‘And where is my amazing wife off to this early in the morning?’ he asks her.
‘Flattery will get you nowhere.’ she answers with a smile from the dressing table where she sits, as graceful as a queen. ‘Last I checked, it was a Sunday. Normal people go to church to worship God on Sunday, remember?’
‘Well I am glad you know we aren’t normal,’ he says, smiling at her reflection.
‘Speak for yourself. I am normal; you might be abnormal but I am just fine,” she retorts.
‘Yes, yes, and that is why you kept me up last night with your tears.’
She looks at him and all the gracefulness leaves her shoulders. She says nothing to hint at the sadness that has descended heavily on those shoulders but he knows he has struck a raw nerve. It is a nerve they both share.
He sighs and gets up from their bed. He moves to where she sits.
Every morning she goes through this same routine. She sits on this same chair and applies all the makeup in the world. When he complains, she tells him there is no need to betray the scars carved in her heart on her face as well.
He places his hand on her downcast shoulders in a gesture that says it all:
I am sorry, I love you, I wish I could make it better.
He doesn’t say it but she hears him anyway.
She gives up the futile attempt of trying to cover up the scars. She reaches out and pulls him to sit with her. His head finds her shoulders and they stare at the mirror together till she is late for church.
‘I should go.’ She says finally.
‘You should. Let me drive you.’ He says.
‘No, you will only make me later than I already am. Unless of course you have changed your mind and decided to come with me to church.‘ She answers.
He wrinkles his nose as if he can suddenly smell something foul and she laughs.
He walks her to the car. Just before she drives off, he says to her.
‘Tell God hello for me.’
‘I bet you can tell Him yourself in that man cave of yours where you are headed to play FIFA 2012 once I leave.’ She teases.
He smiles. She starts to drive off and then stops. She gets out of the car and beckons to him. He walks, almost runs to her. She holds him in an embrace that he never wants to break away from.
‘I love you Reverend Bailey.’ She whispers in his ears.
‘I love you Mrs Bailey and I am no longer a Reverend.’ He answers.
She nods her head knowingly as if to say ‘Oh but you are, always will be’
He smiles ruefully and sends her off with ‘Say hello to the congregation.’
He knows she goes to church in search of Ibifare. She sees him as a baby in all the babies the mothers bring to her to bless. She sees him as a toddler in the cranky 2 year olds driving their nannies crazy. She sees him at 6 in the rambunctious children playing football after service while waiting for their parents. Her Sundays and going to church is really all about Ibifare.
He rather stay home than see Ibifare in all those children that are not and will never be him.
She is a braver person than he ever will be. He will never be brave enough to face the church. He will never be able to stand on that pulpit again and look into the congregation. He will never be able to look them in the eyes and assure them of how much God loves them. He has accepted that.
‘I want Spain today. You can have Italy.’
‘You can have whatever team you want. It is your birthday after all. But know that just because you have Spain doesn’t mean your team still won’t lose to mine.’ He answers the child playfully.
There was a time when playing with his son was the farthest thing from his mind and nurturing the souls in his congregation was all he lived for. Not these days. Not today.
Today, his child’s soul was all that mattered. Sundays had taken on a new dimension for the Reverend.
‘Happy birthday Ibifare’ he says to the child.
Okon watches from the gates he just opened for Madam. He watches as Oga talks to the air. He can make out the word ‘Spain’ and ‘birthday’.
It would have been Ib’s birthday today. How I miss that child and his antics, Okon thinks to himself as the pain reaches out and blinds his eyes with sudden tears. Okon remembers how Ibifare had loved football more than any other thing. He smiles as he remembers the child demanding he play football with him every day after school.
He still has the Arsenal jersey Ibifare had given him last Christmas. Okon never really liked Arsenal but he wears the shirt proudly every Sunday for Ibifare. He really would have prefer a Barcelona jersey but how could anyone refuse that child with his winning smile and passion for his club.
Madam says Ibifare died smiling. Okon knows mothers exaggerate a lot about their kids. God knows his own mother does her own fair share of exaggeration about his life in Lagos to all her neighbors in Ikot Ekpene. But somehow, in his heart, Okon knows that if anyone could die smiling, it would be Ibifare.
He wonders if he should mention the going ons of Sundays to Madam. He shakes his head sadly as he remembers what his mother in Ikot Ekpene told him about loss and the things it could do to a person. Poor Oga and Madam. Poor little Ibifare.
Okon picks up his watering can. It is time to water the flowers on the little grave behind the house. When he is done, he will sit by his little friend’s grave and tell him about the Euro Cup and how he thought all the Arsenal players shined for their various countries. That will make Ibifare happy, Okon thinks.