The Catechist of St. Anthony Parish
By CHIKA VICTOR ONYENEZI (Nigeria)
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
THE CATECHIST OF ST ANTHONY PARISH
It was on a Good Friday with a scorching sun shining on St Anthony parish. The day was characterized by various activities to usher Christ from his grave to heaven. Among these activities was a prolonged stations of the cross that started at three o’clock in the afternoon. The Catechist of St. Anthony stood beside the parish priest with a black coat in the hot blazing afternoon waiting to start the dogma of believers. He didn’t lose sight of his pretty daughter Mary and his beautiful wife Ugonma – who many men would like to have as a wife at her age of 47. She still looked young and pretty.
The Catechist glanced at them at intervals to see if they were meditating on the things of God or doing stupid things in the presence of God. Mary was deep in prayers, blinking her eyes to emphasize her mood; she didn’t notice the hand of her bra that stuck out of her red blouse like a charm on a wonderful priestess. Catechist noticed this careless act, and chewed the cord whole, waiting for an opportunity to tell her to keep herself like Mary the mother of Christ.
The Catechist was known for his strict approaches towards light matter. He has this habit of emphasizing words as though his whole strength lied on the words of his mouth even in a prayer mood. Like last Sunday when he was asked to lead the prayer of the faithful he prayed:
‘God, our leaders, are bad, touch their heart, or do them what you did to Abacha, so, our, country, will be good!’
With a pause at each word, to show the strength in his words. He was also known for his iron hand upon his family. Words emanated from his mouth and ended in his mouth – as he said it – like he said it – so shall it be. Not even his wife was worthy to counter his decisions. He considered everything under him his subject, including the wife, to whom he always emphasized that he bought her with his own money.
Children were afraid to go to his office due to his iron nature, and they nicknamed him ‘Iron’. Any child that visited his office for any matter, whether to book a mass, or ask the Christian fellow some few questions that seemed not clear to him, or inquire about the announcement which he didn’t hear, or pass a message across, would go through some series of question like:
-‘Who is God?-Why is he God?-Who are the angels?’…and many other catechism questions that a child might fail out of his cruel manner of questioning. This fellow didn’t look hard in appearance. He was one of those whose face was always light with smile, yet hard in character.
The church activities ended around nine that faithful night. After keeping watch with his assigned group of fathers, he decided to leave the small St. Anthony Parish, which was still incomplete but the priest house had been completed and painted.
He lived a little bit far from the church. He trekked back to his house on that cold night. The street of Mint seemed deserted. Only dogs and madmen were still on the road. When he got home, from the gate he could smell the hot yam porridge being prepared by his beautiful wife. Like a dog, he sniffed harder to make sure that the smell was actually from his house and not from the neighbours’ pot.
He moved across the bushy lawns that led to the veranda. The heavy footsteps showed the entry of the heavy man of the family. Mary ran and opened the door.
- Good evening Daddy!
The pretty girl greeted.
-Don’t…! Daddy…! Me…!
I will speak to you later. For now, where is your mum?
The iron man barked at the daughter with his usual pause to emphasize the strength of his words. The shocked girl pointed towards the kitchen. The Catechist swiftly moved into the kitchen.
‘So, you couldn’t keep vigil, not even for an hour – you, and your devilish child? Just an hour!’ He tried to emphasize how little an hour was with his thumb and index fingers.
-My husband, I thought it is wise to come and cook. Moreover we have been at the church since around afternoon!
The wife said this in a soothing manner to appease the ‘angry god’- (her husband)!
-Don’t even go there…!
You left, and your daughter got naked in the church. I saw, her bra hand…even, her breast, if you look, well. I have been, training both of you, in the way of the lord! But, you are like devils. I pray that God should do to you what he did to Abacha soon…!
The wife kept silent and continued her cooking, knowing fully well the character of her husband and his strong words which could be suppressed by silence and silence alone.
The angry little god ran into her daughter’s room to continue his shouting. Alas, the poor girl hid behind her wardrobe, knowing that the iron man was approaching. His father opened the door,
‘Where is that girl?’
The girl came out of her hiding place, shivering like a wet bird as he approached.
-So you left, your breast open for the congregation to see…!-Said the Catechist.
Before she could speak, he rested his palms on her chins heavily. Tears began to stream from the young girl’s eyes. The girl took her soar chin into the soar night and had a soar dream till a soar morning came.
The Catechist left early in the morning for an important case: they went to settle a marriage dispute between a man and his wife. He arrived at the church compound very early. With the priest, four members of the parish council, and the Catechist, they left for the case settlement.
