I have been learning about emotional intelligence for some months now. At an event recently, I saw 1st hand just how important it is in our daily lives. Emotional intelligence has many definitions but one of my favorites is this “It is the ability to recognize and manage emotions in yourself and others”. There is a gift called empathy. When you step into the shoes others or try to see things through their eyes, you not only win them over, they will even defend you.
I was invited to give a health talk to a group of professionals as a panelist along with 3 other health care professionals. Before we were called up, a lady spoke on etiquette. I missed the beginning of her speech but I just got funny vibes from her. She probably did not mean to but she came across as combative and judgmental rather than engaging. I put it down to her personality type but what happened next was shocking. Questions were requested from the audience and a lady came forward and took the microphone to speak.
“Please Ma, you said that we do our jobs ‘anyhow’ because we know that we will be paid whether or not we come to work. That is not true because some of us love our jobs and do it with all our hearts,” she said.
The lady who was giving the speech looked shocked. I could not believe my ears as well but there was more to come. The MC asked politely, “What is your question?”
“Ma, you mentioned magic words. Could you use your magic word and say ‘I’m sorry’ to us?”
By this time my mouth was hanging open. A couple of audience members were shouting that the speaker had not generalized but said “some people do their jobs anyhow” while others were demanding the apology. It was brutal. The speaker explained that her statement was misquoted but went ahead to apologize (which I praise her for). The audience then applauded.
This lady had given a well-researched and delivered speech but a lack of empathy ruined it for her at the end. I bet so many will remember her for the gaff rather than the pearls of wisdom she dropped earlier.
Let me narrate a 2nd story. A number of friends of mine were complaining about their husbands’ lack of attentiveness to them. They felt their husbands were not spending as much time as they would have liked listening to them or talking with them. Rather they brought work home or watched TV. I decided to get my husband’s perspective. He said my friends were right about needing attention but were going about it the wrong way. In his opinion their husbands were under pressure trying to meet up with societal and family obligations and the more my friends demanded attention the more they alienated their men. He said their husbands would feel they were under attack and also lash out. If they attempted to be supportive, their partners would see them as confidantes i.e. part of the solution not part of the problem. This ensures that you have a partner who rushes home to tell you all about his/her day because you will listen first and empathize.
Even with friends of the same sex, no one likes a griper. I am sorry to say there are people whose calls I avoid because 15 minutes with them will rob me of my peace of mind.
Today, give someone the benefit of the doubt, a long rope, a break, name it
See through the eyes of others.
Be the 1st to forgive.
Listen without making assumptions.
I have learned that only God promised to always be there for you even until the end of time. Others can be busy or unavailable. Next time you can’t find anyone to unburden yourself to, look up and say “Hi, Jesus! Are you up for a chat?”
And do write me to share what He tells you.
When I was still single, I had this patient who was middle-aged; a politician with a lot of cash to throw around. The reason he got my number(which I usually withheld) was that I referred him to an ENT specialist and he requested to be able to call me to speak to him if need be. Subsequently, he kept in touch, calling occasionally just to say hello and so on. The staff of course loved him cause he was a big tipper. Whenever his posh car with the government license plate rolled in, even those who should have closed for the day would hang on, hoping for a “blessing”.
One day, he called me in the afternoon.
“Good evening, sir”, I greeted. (Note he had a leadership position in church that came with a title).
“My doctor! How na?”
“I am eating **** in **** restaurant. Would you like to join me? Let me send my car for you.”
Now picture me, fantasizing about myself being chauffeured in that posh car with good air conditioning, insulated from the harsh Niger Delta sun, arriving said restaurant like a ‘queen’, being served all sorts of delicacies, where I proceed to eat myself to stupor. The smell of hospital antiseptic jars me back to my senses.
“No, thank you sir. I have had lunch.” (Aunty long-throat whispers in my head ‘Liar! You have not!” but I ignore her voice.)
“Are you sure? They have**** and ***. Have you tasted****?”
(By this time I am shaking my head like MFM prayer warriors muttering in tongues to bind the devil)
“No, thanks again. Have a good meal. I have to see a patient. (Another lie!). Bye now.”
He never asked again even though he called me for many other reasons through the years. A few years back, I was married and living in Lagos at this time, he called me out of the blues. I greeted him heartily.
“Doc, I don’t know how to tell you this. I need a favour.”
“Well…it’s just that…I wish you were in town I would have come to see you to ask for advice.”
I wonder why he is stuttering. What could be making him so nervous?
“Why not tell me what the problem is; I could be able to help even though I am far away.”
“Is it not all these small small girls? They don’t know how to do the right thing.”
“Small girl? Is your daughter ill?
“No, not my daughter. It’s one small friend I have…(Big shot actually sounds sheepish). She said she did not see her period.”
I am tempted to sound obtuse and ask him to go to her house, take permission from her mother and help her find it but “Not today Satan! Stay professional Dr. N!)
“How old is she?”
“Haba! That is too young. An older girl might have known to use protection. Why didn’t you use protection?”
I can feel him squirming over the phone…even MTN can feel it. His money, cars, connections cannot protect him from the wrath of an Igbo woman.
“I used condom. She said…I don’t even know what she said…”
“Are you sure she is pregnant? Have you done a test?”
“She showed me the pregnancy test she did. It was positive. Doc, how do we flush it out? Is there any friend you have who can do it for me?”
“You know I don’t do such things!” I scolded.
He winced. “I know but maybe your friends?”
“I don’t have friends who do abortions. You know it is illegal. Why not keep the baby?”
“Ha! You know my status. I am an *** in church and she is a small girl.”
I thought for a while. There were 2 possibilities.
- She was pretending to be pregnant to con him out of money
- She was actually pregnant and if I didn’t intervene he would take her to a quack and she would end up with a septic abortion or even worse die.
“Go to the hospital, call one of the doctors aside and tell him you need to ask him something privately. If he is willing to get involved, tell him your predicament and he will make sure it is done right. But first, he should do another test to confirm she is actually pregnant. If you insist on going ahead, ensure it is done under the strictest of sanitary conditions, and keep an eye on her afterwards to prevent any complications.”
“Okay, doc. Thank you.”
“Sir…you need to choose your girlfriends carefully. 19 years is too young!”
He mumbles something unintelligible.
“And you need to use protection. Carry a condom around. You will protect yourself from scandal and protect Madam from catching something. These girls are not loyal.” I was speaking fast because I knew he had had an earful and would soon end the call.
I never heard from him again.
Now the moral of the story… Esau was so hungry that he sold his birthright for Jacob’s pottage. If I had gone out with this man, even if I didn’t have sex with him, I would not have the temerity to call him out.
We are in this world as a light to expose the deeds of darkness. Make your standards evident once people meet you and they will leave you alone.
There are men who cannot call out their friends who are beating their wives just because they are indebted to them. Stop borrowing money you cannot repay to impress people who do not care about you.
There are ladies who paid people to write their exams, now they can’t raise their heads when people who know you were an arts student wonder how you ended up an Engineer.
Stop laughing at crude jokes in order to be politically correct. Even if you are not bold enough to speak against things, stand up and walk out. Psalm 1 talks about how blessed is the one who does not sit in the seat of scorners and mockers. You believe…who knows?
Making your stand known also protects you from undue pressure. I remember my husband telling me how a colleague at work was about to invite him to hang out with him in a club when another colleague interrupted and said “Leave him O! He doesn’t drink or hang out.” One day when the ribbing got too much, I told him to accept their invitation if he felt like it. He was such a bore at their outing cause while they were getting wasted he was worrying about the work he brought home and wishing he had his laptop. Suffice it to say they never invited him out again.
You have the power.
If you would like to chat send me an email @ firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on twitter @nenabekee
It was 3 months after PA made it known that he was in a relationship. He didn’t exactly announce it in church but he introduced her to close associates and key staff. There were mixed reactions as expected but Ama’s behavior shocked him the most.
“That girl is not suitable for you, PA and you know it!” she had said during a heated argument.
“Is it up to you to decide?” he asked quietly.
She sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. “I apologize for my tone. PA, I have loved you like a son even though I am only a few years older than you. I will not mislead you. She may paint herself as an angel but I think she is coming to destroy everything you have worked for over the years.”
“How can you say that?” he cried.
“She is selfish, can’t you see? Why did she hide the boy from you in the first place? She knew that no decent man would want to be a step-father to a chinko!”
“PA, I have to be blunt. This church belongs to all of us and we have invested so much in it. I don’t want people to make fun of me that my pastor was fooled by a loose woman.”
“Let that be the last time you will say that, Ama. Only God reads hearts. She is better than those who aborted their own babies.”
“PA, she should have aborted that boy!” she spat.
“Ama, you can close for the day. This discussion is over.” He rose to show her he meant business.
She rolled her eyes as she left his office. At her desk, she sat stiffly, head in her hands, elbows on the table, trying to hold back tears of frustration. She could only blame his stubbornness on some kind of witchcraft. There was no other explanation for a man who could have any woman on earth to choose the one woman who would divide the church.
Her phone rang but she ignored it till it rang twice. She answered when she saw it was Pastor Odion calling.
“What did he say?” He cut right to the chase.
“He has not changed his mind,” she replied.
“I have told him that he should not be in a hurry. Why not take some time, maybe two years and pray for God to give him a wife? I don’t understand what hold this girl has on him.”
“I partly blame myself. I should have pushed harder for that Toyosi. Maybe, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”
“Anyway, a few leaders and I are talking. We are thinking of starting something shortly,” he said.
“Starting something?” she asked.
“Yes, a new ministry.”
“Wow! That is serious.”
“It is still hush-hush for now but we just can’t see ourselves under a mummy pastor whose story has a comma.”
Ama shook her head in disbelief. “Who else is in on this?”
“Chief Ebenezer has offered us some property. Abike has pledged some good millions. We have some good people.”
“Ebenezer who owns Karat plc?”
“Yes. The person we have kept out of the loop is Ovie. I don’t trust him.”
Ama thought for a moment. “He is PA’s guy.”
“All of us are loyal to him but our loyalty to God supersedes. The kingdom is above any man and we have a clear word from God on the requirement for a leader. Saint Paul said a leader should be the husband of one wife, not given to drink and have control over his family. The wife of a leader should be above reproach,” he postulated.
“I’ll have to think about all this,” she said after a period of silence.
“That’s fine but I trust you to keep this to yourself. We would really love to have you on board. I know you are the one who keeps the office running and it just tells poorly on PA that he can disregard your concerns despite the key role you play.”
“I appreciate that. Let me get back to you.”
‘Don’t take too long. The king’s business requires haste.”
“I’ll do my best.”
Pastors Onyema and Mofe invited PA for a chat when the rumors started flying. They met at Pastor Mofe’s house. He had guessed why he was there but PA was unfazed. It should be a small matter for him to win them over and besides, did he really owe them any explanations?
They had had dinner and were lounging in the living room. Pastor Mofe’s wife (Mama) and Pastor Onyema’s wife (Remi) joined them after an interval. Mofe cleared his throat to silence the chatter.
“Thank you everyone for honouring my invitation. I know we have been friends for long. PA here is someone we all admire and respect. We have been on his case about marriage particularly as he turns 40 this year. Let me get to the point,” he began.
“PA, we deeply honour the anointing on your life but the bible says in a multitude of counsel there is safety. You introduced a lady to us as someone you want us to pray along with you about settling down with. We all rejoiced with you especially as you told us so many good things about her.”
“What is this now we are hearing about her having a son for a Chinese or Japanese man…I don’t even know which is which?”
There were murmurs across the room. PA cleared his throat and sat up straight.
“Thank you for inviting me to clear things up,” he began. “She had a son for a Korean man when she was about 20 years old. At the time, she had backslidden from the faith. In as much as I would have gone for a woman everyone would be comfortable with, I am constrained by the love of God. He, who has been forgiven much, should not find it difficult to forgive and we all were once sinners.”
“PA, we are talking about a woman who will lead other women in church, mentor the youth, and even attend the meetings of wives of pastors. Do you know what that entails? Leaders will be held to higher standards,” Mama argued, leaning forward earnestly.
“She was not a leader when she had the boy. I think her past more than anything qualifies her to help other people to make good choices. Let’s be real. Do we know how many members of our congregations are living with people they are not married to, committing adultery, aborting their babies? Yet, we make it seem okay. This woman has owned up to her mistake and turned a new leaf. That is true repentance,” PA countered.
“Men do not forgive as God does. Don’t get me wrong, I am not judging her. All I am saying is you deserve better. The church deserves better. We need role models not women who ate their cake and still had it!” Sis. Remi said.
“Ate her cake and had it?” PA wondered.
“Some sisters in church are virgins, primary and secondary. God did not lead you to marry them. It is the one with a son, a chinko for that matter…”
PA interrupted her with a raised hand. “I won’t have that! Please watch your language.”
“Sisters, let’s be civil,” Mofe added.
“It just rubs people the wrong way,” Mama finished for her.
“Thank you,” Remi said.
“I appreciate your concerns. Zina is the woman I deserve. God has given me the go-ahead to be with her and I hope you will accept her,” PA stated calmly.
Pastor Onyema, who had been silent, spoke up. “The thing you don’t know is that this thing has already divided your church. Many of your members have left. There is a lady who introduced herself to me as Becky. She said she left because you are a hypocrite.”
“How am I a hypocrite?” PA asked, surprised.
“She said you suspended her and one Sis. Nkiru for the same sin your girlfriend committed. How do you explain that?”
“They were suspended for nearly coming to blows at a leaders’ meeting.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“Of course she left that part out. I did not suspend her for being in a relationsip. In fact, she showed no remorse. She never has and probably never will. The young man involved has moved on but she still tries to win him back.”
“Are you sure he is not the one chasing her?” Pastor Mofe asked.
“They were in a love triangle. The 2nd sister involved is funding Pastor Odion’s new church, just to get at me. But God is my witness. If I had sensed an aiota of repentance in them, they would have been re-instated. What do I gain by alienating people?” His voice was earnest.
There was an uncomfortable silence in the room for some minutes before PA’s phone rang and shattered it. He cut the call and put the phone in silent mode. Leaning his elbows on his knees, he bowed his head into both hands.
