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Chapter 8: Every Nation.

Dawn breaks through the darkness, ending its reign. The rosy sky flecked with clouds like paint streaks of delicate pinks and washed-out orange. The sun rouses from its rest, ready to shine once more.

The Okoro are wide awake. Their grandkids are still struggling out of the grip of fatigue. A slew of worn-out words are exchanged amongst each other, arguing about who will have to leave the comfort of bed first to go and shower.

Gran cooks up a breakfast, already dressed in her Sunday best. A full kitchen apron protecting her attire, enveloped in a notched collar, grey plaid blazer with a pleated skirt that whispers to her ankles. She stands before the stove, flipping over the sizzling bacon strips with a fork, her other hand on her hip. Four plates arrayed readily on the counter beside the stove.

“Brennie, baby, have you seen my brass tie?”

She glances at her husband, assessing his smoky suit with a white shirt underneath. “No, wear your silver tie. A brass tie won’t work.”

Gramps huffs. “Brenda if I wanted fashion advice, I wouldn’t be asking you.”

“And if I wanted to be partnered with a joke, I would’ve married a clown.” Her eyes shoot up as if in the grip of an epiphany. “Oh, oops. Too late.” She smirks evilly and looks back at the pan.

He chuckles and walks back, disappearing into the passage. “I love you, baby.”

“I know."

Little over an hour later. The siblings and their grandparents conclude their egg and bacon breakfast. Only one slice of buttered toast survived.

“Walter, can you please take out that end-of-life crisis of yours. We’ll all be out in a sec,” Gran says.

Gramps flashes an insincere smile and trawls for his car keys. He reels it out from his jacket pocket and makes a start to the front door. Gran gets up and sashays to her bedroom with a spare sway to her hips. Litha and Cece help each other out, collecting the plates and utensils and piling them into a neat stack, to be washed later for when they return.

Gran walks back out with a matching grey handbag.

“Let’s go.”

Without locking behind them. They all meet gramps up top, engine rumbling with impatient growls. Through the passenger seat, the two crawl inside and gran fixes the seat back to sit on it. She places her bag at her feet. Gramps revs the engines and it thunders a roar before the Camaro blasts forward, stomachs lurching up to their chests.

Gran’s eyes widen like a cartoon character. “Walter!” She grips the bolsters of the seat.

A ten-minute drive later, they arrive at a neighbourhood church. The front parking lot brims with Sunday-regulars, middle class cars clogging up the entryway. The Camaro eases itself into the tides of eager vehicles, trying to secure whatever spots are open closest to the entrance. Gran can’t help herself but play passenger-seat driver, directing him here and there, reminding him to indicate and check his blind spots like he’s a learner. Somehow, having to put up with it and her for decades, he complies as if it doesn’t bother him at all.

The Camaro secures itself a parking on the left flank of the building. Gran and gramps climb out of the car, releasing either sibling. Cece slips out, dressed in a sleeveless classic black dress with her phone clutched in her hand. Litha hops out on the other side in a simple white dress shirt, jeans and his white sneakers. Clusters of families all flock to the church in herds, uniformed in propriety. Congregants that strictly see each other on this one day, all wear smiles, trading friendly embraces as they make their way inside.

Litha’s eyes glides up the soaring, seamless white-brick walls of the church, from the elaborate bell tower that sits on the crest of the edifice. Accompanied with grand spires that grow from the curved ground of the roof.

On approach to the expansive, dust-swept staircase. Their route is impended by a man in a crisp royal blue suit, in his forties, who aged well, with two boys tailing behind him.

A grin lights up gramps’s face as he outstretches his arm. “Look who's back from the dead,” he jokes. Engrossed in a tight hug, hammering claps on each other’s back.

They break apart and the man moves to hug gran, planting a polite kiss on her cheek.

“Brian it’s so good to see you,” gran fawns. “You look good, better than the last time we saw you.”

"And you, more beautiful each time I see you."

Gran laughs too loudly, smacking his arm playfully. "Oh, hush with all that."

Cece inspects the man before her. His dark brown hair groomed into a pompadour style with a mid-fade. His neatly trimmed beard with mottles of silver that expose his true age. His ivory skin, although crinkled by time’s acidic hand, it shows no evidence that he was ever in an accident.

“By God’s grace,” he says and flashes a politician’s smile; charismatic and disingenuous. “Apparently, it was not my time.” Despite his widespread smile. Shadows lurk behind his eyes.

Those same eyes target Cece, then Litha. “Are these the notorious grandkids I have heard so much about?”

Gramps nods with a fulsome smile. “They finally came back home.”

Brian grins. Merely lifting up his hand, his one son rushes to his side as if summoned, and Brian rests a hand on his shoulder. “This is my son, Andrew,” Brian introduces. He glances over his other shoulder and the other boy runs to his side to cling to his father’s waist. “And my other son, Caleb.” Brian scrubs his other hand on the boy’s back.

Cece looks down at the twins, hair and nose identical to their father. Both dressed in white and black tuxedos. “Hi,” she says, waggling her fingers at them.

The boys look up at her shyly and in unison; they wave a meek greeting.

Brian looks down at them, adjusting his tone, speaking as if only they can hear him. “Did you boys greet grandpa and grandma Okoro?”

Brian unleashes them and both boys dash to their preference. Caleb sprints to gramps and he hauls him up into his arms, setting him on his hip. Andrew dashes a straight line to crash into gran, nearly knocking her over, gripping her waist.

“Grandpa-O, when are you going to take us driving in your car again?”

Gramps rumbles a hearty laugh. “Soon, my boy.”

“Brian, where’s Kathy?” Gran asks.

“Oh, you know Katherine.” He rolls his head exaggeratedly. “If she’s not already inside talking a-preach to the pastor, she’s mingling with someone. But I’m sure she’ll catch you after service, if you're unlucky.”

