“Didi let’s go to the bible class together on Saturday. They keep bugging my phone and I just want to go so I can get them off my back.”
I stare into my phone aghast. The caller id is Stan; I remember we took this picture at the beach one month into our relationship. Yes, he responded to the altar call last Sunday while I was working off shore and I was excited that we are both “born again and heaven-bound” but I am surprised he wants to attend the class.
“Why?” I ask.
“I don’t think it will be any harm. Don’t you want to formally join the church and get your name into the register?”
“Is that what it takes?”
“I think so. Come on; it will be fun. Shall I pick you up at 4.30pm?”
“I have a bridal shower next Saturday,” I argue.
“Won’t it be in the morning?”
“Even if it is, I don’t want to go for the class. Go and then you can tell me all about it afterwards.”
“No way: It was you who first invited me to church. How can you abandon the soul you won?” he teases.
“Ha!” I scoff.
“I’ll buy you suya afterwards.”
Stan knows I am a fan of suya and he even introduced me to the hottest suya spot in town. I thought I knew Lagos until I went there with him and met highly influential people from all walks of life eating suya in the wooden shade. One of them was an ex of mine who is a colonel in the army. He barely acknowledged me when he saw me. I didn’t say anything to Stan; after all it is none of his business.
“Let me think about it,” I say finally.
“Great; I’ll pick you up then. Love you.” He ends the call after blowing me kisses.
That is a habit Stan has that irks me. He dismisses my need for space and to have control without even batting an eyelid. My wanting to think about his offer means acquiescence in his books. After years of going along with whatever Chichi says I have about had it. In every other respect he is wonderful. He is attentive, kind, romantic and generous. Despite my sufficient income, he has been sending me hundreds of thousands of naira monthly, buys me gifts randomly and sends messages every morning. He made my picture his display picture on social media and has introduced me to all his friends. My mother is already in love with him though they have never net because he has won her over by spoiling her with gifts. I know it would be ungrateful to complain but I just wish he would not go ahead with whatever he originally planned even after I have voiced dissent. After a while one begins to feel invisible, irrelevant…taken for granted and it was so from day 1.
Nedu was thinking of an innovative way to take the bible class for that Saturday. He was checking the websites of some of the churches he felt were leading in soul-winning hoping to scrounge an idea or two when it hit him that he hadn’t prayed about it. He dropped to his knees and began to pray placing his hands on his abdomen as he did whenever he wanted to hear from God.
“Dear Holy Spirit, you are my mentor and counselor. Give me innovation and inspiration. I want my classes to be dynamic and life-giving. Touch my mind and fill it with pictures from your word that grip the minds and hearts of my listeners and set them on fire in Jesus name.”
After a few minutes, he picked up his phone and began to play some worship music while still sitting still. It was a Thursday. He was on his desk in his office preparing the outline for the class he was to teach. Just then, he happened to look up and spotted a hawker walk past his shop with a tray of leafy vegetables on her head.
“That’s it! Thank you Father. I love the way you come through for me.”
Rubbing his hands in excitement, he began to plan the class. He decided to call his younger brother who owned a farm located 20 minutes away from the church to discuss his ideas with him and to solicit his help. After that he called his assistant follow-up director Kevin and told him what he wanted to do. They shared a laugh over the possible reactions to their approach but they were confident they were on the right track. When he ended the call, his sales assistant came in to ask for permission to take half the day off to run some personal errands.
“You owe me extra time, Bosco. I am not paying you to take off and do what you like during working hours,” he warned.
“Thank you sir. I appreciate it,” the young man said bowing.
He waved him away and pulled out his laptop. He had accounts that needed balancing and time was precious.
Stan and I got to church at 5.pm for the new converts class. He helps me get out of the car and smiles when I turn to check myself out in the car window closest to me.
“You look gorgeous honey.”
I make a face at him and he laughs.
“I’ll have you know I asked you out because I want beautiful kids. When you doubt how exquisite you are, I wonder whether I am mad or you are blind,” he teases.
“Flatterer!” I scoff though I am tickled.
He takes my hand and pulls me close for a hug before locking the car.
“Lead the way,” he says.
We make it to the room being used as a venue for the class just as it began. Kevin is standing at the front speaking.
“Good evening everyone and thanks for being punctual. Please introduce yourselves to one another and then pick up a name tag and put it on. My name is Kevin Odion and I am the assistant to Nedu who is our coordinator. Annette is the communications director for the unit. Thank you all for receiving her calls and keeping your promises to attend.”