“We are just looking out for you. A man of God’s first consideration should be the flock. You don’t just marry any fine girl out there. You have to go for a woman who can hold the fort,” Pastor Mofe said.
“We could spend all night talking about this but I have to obey God,” PA said.
“I hope it is actually God you are hearing from. Girls of these days are diabolical…” Mama sneered.
“Haba!” PA looked up, hurt.
“I am sorry but she is right,” Onyema agreed. “Even the bible says the ways of men and women are mysterious.”
“Can we all agree that I am not under any spell? Please, banish that thought!” PA countered. “What you should do is to pray for me and trust that God will not allow me to make the wrong decision. Powerful men and women of God like you should have enough anointing combined to move any mountain.”
Mofe shrugged. “I see your mind is made up.”
PA was silent.
“We will not relent in praying for you.”
The meeting ended shortly after. Each of them knew that a line had been drawn in the sand and their relationships with each other would never be the same after that night. More than ever before, PA was convinced he was doing the right thing.
Narrow is the way that leads to salvation and few there be that find it. Lord, you have never led me down the popular path. I trust you. It was you who gave me this ministry. I cannot idolize your church. Should you choose to strip me, I will yet serve you. It was your son, Jesus who died for the world, not I. I cannot disobey you for fear of losing members. Please, give me the strength to stand.
Zina was working out along with Imaobong at the mini gym their serviced apartment complex provided for tenants when her phone rang. She answered shortly and then began to pack up her gear to leave.
“Was that PA?” Imaobong asked.
“Yes. He wants us to have breakfast together.”
“Ima fiok! That guy is in love sha.” Imaobong chuckled.
“Ain’t I lucky?” Zina smiled.
“He is the lucky one.”
“Sometimes I wonder, though. I hope it is worth all the trouble.”
“What do you mean? If people are so offended that he chose you, let them leave. There are many churches in town.”
“Kpon! This thing has been annoying me. You owe no one an explanation for him choosing you. Imagine the shame and guilt you have carried for years. Let them rage. Baby, favour ain’t fair.”
Zina smiled as she left. Imaobong remained to complete her workout. Zina’s mind flashed back to the revelations PA had made on the day he heard her story.
PA (then known simply as Allen), grew up the 2nd son of a pastor and a school teacher for a mother. His older brother, Maxwell, had been the only son for years before he came along. They lost a daughter in infancy and never seemed to get over her death even after Allen was born.
Maxwell was an athletic, out-going, tall and good-looking straight ‘A’s student. He was the pride of their parents. The number of years between he and Allen prevented them from ever really being close but Allen idolized him. He wanted so much to get the kind of attention his brother got effortlessly. Rather, he was awkward, average in academics and in athletics.
To be fair, his parents did not put him down or anything. The favoritism was subtle but teenagers tend to be overly sensitive. Allen grew up under pressure as a pastor’s child. He had to put up a front before those who knew his parents so that their reputation would not be tainted. But that did not mean that he did not have the same temptations other boys his age had.
Maxwell would have been a mentor to him if he had a testimony of overcoming all these challenges but he did not. He was only a genius at covering his tracks. By the time he was in the university, he had two identities. At home, he was the perfect son. In school, he was a heartbreaker who went after the most aloof of girls only to dump them publicly.
He often regaled Allen with tales of his escapades when he came home on holidays.
“That babe that was forming for me because she won Miss Fine Face; I showed her pepper!”
“Hey I trust you!”
“She was the one begging by the time I finished with her.”
“How did you go about it?”
“I followed her about for two weeks, begging, writing poems. There is nothing I didn’t do. She got tired of me and gave in.”
“That was easier than the girl you had to do assignments for.”
“Don’t remind me of that dull girl. I wonder how she made it into the university. I have never met a more empty brain than hers.”
Allen laughed. “Maybe it was her bedroom skills that got her into your school.”
“It must be. Once in a while, I go for her when no catch is imminent.”
“I can’t wait to get into the University, I tell you.”
“You play your cards right, you can catch your fun and still graduate with a 2:1.”
“You can say that again.”
Allen’s first girlfriend was Awele. She was in SS1 while he was in SS2. He had just been made the chapel prefect and was carrying out one of the duties assigned to all prefects; making late-comers kneel at the gate and give them portions of grass to cut before classes resumed. She flirted openly with him so much that he had to turn away to hide his blush. The next day, she wrote him a love letter. He ignored it at first but she way-laid him after school and offered him a sampling of her goods.
Subsequently, he began to ensure her exemption from capital punishments. The other prefects soon knew her as his girlfriend and all let her off when others were being punished. All this was carefully hidden from his parents, of course. They would probably have sworn by his virginity if anyone had asked. His mother was diabetic but rarely had need to be hospitalized. She was very busy, either with school work or assisting their father in church or going for medical check-ups.
They lived in a 3 bedroom flat rented by the Anglican Church his father pastored but they were never alone. Relatives, parishioners, friends and all who needed a place to lay their heads constantly flowed through their home. It was a lot of work cooking for all these people and resources were not exactly plentiful but his father believed no one in need should ever be turned away.
By the time he was in SS3, he had had three girlfriends. Maxwell was an able coach in matters of the heart and this resulted in him losing much of his awkwardness. Allen was no stud but, he knew how to choose the right girls using Maxwell’s philosophy.
It stated that “Every girl has a soft spot and all one needed was to be motivated enough to find it.”
Secondly, “Every girl will succumb to a persistent man even if she didn’t like him initially.”
“Girls who other guys avoid are easy prey because they secretly long for the one who will be bold enough to dare.”
These were statements he made so often that Allen had memorized them. He applied them in winning girls over so he could have stories to tell his brother when he came home. Maxwell was in his final year in the university, having initially spent two years doing his A-levels.
That term, Maxwell visited Allen in school for the first time. It wasn’t actually a social call. He had showed up to the house unexpected and everyone was in church for a prayer meeting. He knew that Allen would have a key because he would need to go home and change before going to church if he planned to join them.
“Who is that fine girl?” Maxwell asked as Allen walked him to the school gate.
Allen turned in the direction of the girl who had just walked past.
“I think her name is Omo. She must be in SS1 because I know all the SS2 girls very well,” he replied.
“Does she have a boyfriend?”
“I will have to find out. I don’t really know her.”
“Find out everything about her. This strike the lecturers are on will last more than 6 months. I need a diversion.”
So began the chase. Omo turned out to be a soft-spoken girl, one of the three daughters of a widow and the youngest of them all. She kept to herself most of the time. When she wasn’t studying, she was busy rehearsing with the choir where she was a lead soloist. She had a lovely voice, a beautiful face and fair skin. Her figure was just maturing but it was evident how striking she would be in a few years when she turned 18.
Omo was no match for the combined efforts of Maxwell and Allen. She fell in love with Maxwell. The affair was a big secret. Not even her sisters, with whom she was very close, knew of it. Maxwell convinced her that they would not approve because of their age-difference. He also warned her that her friends and classmates would be jealous of her for landing a guy who was almost a graduate and handsome to boot.
In truth, he knew his parents would raise hell if they caught wind of the relationship. Her mother would probably come for his head and even Allen would be under fire. They were very careful. Allen usually went to her house to call her. He had a friend who lived in their neighborhood so, he lied that he was visiting him while he sneaked to an opening in her fence at a pre-arranged time to tell her where to meet Maxwell.
They left no paper trail. Maxwell bought her gifts and gave her money but he advised her to hide them from her family so they would not become suspicious.
One day, Allen was summoned to the principal’s office by a junior student. He did not suspect anything was wrong. It was not unusual for a prefect to be called on by the principal. He was excused by the teacher taking the class before he put away his books and made his way to the principal’s office.
The sight that greeted him nearly made him run back to his class. Omo was huddled on the floor, weeping profusely. The school nurse was seated opposite the principal, glaring at her. The principal, Mr. Garrett, was standing over her, cane in hand. He greeted them after he recovered from the shock and stood as far from her as he could manage.
“Allen, do you know this girl?” Mr. Garrett asked.
“Sir?” he stammered.
“I asked if you know this girl, Omo.”
“I know she is in the choir…she sings in the choir, sir,” he stuttered.
“Is that all you know about her?”
“Sir, I don’t know any other thing about her,” he denied.
“Omo is pregnant,” the man stated.
“What!” Allen gasped, despite himself.
“Yes, she is,” the nurse confirmed.
“I can’t believe it,” Allen muttered.
“She came to my office complaining of a fever. I wonder how come her mother has not noticed it because she is far gone.”
Omo moaned loudly from the floor but was roundly ignored.
“I am not surprised. Mothers of these days are too busy to take care of their children,” the nurse spat.
“That is not the issue. She claims the father of her child is your brother, Maxwell,” Mr. Garrett went on.
“It’s a lie!” Allen shouted.
“You are the one who introduced me to him. You always came to my house to tell me where to meet him,” she accused, in tears.
“She is lying sir! I never did such a thing.”
“Are you saying you are not aware of the relationship between Maxwell and her?” Mr. Garrett asked.
“My brother is not even that kind of person. He cannot have anything to do with a small girl like her!” he protested.
“Why are you lying, Allen, why?” she cried.
“Shut up! You are the one who is lying. Instead of naming the person who got you pregnant, you want to implicate my brother,” he shouted.
“Why would she name you if you had nothing to do with all this?” the nurse asked.
“I don’t know O! I think she is just looking for a scapegoat.”
“Yes, but why you?”
“My brother is not here to defend himself. Maybe that is why she cooked up this story.”
“We are going to get to the bottom of this,” Mr. Garrett said, taking his seat dejectedly. “I have always boasted of the good morals of the students of this school. Even Maxwell is our ex-student. I am very disappointed at you, Omo. I will send for your mother. You too, Allen, your parents and Maxwell have to come in.”
“Return to your class.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Allen made his escape without another glance at Omo. He knew he was in serious trouble if he could not come up with a plan that would exonerate both he and Maxwell from Omo’s pregnancy. It was his final year and he had his SSCE coming up. Also, he was in danger of being suspended or even expelled if found guilty.
As for Omo, hers is over. How did she even get pregnant? I warned Maxwell that that girl is too naïve but he was blinded by love. See the problem she has brought on us?
PA had narrated this story while they sat in a somewhat quiet corner of the suya joint, their suya long forgotten. Zina could hear the pain and regret in his voice as he shared secrets that had tormented him for years. There was no sense of pride in his youthful exploits as some men are in the habit of displaying. He had only ever told his mentor, the founder of the school fellowship he pastored in the University and was advised by the man to keep it to himself forever.
“The day we fixed for a meeting with all the concerned parties dawned,” he continued. “Maxwell had been summoned from school. Omo and her mother were present. My parents and I were also there. We were seated in the principal’s office, waiting for the principal who had stepped out to attend to an urgent matter.”
“Her mother began to plead with us to accept the responsibility and spare her daughter the shame of being called a liar but we ignored her. I didn’t think that any of us should go down with her. She was already sure of being suspended. And after having the baby, here was no guarantee that she would be re-admitted. I reasoned that Maxwell and I did not have to let our futures get jeopardized as well. Add to that, my parents’ reputation as pastors. The church could decide to discipline them or transfer them to a remote village in order to prevent the scandal from ruining the name of God. I couldn’t take that chance.”
“I came up with a plan to save the day. Maxwell provided the money for us to pay all the actors. We got a student to act as a lookout. Timing was crucial.”
When Mr. Garrett came back in he apologized for his tardiness.
“Good morning all. I am sure you know why we are here as I have met with both families individually except for Maxwell. Maxwell, how are you?” he began.
“I am fine sir; just eager to get this behind me,” he replied.
“That’s okay. Pastor Ikpoki, you are welcome.”
Allen’s father replied as warmly as he could, given the circumstances.
“So, Omo, here,” He pointed at her bent figure in one of the chairs “… is pregnant and she says you, Maxwell, are the father of the baby.”
“That’s a lie, sir,” Maxwell said immediately.
“My daughter is not a liar,” her mother defended.
Allen glanced at the woman, still wearing the white two piece, wrapper and blouse some cultures made widows wear for a year after their husband’s death, and felt like laughing. She did not even know what was in store for her.
“Do you deny that you have ever had anything to do with her or just the baby?” Mr. Garrett asked.
“I don’t know her. I have never seen her. We are not in a relationship. I am not the father of her baby.” Maxwell said.
Omo kept her head down, biting her lip.
“What do you have to say, young lady?” Mr. Garrett addressed Omo.
“Why have you decided to pin your pregnancy on my son?” Allen’s mother asked arms akimbo.
“Your son is telling lies,” Omo’s mother spat.
“Did you ever see them together? How did they manage to keep their relationship a secret in this small town? What is the evidence that they were involved?” she retorted.
“I don’t understand it, myself,” Pastor Ikpoki murmured. “Maxwell has always been a good boy. Even if he wanted a girlfriend, why would he leave all the girls in the university for such a young girl?”
“He is a pervert, that’s why. That I am a widow does not mean I am defenseless. My God will judge all those who rise up against me.” Omo’s mother was crying by now, her chest heaving as she spoke.
“God will judge your daughter for wanting to destroy the future of my sons,” Allen’s mother countered. “She is the only one who knows who the true father of her child is.”
The principal was about to interrupt the tirade when a knock sounded at his door. He shouted “Come in” as all heads turned to see who was at the door. It was his secretary, a middle-aged man who had served him from the day he was appointed into the position of principal.
“Sir, one man has been insisting on seeing you. I told him you are in a meeting but he said he is supposed to be here.”
“What do you mean by ‘He is supposed to be here’?” Mr. Garrett asked but before he could get his answer, a man pushed past the principal and burst into the office, to the bewilderment of all who were gathered.
“Good morning, oga,” he greeted.
“Who are you?” Mr. Garrett gaped at the skinny man of about 45, dressed in worn out Ankara print trousers and top. His eyes were blood-shot like he had been drinking and his teeth were stained by tobacco.
“My name na Yesterday and that pikin wey that girl carry na my own!” he said.
