For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Alice picked out the embarrassing sound of her rumbling stomach. She also felt a prickly sensation in her armpits as the atmosphere around her suddenly turned warm. Her mouth seemed to lose the bulk of its saliva as well. An instant headache hit the side of her head, causing her temporary blurriness. She clutched her iPad with both hands to get a grip on herself but her troubled stomach worsened, leaving her no choice but to hurry out of the church as the senior pastor was just about to deliver the day’s sermon.
Dropping her iPad with her best friend, Wemimo, who was seated beside her, Alice sought the nearest exit and sped towards it. The pastor’s voice over the PA system irritated her with each step. When she hit the outside air which was hot and humid, she let out held breath.
She gunned for a smaller building that was separated from the gigantic four thousand-sitter cathedral by a metal picket fence. It was a structure that had vast space of unused land surrounding it, on which luxurious cars and buses were parked. Unlike the church structure that was set in marble, this building was of basic architectural design but was not lacking in the classiness that marked the entire berth of land that was owned by Bethel Covenant Center.
Alice burst through double doors and walked past an empty reception that had a plasma TV live-streaming the pastor’s message. Again, his voice irked her. She hurried down a corridor that was fringed by offices on both sides and ended up in one that had her name written on the door. When she burst in, she kicked off her heels and sank into a couch resting on the wall to her right. There, she buried her face in her hands and broke into tears.
Her door creaked open and a slim, fair lady walked in. “Alice?”
A shaken Alice looked up and went back to crying.
“Awww, boo. You’re in shock,” her friend said, stepping out of the wedge sandals she had on. The length of the off-shoulder Ankara gown she wore extended to the floor as she went to Alice.
“I hate him,” Alice cried. “God! I hate him!”
“I know. Pele.”
A third lady barged in, unannounced. She was the friend with whom Alice had left her tab.
“Are you crying?” she asked upon entry.
“Wemimo, not now,” the other lady chided, passing Alice a tissue box retrieved from the office desk.
“Tara, abeg. I’m not talking to you. I’m referring to this crybaby here. Alice, why are you doing this to yourself?”
“What is wrong with you nau, Wemi? She’s in shock here. Be nice.”
“All of us are in shock. In fact, I’m reeling. But you don’t see me balling my eyes out.”
“Why are you so insensitive?”
“Insensitive how?” Wemimo spread out her hands in question and gold bangles jingled.
Tara shook her head at her, giving no response.
“No, seriously, how am I insensitive here? Alice carried on an entire relationship in her head with Pastor Leye and he comes and announces that he’s getting married in a week’s time and she came here to kill herself with cry. Weren’t you there when I told her over and over again that Pastor Leye felt nothing for her?”
“How can you say that?”
“They were just friends! At least, that was how he saw it. But in Alice’s head, he was already her husband and father of her unborn kids. Now, look at what she’s doing to herself. The whole church noticed that the announcement affected you, Alice. From this evening you’ll be the latest gossip topic on the tongues of jobless human beings. Wehdone ma.”
“I don’t think anything can beat Pastor Leye’s announcement, though. It will trend until the wedding day. And even after it.”
“I’m telling you.” Wemimo straightened out the sleeves of her lacy buba, tugged up the iro and hopped on Alice’s desk. Like her two friends, she was slim, possessing the same dark skin Alice bore. They shared other identical bodily features like high cheekbones, wide hips and small shapely figures. Many people believed they were sisters. But Wemimo was Yoruba and Alice a product of a northern and south-southern marriage.
“But I still can’t believe my ears,” Tara went on. “Just like that, he will announce his wedding from nowhere? Who is the woman sef?”
“Who cares?” Wemimo hissed. “Leye has always been annoying and overrated. I prefer Adi.”
“Pastor Leye, Pastor Adi,” Tara corrected.
“Whatever. Leye is full of himself. He thinks he can carry on a secret relationship and just spring a wedding on all of us just because his father owns the church?”
“I’m sure the marriage board knows about it.”
