Yaoundé is sizzling under the sun. As Judith crosses the church’s compound, the heat blasts at full force on her body. In the chapel, a couple of feet away, a choir rehearses a Gloria in preparation for Sunday’s mass. Crystal and vivid voices carried by the merry sound of balafons. Blood beats in Judith’s temples and makes her head swim. She bites her teeth, fearing her organs will melt into Play-Doh. Unlike every other Saturday, elation and lust are not floating in her belly like milk in a coconut. There is something else.
Judith knocks on the door and recoils.
“Come in,” Father Mba says.
She closes her eyes and opens the door. The priest appears behind his desk, breaking into a canticle in Ewondo. His voice hits her like a slap. She hates how gritty it sounds. As you will imagine a lemur’s voice if it could sing.
Father Mba rises from his chair to greet her in a hug. The nerves on Judith’s shoulders jerk at his contact. His body is clammy against hers as if he has been dipped in Eru. The grey cassock he is wearing sculpts his silhouette yet enhances his derriere into a protruding mass.
Judith is almost crouched on the chair before the priest’s desk, hoping her pride and intestines will not spill on the floor. She hides her knees with her Kabat.
“What brings you today, Madeleine?”
She cannot remember when she told him the nickname her father gave her, but she wishes he would stop using it.
They met weeks after the recession rippled in the country like an atomic cloud. Thibault, her husband, tried explaining to her what was happening. They were in their bedroom. Judith was holding his jacket in her right hand and a coat hanger in her left. Thibault was seated on the bed wearing his trouser, his bulky bare chest clashing next to the green mosquito net.
“Our GDP is tanking. We are going through a severe bust…” he said.
She looked at him, hoping he would finish his sentence. Thibault stared into the void, empty-eyed, a fly hovering around his head.
He always told her with pride that when he was a child, he did not cry when the old sorcerer spat red pepper on his circumcision wound. Whenever he saw her upset, he would shake his head and tsk-tsk-ed. “A woman of unnecessary emotions,” he would say, his upper lip trembling.
That night when he burst out crying, Judith realized that something terrible had happened. They were fucked.
Judith’s salary as a university professor kept the lights on, water running, and food in their stomach. As much as she tried to liven up their meals, Thibault sulked like a baby when he had to eat another peanut stew with Bifaka and Bobolo. He sat in the living room for hours, plunged in the dark, channel surfing, indulging in liquor, cursing God, life, and Paul Biya.
Judith resented him for having to clean his diarrhea-stained underwear after he went through another binge. She found herself at the margin, peripheral to his pain. Her eyes became hollowed and circled. She was distracted and fidgety during her classes, always on the verge of tearing apart.
She started seeing Father Mba at the suggestion of her friend Gertrude. Thibault doesn’t like Gertrude; he calls her “Hail Mary, full of shit.”
“He listens,” Gertrude had assured her. “He will make you feel good, real good, sita. Like only a man of God can.”
Judith scheduled a meeting out of boredom. There was an ease to the priest the first time they met. He blanketed her with warmth. She could talk about why she did not have children. “Thibault thinks that children are useless. We adopted a turtle. We called it Kulu,” Why as a professor she still did not have tenure after almost twenty years. “They see a woman, and all they can think about is the shape of her ass.”
She found herself laughing at his impersonations of the prime minister. She loved seeing him smile, how the wrinkles around his eyes and mouth thinned out when he did. In his poky kitchen, she cooked his favorite risotto. The one with shrimp and Cajun pepper. They traded love letters; hers written in black and his in purple. When he told her to stop wearing makeup, she did. When he asked for her salary statement, she gave him a copy. Every weekend they hid in his apartment, a small one-bedroom adjacent to the sacristy.
Gertrude was right; the man was indeed godsent. Whenever he held her in his heavy arms, and she wrapped her legs around him, a red gust of pleasure would anoint them. He would roar, and tears of joy would overflow in her eyes. When the torrent quelled, she pricked her ears and listened to his heartbeat. She would lick the heavy beads of sweat on his neck, those tasty sacred things.
Last Saturday, it was even better. Father Mba had cracked her open with the tip of his fingers, and water had gushed out, pouring so hard Judith wondered if she would not lose her mind. After they had sex, he told her to get rid of Thibault. He wanted to keep her for himself. They had had that discussion before, and she had come out of them triumphant. But something was different that day. The priest’s face blackened into a shadowy mask, and Armageddon roared in his eyes. The mouth that used to kiss her twisted into a nest of worms and snakes. Since then, her throat curls whenever she thinks about him.
“We need to talk,” Judith says. She licks her lips. “I don’t think we should see each other anymore,” She takes an envelope from her bag. “Take this as a parting gift.”
Father Mba’s eyes shoot fire. His mouth tightens, and the bit of saliva on the corner of his lips throbs.
“I gather you did not get rid of that elephant you call husband,” he says.
Judith wonders how he knows that Thibault is fat before remembering that she probably said it herself.
“Come here,” he says.
A ray of needles pierces her heart. Her chest slumps like chiffon. She walks toward him like a guilty schoolgirl, standing as far from him as possible.
“In front of me.”
She takes a step forward.
Father Mba sucks his teeth and grabs her hand. Judith has always been petite. Her height does not command authority. When she started teaching, she decided to wear only black and severe suits, hoping they would act as platforms where she could stand and steal the respect her colleagues have in a finger snap. It has never worked. Her students still refer to her as Dr. Pé Pygmy.
