Urenna met Nayo at the University Chapel the third day she arrived at the school. She had gone with her friends Faa and Benita for the Saturday night portion of “Holy Ghost Revival” week held by The International Church of Christ.
Even at 5’2, Urenna had poise and grace that was hard to disregard. She quickly caught the attention of several students who stood to offer her and her friends their seats. After the revival, one of the boys graciously offered to walk her and her friends back to their hostel.
As the boy whose name turned out to be Nayo walked her and her friends back to Obara hostel, they chatted about Christianity, family backgrounds and future desires. It turned out that Nayo was studying civil engineering and hoped to own his company one day. Urenna chatted on about loving children so she hoped to be a teacher in the near future. They exchanged numbers promising to call each other. Somehow, they never saw each other again on campus.
Urenna met Nayo again five years later. She had graduated from university and was now teaching Chemistry at a girls’ secondary school 20 minutes away from where she lived. One day, she had gone into the Mr. Biggs on Boulder Street with her friend Jane for some meat pie and jollof rice when she was approached by a tall man in a well-worn black suit.
“Hello! I’m sorry but do I know you from somewhere?” he said staring piercingly into her eyes.
“Hmm” she said, wrinkling her nose as she eyed her hot meat pie hungrily “I’m sorry but I don’t think so” but he had persisted until they finally discovered they had attended the same university. Finally it dawned on Urenna!
“I met you like a few days after I started school at the revival!” she burst out, excitedly “what happened? I never saw you again till I left!”
“My dear, long story” he told her, smiling broadly. “I’m really happy to see you again, give me your number I promise I will call you this time”
“Ok” Urenna said scribbling her phone number on a piece of paper “please do” as she handed the piece of paper to him.
Nayo called a few days later, inviting Urenna to church the following Sunday. It was a powerful sermon and after the service, Nayo introduced her to the preacher – a short, stocky man with a booming voice, Mr. Ernest Ari.
Mr. Ani was the pastor of the church and one of Nayo’s mentors. He was quickly taken with Urenna. “My brother, this is the one o!” he teased Nayo as he ushered them both into his office since Nayo wanted to talk to him.
The courtship lasted a year. The following year in June, Nayo and Urenna got married at Christ Church International where Nayo was a junior pastor. Urenna was excited to start a whole new life with her soul mate, Nayo. She transferred to a secondary school near to Ajao Estate where they had rented a one-bedroom flat and Nayo was talking about branching out to start an oil servicing company with his best friend James.
Everything was going in the right direction although which each day, Nayo became even more prayerful, spending more and more time with his bible. Urenna was ecstatic as a matter of fact, it made her faith grow even more as they spent hours together discussing the bible and learning from each other.
The first two years went by blissfully. Other than the usual lovers’ spats, Urenna and Nayo got along pretty well. Then one morning Urenna woke up and Nayo was gone. “That’s odd” she thought as she dressed up to go to work “he never leaves this early.” He usually did not leave for work until 10am. Urenna decided she would stop by his office to check on him when she went to get her lunch. In the last year, Nayo and his best friend James had been working together to establish their own oil servicing outfit and finally they were open for business.
“Good afternoon, Oga Nayo dey? She asked the tall, dark skinned man in a faded grey caftan sitting at the gate leading into Nayo’s office.
“Ha, Madam, I never see am today” the security guard replied, spitting the rest of his brown kola from the gap between his teeth with precise aim to form a small brown puddle on the ground. Urenna nodded her head and made her way into the office where she saw James, Nayo’s best friend and business partner.
“Oga James” she asked “have you seen Nayo?”
“Noooooo, he has not come in today, I even called him but he has not answered” he told her, glancing up from his computer. “Is everything ok?” he asked. Urenna shrugged. She still did not know what was going on.
Three days later, she ran to her parents’ house in Dolphin estate crying. “Mama! Mama! Please help me! Nayo is gone!”
“Gone where?” asked Mrs. Ibeziem, hands on hips looking askance at Urenna. She had been sitting on the couch watching “The Bala Miller Show” one of her favorite TV shows.
