Into His Arms
Afadina Dotse staggered out of Vodunon Axuadegbeā€™s shrine towards his BMW 525i car, mumbling ā€�I shouldā€™ve left them alone.ā€¯ A medium-built customs clearance agent with close-cropped hair, a thick moustache, and wearing a rich lace dress, Afadina sagged against the car door.
He recalled Mrs. Emefa Sekaya in all her beauty and the husband he didnā€™t know. And now they were dead! No, my God! His wide chest quivered with sobs and tears streamed down his well-filled cheeks.
Afadina slid into the car and hunched over the steering wheel drove slowly away. Drivers on the Cotonou-LomĆ© highway that Sunday blared their horns behind him and glowered at him as if heā€™d walked over their neatly-trimmed front lawns.
Afadina honked in front of his garage and his house-boy Kofi threw the door open. He drove in and went straight to his bedroom and hurled himself on his neatly-made bed and sobbed.
Minutes later, his barkeeper-neighbor Thomas de Souza walked over, bare chest.
ā€�Why no pii, pii, pii, or even a wave,ā€¯ he said.
Afadina rubbed his palm across his face. ā€�Iā€™m dazed.ā€¯
ā€�Customs officers again?ā€¯
He shook his head. ā€�Itā€™s worse. Iā€™ll tell you about it later.ā€¯
Thomas stared at Afadina and then said, ā€�Iā€™m home, if you need me.ā€¯
Soon after, a slim man in freshly-ironed clothes and clutching a Bible fingered the bell.
ā€�Who is it again?ā€¯ Afadina bellowed.
ā€�Paul Bellow,ā€¯ Kofi said.
Afadina received Paul in a straw hut adjacent to the sitting room.
ā€�You look sick.ā€¯ Paul observed.
Afadina snorted and clutched his forehead. Then he sighed loud enough to put out a candle. ā€�I want to convert,ā€¯ he opened up like in anger.
Paul sprang up and cried, ā€�Hallelujah! Oh, Jehovah-Nissi, may your Holy Name be praised.ā€¯
Afadina kept his posture.
Paul glanced at his watch and sighed. ā€�Iā€™ve to interpret someone on Christ dying for us. You shouldnā€™t miss it.ā€¯
Afadina shook his head. ā€�I canā€™t stand all that noise now.ā€¯ Afadina had often fumed at the loud singing from the Followers of Christ Church down the block, at the other side of the T junction.
ā€�It isnā€™t noise we make there,ā€¯ Paul said. ā€�We display our joy in Him. Letā€™s go submit your load to Christ, heā€™ll console you. ā€¯
ā€�Not now, I said.ā€¯ Afadinaā€™s voice rose.
ā€�Okay,ā€¯ Paul said, ā€�Iā€™ll come over after church with Esenam Fiaty, a converted fetish priestess. She has the gift of sustaining new converts.ā€¯
ā€�Now, letā€™s pray.ā€¯ Paul said. ā€�Oh Lord Jesus Christ, you know our every weakness. Iā€™m entrusting my brother to you: take him into your hands and let him find solace there. Amen!ā€¯
ā€�Amen,ā€¯ Afadina said and Paul left.
Afadina felt a bit better. This was different from when Paul showed him how to accept Jesus. He just listened. Paul said he should admit that he had sinned, then confess and God will cleanse his sins away. Next, he should believe in Jesus to have eternal life. Then tell God he wanted to receive Jesus into his life to become a child of God. Finally he should ask God to help him live according to His ways.
ā€�I was called Shitu,ā€¯ Paul had said. ā€�And when born again I became Paul. Iā€™ve no regrets, why should you?ā€¯
Afadina sighed and thought.
Thomas returned wearing a breweryā€™s T-shirt.
ā€�Did Paul come for money?ā€¯ he sneered. ā€�He looked thrilled.ā€¯
Afadina shook his head. ā€�He prayed for me.ā€¯
ā€�Prayed for you?ā€¯ Thomas tittered.
Afadina nodded. ā€�Some people died today through my fault.ā€¯
Thomas sat down, wide-eyed.