Judith is now almost on Father Mba’s lap. On his breath, she can smell the remnant of the pepper soup he has eaten for lunch. Even seated, his body curls in a display of tense and sinewy nerves in front of her beetle-like frame.
Father Mba’s left eye is twitching as if he is either a victim of a seizure or possessed. Judith holds her breath.
“Judith,” he says. “Have you ever heard me fart?”
Judith blinks. The longer she thinks about it, the less she understands. How come things have gone so out of control? How is it possible that she is in this office, with the ugly chipped green walls, standing before a man who has sworn celibacy in front of God and men and yet who is dexterous in all matters of the boudoir and who does not want to let her go back to a husband she loves but neglects?
“Uh?!” A cloud of fury masks Father Mba’s eyes in front of her silence. “Judith, have you ever put your head up my bum when I have farted?”
“No,” she says, looking at her shoes.
“Why do you think you can disrespect me? Why do you think you can ignore my love?” he asks, beating his chest with his fist.
“You should be sorry, Judith. You should be.”
Father Mba grins, revealing teeth crusted with tartar.
“But I forgive you, Madeleine. Trust me, I do. The Lord asks us to forgive those who have trespassed against us, doesn’t He?”
He slides his hand under her dress and strokes her left thigh, stopping where the flesh of a woman is as sour as wine. In a motion, he pinches her skin. Judith jumps. Tears swell in her eyes. Her skin turns sandpapery under Father Mba’s nails.
“In one week, I am moving into your house,” he says. “If you don’t put him out, I’ll drown that hippo myself,” He grabs the envelope from her hand and throws it inside his desk’s drawer.
“Now get out of my office.”
Judith hides in her car. Her chest heaves, and sobs blow out of her throat in painful fits. She lies in the backseat, her face buried in her hands.
She has always made fun of women like Gertrude. Those women of the Association of Jesus’ Wives who fill the pews of churches all over the city, the smell of their wet pussies filling the air stronger than incense. A priest’s blessing? Sacred. His dick? Even more so. Hail Mary, full of shit. Now she is one of them. The only things missing are those horrendous pink Kabats and those silky white scarves they tie on their head every Sunday.
When Judith wakes up, the clock on her dashboard reads 12:02. She runs her tongue on her gums to get rid of the sticky taste of after-nap. She rubs her peppery eyes and massages her droopy face. The compound is empty except for Father Mba’s electric blue Toyota. The sky is full and threatening, and clouds hover above like a colony of bats. From her car, she can see the door of his apartment. This is when the idea lands on her mind. A swift thought. Sitting still in the dark, she lets it marinate. She has always imagined murdering someone as an act of cold intent. Not the decision of a desperate middle-aged professor of linguistics. Yet, it feels apt, the thing to do.
In the trunk, she finds a bag full of Thibault’s things, old clothes he wears when he goes working in their cacao field outside Mbalmayo. She undresses and slips into her husband’s shirt and pants. She is now buried under the sharp smell of sweat and the filling scent of compost. She rummages through the bag and gathers a metallic flashlight, a machete, and a pair of industrial gloves.
Her palm is not moist despite how hard she is gripping the machete. Rage is shooting straight to her eyelids, turning them into heavy balloons that could pop anytime.
In his room, she turns on the flashlight. Father Mba is asleep, naked, sweat burning his brows, drool leaking on the corner of his mouth. She looks at him, frowning like a disapproving mother. His penis is hard. Veins snaking on the ebony pillar like ivy on a wall. His fury paunch rises and drops, rises and drops, like a mountain shaken by lava.
With all her strength, Judith forces the flashlight inside his mouth. Father Mba opens his eyes, a white linen fogging his thought. He does not recognize Judith; he only sees a dwarf standing beside his bed. His breath comes out ragged and grating. A frightening shudder shakes his body like a pig caught in barbed wires.
“We need to talk.”
Judith raises the blade. Father Mba lets out a whimpering noise.
“I gave you a chance to let me go, didn’t I?”
She is emboldened by a surge she has never suspected lies inside of her. It flows in her mouth, and she tastes it. Respect. It feels good. It’s sweet like Foléré and intoxicating like a glass of odontol.
“Why Polycarpus? Tell me why? Why do you always think you must eat more than you can chew?”
The knife caresses his testicles. Father Mba attempts to move, but he cannot breathe, and his body is too heavy.
In a slitting motion, she severs the scrotum like a piece of chicken breast.
It does not hurt. Not as much as Father Mba would have imagined. It is the blood. It is everywhere. The smell is corrosive and biting to the nose. Father Mba tries to scream. But tar fills his throat. So much blood. He has never seen so much blood. His eyes roll in his head. The dwarf stands in front of him. Merciless. His throat is still obstructed. Vomit overflows in his mouth, bubbling inside his nostrils. A convulsion takes hold of his body. Father Polycarpus Adrian Mba drifts elsewhere. May God have his soul.
Judith throws the testicles out of her car’s window. They land in one of those heavy HYSACAM trashcans. Testicles are thin for such nuisances. As light as two pebbles. How funny. Rain starts to pour. She turns on the radio, and Bob Marley’s voice fills the interior of the car. She likes Bob Marley. On the dashboard, a miniature statue of a head-bobbing Virgin Mary keeps looking at her. She seizes it and throws it out of the window as well.
Tomorrow, she will cook roasted rabbit and potatoes. She and Thibault are fond of them. They will watch a movie. Maybe one of those Westerns.
She lets her hand out of the window.
She welcomes the wind and the raindrops.
She laughs. Her chest rises.
She has herself. Everything will be alright.
Image: SOCMIA Fotografía Unsplash remixed