a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
[content warning: self harm]
When the spirit of the Lord comes over Sade the first time, she is too young to understand what it is. She is riding back home in her father’s Ford Escort when the golden yellow light penetrates her chest, diffusing love and joy and peace into her, flushing away the bitterness her teachers claim she’s displayed at her tender age. The gleaming goodness encompasses her at this instant before she can even take another breath, and it takes only seven seconds for the chant spewing from her lips to be altered from Fela’s ‘Expensive Shit’ to a more heavenly language.
She may not understand what has descended on her, but she feels at home with it, she adores it. She remains calm and makes herself a vessel for this spirit to do as it wishes, but terrifies her father in the process. Through the rear mirror, he peeps at his daughter but only seeing her brown lips dancing sporadically to a rhythm he never taught her, he’s befuddled. His fingers clawing at the steering wheel with fright and confusion, he watches her stare into nothingness, her súkù sticking out her occiput like one enormous horn of bronze. Something within him cautions him, telling him to admit that this is beyond him, perhaps, even beyond Fela’s therapeutic lyrics. But he increases the volume of the track, intensifying the trumpets and the raspy voice. He screams at the top of his lungs in imperfect harmony, “my shit na exhibit, it must not lost oh!”— words of revival he believes will deliver his daughter. He gives it seconds, waiting for her little voice to pick up with her singing, for everything to go back to normal, but sadly, nothing changes. So, he turns off the car’s ignition in the middle of the road, shuts his eyes, and as he does what he considers praying— Fela’s irate singing still playing in the background, his darling Sade begins to tremble, uncontrollably, spewing a foamy liquid now, and not gibberish words from her lips. It is at this moment it becomes certain that his gods have returned like they said they would, as they promised they would.
That night, after taking Sade to the hospital just to hear the nonsense the doctor will utter about a mild convulsive seizure that’d suddenly overcome her, and how Phenobarbital plus a three-hour rest would do the trick, Mr. Adelotan cleans out the room he's always told his wife to keep away from. He lays his daughter on the concreted floors and erects six candles about her like an anointed lamb— two by her head, feet, and at each side of her trunk. He listens for silence as is required for a successful ritual, but the distant muezzin call, and an indistinguishable splash, whomp and thud as someone draws water from the neighborhood well resounds in its absence. So, he makes do with what he has, focusing on the candles, gleaming as the flames burn brightly, bathing the unpainted room in its divine orange-yellow, yet casting thin, shackle-like shadows that run along the floors, up the walls, across the ceiling, and around Sade’s mollified body.
In chalk, he scribbles a vivid image of Yemoja, the deity after Sade; letting her fierce eyes, and voluptuous entirety run from his little girl's bare chest to her gnarly hands and feet. He then kneels outside the altar he’s consecrated and placed her in the middle of, his eyes set on the shadows and Yemoja’s frightening image, for a sign. He will sing for hours till she flees from his daughter’s insides as wisps of smoke, in the form sketched on her skin.
He claims he has the authority of Orunmila, toughening his voice, so it is livid and peevish like Fela’s own, and he tells her to flee, that she has come far too early, and it is not yet his Sade’s time. Over and over he does this, night after night, till Sade sees the Lord a second time, three years later, rings of fire burning mightily around His waist.
It is a trance she is sent to after she listens to her mother’s protruded belly and hits her head forcibly on the ground. He is more graphic and incandescent this time, maybe she would even call him beautiful if her eyes could meet his eyes or nose, or lips. He lends his hand to her, and through its warmth, she tastes His kindness. He picks her up from the ground, lets her dust herself, then shows her the so many times in the eleven years of her life she has not been patient. Like when her seven-year-old self bent a little boy's knuckles backward after he stole her crayon, when she in Primary four started a fight because someone caught in the queue before her, and just two weeks ago when Abraham, one idiot in her class pulled up her skirt and sprinted.
She sees herself flare-up, chase Abraham out of the class, down the hallway, to the parking lot at the back of the school. Because Abraham is a boy and his agility is to an extent greater than hers, she scours for a hack on the ground to slow him down. She sights three rocks along the path and picks them up despite knowing how terrible her aim is. She hurls. One shatters the windscreen of the coaster bus and lands on the driver’s cushion, one goes over the fence into another compound from where a woman screams “Ewoo, my flower pot”, and the last hits Abraham, her target, at the back of his head, sending him to the ground with a wham.
