Dey Pray!

A Short Story by Joy A. Adewumi

You thought they were joking until you realized they weren’t.

You didn’t think it mattered that your neighbors were always up in the middle of the night, laughing out loud like it was not 2 AM and like they didn’t know that the soundproof system in your apartment complex is bad. To make it worse, your bedroom and theirs are just a wall away from each other. Despite it being a complex of comfortable studio apartments in one of the not-so-fine but not-so-bad neighborhoods in Ibadan, you’ve always found it surreal, that anyone would design a house like that, but perhaps, the architect never imagined the soundproof system will be less than desirable. In short, your 200K per year studio apartment reminds you of the cement-plastered mud house you lived in as an undergraduate in Ile-Ife.

Some nights, it’s weird noises like sudden shrieks while at others, you think you hear chants or maybe they’re songs. Either way, you don’t want to be the troublesome neighbor, so you haven’t said a word about it since you moved in two months ago. Besides, it doesn’t happen every day, just on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Of course, you were not curious about the fact that this happens only on specific days of the week. You weren’t. At all.

You don’t think it’s a big problem, really. After all, none of the other occupants has said a word in complaint. That, of course, is probably because they don’t share a wall with these ladies, your suspect next-door neighbors, I mean. But then, unless the terrible soundproof system is peculiar to your walls, you’re sure they can hear some of what you hear at night. So, why should you, the newest person be the troublemaker? So, you stayed mute.

Until your mum came to visit.


Well, not exactly… visit. She had a function in Ibadan and as the proper mum she is, she thought it fantastic to pass the night with you. I mean, why not? Why should she pass the night in her cousin’s big family house in Aerodrome Estate, where she’d be treated like the royalty she is and given a plush comfortable guest room to herself when she has a daughter with a studio apartment and a queen-sized bed? She had to eat ounje omo (the reward of parenting). Of course, you don’t understand the logic but who are you to refuse even if it’s her comfort you’re thinking of?

She arrived on Thursday evening, fagged out, and barely had time to gist with you before she gave in to the sweet embrace of sleep. Then came the shriek. It was particularly loud tonight. Or maybe not. It probably felt louder because of the way your mum jolted from her sleep. The songs then followed, or maybe chants. You aren’t quite sure. Referring to it as chants make it seem diabolical and you’re pretty sure that isn’t the case because come on, have you seen those ladies? Beautiful corporate ladies with flair and class. You’ve communicated with them a few times. One is in HR, another, a marketing exec with a multinational company, and the third is a writer. What spells class better than that?

Usually, you’d plug your ears and listen to some low-volume music, definitely not enough to drown out the noise, of course, you wouldn’t want to rupture your eardrum, but enough to distract and lure you back to sleep. You didn’t do that today because hosting your mum made you forget it was one of those days.

Your mum sits up in bed when she realized the noise was going to continue, you know that because you can feel the bed dip where she sat. Now, you can’t remedy the situation by plugging in your earphones because of course, your mum wouldn’t hear of it. She could say it causes cancer of the ears for all the broadcast messages she reads – and sends to you – on WhatsApp.

Your mum taps you after a few more minutes. You can’t help but applaud her self-control. She waited almost a full five minutes before waking you, that was something. And, yes you were counting.

‘Are you deaf?’ She asks. You don’t bother asking why she asked a question she had an answer to. You know why. You sigh and rub down your face. You really wanted to catch some sleep before dawn. It was bad enough that the girls were disturbing, you didn’t want to make small talk on top of that.

‘Can’t you hear that strange noise?’ She asks when you didn’t reply.

‘I do, mum.’ You replied, your voice laden with fatigue and sleep.

‘You don’t seem surprised, at all.’

‘I’m not, mum. It’s normal. Please can we continue this conversation tomorrow? I really need to sleep.’ That was all you said before you plumped back on the bed and promptly went back to sleep, despite the especially strange and loud noise.

