I walked on, one step after another. My eyes roamed the items displayed on the racks, though I barely saw a thing. With each new step, I slipped away from the world around me. The only reality I was spared was the repeated echo of Bala’s words in my head: I can’t marry you.
Still I walked on. And Bala’s voice got louder.
“. . . I always wanted a virgin . . . just like me.” Bala had said.
A man’s world indeed. And God made it so, I muttered under my breath. Why was Eve, not Adam, created with a hymen?
I soon realized how far I had walked, not just in the supermarket, but away from reality when I bumped into another female customer as I took the left turn towards the accessory section.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I quickly apologized.
She smiled, and briskly walked on. With a raised hand, I signaled a sales attendant walking idly by—posing as a guide to customers, while ensuring they only pick items they would, with smiling faces, account for at the counter. I was sure it would not be long before someone noticed I had gone round all sections twice, buying nothing. Truly, I had nothing in particular in mind to buy when I entered the supermarket—paranoia.
“I want that perfume” I said as he stood in front of me.
It seemed he made a response, but his message didn’t get across to me. There was something about him I struggled to place.
“Ma” he called.
Oh dear, I mused. “What did you say?”
“Are you buying another item, ma?”
“Oh no,” I said, “just the perfume.”
“You can go ahead to the counter while I get it for you. The case is locked, and I need to get the key.”
As he hurried away, I knew why I had taken a special interest in him: he had same gait as Bala, almost same physique—only younger and not as broad shouldered.
Thoughts of Bala engulfed me as I waited at the counter.
. . . I always wanted a virgin.
The tickle I felt at my side jolted me. It seemed strange, flirtatious maybe, that the a male sales attendant would find this as a suitable way to call my attention to his presence. I turned, expecting to see a young male frame—a painful reminder of Bala. I turned to a grinning face, but not exactly young and convincingly not male.
“Jessica,” she called—actually shouted, drawing the attention of others. She dragged me into her arms to embrace me. “What are you doing here?”
That should be obvious, I thought. “Shopping.” I said, like I had only noticed why I was here; a wry smile spread nicely on my face just for effect.
She smiled too, and it seemed genuine—likely Pamela didn’t recognize sarcasm when it came her way. “Same here” she said, displaying the bag she held. “What are you doing in Port-Harcourt?”
“I live here now.” I said as I took the perfume from the sales attendant who had been standing beside us. As I was already leaning on the counter, it didn’t take long before I made payment.
“Na wa oh. After school for Lagos, you come run come PH. I . . . na my small cousin wedding carry me come here oh” She said, taking a quick glance at my fingers.
“Its just an engagement ring,” I lied. I made a quick glance to the ring I started to wear a day after Bala announced his displeasure to continue in the relationship.
My thoughts stayed on Bala.
“. . . Is there something more to this?” I had asked Bala as he stood at the far end of the room, barely facing me.
“I only want a virgin . . . just like myself.”
“Aside being a pastor, I’m human too. I should be allowed—”
“Or your parents don’t like me?” I asked, interrupting him.
Bala remained silent this time. I was sure my first, and possibly only, visit to his parent’s house—about a week ago—had a hand in this turn of event. Bala always knew I was not a virgin, so why did it matter now. Moreover, his mother especially didn’t do a good job at pretending she liked me when we visited.
I left Bala’s apartment that evening with a prayer on my lips: dear God, find him out.
Pamela’s words teleported me back to the present. “Your own better,” she started, “my sister, me still dey hope.”
Now she calls me sister when we are barely friends, I muttered under my breath. Pamela had never been more than a fellow contestant during a beauty pageant while we were undergraduates at Unilag. A contest neither of us won—still I did better as first runner up. Everyone knew her beauty alone, and particularly her intelligence—which clearly she did not possess—were not the main criteria that earned her a place as a contestant.
We exchange numbers, as I told her I had to hurry.
“Jesus” Pamela screamed. She was holding my phone.
“What is it?”
“His dream eventually came true.” she commented, obviously not in response to my question.
I pulled her hand close and peered at Bala’s image that adorned the screen: a photo that bore his name and position as assistant pastor of our church. “Do you know him?” I asked, hopeful she would respond adequately this time.
“Yes, I do. He—” Pamela hesitated. “Is he your pastor?”
“Yes” I said. I could feel my heartbeat increasing. I was sure Pamela had not hesitated for nothing. “Go ahead” I said, my voice a shaky whisper.
“It’s nothing” Pamela said as she gave me back the phone.
“Please” I begged, unsure why I did.
“I once had a thing with him.”
“A thing?” I questioned.
Pamela gave me a look that reminded me that not all questions should be asked—maybe it could be asked, but with tact.
“How?” I heard myself ask—anxiety not tact got the better part of me. I had only began to consider the possibilities that brought them together: Bala was not an alumni of the university of Lagos, neither had Pamela lived in Port-Harcourt. “I’m sorry” I quickly apologized.
I remained silent but, nonetheless, hopeful Pamela would give more information.
“We both served at Shelleng local government, Adamawa state.” Pamela started. “We were not dating; it happened only once.” In the minutes that followed Pamela had given me all the details: once, a young naive fellowship leader—one she admired—had come visiting a potential convert, alone. And she had literally seized him. In the moments their bodies pressed hard against each other, Bala had revealed that he had always wanted to wait till he was married and he also nursed the passion to serve as a pastor in future.
I remained silent, not because I wanted any more.
“Well, as its said ‘old things have passed away’, especially for him.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “old things have passed away.” I only wondered why Bala had purposely failed to remember some of the old things.
When we eventually turned to leave, I was grateful I had Pamela’s mobile contact: I owed her a friendship—obviously she had only revealed this much just to prove that after all these years she still wanted to be my friend.
I quickly searched my WhatsApp mobile application as Pamela took the other direction.
It was so nice seeing you again, Pamela; I typed.
I closed the application after sending the message. But not after I had downloaded her photo, and dutifully sent Bala the image. I hoped he would remember Pamela.
I also sent him a typed message:
Our God truly works in mysterious ways. Who would have thought there was a virginity test possible for you, virgin Bala.