We first encountered Bademosi’s memoir while working on a report documenting the effects of Nigeria’s repressive anti-LGBT laws. Bademosi writes about his life as a renowned Pentecostal preacher boy and exorcist, who fails to cure his twin sister of insanity or himself of homosexuality, until he finally comes out as gay. The following is an excerpt and was first published in Passages: Africa, a chapbook produced by PEN American Center featuring contemporary writing and photography from the continent.
When Kehinde got off the bus in Lagos, he was weak from fasting but strong with the spirit of Sister Odolo, the Great Prophetess. The bus had dropped him off several blocks from his home on Market Street, where he lived with his twin sister, Taye, and his mother, Aduke, in a makeshift school. He had little more with him than a bag of Gala sausage rolls he’d bought along the way. It was after the New Year and most people had already left the city for the suburbs, where they celebrated the holiday with their families. Those who stayed had wrecked the city with parades and parties, leaving the streets littered with spent fireworks and the refuse of joyful celebrations.
Kehinde was eager to see Taye. He imagined that nothing dramatic had happened to her in the weeks he had been away. The doctors and psychiatrists had ensured that she would stabilize, but she still had occasional outbursts that were worrisome. Laura, his prayer partner from church, who had come to watch over Taye while he was gone, believed as Kehinde did that certain things were simply spiritual in nature, and only spiritual interventions could get rid of them. What afflicted Taye was a matter for prayer. Aduke was less certain, and her uncertainty tormented her. Was she to believe that her son, the newly anointed Preacher Boy, could bring home the miracle that would heal her daughter of her crippling psychosis? Or was she to have faith in the psychiatrist who claimed her daughter’s illness was caused by a trauma of the “neural circuit”? No one knew exactly what that meant.
Laura believed in Kehinde. She was the one who knew Sister Odolo and had recommended that Kehinde visit her when the family’s prayers for Taye went unanswered. Laura gave him comfort. Should anything happen at home while he was away, Laura knew how to reach him. People were always coming from and going to Ajebo campground for prayers, and if he was needed, all she had to do was send a note through one of the other believers.
It was easy to locate Kehinde at Ajebo campground. He was the scruffy Preacher Boy, the one who waited on Sister Odolo. Campers nicknamed him Elisha because they could call on him for special prayers whenever the Prophetess was unavailable. He learned quickly, and soon after arriving he was casting out demons. He had learned how to groan his prayers without actually speaking a word, a practice that was very peculiar to Sister Odolo. And as he groaned he would hold his stomach with both hands and writhe back and forth and left and right in a rhythmic fashion he couldn’t control. And then all at once, he would cry out a cacophony of phrases that no one could understand. This style of prayer was called birthing. It was the prayer style of Sister Odolo that Kehinde had come to master. The indecipherable words he uttered startled sinners and made many confess their sins. Once, after Kehinde had led a session of prayer at Ajebo, a little girl confessed that during a meeting of witchcraft she had eaten two full-grown adults for dinner. Another man, visibly shaking under the influence of Kehinde’s presence, related how he had been responsible for the misfortunes of his dying wife. When things got too heated during these revival meetings, Kehinde would call Sister Odolo to intervene. Whenever Sister Odolo arrived, there would be complete silence. Her eyes were sunk deep into large sockets on her oval face, and she didn’t speak many words. Holding her stomach with her tiny hands, she would unleash a frenzied laughter that unsettled even the forest surrounding the campground. That was called laughing in the spirit. Kehinde had yet to master that when he left Ajebo.
Kehinde brought few possessions back from the camp. He had on the same plain gray shirt he had worn when he left Lagos. While at camp, he had washed the shirt and his underwear only twice, as Sister Odolo had barely given them time for such things. No serious gospel warrior would leave important activities like praying and fasting to wash their clothes. The Bible never recorded Jesus washing his clothes. Sister Odolo would say Jesus had no underwear to wash; all he had was a loincloth. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto thee. Beauty. Grooming. Fashion. As far as Sister Odolo was concerned, these were frivolous activities that had led many believers to hell. In Kehinde’s right hand was a big black King James Bible, rumpled at the edges, the pages packed with various bookmarks to get him quickly to the passages he needed.
The time was half-past eleven, and most vendors along Oke Alfa had closed their stalls. The dirt road was bumpy and potholed and littered with empty cartons of sugar and empty tomato tins flattened out by the passing trucks that delivered goods to the market. Walking the short distance home, Kehinde was hungry and feeling weak and feeble from fasting. He tore open the wrapped sausage rolls and sank his teeth into the cold bread and the beef buried within.
As he approached Oke Koto, the last bend before his home on Market Street, he felt a strong force pulling at him. He was now on a busy road, where the night market sold everything. The last time he walked that route was with Laura on their way back from the church. She had told him about the street and the sin-filled red brick building in the middle of all its busyness. She knew it well because she understood Hausa, the language spoken on Oke Koto.
