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adaobi v nwoye

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Lip Service
By adaobi v nwoye
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

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Lip Service

One day Father called me into his Chamber.
“You have been so faithful to me, child,” He said. “You make me happy, just like your colleagues here. But my children nearly always make me cry. I sometimes wonder why I bother with them. Only a crop of them are true to me.”
“But Father,” I replied, “can you really say that? About ninety percent of your children are very passionate about you, and everyday many more come back home.”
“That’s what you think,” He said desolately. “That’s what they make you believe. I’m so good to them and sometimes go the extra mile just to make them happy. All I ask is some loyalty and love in return. Is that too much to ask for all the wonderful things I do for them?”
He looked clearly sad. I didn’t know what to say. Father was a great guy. He was completely besotted with all his Children. Sometimes he publicly praised some of them. He would not stop talking about how faithful and worthy a particular son or daughter was. However, something that baffled me was that Father seemed to show more love to a child whom he said was recalcitrant. I know how many times some of his children who seldom call him would scream his name when they got into trouble and Father would rally some of my colleagues and I to their aid instantly. The moment such a child got what they wanted, they would go about telling people what a great dad Father was. They would frequent Father’s house for a day or two and that would be it.
“Father,” I said, “I know how you feel considering how much you love these children. And I know you spoil them with attention. But maybe you expect too much in return. I feel that ninety nine percent of your children are crazy about you and do what you tell them.”
“All make belief, my dear.”
I was confused and Father knew. He knew everything. That was Father.
“You don’t understand but I’ll show you something now. Take a look at this,” He said, pointing in the direction of his footstool. I surged forward and craned my neck towards Father’s fingers.
“That’s what I say, Father,” I exclaimed. “Ninety nine percent of your children are out there singing your praise, talking about your goodness and all.”
“That’s how it appears , but I know these people more than you do because they are my children. I tell you, of all these children calling out my name, only a little percentage actually mean it.”
Who was I to argue with Father? I was only a messenger. He still valued his children more than me. Though some of his children asked me to talk to Father on their behalf.
“Come and have a closer look here,” Father said, punctuating my thoughts.
I drew closer and smiled. Father’s children were distributed in cliques. Father was just an enigma. All these children looked different but they all resembled him. I don’t know how he does it. Well, I know that Father’s beloved who is by His side all the time, even now, once lived down there. Father is so crazy about His beloved, yet it was this mad love for his children on earth that made him send his beloved down there to reconcile them with him. His beloved went on that errand and succeeded to an extent. He had a great friend Peter, also Father’s son, whom he asked to continue from where he stopped. And so peter started the clique. Some of Father’s children joined the clique eventually. As time went on however, some pulled out and started their own cliques. And now as I sat with Father watching there were millions and millions of cliques all calling on Father. But Father said most of them were not actually calling on him.
Anyway, the clique that Father showed me was the oldest. They called themselves Catholics. They were scattered around different parts of earth and they were reading from the same books of the bible, Father’s manual. The readings and proceedings were exactly the same all around the earth. I wondered what else Father wanted. These people as far as I could see were loyal to him.
“Come this way,” Father said.
I obeyed. Father was showing me a smaller group, all black. Yes, Father’s children were an assortment of colours. Or races if you like.
“I’m sending you down there. These are my children in a small town in the Eastern part of Nigeria. I’m giving you the privilege of going through the minds of each and every one of these children of mine so that you’ll have a wee bit of what I’ve been dealing with.”
“All right Father,” I said and in a second I was in a certain catholic church.
I was in time for the gospel reading. Father Mathew got on the pulpit and began as the congregation rose.
“The lord be with you.” He intoned.
“And also with you,” the congregation chanted in reply.
“A reading from the holy Gospel according to John…”
“Glory be to you, Lord…”The congregation chanted.
Glory be to you Lord! Was I dreaming or had I just imagined it? I had sailed through seventy percent of the congregation and not one person actually gave glory to Father when they chanted that phrase. Was this real? In utter shock I watched Father Mathew read the ten verse gospel. Those three minutes I have come to conclude, are one of the longest and most eventful three minutes I have ever experienced since I found myself under Father’s employ. The experience I gathered from that encounter has left me with much more love and respect for Father. And I have also come to the conclusion again that no other being can love like Father. How can Father be so familiar with what I saw in just an infinitesimal fraction of his children and still love them so desperately, so passionately, so unconditionally?