A collective gasp went up. Omo screamed and fell out of her chair in tears, muttering over and over, “I don’t know who he is. I don’t know who he is.”
Omo’s mother sprang up and pounced on the man. Grabbing him by the trousers, she began to rain abuses on him. It took the intervention of Mr. Garrett, his secretary, Pastor Ikpoki and a teacher who burst in to stop her. She stood in one corner of the room, huffing and puffing while the man continued with his story. Omo was crying loudly while Allen and Maxwell were silent, seemingly shocked by this turn of events.
“She be my girlfriend. I be vulcanizer for Emotu road,” Yesterday explained. “My machine spoil so I go Lagos go borrow my brother money make I buy another one. As I come na him I hear say she wan carry my pikin give another man. That one no fit happen na. Money never dey but no be that one mean say she go deny me. I wan marry am.”
Maxwell let out a cry of derision and clapped his hands. “The truth is coming to light.
There was confusion in the office as Allen’s parents expressed their shock at the revelations and joy at their son’s acquittal while Omo continued to deny any knowledge of the man.
“You are a very wicked girl. Do you mean you are still denying everything?”Allen asked.
Maxwell snapped his fingers at her in the typical Nigerian expression of disgust and revulsion.
“How can you prove what you just said?” Mr. Garrett asked.
“Prove ke? Na my girlfriend!” Yesterday protested.
“It’s a lie!” Omo cried.
“Baby, no fear. No follow money leave me.”
Omo’s mother lunged at him but was restrained by the teacher. “You are very foolish for saying that. Is she your age mate? You should be ashamed.”
“Sir, I swear, I have never seen this man in my life. Mummy, believe me,” Omo cried.
“Me?” Yesterday seemed to have lost his temper. “You no get mark for breast, the left side, where hot water bin pour you when you dey small?”
Mr. Garrett looked askance at Omo’s mother. She stared at her daughter whose wailing had escalated, in disbelief.
“Omo?” she asked.
Allen’s mother rose and picked up her bag. “Pastor, let’s go. God has put my enemies to shame. Look at this loose girl and her mother, trying to pin a drunkard’s baby on my son.”
“Omo, what is this you have done to me?” her mother shouted, dropping to the floor in tears. “You know your father just died. Look at the shame you have brought on me.”
Pastor ikpoki had risen to his feet as well. “I think the matter is settled, Mr. Garrett. Please, counsel this girl to accept her lot and not to utter one more word against my sons or I will deal decisively with her mother and her.”
“I am sorry for the inconvenience, sir,” Mr. Garrett apologized.
“Kindly excuse my children and I.”
“Of course. My apologies again.”
“I have heard.”
The Ikpoki family made their way out of the principal’s office leaving behind a nonplussed Yesterday, a bewildered teacher, an angry mother, a confused Mr. Garrett and a weeping Omo. Outside, Mrs. Ikpoki hugged her sons in relief.
“The devil is a liar. See how God sent angels to bring this matter to an end without any further lies from that girl. My God is alive. He is faithful. He knows our hands are clean,” she rejoiced.
“This has to be God,” Pastor Ikpoki concurred.
Both boys made suitable sounds of agreement.
“You have to be careful, Maxwell,” his father warned. “If you see any girl you like, bring her home and we will go with you to see her parents. Don’t allow anyone to jeopardize your future.”
“Yes, sir,” he replied.
“As for you, Allen; face your books. What I need from you is 10 As like Maxwell had. You have been a prayerful child. Don’t disappoint me.”
“I will do my best, Dad,” Allen replied.
Zina was dumbfounded by the story PA had narrated. Her mouth actually hung open throughout his narration. She had never, in her life, imagined that a man as adored as PA for his pristine reputation could have such a secret hidden away.
“Who was the man, Yesterday?” she asked.
“He was a man we paid to get us off the hook and he executed it perfectly. In fact, he went a number of times to their house to disturb Omo and demand that they allow him to marry her.”
“Her mother must have been devastated.”
“She was but she could not bear the thought of her daughter marrying a man with no home, no income and no credibility. Besides, we heard Omo kept denying the man.”
“Of course she would!” Zina exclaimed.
“She was suspended from school and I heard she had a daughter prematurely.”
PA sighed and dropped his head into his hands. “The whole town took our side. Her family had to relocate because the stigma became too much. People were calling them names, abusing her mother in the market, insulting her sisters. Of course, our church members were at the forefront. For all they knew, her family connived, unsuccessfully, to set up their pastor’s son. How I wish they knew!”
“Hei! PA! How did you not feel guilty?”
“I felt proud of myself. I had finally earned my brother’s respect, having saved us both from a nasty situation. He was forever in my debt. I had proven that he wasn’t that special, even though my parents still favored him, and I was now admitted into the ‘big boys’ gang.”
Zina wrung her hands in confusion. She was still trying to reconcile everything she had heard. People did not just admit their failures. It was a first for her and she did not know how to take it.
“I never heard anything about her till about two years later when I came to Lagos to visit an uncle. Maxwell had been in a motorcycle accident that left him in a bad fracture. He was bed-ridden. Eventually he died from an infection that set in from the wound.”
“That’s a pity.”
“My parents were heart-broken. He was their super star. My mother’s diabetes took a turn for worse. I had to postpone school to be there for them.”
Zina clucked her tongue in sympathy.
“I met a girl in my uncle’s house. She was his sales girl. He had a shop where he sold fabric. To my shock, she reacted like she saw a ghost when I told her my name. She started abusing me, calling me a liar and a murderer.”
“Eventually, I found out that she was Omo’s sister. Omo nearly died in childbirth. She had post-partum depression, would not even look at the baby, was calling Maxwell’s name all the time.”
“That is terrible!”
“They eventually gave the baby away. I never found out who took the baby. They figured that she would snap out of it once she did not have to care for her but it never happened.”
“Have you tried to meet with the family and apologize?”
“After I got born again, I went to make restitution. I even offered to write a notice in the papers but they would have nothing to do with me. They refused to forgive me or allow me to see Omo. I hear she is a shadow of herself, living like a recluse, mumbling unintelligibly.”
PA’s voice broke as he burst into tears, not minding who could see him. “This is the torture of my life. I am responsible for that girl’s pain. I don’t deserve forgiveness.”
Zina held his hand while he wept. She began to remember the years she had spent struggling with guilt and shame and burst into tears as well. He was a kindred soul. Only one, who had carried the kind of load each of them had carried while trying to serve God, could understand what forgiveness meant.
Finally, they rose and made their way to his car. They sat in silence for a long time. PA had been forced to relive his nightmare, the cause of many sleepless nights, the subject of many prayers of repentance and many pleas for mercy.
“How do you go on? How do you get up and climb the stage and preach with such a burden?” Zina asked.
“At first, I was trying to make it up to God. Since her family has refused to allow me apologize to her, I felt that I could atone for my sins by serving God. Every day, I confessed my sins. Every day, I re-dedicated my life to Christ. I went for deliverance so many times that they knew my name.”
“I did the same,” Zina said.
“One day, I went back to Omo’s sister to beg her to give me access to Omo. She cursed me that I would never have a home of my own.”
“What?” Zina cried. “My God!”
“I decided to remain a bachelor for the rest of my life. That way, I would not rope another woman into my curse. Secondly, the curse could not come to pass if I did not propose to any woman,” he said.
“This is unbelievable. You told everyone you had the gift of singleness while you were afraid of a curse?”
“I did have the gift because it was not a struggle being single. I rarely battled lustful thoughts or felt lonely. My solitude gave me more time to serve God.”
PA heaved a sigh. “Zina, I had a divine encounter.”
“No, I really did. One day, I was lying in bed, writing in my journal when I felt as if Jesus walked into my room. He said to me “Why are you crucifying me over and over again?” I was paralyzed. I began to weep. I apologized and asked him to show me how I offended him.”
Zina’s eyes were wide open with shock.
“He said, I was paying for a sin he had already paid for.”
Zina felt tears roll down her cheeks as he grasped her hand in earnest.
“As long as I refused to marry, I was invalidating his death and resurrection and proclaiming a curse which had no effect on my life. Now, I am free of the guilt. I no longer feel I have to do anything to earn God’s forgiveness. Should Omo’s family demand a public apology, I will do it but that is not what will determine how God feels about me.”
“Know this. There is no small sin. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Repentance means turning away but if we deny ourselves God’s blessings, we are not doing him any favors.”
“PA pray for me. I want to feel forgiven. I want the shame to lift.”
“Let’s pray for each other, my love.”
Thank you everyone for reading to the end and for all your kind comments.
I hope you enjoyed the ride.
I will be on a hiatus. kindly subscribe so you will be alerted of new posts.
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And do watch out for my children’s book…”Adaeze the true princess”. Details soon.
God bless you
Remember to walk in love and live worthy of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
Zina had mustered the courage to call PA after Imaobong encouraged her to do so. She had even told her about Esosa. Imaobong was of the opinion that she should not encourage him until she was absolutely certain that PA had backed out. This would prevent any doubts as to her morality. Her premise was that whatever had happened was in the past and she was now a new creature with no baggage, seeing that Zina had been celibate from the time she had Peter. It wouldn’t do for anyone to accuse her of stringing a 2nd man along while dating PA. That would leave her credibility in shreds.
When he didn’t answer after she had called twice, she left him a message.
Call me when you get this. We need to talk. Love, Zee.
She didn’t hear from him the next day. In a panic she called Imaobong.
“Do you think someone has told him? He isn’t answering my calls or responding to my messages.”
Imaobong sighed. “I hope not. I wanted him to hear it from you.”
“What will I do if I lose him? I have never opened up to anyone like this. What will I do? Imaobong I don’t know if I can take it.”
She was distraught. Imaobong wished she was in her office to comfort her.
“Come home early. Let’s watch sad movies and cry.”
“I don’t want sad movies. I want my PA!” she cried.
“It’s okay. Let’s pray about it. God who sees your heart will make a way. Don’t cry.”
At 7 p.m Zina got a text from PA.
Meet me outside your office.
He knew her schedule despite how short a time they had been dating. She made a call to dismiss her driver. Nervously, she touched up her hair and makeup in her bathroom before proceeding to sling her bag over her arm. On impulse, she knelt by her desk.
Father, I know I don’t deserve a good man like PA but he has led me to hope. Please don’t let him dash my dreams. I will be good to him. I will quit my job. I will be submissive. I will do whatever it takes. Just give me a chance, I beg you.
PA was leaning on the bonnet of his SUV, his feet crossed at the ankles, his arms folded across his chest. She took in his jeans and plaid shirt as she approached. He didn’t look angry; in fact, he looked serene. When he noticed her, he stretched out a hand and drew her into an embrace when she was close enough.
“Hi, PA,” she managed, surprised.
“Hi, Zee baby.”
“I thought something was wrong when I didn’t hear from you for so long,” she probed.
“We’ll talk about it later.”He released her and unlocked his car door. “How does suya sound? I know a great spot.”
She got into his car. He also got in and drove off without further comment. She was silent, battling with thoughts of how to broach the topic. He was not given to conversation while driving so she could not tell if he was just letting her down gently or if he really had no idea what she was about to say.
At the suya joint, he parked the car and turned to her.
“When were you planning to tell me you have a son?”
Zina could feel her world crashing around her. Her heart pulsated loudly in her chest. Fleetingly, she wondered if he could hear it.
Who had told him? How had he found out? Did he know everything?
“I am sorry I kept it away from you.”
She stole a glance at him. He was watching her, expressionless.
Is this it? Father, is this the end?
“What else are you hiding?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she protested, raising her hands in a defensive gesture.
“I want to hear everything. No summaries, Zina. Tell me everything.”
He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back, still facing her, his gaze piercing. She averted her gaze, barely able to meet his. As she began to narrate her story, she kept her eyes on the floor. She did not want to look at him for fear of what she would see. If she was going to lose him, she wanted to remember him for his adoring gaze not derision.
Zina had grown up in Bori, a small town in Rivers state. The daughter of Lebari who was a cleaner in the local government headquarters, she never knew her father. She had 4 siblings; only 1, Ledum, shared a father with her. They went through public school, coasting on the subsidized fees and occasional handouts from relatives.
At 16, she attended a crusade in town and answered the altar call. She began to read her bible and attend a small fellowship close to home where other believers like her congregated. Gaining admission into the University of Port Harcourt was her dream. She wanted to study to become an engineer. Her mother was selling pastries on the side to augment her income and it was the responsibility of all the children (except Boma the oldest) to hawk them around the local government secretariat.
Boma was training to become a mechanic. He had been pampered by their mom. Rather than take up the responsibility of assisting the home, he often stole the proceeds of their petty trade. There was nothing the others could do. He hung out with worthless fellows and Zina had once seen a gun among his possessions.
One day, Lebari came home and announced that she had secured a job for Zina as a cook for an expatriate who worked for a construction company that was executing a contract in the town. His former cook was quitting to get married but was willing to train Zina for two weeks before leaving town. Lebari had overheard a conversation between the cook and another staff of the secretariat where she worked and boldly offered her daughter as a candidate.
Zina did not like the idea of working as a cook. She wanted to be an engineer. However, she was almost 20, yet to secure admission into the university and tired of hawking snacks. Left with no choice, she began her training as a cook. Lee was an easy boss to please. He was a young man, probably in his late thirties, whose wife and children had stayed back in Korea. Twice a year, he traveled to spend time with them.
For 3 months, Zina went to his house at 6 a.m. every morning, including Sundays to prepare his breakfast. He had lunch on site. She made dinner and left it in the microwave oven. On Sundays, she went to his house after church service to prepare his lunch and dinner. He often had female guests over but never made any advances towards Zina. In fact, he barely spoke to her. She did not mind this as she had pre-determined that the day he cast a lecherous glance at her would be her last in his house.
She had broken up with her 1st boyfriend after the crusade that changed her life. He was the driver to a wealthy man in town and he used to give her money to supplement her family’s meager earnings. It was difficult giving up the relationship but she was determined to make heaven. And the coordinator of the fellowship kept emphasizing that all fornicators and adulterers would end up in the hottest part of hell.
