COMMENT – Sofija Stefanovic

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It was my first time driving in the United States and it took me four hours to get there. When I finally arrived at Bob’s “private ministry” (his house), a smoky blue Great Dane was at the door.

“Hello!” I said, putting my hand out.

The dog bared his full set of teeth, flattened his ears against his skull and snarled at me with force, about to maul.

“Nutty! Enough!” Bob yelled. I stood frozen and Nutty eventually backed away, his bloodshot eyes on me. Bob followed him. I stood alone in the hallway, watching Bob hug and kiss the dog.

I had met Bob a week ago at a church. I was researching exorcisms. He was tall with a red face and grey moustache. He wore a Hawaiian shirt and a hologram pendant of his wife’s face. He was a cowboy minister—not attached to any church, practising “deliverance” in his own home.

“Come over and I’ll show you what real demon-wrangling is,” he’d said, unimpressed by the demure congregation we sat amongst.

I was keen.

“But first I need to ask you something.”

“Sure,” I said.

“Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your lord and saviour?”

“Yes,” I lied.

I was pretending to be a Born Again Christian because I wanted to get the inside story. I kept shouting “Gosh” all the time, to stop myself from blurting “God” every five seconds or so.

Bob used to be a drug dealer, and a pretty bad guy. Twenty years ago, he was about to go to jail for a long time. He had prayed: “If I get out of this, I swear that I will devote my life to doing Your work.”

And he got off.

The spirit of the Lord filled him, and Bob was saved.

“That is grace,” Bob told me.

Grace is when God redeems an undeserving sinner. God can bestow grace upon the lowest of the low as an act of “lovingkindness”. Sinners like Bob, who have felt God’s grace, are filled with a zealous desire to serve the Almighty.

Now, Bob’s wife Pam (who I recognised from the hologram) found me in the hallway. She looked at Bob, who was tearfully hugging Nutty.

“Nutty was kidnapped by Satanists,” she explained.

Bob’s car had been broken into when Nutty was a pup and he’d been taken. Bob found Nutty wandering the streets days later. His “snappy” behaviour was attributed to whatever horrors the Satanists had subjected him to.

“Why would Satanists kidnap a dog?”

“To punish us. For the good work we do,” Pam said.

I sat in the living room with Bob, looking at the Great Dane-themed cushions, paintings, cross-stitch and cartoons that shared prominence with crosses and religious things. Pam and Nutty were in the kitchen.

“So, do you know where these Satanists live?”

“No. But if they ever show up, I’ve got something for them.” Bob lifted his trouser leg to reveal a gun.

“Oh my Gosh,” I said.

“Our friends will be here soon.” He meant our possessed guests.

“How long does it take to get rid of demons?”

“A lifetime, sis. You’ve got no demons, you see a billboard for Harry Potter, and, bam, you’ve got demons.”

“Right.”

“You haven’t read those books, have you?”

“No way,” I lied, as usual. I’d overheard Bob talking about Harry Potter at the church, and how it could take twelve hours to exorcise “demons of witchcraft and Hogwarts”.

Pam brought lemonade.

“My wife had a dream she had sex with her ex-boyfriend,” Bob declared.

“Demons,” Pam said matter-of-factly.

“Gosh.”

“We prayed, got rid of them,” Bob said. “It’s a constant battle.”

Pam left and I looked at the floor.

“You ever played tamagochis?” he asked.

As I tried to remember what a tamagochi was, the doorbell rang.

“Nutty!” Pam yelled, shutting the kitchen door just in time. I heard the sound of an eighty-kilogram beast slamming against it.

“There’s a tamagochi demon,” Bob said, as he let the guests in.

Dwayne was an obese, tattooed truck driver with a lisp and Brittany a shy eighteen-year-old, who wanted to go to college once she was rid of her demons. She had been diagnosed with a mental illness after she was found running naked in a cemetery.

“I don’t even remember it,” she said, embarrassed.

“Mental illness is not a medical condition. It’s demons,” Bob told me, and Brittany nodded.

Her mother had given Brittany’s four siblings up for adoption. “She’s got demons of addiction,” Brittany mumbled.

“How do you know they’re demons?” I asked.

Brittany didn’t answer, but months later, she wrote me an email, in which she said, “Either I can believe my mother is a good woman possessed by demons, or I can believe she is an evil woman who beat me for the fun of it. I choose to have faith.”

Bob got out his Bible. Dwayne did a massive, bored yawn.

“Sunny days make me drowsy too,” I offered. “Once I—”

“You are a slut,” Dwayne said.

Everyone looked at him.

“Sorry?” I said.

“I said, you are a slut, slut.”

Bob shut the Bible and said, “Folks, we’ve got company.”

“Slut, slut, slut, slut, slut,” Dwayne said in a silly voice.

I looked at Brittany, who seemed unperturbed.

“It’s not him, it’s a demon,” Bob explained. “That is not Dwayne. He is physically incapable of producing that voice.”

When you are possessed, a demon will take over your body, speaking in a voice that is not your own. Yet this “demon” seemed to be talking with the same lisp Dwayne normally had, it had just taken on a husky Cookie-monsterish turn.

“Is that you, Slut Machine!?” Bob shouted.

“One of his demons is called Slut Machine,” Brittany told me.

“Yessss…” Dwayne gave a long lispy hiss.

Suddenly, Brittany burst out laughing. I almost started laughing along, at the absurdity.

“Here we go…” Bob sighed, glancing at her.

Brittany threw her head in her lap. She was laughing and moaning and making weird sounds. Bob called for Pam.

Pam ran in, shouting, “Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour!” Brittany spat at her.

I watched Bob, his face full of love, whispering to Dwayne who had pulled his baseball cap low and was shouting, “Piss off, big-nose”.

Pam cradled Brittany’s head, as Brittany moaned. Pam whispered Jesus’s name over and over.

It took about half an hour for Dwayne to be delivered from evil. He drank some Coke and joined Bob and Pam as they prayed for Brittany. She was now on the floor, writhing, sweating and screaming.

After it was all over, Brittany slumped in her chair, head nodding from exhaustion. She gave me a small smile and looked heavenward, as if to say, “We just felt the presence of God”. I smiled back, pretending I agreed.

“You just witnessed spiritual warfare,” Bob said.

Everyone was emotional. Pam hugged Brittany. I felt like a phony intruder. Which I was. For some reason, I stretched my back.

“Yoga?” Bob said.

Yoga was demonic.

“Pardon?” I whispered.

“Sister Sofija, is there something you aren’t telling us?” Bob asked.

“No.”

Everything I’d ever said to him was a lie.

Pam looked at my eyes, checking for demons. My brain was screaming something I’d heard that week: “The devil is the father of lies”.

Nutty showed up. He stood at doorway like a hound of hell and stared dementedly at us. Bob ignored him.

“Sofija. I’m going to ask you something.”

I thought about Bob’s gun. Did he think I was a Satanist?

“What is your relationship with Jesus Christ?” His face went redder.

Pam, Dwayne, Brittany and Nutty looked at me. I was taking advantage of these people to get a story. One of them had a gun in his sock. My relationship with Jesus Christ was problematic—I certainly wasn’t “filled” with him, which was the only acceptable answer.

To top it off, these folks wouldn’t like my demons. Yes, there was tamagochi but also there was so much more: alcohol, sex, drugs, masturbation, South Park, Harry Potter, yoga, Ouija boards, horoscopes, horror films, slut machine, books and the devil’s spawn: lies. I was a big, lying sinner.

Then I said something really stupid.

“Are you questioning my relationship with Jesus Christ?”

All Bob needed to say was “yes” to break me.

Instead, something happened. Very slowly, Bob’s beloved Nutty walked up to me. Sitting down, I was his height. Instead of biting my face off, he lifted a giant paw. And he started inexplicably, clumsily climbing onto my lap. This giant dog was for some reason now sitting on me, crushing me, shielding me from Bob and the wrath I deserved.

That is grace.

“I’m sorry, sister,” Bob said. And so was I. We both started softly crying and I was filled with something like relief.

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This piece appeared in issue #14 of The Lifted Brow