There is a pause and then a buzz as conversation ensues as people get to know one another and also rise to find their name tags. In all there are about 30 people in attendance and more than half are female. I get my tag and adjust my jeans before sitting beside Stan wondering why I had been so nervous about attending. Chichi has been through the class but could not tell me what exactly it is about. Moses was no help either as he had done his in another church. I sneak a glance at Stan, sitting beside me, looking good enough to be eaten in his black T-shirt and blue jeans. Thank God he came along. My nerves are quite settled and I even feel serene.
I look around for Bro. Nedu but he is nowhere to be found. Maybe he had somewhere to be. He will find out that I made it and forgive me for being rather distant on phone for the 3 months he has made it a duty to call me once a week to invite me. As admirable as his persistence was, I had no reason to budge. Whatever they are teaching that did not change Moses, that did not screen out my friend Chichi and that accommodates the numerous members I see living a life more sinful than mine; is probably a waste of time.
Being here Stan makes it worthwhile as we have almost become inseparable. The only reason I have not moved into his house is that I feel he is a keeper and I don’t have the liberty of time. He has to propose in a few months or I will move on. When I was in my twenties, I could live with men because it didn’t matter if they married me or not. I hoped they would but if they didn’t, it wasn’t the end of the world. Now, I feel that I need to get married as soon as possible. My mom keeps reminding me that menopause is the destiny of every woman (as if I need reminding).
“Now that we have done the introductions, we have some news for you. The venue of the class is actually a secret location to which we will be conveyed by some buses parked outside. Please rise and make your way to the car park,” Kevin announces.
My stomach tightens in alarm. “Where are we going?” I whisper to Stan.
“It can’t be anywhere far. Maybe the room is too small and they rented an event centre.”
I relax, thinking he is probably right. He picks up my red bag and hands it to me. Stan is one of those men who is secure he could walk down the street carrying my bag but since we are in church I know he is being discreet. That is another thing I love about him. He is demonstrative but he knows when it would make me uncomfortable and holds back.
A few people are gathered around Kevin trying to get him to tell them where we are going but he just smiles and asks them to trust him. We file out making quiet conversation and soon arrive at the bus and take seats. The lady seated beside me smiles and taps her tag.
“My name is Preye. I love your top.”
“Thank you. I picked it up in Zurich when I went for a conference last year.”
“It’s lovely. Yellow is your colour.”
“Thanks. I’m Ndidi. Do call me Didi.” I extend my hand for a shake. Stan who is seated to my right also says hello and shakes her hand.
“Where do you think we are going?” I ask her.
“Maybe we are going to the pastor’s house. I heard he has a huge house not far from here,” she says.
Stan rolls his eyes, unseen by her. “That’s not likely.”
“He thinks we are going to an event centre,” I tell her.
“That sounds plausible but the church has a room that can seat 100 people apart from the one we were in and it is not in use.”
I am interrupted by the driver hooting his horn at the gate of a farm. A sign in front reads “Maduabuchi Farms”. The gates open and we drive in to park a short distance away. I clutch my bag wondering why we are at a farm as we descend from the bus.
Standing before us is Nedu. I am surprised to see him.
“What is going on here?”
If he heard the murmuring he doesn’t let on. He just stands there, legs apart, hands behind his back smiling in his overalls. I wonder why he is wearing overalls.
“Hi everyone. Welcome to the first class of the 4 we organize for new converts. Today we decided to switch it up by coming to a farm. Jesus often taught his disciples using the things in their environment to explain what he was saying. I realize this generation has a number of people who think chickens grow in the supermarket…”
Nedu is cut off by laughter. I find myself laughing as well.
“Let’s welcome Omoye. She will give us instructions and some protective gear to put on before we go in. Give her a round of applause.”
We clap as a petite lady fully kitted in overalls, boots and so on steps forward. She explains that the farm produces vegetables and poultry products. They also manufacture their own feed and have a hatchery for rabbits, a fish farm and a nursery for flowers. After her talk, we on put some of the gear and head for the poultry. Nedu begins to explain to us what it means to be born again.
“Man is a spirit. In our spirit lies our intuition, our conscience and our ability to connect with God. Do you ever sense things before they happen?” he asks.
I nod. Many times I have felt like I knew something was going to happen before it did.
“That is the part of you God is after. We are born sleeping giants because by virtue of events in the Garden of Eden our spirits are cut off from fellowshipping with God. Spirits speak and their words cause ripples in the physical. You may turn your bibles or flip your phones to Genesis chapter 1.”
There is laughter at his phone reference.
“When you open your mouth and say “Be my lord and savior Jesus”, you have set in motion a sequence of events in the spirit realm. You have signed the release form for your spirit from the control of Satan who operates the kingdom that is responsible for all the evil on earth. Your spirit becomes reconciled with God and you can establish the dominion of his kingdom on earth. His kingdom is responsible for everything right with this world.”
