Ope wasn’t sure this was right, or maybe he was overreacting. Maybe he had taken this too far. Snooping around to find Ben’s house and talking to his neighbors. Even going as far as trying to gain entrance into the house without success. At least, he now knew where to look if Maya went missing. Again. It was day seven of the fast, and he could not keep still. She had left school in a hurry and he worried about her whereabouts. A girl her age should have one good friend everyone associated her with, and Maya had none, except him, so he justified his fears and fierce faith.

At first, he thought he should follow her but how? If he had his own car, that would make sense. As he watched her get into a taxi in a hurry, he also thought of calling Ben and warning him. Maya was not herself anymore and now he was sure this man was responsible. The worst part was that he had nothing to hold as evidence. He just knew. His spirit was not at rest.

Maybe he needed to share his thoughts with Maya’s mother. They were in this fast together and she was the mother. She would have greater intuition.

Aduke just got in from her high school teaching job when Ope knocked on the door and entered as prompted.

“Ah, Ope. I was just about to call you,” Aduke said. “We are in battle.”

“Ma, we are. I have not had any rest for two days now.”

“Hmm.” Aduke cackled. “Sit down. Heh! I don’t know what this is, but I know God is in control. The devil is not joking, and neither must we.”

“Yes, ma.” He sat. “God is greater than the devil.”

“What will you drink?”

“Right now, nothing, ma. I decided to go completely dry until this is over.”

Aduke sat facing him. “My brother, I have been totally dry since we started. A drop of water has not touched my tongue for seven days!” Aduke clasped her hand. “And today. In school. I had a vision.”

“Glory be to God.”

“I saw a man dump the body of a girl by the bush. At first, I was afraid it was Maya. But it was not Maya. Then, I saw a family looking for their daughter. They went to the man’s house and he denied ever seeing the girl. My spirit lifted and God told me that man had plans for my daughter.”

“God forbid.”

Aduke laughed the short sharp laugh again. “As if it wasn’t enough, I saw Maya with a man. The man. And I came to myself.” She sighed. “Students were in class and it was close to the end of the day. I had to hold myself tight not to scream. As soon as we closed, I came home. I was about to call you and Aunty Ranti.” She sighed. “My spirit ministered to me that he will sleep with my daughter. Once he does that, he will exchange his destiny with hers, and she will become useless in life. Afterward, he will decide to kill her or leave her to be a liability to her family.”

“Describe the man you saw in the vision, ma.”

Ope heaved and puffed as Aduke described Ben, to the red cap he wore, and the funny shoes, to the glint in his eyes, and his scowl.

“That is Ben, ma. The evil one. I know his house.”

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Local stations went agog with the news. A stranger in town gunned down by Ellicott City resident, Charles Taylor.

Taylor had a history of madness but recently had lived clean for months with his daughter, Charlotte. Many had argued Taylor feigned his condition but different psychologists and psychiatrists who examined him concluded he was mentally ill but could be treated. Since he was discharged more than four months earlier, he had been calm.

Lacy stared at the news from her real estate front office post. “Coulda been anyone,” she muttered.

The crowd scattered around the fallen man while Taylor waved his weapon and cussed. Bold onlookers recorded on their phones and devices. Cops arrived shortly and downed the mad man with a stun gun.

“America is full of angry people.” She turned to her work. But sighed. “Coulda been me. Dear Lord.” She walked that lane every day to her house a couple of blocks away.

What on earth was Charles Taylor doing with a gun? How did someone with a history of mental instability get arms?

Lacy was working late as she did most days but this just made her so miserable. On average, Ellicott City was safe. She had lived here all her life despite her aunt’s constant prodding to move to Union Bridge.

She looked at the screen ahead again and her jaw sagged. The identity of the victim had been revealed. He was now in the county hospital in the emergency room, alive but in a critical condition, and WBAL 4 had a picture taken from his backpack.

His shaggy dark blond hair looked like a hand just ran through it and he stared at the camera with a tinge of defiance around his mouth, his blue eyes bright enough to singe even through the screen.

“Oh dear, he’s here.” Lacy checked the time from her Tinkerbelle silver-strap watch and gasped. “It’s 9pm already.” She didn’t know she’d stayed so late.

She packed her bags and rushed out of the building.

“Another late night for you, Miss,” Brandon, the night guard waved at her.

“Yes, Brandon. Stay safe. Good night.” She waved down a taxi. She never drove to work. Now she wished she did.

“Good night, Miss Lacy.” He raised his voice. “Are you alright?”

