The school where he taught was located on the same road as the hotel, and he was just leaving for his second shift at the home of one of his students where he gave private English lessons. Nene did not see him until he was standing right in front of her. By then, it was too late to escape.
“Sister Nene, how are you doing?” said Brother James, genuinely happy to see her. He could not believe his luck, and his smile was only outshone by the bright sun.
“Fine, thank you,” replied Nene reluctantly.
Oh God! Where did this man come from? Is he stalking me?
“Sister Nene, I looked for you after service yesterday, but I did not see you. What happened?”
I ran away from you! That’s what happened. I wish I could run away again. If I had a horse, a camel or even a donkey, I would ride far, far away from you, Brother James. Where are the horses in Asaba?
“Oh, Brother James, I … er … I had to leave early. I had an appointment right after the service.” Nene did not mention, of course, that the appointment she referred to, was an appointment with her bed. She had taken her cherished Sunday nap as soon as she got home.
“Issokay, Sister Nene. These things happen. So where are you–?”
“I don’t want to miss my bus, Brother James,” Nene interrupted impatiently.
While they were having this conversation, she had watched three buses she ought to have boarded, stop, drop off passengers and then leave. All because of this yeye man.
Either Brother James did not realize this or else he pretended not to notice, and instead, continued talking.
“So, the thing I wanted to discuss with you, Sister Nene,” he began, pulling his suit closer to his body as if he was cold, even though he was sweating like a Christmas goat.
“Can’t this wait, Brother James? I’m kind of in a hurry,” said Nene. She was thinking of an excuse to give so she could rush off, but none was forthcoming. Besides which, there were no other buses coming at that time. So, she was forced to stand there and listen to Brother James’ speech.
“Ah, Sister Nene, it can’t wait o. In fact, it’s an emergency,” said Brother James, a sly smile spreading across his face. That smile made Nene uneasy and at the same time piqued her curiosity. What could be so important that he wanted to discuss?
“Okay, go on. I’m listening.”
“The first matter has to do with your soul, Sister Nene.”
“My soul?” said Nene, unable to hide her surprise. “What about it?”
“Yes, I’m glad you asked. You see, the Bible says that the soul that sinneth shall die,” Brother James started.
“Ehen … And so? Aren’t we all sinners?”
“Sister Nene, the Bible also says that a believer should not be unequally yoked with an unbeliever. I know you’re a child of God. I have watched you serve in the Children’s Ministry, and I can see that you love the Lord–”
Stalker alert! So this man has been watching me? Chineke, have mercy! Which kain person be dis? See how he’s just jumping to conclusions left, right and center. Make I hear wetin he go talk finish.
“I see. Continue,” said Nene, with a calmness that surprised even her.
“… But that man you are dating is not a child of God. He is bad news. That man is a deceiver, an unbeliever and possibly even a molester.”
You dey craze! Na all your family dem, na dem be deceivers! Useless man!
With her eyebrows raised and even though she could feel her blood pressure rising dangerously high, she managed to ask him:
“And, what makes you think you can level such accusations against Richard in my presence? You don’t even know him.”
Nene knew she was under-reacting to what Brother James said, but something inside her told her to be patient and hear him out. Although she was on the verge of knocking out the something inside her with an uppercut, she obeyed nonetheless. She knew Brother James was not done.
“You see, Sister Nene, you are a treasure, not just to the body of Christ, but to me as well,” said Brother James.
Nene could have sworn she saw him blushing.
“You are a rare jewel, more precious than rubies, sapphires, and even emeralds. I consider it my responsibility to acquaint you with the character of the man you think you know. Believe me, Sister Nene, there is more to him than meets the eye.”
Ehen! See grammar plus toasting! So men too gossip? Wonders shall never end. No more Sunday school for me, after this. Definitely. And how did he leave out diamonds? For that reason alone, person suppose vex.
Nene was past the point of vexing, but she waited for him to finish. Brother James continued.
“I know you must be wondering why I would say these things about him, but I have my reasons.”
So you can’t even say his name? Rubbish!
“Oh please, enlighten me,” Nene said, folding her hands across her chest, her purse dangling from her right shoulder. That posture was strategic. It was calculated to restrain her hands from reaching out and decorating Brother James face with assorted slaps. He deserved it for the insults he was hurling at her, but she waited for him to finish. Her time would come soon enough, and she would certainly not let this one slide.