A man raises his hand.
“Yes?” Nedu says.
“Can one get born again without saying the prayer?”
“You must say it whether privately or publicly or in your heart or under your breath. As long you, satan and God heard it, you are born again.”
Nedu looks around for more questions before continuing. “Your soul houses your will which controls your decisions, your emotions which control your feelings and your mind which controls intellect and reasoning. When your spirit comes under the control of God you have to train your mind to think like him. Isaiah chapter 55 verse 8 says our thoughts are different from God’s. This class is to teach you how to cultivate God’s thoughts by studying his word. Now you see why we are in a farm. The final part of man is the body and it is controlled by the 5 senses.”
I look round and see that people are taking notes as we had been informed there would be a test at the end of all the classes. I had chosen to record his talk on my phone. Stan and I were separated by two of our classmates so we could not make eye contact. I shifted on my feet and focused on Nedu.
“What God wants from you is transformation. You will see in this poultry that the egg becomes a chick which grows into a chicken but no chicken ever turns into an egg. They may lay eggs but they do not decide to return to eggs or chicks. Please take a walk around and take pictures. I want anyone who sees a chicken becoming an egg to raise an alarm so we can also behold it.”
I join the class in laughing. There is no way any chicken is going to turn to an egg. Even Darwin’s theory of evolution has not been in manifestation for us to witness; how much more devolution. I hear a chuckle beside me and turn to see that it is Preye. She smiles at me and I smile back. It appears I have made a new friend.
Hi, Muses, I apologize for the delays. Getting this out took a while so I wrapped 2 episodes in 1. Hope you enjoy and share, like and retweet on my handle @nenabekee.
Shoot me an email if you have questions email@example.com
Nedu regretted ending the call abruptly but he was more disappointed that he had not discerned there was a battle over Didi’s soul. He began to think of the next step to take. Of all the new converts of that Sunday, she was the only one who blatantly showed no interest in learning more. Two would be unavoidably absent from the class but they apologized and promised to attend the next one. From Didi’s tone, Nedu knew she would never attend any class and as soon as she could do so without a twinge in her conscience, she would be back to whatever she had left behind when she stepped forward that day.
He decided to call his closest friends and prayer partners to share his prayer burden with them. They were a group of young men who held each other up in prayers, met once a month to share and held each other accountable. In the group were Bola, the music director, who was married with 2 kids; Veno who played keyboard and was engaged, Kevin the assistant follow-up director, Chuks the head of ushering who was Moses’ accountability partner and Moses.
It was a group call.
“Guys, are we up for it? Midnight as Veno suggested,” Bola said.
“Midnight is great. Are we doing a fast?” Moses asked.
“We do a 3-day fast from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and pray together at midnight, Kevin replied.
“Thanks guys; I really appreciate this,” Nedu said.
“No need to thank us. I remember when we prayed together about those 2 brothers in ushering who were giving me sleepless nights. Do you know they are now 2 of the most dedicated members? Last month 1 of them won ‘Best dressed usher’ and the other won ‘Most Punctual usher’. I am so glad we prayed,” Chuks said.
“I like your idea of internal awards. Bro. Bola, shouldn’t we copy this in the choir?” asked Veno.
“You just want Nedu to win all the awards, don’t you?” Bola replied.
Everyone laughed for Nedu was indeed very dedicated.
“He won’t win best-dressed though; no offence meant,” Moses chipped in.
“It’s not my fault we don’t wear suits to alaba market,” Nedu retorted.
“You can still wear a suit. In fact your customers may even prefer it.”
“What customers want is quality products, excellent service and discounts.”
“Amen somebody!” Bola hailed.
The group of friends laughed again.
“How are wedding plans coming up, Moses?” Veno asked.
“These things ain’t cheap, man! When next I see a newly-married man I will be sure to give him a handshake.”
“You know we will be there for you. When you set up your marriage-planning committee, let us know,” Kevin said.
“Of course I am counting on you all. Thanks guys.”
After a few more deliberations, Nedu ended the call. He spent a few more minutes praying for Moses; asking God to bless his marriage and bless his fiancé as well.
It was the week before Chichi’s traditional wedding. She and Moses had decided to terminate the pregnancy because he couldn’t bear the thought that his pastors and friends would find out that he was sleeping with her. He knew that Nedu would not betray him; besides he had nothing to gain from it. Their group had wrestled in prayer for Didi but she remained nonchalant. She showed up in church every Sunday, arm-in-arm with her boyfriend who Chichi told her she had practically moved in with. Nedu had done everything he could to get her to attend just one class but she would not. He called, sent messages, and even tried connecting her with two women in their 40s who were mature in their Christian walk; all to no avail.
