Frances went to church alone again, for the fifth consecutive month, but avoided her customary front seat. She sat ten roles behind today and every time the elders turned back, leaned over one another in hushed tones, she was sure the Spirit was leading them to her sins. This Sunday morning she had emerged a different person. It was all about her feelings now. She felt unrighteous. The messages about her righteousness being in Christ Jesus were, to her at that moment, sanctimonious gibberish that would momentarily assuage her conscience and give her a false sense of identity.
She felt dirty. She felt horrible. That was the only right way to feel in the light of recent developments. And when, towards the end of the service, a note was passed across to her by an usher, bearing the church’s pastor message who had asked that she see him after service, she knew God had exposed her. Her heart began to beat, perhaps five times, faster than usual. All she wanted to do now was
After the service, she had to wait in line with those who were at the pastor’s office to see him. When she entered his office, she noticed the family picture hanging over where the pastor sat, with beaming smiles on their faces, smiles anyone, like her, denied of a happy marriage, could die for. A sharp, fresh pain gored at her heart.
“Sister Frances, God bless you.” The pastor stood up to register his respect. “Please, do sit down.” He pointed to the chair opposite him, separated only by a gigantic mahogany table.
Frances, for some undefined, weird reasons, took cautious few steps and settled into the chair with calculated grace. The pastor waited for some few seconds before talking. “Sister Frances, I have always been encouraged by your dedication to God and consistent church attendances despite the troubles at home.” Frances sensed this was the usual, religious, patronising introduction for an impending bombshell. “But…” She sensed it was coming now. “… I am worried that you might be giving up now.” Pastor Ben looked at her imploringly. He wanted answers, hoping she understood, without asking more questions.
Frances looked at him. It was written all over him. He already knew. Just two nights and her pastor already knew. With bowed head, she said through restrained tears, “Pastor, I think I am in love. I know this is wrong, but I wish it wasn’t this nightmarish.”
“So, it is true.” It was a statement not a question, but she affirmed in nods.
The pastor stood up, reached out to her, touched her shoulders and began his sermon. “Sister Frances, I think I might also still be in love with my ex. But when it comes to matters of convictions, feelings can’t be trusted. I am married now and I understand that love is a decision as much as it could be a feeling. I made an abiding commitment to honour the vows I took that day I got married. To believe the best of my woman, and trust her best still even in her worst moments. I know it is difficult for you because you are married to a man who doesn’t fear the Lord. If you choose to leave him, no one will judge you; well, maybe some will. But I won’t. I know a time might come when the emotional tortures could become unbearable. But you can’t be held captive by the whims of your feelings. You can’t.”
Frances looked at Pastor Ben, the handsome Pastor Ben with posh dictions and tempting lips, and said, “Pastor, what if I can change him? What if I lead him to Christ?”
“No one can change a man, Sister Frances. Only God can. If it was that simple, we won’t still be here praying about and trusting God for your husband. And the best way to help a sinner is not by becoming one yourself; it is by preaching the gospel to him.”
“Pastor, I am not sleeping with him. I am not sinning yet.” Frances managed to sound defensive.
“I haven’t said that. I am just saying, before sin assumes an act, it has first assumed a thought.” Pastor Ben reached out to pray with her. As they held hands, she felt an unusual peace come over her, about pastor Ben’s assurances in Christ, of her forgiveness, of her identity, about how this might be a long walk, but trustful that the Holy Spirit would lead them through. Frances’ amen was silent but it bore in it a depth only her heart could understand. When she opened her eyes, she wasn’t sure what next to do.
“Pastor, did God reveal my sins to you?” Frances wanted to know if the Holy Spirit really gossips like she had heard many believers claim.
“No,” Pastor Ben replied. “A concerned brother visited yesterday evening and told me what he saw and the rumours flying round in UCH. He was willing to come here, to be part of this meeting, to prove his intentions weren’t out of malicious gossip, but he is on duty today. When I didn’t sight you in your chair, I was a little worried. I asked the chief usher while the service was on if you were in church. When I confirmed so, I had to send a note to you.” Frances wondered who the guy could be. It was a big church with a membership of over a thousand. It could have been anyone.
Frances went home unsure what the next minutes or days would unfold. She went home with a nagging feeling that her world was exploding too speedily right before her eyes. She went home uncertain of what her next move would be. Does she need to see John, have an honest talk with him? Was it time to tell John about Jesus, preach the gospel? There was an itchy nudge to go and see him. She jettisoned that with utter swiftness.
When she got home, she settled on the giant sofa in the sitting room. By now, pains had taken over her body. It was as though something piercing was crushing her bones, tearing her apart. Something must be wrong somewhere, she thought. While she rubbed her temple following a throbbing headache, her phone rang. It was Dr. Bimbo. She rang again. She didn’t pick. Few minutes later, the phone rang again. This time it was an unknown number. She didn’t pick. The number rang again. She didn’t pick still. The phone kept ringing and ringing and ringing. Then she finally picked.
“Hello,” the voice on the phone was heavy with an Igbo accent. “Aunty, you dey hear me so?”
“Yes, who is this?” Frances sounded tamely peeved.
“Hewu! Aunty, you no sabi me o.” The voice persisted. “My name na Uche. I dey attend the same church with una. Na for church register, inside church secretary office, na im I go collect your number yesterday evening.” Frances was shocked and wasn’t sure if her caller noticed that from her reaction. “Aunty, you see ehn, I dey always see you for UCH o, but because say I be security man, me I no know how I go take introduction myself with you o.” Introduction indeed! She thought.
Frances was already suspecting migraine. She massaged her forehead over and over again.
“Aunty, you dey hear me so?” This time he didn’t wait for her answer. “Tooh, aunty, na for South East Three floor dem rotate me go last week o. The only two times wey I do dem duty for nights, I dey always see you with that fine Oyinbo patient. Na my friend too o. You sabi that your Oyinbo friend, Mr. John, that patient wey dey always joke, dey smile like fresh palm oil. Abi now, shey? Chai, Chineke lei! I don dey miss am already. Aunty, na for another reason I go collect your number yesterday o. But aunty as I get bad news so, I say make I tell una quick quick. Aunty, Oga John don die o. Inukwa! A swear, dem don dey carry im body go morgue now now, lekwanu o. Aunty, you dey hear me so?” Uche’s word shot out like a dagger.
Frances’ phone fell off her hand. The world, at the wake of that news, took on the twist of a ferocious swirling storm, raging with so much anger, and plummeting life out of its inhabitants. Her world, at this bizarre and awkward moment, at this shedding of brown leaves, lost its colourful rainbow.