“How? Did you see the look on some of the pastors’ faces when he broke the news? Why are you talking like you don’t know Leye and his arrogance? Is it today he started disrespecting the leaders of this church? So typical of him to just bring a woman from nowhere to cause kasala. Very typical. I bet you that the church won’t allow it. Watch and see. The wedding will not hold next week Sunday.”
Alice’s sniveling intensified.
“Can you just shut up, Alice?”
“No, you shut up!” Alice fired back, lifting her head up. “It’s so easy for you to judge someone! If it was you in my shoes, would I treat you like this?!”
Wemimo rolled her eyes. “First of all, I can never be in your shoes, pining for a man that feels nothing for me.”
“Leye bought me a car and paid my rent…”
“Point of correction – the church bought you a car as one of the youth leaders and paid your rent because you told them you were having financial difficulties.”
“I told Leye…”
“And he told the church and they handled the issue. Case closed.”
“Wemi, Leye and I had something going on…”
“No, Alice. You had nothing going on. You were all over his father. In fact, if papa wakes up tomorrow and proposes to you, nobody will be surprised.”
“I wasn’t and I’m not all over papa. I’m heading the Happiness Department and it’s my job to ensure that the pastors are well-taken care of, Wemi.”
“Exactly! So whatever you think you and Leye had was just you doing your duties.”
“He takes me out for lunch. We talk all the time. He calls me to advise him on issues…”
“Did he ever kiss you?”
Alice sniffled. “No, but…”
“Case closed, aunty! He pastor-zoned you. The guy feels nothing for you and it’s time you get a grip on yourself and move the hell on!” Wemimo jumped off the table. “Me, I’m going back to church. You can like to continue dying for him.”
She dashed to the door and opened it. “In case you two decide to remain here for the rest of the service, you can meet me at home later. I cooked rice. Come with wine, let’s catch up on boyfriend gist. At least, for those of us who don’t have imaginary men.”
“Just leave.” Tara gestured her out. When she was gone, Tara slipped her hand into Alice’s.
“You just have to let go.”
“Why doesn’t she believe me that Leye and I had something?” Alice asked, searching her friend’s eyes. “You believe me, right? Please, tell me I didn’t imagine the vibes he was giving me for almost three years.”
“Alice, you know Pastor Leye more than anyone. You know how sweet and nice he can be…”
“We talked about so many things. He told me stuff about his life he never shared with anyone.”
“But he never told you he liked you, did he?”
Alice was silent.
“Did he ever hold your hand?”
“Alice, it’s not enough to conclude that you two had something. Maybe he was just appreciating all the care you have shown papa.”
“Papa wants me to marry into the family. He keeps on saying I would make a good Omotosho wife.”
“Well, Pastor Leye is not a child that papa can force into doing what he doesn’t want to. He’s forty-three years old. He runs the church, both home and abroad. He makes his own decisions. And I think we should all respect him, no matter what. He is still God’s instituted authority over us.”
“You’re basically saying I should let go.” Alice wiped her eyes in a manner to avoid tampering with her faux lashes.
“Oh God! This hurts. And just imagine what people will be saying behind my back. Everyone thinks we have something going on. I hope they don’t come and start asking me if I’m the one he’s getting married to.”
“I hope so too.”
Alice dabbed at the last tear with a crumpled tissue in her hand. “I’ll speak to him after church.”
“Just do me a favor before you go to see him.”
“Get rid of this emotional Alice and return my friend who kicks men’s asses.”
Alice gave a small laugh, crumpling the pain in her heart. She cast tired eyes down and tried not to let another episode of tears take her. There was going to be a lot of time for that later at night when her head hit her pillow. For now, she had to find a way to pretend that she was fine.
As Tara kept talking about kicking men’s asses, Alice strolled to her desk and took out a portable makeup kit from one of the drawers. Expertly, she touched on her face, bringing it back to life. The result left her with the characteristic stern expression she was known to have. She was the proud owner of a hard jawline and high cheekbones, with pink lips that always looked like they had just been kissed. This sometimes left her with a pliable appearance even though she was anything but soft. Having grown in a polygamous home, Alice was skilled in the art of deviousness and manipulation to have her way. She would tell you that Christ had transformed her but Wemimo and Tara knew she only needed the right push and she was back to her cunning ways. Nevertheless, she was loved by many in the church. Her faithfulness to the ministry and the positions bestowed upon her by the leaders had put her above her peers. Alice was highly favored.