“Will be,” she said before she got into the cab. “County hospital. Thank you.”

A few reporters hung around the parking lot, waiting for more news on Thomas Garet. Will he survive? While in the cab, Lacy listened to a local radio station do an analysis of Taylor’s condition and veered into the gun laws debate.

At the hospital, she went to the reception. “I know the Taylor victim,” she said, breathless. “He is a hiker. I brought him almost to Ellicott City. Is he alive?”

The intern at the front arched her eyebrow and swatted off imaginary strands of salt and pepper hair from her eyes. “What’s your name please?”

“His name is Thomas Garet.”

“I mean, your name.”

“Oh, Lacy. Lacy Kintley.”

The young lady waved toward the waiting area. “Please wait.”

Three hours later, Lacy finally got hold of one of the doctors on duty, who could give her information on Thomas. He was safe but no one would be allowed to see him till he was strong enough to decide.

“He’s lucky,” Doctor Florand said. “He’s got thick skin.”

Lacy chose to wait until Thomas came out of the OR. She was allowed to peep through a small opening of the door. She murmured a soft prayer for him. He looked so peaceful and she prayed he was.

On her way home in the early hours of the following day, she wondered why he’d come off her car. He knew she was coming here to Ellicott City.

“Lord, please keep Thomas Garet safe. Let him live. I don’t know what happened to him, why he’s so far removed from social warmth but I know he needs you. Give him a chance to find you…”

Lacy opened the door to her one-room condo and for a long time, wept into her hands as she prayed for the stranger who she couldn’t stop thinking about.

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Maya didn’t think she still had a coin in her hand. Okay, now she believed Ben had some diabolical powers. He, to give him some credit at least, did not put her under a spell-like people did in home videos. She was sound. She continued to top her class in all her courses like she had always done from time immemorial. Ope, and her mother and the prayer warriors were overacting, as they normally did, and Maya respected Ben the more, that he had found out what her mother was up to, and he wasn’t getting angry or frustrated about it.

They entered his house and familiar sweet light-headedness overwhelmed her. She swayed and Ben’s hand shot out to stabilize her.

“Are you okay?”

She smiled. “I am now.”

He winked. “Do you know where you are?”

Maya laughed. “Of course.” But for a moment she didn’t. It looked like his house but then, his eyes also turned green for a second.

“I’ll get the coin.” Ben walked away.

Maya recognized the room, but it seemed to whirl around. She wanted to sit but couldn’t find a chair. A voice spoke inside her head, Ben’s voice, telling her he loved her and her mother didn’t. He wanted the best for her, and her mother didn’t. He was right. Calling a prayer meeting over her was very embarrassing. All those people surrounded her and casting demons out of her was just so unfair. Ope berating her over Ben was unacceptable. She didn’t want any of it anymore.

“Do you love me?”

She startled and Ben stood right there behind her. He wore his famous red cap, the one he had worn on a few occasions previously. It made him look funny, larger than life, she couldn’t understand it. She nodded, though her head suddenly felt so big, too heavy for her neck to carry.

“Say it. Say I love you, Ben. Say I am your life. Say you will do anything I ask.”

“I love you, Ben. You are my life. I will do anything you ask me.”

Ben laughed and sighed. “Thank you, my love. I love you too much.” He held her hand in front of her. “See, I have put a new coin. It is a sign of our commitment to each other. We are joined forever by that coin.”

Maya stared at her hand, but she couldn’t see any coin.

“I have it too. See.”

He held out his palm to her. She saw nothing in it. But didn’t want to say so and disappoint him. His eyes glittered and he looked genuinely pleased and in love. She felt nothing. Deep inside her was an emptiness such as she had never experienced. Maybe she was supposed to feel sad about being in love. Maybe she just didn’t know what the love feeling should be like. After all, she had never been in love before.

“Will you kiss me now?”

Maya faced him. His eyes glowed green, or did she imagine it? Her head still felt heavy and her stomach was sunken as though she would have a running stomach or something. She wanted to smile, but her lips seemed too heavy to move.

“Yes. I take that as a yes.” He drew her face closer to his.

She went willingly. She didn’t seem to have any bones in her body to resist even if she wanted to.

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Ben smiled his best smile, which made his eyes glow like a cat’s in a headlight. Only that his eyes were not green or yellow like a cat’s. But Maya imagined she’d seen it in other colours. Or was she imagining it? Anyway, today, Ben smiled, and his smile reached his eyes, which was rare. Something great must have happened since the last time he saw her, appeared at her backyard out of nowhere and asked her to open her hand and press a coin into it. She didn’t see the coin, but she felt it.

