Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Pastor
By Lawrence Kadzitche
A gust of icy cold wind hit the pastor’s face when he opened the bedroom window. Birds and insects chirped and chattered, happy that the rain that had fallen all night long had finally let up. But Pastor John Kalebe knew otherwise. The sky was still overcast with dark clouds. It would just be a matter of time before the rains started again.
“You should be on your way, dear,” a voice said behind him.
He turned. It was Paulina, his wife. He had not heard her return to the bedroom. A glance at his expensive Rolex showed that it was 7:00 am, exactly the time he had planned to leave.
“You’re right, honey,” he said and then taking her hands in his, he added, “Let us pray.”
The prayer started on a soft note, but as is usually the case with Pentecostal pastors, his voice rose gradually. Soon, he was shouting, invoking the blood of Jesus to protect him during the journey and bind the devil and all evil powers. To the prayer, Paulina added a chorus of tongue praying spiced with a lot of alleluias and amen.
When he finished his prayers ten minutes later, he was drenched in sweat. Paulina picked his suitcase, and he followed her out of the bedroom. In the lounge, Sonia stopped her cleaning and relieved Paulina of the travel case. The housemaid had scarcely gone out of the house when she shrieked with horror.
They ran outside and found her frozen with terror on the verandah. She was staring at a small dead bird on the floor. Kalebe recognized it as a nocturnal bird called nkhwenzule.
“This is bad luck,” Sonia screeched. “When this bird dies, something really bad happens.”
The pastor put a fatherly arm on the housemaid’s shoulder. He knew where Sonia’s fear stemmed from. Because the bird came out only at night, people associated it with witches and evil spirits. It was not uncommon to see people shudder when the bird chirped at night and murmur with fear that a witch was on the loose. But Sonia was a born again Christian and as such she was not expected to believe in such mumbo jumbo.
“Sonia, this is just a bird like any other bird,” he pointed out. “It hit the wall and died. That’s all.”
But the housemaid was not convinced. “Pastor.” She always called him pastor. “Pastor, back home, we found a dead bird like this outside my brother’s house and three days later he died in his sleep.”
“That was a mere coincidence, Sonia,” Kalebe assured her. “We who’re born again Christians should make no concessions to any superstitions.”
And to illustrate his point, he picked the dead bird and threw it carelessly into the shrubs.
“But be careful, anyway,” Paulina said trying to sound as casual as possible. “You never know.”
“Paulina, Paulina,” Kalebe said in a reproachful manner, “That’s blasphemous coming from a pastor’s wife. We are Christians, and superstitions have no room in our lives.”
He picked the suitcase Sonia had dropped and walked to the white Mercedes Benz parked outside. The moment he got into car and started the engine, the heavens opened again. He lowered the window, blew his wife a kiss, quickly rolled it up again and then drove off into the blinding rain.
His destination was Blantyre, where he had been invited to be the main speaker at a religious revival crusade which was beginning the following day.
The downpour deteriorated into a storm. Gusts of wind driven rain whipped the car mercilessly so that he could hardly see. The streets, usually full on a Saturday morning, were eerily empty. It was obvious one had to have compelling reasons to venture out. His headlights on, the wipers slashing angrily at the rain streaming down the windscreen, the car crawled along the tarmac road.
He was in no hurry and killed time by rehearsing the sermon he would deliver at the crusade. After the revival meeting, he expected to set up a new branch in Blantyre. An additional branch meant increased membership and consequently enhanced collections.
The thought brought a wry smile to his face. Just five years ago, he had been eking out a living as a teacher at one of the primary schools in the slums of the city. Then he had received the Lord’s call, quit the job, and founded the church.
And as the church’s slogan confirmed, the Lord was good all the time. Starting with just a few people, his congregation had mushroomed to fill the city hall where they met. Thanks to the generosity of his flock, he now lived in the sprawling rented bungalow in the elegant Area 43 suburb. His five children were learning at expensive private boarding schools and his wife was able to go shopping in South Africa. He had overheard the church elders say they planned to buy him a maize mill as his birthday gift this year. God was really working miracles for him.
He recalled a Presbyterian reverend who asked him how he managed to convince his flock to give to him so generously. “They don’t give to me,” he had replied blandly. “They give to God and they know God will give back abundantly.” To himself he added; “I will not be surprised if they buy me a private jet in a few years.”
The rain eased to a drizzle by the time he reached the outskirts of the city. He picked up speed. And that’s when he saw her. She stood by the road, a tall figure in a bright yellow raincoat that reached down to her ankles. A large bag was slung across her left shoulder.
It was the pastor’s habit never to offer a lift to strangers. There were great dangers in doing so. He had heard more than enough stories of unsuspecting drivers being robbed or even killed by thugs they had kindly offered a lift to.
The girl ahead did not wave him down. She brought down her pointing finger imperiously, then indicated with her thumb the direction she was going. The gesture raised the pastor’s curiosity. Slowing down, he could clearly see the girl’s white teeth bared in an expectant smile. He found himself shifting into a lower gear. Surely there would be no danger from a lone girl shivering in the rain. His mind made up, he pressed his foot on the brake pedal. The car came to a halt beside the girl.
