“And now we will begin seating the guests at the high table”, the emcee of the Nigerian function bellowed in the microphone as a song by Osita Osadebe blared in the background.
“Please clap for Dr. Augustus MD and Ngozi PharmD.”
Ngozi and her husband stood up and took their seats at the “high table”, which seemed to be mandatory at nearly any Nigerian function happening in America. She thought having a high table at a non-wedding event was a pretty asinine thing to do, but regardless, her husband loved the vanity of paying to sit in what most Nigerians would consider the VIP section, in front of the “lesser people”.
From the outside looking in, one would think that Ngozi had it all. A marriage to a man at the top of the social ladder in the Nigerian-American community; who just recently had been given a chieftaincy title in his village in Enugu state; a successful career as a pharmacist; three healthy, beautiful children all on the honor roll. But beyond the weekend galas, fancy designer clothing, and expensive cars lay a secret that was slowly killing her.
She went through great lengths to conceal her secret, in more ways than one. The makeup she spent alot of time on in the morning; the designer long sleeved shirts and pants. Ngozi was a masterful actress. When she was young, she had mastered the art of putting on whatever face she needed to put on in order to get what she wanted. Since she got married, she had been suffering, but smiling.
But even if she did have the courage to tell other people her secret, who would believe her? She was married to Prophet Dr. Augustus M.D, the second most powerful pastor to the local ministry of “Miracles & Healing.” The man known to his nephews and nieces to be the most generous uncle they had? Who would believe that this same man whose hands that gave so much to so many people would be capable of using those same hands to harm her?
For most of the marriage, she had convinced herself that it was her fault. Surely, there must have been something that she had done to cause him to change from being the charming, dashing medical student who had swept her off her feet to becoming the man who would smack her for putting too much pepper in his soup. In the good old days, he used to brag about how he bullied some of the younger medical students during his residency, but he always treated her like a queen. She never imagined that he would eventually start bullying her?
The first time he slapped her, it caught her off guard. She shrugged it off and figured that he was just under stress from examinations. But the slaps became frequent, and then they turned to punches, then all out beatings. She saw a different side of him, as well of herself. She learned that color correcting concealer was very good for covering black eyes. For a busted lip, coral lipstick worked wonders. And any other physical injury could easy be explained by her playing racquetball.
Ngozi didn’t know who to turn to. Her parents had passed away not long before the beatings began. As a pastor’s wife, the gossiping “market women” that attended their church were out of the question, and her siblings mooched off her husband too much and would probably beat her themselves if she did anything to get in the way of access to the money of their “rich” #1 in law. The only family members she felt she could turn to were the ones in spirit. Like a large portion of Igbos, She grew up Catholic, she had been raised to pray “to” Saints in her time of need. She figured that if she could pray to dead European who lived good lives, she could surely pray to dead Africans who did the same. She called out the names of her deceased relatives, both the ones she knew personally and the ones she didn’t know. As she called their names out in Igbo, tears were streaming down her cheeks mixing with the bruises. She wept, and wailed, and cried to them for support, for guidance, for protection. And then something very strange happened; Ngozi heard a reply to her prayers.
For her entire life, Ngozi had been extremely prayerful. She recited the Lord’s Prayer everyday, and in her youth, the entire Rosary on a regular basis. She still prayed to the Saints and to Mother Mary. But never had she actually heard any of them reply back. She paused. Maybe it was just her mind playing tricks on her. Then she heard the voice again reply.
There was only person who called her that. She recognized the voice and felt the presence of her late uncle Mazi Kalu Okoro Kalu, who had recently passed last year. Despite her Christian upbringing, Uncle Kalu was the uncle she was closest to, even though he was a dedicated eze (priest) of Amadioha, the God of Thunder and Lightning. Despite the warnings of her parents, and the rest of her uncles and aunts against her “heathen, wayward” uncle, she always considered Uncle Kalu her favorite. They were so close that he even said that they must have been siblings in a past life. She was the most devastated when he joined the rest of the ancestors after a long battle with cancer. But here he was speaking to her as though he were right there.