One day, she went to visit her mother at work. A staff of the secretariat stopped her to ask her if she was in school.
“No, ma,” she replied. “I have been trying to get admission into Uniport for a long time.”
“Why have you not tried to get admission into Bori Polytechnic?”
Zina shrugged. “I want to get away from Bori. I have lived here all my life.”
“How many times have you taken the exam?”
“I am on my way to buy a form for my niece. Write down your full name, I will buy two forms.”
“Thank you ma but I don’t want…”
“Do you want to remain a cook for the rest of your life?”
“Write your name on that piece of paper.”
Reluctantly, she complied. She put the incident out of her mind the moment she left. In fact she did not mention it to her mother. The next day, her mother presented her with the form.
“I don’t want to go to a polytechnic,” she whined, cross.
“You don dey house since. That work wey you dey work, how many years you wan do am? The man go soon comot Naija O! As you no gree get better boyfriend wey go help us, kuku go school na,” her mother scolded.
After days of cajoling, threats and sheer nagging, Zina filled the form and began to prepare for the examination. She had enough time on her hands because her work as a cook meant she was exempt from hawking for her mother. Also, one of the brothers in the fellowship was an undergraduate in the polytechnic. He began to coach her and a few other members who were preparing for the examination.
She passed the exam and gained admission to study Computer Science. Her job was not threatened as she was able to combine work and lectures. Besides, she needed the money to pay her fees. Her initial reluctance gave way to pride and joy that if she earned her diploma, she could leave Bori and forge a life for herself. She did not have trendy clothes or wear as much makeup as other girls for two reasons. She wanted to avoid as much attention as possible and she needed to save up.
By the end of her 1st semester, she realized that she was in danger of dropping out of school. She was yet to pay her fees and books were expensive. In addition, she was expected to contribute to her family’s upkeep. She was despairing.
One day, she saw her ex-boyfriend in her school. He had come to pick girls up to attend a party his boss was throwing.
“Zina, how far?” he greeted.
She shook hands with him as he leaned on his boss’ car, smoking a cigarette. It was almost 4p.m. and she was done for the day.
“Nwiba, it’s been a long time.”
“You broke my heart now,” he joked.
“Which heart? Do you have a heart?”
She laughed as she clutched her bag to her chest. It was a self-conscious habit she didn’t even know she had developed. Her modest dressing and minimal makeup did not prevent the attention of male folk. They seemed determined to lay the ‘holy sister’ who would not participate in social activities or hang out with them. She had formed the habit of clutching her bag to her chest as though it would keep the lustful gazes away.
Nwiba threw his stub on the ground and stepped on it to extinguish it.
“You no go come party?”
“Yes, my boss gives a lot of money to the girls that attend. How you dey manage sef? I hear say school cost.”
“E no easy. I never pay school fees sef,” she complained.
“That oyibo wey you dey cook for, you no wan love am?”
“Love who?” Zina nearly fell over in shock. “Mr. Lee?”
“That man na better man O. My oga like am. If you born for am you no go suffer again.”
“Nda Bari! What kind of talk is that? You don take igbo so?” She made gesture on her head like when one is unscrewing a nut.
“No open eye. Another girl go soon born for am. My oga say the guy dey very careful because him no want get pikin for naija but you wey dey inside go sabi how you go take get am.”
“I don repent Nwiba,” she spat.
“But you no be virgin!” he scoffed. “Anyway, I don dey go. Take this money buy something for yourself.”
She accepted the money he offered her without a second thought. Her younger brother, Ledum had been thrown out of school already and she was waiting on her salary to get him back in. Lebari, her mother, had gone to ask for an extension but was asked to pay at least half of the money. They could not afford even that.
She counted the money once she was out of his sight. It was just enough. She raised a hand to heaven and muttered hallelujah. This had to be a miracle. Of course she had been tempted several times to call him and beg for financial assistance but she knew she would end up in his bed so she refrained. She did not want anything to do with hell fire. As for his advice about Mr. Lee, she chucked it into the bin.
In PA’s car, Zina took a deep breath. He had made no comment while she spoke. Her phone had rung once but she turned it off without answering it.
“Do you want us to get something to eat?” she asked.
“I am not very hungry,” he replied.
She sighed. In truth, she was just postponing the inevitable. She had never really told anyone the full story; not even her best friend who died before she moved to Lagos. The shame and guilt had trailed her all her life, even after she moved to Port Harcourt and moved up in life.
“It was time for my 2nd semester exams. They threatened that anyone who did not pay their fees in full would be locked out of the hall,” she went on.
“My mother borrowed the money from her church association. She warned me that it was the last time they would give her money as she was already neck-deep in debt. They only pitied her because they knew I was working and schooling. I had tried to get a loan from my fellowship but they were few and had not really thought of having a purse for such requests.”
“I did well in my exams and began to save again for the next semester but Ledum fell ill and the money went for his treatment. I was bitter at God because I had prayed that he would heal Ledum so that I could save for school. That was when I remembered Nwiba’s advice. I hatched a plan to get pregnant for Lee. He always kept his condoms beside his bed and he never ran out of stock. I calculated my ovulation period and chose a date to seduce him.”
“On the first day, I hid all his condoms and waited for him to eat dinner. While he ate, I undressed and got into his bed. He must have assumed I had left because a short while later, he got into his bed, not even noticing I was there. When I tapped him, he was surprised to see me but he did not hesitate to accept what was offered. He later admitted he had been attracted to me but that he felt I would turn him down since I was so religious.”
“We continued our affair for months till I found out I was pregnant. He was angry; accusing me of planning it all along but I denied all wrongdoing. Then he gave me money to abort the pregnancy. I used the money for my needs and lied that I had gotten rid of the baby. You see, I needed a baby to get money regularly from him. He was quite frugal and rarely gave me more than a stipend even after we became lovers.”
“If he suspected anything, he couldn’t prove it. By the time I had a bulge, I claimed that the abortion had failed. He cried bitterly, sad that he had violated his rule. Many of his friends and colleagues had children all over the villages surrounding Bori but he had prided himself on escaping the clutches of the desperate women folk.”
Zina folded her arms across her chest and sighed.
“Peter was born in December. Lee was out of the country and barely speaking to me by then. My mother did not support my decision to have Peter but she understood. She assisted me so I could return to school as soon as possible. Lee returned and placed me on a monthly allowance to take care of Peter. I continued to work as his cook but we did not continue the affair. My son had bought me the money I needed for school and my salary ensured that I had a little extra.”
“I cannot begin to tell you the emotional trauma that I passed through. My reputation changed overnight from ‘holy sister’ to ‘baby mama’. A number of girls had children for foreigners living and working in Nigeria but none of them was ambitious enough to enroll in school. They mostly lived near the docks, serving as entertainment to the sailors in Onwe and environs. I stuck out like a sore thumb. Boys assumed I was an easy lay and made coarse remarks when I walked past.”
“I bore it till I graduated. Lee helped me get a job in Port Harcourt. I moved there and left Peter with my mother. Soon, I got over all the bitterness and renewed my relationship with my savior. However, it was all good till any potential suitor heard about my son. Maybe if he was dark-skinned, it would not be so bad but he looks so much like Lee. He has curly dark hair, his eyes are Mongolian like his dad and his skin is almost white. I moved my family to PH when I began to earn good money but I lived on my own to create room for relationships. That did not stop my past from trailing me like a serial murderer.”
She gulped, swallowing a sob. It would not do to cry because it could be misread as manipulation.
“Lee plays no role in the boy’s life?” PA asked.
“That was his condition for supporting us. He didn’t want his wife to ever find out he had a son in Nigeria. Peter is never to try to contact him or his family. He left Nigeria 5 years ago.”
PA heaved a sigh.
“I am so sorry I didn’t tell you. Please, forgive me. I was not trying to deceive you. I just believed it would never get to that point. At least if you were dumping me, it would be because you were no longer interested and not for his sake. I am tired of being abused, tired of blaming myself, tired of confessing my sins. I just need a breather!”
She didn’t even realize she had cried out.
“I was ready and open to a woman who has a past but I’m not sure I ever considered a single mom. It’s just not one of those things you plan for, you know,” he said, rubbing his head.
Zina nodded, holding her breath.
“What do you believe? With the benefit of hindsight, do you believe that was actually the only way to get the money for your fees?” he asked.
Zina bit her lip. “No, I took the easy way out. I could have deferred my admission, or got a second job coaching children or whatever. All this would not have happened. I love my son but God’s way is always the best,” she replied.
“The fact that he is mixed race makes it more complicated,” PA said. “There is no way I can keep it out of the public sphere; not with my kind of job. I have learned that it is better to keep all skeletons out of the cupboard than to attempt to keep people from opening the cupboard. People are nosy and church folk expect so much of leaders. It’s okay if they sin but those on the pulpit must never miss the mark.”
PA turned and cupped her chin in order to raise her face to meet his gaze.
“You made a mistake and none of us is perfect but people are vicious and unforgiving. That is my worry. Can you take the heat? Will my members take up arms? Will it divide the church? Will they accept you as my wife?”
Zina swallowed a sob. “I don’t want you to pass through that kind of persecution for my sake.”
“Let’s go in and buy suya. I have a story to share.”
PA released her, turned off the engine and opened the door for her. She alighted, wrapping her arms around her to keep the chilly air out while she waited for him to lock the car. He took her hand as they made for the suya stand, oblivious of the crowd of people milling about, the music blaring from the speakers or the smoke from the grills that littered the joint. Zina’s thoughts were on PA. She was anxious to know his decision. PA’s thoughts were on his past: A story he had shared with only one other person all his life. One that had haunted him for years; the reason he had remained a bachelor for years.
Zina was in her room, reminiscing over her date with PA. Once again her courage had failed her. She could not bear the thought of his derision. He seemed to hold her in such high esteem; writing poetry, buying her gifts, calling often. This one had to be the real deal. Her 2 exes had not bothered with all that. Ike had fleeced her of as much cash as he could before he took off. Reason: “My mother will not accept a single mom.” Of course he failed to mention that while the relationship lasted.
Lekan had told her from the time he met her son, Peter, that she would have to keep him away from their home if they ever got married. She hung on, believing he would come around. Already, Peter lived with her mother and never constituted a nuisance in any way but that was not enough. The relationship ended in 3 months.
Obas was the most vitriolic. He mocked her for refusing him sex. “You be virgin?” he would ask and laugh derisively. “That your chinko pikin, how you take born am? Virgin Mary!”
She would storm out in anger but he always apologized and pleaded till she took him back. Her mother detested him but even she encouraged her not to walk away.
“E get money. Husband no dey. Manage the one wey you see,” her mom would say.
She dreaded marriage to him. He was verbally abusive, quick-tempered, uncouth and brash. How such a good-looking man could have a character that contrasted so much with his looks beat her imagination.
“If you bin give am wetin him dey find, he for no run leave you,” her mom opined when he dumped her.
She was relieved. Being single had to be better than living in terror forever. However, she put up a sad appearance and let people console her over the public embarrassment. Secretly, she thanked God for delivering her.
Picking her phone, she composed an email to PA, telling him of her son and enclosing a photo. She saved it under drafts and heaved a sigh of relief. All she needed now was the courage to hit the send button. Let the chips fall where they may.
Besides, God may have sent Esosa to give me the assurance that I will not end up alone. He has not relented despite my lack-lustre responses. What I am sure of is that he is less likely to judge me for being a single mom and Peter will gain 2 sisters. What’s not to like?
PA on the other hand is a young pastor who could have any girl at a snap of his fingers. As selfish as I am, I know he is in love with the image of me that I have allowed him to see: A successful girl with no encumbrances who loves God as much as he does. When the veil is lifted and he sees me for who I really am, he will cast me off. It may be too late then to go for Esosa. He might have met someone else or something. What is the wise thing to do?
PA was on his way to his car after a pastors’ conference. His junior pastors, Odion and Kunle had hitched a ride with him so they were all making their way out when Pastor Onyema hailed them.
“PA, what’s the hurry?” he shouted.
They stopped and waited for him to catch up with them. After exchanging hearty greetings, PA explained that they had to leave so quickly because Pastor Kunle was trying to catch up with an event at his son’s school.
“Let my driver drop him off. Come back in so we can catch up,” he offered.
Odion and PA shrugged and turned back. Kunle started looking for Onyema’s driver so as to take advantage of his offer.
Back in the conference room, all the participants were huddled in groups of 3 and more, discussing loudly over snacks and drinks. Pastor Onyema ushered them to seats and waved over his assistant pastors, Kele and Ade. A server placed refreshments before them. Soon, Pastor Mofe joined them.
Inevitably, PA became the topic of friendly teasing as all the others were married.
“PA, what happened between you and Toyosi?” Onyema asked.
“Nothing,” he replied.
“You mean you didn’t like her?” he pressed.
PA shook his head.
“Why?” Pastor Mofe asked.
PA shrugged but refrained from explaining.
“I can’t force you to marry the girl but you didn’t handle it well,” Pastor Onyema opined.
His audience waited for him to go on while he took a long drink from his glass of juice.
“You should have told me you were not interested in the girl so I could soften the blow. If for no other reason, because I introduced her to you,” he concluded.
PA was quiet.
“Did she complain to you?” Pastor Mofe asked.
“Nna…she said my wife and I set her up for heartbreak when we knew very well PA is a heartbreaker!” Pastor Onyema replied.
The pastors in the gathering all reacted in shock; some gulping their drinks hurriedly and others averting their gazes from PA.
“When did PA become a heartbreaker?” Pastor Mofe asked.
PA made a face but kept his thoughts to himself.
“Don’t you have anything to say?” Pastor Onyema asked him.
“We have known each other for too long for you to be calling me out. Why didn’t you call me to discuss this on phone or even come to my office?” PA asked. He leaned forward, his hands on his knees. “Did you even vet that girl before recommending her? Or you pitied her because she is your editor?”
“What do you mean?” Pastor Onyema asked.
“I asked you if you had any recommendations. Rather than discuss with me first, you got to the girl and filled her head with hope. Then you totally ambushed me. PO, don’t let me get started. Heartbreaker indeed!”
