Sister Jennifer woke from a dreamy sleep sweating, heart racing, head pounding. A thin film of haze coated her eyes and she tried very hard to clear it and focus, wondering how come she was in her bed when the last thing she remembered was dining in the main house with the others.
At that moment, the bedside lamp blinked on. Her eyes opened and stared straight at the hooded man in her room.
Her face was close to pale, her eyes about to pop out, everything about her in turmoil. She was terrified, panicking. Her mouth opened to let out a scream but nothing came out.
The hooded man leaned over and reached out his hand and caressed her cheeks.
“Sister…” the man said. She had heard that voice a million times. It was then she realized that the man was not hooded; it was her mind supplying the monster it feared the most in the dark.
“What are you doing here, Robert?” her voice rang out with accusation and fear. Male staff never went near the nuns’ quarters, let alone at this hour of the night.
“Listen, Sister,” Robert said. “Father George is not what you think he is. He is not the Vicar of Christ he’s supposed to be. No priest is. Go back to sleep and wake up in the morning as though this was a nightmare, and I am part of it. Forget about him. He means you no good.”
I delivered the sermon with practiced perfection and familiarity. I stood at the pulpit, my hands resting on its top. I put all my worries aside, damn well out of my mind. Nothing was required of me but preaching the gospel and spiritual acquiescence that the congregation hungered for.
The homily, though, was short, less than ten minutes; the theme, contemporary discipleship. It was the Catholic Mission Sunday when the Church celebrates the role of the laity in the evangelization of peoples.
“The Catholic Church has stood the test of time for over 2000 years,” I said. “Scandals and conspiracies have rocked this boat, but it’s the steadfast faith of its believers that has kept it going.”
I hoped my message was unambiguous, that the church could not survive the spate of violence, moral degradation, and increasingly disbelieving world if the spreading of the word of God was left to the clergy only.
“Christians have the greatest role to play, supporting the clergy whenever possible. Jesus said, ‘Do what they say but not what they do’. Words often obscure rather than reaffirm the reality of faith. Sometimes you will have to do what we do to strengthen this faith.”
When the homily was over, the Apostles’ Creed was sung in plainsong. The Mass continued customarily until the moment that I was dreading yet waiting for.
Consecratio has always been a horrifying practice for me. How on earth would one believe they are eating the body (put blatantly, human meat) of Christ and drinking his blood while what they are actually doing is eating wafers (just bread) and drinking alcohol; worse even to believe that words I utter during Consecratio would transform the wafers and the wine to body and blood.
When it was time for the congregation to receive the Holy Communion, nuns and Brothers in attendance stepped forward to assist me. I was the only and main celebrant of the Mass, and feeding the Eucharist to hundreds of people alone was a time-consuming task.
From the nave, I saw Sister Jennifer shoot up from her seat as though her small butt had been pricked. Even in her nun’s dress, with seven frills and veils swathed from head to toe, she looked stunningly beautiful. I liked her commitment to the church and the zest with which she served. I wondered what would have happened had she followed her parents’ wish to enrol her into a modelling agency.
Brother Bonaventure left his piano at the choir with the guy he had been training and joined the other three nuns who had come forward.
Sister Jennifer was the first to report for duty at the altar. She genuflected facing the tabernacle, went to the sanctuary side-table where spare finger towels and cruets were put. She dipped her thin fingers in the water dish and wiped them with the finger towel. She then came to the altar to receive the Eucharist.
I felt honoured to have her comely face so close to me. It was a privilege to feed her the Eucharist. However, Sister Jennifer received by hand and fed herself. I stepped back, took the chalice with wine and gave her to take a sip. I did the same with Brother Bonaventure and the others.
I then issued each with a ciborium full of the Holy Communion to go and give it to the other communicants who had queued higgledy-piggledy around the sanctuary. I followed them shortly afterwards.
Hardly had Sister Jennifer reached the front of the sanctuary when the strangest thing in the history of the Catholic Church happened: she wobbled a bit, lost a step or two, and then staggered as though the alcohol in the wine was taking its toll on her. Finally, she went down, the ciborium hitting the floor first spilling the body of Christ all over, and stayed down. She made a few spasmodic movements then lay still.
Pandemonium attacked the church with a volley of shrieks and ‘O my Gods’ amidst consternation on what to do.
I too was at the end of my wits. I did not know what to do—to call an ambulance or collect the scattered Eucharist on the floor or to give Sister Jennifer first aid.
