So, the wheels have been oiled and I’m writing again. I would have given you double episodes this weekend, but let me leave it for next.
Stranger In Lagos is still available. Buzz me if you want a copy.
She wasn’t a Christmas person, but Omar was. He took after his mother who always got excited toward the end of each year, just because it was Christmas. By the first week of December, her décor plans were already sorted. Every year, there was a theme, and she stuck with it obsessively, always dragging Yenkat into her plans. Last year, they were on a movie marathon, which began from the first day of December to the last. Aanu made Yenkat watch a Christmas almost movie every night, and took photos of them together. Yenkat had been glad when she left the country for a short while in December and didn’t have to honor the tradition. But this morning, Omar resurrected those memories she shared with Aanu when she found him painstakingly decorating a Christmas tree he had put up in the living room. He had left her in bed sometime after three in the morning to accomplish his mission.
The Christmas tree stood there now, lively and colorful. Almost beautiful. Yenkat just wasn’t feeling it. She was more worried about Omar who was struggling with a flu and malaria. He had returned to her rather ill and she had nursed him over the past couple of days. She was mad at Aanu for stressing the poor boy.
“You should be sleeping,” Yenkat said to him.
“I was restless. I got this burst of energy and thought to come and fix this tree up. You like?” His back was to her. An ornament had fallen to the floor and he stooped to pick it up.
“Come back to bed, Tobi. I don’t like these bursts of energy you keep getting.”
“I didn’t hear you complaining earlier,” he said, turning in her direction. He caught her trying not to smile as he moved closer to her.
“Earlier shouldn’t have happened. That was insensitive and rather irresponsible of me.”
“I like it when you’re irresponsible.”
His eyes caressed her lips.
“Tobi, no. Not this night.” She rested her hands on his shoulders. “Let’s get you back to bed and keep you warm.”
He wrapped her in a hug. “Thank God you know I’m cold.”
She pulled away. “I still have that catfish pepper soup. Are you hungry?” She touched his face. “Any headache? Body ache? Fever?”
“Can you stop babying me? I’m fine.”
“Then spend Christmas with me,” she requested.
“You know I can’t.”
She was shameless in demanding more of his presence. She had been doing so since he told her two nights ago that he was returning to Aanu’s hometown to spend the rest of the holiday with her. Mother and son were presently in a good place. Aanu had suddenly stopped being anal about his relationship with Yenkat, which was supposed to be a good thing. But Yenkat was wary about it. She knew her former friend too well to see that she was trying a different tact. Soon, she would demand visitation rights over Polaris. She would also get into Omar’s head the same way she was winning Nasir to her side.
But Omar saw things differently. He believed Aanu was changing, having been affected by her father’s debilitating illness. The old man didn’t seem to be getting better. Omar predicted that he would pass away anytime soon. That alone gave Yenkat reason to worry. All Aanu needed was to become vulnerable to her son to win him over. Yenkat didn’t need a fortuneteller to explain the implications of what a bond between them could do to what she shared with him. So, last night, she held him tightly and asked him to stay. Last night, she also discovered that she didn’t have that much sway over his emotions. Aanu came first.
“I already told you that I’d be back for New Year’s,” he told her now, pulling her to him again.
“I’ll miss you.”
She wanted to express more of what she felt inside, but she was already too exposed to him. She needed to save some of herself for the sake of her pride. He would still go away to school. Was she to crawl up and die then?
“I’ll miss you more.”
He kissed her, ready to stir things up as he had tried to do since he showed up. She hadn’t let him have his way due to his health. But she had given in some hours ago, after Dash took a nap and Oyin went shopping. They had torn each other up in the living room, ending up on her bed where he eventually fell asleep. It had been so wild and satisfying that Yenkat took a moment in the bathroom while he slept to replay the scenes in her head. Making love never felt so wrong and right at the same time. She kept asking God to forgive her for her nastiness. She couldn’t wait to fill Kyenpia’s ears with the gist.
Yenkat was convinced now than ever that she loved the boy more than she would admit to herself. She still felt shame over their weird situation and sometimes suffered brief moments of self-condemnation. But she was stuck in so deep that the only solution to her quagmire was to get out and run as far from him as she could. It was the plan brewing somewhere in her head. She still wanted to be Polaris’ mother and own his heart at the same time, but it was best for both of them for her to let him find himself without her. She wanted him to live, love other women and forget about her. This moment in their lives had to be fleeting. It would be a mistake to make it permanent. This was why she wanted as much of him now as she could get. He made her live again. She didn’t know how much had died inside of her until he became part of her existence.
