The sermon notes he was preparing for the following morning were scattered on his table. He picked up a note and read it. He sighed deeply, pushed aside the papers, stood up and paced his study. It had been four days since he spoke with Susan. What was going on in her life, in her marriage? Had Bassey changed his ways or was he still treating her bad? This silence was almost driving him crazy. A thought scurried through his mind and he stopped pacing. Had Susan found a man? Had she found somebody who would treat her with the respect that she deserved? A frown creased his forehead. From somewhere within him anger rose up slowly like steam rising from a pot of hot okra soup as he contemplated the possibility that Susan could betray him in that manner. He sat down heavily on the orthopaedic chair he had bought to help with his lower back pain. It didn’t seem to be working. The pain shot through his back and he stood up again. Surely Susan couldn’t have met another man and abandoned him after all the work he had done for her? She should understand that he was important to her happiness. She should recognise that he was a man who has feelings for her. He had gone beyond the boundaries of counselling her and now took her life as a project. No, it felt more like a calling to make her happy, to put a smile on her face and deliver her from the misery that Bassey inflicted on her daily. That man was nothing but an animal. Continue reading
Category Archives: Short Stories
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. Continue reading
‘You have to stop counselling that woman,’ Ngozi said.
‘Why do you say that?’ He feigned surprise knowing what his wife meant.
‘I don’t feel comfortable with her. I don’t like the way she hangs around you. I just don’t like her.’
‘Ngozi please don’t say that,’ Ogedengbe said. ‘She has been a faithful member of the church and a generous giver. She desperately needs our help at this moment and we cannot afford to let her down,’ he implored his wife.
‘But I can’t shake the feeling that she may be up to no good.’ She said.
Ogedengbe knew what was going on in her mind. In fact it was because Susan was a generous giver that Ngozi didn’t want her talking with her husband every Tuesday afternoon at 2:00pm. The envelope which started the conversation lay on the table between them. Susan had managed to give her way to become the assistant leader of the women’s fellowship. When Ngozi questioned him about it he pointed at the fact that she was more financially committed than any other woman in the church, therefore he had to encourage her by giving her such a visible position. He knew he was right about that. If she wasn’t given a notable position she may decide to leave the church. And there were many churches willing to welcome someone like Susan Akpabio as a member of their congregation.
‘Are there no other pastors in the church capable of counselling that woman? Why don’t you hand over her counselling to your associate pastor? He is quite capable of handling such matters.’
Ogedengbe flinched at the thought of Joseph Odewunmi his associate pastor rubbing shoulders with the financial pillars of the church. Before he knew it some of them will invite him over for dinner and he will begin to nurse grandiose ideas about having a calling and launching his own ministry. He had studied pastor Odewunmi and saw the fiery ambition in his eyes, cloaked as godly zeal and spirituality. But he would not be fooled by that. He had seen that look before in the eyes of men who tried to take over his church barely one year after he started it. Only the grace of God saved him from their bid to usurp his authority and install another pastor. They accused him of having an unhealthy relationship with a female member of the church. They couldn’t prove anything and the woman involved refused to join their witch hunt against him.
No matter what his wife says he would never trust Odewunmi with a rich member of his flock. Never! It would be like handing over your ATM card and passsword to a known thief to help you withdraw some money. Technically that would be entrapment because the thief would eventually fall for the temptation. You had to be careful with ambitious men who were looking for any opportunity they could find to position themselves with the rich in the congregation. And he could begin to nurse ideas for Susan. No, it was definitely a bad idea to allow another pastor take over the counselling of Susan Akpabio. But he had to find something to tell his wife. She wouldn’t let this go until he gave in to her demand.
The envelope Susan gave him lay on the table in front of him. It had been a mistake to tell his wife about it. When he opened the envelope he found a cheque written in his name. He shouldn’t have told her about this gift from Susan. The moment he told Ngozi about the financial gift from Susan, she turned against her.
‘Do you like Susan Akpabio?’ Ngozi broke into his thoughts like a bugler from the Bronx.
His chest tightened and his breathing became laboured. He prayed Ngozi didn’t notice the sweat building up on his forehead. Ngozi was stepping on dangerous grounds with this line of questioning. He had to be careful with his answers. He liked Susan. He preferred her to his skinny wife who sat opposite him at the dinner table nibbling on a piece of carrot like a starving rabbit.
‘I like her as a committed member of the church, if that’s what you mean,’ he said.