Anyway, while father Mathew started reading I slipped into one of the mass servers, who held a candle beside him. He looked somewhat like me; angelic. So pious and genuine. And holy. But in spite of the fact that he was standing right beside Father Mathew, his mind was in the parish house kitchen, beside the hot pot of jollof rice that would be served for lunch that afternoon. His mouth watered, only the physical eyes could not see it. I slipped out in shame and penetrated the mind of a young woman who sat beside her husband. Her mind was busy in soliloquy. ‘Does it mean that Okoro will not give me the thirty thousand naira to buy the wrappers I demanded concerning the forth coming August meeting? No. He will kill me first….’ I moved on to her husband. He too was engaged in soliloquy, like most of the other worshipers I would soon discover. I found his mind in a place I discovered was the Government house. ‘Can it be that the Chief of staff did not give that proposal to the governor as he promised? That would be very unfair of him. I really need that contract. How else am I supposed to raise the children’s school fees for this term? It’s already end of July, very soon it will be August and then September, and the children will have to go back to school.’ He stole a glance at his wife then and returned to his thoughts. ‘And all this foolish woman can think of is money for wrapper…’ I slipped out and moved into a man who was looking very intently at Father Mathew. He looked as though he were listening with rapt attention. I discovered he was a knight of the church and the chairman of the pastoral council. But he was thinking thus: ‘Just see how rotund this priest that was posted here barely a year ago has become. He is just feeding fat out of our pockets. In fact we need to do something about this priest. He doesn’t even have any respect for the council. Well, what does it cost, just a petition to the bishop will do the job….”
I was sweating with disbelief. What was going on here? I slipped into a balding man who looked disinterested in the gospel. As I guessed, his facial expression mirrored his mind. ‘I should be resting now after a very tiring week, but this sanctimonious wife of mine will not let a man put his feet up for once. Couldn’t she have interceded for me? Did I have to come here? Women! See how engrossed she is. Well, thank God I have a devout wife.’ I turned in the direction of his wife and she was engrossed indeed, admiring the pair of black shoes that a woman beside her was wearing, wondering how much the shoes might have cost and wishing she could own a pair as well!
I shook my head and slipped into another woman, the president of the Catholic Women Organization. I followed her mind through four different car shops and actually got on a ride inside a grey Honda Element she had dreams of someday owning. ‘Perhaps Ebele can convince her husband to buy this car for me so that Mrs. Obi and the rest of the CWO will know that we are not on the same level.’
The Catechist was thinking about the visit he intended to pay to the rector of a polytechnic on Monday morning to grant admission to his second son. He was hoping that his wife would augment the money he had saved up for that purpose. He was in doubt though. ‘Stingy woman. All she does with her money is buy pancake and lipstick. Does she think she can cheat nature? ‘
I moved on to a man in his mid forties. I found his mind in a room beside a younger woman. He was calling her name, Nkechi, and making love to her over and over again. I looked about him. His wife was seated by his side. Her name was not Nkechi. And Father Mathew was still reading the gospel. Was Father looking?
Another man, the chairman of the Men’s League was thinking, ‘Father finish this reading please let me see if I can grab a nap during the homily. ’
I couldn’t take this anymore. I needed a little respite so I decided to return to the alter where another priest, who was expected to deliver the homily or sermon after Father Mathew finished reading the gospel was sitting. At least here was one true child of Father who was willing to be refreshed again. That was what Father’s words did. Refresh, revive, renew. Alas, the priest was thinking, ‘why do we even have to be celibate?’ I ran out at once.
I had passed through ninety percent of the congregation and not one single person was truly listening to the gospel. I was about leaving when I heard Father Mathew say, “This is the gospel of the Lord.” Lo and behold, all these members of the congregation whose minds were in different parts of the world while Father Mathew read the gospel returned from their various sojourns to respond in Unison, “Praise be to you Lord Jesus Christ.”
I bowed my head in shame and wept for Father on my way home. It didn’t matter if the remaining ten percent were genuine. I was already disappointed enough. No wonder, I overheard Father’s beloved say some time ago, “These people worship me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

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