“I have seen what your husband has done to you. I’m sorry that I couldn’t protect you. But I will send you a spirit of truth and justice that will. The Amadioha priesthood has been in our family for generations, ever since its inception at Ozuzu. While others may call upon the spirit to fight on their behalf, our relationship with it goes far deeper. We are the only ones that have the capacity for the spirit to possess our bodies and not kill us in the process. The power of Amadioha runs strong in our family. Your father had that gift but ran away from it. I have it and I embraced it. And now you have it, and I shall teach you how to develop your gifts. Once you learn how to control this energy, no man will ever harm you again.”
Ngozi listened diligently to the words of her uncle. She took notes on all of the materials that she would have to gather to build the shrine.
Bamboo poles: Check
White cloth: Check
She dedicated a secluded area in the forest behind her backyard to construct it and set up a long bamboo pole that was being held up by two forked sticks. On the bamboo pole, hung the white cloth, as well as medicinal grass and charms she had made. The process was actually more enjoyable than she imagined it would be and really brought out her artistic side. That is, until it came time to sanctify the shrine using the best way possible…via blood sacrifice.
She hadn’t actually seen any animal killed since she was a young girl growing up in the village in Nigeria, and the thought of actually killing a chicken nowadays made her quite squeamish. Plus, she did not want to break any of her nails. Nonetheless, it was the final step in activating the shrine so she did what she needed to do.
There had been no rain in the weather forecast that week, but not too long after the shrine was consecrated, a thunderstorm rocked the town on a scale that hadn’t been seen in generations. It was so torrential that nearly everyone in her area lost power. There were rumblings that it would take days to restore it all. Luckily, all the members of Ngozi’s family made it home safe and sound. And despite the fact that they lived in a country with 24 hours of constant electricity, the Nigerian habit of having a generator handy is one that they never lost.
That night, she had a vivid dream like no other she experienced before in her life. It felt at the same time, both strange and familiar. Dark blue clouds enveloped her and she almost felt as though she was standing on top of them. Around her were flashes of lightning and incredibly strong winds blowing, yet in the midst of all of these things she was still and at peace. Then she heard it, a thunderous voice that filled the heavens:
“Our daughter. Welcome home.”
A flash of lightning bold illuminated the sky and Ngozi could see that she was surrounded by various celestial spirits, including many of her deceased family members. Despite the fact that their faces were obscured by masks, both small and pale as well as large and dark, she still somehow recognized them. The voice continued:
“To those who are innocent, I am their defender and avenger. And to the guilty, I am judge, jury and executioner.”
Without even saying it, she knew she was standing face to face with Amadioha, who said to her:
“My daughter show me your hands.”
Ngozi obeyed the command. Jolts of lightning akin to static shocks on steroids leaped onto her fingers. The boisterous voice told her:
“You have come to me with clean hands. I shall walk with you as I walked with your ancestors.”
Amadioha then uttered to her his secret, ineffable name in the form of a chant and told her to only sing it in matters of life and death. The sky lit up once more and Ngozi found herself back in bed She felt different upon waking than she did when she went to bed. Her hands in particular, were much much warmer than usual.
Over the next couple of weeks, things seemed surreal for Ngozi. The first week, she gained the ability to tell whether a person was being dishonest or not. She would be able to pick up the inflections in their voice, the change in pitch, and even hear their heartbeat speeding up. At the job, she deduced that a number of the customers had fake prescriptions and also that the real reason that one of her coworkers was working the last shift was so they could steal pills to resell them on the street.
On week two, things that were once hidden began to be brought to light. She found jewelry, socks, business cards and other things she thought she would never see again. She also found drug paraphernalia that her middle child had gone through great lengths to keep hidden from her.
