The preacher’s voice droned over her head like the sound of a helicopter. She sat there, eyes fixed on the preacher as if he had her attention. Nnenna’s mind was drifting. She wasn’t keen on coming to church but she needed to make the appearances for the sake of her mother. Her mother, whom had taught her “Our Lord”s prayer’, and prepared her for her confirmation. Her mother, whom had made sure she attended the ‘Girl’s Guild’s weekly preparatory classes and took her to the cathedral for her inaugural service. Her mother, who did all these things for with the notion of, ‘getting her ready for marriage’. Even when she got admission to the university, her mother had admonished her to join the Scripture Union fellowship of Nigerian students so that she will meet the right man to marry.
So, here she was again as her mother wanted but she couldn’t get herself to follow as the preacher preached. Each time she prayed he wasn’t going to talk about heaven and hell the way he did but as always she was disappointed.
“Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us in heaven. Heaven is a place made with gold and more beautiful than any place one can imagine. Brothers and sisters, you wouldn’t want to be in hell. A place originally made for Satan and the fallen angels. A place where fire will always burn without stopping. A place where liars, fornicators, robbers, slanderers, gossips and all evil doers would go to and spend eternity if they don’t repent of their sins”, the preacher said. At this point, he would make an altar call for those that want to give their lives to Christ to come out. People always thronged to the altar to give their lives to Christ. Sometimes, she saw people who had come out before come out again and she wondered how many times one would get born again.
The other rituals followed on cue as always, offering, announcements, more offerings for the orphans which she always gave for, and finally, the closing prayer. She was already at the door before others got there. She didn’t like the casual banter that people were involved in after service. Often times, she had been invited to join some of the departments in the church, but which with much politeness, she always turned them down. In the bid to avoid such meetings, she usually leaves immediately after the service.
She hurriedly walked down the road without looking back. The church was on the same street with the other church in school, which the students nicknamed the “praise the lord “ . ‘The name suited them,’ she thought to herself as she walked past it. They were dancing to the music that was coming from the choir stand. The loudspeaker outside was blaring so loud that you could hear the voice of the lead singer singing, “come let’s praise the Lord’. She walked past them and bent to the corner from where she gets to her room. The path was lonely on this particular Sunday afternoon which was why she took it. She walked briskly. Her feet made crunchy sounds as she matched on the dry leaves on the ground. She was already beginning to sweat as she made the short distance from the church to her room. She shared a room with a girl from her mother’s village. It was also a,’move to save her from the corrupt hostel girls’, her mother had said. It was one of the many things her mother had chosen for her and as usual, she was not required to give her opinion. ‘Mothers know best’, her mother would always say. She had hoped to live in the hostel so she would get to know other girls and make friends. She had been starved of quality friends. Nonetheless, she didn’t have much to lose as her aim of coming to the university was to read and pass with high grade. She was a beautiful girl as her mirror always told her and the glances and whistles she got whenever she passed the male hostel was a sure proof. Hers was a case of beauty mixed with brains. She, however, never took it as anything because her mother never made her feel like she was beautiful except for times she told her that, ‘a beautiful woman is her husband’s crown’.
She unlocked the door with her key and entered inside. Her roommate wasn’t back from church yet which was good for her because she was not in the mood for company. She had a lot on her mind already. She dropped her bag on the hook that was behind the door, kept her shoe on the shoe rack and sat down on the chair. The room was big enough to contain only two separate beds, a table and chair and a refrigerator which they shared. Their clothes were hung on a wardrobe nailed to the wall and suspended to the ceiling with a rope so that the weight of the clothes wouldn’t pull it down. Her eyes darted to the door briefly and went back to the table. The table was well arranged with few books. It was their reading table and also served as a cupboard where they kept their books and other reading materials. They were both Engineering students and so had a lot of tools and other needed materials. A particular book caught her attention and she looked at it for so long before pulling it out of the stack of books. It was a small black book with neat edges that showed it was still new. It’s hardcover however, was leather. She touched the cover of the book carefully, so not to spoil it. The book hadn’t always been in her possession until 7 days ago.
Nnenna had come back from church on that faithful Sunday. As usual, she was the first to come home. A parcel was in front of the door on the foot mat. Wondering what it was, she prodded at it with her fingers. Satisfied that it wasn’t going to bite, she picked it up. It felt light on her hands and had her name written with white ink on the pink sticker that was on the center of the parcel. She took it in with her, wondering who would have sent it. She removed her shoes and sat on the bed with the book on her hand. She gently untied the blue ribbon that held the white paper wrapping together and out fell a black book. She picked up the book, opened it and read the inscription. “DO NOT OPEN”, boldly written on it. She burst into a loud laughter. She couldn’t get herself to stop laughing. “Why on earth would someone give her book and tell her not to open it”, she thought. Suddenly, she stopped. She couldn’t really understand why she laughed. She held the book in her hand, turned it around and read out loud, ‘FOR THE BOLD AT HEART’. That was when she got scared. Was this a joke that someone was playing on her? She picked up the paper wrapping again and looked carefully at it. It was her name that was written on it alright. She made to open the book but stopped herself. What if something bad happens? What if a hand reaches out from the book and makes to strangle her like she sees in the scary movie? “It wouldn’t hurt me for sure. It is just a joke. I will open it and nothing shall happen”. She made to turn the page over and said aloud again, “who am I kidding? I am scared out of my skin.” With that she dropped the book and stretched out on the bed. With eyes fixed on the ceiling, she thought of what her mother would have done in this kind of situation. Her mother would do one thing only: plead the blood of jesus to cover her and then tear the book. She wouldn’t even bother to look inside because it wasn’t the Holy Bible, so it didn’t matter what was written inside. Ok, she is not her mother. So, what would she do? She wriggled her toes absentmindedly and discovered that to her dismay, she didn’t know what to do. Her mother had always made her decisions for her. She made to call her mother and ask her, but she held herself back. Is it not time I grow up, she asked herself? She made up her mind that she wouldn’t tell her mother. She will deal with this herself. She got up to pick the book and heard her roommate’s voice outside. Quickly, she went to the table and kept the book underneath the other books on her own side of the table.
Since then, her mind had been on the book and what it could probably contain. During classes, her mind always went to the book, in the room; her eyes always darted to the little book hidden in the stack of books. The thought of the book was eating her up. On her way back from church, she firmly made up her mind that she was going to open the book. At least, she would rather die trying than not try at all. Her mother would never make this kind of decision. She was never the one that took a decision if she didn’t know where it was going to lead her. Her mother believed in Christ because, the Book says she will go to heaven. Her mother went to church because she was being obedient to God. Yes, her mother never took a rash decision. Maybe this single act of making her own decision will truly show if she was her mother’s daughter or if she was cut from another cloth that she doesn’t know of yet. She opened the book cover, past the page that read, “DO NOT READ’ TO THE NEXT PAGE. The first three words on that page brought a smile on her face which quickly spread on her face. Her eyes twinkled with excitement. She got up from the chair and laid on the bed, which was her best reading position, to savor the words written on the pages of the book, the little, black book which she had been so scared to open.