The house of the parish member who beat his wife and flogged his daughter with a cane wasn’t far from the parish house. But the priest, the Catechist and the church members went with a car.
It was a house beside the main road. A public yard with many children running in it, the wife of the man was outside and aware that they would be coming today – because it was her who reported to the parish priest. The young woman who was suffering was eager to receive them well as they drove in. She ushered them into the main building.
Her face was filled with sorrow, as she called her husband to come and welcomed the priest. Wrinkles spread over her face like ripples. The husband, who was no better than a stock fish, dragged his dried body outside, staring at the priest in an inquisitive manner of why he visited.
They ushered the priest inside their scattered sitting room, with few upholstery to seat upon. The priest started with a prayer: ‘Oh, lord, let our mission geminate and bear fruit. Bring peace to this family, and bless them. Amen’.
Amen! Everybody replied.
Then priest started: ‘Peace is an important thing in every home. Mr. Ele you need peace with your wife that’s why we came. We are not here to know of what happened; we are here to make peace.’
The man looked and said: ‘but father you need to know the abominable thing this woman did. I do not wish to wash my dirty linen outside but since this woman took my dirty linen to you, I will wash it before you. Let me tell you.’
The man bent his head as though the words were too heavy to come out of his mouth. Everybody stared at him to know the real cause of the quarrel with his wife.
-Father, this woman’s daughter is pregnant. A girl of sixteen and she (he pointed at his wife who hid her face in shame of the abominable word), didn’t take care for her. In fact both she and the daughter are harlots! And should be treated as such!
The angry man concluded.
The wife wanted to speak but the Catechist hushed her as though her voice would be an abomination in the mist of men. The priest asked: have you ever caught your wife with another man?
‘No, but her countenance and attitude towards domestic matters show it all. Evidently her daughter got pregnant. What evidence do I need again?’ The man said in a sarcastic manner.
The wounded woman raised her hand up to be allowed to speak. The priest granted her request.
-Our elders in Christ, when a child is good the child becomes the child of the father. But when the child is bad it will be attributed to the bad mother. Let me ask you my elders in Christ can one person train a child?
She stared at the peace makers: ‘No one person can’t. I have never been a bad wife, neither have I failed to do my duties as a wife. He has never caught me with another man. Ask him whether it was I who impregnated our daughter?’
The woman concluded with this question, sighing to show agony.
The Catechist cleared his throat as a sign to be allowed to speak:
‘You see, you don’t have an iron hand, that’s why she got pregnant. Treat your family with iron hand, hold them with iron hand, and they will learn it, in the iron way…!’
The Catechist listed the way upon which he held his own family and would like to see this man hold his family like that.
The man burst into flames:-‘who is this one to tell me how to train my family, are you for peace or to scatter things more? If not the priest here I would have given you the beating of your life..!’ The man said.
Anger was written on his face as he pointed at the Catechist. He bragged to have trained his family with wood, he works with wood also: a carpenter.
We have not come to add flames – but to put it out. Please Mr. Ele calm down.
The Priest knew that Catechist statement has added fuel to the fire and the man was now biased about their peace mission. The Priest said: please don’t kill your daughter. It’s not your fault neither the fault of your wife. I don’t support evil but remember that the child David had out of wedlock built the house of the lord. Please take your daughter it has happened. Don’t kill her.’
The priest advised the angry man.
The man was burning inside of him. ‘…If not that the speaker of these words were a priest, I would have fought him. How can he compare my family with that of David? Is because he doesn’t have any child, do I blame him. If not that my actions would be used at the pulpit I would have chased this priest out of my house…!’-The man thought.
Let us pray! The priest said!
-Father let our words bear fruit in their hearts. Bring peace into this family. Give them love and the will to accept Gods will which is difficult to accept, in the mighty name of Jesus! Amen.’
The all replied-‘Amen’ with him.
Once more the priest advised them to live together in peace and to love one another. The troubled couples followed them to their car.
As they were driving back to the parish house, the priest said: ‘Ah! What a poor environment to train a maiden. It’s none of their fault, even if you bring a puritan to that place he will easily fall off to the advances of men. Environment is one thing parents need to understand…!’
‘No. Enviro-what? It is iron hand, iron training, that holds the maiden to be a maiden. Spare the, rod, and spoil the child!’
The Catechist said angrily.
They commented on the shattered family till they got to the parish house.
Months went by; days came and passed –The iron man still with his iron hand upon his family. One day the young Mary came back from the farm were she has been making large ridges with the hoe and started vomiting. She has been doing this for some days now. Mary’s mother called her like an observant mother and said:-Mary you are pregnant. Tell who did it?’
