Possession

Jarred Thompson

I watch the women who come to shake my husband’s hand.

“Thank you Pastor for the great anointing I received today.”

“Bless you Pastor, I feel so blessed. Thank you.”

“It’s so good to be visiting your church today.”

It’s the same snippets of speech every Sunday. I pretend to busy myself, ordering the flower ladies around, but these women just get on my nerves no matter how hard I try to distract myself.

“Roses over there Judith and tulips for next month’s service. Remember that,” I say, while looking over the flower budget for the month. White is the colour for next month’s Purity Service. The women who greet my husband know I’m his wife. I sit next to him on the stage each week. And I never miss a service. Not even if I’m sick in bed with a temperature from hell.

I see them shaking his hand, fluttering their eyelashes, smiling all gawkish and wide. They’re disgusting: each and every one of them. I sense their lust in their prayer-book hands and bended knees; can smell the seductive power in their pursed lips and submissive bosoms.

I tell Jacob to watch out for these single “angels” – women without men to take care of. He laughs and shrugs it off. He says God is in a friendly smile and warm embrace.

“Bullshit.” I don’t say the word out loud; he doesn’t approve of such profanity.

*

When I first met Jacob, I was convinced he was possessed by a devil. It was the gleam in his eyes that made me think that. He never met anyone he couldn’t sweet talk. My mother always told me to be wary of men with forked tongues. I never understood what she meant by that.

I met Jacob when I was eighteen. A young, newly confirmed Catholic girl with a vision of being a nun one day. I always hoped I could be a priest, but mother said the Vatican would never change its policy on such things.

“Why not come start a church with me?” Jacob asked me one day as we lay together on the couch watching movies.

“Start a church? With you?”

“Yeah, why not? We could be great together.”

“But I’m Catholic and you’re, well…”

“Happy Clappy?” he smiled, his incisors catching my eyes.

“That’s not what I was going to say. You’re Pentecostal.”

“We both serve the same living God, no?”

I was speechless. He had slipped his hand up my leg and sent shivers into my abdomen. His eyes shone like a candle in a dark glass, reflecting the images on the television. In his eyes I could make out the man on the TV running away from a pack of wolves.

*

I never got a chance to preach on the pulpit. Even after we married and opened the doors to the first Church of the Living God Ministry. Jacob always told me that a woman’s place was beside her husband: to support him, to be his backbone and comfort.

“Why else would God have made a woman from Adam’s rib?” he’d say, opening the bible and placing it on the table in front of my bacon and eggs.

“But you promised that I’d have the chance to preach and have my own service once I left the Catholic Church and started this ministry with you.”

“But my love the people here come for me, for my sermon. We’re a brand now, don’t you see?  We can’t go changing a winning formula.”

I read over the passage in Genesis where God took Adam’s rib and formed Eve. It frustrated me that God would do such a thing. Why not just make a woman from clay just as he made Man? Why did He have to complicate matters? I knew better than to question His motives though, especially in front of Jacob. So I kept quiet.

*

16th April 2016

I loathe those sluts. The way they bow their heads for anointing when Jacob touches them; the way they smear themselves in expensive perfume just so that he can notice them. Every time he sits down after a sermon I grab hold of his arm even though he doesn’t like it. I make sure to grab his arm in every service. Make these women know that I am his angel, his holy one. The one he chose to build the church with on this rock.     

Is it blasphemous to speak like this? It’s only to myself though. It doesn’t hurt anyone. If anything writing it down makes it more bearable.     

Maybe the problem is my own pride. Maybe I should humble myself more.

I don’t know.

*

“Love…do you think I could say a few words at the Purity Service next month?” I ask Jacob while standing in the doorway of his study. He sits behind his oak desk going through his emails.

He sighs and looks up from the computer. “When would you like to say these ‘few words’? At the start or at the end of the service?”

I can tell he’s annoyed. “Well if you’re going to act that disinterested in making a little dream of mine come true then never mind!” I bang the door against the wall, storming down the hallway.

“Tania…come here,” he calls as I’m halfway down the hall.

I can smell the fragrance he uses – Armani Light Blue. He’s never changed his scent since the first day I met him.

“Come here,” he says again, this time in a more demanding tone.

I feel this pull inside me, like some force tugging at me from my gut.