In a matter of seconds, he begins to bleed. Tears well up in his eyes as he places his hand on where he feels the hurt, to feel the injury and see the blood. Tears roll down his cheeks as he sights Sade step closer— fists balled, teeth clenched, eyes deadened. A part of him wants to plead, a part of him wants to guffaw and call her a freak with huge nyansh like the headmistress' own. But he struggles with these two parts of him and keeps mum.
She sees herself grin at Abraham's broken and defeated frame, at his crystal blue uniform shirt soaked in his tears and blood, at his palms put together vertically, in total submission to her. She picks up the rock that hit its target, smiles and although the Lord doesn’t show her slam it on the sides of his head more times than she can count, she hears it— the smashing, Abraham’s irritatingly shrill screaming, everything. She hears the headmistress saying awful things about her, her mother scolding her in Yoruba, her father’s feet tapping the floors arrhythmically. Then, everything fades to grey, and she is alone with Him again. No Abraham, no blood, no voices.
He glistens even more and is about to show her another moment when suddenly, she screams, propelling herself to a void where the white meets the grey but doesn't mix with it. She says how is she supposed to be patient when Abraham did that kind of thing to her, she asks if turning a blind eye would have made Him think better of her, if that was what was expected of her. She tells him of boys like Abraham, who take timid and helpless girls for granted, who think they can do whatever they want because they are sure the girls won’t retaliate and they’ll get away with it. She asks him why he even let Abraham’s parents name him Abraham if he knew he would be nothing like whom he was named after. She asks how Bible Abraham behaved as a child, if he was anything like stupid, dustbin Abraham in her school. His silence strikes her, so she asks how real He even is, how real the Bible is— if the characters were people who lived, or pawns to stories that have been told too much, for too long, so they now seem real. She says she has one more question, then goes on her knees amid the void— its light and darkness— and says that He should please, please, answer this one, and with her vision clouded with tears and blinded by His magnificence, she asks Him if He created the world, then who created Him.
Tranquility overcomes her thoughts, her mind, and her soul, but on the outside, her muscles are palpitating, and her mother is flailing her hands, running from parlour to room to balcony, panicking, and screaming, "Blood of Jesus, Baba Sade, Blood of Jesus!" She goes into labour at that moment, in that tension, so she keeps calling on the Lord, louder and louder with each pain she feels, till the baby, Ayanfeoluwanimi begins to cry.
The years passing leave Sade distraught as she neither sees nor hears from the Lord. She feels, deep inside, that He deserted her because she didn't understand what He stood for and questioned Him only to nourish her disbelief in Him. She understands now though how one’s life could just be a series of meaningless encounters without Him, or like a thin piece of wool; lost, forsook, not tethered to anything. So, she tries many things to get herself to see Him again. She calls on Him by his many names— Jireh, Yahweh, Elohim, Elshaddai. She kneels, at night, her eyes closed, her hands put together, and she begs Him for His warm golden-yellow light, one last time. Sometimes, she begs pacing, crying, and trampling over her LAMLAD textbooks like she will not need them in April for Junior WAEC. Then, she gets a phone from her parents before SSS1 starts— this Nokia 3310 that only has Calculator, Torchlight, Phone, Contacts, a ridiculously addictive snake game, and 2go.
She meets someone on this 2go, someone who calls themself Citizenofheaven2020, someone who causes her to be more pleased and less disturbed. Someone who tells her she is not bonkers, and actually makes her believe it. Someone who says they are just like her, and have felt the Lord pass through them, but in a crimson-violet wave. Someone who tells her about the very few of them and their Facebook group, but makes Sade guess what the last four numbers of their username stand for before she’s added. She says she doesn’t know, truthfully, and they inform her that it’s the year of His second return, the year of rapture. He told me when He appeared to me, they say, and Sade, in utter amazement, becomes ensorcelled by them, this genuinely ethereal Citizenofheaven2020. They chat about the Lord and their trances for hours, and Sade tells them that she wants to see Him again, that she’s been trying, so they advice her to be more perfervid about her spirituality like it’s the only task she was brought to this earth to accomplish, and she listens. She sends herself forth from the Sunday School to the Adult's Church. There, she learns to recite the Apostle's, Nicene, and St. Athanasius’ Creeds by heart. She becomes confirmed and she takes the sacrament of Holy Communion like it is her body she gobbles, and from her side, she gulps; hungrily, thirstily, sacredly.