Afadina sighed like a compressor releasing steam. ā€�I took a woman to be charmed to become my lover. But the Hunoā€™s portion killed her and her husband.ā€¯
Thomas shrieked. ā€�Thatā€™s terrible, but thereā€™s a purification ceremony for it. I know someone from Abomey who can perform it.ā€¯
ā€�Abomey again?ā€¯ Afadina howled.
Thomas nodded and whipped out a business card. ā€�Call me this guy: Rigobert Zokpodo.ā€¯
Scowling, Afadina dialled Rigobertā€™s number and handed Thomas the phone. Thomas asked Rigobert to see him immediately.
ā€�Iā€™ve appointment with Paul,ā€¯ Afadina said.
ā€�Cancel it,ā€¯ Thomas urged. ā€�This isnā€™t a matter for Church people.ā€¯
Afadina agreed and postponed the appointment.
Rigobert arrived and suggested his uncle, Huno Glele. Thomas called him for an appointment. He gave them nine oā€™clock the next day.
Thomas covered the mouthpiece. ā€�Is nine tomorrow okay?ā€¯ he said to Afadina.
Afadina scowled. ā€�I donā€™t know. Anything.ā€¯
Thomas uncovered the mouthpiece. ā€�Agreed.ā€¯
When Thomas and Rigobert arrived at Afadinaā€™s house at 8.30, he plodded into the garage and kicked the right, front tire. ā€�We canā€™t go,ā€¯ he said. ā€�Iā€™ve a flat.ā€¯
ā€�A flat isnā€™t a broken down car,ā€¯ Thomas said and waved to Rigobert to help him change the tire. A few minutes later, they were on their way to Gleleā€™s.
Huno Glele received them in a side-room which smelled stale. Afadina winced at the deity in a corner yet he didnā€™t rule out performing the purification ceremony. As Thomas had said, he could become Christian afterwards. He kept on seeing Mrs. Sekaya and a man in horrible dreams. That must stop.
After receiving the consultation fee of two thousand francs,ā€¯ā€”about $4, Huno Glele recited: ā€�Iā€™ll need a goat, a cock, a hen, a duck, three pigeons,--all whiteā€”one big bottle of imported schnapps, one big bottle of foreign gin, one beer bottle of sodabi-ā€� ā€”the locally brewed ginā€”ā€�-three bottles of soft drinks, herbs and other ingredients that Iā€™ll look for myself, and a fee of one hundred thousand francs.ā€¯
Thomas nudged Afadina when the Huno finished giving the list.
ā€�I donā€™t have that much money here now,ā€¯ he almost growled.
Huno Glele rose. ā€�Come when youā€™re ready.ā€¯
ā€�Itā€™s too much,ā€¯ Afadina whispered to Thomas as they walked away. ā€�I donā€™t think I want to do it.ā€¯
ā€�Donā€™t joke with this,ā€¯ Thomas advised seriously.
Afadina nodded, yet something disturbed him. ā€�Tom, sincerely I donā€™t want any purification ceremony,ā€¯ he blurted out in the car.
ā€�Letā€™s clear off this blemish,ā€¯ Thomas said.
Jesus will do it better, Afadina wanted to say.
ā€�Weā€™re in Africa, with our African realities. Supposing the deceasedā€™sā€™ people find out they died through somebodyā€™s fault. Do you think
Afadina thought of that. Okay heā€™d purge himself of whatever stain there was but he was bent on being born again. ā€�Okay,ā€¯ he said quietly.
ā€�If money is the problemā€”but I know it isnā€™tā€”Iā€™ll borrow it.ā€¯
ā€�No,ā€¯ Afadina said, ā€�I donā€™t like to borrow money, even from the bank.ā€¯
ā€�Iā€™ll borrow even from the devil,ā€¯ Thomas said seriously.
Afadina raised his eyebrows
On Wednesday evening Afadinaā€™s telephone rang. As he took the call, a scowl formed on his face. Why didnā€™t Paul contact him before making the arrangements to bring Esenam Fiaty and a prayer group to his house? He fumed although he yearned for their presence. He has been thinking about his life and something was melting in him.
