Pastor Love had a habit of holding the lower part of her tummy as if her thirty-six-month pregnancy was too heavy to stand on its own. It was probably because it felt like she was carrying quadruplets and not a baby boy. She had been tired from the later stage of her first trimester, after it became clear that she was going to have a difficult pregnancy. From relying on a walking stick because of a shift in her pelvic bone to losing a tooth and struggling with nonstop yeast infections, Love suffered through the entire prenatal period. She couldn’t wait to be delivered of the baby and resume her active life.
This morning, her doctor stopped by, after Leye called him in a panic, stating that the baby hadn’t moved in a few hours. But the doctor assured them that the baby was fine, after conducting a nonstress test on Love. Before long, the baby was kicking again.
Leye thought it would be a great idea to ditch the office and keep an eye on Love, but she wouldn’t let him. She hated to be babied or fussed over.
When both men left, Love had her breakfast and pampered herself with a warm bath that lasted for a long time. Leye had recently called their decorator to change the theme in the bathroom to reflect Love’s mood after she threw a tantrum on a certain night. Her complaint was that their bedroom was a place of comfort, but every time she walked into the bathroom, she always mentally prepared herself for the jarring, bright esthetics that always messed with her mood.
Thus, the decorator substituted white tiles for muted and dark colors. Then, she tinted the large glass wall that looked out to the backyard, which had been shaded by a black curtain before now. An acrylic bathtub, resting on a bed of pebbles, replaced the old one. She also mounted Bluetooth speakers and a television. Lastly, she added a vanity dressing table that held a mirror with soft, glowing lights.
Love had been obsessed with the bathroom ever since. If she wasn’t watching her favorite TV shows on her free time, she could be found pampering herself in the bathroom. Today, she spent more than two hours in there, stepping out only because her personal assistant had walked in without her permission.
“Are you okay?” Love asked.
“Mama, I was worried about you.”
Love was seated before the dressing mirror. She suddenly realized that her shoulders hurt.
“Come and make yourself useful and massage my shoulders.”
Mina put away the iPad and phones she held and hurried to do Love’s bidding without grumble. Love had always wondered what she would do without her.
Mina was thirty-years-old and married with a kid, but her situation was such that her husband was hardly in the country. Love had made sure to use her connection to get the man a job as an international aid worker. It had been a selfish move from her, but to the young couple, it was one of the best things to happen to them. On Mina’s end, Love was a gift that kept on giving. The woman had given her everything she asked for and even those she didn’t think she needed. The relationship was sweet and symbiotic, despite Love’s propensity to be distant and mean at times.
“That’s enough.” Love smacked Mina’s hand. “Help me up.”
Mina held out an arm and Love clung to it as she got on her feet.
“Mama, I want to go home and make soup.” Mina scratched the back of her head. “Can I go?”
“Why haven’t you hired a maid, Mina? What’s all that salary I’m paying you for?”
“Mama, me I’m not used to that type of life o.”
“Abeg, disappear with your poverty mentality.”
“Thank you, Mama.” Mina curtsied.
“Next time, I won’t let you go o.”
“I’ll be back as soon as I make the soup.”
“Don’t come back abeg. You’re annoying me right now.”
“Sorry, ma.” Mina curtsied again.
“Prop my pillows and leave.”
Mina hurried to arrange Love’s pillows the way she liked them. Then she announced once more that she was leaving.
Mina stepped out, but she was back a couple of minutes later.
“Mama, Pastor Oby is here to see you.”
“No, not our own Obi. The singer pastor that sang—”
“That’s Pastor Oby, not Obi. The ‘O’ in her name is pronounced like aww.”
“Oh, okay! She is sha downstairs, wearing one fine white dress like this. And her hair is mohawk o! It has tattoos by the sides. I think she even has tattoos on her wrists.”
“Gbegborun! Who asked you?”
“Get me that pink boubou Papa bought for me. Get me a bra too.”
Mina dashed into Love’s closet and returned with the items she requested for.
Pastor Oby was a beautiful woman at first glance. The type you were instantly struck by because of her complexion. She was a dark-skin goddess whose appearance was marked by natural beauty and a sense of modesty, that was if she covered her hair, as she always did on stage. But Love could pick out elements of a past life that was anything but vestal. She hadn’t bothered looking into her history as she had done with Ishi’s, as she didn’t think that she would find anything in it worth being worried over. But sitting with her now, Love suspected that she would have fun walking into Oby’s past.