“Whatever you do, please don’t bare your heart out on your sleeve when speaking to Pastor Leye,” Tara advised.
“Oya, come, let’s pray about it.”
“For real, Tara?”
Alice occasionally found her friends exhausting. Between the sometimes Worldly Wemimo and Holy Tara, she didn’t know who was more annoying. Tara was as devout as the angels who saw God daily. She wasn’t as versed in the scriptures as Alice, but she took her faith and God’s word without a pinch of salt, devotedly following her Pastors’ instructions like she was receiving directives from God himself. Mostly, Alice was grateful to have her as a friend. Whenever she felt she was falling off the cart, Tara was there to pull her back in.
Alice let her lay a hand on her, agreeing to a prayer for guidance on how she was to handle her present situation.
“And Lord Jesus, please help her find her own man too. Amen.”
“Amen,” Alice murmured, opening an eye to peep at her friend.
Alice sighed. “You’re so extra, Tara.”
Both friends slipped into their shoes and returned to the church. Alice managed through Leye’s sermon, ignoring Wemimo who kept sketching stickmen on a notebook and christening them as certain members of the church. Alice had mistakenly taken a glance at one of the sketches and burst out loud in laughter when she saw that it depicted the associate pastor, Adindu, with a large phallus. She forced on a frown immediately as a man seated in front of them turned.
“Why didn’t you sit with the pastors today, Pastor Alice?” he asked, throwing her a smile laden with flirtation.
“Brother Phil, please face your front,” Wemimo responded. He gave her a playful grimace before turning back to shout an ‘amen!’ in response to something Leye had proclaimed. Wemimo hopped to her feet as did other members of the congregation to applaud and lend her voice to continuous shouts of excitement. But Alice remained seated, face set in iciness. She fixed a stare on Leye, and just before he rounded up his short sermon, his eyes caught hers too and turned away.
She didn’t wait for the service to come to a close before she began hurrying out. Hanging around meant being dragged to different meetings and consultations. She rushed back to her office and remained there until Tara poked her head in to announce that she was heading home.
“Please, help me take out my bras that I washed last night. Let the sun touch them small.”
“Okay. See you.”
Tara was squatting with her at the moment, having just run out of cash to renew her rent. A contract around the corner would give her the needed funds to bounce back. Working alongside Alice and Wemimo as a makeup artist in a beauty salon they had built from the scratch, she was the laziest of the three, but possessed charm neither of them had. All three ladies hailed from modest backgrounds and had had to hustle their way through several low-paying jobs before they took the plunge to become self-employed. So far, the salon was a success, with most of its clients being members of the church. The year already looked promising for them. Wemimo was working towards buying her first car and Alice was hoping to make a first trip outside the country. It was a partnership Alice hoped would last for years.
A soft rap on her office door broke her concentration from her phone. She looked up as Leye’s personal assistant peeked in.
“Pastor Leye wants to see you, ma.”
“Tell him to give me a minute.”
“He’s in a hurry. He has to catch a flight to Abuja.”
“Just go. I’ll be with you shortly.”
The lady disappeared and Alice rose up, straightening her dress. She gave her hair a toss, pushing bouncy side bangs backwards. She made her way out and to the left wing of the building which was more spacious and housed the offices of the senior and associate pastors. She knocked on Leye’s door and when she heard his voice, she walked in.
The space, as usual, welcomed her into classiness. Leye was known to be a simple man in character but ostentatious in appearance. Everything about his office reeked of corporate sophistication. It was roomy, glassy and shaded in deep brown and blue hues. It always felt like a psychologist’s office to Alice. Many afternoons had found her resting on a long, black couch with velvety throw pillows, talking to Leye about her problems. He was a great listener. He would sit on a single chair, facing her, listening to her speak. Sometimes, the roles were reversed, and she would be the one to hear him talk about his problems. Such was the nature of their friendship.
