Catholic Filth: Confession by Akah Nwamaka
Through the netted opening of the confessional, I saw his frame tighten up as he turned his face towards me. His eyes were glazed with what I read to be disbelief and disgust. It made me cower, and retire into the tents of more guilt.
He was the priest everyone referred to as Oyibo. That’s why I could clearly make out his round face even though the confinement was dark. I knew he couldn’t see me through the pitch darkness, he was half-blind. Ọcha balu ya anya (His fairness entered his eyes), was my father’s diagnosis after his first mass in our parish.
“Can you explain what you mean” he said in Igbo, because it was afternoon and English confessions only took place in the morning.
I closed my eyes at this point and told him about the only night that I remember. The first night. I told him that it happened three years ago. She had called me into my mother’s room and asked that I lie on the cushion throw she had placed over the tiled floor. I forced a sob and talked about the guilt I felt afterwards.
That was all I gave him; the beginning and the end.
The confession went no further than that because I had confessed the lesser sins earlier, intentionally saving the bombshell for last.
“Father, I am a sinner, I pray to be forgiven of all the sins I have confessed and the ones I have forgotten to confess…”
My voice rang soft in the confessional as I dutifully recited the closing prayer as I had been taught.
I opened my eyes when I heard him whispering the “father’s” blessings, which he ended with a sign of the cross meaning that I could go. Head bowed, I did the same and left.
The church was grave quiet, although there were people seated randomly across the pews, each one, at a considerable distance from each other, all praying for atonement.
I found my own seat, in the pew farthest away from the window and everyone else.
Five Hail Marys and Five Our Fathers, that was my penance.
I didn’t think it was enough but I was glad it was short, compared to what I had envisioned the night before as I wrote down my sins of commission so as not to forget any. Apparently, it was a sin to do so.
I imagine that others feel relief after their penance, but that was not my case. I sat there, heavy hearted and scared. A thought was lingering, the story of Ananais, his wife and the foot of those six men.
I wondered if I was going to die because I had lied to the holy spirit, because conviently leaving out details like how her hands had shown me places on my 5 year-old body I didn’t know pleasure existed or how, at age 7.
I began having fantasies about my cousin’s growing breasts, was the same as lying. That’s what the Seminarian had said during the confession classes. He’d called it the sin of omission.
Would I become a cautionary tale too? I wondered as my eyes scanned through the church to know who had prayed for too long because people got penances as big as their sin. The reflex of a child bred into Catholic judgements.
I would have stayed longer, but for the same reason that I had judged the long stayers.
So, I quickly collected myself, walked to the center aisle and genuflected to the Holy altar before walking out in the typical Catholic saintly reserve; hands clasped together on my abdomen, and face creased with innocence and purity because anything otherwise, would tell people that I had not been forgiven.