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.”