Luckily for Yoofi, he was not around yesterday when Atta wed Ewurasi. He had represented his church at the week-long Church Leaders' Summit which had taken place outside the region. For more reasons than having been busy, he had not slept well throughout that week. He kept thinking about the wedding. The mere thought of how Atta would have kissed Ewurasi at the bishop's permission intrigued him. The thought sent a blunt hot skewer through his heart.
When he finally returned from the summit three hours before the Sunday morning service he could not, as he usually did, pray at dawn. At the thought of prayer, he wondered whether, among other things, he would have prayed about and for Ewurasi, the woman of his life. (Jesus was the man of his life.) But Yoofi would not let his mind rest on this. He only reminded himself that this was the first Sunday service Atta and Ewurasi would also attend. As a couple. He freshened up as quickly as he could, drank plenty water, grabbed his Bible, notepad, pen and a handkerchief. Soon he was in a shared taxi...
He did not know why that day's sermon was given by a guest preacher. He also did not know when he started sleeping through the service. He only remembered he was enthused about the title of the sermon: 'How to watch and pray.' Yoofi was not sad that the sermon did not promise to be to the benefit the newly-weds. Having just begun the long journey of what marriage is said to be, Yoofi thought they rather needed a sermon with a caption like 'Marriage 101'. He was glad he would benefit, perhaps, all alone, from the sermon.
But Yoofi had some bitter memories about the watching that goes with prayer...
Yoofi's primary school shared the same compound with an Anglican church. Just like he and Ewurasi used to be, the school and the chapel were inseparable. Yoofi, like the other pupils, revered the chapel not just because they only went inside on very special occasions. There were the surreal echoes and the rather blunt allure of the visual aesthetics inside the chapel. These and other inexplicable, non-tangible things in and about the chapel also affected the pupils in so many nameless ways that they could not but be solemn while inside the chapel.
Each entrance to the chapel had a pair of large wooden doors with etched carvings caked in varnish. The pews and brass utensils gleamed. A crystal crucifix stood large and almost loud, in the foreground, inside the wall. The tops of the windows were edged with coloured glass. They told stories, the stained glass windows. On the pulpit was a beautiful brass eagle with unfurled wings. The priest put his Bible there when delivering a sermon. There were many paintings of Jesus on the walls. One of them strongly confirmed something in Yoofi. The one in which Jesus leaned in anguish over a rock in prayer.
Yoofi had always loved to pray, since childhood. Or since since.
In front of the chapel was a statue of a man on a cross. The statue was real and life-like. Feeling sorry for the man, Yoofi and most good children used to leave toffees, baked or boiled, syrupy or sugar-coated, and small food items at the foot of the statue. Others left erasers, pencil-butts, pens, broken sharpeners and once in a while, long-spoilt wrist watches, punctured balloons and worn, fancy wallets.
Yoofi always prayed that some elderly person would one day come help the man get down the cross! The man had been in that painful position since since.
It was Ash Wednesday. Guided by the teachers outside, the pupils filed into the chapel through the main entrance to receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads. Only one teacher, Mr. Ayivor, was inside the chapel. He stood at the junction of the aisle and the entrance through which the pupils filed out of the chapel. With furrowed forehead and folded arms, he watched the priest with a rather childish concentration. This was strange of Mr. Ayivor because by the standard of pupils, he was a bad teacher. In fact, the worst in the school. So it was not so strange that despite his sudden piety, a lithe cane dangled against his tall lanky frame.
Little by little, it was getting to Yoofi's turn to receive the ashes. From time to time, a boy behind Yoofi would tap him on the shoulder, to remind him to move on with the queue. Yoofi was praying. Deeply. Again, for the man on the cross, outside the chapel. Each time he opened his eyes and moved forward, he regretted glancing at Mr. Ayivor. He tried not to 'eye' him as he closed his eyes again to resume the prayer. When Yoofi remembered the last time he had opened his eyes and undid his hands in prayer, only one person was ahead of him.
He was still lost in prayer when he felt the firm finger of the priest tenderly plaster the sign of the cross on his forehead with the cold wetness of ash. First, Yoofi did feel a spring swell and then gush up from somewhere, deep inside of him -- as in, his being. Much quicker than a blink, the same spring quickly swept up and down him, tickling him at places he never knew had always been part of him -- as in, his body. Then he (thought he) saw lustrous sparks of waves and colours firing up and wide, in front the lids of his closed eyes. The sparks waxed and whirled into whiteness...
Yoofi's prayers were finally answered...
A sharp knuckle knock on the skull, and Yoofi was once more in our part of the world. Yoofi's eyes flared open. They first met and locked on Mr. Ayivor's eyes, which were red and unmerciful. Mr. Ayivor's lean, sunken cheeks and tightly knitted lips betrayed his clenched teeth and beveled jawbone. His fist was still raised and vibrating, ready to launch another knock. Yoofi wiped the only tear drop he got. He hurriedly gathered himself to walk out of the chapel, but he found himself lurching as well. In the process, he kicked Mr. Ayivor's cane out of place. Accidentally.
Watch and pray. What a title for a sermon. Yoofi yawned and stretched. He smiled as another closely related incident oozed out of the recesses of his mind...