The Right Reverend Bishop Boniface Kulei read the autopsy report for the umpteenth time, his gaze transfixed at the travesty written on the papers before him. The pathologist hadn’t the kindness of words to put it in milder statements.
I, Dr Patrice Oloo Lumumba, performed
autopsy on the body of Sister Jennifer Muasa
at the government pathologist’s building in
Nairobi, this 13th day of September 2035.
From anatomic findings and investigations,
death is ascribed to acute cyanide poisoning.
Conditions contributing to the cause of death
are food poisoning probably laced in the wafers
that the decedent had consumed prior to collapsing.
CIRCUMSTANCES: The decedent was a 25-year-old human female, who collapsed in church on Sunday 21st August, 2035. She was taken to the national referral hospital where she was pronounced dead on arrival…
Bishop Boniface read again the anatomical summary, glimpsing and understanding nothing of the medical school and pathological jargon.
The Bishop’s mind was unable to comprehend what the government pathologist was implying in the report. In the enormity of its insinuation, the bishop registered and processed premises detail by detail: Sister Jennifer receiving the Eucharist, what with indignity and ignorance the pathologist called wafers, then taking to the task of giving the same to the other communicants but not making it to where they were, her collapsing and the body of Christ scattering everywhere, the pandemonium then panic before the ambulance arrived, the confusion that ruled in the church, finally Father George collecting the body of Christ scattered on the floor.
Without giving it a thought, he picked his cell phone and called His Eminence Patrick Cardinal Rotich because, in the end, the Pope must hear this.
When he was done, Bishop Boniface opened his mouth to say something, but only his lips moved in silent prayer: “Oh God, what have we done, what have we done? The church won’t survive this scandal—murder occasioned by the body of Christ that is supposed to give life…”
“Bishop,” the government pathologist said. “Tell me something I don’t know. What happens when somebody eats the Eucharist? It’s bread, right? The scientist I am tells me it’s digested after entering the digestive system…”
The wafers, whether consecrated or not, are just bread. Like Pavlov’s dog, we are conditioned to believe they are turned to body and blood of Christ after the incantations of Consecratio.
Sister Jennifer’s autopsy report said that she had died from food poisoning, that it was cyanide laced in the wafers.
How could that be? They are not wafers. We don’t feed the Christians with wafers. We give then the Holy Communion. For lack of better word, the pathologist had called it ‘Wafer Poisoning’. Technically, that’s ‘Eucharist Poisoning’.
That was a scandal that had to be kept under wraps. As a matter-of-fact, I didn’t think the church would survive it. Popes having mistresses as it has been over the centuries or priests having secret families, or convents turned bordellos and nuns aborting their bastards can be forgiven for human weakness. Sex scandals with altar boys go away after all the media hullaballoo and a financial scandal at the Vatican Bank is more or less a saga like any in Wall Street. But Eucharist poisoning?
The Bishop, under the instruction of the Cardinal, called for an impromptu closed-door meeting with the government pathologist. We had to do damage control. It would have been easy if the pathologist was a Christian, easier if Catholic. But he was none of the above. He was not even an atheist. He was something in between. We came to an agreement albeit with a price for his silence.
I met Sister Jennifer three years ago at the confessional. She was in her last novitiate year; actually, her last day as a novice for the Congregation of Jesus the Good Shepherd. The following day, her class was to take temporary vows. Sister Jennifer emptied her dirty little secrets to me.
I listened to her attentively, intent on absolving her of her sins, but I could not help being carried away by her sweet voice.
After the confession, before releasing her to go and do her acts of penance, I held her hostage for fifteen minutes. I told her I was impressed by the quality of her mind, stressed how pious she was, and praised the freshness of her candour, her strength. I then emphasized the fact that she was human, and that she was not supposed to lock herself up in that mystic cocoon of sisterhood in the name of answering a call that she never heard. Then when all was over, before she could regain her composure and get ground to berate me, I suggested we fall into bed together. We were both the chosen ones, nothing was holier than sharing more than just our vocations.
When I demanded the ransom, her love for me, I was surprised she was more than ready to pay anything. There and then we kissed for the first time.
The kisscapade led to a full blown affair behind the vicarage’s closed doors, constant visits to her convent and occasional sexcapades at secret rendezvous.
It was not long before she came to me one Sunday, after Mass, with a doctor’s report. She was pregnant. How the heck had she got herself pregnant?
Well, she had to flush it. It’s not like she was the first, nor was she the last, nun to abort. Her foible was she listened to no one but herself. She said: “NO, I can’t kill my baby.”
