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I made it here by accident. I had gotten dressed with the party in mind and it did not help that the dress code on the party invitation read ‘glamorous’. It was on our way that we had checked the invitation again only to see that this was the first stop before the main party. The celebrant and her family being Catholics had asked us to join them in giving thanks before the main reception at their residence. She had just turned the big 5-0. Very soon we would all dance forward with gifts of money or food baskets to support her. She would feel pleased because of the huge crowd that had showed up and caused a scene as they filed toward the back of the chapel, waiting to dance forward to support her when she was called.
So there I was, sitting on white chairs outside an already full chapel, waiting for the service to be over. The only times I had been to a catholic church in Lagos were for a burial and a wedding, all a few years back and just like then I still struggled to understand or appreciate being splashed holy water in the face when I least expected..
A little girl was staring at my shoes while lost in thought. Another one made every effort not to be disconnected from the mass just because she happened to be sitting outside. She leaned in to worship as if she was inside the chapel, peering in through the windows for the next directive. While we sat, she knelt at the appropriate junctures and did all the motions we backbenchers didn’t bother to do. It amazed me how her earnestness was so pure, and yet not exactly what you would call naive, or sanctimonious.
I glanced at the bulletin in the hands of the man sitting next to us. An emboldened line caught my eyes, which had asked the readers to do penance or perish. I wondered if everyone here did penance and knowing that I wouldn’t do penance anytime soon, wondered about the boldness of this bulletin, that implied I would perish. Behind us a man with a camera was being apprehended by a security man, who dragged him by his trousers outside the chapel grounds. That was not really a new sight in Lagos, so it quickly lost our audience, as we all turned back toward the church windows.
I saw a few people who I would later see at the party. With a veneer of impatience which may have been insecurity, one of them -a younger one – took pictures and typed non-stop into her blackberry, as I have noticed is the usual way to party here; partying while tweeting, blackberry messaging, and instagramming about the party simultaneously.
Outside the chapel gates cars and motorbikes were competing for the road and blaring horns. Chants of “Holy, Holy Lord” were streaming out of the chapel windows, sung by very young voices. Despite all that was going on around me and my alertness since winding up here unexpectedly, their chant still found a way to lift me out of the edge into the deeper reserves of my soul. I let it in more consciously now. It was peaceful, inviting and spacious and flowed out of the chapel windows into the streets with people displaying their bananas, crucifixes and newspapers for sale, people greeting you “good morning ma” in hopes of being given spare change, and people living a quick succession of subsistent moments- only stopping briefly to wipe off the sweat from their foreheads.
I thought of how there was something more honest about how no part of life fit into a neat box here; about how the sacred and secular just like everything else here tangle themselves up into a mess- the sort of mess that makes you think that even if life counts for nothing, our enervating flux must certainly make something- however little- out of it.
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