“Get in,” he said as he leaned over and opened the passenger door.
“Thanks a lot,” she said, scuttling into the car. “I was wondering whether I was not going to melt out there like Kamdothi. Honey, you know the story of Kamdothi?”
Of course, he knew the tale just as every child who had grown up in the village did. It was a popular tale about a woman who had no children. She liked to mould toys made of clay and pretended they were children. One day, one of the clay toys became a real child. She named her Kamdothi, meaning made of clay. However, it was obviously necessary that the child should never be touched by water or she would melt.
Without waiting for his reply, girl went on, “The tale went with a lovely song. Something like,” she paused closed her eyes and sang, “Kamdothi run away from the rain.” She opened her eyes and said dreamily. “I grew up with my grandmother. She was very good. But good things do not last, you know.”
“What happened?” the pastor asked.
“Well, the usual story, sweet. She died; blah blah blah.” She paused and shrugged, “The important thing is I am here, little me.”
She threw back the hood of her raincoat to reveal a moon-shaped face framed by pitch-black wavy hair cascading to her shoulders. Her light complexion showed the use of skin lightening creams.
“Babe, I’m headed for Blantyre for a Revival Crusade which will take place tomorrow,” she said throwing her bag on the back seat. “I was so worried I would miss the great event.”
The pastor smiled. “God always has ways of providing our needs, daughter. That’s why I came along.”
She smiled to reveal again a row of snow-white teeth he had espied earlier and stared coquettishly at him. “Oh? Well, I once heard that there are some days when the Lord determines all our actions. So, honey darling, are you also going to the revival?”
Kalebe nodded without taking his eyes off the road.
“Let the Lord be praised,” she said, rolling her eyes. “There is some big pastor that will be preaching there. I’ve heard his sermons on the radio but never had a chance to meet him. They are very powerful and enlightening. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the event.”
“Actually, I’m that pastor,” he said with a smile, allowing himself a moment of pride.
“Holy mother Mary! This is a blessed day for me,” she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Seeing you in jeans and a pullover, you look more like some handsome movie star than a pastor. Cowboy, you’re a lady killer.”
Kalebe blushed and took a deep breath. “Remember, I am a pastor,” he pointed out weakly. “I would be grateful if you could address me as such.”
The girl laughed. “Pastor to your flock, to me your little moi, you are sweetie.”
The pastor turned to tell her that he was past forty and fit to be her father. However, as his eyes encountered her provocative smile, the words died in his throat.
The rain had picked up again, pattering on the roof, gushing down the windscreen and forming an almost impenetrable curtain ahead of him.
“Bad weather, I wish the rain would stop,” he said to the girl, hoping to change the subject.
The girl leaned towards the back seat, dipped her hand into her handbag and fished out several compact discs. “I don’t know which music you enjoy, sugar. I’m into the reggae thing. Bob Marley, Burning Spear, The Maytals, you know.”
Selecting one of the discs, she slotted it into the car’s stereo without waiting for his response. She turned up the volume and Bob Marley’s music filled the car. “I ago tired to see your face,” she sang along in a corrupted version of the song while shaking her body, “Can’t get me out of the race.”
A sunny smile spread on Kalebe’s face. The music reminded him of the days before he became pastor. He had loved reggae too. He found himself nodding his head in rhythm with the music.
“You didn’t tell me your name,” he said, eyeing the girl with some kind of renewed interest.
She looked at him from under her eyelids, biting her fingernails playfully. “Sorry, general. I’m Tadala, but you can call me Tada.”
Glancing at her, the pastor was aware there was something about the girl he couldn’t place. Yes, she was beautiful and exciting but there was something more than that.
But the girl was speaking again. “Gosh, poor me! I should have taken off the raincoat!”
The vision that emerged out the raincoat made the pastor’s eyes almost pop out of their sockets, his mouth dropping wide open. The girl was in a tight-fitting white blouse that showed her navel. Shapely breasts threatened to burst open her blouse. Flowing out of a miniskirt that barely covered her thighs, were shapely legs that tapered into high heels.
He tried to avert his eyes but failed. On that desolate rainy day, she was like the sun breaking out of dark clouds.
“Do you mind if I make up my face?” Tadala’s voice broke the spell. “The rain spoiled everything.”
“Go ahead,” croaked the pastor, his chest heaving. To him, she looked breathtaking the way she was.
He took several deep breaths to calm his pounding heart. He was confused. What was the meaning of all this? When the girl had said she was going to the crusade, he had assumed she was a born-again Christian. But how could someone who had committed her life to Christ dress like that?
Tadala pulled out a makeup kit from her handbag. He watched her out of the corner of his eyes as she powdered her face, painted her lips and then preened herself in the car’s mirror.
“Honey, how do I look?” she asked, looking as pleased as a cat that has caught a mouse.
The pastor had to admit to himself that she looked devastatingly beautiful. But there was no way he could tell her that.
“Hey, loosen up, handsome,” she purred. “Let me get you something to put you in the mood.”
She retrieved her bag and dug out a bottle, opened it with her teeth and spat out the bottle top.
“Here, have a swig of this, baby. It’ll make you feel good,” she said handing him a bottle of beer.
He shook his head vehemently. What was she up to? Hadn’t he told her he was a pastor?
“Don’t give me that pastor stuff,” she said, reading his mind.
“I’m a Pentecostal pastor,” he croaked faintly. “We don’t touch alcoholic drinks.”
The girl laughed again. “Be honest, beloved. I know of Pentecostal preachers who drink harder than catholic priests. At any rate, don’t worry about your flock finding out. Who will tell them?”
He didn’t answer her. There was nothing to tell her. She wouldn’t understand. He watched her take a long pull of the beer. After that she took out a cigarette. When he turned to protest, she blew smoke in his face and that stopped him. He had a feeling that if he tried to let out a word, a kiss on the mouth would be used to silence him.
“So, you are still a little boy, sweetie?” she asked gaily. “Then let mother sing you something to cheer you up. Twinkle, Twinkle little pastor, how I wonder what you are, here in the car, a beautiful girl by your side.”
The nursery rhyme was infuriating to the pastor but he knew there was little he could do to shut the girl’s mouth short of gagging her. He decided to leave it at there. He would not look or speak to her again until they reached Blantyre.
The beer tranquilized the girl and as the car was cruising along Zalewa Road, she closed her eyes and fell asleep. At the same time, the weather cleared and the sun appeared.
The pastor couldn’t understand what was happening. Was this a trap thrown at him by the devil? If this was case, then the prince of darkness had made his call in vain. He was a seasoned pastor and had met temptations of all sorts in his calling. He wasn’t going to fall for this one. Not him.
His eyes strayed to Tadala. Fast asleep and breathing softly, she looked so innocent, like an angel. Maybe he had misjudged her. She hadn’t done anything really offensive. Her smoking and beer drinking was wrong, but there were a lot of young women who smoked and drank beer. The curse of modernity.
He was now nearing Blantyre. He admitted to himself that the girl had made the journey seem very short. She looked like a nice young girl and with proper guidance she could be returned to the right path. All he needed to do was make sure she really attended the revival meeting the next day.
“Tadala, Tadala,” he called softly.
But the girl was fast asleep. Eyes on the road, he put out his hand to wake her up. His fingers touched warm, bare flesh. He retracted his hand as if he had touched a red-hot ember. His eyes automatically left the road and fell on the girl. What he saw shook him to the very roots of his soul. It could not be true. He must be dreaming. The girl’s skirt had gone up to her waist. Underneath, she didn’t have a stitch on!
Kalebe’s brain refused to believe this. No, this was too much. What shocked him was not the girl’s nakedness but the enormity of his error in offering a lift to girl who was not wearing any underwear and was obviously trying to seduce him. His mind willed him to take eyes off the girl but his eyes refused.
Confused, he didn’t know that his car was cruising in the middle of the road. As he rounded a corner, that’s when he saw the truck. He tried to swerve but it was like dodging a meteorite. His car scraped the side of the truck and rocked violently.
The door on the girl’s side was thrown open and she flew out. She crashed on the roadside and rolled into a low ditch. The pastor retained enough presence of mind and wrestled with the car as it danced crazily on the wet tarmac. It came to rest with a crash against an electricity pole.
Kalebe, stunned momentarily, quickly recovered his senses. As he was scrambling out, something caught on his trousers, tearing them. But he paid no heed and limped towards Tadala, who to his horror was lying spread eagled and semi-naked on the grass roadside.
He bent over her. Surprisingly, she was only slightly bruised. He felt her pulse. It was beating. Overjoyed, he cradled her in his arms. The girl’s eyes fluttered open.
Relief flooding his body, he jumped up with joy. He was out of the danger zone. Laughter hit his ears and he stopped. Looking down at him from the side of the road was a group of people which was growing bigger as more people arrived. Someone laughed again pointing at him.
The pastor looked at himself and realized with alarm that his trousers were torn and the waistline was round his thighs. Then his eyes went to the girl who was now sitting up, vainly covering her nakedness with her mini skirt. In the people’s eyes and laughter, he saw the accusations and, in that instant, he knew he was doomed.
“Go away!” he howled.
But they just stood there like vultures, laughing as they watched him and the girl.
Oh God, what a position. He knew it would be out that he had been involved in an accident because he was doing immoral things with a girl while driving his car- and imagine, people would add, on his way to a crusade.
As the laughter reverberated in his ears, he could already hear similar laughter as he moved out of the elegant mansion back to the seedy slum, as his children went back to the government school, as he went from place to place looking for a new job. He was finished as a pastor.
“Go away, fools,” he shouted again. “What are you looking at?”
But the only answer he got was more laughter.
He wondered what had happened to his prayers. He was not supposed to be experiencing this. Then he remembered Sonia’s warning. He should have paid some attention to what she had said. Why was he having all this misfortune if the dead bird had not signaled bad luck?