And here we are at the end of the marathon 🙁
This episode is looong. It was two episodes initially, and I had planned to put the other up tomorrow, but splitting it would have broken the story in a wrong place.
So relish this.
Drop a comment those of you that have been waiting for the marathon to end before commenting. Share, tell your friends. Have a good day.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor…
“I feel strongly in my spirit that that man is not good for you. But I may be wrong. I may just be wrong. The only way to find out is to pray, and also fast. You don’t want a destiny destroyer in your life. God has created you for greater things, my dear. Greater things.”
Adonijah had invited Tara to his office for a talk a couple of days after putting a wedge between her and Morris. She had sat in a visitor’s chair with a heart weighed down by his words. She loved Morris and was feeling sore for the way he had been treated the last time they were together. Yet, Adonijah’s words were as important to her as God’s.
“You need a destiny changer. A new man. A man to push you up, not bring you down. You and Morris are not spiritually aligned, I’m afraid. So, starting from tomorrow, the 29th, fast and pray for three days. On the 2nd of January, come and see me. I’ll have a word from God for you.”
Even as her heart broke, Tara did as instructed, and when she revisited him on the second day of 2017, Adonijah told her that God didn’t tell him any differently about Morris.
“And usually, when he is silent on issues like this…” Adonijah made a clicking sound to show seriousness as he shook his head. “It’s because he already gave his word.”
He went on to present examples of couples that had failed to listen when God spoke through him about their situations and were now either separated or divorced.
“And the ones who listened have happy marriages today. You don’t joke with these things, my dear. You don’t. You don’t. Not at all. But keep on praying for guidance. Meanwhile, register yourself at the church’s dating website. It is strictly for church workers and since you are one, your application would be processed in a couple of days. There are eligible, spirit-filled bachelors there. I promise you that once you register, you’ll be getting requests left, right and center.”
Predictably, Tara obeyed his instructions again, and just as he said, she got a healthy number of friend requests in one day. However, the dating app was structured in such a way that she could only respond to one request in a period of three months. This was to curb any sort of loose behavior.
And thus, she picked Wesley. She had always been curious about him before that time. She had thought that their first date would answer her questions about him but she found herself getting even more curious. He didn’t seem like an open person but he would liven up once anything that had to do with God came up in a discussion. On every occasion he made it clear that he loved God. He enjoyed being generous too; he was aspiring to be like Bishop Adonijah who was charitable to a lot of church members.
“I never really have the time to help people because of my business. I’m hoping that the woman I marry will make it her duty to find a way to use my money for benevolence.”
Tara had almost gushed at his words. She liked men with big hearts. Wesley was one. Morris, on the other hand, was always saving up money for the future.
There were more dates with Wesley. Lunch affairs in expensive restaurants. The occasional movie. They were both discreet about it. Tara’s reason was that she was yet to break up with Morris. She didn’t want him catching her with someone else. For Wesley, he was protecting what they had from public scrutiny.
“You know how church people are. They see us together or you in my car and they start concluding that we’re being inappropriate.”
And again, he had repeated those precise words to her just yesterday when he explained that she couldn’t sit with him in his car to his mother’s church. The woman had invited them. It was Tara’s first meeting with her.
Tara had left the house before Alice got set for church, informing her as she stepped out, that she was worshipping at a friend’s church. Since the evening of pizza and peppered chicken, their interaction had been strained. Tara hadn’t apologized for her rudeness, and thus, Alice had withdrawn her warmth.
There was a Taxify cab waiting outside the house that Wesley had sent to Tara. It conveyed her to his mother’s church, one of those old time religion settings where women were not allowed to wear trousers and jewelry. Tara hadn’t gotten the memo but was lucky to have a shawl with which she used over her hair. She took off her jewelry as well as Wesley stood outside the building, waiting, but pretending not to be connected to her. When she went into the church, she was taken to the left flank where women sat, separated from the men.
The service was long and boring and Tara found herself nodding off a few times. At the close of it, she was forced to ride with Wesley’s mother in her car. It could have been a lovely ride between two women but the older woman sent Tara into interrogation, in the same manner Adonijah had harassed Morris, so that by the time they arrived at the woman’s home, Tara was ready to make a run for it. She wasn’t sure she could take anymore badgering. Nevertheless, she managed through lunch, which was another piece of hell. And just as she had not defended Morris, Wesley sat at the table in silence as his mother pieced her apart.
When Tara finally kissed the early evening air, she was at the edge of tears. Wesley offered an apology for his mother’s behavior but Tara was too angry to take it.