“Have you ever thought about going somewhere else?” he asked. “Starting a new life in another place?”
“Yes. But I don’t want to. I love it here. I’m making money here.”
“You can make money out there too, Kat. See, let’s get away from all the drama. You, me, Polaris and that little asshole, Dash.”
“Hey, be nice.”
“Let’s leave Naija and find some first world country and be together without anyone judging us.”
“Boy, that’s not going to happen.”
“Give it some thought, though.”
“But we can sha go for a ride this night. I’ve been cooked up in here. I need some air.”
“A ride? Do you know what time it is?”
He looked at his watch. “Past three. Let’s go.”
She loved his spontaneity. He always had something up his sleeve at the oddest moment. It was fun to just flow with his whims.
“I’m practically naked, Tobi.”
She was wearing a pair of silk boy shorts and a loose tube top that couldn’t quite stay on her chest.
They got into her car and he drove out of the compound. They left the estate entirely, to a lonely blind alley that had a collection of tall trees under which a woman sold food during the day to construction workers that worked on a skyscraper nearby. They pushed their chairs backwards and shared a bottle of wine Omar had picked from the house. There was also a bag of potato chips in the glove compartment.
Yenkat rested her head on Omar’s lap and stretched her legs out as much as she could. The tinted windows were a good cover for their privacy.
“So, I was thinking…” Omar said.
“The IVF thing you talked about. I was thinking that it would be great if I contributed.”
“No. Physically. As in, donate semen.”
Yenkat looked up at him.
“Or is it sperm?” He smiled back. She let out laughter and drew herself up.
“You can’t be serious.”
“I am, and it’s not funny.”
“It’s…crazy, Tobi.” Yenkat didn’t want to say ‘funny.’
“What’s crazy about me being the father of your child?”
“Are we not already a stench in people’s noses?”
“I’m tired of you thinking about what people think.”
“I do because…”
“I don’t want to talk about what we’ve talked about a million times. It’s exhausting. Let’s stick to the present topic. I have semen, I’m at my most fertile stage, and I make beautiful babies. Look at Polar. Don’t you want another like her?”
“But I already have Dash.”
“He’s not yours.”
“He’s mine. He’s my blood.”
“Fuck that shit. It’s not the same as having your own kid, mami.” Omar put his hand on her thigh. She pushed a potato chip into her mouth. “I want to do this with you. It’d be an honor.”
“You want to be a single dad of two in your mid-twenties?”
“I won’t be the first.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“Seriously, I’m serious. Let’s do it. Nobody has to even know the baby is mine.”
“Because it’s not…”
“It’s not what?”
“It’s not right. If Aanu finds out…”
“There we go…”
“If she finds out, she’ll bring hell on us, and that’s the last thing a baby needs. Besides, I don’t want her being in my baby’s life for whatever reason. Too much drama.”
“Then let me be an anonymous donor.”
Yenkat laughed again. “How?”
“Just let me knock you up, Kat. It’s always been my dream. I want to have babies with you.”
“Dear Lord.” She was still laughing.
“Stop laughing. It’s pissing me off.”
“I’m sorry, but no, Omar. It’s not going to happen. Kill that idea in your head.”
“So, you want to go and have another man’s child? Clarence’s, maybe?”
“Clarence? Are you jealous of him?”
“No. The mofo hates me. Feeling’s mutual.”
“I am not having his baby. Or any man’s, for that matter. I have Dash.”
“And if Jenifer comes back for him?”
“I’ll handle her. She’s not fit to be a mother. No sane judge will let her near him.”
Omar went silent, gulping wine from the bottle. Yenkat concentrated on the pack of chips for a while.
“I’m sorry I laughed. I shouldn’t have…”
“It’s fine.” He handed her the bottle of wine and refused the chips when she made to pass it to him. She returned her head to his lap. He rested his hand on her tummy. “Just think about it. You know I’m a good father…”
“I know, Tobi, but if I’m going to go ahead and have a kid of my own, I don’t want to co-parent. I want to be a single mom, doing it alone.”
“You won’t get married again?”
The conversation ended. Silence followed. Not the heavy type, though. Omar began to tell her about his plans for the future. Yenkat listened to every word. She was a huge feature in everything he planned for his life, and this scared her. How was she to tell him that it would end in tears for both of them?
Yenkat wasn’t sorry that she turned down his proposal. It was ridiculous for him to consider that he would be an option. She had not thought about him as one, for obvious reasons.
