Six months had passed since I last set foot into a church building (my last appearance being Easter Sunday), but I did not feel for a moment that I had missed anything. The reading of the bible passages reeked of dour formality, the officiating priest churned out recycled sermons, the chants were the same, the hymns had not changed much, and I pretty much knew which activity followed the other.
My parents were knights under this particular denomination, but they had long given up on me and my stance against organized religion, opting to “pray for him like Monica did for Augustine”, and I had not witnessed much today to convince me to think differently. Members of the congregation were reminded to be generous with their offerings, and I couldn’t help but wonder why the priest looked so chubby, while his flock was filled with fitting examples of economic disparity, as if it was not the same God being prayed to. As a matter of fact, I was only here because Ene, my nerdy long-time friend (I had met her in my undergraduate days) had invited me for the nth time, and I wanted to make her happy; she had been like a sister to me (even though I could tell that she wanted more), and honouring a church invitation was the least I could do.
My phone beeped. The church bulletin contained a statement showing its disapproval for the use of phones, but I loved to think that a Samsung Galaxy S4 was above such prohibition, and besides the solemn nature of the atmosphere was lost on me, so I yielded to temptation and unlocked the phone. It was Anita, a “beneficial friend” I had known for a few months now, choosing to be naughty on today of all days.
Anita had sent me totally unclad photos of herself sprawled on a bed, with the caption “it’s Sunday; fancy this kind of Communion?” I had seen that figure more than a few times before, but there was something about the photo that made me grin. It was probably the fact that she had chosen to send this on a Sunday, as well as the allusion that played in my head; her body as communion, with her bosom the bread and her “fountain juice” the wine. I managed to not chuckle loudly at my thoughts, and I took a deep breath as I recalled how Anita got so comfortable to the point of desecrating my phone on a Sabbath day (assuming, but not conceding that it was Sunday rather than Saturday).
It all started seven weeks ago. It had been another exhausting day in the city that never fell asleep, and equally made sure that its citizens knew no sleep. I had closed from work after a grueling Friday at the office which didn’t give me much cause to thank Whoever Ran The Universe, and there was no sweetheart to go home to and attempt balancing out the long day with; the girls of the city meant business, and smooth talk didn’t translate to account statements. Few hours earlier Freedom Park had played host to chart-topping alternative rock band Disgruntled Employees, and the crowd had been thrilled with hit tracks like “The First Job Is The Sh##tiest” and “I’m Gonna Love You Even If Your Boss Don’t Pay”, but even that failed to lift my spirits. Midnight was ninety minutes away, and I was seated at an unknown bar in Onikan, trying to use my tongue in figuring out the difference between Orijin and Ace Roots.
“For a cute guy like you, this is a rather sad way to see out the day”, a voice chipped in from what seemed to be the left corner.
I looked to the direction of the voice. The lights at the bar weren’t the brightest, and I couldn’t say much about my sobriety, but I still managed to make out her features (a male voice wouldn’t have created that enthusiasm in me to look). Beauty spot on her nose, smooth semi-light skin, figure looking like Toolz but by a size less, toothpaste advert kind of dentition. I was in no mood to flash my killer wink which used to work before I moved here from the south-south, but I smiled and said, “who says I can’t get high…..”
“Turn out the lights and the telephone, you in this joint alone, who says you can’t get high”, she cut in.
My eyes brightened up. I had tried to adapt some lyrics from “Who Says” (a track by U.S. artist John Mayer), but she had caught the lines and finished them for me. Apparently we listened to the same kind of music. I sensed a momentum building up, and I was going to act on it.
“It’s been a long night in this city….guess it’s a long night in PH too”, I continued.
She looked unimpressed: my next set of lines had failed to work. I sighed in disappointment, and just as I was about to turn and face my bottles in resignation, she blurted out:
“Who says you cant go home, call up a girl that you used to know, fake love for an hour or so?”
I grinned. She still showed interest, but I wasnt quite keen on continuing with the ‘don’t forget the lyrics’ game, so I quickly said, “there is no girl. Lekki and Ikoyi babes are a difficult lot.”
“Awwn….meagre earnings much”, she said in between giggles.
“Erm, i dunno, but the fact that we didn’t run into each other at Quilox doesnt mean you should make conclusions like that”, I quipped.
“Too sensitive….duh”, she cut back. “I get it…..I didn’t mean to bruise your ego though. Well are you going to keep brooding about how your salary stands in the way of your heart’s lusts, or are you going to tell me your name? By the way, I am Anita.”
She made no pretentious efforts at courtesy, and that elitist air couldn’t excuse her for a minute, but there was something about her abrasive wit that I found attractive. Extending my right arm for a handshake, I said, “Call me Luke.”
“I see…call you Luke, like, the way we should ‘call him-her Caitlyn’?”
“Not exactly in that context, but, yea, the name is Luke….again, stop hating on him though….I mean, her. I am still trying to get round what gender to ascribe to Caitlyn.”
And with that, a portal of discussions was opened. We talked about Caitlyn’s ESPN award and the double standards used in treating Rachel Dolezal (the white woman who pretended to be black), we talked about Body Language and the Wailing Wailers, and we talked about the population density of the city as well as its need of work permits and immigration laws.
It was midnight by the time we left the bar, our sobriety levels open to debate. The idea was to exchange contact details and go home, but Anita suddenly grabbed me by the arm and asked, “hey handsome, where do you live?”
“Sangotedo….after Ajah”, I replied.
“Well I live at Badore in Ajah….and I brought my car along”, she continued. “Unless you have something really urgent to do, why don’t we crash at mine? You can text your friend and tell him you won’t be coming home tonight….yup, I know squatters and JJCs when I see them”.