“Don’t let her hear you say that. You know that woman of yours has antennas for ears.” Gramps lets Caleb back down.

“And I’m my own signal jammer.” He laughs at his own joke, forcing everyone else to laugh with him. “I’ll see you both later. Cece and Litha, it’s a pleasure to finally see the face behind the stories.”

His chest heaves suddenly, suppressing a wince. Brian extends out both hands and like a magnet, he draws his sons back to him. Each grabbing a hand. They swivel around and saunter towards the staircase.

“I really thought that accident would’ve knocked the bad jokes out of his head,” gran says, and lets out a disappointed sigh. “It’s a good sign though, it means he's back to his normal self.”

Together, gramps resumes their route, they all amble to the entrance along with other lingering clusters.

“I know,” gramps mutters. His volume suddenly decreases. “You saw how he was, now he's acting like it didn't happen. It makes little sense. He was emitted and released only after a few days, he had a fractured rib and dark colour bruises all over his face. And now he looks like he jumped out of a cover magazine.”

Gran can’t seem to find a worthy enough rebuttal; she stutters and her lips seal close for only a second. “I know,” she says like it’s a confession. “We all saw how he was. I barely recognized him that day, but… he seems fine now. Isn’t that what matters?”

Reaching the top, they pass through the threshold. The heavy ironbound doors open wide like mammoth-size arms. They travel inside and Cece’s gaze is instantly brought up to the barrel vault ceiling. The empty pathway in the middle leads to the wren-style lectern, raised on a pulpit. Centred in front. The pathway is the amorphous dividing line that splits the expanse in half. Dark wood pews rowed in precision on either side, quickly filling with human streams. At the outer wing of the benches, a Corinthian column posted at every calculated interval, only adding grandeur to the holy splendour.

Their grandparents direct them down the straight path. The ecclesiastical tones of the walls lined with a sequence of cathedral-like arch windows. Rays of lustrous and angelic light cascade through like the church itself rests in the heavens with its pure radiance shining inside.

The is air tinctured with the scent of incense, earthy wood, and the more consistently. A pious smell of musty prayer books.

The Okoro family finds seats to fit all four of them at the left-side. Litha and Cece sit with their phones on their lap. Gran and gramps entertain conversations with people beside, and in the row in front of them.

Litha looks to the front, beyond the lectern, to the stage. On the right there is a choir stand, on the left there is provided seating for the clergy, members ordained to bear religious duties. Shortly all the people seat themselves with an effortless flow, buzzing with indistinct chatter.

Promptly the vestry, across from the lectern, people flood out of the attached room. A priesthood of churchmen, robed in colourful chasuble, immediately make their way up to the seats on the stage. Not long after, the choir emerges, costumed in crisp white robes with coloured and patterned necklines.

In one fluid movement, the whole congregation rise to their feet. Still seated, Cece and Litha look around with perplexed expression. Gramps glances down at Litha beside him and whacks the back of his head lightly.

He then motions for them to both stand.

Rubbing the back of his head, Litha stands and Cece joins.

The choir plunges into a song that immediately has the entire church clapping their hands to the beat. Their harmonious merge of soprano and alto voices, a crescendo of praise and fervour raised in a faithful Hallelujah. Two worship songs later, a cleric from the clergy rises and glides gracefully to stand in front of the lectern.

He drones on in an aimless palaver before he finally introduces Pastor Malachi.

To both sibling’s surprise, the pastor emerges from one of the pews. A few rows ahead of them, he brushes past his congregants' knees as he exits his pew. He makes the journey to the front and takes his place behind the lectern.

“Welcome back, people of Every Nation. How are you all doing this fine morning?”

Despite the enormous size of the church, Malachi’s voice echoes from peak to rear like he has a microphone.

The entire congregation booms a flurry of responses.

Malachi chuckles. “So just in case there are any newcomers today. Here in Every Nation, we do things a lot differently than you would expect, when you look at this old church.” He abandons his post and strolls to stand in front of the lectern with his hands shoved in his black trousers.

His eyes roam through the familiar faces. “Sunday is not a day where, for two hours in here, you act holy. This isn’t a day where you fulfil your time-with-God quota for the week. This is the time where we fellowship, learn, and where we can be strengthened by His word. So that every other day we don’t just attend church, but we become it.”

A few scattered ‘amens’ bellow from the masses.

Malachi’s enticing voice rings with a lucid passion. His tenor is one that seems to be endowed with aged wisdom.

Half in hour into his preach. Cece sits rather attentively, absorbing his words. Instead of sounding indoctrinating or plainly a banal of tedious preaching. She feels intrigued, finding herself wanting to know a little more about the simple words that make big drives to push her curiosity to deepen.

Moments later, not realising her mind has wondered and with it her gaze. She looks at Litha, his head bopping incessantly, eyes drooping, succumbing to the seduction of sleep. Cece smirks and jabs an elbow into his side, jolting him awake.

“Rude,” she chides.

His eyes stab into her before he looks forward. “What, I’m not used to this waking up early, doing this whole church-going thing,” he whispers back, tilted towards her. Straightening, he wipes his face with his hands. “Aargh, no wonder ma left as soon as she hit eighteen.”

Cece gives him a warning look but says nothing.

Several minutes later, her phone vibrates with notifications. She checks her screen, watching it mount with text messages.

Litha folds his arm and peeks over at her screen. Frowning, he looks back at her and scoffs.

“Let me guess, Meeko.”

An irremovable smile graved on her face. “I have other friends, you know.”

“But none of them can you make you smile like that,” he retorts with his gaze fixed forward.

Cece glances at him and her smile shrinks, melting into a line. She sneaks a few texts in then turns off her phone.

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