She sat up again, when he paused for a bit.
“You’re going to be a great man, Oluwatobi. I said it first. You’ll be great.”
“Were you even listening to everything I just told you?”
“Yeah.” She placed a soft kiss on his lips. He looked into her eyes and a sad look came into his.
“You’re so going to dump me, Kat. I can see it.”
“Shut up, boy.” She sat on him.
Omar pushed his hand through her shorts to rest it on her bum. “I’ll always be a boy to you, no matter what. But I know you have feelings for me, beyond the sex. Why can’t you just forget about everything and let your heart be?”
“I want you to live, Omar, and enjoy life. You have the world waiting for you…”
“Fuck that shit.”
“It’s what’s best for both of us. Boy, you need to grow up, get older and wiser, make all the mistakes there are to make…”
“And come back to find you all married up with four kids or something? Do I look like a joke to you, Yenkat? Stop pissing me off.”
“Well, you don’t exactly feel like you’re pissed,” she said, in response to the growing situation in his midsection that was presently rubbing against her crotch.
“Let’s just fuck…”
“Get off my dick.”
“Tobi, don’t spoil the mood nau.” She touched his face. He dropped her hand. “Come on, baby. We came here to…”
His mood switch wasn’t a new thing to her. He seemed to have a lot of them these days. She respected his request and returned to her seat. He keyed the engine of the car and took them back home.
“I just want to sit here for a bit,” he said to her.
She left in him in the car. In her bedroom, she remade the bed, changing the sheets to fresh ones. He came in almost an hour later, seeking her body in the dark and apologizing for his mood. The words were said to her in whispers that came with kisses along her spine, all the way to her neck. She didn’t turn when he began to tug down her shorts. She did protest, though, weakly, murmuring something about his health. He ignored her and turned her around.
“Should we do this slowly or like rabid dogs?”
His question made her laugh.
“Slowly, it is.”
He lowered his body over hers and kissed her. The sheer weight of his hardness pressing into her filled her with wild thoughts. She reached for it, tugging it out of his joggers. She stopped to look at it as her breath became shallow. Omar’s lips came down on her nipple and she responded by spreading her legs apart, in anticipation of being stretched. Yenkat loved her men big; she loved pain with pleasure, which was why she hated foreplay before sex. Unfortunately, her body always betrayed her mid-coitus, turning into a soaking mess, as some form of coping mechanism. Hence, she always looked forward to the moment of initial penetration and the pain that came with it. And Omar already understood this. Taking off her hand from his dick, he moved hard into her, but not so fast that she couldn’t feel every movement happen.
Yenkat felt a sting of tears in her eyes as her body took him in. When he came down on her, she clung to his neck and locked his body in with her thighs. She then shut her eyes, released her thighs and allowed her body to be loved by him.
Hours later, she was awoken by Oyin, who had come in with Dash. Omar wasn’t in the bedroom. Yenkat stretched out her hands and took the boy, smiling at him and falling in love as she did each time she held him.
“I missed your noisy ass last night,” she said, sitting up. Dash naturally went for her breasts, but she covered it with a bedspread. “So, what do you want to do today? You want to go with me to the office?”
“Ma, today is Sunday,” Oyin, who had begun cleaning the room, mentioned.
“And you’ve not gone to church?”
“I’ll soon be going. Let me just clean this room.”
“Leave it and go. I’ll handle it.”
Oyin looked unsure.
She curtsied. “Thank you, ma.”
When Oyin left, Yenkat visited the bathroom to relieve her bladder. She returned to find Dash dribbling on her phone.
“Don’t do that.” She snatched the phone off his hands and he looked up at her with a frown. “See your face like your daddy’s own.” She handed him a toy she picked from the dressing table. He continued his slobbering activity while she set about cleaning the bedroom.
Omar walked in. She stopped and looked at him. He appeared healthier than he looked the morning before.
“I felt like egusi soup this morning,” he told her. “I’m done making it, but I can’t eat.”
“I’ll help you eat it. But how are you feeling?” she asked.
“Good. How are you feeling?”
She laughed, walked past him and rubbed his beard, as she headed towards the kitchen. She heard him call her name, but she didn’t respond until she returned.
“You’ve got to see this,” he said. She dropped the broom and dustpan she came with and moved towards him. He was holding out his phone. When she reached for it, he drew back. “This is going to break your heart.”
The tone of his voice brought instant worry. “What’s going on?”
“I’m sorry, Kat.”
