In the place I grew up, church was at the centre of everything. Sweethearts met at Bible study, married in the chapel and made their friends over years of smalltalk and tea each Sunday after church.
In church, dancing was like breathing. We all stood up in the narrow pews, the men in suits and tunics, the women in long dresses.
Each Sunday morning, there was a fight about the length of my skirt. My father once said that I looked like a harlot. I was 12, in a denim skirt and jeggings that stopped above my ankles.
Back then, I thought of God as a pair of eyes looking down at me as I masturbated. I wrote my most terrible sins on a piece of notebook paper and burned them into ash on the stove.
In boarding school, we gathered every sunset for evening worship. The older girls knew all the gospel songs by heart, their voices high and clear. I listened to them and felt that I was part of something.
“God has a plan for you,” my mother always says.
As an adult, my plans feel shaky. I have left behind Nairobi, the city of my childhood. I have left the church behind. My mother thinks that darkness came into me, severed my bond with the divine.
I tell her, “I’m going to hang up if you talk about the devil again, Mom.”
On dating apps, I choose the option “agnostic.” The gospel songs have stayed with me all these years. I remember the words, hear myself singing them in little snatches. I still think of those long-ago harmonies of schoolgirls with smiling faces.
“Turn to Jesus,” Mom says each time I ask her for advice.
Lately, I feel so unwise, so incapable of rightly ordering my own life. I need guidance. I need forgiveness. On the phone, my mother soothes me.
“Repeat after me,” she says. I am tired, and so I nod.
“I pray for forgiveness,” she says.
“I pray for forgiveness.”
“I pray for strength.”
“I pray for strength,” I say, and a small burden is released.
God help us all. We make so many mistakes. We hurt each other. We get older and realize that the world we stand to inherit was not made by an all-knowing, all-loving force. It was made by people just like us.
For so long, I struggled with the shame that was given to me by the church. And yet there was a joy I felt, unnamed, when as a child I believed that there was someone watching over me. Now, I feel that I must watch over myself.Every moment, there is a choice to be made and a pitfall that I must avoid. God help me.
Ciku Gitonga is a writer and a politics major. Her dream in life is to escape authority and be left alone to write.
Published in Volume 78, Number 07 of The Uniter (October 26, 2023)