Now, he accepted that the inflammatory preaching from the FCC pricked his conscience, forcing him to reconsider his way of life. He and Thomas sneered at the congregationā€™s happiness as religious opium. Yet he knew terrible people who Christ transformed totally. Jesus must be more than opium. But leaving the girls, drinks, parties, night clubs, well, that was the whole snag.
Paul came in singing and dancing with three women and four men. Afadina wondered if he could also dance, but hadnā€™t he been doing so in night clubs? They prayed long with him. Then Paul opened the Bible.
ā€�Psalm 119:73: ā€�Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands.ā€™ Thatā€™s what we wish for our brother. Sœur Esenam-ā€¯ Paul nodded to a lanky woman.
Esenam Fiaty smiled. ā€�My brother, I know exactly what youā€™re going through because Iā€™ve been there too.ā€¯
ā€�Weā€™ll tear down the power of the devil today,ā€¯ a slim man cut in.
ā€�Amen!ā€¯ the others chorused.
Esenam continued. ā€�If youā€™re reluctant to leave worldly things, wondering if being in Christ is interesting, Iā€™d say yes it is!ā€¯
ā€�Amen!ā€¯ somebody cried.
ā€�Nobody loves gods more than the people of my village,ā€¯ Esenam continued. ā€�And none of them was as initiated as me. But Iā€™ve abandoned everything and today Iā€™m free and happy.ā€¯
ā€�Hallelujah!ā€¯ a lady shouted.
ā€�Amen!ā€¯ the others answered.
ā€�I no longer have to worry about animals, drinks, and money to have my problems solved. Christ does so free of charge.ā€¯
ā€�Hallelujah!ā€¯ Paul cried.
Afadina, who had all the time been considering if he would convert this time, stared at Esenam and lowered his eyes again. Could he one day be able to set eyes on a beautiful woman without desiring her?
ā€�Letā€™s listen to each read a biblical verse to meditate on,ā€¯ Paul said.
ā€�The Acts 4:12: ā€�Neither is there salvation in any other : for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.ā€™ā€¯
ā€�Matthew 11:28: ā€�Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.ā€¯ā€™
ā€�Isaiah 1:18: ā€�Come now, and let us reason together, said the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.ā€™ā€¯
ā€�Romans 8:6: ā€�For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.ā€™ā€¯
ā€�Jeremiah 23:24: ā€�Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? said the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? said the Lord.ā€™ā€¯
ā€�II Corinthians 5:10: ā€�For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, whether it be good or bad .ā€¯ā€™
ā€�Colossians 3:2: ā€�Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.ā€¯ā€™
Paul added: ā€�John 8:44: ā€�You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will doā€¦ When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar and the father of it.ā€™ And Psalm 16:11: ā€�ā€¦ in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures for evermore.ā€™ā€¯
The meditation of the citations hadnā€™t finished before Afadina decided to abandon definitely the purification ceremony and embrace Christ.
Easter Friday. Afadina laid his best suit across the bed. Then he shuffled into the hall and was wondering if he really wanted to go to church when Thomas slid in.
ā€�A debtor yesterday paid me a large sum. Rigobert and I have sent the items to Huno Glele. Warm up your car and letā€™s go.ā€¯
Afadina felt like exploding at Thomas. He had told him he hated credits. Why didnā€™t he contact him before buying the items? Afadina shook his head.
ā€�Huh?ā€¯ Thomasā€™ eyes widened.
ā€�Iā€™m going to church.ā€¯
ā€�Church? You?ā€¯ Thomas laughed.
ā€�You mean, we wouldnā€™t be having any more good time? Cā€™mon, talk sense.ā€¯
Afadina wondered why Thomas was so insensitive to what he was feeling. Or did he think that he was joking about going through a dark moment? ā€�Iā€™m serious, Thomas.ā€¯
Thomas backtracked and peered at Afadina. ā€�What about the ceremony?ā€¯ he said quietly.
ā€�Iā€™m through with those things.ā€¯
The two sat lost in their thoughts and hardly noticed Paul stride in. ā€�Hallelujah!ā€¯ he cried.
ā€�Amen,ā€¯ Afadina answered.
Thomas leered at Paul.
