The Devil Always Carries the Bible
By Lawrence Kadzitche
It is given that women are generally more religious than men. Therefore, there was no reason why Comfort Gobede should have been any different.
Comfort Gobede was one of those women who are not ascribed the label of being ugly out of mere politeness or social correctness. She had an enormous head with an overhanging forehead over small close-set eyes. A large prominent nose cemented her look of a primate. She was massive at the shoulders and her body tapered down like a triangle. With a small behind, she looked the same from either the back or the front. It did not help matters that her complexion was as dark as charred wood. She was usually in a bad temper, and she attributed this to her perpetual rage against a sinful world.
On the other hand, Joseph Gobede, her husband was an amiable man of good temperament. He was further blessed with good looks that would make work for those searching for a male model easy. With an oval symmetrical face, he was tall and had an athletic body. His complexion made him look like someone of mixed blood and his curry black hair emphasised this appearance. He was a Marketing Manager at a large retail company with outlets throughout the whole country.
Women always wondered how Comfort had managed to land such a handsome and well to do catch. Although he was a man women swooned over, Joseph Gobede had showed little or no interest in women and had still been a bachelor while he was heading towards forty.
Comfort had an answer on how such a man had landed in her lap: he was a gift from God. Although people say beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, Comfort knew that the reality was different. Harsh as it may sound, some people are beautiful and some people are ugly. For the ugly ones, finding a marriage partner is never easy. While it is unfair, but that is what it is.
A further disadvantage was that she was born in a large poor family in the dense slum of Ntandire. As if this was not enough, she was not bright and dropped out in Secondary School despite some missionaries volunteering to pay her school fees.
So when she was stepping out into the world, she was fully aware that the odds were heavily stacked against her. Therefore, she turned to God for help. Like Hannah who prayed for a son promising to dedicate him to God, she started praying for any husband promising to set herself aside for God if her prayer was answered.
In pursuit of her goal, she had joined a Pentecostal church whose founder, simply known as Senior Papa, was well known for performing miracles. The church itself was aptly named Jesus Miracle Church. She became a devoted member, singing in the choir and taking part in all church activities that required participation of women. She even dedicated her free time to serving Senior Papa and his wife, doing household chores for them for free. Although she was thirty-five and the prophet only twenty-five, the man of God regarded her as one of her children and when he heard of her prayer request, she promised her that God would reward her dedication by giving her the best husband.
Two years later, Joseph Gobede joined the church during an evangelism meeting and soon became one of the most committed members of the church. His job frequently took him away so although he did not participate in many of the church’s activities, he greatly assisted financially in church projects. Whenever he had an opportunity, he would visit the prophet at his house where they usually debated on biblical matters. It was on one of such visits when he met his future wife. It wasn’t love at first sight, but the prophet said so many good things about the good character of Comfort and the importance of marrying for inner beauty. And the self-proclaimed man of the cloth would sometimes leave them alone in his house for bible discussions. Joseph Gobede was amazed by Comfort’s grasp of the holy scriptures; she seemed to know every verse in bible and professed that she lived her life by the beautiful old good book. Cleverly manipulated by the prophet, by and by the two fell in love. Joseph was forty-five and Comfort forty when they tied the knot at the altar.
True to her vow, Mrs. Gobede dedicated her life to God. The outward symbol of that commitment was the colossal dog-eared leatherbound bible that never left her hands. That evening, as always, she was engrossed in her holy book, reading Isaiah 48: 22. Her sausage like fingers moved along the words ‘THERE IS NO PEACE FOR THE WICKED’. The sacred text was heavily marked with red pens and other colours.
The big plain wall clock chimed, and she looked up. It was 9 o’clock. She got up and yawned while stretching.
“Betina!” she called.
In the kitchen, Betina, the maid, was busy cleaning kitchen utensils while humming a gospel tune. Mrs. Gobede forbade singing or listening to any other songs in the house apart from religious songs. “In this house, we say or hear no evil,” she always emphasised. A poster on the wall showed the three wise monkeys with the inscription, see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
“Betina! Betina!” Mrs. Gobede bellowed. Her voice was hoarse due to misuse during prayers.
Betina stopped cleaning the plates and cocked her head. Now she could clearly hear Mrs. Gobede impatiently roaring her name. With a plate still in her hands, she turned off the tap.
“I’m coming, madam,” she replied.
She dropped the plate in the sink, wiped her hands on her oversized dress which was obviously something she received from Mrs. Gobede and then rushed to the sitting room.
“Be of quick hearkening like Samuel otherwise next time it’ll be the Lord calling and you’ll miss his call, heathen,” Mrs. Gobede admonished.
Mrs. Gobede cut her by a wave of her huge hand. The anointed bangle on her wrist read, ‘Daughter of Senior Papa.’ “I’m going to bed. Mr. Gobede is driving from a meeting in Mangochi. See to it that he gets hot food when he arrives.”
“Madam, may I?”
Mrs. Gobede deliberately gave her the glare she had carefully cultivated to drive fear into unbelievers. “What is it?”