Ngozi regarded her husband with suspicion. His face was an expressionless mask which betrayed no emotions. ‘No, that’s not what I meant. Do you like Susan, do you like her as a woman?’ she asked again. She looked him in the eyes. Ogedengbe evaded the question. ‘The only thing I feel for that woman is compassion,’ he said. ‘Her marriage to that man has been nothing but torture. My prayer is that the Lord would deliver her in his infinite mercy.’ Although he felt compassion for Susan, that wasn’t exactly the only thing he felt. If Ngozi suspected what was going on in his mind she would impale his bald head on the table using the thin carrots on the plate before her as murder weapons.
‘Why don’t you ask her husband to come in for counselling? That should be a better way to resolve this matter,’ Ngozi said.
‘I invited him twice but he failed to turn up for our appointment. I will try to get him to change his mind.’
‘I know you mean well,’ she said and her features softened. ‘But we have to be careful with a woman who throws her weight around the church. I will feel better if you handed her case over to someone else,’ she rose up from the table and walked into the bedroom.
Ogedengbe waited for a few minutes until he was sure that she had settled down then he entered his study and locked the door. He dialled a number on his phone.
‘Why are you calling me?’ a female voice said on the other end of the line. ‘I told you that I could handle this. Give me some time.’
Ogedengbe touched his temple. ‘I paid you a lot of money to do a job for me. I need you to give me good results. You promised that you could get this done. Things are getting out of hand.’
‘Is that the reason why you are calling me at this time of the night? Where is your wife?” she asked.
‘My wife is none of your business.’
‘On the contrary, she is my business. For your plan to succeed she has to go along with it. So, she is very important to me.’ said the voice on the phone.
Ogedengbe wanted to say something but kept quiet.
There was a knock on the door. He ended the call abruptly and put away his phone.
The knock came again. He took his time and opened the door. His wife stood before him in a red night dress. She looked like a piece of thin brown wood tied with a red ribbon.
‘Why did you lock the door?’ she asked.
‘Ngozi, you know that when I am praying I lock the door so that I can have some privacy.’
She leaned against the door like a coquette and twisted a strand of her hair. He regarded the Brazilian hair on her head. He hated it. He liked it when a woman carried her hair natural the way God made it. But his wife preferred to wear expensive human hair which belonged to God knows who. He regarded the contraption she put on her head. How could she carry that thing around with her all day not knowing to whom it formerly belonged? Was it hair cut from the head of a mad woman, which probably still carried with it the spirits which caused the woman’s insanity? Was it hair which belonged to a demon worshipper or a prostitute? Had the hair been dedicated to a demon deity at some pagan temple before it was exported with its attendant demons to women who were not content to live with the natural beauty the Lord gave them? How many women suffered from unknown ailments, mysterious problems which defied all rational solutions because their vanity made them wear human hair? He shuddered at the thought of lying in the same bed with hair belonging to a devil worshipper from Brazil. The day will come when he would burn every strand of Brazilian hair and every other kind of artificial and unnatural hair he found in his home. He would not make his house a warehouse for demons. He had enough problems already without inviting sophisticated fashion demons from half –way across the world to add to it.
‘Why are you starring at my hair like that?’ Ngozi asked.
‘Nothing,’ he said.
‘Oluwayemi, please come to bed.’ He liked the way she called his name. It rolled off her tongue like oil, soothing like a hot cocoa drink on a cold night. He felt a flicker of arousal in his loins. She had a way with words, that was one of the reasons he married her. She turned around and walked towards the bedroom.
He remembered the night of their honeymoon, how hot she looked in her night wear which clung to her curves. A lot had changed since then. She had become a scarecrow in his home. After one child she said she had become ‘too big’. She worked out at the gym like a North Korean gymnast preparing for the Olympics. Her rigorous exercise regiment had eaten away the succulence of her beauty and left her with…almost nothing. He sighed bitterly.
‘Baby, I am waiting,’ she called out in a sultry tone.
He swallowed hard and entered the bedroom.
This was her third visit. On her previous visits he had gone through the boring motions of pretending to listen to her issues and offering her conventionally acceptable, properly worded platitudes. However, today was different. He was done with the charade. She wore a blue dress and black pumps. Her natural hair stood proudly on her head like a piece of sculpture. What was different about her today, he wondered. Her perfume wafted through the office like an invading army, entering every nook and cranny, smearing its presence on every object in its path, marking the space as her territory like a brazen mutt, colonizing the enclosure with her presence, owning it. His breath jumped as he contemplated the possibilities of today’s meeting.
She reached for a glass of water on the table. As she drank the water he studied her features. He hadn’t noticed how beautiful she was before now. He had been so focused on trying to help her resolve her marital issues. Up till her last visit, he hadn’t thought of her as anything but a distraught member of his flock. But during her last visit, the scales covering his eyes fell off.