“Just drive me home,” she retorted. The response she got from Wesley was a regretful smile and a darting away of his eyes. “What? You’re not taking me home?”
“I’ll call you a cab.”
She began to walk away. He called her back but she trudged on. It was starting to rain and she had expected that any well-meaning human being would rush to get his car to ease her journey, but Wesley didn’t. Tara stood at a bus stop for a while before she found a bus heading her way. She got home, soaked and shivering, and with a good mind for a hot shower, but the happy voices of Tara and Wemimo dulled her mood further. She changed clothes, packed a small bag and headed to her grandmother’s.
Hours later, she was calm, after listening to Wesley plead over the phone.
“Can I come and see you tomorrow morning?” he asked.
“Because I brought you here once you think you can just show up anytime you feel like?”
“Your grandma likes me.”
“That’s more than you can say for your mom.”
He skirted her comment. “So I can’t come and see you?”
He made a whiney noise. They didn’t speak much after that. She ended the conversation and went to sleep. She wasn’t surprised that he had kept his threat to visit when the morning came. What surprised her, however, was that he was now taking her to his house.
“So that you’ll know where I live and come over any time you feel like.”
“Why would I want to come over any time I feel like? Isn’t that against the dating codes on the website?”
“So the church’s dating site now dictates how I should live my life?”
“But you clicked on the terms of agreement…”
“El-oh-el, Tara. You make me laugh sometimes. Relax, baby, I’m not going to rape you if that’s what you’re afraid of. I’m just getting you familiar with the environment that would become yours when you eventually bear my name, which would be soon. Hopefully.”
He looked at her with a smile. She looked away. His hand rested on hers. She didn’t pull back.
“My mom likes you, by the way. She’s given me the go-ahead to marry you.”
“But she was harsh to me.”
“You’ll soon find out that my mom is a lot like me. We love to surprise people with unpredictable behavior.”
Tara stared out, playing with the tresses of her braids at the same time.
“We’ve been going steady for two months now,” Wesley reminded her. “Don’t you think it’s time we presented ourselves to the marriage board?”
“What’s the rush? Even the site recommends at least a six-month dating period.”
“And I find a fault in that. Anything can happen within six months.”
“Like a brother having his way with a sister and dumping her afterwards. And…I’m not referring to you and me. I just meant generally.”
“Well, a rushed engagement can’t stop that sort of thing from happening. It can even happen in a day.”
His hand remained on hers. It was beginning to stroke her thumb and by inclusion, her thigh.
His car slowed down in front of a tall, black gate and he took his hand away to honk his horn. The gate slid open. He drove into a large compound that was bereft of trees but surrounded by beautifully-tended shrubs.
“My humble abode.”
Tara gave the compound a sweep. There was nothing humble about the place. The house looked like one of those typical houses in Nollywood movies assigned to rich characters, with huge pillars at the verandah and marble steps that led to the front door.
“Come, let me give you a tour.”
Tara stepped down after him and let him take her hand. He guided her into another Nollywood setting of leather furniture, long, heavy drapes and floors that echoed when one walked on them.
He took her around the house, giving her an explanation as to why each room was built the way it was. He was proud of himself, telling her how he had been involved in the architectural and structural details of the house.
“And finally, this is my bedroom! Ta-da!”
He flung open the door of a room that was too large for comfort. The bed was huge, but even with its size, the room made it look small.
“I admit that I went a little overboard here but I plan to have a small parlor setting in that corner,” he pointed to his left where there was an unused space, facing a door that led to a balcony. “It’s going to have table, chairs and all. What do you think?”
Tara was leaning on the wall beside the door. She had no plan to venture further in. She was suddenly hungry.
“Have you eaten?” he asked, catching her hunger waves.
“Let’s go downstairs and have the person in the kitchen make you something.”
He turned towards the door but stopped, and without asking her, landed his lips on hers. Tara pushed away on impulse, but he repeated his actions, persisting, going slower and gentler. She weakened this time and kissed back. Things began to heat up, Wesley’s breathing intensified. Tara soon felt his hand going for her bum.
She broke free and gave him a push. “Stop.”
His lips left hers but he didn’t move away. “I’ve always longed to do that,” he whispered. “You’re beautiful, Tara.”
“I’m hungry too.”
Downstairs, they had breakfast and sat for an hour more, talking. They had a flow she and Morris used to have in the early days of their relationship which his work and hustle had robbed them of. Wesley brought back those days, with a surprisingly talkative side of him.
“Why are you always so serious and spiritual in church?” she asked when he had taken a break to refill her glass of juice.
“Aren’t you the same? You hardly ever talk to anyone.”
