The Evangelist

Samuel Kolawole

The Evangelist shambled out of his church building and extracted a bell from the trunk of his old rickety Datsun. He wore a robe which had once been white, but was now stained with a collage of brown patterns that looked like a three-legged horse, another like the map of some forsaken territory. He had a silk strip of yellow cloth for a belt with a sickly cross etched on it. Two little snail shells hung round his neck from a red thread. He wore no shoes. His feet were calloused, with toes like talons.

He rang his bell as he shuffled along the road to the market. The snail shells on his neck jiggled. The hem, the dirtiest part of his garment, scooped up the afternoon dust.

The Evangelist planted himself in the centre of the market, and stopped jingling his bell for his opening proclamation. He sprayed the air with spittle as he spoke, his nostrils flaring, his eyes popping out of his wrinkled eyelids. The veins on his neck jutted through his skin.

He spoke in a voice eroded by years of shouting, deep and hoarse.

"Jah-Jehovah is calling, men and brethren. Come for your Miracle. Mighty Jesus is a Miracle worker."

When he first started preaching one year ago, he did not care whether he was acknowledged or not—he just worked hard to impart his message about paradise and the eternal damnation of sinners to audiences which were in most cases inattentive. His face never showed disappointment when no real crowd gathered to listen to him or when people shoved him out of their stalls. He bore his cross with courage and joy. He constantly reminded himself of his heavenly reward.

But a lot had happened in one year.

The Evangelist drew a filthy hanky from the pocket of his robe and wiped his sweat-covered brow before he resumed the jingling of his bell.

On the main road, women in makeshift stalls haggled with customers. The smell of fried fish drifted up from one of the rows of shops on the roadside. His throat felt dry and his stomach began to rumble with hunger. The sudden cramp in his stomach reminded him that there was work to be done.

He launched into his sermon with the tale of a woman who lost three kids in one day and those within earshot had no choice but to turn their attention to him. This was one of his favorite tricks which always worked, especially with female audiences.

With one hand clutching the bell and the other swinging in the air and gesturing, he plowed ahead. Soon he began pacing as he pitched his tale and drew strange parallels. More sweat broke out on his forehead.

A crowd of women had gathered, gawking and sighing. When he ended his sermon, he announced that he was going to lead his listeners to pray while telling them of the cursed life that would be their lot if they did not cry to God.

"I want you to cry unto God!" he said squinting in the sun, sweat now streaming down his face. "Every enemy of my destiny and my children, may the fire of God consume you! "

The wave of screams and shouts tore through the women as they cried. They slapped their thighs and shook their heads vigorously and snapped their fingers as they prayed. The crowd engulfed new arrivals, those who had only heard the prayer being called.

He closed the prayer session and shook vigorously as though possessed by some restless spirit and uttered something in a strange tongue. When he had the full attention of the crowd, he spoke, "I see a woman, yes a woman. You are forty and you still urinate in bed. Come forward for your deliverance. All eyes closed, and all heads bowed. Don't be ashamed. Today is your day of deliverance."

He never finished a performance without making a prediction. His predictions, if right, would immediately boost his prestige and reverence so much so that when he passed his offering bowl around afterwards people would be more than willing to part with their hard-earned cash.

No one responded. He trembled again and made more strange noises. "Today is your day, tomorrow may be too late. Come out now."

Still no one responded. A murmur grew in the crowd. He thought about ending the performance—he would pass the bowl all the same and cut his losses.

A few seconds passed and a woman burst out of the crowd. A mild smile touched his lips.

The woman dropped on her knees and the Evangelist laid hands on her head.

The Evangelist prayed in a particularly powerful voice for the banishment of the foul spirit determined to make her existence that of shame and reproach.

The Evangelist knew her problem would remain intact. He knew she would come back weeping and confused but he wouldn't be bothered about that now. The day was about to turn out well for him.

A little later, his pocket bulging with cash, he waited for the crowd to disperse and found his way to the shop selling fried fish, its smell filling his nostrils. He walked back to his car, chewing on a piece of fried fish.