The Sunday service came to an end at twelve in the afternoon. Many a soul sighed with relief, impatient to go home to the special Sunday rice and vegetable stew waiting in the oven. The pastor had delivered an unreasonably long sermon and many had slept off seated in the pews, their lolling heads driving the busy ushers crazy as they dashed from pew to pew shaking the incurably materialistic worshippers awake. Young colourfully dressed children poured out of the roomy interior of Life Needs Church dancing lightly on their feet and generally releasing contented childish sounds into the now hot midday air. Young men and women followed, more restrained in their chatter, but chattering all the same, showing off their neatly ironed suits and crisp ankara skirts and blouses topped with elaborately constructed headdresses. The church leaders and elders were the last to come out. They wore smiling faces that belied their strictly conservative temperaments and inclinations.
Abraham slipped out through one of the side doors of the church building. He’d seen Patience and Patience had seen him. Both saw each other from the corners of their cunning eyes, but they were too proud and, paradoxically, too shy to exchange full glances after their last quarrel and the hurtful words they’d exchanged in more than twenty text messages.
Abraham moved among the over-excited kids, ignoring their cry for attention and pressing on. The kids were left looking at one another in dismay, as if asking each other what could have come over the otherwise warm Abraham they knew. They were of course, too young to know that there was a time for everything, a time for banter, a time for sobriety, even a time for anger.
He paused in the street, moved to the kerb, and watched from the corner of his right eye as Patience took her little sister’s hand, her ankara skirt stretching tighter over her ample hips. The duo hit the street and came abreast him. He looked at her directly, the yearning in his eyes telling the whole world the story of his unconditional love for a girl whose claims to being extraordinary was the mere fact that she was female. The little girl, being innocent and in the meantime safe from the frustrations of stubborn love, waved at Abraham. He waved back at her, smiling ruefully. Patience kept her eyes down and walked past without looking at him, although she saw the lower part of his body from beneath her eyelashes. He watched as her attractive figure retreated steadily down the road, retreated in the company of a little girl. A grunt of profound discontent escaped from his lips. This grunt was heard by a daughter of Eve standing directly beside him, just to his left, standing right beside him and staring at the disappearing girl, understanding everything and pitying Abraham but never rebuking Patience for treating him shabbily out of an immediate sense of solidarity with her fellow woman. He frowned without looking sideways. As he stared at the fish-shaped Idoma damsel steadily walking out of his reach, he heard a voice within him asking his greater self, in the individualization of himself in the depth of his being, asking thus: can I ever forget you or even dare try to remove the image of your mysterious but compelling presence from my mind, the region of my timeless striving? He kept staring with eyes of the hopeless romantic, and as he stared he told himself that Patience’s fine butt ought to be his alone, and not only her irresistible butt but also the rest of her body and all of her soul. Patience ought to be his wife.
Ene the intelligent but shockingly plain girl dug an elbow in his side.
“When will you two ever stop quarrelling? You’re dying for her, aren’t you?”
“Let’s walk a bit. This is a very bad Sunday.”
They moved on. Ene removed an ash-coloured handkerchief from her white handbag and wiped sweat from her forehead. He glanced at her face and wished Patience possessed Ene’s common sense and intelligence. The two girls were about the same age. Nature gave Ene intelligence and robbed her of beauty while bestowing beauty on Patience and robbing her of intelligence.
“What’s the problem this time? I’m really tired of intervening. I think the time has come for you to ask yourself whether you can live with Patience all your life.”
“If I lose this girl I’ll commit suicide,” Abraham said shamelessly.
“You won’t kill yourself because of Patience. I know this. But why are you two constantly quarrelling and making up again? The frequency of your bust-up is unusual. Do you know what you’re doing Abraham? Marriage is a life-long commitment.”
“Ene, money is the root of the problem. She won’t say it directly, but it’s obvious. Being a beautiful girl, she doubts whether I’m the right man for her. She thinks that her beauty can get her a richer man and that it will be a grave mistake to commit herself now.”
