Mother woke up at ungodly hours to pray. Adorned in white she would sprinkle holy water held in a white keg with one hand and swing her incense burner with the other. I loved the familiarity of the sweet-smelling musky smoke that engulfed our home. I hated how the smoke stuck to every item of clothing; lingering in the house for hours, announcing us as foreigners to intolerant teenage friends.
Mother prayed for each of her children according to their order of birth, starting with the first, and ending with me, the last. She could have prayed for us collectively and halved her prayer time. But she did not. Perhaps she thought God needed to be reminded that she had four daughters, or perhaps she was pleading with him not to inadvertently forget one or two.
Mother had a standard list of prayer requests; good health, long life, good husbands, good children. This list didn’t change unless we were going through a particular challenge, so if i had exams coming up, she would add success to the list. And if she was upset or disappointed with our behaviour, we would hear about it in her prayers.
I always thought the prayer for good husbands took weighted more than the other requests. I could tell by the slight change in her tone and pitch. She would raise her voice ever so slightly, tilt her head towards the heaven, and swing the incense burner a bit more vigorously before embarking on the prayer for God-fearing men; Men who would love and provide for her daughters and their offsprings. She would pray against husbands who sought to use her daughters to obtain British citizenship. She prayed against ‘low life’s’ with unapologetic discrimination; these included uneducated men, men with a family history of mental illness, men whose families practised juju, unemployed men, philanderer, or any man whose behaviour or character didn’t ‘glorify her God’.
The prayers for my brother differed from that which she offered on behalf of the girls. In addition to the general requests for long life, good health and in his case a good wife, she would pray against physical and spiritual enemies who aimed to change, steal or alter her son’s destiny. She would pray against ancestral curses, demonic influences and bad company. The prayers for him took the longest and were the most farfetched. Up until now I remain bemused that she placed so much emphasis on unseen attackers, instead of attacking visible forces.
I’m sure my mother’s prayers haven’t changed very much. I’m sure they didn’t get shorter with each marriage. I’m sure the prayers grew longer with the birth of each grandchild. I’m sure she has carried on the tradition of calling each grandchild by name; offering identical prayer on their behalf. I’m sure she is relieved to have us girls out of the house and with that the freedom to pray solely in her Nigerian dialect, without switching from English, to Ondo, to Yoruba, trying but failing to accommodate the various ears of her children. I’m sure she still starts with the recitation of a psalm, followed by the various names different folks call God. Jehovah, Jesu Christi, Holy St Michael. I’m sure she still ends her prayers with Psalm 21 and not the Lords prayer.
And here I am, at that same ungodly hour, head raised to the heaven in prayer. I pray and pray and pray and then pray some more. I pray for my own children, calling on each by name, offering identical prayers . In the stillness of the night I hope my prayer echos all the way to God. Surely that’s why mother prayed at midnight. When I’m done with this prayer I’ll put the baby down, get some sleep and repeat the same requests late tomorrow night. My meetings with God, at this hour, will end once baby starts to sleep through the night. I do not have the discipline to wake up for prayers at 1 am as my mother did. I will revert back to quick mornings mumblings, thanking you in 30 seconds flat and trusting you to know and appease the desires of my heart. I’ll miss our midnight rendezvous just as I miss my mother’s prayers