Chinedu was scanning through his mail; there were a few invites from other churches and ministries, there were messages from people seeking counsels and a plethora of mails from various missionaries seeking financial support. His heart went out for the last category. Being a missionary himself for a decade before being called into pastoral ministry, he could easily relate with the many needs of the missionaries and the pittance they got from only a few donors. Despite the fact that over sixty per cent of the church’s income went into missions, he wished he could do more. To the missionaries he couldn’t send money, he sent words of encouragement and promises to support with prayers. He knew how far that could go in bolstering a fainting heart.
He starred the messages he knew he had to revisit and continued browsing through before the intercom rang. He picked up. It was his secretary calling to inform him that Daddy Ak, (the nickname most church members called Mr Eriola) wanted to see him. Chinedu said she should let him in.
The door open and Mr Eriola sauntered in.
“Good morning Daddy Ak.”
“Morning my pastor,” The older man replied, the corners of his mouth crinkling up as he smiled. Chinedu gestured to the seat before him and the sallow-skinned man settled in it.
Chinedu respected Mr Eriola not just because he was older but because he had earned his respect. Ever since his conversion, he had served faithfully as the gardener of the church and he doubled as the janitor. The lawns were never overgrown and the flowers were always trimmed, he was equally faithful with his work as the janitor. Many at times Chinedu found Mr Eriola’s service to the work God had placed in his hands challenging, however small it seemed.
“Pastor, I wouldn’t want to waste your time,” He started squeaking forward in his chair. “Recently I’ve been thinking about Funmi, I don’t want either of us to die without her knowing how sorry I am for the pain I’ve caused her. The children too, I owe them an apology for deserting them the way I did. I’ve tried, but I can’t seem to put them out of my mind.” There was a glimmer in his eyes. “Funmi especially.”
Chinedu smiled, “You still love her, don’t you?”
Mr Eriola looked away. In that moment, he looked like a teenage acting coy because his crush was passing. Chinedu tittered and quickly stifled it.
He harrumphed, leaned his elbows on the table and moved forward in his seat. “Actually, I’ve been thinking about that too and I think it’s the right thing to do. But I most warn you tho, don’t expect to be forgiven. They might fiercely reject you, so prepare your heart for any reaction.” The painful fact made Mr Eriola’s heart to sink. It’s not like he hadn’t thought about it, but hearing it still had an effect. He nodded.
“So, how do you intend to find them?”
The glint returned to his eyes. “That wouldn’t be a problem, I know where Funmi’s office is at least, she’s built a name for herself wi-” he let his voice peter out. Chinedu knew the completion of the statement; without me. “I’m doing my findings, I’d find her.”
“Someone is really serious about finding their first love.” Chinedu teased.
Mr Eriola smiled, sighed and said, “I know I don’t deserve it, but I pray I she finds a place in her heart to forgive me.”
“So, when do you plan to leave?”
“As soon as possible.”
“Hmmn. Love wantin tin.”
She snapped her fingers, rocked her shoulders and swirled her waist carelessly as she hummed Jamie Grace’s Party Like A Princess along. She knew she was a terrible dancer and that’s why she saved dancing for moments like this. Moments when she was away from everyone and was in the mood to dance.
On other days she spent time with her mother and when she got bored of her consistent rattling about her carelessness in handling her relationship with Lanre, she resorted to socializing with the servants around the house, Abbie, Mr Kajola, the gardener and Kalu, the gatekeeper. She was avoiding being alone so that she wouldn’t relapse into brooding. It was during one of those days of helping Abbie in the kitchen that she broached the subject of Sam’s paternity, the question had always been on her mind but she had never had the right opportunity to ask. Abbie told her of how her knight in shiny armour disappeared from the village once he learnt that Abbie was pregnant. While she helped Mr Kajola uproot weeds from the lawn, she discovered that he wasn’t as placid as he looked from afar, he actually had a good sense of humour. One day while she busied herself with the weeding the parable of the sower came to her mind, she recalled that the seed that were choked by weed in the analogy represented the word of God being choked out in some people’s heart by worry and the decietfulness of wealth. She wondered why worry and wealth had such negative power.
There were days when she sat in her room poring over scriptures and praying.
But today none of those interested her, all she wanted to do was dance off her sorrows!
She writhed to the music and sang along.
“I don’t need a prince to party like a princess!” Why did she have to scream that part of the song? She walked over to the table were her chocolate chips cookies and glass of milk were, she munched, drank, danced and sang in a muffled voice.