She stops watching comedies and children’s shows and starts being more involved in Nigeria— in the floods, the upcoming elections, how it’s already been more than a year since the Chibok girls were abducted. She doesn’t want to think of them and the fact that they were just around her age, or let her mind wander to the girl they buried alive because she refused to deny Jesus. But she questions herself immensely, for what would she have done had she been in the girl’s shoes?
She cries, turns eighteen the next day, and declares that she's given up on ever seeing Him again.
The next Sunday’s sermon, centered around Paul and Silas, makes her think of imprisoning herself in her room, so immediately after church, she does it. She weeps behind closed doors, speaking to herself, telling herself things she feels He’d say at a time formidable as this. She eats food Ayanfe passes under the door for her and drinks the water from the tap in her bathroom. She piles plastic plates by her bedside so mosquitoes can fly in and perch and perch and keep perching, on the leftover grains and her flesh. Then, a brilliant plan takes form— fall ill, die, see Him.
While she plots and executes, her mother knocks, sobs, and on most days, falls asleep by the door, hopeful that by the morning, it’ll be open. But Sade is so close to seeing Him again, she knows, so she doesn’t cave to her mother’s whimpering. She pleads, looks up to Him, and allows for the perching.
Then, one particular morning comes, as Ayanfe slides a plate of macaroni and stew beneath her door, she obeys the something within her that tells her to step closer to the door and open it. She sees her little brother in his school uniform— white collared T-shirt, grey knickers, red tie with silver stripes— and grins widely. She remains by the door, but no words proceed from her parched lips. Her eyes move from his wrung mouth to the effulgence in his eyes, and as she’s about to shout His names, burst into laughter at what He put her through, and embrace Him in Ayanfe, her mother appears at the space between the door and its frame. She pushes to keep the door open, and Sade pushes to close it.
“Sade, ṣe o ya were, you want to injure me?” her mother queries, furiously, but with a wave of worry overshadowing it.
“Màámi, I have to see Him.”
“Folashade, Ki lo fe, see who?” She presses her cheek on the wooden door to support her hands. “Folashade, whatever it is, with the help of God, your father and I will help you get through it.”
“It is Him I want to see.”
“But you know your father is at work.”
“No, not Bàámi.”
“Who then Sade?” The door slams in her face, but she keeps screaming “Who Sade? Sade, who?” till the time of twilight when her husband returns and talks her into sleeping in their bed, and not by Sade’s door, this night. She waits for him to fall asleep, then she tiptoes to the door, and sits there, crying and clutching her Bible to her bosom till she dozes off, leaving Sade to continue striding and receiving advice from her divine friend whom the Lord proclaimed His coming to.
It takes two months of no Holy Communion, a diagnosis of chronic malaria, and a dick pic from Citizenofheaven2020 for her to pave way for the realism that He’s truly gone, that His heart has been hardened, that she shall not catch a glimpse of Him once more.
After recovering, she stands in front of the mirror, and glaring at her reflection, she concludes that she doesn’t want to be this skinny, eye-bag-ridden religious fanatic anymore. So, before dinner, aiming to be unrecognisable, she snipes off her virgin hair with scissors, then uses Ayanfe’s clipper to shave off surviving strands. She struts to dining, her shaven head, dribbling water, and she announces her desire to change her name to something spicy, something sensual, something that screams, sings, and shits YOLO. Her parents don’t know what to say, or how to make sense of what she says, so they stare, and Ayanfe stares too; at his sister’s gorimakpa and the light bulb dangling from the ceiling, directly above it.
The third time comes at a party on the west side of campus behind the Law faculty building. A friend invites her and gifts her a ticket, but on getting to the venue she doesn’t see the friend. Nonetheless, she decides to stay. She drinks stout, vodka in a little glassware, and stout again. Then, a little inebriated, she grabs a stranger by the round neck of his T-shirt, seduces him into buying her stout, and makes him rock her to the melody of Davido’s ‘If’ blasting from the speakers, just so she can size his penis.