“I’m naturally quiet. What’s your reason for having a double personality?”
“Me? Double personality.” His head was thrown back in loud laughter. “Baby, you don’t think the four walls of the church follow us everywhere, do you? That would be so naïve.”
“What are you saying?”
“Jesus put it aptly in that popular Caesar and God quote. And we all know that when you’re in Rome, you do as the Romans do. Right now, we’re in Vegas.”
“That’s what I call my house.”
“Oh.” His house looked nothing like Vegas, but she wasn’t going to be the one to tell him.
Tara read the time on her phone. “I have to leave.”
Wesley made a crying sound. “I actually took the day off for you, Tara.” He pouted. “Think maybe you could do the same for me?”
Tara thought about for a bit. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to hang with Wesley for the day.
“Let’s go out. I have a surprise for you.”
They drove to the Ikeja mall and she picked clothes and shoes that fit into two shopping bags but cost more than she could ever afford. When they returned to his house, he gave her access to his bedroom where she showered and changed. He specifically asked her to dress in a particular outfit he picked for her, something she would never have the guts to wear in public. It was a short, red party dress that gave off a plunging neck line and an open back. He also begged her to go heavy on her makeup. When she asked his reasons, he gave an honest reply, one she couldn’t fault.
“As a born-again Christian, you have things you really want but you have to deny yourself of, just to stay chaste. Is it bad that I love fair ladies in skimpy clothes and heels?”
“No. But it’s bad to use them as your guinea pigs.”
“I’m not guinea-pigging you. I’m just… I want to see if the picture fits, because if you become my wife, you’ll be doing a lot of that for me.”
“What if I don’t become your wife?”
“Tara, just go in there and come down looking like a million dollars.”
“I’m doing it out of gratitude ni. Nothing more.”
She went up, showered, changed and headed downstairs dressed like his fantasy. His sleepy eyes ogled her for a long stretch, and when he got the chance to hold her, he didn’t let go. He kissed her again, with ravenous sensuousness. If anyone had walked into the house, they would have caught him pinning her to the wall, his hands seconds away from ravaging her body.
But he didn’t touch her. He pulled away and rested his back on the wall beside her as she tried to push down her dress and tug up the neckline at the same time.
“You’re going to dump me after this,” he said.
“You’re going to stay away from me?”
“I’m not coming to this house again.”
“Marry me, Tara.”
“Just so you can kiss me more?”
“No. I’m so scared to lose you. You left your ex for me. I’m afraid some other guy will do the same to me.”
The mention of Morris took Tara to a place of guilt. She moved away from the wall and faced Wesley. “What do you take me for? You think I jump from one man to another? I left Moore because our destinies were not aligning!”
“Are our destinies aligning?” Wesley asked.
“We’ll see. We both have to hear from God before we proceed.”
“Will what happened right now—the whole kissing thing—be a determinant?”
“No.” She tugged the dress down. “I…wanted it too.”
“Me, I want more o.”
“Forget I said anything. Just go upstairs and change, let me call you a cab.”
“A cab? Again?”
“If I pull up outside your house and Pastor Alice sees me…”
Tara hurried upstairs, and forgetting that she wasn’t in her house, she left the door open as she undressed. Midway, she felt like she was being watched. She turned around and saw no one. When she dressed into something decent, she returned to the living room where Wesley was waiting. He had his serious face on as stood waited by the front door.
She went to him. “Thank you for the gifts and for hosting me.”
“Tara, I’m sorry for my unbridled behavior earlier, kissing you…”
She stopped him with a kiss of her own. It was something she had never done before. It left her feeling different and in control. “As I said, I wanted it too.”
“But we have to stop.”
“We have to.”
“An Uber is waiting outside.”
She moved, he caught her waist and held her in a hug. “Bye, baby.”
On her way home, she couldn’t help but think about his change in personality. One would never imagine him having a side that was that expressive. He was real, poles apart from Morris who had hardly made moves on her. From the moment she told him on the onset of their relationship that she planned to remain a virgin until marriage, he never touched her inappropriately. The behavior had bothered her. She had expected he would try to persuade her to have sex with him a few times. It was what normal men did. But she could tell now that Morris hadn’t been normal, having spent time with Wesley who made her feel feminine and desirable.
Still, caution appealed to her to be wary of him. She longed to speak to Alice about everything, but she was scared of being judged. She would talk to Wemimo too, but she was sure Wemimo would give her wrong counsel and still take her case to Alice. It was best to keep things a secret.
Leye had postponed the appointment twice, under the guise that he was busy. Twice, his assistant, Ify, had turned Asher away.