“I don’t know, Mama! I have seen him since Monday!” she cried, wringing her hands.
“Jesus Christ! Have you called his handset?”
“Mama, I have called and called and called. There is no answer and you know he does not like carrying that thing as he calls it” she said, shaking her head “I don’t know what to do, Mama”
“Ok, ok, when your father comes home, we will all go to the police station” she told her, rubbing her gently on her back
At the police station later that day, the tired looking police officer seemed more interested in checking Urenna out than in listening to her complaint. His eyes went from her breasts, to her lips and back to her breast every few minutes. After she has narrated her story, he asked her without looking up from the desk, toying with the pen he was holding
“You quarreled?” in his thick guttural voice
‘Sir, I already told you we did not quarrel” stated Urenna irritably. The untidy afro-haired man seemed determined to get on her nerves by constantly repeating everything she said as if she was stuttering. She wasn’t sure if it was the constant repeating or the fact that it took him so long to take a statement, stopping every 3 or 4 seconds to bite the end of the bic pen he was using. It took every ounce of her self-will to keep from shouting at him. ‘You nincompoop!” she thought to herself angrily.
“Ok ma, I have taken the report, I will discuss with my Oga” he told her casually looking deeply into her eyes. Urenna looked back at him with an irritated stare wondering how this dirty short, fat little guy with the buttons on his uniform almost bursting could think she was attracted to him.
“So when-when should we expect to-to hear something back?” asked Chief Ibeziem. He was a tall, quiet, dignified looking man with a slight stutter who had been standing by the sideline watching the police office as he wobbled past him.
“Ah! I don’t know sir but we will get in touch” he replied offhandedly, walking away with the loose leaflet he had written Urenna’s statement on.
Two weeks later, while Urenna was changing Olufunmilayo, she got a call from one of her long-time friends Yagazie.
“Ure baby, na wa for you, you have moved to my side and you did not tell me” she said. Urenna stiffened, the hairs on the back of her spine stood up and she said quizzically “what are you talking about, moved to where?”
“Oh girl, I just saw your husband ….”
“Where?” Urenna asked quickly cutting Yagazie off “where did you see him?”
“Hmm, I saw him as I was going to the market, there were a lot of people gathered around him and he was preaching to them” Yagazie said pausing briefly as she sensed something in Urenna’s voice “is everything okay?”
“Yes, everything is fine” Urenna said shortly “thank you for calling, I will call you back nwanne m” and with that, Urenna hung up the phone.
Three days later, Nayo was brought back home. Dirty, uncombed hair with particles of dirt, dust and unknown debris in it and barely coherent, he was rushed to St. Paul’s mental home where he alternated between quoting the bible and muttering gibberish.
Urenna sat at his bedside helplessly sobbing as he faded in and out of consciousness. Nayo was discharged two weeks later but still, he was barely lucid and could not explain why he had left the house.
After a few weeks of rest and relaxation, Nayo was back to his bubbly old self. He had gone back to work and being an assistant pastor at his church. He was still disconnected when the issue of how he got to Ogun State was brought up so Urenna’s mother advised her to leave it well alone.
But not for long, six months later Nayo was gone again. This time, Urenna called his mother Ajoke.
“Mummy, Nayo is gone again” she cried when she picked up her phone
“Haba, ok, I am coming over. Don’t go anywhere” she commanded. It took Ajoke about two hours to get from Ogba to where Urenna lived. Urenna was waiting at the door of her car for Ajoke.
“Where are we going?” Ajoke asked after hugging Urenna
“To look for him now?” she replied with a puzzled look on her face “I have not seen him for two days now”
“My daughter” Ajoke started in a low voice as she reached out for Urenna’s hand. “Let’s go back inside; there is something I want to tell you”
“Mama, you can tell me as we are driving” said Urenna unlocking the car and swinging the car door open. “Get in” she said.
“My daughter, no. This is very important” refused Ajoke. Reluctantly, Urenna stepped away from the car and went back into the house with Ajoke. Inside the house, Ajoke began to tell her about Nayo’s father. Nayo rarely spoke about his father because he died when Nayo was only six.
