- The Unforgivable Sin
I didn’t mean to kill my sister, but I needed to make it right at the annual revival. It had rained all seven days that week, and the ground was littered with giant puddles of muddy water. You would think this would have kept us away, sign-prone as Nigerian Christians tend to be. But it did not. We pushed ahead like dressed-up cattle toward the giant white tent in the middle of the field, our pant legs cuffed and skirts pulled high to keep them out of the mud. I was dressed in a pair of pants that hung about five inches from the ground and were in no danger of getting dirty. Still, I carefully stepped around every puddle. I had something important to do that night, and I could not imagine doing it with tainted pants.
My mother held my left hand as we entered the tent, and in my right hand I held her golden tambourine. It was her most cherished possession, and holding it made me feel like I mattered, especially when the brothers and the sisters—the same ones from every revival—would bend down to say so.
“God is very proud of you, Femi,” they would say. Or, “Jesus will bless you mightily.”
“Thank you, Uncle,” or, “thank you, Auntie,” I would reply—everybody is your Uncle and Auntie in Nigeria. I tried not to look at my mother, but I always hoped she was watching and listening and feeling proud of me. Sometimes she was, but mostly she missed it. She rarely noticed me anymore. Not since my sister died.
My mother and I sat in the front row, as we did at all the revivals, and waited for it to begin. The revivalists always made us wait, allowing time for personal prayer and reflection before coming out to stir it up into a holy frenzy. The hum of a thousand prayers rose up and undulated in the air like waves of energy seeking release. Heads bobbed as if caught in some unseen and enchanting ether. Men and women sprang to their feet and screamed out the names of God. “El Shaddai! Jehovah-Rapha! Elohim!” My mother and I were more reserved. We just lowered our heads and prayed silently. My prayers were always simple, always the same. All I ever asked for was forgiveness.
Not long before my sister died, I had asked my mother if there was a sin that God would not forgive. She had said no, but as I started to walk away she added, “Unless you blaspheme the Holy Ghost; that one God cannot forgive.”
“Why is that one so bad?”
She’d shrugged, kissed me on the forehead, and turned back to her Bible. But it had not been so easy for me to let it go. The words “blaspheme the Holy Ghost” bounced around in my head day and night, and I did not even know what “blaspheme” meant or how you would even do it. Yet I felt possessed by it, as if the Devil had found my weakness and was poking at it with his fiery pitchfork. It was this unshakable curiosity that caused me to commit the unforgivable sin.
One day while my mother and father were away and my baby sister slept. I stepped into the backyard and screamed at the sky.
“I blaspheme you, Holy Ghost!” That’s how I thought it was done: you said the words and you had committed the act. I was frightened. I ran back into the house, ignored my nanny’s calls, and hid under my bed, shaking.
The next morning my little sister was dead and no one knew why. I knew. I wondered if he had meant to take me, but because I hid, he had taken her instead. But God would not do that … would he? [End Page 749]
The revivalist finally came out dressed in a white linen leisure suit, the unofficial uniform of the trade back then. His polished, black wing-tipped shoes carried none of the mud that was so heavy on ours. In his pristine shoes he stepped onto...