Dotun finds himself once again caught in the midst of the 6:00am Lagos crowd, more times than he has liked to be. He is clad in a grey sweatshirt and ripped jeans, a half-lit cigar in one hand with a beat-up fanny pack in the other, and is determined to make the best of an otherwise already awful day in which everything can go wrong at once.
He takes a deep puff which seems to last forever before exhaling to form a small smoke halo just outside his mouth.
“I am the crack angel.” He hums to himself with a beam on his face, but with a keen eye on his fellow humans, always watching and praying. He notices their side glances, the hisses under their breath, and hushed comments and he laughs at them all. They think he smokes because of peer pressure or falling into bad gang. They think he wears ripped clothes because he lacks some hidden 4th element called home training. He laughs in a way that could be described as humorless, as though nothing but pity could be felt for them, but that is quickly nullified by a quick flash of anger at the evident pride which seems to envelop these people like an atmosphere, shielding them from any rays of reason. It is so obvious, Dotun can swear it has a scent sometimes. It clings to all, old and young, but it seems to have an obsession with the elderly in Nigeria. Clutching onto them like a foul scent, it shows itself when they look down on others, wringing their eyes in disgust. When they shut you down mid-conversation as you try to tell them something contrary to their beliefs, it is there, bolstering their ego while rearing its ugly head. The sin of pride is by far the nastiest spirit that Dotun has encountered. Sadly, half his day can not go by without him bumping into it at least 12 times, sometimes mild and meek like a newborn, at other times it soars above his expectations till it becomes a behemoth. A giant. He sighs heavily while taking another puff. Thinking about these spirits too much tends to give him headaches, and only fervent prayer can keep them at bay. But when prayer seems far? He smokes.
Finally, he hears his first encouraging sound that morning. A beat-up Danfo approaching the bus stop has decided it is appropriate to warn the future passengers about its arrival. It is still quite early in the morning, but Dotun can make out a dark figure within the confines of the car. Clearly intoxicated, he maneuvers in and out, around and in between the seemingly thick traffic on the road, much to the annoyance of other road users who respond avidly with varying choruses of “God punish you!” and “Your mama!”. Not caring, the driver pulls up perfectly at the bus stop and proceeds to get down with the bus conductor, and once again the air is filled with noise as the screaming of “Lekki!” “Ajah!” intensifies. Dotun winces in annoyance as he begins to enter the bus, holding to his fanny pack lest the local pickpockets hold it for him. As he finds his preferred seat right beside the door, he relaxes a little.
“At least I followed Father’s instruction” He whispers to himself.
A few minutes later, the bus driver and conductor have succeeded in filling the bus to the brim and are now making the final checks all round before they enter the bus. The conductor stands by the door, his ass facing towards the bus much to Dotun’s disgust. The driver makes four unsuccessful tries to bring the engine back to life, which makes Dotun question his life choices up until that moment. Irritated he pulls out his iPod and plays a song from Lana Del Ray’s Lust For Life album. The singer’s monotonous, yet oddly, therapeutic voice helps to cool him down, and he closes his eyes; whenever the bus decides to leave isn’t in his control.
Twenty minutes later, Dotun wakes up to indefinite shouting at the back and subsequent chorusing going on all around him. More often than not, it is shouts of “Amen!” and “Praise the Lord!” from men, women, and children alike.
All filled with hungry hope and desperation, pouring their last worries into an empty shell who has nothing to offer. If his headache wasn’t forcing his body up, he might’ve let them be.
Left the sheep to the wolf.
He gets up slowly, frustration is written all over his face as the screaming gets more audible, and the words become more discrete, and it becomes really obvious who he has to deal with that morning. Dotun is dealing with a fake pastor. This one is no different from the others you’d see on the streets of Masha or around anywhere in Surulere. He is clad in a 3-piece suit in a bus of close to 20 people, bible in one hand, screaming messages of prosperity and prayers of good tidings and money in everyone’s lives in 2018. Of course, they all chorus a record-breaking thirty second amen. Dotun winces. Is this how they plan on keeping him till Lekki?
He thinks the fuck not.
But the minutes trickle by like congested water, slowly and painfully, and he has to sit through hours of empty verses and sermons accompanied by throngs of prayers.
Suddenly the Pastor, after talking non-stop, takes an almost everlasting sip of water before uttering the final words of the service.
“People of God! Sadly, I have dispersed all my blessings for this ride and I can do no more. Normally the Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”
He launches into a fit of fake coughing, but his fans eat it up gladly, some going so far to call people selling drugs, but the pastor waves them all off.