The red building gave the street its life. People traveled from faraway states across Nigeria to trade there. They sold marijuana. They sold bets. They sold sex. The patrons of Oke Koto dressed piously to cover up the obvious nature of their trades, but Kehinde knew what was going on. Or he thought he knew. And what he thought he knew enraged him. He wanted to bring the Kingdom of God here. He needed to birth Oke Koto for God. He had been anointed by Sister Odolo, the Great Prophetess, to set the captives free, and Oke Koto might as well be the testing ground for his newly acquired spiritual authority.
Full of God’s might, the Preacher Boy plunged into the crowd, making his way toward the red brick building. Outside the entrance, a Mallam grilled suya meat on the corner while a crowd of people waited in line for their orders. Kehinde entered the building, and the deeper he went, the dimmer it got. Faces were shades of dark gray, except for the occasional flicker of light from a cigarette lighter revealing hints of who they were. There were Alhajis in loose-fitting clothing negotiating in low tones with the prostitutes. Further in, he passed traders selling Fura De Nunu and Zobo, medicinal yogurts from Northern Nigeria men used to thicken their semen and enlarge the male organ. There were boys, too, barely 12 years old, selling cigarettes and weed rolled in old newspapers. The buyers were older men, sometimes in their thirties, sometimes in their seventies. These older men rarely wasted time. They would beckon the boy of their interest. They would price the weed in the rolled newspapers. They would pay, and then take the boy and disappear inside a locked room. When the boys returned, they were usually too tired to continue with their trade.
Kehinde’s breath quickened. His body hummed as if it were in tune with what he was seeing, but his spirit felt violated. This enraged him. Sister Odolo had told him it was okay to be angry at sin. Holy anger, she called it. Careful that no one was watching him, he slowly lifted his hand above his head and groaned his prayers until he was seized by the cacophony of unknowable language. He moved further into the red building. The Preacher Boy had come to Oke Koto on a mission.
Deep inside the building, Kehinde arrived at a large open space packed and throbbing with people. He stared incredulously; his eyes danced around in wonderment. Prostitutes lined the corridors, smacking gum, blowing bubbles, smoking cigarettes and weed, and some other things he couldn’t quite figure out. He felt light-headed.
A well-dressed lady in a full hijab smiled and flashed a golden tooth. He looked around, unsure if the smile was meant for him. She sashayed toward him. Laura had told him that the prostitutes in Oke Koto kept their bodies covered so as not to offend their Muslim patrons. The lady walking towards Kehinde had a pretty face and breasts that could not be contained or hidden by the hijab. They burst out in full rebellion. Without saying a word, she took the Preacher Boy by the hand and led him into her room, where she sat him on the floor on the only cushion. The air in the room was different—it smelled of lavender and citrus mixed with tobacco and weed.
“I am Aminat.” She sat close to Kehinde. “What’s your name, Alhaji?”
“Hussein.” Kehinde gave the name his Muslim father called him before Kehinde went the way of the church.
“How much will you pay for two sweet ones?” Amina asked in a pleasant Hausa accent. Then she slowly opened her dress and released her breasts. She pulled Kehinde close and caressed his unkempt hair.
“JESUS!” Kehinde cried, holding his stomach with one hand and his Bible with the other. He had come to birth Oke Koto for the Kingdom of Christ and to set the captives free. More angry than startled, Aminat got up quickly, grabbed Kehinde by the arm and pulled him toward the door. That’s when Isiaku entered. Isiaku was tall, with thick hair and the chest of a boxer. He whispered something in Aminat’s ear, and she left the room.
“The devil is using you all.” Kehinde pointed his Bible at Isiaku.
“Ba turenshi,” Isiaku said in Hausa, revealing his gold tooth.
“So you can’t speak even a little English?”
“Ba turenshi,” Isiaku repeated as he got very close to Kehinde and caressed his head as Aminat had. Kehinde felt something. He felt it in his bones and across his skin as Isiaku ran his hand across Kehinde’s worn shirt to feel his chest. Kehinde’s dick stiffened. He didn’t like the way he felt, but he didn’t fight it. He told himself he would confirm what Laura had told him about the red building: that men came here to have sex with other men. These men, the dandaodus, as Laura called them in Hausa, had been a part of Hausa tradition until Muslims tried to suppress it. Some dandaodus behaved like women. They wore the local makeup and dresses and danced for other, more masculine men at their parties. During the day, they cooked for their men, who called them their wives. Isiaku was one of the masculine dandaodus. He was an abomination unto God.
Sister Odolo had said that homosexuality was one of the seven great abominations that would bring America to its knees and allow her to take control of the White House. Homosexuality, according to Sister Odolo, was God’s way of giving people over to their reprobate minds because they refused to acknowledge and worship Him. Kehinde believed every word handed down from the Prophetess. Sister Odolo didn’t say it was so; The Bible said it was so in the Book of Genesis. In the Book of Leviticus. In the Books of Timothy and Corinthians. And in the Book of Romans, where it was written: Men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
However, something in his far past kept calling out to him. He had had a dream about it and remembered it now, with Isiaku before him.