Entering the office and immediately connecting to memories of moments shared there with him, Alice became upset all over again.
“One minute, Pastor Alice.” Leye was behind his desk, typing away on his phone.
She waited until he was done. He lifted his head and gave her his attention. She searched for guilt in his eyes but saw nothing other than a warm smile which she had come to love over the years.
“So, I’d like to apologize for the shocking announcement in church earlier,” he said, unbuttoning the sleeves of his shirt. “Everyone wants to kill me, and I think it would be great if I just disappeared from the face of the earth for a few minutes. But that’s by the way. Sit down, will you?”
Alice pulled a chair, sat and faced his desk.
“I want to apologize for not letting you know about my fiancée and I. The relationship has gone on for more than a year and due to certain circumstances, we felt it best to keep it a secret.”
“What’s her name? Who is she?”
An apologetic expression fell on his face. “I can’t say anything about her right now.”
“What’s with the secrecy, Leye? Aren’t we friends anymore?”
“We are… Alice, you’ll get to know and fall in love with her as I have when you meet her. I’m deeply sorry that I kept it all away from you.”
“It’s fine.” Alice released a weak smile. “As long as you’re happy with her.”
Leye relaxed, leaning backwards in his chair with a grin as he folded his unbuttoned sleeves. “I am. She makes me happy. She’s not Diane. In fact, she’s very different from her, but I know Diane would have approved.”
“Well, what can I say? Congratulations in advance.”
“Thank you. I’ll be off to Abuja in a bit. Our traditional and court weddings hold there. We’ll be in Lagos on Saturday.”
Alice felt literal pain in her chest, in addition to the annoying tummy ache that won’t go away.
“You’re flying with Papa?”
Leye made a face, akin to a little boy showing displeasure at the mention of a least favorite parent. He and Papa had never gotten along. From the day Papa suffered a major heart attack and was forced to take a break off the ministry by his doctors, Alice noticed that he had been at loggerheads with Leye who had immediately taken his place. But she suspected the beef had started long before then.
“The old man doesn’t approve of the wedding. He doesn’t like her.”
Alice straightened up. “Why is that?”
“I don’t know his reasons but really, who cares? He didn’t like Diane at first as well.”
“But you told me he warned you about marrying Diane, that she wasn’t blessed with long life.”
“He just made that up. A drunk driver killed Diane. Not some prophecy by an old man…”
“Pastor Leye?” Alice chided gently.
“I’m sorry. I’m just tired of him and his grumpiness. I wish he would just get married to some young chick and leave me alone. Or just go and bug his other children. He’s so fixated on me.”
“Because you are his only son and the one in whom he entrusted his legacy. You can’t afford to make mistakes, Leye, especially with a life partner.”
Leye flashed a smile Alice didn’t recognize. “She is not a mistake. She’s the best thing to ever happen to me.”
Alice’s tummy rumbled. Leye laughed. “You’re hungry. You better go home and eat.” He stared down at his ringing phone. “Will there ever be rest for me in this life? Please, let me take this.” He lifted the phone to his ear. “Big Mommy!”
As he launched into Yoruba with his elder sister, Alice rose to her feet. He stopped her with a finger, stood up and ambled up to her.
“There’s a special VIP wedding party at the house on Sunday,” he whispered, lips away from the phone. “Strictly on invitation. Come with a ‘he’.”
Alice nodded. He tapped her back and held open the door for her.
Stepping out, Alice bumped into a couple of church leaders who were heading into the office. She engaged in a brief conversation with them before hurrying away to her office. Picking her purse, tab and a few other things, she left the office complex to where her car was parked. She drove home and had a quick shower before hopping into her car again to head for the Omotosho residence. She hadn’t seen Papa in a week. She wondered how the old soul was faring. He had already sent a text to ask why she hadn’t visited. She replied, promising to drop by briefly.
