Silence. Noise. Silence again. The sounds slipping away, returning — a seashell back and forth against my ear. I am both giddy and fearful. I have always been afraid, I know, of the night, of silence, of losing Mama or Papa, of Bola running away, never hearing from him again. More than anything, I am afraid the pastor will see right through me to my sin, my doubt, my disbelief. I am frightened because, in spite of myself, I want so much for something to happen. ‘Tunde, Mrs Kekere — take this,’ Papa says. ‘Sam, Bola — one one for each of you.’ He must be distributing the funds we’ve raised in church, months of donations sealed in envelopes, used partly to pay for the driver and the minibus and today’s collection. ‘Stop trying to stand,’ Tunde says. ‘He wasn’t talking to you.’
‘But I can feel something,’ Sam says.
‘Give all you can!’ a voice booms, though not Pastor Fayemi’s. ‘He sees into your hearts. Don’t cheat Him, oh!’
‘Who is that?’ I ask.
‘There are many pastors up there,’ Bola says. ‘They’re taking turns to speak. They’re wearing suits, mostly black suits. Daddy Cool is wearing white.’
Sweat trickles down the sides of my face and each intake of breath in this humidity is increasingly hard-earned. Halfway through a hymn the music fades and a voice from the stage shouts, ‘Did you see that? Cancer has just left that girl! Did you see it fly away? Hallelujah!’
Gasps escape throughout the arena and people begin to call out names — of loved ones, their own names, Jehovah, Jesu, Lord. I want to see the girl who was healed. I want to see the cancer leave her body, the fetid lump of it flung into the air, her face now she has been healed. I want to see. Now. I am ready.
‘Time to go up,’ Papa says. ‘Bola, hold Bunmi tight. Don’t let her get lost, you hear?’
‘Yes, Papa.’ ‘Tunde, Mrs Kekere — you go first. Sam and I will follow.’ And we’re off, Bola with an arm around me, half-running to keep up with Tunde and Mrs Kekere. Is Tunde carrying her? Perhaps someone from the congregation is helping. I miss my step and stumble. I cannot find my balance at this speed. Bola props me up, holds me tighter. ‘Sorry, Bunmi.’
Bola is so lean against me, perhaps I should be offering the support. I hadn’t realised how thin he has become. It makes me wonder if he is eating properly, whether the hours of football are taking their toll.
‘Follow those people!’ a woman says behind me and I’m aware we are part of a mass headed for the same place. It gives me hope, this communion, this flock of kindred souls. I no longer care that I’m sweating, that I’m stumbling like a drunk. I am only in love with love, with the thought that love is on the stage and, when I reach it, when I touch it, I will be made whole.