She dabbed the tears from her eyes with a white handkerchief, making sure not to smear her makeup. She reached for the glass of water and took another sip. Her lips clung sensuously to the glass and left behind a thin film of red lipstick. She put down the glass delicately as if she didn’t want to break it. Her tears stirred up compassion from a source he had long forgotten existed within him. He reached across the desk to give her a comforting touch on the hand but changed his mind and moved the glass instead. He barely restrained himself.
Susan continued. ‘He says I am fat. I just don’t get it. This was the way I was when we met. How come I have suddenly become too fat for him?’ She asked.
A dark cloud creased his face as he thought about his wife. She was as thin as dried stock fish. Her slimming craze had left her with barely any breasts on her chest. But here was a woman before him with everything still intact. A woman indeed!
Susan was still talking. ‘He complains bitterly about my job. Yet I bring in a lot of money for the family. Pastor, I don’t understand.’
Neither did he.
What man in his right mind would reject such a woman? Such a man is an ingrate, undeserving of such a blessing.
He saw her lips moving but he was lost in his thoughts, touching her hair, his fingers caressing the spotless skin on her exposed arms.
‘What should I do?’ she asked the pastor.
That same question haunted him. His wife had become a burden.
She was not the same woman he married. She had become overly concerned with her body and her looks. She was no longer interested in spiritual matters. She spent more time selecting the vegetables she ate for breakfast than she spent in prayer. When he met her she was deeply spiritual but since her mother died suddenly of heart failure, she had become obsessed with her health. He liked the fact that she paid attention to her health but she seemed to have gone overboard with her zeal. He didn’t know what to do with her.
Ogedengbe dreaded the question oscillating in his mind. He wanted to get to the bottom of things as fast as he could.
‘How is your sex life?’ He tried to keep his face expressionless but his anxiety betrayed him.
‘We haven’t had sex in a while.’
The pastor bit the insides of his bottom lip to stop himself in time from blurting out his real thoughts. Her husband must be totally crazy, he thought. Who would have such a beautiful specimen of a woman and not ravage her as often as humanly possible? If he had her as wife, he would ensure that he satisfied her every desire. He licked his lips slightly as his mind wondered how many ways he would discharge his conjugal responsibilities to Susan if they were married.
‘A few months ago, I found out that my husband was involved with…with some girl.’
‘Are you sure about this?’ he asked.
Susan placed her jewelled fingers delicately on the table, then she slowly lifted her head. ‘I discovered that he had something to do with this girl who works at a fast food restaurant. I wanted to be sure what was going on so…I…’ she trailed off.
Ogedengbe leaned forward. This wasn’t the time for her to hold anything back. ‘You did what?’ he asked.
‘I found where she worked and I went there. I had to know for myself why my husband wasn’t interested in me. What was it about this girl that fascinated and attracted him? Was it her complexion, her height or was it her size? I just had to know.
‘I entered the eatery and asked for the girl. Some lady pointed her out to me. When I saw her, I was overwhelmed by anger. I wanted to hit her or mark her viciously so that no man would ever look at her face again. To know that my husband preferred this woman to me filled me with anger.’
Ogedengbe waited for her to continue.
She wiped some tears from the corner of her eyes. ‘I looked at this skinny girl and I was enraged. I don’t know what came over me but I walked up to her and told her that Akpabio was my husband and warned her never to see him again. Then I walked out of the restaurant.’
‘What happened after this?’ Ogedengbe asked.
She bowed her head in thought. ‘That night I confronted him. I accused him of having an affair. He denied everything. He said the girl meant nothing to him, that I was exaggerating and blowing things out of proportion. I suspected he was lying but there was nothing I could do.’ She paused and looked at her jewelled fingers. ‘Pastor, I am an unhappy woman. I feel rejected by my husband. In spite of all I have done in the marriage he still runs after useless girls.’
He looked at his watch. The session was almost up. Looking at her as she wiped a tear with a white handkerchief, Ogedengbe decided to extend the counselling sessions for as long as he could. He gave her more platitudes to make her feel good about coming for the counselling session. ‘God will resolve this situation for you, in Jesus name,’ he concluded. He dreaded the thought of not seeing her again. This was one prayer he didn’t want answered. How would he live with himself if God answered this prayer?
She stood up to leave. ‘Pastor, here is something for you,’ she extended her hand holding an envelope. He reached for the envelope and their fingers touched. She didn’t remove her hand. She held on to the envelope for a moment longer than he thought necessary. He didn’t want to believe what her eyes told him. Susan was a married woman and she wanted her marriage issues resolved, or did she? He didn’t want to believe that she wanted him. He didn’t want to think about the possibilities wrapped in the moment.
