The sound of the raindrops on her roof distracted her line of thoughts. It was night so the sounds were audible enough, louder than they would have been in the daytime. She was trying so hard to concentrate on the cover letter she was typing on her laptop, yet she wasn’t as distracted. Perhaps it was for the reason that this was not the first cover letter she would be writing, neither would it the second, third or fifteenth. In fact, all the focus she needed was to edit the relevant areas that were peculiar to the job and company she was applying to.
It was October 8th; exactly two years and seven months after she had graduated from the University. She exited the Microsoft Word Window and was back to her desktop screen. It occurred to her that she had still not changed the wallpaper since graduation! Maybe it just never occurred to her as one of the priorities on her to-do list.
The picture was a photo of her group of friends. In the order of left to right, throwing their graduation hats in the air like those photos of foreign students in school brochures; Labake, Ezekiel, Chioma and herself, Tonia.
Yes. It was almost three years and a lot had happened with the characters in the photo. While Labake was in Abuja working for ??? (well, no one knew exactly what Labake did for a living. She claimed that she worked for an Information Technology firm that had just started business.) Tonia still couldn’t exactly comprehend how Labake’s job could support her lifestyle. Labake owned a Honda CRV and a Toyota Camry. And from the few social media pictures that she uploaded, her apartment was deluxe and the interior was brilliant. It wasn’t precisely news that Labake was not a rich kid. Her father was a retired civil servant and her mother was a struggling Government school teacher.
Chioma was a lawyer. Tonia was a lawyer too and she had to admit that this friend did cajole the envious nerve in her which she struggled to keep recessive. It was not that she wasn’t happy for her friend’s success. She had been glad when Chioma had been posted to Lagos for NYSC while she had been posted to Katsina. She had also been thrilled when Chioma was retained by the international oil company that she had her eyes on despite the fact that Chioma had graduated with a 2.2 Ll.b and a Pass in Law school while Tonia had a 2.1 at both levels respectively.
His full name was Ezekiel Irabor. He was Harry Irabor’s only son. Harry Irabor, the popular Nigerian Pastor specifically famous for his faith and miracle ministry. He had an abundant number of followers and devotes both locally and in diaspora. He was in the news, a lot of times, for his annual prophecies and mostly for rendering great speeches, mostly political. He got visited by a lot of politicians and political aspirants and when the private jet came, his devotes hadn’t been too mad because he had prophesied that many of them would receive special surprise miracles in form of political appointments and contracts and it was quite difficult to decipher if he was speaking from him being privy to divine revelation or from his strong political connections.
Ezekiel didn’t partake in NYSC. But he had a passing out Certificate. What miracles! Nothing was impossible. Labake had called it ‘the hand of God and the leg of man.’ After graduation, he had moved to London for his master’s degree in Public Administration. Then he had gone to the United States to start a three month course in Modern Theology. He was Reverend Irabor’s son and it was an open secret that the father would want the son to take over being General Overseer someday as against the endless list of Regional Pastors that headed the church branches.
Tonia checked her email. She had a new notification. Her heart leapt in anxious and expectant hope. Perhaps it was finally a response from one of the numerous companies she had applied to. It was an auto response; a confirmation that her application would be considered. She had a number of those “donotreply” emails in her inbox already.
The knock on her door jolted her.
“Tonia, are you there?” It was Edna, her elder sister.
Tonia climbed out of the unmade bed and unlatched the bolt of the brown wooden door which was now a termite refuge. Her sister was dressed in her nightgown. The nightgown was transparent so she had tied an Ankara wrapper over her chest. Tonia wondered why her sister was covered up. The only people in the house were Edna, her husband Uncle Mark, the kids and Tonia. Tonia had seen her naked more times than she could count, how much more her husband. Her eyes settled on the bruise that disfigured Edna’s lip which was torn but had started to clot.
“What happened?” Tonia asked, touching it. Edna flinched and stepped back, looking away.
Uncle Mark was at this again. The sound of him pummeling his wife was not new. Tonia had heard their arguments a multitude of times. Once, twice and none, she had tried to confront the man she called brother in law. But after he had threatened to throw her out if she didn’t mind her own business, she stopped. Also because Edna had told her not to interfere as that would worsen the situation. Their mother lived in Ekpoma. She was a retired nurse. And Tonia didn’t want to return to Ekpoma. Edna had been married to him for five years and they had three daughters. Uncle Mark wanted a boy. Edna had complications when she birthed their third child and the doctors advised that she avoided getting pregnant again as it would be risking her life. So Uncle Mark had started to consider other options that were not a risk to life. He cheated unapologetically and each time Edna complained, he responded with the pummeling. Tonia had started to wonder which was more life threatening; the pregnancy or the beating.
“I’m fine. I’m okay.” Edna lied.
“I’m not dumb. What happened?” Tonia asked again.
Edna hesitated for a bit but then, she cracked.
“I found a condom in his pocket and I asked. And he hit me. In front of the girls.” She tried not to sob.
