She was Reverend Father Douglas Ejirika’s first visitor when he returned from break.
Office hours that morning had been busy. It was always so on Thursday when the three assistant priests of St. Paul the Apostle parish held court. St. Paul was one of the biggest parishes in Enugu and even with three assistants, Father Williams Okoliko, the parish priest, often felt overworked.
Most of the parishioners and visitors who came on Thursdays preferred taking their deepest griefs to Father Douglas. Although he was no Father Ejike Mbaka, Douglas had a solid reputation as a charismatic priest. He was a firebrand man of God who dismantled the most rugged demonic citadel with a single prayer. His feats as a prayer warrior were the stuff of folklore. Barren couples who had been blessed by his supplications were legion; even the most hardened African traditional religious worshipper bowed when Douglas mounted the pulpit. St. Paul was well known beyond Enugu for its Wednesday evening Mass. The attendance at the yearly Redeemed Church camp along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway paled when compared to the number of Catholics and non-Catholics who turned up to be touched by God. But such quantum leap in population was nothing compared to the numbers whenever Douglas celebrated Mass. He had won undying celebrity status the day the priest of one of Uga’s most dreaded deities showed up to deal with the upstart for daring to convert one of his arch aides. As the Holy Communion chalice was reverently lifted up by Douglas during Consecration the Uga priest simply went gaga; tearing off his clothes, screaming, foaming, jerking and openly confessing his plan to do away with the young man of God.
The irony was that Douglas was one of the unpriestliest priests in Enugu diocese. Outside Mass and strictly religious occasions it was rare to see him clad in his soutane. In his short-sleeve shirt, designer jeans, Nike trainers and denim jacket he could have passed for a university freshman, though he was thirty-five. He was of average height, slim, regular-featured, big-headed and endowed with close-set eyes. He enjoyed Tu-Face’s music and followed Chelsea football club religiously. Rumour had it that when the Bishop sought to transfer him to another parish as its substantive priest nine months ago, the unusually unflappable Okoliko knelt before His Lordship and cried like a baby. The Bishop had told him to enjoy what he had now because Douglas would definitely move in the next round of transfers.
When the knock came Douglas put aside the bottle of La Casera he was sipping.
She was tall, thin and dressed in an amorphous, frumpy gown that stopped at her wrists and ankles. Her headscarf revealed not a strand of her hair. The faintest smudge of lipstick could not be found on her lips. She looked fifty though Douglas guessed she was about his age. She was no beauty queen but it would be stretching things too far to call her an ugly duckling. Care sat on her shoulders like boulders.
‘‘Father, good afternoon,’’ she said, a slight tremor in her voice. Her unsmiling face remained unsmiling even when Douglas smiled and indicated a visitor’s chair.
‘‘Madam, kedu?’’ He tried to get her to relax. ‘‘The family, kwanu?’’
‘‘Fine,’’ she said listlessly.
There was a pause. Behind his friendly mien Douglas was sizing her up. He decided the direct approach would do the trick.
‘‘My sister,’’ he spoke mildly, ‘‘whatever it is, unload your care with ease. The world has not ended yet.’’
She took a deep breath and began to talk. Douglas listened intently.
Her name was Juliet Ezeagu. She worshipped at Our Lady of Lourdes, Abakpa-Nike. She had been married for five years and had two sons. But her husband no longer gave a damn about her, not even attempting to hide his womanizing. He was downright hostile, scorned associating with her. In fact he had openly sworn to get a second wife and to hell with the church’s teachings. She talked; pouring out her man’s sins till Douglas wondered if God Himself would forgive him. Tears rinsed her face.
When she finished Douglas sat back in his chair. She is expecting heaven-piercing prayers, he thought. But the solution might just be right here on earth. Whether she will accept it is another matter.
‘‘What does your husband do?’’
‘‘He owns a supermarket.’’
‘‘I run a crèche and nursery school in Abakpa-Nike.’’
He nodded, sat forward.
‘‘I want an honest answer to this question.’’ He switched to colloquial Igbo.
‘‘When last did you and Oga have bed-tearing sex, the type that makes you scream and sweat?’’ His tone was conversational.
If Ekwensu had mounted the pulpit during Mass in her parish Mrs. Ezeagu would not have been more shocked. She would have turned crimson if she were Caucasian. A vice-clawed cat seized her tongue.
‘‘Please tell me the truth,’’ Douglas said gently after an interval of silence that seemed like ten years to her.
‘‘I can’t remember,’’ she whispered.
Douglas nodded. ‘‘Is your health okay?’’ he asked.
‘‘Yes,’’ she replied, clearly mystified by the sudden turn in questioning.
The priest nodded again.
‘‘I will tell you the truth as a man. I do not know your husband so I will not prejudge him. Clearly you want to save your marriage. So consider these suggestions.
‘‘First, stop dressing like an Mgbeke. Following Jesus doesn’t mean you should dress like the ancient Jews. There are decent latest fashions in town. Even an occasional pair of trousers is okay. Get some lipstick. Make your hair-perming will suit your facial structure. Then no more cloth around your chest at home. Wear shorts, particularly the one they call bum shorts when Di gi is around. They will project your buttocks.’’
‘‘Eh!’’ Mrs. Ezeagu did not know when the words escaped her lips.
Douglas continued as if she had not interrupted. ‘‘Make out enough bed time. No quarrels on the big day. Give him his favourite dish; add a bottle or two of his favourite beer…’’
He silenced her with a wave of the hand. ‘‘Make sure he is not drunk. Join him to spice up the boozing. Then seduce him and make love to him like he is the only man in the world. Oral sex, woman on top, the whole works. Let your imagination run riot.’’
Mrs. Ezeagu looked like she swallowed a bee.
‘‘Give him this undiluted diet for three or four days. No criticism, no nagging, no fights. If any of the days falls on a Sunday and he refuses to go to church, do not quarrel about it. You can go to the evening or early morning Mass, depending on your ability to give him exquisite bedroom fireworks before leaving. Chances are that if you put up an exceptional show the previous night he will happily go to church with you if you tell him nicely.’’
‘‘O di egwu!’’ This was clearly one new gospel to the troubled woman.
Douglas smiled. ‘‘On the last day, after a rollicking session, cuddle him and gently tell him how hurt you are by his actions; how much you have missed his arms around you; how handsome and strong he is. Mean every word. Never mind if he has a potbelly or the front teeth of a ruminant.’’
For the first time since she entered his office Ezeagu’s face creased in amusement. The priest chuckled.
‘‘No need to bind and cast out any demon. Go and find yourself, then you will find your man. Hope both of you will visit me together soon and biko, do not wear this Mgbeke dress when you come.’’
Mrs. Ezeagu’s mien resembled that of an ancestral spirit caught by daylight for nearly a minute. Then she opened her mouth.
‘‘Is this a priest talking? God’s cutlass?’’
‘‘The Lord does not need a cutlass for His battles,’’ Douglas replied. ‘‘Get cracking and may God bless both of you.’’
Mrs. Ezeagu stood up, gave him a long look and walked to the door. Almost there, she turned to stare at Douglas again. He nodded encouragingly. She nodded in response and left.