It was a warm Tuesday evening in March; we were seated around the dining table. Which was in bad taste because I had been fasting for five days in preparation for my “deliverance.” You see, where I come from, we believe that when a demon lives inside a person (as was the accusation in my case) it survives on the food and water they eat. So to weaken the demon the possessed fasts until the day the prophet calls upon the power of God to cast out the demon. The prophet was considered a specialist in the demonic; a physician with a god-given ability to heal ungodly ailments. And this Tuesday, the seventh of the third month, was marked as the day of casting out my demon, the day of my deliverance.
The prophet had a notebook with him, ready to document my confession. I looked at him, my mind as empty as my stomach. I was done fighting, justifying and reasoning. I was ready to embrace the accusations. I was even ready to point out the places around the house where I had supposedly buried charms to make my stepfather’s business fail, and to block his blessings.
“Witchcraft is a disease, you know?” the prophet said.
I nodded avoiding eye contact, an act I now consider a bad idea. I played into his theory. Beside the fact that some woman—a complete stranger—had a vision of me strangling her in her sleep and my stepfather’s uneasiness when we locked eyes, the prophet had no other proof.
“Your mother is worried about you,” he added. “She’s been crying at Sister Agnes’s house the whole day. Please, let me help you.”
Something tore inside me. I realised even my own mother believed the prophet, everybody believed him! I had no one in my corner.
He grabbed my left hand, now curled in a fist. I was fighting the army of ants inside my throat. They were there, I felt them. They were his voice, his perfume. They were the way his nails shone under the fluorescent light that weighed on him like an open sky. I felt the ants running, trying to escape the magnifying glass of my inevitable fate. My mouth tasted like a desert and my lips felt like dusty rocks. My heart, a djembe drum.
“Do you want your mother to suffer?”
This time I looked at him and felt my lips crunch into a “No.” It slithered out of my mouth like drool. My nonchalance was slowly being replaced with a deep hurt. And although my sixteen-year-old brain switched to man-don’t-cry mode, the avalanche inside my chest roared down my face. I had lost. I was demon possessed. I was an agent of satan. I was diseased. I was a nocturnal element being brought into the light by an officer of god.
He didn’t try to stop my crying. Instead, he stared diligently; with his left hand he wrote the letters J-E-S-U-S in his red notebook then stared again, waiting. However, not for long. He cleared his throat, let go of my fist and asked if I had anything against the church.
I shook my head.
“Do you have anything against me?”
I shook my head. He frowned.
(By that he meant stepfather.) I did have something against him, yes. I resented that I was expected to respect him despite him trying his best to inspire the opposite. I shook my head once more, but my neck cracked. Both the prophet and I knew the truth.
I didn’t bewitch my stepfather. I didn’t know how to. Did I wish I could? Maybe. Maybe I wished I could cast an accountability spell on him. But there I was, forced to confess because not confessing made life unbearable. So my tongue loosened even as my mind raged: I am not into magic; I am not possessed! I am human. A child accused of witchcraft; a condition more stigmatising than AIDS. Because this is how it’s done in Congo: you look at the wrong guy the wrong way and you’re burned at the stake. I was angry no one was there to defend me, no one was there to deem me righteous, no one to diagnose me otherwise.
My hurt turned to an anger predestined to dwindle and become evidence of my witchcraft. I wanted it over. I gave him something. I agreed to everything. I couldn’t wait for him to yell in tongues and declare me healed.
“How many agents have you recruited in the church?”
Without thinking and almost catatonically I said, “Three.”
“How long have been practicing witchcraft?”
My chest swelled again. This time though, my sixteen-year-old brain pumped pride like a vaccine through my veins and I knew how to deal with the avalanche.
“Thank you Jesus,” he whispered.
The relief on his face sickened me. He had his confession; and I was done for.
“My son, God loves you and has a plan for your life! Please stand.”
He was a short, beautiful man with ironic lines under his eyes. They sat heavy on his cheeks; for a moment thinking his face became the product of years of self-gratification and a folie de grandeur only a prophet would inspire. He wrote a few more lines in his notebook—he wrote throughout his visit—then stood before me, stretched his arm and began to cast out my demon.
[Six years later I came across Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. I didn’t enjoy it much but I remembered Tom Robinson. It’s possible to die for a sin you didn’t commit. And although I survived this ordeal, something inside of me died. It died with every “I command you to release this child!” It died with every “Thank you, Lord.” My innocence died.]
And yes, I fell to the ground! Giving the best performance of my life. I was “touched” by divine forces and the warm hands of “salvation.” I lay there pretending to be groggy and pretending to be delivered. I lay under the weight of the lies and the death religion inflicted on me; I was cast out forever.
Loic Ekingais a Congolese (DRC) born amateur poet and writer currently residing in South Africa. His work focuses on his experience of the human condition and memories of his childhood in his native country. Some of his poems have been published by Kalahari Review.