“He’ll be here again by seven,” she had said the second time, feeling bad for lying to the boy.
“Why did you do that?” Leye asked.
“Invite him here again?”
“He invited himself. Daddy, you should see his eyes. He’s so cute–”
“When I give instructions, I expect them to be obeyed. I said tomorrow, not this evening.”
“I’m sorry, sir. But do you mind if I ask who he is? He seems so bent on seeing you?”
“He’s just an orphan who needs my help,” lied Leye, feeling awful for doing so. His lies were mounting by the minute. “I need to be alone,” he told Ify who nodded and made her exit from his home office.
An unconsumed glass of Irish cream was waiting. He drank some of it and continued with the movie he was watching on his laptop. He hadn’t been able to pray or read his bible all day. If Love was home, he would have spent the entire morning and afternoon with her as a distraction. But she had traveled to Abeokuta and would be there for three days. He was alone, and with a conscience that wouldn’t let him rest for being dishonest to his brother.
Three hours later, Ify was in his office again, announcing that Asher was waiting.
“This is your fault,” Leye accused, picking his phone off the table.
“Daddy, you’re still angry?”
“Yes. And will you stop calling me ‘daddy’? I didn’t give birth to you.”
He hated the daddy term and would always remind his congregation that he enjoyed simply being called Pastor Leye. But no one listened, not even Ify who knew him more than the rest.
He stepped out to the living room. Asher was waiting, standing, head bowed over his phone. Leye watched him, unnoticed. He had longed for this moment, to have him in his home, to connect with him, elder brother to younger brother, to fill in for all the years missed.
Guilt had been his companion of years. During the period when he was trying for a baby with Diane, he had believed that God was punishing him for his compliance in keeping Asher away from his parents. Many times, he was tempted to reveal the truth to everyone. But he always chickened out.
Now, here he was, given the chance again, not by his own doing, but by some divine activity, and yet, he was too cowardly to take it.
“Good evening, sir.”
Asher had caught him staring. He moved towards him.
As they stood close to each other, he could see that they bore no resemblance. Asher had taken after their father’s slightly-fair complexion. The height was there but the face was all Phoebe’s. And the eyes, as Ify had noted, were charming. Even Love had described them as adorable the night before.
Folding up his sleeves, Leye pointed Asher in the direction of a sofa.
“So, why are you here, Asher? I’ve called Imaan and she claims she didn’t send you over. What’s this visit about?”
Asher pushed forward on his seat.
“First of all, congratulations on your graduation,” Leye said. “Imaan told me.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“So, go ahead.”
Asher pushed forward even more. “I… How do I even say this?”
He paused. The anxiety on his face was thick.
The boy swallowed. “Em… sir, I have reason to suspect that you are my father.”
Leye felt his pulse speed up.
“Sorry? I didn’t get that.”
“I think you’re my biological father.”
“What have you been drinking?” Leye asked in a low growl.
“Sir, all my life as an orphan, living in an orphanage with other orphans, I have been treated specially, taken care of by this unknown benefactor. I was put in the best private schools and then flown abroad to study, all done by this person who chooses to remain anonymous.”
“And that’s odd to you, why? You’ve not heard of people anonymously adopting orphans but never taking them home?”
“Why me alone? And why spend so much on me?”
“Because the anonymous person can.”
“Pastor Leye, if you are my dad, please, just tell me.”
The desperation in his voice didn’t let Leye maintain his frown. “I am not your father.”
“Then why was it that I always got a package after every visit you made. It became so bad that Imaan would not show them to me because of the other kids. She would wait until someone donated and then she’d hand the package to me. Still, I would know it was specially meant for me. This happened after every time you visited.”
Leye laughed in a tone that was alien to him. “Your suspicions are bogus, boy. Get this nonsense out of your head. I am not your father. Now, think about this… I was married for years without kids and my first wife died, leaving me childless. And you are how old?”
“Twenty-three. And I am forty-three. This means that if I were your father, I would have had you when I was twenty. And at twenty, I wasn’t married. In fact, I was not into God then, which could translate into a wayward lifestyle, which if a kid came out of, I would not be ashamed to admit that it was mine. But according to you, I had you and dumped you in an orphanage and continued living my life, yet showering you with generosity while I was struggling to have kids, when I could have simply brought you home and cared for you as my son. Does that make sense to you?”
Asher shut his eyes, torture visible on his face. “No, sir.”
“So, you see how outrageous you sound?”
But it was Leye who felt outrageous. He felt like the devil himself. He could see the boy’s heart breaking and he hated himself for being responsible for his pain.
