The Christian Storyteller Prize 2021 (Top Three)

Iyanuoluwa Olorode (FIRST PLACE)

STORY: GRAY SKIES AND THE RAINBOW THAT BEAUTIFIES THEM

The loud clap of thunder added an ominous sound effect to the question Pastor Ekeagwu asked. I’d seen weddings in movies turn sour at this point. I didn’t want it at mine but the pastorate had insisted. I turned to face the congregation. IK squeezed my hand, and I turned to face him. His smile, rather than allay my fears, made my heart race.

Pastor Ekeagwu had told us he’d wait sixty seconds before carrying on with the ceremony. This was the longest sixty seconds of my life. He repeated the question. The church remained silent. Until murmurs came from the groomsmen. Chidi, the best man, jabbed Liam, IK’s younger brother, in the stomach. Liam frowned and growled something we didn’t hear. “Gentlemen, is there a problem?” Pastor Ekeagwu asked. “No,” Chidi blurted. “Yes,” Liam countered. No. Does he know? God, please don’t let him know. “IK, you can’t marry this girl, this prostitute.” My sweaty fingers wanted to drop my bouquet, my underarms stung with hot sweat and nausea crashed over me like a wave. God please.

The pastor asked if he was objecting to the wedding and Liam said yes. Whispers erupted from the congregation. Could the ground open up and swallow me, or, better yet, swallow Liam? IK looked confused, his eyes screaming questions at me. I wanted to die. I’d rather die than see disappointment in the eyes of the man who loved me. Would he still love me? Should I beg Liam? God, please, don’t disgrace me like this. Don’t let this happen to me. As though I was watching through another person’s eyes, Liam whipped out his phone and showed them pictures of me and IK let go of my hand. The pain in his eyes stabbed me over and over. The tears in his eyes as he looked at me like a stranger buried me. The steps he took away from me like I was the most disgusting thing on Earth brought me back to life to repeat the process again and again. Except I wasn’t dead yet. I was still standing and breathing when he said, “This wedding is over.” My heart shattered into dust. Sobs stabbed my throat. My mouth wouldn’t speak. My brain didn’t even know what to say. “IK, please. IK, I love you.” I tried to touch him but he slapped my hand away. “Get those disgusting hands away from me.” I should’ve dropped dead from how hard it was to breathe. “IK,” I sobbed. He turned to leave and his parents stood. His father asked what was going on. IK only shook his head and walked to the exit. I ran after him. Maybe I could get him to realise I was no longer a prostitute and that I loved him more than life. The sky was darkened as though stained with wood ash. Chilly winds fought against me and my tulle wedding dress. I shouted his name, but he didn’t stop. Running to him, I tripped on my ball gown and fell. “IK, please,” I screamed. He didn’t turn or stop. He got into the car we were supposed to drive off in as a newly wedded couple and left me behind. The tears that fell were more than those I had shed my entire life. I couldn’t bring myself to stand up from where I was. What was the point? I had no life to get back to. IK, my love, was gone and so was my life. There was no drizzle preluding the heavy rain that started, like there was no warning sign to this devastation. Heavy sheets of rain beat me and I hoped they could wash me away like they did my makeup. The humiliation I felt as the church members rushed to their cars was worse than all the times my pimp had humiliated me to satisfy customers’ sexual predilections. This had to be my end. I figured if I sat there the rain would melt me or lightning would hit me or a flood would drown me. Something had to happen. I looked up at the sky. “Shebi, you’ve punished me for all my sins now. Kukuma, finish it. Kill me. I know you hate me. Don’t hold back on me now. Kill me. You never stopped bad things from happening before. Don’t be a coward now. Kill me.” I sobbed, waiting for the lightning that would fall from heaven to kill me. It didn’t come. All that came was an elderly man with an umbrella. He said nothing as I cried. He probably didn’t want me to desecrate the house of God with my death. What was I thinking? That God or IK could love a prostitute? I’m a fool. Mister Fine Boy was right- prostitutes only had the trade or death. The rain dwindled and I planned to find my death. I’d never return to the trade. “My dear, look up.” I don’t know why I indulged the old man but I did. The gray sky was embellished with a slim band of colours arching across it. A rainbow. I had never seen one in real life before. “It’s beautiful, too beautiful for a gray sky.” I snivelled under my breath. “Like a rainbow’s most beautiful against a dreary sky, God’s grace and love shines brightest against the backdrop of sin. I don’t know your story, but know this: every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” “W-which are you?” I asked, curious at his conviction. “I am both; a sinner with nothing but a sky of sin He beautifies with His grace-bow and helps to be a saint. And He can beautify yours too, no matter how grey. What do you say?” He said and stretched his hand out toward me. Was I to take his hand or not?