She took the phone and saw that he was on Twitter. There was a tweet, showing the photo of a missing baby whose name was Jayden. Yenkat tapped on the baby’s photo to enlarge it and her heart broke. Next to the photo was another of Jenifer. The tweet explained that Jenifer had stolen the child from his parents and hadn’t been seen in almost two weeks.
Yenkat’s hands became heavy. She looked at Dash, tears pooling up in her eyes in a hurry. Omar took the phone from her and encircled her in a hug.
“He’s my baby,” she whispered. “He has my DNA.”
“He’s my baby.”
Kyenpia hadn’t spent the night at home. On a whim, she had decided to visit the studio to take over from the radio host whose show ran all night.
“One of the perks of being the boss,” she said with a smile that hid whatever she was battling with internally. Leonel watched her dress up in gym pants and a sweater. She slipped into a pair of Adidas sneakers to complete her sporty appearance. The time was 10:00 p.m. and she looked like she was about to visit the gym. Something was definitely bordering her. But Leonel didn’t say a word of it. He understood that she was still grappling with the reality of his return. She had been through the trauma of losing him and still had bits of it popping up now and then. Asides that, she was going to meet with her biological father in a bit and was nervous about it. Leonel welcomed the idea of her taking some time out to sort out her feelings. He kissed her on her way out and instructed Clarence not to tail her.
“That’s not advisable, sir,” Clarence objected.
“She’ll be fine.”
“Sir, word is out there that you’re in town and…”
“Who’s your boss, Clarence?”
There was some hesitation before Clarence answered.
“Good. For a second, I thought you were going to mention Captain.”
“I should have you fired, you know that? I don’t want people who are loyal to my father around me.”
“Boss, you know I’ve always been loyal to you.”
“Let’s keep it that way. Don’t question my orders next time.”
The night went by, and the morning came, but Kyenpia wasn’t home. Her number rang unanswered as well. Leonel began to worry. Seated in Kyenpia’s study, upstairs, he called Clarence in.
“And em…if you discover that she spent the night or a bit of her time at Ishi’s…don’t tell me.”
Leonel didn’t think Kyenpia would be with Ishi at the moment. A visit was within limits, though. They were still friends, in spite of everything. It wasn’t like she now hated the guy. He was still the father of her child…
Leonel canceled his thoughts. Kyenpia’s father would soon be in the country, and that was all that mattered. His mother was already at David’s; her flight came in at the early hours of the morning and David went to get her. She was expected to stay three weeks in Nigeria. Her time would be spent equally in the homes of both sons. Leonel was generous enough to spare Igwe two days of her presence at the villa. Hopefully, her stay in Nigeria would be blessed with peace, as long as Captain wouldn’t try to screw things up. The man was unaware of the fact that she was alive and Leonel didn’t feel he deserved to know. He didn’t deserve anything. Not even an explanation from Leonel as to why he chose to return. He had told this to him during a brief visit the day before.
“I don’t owe you shit, Pops. This is my life, and you should back off. You’ve fucked things up enough. If you meddle one more time, my next bullet won’t miss that artery.”
The words had been said in response to a statement made by Captain that indicated his displeasure at Leonel’s return.
“I don’t know what your plan was, though. You wanted me to hide away at the other end of the world forever? Do you realize how much this makes you look like a nutcase?”
Captain had been calm, sparing no expression in reaction to Leonel’s words.
Leonel visited Idara next. He had missed the previous day’s appointment with her and had been incommunicado. He was stopping by to apologize and to see her new luxury apartment, which was a gift from him. It was in the same building as Anna’s. He owned the place.
“Hi.” Idara let him in. “Forgive the mess. I’m still unpacking.”
Leonel remained by the door.
“You want a drink or something?” Idara asked.
“No, thanks.” He then apologized for missing his appointment with her.
“It’s fine. I know you’re in some honeymoon phase with your wife right now.”
He smiled and reached for a teddy bear resting on a stack of boxes next to him. He smelled it, bringing back memories of his time at Barbados and Mauritius.
“She wanted to meet Spirit.”
Idara pulled out two award plaques from a box and paused, staring at him. “Kyenpia?”
“I told her that couldn’t happen.”
“Okay.” Idara walked to a shelf made specifically for ornaments and placed the plaques there.
“I know I shouldn’t have, but Kyenpia can be a bugger, so I had to stop her.”
“Yeah.” Idara walked back from the shelf. “You reacted in the best way you could.”
“But something weird happened later on… I think I sort of integrated.”
“For lack of a better word.”