Her option was to leave the Congregation, and insisted I should be with her. I couldn’t sully the priesthood any more. I couldn’t just leave the Church, bite the hand that was feeding me. To make matters worse, she threatened to go public when she left the convent.
She had to go away by all means.
Her Congregation was the one mandated by the Church in the diocese to be baking the ‘hosts’ (wafers). Getting the chief chef was not hard. Everyone has a price tag.
Sister Jennifer’s autopsy report had two things to be addressed—Eucharist poisoning and her two months pregnancy at the time of her death. It was the poisoning that was getting the attention though.
When the secret meeting was over, we scampered out of the underground bishop’s office each of us lost in our own world.
My phone vibrated for the umpteenth time. It had been all along during the meeting and I had ignored it. I glanced at the caller ID and my heart dropped like a turbulent airplane leaving my guts suspended somewhere.
I had to take this.
“Why are you calling me on this number?” Bishop Boniface said when he answered the call.
“I tried you on the other number. It’s switched off,” the caller said.
“What is it, Emma?”
“It’s Nikki. She’s in hospital, admitted,” Emma said. “I need you…”
“Hold on a sec,” the bishop said. He walked out of his office and went to the backyard of his residence. “Go on.”
“I just got off the phone with the head teacher. Nikki was losing a lot of blood. She has been rushed to the Nairobi Hospital.”
“How is she holding up?”
“I don’t know yet. I’m on my way there. I wanted to ask you to come with me.”
“I’m in the middle of something here. I won’t be able to…”
“Boniface, I never ask you to do anything for me, but this I need you.”
“I know, but…”
“It’s Nikki, Boniface. Our daughter. She needs us. I need you.”
Bishop Boniface swallowed hard. He looked around to see whether there was anybody eavesdropping on his one-sided conversation.
“Okay, where are you?” he said.
“I’m almost there.”
“Wait for me at the reception then.”
Boniface could hear Emma’s sigh of relieve over the phone. She had sounded desperate, and frightened.
Boniface took the anointing oil from the kit he always took with him while visiting the sick, just in case.
He found Emma lost in another world. The sight of her terrified him. She seemed as though she had seen the devil himself.
“Hello, Emma,” he said as he went to where she was.
“Bishop, thank you for coming on such short notice,” Emma said.
“Whatever I can do for my flock, Emma. How is your daughter?”
“Just got out of surgery. I told the reception nurse that I’d wait for you so we can go in together to see her.”
“I’m so sorry, Emma. Your daughter will be fine.” He turned to the reception nurse and asked, “May we see the patient now?”
“Of course, yes. The patient is in Room No.13, down the hallway from the emergency room.”
“Thank you very much, nurse.” He turned to Emma, took her hand and said, “Let’s go.”
The doctor was finishing up a slew of tests when they entered. Nikki was asleep. She looked serene and innocent. Wires and tubes ran from under the sheets to a bank of equipment against the wall, monitoring blood pressure and heart rate. An IV line dripped a slurry of medicines into her body.
“How is she, doctor?” was the first thing Emma said.
“She is slipping in and out of consciousness,” the doctor said. “She’s lost a lot of blood. Hopefully she’ll be fine.”
“What happened to her, doctor?” Emma asked.
The doctor hesitated, looked around and said, “May I speak with you, please, in private?”
“It’s OK,” Emma said. “Bishop is family. Tell us, please.”
The doctor cleared his throat, seemed undecided, then made up his mind. “Your daughter tried to abort…”
“What? Nikki? That’s not true.”
Bishop Boniface reached for her hand and calmed her down.
“Apparently, she went for across-the-counter prescription drugs that induce abortion when taken within eight weeks. Turned out she was allergic to mifepristone, the abortion pills. It did much damage to the uterus than expected. If your daughter lives, she may not be able to give birth…”
“What do you mean by ‘if she lives’?” Emma was losing it.
“Calm down, Emma. Calm down. What the doctor is trying to say is that Nikki might…”
“No, that’s not possible. That can’t happen…” Emma screamed.
“Ma’am, everything is going to be alright,” the doctor said. “We are doing all that we can.”
“I know you are,” Boniface said. “May we have a moment alone, please?”
“Of course,” the doctor said.
Once they were alone, Emma sobbed on the bishop’s chest. He held her, just as he had promised he would be a shoulder for her to lean, and cry, on.
“She should have come to me,” Emma said between sobs. “I always thought she was free with me. I’d have been there for her.”