Tonia sighed and hugged her sister. She felt sorry for her and wondered why she had to go through these. Edna had graduated from the University of Lagos with a first class degree and she had started working with an audit firm somewhere at Lekki where she had met her husband. Because of the distance from her new home to her office, and because she did not want to choose the job over being married (as she had been pressured by her husband and his people), she resigned and decided to get a job closer home. But she had gotten pregnant too many times in those five years. She finally found a job at a consulting firm that year and Tonia was willing to help take care of the young children during the working hours and pending the time any organization was willing to have mercy on a twenty six year old job seeker like her. Their mother had even suggested to Tonia that instead of looking for a job, she should look for a man to marry her. He didn’t have to be rich. He just needed to pass the comfort test. What was the comfort test? Food, shelter, security, clothes. The basic amenities of life, just like citizens demanded of their leaders.
“It is well. I wish you could divorce him.” Tonia said.
Edna laughed. “And go where? With three small girls under age five?”
“You have a job. You can rent a place.”
“Na so.” Edna laughed again. “Look my dear, I came here to ask you to join me to church tomorrow.”
Tonia frowned. She did not like to attend her sister’s church. The technique in which they said their prayers always left her with a physical headache…the type that Panadol Extra alone could cure. She always asked if the enemies that the prayers were directed at were not better off in the long run, because they did not have to deal with the headaches.
“Please. I have a meeting with the Christian wives group and I don’t want to keep the girls waiting and hungry so I need you to take them back home. My meeting is till eight at night.”
“You know all these meetings get Uncle Mark angry.”
“Ehen. And he will beat me again. I am used to it already. He can’t stop me from serving God.”
Tonia wanted to say ‘Serving God or serving the pastor who has a driver to drive him home after the meeting’ but she decided to keep mum.
The time was 9.55pm.
After Edna left, Tonia changed into her old washed out tank top and went to bed.
It was 9.55pm. The next day was Sunday and he had to be early in church. He was going to be leading the prayers before the choristers started praise and worship. He gulped the last of his drink then he grabbed his car keys and kissed her forehead.
“I have to run now.” He said.
She didn’t want him to go yet. She stood on her toes and kissed his lips.
“Don’t leave me. You’ve been here just three hours, Ezekiel.” Chioma said.
Ezekiel pulled away from the kiss.
“Babe, let’s not start this, okay.” He said.
Chioma sighed, throwing her hands in the air.
“Start what? It’s also a sin to kiss you?” She said, clearly annoyed.
“Come on. We both know…you know I am going to be a pastor. We can’t do this. Besides we are alone. It’s …”
“Ezekiel can you hear yourself? You are a twenty seven year old man for Christ’s sake. And I’m tired of being kept a secret. When are you planning on letting your parents know about me? Are we really going to get married? What is this ring for if you don’t want your family to meet me?” She had started to yell.
“I’m just being careful. In due time, you will meet them. Please Chioma. I don’t want things to get out of hand and you may get pregnant and…think of my dad’s reputation. Think of the church and…”
She flashed him a cold look. He became silent.
“It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. Ezekiel I have been pregnant. And we…”
“Enough!” He yelled and stormed out of her apartment, ignoring her nagging and yelling.
He hurried into his car and in seconds, he was driving on the express way. He was angry, nervous and afraid. His thoughts already haunted him enough every day and the consequences of his actions reminded him always of what they had done.
He had been dating Chioma since their days in the University. Perchance it was the exuberance that came with youthfulness. Or perhaps it was the strain of the general expectation of him to be holier than the Pope because he was Reverend Irabor’s son. The campus fellowships even tried to appeal to him to join them so he could grace their services with the spiritual depth that came with being the famous Reverend’s offspring
and financial contributions and connections from the
great Reverend himself. But all he had been was nothing more than a young
man also searching for his purpose and trying to make sense of the relationship
between body, soul, spirit and God.
Chioma. She was one girl he was attracted to and couldn’t help himself over. He did not know if he loved her, but he knew that his body wanted to be more than friends with her body. And that night that she had come to his off-campus apartment at Mayfair and it had rained so heavily that she couldn’t return to Moremi Hall, he hadn’t been in control of the ways of a man with a woman. Six weeks after, she told him the ghetto gospel.
‘I am pregnant.’
He had been twenty two at the time and that age that was not very fatherly. He had been confused and lost and he knew he had failed God and his Dad. Chioma had been the one who suggested the abortion. Labake, her friend had told her that she knew a good place where they could get rid of the baby without traces or consequences. It had happened so fast. From the coitus to the conception and to the termination. Maybe it was the guilty conscience that made him propose marriage to her even if he had no clue what marriage was about. He had given her a ring after graduation. While he was abroad, he had started to get closer to God and he was no longer sure if Chioma was the helpmeet or the missing rib for him. He had grown. Physically and spiritually. In wisdom and stature. And maybe he wanted more out of life than marrying her out of a guilty conscience. Another thing he learnt at Modern Theology and from his father’s many sermons that he streamed online was that Old things had passed away and everything had become new. A part of him still cherished her presence in his life, but what he wasn’t sure of was if he wanted that presence to be 365 days in a year for the rest of his life.
He had been lost in a mix of anger, fear, rising guilt and anxiety. His mind was so clouded that he hadn’t seen the person that was crossing the express way. There were no street lights. He was leaving Chioma’s residence at Ajah and heading for his flat at 1004, Victoria Island. It was late and it was a weekend so there were very few cars on the highway. He hadn’t been paying attention or he would have seen the silhouette of the person who was crossing.
He stepped on his brake so hard that the car jerked with a threat.
But it was rather late.
The person was knocked down and with his full head lamps , he saw that the blood had started to rush without restraint.
His heart skipped endless beats and his head spun in ceaseless motions. He felt the rush of his own blood within his veins. From his rear view mirror, he saw that other cars were approaching. He didn’t know what to do. He knew that if he waited, he would start to see his promising future in that rear view mirror as it would become a thing of the past. He had a choice. To wait and take the responsibility and let a mob surround him or to step on the accelerator and drive away. He had once criticized the government for not providing cameras on the roads to track down offenders and criminals. Now, he was more than grateful for the infrastructure lack.
The cars approached and the bike men were also coming. He selected the second option.
“Mom! Mom please I’m at your gate!” Ezekiel screamed into the mouthpiece of his phone. He didn’t know how he had managed to drive all the way to his parents’ house at Banana Island. He had to be somewhere safe. He couldn’t stay alone that night.
Titi Irabor was the beautiful light skinned and soft spoken matriarch of the Irabor family and the bone of the Reverend’s bone. He owed his success to her. Even if she was mostly in the back office, she called the shots.
She had just dried her long wavy black hair with strands of grey that conspicuously graced her temples. She was about curling it before going to bed when her son called her. He was panicking. She wondered why he was at the house. Her husband was in his private study, preparing for the next day’s sermon. He had been so busy earlier in the day with meetings and more meetings.
She ordered the maid downstairs to ask the gateman to open the gate so Ezekiel could drive in. As soon as he parked his car in a rather hurried manner, he ran into the house, ignoring the eye service greetings of the house staff. Behind their smiles and bows hid endless gossiping. His mother was walking towards the hallway downstairs to receive him.
“Ezekiel, are you okay?” She asked, looking at her son.
“No Mom. I think I killed someone.” He cried, sinking to his knees.
“What?!” Titi Irabor looked confused. “Let’s go upstairs.” She held his hand and climbed the stairs. On the wall of the staircase were different pictures of the family members in ascending order; Ezekiel and his sisters and their parents. A chandelier with orange lights hung from the ceiling, illuminating the stairs.
Titi was sitting on the luxury velvet Italian couch in the family living room upstairs. She was confused but her face never showed expression. There was not one line of worry on it. She was a strong woman and the stronghold of the family. She knew how best to handle any kind of situation.
Even that one time when the Reverend had cheated.
Yes. Titi Irabor had been scorned but she had to protect the church and the family reputation so she had sent her husband to France on a compulsory vacation because she couldn’t stand to see him. At the same time, the walls had ears and she didn’t want anyone to know what was going on. Not even their children. The only people who were aware of the affair were the culprits and her. She had called for the mistress and settled her with the multiples of Naira. The mistress, a twenty three year old woman, had also signed a non-disclosure agreement.
As her son opened his mouth to speak, she only nodded, taking in his words one after the other. But when he had mentioned that blood had started to rush and that he was certain the body was 99% lifeless, a little line broke on her forehead.
“We need to talk to your father.” She spoke calmly.
“I..I don’t know what to do. He will be…I don’t know Mom.”
“You don’t expect this to be kept secret from your dad, do you? We don’t know who saw you or who witnessed it. I know the Police aren’t that…” She signaled her intended adjectives for the Police with gesticulations. “But if at all they come looking for you, we need your dad’s connections.”
Speak of the devil. The Reverend walked in, clad in his navy blue pajamas. He slept in them but somehow they never looked rough and no rumpled lines were traceable, just like his wife’s face.
“Ezekiel?” Harry Irabor said, surprised, looking from his son to his wife. “Are you okay? Shouldn’t you be home? You’re leading prayers tomorrow. Remember we have guests coming.” Harry took a seat beside his son in whom he was well pleased.
Ezekiel did not say a word. His eyes were fixed on the floor and he shivered. The Air conditioning was off.
“What is the matter?” Harry asked again. “Someone please say something.”
There was a little silence for a few seconds. Then Titi spoke.
“Our son was…involved in an unfortunate accident.” She said, emphasizing the word Involved.
“Involved? Are you okay? Are you hurt?” Harry looked at his boy.
“No, Sir. I think….err… I killed someone. I…I killed someone.” Ezekiel said with tears dropping from his eyes to the well-polished laminate wooden floor.
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