“I didn’t feel like parts of myself that night. Yet…”
“It was you.”
“Yeah. You think maybe I channeled my inner Spirit?”
Idara laughed. She took his hand and dragged him to a couch. “Tell me all about it.”
He spoke to her, giving details of how the night of James’ birthday went with Kyenpia. Idara’s reaction to him was pleasure. She wasn’t there as his therapist, but as a friend.
“You see? I told you! Kyenpia is the perfect drug for you, Leo. You were able to somehow—I don’t know how—get Spirit and you to integrate into one, just to make her happy.” She grinned. “After all these months! Yay!”
Leonel didn’t share in her excitement, but he understood it.
“I was afraid I was wasting my time like in the past. Man, I have to drink to this.” She got off the couch and entered the kitchen, returning with a bottle of wine.
“There are glasses in that carton near you, abeg.”
Leonel reached for a carton nearby and picked two glass cups while she popped the bottle of wine. He spent the hour with her, drinking wine and discussing issues that had nothing to do with his mental health. When he eventually left her apartment, he took a walk around the building, to ensure that his property was in top shape. While doing this, he was plagued with a strong desire to call Anna. Presently, she was in Mauritius with Brisa. Both women had met when Anna visited the place a while ago. It hadn’t been a chance meeting. Leonel had been informed by John Doe that Anna was in the country and it wasn’t for business purposes. Curious to know why she was there, Leonel sent Brisa on a mission to gather information from Anna. Both ladies hit it off and spent quality time with each other all through Anna’s stay. Via Brisa, Leonel got to know how his death had left Anna in a mess, but it was Spirit who was more affected by her pain. Many times, he longed to reveal himself to her. Leonel fought hard to ensure that never happened.
The desire was strong again today. Just as it had been after he left Idara’s apartment yesterday. Even now that he was worried about Kyenpia who was yet to return home. Holding one of his sleeping sons and walking around in circles in the living room, his thumb floated over Brisa’s number. He hated that he had to do this. Spirit was strong in him this morning. But just as he was about to dial the number, Kyenpia walked in.
He sighed. “Hey.”
She came in with shopping bags. “I stopped at the mall to pick some things for his room.”
“More things? Kay, that room is in shipshape. It’s basically a luxury hotel suite.”
“I feel the air freshener would be too strong for him. You know how old people can’t stand strong fragrances. I also got him Bluetooth speakers, just in case he wants to listen to music. Humidifier too.”
Kyenpia walked pass Leonel and a whiff of her perfume made him smile. It then occurred to him that he would have died if the tables were turned and he had to mourn her. He didn’t think he was as strong as she was.
“Who are you carrying?” she asked as he followed her upstairs.
“Kane. Reggie is also asleep. Em is playing in the backyard. That girl’s energy…” Leonel shook his head. “I can’t catch up abeg.”
“Remember how she used to kick me so hard while I was pregnant with her?”
“Yeah, you burst into tears one night and kept screaming at your tummy. Most hilarious thing.”
“Even the twins didn’t kick me like that.”
They stopped outside the guestroom prepared for Kyenpia’s father. Leonel watched her install the humidifier, change the air freshener and place the Bluetooth speaker on the nightstand.
“I hope he likes it,” she said when she was done. Leonel kissed her on the neck.
They took Kane to his room and placed him in his cot.
“I need a new PA,” Leonel said as they headed towards their bedroom. “I need your help finding one.”
“Why? You can’t trust yourself? You’ll want to start screwing that one too?”
He laughed. They got into their bedroom and he closed the door. Kyenpia kicked out of her sneakers.
“How’s Anna, by the way?” she asked.
“Anna? Where did that come from?”
Kyenpia took off her sweater. “I know you know where she is. How is she doing? I miss her.”
“Why do you like trouble?” He laughed again.
“I’m tempted to tell you to bring her back, because nobody knows your shit the way she does, but we’re not going down that road again.” She slipped out of her gym pants and straightened up. “Right?”
Her eyes remained in his, reading him.
“You don’t trust me.”
“Trust is not what is keeping me married to you, Leonel. Addiction is. I’m addicted.”
He moved towards her. “That’s good to know.”
“Are you going to cheat on me again?”
“He’d better not.”
“Just in case he wants to, can you tell me beforehand? So that I’ll officially declare this marriage open.”
“It won’t come to that. I promise you.”
“Don’t make promises, Leonel. Your dick…” She dropped her eyes to his middle. “It better behave.”
“It will. But not when it’s around you.”