Along the way, she made a quick stop to purchase fruits and Papa’s favorite bottle of wine. When she arrived at the house, she found the old man hosting his grandchildren – two exhausting boys who were sons of his lastborn. Their parents had dropped them off for the afternoon and were yet to come for them.
“I’m sure they’ve forgotten,” Papa said to Alice tiredly after receiving a hug from her. He stood tall, towering her with an impressive posture that was too sturdy for a man who was sixty-seven.
“You weren’t at church today,” Alice mentioned as she set the fruits in a basket that rested on the kitchen table.
“I visited a friend’s church for his daughter’s thanksgiving. She just came out of a three-month coma.”
“And she’s doing okay?”
Alice leaned on the counter by the kitchen sink and watched Papa attend to the pancakes he was preparing for his grandsons. Like Leye, he was comfortable in the kitchen. They both enjoyed making their meals and in some rare moments, they would cook together. On such occasions, father and son would do away with issues that divided them and enjoy each other’s presence in the large, black and white kitchen.
Alice was in love with the kitchen, and had many times, seen herself as a permanent fixture in it. Unlike Wemimo, she loved to cook, and the space was not only inspiring, it had a ready supply of everything one needed. On days when she visited Papa and neither of them was cooking, they would throw open the wide double doors that led outside and sit in, sipping wine and talking politics, which was Papa’s favorite topic.
“I’m done with these,” Papa announced, turning off the cooker. “Can you get me those little buggers in here?”
Alice hurried out to the living room where she found the boys fighting over a control pad and who would play a certain computer game. She sighed when she noticed that they had brought out the entire collection of Papa’s games and strewn them on the floor. The old man was going to be mad if he walked in and saw the mess. He was particular about his games and often devoted quality time for them.
“Solely for the stimulation of the mind,” he once told her.
He also played chess and scrabble, went swimming every Saturday, played golf once every month with his friends and jogged around the estate they lived in every other day. Before his heart attack, he had not given care to his health or any form of pleasurable pastime. It had been all about the ministry and nothing else. Now, he enjoyed the simple pleasures of taking trips around the world, speaking at religious meetings and spending time with family. He was still largely involved in the management of the church but Leye always saw that his influence was curtailed.
“Aunty Alice, tell Tito to give me the control pad!” one of the boys shouted. Alice walked over to them and demanded for the device. Without hesitation the boy in possession of it handed it to her.
“Grandpa made you pancakes. Oya, go and eat.”
Both boys abandoned the game and dashed to the kitchen. Alice bent over to fix the mess they had created. Halfway, she felt a presence in the room and turned to find Papa watching her. His weak eyes seem fixated on her but after a second stare she realized he was actually in thought.
“Leye told you he is getting married this week?” he asked.
“He announced it in the church. He didn’t tell me before that.”
“Did he tell you I disapprove of his choice of wife?”
“Yes.” Alice straightened up. “Why?”
Papa walked into the living room. He sat on a chair and crossed legs that were clad in jeans. If anyone ever wondered where Leye got his fashion taste from, they didn’t need to look far. Papa, from his youthful days, had been a man of style. Tall and reedy, he stood out wherever he went, always marked by an enviable fashion ensemble. Wemimo had, on several occasions, admitted to having a crush on him; even confessed to seducing him. But he wasn’t given into romance or women. The closest female companion he ever had was his late wife. He would often say that his three daughters were enough for him. And then there was Alice who loved him like a daughter as well. He was content with the women in his life.
“I have had the privilege of knowing the lady,” Papa spoke, replying to Alice’s question about Leye’s fiancée. “Her background is dark, and it seems this darkness follows her everywhere she goes. But Omoleye doesn’t see that. I honestly don’t know what he likes about her.”
“Is she beautiful?”
“She is, actually. But in an understated way. She has striking curves, though. But she’s not as beautiful as you are.”
Alice smiled. “Is that a compliment?”
“You are beautiful, Alice. You know that. Why didn’t you ever consider modeling?”
Alice let out a shy smile. “Well… I was too poor to even consider having any kind of life asides hawking stuff on the street.”
