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…