New Voices: “The Devil is a Liar” by Nana Nkweti
Today, we are pleased to share with you the second place winner of our Short Story Award for New Writers: “The Devil is a Liar” by Nana Nkweti. This story is told from the alternating perspectives of a mother and her adult daughter. It examines the differences, and similarities, between how each woman experiences her faith as the daughter is faced with a difficult decision after learning about a possible complication with her pregnancy.
“After the call ends, Glory begins a catchall, cover-all prayer, infused with every blessing she has ever wanted for her only living child. But above all, she hopes her prayers will fortify her too-strong daughter whose voice—muttering “goodbye”—had been so breathy and fragile, one of wind chimes forlorn and tinkling in an airless room.”
There are hymns, there are hosannas, there are hallelujahs. There are some who are struck dumb in His presence and those who are newborn linguists—speaking in tongues. Eyes roll heavenward, limbs grow palsied, tears—of joy, of penitence, of defiance—are shed. Through this sound, this fury; Sister Glory Ngassa, Minister of Music for the New Africa International Church of the Holy Redeemer, Brooklyn Battalion, is praying fervently. Her voice, once whispery, rises, then rises again as she sways to the unsung chorus moving the faithful, twenty-person flock present for service that Sunday morning. And faithful they are to the fledgling church—its sanctuary, the front room of a dusty, Brooklyn apartment, a donated space still under a slow-going renovation which has spanned from Easter Sunday the year prior into an unknown future—unto the end of days, perhaps.
The congregation is sanguine in their shared burdens. Tried and tested; they will not be found lacking. So one had to watch one’s step on the unfinished floorboards; a mere reminder that Jesus himself was a carpenter, a man who knew the grain of cedar, of poplar, of acacia, and even of the bitterest wormwood. So the single-paned windows were unsealed and unshielding; their translucent tarp coverings fluttered in the draft like a host of angels’ wings. Yes, the congregants of the New Africa International Church of the Holy Redeemer know they are blessed. Their leader, Man of God, Pastor Godlove Akondeng, had journeyed all the way from church headquarters in Cameroon to share his special anointing. That very moment, the good pastor is laying hands on the forehead of Brother William—timbering all six feet of the man into the waiting arms of Sister Anna, chanting, “By the Spirit of Christ. By the Body of Christ. By the Blood of Christ.” Raining down rapid-fire holy fire to break the ancestral curses that had kept the good brother from receiving his promotion, his increase.
Now, Sister Matilda walks up haltingly with her husband. Unequally yoked these two, yet twined and twinned to each other in a Siamese lockstep. She, crutching herself against him in deference to a newly acquired limp. He, clutching her piety to him like a security blanket, eyes darting then downcast, seemingly evincing a sudden bashfulness at the knowledge that Glory, and all those present, know that he was the one who had hobbled his wife, disordered her steps. Pastor Godlove takes hold of the man. He prays, shouts, commands the evil spirit possessing the husband to release him. Release him in the name of God the Father, release him in the name of the Holy Spirit, release him, Jehovah-jireh; thy will be done.
And now music. Now songs of praise and thanksgiving.
Glory steps forward. She pushes up her +1.5 drugstore reading glasses—perhaps it is time for +2?—and peers down at her hand-assembled hymnal, the photocopied fruit of her labors to harvest gospel songs from back home, from across the continent: Nigeria’s Joe Praize, Cameroon’s Tribute Sisters, the Soweto Gospel Choir.
“Jesus we love you, Lord. You don make my life betta. I go de thank you for evamore, thank you Baba,” sings the congregation, keeping time by the baton of Glory’s pointer finger, tap-tapping notes in the air. She is gratified. There is no instrumental accompaniment to this chorus of warbling voices—Sister Anna is always flat!—yet she knows to her marrow that their voices are pleasing to He who matters utmost.