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What felt like a few minutes later but in reality had to be about an hour later, you woke up to use the toilet but was surprised to see your mum pacing the short length of whatever was left of your room after packing it up with furniture and personal effects.

She was praying. Like serious, bible-in-hand, sweat-dripping-down-her-face, tongue-whispering prayers. You’re shocked, of course, but far be it from you to interrupt. So, you go do your business, come back to see her on her knees, head between her knees, fingers intertwined on her bible, praying harder. She looked so serious that you felt the urge to join her. But you had to be at work tomorrow, while all she had to do was show up, looking pretty for a party, later in the day. Besides, you had no idea what the prayer point was, so of course, you go back to bed and sleep like a baby.

Dawn came and as you rushed around to get ready for work, your mum sits up on the bed looking fresh as if she had not traveled hours yesterday and had not spent half the night praying, and asks, ‘Who are your next-door neighbors?’

You look sideways at her from your position at your vanity table, ‘A trio of ladies. They’re nice.’

‘Yet, they do not hesitate to disturb like that at night?’ She asked.

You feel like there’s more to this soft conversation than the mere issue of disturbance. ‘Well, like I said, they’re nice and we get along well enough. I thought the occasional and manageable noise was not reason enough to ruin our rapport.’

Your mum hikes her brows dramatically, ‘How occasional is occasional?’

You shake your head and give her the are-we-really having-this-discussion look but answer her anyway, ‘Well, like Tuesdays and Thursdays, sha.’ Of course, you know it’s Tuesdays and Thursdays exclusively, but now, it sounded stupid that you were not bothered about the specificity.

Your mum does what you least expected, she laughed out loud. Then she clapped her hands dramatically and placed them on her head as she whispers in Yoruba, ‘Olorun, maje ki ori mi gbabode! (God, do not allow my head to accept compromise.)’

You turn to her wide-eyed. What the heck was the drama for? But then you glanced at your phone screen and saw that you were running late, so you quickly finish up your make-up and run around throwing things in your bag as you make to go. ‘Mum, bye.’ You dash off.

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‘I’ll see you off.’ She calls after you and you know she means it. So, you wait for her at your doorstep as you blow air through your lips in exasperation. She really didn’t have to. You were going to join her at the traditional wedding in the evening and she’d still pass the night in your house. In fact, she was going to be with you till Sunday. Little did you know there was more to that morning than meets the eye.

She catches up with you looking very much like the Yoruba mum she was, a wrapper over her nightie, but as you step out, you saw the most… unimaginable and unexpected sight. You gasp in shock while your mum looks totally unaffected.

Your next-door neighbors, the very pictures of class and flair you wouldn’t stop gushing about, stood in front of your door in different stages of unkemptness. But that wasn’t the worst of it, they had weird items of clothing on, like – you, of course, can’t believe you’re saying this right now – they were wearing matching clothes that looked too much like what you’d see in a Yoruba movie featuring witches. But of course, witches are probably not a thing anymore, right? And even if they were, they were definitely not girls your age, more so successful and classy ones like your neighbors.

The writer, spotting a terrible black eye that even makeup would have a hard time covering, glared at you with red-stained teeth and whispered fiercely, ‘What have you done?’

You turn wide-eyed towards your mum who remains the very picture of calm despite the unseemly drama unfolding. You wonder how their weird situation was any of your business. ‘Me? How do you mean?’

‘Some vicious fellow interrupted our thanksgiving yesterday and that uninvited guest came from your apartment!’ Your fave, make that former fave, the HR lady also with red-stained teeth glowered at you.

Your eyes go from wide-eyed to saucer-sized. You step back a bit. They look like they wanted to step closer to you, but to your utmost surprise, they’re rooted. Your jaw drops as you glance at your mum just in time to catch a subtle smile, an almost imperceptible tilt of her lips. You know that smile too well. It was one she wore when she had someone right where she wanted them, especially when they hated it to hades. She knew what was going on. It meant the girls were right. Whatever happened to them came from your room.

