The hospital smelled of faeces and disinfectant. Skinny patients played cards under cracked windows as flies buzzed the peeling walls. A woman doused broken tiles with a ragged mop, singing a sweet melody in a desperate place. Father Frank wore a faded pink robe and sat on his rickety bed, legs dangling like brown twigs.
“An interview?” he asked, smiling. His French was cute, girlish. Long eyelashes fluttered as he spoke. He was about sixty, small and skeletal. Big eyes dominated a sharp face. His head resembled a walnut.
“Research,” I replied, opening my notebook, pulling a pencil, “Given your reputation?”
He smiled again. A bloodstained dressing clung to his shin, secured by blue tape.
“An ulcer,“ he explained. “Too much contact with Satan.”
According to my sources, Father Frank was diabetic. His followers provided money for medicine. A beautiful Congolese teenage girl sat nearby, staring at us. I told Father Frank I was researching demonic possession, the so-called ‘child witches’ for which Kinshasa was now infamous. At least 20,000 were sleeping rough, every night. Some tortured in the name of Jesus. He listened carefully.
“Easy to spot one when you know,” he replied. A lizard clung to a wall as if listening, its beady black eyes shining like caviar. “They wet the bed,” continued Father Frank, “They steal, resent authority. Their eyes are dreamy. Their belly button glows in the dark.”
I stopped writing to ask a question.
“I used to steal cigarettes, argue with my parents. Was I a child witch?”
Father Frank stroked his chin, watching.
“You’re smart. But Satan is smarter. It takes a religious man to see the perfidité within!”
“And then what?”
“I am guided by a higher authority,” he replied, pointing a bony finger upwards.
ET Call Home.
“Usually I open the belly button, to release the demon. I use my fingers, then scissors.”
“Doesn’t that hurt the kid?”
Suspicion flickered cross his leathery face. Silence.
“Did you study, Father? Were you ordained?”
“I had a vision and started a Church. I have many followers. Perhaps I save souls. But I fail more often than I succeed.” He pointed at the girl. “For example, she is still possessed. Would you like to see me exorcise her demon?”
“Yes, please, Father Frank.”
He pulled on a tatty white cassock and a red scarf with a yellow cross. He said the girl had wanted to join her sister in Belgium for work. But their dead mother had conspired with Satan to block her visa.
“Furthermore, he now resides in her soul.”
He laid a hand on her shoulder. She arched her back with a sexy moan. His eyes lit up.
“Our third exorcism. But perhaps today?” He closed his eyes, singing: Jesus, Hallelujah. Suddenly, he yelled at her.
“Satan, are you present?”
The girl sat up as if electrocuted.
“Yes,” she replied, with a squeaky voice.
Father Frank gripped her arm.
“And why do you block this girl’s ambition?”
She poked her tongue like a snake, eyes rolling.
“Antwerp is costly! She should stay here in Kinshasa! Her sister makes false promises!”
After a few questions, Father Frank turned to me.
“Do you wish to commune?”
I leaned forward, wondering what to ask the Prince of Darkness.
“Bonjour Monsieur,” squeaked the girl, chewing air, squirming like a sweaty babe on MTV, straining inside her tight dress. The Devil has all the best tunes.
“Satan, how long will you stay?” I asked.
Father Frank shrugged: Negotiable.
“Why don’t you trust her sister?” I asked, playing Devil’s Advocate.
“Belgium is a bad place,” hissed the voice. “I saw it on television!”
Beelzebub has cable.
“What do you think of Father Frank?” I asked.
“He’s powerful, a Servant of God.”
Father Frank folded his arms in satisfaction. Word is spreading in Hades.
“Goodbye Satan,” I concluded. “Nice talking to you.”
“Enchanté, Monsieur,” said the squeaky voice. The girl seemed relaxed now. Until Father Frank grabbed her braided hair.
“By the power of Jesus, leave!”
“No!” she howled, writhing. A button popped open. Father Frank slapped her head, left and right. He grabbed her throat. No more Mister Nice Guy.
“Satan, do you acknowledge Christ?”
She finally gargled her submission.
Her lifted her up, by her hair. “Relinquish! By the power of Jesus, I cast you out!”
He pushed her backwards, hard. The canvas chair buckled as she fell to the floor, with tears on her face. Father Frank turned away.
“It is over.”
After a moment, the sexy young She-Devil clambered to her feet and looked around, as if puzzled. She tidied her dress, fastened her button and gave me a dignified, superior look. That’s All, Folks.
”She remembers nothing,” said Father Frank, relaxing on a pillow. “Excuse me, I must rest before my medication.”
I slipped him a few ragged banknotes. “For your pills, thank you.”
Father Frank nodded graciously. I turned to leave. Behind us the other patients were kneeling in rows, watching wide-eyed, their hands clasped together as if containing rare butterflies.
(First published in FHM Sept 2008, by Sanoma Hearst, Romania. Photo by Kim Gjerstad)