“But in the case where the spirit and flesh are tired, my people what do you want to do? I am barely a man of God, not God himself. My ways are limited.”
An elderly woman chirps up behind him, with a wrapper and a modest shirt covering herself, she had the attire of a common market woman.
“Ah! God forbid pastor! Your body no go weak ever ever,” She brings out a small container from her small Ghana-must-go bag and opens it to reveal a small meal of amala and ewedu. “Abeg I know say e no go reach, but just use am wash mouth.”
For the briefest second, annoyance flashes in the man’s eyes, but it is quickly replaced by his former pretense.
“Ah mommy, thank you and God bless you, but this thing cannot settle a fervent man of God like me”
The poor woman is offended, slowly repacks her lunch and returns to just sitting, feeling ashamed of herself.
“Now my brothers and sisters,” He puts his hand into a small duffel bag under his seat and pulls out a small black cap. “Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ came to me in a dream and presented me with this cap. Any money placed in this cap from five hundred Naira and above will signify the start of my new church. Moses Chariots International Church!”
If Dotun could roll his eyes any further, they would enter his head and never come back.
He tries his best to ignore them as the entire bus erupts with chants of “Praise the Lord!” and “Hallelujah!”
Dotun watches with agonizing pain as the cap is passed all around the bus, being filled with 500, 100, and 1000 naira notes. No one is able to confidently drop anything less, they squeeze the notes and hide their faces in shame. The pastor’s face gleams with glee at the realization of how much he has made. Finally, the hat reaches Dotun and the smile on his face evaporates completely as Dotun passes it over his head to the next person. The pastor’s brows furrow in confusion.
“Brother, do you mean to not contribute to my church?”
Dotun removes one ear of his earphones and fiddles with it.
“Could you repeat yourself?”
The pastor takes a deep breath, obviously annoyed at this point.
“My brother are you a Christian?”
“Yeah. A believer in Christ and all that.” A playful smile danced on his lips.
“Then you realize you have to support my mission? My name is Fagbemi Ogundare and I have been practicing for three-“
A quick hand gesture shuts the man out.
“Sorry old man. I don’t believe in your god.”
Dotun feels all the eyes in the bus lock onto him at that point, but no gaze is more piercing than Fagbemi’s.
“Oh! This is terrible news. Come, my brother, let me introduce you to my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ!”
“Met him. Recently, actually, we spoke last night. Standard God, really cool.” He responds while swiping through his playlist.
Now the bus was amassed with murmurs and side conversation. People either gawked in confusion or leered in utter irritation, and Fagbemi was not sure which he wanted to use. The angry man had gone into hiding and was replaced with an almost childlike reaction. Subtle but cautious.
“Are you sure it’s my God? The one who brought the Israelites out of slavery? That God?”
“Yeah, that sounds like my God! But not yours, or any other person’s god on this bus either.”
The man steeled himself as if expecting a heavy blow.
“And pray tell, who is my God?”
“Money, power, and glory,” Dotun sings the words out, obviously having fun with himself. “You claim to talk God, to see and interact with him. You swear to people endlessly that you see miracles happen every day. In the peoples’ eyes, God is your friend and the Holy Spirit is your bodyguard. But you don’t know God. I’ve seen God, and you in no way represent him. People like you have made a mockery of the word, turning the work of winning souls into a business venture. You run up and down, erecting huge churches everywhere but people are still naked and begging! You swear up and down, begging people to pay tithe to build a new church.”
Dotun was fuming now. His words were like venom to the pastor as they ate away at his resolve.
“People like you make me ashamed to be associated as a Christian,” he continued “The name has been sullied and watered down to a bunch of judgmental, hypocritical, power-hungry assholes. That in no way represents the message of my Father.”
Before Dotun can speak out again, the bus bursts into an uproar. Curses and insults are rained on his head from all corners. He is called shameless, hopeless, and useless. Everyone has made him public enemy number one. Everyone, except the pastor. He has not spoken, and he can not speak. His eyes are locked with Dotun’s as sweat pours profusely from his brow. In the midst of the shaming and chaos, he is mute, dumb to reactions. Deaf to the words, only the heavy weight of shame and guilt pervade his soul.
Seeing that his work has been done, Dotun motions to the driver to pull over. While adjusting his clothes, he looks around to see the people. They bear faces filled with hate and anger, they judge and curse, but the Father allows Dotun to see past all of that. He sees hurt, confusion, and most of all, a lack of trust. Sighing, now with a heavy load on his heart, he opens the door of the bus and jumps down, leaving them to their fate.