Somewhere in Nigeria, in a community where black skin is not allowed to spread itself into a rainbow; where embracing queerness is like embracing a curse.
“What did you do?” The boy, my new friend, asks me, and I tell him. Yes, even though we have spent only a couple of hours together in here, he is my friend.
The boy beside me is here, in this church, because he was caught kissing another boy. This is what he tells me when I shift closer to sit just by him, my legs outstretched before me, back leaned against a wall webbed with small cracks. His fast of cleansing is to last four more days; for two days since Thursday, he has gone without food and water, and has slept here with mosquitoes and with rats. He says he no longer feels any hunger pangs; he just feels weak, his mouth dry.
“I miss my Mother,” He says, and there is silence because I have to pause and think about my own mother. She’s probably still begging my father to come and take me home. I imagine her drawling, “How do you even know that place? How do you know our child is safe there!?”
“I stole from my father.” The words are drenched in shame when the words come out of my mouth. The shame Dad must still feel towards me. He had hit Mom an hour ago, when she stood by the door begging him not to take me with him. He wouldn’t listen; he would shove her out of his way, dragging me into the car and driving off to ‘the church that fixes the broken’.
“If you like, don’t do what you’re told. I trust Pastor Tunde. He’d deal with you.”
“Yours is not a bad offense.” My friend, who has noticed my uneasiness, says. “Don’t feel terrible. You’d only have to fast for two days. Only.” He manages a grin.
“Your first time?” He asks.
“Well. Mine is worse than yours. I have been here many times. I worship in this church. How come I don’t see you?”
“I don’t worship here. We go to my mother’s church, even though Dad seems to love this church.” I look around, at the tattered roof, at the altar, at a poster that reads THE VIOLENT TAKE IT BY FORCE. “I don’t know anything about this place.”
“Oh,” He smiles at me. ”Well, this is a family of God. We get cleansed her. I don’t know why I like to kiss boys. They keep casting the demon in me out, but I still go back to kissing boys.” He shrugs. “They say it is a stubborn demon, that it makes me lust unnaturally. The only way to remove it is to starve my flesh.”
“But, why do you kiss boys? We’re black people. You’re not supposed to be kissing boys. It isn’t us.”
“I know that. It’s why I hate myself. I am twelve years old. I am supposed to be a normal child. But I am not. I want the Lord to save me from my unnatural desires before they have me stoned, or killed, or have my parents dismembered from the church.”
“And he would save you, alright.”
We both look up at the strange voice. It belongs to a tall man holding a thick leather belt. He is dressed in a black suit. “He would save you.” He turns a sharp look on me. “And on you too, thief. Your father says you are a thief.”
My friend nudges me, and I know he wants me to say amen, too. He knows I am not used to this.
“Amen.” I mutter. “Amen.”
The tall man cackles. “Okay, you both, follow me.”
We both stand up and follow the man into his office, where the deliverance session begins. It begins with my friend. I sit there, on the floor, crying, waiting until it’s my turn to be whipped to salvation. I sit there, listening to every wail, every yelp. It must be the demons.
“Get out, you gay spirit!” the pastor thunders. And my friend shrieks, “Amen.”
Ubong Johnson (Ubee), is a short story writer and a student doctor. His works of fiction explore the concept of gender, religion, and politics. He plays the piano and the bass guitar, and loves to sing even though his voice is terrible. Twitter handle: @Ubeejohnson.
Visual Art: Hummingbird, A VISPO by Robert Frede Kenter. Twitter: @frede_kenter.