“I’m so sorry, sir,” Asher murmured, looking around to mask his pain. “I saw you at the orphanage a lot and I felt it odd that you would play with the other children and not me. And then one day, it hit me that you were simply avoiding me because of personal reasons.”
“How?” Leye laughed again, but in a tone he was familiar with. It was the sort of laughter that carried pain. “I didn’t particularly avoid you, and if I did, I am sorry.”
Asher bent his head, nodding bravely. But he crumbled, letting his disappointment take him.
“Hey…” Leye reached out to him, hand on his knee. “Chin up and count your blessings. Many of your mates didn’t have the type of special treatment you got. See the person that has been generous to you as the face of God. You have a good education and the world is at your feet. Go and be victorious. You’re more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus, no matter your status.”
Asher looked at him. “I’ve admired you from afar, hoping you were the one. I wouldn’t have cared that you abandoned me; I just wanted to hear that we share the same DNA. I want so much to be your son.”
For a man who had never had kids of his own, Asher’s words broke Leye. He itched to give the boy a comforting hug but his heavy bones wouldn’t move.
“I’m sorry, Asher.” He withdrew his hand.
When the young man left, he took Leye’s peace with him. He strapped on a pair of trainers, dressed into his jogging attire and hit the quiet streets of his neighborhood, listening to Jesus Culture.
An hour’s run rested his body but his mind was still bereft of peace. He had a shower afterwards and called his wife to confess his misdoing.
“It’s okay, Jeremiah. You’ve tried. I think it’s time we let Papa handle his mess.”
“Papa is not the problem here…”
“I know. Phoebe is. She will be handled by me, but I need time to study her and know how best to approach her. Easter is around the corner. I suggest we wait until after it’s gone, and then we can let all the cats out of their bags.”
Leye agreed with his wife.
“I miss you,” she told him.
“It’s so quiet and cold in this house. The rooms are haunted by Ako’s essence.”
“Sell the house.”
“I can’t. As much as I feel betrayed by what he did, I don’t think it’d be right to erase him just like that. Ako wasn’t a bad person.”
“Do you want me to come over?” Leye asked.
“Do I want you to come over?” Love repeated in a drawl. “No, I’m good.”
Two and half hours later, he was standing at her door in Abeokuta.
“Jeremiah?” she called with an indulgent smile. “I told you I was good.”
“There’s no way I’m leaving my wife alone in a house that is haunted by her ex’s ghost.”
She laughed, putting her arms around his neck. After sharing a short kiss, he confessed, “Actually, I’m not doing good. I feel like an ass for what I did to Asher.”
She dragged him into the house and to the guestroom where she was holed up. They lay facing each other, hands held, talking and laughing into the night.
Leye’s peace was restored, but only until morning came.
Days and weeks went by with his conscience haunting him. When it became too much to bear, he put a call across to Imaan to enquire about Asher’s wellbeing.
“What do you expect? He’s heartbroken. He won’t leave his room.”
“I just need a little more time, Imaan.”
She sighed. He could hear the tiredness in her tone.
“I’m sorry for the unnecessary pressure I’m making you go through.”
“It’s fine, son.”
When he was done with the call, he remained where he sat, which was on the staircase of his house. His eyes were watching over Shade’s little boys who were playing with water guns. He hated the mess they were making but Love had scolded him a short while ago when he tried to stop them from playing. Hence, he just watched.
The Omotoshos had been invited by Papa for the Easter celebration. Shade and Ayo had come with their husbands and children, but Big Mommy had flown down alone. Her children were with their father on a visit to his hometown in Niger State.
Leye was glad to be with family. His sisters had burst on the scene two days ago, and wasting no time doting on him as they always did, competing with each other over who could pamper him more. It was the same type of love they showed their father. Asher wouldn’t have been treated less.
“A kobo for your thoughts, Egbon.”
Shade sat beside him and rested her head on his shoulder.
“I’m just watching the boys,” he responded in Yoruba.
Shade switched as well. “I can’t wait to hear the good news.”
“What good news?”
Her eyes fell on Love who had just emerged from the kitchen with a treat for the boys.
“We’ll get pregnant soon.”
“Amen.” She linked her arm with his. “I miss mommy. Every time a festive season comes, I always imagine her being around. She would have been up and doing, making sure everyone is okay, just like our wife is doing.”
And as if Love knew she had just been mentioned, she looked up and blessed them with a smile before making towards the kitchen.
“Mommy would have loved her.”
“But daddy is a strong man. I can’t imagine myself being alone all these years, not having anyone. And let’s not even talk about sex.”
Leye gave his baby sister a side glance.
“No man can live without sex. Do you think daddy…?”
