Pastor Allen noticed that Ovie was lost in thought and frowned. He hoped he was not thinking of a way to avoid answering his question. Though he was his employer, he had always asked him to feel free to say exactly what was on his mind when he asked for his opinion. He nudged Ovie and fixed his gaze on his face.
“Huh?” Ovie shook his head to dispel the last fragments of his reverie.
“I asked why you are not yet married.”
“P.A. you have always said you have the gift of singleness. I have been your assistant for years and I don’t joke with your mentoring. I have not seriously considered marriage because I did not want to leave you in the cold.”
“Leave me in the cold?” Allen was amused.
“ Do you not like having an unmarried man in your entourage? At least I balance the equation since all your associate pastors are married,” he defended, straight-faced.
“You have had numerous relationships, Ovie. Do you mean you were just leading those ladies on? I have never encouraged that lifestyle and you know it. It is detestable to me.”
Ovie stammered, muttering something unintelligible.
“How is that girl, Wendy? Are you still with her or you have ended things?”
“She said she is not getting any younger; that I should define the relationship,” he replied.
“I ended things. She cannot make a good wife if she is giving me ultimatums.”
Pastor Allen stared at his protégé, who was stone-faced, wondering if he had had any positive impact on him at all or if he just used his closeness to a man of God to deceive vulnerable women. Finally, he sighed.
“I have avoided getting into a relationship because I planned to remain unmarried…”
Ovie interrupted him. “Planned? Does that imply that you have changed your mind?”
Pastor Allen held his gaze but did not reply. Ovie’s jaw dropped in amazement.
“When did this happen? I thought you have been proclaiming that you have the gift of singleness? You have even written two books based on that. How do you explain this sudden change of heart?”
“Explain to whom? I never said I would not get married.” Pastor Allen adjusted in his seat to rest his head on the head rest.
Ovie snapped his fingers in the characteristic way Nigerians do to express emotions when words fail them.
“Hmm,” he muttered.
“What?” Pastor Allen shrugged.
“I see commotion ahead. Do you know how many sisters I would have made serious cash off, if you were available before now? PA, help my ministry,” he joked.
“May your ministry never be to collect bribes in Jesus name.” Pastor Allen threw him a playful punch.
Both men burst into laughter. The driver slowed down as he approached a bad spot on the road. The traffic had built up. Pastor Allen saw that a boy had approached their car and as was the custom, proceeded to wash the windscreen with soapy water from a bottle and a brush. He had not bothered to seek permission. The driver wound down and shouted at him to desist but he stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.
“Let him wash the screen, Udo.”
“Pastor, the car is clean. I just washed it,” he complained.
“The car is clean but the boy is hungry. Would you prefer that he goes about robbing people? Let him earn his keep.”
Udo frowned but nodded humbly. He would have turned on the wipers to discourage the boy but he had to defer to his boss. That did not stop him from glaring at the lad.
“No one can read my thoughts after all.”
The boy wiped the windscreen clean and came over to Pastor Allen’s window, bowing and smiling expectantly. He wound down the window and slipped money into his hand.
“God bless you Sir!” the boy hailed when he saw that it was a one thousand naira note.
Udo saw it and sputtered angrily. “Pastor!”
“If you say another word, I will call him back and give him five thousand naira.”
Udo wisely shut up. Ovie observed the entire exchange with amusement. He had given up on trying to curtail his boss’ generosity. In fact, he had been a recipient.
“ Who am I to complain?”
Pastor Allen never held on to anything for long. A mere compliment had once made him give away a Piaget wristwatch given to him by a prominent Christian leader. On another occasion, he had given away his favourite car. He claimed he had a dream where God asked him to give the car to a missionary who sold it to finance his work in Northern Nigeria.
Ovie knew what he would have done with such a dream. He would have cast it out into the abyss.
“Did not the bible say we should cast down all imaginations and every thought that exalted itself?”
Till date, Pastor Allen had not received a car as expensive as the car he gave away. Ovie believed it was givers’ fatigue.
“No one likes to hear you gave away a car he gave you as a gift!”
Pastor Allen claimed it was a tree seed. He taught that certain seeds yielded harvests in few weeks: Those plants were low-caliber. Tree seeds, on the hand, took far longer.
They had arrived the two-bedroom flat that he lived in; so, they were unable to continue their conversation. Pastor Allen wanted to get Ovie’s opinion of the church’s reaction to him declaring himself available. Also, he needed to find out if he had any recommendations. Ovie was a serial dater but he was a good judge of character. He had a retinue of female friends and his loyalty was guaranteed.
“Perhaps, this matter will be settled in a matter of weeks.”
Pastor Allen was invited to preach at his friend’s church. The Jesus Church was popular for the bevy of ladies it attracted. Initially, the premise was that the ladies were students of the state university a stone throw away. Ten years after inception, that premise was unjustifiable. Most of the ladies were working class, wealthy, and well-endowed. He made a practice of spending five minutes of the time allotted to preach on holiness, no matter the topic. This ensured that the ‘bolder’ ladies thought twice about coming on to him. He went with at least four protocol members and the dedicated Ovie, who knew how to keep unwanted attention at bay.
A number of them still got through. While lounging in Pastor Onyema (the senior pastor’s) office after preaching one day, a lady burst in and fell at his feet. She resisted all attempts by his men to lift her up, forcing him to ask her what the problem was.