He struggled to keep his thoughts pastoral but his emotions slipped out of his control like an eel in oily hands. Her touch ignited the passion that had been hiding beneath his camouflaged spiritual mien. His thoughts meandered like a crooked river out of the straight path of the ethical into the sensuous path of the amorous. She smiled at him and he felt his face flush. There was a flicker in her eyes. It lasted for barely a second but it was all he needed to realise that she suspected what was happening to him.
He didn’t know what to say. His fingers were still clutched in her hand. ‘When will I see…’ he caught himself on time. ‘God bless you,’ he managed to say.
She held his gaze. ‘I will see you next Tuesday,’ she answered the uncompleted question in his mind.
He swallowed hard as she walked out of his office. He sat down heavily on his chair like a depressed tire. His mind was trying to process what was happening between them but he was distracted by her scent which held sway in his office like fragrant incense offered to a pagan fertility goddess. He drew back the curtains on the window facing the street and watched as she drove out of the premises. He placed his left hand on his temple and felt a vein throbbing. That was not a good sign. He made a mental note to check his blood pressure before he left the office. He touched a button on the table. ‘Please bring me some water with lots of ice.’
The water did nothing to quench his thirst. His throat still felt parched, as if he had eaten dry, uncooked rice.
Things were moving too fast for him. Way too fast.
To be continued…
Changu ran through Manda Hill mall, her torn blouse hanging loosely on her like shredded pieces of the Zambian national flag vandalised by a discontented political activist. She ran until she got on the main road and stopped by a bus stop to catch her breath. Commuters waiting for buses regarded her with suspicion. Her hair stood on edge as if she had been tortured by the Chinese with electric shocks. Some religious people at the bus stop made the sign of the cross and muttered silent prayers for her. The superstitious among them scurried away from her as if her insanity was a contagious disease. A small crowd began to gather around her as she started talking to herself oblivious to the people around her. She turned in different directions and spoke nonsense to the audience.
What are you looking at, a woman asked her husband who was attempting to move to the front of the crowd to get a better view of the woman. She grabbed his right hand and pulled him away. The man followed her reluctantly, looking back to catch a glimpse of the woman with the torn blouse.
The woman at the centre of the crowd stopped talking to herself and began to move her feet as if a thousand soldier ants were bitting at her heels. She staggered like a drunken sailor before kicking off the shoe on her right leg. It flew into the crowd like a bird which had lost its sense of direction. She tried kicking off the shoe on her left leg but it refused to come off. She raised her leg, yanked off the uncooperative shoe and threw it narrowly missing an oncoming car.
My feet…my feet….are burning. They are burning, she sang in a discordant tone filled with pain. She stamped her legs on the ground several times in an attempt to put out the imaginary fire which engulfed it.
A strange wind of silence blew over the crowd as it watched the half naked woman.
A short man made his way through to the front of the crowd. He stood watching the woman with a curious expression on his face. He brought out a string of beads from his pocket and ran it through his fingers. He muttered to himself, looked around the crowd and muttered again.
This is muti gone bad, he said as he caressed the beads with his fingers. Muti gone bad, he repeated.
He returned the beads to his pocket then started clapping for the woman, giving rhythm to the madness of her feet. A fat woman standing next to him dropped the basket of mangoes which she carried on her head. She took a moment to tie her wrapper properly then she joined him in clapping. Another woman joined her, then a man joined them, then the clapping spread through the gathering like wild fires burning through the Mazabuka sugar plantations in dry season. More commuters stopped and joined the gathering and the crowd grew.
Changu began jumping from one foot to another in wild frenzy like a hyena in mating season. She tore off the remaining pieces of her blouse that hung on her like a curse and threw it into the crowd. The crowd parted for the blouse to pass through and it fell on the ground. Changu began to move with mysterious dance steps only she could understand. Her strange dance steps threw the gathering into a clapping frenzy. Continue reading
The pastor nodded as Changu narrated her story. The last time he saw her in church was two years ago when she asked for help for her wayward husband. Apparently she wasn’t happy with his advice because she stopped coming to church. As she spoke he studied her eyes and body language. She seemed to be hiding something but he waited for her to finish her tale.
He left on thursday and hasn’t been back home for two days, Changu clasped her hands in front of her face. Pastor, I know I haven’t been to church for sometime but I have nowhere else to go. Please help me, Changu cried.
He waited for her sobs to subside before he spoke.
Mrs Banda, why did your husband leave home, he leaned forward in his chair. Was there a quarrel before he left home, he asked.