“We cannot know everything about our children. This is not your mistake…”
Emma was now calmer, almost regaining her composure.
“Why did you do it?” she asked her sleeping daughter. “You should have come to me. You should…”
She pulled away from Boniface. He stood by her side, his hands on her shoulders.
As Emma continued her monologue with her comatose daughter, Bishop Boniface gave himself something to do. There was a cell phone on the table beside the bed.
“Did Emma have a phone?”
“There is one here. Is this it?”
Emma looked at it and nodded.
“Maybe it can give us a hint of who is responsible for the pregnancy. In most cases, the girl contacts the father to deliver the news. If he refuses to take responsibility she is left with only one way out if she is afraid of the consequences or can’t face the parents.”
“I’m not ready for that now,” Emma said.
“I’ll try to look. Probably he won’t pick her calls, so I will use mine.”
“Just go ahead, you don’t need my permission,” Emma said.
Boniface took the phone. It was on. No lock-screen password required. He scrolled through the contact list. It was comprised of Nikki’s family, friends, and teachers.
It could be a teacher. Or an uncle. Or someone saved with an unsuspicious name. The messages folder could shed light on that. There were no messages, though. The only option left was the call-log. Any call made in the last twelve hours could be checked.
There was a number with no contact name. Bishop Boniface fed it to his phone and hit the call button.
The number was on the bishop’s phonebook.
When I received the call from the Bishop summoning me to his office, it did not occur to me that everything would go wrong.
I found him with the diocesan disciplinary committee. Was this a joke? What could I have possibly done? The minute I entered his dingy-white office, breathing second-hand air already expelled by his council of sycophants and cynics, my stomach muscles went taut. Whenever these guys sat, somebody was excommunicated from the Church. I hoped it was not me, that I had been called to be part of the committee, like be the ‘tea girl’ or something.
Turned out none of what I was imagining would happen was on their agenda. I was the reason they were meeting.
I was slapped with an excommunication order, ferendaesententiae, incurred only when imposed by a legitimate superior or declared as the sentence of an ecclesiastical court. Moreover, the bishop and his council of Pharisees made it an ‘expiatory penalty’ designed to make satisfaction for the wrong done, much less a ‘vindictive penalty’ designed solely to punish. I wondered what crime I was guilty of.
To make matters worse, they revived an almost century-old defunct degree, which was stricken off the Code of Canon Law in 1983, by imprinting the excommunication letter with vitandus meaning that I was to be shunned, literally to be avoided by other Catholics, including the breakaway Reformed Catholic Church.
I was being excommunicated for crimes against womanity and holy orders. In English, it meant I was guilty of preying on my flock with my uncurbed sexual appetite where I raped and impregnated the daughter of a member of the church, and my evil seed blossoming inside her had caused her death.
I met the decedent during a religious talk at St. Bridget’s Girls’ Secondary school in Nairobi. When she came to me after the talk was over wearing her smile of fortune on her comely face, her pigtails making her cute head the most beautiful piece of art since the Mona Lisa to look at, I knew that she was one petal I needed to pluck. She was more than willing to lie to the headmistress under the pretext of suffering a certain hereditary malady that only a priest could cure. Together we toured the Garden of Eden, found the serpent and killed it before it could get to the fruit of life.
So, when two months later she called, sobbing uncontrollably, that the occasional pregnancy test by her school had confirmed that she was pregnant, I told her to go and look for the father of her bastard.
“I am a Father of the church, not for strumpets,” I said.
Nikki was her name. She had died at the Nairobi Hospital due to severe post-abortion hemorrhaging. Turned out her mother was the Diocesan Secretariat secretary. That’s why the bishop was so furious and wanted to make an example of me.
The excommunication has helped me conquer new grounds. Preying on the flock while praying turned out to be a dangerous occupational hazard, but in the houses of ill-repute I have found unknown pleasures.
The fascinations of depraved and unchaste women have been proverbial, especially to the men of the cloth, but if bordellos are established in the convents it is in natural order. I am a man overly charmed by the peculiarities of the female anatomy, a sight to mark down for a memoir in old age, one to cheer the mind otherwise falling to despondence and lassitude due to brooding over the things denied me by vocation.
When I was thinking I had got a clean break and the excommunication was the last nail on that coffin, I realized it was just the beginning. What I was dreading has come: newsflash on all major newspapers, radio and TV stations—I am a person of interest in the murder of Sister Jennifer.
Image: Public Domain via Flickr