“Pastor Allen, I need your help. I know you are a true man of God. Every single night, I dream of my spirit husband coming to drag me to the sea. You are the one who always appears and stops him,” she said.
“Chineke ekwe kwa la ihe ojo*!” Pastor Onyema exclaimed before he realized he had company.
Pastor Allen smiled and patted her head.
“Get up, dear daughter of Zion. This is the day of your deliverance. Shall not this daughter of Abraham, bound all these years, also be loosed? She shall, indeed, for this is God’s will for her.”
He proceeded to sing and clap. The bemused onlookers joined him, reluctantly at first but eventually, they picked up momentum. The lady was in her mid forties, heavily bleached, wearing an outfit that would have been her size if she were as small as she probably thought she was. Her matted weave plus her caked face made it difficult to really take her serious.
But, Pastor Allen never took anyone for granted. As he prayed, she chanted “Amen”, ensuring her cleavage heaved in such a way as to end the prayers of a lesser man.
But Pastor Allen had not been single and celibate for this long without developing strategies to overcome ‘light afflictions’
“For we know that these light afflictions are working for us a greater weight of glory.”
Five minutes into the prayer, he asked Pastor Onyema to continue while he headed to another engagement. The lady would have protested but everyone in the room lifted their voice in supplication. They laughed over the incident for years afterwards but that did not stop them from tightening their security. Onyema was particularly embarrassed that it happened on his watch. He couldn’t even find anyone who knew her. She had ‘endured’ their prayers for a few more minutes after her target left. They let her go after encouraging her to return for discipleship training if she wanted. She never showed up.
“Toyosi, meet Pastor Allen. We have been friends from the university even though he refused to enroll in the University of Marriage.” Pastor Onyema rubbed his hands in delight as he handled introductions.
The venue was his home. His wife had cooked up a storm after the service, with the assistance of Toyosi and the domestic staff. Their two children had been shipped off to spend the day at their grandma’s. It was a genial atmosphere with Pastor Allen, Ovie, two protocol staff from both churches and Toyosi.
Allen guessed Toyosi had been invited because he had confided in Onyema, that he was in the market for a wife. Suddenly, he started to feel hot and sweaty. The spice in the food he was served was more than he cared for but not more than he could bear. Certainly not enough to make his palms clammy, like the first time he had been asked to preach. Then he had nearly fainted on the stage. Now he feared the queasiness in his stomach was a foreboding of what was to come.
“Nice to meet you up close, PA,” Toyosi purred.
He muttered something unintelligible and focused on his food like it was about to disappear before his eyes. She was seated to his left, to the right of Pastor Onyema who sat at the head of the table. Ovie was seated across him.
“Toyosi writes for a magazine and does freelance editing and proof-reading. You both will get along marvelously, as I know you are a bookworm,” Onyema was positively beaming, fit to burst with pride at his impeccable match-making.
If they expected a comment from Pastor Allen, they were in for a disappointment. He was not given to many words, especially when he had company. Even with close friends, he was fond of lasping into silence.
“PA, I really enjoyed your message today: ‘The philosophy of wealth’. Are you planning to expand it into a book? That would be a bestseller, I tell you.”
“Toyosi edited my two bestsellers. She knows what she is talking about,” Pastor Onyema chipped in. “Honey, could I get a glass of water?”
His wife, Remi, rose with a smile to fill his glass with water from a jug beside her. Ovie saw his boss fidgeting and knew he had to think fast to rescue the situation. He was not incapable of carrying on a conversation but Allen was a complex man. It was difficult for the mentee to say (after living with him for years), what was the best way to draw him out of his shell.
“Sister Toyosi, did you say you edited Pastor O’s bestseller?” Ovie asked.
“Yes, I did. I mean, I don’t want to take the credit but, he would never have completed the first book if I did not become a pain in the neck. Thank God for people like Sister Remi who held the fort when he needed to seclude himself and write,” she beamed.
“We give God the glory,” Remi said her lines perfectly, as though she had rehearsed them.
Ovie saw Allen wince and steered the topic to something neutral.
“What did you think of the news of French being made compulsory in schools?”
“Has it been confirmed? I thought it was a rumor.”
“Shouldn’t kids be learning Chinese or Japanese?” Onyema asked.
The other occupants of the table were silent, leaving the conversation to Ovie, Toyosi and Pastor Onyema.
“They probably should,” Toyosi concurred. “I speak French fluently as my father was a diplomat. We moved around a lot as children. My Spanish is fair but my favourite language is German.”
Ovie’s mouth hung open.
“Most of my friends are still from my days in boarding school in the United Kingdom. It is challenging moving around but I am grateful for the exposure it gave me.”
“God has a way of making all things work together for our good,” Pastor Onyema quipped, spearing a piece of chicken.
“He certainly does,” Ovie agreed, eyeing Pastor Allen. “PA, should I invite Sister Toyosi to the office to go over some of the drafts you have already made?”
Pastor Allen did not reply. He however cleared his throat so, Ovie took it as acquiesance.
“That’s settled then. I will give you my number before we leave so we can fix an appointment.”
Toyosi smiled. “Splendid!”
Pastor Onyema , Toyosi and Remi shared a glance that the others did not see, or pretended not to notice. The lunch had accomplished it’s purpose.
- God forbid evil!
Have a great day muses. Cheers, Dr. N