Noella Lepdung (SECOND PLACE)

STORY: GOD’S RAINBOW

“Look,” said Agatha, her voice prickly with irritation and something else that Mary couldn’t place. “You need to pull yourself together. You should know by now how deceptive men can be.” Mary shrugged in response, flipping her thick mane of hair in a bid to feign nonchalance. “Agatha, I’m okay— I promise. I just need some time.” Her head was constantly spinning, and she wasn’t sure what emotions to give in to. The grief for her friend’s death, or the need to come to terms with his betrayal. But had he really lied? She couldn’t be sure just yet. “It’s high time you put all those delusions to rest, anyway. You were really falling off.” Mary snapped back to reality. “And what’s that supposed to mean?” Agatha grimaced. “Look, Mary— I know I’m only your younger sister, but no one else was going to tell you this.” “Tell me what?” “Mary— you were close to being ostracized.” “What?!” “I’m serious, Mary! Jairus told me how all the young men in his circle vowed never to marry a woman who’d affiliated herself with that man’s movement. Especially as shamelessly as you did.” Mary’s eyes became glassy with tears. “Agatha—” Her sister shook her head violently. “You can’t blame them, Mary! This man proclaimed that he was God incarnate; said he would destroy and rebuild David’s temple; said his followers had to eat his flesh and drink his blood!” The veins in her neck bulged as she spoke, impassioned with a curious mix of anger and compassion directed at Mary. “A blasphemer and a cannibal, with no respect for the laws of Moses. And you paraded yourself among his close followers; you and Salome, and that other Mary. I don’t understand what came over you, but this is a stain that will forever be in the fabric of who you are.” She got up and grabbed a basket of needles from a shelf built into the alcove. “I’m going outside to sew.” Then she stared pointedly at Mary. “To sew, I said. Like a woman. Something you clearly forgot that you are; parading yourself in the public dialectics of men.” *** “Mary Magdalene!” It was about six in the morning when Mary heard the whisper, and the thud of the pebble against her wooden window-frame, and she got up immediately. She’d had no sleep, but was bright-eyed as she swathed herself in a shawl then dragged a small pot from underneath the bed. It was full of myrrh; mixed with a sweet blend of spices that were meant for embalmment of the dead. Looking out the window, she passed the pot to her friend Salome and climbed out onto the street. “Do you have the oils?” Mary whispered. Salome shook her head. “Your namesake will bring them with her. “I hope she’s awake.” Salome gave a wry smile. “Did you sleep?” Mary shook her head. The women fell silent, not daring to voice the heaviness of their expectation. They were supposedly going to the tomb to beg the soldiers to let them embalm the body of their friend Jesus, but their hearts ached for his words to come to pass. This was the third day. The clouds and sudden darkness that had enveloped the city on the day Jesus was crucified, seemed to still linger. There was gloom and a general sense of bleakness everywhere, and Mary wondered whether everyone else felt this way— or if it was simply the lens of sadness through which she was looking. But the clouds were heavy, and she needed a sign from Yahweh. A sign that His promise was true; a sign that she could trust Him. Mary sometimes felt like she needed this more than she needed her next breath. *** Birds chirped in treetops, and the feet of the women crunched on the many leaves that were strewn about. Other than that, there was complete silence. This was the tomb of Jesus. Mary looked up and stared. The clouds seemed to be lifting, but that was possibly just the stirring of dawn. Then her feet hit something hard, and she shrieked. “What? Are you okay?” asked Salome in a loud whisper, just as the other Mary shrieked too and cried, “There are bodies on the floor!” Salome instantly fell to her knees, and looked closely at them. “Roman soldiers!” Mary clasped her hands to her mouth. “The ones assigned to the tomb?” “Looks like it,” said Salome, as she pressed her fingers to the necks of the three soldiers to feel their pulses. “All alive.” The other Mary groaned. “Do you think they were poisoned? Or maybe drunk?” As the two talked, Mary got up silently, and walked up ahead— as though in a trance. The expectation could not be contained anymore. She felt like her heart was about to beat right out of her chest, and as she crept forward, the pot of spices trembled in her hands. What was this light she was seeing? And was the mouth of the tomb actually— left ajar? The light got brighter, the more she dared to walk forward. Her eyes then flitted over to the top of the tombstone— and there was a huge man there, his clothes beaming with a warm, unnatural light. This was clearly an angel of the Lord. “Argh!” she screamed, flinging herself and her pot of spices to the ground in fright. “Fear not,” he said matter-of-factly, a small smile playing on his lips. “You are looking for Jesus, but He’s not here. He’s alive, just as He said He would be.” As Mary sat on the ground, her pristine beige dress soiled with soil and grass, she felt a small tear form. Sin had been cleansed; death was no more to be feared. Mercy was promised, and the clouds were giving way to the light of a new dawn. Again, the Lord had gifted the whole world a rainbow.