None of them had ever seen PA lose his temper. Pastor Onyema immediately apologized.
“I didn’t mean to call you out.”
“PA, don’t be offended. He was only looking out for a friend,” Mofe pleaded.
The junior pastors exchanged uncomfortable looks among themselves. They could neither contribute to the conversation nor get up to leave simply because, they were sure that they would end up taking the heat. Something about the grass and elephants fighting came to mind.
“I never asked her out. She should know better than to insinuate otherwise. In fact, we were never alone,” PA continued testily.
“It’s okay. I believe you. I will warn her to cease and desist,” Pastor Onyema said.
“She had better. My babe won’t even take it lying low,” PA said, straight-faced.
“I si gini? Your babe?” Pastor Onyema exclaimed.
“I was going to tell you about her before you started throwing wild accusations.”
“PA, why have you not told us before now? Who is she by the way,” Pastor Mofe asked.
“Her name is Zina. She joined our church this year.”
“Kai! You like fresh fish sha! So all those sisters who have been serving in church for years skipped your notice?” Pastor Odion teased.
“The Lord they have been serving will reward them,” he replied.
The men burst into laughter.
“Congrats sir,” one of Pastor Onyema’s associates said.
The rest joined in hailing PA, coming over to shake his hand one at a time. He accepted their praise just as amiably as he had accepted their ribbing in the past.
“Why did I not hear of this girl before now?” Pastor Odion whispered to PA.
He only shrugged in reply. Odion punched his shoulder playfully, determined to press for more details at a later date.
“So tell us more,” Pastor Mofe requested.
“Her name is Zina. We have been friends for more than 2 months now. She is the MD of an IT firm. We met when she came to install some software for Ovie.”
“It sounds like she has a good head on her shoulders,” Pastor Odion said, nodding.
“She does and I appreciate all your prayers, guys. This is a step I am taking with serious consideration, knowing the possible backlash if something goes wrong,” he said.
“True. You can’t afford to make any mistake after waiting all these years. Can you imagine the number of women who would wish to be in her shoes?” Pastor Onyema concurred.
“There is a man for every woman. I don’t know why anyone would fixate on me,” he said brushing off the compliment.
“Ha! You are too modest, PA,” Pastor Mofe scoffed.
“Do you know how many emails Ovie has intercepted on your behalf? You need to read some of them. He once showed me an email of a girl who saw a vision of you and her getting married,” Pastor Odion said.
“Back to sender!” one of the junior pastors spat.
PA made no comment.
“PO, do you know that PA has had to put serious security checks on his phone number?” Pastor Odion elaborated.
“Just marry the girl quickly so they can leave you alone,” another said.
“It’s not that straightforward. You have to make sure she has no baggage. She cannot be someone you ‘settled’ for. Investigate thoroughly and make sure there are no skeletons in her cupboard. This is the kind of issue that destroyed Pastor Umoh’s church,” Pastor Mofe warned.
“Pastor Umoh?” PA asked.
“Pastor Umoh of Christian Assembly Uyo.”
“Oh! I never really understood what happened,” PA said.
“Two years after his wedding, he found out that the girl was separated from her 1st husband, not even divorced. Meanwhile he had no idea she was in a relationship at the time. He had dated 2 girls in church before he met the one he married and she totally swept him off his feet. The rumor mongers spread the false story that he was the one who broke her 1st marriage. He is yet to recover from the scandal,” Pastor Mofe elaborated.
“Tufia kwa!” Pastor Onyema spat.
“May God not allow us to plant for another man to come and reap,” one of the junior pastors said.
“Amen!” they chorused.
PA was silent, deep in thought. The topic changed to something else but he could not get the nagging doubts out of his mind. He had noticed Zina’s occasional moodiness and even reticence but when he asked her, she denied that anything was wrong. They had known each other long enough for her to tell him what was her initial reason for hesitating about going on a date with him. He had refrained from plaguing her with questions because he hoped she would see that he loved her too much to condemn her for whatever mistakes she had made in the past. Now, he began to wonder if he had dived into the deep end of the pool too soon.
Imaobong and Zina were on their way home after attending the bridal shower of a mutual friend, Dana. She was a big customer of Imaobong’s and had gradually become a friend. They had left the twins with their Nanny and their dad who was home after being away for quite a while.
“Yours is next Zina. I already have so many ideas buzzing in my head.” Imaobong was bubbling with excitement.
Zina made no comment.
“PA will not waste time in proposing. I trust him. He knows that you are a great catch.”
Imaobong heard a sniff and turned to look at her friend. She noticed she was crying.
“What is it? Are you ill?” she asked, worried.
Zina burst into tears.
“Ah ah! What is wrong?” she asked again.
Imaobong managed to pull into the parking lot of a shop close to their home and parked. She turned in her seat so she could wrap her friend in a hug.
“Tell me what is going on. Did PA say something bad? Are you pregnant? Did someone die?”
Zina shook her head in response to each question.
Imaobong rubbed her back till she stopped crying. Zina raised her head and blew her nose noisily into her handkerchief.
“I have a 12 year old son,” she announced.
“Abasi mbok!” Imaobong exclaimed. “How?”
Zina was silent, rubbing her nose. Imaobong released her and sat back, arms folded over her breasts.
“I’m guessing PA does not know?”
Zina shook her head.
“Who is the boy’s father? Are you married to him?”
“No. His name is Lee. He is Korean.”
“Eh!” Imaobong could not help herself.
“I have not heard from him since he left Nigeria 5 years ago.”
Imaobong clucked her tongue sympathetically. “This is not good. You should have told me earlier.”
“I was afraid. So many men have walked away because of him.”
“You can’t blame them. He is not even black, to hope to integrate him into a new family. A step dad would have to be comfortable with having a child who looks nothing like he and his ancestors,” Imaobong said.
Zina heaved a sigh.
“But it is not the end of the world. Call PA now and tell him. He can’t hear it from anyone else.”
“What will he say?”
“The worst is that he will walk away. I hope he won’t but at least, the burden of not knowing will be off your shoulders.”
“I love him.”
“I don’t want to lose him.”
“I can’t guarantee that but I can promise to be there for you.”
She reached over and enveloped her friend in a bear hug. Both their tears flowed freely. They were oblivious of the fact that they were in a public place. What mattered was the healing and bonding that unconditional friendship offered. And they were eager to take advantage of it.
Ama was in PA’s house to deliver some gifts that had been dropped off for him in church. She could have let his driver pick them up since he left early with Ovie for his band rehearsal but she was on a mission. It was not her 1st time in his house but her visits were rare. He liked his privacy and they spent so much time together during the day that she scarcely needed to see him afterwards.
Ovie welcomed her and summoned Saviour to collect the items.
“Is PA asleep?” she asked.
“No. Do you want to see him?”
They were standing in the foyer of the house.
“Yes. Please tell him to give me a few minutes.”
“Come in then.”
She followed him to the living room and took a seat on one of the sofas, dropping her bag beside her. Ovie turned on the air conditioning and the television before dropping the remote controls on the table before her.
“Do you want something to drink?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“Let me call him.”
She watched him leave. Her stomach felt queasy at the revelations Toyosi had called her to make. To quell her doubts, she had even provided pictures as evidence of the veracity of her claims. Ama wondered how she got the pictures but she wasn’t saying. Toyosi claimed she was no longer interested in PA and anyone could have him but that she wanted him to see who he had rejected her for. That was enough revenge for her.
PA greeted Ama as he entered the room. She rose and hugged him.
“What’s up?” he asked, sinking into the sofa opposite her.
She took in his youthful appearance in joggers and a T-shirt and regretted that she was about to shatter an illusion that had made him so happy. Even she could not dismiss the spring in his step and the extra attention he paid to his looks these days. He had to be in love. But the church came first and Zina did not meet the criteria for a pastor’s wife. Well, maybe some unserious pastor with 30 members but certainly not a renowned pastor, not her PA.
Thanks for hanging on till the end muses. I have been blessed by your kind comments. The conclusion comes up in a week. After that I will go on a break to recoup. Feel free to browse old posts if you are bored or send in something for me to post. Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cheers, Dr. N.
“Hi Zina, Esosa on the line.”
“I called yesterday but you must have been quite busy.”
“Yeah…It was a hectic day. I should have called back. Forgive me.”
“Forgiven. How are you?”
“Fine and you?”
“Fine…now that I have heard your voice.”
There was a pause during which Zina fidgeted with her phone, wondering what he really wanted.
“Is it okay if we meet in person one of these days?”
“Um…I don’t know. Why?”
“I would like to speak with you face to face. Phone conversations are not really my thing.”
“I am pretty busy at the moment so you may have to tolerate phone conversations for a while.”
She could sense his hesitation but she did not try to give him a soft landing.
“Okay, then. I’ll call tomorrow. How does 7pm sound?”
“I’ll be in church for the mid-week service.”
“O, that’s true. I don’t usually attend because I close from work quite late.”
“Yes. I manage a hotel.”
“Which hotel is that?”
“Thank you. I hope you’ll let me host you one of these days. Our Italian chef is the best in Nigeria.”
“I have heard of him. My boss swears by his zucchini.”
“Are you a fan of Italian food as well?”
“I eat what I am offered.”
“That’s nice. An accomplished woman with no airs…I like.”
“And you have a great laugh,” he added.
She sobered because his statement reminded her of someone. Guilt tugged at her conscience but she smothered it. After all, she had made no promises and she had not done anything but answer a phone call.
“I have to run an errand but thanks for calling,” she said.
“Thanks for brightening my day. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Ovie was posting excerpts of PA’s latest message on his blog when he got a call from Ama. They had discussed her revealing to PA that she knew of his relationship with Zina and decided against it. Yet, two weeks had passed and he had not said a word to her. She desperately wanted to be involved in the whole thing; setting up dates, planning a proposal, choosing a ring, the works. Why he was keeping her out of the loop, was a question she could not answer.
“Ovisco, what’s up?”
“I am fine. Is it time for the staff meeting?”
“No, not yet. I had something else in mind.”
Ama could visualize him leaning back in his swivel chair, holding the phone to his left ear with one hand while strumming on the table with the other.
“I keep wondering why PA hasn’t told me about his new babe,” she began.
“New babe?” He chuckled. “Does he have any old one?”
She frowned. “I am being serious. I am the first person he told of his desire to get married. Why is he now being secretive?”
“I don’t think he is being secretive. He tells me whenever he is going out with her. I think they have gone out twice. And they mostly chat on bbm or call each other. You know his schedule.”
“I just feel he is associating me with Toyosi or something. Maybe he feels I will not approve of this girl.”
“That is possible but I doubt it. He is PA. He has a mind of his own.”
“Maybe he expects me to ask him. He can’t think I won’t notice the changes in him?”
“Has he changed?”
“Of course! He spends more time on his phone these days. I have caught him several times, smiling at the phone while typing chats.”
Ovie laughed. “You sound like an old woman.”
“I just don’t like being left out.”
“You know what? Walk in on him during a call that sounds like he is talking to the girl and use it as an excuse to ask him outright. Take your cue from his response,” Ovie suggested.
“Good idea. You have a mind that churns out mischief,” she said, smiling.
“Yeah, thank you for the compliment…”
“I have to do some work. Let me know how it goes if you ask him today, okay?”
Zina was on the phone with her mother who lived in Port Harcourt. She was reclining on the couch in her living room, flicking idly through channels while they spoke.
“What of the money I sent last week?” she asked.
“I used it to pay Boma’s rent.”
“Should I be the one paying his rent? He is 10 years my senior. If he won’t find something to do, he should move back in with you,” Zina snapped.
“Don’t shout at me. He is my 1st son. You don’t expect me to sit and watch him get thrown out of his home, do you?”
“Use your pension to help him. Don’t use deceit to get money from me, Mama.”
“Ma, that is not why I called. I am between a rock and a hard place.”
“That pastor I told you about; he is very serious O! I am afraid to continue with him. I don’t know if I should give that Esosa a chance.”
“How rich is the Esosa?”
“Ma! Who is talking about money?”
“Sorry…what does he do for a living?”
“He manages a hotel.”
“Hotel? Shei he no go like woman so? Hian!”
“Well…he sounds alright.”
“How is he better than the pastor?”
“He is a widower with 2 daughters who are 10 and 12. You know my situation. Don’t you think he will be more open-minded than a pastor?”
“The pastor na virgin?”
“Wetin?” Her mother let out a hearty chuckle. “You know say na me disvirgin your papa. E no mean. Dem dey quick learn.”
“Didn’t you say it was Boma’s father you disvirgined?”
Zina shook her head and let out a hiss.
“Just follow the two of them. The one who is more serious will win.”
“The 1st one is a pastor. I cannot do that to him.”
“But you deserve to be happy. You are a good girl. Is it because of one mistake that you will refuse to date a pastor?”
“Hmm…Mama…I am afraid. Remember Obas? He knew the truth from day one and he treated me like trash. This one I decided to wait before telling men wetin dey; I hope it won’t backfire.”
Her mother thought long and hard.
“Are you still there?” Zina asked.
“You have to find a way to tell him. If he chickens out, you face the hotel guy.”
“Na so na. Abeg, send me like 15k. Body don dry like crayfish.”
“Mama, I will send you 10k. And it must not finish till they pay my salary.”
“Fine girl. Better pikin.”
Zina laughed as she ended the call. She knew she was being taken advantage of but she could not help but admire her mother’s negotiation skills. The same skills had enabled her survive marriage to 3 different men in her lifetime, securing a job in the civil service with meager qualifications and convincing the schools she and her siblings attended in childhood to let her pay in installments. Even though she had grown up with the resolve to forge a better life for herself than her mother had provided, she could not help but acknowledge her strength of will.
It was a month before PA discussed his relationship with Zina with Ama. This was partly because he spent about 2 weeks away from the office due to preaching engagements outside the state. She was in his office to tell him about a proposal from one of their members to throw him a 40th birthday party. He usually celebrated quietly and discouraged staff from soliciting funds from members for him but this time around she hadn’t done the soliciting. The woman had suggested it herself.
“She said she promised God that if he answered her prayer to win a particular contract she applied for, she would throw you a party,” Ama was saying.
“I really wanted something private. Besides, now that I have a girlfriend, she might be planning a surprise or something,” he said shyly.
“PA! You have a girlfriend!” Ama exclaimed, pretending to be surprised.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. It just slipped my mind.”
“Who is she? I want pictures, the full gist.” Ama leaned forward in the chair she had been sitting in.
PA flicked to Zina’s picture in her phone and handed it to her.
“Her name is Zinabari. She started attending church a few months ago. She heads an IT firm, Dataconsult.”
Ama gazed at the pictures silently. She had seen them before but wasn’t letting on.
“She’s really pretty, PA.”
“How did you meet her?”
“She came to the house to install software for Ovie. That was how we met.”
“Nice. She looks nice.”
They both lapsed into silence till Ama spoke again.
“Do I tell Sis. Chi you said she should find some other way to sow her seed?” She returned his phone as she spoke.
He thought for a while. “Let me handle it myself. I’ll call her and talk to her so she doesn’t think I am ungrateful.”
“Good idea.” She rose to leave. “PA, this Zina, is she the one?”
“I believe so. Do you see me in the dating pool, going after one girl after the other for the next two years?” He raised a brow.
She chuckled at the thought of him philandering. “No.”
He inclined his head without saying more. She took that as her cue and made her exit.
Toyosi, Moji and Idara were in a restaurant having dinner. Moji had taken them out to celebrate the fact that their magazine had been given an award as the best in women’s fashion magazines. They had popped champagne at work for all the staff but Idara and Toyosi had needled her into buying them dinner.
“I know Bola will cry out her eyes. There is nothing she didn’t do to win,” Moji said.
“She and her crappy magazine; I wonder why people buy it,” Toyosi sneered.
“That girl is a learner. She betrayed me and left with people I had trained. Karma is after her,” Moji spat.
“Karma doesn’t even need to go after her. She had not learned the ropes and it shows in the poor quality of their publications,” Idara said. “There is nothing she has not done to poach me. She has offered me even double my salary.”
“Thief!” Moji muttered.
“Not everyone is disloyal like her,” Toyosi said.
“So, I met someone, girls,” Idara said suddenly.
Her friends cheered in delight.
“You don’t say?”
Idara waved a hand to silence him. “We are taking it slow. You know my divorce is not yet final.”
“Spill; who is he?” Moji asked.
“He is a director. In fact he directed this girl’s music video, Vixen.”
“Wait, wait; Is it Dotun?” Moji asked.
Idara rolled her eyes. “Yep.”
Both Toyosi and Moji gave her hi-fives.
“Not bad, girl!” Toyosi said. “We are still single to stupor. Please, if he has single friends, hook us up.”
“Have you given up on the pastor?” Moji asked.
“It is not today I dumped the guy O. Bad market!” She laughed.
“What happened?” Idara asked.
She launched into a tale of the circumstances that led to her deciding to count her losses and move on. They both nodded in understanding. As the night wore on, the discussion shifted from Toyosi to Moji’s plans for a men’s magazine as an equivalent of the one they currently published. Toyosi was all for it while Idara did not like the idea so they spent some time in animated banter. It was 10pm before they rose and headed for the parking lot.
“Is that not that your pastor?” Moji asked, pointing at a couple walking towards a car parked quite a distance from them.
Toyosi squinted. “I can’t tell.”
“He is the one. Who is the girl with him? The way he is holding her hand; they must have just had dinner,” Moji said.
Toyosi frowned. “He can do what he likes. Let’s go.” She began to unlock her car door.
Moji blew them air kisses and left to board her own car. Idara got into the passenger’s seat of Toyosi’s car and closed the door, silent.
“What is it?” Toyosi said as she started the car.
“I know that girl,” she replied.
“The girl with the pastor.”
Toyosi let out a hiss and turned her wheel to drive out of the lot without replying.
“I wonder if he knows her story,” Idara muttered.
“What could be that bad? Everyone has a past.”
“Unless he is not planning to marry her; I have heard he doesn’t flirt, so I wonder…”
Toyosi rolled her eyes. “She was a runs girl? She stole in the university? She has AIDS?”
“I knew that girl in Port Harcourt.”
“I doubt the pastor knows she has a son.”
“She has a son who must be more than 10 years old.”
“That is not all. No one knows the boy’s father. Rumor has it that she had him for one Philipino who used to work in Nigeria as an expatriate,” Idara elaborated.
Toyosi took her hands off the wheel and clapped in disbelief. “Unbelievable! The boy is mixed race?”
“I saw him a few times in PH. He lives with her mother. They used to be neighbours to my boyfriend at the time.”
“Hei! PA has entered one chance. Maybe she wants to hide the boy till he marries her, thinking she is a virgin,” Toyosi exclaimed.
“Na the way na. Sharp guy no be thief.”
Toyosi shook her head in disgust. “He didn’t even give me a chance. See? Is that girl mummy-pastor- material?”
When they got to her driveway, he stopped. Zina began to unbuckle her seatbelt, determined to run in before the tears spilled out but he stopped her with a hand on her arm.
“You will find that I am not a man of many words even though I can preach for hours,” he began, sober.
She kept her face turned to the window.
“Look at me, Zina,” he murmured.
She turned slowly to lock gazes with him.
“I think I forgot to tell you how beautiful you looked tonight.”
She attempted to thank him but her voice broke. He held her while she cried: her head on his shoulder, her tears soaking his shirt. It didn’t seem to matter. He rubbed her head gently, not caring who could see them. It took her a few moments to calm. He gave her his box of tissues to blow her nose. She lifted her head. It was then she noticed that her make-up had stained his shirt.
“O no!” she cried. “Look what I have done.”
“Not to worry.” He grinned.
“What will your domestic staff say? This will cause a scandal. And you have done everything for years to prevent gossip,” she mourned.
“I will wash it myself.” He took both her hands in his. “Zina, are you married, divorced or in a relationship right now?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“Whatever it is you mentioned earlier, I guess you need time to open up about it. In the time being, permit me to prove myself worthy of your trust and eventually, of your love. Don’t kick me to the curb,” he pleaded.
Her eyes nearly popped out of their sockets.
“Please,” he whispered.
There was an interval of seconds which actually felt like hours to PA who was holding his breath. Finally, she nodded. He let out his breath loudly and she chuckled.
“Thank you my Zee. And I know it sounds corny but I like everything about you, from A to Z.”
She burst into laughter. He let go of her hand and opened the door for her.
“Not too shabby,” she responded.
“I’ll say goodnight before your security throws me out.”
“Thank you for a lovely evening, PA.”
“You made it lovely,” he replied.
She smiled and got out. He watched her till she got to the elevator door before driving away.
PA whistled all the way home that night. He could not stop smiling at the thought of how well the date had gone. Even Idoko would be proud of him. He wasn’t even worried about her protests because he believed God would not put more on him than he could bear.
I mean the worst possible thing is that she has some incurable disease or so. That one will be easy. When medical knowledge fails, I know you only laugh because your healing power is limitless. And I have seen you at work. You will never let me see shame.
She’s so lovely, Father: So unassuming and easy to please. I thought she would turn up her nose at my attempts to please her. I am sure she has had far more accomplished and eloquent men ask her out. Thank you for not letting me down.
Please, let it work out. Let her fall for me. I can’t bear the thought that someone else will have her. Don’t let it happen, I beg.
And Lord, about Ovie. Let this not cause any friction between us.
His gateman let him in and locked the gate before appearing beside him to collect the car keys. They greeted cordially. Ovie met him at the doorway. He was not surprised he had stayed up. The only explanation PA had given for driving out alone was that he needed to be on his own. He took a seat in the living room and crossed his legs. Ovie sat opposite him, doing all he could not to drag the information out of him.
“I went on a date,” PA announced.
Ovie gaped. “With who? Toyosi?”
“No. I have never expressed any interest in her and I think I have kept things strictly professional between us.”
“Who could it be then? Did you meet someone online?”
Even as Ovie uttered the words, he knew PA would not meet with someone he encountered online without getting him to check her out; and he wouldn’t go alone. This had to be someone in their radar.
“I have to ask you something first. Was there anything between you and Zina?”
“Zina? Zina?” he mumbled, confused. “Why do you ask?”
“Well…I like her but she has been evasive. I was sort of giving her time,” he explained.
“Time to?” PA prompted.
“Time to… sort of…I dunno…” He frowned.
“I went out with her tonight,” he said directly.
“Huh?” Ovie gaped.
“I had to tell you because you are like a brother to me and I wouldn’t like to hurt you. She told me you are just friends.”
Ovie sighed. There was an uncomfortable silence before he spoke.
“PA, I can’t lie to you. She’s a great girl and I think she would be a good fit for you. I wanted to ask her out but she kind of laughed in my face the day I broached the topic,” Ovie admitted.
“She shunned me the first day I asked her out,” PA responded.
“These girls can be harsh. Do they know what it takes to muster the guts to approach them?” he joked.
“Guy, her eyes alone? She look me up and down like one rat,” PA said.
Both men collapsed in laughter. The steward came in and found them on the floor laughing.
“Good evening, sir. Should I get your food?”
PA waved him away.
“PA no go fit chop. Dem don give am kop no mi,” Ovie teased.
The steward, Saviour stared at them in confusion till PA told him he was not hungry.
“Congratulations, sir. I hope it works out.” Ovie shook hands with PA when the steward left.
“Thanks, man. I hope so too.”
PA had asked Ovie to keep his news between them but he couldn’t resist telling Ama. It took him two days to find time alone with her. He had chosen not to tell her over the phone because news of that magnitude just had to be shared in person. They were sent on an errand to book a hotel for a guest minister. While inspecting the rooms, he let the cat out of the bag.
“What!” she screamed. “I don’t believe it.”
“You had best believe it because the way things are going, they may not wait too long before getting engaged.”
“Wow! I am so shocked. My shy PA?”
“E no shy anything. Na form the guy dey form since. I read a text he sent to her. He has lyrics for days,” Ovie said.
Both of them laughed.
“Wetin Toyosi go come do now? She bin don sew bridal gown for her mind sef,” Ama asked.
“She has to back off. I mean she gave it a go, it didn’t click. No harm done.”
“And Pastor Onyema and wife who endorsed her?”
“Did PA choose their partners for them? That is the least of my worries.”
“So, tell me about her. What does she look like?”
Ovie launched into a description of Zina and how PA met her; conveniently leaving out the fact that he had initially planned to woo her for himself. That was a fact that he felt no one needed to know. Not only would it portray him as a rejected lover, it would seem as if he was competing with PA. He had many faults but disloyalty was not one of them and that was why he had retained his position for so long; not that many were not jostling to take his place.
Toyosi had just left a meeting with Pastor Onyema”s wife. She was full of concerns about the commencement of their teenage group. Toyosi did not know how to wiggle out of the commitment she had made to drive the group. She really had no flair for working with teenagers. Children were not her thing but she felt she probably hated teens most. They were opinionated and loud and entitled and giggly and they formed cliques and they made rude remarks. She positively hated them. Why she had ever thought she could pretend to like them, she could not remember.
Matters had almost gotten heated when she requested another month to finalize arrangements. The woman could not understand her procrastination. Worse still, both she and Pastor Onyema had called Toyosi out before the entire church, announced her new position and anointed her for the task. It was disappointing that she had not risen to the occasion.
Toyosi was miffed that they laid more emphasis on her progress or lack thereof, with the teens, than on her quest to find a husband. She felt they were being selfish. Marriage, her marriage to be precise, was a priority. She felt they had not done enough to persuade PA. They were the ones who had told her about him and insinuated that he was available. Subsequently, she was left to chase after the man like she had no pride. They did not make any moves to persuade him. In fact, they did not even ask her if things were progressing.
For the sake of her ego, Toyosi refrained from asking Sis. Remi the questions on her mind. She hinted that PA had made himself unavailable as a mentor and that had hindered her plans. Sis. Remi did not accept that. She gave her an ultimatum of 1 week to submit her year planner of activities and budget or the group would be handed over to someone else.
Driving home in anger, she decided she had had enough. She would call her when she got home to tell her she did not feel she could go on with the group, citing her work schedule as an excuse. Also, she would take Ama’s advice. It was up to PA to contact her himself and ask her out. She would not cajole him any further and she would not send any more Greek gifts to those greedy associates of his. They would not admit they had zero influence on him but that was her conclusion.
I am pretty enough, accomplished enough to get any man. If he cannot see it, that’s his loss.
Imaobong waited for 1 hour before she sent Zina a whatsapp message asking her if the call was over. The moment she affirmed that it was, she rushed over to her friend’s flat to drill her for details. Zina opened the door for her friend when she rang and stood aside to let her in. The questions began from the doorway.
“What happened? What did he say? I hope you were on your best behavior?”
Zina rolled her eyes. Imaobong pulled her into the two-seater cushion and dived in beside her.
“Ehe? What are you waiting for? Spill!”
“We have a date for tomorrow night,” Zina said.
“Whaaaaaaat!” Imaobong wrapped her friend in a bear-hug, laughing and crying in excitement.
They remained in that position for minutes before Imaobong released her. She sat back in the cushion, raised her legs and folded them under her on the seat. Clapping, she motioned to Zina.
“What exactly did he say?”
“He said he really likes me and he felt bad that day he came to my office and I kind of rejected his lunch invite.”
“Aha! I told you. Wicked girl; you wanted to break my pastor’s heart but my God is alive,” Imaobong joked.
“I did not O!”
Imaobong waved her protests aside. “So?”
“I told him I wasn’t sure I was the right girl for him and he said I should go to dinner with him and he would prove me wrong.”
Imaobong threw back her head and laughed. “I thought they said this man was reserved? He has been reserving all these lyrics for years. Ha! Zina, you are in for some spoiling because all the energy he uses in preaching, he will pour it into wooing you.”
“I am done for,” Zina wailed comically.
“Where is he taking you?”
“I guess it’s to a restaurant.”
“That blue dress I made you buy will come in handy. You know I am a prophetess. When I asked you to buy it, you were arguing that it is too dressy for church and work. Do you see that I am always right?”
“I will never argue with you again.” Zina raised both hands in surrender.
“I have to get back. It’s late. What time is your date?” Imaobong rose as she spoke.
“Okay. My nanny will be back by then. I will come over and do your make-up but nothing over-the-top so he doesn’t feel put off.” She was talking as she walked to the door, while Zina followed her.
“No in-your-face approach. The key word is subtlety, intrigue, suspense…” her voice was becoming dreamy as she spun plans.
Zina chuckled. “I pity your girls.”
If Imaobong heard her, she did not acknowledge it. “Do you have a nice pair of heels?” she asked.
“I have black sandals.”
“No silver or gold peeptoes?”
Zina shook her head.
“Well, those will have to do but after this we are going shopping.” She rubbed her hands in glee.
Zina opened the door and pushed her out gently. “Continue your planning in your room. Goodnight.”
Imaobong blew her a kiss and sailed off to her flat, whistling a merry tune.
The next day, Zina hitched a ride with Imaobong and her family to church. It was her custom especially when Imaobong’s husband was out of town. She caught up on the happenings in the world of Imaobong’s twins, Anietie and Aniebet. Their mom had coined the phrase ‘Anny-T and Anny-B’ for them. Zina could not really tell them apart by looking at them. It was only by observing their behavior that she could. Anny-T was reserved while Anny-B was an extrovert like her mom. She loved them like her own children and had to resist the urge to spoil them.
Today, however, she kept a smile on her face, half-listening to them but not really replying. Her mind was on PA. She wondered if he would look out for her in the crowd. Would he push all thoughts of their date to the back of his mind and deliver a fiery sermon or would he be as distracted as she was; muddling up his words? Would he dress with special care as she had or throw on one of his designer suits as usual? She had worn a pink dress that made Imaobong whistle. It was not scandalous but it fit her just enough to attract the right amount of attention.
She had forgotten she even had that dress. She could not explain why she took more time planning what to wear than praying in the spirit as was her custom on Sundays. It had to be that she was nervous. And her nerves were justified. This would be her first time of going on a date after Obas dumped her.
The service passed in a blur for Zina. She waited with bated breath for PA to take the stage. It would not be her 1st time of hearing him preach but this time, she needed to assess him. She needed to judge his compassion, his flexibility, his openness. This was crucial because she knew that before they began a relationship, she needed to open up to him about her past. She needed to be sure that he would not condemn her. Even if he decided that she was unsuitable as a pastor’s wife (which she fully expected him to), she hoped he would let her down gently. She was a big girl. She could handle rejection.
To her irritation, it was announced that PA had an engagement elsewhere so Pastor Odion took the stage to deliver the sermon. Imaobong gave her a knowing glance and squeezed her hand. She had refrained from teasing her overly as she was genuinely excited for her, and because she did not want to make her self-conscious.
After the service, Zina went to the food vendors to buy the ice cream she had promised the twins while their mom went to pick them from their class. She was waiting in the queue when a voice at her back made her turn.
“I beg your pardon?” she said to the man who had spoken.
“I said your dress matches the candy floss,” he repeated.
“Thank you,” she replied and made to move forward but he held out a hand.
“Esosa,” he said, smiling.
“Zina.” She shook his hand.
“Do you have kids?”
“Why do you ask?” she wondered.
“My kids insist ice cream is not for adults,” he explained. “Besides, you don’t possibly eat anything but salads with that figure of yours.”
Zina raised a brow. “I am buying for my friend’s daughters.”
“They are lucky to have you. Is it okay if I ask for your card?”
“What would your wife say about that?” she asked, frowning.
“She passed on 6 years ago.”
Zina was mortified. She raised a hand to her mouth. “I am sorry to hear that.”
He smiled. “It’s fine.”
She took another look at him. He was tall and of average build. Probably in his late forties, the sprinkling of grey around his forehead only lent him a distinguished air. He was not handsome but he had a pleasant face and a warm smile.
“I don’t have my card here but if you give me your number, I’ll call you,” she offered.
“I won’t fall for that. Give me your number and I’ll call so you can save mine.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket and held it before her; his face hopeful.
“I promise not to call at odd hours,” he added.
She reeled off her number for him.
At 5.30 p.m. Imaobong was putting finishing touches to her make-up when Zina’s phone rang. She had worried that the date was canceled when she did not hear from PA all day but Imaobong reassured her that he would show up. To her relief, it was his number dialing hers.
“Good evening PA,” she greeted. She motioned to Imaobong, indicating who was on the phone so she stepped away to give them privacy.
“Hi, Zee,” he replied. “I just realized that I left my house too early. I am on your street.”
“O!” she shrieked.
“Not to worry. I’ll pull over and wait till it’s six. I don’t want to rush you.”
She heaved a sigh of relief. “I am actually dressed.”
“I’ll wait,” he insisted. “Don’t mind me. I am just so excited to see you.”
Zina blushed, laughing.
“6 p.m. then?”
“See you,” she said as he ended the call.
At 6 p.m. on the dot, PA called and told her he was at her gate. She had left a message so he would be allowed to drive in. Imaobong had finished her make- up and taken several pictures of her which she quickly uploaded on instagram. Zina told PA she would meet him in the driveway so that he would not come upstairs. Blowing kisses to Imaobong, she shooed her out of her flat and locked up.
“Call me as soon as you get home. I’ll be up,” Imaobong said.
“How do you know we will not end up in his house?” Zina teased.
“E never reach like that abeg. No come corrupt my pastor.” Imaobong laughed.
“I’ll call you. Off you go.” Zina rolled her eyes.
Imaobong waved as she watched her walk away. “Remember to take small steps. Don’t bounce like a man,” she joked.
Zina turned to stick out her tongue at her before entering the lift. She was still smiling when the door closed. As it descended, she prayed for the butterflies in her stomach to fall asleep. She stared at her reflection in the mirrors that lined the elevator. Her shoulder-length hair was styled in a long bob. Imaobong had highlighted her lips, which she claimed were her best feature, in very soft pink lipstick. Her skin glowed; whether due to the foundation or excitement, she could not decide. The blue dress she wore had a square neckline, ruffled bodice and stopped mid-calf. It fit to perfection. The bracelet was borrowed from Imaobong but the tear-drop earrings were hers. A blue clutch and her black sandals completed the picture that presented itself to PA when she found herself outside the lift and on the driveway.
He stepped out of his Mercedes SUV and reached for a hug. She smiled at the vision of him in a simple white cotton outfit made in the traditional Nigerian two-piece style. He said hi and took her hand to lead her to the passenger side before opening the door and helping her in. After closing the door, he got in as well and sped off.
There were some minutes of silence as he navigated his way out to the street. She tried to watch him without actually turning. He drove fast but carefully. His slender fingers gripped the steering with confidence; his nails were cut low and clean and he only wore a simple leather wristwatch. She liked that he was clean-shaven. She didn’t mind a beard but on him a beard would have been out of place. And he smelled nice. She couldn’t name the fragrance but she knew it didn’t come cheap.
“Hope you like Chinese food?” he asked.
“I eat anything I am offered,” she replied.
“Would you prefer an African restaurant?”
“I didn’t see you in church?”
“I had to preach in a friend’s church. Today was their 10th anniversary,” he explained.
They drove in silence till they got to the restaurant. She was at a loss what topics were safe to discuss with a pastor and he appeared to be concentrating on his driving. Of course she did not know how nervous PA was. It would be his 1st time of taking a woman on a date and he felt like a bumbling fool. Silently, he prayed for grace not to blow the opportunity to impress her because he could feel her assessing his every move, weighing his every action.
At the restaurant, he parked and opened the door from inside for her. He got down and took her hand when she got down, guiding her inside. She saw it was a restaurant she had seen in a magazine feature but had never visited. The chef was reputed to cook the food on an open fire before a cheering crowd of customers and serve them bits of it directly. His gymnastic moves, jokes and daring stunts all added to the entertainment.
They were received by the hostess and guided to their seats at a long table facing the chef’s work station. She told them he would start in 15 minutes. Meanwhile, they ordered fruity cocktails. PA turned to her.
“Is this okay? Not too local?” he asked.
She smiled. “I like it.”
He heaved a visible sigh of relief.
“What was that for?”
“You have been tensioning me,” he joked.
She burst into laughter and simultaneously they felt the nerves slip away.
“So tell me about you,” she said.
“Allen Ikpoki, turning 40 this year,” he began. “I grew up with my parents in Asaba. My older brother was 6 years older than me. He died years ago. I think my parents were heart-broken because they died shortly after him, 1 year apart. My grandmother raised me. She was a poultry farmer so I went to school in the mornings and sold chickens for the rest of the day.”
“Feeding them, cleaning their cages, slaughtering them for sale and cleaning their entrails out: Yeah, not a very fanciful job.” He grimaced.
“I bet your grandma is very proud of you.”
“She is; up there in heaven.”
“O, I am sorry for your loss.” Zina made a sad face.
“Don’t be. She died at a ripe old age and I got to take care of her for some years.”
“Why did you choose architecture?”
“It chose me, I guess. Drawing has been my passion from childhood. My arts teacher in secondary school made me enter for a competition and the prize was a partial scholarship to study architecture. Grandma covered the rest. I wasn’t the richest student but I had enough.”
Their drinks had arrived so they thanked the waitress. Zina was eager to hear the rest before the chef arrived. She knew it might be too rowdy for talk.
“Why did you become a pastor?” she asked.
“I joined a school fellowship on my 1st Sunday in school and just discovered I had a flair for teaching the bible. They made me bible study coordinator, then pastor, then regional director. By the time I was in my 4th year, I was so deeply involved that some people mistook me for a full-time pastor.”
“How did you cope with academics? I heard architecture is very tough.”
“I can’t explain it myself. Though I was disciplined with time and lectures, I must admit that God helped me. I had it easy.” He shrugged.
“Very modest,” Zina teased.
PA chuckled. “I have never been accused of being anything but modest.”
“Well, some people may misinterpret the protocol officers you surround yourself with as a sign of egotism,” she stated.
He thought for a while. “I agree and I had to battle with that decision. Because I have remained single for so long, I almost became prey. The men around me help me maintain my sanity. Besides, they keep my reputation pristine.”
“Oho! Are you accusing us ladies of being predators?” Zina joked, clapping her hands in mock anger.
“No, I am not. And I won’t say any more because I know I won’t win this argument,” he said, laughing.
“Fair enough. I like a man who chooses his battles.”
“What else do you like?”
“Are we fishing for compliments here?” She rolled her eyes comically.
PA cleared his throat. The chef had begun to set up his equipment, greeting each diner loudly.
“Why did you start your own church?”
“I don’t want to sound cheesy but God spoke to me clearly. I told the founder of the fellowship I had been in charge of, and he gave me his blessing.”
“That’s unusual. Most founders would have had a falling out with you.”
He shrugged. They would have conversed some more but the show had begun. Zina thoroughly enjoyed the display and the food. She initially wished they had gone somewhere private but it dawned on her that he might have worried about them running out of things to talk about. At least, the entertainment livened up the night.
After dinner, she went to use the ladies room while he settled the bill. He rose when she returned.
“Shall we?” he asked.
She nodded. He let her precede him as they headed for his car.
“I hope you enjoyed the food.”
“PA, you’ve asked me that 20 times,” she joked.
He made a face. “Ouch!”
They stopped in front of his car.
“Maybe you are avoiding asking me what you really have in mind?” she asked.
He ran a hand through his hair. She raised a brow, fixing a gaze on him.
“I haven’t done this before,” he began.
She did not reply.
“I would like you to consider me as more than a friend. I want to know that you are open to a future with me,” he said finally.
She leaned on his car door, crossing her legs at the ankle. He had both hands clasped in front of his face like he was praying.
“PA…you are such a nice man and I am flattered by your attention. However, I have not always lived a pristine life and I worry that it would not be a good look on you,” she said finally.
“I’ll always think of tonight with fondness. You made me feel special. Thank you very much.” Her voice cracked as though she were about to burst into tears.
He stepped away and unlocked the car. She went over to her side but he had got in and opened it from inside. Dejected, she got in, willing herself not to cry as he began to drive to her apartment in silence.
I can’t believe I actually expected this man to take me in his arms and assure me that no matter what I have done, he will stick by me. Menopause here I come. At least I have my job to pour my frustrations on because at this rate, I will die alone; left to wither like a dead plant on a shelf.
Ovie was on the phone, discussing with Ama. It was late in the evening but she was awake, watching a movie.
“These old birds are on my case. How do I get them off my back?” he said.
“I don’t know why they are so shameless. That one called Becky was actually buying aso ebi before this whole thing unraveled. Can you imagine?” Ama said.
“I spoke to Nnamdi to know if he is actually interested in either of them. The guy is so ashamed of being linked to them. He wants a clean slate so that that girl in the choir will accept him.”
“Eh eh? I hope he is not going behind your back to encourage those women?”
“I doubt it. The guy seems sincere.”
“What do we do? We have to be careful so PA doesn’t find out about the things we have collected from them.”
“You didn’t know they were witches when you let them shop for you and give you money?” Ama laughed.
Ovie made a hissing sound. “My worry is that one called Nkiru, especially. I found out that she left her former church after causing a similar scandal.”
“You don’t say?”
“She is an expert O!”
“Ovisco! You should have warned me. I let her pay money into my account yesterday,” she regretted.
“How much did she send to you?”
She evaded a direct answer. “It is money to buy these boys a playstation. They have been complaining that all their friends have it and they don’t have. My brother, single-parenting is challenging.”
Ovie made a clucking sound in sympathy.
“I don’t want her to use it against me. The wise thing would be to tell both of them off. Nnamdi has moved on. They need to move on. I mean, there is no shortage of older men in church. Even if they prefer younger men, they should go about it the right way.”
“Don’t mind those cougars. At this age, they should be reading their bibles everyday and praying for the ministry,” Ovie snapped.
“Ovie, they are not much older than I am,” Ama remonstrated.
“Do you mean…you still…ermm?” He hesistated, embarrassed.
“That I don’t want to re-marry doesn’t mean there is no fire in the furnace,” she said, straight-faced.
Ovie flushed, embarrassed. “Small children are here O!” he said, comically.
“Yeah, right.” Ama laughed.
There was a short pause before Ovie spoke. “Let’s call them to a meeting and tell them we have spoken to PA and he said they have to get Pastor Odion’s say so to get back into leadership. That will absolve us of any wrongdoing.”
“What do we tell PA?”
“Nothing. He doesn’t need to know about this.”
PA had driven home dejected after his visit to Zina’s office. He remained in a poor mood for two days. Ovie could not explain his behavior and nothing he did or said could get him to snap out of it. On the 3rd day, PA decided to call Idoko who had returned to his base in South Africa.
“Guy, how far?” he hailed him in the popular Nigerian parlance for how are you.
“I am doing great, PA. Do you miss me that much?” he teased.
“You don’t call often and when I do, you ask me if I am missing you? Don’t let me use you to set an example,” PA joked.
Idoko let out a guffaw.
“At least, I am sure you are not calling to ask me for money. Your friend Ob is always calling to ask me to sow seeds into his ministry.”
“You mean he had to ask? All that money you are making, Idoko; how can you keep it to yourself?”
Idoko laughed again. There was a pause but it was not an uncomfortable silence. It was the kind of silence between friends who know when to banter and when to empathize.
“I have a hypothetical question,” PA continued.
“What if you met a girl you really liked and she refused to go out with you?”
“Any reason in particular or she just snubs me?”
“Say she is uncomfortable with something about you; maybe your tribe.”
“Or the fact that you are a pastor?”
PA cleared his throat. “Maybe.”
“What is this girl like?”
“She’s…she’s gorgeous, Idoko; Just the right height, very dark, slim and shapely. And she’s down to earth, even though she is the M.D of an I.T. firm.” PA’s voice was getting dreamy.
“It sounds like she might be the one,” Idoko teased. “I never thought I’d see the day.”
“Give me her details let me check her out.”
“It’s not happening.”PA shook his head. “I don’t want stories that touch the heart.”
“PA are you suggesting I would go after a girl you are interested in?” Idoko feigned hurt.
“Forget it, my man. Just answer my question.”
Idoko laughed while PA fidgeted with a pen on his desk. He was in his office, alone because Ama and other staff were in a meeting.
“Do you at least have her number?”
“Yes but, I haven’t called since I went to her office to ask her out to lunch and she shunned me.”
“Ouch!” Idoko teased.
PA winced. “Yeah.”
“Do you mean a girl turned down the fine PA, the PA who every girl in school wanted to move in with and cater to? No, tell me what really happened.”
“She said it was too sudden.”
Idoko sighed. There was another pause during which he seemed to be deep in thought.
“Call her tonight. Infact, call her every day but just for a few minutes to tell her you are still interested. She comes across as very independent, probably used to putting men in their place. You will have to beg,” Idoko advised.
“Beg, grovel, and throw yourself on her mercy. If you act all macho, she will go into the ‘alpha female’ mode and you don’t want that. You want to appeal to her softer side. Bring out the maternal side of her.”
“I don’t want her to be my mother,” PA said, frowning.
“Take it from a pro, bro. She doesn’t need your money, obviously has no ambition to become ‘Iya Pastor’, and she is not yet in love with you. There are many girls in your church who would jump at the opportunity to become ‘Mummy’ of the church. Why did you pick the indifferent one?”
“I just have a feeling she is the one. She intrigues me.”
“Cool. Intriguing is good. So, when do I get to meet this angel?”
“On our wedding day.”
Idoko let out a guffaw and PA could not stop himself from joining him.
“Hello, Ama, could I speak to PA? His phone has been off for days now,” Toyosi asked.
Ama made a face before speaking into the phone. “His phone is not off. I wonder why you have been unable to reach him.”
“Could you connect me to him?”
“Is there any particular thing you need? He asked me to handle any issues you have with your teenage group so he will be offended if you called for that reason.”
“Ama, you know how I feel about that man. Why are you treating me like this?”
“How am I treating you?”
“You are watching him slip out of my grasp!”
Was he ever in your grasp?
“Please, ask me for something else, preferably something that will not lead to me losing my job. I am a widow with two teenage sons.”
Toyosi hesitated. “What would you do if you were in my shoes?”
“I would have gone about it differently. You came on too strong and frightened the man.”
“Did you not see how he ran out of the café that day?”
Toyosi chewed on her lower lip.
“Give it some time. Give him some space. It’s either he misses you and asks for you or you meet someone else.”
“I’m just saying!”
Toyosi made a hissing sound and ended the call. Ama on the other hand heaved a sigh of relief, fanning herself with a piece of paper she picked from her desk despite the cool air from the air conditioner. She was tired of soiling her hands, accepting gifts to sway PA and making promises she could not keep. These days she barely recognized herself. She wondered what had happened to the Ama whose depth and spiritual maturity earned PA’s trust so much so she was given a very sensitive position in his office. How had she let Ovie corrupt her so much that she could do anything for a few miserable gifts?
She shook her head in disgust at who she had become.
“It’s entirely your fault, Osahon. When we wedded, did we discuss that you should die and leave me alone to raise the kids? How could you just cross your arms there in heaven, watching me suffer here? Do you know how expensive it is to feed boys? And they have your huge appethite!”
She burst into laughter at the incredulity of her thoughts, though tears were streaming down her eyes. Wiping them with the back of her hands, she rose to go into the bathroom and re-do her make-up. She didn’t want to have to explain her tears to anyone who walked in on her and she knew it was only a matter of time before someone walked in. There was a constant stream of people who either needed counseling or were staff who came to file a report. The office offered no privacy whatsoever.
Zina was sitting in Imaobong’s kitchen, helping her chop vegetables for a delivery. Her husband was away, the kids were in bed and her help was off duty. She had not told her about PA’s visit, partly because she knew that Imaobong would take her to task for not saying yes immediately and partly because she was embarrassed that the man had neither called nor sent a text message since that day.
Maybe he changed his mind. Maybe God has revealed to him that I am damaged goods. Maybe he found someone more deserving.
If Imaobong observed that Zina was preoccupied, she said nothing about it. Dressed in shorts and a tank top, she was sweating over her cooker, stirring a pot of soup. Zina had helped her draw up a business plan and reviewed her accounts over the months they had known each other. She had essentially become a mentor for her business. Now, they were discussing whether or not she should fire her delivery man who had spilled some food he was meant to supply an important client.
Suddenly, she noticed that her friend was reading a text message and not listening to her.
“What’s up?” she asked.
“Nothing. What were you saying?” Zina looked up guiltily.
Imaobong frowned at her but decided not to probe. She knew she would tell her in her own time.
“He was not even remorseful. Would you believe he asked me how I expected him to drive to Shomolu from here without spilling anything? I felt like abusing him in Ibibio. Thank God for salvation,” she went on.
There was no reply from Zina though she had paused expecting her to say something.
“Ufan, what is it?” she asked again.
Zina sighed. She scooped the chopped vegetables into a bowl and covered it, pushing it aside. Then she heaved herself onto a stool.
“You know how I told you that Ovie asked me what PA and I were discussing that day I went to his house?” she began.
“PA showed up in my office last Tuesday.”
“Whaaaaaaat! And you are just telling me?” Imaobong turned off the cooker and faced her friend, arms akimbo.
“Ehe…what did he say?”
“He said he wanted to take me to lunch!”
“Abasi mbok! You mean you kept this kind of juicy gist to yourself?” Imaobong was incredulous. “Ufan, you are very secretive.”
You don’t know the half of it. If you ever found out the secrets I carry, you would marvel.
“So, where did he take you?” Imaobong continued.
Zina pursed her lips. “I told him I would take a rain check.”
“What is that? Rain check? Which bank do they cash that one in?” Imaobong gaped at her friend.
Zina burst into laughter. “Ima!”
“Kpon! Don’t call my name. You mean ripe cashew fell into your lap and you brushed it off. How old are you again?”
“Sixteen,” Zina replied, tongue-in-cheek.
Imaobong snorted. “That means I am fourteen. Look, this is not a joking matter. I am not happy with you.”
“But I am not called to be a pastor’s wife,” Zina protested.
“Please, give another excuse. Has he proposed to you?”
Zina shook her head.
“Wait, Tuesday was almost a week ago. Has he called since then?”
“Iya mi! And you did not call him?”
Zina shook her head again.
“I don’t understand you but let me tell you, you are going to call that man right now.”
“He sent me a text.”
“Ehe…Thank God he has not lost interest. What did he say?”
Zina paused and reached into the pocket of her jeans for her phone. Wordlessly, she handed it over. Imaobong took it and scrolled quickly to the message. She read it aloud.
“Hi Zee: May I call you Zee? I am so sorry I didn’t call as I promised. The truth is that I felt that I offended you by asking you out. Please forgive me. I really like you but I don’t want to put you under pressure. Is it okay if I call you this weekend? Please make my day by saying yes. Regards, Allen.”
Imaobong let out a whoop of delight and did a small dance around her kitchen.
“Ama nam; eyen Abasi ama nam aye. Ama nam; eyen Abasi ama nam soso!” she sang in her language.
Zina watched her bemused, her chin in her right palm.
“Ufan, call him immediately,” she said when she halted by her side.
“What do I say?”
“You tell him that you were not offended by his request but that you needed time to process things and you would love to hear from him this weekend.”
“Ha! Doesn’t that sound too eager?”
“Too eager? My dear, other girls would have cooked him a meal and appeared at his doorstep by now. You don’t know how hot this guy is. He has no scandals, he is young, he is rich and he treats women with respect. Do you think the world abounds with such men?” Imaobong was counting off his sterling qualities on her fingers, leaning forward as she spoke.
Zina chewed her lower lip, contemplating her options. Imaobong began to dial PA’s number.
“What are you doing?” Zina asked, rising to snatch the phone out of her hands.
“It’s ringing.” Imaobong stuck out her tongue.
Zina looked at the screen and saw that she had inadvertently ended the call when she took the phone. She lifted her hands to her head, groaning.
“See there? He will think…”
The sound of her phone ringing cut her off. Both friends stared at the phone like it was an asteroid that had dropped out of space. When they saw it was PA calling back, they let out a simultaneous squeal.
“Pick up, hurry!” Imaobong shouted, gesticulating wildly.
Zina answered the call, walking away from the kitchen to take the call in her own home. Imaobong saw her intention and made a face but did not follow her. She intended to get the full gist afterwards, even if the call ended at midnight. Turning on her cooker, she proceeded to hum as she continued her cooking. She had a feeling that things would move along between her friend and PA without too much intervention from her.
I mean, what’s not to like, Lord? The girl is pretty, spirit-filled, loves children and has great management skills. If you ask me, she is very much qualified to be PA’s wife. I don’t know why she keeps putting herself down. Please help her to see herself through your eyes. Give her an assurance that she is accepted in the beloved. And Father, I want the best for my friend but in truth, it wouldn’t hurt my business for her to ascend to such prominence in church. She could connect me with so many church members who desperately need my services. And you know I pay my tithe regularly. Thank you for understanding.
In her apartment, Zina unlocked her door and went in. She had told PA to give her a few minutes to find a quiet spot so he was holding on. After locking the door behind her, she dived into her sofa and turned on her air conditioner with the remote.
“Hello?” she said.
“Hi, Zina,” PA replied.
“I am so sorry for what happened. My friend was playing with my phone and dialed your number. I realize it is quite late.”
“Thank her for me,” he said, chuckling.
“Obviously, you had no plan to call me or even reply my message.”
“Um…I would have replied.” She made a face.
“Okay; tell me what you intended to say.”
“Ouch…you are putting me on the spot,” she teased.
“Surprise me.” He laughed.
“I would have thanked you for the message and assured you I was in no way offended by you asking me out to lunch. Actually, I was flattered,” she admitted, pursing her lips.
PA blinked in the garden chair where he was sitting. He had been reclining outside, reviewing some reports when he saw her missed call. This was more than he had hoped for. Maybe God had decided to cut him some slack.
“Are you still there?” she asked.
“I’m here. Sorry, is this Zinabari or is someone playing a prank on me?” he joked.
She threw back her head and laughed.
“How was your day?” he asked when she stopped laughing.
“I didn’t do much today. I had to babysit for my friend while she went grocery shopping. She has twin girls.”
“That’s cool. I love kids.”
“I guess I do as well or maybe I am just easy to con.”
“How was your day?” she asked.
“I had to officiate a wedding in church and then I did some drawing. After that, I rehearsed with my band. I am playing for a friend who is releasing an album. Two more hours of counseling and then I had dinner. Right now, I am getting my reward by listening to your soothing voice.”
“Wow! You certainly didn’t have a lazy Saturday,” she teased.
“I see what you did there but it’s alright,” he said.
“What did I do?”
“I told you your voice is soothing but you ignored me,” he sulked.
“I also love your laugh,” he added when she had calmed.
“O, PA,” she murmurred.
“I don’t know if I am ready…I am not sure I am right for you…” she worried.
“Fair enough. What are you doing tomorrow night?”
“Why do you ask?” She was surprised.
“Six p.m. I’ll take you to dinner and give you ten reasons why you are perfect for me. What do you say?”
She paused, visualizing Imaobong standing over her with a cane and a murderous look in her eyes but plagued by fear.
“I promise not to try to get you into my bed,” he assured.
“PA!” she gasped. “I wasn’t thinking you would.”
“What do you want me to say?” He ran his hands through his hair in frustration. “I sat in your parking lot that day, forcing back tears when you sent me scurrying out of your office, tail between my legs.”
Zina bit her lip. “I apologize.”
“I’m begging here, Zee. Who should I call to speak in my favor? I am an orphan and I have no siblings. Help me out here. Please…”
“I’ll text you my address.” She silenced the inner dissenting voices.
PA pumped a fist into the air, unseen. “Thank you so much, Zee. You just made my day.”
“I had better leave you to get some rest.”
“That’s fine. I’ll call you before I set out tomorrow. Is there any restaurant you prefer?”
“Wherever you want to go is fine.”
“Goodnight then…and thanks again.”