“I just feel like you’re trying to get my husband and I to cover up what Pastor Obinna did, which is essentially murder,” Oby said to her. “We don’t want to be involved in something like that.”
Those had been her final words, following a long speech that hyped Ishi’s exploits in the Christian community and how she would not appreciate anyone staining his white.
While she spoke, Love listened to her without interruption, taking every word in, even as she was distracted by her looks. The sheer white of her button-down flare dress was pleasing to stare at. She had beautiful long legs underneath the dress; and they were smooth. Love wondered if she would ever lose enough weight to look like her.
“I understand you, Pastor Obialunanma.”
“Just call me Oby.” Oby smiled. Love smiled back. She feared that she had botched her name.
“Oby, I understand you. But you’re right. There’s more to the story.”
Love stretched out her feet on a footstool before her.
“The sisters had always been rivals, which you already know from gist online,” Love said. “Right from their childhood, they had hated each other. But while Blessing grew up and chose the Lord, Glory chose to remain a vile and callous person. Wrecking the Kanayos’ marriage wasn’t the only vile thing she had tried to do. She had attempted to kill Blessing once.”
“And even though she did all of that, Blessing, God bless her soul—always the sweet, forgiving sister, continued to give her multiple chances. I had told Blessing just last month, when she came to inform me that Glory was seeking to reconcile, that ‘Glory cannot be trusted o. She will hurt you, as usual. Keep her away from your life for good.’ Hmm… Obinna warned her too, but…” Pastor Love shrugged.
“Obinna is family to us. He and Leye have been friends since their teenage years. It would be wrong for us to throw him under the bus when he needs us most.”
“I understand, but why hide the footage?”
“There are people that will look into Glory’s death and make something out of it that it is not. The same people who tried to ruin BCC. They will stop at nothing, Oby. What we did was not just for Obinna, it was for the church as well. For our family too. I’m sure you understand?”
Oby was silent.
“Because you seem to think that we’re asking you and Pastor Ishi to do the impossible.”
Oby looked her dead in the eye. “But you are asking us to do something wrong.”
“Oh, we are.” Love returned the stare and waited for her words to sink in before continuing. “But we have no choice.”
“My dear, don’t carry a burden that’s not yours. Nobody is going to question you about what happened at the Kanayos.”
Love smiled at her. “Look, I need you to pray about everything. I feel some hesitation from your end, concerning your move to BCC. I know your husband is totally for it. If you’re having doubts, especially after what happened on Sunday, I think you need some time out with God. As for us, we are a hundred-and-ten percent certain that Pastor Ishi is God’s blessing to us. We have prayed, fasted, and even fought about it, but God insists.” Love laughed. “Imagine me disabusing myself from the idea that it was my husband’s right to be general overseer. It was painful to let go and let God, but in the end, we will all smile.”
“Thank you, Pastor Love.”
“I can’t wait to have you worship with us, to see you up on that stage. I’ve always been a fan, Oby. Your voice is…” Love inhaled, shutting her eyes. “Divine.”
“Thank you.” Oby smiled and looked at her watch. “I really must hurry along. I’m supposed to be on my way to this women’s retreat I’m in charge of.” She stood and straightened the creases on her dress. “Enjoy your morning, Pastor Love.”
“Okay, Love!” Oby responded, chuckling. “Bye!”
“Wait…” Love let her legs down from the stool. “The family—Omotoshos, that is—decided not to leave Nigeria for Christmas because I’m almost due.” She rubbed her tummy. “We’ll be holidaying from the 22nd to the 27th at a private resort somewhere in Epe. We’d like for you and yours to join us, if you wouldn’t mind?”
“That’s sweet of you, but we have plans for the weekend as well. My husband’s family also gets together for Christmas.”
“Oh, that’s fine. But if you change your mind, just let me know.”
After Oby left, Love drew her weight out of the couch and found her way to the kitchen.
She could hear her four-year-old daughter laughing somewhere in the house. She looked out the window and saw the little girl playing in the backyard.
“Good morning, Mama.” Love looked up at her chef who had just walked into the kitchen.
