pace, they quickly arose and followed her. The Yoruba choruses continued, it got noisier, it was noisiest under the gallery where the choir was, they waited there to be invited to the altar by the announcer who held the microphone. “Mrs Toyin Anifowose” the lector announced “thanking God for the gift of a new job at Unilever Nigeria PLC. Our dear sister Toyin was the only person offered the job amidst one thousand and eighteen candidates who came for the interview from all over the country. She is highly favored by God” she got excited as her name kept echoing in the speaker, one would wonder if she was giving praises or she was the one being praised. She began a dance, expressing excitement in an oblivious swag, not minding how other people felt, those in the church, more than fifty people who were at the interview but never got the job. Many dancing men and women congratulated her as she approached the sanctuary “Larin opo eniyan ninu aye….amidst so many people in the world…” the choir sang her favorite gospel song “Larin opo eniyan t’o ga ju mi lo…amidst so many who are greater than I” her sack-of-grain-like bums favored her swooshing steps, her shoes friction the floor to produce a vile sound. Many people who tried to look happy, were not, they were unemployed and had lost an opportunity at Unilever Nigeria PLC, they wondered what was the intention behind Toyin’s doing thanksgiving in the same church they attended, one of them was Mr. Bankole.
Exactly two months after the thanksgiving, it was 14th October, Toyin’s Mercedes had begun its recurrent over-heating. She left the car parked at home. She couldn’t afford to be late for work, not only two months after employment. She joined the hitchhikers on the streets, hitchhiking for buses heading towards Oke-Padre, she was getting fussy about the possibility of being late for work. A bus finally arrived. In the bus was Bankole, he was not employed by the Unilever company even though he had a first class and Toyin did not. “Ah, Bankole how are you? It’s been a while” “Ha, me I’m fine jare” Bankole replied, trying to put up a smile. “Have you any business at challenge? You were not employed by my company, I mean the company I work for” she sounded sarcastic, struggling not to giggle. “Yes, ha, but I have another interview with MTN, let me try and….” other passengers suddenly began to panic fussily, and soon it escalated into rants of shouting, vocal prayers, orotund exclamations, the bus collided with a Julius Berger construction vehicle along Bodija highway; the accident was fatal. Some of the passengers died but Bankole survived without any injuries. As for Toyin, her limb was fatally injured, her legs had to be amputated, she was hospitalized for quite a long time. After Toyin was discharged from the hospital, she went to the church for the first time in wheel chair, no more high hilled shoes, and she couldn’t drive her Mercedes anymore, she was in the care of Shola and Seyi. Shola carried her in the wheel chair, gently, slowly, else she would explode at him in church with impassioned rants of insults until her voice got brittle in a frenzy.
It was yet another time for thanksgiving and the lector announced: “Our dear brother Bankole is thanking God for the gift of life. He is the only one amongst twenty two passengers that survived an accident without injuries. Others who survived had one injury or the other but our brother here is hale and hearty, the lord loves him” the choir began to sing “opelope re laye mi o, Jesu…thank you Jesus for my life” and Bankole danced with his legs, heading to the sanctuary with his family, joined by so many people in church, he was too happy ‘ijiy’aye Ibati gbe mi lo,..the sufferings of this would could have carried me away’ he could have jumped like springboks if he were not in church, he almost jumped out of his agbada. Toyin struggled to hold her tears, she was saddened by the lector’s words, and she found it irrational and insensitive. “It’s either this man doesn’t think well, or God is the one playing games” she whispered to Seyi, he said nothing, he hardly understood English. After the mass, she rolled her wheels straight to him at the church entrance: “haa, why? Do you know how it feels to watch you do thanksgiving in my presence? Whom are you trying to mock en? We were both in the same bus ngbo?, how do you expect me to feel? Idupe ewo len’se? kinni? What sort of thanksgiving are you doing? haa”. She threw her head back and looked up as though she was referring to God, somewhere in the ceiling. Shola was worried that Aunt Toyin’s annoyance brought people’s attention to them, he swooped at flies and watched in dismay. “Ha, my dear” he said scrupulously with his croaky voice “We must be thankful to God at all times. I know that you don’t have legs but I still don’t have a job, I don’t have a car, we find it difficult to feed. When you were offered the job, you came here for thanksgiving, we celebrated it, and your company has decided I heard, to retain your employment despite your situation. I didn’t mean to hurt you, I was only being thankful to God. At least you didn’t die, other people died in the accident but you’re still alive. I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you in any way, oye k’a dupe”. They embraced each other, the sprawling church compound slowly emptied of people and cars, their experiences in the weekday would determine who dances next.
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