He tried to kiss her, but she walked off to the bathroom. He went after her.
“I think that short guy with the mean look makes a good PA,” she said.
“What short guy? John Doe?”
“Yeah, the creepy looking one. He’s efficient with you.”
“He knows nothing about hoteling. Don’t worry about me. I’ll find someone.”
Kyenpia went nude. Leonel’s eyes couldn’t leave her body. He asked if he could shower with her. She invited him over. His clothes hit the floor in seconds and he was soon in the shower stall with her. But she wouldn’t let him go beyond giving her a wash. Save for a quickie three days ago, they hadn’t had sex since the night of James’ birthday. Kyenpia had made it clear that she would starve him as a form of punishment. He was paying for his sins in large, annoying doses.
He helped her into a bathrobe and put his arms around her from underneath the robe.
“You’re nervous about meeting your dad?”
“Don’t be. He’s already crazy about you.”
Kyenpia had asked not to see pictures of her old man. This was to avoid drawing conclusions about him. Leonel was amused at the thought of how much he was going to be a surprise to her when she eventually met him.
“I hope I like him as much.”
While Kyenpia dressed up, Leonel attended to business matters. Kyenpia’s father was to arrive towards evening. There were things that needed to be tidied up before then. As he responded to a video call from Jaiye, Leonel’s mind went back to Anna. He needed to see her. Not for obvious reasons, however. The woman was disturbed. Having now convinced herself that she was done with men, she was in a full lesbian affair with Brisa. Leonel blamed himself for this. If he hadn’t sent Brisa to go looking for her in Mauritius, both ladies wouldn’t have met, and Brisa wouldn’t have worked Anna’s mind. Brisa’s motive was solely spiteful. She wanted to get back at Leonel for turning down her requests, by going for Anna in her most vulnerable state. She was going to hurt and mess her up, just to piss him off. Anna had to be rescued. He owed her that much. Besides, the whole thing with Brisa was a mess.
Basically, y’all have slept with each other. Why not just organize a threesome and be one happy family at the same time?
Idara had been joking when she said those words, but Leonel didn’t find it funny. He had gone through his entire whore phase in life, leaving a clean track. Now that he was with the woman he loved and was willing to forsake all others for, his sins were threatening to give him unrest.
“Anna was a bad idea, fam,” he said loudly in Kyenpia’s study. He was speaking to Spirit. “Fucking bad idea.”
The plan was to come to church late, sneak in, sit somewhere at the back where he would not be noticed, and then leave before the service ended. But it took a couple of ushers to recognize him and spread the word, and soon, the senior pastor was on the altar, announcing his presence to everyone. Ishi arose and gave the congregation an awkward wave, sat down, and pretended not to notice that one of the cameras was still focused on him. The senior pastor requested his company after service. Ishi was going to decline the request by sneaking out as planned, but an usher came for him while the sermon was going on and informed him that he was needed in the pastor’s office.
He followed the lady out of the church hall. He wasn’t so familiar with this particular cathedral, although he had been on the premises a few times, during week days, just to sit in the hall and attempt to pray. He had done this over the past month, but hadn’t been able to communicate with God. It was still the same silence he got each time he offered up a word of prayer. He needed divine help for his brother, Aaron, who was in rehab for the ninth time. The demise of their family had kicked off his worst-ever substance abuse chapter and he had been on the verge of losing his life. Ishi had not shared this with anybody except Kyenpia. He was scared of having to mourn one more person. He had needed God, but God had been silent again.
Ishi was no longer angry. He was tired, but also grateful that Aaron was somehow pulling through. He was still in rehab somewhere in Boston, seeing one of the best grief counselors in the world. Ishi, on the other hand, was piecing back the parts of his heart and mind that had been torn apart. He was a different man. He could see his growth, even with the gloominess that overwhelmed him on many days. He had learned to concentrate on his blessings, the topmost being Eliana.
There was Kyenpia too. What they had now was deeper, in a weird way. He had been intimate with her in every manner a man would the woman he loved, and he was content with where they were, accepting that it was their fate to journey through life with each other on parallel lines that would never become one. He didn’t regret what they shared. In fact, he valued it. He saw himself in the future, as an old man, telling his grandkids the tale of the woman he loved more than anything else in life, but could never be with. He was more open now to falling for someone else than he was in the past. He looked forward to it, even though he hadn’t showed up for the blind date Igwe arranged for him. His reason was that the lady in question was a pastor, and he didn’t do pastors. He’d always wanted someone outside the religious sphere, a woman who would bring a balance to his life. And even though he was in an unspiritual state right now, he still wasn’t interested in hooking up with clergy.