Oluremi Opegbemi (THIRD PLACE)

STORY: A BEAUTIFUL REMINDER

It had rained heavily all through the night and was still drizzling that Saturday morning but Irene was determined to go home. Her heart was heavy with shame, guilt and regret. The day before, Toju had called her to come get the study material she needed for her exam on Monday because he had to travel early the next day. It was till late in the evening before she had the chance to get to his place and unfortunately, it started raining heavily non-stop. There was no way she could get a bike back home. She kept on replaying last night in her mind. She had tried to resist him at first, but sexual sin had always been her weakness. She had managed to avoid it for some time now and was almost certain she had overcome it, but last night proved otherwise. She was so angry with herself. What was the point of her Christianity if she couldn’t conquer a besetting sin? “Please wait a little Irene, it’s still raining”, Toju tried to persuade her. He could sense she was very uncomfortable and he felt awkward. “It’s not that much; I can walk until I get a bike.” “Is it about last night?” he asked, “I didn’t mean to…” “It’s nothing”, she quickly replied. “Safe journey” Many thoughts flooded her mind as she walked away. It wasn’t just guilt, she also felt fear. Just last week they had discussed Sexual sin in the Youth Fellowship. She had co-anchored the talk and even led the prayers. She was a hypocrite, she thought. God was definitely going to punish her this time around and she imagined many ways the punishment will come. The rain had reduced to a few drops and she noticed the rainbow. It brought back memories of her late mom who was an excellent Bible study teacher. She once said a rainbow was a beautiful reminder that God was more interested in man’s salvation than destruction. Looking at that rainbow and remembering her mom’s words brought a little relief to her but she could still hear that judgmental voice in her head. “How will your mother feel knowing that the Christian daughter she raised has no discipline or virtue?” Her phone rang. She saw it was Toju but refused to pick. She had walked quite some distance and wondered why she hadn’t seen any bike guy. Toju kept calling but she ignored the calls. A text message then came in, she read it. “Have you gotten home? I just heard that a religious crisis started late last night so no movement. I can’t even travel again.” Her hand trembled as she read the message. No wonder the road looked scanty. He called again and her phone battery went off. Oh God! What was she going to do? She heard that voice again, “maybe your punishment is to die in Kaduna crisis”. She tried to ignore it. She was really in trouble; the area she had approached was dominated by the Hausa Muslims and whenever there was a crisis, they slaughtered any Christian they found in their midst. Please help me God, she prayed. She was still thinking of what to do when suddenly, a teenage Hausa girl came out of the bushes, holding herbs. They stared at each other for a bit before the girl spoke to her in Hausa. “Ba Hausa”, Irene replied, meaning she didn’t understand Hausa. Luckily for her the girl spoke back in English. “Some of our boys are coming with bikes; they might kill you if they see you”. Irene could feel her heart pounding fast. “My house is not close by”, she said to the girl. “They will see you on the road. Follow me”. Irene didn’t know if she could trust her but she had no choice. She followed the girl through a bush path until they got to a small old house. The girl hurried Irene into the house and she saw an elderly woman on the bed looking pale. The girl brought out a black Jalabia and hijab. “You have to wear this”, she said, “My brother must not find out.” Irene quickly wore the clothes over her T shirt and jeans trousers. Shortly after, a young man came in looking angry. The girl greeted him. “Who’s this?” he asked the girl in Hausa. “My friend, she brought herbs for Mama.” He said nothing, went to pick a knife and walked out of the house. Irene heard him riding away on his bike. “Thank you so much”, she said to the girl. Irene sat by a corner while the girl cooked the herbs. She gave the Mama to drink but she vomited all and started moaning in pain. The girl cried as she cleaned her up. Suddenly, as if an idea came to her mind, she turned to Irene. “Please can you pray for my mother?” Irene was shocked at the request. “Everybody says she will die. I don’t want her to die”, said the girl in tears. “I’ve heard that your God can heal.” Fear and doubt filled Irene’s mind. She, of all people, was unworthy and unqualified to pray for a healing miracle. But seeing as she couldn’t tell the girl no, she went ahead and prayed. She had just concluded when the woman softly asked for water in Hausa. The girl’s joy was out of this world. “My mother is talking! She hasn’t talked for weeks!” Irene watched in awe as the woman sat up by herself. In a beautiful turn of events, Irene led Hauwa and her mother to Christ. Fortunately, she knew someone in church who owned an NGO that sheltered and protected female Muslim converts. The experience changed their lives forever. And Irene knew in her heart that it wasn’t just the new converts that had found grace. God indeed had proved to her, in a beautiful way that He was more interested in salvation than destruction.

Inem King (WINNER SHORT FILM CATEGORY)

STORY: BOOTHANG

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