Dread, distress—these inimical emotions gripped Ikenna’s wiry body like unseen claws as he trod through the narrow corridor, dragging his feet along the cracked tiles of the floor in a futile effort to delay reaching the office of his master, Pastor Onyekachi. The man had yelled for him a few minutes ago, and Ikenna had lived with him long enough to know he doesn’t call people for nothing, especially at those hours that the sun hung fiercely on the azure sky like those chandeliers that droop from the ceilings of the affluent houses in Bollywood movies.
The tension writhing Ikenna’s heart was induced by the fact that he had been called from the office. Ikenna often wondered if the strict prohibition was because the man didn’t want them, using their frivolous plays, to disturb God, whom Ikenna often imagined to sit there with him all day long.
The somber thoughts drifting around Ikenna’s mind were cut short when he reached the brown, steel door of the office, his tiny legs pausing. Taking a deep breath, too long, he gasped audibly when he stopped inhaling. He raised his fisted knuckles and rapped at the door twice, the reverberating thumps reverberating in his heart.
“Come in,” he heard the gravelly voice of his master say, muffled slightly by the shut door.
Gripping the door’s faded silver knob, Ikenna slowly nudged it open so that the rusted bolts didn’t creak too loudly, failing to aggravate his master, who hated needless noises with a fierceness so volatile that only a militant could summon. When the door opened just enough for him, he ducked through, pressing it close behind him.
Pastor Onyekachi was seated on a worn leather chair at the extreme of the office, right before the window with panes of square glasses cloudy from the layers of dust that had gathered on them, his fingers skimming up and down as he scribbled words on a notepad atop the table before him.
“You’re hereeeee…” he said without looking up, dragging the word long enough to match the one he was writing, finishing both with a quick click of his pen as he dotted a full stop.
“Yes,” Ikenna muttered. Cold sweat had already broken over his back and armpits, making them unbearably itchy, yet he couldn’t scratch them because that would require movement, and he wasn’t trying to make his presence noticeable.
After what felt like a millennium to Ikenna, though it was only ten seconds or so, Pastor Onyekachi looked up from his note to gaze at him. Ikenna refused to catch his eyes. He instead looked over the man’s shoulder, to the blue paint of the office wall. Ikenna feared his master’s eyes; to him, they were more ferocious than his face, which was always set in a grim frown, making him look like he was angry all the time. He felt bare as he stood there while the man scrutinized him like he was looking for a bruise, an abnormality, or that blot he often preached would taint someone’s white gown.
“Come and sit,” Pastor Onyekachi uttered with a smile, having seen enough of whatever he was looking for.
As Ikenna walked to sit on one of the other chairs—a white plastic chair—he thought how odd it was that his master had smiled, knowing the man rarely smiled; when he did, it was because a member of his congregation had dropped a particularly bulky brown envelope into the tithe box.
“Not there!” Pastor Onyekachi’s tongue fired, his face contorting into an ugly scowl that lasted for a second before another grin pulled his lips apart. Ikenna leaped quickly from the chair, as if it was hot, as if it was made of lava, wondering if he had sat on the wrong seat—the one reserved solely for God. He looked up to apologize, but then, his eyes followed the smile on his master’s face, then his hands as they gestured to his thighs before he repeated, “Come and sit here.”
Ikenna stepped over gingerly and sat timidly on his master’s thighs. The man drew open a drawer under the table and pulled out a Snickers chocolate. Ikenna felt saliva flood his mouth as he stared at the chocolate, which he had only tasted once because he had retrieved an expired one from the wastebasket where it was disposed of.
“Take,” Pastor Onyekachi mumbled, his breath washing over Ikenna’s face, making him grimace because it smelled tangy, like he had eaten a meal that had onions, or maybe, garlic.
“Thank you,” Ikenna said as he took the chocolate.
“Ikenna’m, you know I like you,” Pastor Onyekachi whispered, snaking his arm around Ikenna’s bony waist.
Even though Ikenna didn’t think so because of how strict the man had been with him, he bobbed his head in agreement.