“Morning, Stephen. What’s for lunch? I’m hungry.”
“Rice and stew with honey-glazed chicken. Just the way you like it.”
Love’s mouth watered as she held her tummy in habit and picked a chicken drumstick from an oil strainer beside the cooker. She then pulled a chair and sat. After her first bite, she asked Stephen for more. He smiled and served her a plate, complementing it with a glass of freshly-pressed orange juice.
The backdoor burst open. “Mommy!”
Love froze as her daughter, Dabira, ran into the kitchen.
“Mommy, I want chicken!”
Love handed her the drumstick she was eating and smiled as Dabira received it with thanks.
“Diyicious!” Dabira commented. Love noticed that her dress was wet and tiny dried leaves were stuck in her braids.
Her nanny came running in, panting hard.
“Good morning, Mama.”
“Morning, dear. Please, take her upstairs, let her have her lunch there abeg.”
“No!” Dabira protested. Love didn’t have to repeat herself. Seconds later, Dabira was screaming as the nanny took her upstairs.
All was silent again and Love drew her plate of honey-glazed chicken and continued her meal. The chef served her some rice and salad as well.
“You spoil me, Stephen. When my baby becomes too big for me to push, I’ll use your salary for an emergency c-section.”
Stephen laughed and poured her a glass of chilled water. Love went online and watched a recording of Leye’s Sunday sermon at church, which she missed because she stayed at home. She was in love with the way he always made the Bible easy to understand. He was more of a teacher than a preacher, yet he was fiery with his messages.
But Love had noticed a slow decline in his fervency, as if he was struggling to get the word out. She blamed it on his recent venture into business. He had signed up to invest and partner with a fintech founder, and the enterprise took much of his time. Love had had the mind to tell him to slow down, but observing the sheer excitement in his eyes and listening to him speak so passionately about the job made her put the brakes on her counsel. He had always wanted to go into business, and she was fine with it as long as it didn’t kill his love for the things of God.
After the sermon, she rose to her feet.
“Sunday’s dinner has to be perfect. The Ayoolas are very… What’s the word? They have an acquired taste. They are family as well. We must try not to get on their nerves.”
“Do we need that drab table cover Pastor Lucy gifted us for Christmas?”
“No, ma’am. The table top is beautiful as it is.”
“Well, let’s show her that we appreciate her gift. Maybe when she sees how ugly it is, she’ll think twice before gifting us anything next time.”
Love left the kitchen and went upstairs. She lay on her bed and forced her mind not to think of the bad press the Omotoshos and BCC were currently getting online. Obinna had already been judged and sentenced by the public, especially from feminists for whom Love had deep respect. They believed that Glory did not deserve to die, no matter what she had done.
The press was unhinged with their investigation. They wanted access to autopsy information and even the bodies. They were trying to reach everyone that they believed could give them something juicy or scandalous that would nail Obinna. So far, nobody had said anything of concrete, except the obvious, which was that the Kanayos and Glory had been sworn enemies.
Love was not shaken by what the outside world thought of them and the church. They had been through worse in the past, and she believed that they would come out of this soon. She and Leye had been praying about it since Sunday, and this kept her heart at peace, even though Obinna was in police custody, awaiting a judge to grant him bail and stipulate the bail conditions. Nonetheless, there were men and women who were willing to go the distance for him.
Right now, Love allowed her mind travel back to the moments she shared with Blessing. They had been few but memorable. The woman had been kindhearted and gentle. She didn’t deserve to die by the hands of her mortal enemy. Love’s emotions over the past few days have been of anger. She was mad at Glory, and if given the chance, she would kill her again.
“This world,” Love muttered to herself as she switched on her laptop and proceeded to check on the account reports submitted to her email from the church’s accountant.
The weather was 29˚Celsius, hot and humid. As it always was in Lagos, the bulk of the population was in a nasty mood. The fuel scarcity wasn’t helping matters either. Everywhere you went, there was someone ready to throw hands at the slightest provocation.
But not Bishop Adonijah. He was in fine spirits today. Enjoying the nippy air of a new, swanky restaurant in Ikoyi, he relished his meal of spaghetti bolognaise, highly rated by his daughter. So far, it wasn’t bad for taste and the portion was almost impressive. Finally, he could agree with her on something, although she might still scold him later for eating carbs. She was right about his food habits and weight. His doctor had warned him too, after diagnosing him with hypertension. His wife, Maggie, was scared that he might have a heart attack or stroke soon and not recover from it.