Unlike the first time the Lord descended on her, she does understand what she’s doing. Maybe she doesn’t know why she’s doing it, but every heartbeat seems to arouse everything in her. She turns, her eyes to his makes her way down his sleeves with her fingers, whispers in his ear a yes, and as the next blink finds them in a bathroom stall, moaning and cussing, all of her begin to pulsate. Twenty-five minutes later, to the eyes of a murder of blitzed and jaded youth, she is in an ambulance headed to Wilton Hospital, Yaba, but within her, she sees Him, all of Him. Finally!
She awakes, minutes later, a blurry, rackety fan overhead, and her mother, dissevered, by the bedside muttering words with her head on her laps. A smile creeps on her face when she notices her daughter’s eyes are finally half-open, and intermittently, tears roll down her ruffled cheeks, to her unctuous neck. She sights her daughter struggling to lean up, so she rushes to her side and assists her. She tells her to take it easy, puffs the pillow beneath her, then presses her lips against her forehead.
But Sade, with a drowsy composure, continues to struggle, so all of her back can lean on all of the hospital bed’s white metal frame. Her eyes move from the window’s view of the clamorous city streets to her mother's eyes, then to her arm. She sights a bandaid and a narrow tube leading to where her eyes can’t follow at the moment, and she screams as loud as she can, which is as loud as a tortured squirrel’s squeak. With the little energy she has, she tries to rip the bandaid and the tube, but her mother stops her, overpowers her.
She feels an additional weakening seeping into her bones; painfully, gallingly, yet dangerously pleasurable. It wraps around her like a rope, like the thin, untethered rope she is without the Lord. The Lord. Yes, the Lord! He came over her in the violently inspiriting way He usually does. He usurped her, and that’s why she’s here, on this bed, drifting out of unconsciousness and gradually, back into it. But she doesn’t recall what He said to her, or what He showed her, or the calmness of his golden-yellow light.
She closes her eyes to remember, for she must remember, for how can she wait nine long years to see Him to not remember her encounter with Him? Her fingernails dig into the hibiscus-patterned bedsheets, claw at it, and tear, frustratingly. She doesn’t remember, she can’t remember!
“Why can’t I remember?” she screams, her voice finally finding itself.
“Remember what, Sade?”
“Him! I can’t remember Him!” The tears overwhelm her now, and the crying breaks her voice into a rough groan, but she keeps speaking. “First, I can’t see Him. Now, when I see Him I can’t remember seeing Him?”
Her mother’s eyes peer at her intently, like she understands, or if she doesn’t, like she wants to, like she'll do everything in her power to. So, she cries some more, her head, with all of its aches and worries, on her mother’s bosom.
For a moment, there’s sobbing, then silence, then her mother says she should eat something, that the doctor said she’ll need something strong to eat— possibly amala or eba if she can swallow— after that dose of injection he gave…
“Injection? What injection?” Sade, as quick as she can, gets away from her mother’s face, away from the bed. “Màámi, what was in the injection?”
Her mother says she doesn’t know, then tells her to sit back down, that she may faint if she takes another step.
But Sade keeps limping backward, yelling at her mother to stay away from her, screaming, “That’s why! That’s why I can’t fucking see Him!”
Her mother steps closer, repeats herself, tells her to come back to the bed, that maybe it’s even the injection that’s making her shout nonsense.
She says she’s not mad, and that she’s not crazy. She yells it so hard and so loud, her mother shrieks. She admits, in stutters, that she can see God, and that He sees her, and that He loves her! That He tells her things she should know to be better, that He teaches her how she can be an embodiment of Him, and only Him. That He gives her peace!
She keeps talking, narrating her encounters with Him, but her mother, not understanding what she says screams for the doctor and the nurses.
She gets on her knees and crawls to her mother. “You have to believe me! You have to understand that I have seen God.” She holds the hem of her mother’s gown and stares into her eyes for that warmth she saw earlier, for that peace, for Him, and as she does, a slim, bearded doctor rushes in with two nurses having syringes in their hands.
They grasp her from her arms, to the hospital’s profiling bed, and all she can see is her mother cupping her mouth in a fazed distance. She hears sobbing; hers, her mother’s, and one that belongs to Ayanfe, who stands at the doorway, trembling. She hears the nurses complain about how her violent shaking will break the needle oh. She hears the rackety fans, screeching and swooshing, and it transports her to a divine trumpeting.
She hums to this celestial trumpeting, her eyes closed and mouth opened, as the doctor grips her palpitating wrist, and floods her with this substance that will cleanse her of Him, forever.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.