Moses did not blame her. He had met Stan and found him to be an intelligent, generous and demonstrative man. It was obvious he was in love with Didi from the way he fixed his gaze on her whenever they were together, holding onto her hand and rubbing it and talking to her like she was the only one in the room. He had yet to meet any other man who did not seem attracted to Chichi and that was a huge tick in his books. As far as he was concerned, Didi was a lucky girl. Add to all that, the fact that Stan was very good-looking and had the kind of money he had been sowing seed for all his life.
“Father, when will my own turn come? I have been paying my tithe since I learned about tithing and I always sow towards all the projects in church. Don’t you think it is time to change my level too? I also want to share testimony. I want to spoil Chichi. I want to bless my parents. Remember me for good in Jesus name,” he prayed under his breath.
He was waiting at a café for Chichi who had gone to see a vendor to finalize plans for her bridal bouquet. She insisted all the flowers at the white wedding must be imported white roses. They would be flown in from South Africa the day before. He thanked God for all her savings over the years and the huge donation her boss at work gave them for the wedding. How else would they have pulled off such an expensive wedding?
“That is why it is good to be diligent at work.”
He felt a hand on his arm and snapped out of his thoughts. It belonged to a young lady he did not know. She was staring at him.
“Are you the guy who plays the guitar at Shepherd centre?” she asked.
He smiled at her, flattered. “Yes ma, I am.”
She squealed in excitement and clapped her hands, almost dropping the phone she was holding. “I loved your solo on Sunday. You play so magically!”
“Thank you ma. We thank God for his grace.”
“All my friends love you. Oh my gosh…we actually wanted to come over and say hello on Sunday but you seemed to vanish after the service. Fancy meeting you here?”
By this time she had taken a seat next to him and was snuggling up to him in a rather suggestive manner. Moses was uncomfortable particularly because the cropped top and skinny jeans she was wearing were leaving nothing to his imagination but he felt she was just being over-expressive and sat there wondering how to discharge her.
“Let’s take a picture. Better still, let me do a video for snapchat or my girls will call me a liar.”
She lifted her phone to the right angle and began to video the two of them while instructing him on how to pose and smile and so on. At the point that Chichi walked in, it actually looked like she was smooching Moses, though she was only putting her arms around him and resting her cheeks on his.
Chichi made it to the table before Moses could tear himself away and tapped her on her shoulder.
“Who are you? Nnunu (bird) what are you doing?” she asked.
“Excuse me!” that one tried to wave her away.
“I si gini (what did you say?)”
Before Moses could intervene Chichi pulled off the girl’s wig, threw it to the floor and pulled her off the chair. There was pandemonium. A few patrons of the café had surrounded them trying to pull Chichi off the girl but her grip was too strong. Meanwhile the poor girl was yelling like a banshee. Moses was behind Chichi begging her.
“Stop it Chibaby. I don’t know her. Nothing was going on!” he pleaded.
“Hapu m ka m ta this girl aru! ( let me bite her)”
“I’m begging you.” Moses had his hands around her waist trying to pull her away.
“Aunty leave her. She won’t do it again.” A patron lent his voice.
“Let them fight!” One prankster called from the back of the crowd.
The whole incident lasted about 10 minutes though to Moses it had lasted forever. He stood there mortified as Chichi finally released the girl and ordered her to run away and never look in his direction again. She picked her wig and bag from the floor and left in tears. The crowd began to disperse as the manager of the establishment stepped forward and asked them to leave. Chichi grabbed Moses’ hand and dragged him away.
“Who even wanted to taste your expired products?” She made a loud hissing sound as she stomped out.
Outside, Moses stood leaning with his back to his car arms crossed over his chest, tapping his foor furiously. Chichi went over to the passenger door and tried to open it. It was locked.
“Unlock the door,” she requested.
“If I don’t will you also fight me, Chichi? What was that all about?” he spat.
“Are you angry with me?”
“Shouldn’t I be? What were you thinking causing a scene like that?” Moses was pounding one fist into his open palm angrily.
“Please open the door. The heat is too much. I want to sit down.” Her tone was unperturbed, conversational.
He released a sigh and unlocked the car door for her. She thanked him and got in; putting her purchases in the backseat. He got in and started the car.
“Chichi, I am not happy with you. Your behavior was embarrassing and…”
She reached over, fixing her earnest eyes on him and took his hands in hers cutting off his words with her soft touch.