“Stop. How do you even imagine these things?” Leye laughed.
Shade had always been the open one amongst them. She had a certain naivety in her that age hadn’t been able to do away with. She could speak, without censor, about any topic that dropped into her mind, even though it would embarrass those around her. She was Leye’s favorite.
“I think Alice would make a good wife.”
“Alice? Wife? To whom?”
“Daddy. He already proposed to her.”
Leye gave Shade a full stare. She gasped and put her hand over her mouth.
“Oh no. You weren’t supposed to know.”
“He proposed to her?”
“Did I say that?” Shade sprang up. “Forget I said anything.”
She hurried down the stairs, disappearing to the kitchen as Love emerged from it.
“I’m ready,” Love announced. “It’s a few minutes to twelve.”
Leye stood up and followed his wife out of the house. Their destination was Papa’s residence.
Adonijah came home, grouching. He clumped through the living room without acknowledging the greeting of his middle child and her friends who were having lunch. He burst into his bedroom and flung his key in the air. It landed on the floor, making a clatter. His wife turned but he didn’t acknowledge her presence, or he would have seen that she had a different appearance on her.
“Why are there millenials littered all over my parlor?”
The woman rolled her eyes at him before replying, “Your daughter invited her friends over. I gave them lunch and drinks.”
“Because it’s Easter and we’re in the spirit of being gracious.”
“Why didn’t she follow her younger ones to the teen boot camp?”
“She is twenty-one, Aloy.”
“So that’s why she feels she can bring all her friends to be eating all our food and drinking mineral? Today is Saturday. Easter rice is for Sunday.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Aloy. Let them enjoy themselves.”
The man went about undressing, throwing his clothes to the floor. He then collapsed on the bed, picked the television remote control and turned it on.
“What’s wrong?” Maggie asked.
He hissed. “I thought you’d be there acting like you didn’t know I needed you.”
Maggie faced him. “Oya talk.”
“He called for a meeting in his house.”
Maggie gave her eyes a second roll. “I’m assuming ‘he’ is Papa?”
“You’re obsessed with that man.”
“Can you imagine that he invited a select few to the meeting, and I was not invited?! I don’t even know who and who but I’ve called some of the leaders and they are not aware of this meeting as well!”
“Who told you about it?”
“Adindu. I was at the church to do some things and I saw him there. I asked him to help me but he said he couldn’t because he was running late for the meeting at George’s house. I said what meeting? He said the one that he called the leaders to nau. I said me I didn’t know about any meeting o. That was how I made a few phone calls and discovered that my people were not invited.”
“Your people?” Maggie knew what he was talking about but she enjoyed seeing him riled up.
“My loyalists. The same leaders I groomed to be faithful to George. He didn’t invite any of them.”
“Interesting,” Maggie said, but she wasn’t really interested. She had just gone from her natural locks back to relaxed hair and her husband had not acknowledged the change. Two days ago, he had showed her documents as proof of ownership for a house in her father’s name. Gratitude from her came with sex and a new look. She wasn’t upset that he didn’t notice; she knew he would soon.
“They’re plotting something, and plotting it without me! Without me, Maggie! Me, Adonijah, who left everything in Abeokuta to follow his dreams, to help build BCC, to support him with my blood and sweat! And he does this to me?!”
“Come now, darling.” Maggie climbed the bed and began stroking his arm. “Don’t let it bother you.”
“I should not let it bother me?! How can you say that?!”
“Well, you’re plotting behind his back as well. I don’t see you inviting him to your tea parties.”
He pushed her hand away. “You are no use to me, Maggie. In short, ever since I became burdened with this need to make a name for myself in BCC, you’ve been there, like a lizard, watching from the fence, nodding but not helping. Whose side are you on, anyway?”
“Yours, my husband.”
“I hear you.” He gave her his back. She moved closer and spooned him.
“I’m with you, all the way, Aloy. I will support you, but please, remember that you’re going against God’s anointed.”
“Abegi! I’m anointed too! And don’t bring spirituality into this matter. This is about power, about me being shortchanged. You know that.”
“I know. And I’m not arguing with you. I’m saying just be careful.”
“Leave me.” He shook her off but she held him tighter as he kept grumbling. Her magic eventually worked its way into him and he went calm.
“Your hair is nice, by the way,” he mumbled.
“Thank you, baby.”
“What’s the style called?”
“I don’t know. Alice did it.”
He stiffened. “You’re not on my side.”
Maggie smiled. “I love you, my general overseer.”
Ten of them were at the table, Papa inclusive. Alice was also present, seated beside him.
