How does one receive the Holy Spirit? Does one do it with their eyes open or with their eyes closed? Anti the bible says the Holy Spirit came down to the apostle as flames. Will one miss the flames if they don’t see? Or will the light from the fire be so bright it will blind the mid-believer? And does it pass through one’s mouth? Burn its way down the lucky receiver’s throat to make their belly round with holiness?

Immaculate conceptions is what they’re calling those holy round bellies. There are two girls in the compound who went to receive the Holy Spirit and came back with their bellies rounded with its abundance.

How does one receive the holy spirit? Jenifa from the house two verandas from ours says Apostle Makumbi of the Church of Present Day Remainder People Destined for Rapture knows how. She says she received it with his help just last month, but none of us believes her, because her belly is still as flat as a slipper.

Besides, there’s nothing majestic about the Church of Present Day Remainder People Destined for Rapture. A wobbly structure of wood and castaway iron sheets; why would the holy spirit come into the world through that?

Now Pastor Kamonde’s church just below the hospital? That’s majestic. There’s a large iron gate at the entrance, and stairs to take you up to the main door. There’s even a balcony for the people who come in late. And it’s built of brick and stone. Like a hotel. Like a palace.

When darkness falls, its lights are brighter than the sun at noon, and the parking lot for the faithful is as big as a football pitch. No wonder the holy spirit stays there. Although, strangely, it comes in the piped water which Pastor Kamonde sells to his flock at a holy price.

Except on Sundays. On Sundays, the holy spirit runs free for all into yellow twenty-litre jerrycans and blue nine-litre basins. Mama wakes up before the first cock crows every Sunday to get that liquid holiness. If the sun sees her before she sees the church, lunch will be late because she’ll have to wait hours for the long lines to shorten. And then when she gets the water, she hides it in her and Tata’s room, for only them to drink.

It’s funny, though, how her belly has not yet become rounded with holiness, and Nyaika in the house five verandas away tells me the roundness of Tata’s belly is from another kind of spirit. Maybe the holy spirit at Pastor Kamonde’s church is diluted.

“We go to Apostle Makumbi’s church and receive some holy spirit,” Prisca says one day. It’s one of those days when all the houses have been cleaned, all the dishes have been washed, and we’re doing nothing, waiting for the devil to sweep in and make us do something bad. We’re sitting on my house’s veranda, playing with soda bottle tops.

There’s five of us – Prisca from six verandas away, Nyaika from five verandas away, Jenifa from two verandas away, Sara from the compound next to ours, and me. Prisca is the oldest; she saw her first period three years ago, so we have to listen to what she says. But Nyaika, always Nyaika, jeers and says, “Shya, for what? We don’t want that third-hand holy spirit.”

“The church has no floor,” Sara whispers. She knows her place, as the outsider among us, so she doesn’t talk too loud. But she’s right. When Jenifa took me there the other month, I got soil all over my nice Sunday shoes.

There is no smooth cement on the floor of the Church of Present Day Remainder People Destined for Rapture, not like Pastor Kamonde’s church. And when it rained, we could barely hear Apostle Makumbi shouting from those scratchy fifth-hand speakers of his, and some water dripped from the small holes in the roof.

“But you guys, the holy spirit is real in Apostle Makumbi’s church!” Jenifa cries. She actually cries. Two fat tears roll down her chubby cheeks, and she adds, “Me, I have felt it.”

“If it’s making you cry like this, I don’t want,” Nyaika says. Prisca points a warning finger at him, turns to Jenifa, and says, “Wama Jenifa tell us what it’s like.”

Jenifa’s tears disappear like witchcraft. She sits straighter, and the shine in her eyes almost makes me stand up and go inside the house. Her breasts, bigger than mine or Prisca’s, jiggle under her thin shirt, and she says, “We go to the church and I show you.”

The Church of Present Day Remainder People Destined for Rapture looks worse now than it did two weeks ago. The iron sheets which form its walls have started to rust in the place under a rotting wooden window.

None of us is tall enough to see inside the window, not even Nyaika who is taller than his father. So we drag a big piece of wood under the window and take turns peeking inside. Jenifa says this window will show us the room where Apostle Makumbi helps his flock receive the holy spirit.

Prisca is the first to look, and she stands on the wood for a long time, saying nothing while we grumble and whisper and ask her to tell us something. When Nyaika pulls her off the wood by the back of her dress, she snaps, “Nothing is happening. They’re just praying.”

“Who?” Sara whispers. Prisca looks at her with her nose and mouth scrunched up and replies, “Apostle Makumbi and the woman, stupid.”

By then, Nyaika has climbed onto the piece of wood, and he’s not selfish with what he sees. It’s boring at first; they’re still praying. The pastor has gone out. They’re praying again. They’re still praying.

Then Nyaika says, “The woman is undressing.”

And he’s pulled down by many hands, and all of us are scrambling to climb up to see, and Prisca wins at first, but Sara pulls her down, and I’m there, and I see naked flesh on naked flesh, wobbling, shaking, gleaming with sweat, the apostle vibrating and vibrating, the woman screaming yes, yes, I receive it, I receive it! Then I’m pulled down by many hands, and I think I now know how to receive the holy spirit.

I don’t know who tells whose parents the story. Probably Nyaika and his big mouth. But one day, the Church of Present Day Remainder People Destined for Rapture is there, and the next, it’s not.

The policemen come for Apostle Makumbi in a big black pick-up and throw him under the seats. All the parents from all the compounds are there, and they’re all so angry. Me, I don’t understand what’s happening. Jenifa is there too, with her rounded belly finally telling us that she received the holy spirit. But it’s funny, she doesn’t look very happy. I suppose this holy spirit receiving thing is not for everybody.

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