You are not daft, of course. The details start coming together. What you realized pushed you a step backward again.

The girls’ eyes are shooting lasers at this point. You could literally feel their anger and frustration at this point. Other neighbors were beginning to step out and the fire was giving way to shame. You glance at your mum helplessly. She returns your glance and shrugs. She kisses you on your cheek and tells you to get to work already as she returns into the house.

Work, for where? You run back after her and ask for full deets.

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She heaves a sigh as she sat on your bed and goes on to tell you in not so many words that you’ve been sharing an apartment complex with witches. Real-life, blood-sucking, high-ranking witches. Your bag drops to the floor and your strength leaves you as her words bring back a memory.

It was your second week. You didn’t quite understand the noise yet and had not discovered it was on specific days. The marketing exec had walked up to you with a disposable covered plate. She’d said she and the girls made some fries for the weekend and thought to welcome you to the apartment complex with some. You thought it was the nicest thing ever. She apologized for whatever noise you might have been hearing. Said they will try to keep it down. She said she and her girls were so busy, the only time they had to bond and have fun was at midnight.

In retrospect, that was the reason, you never thought to confront them about the noise. They had been nice aforetime so, somehow, your defenses had been clipped. Midnight meetings. At first, it felt like minor stuff, even a joke, until you realized it wasn’t. And what was that the writer said earlier? Thanksgiving? What the heck?

You finally collapse to the floor and raise your hands to your head. Your mum sighs and shakes her head at you. Now you understand why she went into spiritual warfare overnight. You’ve been living in the apartment for almost 5 months but not once did your spiritual sensitivity pick up the fact that you had diabolical humans as next-door neighbors. Your mum came in and within the space of a few hours despite her fatigue, discerned that and dealt with it.

The girls were right. The august visitor was from your apartment – the angels of God on assignment at your mum’s behest from her place of prayer in your apartment.

You cover your face in shame as you wonder when exactly you became so blind and spiritually numb. You still went to church and prayed quite all right, but if what just happened was anything to go by, your spirituality is far gone. Your sensitivity is nowhere to be found and the reason, honestly, is not farfetched because, in truth, you cannot remember the last time you truly connected with the Holy Spirit.

You shake your head at yourself as you remember your campus days. You were a prayer firebrand, but you graduated, and life happened. You realized you didn’t have to tighten life to your chest like campus made you believe. You discovered that people are a whole lot more normal than you give them credit for. You thought your generation had no witchcraft or sorcery. All that fire was for the older generation. Millennials and Gen Z are all about tech and entertainment. At least that was what you thought.

It really did not occur to you that as mantles are being transferred to younger ministers in Christendom, so also is the baton being passed on to younger people in the kingdom of darkness. You forgot that the devil will never lack instruments in any generation.

You swallow as you rubbed down your face again. Your phone rings. It’s your colleague. You remember work. You glance at your mum and catch her staring at you intently.

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‘Mummy…’ Your voice trails off as she narrows her eyes at you. Then you try again. ‘Mummy, can you please release them?’

She gasps dramatically ‘Ah! Release bi ti bawo? (How can I release them?) I did not bring them to your doorstep neither did I tie them down. Besides, I know you’re not worried about them. You fear going out there and having to walk around them as you leave for work.’

You look away like a child whose hands had been caught in the candy jar.

‘Now, I don’t know when your prayer life became meh or when you lost all spiritual sensitivity, but I want you to start acting like the child of Whom you are. You are a child of God and greater is He that is in you than he that is in them. So, right now, mo di oju mi (as I shut my eyes), stand up in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free and leave for work even if it means walking between them.’ Your mum ordered as she snapped her finger and threw her arm in the direction of the door.

You stood up feeling only quarter-motivated but knowing you had no choice, you had to work. But as you walk towards the door, hoping the girls had found their way away from your doorstep, you realized something unnegotiable. You had to get your prayer life back. Apparently, your very existence depended on it. And you decided it was going to start that morning as you immediately began an impromptu fast.