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.”
Ama was at lunch with Sis. Becky. The latter had invited her out, presumably to hang out but, she knew the real intention behind the date. She went reluctantly, knowing a refusal would earn her a bad reputation. No one could compel her, however, to accept whatever Becky had to say. With that thought to boost her morale, she wolfed down the sumptuous lunch in a high brow restaurant, secretly thankful that she would not have to make dinner that night as she felt too full.
Becky made short work of her food and pushed her plate aside. She then began to pick her teeth with a toothpick, a habit Ama found distasteful. Ama took a sip of water and thanked her for the meal. She lowered the toothpick to wave her gratitude away before continuing to pick her teeth.
“So, how have you been?” Ama asked, ignoring the urge to snatch the toothpick from her hand and fling it away.
“Not bad,” she replied, now using her tongue to poke at the remaining fragments of whatever vegetable was stuck between her teeth.
“I can’t stay too long. My sons are home on holiday so I need to be with them.”
Becky finally gave her her full attention. “I’ll get right to the point.” She took a sip of her glass of juice. “I need you to tell me how to get PA on my side. Everyone knows you have his ear. How do I get him to re-instate me as a leader?”
How about actually showing some remorse rather than devising means of getting off the hook?
Aloud Ama sighed. “I am as pained by your suspension as you. What of Pastor Odion? Has he not recommended you for re-instatement?”
Becky snorted. “His wife hates me. I am sure she is the one poisoning his mind about me.”
“Forget that former runs girl. She knows I know her secret. My younger sister and she were classmates. I have ‘data’ on her. That man does not know the devil he married.” She made a hissing sound after her proclamation.
Ama was shocked. She crossed her arms over her breasts. “Are you sure of this?”
“Ha! She was a home wrecker. I heard she was the mistress of some powerful men in Lagos. The wife of one of them even sent thugs to beat her up once.” Becky gesticulated as she spoke, her face contorting into as many expressions as it took to show just how disgusted she was about it all.
“One would think she was born in church,” Ama murmured, shaking her head.
Becky laughed. “I wonder if she has stopped drinking or if she now drinks in secret.”
“Hey! Don’t say that!” Ama clapped her hands in disbelief. “Does she drink?”
“Leave that gist. What I want to know is what it will take me to get this yoke off my neck. And Nnamdi has been avoiding me. Can you imagine that I had called my people to inform them I was bringing someone home to introduce as my husband?”
Ama choked despite all her efforts not to laugh. While Becky pounded on her back and offered her water, repeating the words “Take it easy”, she mentally reviewed images of Becky’s mother’s possible reaction to a suitor far younger than her daughter.
PA would have a fit if he realizes that this cougar is still eyeing his protégé. Why can’t she just move on?
Finally, Ama calmed and took a sip of water. Her mind was working furiously, trying to come up with an answer for the woman before her. Ovie had managed to get away with actually doing anything to jeopardize his relationship with PA by lying to both women that he was waiting for an opportune moment to present their cases. She was uncomfortable with that fib but could not see any way out.
“Let me think about it. You know this is the first time you are approaching me with this request. Give me a week or so to come up with a plan.”
Becky eyed her warily. “Why is everyone so afraid of approaching PA? Is he God? I don’t know why he is being judgemental.” She snorted.
“You would have done the same if not worse,” Ama scolded lightly.
“I can never be afraid of a human being.” Becky shrugged.
Yet, here you are, going behind PA’s back to plead your case. Why not confront him if you are so sure of your righteousness?
“I have told you what I can do. If that is not good enough for you, my hands are tied.” Her straight-face belied her inner disquiet.
Becky thought for a while, as if she really had any choice in the matter. “Well, I will have to accept that. I’ll expect to hear from you as soon as you speak to him.”
“You certainly will.”
Zina was working on some reports just before lunch that beautiful Tuesday morning when her secretary buzzed the intercom. She paused her work long enough to press the receive button.
“Someone is here to see you, Ma.”
“Who would that be? I’m not expecting anyone.”
“He says he is Allen.”
“I don’t know any one by that name.”
There was a pause as she appeared to be conferring with the guest.
“Perhaps you know him as PA?” her secretary said shortly after.