“First of all, Sister Nene, I want you to know that if you persist in this relationship with that man, you will go to hell. He is an unbeliever and he will surely lead you to sin. If you are serious with your relationship with God, you will leave him and be joined with a believer instead. In fact, I had a dream where I saw you and me in a boat–”
“Brother James, I am not interested in your dreams, visions or hallucinations,” Nene spat in anger. “Your proposal is hereby rejected. Next!”
“Ahn ahn wait now, Sister Nene,” Brother James pleaded. “It’s not like that–”
“Oh really? So tell me, how is it?”
“Look, I did not make this up. That man is a deceiver! He has a child with a woman right here in Asaba and if you ask me, he might even be the Aba rapist!”
Nene felt like someone had just poured cold water on her. What did this idiot just say?
“Brother James, repeat what you just said,” said Nene, breathing heavily.
“That man you’re moving around with already has a child with another woman. And he’s a criminal. So, it’s better you break–”
“You are mad! As a matter of fact, you are out of your bloody mind! How dare you?!” Nene thundered, inching closer to Brother James, who instinctively took a few steps back. He knew he had crossed the line.
“No-o-o, Sister Nene! It’s what I heard o. I did not make–”
“Shut up! I said shut up there! You know what? You’re right. My soul is in danger, and so is your life too if you don’t vamoose from here right now. Na by force? Am I the only sister in church? You must truly be a coward, running down another man with baseless accusations just because you want to take what he already has. Aba rapist indeed! Of all the accusations to level against an innocent man. Why did you stop there? Why not take it further and accuse him of all the armed robberies in Asaba? Who knows if you are not the Aba rapist? And Richard has a child? You’re just a pathetic liar, and a disgrace to Christians everywhere!”
By now, Nene was shouting at the top of her voice and had attracted the attention of other people waiting at the bus stop. Some of them began begging her to calm down, while others told Brother James to leave since he was the one who had angered her. Brother James reluctantly left, but before he did, he yelled one last time to Nene:
“If you don’t believe me, ask him! Ask him about his son. And look in the newspapers for the sketch of the Aba rapist. You’ll know who is lying then.”
That was the last thing Nene heard Brother James say as he walked away and disappeared further down the road, fuming. But his anger could not be compared with Nene’s own. She blamed herself for waiting to listen to all the rubbish he just said.
I should have slapped that his mouth shut. I should have thrown my shoe at him. Foolish man!
But as she considered the second option, she was glad she did not take it because she would have had to walk home with just one shoe that day. The people, who had calmed her down, soon entered the buses taking them to their destinations and so did Nene, just a few minutes after Brother James had gone.
Throughout the journey home, she was restless, reconstructing in her mind what she ought to have done to Brother James and how she had been too lenient with him. But the one thing that troubled her the most was this nagging feeling that there was some truth in what he had just told her. What if he was right? What if Richard had lied to her about fathering a child and was actually the Aba rapist? What if he was married?
To make matters worse, Richard was still out of town and would not be back till Wednesday. What was she going to do? Should she confront him with these accusations over the phone or wait till he got back? Should she even believe what Brother James said? After all, he had ulterior motives for levelling these accusations against Richard. Nene began to worry that maybe she did not know Richard well enough. Wasn’t their relationship based on trust? Could she really trust him?
All Nene had were questions, but no answers. She needed answers fast. Her impatience made her want to ask him these questions over the phone, but she remembered her breakup with Paul, and how he had broken up with her in person rather than on the phone. A breakup is painful, but the seriousness of such matters makes anything less than a face-to-face confrontation less humane and less personal.
Nene wanted to look into Richard’s eyes while he answered those questions. Anything less would be unsatisfactory. She knew her heart would not rest until she had talked to him in person.
So when she got home, she called him and told him that when he came back to Asaba, she had a very serious matter to discuss with him. He noted the graveness of her tone and asked her to tell him what was wrong. She refused and said this was not something they could discuss over the phone.
Richard reluctantly agreed to let the matter pass and promised to see her as soon as he arrived in Asaba on Wednesday.
For the rest of the day, Nene was restless and lost her appetite. It did not slip Auntie Dubem’s watchful eyes, but when she asked Nene what the matter was, her niece declined to answer. Auntie Dubem surmised that she had quarreled with Richard and that when Nene was ready she would tell her what had happened. So, she let her be.
– to be continued –