“Please, go inside, sir.” The usher who had led him to the senior pastor’s office pointed him towards an open door. They had come to the west wing of the cathedral. If Ishi’s memory served him right, he had walked back and forth the long hallway of this building, which held the administrative area of the church. On the day this happened, he was praying for God’s help during the construction stage of the cathedral. The church had run low on funds and some top government official who had beef for the general overseer was threatening to put a halt to the ongoing work. It was also the same time Leonel was looking for funds to complete Liana Resort. Ishi had planned to donate what he had to the church, but had gotten clear instructions from God to hand it to Leonel instead. For confirmation from God, what Ishi had in his account was the exact amount of cash Leonel needed. Ishi had laughed at the ridiculousness of it, but had obeyed the instruction and given Leonel the cash. A week later, a huge deal with a multinational company came through for him and Lanre, and he pledged his money for the completion of the church project. It was with a sense of pride he walked down the hallway now, and into the senior pastor’s office.
“Eresoyen!” the man greeted.
Ishi braced himself for long, unnecessary talk, spiritual scolding and fatherly advice. He had done well to stay away from members and leaders of the congregation since his beef with God started. Moving to an unknown part of Lagos and hiding from the public eye had enabled him accomplish this. But there was no running away now. The church folks would sneak in through this gaping crack he had left open.
“We’ve missed you, you know?” the senior pastor said as Ishi sat. “The youth, especially. The Chastity Vow Fellowship.”
Ishi mentally laughed. He had started the Chastity Vow Fellowship to encourage singles to stay chaste until they got married. It was some sort of community of celibates who were accountable to each other. Ishi knew he didn’t belong there anymore, and he wasn’t sorry for it. Kyenpia had been worth every taste of the forbidden fruit he had avoided for years.
The senior pastor kept him engaged in lighthearted banter for a while before he threw in his invitation to Ishi, asking him to return to the fold. The offer came with a new office, his old position and a restoration of his duties, regardless of what manner of mud his feet had gotten soiled in.
“I don’t care what you’ve been up to,” the man told Ishi. “Jesus doesn’t care either. His arms are wide open to you. Somewhere in your head, nothing of what you went through makes sense. It is not supposed to at all. But your life begins to make meaning when you just run back to God and let him take the wheel. So come back, Son. We love you, God loves you, and everything’s going to be okay.”
Ishi gave no response, except to smile. They talked further and Ishi promised to think about the offer and give him some feedback in two weeks. The sounds of conversation from outside the office filtered in, an indication that the service was over and the premises was surrounded with people Ishi didn’t plan to bump into.
He stepped out and prayed to God that he wouldn’t meet any of his colleagues. He had energy only for the congregants.
“Ishi!” a pastor called, coming out of an office down the hallways. Ishi smiled as the young man in his immaculate blue suit hurried towards him. “Longest time, brother!”
“Pastor Ishi! My runaway husband!”
This one was one of the choir leaders. She had always had a crush for him. He was surprised to see her pregnant. She came towards him. Soon, he was surrounded by old friends, people he had shut out in his moment of grief. They reminded him of his loss, offering condolences and strengthening him with God’s word. It didn’t feel as bad as he thought it would. Truth be told, he was glad for their encouraging presence. He didn’t know how much he had missed them until now.
When he was finally able to tear himself away from them, he told them he had to rush home. He began a brisk walk down the long hallway, smiling in response to greetings thrown at him. Towards the end of the hallway, an office to his right opened and a lady walked out of it, almost bumping into Ishi. They both apologized, and he stepped back to let her through, but she paused and peered into his face.
“Ishi? Pastor Ishi?” she asked.
“Yeah.” He didn’t recognize her.
“Obialunanma Soludo.” She stuck out her hand for a handshake. Ishi took it and she held onto it. “You don’t know me, do you?”
“No.” He smiled politely. She smiled back, lighting up her eyes in a way that reminded him of Kyenpia.
“Soludo…” She dropped Ishi’s hand. “Our grandfathers were childhood friends. They’re still friends. They hooked us on a blind date and you never showed…”
“Oh.” Ishi felt instant embarrassment. He scratched his head.
“You had a headache or something?”
“Um…I lied.” Ishi chuckled. She laughed too. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I understand.”
Her laughter was peculiar, playful.
“So, you attend my church?” he asked.
“Yes, and I’m a pastor here as well. Music minister.”