Zina gasped. “Are you sure?”
She affirmed that she was.
“Please let him in.”
She rose in a fluster and straightened her navy blue shift dress. Her hair would have to do as there was no time to rush to the bathroom and run a comb thru it. As for her make-up, what was left of the little she had worn that morning she could not even confirm.
PA entered, smiling, looking dapper in a dark blazer, a white shirt and khaki pants. She met him halfway into the room, extending her hand to welcome him.
“Good afternoon, sir. This is quite a surprise,” she managed.
He shook her hand and then reached behind her for a hug.
“I am sorry for barging in. I didn’t have your number and I just happened to remember where you work,” he explained.
“That’s alright. You are welcome. Do take a seat.”
She gave him a seat and took hers behind the desk. “I am so honored. Would you like something to drink?”
“No, thanks.” He leaned back in his chair, unbuttoning his jacket. “How are you? How has your day been?”
“Great, thanks. It’s been busy but I can’t complain.” She crossed her legs, trying in vain to look relaxed despite the turmoil in her mind.
What is this man doing here? Don’t tell me he visits all his church members like this? No, I’m not buying that. But, what could he want? I wish Imaobong was here.
“Have you had lunch?” he asked.
“No. I would have gone for lunch in a few minutes but you have all my attention, not to worry,” she replied.
He chuckled. “I certainly hope I have all your attention because Ovie seems to be my main rival.”
“Ovie is what?” She stared at him, incredulous, her mouth hanging open.
He leaned forward before he spoke. “I would like to take you to lunch, Zina, if that is okay with you; and even more than that, I would like a chance to get to know you better.”
They locked gazes. His expression was calm, serious but pleasant. Hers was one of disbelief and wonder.
“I think the coffee I had this morning was imported from the wrong country,” she thought aloud.
He didn’t speak while he waited. In fact, he didn’t flinch despite her piercing gaze.
“Are you asking me out?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Why? Why me?”
“I think you are beautiful, smart and just godly enough not to be spooky,” he replied, smiling. “And I think if you gave me a chance, you would find that I do not go around taking out pretty girls from my congregation.”
“Umm,” she floundered. “It’s rather sudden. Would you like to give me time to think about this?”
“Is there someone else?”
She burst into laughter. “Who would have thought that I, Zina, would be sitting opposite a pastor, discussing my love life on a Tuesday morning?” She wondered aloud.
“I love being a pastor Zina but there is so much more to me.”
“I have a master’s degree in architecture so I run an architectural design firm in partnership with two friends. I play the keyboard, saxophone and drums and I have a championship in international chess.”
“Wow! I am impressed,” she said despite herself.
“Does that qualify me for a date?” he raised an eyebrow.
She hesitated, biting her lip.
“Ovie?” he enquired.
“Not in the picture.” She shook her head.
“I’ll tell you what. Give me your number and we’ll reschedule.” She offered.
He sighed, disappointed.
“I am sorry but, this was too big a surprise.”
“I guess I will have to do it your way.” He reached into his jacket for his phone. Silently, they exchanged numbers before he rose. “I won’t take up more of your time.”
“Thanks for coming, PA.” She rose as well.
“Is it too much to ask for you to call me Allen?” His puppy-faced look would have melted a frostier heart.
“Please, permit me to call you PA. I beg of you,” she whispered.
“Okay.” He sighed.
She followed him to the door. They shook hands before she opened the door for him.
“Zina…” he said.
“Thanks for coming, PA. I’ll call you.”
He stood at the open door, wrestling with whatever he wanted to say but the moment was wrong. There were too many people moving about in the outer office and he could tell she was distracted.
“God bless you.” He said and left.
Zina shut the door behind him and leaned on it, her hands on her head. She could not believe the encounter she had just had. In her wildest dreams, she never envisioned herself being asked out by a pastor. She had hoped for a God-fearing man, even though her past only qualified her for wife-beaters and adulterers but this was stretching it.