“Do you know why?” Pastor Onyekachi asked in a voice so silky. Ikenna wondered why he wasn’t using his normal deep, booming voice—the one with which he thundered down on his congregation from the pulpit, like Ikenna had often imagined God must have thundered down on Moses from the skies. Ikenna shook his head, so he continued, “It’s because you’re a good boy. And, I’d do things for you if you maintained this good attitude. Now, Ikenna’m, will you do anything I ask you to?”
“Yes,” Ikenna croaked, his voice feeble in his ears.
And then, in one deft movement, Pastor Onyekachi weaved his hand into Ikenna’s navy shorts, his calloused palm seizing the boy’s penis, twisting it roughly. “Don’t ever tell anyone about this,” the man breathed, the words low but sharp, and Ikenna nodded frantically, frightened.
And, with a hasty smearing of Vaseline, and an even hastier wiggling of thick fingers into his anus, Ikenna lost his innocence, at just eleven, to Pastor Onyekachi, the very man to whom his mother had entrusted him, after learning he was looking for a housekeeper who he was willing to train in school.
The woman figured it would be a win-win situation since the man would be training Ikenna both in school and in the ways of God. It’s a blessing, she had thought, after all, catering for Ikenna and the other children, all five of them, was tough. There were times when she went to bed, crying, asking God why he had taken her husband, her solace, her helper from her. And Ikenna would overhear her and would wonder, for a moment, if God was actually listening. But, he believed he must, after all, his mother said God was everywhere and had multiple eyes that saw everything. But, sometimes, he would sit and think about it. If God was everywhere and had eyes that perceived everything, why then did he allow his father to get into an accident?
It happened again, three days later. Ikenna was in his room, sleeping, when he felt hands groping him. He jerked up, screaming, but a hand clasped his mouth, stifling the scream. Even in the darkness, Ikenna knew it was Pastor Onyekachi, from the harsh breathing, and, as the man rammed into him that night, afraid that his wife, Aunty Ginika, would hear them, Ikenna bit on his tongue until he felt a metallic taste flood his mouth.
When Ikenna came down the next morning, Aunty Ginika noticed the waddle in his gait, and asked, “Why are you walking like you pooped your pants?”
And, for a brief moment, they gawked at themselves in absolute quietness, so silent that if an ant had crawled by, they would have heard its footsteps, though it dissipated quickly when Pastor Onyekachi chided, “Leave the boy alone! He fell yesterday while running.”
At this, Ikenna sighed in relief because he didn’t know what to say in response to the question, but, while he brushed his teeth in the bathroom that day, he avoided the mirror lest he see God in his eyes, judging him through them.
One night, Ikenna locked his door and pretended like he was sleeping, and he refused to answer the door even when he heard Pastor Onyekachi twist the knob, whispering for him. He lay on the bed, trembling, until he heard the man walk away.
The following morning, a china slipped from Ikenna’s hand the following morning while he served Pastor Onyekachi and his wife, and the man sprang up from his seat like it was hot water that had dropped unto his thigh from the china, and not thin slices of bread, and had proceeded to lacerate Ikenna’s back with koboko, using such fervour that had the boy wondering if he was being beaten because he had broken a china or because he didn’t open his door the previous night.
“Please, abeg, agaghi’m eme ya ozo,” Ikenna sputtered pleas in a mixture of languages, not sure if he was also pleading for the broken china or the unopened door. After that day, he never hesitated to answer the door anytime Pastor Onyekachi came.
A few years later, by the time Ikenna was nineteen and in university, he was much aware of how difficult it was for him to get intimate with other people. One time, at an amorous party disguised as a get-together, a girl had slid her hand over his thigh to fondle his penis, “wait a sec,” he had stuttered, excusing himself to the restroom where he retched all he had eaten that night, his body wrenching with revulsion that made him feel more filthy than the toilets.
Sometimes, he worried if anyone would touch him without his body recoiling as if their palm was made of pins and, why the only time he felt collected, albeit simultaneously distressed, was when Pastor Onyekachi touched him.
Eight years had come and gone. Ikenna had graduated from university long since, worked as a Barrister for a law firm in Lagos, and owned a house and two cars.
