The Ojodu roundabout was noisy and teeming with the usual after-hours crowd going to and fro on the four roads that led to it. Men and women returning home from their various offices mingled with the street and roadside hawkers who called out their wares and prices in very loud voices. A woman violently brushed aside the arm of a young boy who thrust a rechargeable lamp in her face and muttered some expletive while giving him the evil eye. The boy stumbled back, falling on the man walking behind him. He too gave him the eye as he righted himself and went on walking.
In a little kiosk beside the road, Mama Zaki gazed unseeingly at all the people going by. She sold the usual things that would easily be bought by passersby; handkerchiefs, peanuts, water in sachets, soft drinks, recharge cards, stationery and other knickknacks. These items were not expensive but quite necessary and ensured that no matter what, she always had customers. However, that did not seem to be the case today. Her mind on the fact she’d sold almost nothing since morning; with the exception of two packets of biscuits and three sachets of pure water which totalled a hundred and thirty naira, nothing.
Her brow furrowed in worry as she thought about her son Zaki. He was beginning a new term next week and she still hadn’t made enough money to buy him new school bag and shoes which she’d promised to get for him since he’d so graciously managed the torn and worn ones from the last term. Since he was going to a new class, it would only be fitting that some of his school paraphernalia match his new status. She wished for the umpteenth time that she hadn’t married Zaki’s father. That scoundrel had told them he was going offshore to work on an oil rig and had disappeared. She’d run into a friend of his at the market a couple of years ago and he’d told her Calistus was living big somewhere in Port Harcourt. Imagine that! Instead of coming home to raise his son, he was gallivanting elsewhere. God would judge him, she thought.
Sighing and shaking her head sadly, she looked up just in time to catch the eye of a potential customer. She heaved herself out of her chair and called out to the woman.
“Madam, you dey find pure water or recharge card?” she asked, a winsome smile on her face.
The woman hesitated a bit before making her way towards Mama Zaki’s kiosk.
“You get hundred naira recharge card?” she asked, a petulant look on her face.
“Ah, yes o!” Mama Zaki replied, still smiling. “Whish wan you dey find? Entee en, abi na Glo?” she asked, looking up from the small purse that held her recharge cards.
The customer mused for a second and replied, “Give me MTN.”
Mama Zaki quickly fished an MTN card from the lot she held in her hand and handed it over to the woman. The customer rummaged in her bag, brought out a thousand naira note and handed it over to Mama Zaki.
“Ah, auntie abeg no vex,” she pleaded, “beht ah no get change. I never sell beta market since morning,” she added. “You no get evin five hundred naira?” she asked, seeking for a solution. She didn’t have change for five hundred naira but was willing to go and look for change if it meant selling something.
“I no get anoda money,” the customer replied, almost pouting. Dismissing Mama Zaki, she bent her head and began to type in the numbers on the voucher into her phone.
“Auntie you wait fes nah!” Mama Zaki exclaimed. Ah talk say ah no get change and you stee wan use dee card?” she asked, a bit irritated. “Abeg make you give me the card,” she said, her hand outstretched for its return.
“Make you go find change nah,” the customer ordered, annoyed
“Auntie abeg, ah no go fit go find change for one taozund! If to say na like two hundred naira card you buy, ah for fit go find am.” Mama Zaki explained.
The woman glared at her for a few seconds and then threw the recharge card at her. “Take your stupid card,” she spat, quite angry. “Common change you don’t have and you’re selling market?” she asked, hissing in disdain.
“Abeg carry yaw wahala comot for hia,” Mama Zaki said, irked. “Na by force to fine change?” she asked. Hissing, she went back to her seat while the customer said a few choice words and walked away, huffing in anger.
This is how they spoil someone’s market, Mama Zaki thought, as she shifted her body in the chair she’d been sitting on. Oh God, please who did I offend this morning? She asked, looking up at the sky. Then she bowed her head and prayed for a miracle. Zaki must not begin the new term without new school shoes and bag, she prayed.
Thirty minutes later, dusk arrived and with it, the long queues of passengers waiting for the long luxury buses that came to ferry people from Ojodu to their different destinations. The roundabout which had a raised grassy platform with a short statue in the middle was now occupied by a Prophet who held a microphone and had gathered quite an audience, apart from those queuing for the buses. He was talking about the miracles that awaited his listeners, telling them that God had sent him to bring them revelation and liberation. Some paid rapt attention while others looked on partly amused and partly curious.
“I say God is going to catapults someone to another levels today,” the Prophet yelled into the microphone, his eyes scanning the faces of the roadside congregation closest to him. “I say, my God is going to takes someone to an unexpected levels today,” he shouted again. “Can somebady hia me?” The crowd gave a collective affirmative.
