(This is the first story I wrote on Sanctuaryside. That was in January 2016, and I had just formed the blog on free word press. It was titled “Escape”. I know many of you have not read it because that time Sanctuaryside had about four followers. But even those four, like James Mbugua who was the first person to comment on Sanctuaryside, will find that the story is different because after four years of writing something has to change. Escape was a short story, only about five hundred words. I have made it longer, but I have also changed the storyline slightly to open it up so that I can be able to make it a novella)
Vanuatu stifles a yawn and looks at her watch. It is already quarter to two and the pastor is still preaching excitedly.
“Every Christian must demonstrate spiritual maturity by speaking in tongues. Scripture is clear that every Christian that is filled of the Holy Spirit speaks in tongues. On the day of Pentecost…” Vanuatu’s momentary concentration is lost again. She is not in a hurry to go anywhere in particular, she is just bored stiff of the prolonged sermon. Her sister Clarise is coming from the village but she is scheduled to arrive at 5 pm. Clarise knows where the house is, and even has a copy of the key. She doesn’t have any luggage except her clothes. So Vanuatu does not have to pick her in town.
Vanuatu was brought up in a Christian family. Her parents are prominent members of Evangelical Deliverance Church (EDC), which is the same church Vanuatu attends here in Ruiru where she lives. Whereas she believes in the infallibility of scripture, she is quick to question some of interpretations of the Bible. When the sermon began, she wanted to search for scripture verses on tongue speaking on her phone but remembered that her phone is charging at the back of the church where Frank, the young man who manages the church sound system sits. There has been a blackout in her area since yesterday evening, and her phone went off last night. Vanuatu believes that tongues are a gift of the Holy Spirit and not given to everyone. However, the preacher has made some persuasive remarks relating to the fact that all Christians in the early church spoke in tongues. She has made a mental note to look it up during her quiet time. Perhaps she will even discuss it with her sister Clarise.
Vanuatu graduated from Kenyatta University a few months ago. She studied journalism and has hopes of becoming a sought after television news anchor in the not so distant future. Maybe land a job with one of the leading stations, perhaps Citizen, KTN, NTV or K24. Who knows, she might even go to BBC or CNN after having a successful career in a local station. Like Larry Madowo.
Then she will have a huge social media following. Every time she uploads a photo on Instagram or Facebook, thousands of comments will be flowing from her loyal fans. Corporates will start falling over themselves trying to get her to endorse their products. That way, on top of the fat salary she will be earning as a journalist, she will be getting money from the corporates that will be salivating over her huge social media following.
But right now she is jobless, and she can take any job to jump start her career. She doesn’t want to work for radio, but she has sent applications to some of the more popular radio stations. She just wants a job, even a radio job, although she is afraid that if she starts her career on radio she might find it difficult to make the switch to TV. She is more willing to work for the smaller TV channels, including the ones that are said to be struggling financially and do not pay regularly, if that is what it will take for her to be noticed by the big boys and girls of the media industry.
She is not exactly broke. Her parents make sure that she is comfortable. They pay the rent for the two bedroom apartment where she lives and give her an allowance. And because they have taught her to be like them, she saves the entire of her allowance. She does online writing and is able to survive on the earnings she gets there. Her father is a doctor while her mother is a probation officer. They have done well for themselves. They have educated their two daughters: Vanuatu is a graduate while Clarise is about to start her undergraduate studies at Kenyatta University School of Medicine. That is actually the reason she is coming later today. She will be staying with Vanuatu as she studies.
Vanuatu’s parents have built a beautiful bungalow on the thirty acre farm that they purchased five years ago and on which they do dairy farming, with an impressive herd of dairy cattle and goats. They have recently established a milk processing plant, and Vanuatu’s father has resigned from his job as a government-employed doctor to personally take charge of the agri-business. He however has retained his clinic so that “he keeps in touch with the medical world” as he likes to say. He spends his morning hours at the clinic and the afternoon hours at the farm. At the clinic, he has employed two clinical officers, four nurses, one laboratory technician and support staff.
Vanuatu is now really struggling to concentrate in the service. The pastor has preached for almost two hours. It is after the one hour mark that Vanuatu started getting restless. Her moments of concentration are sandwiched between stifled yawns and daydreams. Vanuatu is wearing a pair of blue jeans, a brown, woolen top and brown boots. She does not have any ornaments but is wearing a small wrist watch with leather straps.
