I clutched my handbag and caught my breath as our eyes met. It was then I realised how much I’d missed him. He looked good; handsome as usual.
I was very tempted to run to him, hold him and beg him to come back home. And then I remembered how he’d betrayed me and Shirley. I changed my mind.
“Pastor B. A setup, really.” I said stiffly, dragging my eyes away from Mo.
“I’m sorry, Kemi. I needed to get you both in a room…this was the only way I could think of.” He apologised. “Please sit.”
“With him?” I spat the words.
“Kemi.” Pastor B prompted.
I sat, carefully ignoring my husband.
“How are you Kemi?” Pastor B asked.
“Fine.” I said. I didn’t need Mo to know how much I was still hurting. “I’m perfectly fine.”
“You look thin.” He said. “Have you been well?”
Well, thank you sir for pointing out the obvious. I wanted to say.
“I’m okay.” I said.
I was aware that Mo was scrutinizing me. I felt his eyes on me and suddenly felt self- conscious.
“You know why we’re here. Would you like to talk?” Pastor B asked.
“There’s nothing to talk about Pastor. He knows that.”
“You don’t know that. Perhaps there are some things he’d like to tell you. Or some things you’d like to tell him.”
I was silent.
“Would you like some privacy?” The question was directed at my husband and I.
I glanced at Mo. He didn’t deserve any private moment with me. At least not now.
“No Pastor. He requested this meeting…he might as well endure your presence.” I said sharply.
“Kemi please be civil. Do it for me. I’ve watched you both nurture a marriage for eight years…I don’t want to see you throw it away just like that. Mo made a mistake. A very terrible one and you have every right to be angry…but are we perfect as humans? Haven’t we done worse things to God and expect Him to forgive us?” Pastor B asked.
I hated the fact that he was right.
“I’m not God, Pastor. And he really hurt me.” I said.
“And he’s trying to fix it. Just listen to him, ok?”
“It’s not the cheating that hurts most…it’s that he lied about it. He told me he was at work that day…the day Shirley…”
“Talk to him. He’s the one you’re mad at.” Pastor B urged.
All this while, Mo sat quietly listening.
“You lied to me. I gave you everything you were entitled to. I was a good wife, I tried to do everything right. Wasn’t that enough for you?” I asked.
“We both have a fault in this, Kemi. The blame isn’t entirely on me.” He spoke softly.
I snorted. “Really? So I pushed you into the arms of the other woman.”
“In a way.”
“What?” I was stunned.
“Face it, Kemi. These past year of our marriage hasn’t exactly been rosy. You were too preoccupied most of the time with Shirley. It was always Shirley this or Shirley that. I took second place to her.”
“Oh my God! This is incredible! Are you seriously jealous of our daughter?”
“No. Not jealous. You just showered all your attention on her and forgot I had needs. I remember one night I wanted you so badly…you pushed me away. Said you were too tired. Shirley had a big day the next day. You’d spent that day preparing her for her play. Remember that?”
“I was doing my best to be a good mother! Is that so bad, Mo?”
“You were trying too hard. Doing it at the expense of our marriage. No matter what happens I’m still your husband and I am supposed to take priority over our daughter. And that was not meant to sound callous.”
“Listen to yourself, Mo. Blaming your indiscretion on me.”
“Maybe if you hadn’t been too busy fawning over Shirley, you’d have noticed when I was slipping away. Admit it…we only started having sex recently. Before Shirley’s death…we hadn’t slept together for three months.”
“That’s not true.”
“You know it is. I come back from work hoping to talk to you…get some alone time with my wife…but you’re never there.”
“I’m always there. You just don’t talk.”
“You’re always there telling me this or that about Shirley like nothing else mattered in the world except her!”
“Oh please! I was trying to be the best mother! You could’ve tried too!”
“I didn’t need to try to win her love. She already loved me! You spent all day trying so hard to impress her. Like you needed to win her love…”
I paused. The truth of his words hit me hard.
Looking back now, that was what I spent all my time doing.
“How can you say that to me? I was a good mother.” My voice had dropped.
“Do you think you were trying too hard, Kemi?” It was Pastor B who asked. “Was there this innate need to impress your daughter?”
I gave a short laugh. “Everyone wants to impress.”
“Tell me what’s on your mind.” His voice was soft and coaxing.
“I didn’t want to be a failure. It was easy for Shirley to love her daddy, but with me I always had to work extra hard for that love. I always felt that someday she’d look back and hate me for not doing enough for her. I didn’t want her to ever hate me. I wanted her teenage years to come and have her confide in me. For me, it was as though I had to compete with you, Mo to get her to love me like she did you. She never threw tantrums with you. She was always perfect. I wanted that. I felt I was entitled to it because I’d given up my life for her. That’s why I never took a job. I was afraid I’d come back one day and find both of you in cahoots against me. I’d be left out. I didn’t want that, so I smothered her with love…and yes, I think I pushed you away in the process.”
It was one of the most difficult truths I’d ever admitted. My daughter had had that much hold on me and I’d let her. My fear had always been that I’d end up a failure as a mother…and well, I’d ended up never finding out with Shirley.
“Would you like to work things out with your husband?” Pastor B asked, jolting me from my reverie.