“And unlucky you…you didn’t happen to hawk your way into a photo shoot.”
Alice laughed freely. Papa was referring to famous Olajumoke, the bread-seller, who had become known when she happened upon a celebrity photo shoot that turned her into a model overnight and changed her fortune.
“But you’re doing well for yourself now,” he said to Alice.
“We thank God.”
Alice was not quite done with her questions about Leye’s woman but she could tell that the topic upset Papa, thus she let it be. They sat in the luxurious living room, sipping wine. It was the only room that wasn’t inspired by the general theme of black and white used everywhere else in the house. Leye had spent big, decorating the place. To him, it was the first thing people saw about him; and it was to reflect his status as an accomplished man. Heavy drapes of rich brown and gold trimmings hung by the windows. A black marbled floor reflected a white coffered ceiling above. Furniture pieces came in subtle colors, ranging from bluish-grey to coffee brown. Two large marine-inspired paintings usually rested on the east and west walls. One of them faced the entrance; it was the first thing anyone saw upon entering the living room. But this evening, Alice noticed it was missing. Some years ago, it had been Diane’s framed photo that adorned that wall. Leye had taken it down and replaced it with the painting. Alice suspected he was going to swap it with his new wife’s photo soon.
“Oh God, it’s almost nine!” Alice exclaimed as she picked her ringing phone from beside her. “And Wemi has been calling.”
“You’re still friends with that seductress?” Papa asked with humor in his eyes.
Alice chuckled. “You know she’s harmless.”
“I’m very worried about her corrupting you, Alice. Do be careful of her.”
“I will.” Alice stood up. “Goodnight, Papa.”
She gave him a hug, noting the tiredness in his eyes. “Would you want me to drop the boys off at home?”
“No. Let them be. Their parents are probably cuddled up in some hotel bed. Lord knows those two need that. Let them enjoy jare.”
She saw lonesomeness in his eyes. She had always desired to ask him how he had coped without intimacy in his life since his wife passed, but her respect for him would not let her broach the topic.
She left the house, tired. When she arrived at Wemimo’s, she was glad to find food waiting. Tara was also there, trying out some new mascara she had just bought.
“Whatever Wemi advises you, please ignore,” she said when Alice stepped out of the kitchen with a plate of rice.
“Where’s the Wemi sef?”
“In the toilet. Please, ignore anything she tells you.”
“What does she want to tell me?”
“Some absurd idea that came to her mind,” Tara answered. She had held out a mascara brush in one hand as if she wanted to say more but she shrugged and set the brush to her lashes.
“So did you have the talk with Pastor Leye?” she asked.
“I did and I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Are you still crying?”
“No. I’ve moved on.”
And this was the truth. Alice knew how to get over situations quite fast. What she didn’t know how to do was to forgive as fast.
“I don’t think you really had any feelings for him.”
“No, I didn’t,” Alice lied. “Purely infatuation.”
Tara gave break to her eyelashes and smiled at her friend. “I love you because you’re always such a good liar.”
“I know how to apply mascara better than you.”
Wemimo burst in from a door on which a towel hung. She was nude, save for an exercise bra. Perfectly-toned abs Alice always envied seemed bloated this evening. “Jesus! My ass is on fire! Beware of that stew, Pastor Alice!”
“I’m too hungry to care,” Alice replied.
“I made the stew last night, ate it with spaghetti and now, I’m bloated and purging at the same time. Arghh! I wan die!”
She dashed into her kitchen and returned with a glass of freezing water. She sank into the space beside Tara on a three-sitter, causing some of her makeup items to spill to the floor.
“Why are you like this nau? And please, go and wear pant.”
Wemimo ignored her. “So where are you coming from, madam?” she questioned Alice.
“I went to see Papa.”
Tara gave Wemimo a look that didn’t go unnoticed by Alice.
“What was that?” she asked.
“What?” Wemimo threw back.
“The way two of you looked at each other.”
They shared the look again.
“That. You just repeated it.”