In a calm voice, Ajoke narrated how Nayo’s father Dehinde exhibited the same behaviors Nayo was now showing and how she would go out for days on end looking for him and bring him back when she found him. With each return, his mental state deteriorated. His biblical messages turned into unintelligible gibberish and he became incapable of holding a normal conversation with people.
Eventually, one day he left the house in the middle of the night, possibly sleepwalking and was hit by a lorry and died instantly.
“My daughter, I beg you” Ajoke pleaded “When he leaves, don’t go and look for him. Get down on your knees and keep praying for his safety. He will come back. Take solace in the fact that he is going around preaching the word of God and he is not in some woman’s bosom.”
Urenna was still too stunned by the story to fully comprehend what Ajoke was saying. It took her a minute to gather her composure and then it dawned on her what Ajoke was asking her to do.
“No, Mama. I can’t do that” she refused shaking her head violently “How can you say that Mama? Anything can happen to him out there. It’s too dangerous”
“Urenna, listen to me! He is my son” Ajoke said pounding her chest “I love him more than life itself so I can never want anything bad to happen to him. This is the best advice I am giving you”
“But Mama” she cried “how will I know when he will come back, eh how will I know? Will it be two weeks or one month or three month?”
“We will be praying my daughter” pulling Urenna into a warm embrace “we will be praying” she repeated
True to Ajoke’s words, three weeks later he was back. Acting like nothing had happened. Urenna kept looking at him, unsure how to approach the subject of his disappearance. He carried on as if nothing had happened. Talking about God, church, the baby they were expecting. Urenna watched him. He was so excited when he found out about the baby and he was looking forward to having a little boy. Urenna was confident it would be a girl.
That started a pattern. He would leave then come back home. Occasionally, while he was gone, he would call. More often than not, it would be one of his close followers that would call her from his phone to let her know he was fine.
Something was different with Nayo this time. Urenna mused to herself as she prepared lunch in the kitchen. He seemed unusually morose, not his usual witty self. None of his usual jokes about drinking alcohol and religion, the double meaning of different verses in the bible, he just seemed to mope about the house.
Urenna asked him several times if he was okay and he said he was so she left him alone. He had come in quietly after being gone for three months. This was the longest amount of time he had ever spent away from home.
He did not go out in the evenings to preach which was very unusual. He seemed out of it, like he was in a trance or something most of the time. There was a vacant stare in his eyes, he only spoke when he was spoken to, barely ate, moved around listlessly and slept all day. Urenna was glad she had decided to keep Olufunmilayo at the babysitter while she worked because Ada had gone to visit her parents for the long vacation as she was not sure she could have left her with Nayo.
He was also having frequent nightmares, possibly the same because he kept calling out “Babatunde!” and then would burst into tears while still asleep. Urenna had woken him twice asking him what happened and he had no clue.
Urenna suggested going to the doctor but he refuses flatly stating he was fine. So she concentrated on keep him as happy as she could. Even his prayers were lackluster and this worried Urenna some as she was used to his “prayer warriorism” as she called it.
She was a little surprised that he was not home when she came back one evening but when she heard the knock she just assumed it was him returning. Turned out she was wrong. It was her mother.
“Mama! I was not expecting you oh!” Urenna bursted out as soon as her mother walked in through the door but the look her mother gave her stopped her short in her tracks.
“What’s wrong, Mama?” she asked staring at her.
“Sit down, I have something to tell you” her mother replied ignoring her question
“Sit down, this is very important” her mother said, cutting her off
“It’s about ….” she fumbling for words then trailed off
“Ada m, biko” she started again, wringing her hands “please I have something to tell you”
“About what? Is everything ok? Urenna asked worriedly “is it Papa?”
“No” Mrs. Ibeziem replied, shaking her head “Its Nayo. Something happened to him.”
“Where did you see him?” Urenna asked puzzled
“I didn’t see him … he’s dead,” she said quietly
‘What are you talking about, Mama?” Urenna asked “what are you talking about? she repeated.
“My daughter, we received a call this morning, his body was found, hanging ….”
“No! no! it can’t be” Urenna screamed “what are you talking about, eh what are you talking about?” her voice rising with each syllable “what are you talking about ooooo?