‘Gbahara m ezigbo di m (forgive me dear husband). You are right and I was wrong. It will not happen again. I just couldn’t stand the thought of another woman touching you,” she cooed.
“I can’t have that. You should have listened to me,” he insisted shaking his head.
“Let’s forget it happened, please.” She tugged at his earlobe gently leaning forward in a manner that caused his anger to evaporate like water left for too long in a boiling kettle.
“It’s okay. It’s just that I never saw this side of you. Are you sure you didn’t watch too much wrestling on T.V. as a child,” he joked.
She laughed before changing the topic as he put on his seatbelt and sped off. Later when she told Didi about the incident Didi pitied Moses who had been shielded from his fiance’s true nature. Unlike Didi, what Chichi did was not out of jealousy or anger. On the contrary she was just marking her territory. It was her way of manipulating him into staying faithful. It was probable that her heart rate did not increase by even a beat throughout the incident but the memory of the embarrassment would serve to restrain him from cheating and if he did, at least he would not be brazen about it.
Thanks for reading. Kindly leave a comment, like, share and retweet via @nenabekee on twitter.
Who is your favourite character so far?
What do you think about Moses’ decision to get rid of Chichi’s pregnancy?
Are bridal showers and weddings getting too flamboyant?
“Didi, I am pregnant,” Chichi said.
I almost fall out of my chair in shock. She is the most careful woman I know and her cycle is as predictable as the clock which is why she has had only 1 abortion that I know of. I remember her telling me that she and Moses had to be careful not only to avoid getting caught but also not to get pregnant. The church would not wed them if she was pregnant. They would have to do a “marriage blessing”; probably in some“ office in Shepherd centre without the normal fanfare of church weddings or wed in another church.
“How did it happen?” I ask.
“O buro Moses (Is it not Moses)? He claims he reacts to condoms and I told him it wasn’t my safe period but he said he would be careful. Lee nu ya (Look at the result),” she said folding her arms.
I was at hers because a tailor was to come there and take our measurements for the clothes for her wedding. She was running late.
“Ke ihe I ga-eme (What are you going to do?)”
“I don’t know. Moses says we can’t keep it. He can’t lose the job in church.”
“Will they fire him because you got pregnant?”
“You don’t know these people. They can be petty. Even if they don’t fire him, he won’t be seen in the same light ever again.”
“Well…I don’t know how that is a loss. Maybe they need to see him for the hypocrite he really is!”
“Didi!” she gasps.
“What did I say that is not true? He has everyone fooled that he is on a high spiritual plane or something yet, he is asking you to get rid of his baby.” I spit in disgust and cross my arms before the thought hits me. “Wait, is it his child?”
“How should I know?” she replies non-pulsed. “The child belongs to whoever I decide to keep it for.”
“O gini (What is it)?” She rises from her couch to pick the remote from the centre table and proceeds to flick through channels casually as if she just announced that it rains in Nigeria.
I gape at her, mouth open as she stands with one knee on the table and her left hand on her waist. She has crossed many lines in the past but now I feel like I can see into her soul and what I see is frightening. I feel like in place of her soul she has a yawning hole; deep and dark and menacing, filled with the souls of all the men she has been with. I shiver with repulsion.
“How did I ever admire her so much that I wanted to be like her?”
She takes her seat before speaking again. “Why is that tailor taking so long?”
“Chichi why did you continue sleeping with your boss when you knew you were engaged to Moses?”
“Who will pay for me to maintain my lifestyle? Is it Moses who can hardly fend for himself? I had to give him money to secure a venue for our traditional wedding. His rent just expired and his car is on its last legs. Why doesn’t he ask where I get all the money from?”
“He is afraid to ask…” I realize.
“Does such a man deserve…never mind.”
She picks up her phone, dials a number. I overhear her scolding the tailor for being so late and urging her to hurry.
I find myself wondering whether Stan would ask me to abort his baby if he found I was pregnant. Then I find myself wondering what Nedu thinks about abortion.
“Why am I thinking about Bro. Nedu?”
“That woman is testing my patience. I will change tailors if she doesn’t show up. The last time she kept me waiting like this it turned out she was lying and had never left her shop. Ndi mmadu di nno unreliable (people are just unreliable).”
“How far gone are you?”
“Is there any one apart from your boss?”
She nods. “There’s Chief Braithwaite and Felix.”
“But…but…Felix is married, newly married. I thought you guys broke up?”
“Is it my fault his wife doesn’t know her duty? He said she is frigid. All these “sisters” who don’t want you to test before marriage: She was hiding her issues. The guy came to me in tears. I had to put him out of his misery.”