Leye and Love had made their appearance some thirty minutes ago, and found the duo speaking in whispers, lips to ears, eyes smiling into each other’s. The sight had confirmed Shade’s words. Not that he had doubted; he had merely hoped it wasn’t true.
Now, as they waited for Papa to tell them why he had called for the meeting, he caught Alice’s eyes. But she looked elsewhere.
Leye switched his attention to the people at the table, instead. Asides himself, Love, Alice and Papa, the rest were also leaders in the church. Adindu and three others made up key members of the senate at BCC headquarters. The other two were Pastor Obi and his wife, Pastor Blessing, a young couple heading the Ikeja branch of the ministry which was almost as big as the one on the Island. From what Leye could ascertain, everyone present was loyal to the old man.
“Good afternoon, all,” Papa greeted. There was a chorused response. “I’m sure you’re wondering why you have been invited here. Well, don’t worry, I won’t waste your time with long talk. In front of you are confidential files. I will save myself the stress of speaking too much since I would be ministering tomorrow. I need to preserve my voice. Anyways, do yourselves a favor and open the files before you.”
A crinkling of papers was heard as Papa’s guests flipped open their files. He fell silent and waited. Soon, perplexed stares were set on him. Leye and Love were the only ones not caught unawares by the content found in the files. Even Alice had been kept in the dark.
“Sir, is this real?” Pastor Obi whispered as if afraid to voice his thoughts. “Bishop A?”
“I can’t believe this,” another said.
“You’d better,” Papa replied. “Adonijah, like Judas Iscariot, has been helping himself with the bountiful funds God has blessed us with in BCC.”
“Jesus is Lord!” Pastor Blessing snapped her fingers more than a few times. “God have mercy! Look at the numbers. This is too much!”
Leye had always found Pastor Blessing herself a little too much with her expressions, and with the way she pronounced certain words to exaggerate their impact.
“This is really tew much. Jehovah!”
“He has been doing this for years, using Sister Priscilla Momoh, because I gave him the power to demand for funds anytime he so desired to. But three years ago, specifically, they began working together, and if God had not prospered us immensely, they would have bled all our accounts dry.”
The table maintained the shock that had fallen over everyone. And as if for effect, ominous music filtered in from the living room where Ayo’s daughter was watching a movie.
“I have known of Aloy’s nefarious ways before now, but it took my darling daughter-in-law here to show me the depth of his betrayal. I had no idea it had gone this far. I will not speak much about the issue until I have a proper investigation done by an independent audit firm. When I am through with it, I will waste no time in acting on the results gotten. Until then, it behooves me to make major changes in the way BCC is run. I have reason to believe that Adonijah has some grand plan that will bring the ministry to ruin…”
“But Papa, you two are friends,” a shaken Adindu said. “You’re very close. You always talk about how no one had your back but him when you began this ministry. How could he do this to you?”
“Didn’t the bible tell you how desperately wicked the heart of man can be? Trust me, you’re not as disappointed as I am. But moving on!” Papa picked his reading glasses off the table. “Things are going to change around here. In fact, everything is going to change. BCC will be restructured and a new constitution implemented. We will separate the spiritual from business.”
A few brows cocked up.
“Yes, I said that. Pastors will continue to be pastors and concentrate on the spiritual wellbeing of the ministry and its members, while a new management system would be established to see to the affairs of the church. We would invest our earnings in businesses that will bring back returns. Please, flip your files to their back covers.”
Papa’s guests did as directed, and found that the back covers of the files, turned upside-down, presented a set of pages that gave explicit details of Papa’s proposal for the new model of BCC. It was a revised version of Love’s initial scheme. Nothing much was changed.
“That is a list of the businesses we would embark on. All of them, legal and lucrative, with the proclivity to blow in a short while and even in the long run.” He took a short pause. “I called you here because I trust you. Not with my life, maybe, but I trust you enough to know that should anything happen to me tomorrow…”
“God forbid!” Pastor Blessing exclaimed. Papa smiled.
“Should anything happen to me, according to God’s will, you’ll keep this fire burning. You’ll do so because you love God and you love this ministry. And this is why, as your documents will tell you, you have all been given a chance to be shareholders in the businesses we would establish. Every one of you will have the chance to invest and get returns for your investment through the years, as the businesses grow. A certain percentage would be owned by the church, of course, because we have to finance God’s work. But we would all be stakeholders. So, I’m going to let you go home and ponder on this. There is no compulsion. The only obligation you have here is to keep everything you have heard and seen in this meeting to yourselves. Can you promise me that?”
He got a general response.
“You’ll leave the files too. For the sake of privacy. If anyone asks what this meeting was about, decline to speak.”