“I say, the Lord is about to bless some people!” he repeated, jumping in seeming excitement and walking to the left side of the makeshift pulpit. The wire that connected the microphone to a single box speaker that was placed behind the statue grew taut, forcing him to return to his former position in the middle of the roundabout.
“Brothers and sisters, I, Prophet Dominion is telling you that the Lord is about to begin the deliverance of his children!” he said, pulling out a hanky from the left pocket of his trouser and wiping his sweaty face with it.
“You! Yes broda, you!” he exclaimed, pointing at a young man that stood about three rows from the front. The fellow pointed at himself to be certain he was the one and got a confirmatory note.
“Come up hia, mai broda,” Mr Prophet said, as the man made his way through the body of onlookers who easily parted for him to go through, curious and eager to see why he’d been chosen. He got to the traffic circle and climbed up, joining Mr Prophet. The Prophet turned to him and nodded, wiping sweat from his face again.
“Broda, does you know why I calls you up hia?” he asked intently gazing at the other man’s face.
“No, prophet,” he replied, shaking his head.
“I call you hia because God have come to liberate you,” he said, placing one hand in the man’s shoulder. “I hear it whispered in my ear “Overseas….overseas.” Is like you’ve been praying for chance to go abroad and God is saying that he has answered your prayers. I’m hearing a name like Kelechi….Kelechi…..overseas.” He paused to wipe his face again. “Young man, what is your name?” he asked.
“Kelechi. Sir, my name is Kelechi,” the man replied. Some of the onlookers oohed and ahhed, the faint curling of faith unfurling within their hearts. Perhaps he is a true man of God, they thought. A few laughed at what they were convinced was chicanery and began shouted out their taunts at the platform. Mr Prophet ignored them, his attention wholly on Kelechi.
“You will go overseas,” he said. “That is what I’m hearing in my ears and that is what God wants me to tell you; you’re going overseas. Go and prepare yourself,” he said and then dismissed the man, who walked back to his position on the queue, his hands outstretched to the sky and his lips moving in thanksgiving.
Mama Zaki looked at her son who was wolfing down the yam porridge she’s kept for him in the blue and cream plastic food flask. He usually came straight to the kiosk after lessons and would help her out until they packed up and went home.
“Don’t gulp down your food like that,” she gently chided. She always spoke correct English whenever she spoke to him in that language and considered it a thing of pride that though she hadn’t made it past her second year in the university, she could boast of being well-spoken.
“Sorry mum,” he replied with a full mouth, an askew smile on his face as his mother threw him a mock glare for speaking with food in his mouth. He chewed and swallowed, running his tongue around his mouth to catch stray morsels. Carefully, he scraped off the broth at the bottom of the flask and greedily licked the spoon until it was shiny.
“Why don’t you rinse it and drink the water?” his mother asked, amused. He laughed and went to the cooler to get a sachet of water.
“Mummy, you haven’t even sold water today,” he said, eyeing the full cooler before closing it.
“You noticed?” his mother asked sarcastically. He looked at her askance and she sighed.
“I’ve only made hundred and thirty naira since morning,” she said, cradling her jaw in her right palm.
Zacharia looked at his mother and wished he had superpowers that would enable him mint money and stop her from worrying so. He knew the new term that was beginning next week was on her mind. It would be wonderful if he could get a new schoolbag and a new pair of shoes, but neither of that was worth a moment his mother spent in anxiety. He thought of his father and cursed him for the thousandth time; unbidden, his fantasies of shaming the man if he ever chose to return, filled his mind, assuaging his anger a little.
“Mummy, kufuna idem mfo…..don’t worry yourself,” he said, placing a comforting hand on her shoulders. “I can manage the bag and shoes until the money comes,” he added, returning to his seat.
“Abasi akan! God forbid!” his mother exclaimed, circling her hand over her head and throwing it behind her back, just like their neighbour Ezinne often did when she was showing her dislike for something. “You won’t wear those tattered shoes to school as long as I’m alive,” she swore. “Just pray that God will give us a miracle,” she added, her voice filled with hope. Her whispered prayer was swallowed up in the loud voice which boomed from Prophet Dominion’s speaker.
“….as I round up, to give all of you a chance to partake of the heavenly blessings like the brothers and sisters that I have liberated here today,” the Prophet said. His soaked shirt was slowly drying in the evening breeze and he raised his face up, savouring the touch of the air. Stuffing his soaked hanky in his pocket, he looked at the faces of his audience and thought how easy they’d accepted the word.
This was the moment he enjoyed the most; the moment when he knew that even the sceptics among them were ready to believe. They were ready to be saved and to pay the price for that salvation. Soon he would make a call for seeds to be sown and freewill offerings to be given. It never ceased to amaze him how desperate people were for signs and wonders. A little smile lifted the corners of his lips, masking the dark guile eneath. He lifted the microphone to his mouth and continued with the show.