She reaches for her glass and takes a gulp. With her it is never anything light. It’s go hard or go home. Even when she used to smoke she was smoking Cuban cigars. She gave them up last year when she felt she was losing control. I hug myself. There is a chill in the air.
Maybe it comes from us coldly discussing the future of a child who did not ask to be conceived by a mother who exists solely for the next thrill.
Maybe it is because of all the alcohol we have consumed.
Maybe it is about to rain.
I feel sad but I can’t explain why. Though I am the less adventurous of the two of us, I always defended her actions. Now I find myself wondering if there will ever be an end to the excuses.
“Where does it all end really?”
I realize I have spoken out my thoughts. “What will happen after the wedding when Moses finds out he has been fooled?”
“Like the good Christian that he is, he will accept his lot and make the best of it. Come to think of it, he is getting me.” She points at herself. “All this gorgeousness for one man?”
I laugh despite myself. She has a point; a woman as highly coveted as she is only comes at a price and Moses will pay it whether or not he realizes it.
My phone jars me out of my reverie at work the next day. It is Nedu. I realize I didn’t call him.
“Hi. Bro. Nedu good evening.”
“When did it become “Bro. Nedu?” he asks.
I almost blush and I wonder why. “Why am I so nervous around him? I feel like a bumbling fool, barely able to string two words together. Even pastors don’t make me this nervous.”
“I am sorry: Nedu. I should have called to tell you I will be unavoidably absent but if there is another class next Saturday, I will be there.”
“Will he let you come next Saturday?”
“I beg your pardon?” A cold feeling of dread descends slowly down my spine.
“I know you heard me. I had a dream last night and I saw you had a star on your head. Most people who are born to be stars find their destinies derailed early in life. It is never easy getting them to commit.”
“I don’t know who you think you are but…” My legendary temper has unleashed itself like a rottweiler that smells blood.
“Ndo Nne. Enjoy your weekend and come to class next week. I pray the angels of God protect you till you are ready to take the leap. Jesus loves you.”
“He ended the call! What is it that gives this man airs, biko nu?” I fume when he cuts off. “Who told me to attend that church and even come forward and write down my name? I should never have.”
If I had been tempted to cancel on Stan, the thought perished when he sent me flowers in the morning with a handwritten poem telling me how much he looked forward to our outing. By the time I got off the phone thanking him for the flowers, a package arrived for me. It contained the most decadent lingerie, my favourite perfume, chocolates and red wine. I had had great boyfriends but this one surpassed them all.
Which girl in her right mind would ever give up all that for a bible study class? Am I the first girl to get born again? I know a number of born again folk who live double lives; they have the right lingo, attend church regularly and go through the motions but when it is time to party, they take no prisoners. That is more my style. Not for me the life of the miserable minority who actually give up their former lives when they get born again.
“That just sounds so unnecessary.”
Stan and I are planning a romantic weekend together. Finally, I am going to give him a taste of what he has been missing all his life. He and I have been making out since we met but I held out on going all the way because I like him and I am hoping he is “the one”. If he is, I will have to make him work for it so that he will never be able to boast that I came on to him. Yes, I made the first move but that is because this is the 21st century and not bible-days.
Thinking of bible-days, the folk from Shepherd centre have been on my neck; calling and sending messages every day. One of them even works in a company on the same street as mine so she popped in on Wednesday to invite me to evening service. I declined because the whole thing was getting too much. I don’t want to start hearing voices or something; these fanatics can’t confuse me. The decision I made was to clear my conscience. At least if the world were to end suddenly I will be on the safe side. I never planned to change my lifestyle or habits or start going to church every day or let go of my toys.
“It’s never happening!” I say out loud, forgetting that I am at work and a few heads turn in my direction. I stare them down and they avert their gazes.
“People can never mind their business!” That thought did not refer to my colleagues alone but also to the members of Shepherd Centre.
When I close from work, I stop by a suya joint to buy suya. While the guy re-heats it, I notice my phone is ringing. I pick it without checking the Id because I am expecting a call from Stan.
“Good evening Ndidi,” I hear.
I realize it is not Stan but it would be childish to end the call without speaking though I suspect it is from Shepherd centre.
“Good evening,” I reply in my most disinterested voice.
“How was your day?”
“Invite me to church already so I can say no.” I am rolling my eyes so hard that if my eyes could speak they would ask me to stop.
“Sir, I had a good day. Could I call you back?”
“Do you intend to call me back or is this a way of getting rid of me? I told you I would be on your case. My name is Nedu by the way.”
“He laughs! He has the temerity to laugh? What nerve!”
“My full name is Chinedu. I have been called Nedu for as long as I remember. What do you prefer to be called?”
I ignore him hoping he will get the message.