“What have you made me into, Jacob?” The force is too strong and before I know it I’m walking back down the hallway towards him. He embraces me, sniffs my hair and sighs again.

“Whatever you want to say, my love, let me say it. Let me be your eyes, your ears, your mouth. That is what God’s love is like.”

I close my eyes and feel his warmth take over me.

*

25th April, 2016

My husband scares me. He has done nothing in the way of actually frightening me but it’s the way he makes me do things that I don’t necessarily want to do. Just with his eyes and his movements and his voice.

He seeps into me, and I am intoxicated. A few days ago…the most unnatural thing happened. I felt pulled me toward him at the same moment that I so badly wanted to walk away. The way he smiled as he embraced me. Like he knew I signed away myself long ago.

*

Jacob and I only had sex once and that was on our wedding night. After the ceremony and festivities he took me away to a game lodge at the Kruger National Park. It was the most romantic night of my life. The moon was luminous with a red glow around it. It always gave me an eerie feeling when the moon had that red hue to it, but tonight it was a symbol of romance.

Jacob was extra romantic that night. He picked me up and carried me over the threshold into our luxury cabin. There was warm lighting throughout the cabin with a blustering fireplace that kept everything cosy. In front of the fireplace was a thick fur rug – that was where he made love to me.

The moonlight was coming through the kitchen window, and it shone a white, cold light onto his chest as he laid me down on that rug. He towered over my body, as he spread open my legs and kissed the inner flesh of my thighs. During it, I thought I caught a glimpse of a face in the fire. It was not a human face; it was a mixture of a goat and a human and it was laughing at me. I shoved Jacob off of me immediately, scratching his forearms with my nails.

“Are you alright?”

“I just feel weird, that’s all. You know this is my first time.”

He pulled me close and kissed my neck. “I know love. It’s my first time too, remember?”

I wasn’t listening to what he was saying as much as staring into the fireplace, looking for the face that had been laughing at me but the face had vanished.

*

1st May 2016.

I know that Jacob wants us to sleep in separate beds because it helps him focus on his spiritual mission and not his bodily desires, but I can’t help it. I am a full-blooded woman. I have desires, I have needs. We can be spiritual and still have sex goddamnit!

No…calm down, this isn’t the way the Lord wants you to think.      

I found something strange on Jacob’s shoulder the other day. He was taking an afternoon nap and I was checking if he had any leftover plates in his bedroom for me to wash. He was fast asleep so I didn’t want to bother him.

That was when I saw the strange mark. I had never seen it before and I am pretty sure I’ve seen every inch of my husband. This mark was weird: it’s as if someone had taken a small knife, like a scalpel, and carved out an image in his skin.

I can’t describe it accurately enough but it looked like a deformed cross, with the edges spiralling off in different directions. I wanted to look at it more closely but I was too scared he might wake up.

*

I tried to research the mark I found on Jacob’s shoulder but came up with nothing. It didn’t look like a Swastika or even like an upside-down cross. The lines of the cross were curvy, like a snake’s body, and they seemed to curl around each other before spiralling off, seemingly to no end.

What could it mean?

As I was researching the mark, there was a knock at the door. It was Mrs. Mbatha, from St Jude’s Old Age Home down the road.

“Good Morning Mrs. Mbatha. Here to see Jacob?

“Yes actually, I wanted to discuss this singles’ service your husband came up with?”

“Singles’ service?”

“Yes, didn’t he tell you? He suggested we have a special service for all the single women out there. People can pay a special price to gain entrance, and he’ll pray for them and anoint them with holy oil so that the Almighty may produce good Christian men for all of them.”

“Jacob didn’t tell me anything about that. He wants people to pay for it?”

“Well he thought it would be a good fundraiser you know.”

“Yes I’m sure.” I let her in and showed her to Jacob’s office.

I walked down the hall into my bedroom and locked the door. How could he be charging people just to come to a church service? That was against everything we stood for when we started this church. Praying for women to get husbands?

Suddenly I heard a woman shouting. I rushed to Jacob’s office but as I got there all I found was Jacob, sitting by his desk, typing.

“What happened to Mrs. Mbatha? I thought I heard her shouting.”

“Oh…the old lady wasn’t happy with the way I was doing things I guess. Said she wanted to leave the church community. So I said: ‘Be my guest.’” Jacob continued typing away nonchalantly like nothing had happened.

“But Mrs Mbatha has been a regular of this church for years. She was one of our first patrons. Is there anything we can do to get her back?”

“Now Tania, my love. Don’t you trust me? I am the shepherd leading this flock. Sometimes we will get some black sheep in the family and those black sheep need to be taken care of.” He said, moving towards me.

“Taken care of?”

“You know what I mean.”

“No I don’t.”

He smiled and held me close to his chest. Before I knew what was happening, I was kissing him.

*

“What are you trying to tell me Tania,” Jean asks as she sips her cappuccino. She has always had my back since high school and all the way through confirmation class.  Even when Jean had a divorce and the community shunned her like the plague, I was there for her. Now I needed her to be there for me.

“My husband isn’t who he says he is.”

“Oh darling, that’s men for you. They show the best sides of themselves just to lure you into their trap and then…boom! Out comes the monster after five years of marriage and all the while you’re like, ‘What the hell?’”

“Please Jean, stop.”

“What’s the matter?”

I look outside at the people walking past Café Gerard’s – everyone in their own little bubble, minding their business, oblivious to what I’m going through.

“Tania, speak to me,” Jean says, grabbing my hand.

“I think my husband is…possessed.”

“Possessed?”

“Keep your voice down. I know how crazy this sounds.”

“Tania your husband is one of the most popular pastors in this city. How could he be…you know?”

“I’m not sure. But things are not what they use to be. He’s different. I mean he’s the same but there are things about him, things about me when I am with him. I can’t control my body sometimes. Sometimes I feel like he has this power over me.”

“Honey, that’s marriage for you.”

“It’s not.” My nails dig into Jean’s forearm.

“You’re hurting me, let go!” She pulls away and rubs her forearm.

“Can you help me? I’m really scared.”

She stares at me for a good few minutes before writing something down on a napkin. “Go see this man. He is…experienced in these kinds of things.”

I take the piece of paper from across the table. “Tendai? Who’s this?”

“His a…spiritual worker I met once. Don’t ask me how. When Themba was hitting me I sought out different avenues for a way to get out. This man, he helped me.”

“How?”

“I’d rather not say. Just go to him. If you really think there is some supernatural entity in your husband. He can help.”

“Thank you Jean. You don’t know what this means.”

“Be careful. Once you enter this world, there is no telling what will come looking for you.”

I had never seen Jean this serious. I always had the impression that she was a super-realist, who didn’t believe in the supernatural. I guess I was wrong.

*

It was an ordinary house by all standards: white walls, red roof, and a front garden that needed a firmer hand. When I walked inside there was no furniture, no pictures on the walls and no ornaments hanging anywhere. A strong smell of sandalwood permeated the house.

“Come into the lounge please.”

A deep voice resonated off the grey walls. I followed the hallway and turned right into a large circular room. There was barely any sunlight getting through on account of the windows being painted black.

A man was sitting in the centre of the room beside two burning incense sticks.

“Hello, Jean sent—”

“Please sit down.”

He was dressed in shorts and a white t-shirt. Pretty ordinary. Not what I expected but then again, I had never been to a spiritual worker before.

“What seems to be the matter?” He asked, taking out a small pouch from behind his back and pouring the contents into a bowl. It was black sand, the sound of which allowed a strange peacefulness to descend on me. I began to feel as if the man was my friend; as if I had always known him.

“It’s my husband?”

“Yes?”

“My husband is the pastor of a very popular church. Church of the Living God Ministry. Don’t know if you know it. Anyway, I think he may have succumbed to spiritual deception.”

“Yes?”

“I think he’s possessed.”

At that moment the pouch of black sand was empty with the bowl filled exactly to the brim.

“What makes you think that?”

“Well, there are times when something unnatural takes a hold of me. And it’s when I am most angry or arguing with him.  He does something to me, and I can’t seem to help but submit to him.”

The man scratched his beard with his eyes closed as I spoke.

“Please, I don’t know where else to go. I am a devout Christian, but prayer doesn’t seem to be helping the situation.”

He got up and headed towards a chest of drawers standing against the wall. “See preachers are people of God. And being people of God they’re more open to the light but also to the dark. 

“Is there anything you can do about it? Like an exorcism or something?”

When I asked this, he laughed so hard that he had to put his hands on his stomach to stop it from jiggling.  

“I can see you grew up Catholic. No. Possession isn’t anything like you see in the movies. I’m not going to tie your husband to a bed stand and say magical words to free him of an entity.”

“Then what? What can you do for me?” I could feel tears in my eyes and I made a conscious effort to fight them away.

“Possession is an idea. It comes in many disguises. Lust. Power. Money. Jealousy. Greed. Bigotry. Beauty. Youth. Sex. These possess people. Now you could say amongst these forms there is a hierarchy of demons – that may be true, yes – but it’s the host that invites it. It’s the host that chooses it, for whatever purpose. Your job is not to exorcise him. Your job is to get away from him.”

“What?”

“Run as far as you can.”

“I don’t understand. What about the power that draws me to him? What about the control he has over me?”

“You’d be surprised how powerful an idea can be. How it can slip inside you and lay its eggs.”

“There’s a mark!”

“A mark?”

“Yes, some kind of deformed cross I saw on his left shoulder. I’m sure it’s from some Satanic ritual or cult or something.”

“Mmmm.” He walked back to where I sat on the floor with another small bag in his hands.

“Are you sure of what you saw?”

“Yes. I’m not crazy. I swear”

“Take this. And when you feel that strong pull toward him that you speak about I want you to swallow it.” He opened the bag and produced a small crucifix.

“You want me to eat this?”

“Yes, it will protect you.”

I took the crucifix and rubbed it between my fingers. It was silver and smooth, with the body of Jesus nailed to it.

“Thank you.”

“Remember: an idea, as beautiful as it is, can destroy you.”

I left the house soon afterwards. The smell of the incense had made me hungry so I drove over to the McDonald’s down the road and ate two Big Macs. I was more afraid to be in Jacob’s presence than ever before, but I knew I had to face him.

*

I sneaked into his room again. This time I was determined to make sure the mark I’d seen was real. Jacob was asleep. I crept up to his bedside and leaned over, moving the blanket back, being careful not to wake him. When the blanket was low enough for me to get a good view of his left shoulder I saw nothing. There was nothing there: no deformed cross, no etchings in his skin. I was sure I’d seen the mark on him that night. I returned the blanket to its original position and left the room.

How could it have disappeared? I couldn’t get any sleep that night so I took four sleeping pills and opened a bottle of the communion wine that we kept for special church celebrations. The combination of sleeping pills and wine knocked me out.

*

It was her. The bloody evil snake of a woman. She must have been the one to lead Jacob down this path. How could I have not seen it?

Jessica. She came to him a few weeks ago, seeking counsel because her marriage was in shambles. She must have been the one who suggested the singles service. Maybe she even suggested that he should charge an entrance fee for it. The devil works in mysterious ways. That’s what they say, right?

The way she said ‘hello’ to me the first time I opened the front door to let her in. I could feel the air change. Why did I ever let her in? She’s been coming around every week now and helping him prepare for the singles service. He doesn’t even ask me to help him with anything.  

“See what we need to do is find the right way to market this event.” I hear her say from the other side of the door of Jacob’s office.

“Yes I think you’re right. This service could bring many more of the faithful into our fold,” he says.

Our fold? What does he mean by that? I can’t listen anymore so I go to my bedroom.  I sit on the side of my bed digging my nails into my thighs until the skin gives way to the pressure.   

*

20th May 2016

I’ve invited Jessica for some cake and tea in the garden tomorrow. It’s a week before the purity service and I want her to be very clear on what her role is in Jacob’s life. Possessed or not, he’s my husband. Mine!

And I will find a way to exorcise him. I promise you. I’m not running away.

*

“These scones are absolutely divine, Tania. How do you get them so light and fluffy?” Jessica asks, munching down on my scones.                                         

“Aaaahh that’s a secret I’m afraid.”

She smiles and takes another bite.

“Tell me, how long have you known Jacob?”

“Oh just since I started living in the area, which is about four months ago.”

“Four months hey,” I repeat, sipping my tea and keeping my composure. She’s a pretty little thing. Small ankles, wrists made of twigs with breasts that are clearly store-bought. Her skin has no pigmentation, no scars, no marks – like sheer alabaster. The bitch.

