‘Come in, please.’
The door opened and closed behind a small grey-haired man in a maroon-stripe cream cricket sweater.
Matthew Babalola looked away from the page of the giant Bible he had been reading and got up respectfully, setting his glasses on the polished mahogany table before he reached his full height—six foot four, his prizefighter frame tapering off to a proud neck that held up a round handsome smiling face.
‘Good afternoon, Mr. Daniels,’ said Matthew extending two hands. Other pastors would have thought it that it was in the other person’s place—no matter their age—to extend two hands.
‘Good afternoon, Pastor Matthew,’ said Daniels, extending two hands too. Four hands clasped and unclasped.
‘Sit down, please.’
Daniels sat down and Matthew drew back his chair that he had tucked in when he stood up to greet Daniels and sat down after the more elderly man. Daniels always placed his eyes on the table whenever he came around to talk to Matthew. And he always came around oftener than the others. So often that he was the first worshipper Matthew got to know very well. And Matthew didn’t know many of the worshippers yet because he was new at this parish of the Golden Halo Assembly and hadn’t even spent up to a month yet.
‘How are you, Mr. Daniels?’ asked Matthew as he often did him.
‘I am fine, pastor,’ said Daniels as he often answered. Matthew knew he was not fine. He didn’t look fine. He never looked fine. In all his years as a psychotherapist and then a pastor, Matthew had never met a man as secretive as Daniels. All the time he had come to see Matthew, it had been to ask for a loan. And every time he had got the money and the assurance that it was not a loan but a dash, he had never looked happy or appreciative. Matthew knew Daniels had problems just like the others who came to him about their stubborn and unappreciative spouses and their headstrong children. But Matthew never said anything. He had been indulging Daniels. For three straight days now, he had come by asking for a loan. He was here again today, sad-faced with shoulders heavily held down by grief that Matthew was sure couldn’t be solved with money. Or perhaps he was gambling the money away in the hope that one day, he would strike a windfall. Presently, Daniels started squirming in his seat as he always did when he was about to preamble his mission with “I am sorry to ask…” always after Matthew had asked, “How are you, Mr. Daniels?” and he had answered, “I am fine, pastor”. Matthew knew what was coming. It was like listening to a record for the umpteenth time.
‘You need money, Mr. Daniels?’
However, he didn’t wait for Daniels to say yes or no or to shake his head.
‘But what for?’
Daniels took a long time answering that. The way he hung his head and hugged his silence made Matthew wonder if he had fallen asleep. But Daniels was only sobbing. Matthew heard the sniffles but said nothing. He was sure that after the tears, the words would come. And the words came after the tears. Daniels looked up and Matthew saw his red glassy eyes.
‘You have tried for me, pastor. You have tried for a tormented old man like me.’
For a moment, Matthew was lost for words but he said soon enough, ‘It is nothing, Mr. Daniels. You should confide in me. See me as your son. Speak to me.’
Daniels looked at Matthew doubtfully as though he was not sure if he could take a whole Pastor Matthew as a son. A pastor should be taken as a father and not a son.
‘They torment me, pastor.’
There was a wavering film of tears in his eyes. He blinked his eyes and the tears fell out and crawled down his cheeks to settle as round icicle lookalikes on his rugged bristled chin.
‘Are you in some kind of trouble, Mr. Daniels? And is that why you keep on coming for more money. Tell me everything. Do not hold anything back.’ Matthew’s tone was imperative. ‘The Lord is faithful, He will help you.’
‘I got a traditional exorcist but they killed him,’ said Daniels.
Matthew’s forehead registered wavelengths of incomprehension.
‘You have to come out as plainly as possible.’
‘They torment me, pastor. Evil spirits. You believe in them, pastor, don’t you?’
Matthew didn’t believe in them. He didn’t believe in God. He was a pastor but he didn’t believe in God. He didn’t believe in Jesus the Christ as well. The Creation Story and the Flood and the Tower of Babel were hogwash to him.
‘I believe in them,’ he lied. ‘But I am not afraid of them.’
‘I am afraid of them, pastor,’ said Daniels in a brittle voice. ‘They killed my wife. They killed my three children. Now, they come for me.’
He looked around him fearfully and his eyes lingered on the wide sliding-pane window.
‘They are coming, pastor,’ he said in a whisper. ‘They are coming for me.’
Matthew decided that Daniels was schizophrenic and needed psychiatric help. He would telephone a friend of his who worked as a psychiatrist in a big psychiatric hospital in town.
‘Fuck you, Pastor Matthew.’ The words had come out of Daniels’ mouth but it was not his voice as Matthew had known it. This voice was a rumble. Matthew popped out of his chair as Daniels began to change right before his eyes. Bones cracked as Daniels’ head turned around slowly robot-like on his neck like the head of a kinetic doll doing three-sixty degree rotation in automatic mode. And when the eyes settled on Matthew again, it was no longer Daniels’. Bone-chilling catlike yellow eyes stared at Matthew. Catlike eyes in a supernaturally dark face. The nose and mouth were flush with the face and Matthew didn’t see them until it began to talk, its nostrils flaring.
‘Fuck you, Pastor Matthew.’
Matthew’s heart almost rolled to a stop. Nothing in his career as a psychotherapist and pastor had prepared him for this. But then, he remembered that the apostles cast out demons using the name of Jesus the Christ.
He faced the creature.
‘You vile spirit, I cast you out in the name of Jesus the Christ.’