“Ndi? Ndi? Are you there?”
No one has called me Ndi since I was a child. I recoil in horror at the name. “Didi…everyone calls me Didi,” I almost gasp out.
“I’m so sorry; Didi, forgive me. I have been praying so much for you that I feel like I know you already.”
“Praying for me?” I gulp.
“Yes, I always pray for the new believers by name.”
“New believers: Is that what it is called?”
“Yes. When you give your life to Christ, you become a child of God. You will find that God sends his spirit into your heart and the first sign of his presence is joy. Did you feel excited when you prayed this morning?”
“Pray? I was too busy dreaming about my weekend getaway.” But no one needs to know that. Aloud I say, “I did not pray. I don’t know how to pray.”
“That is why you need to attend this class on Saturday. You will learn about the new life that is yours in Christ and even learn how to pray. Sister Annette said you told her you would not be able to attend but I called to urge you to shelve all other plans and put Jesus first, please.”
There is a pause but it is not an awkward one. Something must be wrong somewhere. I find myself actually considering cancelling my plans with a 6 foot tall hunk of creamy goodness who earns in 6 figures and who has leased a boat to take us to a private island for a weekend to remember. How absurd!
“Let me think about it and let you know tomorrow.” I finally say.
“Is it okay if I call you, in case you don’t call me?”
“Yes, you may.”
“Thank you Didi. May the peace of God envelop you tonight and may angels thrill your sleep with pleasant dreams in Jesus name.”
“Amen. Thank you.”
Didi and Chichi were chatting with Moses when Nedu approached. He barely noticed Didi as Moses, beaming with smiles gave him a hug and introduced Chichi. She gave him her best smile (the one that said I know I am all that and you wish I was with you but it’s never going to happen). He shook her hand and smiled back for he couldn’t help himself. She was gorgeous.
“Father, remember me too. How did this bro who can barely muster the courage to ask a woman out win this stunner? Wonders shall never end!”
“Meet my best friend Didi,” Chichi was saying. “She is a project manager for Scholl Oil.”
“Hello. I hope you enjoyed the service,” he said to Didi as they shook hands.
“I did. You sing very well.”
“That’s right. You led the singing. I really enjoyed it,” Chichi added. She had the habit of cutting in when Didi was speaking but Didi was used to it. It made people assume she was quiet but it was just easier to give in to Chichi who hugged all the attention like a plant hugs the sun on a chilly day.
“Thank you. I won’t hold you up. It was nice meeting you,” he patted Moses on the shoulder. “Have a good one.”
I watched Nedu as he left, my eyes following his tall, dark and slim frame for as long as I could do so discreetly. He is handsome and his face is given to smiling. I can tell from the laugh lines around his mouth and his bright eyes. However, I know he will not be mine because he is already enamored with Chichi and no man I have ever dated has fallen for her. Besides, I can tell he will not be as easy to fool as Moses was. I heard him lead the worship and I can sense he is different from Moses; probably older and wiser.
“Let’s take my car,” Moses suggests. “Didi can drive yours.”
Of course Chichi agrees. I don’t feel upset because I would rather be the 3rd wheel than be all alone this Sunday. Tolu the boyfriend is out of town, I have no plans for the day and I want the opportunity to watch Chichi work her magic on Moses.
“I’ll drive on the condition that you play the guitar for us,” I say.
“Of course I will,” he agrees.
Chichi makes a face at me but I smile at her. I know she is worried that I have learned so much from her that I am becoming a threat; so I grin. She can’t get rid of me at this point because Moses will wonder why. He lifts his guitar case with his left hand and takes her hand in his right. We turn and head to the parking lot where she hands me her keys and struts off with him.
I drop my bag on the passenger seat and pull off my shoes after getting in. The car is a 6-year old Toyota Camry. My car is the Lexus SUV of last year. I have not bought myself a husband-hunting car because I want to see if Chichi’s approach will work. She assured me years ago that she knew exactly how to get any man to propose to her and that our lifestyle would not hinder her from getting a husband. It is not that she lacked offers for marriage but she wanted one in which she would be in control. Many men have promised her heaven and earth if she would marry them; young, old, married, widowed, divorced, engaged, all manner of men. And the majority of them were rich and influential.
“Nne, a cho gi m onye ga-aku m ihe biko (I don’t want a wife-beater please),” she would say.
My Igbo was not as fluent so I usually replied her in English.
“I won’t present a false image of myself just to get married,” I argued.
“Noro there (Keep waiting)! These men are all the same. They want an accomplished wife but when they marry her they want to turn her to an accomplished housekeeper. Ara gbachi kwa ha nti! (May madness strike them)”
“Not my own husband, please.”
