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.
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God bless you
Remember to walk in love and live worthy of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
Zina had mustered the courage to call PA after Imaobong encouraged her to do so. She had even told her about Esosa. Imaobong was of the opinion that she should not encourage him until she was absolutely certain that PA had backed out. This would prevent any doubts as to her morality. Her premise was that whatever had happened was in the past and she was now a new creature with no baggage, seeing that Zina had been celibate from the time she had Peter. It wouldn’t do for anyone to accuse her of stringing a 2nd man along while dating PA. That would leave her credibility in shreds.
When he didn’t answer after she had called twice, she left him a message.
Call me when you get this. We need to talk. Love, Zee.
She didn’t hear from him the next day. In a panic she called Imaobong.
“Do you think someone has told him? He isn’t answering my calls or responding to my messages.”
Imaobong sighed. “I hope not. I wanted him to hear it from you.”
“What will I do if I lose him? I have never opened up to anyone like this. What will I do? Imaobong I don’t know if I can take it.”
She was distraught. Imaobong wished she was in her office to comfort her.
“Come home early. Let’s watch sad movies and cry.”
“I don’t want sad movies. I want my PA!” she cried.
“It’s okay. Let’s pray about it. God who sees your heart will make a way. Don’t cry.”
At 7 p.m Zina got a text from PA.
Meet me outside your office.
He knew her schedule despite how short a time they had been dating. She made a call to dismiss her driver. Nervously, she touched up her hair and makeup in her bathroom before proceeding to sling her bag over her arm. On impulse, she knelt by her desk.
Father, I know I don’t deserve a good man like PA but he has led me to hope. Please don’t let him dash my dreams. I will be good to him. I will quit my job. I will be submissive. I will do whatever it takes. Just give me a chance, I beg you.
PA was leaning on the bonnet of his SUV, his feet crossed at the ankles, his arms folded across his chest. She took in his jeans and plaid shirt as she approached. He didn’t look angry; in fact, he looked serene. When he noticed her, he stretched out a hand and drew her into an embrace when she was close enough.
“Hi, PA,” she managed, surprised.
“Hi, Zee baby.”
“I thought something was wrong when I didn’t hear from you for so long,” she probed.
“We’ll talk about it later.”He released her and unlocked his car door. “How does suya sound? I know a great spot.”
She got into his car. He also got in and drove off without further comment. She was silent, battling with thoughts of how to broach the topic. He was not given to conversation while driving so she could not tell if he was just letting her down gently or if he really had no idea what she was about to say.
At the suya joint, he parked the car and turned to her.
“When were you planning to tell me you have a son?”
Zina could feel her world crashing around her. Her heart pulsated loudly in her chest. Fleetingly, she wondered if he could hear it.
Who had told him? How had he found out? Did he know everything?
“I am sorry I kept it away from you.”
She stole a glance at him. He was watching her, expressionless.
Is this it? Father, is this the end?
“What else are you hiding?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she protested, raising her hands in a defensive gesture.
“I want to hear everything. No summaries, Zina. Tell me everything.”
He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back, still facing her, his gaze piercing. She averted her gaze, barely able to meet his. As she began to narrate her story, she kept her eyes on the floor. She did not want to look at him for fear of what she would see. If she was going to lose him, she wanted to remember him for his adoring gaze not derision.
Zina had grown up in Bori, a small town in Rivers state. The daughter of Lebari who was a cleaner in the local government headquarters, she never knew her father. She had 4 siblings; only 1, Ledum, shared a father with her. They went through public school, coasting on the subsidized fees and occasional handouts from relatives.
At 16, she attended a crusade in town and answered the altar call. She began to read her bible and attend a small fellowship close to home where other believers like her congregated. Gaining admission into the University of Port Harcourt was her dream. She wanted to study to become an engineer. Her mother was selling pastries on the side to augment her income and it was the responsibility of all the children (except Boma the oldest) to hawk them around the local government secretariat.
Boma was training to become a mechanic. He had been pampered by their mom. Rather than take up the responsibility of assisting the home, he often stole the proceeds of their petty trade. There was nothing the others could do. He hung out with worthless fellows and Zina had once seen a gun among his possessions.
One day, Lebari came home and announced that she had secured a job for Zina as a cook for an expatriate who worked for a construction company that was executing a contract in the town. His former cook was quitting to get married but was willing to train Zina for two weeks before leaving town. Lebari had overheard a conversation between the cook and another staff of the secretariat where she worked and boldly offered her daughter as a candidate.
Zina did not like the idea of working as a cook. She wanted to be an engineer. However, she was almost 20, yet to secure admission into the university and tired of hawking snacks. Left with no choice, she began her training as a cook. Lee was an easy boss to please. He was a young man, probably in his late thirties, whose wife and children had stayed back in Korea. Twice a year, he traveled to spend time with them.
For 3 months, Zina went to his house at 6 a.m. every morning, including Sundays to prepare his breakfast. He had lunch on site. She made dinner and left it in the microwave oven. On Sundays, she went to his house after church service to prepare his lunch and dinner. He often had female guests over but never made any advances towards Zina. In fact, he barely spoke to her. She did not mind this as she had pre-determined that the day he cast a lecherous glance at her would be her last in his house.