“But Bishop A will suspect something is going on,” Alice pointed out.
“That’s the plan. Just flow with it. I’ll send you PDF versions of the files only when you agree to the terms via a mutually-signed contract with lawyers present. Things must be done transparently from now on. Are we all on the same page? Any objections or questions?”
A smallish man leaned forward. He was the resident pastor, married to a nosy wife. He had been with the church for fifteen years.
“You seemed to have stepped down from the post of general overseer, sir, although you haven’t made it official yet. It’s all speculation that you’d be making Pastor Leye the new G.O. But I’d like to ask that you clarify the air on this issue.”
Papa smiled; a smile only he understood. “Make sure none of you misses church tomorrow. I will shock everyone and even you too. But know that my intentions are well-calculated, for the good of the ministry. Pastor Obi?”
“We’re still having a combined service with our brethren from Ikeja tomorrow, right?”
“Good. Your new general overseer shall be ordained then. No one should miss it.”
As he had begun the meeting, he ended it, leaving them perplexed. As the small crowd dispersed, Papa called Love into his kitchen.
“A glass of wine?” he asked, uncorking a vintage bottle of white wine.
Love took out two glasses and waited. She observed him. She was beginning to like him more than she used to. The meeting had dispelled all unfavorable views she had of him. She had known he would look into her allegations after her last visit, but she hadn’t expected he would take it far and even go ahead as to consider her proposal for the new management system for the church. She was elated, itching to give him a hug to show her gratitude.
He poured wine into both glasses.
“I want to make a toast,” he said.
She picked her glass.
“But I’d rather thank you for opening my eyes and shaking me out of my place of comfort.”
“It’s nothing, Papa. I’m the one who is grateful for having my ambition taken into consideration.”
“I’d always known about Aloy’s activities, as I stated earlier, but like Jesus commended the shrewd manager in the bible, I saw his acts as noble. He was generous to the poor, meeting the needs of the underprivileged in the congregation. What would the loss of a few millions do to hurt us?”
“But the truth was that he was buying their allegiance. Just like the shrewd manager.”
“I didn’t see that part. You opened my eyes to it, young lady. Thank you.”
Love smiled and put her glass of wine to her lips, but Papa frowned suddenly and stopped her. He took the glass from her.
“You’re pregnant,” he stated, his face showing vagueness.
“I just saw it. You’re pregnant, Loveth. Please, no more alcohol. Go and do a test.”
She chuckled. “Okay, Doctor Papa. But how do you see these things? I hear you have almost a hundred percent accuracy. All the time.”
“It’s a gift. When I first discovered it, it was scary. I had nightmares, saw things no one saw. But I never wished it away. My mentor told me to pray that God teaches me to hone it, according to his will. And I did. So, I’d say my spirit is a little more sensitive and in tune with the supernatural. Sometimes, it’s just a sense. And trust me, I’ve been wrong. A lot. Especially when I rely on the arm of flesh. For instance, I was wrong about you in the beginning.”
“I told Leye you had darkness and doom around you.”
“But I don’t?”
“I don’t see it anymore. I guess love prevailed.”
She beamed like a little girl.
“See me as your father. Come to me any time you have a problem. If your husband needs scolding, come and tell me and I’ll handle him. Let’s not be strangers anymore. You’re one of mine now and I’ll give you the same treatment I give my daughters.”
“Thank you, Papa.” A wide smile stretched her face.
“You want a hug?”
She nodded and he reached out to her with a warm embrace which left her emotional. “Did your father ever hug you?”
Love couldn’t speak. She shook her head.
“Well, I have many of this to go around, sweetheart.”
Papa let go but held her hands. “One more thing. Whoever I ordain tomorrow as the general overseer, don’t let it bother you. You are in charge of everything in BCC.”
“Yes, you. And you’re answerable to no one except God, me and your husband.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Your enemies will come for you without mercy. Never be shaken. I’m holding the fort for you.”
They heard a sound and turned to see Leye at the door.
“Enjoy your day, sweetheart.”
Love got another hug before she left. She was silent on their way home. Leye was as well. But he spoke first, just as they approached their gate.
“What’s with the mood? You got everything you wanted, plus a couple of warm hugs. You should be smiling.”
Love slowed down in front of the pedestrian gate. She looked at Leye.
“Your father is about to make Adonijah the general overseer.”
“Adonijah? He told you that?”
“No. But I know. And I know the game he’s playing but I’m scared, Jeremiah, that it might backfire.”
Leye held her hand. “Come on. Let’s go in and have lunch. Leave church politics for a while, abeg.”