“They cannot all be the same. My dad was a pretty decent man.”
“Yes, he was. Still, in old age, he moved out and remarried.”
“Well, you can’t blame him. My mother was the one who had an affair.”
“Do you know what she was enduring? If he was the one who cheated, wouldn’t she have been expected to forgive and forget? Gini ka I na-ako ihe a? (What do you mean?). I hate double standards.”
“I am not saying he was perfect. I am only pointing out that he was faithful throughout the time they lived together.”
“Hapu ihe a (Forget it). Men are scum!”
I thought about our argument while driving to the restaurant where we were having lunch. The Camry made a squeaking noise each time I tried to negotiate a bend and the steering wheel was stiffer than that of my car. Otherwise, the journey was smooth. I could see Moses pulling into the lot in his old Honda CRV. It was so old that I couldn’t even tell what year it was made and that was unusual for a car freak like me. One of my hobbies was guessing the year a car was made. This one was falling apart but it was a blessing as far as Chichi was concerned.
You see, the Honda was the reason they met. It had broken down in front of her office when Moses stopped to use the ATM on that street. He played the guitar professionally and was on his way to someone’s home to coach them. She spotted him from her Range Rover but parked inside and walked out to offer him assistance. Before he knew what he was in for, she had called him a mechanic, exchanged numbers with him and dug her well-manicured claws into his consciousness. The rest, as they say, was a piece of cake.
Nedu sensed disquiet as he left Moses and Chichi. Moses had already confided in him that he was planning to propose to her that month. He had told him that she was beautiful but when he met her he realized Moses’ vocabulary was seriously wanting. This was the kind of girl he suspected would be high maintenance and he wondered how Moses would cope with his earnings from playing the guitar. Also, Moses was unable to answer any question about Chichi’s spiritual heritage; he just went on and on about how caring she was and how understanding she was. Nedu smelled a rat.
The issue was that Moses had been turned down by at least 3 of the girls he had asked out in church. As far as Nedu was concerned, it wasn’t that he was a bad catch; he just went for the wrong girls. First, Moses tried to befriend the pastor’s daughter. At almost 40, they had an 18 year age gap. The girl was a graduate of an Ivy League school who had lived in the US for most of her life. She had a job in an architectural firm and was also running the church’s school for the less privileged. Who in his right senses would expect her to get excited about his offer?
He tried to introduce Moses to more level-headed sisters in church but no; he wanted very young, flighty and immature girls. Chichi was no spring chicken but Nedu had 2 sisters and he could tell that her handbag alone could replace Moses’ jalopy of a car. If she loved him genuinely, there was a chance of them being happy together but he just couldn’t put his finger on what he sensed.
As was his custom, Nedu sat in his car and prayed. He always put both hands on his upper abdomen when he needed to hear from God. It reminded him of the scripture “Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water”. That was his way of focusing; tuning out the distraction of church-goers filing out of the premises and all the thoughts besieging his mind in order to pray.
He prayed in his heavenly language, moving his lips slightly but keeping his eyes open so those passing would not know what he was doing. A few had already accused him of being ‘too spiritual’. He didn’t want to spook them any further. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be to his disadvantage the day he decided it was time to marry. Right now, he wasn’t in a relationship. He had only been in one since he got born again at the age of 18 and she broke up with him because her parents wanted her to marry someone from her own tribe. From that day, he resolved not to get into any other relationship except God revealed to him that that was the lady he would marry.
I was on my way home from Chichi’s house where I had parked when I saw him. He was tall, fair, drop- dead gorgeous and dressed to the nines. At the gate leading to Chichi’s estate, he sat in his very new Range rover, probably waiting for whoever he was visiting to sign him in. I hit reverse and pulled in beside him. It was time to pull out a card from the bag of tricks I had learned from Chichi.
I got down without turning off my engine to beat the security guard who was already approaching perhaps to let him in and walked over to him. Tapping on his window, I gave him my best smile. It’s not as good as Chichi’s but it’ll have to do. He winds down and looks askance at me. I lean forward, not too provocatively so as not to put him off but just enough to convey my message.
“Today is your lucky day. It’s ‘give-your-number-to-a-stranger’ day,” I say.
He smiles at me. Of course he can’t help himself and I know it. I stretch out my hand for his phone. He puts it in my hand. I type in my number and dial it.
“What’s the name?” he asks as he collects his phone.
“You’ll find out when you call,” I reply and turn to walk back to my car.
I can feel his eyes following me so I make sure that my walk will remain in his memory for a long time.
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.
You can send me an email on email@example.com
Follow me on twitter @nenabekee
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.
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.”