PA was on a lunch date with the teens from his church. It was a large group of about 48 children, male
and female. They were all casually dressed, clutching ice cream cones and frozen yoghurt, according their preferences. About 10 of their teachers had come along to keep an eye on them. The venue was a park where a picnic had been set up. Sitting in groups according to their cliques, they chattered animatedly.
He knew them all by name. They loved him for this and for the access they had to his phones no matter what time of the day. He had of course taught them not to abuse the privilege. One young man who had called him up at 2am to complain that his parents would not let him stay up to see a movie had experienced the discipline PA meted out to offenders. He gave him an earful and assigned him to wash the toilets every Sunday morning for three weeks. That was the alternative to his phone being seized or being cut off from the group with special access him. His parents were surprised at how eagerly he accepted the punishment and that he even apologized in writing to the pastor. Many more parents signed on their errant teens to the group, including non-church members.
They were now so many that the lunch dates had to be planned in batches. PA genuinely loved them and considered the time he gave them well worth it. Their parents constantly brought reports of changes in their behavior and were full of gratitude. The lunch dates were for sharing issues, no holds-barred and receiving counsel in a judgement-free zone.
“So guys, gather around. I want your advice on something,” PA began after lunch. When he had their full attention, he continued. “A 14 year old falls in love with a Muslim man who is her neighbor and agrees to elope with him to his state to convert to Islam and marry him. If she was your friend and she confided in you, would you tell her parents before she ran away? Secondly, would you discourage her?”
There was silence, and then noise as everyone began to discuss the story.
“I’ll let you think about it before you reply but everyone must say something. If you are shy, send me a text.’
There was laughter.
“Amara, why are you silent? Come over here,” he said to one of them.
The girl in question rose from her position and walked over to him. He took her aside so that no one could overhear them.
“You have been very quiet today. That’s unlike you.”
“PA, I made a big mistake,” she whispered.
“Do you want to tell me about it or do I get Aunty Ama?”
His secretary Ama, usually came along as did any of the wives of his pastors who was available.
“No.” Amara shook her head.
“What is it?”
“There is this boy in my class, Cybil. He has my nude picture.”
PA had to hold the tree beside him to keep from staggering. He took a deep breath and counted to 10 before speaking.
“How bad is the picture?”
“I was wearing panties but no bra.” Her voice was wooden, strained with unshed tears.
“Did you show your face?”
PA stifled a scream.
“Who else knows?”
“Why did you send it to him?”
She hid her face in the crook of her elbow. “He said he loved me and that I was the prettiest girl in the class. He said he needed to know if I was as beautiful without clothes. He said since I refused to have sex with him, he needed the nudes to masturbate with.”
“Now, he is threatening to release them online if I don’t have sex with him.”
PA scratched his head. He gazed at his mentee. She was in the gangly phase of puberty with an acne-ridden face that was most certainly not the prettiest in her class. “Do you want to have sex with him?” he asked.
“No!” she protested. “I hate him! If he loved me he would not try to force me to sleep with him. Besides, Stephanie told me he has slept with two girls in our school.”
“Stephanie is your BFF, I assume?”
“And she doesn’t know about the nudes?”
She shook her head.
“I need your permission to involve your parents.”
“No, PA, I don’t want them to know. My pop will kill me!”
“I have no choice. That is the only way to stop him. Amara, we will not try to confront him. With your parents’ consent, you will agree to meet with him. When he arrives, we will come in and ask him to surrender the nudes and call his parents. He will swear an affidavit not to ever use them in case he has copies or he will go to jail. We have to get him on tape, threatening you; else his parents will protect him from the long arm of the law.” PA was earnest, worried that her fear of her parents’ wrath might push her to make the wrong decision.
Amara was silent, considering her options. He saw that the larger group needed him; they were becoming loud and fidgety, so he placed a hand on her shoulder.
Ovie had met the girl of his dreams. After service that Sunday, he was dashing out to pick a document from PA’s car when he bumped into Imabong. He knew her from when he had facilitated a meeting between her and PA. She had needed his counsel about an issue.
“Good afternoon, Sis. Imabong. How is the family?” he asked after apologizing for the near accident.
“Very well, Ovie. Meet my friend Zina. Today is her first day in church.” She pushed the said friend who was standing slightly behind her, to the front.
Ovie, for the first time in his life, was speechless. He didn’t even realize his mouth was hanging open as he gaped at her. Imabong noted his reaction and smiled cunningly. She intended to get her friend hooked within weeks. He was a good catch but if he didn’t go for her, she knew he was connected to a number of eligible bachelors in the church,( being so close to PA and all), and could get Zina into the right circles.
“Zina is the M.D of Dataconsult. She just moved to Lagos and we are neighbours. Isn’t that awesome?” She smiled.
“Awesome,” Ovie mouthed, referring to her figure in a blue dress that fit her like a glove.
“Zina, meet Ovie, the senior Pastor’s personal assistant and very dear friend.”
Zina smiled as they shook hands.
“Could I get your card? I would love to discuss some IT needs we have in the church. You may have noticed our monitors failed to display the scripture PA quoted once or twice during the service.” He was thinking on his feet because he knew there was no other way he would get her number.
“Of course.” She handed it over, after getting it out of her purse.
“I hope you enjoyed the service,” he asked.
“I did, even though we were late because my former bestie here, took forever to do her make up.” She gave Imabong an evil look.
That one affected a pained expression. “Former bestie?”
“Yes, I have no love for latecomers,” she retorted.
“I have apologized. Next Sunday, I will be prompt.”
“Will there be a next Sunday?”
Ovie’s ears pricked. “Ah, Sister, you cannot hold it against all of us. I will come and pick you on Sunday, if Sis. Imabong will not be ready in time. Kindly pardon us.” He grinned cheekily.
“Won’t you be busy getting your pastor to church?” She raised an eyebrow.
“He will happily excuse me. Souls are very important to PA.”
“But I am not a soul in need of saving. That applies to an unbeliever you are trying to win over. I am…”
Imabong could see an argument brewing and wisely stepped in. “Ovie, I am sure you were rushing to somewhere. Don’t let us keep you.”
“That’s right. I’ll see you ladies. Thanks for the card, Zina and may I say that you look very beautiful in that dress. What is it, ASOS?” He held out a hand for a handshake.
Zina raised a brow. “You know your fashion.”
“I have a number of sisters who educate me on what’s in and what’s not. Have a great day.”
“Great meeting you…and thanks,” she replied.
Imabong smiled as she observed her watching his retreating back. “Ufan, I see you like what you see?”
“Ima, I see you are a matchmaker.” She turned to face her willy friend. “You made us stand here for almost 10 minutes, pretending to be making a call.”
“He always dashes out after the service. I don’t know what he goes to the car park to get but this was the best way to get his attention.” Imabong grinned.
“You are unbelievable!” Zina was astonished.
“My dear, faith without works is dead.” She chortled.
“Eh, eh! Is that how you met Felix?”
“That was years ago. Things were easier then. Men actually did the work of wooing women. Nowadays, they have been spoiled by the ladies of easy virtue.”
They had begun walking toward the nursery to meet her nanny who had gone to pick up the twins.
“My sister, you are right. I have decided to stay on my own. Must we marry to get to heaven? These men are too entitled these days!” Zina snapped her fingers.
“Would you pay for the cow if you got the milk for free every day?” Imabong inclined her head as she asked.
“No, I would not. And men are great negotiators. It has to be a great deal; else, they are not buying.”
“You have swum among the sharks for so long.”
“True. I know how they think, I can read their moves and I know how to control them. When I am at work, I am one of the boys. That was how I ascended so fast. I didn’t have any godfather. My parents are middle-class. I didn’t have any special connections. All I had was grit and the favor of God.”
Imabong laid a hand on her arm. “Did you ever have to fight off male attention?”
“No. Like I said, at work, I am one of the boys. I work harder than they do. I do my research. I put in more hours and I pray for angelic covering. No one has ever approached me for sexual favors. Once or twice, I was nearly passed over for promotions. All I had to do was threaten to quit. I have made myself such an asset that they would rather offend the powers that be, than let me go to a rival company.”
Imabong gave her a Hi-five. “That’s my girl. I wish I had met you earlier. I actually quit my job because of harassment. One oaf decided I was the apple of his eye and I knew it would get of hand if I stayed.” She sighed.
“I am sorry to hear that. Well, it worked out for good. You have a great business and with time, I think you will be making millions,” Zina said to cheer her friend up.
“Amen, Sis, Amen!”