Lord, are you mocking me? You know my story. If I begin to hope that a man as wonderful as this could love me, how will I ever recover from the heartbreak? The day he finds out who I really am and all I have done, it will be all over. I don’t think I can recover as swiftly as I did from Obas. Obas showed me just how worthless I am; yet, I moved on because I knew I didn’t deserve better. What are you doing to me, Lord? This one will cut deep. It will draw my blood, father. Let this cup pass me by.
Her intercom buzzed, interrupting her thoughts. She answered and then decided to skip lunch. It had occurred to her that she needed to fast and pray for clarity. And there was no better time to start than the present
PA was sitting in his car in the parking lot of the firm where Zina worked. He had driven himself there, leaving his protocol behind, to prevent gossip. Now, he felt dejected. He laid his head on the steering, struggling to keep tears in. He wondered if she was repulsed by him or she felt he did not meet up with her standards. It had taken him a week of fasting and prayer to work up the courage to approach her for a relationship. He even felt he had God’s approval.
What went wrong, then? The look on her face! I felt like scurrying out of her office. Man, she must have thought I was crazy. But, Lord, how do I get her out of my mind? I can’t even talk to anybody about her. Ovie would have been my confidant but he is interested in her. I can’t trust my friends since she hasn’t even given me the go ahead and my pastor colleagues favor Toyosi. What do I do?
Moji and Idara were in the backseat of the former’s car, heading to an event centre for a photo shoot. The topic of discussion was their friend Toyosi.
“She spent the whole day trying to catch the man’s eye. He just ignored her. My sister, I pitied her,” Idara said, shaking her head for emphasis.
“I think it was the presence of other church staff and the children that spooked him. She told me he has been warming up to her,” Moji replied.
“Don’t mind that liar. She has been making up stories. Their relationship only exists in her imagination.” Idara snorted.
“Hian! Do you mean he has no interest in her whatsoever?”
“Wow! I was under the impression that an engagement was imminent.”
“She spent the whole day watching him, trying to find a reason to join the group he was sitting with. In fact, I heard him tell her to sit with the kids so she could get used to them. Finally, she collected his secretary’s number, hoping to get her to oil her way. I had to hold back a laugh.”
“The woman will con her like Ovie did. Do know how much money she has spent on Ovie, buying him perfumes, watches, shirts and so on. He promised to use his influence but I doubt he has ever spoken a word in her favour.” Idara laughed loud and long.
Moji was quiet, tapping her finger on her bag in her lap. Idara suddenly stopped laughing and looked at her.
“What?” she asked.
“The last time Toyosi got her heart broken, she nearly went into depression. I know what I passed through trying to pull her out of the dumps and I do not look forward to doing it again.”Moji sighed.
“How do you propose we convince her to retrace her steps?” Idara asked.
“We have to stage an intervention.”
“She won’t like it…”
“It is better than her setting herself up for hurt.”
Idara nodded, her mind racing at the thought of Toyosi’s reaction to a confrontation. She was used to having her way and would prefer that she had come to the realization herself rather than being told by her friends that the good pastor was not interested in her. It was not something she looked forward to; though she knew Moji would not let her dodge the intervention. She could be caring at times but mostly, Moji was a bully. Idara sighed, resigning herself to fate.
“Guess who?” Zina’s voice rang.
She giggled as the occupant of the chair brought his hands to hers and took them away from his eyes gently. He turned his head and they locked gazes.
“Nda Bari! Pastor!” she gasped. “Sorry Sir! I am very sorry.”
She was curtseying as she apologized, flushed with embarrassment. PA smiled at her. He was still holding her hands. He rubbed her palms slowly, distracted.
“You have very soft hands.”
Zina was torn between wishing the ground would open up to swallow her and praying her knees would support her weight.
Why did no one mention how good looking this man is? Gosh, his eyes! And why is he holding my hands? But he is handsome, though. Why are his lips so red, so soft? And why is he holding my hands?
“Pastor, I’m sorry. I thought it was Ovie,” she mumbled.
“My name is Allen.”
“Sir?” She was bewildered. He surely didn’t expect her to call him by his first name.
“Ovie is sleeping. Do you want me to show you around the house?” he offered.
“I just came to install something in his laptop. Maybe I should call his number. I wouldn’t like to bother you, Pastor,” she said, trying to take her hands out of his unsuccessfully.