Adonijah felt that they were right to be concerned about him, but it was all done in exaggeration. He felt healthy and fit. Just yesterday, he ran up two flights of stairs without breathing like he was about to die. God was looking out for him, and he would be blessed with a long life, potbelly or not. The same couldn’t be said about his avowed enemy, George Omotosho.
Double glass doors at the entrance parted to let in a man and his wife who looked to be in their fifties. The woman was plus-size and curvy, bearing a figure that Adonijah had lusted after for years. Even now, he would risk his reputation and marriage for a night with her. It wasn’t only her body that appealed to him. Her engaging mind and dislike for Papa also kept Adonijah hooked. He didn’t care much for her husband, whom he considered dull, unnecessarily arrogant, and too spiritual.
“Bishop A,” the wife greeted as they approached Adonijah. She stretched out both hands to him, smiling.
“Lucy, my dear!” Adonijah rose from his chair and took the hands she offered, finding her palms soft and smooth. He noticed the rock on her finger. It was bigger and shined brighter than the last one he had seen her wear. She had a thing for expensive jewelry, and he nursed thoughts of getting her a nice brooch.
“How are you, son of man?” she asked, and they both laughed.
“Good, good. We thank God. And you?”
“Never felt better.”
Adonijah let go of her hands, only because it would come off as rude to keep holding her while greeting her husband.
“Apostle Jibola,” he said, extending his hand.
Their handshake was firm and cold. Jibola drew out a chair for Lucy and they all sat.
“How are Maggie and the children?” Lucy asked.
“They’re doing well. Very well.”
“And the ministry?”
“Growing and prospering, as God has willed it.”
“Do you often come here?” Jibola asked. He was a tall, bespectacled man who liked to ask questions unexpectedly.
“Here?” Adonijah answered. “No. This is my first time—”
“It is ridiculously and unnecessarily expensive,” Jibola said, studying the menu.
“Well…” Adonijah chuckled. “I say we’ve earned the right to feast like kings, don’t you think?”
Lucy smiled. Adonijah wondered why she had come with Jibola.
Adonijah and Jibola had never gotten along. Adonijah felt that the only reason Jibola was considered a man of any standing was because Papa had made him so, being that they were in-laws. Lucy was also to be credited for his image. Without them, Jibola Ayoola was just an engineer cum cleric with a British accent.
On Jibola’s side, he had viewed Adonijah as an adversary during the years that Adonijah served as the deputy general overseer at BCC. Many even thought him to be more powerful than Papa then, and they revered him above other pastors. But there were those that felt that he did not deserve such a position. Jibola was one of them. It was nothing personal, according to Lucy. It was just that he felt like Adonijah’s position belonged to him, being that he was related to Papa.
But five years had gone by since Adonijah left the church and began his own ministry, and Jibola was yet to take the place he so believed was his.
This was one of the things Adonijah wanted to talk about, but seeing as the whole lunch affair was going, all thanks to Jibola’s silliness, he was going to hold his peace until he had some private time with Lucy.
A server came by and took their orders, and when the meal arrived, they made small talk for the next half-hour as they ate. The conversations were done mostly by Adonijah and Lucy. Jibola merely said a word. He concentrated on his meal, even though he ate little out of his plate.
“So, why have you called us here?” He cut them off in the middle of laughter over something Lucy had said.
“Nothing, nothing. Just to catch up on old times, see how you’re doing.”
“Hmm… You do realize that you’re considered the enemy, right?” Jibola stated, eyes still on his meal.
“Bola, please,” Lucy scolded in a gentle tone.
“I’m just stating what everyone knows, in view of all that had happened between him and us in the past.”
“All water under bridge now,” she remarked.
Jibola looked at Adonijah. “I am loyal to George.”
Lucy offered an apologetic smile and whispered something to Jibola in Yoruba. He looked at Adonijah.
“I didn’t mean to be discourteous. It’s just that you and Lucy seemed to have forgotten that Papa is my brother-in-law.”
“I’m sure your sister’s death frees you from that connection?” Adonijah responded.
