Child of God

My mother has very small eyes. My mother has eyes so small she is actually watching me when I think she’s sleeping. Your eyes are so small, I say, and she replies, God has blessed me with faith beyond measure.[1] She wonders aloud whether there is a Chinese ancestor in her history; to be Nigerian is not enough. The story of Nigeria in the common mind is rushed, she says, unknown and unfinished. In my mother’s mind, the continent had a secret, sordid past: sons of God came into daughters of men, a race of giants formed and blocked the view of the Lord.[2] And so Nigeria needed a mentor, a parental figure to guide her into adulthood. Nigeria has had the longest childhood in history, my mother says, but Great Britain was kind enough to make her grow up.

My mother says she is a woman of God. People call her Evangelist Rachael. She came to Britain to be amongst those who bring truth, for it is the Word of God that shall save us, she says, and blessèd we are to be helped by the pure and holy. We do not always see eye to eye, my mother and I. She married a white man named Gabriel and seven years later, after three mixed raced others, oak-skinned I was born. Her eyes painted me with sin before mine learned how to read the mirror. I was a reminder of her adulterous mistake.  Every Thursday she would have her women’s prayer group in the living room. Women from her church, women who weren’t family but were all called ‘aunty’ would summon me in to pray, and they would surround me, some gripping my arms, others pushing down on my head. They would speak words only God could understand, and Mother would watch, saying wash it away, Jesus. Sanctify us.

I do not know who my father is, but I know he was Nigerian. My mother says he was everything she came here to get away from. But she cannot escape herself. It was a transgression, she says, a moment of forgetting about goodness. I nod. The absence of goodness is the presence of sin, she says. I nod. To be with me is to be in the presence of sin. She tells me I must remember to be good. Try to be more like your sisters, she says, don’t you see how much God has given to you? Are we not enough for you? Am I not enough? I nod. And I wonder the same thing.

The room I shared with my half sisters was always messy. It was a reminder to our mother that she would never have grandchildren; no men would want to marry disgraces like us, she would say. On one side of the room was a wall-wide window, opening up to a miniature balcony, ten floors above ground. We would climb out there during early mornings, just as the sun was rising, and sit on the low wall, feet swinging over the edge. Each sister took turns to shake my balance and watch me tense, only a metal railing between me and the fall. Once I had a dream about sitting on the wall, but this time when they pushed, I didn’t catch myself. My fingers slipped from around the cold bar, and my skinny child body slid underneath. I was falling, quickly. People always say time slows down before you die, but it didn’t feel like that at all. My body had flipped and was plummeting, head first, to the concrete back garden of the council house below. Then, just as quickly, I was rising. Two shots of pain sprang from my upper back, like my bones were magnets attracted to the sky. I could hear and feel violent wind, as if the atmosphere was resisting great force. Two large wings, with full, white plumage, flapped above me. Later that morning we all woke up, lying on the cold grey concrete of the balcony, having had the same dream.

We went back into our bunk beds. I could not sleep. I wanted to tell my mother about my dream. “She will be proud of me,” I thought, “she will see that I am a sign of God or Jesus, or that the Holy Spirit is in me.” I climbed out of my bunk, down the ladder, and walked down the hall to my mother’s room. I opened the door.

“Mummy,” I said expectantly, softly.

I stepped into the room, leaving the door open behind me. My childish foot circled over a hard patch in the carpet. There was very little floor space. Storage furniture lined three of the four walls and my mother kneeled in the middle, was speaking words only God could understand.

“Mummy,” I repeated.

She swung around, and I saw an unrecognisable creature, clutching a battered Bible. Her eyes were wider than I’d ever seen them, but where the whites should have been, there was red. And the blood flowed over her brown high-boned cheeks, drenching them, fertilising barren land.  This is how Evangelist Rachael looked when she prayed: fervent, overtaken, awake to nothing and no one but the Spirit ceasing her. Except before there had never been blood; her eyes had never been so big. I turned to leave, to run, to exit the dream that still hadn’t ended, but in my haste I slammed into the door, head ricocheting off the corner. I fell flat on my back, and the room danced above me. I closed my eyes. I could still hear her clearly; I willed the sound to blur as my vision had, I willed her to stop. Instead she moved closer, until her holy words and warm drops washed over me. Fertilising. When she finally stopped, and I felt her move away, I began to crawl to the door. My eyes were still shut.

I ran back into my bedroom. I thought my mother would come but she didn’t. That’s what happens when God takes control, she said later. We didn’t speak of it again.

But my mother washed me with a rare kind of knowledge. In the Bible, on the day of Pentecost, all the people of God came together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. [3] They were being guided by what was beyond themselves.

I think I understand why my mother’s eyes are so small. God has blessed me with faith beyond measure, she says. How strange it is to realise we are filled with each other, how beautiful and tight and warm and stifling. I still have not told my mother about the dream. But at least now I know where it came from. I am my mother’s daughter after all.


[1] 2 Corinthians 5:7 - For we walk by faith, not by sight.

[2] Genesis 6:4

[3] Acts 2:1-4