“Please, sit.” He pulled her into the chair beside his. “You haven’t told me your name.”
“Yes. I know you have a name.” He let go of her hands and crossed his legs.
Zina was able to get a good look at him now that she was sitting to his right. He was wearing a pair of jean shorts and a white T shirt. He had removed the ear phones in his ears and placed them on the bible on a small table before him. Obviously, he had been singing or praying when she entered and did not hear her. She had never seen him or any other pastor for that matter so casually dressed. It was getting difficult to associate him with the 3-piece suit wearing preacher image she had assigned all pastors.
“I won’t call down fire and brimstone on you,” he smiled again, trying to put her at ease.
She is so lovely. What a face! And that nose has to have been crafted during a worship session. And she is so reserved. I didn’t know there are girls who are still nervous around Pastors, in this day and age, what with all the forward girls I have been meeting.
“Please tell your name.”
“My name is Zinabari.”
“Is it an English name? What does it mean?”
“It means star of God. It is an Ogoni name. I am from Rivers state.” She had managed to regain her composure by reminding herself that he was just a man after all and she dealt with men every day. In fact, she had even had some of the more difficult ones for lunch.
“It’s very nice to meet you and I hope I did not embarrass you by holding your hands?” He chuckled, cocking his head to one side.
“You were embarrassed but would rather not hurt my feelings by saying so?” he read her thoughts.
She gasped, her hand going to cover her mouth and then laughed. He joined her and the tension seeped out of the atmosphere.
“I’m sorry I acted like a dork,” she wiped her eyes.
“No you didn’t. You were cool, calm and collected,” he said, straight-faced.
“Are you always this funny?”
“No. People complain that I hardly say anything. You seem to have loosened my tongue,” he sounded amazed at the realization. “I like your name.”
“Thank you.” She crossed her legs elegantly, tugging at the hem of the simple blue dress she was wearing. It would not do to show more leg than was decent in the presence of a pastor.
He rose to his feet and extended a hand to help her up.
“Let me show you around the house while you tell me all about yourself. We’ll go inside and find Ovie.”
She accepted his help rising but carefully removed her hand from his grasp afterwards. He let her precede him till they got to a wider footpath that allowed them to walk side by side. She could see a pool and a small garden in the distance.
“So, what do you do?” he asked.
To her surprise, she found herself opening up, telling him all about her childhood without a father and how her mother remarried 3 times. She had 6 siblings in all and her relationship with them was not always cordial. She told him about serving as a cook to an expatriate as a teenager to make enough money to go to the university. She told him about her rise in the corporate world and how she was now financially responsible for her family. She even told him of how she had planned a wedding with a man who was married unknown to her and only found out when his wife crashed her bridal shower.
He listened quietly, laughing at the antics of her mom to get more money off her and empathetic about her challenges in the corporate world. They had walked around the house three times before she realized they had not gone inside.
“We have not gone in…” she said, startled.
“I didn’t want to interrupt you.”
“Oh,” she said, suddenly flustered. “I have to give Ovie his software and get out of your hair. How could I have taken so much of your time?”
He stopped before her. “I have never met anyone as interesting as you. Do you mind if I…”
They were interrupted by Ovie. He came out of the backdoor and ran into them, surprised.
“Zina, I’m sorry. Were you looking for me?”
“Hi, Ovie,” she greeted, relieved.
“You didn’t tell me how beautiful Zina is,” PA said.
Ovie gaped at him, mouth open.
“I’ll let you conclude your business. Very nice meeting you, Zina,” he said as he nodded at her and left.
Both of them watched him till he opened the backdoor, went in and closed it behind him. The thoughts running through their minds were different yet similar. Ovie had never seen PA chatting with a woman, unchaperoned, in his backyard for that matter. And he had known him for over 10 years. It was proof that you could never claim to know anyone so well that you could predict his actions. And he used to boast that he knew PA in and out.
I wonder what they were talking about.
Toyosi had accompanied PA on that month’s hangout with his teens to observe and take notes. Idara her friend had come along with her camera. She really just wanted to be in close proximity of both of them to assess the potential of the relationship. This was especially important as she sensed that Toyosi was working up courage to send her packing.