The changes on week three were the most dramatic. She began to see oddities on the faces & bodies of various people. After a couple of days, especially spending time with people she knew very well, she began to understand what they meant. People who constantly stole appeared to have red colored hands, as though they had been dipped in bright red dye. Extremely envious people would appear to have enormous dark blue eys. Pathological liars had abnormally long Pinnochio-like noses. Treacherous people would have both sides of their face look radically different.
Ngozi began to become a bit overwhelmed with the sheer amount of treacherous people that surrounded her on a day to day basis. It was already bad enough at work dealing with inconsiderate customers, but church became an even bigger circus than it was before. Despite their ostentatious displays, she saw all of them for what they were.
At the same time that her abilities were growing, her already strained relationship with her husband was getting worse. It was almost as though he could sense that she was getting more powerful, and it was making him tense. His barking became more ferocious and his threats became more intense. Things that would have earned her a slap got her a solid punch to the ribs. The same darkness that she saw in others she saw on him. His inward appearance was so distorted, it didn’t even look real.
Augustus had once been a good man, with flaws, like all of us. A man with dreams of becoming a medical professional and serving his community both in America and back home in Nigeria. But after many years of hard work, he started to care more about what he could gain than what he could give. When they moved to America, he had trouble getting re-certified to practice medicine, and spent alot of his free time in church. Augustus too had been raised Catholic, but after attending a revival, he not only received the calling to convert to a Pentecostal church, but felt as though he had been called by Jesus Christ himself to start his own ministry.
He made up for his inability to practice medicine in America by spearheading yearly medical missions to their home state of Enugu in Nigeria, where he could still practice medicine without much drama. But as time passed, the frequency of these missions decreased. It got to a point where Augustus would only set up the medical missions to embezzle funds and trade treatment for sex.
At the church, he set up a weekly “healing list” whereby people could add the names of people that needed healing from various ailments, and convinced them that they would have to give elaborate offerings for the healing to actually commence. Augustus did this with full medical knowledge of how to actually either alleviate or downright put an end to their suffering. Regardless, he had now convinced himself that he indeed did the anointing by the Holy Spirit and deserved to be compensated handsomely for it. And when the conditions worsened (as they usually did without medical attention), Augustus would simply insist that it was because they had not been giving enough.
For years, Ngozi had been blinded by the prestige that came along with being a wife of one of the pastors. She did not allow herself to see the abuse and corruption in her mist..until now. As her eyes opened to what was in front of her, things that were hidden also began to appear. She discovered that Augustus had been planning to blackmail the head pastor into resigning, so that he could take his position. On top of that, Augustus had impregnated a few of the ladies that came to see him for counseling, and had used the “healing list” fund to pay for their abortions. After discovering the paperwork he had sloppily disposed of, she decided that enough was enough, and she was going to confront him face to face.
Ngozi had arranged for the kids to spend this week away at her brother’s house, to avoid them witnessing the showdown. She pushed open the door to his home office and tossed the manila folder that contained the smoking gun on top of his desk while he was leading a prayer line. In the middle of leading a “return to sender” prayer, Augustus excused himself, and placed his telephone down as he yelled at her:
“Woman can’t you see that I am busy? What on earth is this? “
He opened the folder and saw the abortion paperwork he thought he had thrown away. Augustus tossed the folder on the ground and sat silently.
“I am finished! This is it. I’m leaving you and taking the kids with me”, Ngozi said with a conviction she didn’t even think she had in her.
“You’re not going anywhere.” Augustus said in a cool, relaxed manner. “You will die before you leave me.”
Ngozi froze. She didn’t know what to say or do next.
Augustus got up and walked towards her.
“Do you hear me?”, his voice grew louder. “You will DIE before I let you go.”