‘Preg…! What mama? No, no, no!’
The young girl said as to play the woman in her mother.
-I am your mother. I know you well. Tell me the truth!
The mother told her.
‘Is the boy living down the street, I told him to stop, he refused…mama, papa will kill me,’
The timid young girl said.
‘Thank God you know your father very well, the Catechist, he will tear your skins. You know him well.’
The mother said to put fear into the young girl.
‘Please don’t tell daddy. Please mama.’
The young girl begged.
‘As a good wife my duty is to tell…’ -The mother said.
‘…And as a good daughter my duty is also to tell!
-The young girl said in a threatening manner.
‘Tell what?’- The mother asked!
‘Do you think I don’t know? You and the carpenter across the road, I saw him on top of you when Papa went to church the other day.
-The girl said to show off her good observation skills.
‘Eh! Ok come. I won’t tell him, but what will you do about the baby?
-The mother asked
‘I will have the baby. Mama, I can’t do abortion. This is my own cross I will carry it.’
The young girl said.
They both agreed that when delivery time is approaching, she would be taken to somewhere she would safely give birth. The daughter and the wife of the iron Catechist both behaving immorally under his nose, the iron man has failed to iron his own family.
Days passed like it used to pass. The Catechist has been noticing the strange behaviour of the daughter and the change of her skin colour. He knew the symptoms of pregnancy. He knew that the daughter has eaten the ‘forbidden fruit’.
So one night he kept his tin iron handy and called the changing woman into his room.
‘Mary, tell me are you pregnant?’ -He asked.
‘Papa, Pregnant what!’ -The girl said
‘Don’t play with me or I will kill you with this rod.’ -The Catechist said.
The girl knew his temperament father well and what he can. She knew him as a man who doesn’t literarily spear the rod. With a few steps back the girl ran into the wild world. The aging Catechist took the tin rod and chased the girl into the street. Being pregnant she ran with caution. The wife of Catechist had his family running wild and ran after them, three members of a family running as though a wild cat was after them. The pregnant girl ran till she got to the main road. Seeing her father approaching with the tin rod and horror on his face, without looking she ran into a coming car. The driver hit her and ran away without stopping.
She died on the spot. Her blood spread on the main road. The anxiety of the Catechist turned into mourning and weeping for the dead daughter. The wife blamed him for killing the pregnant girl. Passer-by and neighbours held the weeping mother and helped put the dead girl into the ambulance.
With the tin rod in his hand Catechist followed the driver of the ambulance crying. Regretting his action actions, saying at interval: ‘had I known…!’
His mind pricked him greatly. “A pregnant daughter is better than a dead one”.
The word of the priest came to his ears: please don’t kill your daughter. It’s not your fault neither the fault of your wife. I don’t support evil but remember that the child David had out of wedlock built the house of the lord. Please take your daughter it has happened. Don’t kill them. Hitting his ear drums like the rough sound of a school bell. The body of Mary was deposited in the morgue.
The Catechist buried her daughter and the foetus inside her beside his house.
Maybe this kid could have been a great person. What I was afraid of is now before me: shame. Oh! Why! -The Catechist thought.
The sermon of the priest during the burial was on those who misinterpret the words of the lord. He lashed those who hit their children with rod and fearlessly lashed the Catechist for misunderstanding the bible. The wife regularly pointed at him as the killer of their only child and maybe unborn son. The Catechist was filled with misery and thoughts of his dead child. He failed his duties at the church and was immediately replaced after this incidence.
Two weeks after, the mourning the wife called him and said: ‘I can’t stay under the same roof with a murderer. And let me tell you wicked man. I never loved you, I never loved you. I love John the carpenter and he has agreed to marry me. Bye.’
His beautiful wife picked her luggage before him. The Catechist knelt down, his authoritative voice gone; in a soothing manner of pleading he said: ‘Please! Don’t leave me my wife. I have realized my mistakes. I will make it up’-He said in a gentle manner with his authoritative pause.
-‘Make up? Did I hear you say make up? The death of my daughter or the death of her baby?...Bye!’
His wife walked out of his life and never came back. He stared at her till she banged the gate hard.
The Catechist is still living up to this day, but more like a mad man. The trauma never left him. The people of Mint Street used him as an example of an iron man and the way iron men ended. Those who looked up to him for truth and light deserted him, He could still see him in the church with a large chaplet round his neck, always praying for forgiveness of his sins. He even went extra miles of sweeping the whole church in atonement of his sins every week. When walking on the street people would say: ‘look at that man, he was the Catechist of St Anthony parish’. Every visitor upon this street was told the story of the Catechist and his iron mind and nature.