“Bwana is always saying I should not wait for him…”
“Bwana is always saying you should not wait for him!” Mrs. Gobede spat, putting her bulbous nose in the air. With the huge woman towering over her, Betina felt as if she was about to be assaulted by a chimpanzee. “Do you know that I’m a Christian woman, Betina?”
“Yes, I know, madam…”
“Do you know that I live by the holy bible?” snarled Mrs. Gobede.
Betina wanted to ask-do you but instead said, “I know, madam…”
“My good old book says,” Mrs. Gobede continued patting her big bible affectionately, “that obedience is better than sacrifice.” She paused and glowered at Betina like an angry buffalo about to attack a predator in defence of her offspring. “Do I have to say any more?”
“So, if the devil sent you here to kill my husband with cold food, by this good old book, it shall never happen,” Mrs. Gobede said waving her weathered genuine leather bible.
“Shut your mouth, Jezebel and do what I say!”
Mrs. Gobede turned to show that the conversation was over. Betina watched her as she shambled to the bedroom cradling her bible as if it was a newborn baby. The badly tailored black gown she was in looked more like a cloak of a witch than that of a woman of God. She gave Betina one final dose of her scowl reserved for sinners before she disappeared into the bedroom while humming a hymn. Betina took a deep breath, shook her head and returned to the kitchen to continue washing the dishes. Soon the clashing of pots was competing with the snoring of her employer.
An hour before midnight, Betina heard Mr. Gobede’s Mercedes Benz arriving. At that moment, she quickly took food from the kitchen to the dining table. By the time Mr. Gobede was entering the house, the table was set.
“Welcome, sir,” Betina said relieving him of his briefcase. “Your food is ready on the table.”
“I’ve always said you must not wait for me, Betina. You should just leave the food on the table and go to bed.” Mr. Gobede said, concern chasing over his handsome face.
Betina simply smiled and retreated to the kitchen. How could she tell him that Mrs. Gobede insisted that she should always wait for him? Half an hour later, Mr. Gobede finished eating and went to the bedroom. Betina went to the dining room and removed the plates. Then she went to the kitchen and washed the plates. When she was finishing, the clock struck twelve midnight. Then she retired to bed in the servant quarters which were situated outside a short distance directly opposite the kitchen.
The next morning, by five o’clock, Betina was already up. She began her day, as usual, by cleaning the house. After that she prepared breakfast and laid it on the table. Mr. Gobede had his breakfast at seven and left for work.
Betina was washing clothes outside when Mrs. Gobede woke up. It was around nine. Dressed in pyjamas, she went into the sitting room, dumped herself on a couch and started reading her bible. After going through a few verses, she put the bible on a stool and stood up.
“Betina! Betina!” she called.
Betina, who was putting clothes on the drying line, did not hear her.
“Where the hell is this accursed girl,” she seethed, going to the door. “Betina! Betina!”
This time Betina heard her. She dashed into the house and knelt before Mrs. Gobede who had returned to her seat. Mrs. Gobede scooped her bible from the stool as if she was afraid the maid would steal it.
“Bring me breakfast, lazy girl,” she barked.
Betina went to the dining room and brought the breakfast on a tray to the sitting room. She poured hot water into a cup and then a full teaspoon of coffee powder. She then she added two teaspoons of sugar.
“Turn on the TV for me,” Mrs. Gobede demanded stirring the coffee.
Betina picked up the TV remote which was on a stool beside Mrs. Gobede and turned on the TV. She immediately tuned to Mrs. Gobede’s favourite gospel channel.
After stirring the hot coffee, Mrs. Gobede tasted it using the spoon. She immediately spat it on the floor.
“What’s this foul drink?”
Betina turned, shocked. “I don’t understand…”
Mrs. Gobede picked the cup and threw the contents at Betina. “The coffee is too much and so is the sugar…”
“But…but I prepared it the way you want it…” Betina wailed, the coffee dripping off her dress.
“So, you’re calling me a liar?”
“You think that I didn’t see the huge heap of powdered coffee you poured into my cup? Or the mounds of sugar? Are you trying to kill me with BP?”
Betina’s mouth opened and closed but no words came out. It always took the best of her nature not to say the wrong words to Mrs. Gobede. And so-
“I’m sorry, madam…”
“Yes, you should be. Now clean it up.”
Betina went to the kitchen and fetched a mop. As she was cleaning, the front door opened and without a knock a thin tall woman walked in. It was Abigail, Mrs. Gobede’s best friend. Betina secretly called her Mrs. Gobede’s parrot because she agreed with everything her bible toting employer said. Hard as she could try, Betina had never found a virtue she could point out in the emaciated woman. Like Mrs. Gobede, she had a face only her father could love.
“Comfort, what happened?” she asked, eyeing the coffee that Betina was cleaning.
Mrs. Gobede handed her bible over to Abigail. Betina was sure the reedy woman was the only other person Mrs. Gobede she allowed to touch her sacred bible. “Read Proverbs 13:24 aloud for me, sister.”