She didn’t have to worry about disturbing anyone with the loudness of her music, she knew her Mum would be outside in the thatched cottage lounging on the chaise lounge and making business phone calls.
The door of her room burst open. She swiveled her head. Her Mum was leaning against the doorjamb, staring at her with so much distaste.
“What are you doing?” She asked folding her arms over her chest.
Lara could see the diatribe coming. She swatted the music player on her phone off.
“You need a prince oh,” Mrs Ayeteju walked towards her. “Maybe you don’t need a prince for this epileptic dance but you need a prince to give me grandchildren.” Her eyes were goggled and glowing, Lara knew she was in for it.
“Abi, if you don’t get a prince, how will I see Oluwaseun, Fisayo and Timilehin? Huh?” She ticked off the names on her fingers. She wanted Lara to have three children and yes, she already had names for them.
“Instead of you to go out there in search of a husband, you are here fooling yourself, abi bee ko?”
Lara rolled her eyes. Why did her Mum have to come now and kill whatever vibe of happiness she’d felt even if it was false?
“You make it sound like a husband is something I’d just pick off the rack.”
“Oh, so you know that finding husband is not easy and you let the one you had slip off your hands?”
Lara sighed. “Mum, please excuse me, I need to use the toilet.” She had slipped into the bathroom before completing her statement. Of course she wasn’t pressed, she was only balking from her mother’s presence. She sat on the toilet bowl without even lifting the lid and tapped on her phone for the next ten minutes.
She stepped out of the toilet smoothing her skirt. At least she had successfully escaped her mother’s taunts once ag-
“So, like I was saying,” Lara lifted her head immediately. Her mum was sitting on the bed, legs crossed, one sandalled foot swinging back and forth and the other firmly placed on the floor. “If I were you, I will get my wits together and try to win Lanre back.”
Lara’s shoulder’s slumped. “Look Mum, Lanre must be going through a lot right now and it’s only fair to give him space.”
Mrs Ayeteju repeated ‘Lanre must be going through a lot.’ in a falsetto parody. “Like the ‘a lot’ he’s going through is not your fault.”
Lara wanted to scream Yes, I know it’s my fault, you say that everyday. Can you say something else, something new? But instead she stayed put and sponged in all her Mom had to say, it’s not like she hadn’t heard any of it before.
When her Mom left the room she sighed and plunked on the bed. The jingle and instrumentals that was the prelude of Jay_mikee’s Telephone To Heaven, made Lara know that her phone was ringing. It was a What’sApp call from Esther.
“Hey, baby sis!” Lara enthused.
“Hello Lara.” She liked how Esther pronounced her name, she made it sound English, like Clara without the ‘C’.
Her call couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I’m holding up well, how are you doing?”
“I’m fine jare.”
“How’s our boyfriend?”
Lara knew that with Esther she had no need to be careful. “We’re no longer together.”
“Oh, I’m sorry about that.” Esther said dryly. Lara knew that to Esther, a break up was nothing. She had lost count of the number of break ups Esther had told her she’d been involved in. She usually just breezed in and out of relationships on whims.
“Yes oh. I’m just at home, you know I’m on my six weeks leave and Mom’s never missing a chance to taunt me about my carelessness in handling my relationship.” As soon as Lara said that, she wished she hadn’t.
“Isn’t that just rich coming from a person like her?” Esther muttered beneath her breath.
“What did you say?”
“Forget I said anything.”
Lara had heard Esther’s mumbling in snatches and in the seconds that elapsed her brain was able to fill the blanks, so that she could now hear the complete statement in her head. She also heard what Esther didn’t say. She knew that Esther hated Mrs Ayeteju for what she did to their father.
“Esther, for how long are you going to cling to this bitterness?”
“Please, don’t sermonize to me.”
Lara sighed. “I’d be praying for you.”
“You should throw more prayers into your love life.” The duo laughed. “I actually called to give you gist.”
Lara sat up. “Shoot.”
“Alright, there’s this really cute Indian dude that’s been checking me out for sometime,” Esther started ecstatically and Lara rolled her eyes.
The next call I’d receive from her would be to tell me they’ve broken up. Na today I sabi Esther?
“He asked me to be his girlfriend some months ago and since then we’ve been seeing each other.”
“Months!” Lara exclaimed. “Esther’s relationship now lasts longer than a month, who would have thought?”
Esther laughed. “Go joorh. He proposed last week and we plan to travel to Mumbai to see his parents.”
Now, Lara was alarmed and at the same time excited.
“Won’t you say something?”
“Hmm.. This sure is a new development.”
“Trust me, what I feel for Yogesh is different, I’ve never felt this way before.”
“Nothing really, I was just wondering if Mom will approve of an Indian lover.”
“Who the hell cares about what Mum thinks?” Esther snapped. “Why do you have to ruin everything by talking about Mum all the time?”
It was too late, Esther hung up.
She probably shouldn’t have said that. She imagined how her mother will react when Esther tells about this her suitor and that cast her mind back to when she was at the same point in her life, when she had to introduce Lanre to her Mom.
Ever before she got engaged, her Mum would always sing- “Wo (look here), I would have a strong say on whoever you’d marry! You know I can’t afford to lose you to just any useless Man.”- in her ears. Lara understood that her Mum had good intentions but her tenacity posed a threat to Lara’s heart, she was always afraid that her Mum would stand in the way of God’s will for her life.
When Lara finally got engaged she was scared of what are Mum would say about Lanre and told him how difficult her Mum could be. They prayed and even fasted about it. They needed to see her parent. It wouldn’t speak well of them, if she found out about their relationship from anyone but them. Lara mustered courage and decided to tell her.
If I perish, I perish. She had thought. It was now funny that she had considered speaking with her Mum equivalent to Esther going to meet king Ahasuerus.
“Mum, God has shown me who he wants me to marry and he’d like to meet you.” Lara had said brazening out in spite of her shaky heart.
“I can’t wait to meet him.” Her Mum said smiling. Lara was still scared, She was much more scared now that her Mum was eager to meet him. What if she was disappointed? What if she was just trying to fool her into bringing him in for a vitriol shower?
“The Lord has gone ahead of us. He’s answered our prayers.” Lanre was always positive.
“I can’t trust her. I don’t know what she’s up to.” Lara drew a shuddering breath as she wrapped her arms around her bodice.
“Omolara, here we go again. No matter what happens we’d scale through. You worry too much.”
It came as a shock for Lara when her Mum accepted him like a son.
Lara was initially skeptical about her Mum’s ‘love’ for him but over time she discovered it was genuine. Lara still had not been able to wrap her head around what lit the spark between Lanre and her mother. They grew really close.
It was during one of their many gists that Lanre preached to her.
“Pastor,” She had drawled smiling. “Thank very much sir.” She bowed sardonically then she laughed.
“Don’t worry I’d become born again one of these days. Shebi I believe in God, heaven and hell at least that’s a head start. One day.. One day.. Mama Ayeteju would become born again.” She crossed herself and her mouth tipped into a cynical smile.
Lara sighed. Tears burnt her eyes. God kept to his end of the deal, she was the one who failed. Earlier on, she’d blamed Lanre for being impatient with her. Even after she admitted her wrong and promised to make amends, he was in a hurry to halt their relationship. But when she turned her thoughts over and tried to put herself in his shoes, she saw that it was difficult to stay with an undecided lady.
Now that you’ve lost Lanre, isn’t it wise to cleave to Noah? Stop crying over spilt milk and make do with what’s left in the cup. Even the scripture says; ‘wisdom is profitable to direct.’ The thought was logical, compelling.
Common, no way! Noah isn’t even born again. She retorted in her mind.
Maybe that’s true but you could still convert him. Why are a light? Why are you the salt of the earth? He has a very susceptible heart and that’s evident in his love for God and the things of God. Remember he once told you a good percentage of his income goes into church projects and charity, asides his tithes.
Confusion set in. The thought gave a thousand and one reason why she should be with Noah.
EVE’S FIRST AND GREATEST MISTAKE WAS TO DIALOGUE WITH THE SERPENT. YOU DARE NOT REASON WITH THE DEVIL. It was a part of a christian literature she had read sometimes back. The holy spirit brought it to her memory.
DON’T EVER TRY TO ARGUE WITH THE DEVIL. HE’S BETTER AT ARGUING THAN YOU ARE, HAVING HAD THOUSANDS OF YEARS TO PRACTICE. That was from Rick Warren’s best seller, Purpose Driven Life.
RESIST THE DEVIL AND HE WOULD FLEE FROM YOU.
She quickly clutched the life line.
“Hey Satan, You’ve fooled me long enough and I’ve allowed you all along, right now I need you to get out!”