The first time Yoofi got involved in Gbo ni mawo* and Bo 'taashi**, it was both of them at the same time, with two other pupils.
Yoofi had come to school only to find out that the previous day, each pupil had been asked to bring a broom to school. He had been absent. To avoid being caned, he bought a meager broom from the old woman whose store was a block or so away from the school. The money he was left with was barely enough to buy food at break time. That day too in class, Yoofi of all pupils did not finish the Composition Exercise on time, so he went late for break.
Kpakpo Nyɛ managed to scrape some banku from the big cauldron for him. One fist-size of banku, two shriveled pieces of wele, and three ladles of okro soup and Yoofi had a decent meal. He carried his food to the table. All the benches were fully occupied. But Bismarck shifted. The space created could only accommodate one buttock.
As usual, Yoofi closed his eyes to pray over his food...
A series of hefty knocks crashed on Yoofi's head. He slipped off the bench. Even before he opened his eyes, someone said 'Gbo ni mawo!' It was Osei had given him the knocks. Kuuku had taken Yoofi's food. All the other pupils laughed at Bismarck and Kuuku's smart moves. Some pupils even sprawled on the ground laughing.
The applause and cheers at the end of the sermon roused him. The preacher calmly waited till all was quiet. He prayed, 'Father, we pray you help us to pray even as you teach us to watch. Oh Lord, grant us the grace to finish the race. And help us not to sleep. In Jesus' name. Amen.' The congregation thundered another 'Amen'. A few daring ones continued with another prolonged cheer. And it was not quite clear whether it was meant for the preacher man or the presence of the newest couple, Atta and Ewurasi. Yoofi was not tickled. Two things pained him. He wondered if the preacher man had seen him sleeping and had intentionally tailored his prayer as an insinuation. Even worse, it pained Yoofi that he ultimately missed the opportunity to learn about the watching aspect of prayer. As if this ignorance had not already cost him...
It had come as a big blow to Yoofi when it was first announced at church that Atta and Ewurasi would be getting married in three weeks. Yoofi wondered why Ewurasi never told him about it, personally, ahead of time. If not as a brother, at least, just as a friend. Yoofi could also not get the calculation right. When had the two become friends, started dating, going steady and getting committed, when all that while, he and Ewurasi were inseparables? And oh, everyone in church knew, and openly talked about how he and her were simply made and cut and meant for each other. Most importantly, Yoofi had been praying about Ewurasi since since. Perhaps, prayer was all that he did.
And when he thought about it all, he realized she had meant something by all those little, sometimes silly, gestures...
Yoofi always saw Ewurasi off after each church service, right to her house gate. Many times, he turned around and found her still standing, watching his back as he went. He only smiled and waved her another goodbye.
Yoofi and Ewurasi did hold hands, sometimes. But thrice their hands accidentally brushed each other's. Something not exactly funny about this made Ewurasi tremble with a sudden quiver in her breathing. Carnality hung thickly in the air. Ewurasi's face fell with a shame that did not seem to belong to her. Yoofi intentionally cleared his throat. His lips flattened and widened until they lost every possible curve. His cheeks thinned over his the beautiful roundedness of his jaw bones. Yoofi cleared his throat again, loosened the flesh on his face and soon the carnality, the block of tension sublimed.
Yoofi and Ewurasi shared many things -- sometimes very personal things. Twice, he gave Ewurasi his handkerchief. Ewurasi washed, ironed, perfumed it and returned it to Yoofi. He only raised his brows at what he probably thought was a rather weird surprise. A contrived smile and a blunt 'Thank you', and he walked away.
Yoofi and Ewurasi talked a lot together. Once she had told a joke about how some Christian brother tried proposing to a sister:
'Sister, I really really want to be there with you', said the brother, boldly.
'Where is "there"'?
'There. I mean there...' he simply reiterated.
She feared the 'brother' would think her unspiritual to have forgotten all about it. She nervously went on walking. But not without saving her reputation, her spirituality. 'Oh sorry you mean the upcoming revival. Sure, it will be mega, powerful. And I'll be there too. So I will see you. There.
In the end, Ewurasi was hurt. She had her reasons. Yoofi was not amused. He also had his reasons. She felt the joke was out of place, she felt like the 'sister' in the joke. And Ewurasi could not tell if Yoofi thought her also unspiritual, simply silly, slyly suggestive or all of these. Or more.
As for Yoofi, the joke scratched a delicate part of him about his inaction -- or was it silence? He called Ewurasi many sweet names and walked and talked with her many more times. He told Ewurasi his dreams -- his wishes and revelations and everything in between -- but Yoofi never Ewurasi the three magic words, together, and in the correct order: I, love and you.
*Gbo ni mawo (Die-and-let-me-take) is a prank two children mutually agree to play on each other. One has to always ask the other to be excused before starting to eat anything at all. Otherwise, their food will have to be surrendered to the other, on the latter being the first to say ''Gbo ni mawo''.
**Bo 'taashi (It's your turn to sit) is also a prank two children mutually agree to play on each other. The one always has to say 'Bo 'taashi' before sitting. Otherwise, the other gives the one a knock on the head.
Kpakpo Nyɛ:Kpakpo's mother.