Abigail did not have problems finding the verse. She had read it tens of times for her friend. It was the strict implementation of this verse that had made countless maids quit employment of Mrs. Gobede. “He who spares the rod hates his son…”
“He who spares the rod hates his son…” Mrs. Gobede said after her.
“But he who loves him is careful to discipline him,” Abigail finished.
“But he who loves him is careful to discipline him…Do I need to say anything more?” Mrs. Gobede inquired.
“I understand what you’re saying, sister.”
“Can you believe that she was trying to poison me?”
Abigail’s eyes popped. “The devil is a laar!” she exclaimed with her usual mispronunciation of the word ‘liar’ which was common among Pentecostal hardliners in their church.
“Imagine that she put a heap of coffee powder and sugar into my cup, obviously trying to spike my blood pressure!”
“Abomination!” Abigail exclaimed.
“I feel sorry for this unbeliever!”
Abigail turned to Betina. “The devil has a spot in hell with your name on it, evil girl.”
“Betina,” Mrs. Gobede said drawing the girl’s attention. “B-E-T-I-NA,” she spelled the name. “The devil is scrawling the name in his detestable handwriting. Repent before he finishes etching it on nameplate of your furnace.”
“You’re a good woman, Comfort. How many women can treat a maid the way you treat her? She’s so ungrateful yet you treat her like your own daughter.”
“People take advantage of me, Abigail. Is it a sin to live by,” she paused and snatched the bible from Abigail, “what this beautiful book says?”
“It is not, sister. Continue living by the word of God and your reward is waiting for you in heaven.”
“Look at the beautiful dress she’s wearing now; it was one of my favourite church clothes, but I gave it to her. Who does that?”
Betina looked at the dress that fitted her as if it was draped on a scarecrow. Aged thirty, she was far much smaller than Mrs. Gobede. With its dull brown colour, it looked as it was made of sackcloth. However, it did not require a keen eye to see the hidden beauty behind the monstrous dress. With her heart shaped head, pert nose and bee-stung lips, she was a diamond waiting to be discovered.
But Mrs. Gobede was continuing. “My Bible tells me God created all of us equal and we must therefore treat each other equally. So, although Betina is the Lord’s lowest creature, I do my best to treat her well and lead her in the ways of the Lord.”
“Amen, sister! She might be a despicable creature, but what will happen if the Lord decides to get his hands dirty and pass judgement on her?”
Mrs. Gobede shrugged her enormous shoulders. “That is my biggest fear, sister. But I’m a Christian woman, Abigail. As the Lord commandeth, I’ll not spoil the child by sparing the rod.”
“Amen and amen, sister! Our bible says there should be no peace for the wicked!”
“You can say that again, sister.”
“And I’m happy your efforts are bearing fruits and you’ve turned her into a good maid,” Abigail said looking around the room which was neat. “She’s now able to keep this house very well.”
Betina silently agreed that the room was indeed ship-shape, but the furniture was badly arranged. She had tried to talk to Mrs. Gobede about it but the big woman had hotly declared that the furniture should be arranged in a way that denoted that the house belonged to a woman of God. What that meant, Betina was not sure, but the result was that the sitting room looked like a tidy auction room full of expensive furniture. The walls were devoid of any decorations save for photographs of the prophet and posters with bible verses. On a mantel piece was a carving of four monkey with the words DO NO EVIL, SAY NO EVIL, HEAR NO EVIL, SEE NO EVIL. Betina thought that the only evil that was not in the room or the house itself at the moment was perhaps herself and Mr. Gobede.
Mrs. Gobede snickered and turned to Betina. “Make me another cup of coffee, heathen. And bring tea for my friend.”
As Betina left to carry out the order, Mrs. Gobede went into the bedroom. While the sitting room was spick and span, the bedroom was another story. Clothes were strewn everywhere. There were even leftovers of food on the tables.
A rat appeared from a heap of clothes in one corner and scurried into a wardrobe. Mrs. Gobede laughed and held her bible like a sword. “I know who you are! It’s you Betina! So, because of my reprimanded, you want to harm me! But it won’t be so. No weapon formed against me shall prosper! By the blood of Jesus, I bind you! Away you devil! Away! You are a laar” she paused then started praying in tongues. “Liboshakala lisondro…”
She was still praying in tongues when she went back into the living room. “What’s it, sister?” Abigail inquired fearfully.
“This girl is stanic,” Mrs. Gobede said breathlessly. Like all members of her church, she mispronounced the evil one’s name exactly the way Senior Papa did.
“God forbids!” exclaimed Abigail.
“You remember I’ve been telling you that she’s been attacking me using various forms…”
“How can I forget, sister?”
“First it was birds landing on the roof, then cockroaches and flies…”
“She sometimes even turns into wind and tries to destroy this house…”
“Our God shall not allow that!”
Mrs. Gobede lowered her voice. “Just because we reprimanded her, Betina turned into a rat and tried to frighten me to death in the bedroom.”
“No weapon formed against us shall prosper!”
“We need to pray sister before it gets worse.”
Abigail got to her feet. “You know I’m always with you, sister. Let’s go and pray exactly where it happened.”
End of Part One.