“Wemi, don’t,” Tara uttered.
“Don’t what?” Alice probed.
Wemimo put her glass of water aside, hiked up her hair in a bun and faced Alice. “Alice, I was thinking that after all the shame you faced with Leye today, you should get over it by dating Papa.”
Alice’s jaw dropped, along with some grains of rice that hit the floor.
“Hear me out,” Wemimo continued. “There’s more. You need a man in your life. I have a boyfriend. Tara is engaged…”
“She doesn’t need a man.”
“Tara, don’t talk until I’m done.”
Tara hissed. “You’re useless.”
“I know. Thank you. As I was saying, Alice, you need an Omotosho in your life.”
“Where is all this coming from?”
Wemimo smiled like she was about to reveal the secret of life. “Remember when you started having feelings for Leye? Remember the reasons you told me? How you dreamt of taking Pastor Diane’s place and becoming the respected mama? Remember you told me how you felt it was your calling to lead the church as an Omotosho?”
Alice shifted her eyes from a questioning stare coming from Tara.
“Alice?” Tara called. “Is this true?”
“I was selfish then. I-I didn’t mean it.”
“Oh, you’re going to deny now?” Wemimo shook her head. “You went on and on about it for months! You wanted so badly to be mother and queen of the entire church!”
“I was selfish, Wemi.”
“You’re still that same person, and I’m not judging you. I’m simply telling you to act on your desires. Papa has been without a woman for years. Dude is lonely and you can fit in perfectly into his life without any one lifting a brow. And let’s not forget that he’s a fine old man.”
Alice lost her appetite. “Papa is the father I never had. I feel disgusted that you would suggest such a thing, Wemimo.”
“Imagine you having as much power as Leye’s new wife, and all that money. Because let’s face it, you were after Leye for what he could offer. Not only for love.”
Alice put her meal away and sprang up. “I’m going home, abeg. Tara, let’s go.”
“Na wa o. Somebody cannot even play with you again.”
“Wemi, if you know what is good for you, never ever bring up this topic again. Never!”
“Tara, let’s be going.”
“Alice…” Wemi stood.
“Don’t talk to me right now.”
“My dear, don’t dull yourself. I don’t expect that you’d think that ending up as a hair stylist is the best thing life has to offer you. You’ve worked so hard in the church and have gotten this far. There’s more you can have. Don’t let another young girl take Papa from you. All that daughter nonsense you’re doing with him will just clear from your eyes when he’s snatched, and you’ll hate yourself for losing out on both ends. Use your sense well, Pastor Alice.”
Alice left the house in annoyance. She waited in her car for Tara, listening to gospel music on the radio. She was fighting hard not to let Wemimo’s words settle in.
When Tara entered the car, they shared a moment of quiet before Alice brought the engine to life.
“In hindsight,” Tara spoke up, “I don’t think it may be a bad idea…”
Alice stopped her. “Don’t talk.”
“You should pray about it but please, don’t seduce him. If it’s God’s will, it will happen naturally.”
“Don’t talk about it again.”
Tara raised her hands. “I’m sorry.”
That night, Alice sat alone in her living room with the lights off. Moon rays filtered in through a fissure between twin drapes, casting light on a standing lamp Papa had gifted her during Christmas the year before. She thought of all the other gifts she had received from him – keepsakes any father would give a daughter. He loved her as one of his own. Why would she want to destroy the beautiful relationship they shared?
But Wemimo was right about her being ambitious. Her grand dreams wanted her to be more than she currently was. They were the reason she wanted Leye. Was she to let go of being great just because she couldn’t have him? Or was she to pursue them at all cost?
As a child, growing up in a polygamous home, she had felt like she was just a little grain of sand amongst other grains by a seashore. Nobody cared about her. Nobody even noticed her. But a prophet had picked her out from a crowd of hundreds of people at a church event forced on her by her stepmother. She was called to the stage, lifted up by the strong arms of the prophet and placed on his shoulder, and then told that she was going to be great.
“You will be a mother to many!” he had proclaimed. “You will lead thousands with the word of God!”