It had been two long years since he had heard from Pastor Onyekachi’s family—he had misplaced his old phone, had lost their contacts, and was also busy generally—so, when he travelled to Onitsha to meet a wealthy client, he chose to use that opportunity to visit them.
Although he hadn’t been there for years, finding his way wasn’t difficult for him at all and, within minutes, he maneuvered his Lexus-350 to the compound where he used to live. He pondered, as he knocked on the door with peeling paints, how different things looked. Barely a minute later, the door was unlocked by Aunty Ginika whose eyes held an expression that revealed that she was surprised but pleased by his presence.
“You’ve come to see us,” the woman proclaimed, stepping forward to lock her arms around him in a warm embrace.
“Yes, Aunty,” said Ikenna, not failing to notice how her usual flowery scent was gone, replaced by the smell of spices and antibiotics, how she was clad in a tacky T-shirt that had a woman’s face and “Adieu Mama” printed on it instead of those gowns that hugged her body like a second skin, and how deep wrinkles furrowed the corners of eyes and lips like rumpled fabrics.
“Where is Oga?” Ikenna asked after he settled down in the shabby sittingroom, munching the chin-chin which was served to him by the older of Aunty Ginika’s nine-year-old twins, Ebube.
“Oh, he’s in the hospital,” Aunty Ginika bemoaned, then she went on a long rant about how a tumour was found growing in Pastor Onyekachi’s brain some months ago after severe headaches, how he was scheduled for an operation to remove it, how he slipped into a coma after the operation, how hard it had been for her, finally ending it with laments of how difficult it was for her to cater for their twins.
A look of incredulity creased Ikenna’s face because he couldn’t believe that an active man like Pastor Onyekachi could be reduced to such inertness, such fragility, such…disuse. But, waving the thought away, he gathered himself together and said, “It’s sad that this happened, but I’m willing to train the children in school. And, for the hospital bills, I’d also foot them, to give you chance to focus on yourself and your husband.”
Aunty Ginika slumped to her knees, words of appreciation spewing from her lips because of Ikenna’s benevolence, and even much later, when he stood to leave, her animated face divulged that she still had gratitude in her mouth, not yet said.
The shrill tune of Ikenna’s phone jarred him up from sleep the following Tuesday; it was Aunty Ginika calling. She informed him with a sullen voice that Pastor Onyekachi’s soul had snuck out of him the previous night.
Ikenna spent that whole day in his sittingroom, drinking the rich whiskey which he’d just opened, although it was given to him by a client on his last birthday, a movie left playing on the television. He didn’t know what to feel about the demise of his former master—despair, sadness, relief. He lacked the requisite words to describe how he felt, so, he just thought about the past, way past when he came to live with the Onyekachis’, when he was still in the village, hunting birds with his siblings and running in the cold rain with them. Then he thought of the future, about its promises.
Hardly two months later, Ikenna returned home from Pastor Onyekachi’s boisterous funeral with the man’s son, Ebube, in his backseat; Aunty Ginika had asked him to take the boy, and he conceded since he needed help around his house.
Although Ebube was well-behaved and smart, Ikenna found himself loathing him. This was because maybe, though light-skinned, the boy reminded him of Pastor Onyekachi. He could see the man in the boy’s face, and even in his speech. And, so, Ikenna would rebuke him at the slightest provocation, and with time, he began to pounce on him, and it was during one of these beatings that he discovered a potency and a sense of becoming ignited by the boy’s innocence and naivety, that washed over his body like tidal waves, finally turning into a pool of heat in his groin. Although Ikenna tried to suppress these feeling, it clawed at his skin to be let out and, with time, he found out, with his face burning with shame, that he was powerless against it. So, one day, he succumbed and called the boy into his room.
“Sah!” Ebube said when he came to answer, his legs squirming with fright.
“You’re here,” Ikenna announced like he hadn’t heard the boy come in. “Come!”
As the boy walked over, Ikenna reached for the light switch, flicking it off with one click, plunging the room in thick and an almost suffocating darkness, so that even if God were watching with His thousand eyes what he had planned to do, he would not see.