In the bus they had shared with screaming teens, she and Toyosi shared a glance that spoke volumes.
Are we sure we are up to two hours of this?
PA insisted that everyone park their car in church and join the bus. In that way, the adults were able to converse with the teens and form relationships with them. He had been sitting with Ovie at the back, laughing occasionally while Ovie held a group of teenage boys spellbound with his account of his adventures as a teen. Toyosi wished she had the courage to go and sit beside him but she had to play it cool. She, Ama and Idara were sitting with a mixed group who were telling Ama about a scandal in their school. Apparently, a teacher had accepted a bribe to alter the scores of a student in that term’s exams and had been caught.
The story bored her. She was there for PA and PA alone. Fidgeting with the strap of her prada bag, her mind worked furiously, trying to come up with a strategy. Ama suddenly smiled at her and patted her knee. They locked gazes silently.
Maybe this is the ally I need! Thank you, Jesus. I have been working on Ovie not discerning my destiny helper. Forgive me, Lord.
Zina was on the phone with Ovie. He had requested some software from her the week before. She had sent an assistant to deliver it but there had been a mix up and he got the wrong one. She then promised to deliver it herself to make up for the error.
“I’ll be home all day. Come in after work or whenever. Thank you so much,” he said as the call ended.
She decided to stop at the hair salon and get her hair styled since the next day was a Sunday. Ima had hounded her on grooming so much that she now heard her voice in her head like a microchip. Each time she wanted to go out without make up or dressed down or with her hair disheveled, that voice quipped in her subconscious.
What? Don’t you know that no man knoweth the day nor the hour when the Son of man will show up?
Zina chuckled as she parked her car. She had given her driver the day off because she wanted to get used to driving in Lagos. Ovie had assured her that his house was very easy to find so she wasn’t worried. At the salon, she requested a simple touch-up. They offered her a pedicure and manicure but she laughed them off. She usually did her nails by herself at home because she just had no patience to sit for hours being pampered. Besides, she loved to work on her laptop while her hair was styled but doing a manicure would not allow that.
Flimsy excuses, she knew but she clung stubbornly to some of her ‘tomboyishness’ that Imaobong was desperately trying to hack away. Even though she enjoyed the admiring glances she received, a part of her wanted to remain anonymous. From her teenage, she had always wished she could fade into the woodwork. She wanted to be recognized for her brains and talents but men could not see beyond her face and curves. In the middle of a serious conversation, she would turn to find the man she was talking to staring at her breasts or something and she would feel so disappointed.
After giving her life to Christ at 16, she began to wear darker, loose clothing, so as not to be a ‘temptation’ but that didn’t keep male attention at bay. She had had to fight off more than one ‘brother’ who she had trusted before she clammed up totally. Now, she was being coerced to bloom again, to accept compliments without making a disparaging remark, to blush without turning away, to bat her eyelids when a man stared at her rather than glare at him. Ima was the mistress of seduction and though she had an unwilling student, she was unrelenting.
An hour later, Zina was on her way to PA’s house. It was easy enough to find. She was let in when she told the security men who she was there to see. The house was at the end of the drive in a quiet estate not too far from the church. She parked outside the gate, took out her bag and locked the car. Then she rang the bell.
A uniformed guard let her in. Apparently, they were expecting her. He pointed out the door to her and left her to walk there alone. She was almost at the door when she was distracted by a voice. It was coming from a chair in a quiet spot to the right of the door. Some potted plants were shielding it so she could not make out who was in it. Concluding it was Ovie, she sneaked behind the chair, reached out from behind and covered the eyes of the man in the chair with both her hands.
PA and Ama were at a retreat for leaders in church. All his pastors, their wives, as well as the heads of the various departments in church were present. Ovie was absent because he was down with a cold. The venue was the conference room of a hotel owned by one of the church members. They usually started with prayers; after which Pastor Odion would share the agenda. After everyone had contributed to the issues raised, PA would share a word and end the meeting. Breakfast and lunch were provided by the hotel.
