Ogedengbe regarded the bible which lay on the table before him. The rays of the sun streaming through the window bounced off its gold rimmed edges making it look like the open jaws of a predator. He shook his head slightly to clear his mind and dislodge the apparition which hovered before him. He reached forward to push the holy book aside but changed his mind and held back his hand. He thought it best not to touch it just in case the apparition was real. After all he was a man of the cloth who understood spiritual realities. This could be a sign or a warning for him not to go ahead with his plan. The book lay on the table like a barrier between him and his guest. He shifted his gaze away from the holy book which suddenly looked menacing and regarded the woman who sat before him.
Her perfume caressed his senses taking him on a fantasy which was unlawful for him to engage in.
‘He said I have to stop attending church. He said if I don’t stop he would be forced to leave me for that whore he is having an affair with,’ Susan said.
His heart leapt for joy like the cripple at the Beautiful Gate who received a miracle of healing through the hands of Peter and John but he kept an impassive face. This was the best news he had received all week. His plans were going better than he anticipated.
As he regarded her he wanted to confess to her what he felt for her. He wanted her so much that it gave him a headache when he thought about how to get her away from Bassey. But now he didn’t have to do anything. Bassey Akpabio was doing his work for him.
‘I am tired of his threats. How can he stop me from serving my God? Do I interfere when he goes to night clubs on the weekend? I let him live his life and I try to live mine. Pastor, you tell me to be patient but he seems to be getting worse every day. The more I talk to him the more he finds new ways to punish me for getting married to him.’
Ogedengbe listened to her in silence but a battle raged within his heart. He wanted to end this charade and comfort her: hold her in his arms and assure her that her pain will go away, that he would make things right in her life by getting rid of that brute of a husband. He watched her full lips move slowly but he heard nothing she said. This was her last day of counselling. From her next appointment she would meet with his associate pastor. Ngozi had made it very clear that this counselling sessions couldn’t continue. He looked at the clock stationed on the wall above the door. It was time to end this session.
His finger reached for the button on his desk that would signal the end of the session. A moment later Pastor Joseph Odewunmi entered the office and stood beside him.
‘Please take a seat,’he said.
The pastor sat down on a chair next to Susan. Ogedengbe noted it. Of all the chairs in his office, it was the one nearest to Susan that Joseph chose. This man’s ambition and thirst for power knew no bounds, Ogedengbe thought. Right before him he was already making a move to bring the woman under his influence. If it wasn’t that Ngozi reminded him this morning to make sure that his associate took over the counselling session he would never bring him this close to a financial pillar in his church.
‘Susan, this is Pastor Joseph Odewunmi, my associate pastor. He will take over the counselling sessions from next week.’ Had he not been looking at Susan directly he would not have noticed the flash of anger in her eyes.
‘You didn’t tell me you were going to hand me over to…’ she gesticulated with her left hand in the direction of the lanky pastor. Ogedengbe watched as she tried to pronounce his name but her lips pursed in distaste like someone who had eaten a two day old, sour okra soup.
She looked at Ogedengbe in the eye. He saw that look again. He knew what it meant. Susan was displeased by his decision to hand over the sessions to another pastor. She felt so strongly about it that she wasn’t shy to show her displeasure openly. He was sure that Pastor Joseph also saw what was happening. The associate pastor shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He had a look of concern on his face like a lion who had narrowly missed its lunch.
Ogedengbe turned to his associate pastor, ‘Please give us a moment.’ The man rose up and left.
Susan waited until she heard the door shut. ‘I have a confession to make…’ she looked at her jewelled fingers.
Ogedengbe tried to keep his expression blank but his brow creased with concern. He waited for her to continue.
Susan lifted her head. ‘Since I started coming here, talking to you about my marital issues, I have come to cherish this fifteen minutes you send talking to me. If it wasn’t for you, my marriage would have collapsed by now.’ She paused and looked away. Ogedengbe waited. He knew there was more.
She continued. ‘You wouldn’t understand if I told you what you have done for me…’ she trailed off.
Ogedengbe wanted to lean over, hold her hand and ask her to continue but he restrained himself.
‘Before I started coming to this church, I had been to other places but no one seemed to know what the problem was and how to fix it. I wouldn’t want to start talking to another person about my issues.’
‘He is one of my associates,’ Ogedengbe interjected.
‘I know. But he isn’t you, is he?’ she said.
Ogedengbe saw the look on her face. He knew what that look meant. A nerve twitched on his forehead. He recalled the class on counselling he took at the Bible school. His lecturer, Dr Faruk, an Indian had warned them in the very first lesson, ‘Don’t fall in love with the person you are counselling. I can assure you now that it will end in disaster. You may think you know what you are doing, but you don’t. If you get involved with a member of your congregation who comes to you for counselling, you are in trouble and you should quickly terminate the sessions. You may think you are in control of your emotions, but you are not. Our emotions are fragile, unstable, they cannot be trusted. If you don’t create boundaries to protect yourself emotionally you will fall into a trap and it would be very difficult to extricate yourself from it. You may think it will never happen to you but you should be careful because pride often comes before a fall. Better men than you have fallen for this trap of the enemy. Many pastors have fallen at the point when they started developing feelings for the woman they were counselling. It is never the woman’s fault. If you feel you cannot handle her issues, hand her over to another pastor. Protect yourself, your family and your ministry. Don’t become the next victim.’
After that class he swore that he would never allow himself to be taken emotionally by a counselee. But that was before he met Susan. After her second visit everything Dr Faruk taught him had flown out of his head. He discovered that he was developing some feelings for her. He should have turned her over to one of his associates but he didn’t.
Susan leaned forward in her chair. ‘I will appreciate it if you continued these counselling sessions with me until this matter is completely resolved. I believe God sent you into my life to help me at this moment in time.’
Ogedengbe seriously doubted that God sent him to her. The feelings in his mind were moving towards a cataclysmic explosion and he wasn’t sure how that would turn out.
As he allowed himself to enjoy the beauty of her hair his eyes strayed to an artist’s impression of Solomon’s temple hanging on the wall above Susan’s head. For some reason he recalled what pastor Wale Shadawunsi his lecturer on Theology in Bible school taught him about the sacredness of the call of God.
‘Do you know that the high priest entered into the holy of holies where the Ark of the covenant resided once every year?’ he began. ‘When he entered the holiest place of all in the temple a rope was tied around his body. Do you know why?’ he asked the class of aspiring pastors and ministers of the gospel. Nobody in the class of thirty students knew why. ‘I will tell you why,’ the diminutive lecturer continued. ‘Nobody but the high priest was permitted by God to enter into the Holy of Holies. Therefore if anything happened to the priest as he did his priestly duties; if for any reason he makes a mistake in administering his duties, let’s say he touched the Ark of the covenant for instance, he was struck dead immediately. To get him out of the Holiest place, the other priests will pull the end of the rope he tied around his waist and pull out his corpse.’ Ogedengbe shivered at the thought of falling down before the holy book on his table.
Susan stood up to leave. ‘I appreciate what you are doing for me. May God reward you for your work,’ she smiled.
‘Thank you,’ Ogedengbe said as he saw her to the door. There was no doubt in his mind that he was going to be rewarded for his work but it wasn’t going to be in heaven. His colleagues in ministry preached about heaven but they rewarded themselves with whatever toys they desired here on earth: luxury homes in exclusive islands in the Bahamas, private jets and vintage cars. He desired Susan Akpabio. She was one reward he was ready to do anything to possess, and like his colleagues he was going to get her here on earth.
To be continued.