An idea came to her mind. She’d go to the regular place, She needed sometime out with God. The thought of being alone with God made her excited.
The little garden that overlooked the thatched cottage was were she usually went whenever she wanted to be alone with God.
She paced leisurely down the interlock paved pathway, her joy disappeared and transformed into despair. The sight of the garden brought memories of the times she had come there to seek God’s face, flooding in.
It was at this same garden, about a year earlier that she had come to seek God’s face over Lanre after he had proposed. She had heard God there, received promises there and now she’s returned, prodigal, empty-handed.
She recounted all the Lord had said to her and her heart became swollen within her. She felt like she threw a pearl into the ocean. She felt like a pig. The scriptures seemed to speak directly to her; Cast not thine pearl unto the swine.
Lara laid flat, face to earth, on the neatly mowed lawn and She sobbed wildly.
“Oh Lord, You gave him to me as a gift, I didn’t deserve him, but Lord I threw him away. I let my heart play games with me. I played games with my heart. Costly games. Lord I’m sorry.
Father, please pardon my foolishness. I was a foolish builder like Lanre rightly insinuated. I was trying to build on quick sand. Oh, how foolish I was.” The tears won’t stop.
Lara kept quiet to hear what God would say. She remained still, her tear-drenched face to the ground.
After sometime the very same scene of the movie, Chinese Zodiac, that had jarred at her heart the other day, flashed through her mind. She was now confused.
She moved to a palm tree, in the heart of the lawn. She sat down at the foot of the tree and leaned her back against it. Lara pulled her legs up to her chest, hugged her knees, rested her chin on her knees and rocked quietly.
What could it be with this scene Lord?
While her eyes were yet closed, images of the past began to run through her mind like torrents of rain water.
She remembered how Noah introduced her to his friends in a similar way Lanre did. She had a quick flash back to her last birthday, which was her twenty-fifth.
Lanre had branched at her place before going to work, that fateful morning. He wished her a happy birthday and gave her a fresh bouquet of lilies and a silver Swatch wrist watch. He prayed with her and left for work.
The moment she entered the hospital premise, She found Noah and some other clinic staff members singing her a birthday song. She smiled ecstatically and appreciated them. They gave her gifts, mostly cards, only Noah gave her a fresh bouquet of lilies and another wrapped package.
When she got home, she quickly unwrapped Noah’s gift. It was a silver Swatch wrist watch, the exact type Lanre had given her.
Her lips parted. She never took the uncanny and striking similarity between Noah and Lanre as anything serious. She just saw it as mere coincidence.
No one else except Noah and Lanre called her by her full name- Omolara.
They had similar gesticulations and mannerisms. The same smile. They had so many things in common.
Tears rolled down her cheeks. Her heart dropped, and stomach clenched tight. Now she got the message.
Jackie Chan stole the art works from that museum, by a tactic that made it easier for him, SUBSTITUTION. He exchanged the original for a counterfeit clone.
She went agape as the tears kept pouring.
If only she had been a little more patient to hear what the spirit was trying to reveal to her that day. If only she hadn’t been distracted by Noah’s text.
She stood up, weeping profusely.
“Lord I’m sorry. Oh, Father, I’m totally broken. Lord I acknowledge my mistakes. Father you said you will not break bruised reed and a smoking flax you wouldn’t quench. I can only plead for your mercy, I can only plead for mercy Lord. God please do not abandon me.” She prayed on pacing the lawn, swinging her arms, at a point she doubled over, clutched her knees and bobbed her head.
She didn’t stop until she felt she had prayed through.
Vanessa walked into the office briskly and handed out a parcel to him.
“This came in for you sir.”
He collected it, mouthed an appreciation and with a flick of his wrist dismissed her. She left as briskly as she came. He held the parcel, his phone started ringing.
Should he tear the brown envelope open first or receive the call? He decided to see who the caller was first. He picked his phone and the name he saw glowing in blue light on his screen made his heart stop. Omolara.
His pulse raced, he reclined, hesitated before he took a deep breath and swiped to the green phone icon.
Dear reader, thanks for following Leave To Cleave up to this point. We are gradually approaching the end (we have just three more episodes to go.) Please stay with me.
You could hit me up on my social media platforms. On Facebook, the handle is Goodness Adegbola and on Instagram it’s official_mophie.
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode, until next week when I’d be coming your way with another episode of Leave To Cleave, relish this. And yes, I know what I did there.