Ama was worried about this meeting. She had heard from reliable sources that Sis. Nkiru who was the secretary of the music department had fought with Sis. Becky, deputy director of the music department. The object of contention was Nnamdi, a new entrant into the choir. He was a handsome man in his twenties who was discovered by Sis. Becky during the campus outreaches. While in school, he survived by singing in clubs and at parties. During an evangelistic programme hosted by their church, he gave his life to Christ. This was during his extra year in school. The school fellowship assisted him by raising money for his fees. He still sang in clubs however, to make money for his upkeep.
Sis. Becky was shocked to hear this and swung into action to help him get Christian gigs where he would earn a living. He soon graduated and she approached the church to put him on their payroll. It was his job to man the bookshop on weekdays but on Sundays, he sang in the choir. Also, he helped to organize the campus outreaches as the head of logistics. Occasionally, members paid him to sing at weddings, funerals, birthdays and other events. In two years he had been able to buy a car, rent a small apartment (which he shared with two friends) and so he became the toast of the single ladies.
What few people knew was that Nnamdi, Becky and Nkiru were in a love triangle. Nkiru was unmarried at 45, an average-looking owner of a medium-sized business. She had given up on men after being dumped at the altar at 32. Her reputation for being hard, quick-tongued and difficult to get along with, contrasted sharply with her generosity. Almost every member of the choir had at one time or the other, received a gift from her. She had paid half of the cost of Nnamdi’s car. The day he bought it, he drove it to her house to thank her. They ended up in bed.
His affair with Becky started from him nursing her during her crises. She had suffered asthma for years. A widow at 41 with a son, she often depended on him for comfort when she found herself incapacitated. Perhaps she increased the frequency of her complaints in order to gain his sympathy, but no one will ever know. Neither woman knew about the other, till Nnamdi fell in love with Tamara, a pretty girl who had just joined the choir.
She rebuffed his advances because she sensed something was off. It was only later that she found out how right she was. Becky was the first to approach her and warn her to stay away from “her man”. She was still reeling in shock when Nkiru sent her a ‘stinker’ to watch her back. Apparently, Nnamdi had tried to break it off with them hoping that the move would sway Tamara. He blurted out, in anger, that neither woman had any hold over him. The two became bitter enemies.
It got to the point that choir rehearsals became fraught with tension; both women throwing barbs at each other. They even created factions of those who supported them. Tamara tried to stay away from it all but Nnamdi confided in Ovie and that was how Ama got her information.
Becky was leading the worship session. Ama noticed that Nkiru was sitting with her head bowed so no one would see that she was not singing along. She wondered where the worship Becky was leading was going; affair aside, her malice with Nkiru was no formula for reaching the throne room.
PA was dressed in jeans and a blue T-shirt. He was standing to the left of the room, eyes closed, hands raised, singing along, oblivious of the tension in the atmosphere. Ama suspected that a few other leaders knew of the love triangle but she was not sure who knew what. She mouthed the words of the song, her mind busy working out how to let PA in on things without actually “gossiping”.
Pastor Odion took over and led a series of discussions on the various issues that concerned the church. Ama’s heart kept pounding because she had a premonition that something would go wrong. She could not put her finger on it but, there was a foul spirit in the air. They were served breakfast at 8.00am. She positioned herself behind Nkiru at the buffet table. Both of them reached for plates simultaneously and their eyes met.
“Hi, Sis.” Ama’s voice was cheerful. “Nice blouse.” Out of the corner of her eye she could see Becky glaring at her.
So it has got to this point? If I speak to either lady, I am automatically taking sides? PA’s ears will tingle.
“Thank you, love. I bought it from Dami who owns that boutique in Surulere. If you like it I will get one for you. You are a size 14, I guess?” Nkiru turned to her and smiled as she spoke.
“Yes, I wear 14. That is so kind of you.” Ama served herself coffee.
“Kind? It only cost N45000. That is far less than you deserve.”
“Thank you,” Ama repeated, not wanting to counter her on how deserving she was of a blouse of that cost.
“How are your boys?”
“They are doing great. How’s the business doing?”
“God is faithful. He has exceeded my expectations. In spite of the forex issues, we have stayed afloat. I thank God he has not allowed my enemies to laugh at me.”
Ama saw her throw a murderous glance in Becky’s general direction as she made that statement and bit her lip. She prayed silently that the two women would not have a full blown fight there and then. It was obvious that each woman believed herself to be in the right and the other, wrong. A glance at PA revealed that he was busy chatting with two of the leaders, at a corner of the room, a cup of coffee in hand.
They had got their food, so she and Nkiru parted. Ama made her way to Becky’s chair where she was alone for the moment. The other members of her table were still getting their food. She was scrolling through some messages on her phone. Ama dropped her plate on the table and took a sip from her cup.
“Hi, Sis!” she greeted.
“Who is your sister?” Becky snarled without looking up.
“Are we having a quarrel I didn’t know about?” Ama joked.
“When you make friends with people who join a unit that is all about sonorous voices when they know fully that they can’t sing, have you not chosen sides?”
Ama started. “Is something wrong?”
“Have you not heard that Nkiru is planning to ask PA to fire me because I have been the deputy music director for too long? She wants a taste of the pie. She wan trend, idiot!”
It was then that Ama knew that her foreboding had not been in vain. She shuddered to think what PA would have said about all this. It was in moments like this that she acutely wished that he was married. She would have found it easier to tell his wife that the two women’s feud was not at all about heading the choir. On the contrary, they had tasted the forbidden fruit and now wanted the entire tree, each to her. The option of discussing the matter with Pastor Odion’s wife did not appeal to her. She was a fine example of a pastor’s wife but she did not have the authority that was needed to call them to order.
This Toyosi, how come she has not been able to convince PA to fall in love with her?
With all her good looks, British accent, foreign mannerisms and all, PA was non-committal when asked if he saw a future with her. In fact, he looked Ama in the eye and asked her if after knowing him for years she did not feel she would be in a position to tell if he had feelings for anyone. That was the last time she asked. She could see that Toyosi was in love with him and silently hoped that he would be won over. Together, they would have figured out a way to table the matter of the love triangle to PA. He would of course, require hard evidence before calling in two long-standing church members and a young protégée to question them on allegations of fornication. And that would be a hard one.
PA was angrier than he had been in a long time. He allowed Becky and Nkiru to precede him into his office and then closed the door behind them. Ama waited ten seconds before planting herself behind the door. There was no way she was going to miss the drama.
“Have a seat.” He gestured to both of them to take the sofa while he perched on the edge of his table. “What was that all about?”
Neither woman spoke but the way they glared at each other spoke volumes.
“You mean you have nothing to say? Where do you get off abusing each other at a leaders’ meeting? That means you have been fighting during rehearsals. I am so ashamed of you. You have both served for too long not to know how I feel about this sort of behavior.”
“PA, she started it.” Nkiru spat, her eyes shooting daggers at her rival.
“None of you is leaving till you tell me what the quarrel is about.”
There was silence for a long time but PA was legendary for silence. He simply folded his arms and fixed his gaze on them.
“Sir, it is not as if it is anything serious,” Becky finally admitted. “We took it too far and we are sorry.”
“Who is ‘we’? Speak for yourself,” Nkiru snapped.
“That’s not good enough. I am not interested in an apology. What I want is a resolution and there can be none without thrashing the cause of the disagreement.”
There was silence again.
“I see you want to test the spirit of God. Let me take out a few minutes to pray and ask God to reveal the truth to me.” With that, he slid off the table and picked up his bible as though he was leaving the room.
“No, PA, it has not got to that. I will tell you what happened.” Becky stopped him.
He looked at her. Nkiru was biting her artificial nails, avoiding his gaze. PA got back on his seat.
“I’m listening.” He crossed his legs and placed his chin in his palm.
Becky cleared her throat and gave Nkiru a furtive glance.
“Nnamdi and I have been in love for some months now. We were planning to approach you for your blessing few weeks ago. I just found out that Nkiru has been enticing him, seducing him, offering him money, even reminding him that she is Igbo and I am not,” she began.
Nkiru laughed a loud mocking laugh. Becky ignored her and went on quickly before she could contradict her.
“I confronted her in private and asked her to back off because we are in love and he has even proposed to me…”
Nkiru laughed again and clapped her hands in derision.
“She then set about painting me black. That is why she is leading a campaign for my removal as deputy director of the choir.” She sat back, lips pursed, unable to meet PA’s gaze at the end of her tale.
“Is the music director aware of this?” PA asked. “Which Nnamdi are we talking about?”
“Nnamdi Esohe, the head of campus ministry logistics,” Becky replied.
“Okay.” PA reached for his phone and dialed a number. Both ladies watched him, confused about his reaction. “Hello,”he said when it rang. “Send Nnamdi who mans the bookshop to my office, Ama.”
He then went over to his DVD player and put on some gospel music. Soon the atmosphere was saturated with the husky voice of Frank Edwards. Both ladies sat as far away from each other as possible, arms crossed, gazing in opposite directions defiantly. PA ignored them and began to hum along with the CD. A few minutes later, Ama knocked on his door.
“Come in,” he called and turned down the music.
She opened the door to let Nnamdi in and shut it behind him. He looked bewildered to see both women there. Wiping his sweaty palms on his dark pants, he walked over to PA to greet him.
“Good morning Sir!” He bowed slightly.
PA extended a hand and shook him warmly. “Nnamdi, how are you?”
“Very well, Sir!”
PA held on to his hand, grasping his right shoulder with his left hand, his gaze direct.
“So you are the ‘happening’ guy around here?”
“Sir?” Nnamdi’s eyes were wide open, protesting his innocence.
“You are dating how many women at the same time, my guy?” PA tightened his hold so he could not turn to look behind.
“I asked if these two are the only women you are dating or you have more?”
Nnamdi swallowed but refrained from replying.
“How old are you?”
“I’m 27, Sir.”
“27? Which of these ladies did you propose to?” PA asked.
“None, Sir. I did not propose to anybody.” He shook his head as he spoke as if the very idea was repulsive to him.
Becky was about to protest but PA silenced her with a glance.
“Are you sexually involved with either of them?”
He averted his gaze then. Shoulders slumped and head hanging, he began to bite his inner lip.
“You should be proud of yourself. Keeping two women of this sophistication is no mean feat. You were able to convince each of them that their bodies, hitherto the temples of the Holy Spirit, should be leased to you, ‘Mr. Big Stuff’, for your regular use and entertainment.”
With that, PA let go of his hand and motioned for him to stand to his left.
“Nnamdi, I hold you responsible for breaking these women’s hearts. They nearly came to blows today, at my leaders’ meeting, because they have lost all inhibition. This is what the bible says about sexual sin. Those who indulge in it are not wise. Even if they were, they lose any wisdom they had.”
He motioned to him to face the two women. “Apologize to them for taking advantage of their vulnerability.”
Nnamdi sighed deeply and spoke without looking up. “I am sorry.”
“I didn’t hear you,” PA snapped.
Nnamdi raised his voice. “I am sorry for taking advantage of you.”
“Becky and Nkiru, do you accept his apology?” PA asked.
They nodded, sullen, confused.
“I am removing both of you from your positions as leaders, not because you had an affair but because you disrupted my meeting. Pastor Odion will make out time to talk to each of you individually and help you sort out this mess. For now, none of you is to call Nnamdi or speak of him as your ‘man’ again. He is now under my wings and if I find out you are trying to contact him, I will not be kind. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Pastor,” they both responded simultaneously.
“You may leave.”
They both rose and left. Outside, Ama took her seat before they could push open the door and schooled her face into a passive expression.
“Is the meeting over?” she asked them sweetly.
“Yes, I am leaving,” Nkiru replied, morose.
“Take care then. Becky, goodbye.”
Becky waved but did not say a word. Ama bit back a chuckle as they left.
PA needs to get a wife. That public outburst could have been prevented if I had an ally to relay the gist to him. We could have disinvited them or something. If this Toyosi does not tick all the boxes, I need to start lining up candidates. Maybe that is what I should do.
Her phone rang. It was Ovie. She knew he would call for all the juicy details. Ama smiled as she settled in her seat to regale him. PA would be busy chewing off Nnamdi’s ear. It was his principle that the man set the pace of a relationship so she suspected PA would not buy the story that he was lured into sleeping with two older women at the same time. She guessed the young man was in for a long lecture.