“Keep it safe,” he had said. And she felt compelled to.

What she didn’t expect was that her tongue would be glued to the roof of her mouth and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t speak, all through the prayers. Until after. Her heart told her something was wrong with her, with Ben, but she couldn’t place her hands on it. She had slept off as the prayer warriors continued tirelessly. And when she woke up, she was in her bed, and she could speak. She cried and laughed but no one heard her. Or rather, no one came to her. Did her mother hear? She couldn’t say.

That was seven days ago, and she knew her mother had been on a fast since then.

They didn’t talk much, and she felt the pressure. School had resumed, but she still stayed at home, just to make her mother a little less worried. Not as though her mother could ever not worry. Being an only child was a curse rather than a blessing.

Ben took the high stool beside her, where she sat at the bar, watching swimmers in the crowded pool. “Hey, sweetheart.” He pressed a kiss to the top of her ear, even though they were in an open poolside with people flooding in and out.

Once upon a time, she would have an opinion about such a public show of affection, but she didn’t anymore.

“Hey.” She smiled back. “What’s making you so happy?”

“You. I see you; I see joy. I see my fortune. My oracle says you are the source of my blessing. You are the road to my breakthrough.”

Maya threw back her head and laughed. “That is enough to make somebody very happy.”

“I am going to become very rich. A multi-millionaire.”

“Please, remember me when you get into your kingdom!” She coughed. “Or I will not be useful to you by then.”

The smile on Ben’s lips froze. “Who told you?”

Maya threw her hands up. “I’m just saying my own o!”

Ben’s frowned deepened for a second, then he laughed. “Of course, you know nothing about such things.” He turned to the bartender. “One cold beer. Any brand.”

“They don’t sell alcohol at the poolside,” Maya said.

“They will sell to me.” He winked. “I missed you.” He cupped her cheek, making her look at him. “You look different.”

She scoffed. “That’s because my mother has been fasting and not cooking great meals.”

“Fasting? Why?” Ben’s beer arrived and he grinned. “They can’t say no to me.”

“I feel you.”

He filled his glass and drank slowly, his eyes fixated on her. “Why is your mother fasting?”

“All the prayer warriors are.” Maya shrugged. “They do it all the time.”

He glared at her for a moment, then his face relaxed. “As long as they don’t disturb you for me. I don’t care what they do.”

“You have to care. After you left last week, they gathered and were praying over me. I couldn’t speak. I was so scared.”

He sneered. “I know. You have nothing to worry about.” He refilled his glass. “Do you still have the coin I gave you?”

She gasped. He placed it in her hand, but she couldn’t remember ever having it. “I’m sorry, I really don’t know…”

He lifted her left hand where he’d placed the coin and studied it. “Don’t worry. It’s there. But I need it.”

“How? I don’t see it, and if it’s a magic coin, then I want it. I won’t let you have it!”

Ben chuckled. “I won’t even take it without giving you another. I can’t afford to leave you without protection.”

A lightness overwhelmed her. For some time, she had been feeling like this and she remembered what they said about light-headedness during pregnancy.

“Am I pregnant?”

Ben’s laughter echoed as though from a distance. “Another virgin birth?”

“I don’t feel well.”

“I know why. Your mother is dragging you, but I won’t let her have you. Because I love you.” He finished his beer. “Come, I need to change that coin in your left hand.”

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The Elicott City main street and hub bubbled with activity. People knocking off from work marched up and down in a hurry to catch up with the lives they suspended through the day time.

Thomas leaned against the traffic pole and decided on what next to do. He didn’t imagine the town would be so busy. When he’d gotten to Union Bridge, it had been easy to find accommodation. Here seemed a little different.

A motel would be his last option and he didn’t plan to spend more than a night. The traffic lights changed and cars sped past. It tickled his fancy at the height of discipline the lights mandated from even the worst offender.

He’d taken two days to hike here, refusing help from travelers. The trek helped him to organize his thoughts and put his decision in perspective. It’d been eight years since Molly died with a pregnancy old enough to birth. Seven and a half months… He moved his thoughts away from what should have been. A happy marriage between young people truly in love. He’d named the baby Thomasina. The female version of his name.

The red lights came back on and drivers obeyed like zombies. He squinted. Someday, he might drive again. Driving gave him the creeps after a drunk driver knocked down his wife and Thomasina. She died instantly. A little mercy he was grateful for.