They walked on in silence. When Abraham said Patience was not an intelligent girl he didn’t mean that she was an imbecile. He only meant that she generally lacked common sense, the presence of which usually indicated the possession of some level of intelligence. But then Patience had a pretty face and an awesome butt that Abraham couldn’t resist. He was smitten. He loved her with his whole being and had sworn to himself that he would rather die than lose this introverted, somewhat simple-minded, and heartbreakingly unpredictable girl called Patience Agbo. She was twenty two, not interested in going to the university, and was ready to settle down with a good man and be a good wife. This good man must have some money. The good man who ignored her caveat would be cursed with the unhappiness of Abraham Adagoloyinu. His goodness was okay for heaven’s pilgrimage but not for a beautiful girl whose Facebook profile had this to say in the space reserved for her bio: I’m simple, the girl next door. I like wealth and comfort but fear God above all. Patience wasn’t a bad girl, being capable of unbelievable sweetness on her good day. But these good days were what they are: days. They didn’t last for ever. On her bad days she could be remote and unsympathetic, prompting Abraham to run to his friend Amos and ask the latter whether he wasn’t making a serious mistake putting his large heart in Patience’s hands.
If ever any man’s love was a torment it was the love of Abraham for Patience. What was even more absurd about this adventure of stubborn love was Patience’s inability to tell when she’d hurt Abraham’s feelings. She wouldn’t know she’d hurt him until he exploded in rage. Then she’d send him self-righteous text messages casting herself as the victim of his inconsiderate nature, telling him what a wicked man he was, what a soulless being he’d become to shout down on her and threaten never to see her again. For Abraham being in love was like taking up residency in the house of pain. Clearly, something was wrong, he kept telling himself. This wasn’t how love should be. This damsel with the curvy body of the African earth and a heart beyond his power of scrutiny often got him thinking about the enduring feminine mystique, a sexual phenomenon which, just at the moment it was being grasped as something in many ways erotic and this-worldly, inexplicably transcended the sexual, and quite unexpectedly too, to reveal a larger picture, the picture of marriage whose insistence on its time was nothing more than our awareness of mortality, the picture of child-bearing and -rearing, the necessity of the continuity of the human race and the moral evolution towards an apotheosis that would qualify woman to stand before God on Judgement Day and accuse man of loving sex too much instead of God Himself. Abraham yearned for a woman’s love, a perfect or near perfect love marked by beauty and a soul-lifting vision that eased all worldly difficulties. There was a song in his heart, the searing demand for an impossible Paradise, in the simplest term the longing for beauty. What was the meaning of his passion for the incongruous Patience? It was a ringing call for a better way of living that would make Earth a new Paradise. This materialization was in itself impossible. What must he do to enforce the coming of God’s kingdom on Earth. ‘Forget about love, just have sex,’ a voice whispered into his ears. Abraham rejected this advice as one falling short of the vision of beauty. He swore to himself that if he must travel from Otukpo to Europe and then America and Asia in what would be the longest journey of his life in search of true love he would set forth immediately.
They’d walked more than a hundred metres down the street and were beginning to sweat lightly. Sunday was always a happy day in Otukpo. Men and women wore their best clothes and stayed in them until the evening or even until the next day. For many a man returned quite drunk and exhausted and fell straight into bed never to wake up again that day. Ene and Abraham weren’t the only churchgoers returning home. The street was actually full of happy Idoma folk wearing their best clothes, mostly traditional gowns for the men and wrapper with blouses for the women. They reached a spot where a narrower untarred street started and curved away to their right.
“See you in church tomorrow for the love feast. Who is your partner?” Ene asked.
“Tell me your partner first.”
The girl laughed, waved, and turned quickly into the untarred street. Abraham stood still and watched her. Ene was a slender girl, not pretty and not as shapely as Patience. But she had loads of common sense, the very desirable quality which his bimbo of a girl lacked. Whenever he considered her sensible and kind nature he wished with all his soul that she was Patience. Sadly, life was never so kind. Ene was born who she was and Patience was Patience. Oh Patience, Patience, he cried within him, you that are blessed with beauty but cursed with stupidity!
He was still rooted to the spot when a suzuki motorcycle pulled up noisily beside him.
“Jump onto the passenger-seat of the motorcycle and let me take you home. On my way from church.”
“Ah Amos! You came just in time.”
“You should have fallen in love with that girl instead of Patience,” Amos said, pointing with his mouth at the slight form of the girl vanishing into the hot afternoon, even as the motorcycle shot forward.
*Excerpt from my long short story of about 6000 words.
Ada Agada is a philosopher and versatile literary writer. He is the author of the novel, The Anxious Life. He lives in Oturkpo, Benue state where he is currently lecturing and researching deeply into various philosophy treatises.
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