Nne always said the rosary; head bowed in supplication; rosary clutched to her bosom, beads moving slowly as she recited each decade. Between each decade she prayed. She didn’t believe in the quiet kind of prayer; she sang and she worshipped and she danced or rather made weird rocking movements. Her prayers always seemed like a trade between her and the unseen deity she prayed to; her words bargaining chips.
“Father do this so that we will do this.”
“If you don’t do this for us how will we do this for you?”
“Do this so that the entire world will know that you are God indeed.”
She prayed as if she and God were doing some kind of trade and we had grown up watching her.
She prayed even after things began to fall apart. When Papa lost his job and became a constant customer of Hajia, she waited up for him night after night on her knees praying; “Father heal my husband. You said there is more celebration in heaven when a sinner is brought back into the fold. Please save my husband?”
It didn’t faze her when Papa started demanding for the small money she made from her petty trade outside our home. It didn’t matter to her that when he came back from Hajia he would beat her and I and Nzubechukwu would watch wishing we could do something. Nights like that we knelt beside her after Papa had started snoring, and we would pray holding hands, our tears soaking our clothes.
We grew up in that environment and a certain light died within us. Hope and belief meant nothing to us. All we had was ourselves and our Nne’s prayers. I began to help Nne in the shop and it became a bit more prosperous. Nzube was different, he read books and smoked weed. He got a scholarship. He was smart like that. Then when Nne prayed she would pray for Nzube in between the decades of the rosary.
“Father guide Nzubechukwu. Do not let him end up like his father.” And I would say amen, my rosary hanging from my hand at my side.
Nzubechukwu only came back during the Christmas holidays, and when he did, he would stay in his room, the whole house smelling of weed and alcohol. He didn’t allow Papa to touch Nne again. He stood, unmoving, between her and Papa’s drunken anger. Papa had to yield most nights. However, on some nights Nzube would not be around and Papa would hit Nne “You have turned my son against me!” A slap that sounds like a ripping wrapper.
“You have been praying all this while, let your god come and save you.” A kick to Nne’s belly. Her wrapper would unravel and I would sit on the floor staring at Nne’s stomach and praying for Papa away. It was on a night like this that Nzube came back, all red-eyed, as if just from sleep and seeing Papa hitting Nne, took the kitchen stool and broke it on Papa’s head. Papa collapsed and never stood again.
And yet Nne prayed. She prayed even after we told the lie that Papa fell and broke his head under the influence of alcohol. Nobody questioned it. Not Uncle Chinedu; not even Aunty NneNne who always said that we would kill her brother for her. They didn’t care; they had other worries. After the burial, they came to tell us how we had to move out of their brother’s property. “You people will have to leave oh.” Uncle Chinedu said, after taking a long swig of the bottle of beer. He was a fat man and, in the heat, he was sweating like the cold bottle in his hands. Aunty Nnenne nodded, her wrapper had a tear on it and she was self-conscious about it and was constantly untying and retying the wrapper. Nzubechukwu chased them away with a gun. He looked like a god, standing there waving the gun in the air while telling them to come back. He was wearing a jersey short with a hole at the bottom but years later when I would think of god, I would see my brother, gun in hand, torn jersey short almost falling from his waist.
And so, it was that I would turn to Nzubechukwu with the question “What should we do?” and he always had an answer. When Uncle Chinedu came back with the police, it was Nzube that greeted the officer and offered to get him the usual later in the evening. I stood behind him watching while the officer warned Uncle Chinedu to stay off our property. All the while Nne was bent over in her room praying. She prayed until I got a scholarship and left Nigeria. She would write to me and tell me how her prayers were keeping me safe. The day I came back home she had her rosary clutched to her bosom and didn’t look up to greet me until she was done with the decades.
Nne continued praying and even on her death bed she had insisted on holding on to her rosary.
The day Nne left I had asked her, “Nne why do you pray?” “the world is not a good place for a woman. Everything is against us. The only thing that keeps us is belief.” She had paused then. Those times before her death, her words came in snatches. She always ended each statement with an intake of breath. She sounded tired. She was tired.
She continued “I pray because I believe. If I stop praying, then I stop believing and if I do not believe, why do I exist?” She had replied.