That incident had not left her memory. His words had stayed with her all her life. Leye was supposed to be fulfillment of the prophecy. But as it were, she was a million miles away from seeing it come to pass.
She knew the only way to get guidance was to ask for God’s direction, but she was too weary to pray. Her heart still broken from Leye’s abandonment.
She sat in quietness, listening to sounds of a sleeping neighborhood as her mind traveled back and forth on the issue.
Her phone rang. She saw that it was Wemimo calling. She didn’t feel like taking the call but knowing Wemimo wouldn’t stop until she ran her out of battery, she answered.
“I didn’t finish my pitch to you because you were forming vex and that Holy Tara won’t let me rest.”
“Shey I said you should not bring the topic up again?”
“Listen to me nau. You’ll like this.”
“You have one minute.”
“So, you know when I was all over Papa…”
“Wait, what exactly happened between you two? You never told me…”
“That’s because he made me cry and think about my life.”
Alice smiled. Papa was blessed with the gift of shaking people’s consciences.
“You know I was going to the house a lot, cooking for him, cleaning up after him and all that. It was after his second surgery when you traveled to Abuja for that job.”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“And so, one day…I boldly took things a step further and unbuttoned the shirt dress I was wearing and offered the twins to him.”
“Good Lord! Wemi!”
“I know. Stupid, stupid me. But you know what he did? Papa sat me down, with my dress still unbuttoned and half of my boobs exposed, and gave me the preaching of my life. I wept like a mother who just lost her child. And I didn’t end there; I confessed all my sins to him.”
“Anyway, that is not what I called to tell you. When he was talking to me that day, he told me that he sees me as a daughter and he’s not in the least bit attracted to me, and that if there was anyone he would ever have feelings for, it would be you.”
“Me? He said that?”
“He said it really fast and never repeated it but I haven’t forgotten.”
“He really said that?”
“Yes. Your darling Papa may not be seeing you as a daughter after all.”
Alice recalled the moment earlier when she had caught him staring at her as she was bent over. It caused a shiver down her spine. “Yikes.”
“Sweet, holy yikes. Go for your sugar daddy, Alice. God knows me I cannot have any rich man in this world. I just have to hustle to make it. But you, you are favored. You’ve worked so hard for God, that I think he should bless you with an Omo-toh-sure.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“You’re welcome. P.S: I’ve seen Papa’s junk.”
“Abba father! Wemi?!”
“There was a day the nurse wasn’t there to bathe him. He insisted on doing it himself but almost fell on his way to the bathroom and his towel slipped to the ground and…oops!”
“We are so not having this conversation. Bye, girlfriend.”
Alice heard a naughty giggle as she ended the call. She noticed there was a Whatsapp message waiting. She clicked on it and saw that it was from Papa.
-Sorry, this is coming really late but I know you’re awake
-I know I said I wasn’t going for Leye’s wedding but I don’t want to be seen as the pouty old father who won’t let his children progress
-However, I know I’ll pout if I’m there alone without any other form of distraction. And no, my grandkids don’t count
-Would you like to accompany me to Abuja and stop me from being grumpy?
-You can answer this when the sun comes up. No pressure
Alice typed a reply.
-Yes, Papa. We’ll talk tomorrow. Goodnight
She turned off her data, recalling a sermon she delivered to the single sisters the week before about being wary of men who texted late at night.
“Don’t pretend that you don’t know that such a man wants to be more than just friends with you,” she had told them. “You know what he wants.”
Alice rubbed tired eyes and turned off her phone entirely.
“Jesus, help me.”
She lay flat on the couch.
On nights like this, she had fantasized about Leye endlessly. Her thoughts had been precise and focused only on him, but tonight, confusing contemplations filled her head. She tried to shut them out but nothing worked. The only thing that was certain was that she knew she wasn’t going to accompany Papa to Abuja. She just couldn’t bring herself to be his plus one. She was still nursing a broken heart. She needed time to heal.
And certainly a good night’s rest to clear her head from the nonsense Wemimo had filled it with.