Concentration lost, she starts planning her afternoon. She will go straight to her house after the service. She does not feel particularly hungry but she will have to make lunch because Clarise will be starving when she arrives. Vanuatu then plans to watch a movie as she waits for her sister. Okay, movies. On Sunday afternoons she can watch up to three movies. But watching a movie will depend on whether electricity is back.
Someone touch your neighbor and tell them I will be filled today! The pastor returns Vanuatu to the present with a sudden change in intonation. She knows that this is a signal that the sermon is drawing to a close but that does not mean the end of the service. It was the cue to alert members that the service is transitioning from the “sermon proper” to the altar call. The young man seated next to her does not dare touch her but he repeats the words with fervor. Vanuatu feels a pang of guilt. Why am I not excited about this Holy Spirit altar call? But then again, don’t I have the Holy Spirit already? Oh well… She manages to favorthe young man with a weak smile in response.
Vanuatu does not intend to stick around for the next two hours, which is the normal length of the altar call, so she plots her escape. Frankly, she finds it a dramatic exercise that does not appeal to her. Her father shares her view, but her sister and her mother are firm believers that “the Kingdom of God suffereth violence, and the violent shall take it by force.”
Vanuatu has questions about the biblical foundation of the drama that follows the altar call, but she can research and reflect on that later. Right now, the priority is to escape. She retrieves a fifty bob note from one of the side pockets of her jeans. She will use the money to take a motorcycle home, because she doesn’t feel like walking under the afternoon sun.
She waits until the pastor invites people to the front before escaping. As soon as people start to move towards the altar, she sneaks out. She loves aisle seats because they make sneaking out so easy. She is already thinking about the fruits she will buy before she gets on the motorcycle. Buying fruits has become her after-church ritual. Apples and bananas? Maybe a melon instead of apples? Is there a way she can mix them all?
“Sister Vanuatu please help us as an usher. We need ushers in front just in case people start falling after receiving anointing.” A male voice stops her on her tracks. It is Jairus, the youth leader. Oh Lord, no. She will have to lie to avoid this spiritual duty.
“I am sorry brother Jairus, but I cannot do that today. I need to rush to pick my sister. She is coming from the village,” she says, giving him a disarming smile. She suspects that Jairus has romantic feelings for her, but she is not sure. Maybe the brother is just concerned about her soul. He has always tried to make her more involved in church activities, especially youth programs, but Vanuatu has been non-committal so far.
“That is okay, sister Vanuatu. Will you be coming for the youth prayer meeting this evening?”
Vanuatu wonders whether he will be calling his wife “sister”.
“I will try. If my sister is not too tired, we will come,”
That is another lie. She has no intention of telling Clarise about the meeting, because Clarise will insist on coming. Come to think of it, Clarise and Jairus would make a perfect couple. She imagines how they would be communicating:
Brother Jairus, please come with diapers as you come. We don’t have any left.
Okay sister Clarise. What are we having for supper?
Chapati with chicken and greens.
Awesome, that is why I love you so much sister Clarise. You are the best wife ever.
Thank you brother Jairus. I love you too.
At the thought of Jairus and Clarise as a couple, Vanuatu almost bursts out laughing but restrains herself. She excuses herself and moves to the back of the church and takes her phone from Frank, the sound guy. She switches it on when she steps out of the church, and immediately messages start flooding. Almost twenty of them. All of them are “I tried to call you” messages. A few of them are from Clarise, but most are from Janet, the manager of her parent’s milk processing plant.
Vanuatu suddenly has a bad feeling about this. She calls Clarise first but the phone is picked by Janet.
“You need to come home immediately, Vanuatu,” Janet says with a sense of urgency.
“Why, what happened? Where is Clarise? Why are you answering her phone?”
“Clarise is fine. Just come home immediately and we will talk.”
“I am not coming unless you tell me what is going on,”
She can hear Janet weighing her options. Vanuatu is known to be as stubborn as her father.
“Okay,” Janet says, sighing. “We have had a problem.”
She pauses, hoping her voice will not betray her.
“What is it Janet? Just spit it out!”
“Thugs broke into your parent’s home last night. They killed your parents. Your sister came home from visiting her friends and found them dead, so she came running to my house. She is in shock and is admitted in hospital.”
Vanuatu feels as if her lungs have collapsed. She suddenly feels as if she is suffocating. He legs become jelly. Then everything turns black.
(To be continued on Friday)
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