Changu was silent.
She wasn’t going to tell the pastor the circumstances surrounding her present crisis. How could she tell him that an ng’anga gave her a broom with a powerful muti to bring her husband under her control, the muti worked as promised but now the broom was missing and so was her husband. Would this pastor understand her predicament, would he be able to relate with the fear she had to contend with, the fear that drove her to consult with an ng’anga in the first place. He would never understand her, how could he, she asked herself. She regarded him with disdain sitting on his revolving chair, clothed in his black robe and white collar, looking pious, like a man who had conquered his desire to sin, a man who could do no wrong. She looked at the floor and shook her head in bitterness. If she hadn’t followed her friend to consult the ng’anga she wouldn’t find herself in this position.
Why did your husband leave home, the pastor asked again.
Changu lifted her face. The rays of the sun bounced off the window on her face forming a soft glow. She exhaled deeply. The pastor moved closer to the woman before him looking contrite, expecting a confession from her.
I don’t know why he left home. Our marriage has never been better, Changu said.
The pastor reached for a glass of water before him.
Changu thought she caught a slight smirk on his face as he drank from the glass. He couldn’t possibly be mocking her, eating up her misery like a hungry motor-park tout downing mouthfuls of hot nshima, Changu thought. It was probably her guilt making her read negative meaning to his facial expression.
I don’t know why he left home, Changu said.
Let us pray, the pastor bowed his head.
Twenty minutes after Mrs Banda had left the church, the pastor was still in deep thought. He sensed a darkness surrounding Changu. It seemed like her husband was bound by some wicked entity. He couldn’t shake off the feeling that Changu was lying to him. For all he knew she could be responsible for her husband’s disappearance. He got down on his knees and yielded to the strong urge within him pushing him to pray for Mulenga Banda.
Changu regarded the phone ringing beside her. It was her friend Lucy. She ignored it, walked towards the open window and gazed aimlessly into the sky. Her visit to the parish priest had been a disaster. The man seemed to look through her soul. Somehow he knew she was lying but she couldn’t bring herself to tell him the truth about her husband and the broom. He prayed with her and adviced her to inform the police.
She picked up the phone and dialled her mom.
Changu, is everything okay, the older woman asked.
Mom, everything is not okay. Mulenga has not returned home since Thursday. I called his office, called all his friends but no one seems to know where he is. This has never happened before. I don’t know what to do, Changu said.
You know your husband likes visiting some bars in Olympia. Have you made inquiries in any of those places, her mother asked.
Changu exhaled. Mom, I don’t know all the bars he visits. Since we got married the only place I’ve been with him is club One at Arcades.
This is such a mystery. Have you considered the possibility that he went out of town to visit a lover, mama asked.
Changu was silent. Mulenga couldn’t do that. The power in the broom blinded him to the beauty of other women. Surely this couldn’t happen, or could it, she wondered.
She ended the call to her mother and sat down thinking. Something bothered her about the way her mom spoke on the phone. She seemed detached and unwilling to help. Was her mother hiding something from her, she wondered. There was only one way to find out. She got up and called the house help. The girl came and stood by the door.
We are going to see my mother. You and the baby are coming with me, Changu said.
Yes ma, the girl said with trepidation on her face. Continue reading
Changu hesitated at the entrance then she bent low and looked at the ng’anga who sat before a fire fuelled by small sticks, muttering some incantations, looking around the hut as if having conversations with some invisible visitors. Changu entered the hut with trepidation. The old man looked into the small fire that burnt before him. The burning sticks made crackling noises and small sparks jumped out of the conflagration like insects.
Why are you here, the witch doctor asked in an angry tone. He lifted his head and her heart jumped as she looked into his bloodshot eyes. She felt her legs buckling under her and she fell on her knees. The broom has disappeared, she cried. I kept it well hidden but I don’t know how it was stolen from my house.
You say the broom was stolen, the ng’anga asked. Are you sure that was what happened, the man inquired looking sternly at the woman. The broom must be found and brought to this shrine for the muti to be done on it again.
Baba, how will I find it? I’ve looked everywhere in my home but it is not there. If I ask my friends about it they may discover my secret and hate me because of it. Please help me. What should I do to find the broom, she asked.
The witch doctor made some incantations while Changu looked on. He stopped and raised his head. You must find the broom in the next three days. If you don’t find it and return it to me in three days something terrible will happen, the man said, shaking his head.
A cold chill descended on her as she listened to the witch doctor.
Long after after Changu had left his lair, the ng’anga was still looking into the burning embers of the small fire before him lost in thought. Continue reading