“Yes well you know how my marriage fell apart. And really Jacob was there for me at a time where I really needed spiritual guidance for me and my two little boys.”

“As long as it’s only spiritual guidance he’s giving you.” The words slip out, and I am caught unaware by it.

“I’m sorry. What did you say?”

“You know what I mean,” I say, standing my ground despite the shakiness I feel.

“I don’t know what you’re insinuating but I’m a saved woman. I would never do such a thing.”

“Saved or not saved. Keep your distance from my husband. Okay?”

She looks at me, amazed. Then something in her changes – she assumes an air of superiority, politely places her cup and saucer down and gets up to leave.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“You’re being rude, Tania. I don’t need to listen to this.” She picks up her handbag. I can see she is going to make a quick exit through the side-gate of the garden.

I want her to stay. I need her to stay. If she stays then maybe my husband isn’t possessed. I frantically look around for something to make her stay. So I pick up the nearest rock too heavy for me to hold in one hand and hit her over the head with it. She falls.

I hit her – again and again. Bits of blood, bone and hair scatter everywhere. I can feel tiny rivulets of sweat drip down my cheeks. I carry on hitting her until the demon inside of her is unleashed. I hit her until my husband isn’t possessed anymore.

*

27th May 2016

It was a joyous Purity Service. Jacob finally gave in to my request to say a few words right after the entrance hymn. I was so excited, nervous of course, but more excited than anything.

Jacob spoke with such eloquence and, yes, those church sluts were all staring at him like always, probably wondering what he looked like naked.

Something in me feels so rejuvenated now. It’s as if they all know that he is my man and no one will ever take him from me.

After Jessica visited for cake and tea she simply disappeared. I do pray for her every day, that at the very least she’s not in some brothel somewhere blowing off some Nigerian for scraps. I wish her well though: even Jesus loved Mary Magdalene, so let me not throw stones.

PS: The rose garden is thriving these days. It must be the new compost I’m using. I must remember to cut some for the singles’ service coming up next month. I know I said I didn’t approve of it before, but Jacob reasoned with me, and I saw the light. The red ones will go so well with the theme of unwavering devotion.

*

“Tania…come here.” Jacob shouts from the other side of the house. I’m busy in my room, writing in my diary. He doesn’t know I have this little book, but I need it – a room for my mind.

“Tania!” he calls again. I can feel that now familiar tug in my abdomen. It’s something almost homely, but still there is this need inside of me to run away of it. I recall the crucifix the man gave me. I rush over to my cupboard and dig out the handbag I had with me that day.  

“Tania darling. Where are you? I have some exciting news about that singles’ event. I’m thinking of having a VIP option where people can pay extra for special prayers and extra anointing.”

More single women for him to feast his eyes upon. Here it is. The crucifix is stashed in the corner of my handbag under a roll of Kleenex. Jesus’s silver body shines in the Tuesday afternoon sun. He came to save me, I think, putting his tiny body in my mouth and swallowing it.

“Tania! Where are you woman?”

The spiritual worker was right: I can feel Jacob’s pull disappearing. Jacob can call and call as loud as he wants: I won’t answer. I lay down on the bed, letting sunlight warm the length of body.

“Tania, here you are. I’ve been yelling your name. What’s the matter with you?” He walks into the room, his shirt unbuttoned, revealing his chest hair.

At the sight of him, something rises from my belly. It’s rancid and wants nothing more than to leave my body. I vomit. A flood of orange and green spews out onto the floor. Some of it splatters on the hem of Jacob’s pants.

“What the—” he says, as he picks up the tiny silver crucifix swimming in my vomit. He turns it round in his big hands then looks at me, “Come here.” That’s when I see it – the black in his eyes, the evil that wants me forever. An alien voice erupts from deep within me.

“Take me.” I hike my skirt up, pull down my underwear and stare blankly into the afternoon sun.

Jarred Thompson’s fiction publications include Typecast, New Contrast, ImageOutWrite and The Johannesburg Review of Books. He recently won the 2020 Afritondo Short Story Award. When he is not writing he is thinking about what to write about next or practicing his chaturangas.

 

*Image by Matt Unczowsky on Unsplash.