“Oh. Yeah, my grandfather mentioned it.”
“So, you’re back with us or you just visited?”
“Just visiting. This would be my first time worshipping here since the completion of the building…”
“Asides the other times when you walk into the hall and sit and stare for a long time.”
“What?” Ishi smiled in embarrassment.
“I’ve been interning with the security guys since I came here. I love to learn new things. I’ve seen you on the security feed from the control room.”
“Don’t be creeped out.”
“I’m not. It’s okay.”
There was a passing moment of silence, which Ishi broke with a movement of his body.
“I have to run. Nice to meet you, Obialunanma.”
“You said my name without faltering.”
“Was I supposed to? My ancestors would curse me if I did.”
“Abi? Come and teach them here how to say the name. Everyone calls me Pastor Oby, though.”
“That’s nice too. Have a good day.”
He started to walk away, and then stopped. “Can I make it up to you?” he asked, noting the anticipation in her face. “We could do dinner during the week?”
“I have your number. I’ll chat you up tonight and fix a date.”
He walked away smiling. Today was ending well, despite his initial misgivings. He remained in the church premises for another full hour, conversing with familiar faces, friends he hadn’t seen in a while. He felt genuine warmth and concern. It seemed like the news about him and Kyenpia on the tabloids didn’t have any effect on the way they viewed him. They had missed their favorite pastor and they wanted him back. In his car, seated beside his bodyguard, he allowed the goodness settle in. It felt like a chilled glass of water after a long, hot day.
“Home?” the bodyguard asked.
“Yeah, take me home.”
As the car drove out to the streets, Ishi caught a glimpse of Obialunanma getting into her car.
“Interesting,” he muttered quietly. Every impression he had about her an hour ago was erased and replaced with the image before him. Obialunanma was different from your average pastor. She drove a two-door Ford Mustang and her fashion sense looked to be a mix of grunge and boho. Not the type of thing one saw on a pulpit. Although dressed conservatively, her head-wrap was stylish and added color to the rather grey maxi print dress she had on. Ishi appreciated the heeled sandals she had on her feet, which depicted some level of chic. Everything worked well to complement her slim body frame. She was almost on the skinny side and didn’t have much on her backside or breasts to keep a man distracted. Yet Ishi found himself intrigued, so much that he checked her out on Instagram and was pleased to know that she took her appearance as seriously as she did her ministry. She was weird, with a sense of style that was conservative, inspired by cardigans, gladiator sandals, maxi print dresses and skirts, tunic t-shirts and blouses, denim vests, oversized pattern scarves (which she wore around her shoulders) and hippie handbags. Everything had to be covered, including her hair. On the whole, Ishi loved what he saw, but it was her complexion, in particular, that got him. She glowed with a skin tone that was espresso-brown, almost as dark as Alexia’s, his ex. Everyone knew of his love for women of dark, melanin-rich skin. Kyenpia was the only woman he had been with that missed the mark as regards complexion. Every other woman had to be a darker shade of brown skin. Pastor Oby’s was perfect. No one should have such sinfully smooth skin.
He scrolled up her Instagram feed and followed her, turning on notifications. Her latest post was a video she took in her car this morning before going to church. He unmuted the sound and listened to her. She was singing. She had a beautiful voice, of course. Deep and husky, almost sounding like India Arie.
“You’re watching me this morning and I want to prophesy into your life,” she said after singing. “You’re going to get that phone call or text that would bring you good news. You are not expecting it, but you will get it. That’s how much God loves you. He will surprise you today. Is it not God again? Hold your phone tightly.”
The video ended and Ishi decided he had had enough. It suddenly felt awkward that he was on her page. Only stalkers did that.
He put his phone to charge and forced his mind on other things. As the car approached his gate, he got a text. He picked up the phone and unlocked it. The text was from his brother, Aaron. For a second, he panicked. Aaron never gave him good news. It was always something bad.
But this was different. This was the best news Ishi had received in a long while.
So, I’m thinking about trying Jesus for a while, see how that goes. Fuck this atheist shit. I’m done
“What!”Ishi couldn’t believe his eyes. He read the text repeatedly until the car parked outside the house. He wanted to call Aaron immediately to confirm the news, but he was scared to. It was best to hold on to what the text said until Aaron himself confirmed it.
Entering the house, he recalled Obialunanma’s video and the words she had said. He burst into a laugh, having a ‘God, seriously?’ moment.
“You can’t be that obvious.”
Is it not God again? Her voice echoed in his head as he walked to his bedroom.
®Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages