“Who the son sets free is free indeed!” Pastor Doen’s eyes flashed with the fervor of his message. “This means when Jesus frees you, no past, no emotional injury or rejection can limit you…”
Loud cries of excitement from the ecstatic congregation drowned out the latter part of his sentence.
The preacher pointed at the people, raising his voice above the joyous din. “You’re healed of every broken heart and emotional rejection right now, in the name of Jesus!”
There was a thunderous ‘Amen’; people leaped to their feet excited; others affirmed with vigorous nods, clapping loudly.
The sermon ended five minutes later to rousing applause. Pastor Doen strode off the stage, mopping his face with a large white handkerchief, and was replaced at the pulpit by a man who took announcements for the Church.
As usual, he felt barely exerted. Preaching & counselling didn’t drain his energy.
Communicating inspirations he gleaned from the bible to people had always been his thing, his fire; right from childhood when he’d mount several living room stools on themselves as a makeshift pulpit & powerfully exhort an invisible congregation with a tablespoon for a mic.
After the service, he counselled members of the congregation who came up to him for personal issues.
Mostly ladies, one might notice. Probably a mere coincidence, but then Pastor Doen was an attractive and very charismatic man. In addition, he was wealthy from multiple investments in real estate and automobile across and outside Abuja. And he was single.
“That was really stirring, pastor Doen” A female voice reached him as he dismissed the last member. He turned.
“Chimzy!” His face lit with delighted grin as he spread his arms to engulf her in tight, brief embrace. “You came finally.”
She smiled back. “Yes I totally did.”
“After abandoning my flock for eons.” He feigned a malicious glance at her. “Surely God is doing a number on your heart.”
Chimzy laughed. “What with the interstate trips every now and then.”
“This deserves lunch” He crooked his arm and she slipped a hand under his forearm. “and I don’t need your opinion.”
“Na wa o.” She wrinkled her nose at him. “Men of the cloth are gentlemen.”
“I’m so gentle that a no from you would traumatise me.”
“Oya, no!” She shoved him playfully. “Be traumatised.”
They shared a laugh.
“Just a sec, please” he held up an index finger, the other hand bringing up a phone to his left ear and started conversing excitedly in yoruba.
The phone conversation continued for about 10 minutes after they had reached his Sequoia jeep outside and gotten in.
“Sorry about that.” He glanced apologetically at her when he was done.”Seems we will be sharing lunch time with some company, if you don’t mind?”
She was never one for last minute decisions or eating with unfamiliar company but she shrugged and said: “Fine with me.”
“My friend just came in from the UK,”he continued.”Wanted to know if service was still on so he could drop by with his wife since he was in the vicinity.”
“Like you would answer the phone during service.”
“Abi?” He concurred.”Said he’d be at Transcorp in a moment. I’ll go Mediterranean at his expense.”
“Why not pacific, while at it?”
They both laughed again.
It was like old times; Granted, she was a bit more reserved & comported but this was still Chimzy alright – the lady he had at some point fallen head over heels in love with.
He wasn’t exactly sure of when he’d started developing strong feelings for Chimzy back then when they were course mates in the University of Port Harcourt; to all appearances, they were just friends ever fond of their company.
What he was pretty sure of was the day when he decided he didn’t ever want her far away from his life- that was the day she’d called him and asked him to pick her at her hostel for an NCCMDS evening dinner party about five years ago.
They were already close friends by this time but it was that ‘regular, night discussion-group and buddy’ Chimzy that he’d gone to pick from that hostel with a rather obscure address.
He hadn’t even been sure of the door on which he knocked because it had been a long while since the last time he visited her. Pritazzo was the name of the hostel; at least he was sure of that.
A ravishing, light-skinned lady answered the door; she was dressed in a black, strapless evening gown that shimmered with her slightest movements. Her hair – her natural God given hair! – lay in long, black, gleaming tresses across her shoulders. A black shawl, of the same shimmering material as the gown, was draped across one arm. The resemblance was there, in the complexion, the delicate curve of the jaw and high forehead. This was Chimzy’s younger – and much more beautiful – sister who had come for a visit recently. Those were his initial thoughts.
He remembered wondering vaguely somewhere in his mind if she was some model, that she must be –
The lady grinned familiarly at him and waved him into the room.
“Your tie is askew–“
That voice he’d recognise anywhere and belonged to none other than –
“Chimzy, na you?!” His eyes widened in shock.
She laughed hard hard at his genuine astonishment, tresses of her hair falling across her face in a delightfully careless way that left him weak-kneed.
“From the look on your face you were expecting to see someone that would be the butt of your dry jokes this entire evening, abi?”
She’d even shaved her eyebrows and pencil-lined them perfectly, he wondered.
“My, you look gorgeous!” He gaped again in wonder.
“Abegi!”She laughed again, dramatically fanning her neck and shoulders with her finger tips. “Blushing one thousand degrees and rising!” But she was visibly very pleased.
She winked at him through a wall-length mirror as she sought an arrangement that would keep her hair and the black shawl in peace and harmony about the issue of her shoulders.
“Kai!” He exclaimed, shaking his head. “Your make-up is so beautiful too. Didn’t recognise you outrightly because of it.”
She turned and regarded him almost shyly for a moment, smiling at his black suit and shoes. “You don’t look bad yourself.” She said, walked to him. “Just let me tame that wandering bow-tie.”
Any wise crack or complaint he might have contrived to hide his awkwardness vanished the instant he felt her fingers slide across the lapel of his jacket and behind his tie. Her BVLgari perfume and bergamot/coconut oil hair fragrance enveloped him, inflicting a delicious giddiness.
His chin was tilted upwards so she could work the bowtie properly.
“Do you know about these three moles…”He felt her fingers prod under his chin delicately.
Each prods of her finger sent winged slivers of warmth fluttering in his chest and belly.
“Stop counting my money.” He could barely keep his voice even.
She slapped his chest and turned away. “I’m done, let’s go, Ibo man.”
They both laughed. It was an old joke. In third year, she used to wear a pair of three quarter shorts on occasion to the nightly discussion meetings whose design and texture Qasim claimed belonged to a certain nomadic tribe from the Northern region of the country. He called it ‘Fulani knickers’ or ‘Fulani textile’.
Chimzy had defiantly worn the pair of shorts on two or three occasions before succumbing to the endless snickers behind cupped fists that the indefatigable duo – Doen and Qasim- perpetuated during their study sessions. Had they actually been that crass?
Throughout that entire evening he realised that he kept finding a reason to seek her out from amongst groups of friends and colleagues and talk to her. It was either a reminder that he would be leaving shortly before 10pm so he could drop her off if she was okay with that or if she’d tried the fried rice and chicken yet.
From then on, it seemed Chimzy was the only face on his mind, in his study books, the one name on his lips in every conversation. If Qasim noticed the dramatic change in his friend’s behaviour towards their mutual female friend he, uncharacteristic of his nature, didn’t betray any awareness.
But he, petrified perhaps by the fear of rejection of any sort, could not bring himself to confess his strong feelings to her.
He couldn’t – even when she told him that she would be travelling to the US for training as a massage and bodywork therapist and would be back in three years. The very words from her lips that evening, over the trio’s last dinner together were dazing blows to him.
And when she left a week later correspondence, ever fledging and pitifully irregular, gradually fizzled out completely and with that the intense feelings he once nursed that kept him awake some nights and at times distracted from studies.
So when she called that day saying she would be coming into Abuja, it was with the barely suppressed excitement of meeting an old, very dear friend that he went to pick her at the Abuja International airport.
But now, with her sitting close to him, as breathtakingly beautiful as his fondest memories of her, he recognised an old, deep stir of longing within his chest.
Writer’s note: This is a continuation of Petals of a Bud, which starts with the post wrongly titled ‘The fear of falling in love’. To gain perspective of this story, one would have to read that one first