Aunty Paulina came for a visit. She was my favorite aunt and I made a conscious effort not to disappoint her. I have grown up now; I have entered my early twenties, yet I still reverence her the same way I did when I was only seven. She, unlike me, still fanned the flame of her affection for church activities.
She had said the very evening she arrived: “Oya o… Ka anyi je vigil o.”
“Ah,” My fingertips crawled across my scalp, “Aunty Pauli, please I don’t have the strength to go for vigil o.”
“Strength? Come to church and be strengthened in God’s words,” her mild stare erased whatever I had planned to use to counter her words, “Chukwu ge nye gi ike. God will give you strength, o our son.”
“But Aunty, how na? I just said I was tired.”
“Have you forgotten how we attended that Ebube Muonso crossover program and your father brought home an oven? Or how you passed your third WAEC only after you choose to get closer to God in that pastor Hilary’s vigil? Do you think that 2018 was a year of random luck? Ichefuola?”
I had not forgotten. That was the year my WAEC result was decorated with the ABC grades, unlike previous years when I always had either of the DEF letters — E8 and F9 being my major grades then. Aunty Paulina wasn’t lying; I didn’t just pass just because I was going to Adams Tutorial — I had been there for three years. I didn’t pass because I was repeating the exam questions yearly — I was getting worse grades with time until that wonderful year. Aunty Paulina knew how to hit me. And she did it well.
“Okay ma,” anyone could hear the song of defeat in my voice without using earphones, “Let me go and prepare.”
She rubbed me of my chance to complete the last few chapters of Obinze and Ifemelu story in Ngozi Adichie’s book, Americanah.
I took off my green shirt, held the part that had been in faithful contact with my armpits and sniffed it — terrible! The stench was worse than when I had sweated from playing football. The heat was getting worse. I threw the clothes on the floor and searched my wardrobe for another T-Shirt. I spotted a maroon and white striped jersey and threw it over my head.
“Yes, aunty Pauli,” I quickly rushed outside; my siblings, mom and her sister were all outside, “I am coming ooh.”
I wanted to lock the door but dad just came back and he was too tired to go with us. I greeted him and helped him carry his load inside while my aunty, mum and siblings left for church.
My wristwatch read 18:27. I was twenty-seven minutes late already and I was still at home. The journey to church was about fourteen minutes but I got there in nine minutes with periodic jogging and stopping along the way. But the time I was in the church building, I was a breathing cave.
I pointed to a few empty seats which to my surprise, were taken. A woman had placed a scarf on one, a book on a second chair and a Bible bag on another. I knew she was keeping the seats for a couple of people she was rather more familiar with. I didn’t want trouble in a program I never voluntarily wish to attend. And so, I searched for another chair.
“One thing killing Christians all over the world is FEAR!” The speaker next to my left ear spat directly into my brain. I then knew why that chair was empty — not many people could bear the proximity of the speaker.
“God will only support you when you chose to do that which you feel is impossible. The faith of this generation, my dear brethren, has been replaced by fear. That’s why many are asking God: why are we still struggling in many areas of our lives, even when God—even when our Abba father has given us the tools to achieve what we chose to do.”
I thought of how to tell anyone what I really wanted to say without soothing my words. I most especially pictured how I would tell Iya Dolapo to stop asking me to “help” her fetch water every morning.
It was like any other Sunday except the fact that it was the first Sunday of August 2019. I scanned the entire congregation and my eyes spotted a special sight. It was Angela! My God, she was back from school, too!
I swam against the resisting current of the crowd. My head up. I didn’t want to lose sight of the dark-haired lady in a brilliant orange gown again; I propelled myself closer.
“Angela!” I called.
Her face, like a few others, turned towards me. It searched for the lips that made her neck rotate to the rear. I was about to wave until a child below my chin started crying — her black shoe had the footprint of my shoe. By the time I tried pacifying the child and rained her mother with “I’m sorry ma,” Angela had finally drowned in the crowd.
I entered the church. My whole mind was on my seeing Angela. Then the words of the pastor from the vigil two days earlier surfaced my skull from its original depth. To get what I want, I had to get rid of the fear I had. My attempt to focus on the service was futile. And I didn’t battle my distraction. It seemed as though each time I looked at my wristwatch, time slowed its pace and so I reduced my constant checking. Offertory reached and I waited behind on the pew for one singular reason — I wanted to trace her as she dances to the alter and back to her seat. At least, I can monitor her location rather than harbor an imaginative vagueness that she was somewhere within the church compound.
My eyes didn’t fail me this time and there was no child to mistakenly step upon. She sat by the distal right hand of the second row of pews in the church. My head was almost always riveted in her direction. Angela… I loved this girl so much that she was the only female friend I was comfortable taking to my house regardless of the gossips of the neighbors or my mum’s series of exam questions. But she had gone to university and we had lost connection. I wouldn’t replay the event of that past error in the present moment — the future of my past was a wiser being.
Our pastor said the last prayer and shared the grace and we began to disperse. The strange concoction of Joy and nervousness and a little bit of fear which I was attempting to fan out, filled my chest cavity. I swallowed all the air around my mouth, kept them hostage for two seconds or three and liberated the oxygen-deprived wind from my nostrils. I wanted to calm my noisy arteries and restless nerves.
Quickly, I flowed with the crowd to the exit closest to where I had predicted Angela would pass through.
“Hello, Angela.” I rested my palm, softly as a refined ball of wool, on her shoulder.
She jerked. Our eyes met again. But her countenance was the exact opposite of the happiness on mine.
There was an obstruction again — a slow-walking aged couple. Regardless, I became more excited. What should I say first? Or should I apologize first for rejecting her moves earlier? I was stupid months back. Why did I miss that opportunity? What kind of novice was I? I would make the apology grand so she knows I am sincere. Then when she listens to me, I would act like I made the wildest mistake in the history of my father’s lineage. Then I would ask her out immediately — I have a few cash on me.
Angela was, expectedly, stubborn; she didn’t want to give me her ears for my mouth to spit sweet words into — girl’s pride, maybe.
The crowds were becoming less dense in the church compound. Cars of various sizes and colors were brought to life and made to wheeling away.
“Angela, please. I beg of you just give me a chance. I know we didn’t get to know each other so well before you left for the university. And I know I acted a bit childish when you were—You know—.”
Angela stopped on the spot. It was my chance to show my sincerity. I made my knee kiss the ground. My getting her attention mattered more to me than the piercing sensation stones and sand granules had on my knees.
“What is wrong with you this guy?” She finally turned towards me.
She searched for something in her handbag.
“Look,” she showed me an ID card that displayed the name Esther Abbey, “I am not your Angela!”
My whole body was held in chains from within; my right knee had become my new right feet and it was beginning to shiver to the rhythm of pain.
I wish it didn’t happen. The large circular lacuna in the sea of congregants, eyes darting my flesh with a sting I couldn’t explain. Mum and Aunty Paulina would most certainly hear this. My siblings and fellow choristers would laugh me to rock-hard embarrassment. And worse, our pastor would start encouraging me to join the Anti-adultery Sunday class. How did I not notice? Was it a sign I needed to get a pair of prescription eyeglasses?
Ezeadum Sixtus Ebube is a 200 Level medical student at the University of Ibadan. He has a long-lasting romantic relationship with creativity and enjoys every variation she offers, most especially, in the aspect of creative writing. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org