Sarah never met her parents, she only heard of them in stories Sister Elizabeth would tell her. These stories she would listen to with great enthusiasm, she received them like she would receive gifts. Really expensive gifts. Sister Elizabeth was the only parent figure she had, the only one she had known. Sister Elizabeth was more than a guardian to her, she was a god, an angel who was sent to save her soul from eternal condemnation.
Sister Elizabeth had always kept her on the right path for as long as she could remember. She educated and protected her from the evils of the world and never failed to purify her whenever she sinned. Sara’s first memory of the purification session was when she was five; the memory is quite foggy for she was very young. She had taken something that didn’t belong to her.
“Stealing is a sin against God,” Sister Elizabeth had said, after burning her left palm with a hot iron. God doesn’t condone theft. Thieves go to hell and hell is much worse than a superficial burn.
Sister Elizabeth would always punish her whenever she sinned. That was the will of God. Sister Elizabeth would always remind her that sinners would go to hell. The priest in the church says that too. Hell is a very terrible place to be, a place where sinners would burn till eternity.
“Do you want to go to hell, Sara?” Sister Elizabeth would ask with what seemed like fear in her eyes. Sara would shake her head with tears in her eyes. “Then you’d have to redeem yourself. I’m going to punish you. You know what the Bible says right?”
Sara would nod. “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Her voice would tremble because she knew the consequences of sin, but Sister Elizabeth’s punishment would be beneficial to her.
Sara would strip off her clothes and lie on her back, Sister Elizabeth would flog twelve strokes of cane on her back and Sara would say, “Forgive me Lord for I have sinned,” after each stroke. After, Sister Elizabeth would burn her hand, to remind her that sin meant spending eternity in burning flames. The pain would keep her warm throughout the cold night and would serve as a reminder.
That wasn’t abuse though, that was Sister Elizabeth keeping her free from sin. Sara would thank her after each session; that was the right thing to do. She wanted to be pure and go to heaven.
Sinners deserved to be punished and so whenever she sinned, she would go to sister Elizabeth for purification. That was what every child of God would do.
“We are pure in spirit, soul and body,” Sister Elizabeth would say.
“That is the difference between us and them,” Sara would complete the sentence. Them—the people of the world. Us—the children of God.
Sister Elizabeth passed away when Sara was just fourteen. Sister Elizabeth had died of cancer. Sara didn’t cry, she was very happy. Happy that Sister Elizabeth would finally meet God. Sister Elizabeth would be wearing her stainless white dress and walk on streets made of gold; she’d never fall sick again nor experience pain and hardship. Sara’s only regret was that she couldn’t go with her to the place of rest.
Sister Elizabeth left Sara in the care of her younger brother, Samuel. Samuel was married but had no children. His wife, Anita, was barely around. Her work required her to travel very often. So Sara was left alone with Samuel. But that was OK, for he was a good man. That was what sister Elizabeth told her, so it was true. He was a good man.
Although he didn’t believe in God and said a lot of bad things about God and people that worship Him, his heart was purely good. Sister Elizabeth had told her so on her sick bed. She had said that although he didn’t appreciate religion, his heart was purely good. Sara believed her, Sister Elizabeth knows people by just looking at them and she never lies.
Samuel was very reserved and refined, except for his receding hairline that reminded Sara of the senior priest in Sister Elizabeth’s parish. Samuel was very quiet and walked with his shoulder’s hung high. He only spoke to her whenever she brought him love tea. That was what he called it—love tea.
She brought it to his bedroom at night. He’d take a sip and tell her to sit beside him on the bed. She would, without fear, for he was a good man. He would touch her little breasts and she wouldn’t resist. He’d feel it through the soft fabric of her night wear. Other times he suckled them. She wouldn’t make a sound, for she was a good girl. Good girls don’t complain neither do the disobey their elders. The elders are always right. Sister Elizabeth told her so.
When she turned fifteen, Samuel had graduated to inserting his finger into her vagina. She tried to resist, it was a sin for a man who isn’t her husband to touch her vagina, Sister Elizabeth told her so; even the junior priest said so during Mass. But Samuel had beaten her terribly that she did not resist the next day he touched her. She wasn’t sure anymore if he really was a good man. But Sister Elizabeth never lies, she wasn’t a sinner. So he had to be a good man.
Maybe the devil was trying to destroy him. If Sister Elizabeth was here, she’d have known what to do to save her brother and Sara too. Sara wasn’t allowed out of the house except on errands; if she could she would go back to the parish to see the priest and seek for help. For the first time she felt trapped and missed Sister Elizabeth.
He had forbidden her from bringing him love tea whenever his wife was around. She figured he didn’t want his wife to find out. His wife was very nice, but Sister Elizabeth never liked her. She had called Anita a witch once. Sara felt bad about being comfortable around Samuel’s wife. Sister Elizabeth would be very angry with her. Every time she prayed she’d ask God to forgive her for dinning with Sister Elizabeth’s enemy.
Anita, was very good to her though, she would buy her clothes and toiletries whenever she returned from Enugu. Her favourite was ọkpa Enugu, Anita never failed to buy them for her. She would also tell Sara stories about her job and sometimes they’d read the Bible together at night. She was really nice. She matched the description of angels in human form Sister Elizabeth talked about. Or maybe not, witches are not angels.
Once she wanted to tell Anita what Samuel does to her, but she wasn’t brave. She was scared. Scared that Anita wouldn’t believe her and most importantly, that Samuel would send her away and she’d have nowhere to go.
Things returned back to normal whenever Anita travelled. Nothing about being abused was normal, but it had become a routine in her life and so it had to be normal. She’d serve him tea and he’d serve her a hot plate of abuse. She could take it though, she was after all a very strong girl. Sister Elizabeth was also watching over her; and so if what Samuel was doing is wrong sister Elizabeth would stop him. At least Sara hoped she would.
The last time Sara served him love tea, he had rejected it. She felt a little bit of relief, she hoped he’d spare her too, even for just that night. But he didn’t spare her. Instead he led her to the bed and pressed her back against the pillow. She didn’t like where this was going; fear enveloped her as she stiffened. She was scared, petrified even. When he lowered his lips, taking possession of her lips, she prayed silently, begging Sister Elizabeth to come to her rescue. But she didn’t show up. Sister Elizabeth didn’t come to her rescue. She didn’t stop Samuel when he pressed her back against the pillow, she didn’t rescue her when he pulled off his short, exposing a huge ugly monster, standing head high on his waist. And she didn’t rescue her when he forced the ugly thing down her vagina. Even when Sara struggled and cried out her name, she still didn’t come.
He defiled her. He had sinned and he made her sin too. She cried through the night not only because he had taken away her pride she had promised Sister Elizabeth never to give any man but to keep for God for the rest of her life, but also because she would go to hell. She had sinned even though it wasn’t intentional. She hated Samuel for making her sin against God. He deserved to be punished and she would punish him. She also had to purify herself. No one was here to do it for her.
Sara had always stayed away from people, people in the world weren’t to be trusted, they would make her sin against God. Sister Elizabeth was right, Samuel was one of them and he made her sin. But she was going to set things right again, even if it meant doing the purification herself.
She still remembered how Sister Elizabeth conducted the purification session. She couldn’t flog herself but she could use fire, Sister Elizabeth always burnt her palm or feet. It hurt but it was temporary compared to burning forever.
She was going to punish Samuel too, not only because he made her sin but also good people don’t deserve to go hell, he was a good man. Sister Elizabeth had told her that it was a good thing to save people from going to hell. God would reward those who win souls to heaven. She would save his soul and God would be proud of her and so would sister Elizabeth.
When Sara served him tea he rejected it yet again. And instead went ahead to defile her again. Sara didn’t cry this time, she remained very still. She wanted to curse him, but that was a sin. Even though it was a sin, she couldn’t stop herself from hating him. She hated him for making her sin against God, she hated her deceiving Anita and she hated him even more for causing her pain.
She would purify him with open flame, for his overly accumulated sin. She decided as she returned to her room. He wouldn’t let her, but she would try.
She couldn’t sleep; she tossed and turned in her bed still quite unsure of what to do and needed guidance. Shifting uncomfortably on her bed she asked Mother Mary to guide her. When she heard the first cock crow, she checked the time, it was already past midnight. She could her him snore. If she was going to purify him, she had to do it now. Now that he wouldn’t be able to resist.
She left her bedroom and hurried to the back of the house where the generator set was kept. It was quite cool, the sky was very bright and studded with stars, with the moon looking down at her majestically. This must be a sign, she thought. Her lips stretched in a smile as she picked up the fuel container. She poured the fuel into a bucket and hurried back inside. When she got to his room, she hesitated at the door but eventually pushed it open. The moon light dimly lit his room and she could see him sprawled on his bed. She watched him for a while with mixed feelings. She shouldn’t care whether or not he’d get hurt, because he didn’t show any remorse for hurting her. She was doing this for him as well as herself.
She threw the fuel on him, discarding the bucket at once. The bucket hit his head causing him to jerk. Startled he struggled to his feet.
“What the hell?” he yelled rubbing his eyes, but stopped midway almost dramatically. “Is that fuel?” She could sense the fear in his voice. The shock on his face was satisfactory. It gave her a little sense of power and strength.
“I am going to purify you, don’t worry,” she said in whispers.
Before he could react she lit the match and tossed it at him. She watched him go up in flames, watched him struggle and it reminded her of how she had struggled when he defiled her and his cries were atonement for the tears she had shed.
Soon the sheet was up in flames and so were the curtains and rugs. She couldn’t cross over to get to the door as the flame had grown too big and too fastly. So instead she sat on the floor and prayed.
As her nightwear caught fire, she knew it was her time and soon she’d be reunited with Sister Elizabeth and God too. She’d receive her reward, that brought a big smile to her face.
“We are pure in spirit, soul and body, that is the difference between us and them.”