She had broken up with her 1st boyfriend after the crusade that changed her life. He was the driver to a wealthy man in town and he used to give her money to supplement her family’s meager earnings. It was difficult giving up the relationship but she was determined to make heaven. And the coordinator of the fellowship kept emphasizing that all fornicators and adulterers would end up in the hottest part of hell.
One day, she went to visit her mother at work. A staff of the secretariat stopped her to ask her if she was in school.
“No, ma,” she replied. “I have been trying to get admission into Uniport for a long time.”
“Why have you not tried to get admission into Bori Polytechnic?”
Zina shrugged. “I want to get away from Bori. I have lived here all my life.”
“How many times have you taken the exam?”
“I am on my way to buy a form for my niece. Write down your full name, I will buy two forms.”
“Thank you ma but I don’t want…”
“Do you want to remain a cook for the rest of your life?”
“Write your name on that piece of paper.”
Reluctantly, she complied. She put the incident out of her mind the moment she left. In fact she did not mention it to her mother. The next day, her mother presented her with the form.
“I don’t want to go to a polytechnic,” she whined, cross.
“You don dey house since. That work wey you dey work, how many years you wan do am? The man go soon comot Naija O! As you no gree get better boyfriend wey go help us, kuku go school na,” her mother scolded.
After days of cajoling, threats and sheer nagging, Zina filled the form and began to prepare for the examination. She had enough time on her hands because her work as a cook meant she was exempt from hawking for her mother. Also, one of the brothers in the fellowship was an undergraduate in the polytechnic. He began to coach her and a few other members who were preparing for the examination.
She passed the exam and gained admission to study Computer Science. Her job was not threatened as she was able to combine work and lectures. Besides, she needed the money to pay her fees. Her initial reluctance gave way to pride and joy that if she earned her diploma, she could leave Bori and forge a life for herself. She did not have trendy clothes or wear as much makeup as other girls for two reasons. She wanted to avoid as much attention as possible and she needed to save up.
By the end of her 1st semester, she realized that she was in danger of dropping out of school. She was yet to pay her fees and books were expensive. In addition, she was expected to contribute to her family’s upkeep. She was despairing.
One day, she saw her ex-boyfriend in her school. He had come to pick girls up to attend a party his boss was throwing.
“Zina, how far?” he greeted.
She shook hands with him as he leaned on his boss’ car, smoking a cigarette. It was almost 4p.m. and she was done for the day.
“Nwiba, it’s been a long time.”
“You broke my heart now,” he joked.
“Which heart? Do you have a heart?”
She laughed as she clutched her bag to her chest. It was a self-conscious habit she didn’t even know she had developed. Her modest dressing and minimal makeup did not prevent the attention of male folk. They seemed determined to lay the ‘holy sister’ who would not participate in social activities or hang out with them. She had formed the habit of clutching her bag to her chest as though it would keep the lustful gazes away.
Nwiba threw his stub on the ground and stepped on it to extinguish it.
“You no go come party?”
“Yes, my boss gives a lot of money to the girls that attend. How you dey manage sef? I hear say school cost.”
“E no easy. I never pay school fees sef,” she complained.
“That oyibo wey you dey cook for, you no wan love am?”
“Love who?” Zina nearly fell over in shock. “Mr. Lee?”
“That man na better man O. My oga like am. If you born for am you no go suffer again.”
“Nda Bari! What kind of talk is that? You don take igbo so?” She made gesture on her head like when one is unscrewing a nut.
“No open eye. Another girl go soon born for am. My oga say the guy dey very careful because him no want get pikin for naija but you wey dey inside go sabi how you go take get am.”
“I don repent Nwiba,” she spat.
“But you no be virgin!” he scoffed. “Anyway, I don dey go. Take this money buy something for yourself.”
She accepted the money he offered her without a second thought. Her younger brother, Ledum had been thrown out of school already and she was waiting on her salary to get him back in. Lebari, her mother, had gone to ask for an extension but was asked to pay at least half of the money. They could not afford even that.
She counted the money once she was out of his sight. It was just enough. She raised a hand to heaven and muttered hallelujah. This had to be a miracle. Of course she had been tempted several times to call him and beg for financial assistance but she knew she would end up in his bed so she refrained. She did not want anything to do with hell fire. As for his advice about Mr. Lee, she chucked it into the bin.
In PA’s car, Zina took a deep breath. He had made no comment while she spoke. Her phone had rung once but she turned it off without answering it.
“Do you want us to get something to eat?” she asked.
“I am not very hungry,” he replied.
She sighed. In truth, she was just postponing the inevitable. She had never really told anyone the full story; not even her best friend who died before she moved to Lagos. The shame and guilt had trailed her all her life, even after she moved to Port Harcourt and moved up in life.
“It was time for my 2nd semester exams. They threatened that anyone who did not pay their fees in full would be locked out of the hall,” she went on.
“My mother borrowed the money from her church association. She warned me that it was the last time they would give her money as she was already neck-deep in debt. They only pitied her because they knew I was working and schooling. I had tried to get a loan from my fellowship but they were few and had not really thought of having a purse for such requests.”
“I did well in my exams and began to save again for the next semester but Ledum fell ill and the money went for his treatment. I was bitter at God because I had prayed that he would heal Ledum so that I could save for school. That was when I remembered Nwiba’s advice. I hatched a plan to get pregnant for Lee. He always kept his condoms beside his bed and he never ran out of stock. I calculated my ovulation period and chose a date to seduce him.”
“On the first day, I hid all his condoms and waited for him to eat dinner. While he ate, I undressed and got into his bed. He must have assumed I had left because a short while later, he got into his bed, not even noticing I was there. When I tapped him, he was surprised to see me but he did not hesitate to accept what was offered. He later admitted he had been attracted to me but that he felt I would turn him down since I was so religious.”
“We continued our affair for months till I found out I was pregnant. He was angry; accusing me of planning it all along but I denied all wrongdoing. Then he gave me money to abort the pregnancy. I used the money for my needs and lied that I had gotten rid of the baby. You see, I needed a baby to get money regularly from him. He was quite frugal and rarely gave me more than a stipend even after we became lovers.”
“If he suspected anything, he couldn’t prove it. By the time I had a bulge, I claimed that the abortion had failed. He cried bitterly, sad that he had violated his rule. Many of his friends and colleagues had children all over the villages surrounding Bori but he had prided himself on escaping the clutches of the desperate women folk.”
Zina folded her arms across her chest and sighed.
“Peter was born in December. Lee was out of the country and barely speaking to me by then. My mother did not support my decision to have Peter but she understood. She assisted me so I could return to school as soon as possible. Lee returned and placed me on a monthly allowance to take care of Peter. I continued to work as his cook but we did not continue the affair. My son had bought me the money I needed for school and my salary ensured that I had a little extra.”
“I cannot begin to tell you the emotional trauma that I passed through. My reputation changed overnight from ‘holy sister’ to ‘baby mama’. A number of girls had children for foreigners living and working in Nigeria but none of them was ambitious enough to enroll in school. They mostly lived near the docks, serving as entertainment to the sailors in Onwe and environs. I stuck out like a sore thumb. Boys assumed I was an easy lay and made coarse remarks when I walked past.”
“I bore it till I graduated. Lee helped me get a job in Port Harcourt. I moved there and left Peter with my mother. Soon, I got over all the bitterness and renewed my relationship with my savior. However, it was all good till any potential suitor heard about my son. Maybe if he was dark-skinned, it would not be so bad but he looks so much like Lee. He has curly dark hair, his eyes are Mongolian like his dad and his skin is almost white. I moved my family to PH when I began to earn good money but I lived on my own to create room for relationships. That did not stop my past from trailing me like a serial murderer.”
She gulped, swallowing a sob. It would not do to cry because it could be misread as manipulation.
“Lee plays no role in the boy’s life?” PA asked.
“That was his condition for supporting us. He didn’t want his wife to ever find out he had a son in Nigeria. Peter is never to try to contact him or his family. He left Nigeria 5 years ago.”
PA heaved a sigh.
“I am so sorry I didn’t tell you. Please, forgive me. I was not trying to deceive you. I just believed it would never get to that point. At least if you were dumping me, it would be because you were no longer interested and not for his sake. I am tired of being abused, tired of blaming myself, tired of confessing my sins. I just need a breather!”
She didn’t even realize she had cried out.
“I was ready and open to a woman who has a past but I’m not sure I ever considered a single mom. It’s just not one of those things you plan for, you know,” he said, rubbing his head.
Zina nodded, holding her breath.
“What do you believe? With the benefit of hindsight, do you believe that was actually the only way to get the money for your fees?” he asked.
Zina bit her lip. “No, I took the easy way out. I could have deferred my admission, or got a second job coaching children or whatever. All this would not have happened. I love my son but God’s way is always the best,” she replied.
“The fact that he is mixed race makes it more complicated,” PA said. “There is no way I can keep it out of the public sphere; not with my kind of job. I have learned that it is better to keep all skeletons out of the cupboard than to attempt to keep people from opening the cupboard. People are nosy and church folk expect so much of leaders. It’s okay if they sin but those on the pulpit must never miss the mark.”
PA turned and cupped her chin in order to raise her face to meet his gaze.
“You made a mistake and none of us is perfect but people are vicious and unforgiving. That is my worry. Can you take the heat? Will my members take up arms? Will it divide the church? Will they accept you as my wife?”
Zina swallowed a sob. “I don’t want you to pass through that kind of persecution for my sake.”
“Let’s go in and buy suya. I have a story to share.”
PA released her, turned off the engine and opened the door for her. She alighted, wrapping her arms around her to keep the chilly air out while she waited for him to lock the car. He took her hand as they made for the suya stand, oblivious of the crowd of people milling about, the music blaring from the speakers or the smoke from the grills that littered the joint. Zina’s thoughts were on PA. She was anxious to know his decision. PA’s thoughts were on his past: A story he had shared with only one other person all his life. One that had haunted him for years; the reason he had remained a bachelor for years.