ā€�The old has gone, the new has come,ā€¯ Paul said. ā€�Saved are those who follow the Lord.ā€¯
ā€�Youā€™re disturbing us,ā€¯ Thomas snapped. ā€�Weā€™re going for a ceremony.ā€¯
ā€�Weā€™re going where one doesnā€™t need blood, oil, drink, or money to be saved.ā€¯
ā€�Donā€™t you take collection at your church? What do you call it? Rubbish?ā€¯
ā€�Itā€™s for the Lordā€™s work.ā€¯
Thomas dragged Afadina aside. ā€�Let that joker go away,ā€¯ he said. ā€�Do you think Iā€™ll invest in the purification ceremony if I didnā€™t trust it?ā€¯
Back, Afadina didnā€™t act.
ā€�Anyone trying to ruin this ceremony will face the wrath of the gods,ā€¯ Thomas threatened.
ā€�I cannot be afraid of a god that one can carry about,ā€¯ Paul said and Afadina laughed. ā€�I worship a living God."
ā€�Go to hell with your church matters!ā€¯ Thomas exploded and left in a huff, muttering threats.
ā€�Esenam Fiaty says such ceremonies could be dangerous,ā€¯ Paul said. ā€�They donā€™t tell you everything. Why is Thomas so insistent while youā€™re the one concerned. Does he have some interest in it?ā€¯
Afadina shrugged. He didnā€™t know who to believe now. ā€�Could you give me some time to sort out my feelings?ā€¯
ā€�This life is not ours,ā€¯ Paul said. ā€�The lord can take it back at any time. Think about that.ā€¯
On Sunday Afadina felt like a child left to itself in the dark. Even in the day, he sees images of Mrs. Sekaya and a man. Is Thomasā€™ group not throwing charms his way? Or does he really need the purification ceremony to protect him? Wouldnā€™t conversion to Christ be better? ā€�Oh jeez,ā€¯ Afadina sobbed and wondered what to do. Then the bell rang. He jumped up. ā€�Go see who it is,ā€¯ he said to Kofi, wishing it was Paul.
He parted the window curtain slightly to see Thomas and Huno Glele hurrying in. He sighed.
ā€�Huno Glele has an interesting proposal,ā€¯ Thomas said.
Afadina wondered what that was.
ā€�Iā€™ve consulted the afa and it recommends initiation into a powerful secret society which will look after you.ā€¯ Huno Glele smiled, revealing brown teeth.
Afadina wondered what prompted this seemingly busy man to come to his house.
ā€�Youā€™ll have total protection, thereā€™ll be no more surprises.ā€¯
Afadina felt like bursting into laughter. If there was such a power, Vodunon Axuadegbe would have foreseen Mr. and Mrs. Sekayaā€™s death.
ā€�The ceremonies are a little bit expensive,ā€¯ Huno Glele added.
Just then Paul, Esenam, and their group burst in.
Afadina knew that he didnā€™t want to be initiated into any secret society where strange things happen to one, such as members of oneā€™s family dying mysteriously at regular intervals.
ā€�I want to leave a smaller evil,ā€¯ Afadina said, ā€�And you people want to thrust me into a bigger one. ā€�No.ā€¯ He shook his head. ā€�Jesus is my savior.ā€¯ He waved to Paulā€™s group. ā€�Come. Come. Come.ā€¯
ā€�Evil?ā€¯ Huno Glele said and stormed out.
Thomas flashed Afadina a hurt look and followed Huno Glele out.
Paulā€™s group sang louder and danced. Afadina rocked too. What was the sense in worrying about the pleasures of the ephemeral body and the vanities of this world which will pass away? Afadina crumbled onto his knees. ā€�Lord Jesus Christ,ā€¯ he confessed. ā€�Iā€™ve sinned grieviously against you and your father. Wipe away my sins and make me yours.ā€¯
ā€�Amen!ā€¯ the group thundered, muttering prayers which gave Afadina goose pimples.
ā€�Paul lifted Afadina to his feet. ā€�Christ is waiting for you with wide-open arms.ā€¯
ā€�Yes,ā€¯ he said through tears, ā€�carry me into His arms.ā€¯ Afadina felt good to have finally taken the perpetually delayed decision for the salvation of his eternal soul.
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