“You know it doesn’t work that way. Look, if you’re looking to poach us to your church—”
“Poach?” Adonijah laughed. “Why… Why would I do that? Whatever bad blood existed between me and George is all dried up by now. That whole regrettable incident happened five years ago, is it?”
“It’s all in the past, Jibola. All in the past.”
“I just needed to be sure.”
“That’s great.” Lucy put on a sober face. “Glory Okonkwo…”
Adonijah stopped eating. He chugged down a mouthful of white wine.
“I am so sorry for your loss, bishop. She was an invaluable part of your ministry.”
“She was, indeed. She was. Her passing is still a shock to me. I can’t shake off the fact that she’s really gone. She was in church that morning. She told me that she was going to see her sister for dinner and a much-needed talk, geared towards reconciliation.”
“And it ended in a double death…” Lucy mumbled.
Adonijah gave a shake of his head. “I don’t know what to make of it.”
“Yes, it’s all strange.”
“Do you suspect foul play?” Jibola asked Adonijah.
“Do I? No, no. I don’t suspect anything. Should I?”
“There was so much bad blood between both sisters,” Lucy stated. “I heard that they stopped speaking to each other about the time you left BCC and—”
“Do you know the true story of their sibling rivalry, asides what Obinna revealed to the public that time?” Jibola interrupted Lucy. “Did Glory tell you anything?”
“No, no. She was tightlipped,” Adonijah answered. “Very tightlipped about Blessing.”
Lucy’s face held confusion. “The whole thing baffles me still. I feel so sorry for Obinna. How will he handle caring for those children alone?”
“The Lord will be his strength.”
“Back to my question.” Jibola wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Why are we really here?”
“As I said earlier, I have no ill will towards Papa or the church or even you. None at all. You used to be my friend, despite our differences. Lucy and I never stopped communicating after I left BCC, even with all the drama. We’re too old to hold beef. So, have no fears, my friend, I come in peace. Reverent peace.”
Jibola cracked a smile.
“That being said, I have come to warn you about an impending plan by Papa to have someone claim the general overseer seat, which is rightly yours.”
Adonijah went back to his meal, shedding a chunky fish part.
“Excuse me?” Jibola asked. Adonijah looked up, sipped some of his wine and continued with his fish. “What are you talking about?”
“Senior pastor… Ishi Eresoyen has resigned from First Glory.” Adonijah lifted his fork, stuck in fish, and pointed it at Jibola. “He will be coming to BCC.”
“That small boy?” Jibola scoffed. “He’s abandoning his spiritual father just because of a trivial case with the EFCC?”
“It’s not trivial,” Lucy corrected. “That entire church is going down. Makes me wonder if they do not have someone high up in power to make the whole scandal go away.”
Adonijah cut in. “Gist is that it’s the Mommy GO who is behind her own husband’s downfall. She’s the one with the connections high-up. Seems she caught him trying to cheat her out of some serious funds and she lost it. I also heard that she’s starting her own ministry, and she has already tried to poach Pastor Ishi and other pastors from First Glory. But Ishi turned her down the moment she mentioned it.”
“Because he has his sights on BCC,” Lucy added.
“But it doesn’t make sense that George would bring a total stranger in, just to put him as the head of other pastors,” Jibola opined.
“Well, we all know that George is a figurehead in BCC,” Adonijah stated. “The real power there is Pastor Love.”
Adonijah watched Lucy’s expression turn stony.
“She doesn’t have that much power,” Jibola maintained.
“Let’s just hope that you’re right.”
Adonijah was in no mood to argue with him. As he had planned, a private date with Lucy would suffice. He had full details of the secrets that Glory, Obinna, and Blessing had hidden from the public about how a shameful love triangle had turned deadly. Glory herself had opened up to him about her past issues with the Kanayos, and he believed it was reason enough for someone to try to kill her and cover up her death. He also had a recent recording between her and Obinna, which he believed was damning enough to have Obinna in jail. It was information that could pit the Ayoolas against their in-laws and make them deflect from BCC.
Adonijah hoped that Lucy would be agreeable when the time arrived. If there was any luck at all, she would let him hold more than her hands the next time they met. His thirty-year crush for her was beginning to make him imagine wild thoughts.
He sipped his wine with relish. He was hungry for more spaghetti bolognaise.
©Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages