Married to the
Lord By Henry
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Married to the Lord
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The chapel was an oasis, a world set apart from the world in which it was built. Whenever he entered the cool room the words of Jesus Christ ‘… in the world but not of the world’ flashed across Reverend Father Emmanuel Egbado’s mind. It was an invitation to serenity in the midst of a storm, calm in the centre of chaos.
But, not today. Indeed for the past one week, Father Emma, or Father EE as he was popularly known on campus, had not found the peace his heart sorely sought even as he spent most of his free time during the day and virtually all night in his private chapel. As he contemplated the face of the life-size statue of our Lord and Saviour and beseeched the sea-blue eyes of the Blessed Mother for help, titans clashed in his head.
This evening he was seated on the front pew opposite the two artistic representations. He made the sign of the cross and looked at the breviary in his hand. Composing himself to say his prayers would be a problem. His eyes could see the words, his mouth could enunciate them, but his heart would not be in them. A set of images superseded the prayers, which had been part of his life for the past fourteen years. Those soft eyes that burned with a hazel fire; those lips that trembled with passion; that nose on which the Almighty Sculptor had done overtime; that soul-lifting voice; those gazelle legs; those ample mangoes that threatened to rebel against the strain of …
“Blessed Saviour, help me! I’m just flesh and blood!” The heartfelt words rang hollowly in the chapel. Father EE started; he did not realize he had spoken aloud. What was going on in him was beyond all his knowledge of philosophy. It was a disease, which began by destroying the rational processes, and double woe betides the victim if he or she had successfully kept the symptoms in check for quite a while. Once the deluge overwhelmed the dam the victim had little chance of survival.
Father EE opened the breviary and forced himself to concentrate. Two lines into the prayer he whispered a name, which was not on the page. He sat up. What did I say just now?
“Oh, my God.” Tears welled in his eyes and he fell on his knees.
The name was Jane.
When Emmanuel Egbado was appointed the chaplain of St. John Bosco Chaplaincy, Agora Federal University, quite a few eyebrows were raised, and many of them belonged to fellow priests. Some felt that at forty he was too young to be the chaplain of one of the country’s biggest federal universities. But His Lordship Bishop Joseph Nwa of Agora Diocese was a perspicacious man. Ordained a bishop at the relatively youthful age of forty-seven, he was inclined to promoting promising young priests. Apart from that, Egbado had proven to be one of his most humble, loyal and obedient clergymen. Many of his contemporaries had remained abroad after completing their postgraduate studies, carried away, even if temporarily, by the allures of the world. But as soon as he rounded off his doctorate, Father EE had packed his bags. He did not demur when he was sent to a rural parish as the parish priest. Barely two years later he was sent to Agora as a lecturer in the Philosophy Department, much to the grief of his parishioners who had never been made to feel inadequate by the priest just because most of them could not string together a correct sentence in English.
His Lordship was pleased by the good reports he was getting about his ward at Agora. Father EE’s intellectual depth was as staggering as his friendliness, humility and integrity. On a campus where many students had come to see their lecturers as vampires, Father EE was a breath of fresh air. Critics might say that he had his priesthood to preserve but there were a large number of other men of God, both Catholic and non-Catholic, on campus who gladdened Lucifer’s old hard heart with misdeeds such as exploiting students, non-teaching of assigned courses, arrogance, moral looseness, political intrigue and plain nepotism which was often baptized as religious fraternity.
Father EE was different. You could walk into his office and be assured of a listening ear. If you failed his course you blamed no one but yourself. He turned arcane philosophers like Immanuel Kant, Spinoza and Hegel into friends. Virtually every department that could, borrowed his courses. His notes were a beauty to behold. Unlike most lecturers he did not churn out alloy-quality books monthly. Throughout his career at Agora he published only four books, and to the amazement and envy of those dons who wrote books like Ariaria market women hawked tomatoes, students and lecturers from universities as far away as Makerere engaged in fist cuffs in a bid to buy copies from amazed publishers who never dreamt of a day when philosophy texts would become as popular as James Hadley Chase novels.
Perhaps what most people in Agora liked about Father EE was his unfeigned common touch. It was not beneath him to don a T-shirt and shorts and join students or even youngsters from outside the university on the football field. Many students were initially uncomfortable with a priest at their outings such as department parties but EE was a sport. Soon Philosophy and other departments in the faculties of arts, social science and law realized that a priest was not necessarily a bore. He knew most of the latest happenings on the social circuit and could hum the most popular hip-hop tracks with the ease he sang choruses. A wonderful singer, he was a leading member of St. John Bosco’s famous choir. He featured regularly on radio and television programmes that discussed religious and philosophical issues, and was respected for his ecumenical spirit. Muslims, Grail Movement members, and even atheists were at home with him.
But Father EE never forgot that he was a priest of the Roman Catholic Church, ordained to preach the gospel of Christ and minister to the souls of men. He never forgot that fourteen years ago he had knelt before Bishop Nwa’s predecessor, now Cardinal Alphonsus Njemanze, and taken the vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. For him it had been a total surrender to the one Master who had revealed himself in a myriad of puzzles about life. This, and the eventual realization that he would never find fulfillment elsewhere, compelled the young EE to abandon his first-class History degree and the offer of a graduate assistantship at his university for the seminary. But unlike many fellow men of the cloth he did not wear his calling like sackcloth. The ease, which he brought to his vocation, made it possible for him to win souls who, in an intellectual environment, could not endure professional holy Joes. Agora was staggered one Sunday when three professors and forty secret society members stood up at the 7.00am Mass, which was celebrated by Father EE, and professed faith in Jesus Christ and Catholicism. The three professors were leading atheists in Nigeria. The cultists belonged to two of the deadliest secret groups in Agora. Even the most hard-bitten member of the university Catholic Chaplaincy was shaken by the conversion. When a seventy year old professor, in tears, admits that he discovered that atheism could not answer his questions about eternity the day a jeans-wearing priest young enough to be his son juxtaposed faith and atheism on the TV programme ‘Philosophy and Life’, then, as a student who witnessed the occasion told his friend, it is the tenth wonder of the world. The cultists told of how Father EE disarmed them with his deeply simple faith, non-judgmental attitude, and above all, ‘the ability to yarn to our own levels’ (those were their leader’s words) during secret meetings.
So Agora rejoiced when he became their Catholic chaplain. The first Mass he celebrated in that capacity was something else. Father EE nearly collapsed when he took in the crowd. A quarter of those present were non-Catholics. People came from all over the eight states that made up Agora’s catchments area. Women made up sixty percent of the congregation. While spiritual concerns undoubtedly motivated a good number of them, quite a few, in that deepest depth of the human heart, which we often deny to ourselves, would have gladly dashed off to the Pope heartfelt requests to rescind the requirement of mandatory celibacy for priests. And for good reason. Father EE was an Adonis. Only Heaven could count the number of female students and lecturers who were aroused by his soothing, tenor voice or Macleans – bright smile. Even Bishop Nwa and some fellow priests fervently prayed that he would not be led into temptation. Father EE knew from day one that he would be up against the most basic instincts in man the day he answered the call. It was not easy, but God had been merciful.
Though there were nights he hugged his pillow and wished he had not kissed Adaku for the last time. Small, delectable Adaku’s heart had split into two the day he broke off their engagement. They had been inseparable on campus even though he was Ishan and she an Igbo. Their families had hoped for a beautiful union but Father EE had embraced a love far above any woman’s. Adaku had gone on to become a lecturer up North but she never stopped writing him even after she got married seven years ago. Both of them knew that Don Williams had not lied when he sang that ‘some broken hearts never mend.’ All Father EE could do was pray for her.
He also prayed for himself. He was just a mortal, and temptation would never leave him. For this was a war between the Spirit and body; the kingdom and the world; God and Satan. So far the Lord had sustained him and his ministry prospered.
The meeting was on Friday evening.
Father EE was in his Chaplaincy office, reading Hemingway’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ when the doorbell rang. “Come in.”
Professor Walu Kaja marched in. At fifty-eight Kaja was one of Agora’s solid pillars, and that was not an empty metaphor. Huge, chocolate-complexioned, strong-faced and endowed with a moustache Sandhurst graduates would have died for; he looked more like a general than a senior philosophy professor. Twice the dean of the arts faculty, he had also headed the philosophy department. He was a powerful member of Agora’s senate and governing council and had the Vice-Chancellor’s ear. The professor was a devout Catholic, indeed the chairman of the Chaplaincy’s Catholic Fathers’ Organization.
“Welcome, prof. Thanks for honouring my invitation,” said Father EE, standing to greet his senior colleague. His smile was radiant.
Kaja waved his hand airily. “Father, your duty’s to summon and mine’s to come.”
“Even then, a father should await his son and not the other way. You are my father in many aspects,” replied the priest.
Kaja laughed heartily. “But before God you’re my father.”
Father EE smiled. “What’ll it be? Booze or soft?”
Kaja was not embarrassed. His chaplain was a far cry from his killjoy of a predecessor. “Booze, preferably Star.” Father EE disappeared in an inner room and reappeared with two ice-cold Star. They ‘cheered’ each other and drank.
As they chatted about current affairs Kaja wondered why the priest had sent for him. He had phoned the professor yesterday and requested a private meeting this evening. Kaja had agreed to come to his office. Now the priest seemt rather uncomfortable. Did he need money for some project, the professor wondered.
Father EE made up his mind after his third sip. “Prof, please I’ll level with you.”
Kaja’s bushy eyebrows arched with curiosity. “Feel free, Father EE. Remember, before God you’re my father.”
Father EE took a deep breath. “Do you know a twenty-one year old final year student of our department called Lucy Titilayo Orishola?”
Kaja was a first-class philosopher. But he would not have won an Oscar award. “I can’t say I do. I mean, we have over a hundred students in the final year.” His tone was unchanged, his mien impassive. But Father EE had noticed the first uncontrolled shift of the eyebrows.
“You are her project supervisor,” he said quietly.
Kaja’s face creased as if in thought. Then he nodded. “I remember her now. Tall, slim, fair skinned?” The priest nodded.
“I guess you can also remember Ekaette Uduak and Joan Uwechime? Ekaette’s also a finalist while Joan is in her third year. Sociology.” Kaja taught them a borrowed course.
The professor’s eyes hardened. “Is this a test run for a new Inquisition?”
Father EE’s smile was mirthless. “Not at all.” He sat forward, suddenly earnest but still placid. “Prof, anything I say now is between God, you and I. These girls came to me separately, complaining that you’re sexually harassing them.”
Cold dew settled on Kaja’s head. Before he could open his mouth the priest continued.
“As you probably know, Ekaette and Joan are Catholics. Lucy is a Methodist. I have no dealings outside routine ones with them. So I was shocked when Lucy visited me in tears. According to her you want her to sleep with you before you assess her long essay. She told me you promised her an extra session unless she co-operates.” He paused.
Kaja looked like he swallowed a bee.
“Ekaette’s also one of your project students. She told me you made it clear that unless she gives you a piece of what she has been ‘donating’ to her boyfriend, she’d be lucky to get an E.” Father EE’s face remained unruffled as he continued. “Joan’s woes began when she won the Miss Sociology beauty competition last semester. Either she showed you her thighs or she’d fail. You promised her that even if she carried over the course into her final year you’d teach her.” He sighed.
Kaja was shaken. Suddenly his seat felt too hot for his ample butt. Every word enunciated by this popinjay of a priest sounded like a death sentence. His brains almost burst as they raced at supersonic speed. He had been stunned, but only a fool kept mute as a machete descended on his neck. Suddenly his mien became a charging bull’s.
“I hope you know who you are talking to.” His quiet voice was a war trumpet. Before Father EE could answer he rose to his full height.
“So this is why you summoned me? To insult me? To demean my integrity because of three nymphomaniacs who wash your penis every night?”
Father EE’s head exploded like overcharged gunpowder. His face was a frozen mask as he stood up. “Prof,” he said tightly, “say anything you like. I didn’t call you here to insult you. These girls came crying to me as their spiritual father. They fear your power. They know no one will believe their story if they take up their allegations. After all the Vice-Chancellor’s your friend and you are the deputy chairman of the Harassment and Intimidation Committee. But only God has the ultimate power.” He met Kaja’s twin fires of hell levelly.
“If you are harassing them or any other student or even staff of Agora, please stop it. Go and do the right thing. If I receive any other complaint I’ll do my duty as a priest and a staff of Agora.” He meant every word and Kaja knew he meant it. The priest sat down, all emotion drained from him.
Kaja looked like thunder, which was checked at the last minute. Suddenly the restraint snapped but the thunder was not explosive. He bent, and placing his big hands on the desk surface, stared hard into those tranquil earth-brown eyes.
“Father Emmanuel Egbado, you are a man. Never mind the soutane you wear. But maybe you don’t know, or you need to be reminded. Don’t worry; I will remind you. So much that you’ll cry out in your mortality. You poked a stick in the hole; don’t run when the rattlesnakes emerge.” Having detonated those verbal explosives, he stormed out of the office.
Father EE sighed and drained his glass. He felt empty. God help me, he thought. I know I have done the right thing; there is no way I can justify the sermons I preach almost every Sunday if I had kept quiet.
But he was still worried. Kaja was no pushover. He was on first-name basis with those who mattered. In the church he had weight. A wave of doubt engulfed the priest. Could these girls be lazybones out to rubbish the image of a pillar of the university? But why go to a priest who is also a fellow lecturer to do that? He shook his head: the agony in their eyes had been too real for comfort. Well, whichever way it goes I did my duty as I thought best. God help us all. He poured himself another drink.
Father EE did not really know the kind of tsunami he had unleashed. Professor Kaja’s anger had been replaced by deep foreboding by the time he drove home. That night, alone in his study, he addressed his first-class mind to the problem.
That next morning, he summoned the three ladies separately. Each arrived, shaking like a leaf. But each left with a smile and a song of praise. Kaja spoke gently to the girls, pleaded for forgiveness and assured them he would not harm their academic careers. He kept his word. Ekaette and Lucy’s long essays were promptly and properly assessed. They got well deserved A’s. Joan was similarly well treated. She worked hard and got a B.
Three days after the stormy meeting with Father EE Kaja booked an appointment with the priest by phone, pleading with the man of God to await him in the chaplaincy. Father EE had a lot of misgiving about the meeting but Kaja came as a penitent. He cut such a picture of repentance that Father EE was deeply moved. When a huge professor who had taught in three major European universities kneels like a beggar before a priest nearly seventeen years his junior it is enough to melt the heart of the most hardened man. Father EE believed him implicitly when Kaja assured him that he had turned a new leaf. Already, the ladies had thanked the priest for his intervention. He forgave his colleague and heard his confession. They shared a big plate of isi ewu, washed down with Star before Kaja went home.
The last component of Kaja’s strategy was critical, indeed more critical than Michael Power’s ‘Critical Assignment.’ A meeting took place in a secret lodge in Kanstone, a town some two hundred kilometres away from the university. Only four men and a woman attended. They were Professors Kaja, Mayo Ogunbi and Sanyo Udu. Others were Associate Professors Lilian Tumbi and Timothy Kala. The five were among the most powerful academics at Agora. They belonged to the cabal that determined destinies in the university. All either held sensitive positions or commanded influence with those who held top posts. The five belonged to an ‘old school’ network, having attended the same university at their undergraduate or postgraduate levels, though not in the same set. But most importantly, they were Agora’s most rapacious and raunchy dons. They were the godfathers (and godmother) of an amorphous order known by its members as the Order of St. Bush. Only those who have a good knowledge of human anatomy will know the kind of patronage this saint dispenses. The Order had a sizeable membership among lecturers and some students of Agora but it was no Disney Island. St. Bush’s demands must be met at all costs, and his enforcers would deal with anyone who disobeyed him. But recently this snooty priest had been stepping on the Order’s toes. The attack on Kaja was the last straw.
The chiefs of the Order planned, plotted and prepared. At the end of their council of war they had an order of battle ready. Father EE was in hot onugbu soup.
Jane Nwanze was only twenty-three years old at that time. But a fifty-six year old did not harbour a third of the knowledge she had about men. She knew men like the back of her finely shaped hand. She could have written bestsellers on that thing which all healthy men cherished. Even though many of them were hypocritical about the matter, Jane knew that it wasn’t really money that made the world go round for most guys.
It would be stretching the point to call Jane a prostitute. Of course she was a champion in the sack, both with guys and babes. But she was no commercial sex worker, at least from a superficial perspective. She was a third year student of Physical and Health Education. Perhaps if there was anything like a miracle it was Jane’s survival for the past three years in a department headed by the stern Lilian Tumbi. Jane hardly attended lectures; her notes would have worsened the plight of a blind man; she rarely did assignments or turned up for practicals and physical displays. But somehow she ended up getting C’s, occasionally a B; never D, E, F or A. Whoever was responsible for the magic on her results was a well-trained sorcerer. Undeserved A’s would raise a Sahara-full storm of dust. Too many B’s would do the same. C’s were safe. If the sorcery continued, - and there was no reason why it shouldn’t – Jane would graduate with a second-class lower, though with an unremarkable G.PA. But that was the least of Jane’s problems. The degree was not her meal ticket.
She was already endowed with her bills-paying assets. She was of average height but her small build gave her a neat frame that would have given a monk sleepless nights. She wisely did not bleach her skin and the result was a flawless creamy chocolate complexion that left women green-eyed and men hungry. Her oval face was a work of first-class art. The hazel eyes were soft pools of delight. A smile was never far from her rich, moistly soft lips even when she was not actually smiling. Her breasts were well shaped; they were the type that would never sag even when their owner turned eighty. The outfits she wore made most men dream of firing her surface to air missiles. Unfortunately, only those who could pay the price got to fire the missiles. Her legs were way beyond hot; they were sizzling.
She was watching a movie in her deluxe three-room flat off campus when she got a call from Tumbi. Tumbi told her to come to their rendezvous tomorrow evening by 6.50p.m. Jane instinctively guessed that there would be no input and output mechanism; the professor did not sound like a woman on heat.
“What’s up, prof?” she asked.
Tumbi laughed. “Something big and good. You’ll love it. See you tomorrow.”
A curious Jane arrived at the appointed time and met Tumbi. With her was Professor Kaja. Kaja was no stranger to Jane; three weeks ago she had given him a five-star treat that raised coition to a sublime art.
But a repeat performance was not required.
three crisp bundles on the table and smiled as her eyes nearly popped out. “
my girl. You get another N100,000 if you succeed in the job we want you
Jane asked, “Do you want me to shoot the president?”
“Nothing so simple.” Kaja sipped his whisky. “Seduce Father EE. Get him into a compromising position and put it on film.”
Jane was no chicken. In her time she had knocked quite a few moralists off their high horses, including the formidable Pastor Ikenna Okafor, Father Timi Eja and even Deaconess Helen Nja (who knew the sexual long-distance runner liked threesomes with girls?). But there was something about this guy, which she could not place. Not that she had had any dealings with him. She had to admit that he was far too handsome for his safety. A silent sigh escaped her lips. Why don’t these priests cut down on temptation by getting married? Look at this one. A girl who had this type of man by her side would never look at another guy, especially if he knew how to use his staff of office.
Tumbi noticed her hesitation. “Can you do it?”
Jane smiled. “He is dead meat.”
Kaja suppressed a shudder. With this type of wolf on the prowl men are an endangered species, he thought.
They went into an extensive briefing session. Jane was no Einstein but she had brains and once her trade was involved, those brains went into hyperactive gear. She absorbed everything, fine-tuned some ideas and asked the right questions. Her employers were pleased. At the end Kaja looked into those hazel eyes and spoke in a tone straight out of hell:
“My dear, the greatest mistakes you can make are to sell out on us, back out or fail. I won’t tell you what will happen to you if you do.”
“Just know that our tentacles extend beyond Agora.” Tumbi’s voice was as soft as the prongs of Satan’s fork.
Jane blanched. Kaja smiled reassuringly. “Relax, darling. Go and have a good time and earn some dough. Nothing will happen to you if you deliver.”
“Yes, prof.” Jane got to her feet.
“You have three weeks. Is that enough?”
Jane paused. “Make it a month.”
The two dons considered, agreed.
“Get results,” said Tumbi.
“Yes, prof,” said Jane. She shut the door behind her.
His tears spent, Father EE remained seated at the foot of the altar in the chapel. Saying his prayers was out of the question. He allowed his mind free reign. Let the tapes play. Perhaps there were recordings that would soothe his soul.
He asked himself for the umpteenth time: why am I violently in love with a girl younger than my baby sister? The face of Adaku emerged from his subconscious. Svelte Adaku. The face merged into Jane’s. That is the answer, his mind replied.
But I gave up Adaku fourteen years ago. Sure, it was a terribly painful parting. But part we did.
Yet love never gave up on you, his mind answered. You were, still are, destined to love a woman. Your heart is too big and rich with unshared love.
Father EE got to his feet, sat down on the pew again and sighed. Thank God he had not tried anything with her yet. There were times passion had surged through him with a force, which he thought was unusual for a man of his age. He smiled mirthlessly. You are getting your biology all wrong; the fact that you have just turned forty-two has nothing to do with it. Jane was enough to make an angel repeat those escapades heavenly beings committed with daughters of men that provoked God into destroying the earth during Noah’s time. Inspite of her admittedly sordid past she was still beautiful, gentle and pure. Her trust in him was so childlike. Her eyes shone with the stars of hundred-karat love. Whenever she was in his presence the entire movement of her body as enough to shake his resolve.
But the last thing I will do is to commit fornication, he resolved. If I love her so much I will marry her. The prospect of leaving the priesthood seared him with an almost visible pain.
He could still remember the day Jane rocked his world. It was after the Wednesday afternoon Mass, which he usually celebrated for all members of the Nigerian Federation of Catholic Students, Agora chapter, and anyone else who was interested. Minutes after the last worshipper seeking his attention had seen him she hesitantly came up and pleaded for a private session. Father EE had an appointment with the Bishop so he told her to come to his office on Friday. But even in that brief encounter something about her had strangely stirred him. He would always remember that even at that first meeting he had had a vision of Adaku’s neat backside as she turned to leave.
Jane came on Friday. She told an ugly story about revelling in sex, abortions, booze, drugs and the occult. How her mother began hawking her out for sex as soon as she turned ten. How her father was poisoned in a land dispute with his brothers. She came across as a deeply troubled young woman who had been touched by the sermon he preached on Wednesday. At a stage she burst out weeping and Father EE had to draw upon all his skills as a counsellor to calm her down. He was troubled that her proximity made him uneasy, that he was conscious of the fact that they were alone in his office, and above all, the he kept seeing Adaku in her.
Within a week Jane made impressive progress in regaining her balance. She attended Mass regularly and came for counselling and prayer sessions. The priest advised her to identify strongly with the Federation and one of its affiliate solidarity groups. Gradually but dangerously they became conscious of Cupid’s sweet work. Something Father EE tried to deny.
Till that Sunday when she visited him before Benediction. The look they exchanged before she said goodbye shook the priest’s knees. With the certainty of a red-blooded male he knew that if he pulled her to him she would melt. That night had been a war for him.
But he did not want to throw her out of his life. And she did not want to go.
Since then the world had not been the same for him. The counselling sessions ended but he took the step of setting up a secret trysting-ground and giving her the address. Her first visit had not gone awry but Father EE knew the second one would be different. That was why he was here before his Lord, daring to contemplate freedom from his service.
Jane examined her reflection for the umpteenth time before the mirror, nodded with satisfaction. She glanced at her watch. In thirty minutes she would be at her rendezvous with Father EE. She walked over to her bed, opened her handbag and took out a micro automatic digital camera no larger than an Ericsson handset. Positioned strategically, it would automatically pick up crystal clear images within a two hundred metres radius. Kaja had given it to her. She had an exact replica but had wisely refrained from telling him. Only a stupid goat told a prowling lion that a covered chasm was dug along the road he strutted.
She sighed deeply. She had no delightful anticipation of victory. There would be no medals when she accomplished her mission. Face it, girl, you don’t really want to do it, do you? She frowned and flopped down on the bed. “What is the matter with you?” she chided herself aloud. “Is he the first or the second or even the third collar-wearing mugu you knocked off his holy perch?”
It was no use. You might as well admit the truth: you are in love with Father EE. Or else why have you not compromised the man when the past couple of weeks had presented half a dozen ample opportunities?
She could not really pinpoint the exact time her quarry stole her heart. She had gone to the Mass with a set objective. Modestly clad in a decent blouse, knee-length skirt, headscarf, subdued hairdo and make-up, any of her high street pals who had seen her that day would have fainted with shock. But Jane was a consummate actress.
But as she watched Father EE strut his stuff from the pulpit, she was strangely moved. There was an indefinable quality about him. Not that his words or antics were out of the ordinary. But she felt, or rather sensed, that the soutane shielded a sensitive soul. A heart which, for all its strength, was sheathed in … she could not say what. And boy, was he handsome! Ruggedly boyish close up!
But she had a job to do. Thus finer feelings had to be suppressed. Hence she had coined a beautiful mixture of fiction and fact to win his attention.
As the weeks slipped by she began to sense in the priest the powerful but muted current that surges through a man when a woman he finds irresistible is around. Obviously the man was suffering; the struggle between flesh and spirit showed in his eyes, but he clearly felt compelled to help a long-lost soul return and settle down in God’s house.
But Jane’s primary concern was that she had strangely lost her zest for seducing the priest. She had been shocked when she found herself contemplating abandoning the job altogether. But Kaja and Tumbi would not take that lying low, and nearly half a million naira was no chickenfeed.
She yearned for those strong, yet sensitive lips on hers; those manly hands caressing her hidden points of delight, and the fusion of their beings. She wanted it but without the camera. Another sigh fled her lips. If Father EE had been another kind of man he would have done something. She had long given him the green light. The lodge he hired was proof that his manhood was wide-awake but apparently he was still too wrapped up in his romance with the Lord.
Suddenly her mobile phone chimed. Her heart skipped a beat, and then she heaved a sigh of relief as she saw that it was not the phone to which she had assigned Father EE’s number. She had six phones, each for a specific purpose.
“Is that Jane Nwanze?” The strange male caller’s voice was urgent.
“Yes. Who is speaking?”
“Dr. Charles Kalu from Ryaclef Hospital, Kabo. A friend of yours, Ann Abba, was admitted here yesterday. She was involved in a motor accident and …”
“Ann! Accident! How?”
Dr. Kalu was calm. “Please, take it easy. She gave me your number. Can you make it as soon as possible? She wants to see you.”
A cold knot tied itself in Jane’s belly. “Is she dying?” Her voice seemt to belong to another person.
“Of course not. But she asked me to call you. Please, come. Your presence will speed up her recovery.”
For some reason Jane felt Dr. Kalu was lying. Ann was only holding on to life because she wanted to see the only person who mattered to her, apart from her dead mother and sister. “I’ll be there in one hour ten minutes.” A taxi would get to Kabo city, within the time.
She dashed off a text to Father EE and left her flat. Once she produced three five hundred naira notes and told the driver of the second empty cab she saw where to go, the young man smiled broadly. “Get in, Auntie.” Manna like this did not fall everyday.
“Can you make it in an hour?”
“Forty-five minutes, Auntie.”
Fifty-five minutes later, after sending every record set by Michael Schumacher to the cleaners, the sweating driver pulled up in front of the handsome green hospital building. A shaken Jane got out, thankful her neck was still intact. Once she identified herself to the friendly receptionist the woman paged Dr. Kalu who joined them in five minutes. A clean-cut, intense looking young man, Dr. Kalu was professionalism personified.
“Is she still alive?” Tell me the truth, her eyes begged.
“Yes, but she’s just hanging on,” he replied as he headed for the elevator. Apparently he had decided there was no point pretending.
“Jesus. What happened?”
“National Road Safety Corps officers brought her here forty-three hours ago. The cab she hired was run into by a petrol tanker driven by some madman who had had one nip too many. A bottle of ogogoro was found in the wreckage. She was thrown clear just as the vehicles burst into flames. Other occupants were roasted.”
Jane nearly fainted as her imagination went into a brief burst of manic activity. Dr. Kalu had to steady her.
“Can you stand it?” he asked.
Jane took a deep breath. “Yes, I can manage.”
But a deluge nearly blinded her as she saw the mummy lying on a bed in a private ward. Even though the bandage – swathed Ann was still, Jane knew she was in agony. Only her face was visible, and it was nothing like the round, sunny-skinned beautiful demeanour Jane had known for five years. It resembled suya, which had just escaped being burnt by an inexperienced suyamaker.
Jane insisted on being alone with her friend. Dr. Kalu went out. With a heaving heart she approached the bed.
Thirty agonizing minutes later a frozen smile appeared on Ann’s face. Jane watched as the doctor covered it with a sheet. Necessary arrangements for moving the ozu and informing its owners were made. All through this, and the drive back to her flat, Jane was as still as a bomb whose fuse had been pulled out at the last minute. But once she locked her door she collapsed on a sofa and wept like she had never before. She soaked the seat with her tears. The tears were strangely, for herself. Her racking emotions totally enveloped her.
The hours sped by. Suddenly a voice pierced through her sorrow-shrouded consciousness. “Jane.” The voice called her name repeatedly.
A wild dagger stabbed Jane’s heart. How could it be? Only one voice called her name that way, and she knew she had not given its owner her actual home address.
“Jane, I know you are in there. Open up.”
Shaking with grief, fear, and love Jane ran to the door, opened it and collapsed in Father EE’s arms. In his ‘Titanic’ T-shirt, jeans, sports jacket and American baseball cap, the priest looked like a freshman out for an evening drink with course mates.
His heart pulsated with love and sorrow as he saw her tears. Gently he tried to lead her to a seat but Jane extricated herself from his hold and moved away.
“What’s the matter, Jane?”
Jane sniffed. “Please, sit down. I’ll be back in a moment.” She disappeared in the bathroom leaving the priest perched on the edge of a straight-backed chair. When she returned she had freshened up but a sea still lurked behind her eyes. She sat down opposite Father EE but could not meet his eyes.
“Why didn’t you come?” he asked quietly.
Jane sighed. “I sent you a text message.”
The priest suppressed a frown. She was clearly in great distress, and he was barely keeping a firm rein on his own emotions. “I don’t know, but there was something rather pat about it. Your mother suddenly falling ill and sending for you just like that. Instinctively I felt all was not well, especially after I tried your line six times and got a ‘not available’ reply.” There was nothing priestly about the concern in his voice.
Jane heaved another sigh. She can guess why I am here, thought Father EE. But there was no helping it. He had been deeply troubled. Besides, he had taken a decision and she ought to be the first person to know. But how to contact her? Only Heaven knew how he had seen the pocket book she forgot during one of her visits. He had meant to give it back to her but somehow he never got around to it. On the first page was scribbled her residential address, which was different from the one she had given him during the counselling sessions. Suspicious but undeterred, he decided to check on her at both addresses, beginning with the false one.
Jane stood up, deeply agitated. Is this the beginning of my end? She wondered. I love this man. He is the only man I have ever really loved but I can’t have him, and the truth must be known. A vague dread filled her. Only a crazy sparrow took God on in a boxing match, and that was what she and Ann had done. Ann’s death was proof of what happened when God accepted the impudent challenge. She wrung her hands as she paced the room.
“Come and sit down,” said Father EE mildly, resisting an urge to hold her and sit her on his knees. “Whatever it is, tell me.”
Fighting back an onrushing bout of tears Jane obeyed. The silence was palpable, almost visible. Jane looked up and nearly disappeared into those laser beams of love.
“Father, I have a confession to make.”
“So do I.”
“No!” she cried. “Don’t! Please!”
Father EE ignored the knots forming in his stomach. “Okay, I’ll hear yours.”
Jane took a deep breath. “Mama did not send for me. I got a call from Ryaclef hospital that a bosom friend of mine, Ann Abba, was involved in a nasty car accident. I rushed to Kabo but her time was up. She died in my arms.”
Father EE nodded. There was more to come. Judging from Jane’s demeanour, that was the hard part.
Jane summoned extra ounces of courage. “Ann was on her way home from a sex session with a Pentecostal pastor. She had seduced the man and secretly put it on film. The man was locked in a mighty struggle over control of the church with some elders. So they decided to work on him. The man fell in love with Ann.”
A sudden urge to go to the loo seized Father EE. But it was more apparent than real. “Who is the pastor?”
“Reverend Doctor Paul Oti.”
Father EE’s heart skipped a beat. The glamorously handsome, urbane and miracle-working Reverend Oti was one of Nigeria’s leading lights in the Pentecostal movement. How are the mighty fallen, he thought. An invisible fist hit him under the heart.
Jane continued. “I knew what Ann was up to, and I didn’t stop her. You see, it was routine for us.”
Father EE was not sure he heard aright. “Routine?”
Father EE nodded, ostensibly undisturbed. She went on. “The only reason Ann held on to life was to warn me to desist from a similar plan I was working on. She knew about my, ah, project just as I knew about hers.”
Blessed Mary, let this be fiction, he prayed. But Jane, for the first time she began her tale, looked into his eyes and said, “You were, em, my project.” Tears began to gush down her eyes. She hid her face in her hands.
It was now Father EE’s turn to pace the room. His head seemt to gush with water. Agitated, he flung his cap on the floor. He could not think straight. He now realized how Samson must have felt when he discovered that it was his one and only Delilah who had betrayed him to the Philistines. Only, in his case his eyes were saved by a hair’s breadth. Yet, yet …
Jane uncovered her face. She stood up. “Don’t come near me!” Father EE sounded mortally stricken. It was unnecessary; Jane was rooted to the spot, silently crying her soul out.
“I haven’t finished.” Her voice was surprisingly clear.
“Out with the rest of it, then.” Father EE returned to his seat. It was a good thing he did, for he would have fallen as Jane reeled off an honest account of the Kaja-Tumbi plot and her involvement, including the financial inducement. Father EE was shaken but somehow he kept his mouth shut.
“Why didn’t you carry out your mission? You had all the opportunities to earn your money.”
Jane simply looked into his eyes, and he saw the answer. “I fell in love with you. I was torn by the wrongness of my course, yet I also wanted you. But I couldn’t bring myself to end your marriage with the Lord.”
Father EE’s eyes moistened for the first time that night. A marriage he had made up his mind to break, only to be fed with this awful tale. He had come here to tell her that a terrestrial union with her would end the celestial marriage he had enjoyed for fourteen years. But now … confusion chased itself round and round in his head.
He made no attempt to hide his tears. “Jane, I told you I have a confession.”
“And I don’t want to hear it!” Her shriek was piercing. “Can’t you see, Father? I am temptation, the devil incarnate. I’m leading you away from the path God ordained for you. You can’t find happiness outside it. Definitely not with me.” Her eyes fell on his firm lips and a crazy impulse to kiss them tingled her breasts. She quickly turned away.
Father EE’s heart was seared by gashes of agony. Suddenly he looked and felt ten years older.
“Jane,” he gasped. Only God knew how he got to and remained on his feet. The woman did not reply.
“I loved a girl once. Adaku Nwachimere is her name. We were students at the university. I planned to marry her, but somehow it didn’t work out. A new divine love took over my life.” He sounded deceptively casual. “But I couldn’t get her out of my soul totally. She never stopped loving me, and she continues to write me though she’s now married.” He paused, put his hands on her shoulders and turned her so that their eyes locked. “You filled the gap she left. Jane, no matter how sordid your original game plan was, if you’re truly repentant about it I am ready to forgive and forget. I came tonight to let you know of …”
Jane slowly stepped back. “Don’t say it, Emma.” His name rolled off her tongue as if it belonged there. “I love you but, no, it can’t be. Please, don’t convince me; I can’t face God and myself if I give in.”
The words were choked off by a mad surge of longing which almost pushed her to that broad breadth of manly chest hidden by the T-shirt.
“Don’t do this to me,” said Father EE plaintively.
Jane’s heart ached. She came up to him, wiped his tears. Father EE brought his face close to hers until only half an inch separated their lips.
“Be mine,” he whispered passionately.
Jane’s lips barely brushed his, and then pulled away as his breath quickened. “Please, please, Father, go. I’ve enough sins on my head. Please, go.”
Father EE sighed deeply. The awful struggle in her eyes told him that the best gift of love he could give her was to set her free at once. Yet, it was so hard. He nodded.
“Goodbye, Jane. I’ll always love you.” He headed for the door. Halfway she called him.
“Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?”
Father EE nearly broke down. “My dear, who am I to hold anything against Kaja, let alone you? You’re a rose who will brighten my world till I die. The Lord forgives us all.”
“I forgive you.”
“Then bye-bye, Father. I’ll always love you.”
Father EE wanted to tell her not to. One woman’s undying, unrequited love was enough. But he was an honest man and knew that was the last thing he really desired. So he simply asked, “What of Kaja and Tumbi?”
“I can take care of myself.” Instinctively Father EE knew she could. He opened the door and went out. Jane’s eyes followed him to the driveway. He paused at the door of his car to wave. She waved back, smiling and crying simultaneously. Silently he got in his car and drove back to his marriage with the Lord.
Kaja and Tumbi were shocked out of their wits by the contents of the DHL parcels they received. There was a brilliantly clear photograph of each academic putting the best porn stars to shame as he or she upturned bed sheets with Jane. A note was affixed to each photograph. The unsigned message was short:
In your own interest don’t touch a hair of Father EE’s head or disturb him in any way. There are more copies of these prize-winning photos so clean up your raunchy acts.
N300, 000 and the camera were also neatly packaged with Kaja’s
Jane sent off these Christmas gifts on her way to Kabo International Airport. She deleted Father EE’s number from her phone as she waited for her direct flight to South Africa. No one ever saw her in Nigeria again.
Six months later Father EE was transferred to a large semi-urban parish in the northern part of the diocese.
Isi-ewu (Igbo) Goat head, soup cooked from this
Onugbu (Igbo) Bitter leaf
Mugu (Pidgin English) Fool
Ogogoro Local gin, noted for its potency
Suya (Hausa) Meat kebab
Ozu (Igbo) Corpse