The morning of my exorcism I thought I was going to murder my lust for men. A burnt yellow Tuesday, sauced by my own hunger, they told me not to eat before. They, the exorcists who preferred to call themselves deliverers. Years of being a Christian taking thoughts captive in service to Jesus, only made the thoughts captivate me more. And if by Sunday morning I was moving by faith and not sight, by night I was seeing Powertool 4, Megadicks 2, Muscle Hunter 5 and videos with a surplus of massive cocks set to spurt from men named Stryker. Quiet as it’s kept, lust was a midnight secret you shared with insomniacs you didn’t know. This was the late ’90s and no amount of dark could hide the shriek and squall of a dial-up internet. Bodies lying awake on the other side of the wall must have known. That kind of noise so deep in the night, must mean somebody was getting it on, lone self-service. Meanwhile, I exploded under my covers and let shame lull me to sleep. So yeah, lust. The morning of my exorcism, I thought of how the online support group for men who grope only made each grope more.
Nineteen men who never figured out what to do with their hands, but you gotta sin to get saved. Demons then, it had to be demons. In the Tuesday room where we would banish the devil was one chair, two preachers and three black bags for me to fill with vomit. Like a good homosexual bowed down by daddy issues, I started to lay into my father. One of the preachers said, tell me about your mother. I opened my mouth, and a scream came out.
By the time 16 came around I’ve wanted to be a white for half my life. White like Bobby Ewing, white like Bo Duke, white like that one in The A-Team whom the others called Face. I would eat while thinking white, picturing my pale hands grabbing a teacup. Sit thinking white and imagine black kids stealing glances at the long blond hair sifting through my fingers. Walk thinking white, my white ears cocooned in headphones, my skin making my school uniform irrelevant and my legs taking one step then another through the downtown Kingston market on the way to school. Whiteness made me speak Faustian lingo like I was dropping science: I was glutted with the conceit of it. I would have sold crack to nuns and told them it was icing sugar, just walk with the entitled ease of a white boy shuffle. Black people would say, look at him walking like he could drive if he wanted to. That was the morning when my mind went so far into reimagining my skin that I walked into the path of a moving bus.
Sometimes I think sin is merely a good thing taken too far. Sloth is relaxation if black people relaxed like white people. My Pastor used to say that on the left of virtue was sin and one should never stoop to sin, but on the right was perversion and there was nothing worse than a bad thing that came out of good. If pure was the centre, and impure was on the left, then puritan was on the right. When I wake up at six, but stay in bed until nine, I don’t feel like a sinner. I feel like a pervert.
I can’t tell the difference between the starving and the gluttonous when both attack a bag of potato chips. Except for this. Even the starving know when they have had enough.
My Aunt Grace died in January 2016, but we kept her body on ice for three months so that her family in England could shore up the money to make the funeral. Nobody said that at 92 she beat the curse of both parents, neither of whom ever made it past 79. You’re the writer in the family, my mother said at the wake. Write a thank-you note to the Pastor and Church. She never cried at funerals, not for her mother or her husband, and was not going to cry at this one. I never cry at funerals because I don’t know where to put grief, and I wondered if it was the same with her. When I handed her the note she asked for the envelope, and before I could ask why she said thank God at least this part will be legible. Right there by the graveside I called the airline and paid 320 dollars to change my flight, plus 200 more in penalties just to get the fuck away from her the next day.
Greed. I like to think that I have never been afflicted with this sin, because it’s gluttony in a different shape and, when I was 19, I was so skinny that a doctor told me to try eating. I’m not skinny anymore. Greed always struck me as the one sin that others define for us and listening to how other people defined me was what led to everything that happened in One.
Rolling in a car with a rock star seven years ago, he told me that he’d met all the greats and they all had one thing in common. When asked where they thought their genius came from, each took that loaded question and dropped it on an outside force more powerful than them. God, the universe, the ghost of a brilliant granddaddy or karma. But Prince man, that fucker Prince was the only one to say that it was all him. I remember thinking back then that this God chose me and by extension not you for all this genius was the kind of shit arrogant motherfuckers sell off as humility. And false modesty was pride in a shit costume, where the make-up is already running, the corset has come loose and one or two of your nuts have already busted out of your tights. Prince simply spoke into being what the wise among us already know: Bragging ain’t bragging if it’s true. In it he became Little Richard, the angel none of us ever deserved who once said, I’m not conceited, I’m convinced.
‘Chris Ofili: The Seven Deadly Sins’ is at Victoria Miro, London, June 2-July 29. The accompanying book of the same name features texts by Marlon James, Hilton Als, Inua Ellams, Anthony Joseph, Ayanna Lloyd Banwo, Attillah Springer and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
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