“Nne m, listen. This is not easy for me” Mrs Ibeziem said, cupping Urenna’s left palm in both hands. They both watched Olufunmilayo as she ambled from the couch to the table carrying her teddy bear.
“We received a call last night. He was found in Birnin-Kebbi. Apparently, he went to preach there. Some people accosted him and killed him. His body was found by one of the people assisting him hanging from a tree. The body had been there for a while as it had started to decompose” said Mrs. Ibeziem as tears streamed down her eyes.
“Been there for a while?” she said slowly, raising her head “but he was just here last night.”
“Nne m, that’s not possible,” Mrs. Ibeziem pleaded.
“Mama, I swear he was, he came back home last week. He was here when I left this morning” she said, placing her index finger to her bottom lip and lifting it up to signify her seriousness.
“Well, arrangements have been made to pick his body up” continued Mrs. Ibezim “your father has hired a bus that will bring him from there.” She did not know how to handle Urenna’s assertion that Nayo had been with her the previous night.
“Mama” Urenna croaked, choking over her words “tell me this is not true, please tell me it’s not true.”
“Mama, please” Urenna gripped the sides of her head as if covering her ears would make the bad news go away “Mama, please,” she repeated as she sank into the ground.
It was not long before the word spread that Pastor Nayo had been killed in Birnin-Kebbi and people swarmed in to comfort Urenna and reminisce about him. But strangely, nobody could remember seeing Nayo in the two weeks leading up to his death though Urenna said he came back.
One of the neighbors recalled, “I heard you talking, as if you were having a conversation with somebody but I did not see any other person with you so I assumed you were speaking out loud to yourself.
Urenna knew for sure her mind was not playing tricks on here. Nayo was here, they had spent time together physically and otherwise. That much she knew and nobody was going to tell her any differently. She could almost remember every word they had spoken to each other.
At the morgue, she was still in shock when she and her mother entered the room Nayo’s body was in. He seemed so much smaller. His face was black and blue from all the injuries that had been inflicted on him during the ambush.
Urenna blacked out. She woke up to see her mother hovering over her with a glass of water. “Mama” she cried “I am dead. I cannot go on without him”
“Ndo, my daughter. God is in control” Mrs. Ibeziem consoled her as she thrust the glass of water into Urenna’s hand.
“Drink” Mrs. Ibeziem commanded as she watched her. After Urenna drank some of the water, Mrs. Ibeziem stretched her right hand towards her to assist her in getting up from the floor.
A few weeks later after the burial, Urenna blacked out again while she was talking to her mother who had stopped by to bring her some food. Mrs. Ibeziem insisted Urenna go to see a doctor.
Urenna tapped her left foot impatiently as she waited at the doctor’s office to get the results of the blood work done the previous week when she came in. She watched disgustedly as two nurses carried on a leisurely conversation behind the counter despite the fact that there was a throng of people waiting to be seen.
After about an hour, Urenna was called into the doctor’s office. The office had a slightly musky smell that made Urenna nauseous.
“Are you okay?” asked Dr. Adesoji looking at Urenna’s contorted face
“I’m fine, sir” she replied as she gently sat down on the metal chair facing the doctor while holding onto the table
“Well, I have some good news for you” he said as he shuffled through the papers he was holding in his hands. “You are about two months pregnant” he stated matter-of-factly
“Ohh” Urenna inhaled deeply, a sudden coldness rising from her core. She cupped her mouth “what!!!! Are you sure?”
Dr Adesoji peeped at the sheet of paper he was holding in his hand again “Yes, ma I’m sure. Congratulations” he replied.
Urenna gripped the sides of the chair with both hands as she stared at the doctor incredulously. Just when she had convinced herself that she did not see Nayo, there came this irrefutable proof that Nayo had been here.
“Are you ok, Ma?” the doctor asked her gently.
“I’m fine” she replied calmly, suddenly full of high energy. Quivering with the effort of keeping herself from screaming, she marched slowly to the office door. There was no hesitation in her, she was finally at ease with the world.
Babatunde was here.