For Harold, it only took till he was 15 for him to lose interest in the church. It wasn’t a gradual thing, nor was there any particular reason, but one day he found himself in that humble building with its wooden benches, cement floor, stained glass windows and raised dais – Such a familiar sight once – and it inspired nothing in him anymore.
Perhaps, with the few inches he had gained while growing up his pride had increased as well. Perhaps his greater interest in being popular with girls took him away from the spiritual experience, perhaps it was the beer he’d been drinking, or the simple fact that television was more interesting.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. There were many possibilities. All he knew is that he wouldn’t do anything about it. Forget about missing out on church – As far as his family was concerned there was no negotiation.
Mr. And Mrs. Likoma were always a humble couple. Both university students and teachers, with a very strong relationship with their extended family, as was the right way to go. When it came to church however their humbleness ended: They busted out the best clothing they could, they were the loudest, the proudest, the most charismatic.
They were a power couple of the church, and if their son dared show anything other than rapt attention or respect for the services, there would be hell to pay.
But the day he lost his interest, was the day all hell broke loose for him. After a particularly uneventful Sunday, Harold simply didn’t bother trying to get out of bed.
“What are you doing, you’re going to be late.” His mother asked, opening his door.
“I’m not going.”
“Of course you’re going.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Ok…” She said. And it seemed to be the end of that, but then his father came in, nostrils flaring, all the calm wise soft-spoken nature of him a long memory gone.
“What did you just say to your mother, Harold? Explain it to me.”
Harold felt sick in his stomach with fear. No matter how he changed his tune now, it looked like he was in for trouble.
“I just wanted to-”
“Get up right now. We’re leaving.”
More knots in his stomach. Harold didn’t dare disobey. He walked meekly past his father, all dressed up in his suit, and felt a rough hand on the back of his neck, shoving him out of the room and towards the door.
In silence the family took the car and went to church. Harold had never seen his father that angry before. He snuck a glance at his mother and she resolutely stared out the window, hands over her purse, ignoring him.
What had gotten in them? Had he done something evil?
When they came to the church, the warden-prisoner style escorting continued. Mr. Likoma pushed his son into the church, and even though the service had not yet started and people were hanging about and talking to each other, they all saw the expression on his face and sensed the mood.
“Ah, morning Paul…”
“Hey, what’s the matter?”
Mr. Likoma resolutely ignored the men before coming to the front of the church. With some unspoken signal he let his wife stand next to Harold while he talked to the pastor in quiet but firm tones.
Harold wanted someone to save him, anyone. Maybe the pastor would calm his father down. Instead it seemed that Mr. Likoma’s dark mood was contagious – The pastor wore the same expression he did, giving a subtle nod to his father, signalling him to continue with whatever this was. A crucifixion? Harold wouldn’t be surprised if someone came with some wood and nails for him.
By then nobody had spoken up and were all well aware that some sort of spectacle was about to happen. Harold was going to be disciplined against the church.
Mr. Likoma stood on the right side of his son, putting a firm hand on his shoulder.
Later, he’d feel some anger, come up with a hundred imaginary solutions to the situation where he ran away, where he stared his father down, where he begged for help, but that was only the courage that returns to a man after the danger had passed –
In this present Harold only knew a primordial fear.
The church slowly filled up. Every new comer sensed the scene and their smiles and greetings turned to questioning whispers. The pastor ushered everyone to take their seats, and led a prayer.
“Let’s close our eyes and pray.”
Harold barely heard the prayer.
And now, everyone’s eyes were open. The prayer was finished. It was time for whatever it was.
“I’m sorry for the strange scene here.” Mr. Likoma spoke, “But I wanted to be upfront about showing you the power of the devil in our lives. None of us are perfect, we all meet temptations in life and moments of weakness. We always say ‘It’s a small thing. Tomorrow it will be better. It’s just a small sin, it’s just a small lapse of judgment. Tomorrow I will pray in my room, and then I will smile when I enter the church and it will be fine.”
He looked everyone in the eye, one by one. The church members were already enraptured.
“But that is the way of the devil. He works in darkness, and thrives in darkness. My son, my faithful loyal son has been tempted. Tempted.” He toned the last word and people almost shivered with the gravitas of it, “He does not want to come to church. He does not want to pray. A demon is upon him, and sin is crouching at his door. I want all of us to come together, pray to the Holy Spirit to drive this demon out! We will baptize him with the Holy Spirit here and now, and God will work his wonders. See if he won’t!”
Harold could barely speak as his father suddenly embraced him and started praying.
His mother touched his back and started praying fervently too.
In a few moments, the entire church bowed their heads and started praying too. Some stood up, some knelt, one or two came over to touch Harold and pray as well.
Harold felt a distinct strangeness overcome him.
His fear had somehow turned into something else.
It had turned into a mixture of stage fright, of light-headedness. Was this the holy spirit?
They were starting to talk in tongues. He didn’t understand anything they were saying, and as the prayers reached some sort of cacophony, he felt a push, and as though it had been practiced a thousand times, he let himself fall.
People praised God, and Harold found himself embraced. His father and mother weeping, the church gleeful. Their emotions alight.
Later, as the service closed, everyone came to share some words with Harold. He smiled non-committedly and accepted their blessings and prayers.
More than anything, the people spoke with his parents more. There was pride there, awe. They praised their faith, and wished them well.
When Harold went home, his parents were back to being conversational, and they spoke normally the whole day. Just like that, the week came and it was time to go to school again.
What had just happened? Had he just been used for something?
Was that the holy spirit that had made him fall?
No, he knew the answer.
He knew that the fear of not reacting to all that fervent prayer was what had made him fall over.
Still, he felt nothing. But he dared not let that be known by anyone. He wouldn’t risk it again. Harold never missed a day at church again.
Somewhere along the line, he became the poster boy for church: He spoke in tongues, he jumped up and down and shouted the loudest in church. His parents were proud of him, and he didn’t need to be afraid anymore. Indeed, he seemed to be getting more popular by the moment.
What did it matter if he didn’t really believe in any of it?
What did it matter if he didn’t love his parents anymore?
What did it matter if he hid the truth about his feelings.
Perhaps he really was being touched by the Spirit. Some days, Harold found himself fine with this conclusion.
The security, the joy of being highly praised, it was better than that spiteful glare he’d seen on his father’s face, on the pastors’ face.
Anything was better than that.
Mordecai Banda is a Malawian-born science student who currently lives in Germany. In his free time he enjoys writing on a variety of topics including those related to his homeland. He lives on books and coffee.