“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?”