Sunday morning service.
Don Moen’s captivating voice resonates through the lush interior of the Mercedes and I wonder why I feel obliged to play his CDs during my early Sunday morning drive to church from home. I check the watch Father gave me a week back just because-8:52am-mother will have a cow. I’m about to tell Akpan to hurry when he deftly parks in front of the church’s main entrance. People are scurrying about, rushing to get in and I feel I should hurry too but if mother heard of my doing such an abominable act she would disown me; my expensive George material wouldn’t even make it possible so I resist the urge. The usher spots me and smiles one of those smiles I can tell she only reserves for people that look like wealth and smell of royalty, I smile back. She’s about to direct me to the front pew but I wave her away and walk towards my usual seat, beside mother.
She looks at me and gives a disproving look that screams “One shouldn’t be late to the house of the Lord.” I bend to hug her and whisper my apologies; I don’t mean them. Mother likes to keep up an appearance in church and make people believe that we are from a humble family which God has showered his unending blessings upon, I go along with her charades but we all know better. She is always at church smiling from ear to ear, leading the women’s group to one function or another, telling everyone to call her “Sister Vero” instead of Chief. I wonder why she tries so hard because I can see through the plastic smiles and the forced hugs from the other women that they don’t buy the act, that they know about Father’s shady dealings in Aso Rock, that they know she has “special boys” everywhere that satisfy her feminine needs; but she carries on. Maybe she believes if she tries hard enough she can fool God with the delicious scent of her imported perfume.
The praise and worship session begins and I sing along but not too loudly so according to Mother “they won’t think we’re bush.” I watch a woman clad in threadbare and outdated Ankara screaming the worship songs at the top of her lungs, her arms stretched out towards the ceiling, her eyes squeezed shut, and the full length of her poverty stricken body extended like if she could, she would pull the ceiling down and snatch God’s blessing from him. I want to seem more reverent and stretch my arms out like her but I fear the expensive watch on my wrist won’t let me and Mother would lose her mind if I begin to scream the songs out loud so I resist the urge. The Pastor begins the prayer session and I hear the woman scream “Amen” from the top of her lungs, her voice sounds hoarse. She starts jumping up and down and then rolls on the floor, arms stretched out and palms wide open, as if the dust on the floor were infact God’s blessing and she wanted it all for herself. I can’t help but wonder at such open display of desperation but I admire her reverence. She didn’t care what people thought of her, it was just her and God. I imagined myself doing that and seeing mother pass out but I think against it because my perfectly tied gele and expensive George material won’t let me.
The following Sunday
I’m sure Akpan is curious why I didn’t wear any jewelry or make up today but I’m not obliged to explain anything to him. I rush into the church like everyone else and the Usher from last week looks at me, sizes me up and turns away. I guess she doesn’t recognize me in my old Ankara wrapper and plain black top looking like a commoner. I approach the front pew avoiding my mother’s direction but an usher directs me to the back saying the front is “reserved for dignitaries”, I guess he doesn’t know my father owns the biggest oil rig in this country but I follow his direction and find myself seated beside the poor woman from last week wearing the same threadbare Ankara. The worship session begins and I will my voice to be loud and my lungs to scream with abandon; I’m sure I sound crazy but I don’t care anymore. The woman begins to jump and I jump too, my arms stretched out without any watch to hold me back. The prayers begin and I’m screaming amen, I feel myself run to the front of the altar and begin to roll on the floor. Yes, I can feel it now. I hear my mother scream my name “Iruoma! Iruoma! What are you doing?! Iruoma!” She sounds scared but I don’t care. I want her to shut up and leave me alone, can’t she see that God is blessing me?
She was uneasy and the creaks the bed made each time she tossed and turned made that evident.
She closed her eyes and remembered those words that made her heart grow wings and soar.
That made her soul float in such a slow peaceful way.
“Ezinne you know you forgot about me.”
It was the way he said it; so innocent, so insecure and so unsure.
She remembered back then how she would hold him and make him feel better. She would heal him with soothing words like mentholated balm to tired feet. She would rock him like a baby if need be.
She reminisced of all these times until she choked with nostalgia and tears found their exit from her eyes. She didn’t cry because she missed him but because somehow when he said those words her first impulse was to cradle him in her bosom.
How she missed those days but not him. He ruined it all. They were perfect together but he wanted more, always. There was only so much of herself she could give until she could give no more.
Hearing his voice after all these months made her feel nostalgic for those days but that was all. She wasn’t sad or undone; she just missed those days.
Those days when she was madly in love and wasn’t afraid to show it, but these days she doesn’t feel anything.
She had been hurt badly and it was a horrible feeling but this emptiness, this unfeeling was even worse. She couldn’t feel and it was worse than anything ever felt.
So somehow hearing him say those words the way he said them put her troubled unfeeling heart at ease and she soared.
Because she never once forgot about him, not for a second. But knowing he felt that way and she was the reason for that gave her peace. She took delight in the knowing and she hoped it hurt whenever he thought about her and those long gone days. And the nostalgia from all the reminiscing not only choked him but left him pale and breathless.
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