When Kehinde was 12 years old, he had developed an indescribable fondness for his head teacher’s son, Tunde Tuoyo. At 15, Tunde was the oldest boy in class, having repeated several grades due to his poor academic performance. Kehinde liked to stare at Tunde endlessly any time they got together after school. Soon enough, Tunde began to stare back—the same fixed stare during which nothing was said. Tunde clearly enjoyed Kehinde’s staring. One day after school, Tunde pushed Kehinde up against the wall, nailing his hands to the wall with his strong palms. Kehinde didn’t resist. He closed his eyes as Tunde came closer until their foreheads rubbed against each other, then their noses. They seemed to breathe each other, and then their mouths connected as if they were chewing each other.
The Touyos relocated to Dubai, and everything about that kiss was supposed to have relocated with them. But Kehinde remembered every detail of it. The helplessness of it. The smell of onions on Tunde’s breath.
That night in Oke Koto, as Isiaku pulled Kehinde closer, Kehinde breathed him in the way he had Tunde. Blood rushed in his veins. Isiaku gently took Kehinde’s Bible and threw it in the corner. With his thick Hausa fingers he traced the outline of Kehinde’s nipples, now visible under his shirt. Then, slowly as the lantern in the room dimmed, Isiaku thrust his lips on Kehinde’s. Kehinde did not stop him. Perhaps he did not want to stop him. Like a lamb led to the slaughterer, he gave himself willingly to Isiaku.
Isiaku’s hand moved further down along Kehinde’s chest, and down to his abdomen. When his hand reached Kehinde’s waist, he began to unfasten his belt buckle. Instead of spurning the invasion, Kehinde silently prayed that a higher spiritual power would win the battle that raged within and keep Isiaku from going any further. He prayed that he would stop enjoying the intimacy. He prayed that his dick would soften, and that his nipples would behave themselves. He prayed that Isiaku would stop.
Isiaku opened the clasp of Kehinde’s belt and started to lower his head. In one cry, in the style of Sister Adolo, Kehinde birthed the spiritual strength that stopped Isiaku. The Kingdom of God suffered violence and violence would take it by force. Kehinde ran from Isiaku. He ran with all his strength out the door, down the crowded corridor, and out into the open street. The cool night air hit him hard. He walked hurriedly, hiding his face from everyone passing by.
Market Street had a curfew. Vigilantes assigned to close the rusty gates would be there any minute now. Kehinde walked fast, breathing in and remembering Isiaku as he made his way home. It wasn’t garlic. It wasn’t onions either. What he tasted in the back of Isiaku’s mouth lingered. Was it a weed concoction or a sedative of some sort? He recognized Isiaku’s cologne though; he reeked of it. It was one of those locally brewed by the perfumers in the North. Its smell was too spicy and floral, and lacked the woody base of most imported colognes. Powerlessly, he carried the aroma all over his broken self the whole way home.
It was Laura who opened the door for him, and he felt her gaze pierce through him as if she knew the smell of Isiaku’s strong essence. Surely, Laura wouldn’t think of Oke Koto. The Preacher Boy was just returning from Ajebo campground, and he must be coming with fire.
“I wasn’t expecting you so late.” She put her finger to her lips, gesturing to not disturb Taye, who was asleep.
Aduke’s eyes were also shut, but Kehinde felt her gaze fixed upon him. Aduke never really slept. Even when she closed her eyes, she saw everything.
Kehinde hurried to the shower just behind the classroom and washed his body endlessly. He needed to get rid of Isiaku. He scrubbed. He pinched. He pulled at his skin. He added more Dettol to the water so the smell of the disinfectant would neutralize the odor, but the smell of Isiaku remained.
Sister Odolo would be saying her midnight prayers soon. The Great Prophetess could see things, and he was sure she had seen him at Oke Koto. He knew she would divine it. She would divine the floral perfume. She would divine the taste of weed in his mouth, the semen in his underwear. She would divine it all. What about the church? What would the church do if they heard he had kissed Isiaku? He had been tempted and he had failed. He would be excommunicated.
The last Preacher Boy at Oniwaya had sinned against the church and gone the way of madness. No one could cheat Jesus. When He said, Thou shall not fornicate, He meant it wholeheartedly. Preachers serving at the altar must purify themselves, or the church could banish them for being unclean. He thought about his mother and the shame of Taye’s mental illness. He thought about what had happened at Oke Koto and he became afraid. In a recent dream, he had been chased by thousands of swine. Ugly round swine chasing him and sniffing his ass with their snouts. They chased him down into a very deep valley, and when they caught up to him, they tore at his pants. They ate his leg while he watched, completely paralyzed by fear. They chewed and snorted, ripping at his flesh as they ate their way up his leg, past his knee, his thigh, his groin, and just as they were about to devour his male organ, he woke.
That night, he decided to sleep by the coconut tree, far away from the piercing eyes of Laura and Aduke. He was growing up too fast, and his body was trying to catch up with his spirit. He touched his underwear still wet with his own semen. He looked up at the coconut drupes; they reminded him of large balls, large eyes that belonged to Sister Odolo. They were all watching him.
He placed his hands on his stomach. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood but principalities and power in heavenly places. He needed to birth a miracle for himself now. He had been anointed the Preacher Boy, and his body must obey the Lord.
This piece was first published in Passages: Africa, a chapbook of contemporary African Writing from the continent produced by PEN American Center.