A young woman ran by, bumped into him and dropped a sack. She bent to pick up but a man kicked her in the face. She fell back and butt-ran but she wasn’t fast enough to avoid a second kick on the same spot.

Thomas threw himself between her and the man who was just about his size in build.

“Get out of the way!” the man growled.

Thomas looked back at the woman who tried to rise. She couldn’t be more than twenty.

“She’s just a woman.”

The lights changed and cars sped off. Everyone continued in their way. He seemed to be the only one keen on the fight.

“Woman who do man stuff will be treated like man. Get out of my way.”

The man’s heavy accent drew Thomas’s glance to his face but he was hooded and all he could was catch a glimpse of thick dark eyebrows and darker eyes.

She was now on her feet and staggered to get her sack just at the side of his feet. Thomas stared at the slight frame of the woman and didn’t see the punch on his nose come. The man hit him hard and followed it up with ramming into his midriff. Pain shot into the back of his eyes and he stumbled.

A woman screamed. “He’s got a gun.”

Thomas looked at his assailant. It was pointed at him. He raised his hands above his head.


“You never put your mouth where it don’t concern you! Never!”

He never did anyway and wondered what came over him. He’d avoided bar brawls worse than this.

The woman was gone.

“Look, I’ll go find her for—”

The gun went off. He knew he wasn’t dead because he heard it.

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It was easier to gather in Aunty Ranti’s house because her house was on a lower floor after Ope had to carry Maya inside. She fainted and even after she was revived remained weak. Ope did the only thing that came to his mind. To take her inside and get her mother.

Maya lay on the couch in the parlour, with her head on her mother’s laps. Her eyes were open, but it didn’t look as though she recognized where she was or who was with her. Ope leaned against the wall, praying softly.

“I have called everybody, and they will all be here.” Aunty Ranti clasped her hands and stood over Maya. “She will be delivered tonight. That devil is a loser. He has lost.”

Tears streamed down Aduke’s face. “To think this prophecy came since, and right under my roof. And I didn’t do anything about it.”

“What could you have done? You did not know the name. And Ope was busy with his life. It’s not as if we…come to think of this. We should write down prophecies and messages. That way, people not in the meeting can read it and know what is going on.”

“You’re very right, Aunty Ranti,” Ope said. “That is a very good idea.”

Aunty Ranti sighed. “Tell us about this Ben. Ben what?”

“He never said.” Ope walked over and stood beside Aunty Ranti and stared down at Maya’s glazed eyes. “I just was not happy with him and he didn’t like me too. But he’s old. I never imagined Maya could have any…”

Aduke cut in. “How old?”

“If I guess well, he’ll be in his fifties.”

“Fifties!” Aduke wailed. “Older than me!” Her eyes shot to Maya. “Maya!”

“She’s not talking, Aduke. Your anger at her is at the wrong time.” Aunty Ranti walked to the door in answer to a knock. “Welcome.”

The prayer warriors trooped in as though they had converged at an earlier location. There were no pleasantries. Aunty Ranti started off with information about Ben.

“We don’t know what he is or what he wants, but we know he’s done something to Maya. And she cannot be touched because her mother is a prayer warrior.” Shouts of agreement rent the air. “So, we will pray. Because it is the only thing we do. The only thing we know how to do.”

Ope blurted. “He was here tonight. I saw him hurry away.”

“Ah, then he came to our territory and must not leave in one piece. Pray!” Aunty Ranti yelled.

The group paced as they normally did. Some fell on their knees, cried, wailed, but all prayed. Their voices raised to the highest would wake Aunty Ranti’s mother if she was asleep, but no one cared about it. Maya stared at them, her eyes blank. She was conscious, she knew who they were and what they were saying, doing. But she couldn’t move or contribute. Not because she didn’t want to. She couldn’t. Something was happening to her that she didn’t quite understand. She loved Ben. But she hated him.

The prayers could go on all night. Maya knew how this worked. These people, when they set their eyes and heart on something, someone needed to go before they relented. Ben needed to go but she feared she would be the one. Her mind reeled as she remembered all the things this man had done with her. Her mind cleared and she saw she had been under an influence.

Yet, her lips were sealed. She wanted to confess, tell the truth. Couldn’t. Her eyes would not flicker. Her tongue would not unglue from the roof of her mouth.

Images of the crystal ball played before her eyes. She laughed with Ben. She touched his face. She hugged him. He kissed her on the mouth.

Aunty Ranti stomped around the room. “Someone needs to go, and Ben! It is you. Prayer.”

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