As Augustus’ voice became louder, Ngozi heard the sound of a beating drum in the background also getting louder. He lurched at her and put his hands around her neck. Ngozi began to see her life flash before her eyes, and felt that if she didn’t do something quickly, she’d become the next person killed by their spouse. She remembered her dream, and whispered the secret name that had been given to her. She sang it very quietly. Suddenly the entire sky erupted in lightning. And she felt a presence in her body like nothing she had ever experienced in her life.
Augustus throw Ngozi against the wall and started pummeling her. With each strike, Augustus looked more and more like the monster he really was. He raised his fist to strike a knockout blow, and as it came down, it was met with something that neither of them expected….her palm. Ngozi caught his fist and squeezed it as she picked herself off the floor. The look on Augustus face was pain mixed with total shock. Could this really happening? Ngozi looked him in the eye and said one word:
But it was not just Ngozi that was behind those words, but also the God of Thunder and Lightning that her possessed her body. Augustus immediately tried to swing with his free hand was met with a kick that sent him flying across the room. This wasn’t possible!
“Ngozi! What is wrong with you? Are you possessed?” he shouted.
“Yes. But the only unclean spirit in this room is yours,” she replied.
Chills ran down Augustus spine as he heard his wife’s voice blended with a thunderous booming one. He got himself up and pointed his finger at her.
“SATAN I REBUKE THEE! As an anointed man of God, I command thee to depart!” He proclaimed.
Through Ngozi, Amadioha spoke: “I am called many names. Igwe. Ezenu. Ubochi. Kamalu. Amadioha. However, Satan isn’t one of them. But whatever name you know me by, just know this: To those who are innocent, I am their defender and avenger. And to the guilty, I am judge, jury and executioner.”
“Is this how you talk to a man who has taken care of you and all of your useless siblings for all of these years? Have you suddenly forgotten the type of life you lived before I rescued you? You should be bowing at my feet everyday you ungrateful witch!” he yelled in response.
“You were blessed with those hands to give healing. Instead you used them to cause pain and take from others,” The God of Thunder & Lightning replied calmly.
Augustus became indignant.
“Don’t you know who I am? I am anointed! A holy man of God! The soon to be head Prophet of his ministry. Bow before me you unclean spirit!” He yelled as he charged towards her.
Immediately Ngozi’s body levitated out of the way and Augustus ran head first into the wall.
“And because you abused your gifts, your punishment must be more severe,” Amadioha bellowed out.
Ngozi, still possessed by Amadioha, picked him up and tossed him all the way through the wall, and stepped through the hole she had made. Shaken, Augustus got up and picking up a bar that was laying in the hallway, charged at her. Ngozi rewarded him with a kick in the stomach, and a 1-2 punch to the face that send him flying to the other end.
“I am the punishment of God,” Amadioha spoke, “If you had not committed abominations, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”
Ngozi walked over to him laying on the hallway and picked him up by his hands. The God of Thunder & Lightning spoke through her once more: “You are not worthy of these gifts. These unclean hands will never harm anyone again.”
As Ngozi was holding him, her hands began getting so hot that they began to burn Augustus’s fingers. She looked him in his eyes and told him, “And soon the world will see you for what you really are.” Ngozi let go and immediately collapsed. She was transported back to the realm of the God of Thunder and Lightning. Her ancestors, dressed in elaborate masks, were again present. The voice from the Heavens said to her: “Our daughter. Well done. You may go in peace.”
And with that, she woke up to a policewoman shining a light in her eyes.
“She’s awakened,” she yelled out to the rest of the officers.
“What happened?” Ngozi asked.
The policewoman replied: “Apparently your husband had forgotten to put the phone on mute while he attempted to pummel you. The people on the prayer line heard what he said and when the the phone line cut off, a member of your church called 911.”
“Where is he?”, Ngozi inquired.
The policewoman pointed to the bottom of the stairs. Augustus was still breathing, but seem partially paralyzed.
“I guess he slipped and took a tumble,” the policewoman responded. “From the looks of him, he won’t be a danger to anyone any longer.”
Ngozi smiled, and for the first time in a long time, no longer suffered.