‘Try harder, pastor,’ said a screeching voice alternating between his ears. ‘You never believed in me, you filthy, gross, no-hope loam and lime.’
‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ began Matthew.
‘I shall not want,’ said a rumble of voices wrapped up in derisive cackles.
The light bulb over Matthew’s desk flickered on and popped off. Almost at the same time, Daniels’ body was caught up in a strong wind swirl that carried him near the ceiling and continued spinning him around and around like a fan working full blast.
‘He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He—’
‘Enough!’ said the ragbag of voices and it was sucked into a deafening silence. The wind swirl stopped and Daniels crashed heavily to the concrete floor. When Matthew gingerly went over to check on Daniels, he saw the old man’s head in the pool of his blood. He was dead.
No one believed his story at the police station in town. They were suspicious and eager to take him to the torture chamber and beat a confession out of him. But they let him go because the General Overseer of The Golden Halo Assembly, whom Matthew had worked for as an interpreter and who had been instrumental in converting Matthew from atheism to Christianity, had called the police boss and asked that Matthew be allowed to go home to his family.
Sela, Matthew’s wife, drove him home because Matthew was too shaken to. They didn’t talk much. They were both scared to talk about something so dreadful. Though Sela had not witnessed the paranormal activity, she believed her husband because – unlike her – Matthew had always been skeptical about supernatural matters like that and they had got into fights over it. Sela believed because she had had an encounter with a ghost as a girl. She had lived with an aunty who had a big house in a small farm town. One night, Sela woke up to use the toilet but then remembered that the pipes had been clogged up for a week and the plumber was out of town. Sela knew she had no option but to go outside. As she opened the front door, she saw an impossibly tall individual, robed from head to foot in white, walk slowly past her while she stood rooted to the spot in shock. Matthew had laughed off the tale as a case of hallucination induced by half-wakefulness. Now, he had had an encounter himself and he was too shaken to talk about it again. He managed to finish his lunch which was a mere fourteen spoons of Jollof rice. In the evening, their daughter, Salome, a carbon-copy of Sela – only that she looked like she would take her father’s height – came rushing in with her schoolbag on her back. Her parents were in the large sitting room sharing a loveseat because they were too scared to stay even less than a yard apart from each other.
‘I am back, dad. I am starving, mom. Now, what is cooking?’
Matthew turned sharply to look at her. He thought he had heard her say “What is spooking?”
‘What did you say, Salome?’ asked Matthew.
She rushed onto his open legs and said, ‘I asked what was cooking. I am starving.’
In the evening, after dinner, they gathered around to say the evening prayers so they could retire early to bed. Matthew barely followed the prayers. Sela exempted him by starting the prayers. Salome immediately knew that her daddy was not going to be saying a prayer that night. She hoped her daddy was fine. She knew that after her mummy, it would be her turn. Daddy always started the evening prayers by eulogizing God and asking for the forgiveness of sins and the grace to sin no more. Mummy will then take over by praying for friends, families, woes, the needy, the expectant mothers, the orphans, the widows and widowers, the president of the country and fellow Nigerians before committing the night unto God and asking that He send His angels to act as sentinel of their house. Little Salome would then round the prayers with Psalm 23.
Matthew barely heard the prayers until Salome’s voice thickened and became a rumble of voices, the same that had come out of Daniels’ mouth.
‘Thy wrath and thy sword. They comfort me. Thou prepareth before me a hell in the presence of my family—’
‘Stop it, Salome,’ screamed Sela.
‘Thou anointed my head with blood.’
Sela tried to hold Salome who had begun to tremble mightily and was hurled against a wall yards away.
A horribly transformed Salome turned startlingly white eyes on Matthew.
‘Who are you?’ demanded Matthew after a nervous swallow. ‘What do you want? Leave my daughter alone!’
A derisive laughter and then, ‘Daughter’s daddy.’
‘Leave her alone! Leave us alone!’
Sela hung from a nail on the wall. She was dead.
‘Who are you?’
‘Azrael,’ said the rumble of voices.
‘What does that mean?’
A sinister laughter and then something hurled Salome to the floor and a voice whispered in Matthew’s ears; ‘Angel of Death.’
Hours later, Matthew sat on the floor in a tiny prison cell, hugging his knees, his chin resting on the cushion of his arms. Then he looked up sharply as he heard weird footfall approaching his prison cell. He didn’t see anything. There was a flood of light in the corridor and Matthew expected a prison officer to walk slowly past his prison cell or to stand by his prison cell and look in as they were wont to do to see if he had not killed himself as he had killed Daniels, Sela and Salome. The footfall drew nearer and nearer his cell till he could feel somebody beside him even though there was nobody.
‘Who is there?’ he demanded.
A prison officer walked past his prison cell glancing cursorily at the room through the window on the door.
Matthew breathed out warm air of relief.
‘I am not done with you, you big foul fool,’ said an angry voice so suddenly beside him that it should have been enough to literally rend his heart.
‘I am Azrael, and there is no running away from me, Pastor Matthew Babalola.’
There was a snarl and a screech and a yowl and Matthew was hurled against the wall.
The Verdict of Inquest was prepared and suicide was put down under the Classification of Death. The Custody Sergeant said the occurrence was the first of its kind in the police station’s history. To prevent a similar occurrence, the coroner advised the Custody Sergeant to install a CCTV.
A week later, the prison officer, who had passed by Matthew’s prison cell seconds before he was brutally murdered, lost his wife and three children in one evening and died three days later in a prison cell. The CCTV had not been installed and the coroner was mad at the Custody Sergeant.