“All I want you to do is, if you have a white handkerchief, bring it out. I am going to pray on it and anything you want, God is going to pass through that handkerchief and give it to you,” he intoned. “Today, poverty will end in your life! Every sickness will disappear from your body! You will never lack agaaaain!” Each declaration was accompanied by a loud amen from the crowd.
“Bring out your handkerchiefs let me pray for them,” he said. People began to dig inside their bags and pockets, looking for that piece of fabric.
“If you don’t have, please hurry now and buy! I will give you two minutes before I begin praying,” he said, prancing from one side of the circle to the other.
There was a sudden scramble as those without hankies began to make a mad dash to the shops that lined the sides of the streets, eager not to miss their miracles. In the midst of the shoving, bags and pockets were relieved of the wallets and purses within, and wandering fingers filched mobile phones from their owners. Mama Zaki was still musing on her conversation with her son when she saw a horde of people making their way towards her kiosk. Wondering what the matter was, she got up and stepped outside the wooden structure.
“Madam abeg you get white hankashif?” the first person to arrive at her shop asked, her tone urgent.
“I get,” she replied and went back in to unhook the packet of hankies from the hanger she’d hung them. She pulled out one and was about to hand it to the lady others surrounded her shop, all clamouring for hankies. Surprised, she handed over the kerchiefs and reached for the extra three packets in the bag that acted as a store. While she gave out the handkerchiefs, Zacharia collected the money. In between, she was able to piece together through bits and pieces of conversation that her wares were being bought for miracles.
Hand over fist finished the five packets of handkerchiefs she had and apologetically directed the latecomers to the other shops down the road. Some customers came and asked for soft drinks and sachet water which she handed out. In the space of fifteen minutes, her goods had greatly reduced. When the crowd dwindled, she looked at her son in amazement and they both burst into joyous laughter, astonished at the sudden windfall.
“Mummy, God really answers prayers o!” Zaki said, his smile wide and full.
“He surely does,” his mother concurred, still dazed. Then she leapt up and danced a little jig, thanking God for answering their prayers.
“I wish that prophet will come back for the rest of the week,” Zaki said.
“Abi! I wish he would,” she said. “You know what? Let me go and see the prophet too. How can I sell hankies for others to receive their miracles and I won’t receive my own? Watch the store, I’m coming,” she instructed her son. She pulled out her old handkerchief from her handbag; its colour was now off-white. It would have to do. She made her way to the roundabout and using her small body, wound her way through the crowd, saying amen to each of the prayers as she went. She finally got the front and raised her hand, waving her hanky like everyone else. Then she looked up at the prophet and couldn’t move. She stared at him, her hand up, the white square waving in the air.
“I say, every sign of poverty in your life, I command it to dieeeeee!!!” he shouted, looking at his victims.
“Ameeeennnn!!!” the crowd thundered.
“Every enemy fighting against you, I comma…..” At that moment, his eyes landed on Mama Zaki and he was electrocuted. He stared in open-mouthed shock, hoping she was an apparition. The crowd gave a loud amen to the unfinished prayer, already in a praying frenzy.
Mama Zaki shook herself out of her trance-like state and stared hard at the man in front of her.
“Calistus, so you’re now a prophet?” her words were inaudible as the crowd had by this time noticed the prophet’s sudden silence and were loudly debating the cause. Calistus couldn’t hear her, but he could read her lips. Fear clutched at his heart and he wished he could disappear.
“Calistus, I said are you now a prophet?” Mama Zaki shouted, anger and bitterness giving strength and volume to her words. The few people around her heard and looked down at the little woman.
“Madam, you sabi am?” the man beside her asked, raising his hand to silence those who were still talking.
Mama Zaki hissed and glared. “Na my husband wey run leave me and my pikin,” she spat, her narrowed eyes reading the unconcealed guilt on his face. “Now e dey hia dey lie say e be prophet.”
Within seconds, her words spread through the crowd; the prophet was a fake! Calistus edged towards the less crowded side of the circle, looking for an escape route. Those who now knew the truth raised an outcry and began to push towards the front, their eyes on the bag beside the prophet which contained the hard-earned money that they’d sowed and offered. As the crowd pushed forward, the buses to ferry the waiting crowd home began to arrive. Some dashed for the buses while others were torn between getting to the prophet and hurrying to secure seats on the buses. In the melee that ensued, Mama Zaki raised a loud cry, pointing at the roundabout. Those who looked followed her pointing arm to the roundabout.
Prophet Dominion and the offering bag were gone.