We got into her car, and fortunately she was sober enough to get us to her apartment, but not before jokes about wanting to know what her lip gloss tasted like, and serial shouts of “weyrey, olori buruku” from other road users while we got too busy kissing at each red light to be bothered about moving fast.
Whether it was the new administration or the Kainji dam was up for discussion, but the improved electricity supply extended to her apartment, and in a matter of minutes, fabrics found themselves round the bed like spectators to a dance floor…..and we did dance alright. She placed her legs at either side of my waist while tilting her head backwards, her eyes shutting as she grabbed my head with both hands and clasped them to her bosom, while the little german Mr. von Straffenberg worked his way through the warm, damp cave that was Anita’s fountain. Moans added up to the sound of an opera as my tongue surveyed the trigger and the little grass round the fountain, and by the time we were taking that joint bath, the sheets reeked of multiple body fluids.
I left Anita’s apartment early the following morning, and when she didn’t communicate for close to four days, I began to think that what had happened was just another night out, until the following Friday when I received a text message that read:
“Hey dancer, what you do say, tonight, Bogobiri, after close of work? Love, Anita.”
I sighed in relief. I had not been used afterall. I showed up with her arm in mine to a spoken word poetry session at Bogobiri in Ikoyi, and two bottles of vodka later, we made a bedroom out of her car seat, this time with more intensity than the previous week.
It was not just the night dances that drew me to Anita though. She was smart and witty, with that bit of arrogance that came with knowing a little of everything. I found out that she was an event manager, and an art enthusiast, with great culinary skills too. For me, it was not about the money, it was more about the intellectual compatibility, although I did not turn down the gifts, account alerts and soup packs that came my way. I loved the fact that Anita never brought up the issue of having any serious emotional attachment. What we had was good, she said, and we didn’t have to ruin it by throwing feelings into the equation. Then again, there was the age issue: she was 33, and I was 26.
The choir had begun to chant communion hymns, but the only hymns I wanted to hear at the moment were those incoherent sounds from Anita as I imagined her dig her nails into my back. Like bad Wi-fi, I had long disconnected from whatever was going on in church, and the whole routine of kneeling and standing up did not help matters. The catechist mumbled something about being in a state of Grace, and I asked myself if people were meant to measure their worthiness for communion by themselves and their own acts. Communion soon gave way to two further rounds of offering, and soon it was time for a bunch of special thanksgiving processions. I shifted focus to my phone and looked at Anita’s photos one more time, avoiding Ene’s eyes.
Thanksgiving offerings were potential money-spinners, and the priest’s smiles grew wider as group after group filed out. The last group to do theirs was the Christian Women Organisation, known for their white-and-blue outfit and their gossip, and they were just not going to drop their cash and gifts, someone was going to talk! I bent my head on the church pew, eager for things to come to a close.
“Glory to Jesus”, the spokesperson began. “I just want to, on behalf of our fellow C.W.O members, thank God for his mercies this year. He has blessed us with life, prosperity, and also, good husbands. My husband in particular, has been loving and caring to me over the years, and I know God knew what He was doing when he led me to…..”
I looked up. I had to; the voice was just too familiar. I looked towards the front of the church, and what I saw shook me with disbelief. Beneath a ‘Christian mother’ headtie, clad in white and blue, and holding a microphone, was Anita, ring on left finger! It was her alright, her curves on show in spite of the wrapper, and holding the microphone so affectionately like she usually held “mini me” on those evenings. It was her, happily married and relevant in what they called God’s house! I could no longer remember that many passages of scripture, but I still had an idea of what Adultery meant. And to think that I was already getting drawn to her, and I had let emotions slowly seep in! I was no saint by any means, but I loved to draw the line when it came to married women. Yet she carried on, like nothing was at stake. My stomach turned. I had begun to feel sick.
“Thank you very much….yes, that was Mrs. Joan-Marie Chibuogwu, secretary of the C.W.O in this parish”, the catechist said as he took the microphone from her, interrupting my thoughts.
Joan-Marie?! Her name was not even Anita. Apparently, I had been living a lie all the while. My soul burned, and it was a relief when I heard the priest say “the Lord be with you”, signifying that it was time to go home.
My first line of thought was to confront her and call her names, but I was not about to create a scene and impugn her hard-earned reputation. C.W.O secretary…..yea, we played ‘boss & secretary’ a couple of times back at the Badore apartment, which I began to think wasn’t even hers. I wouldn’t put anything past her right now, afterall she usually bypassed a parish in Badore on her way to this one at Abraham Adesanya Estate.
I walked slowly towards her as she put her things in her car. I looked at her curves from behind; they irritated me now. I cleared my throat, drew closer and slowly said, “nice speech in church today. Nice outfit too….Joan-Marie.”
Her reaction took me aback. She turned, but without any slight hint of surprise. She simply flashed a guilty smile, held my face and stroked it, saying, “hey boo, sorry I couldn’t tell you. I was waiting for the right moment…but then I guess life happens.
“And your words are supposed to make me feel better, I guess?” I retorted, withdrawing violently. “Like, how do you even sleep? You, married, and yet we did all that? I don’t believe it!”
“I am a woman, and I have needs”, she replied, her voice bereft of any remorse. “My husband is a good man, and I love him, so much, but he is kinda tiny down there. C’mon, don’t be all sanctimonious….almost every married woman does that here.”
“Do you even think about how I feel….”
“Awwwn…..you know I care about you, my stubborn German machine”, she cut in, slowly touching my chest. “Oh, by the way, I actually live with my husband at Thomas Estate. The Badore flat is for my adventures. Don’t worry, nobody suspects anything. I am third to Mother Mary in this parish…..”
“Hey, have your phone, Luke.Ewwww!”
I turned to where the voice of disgust was coming from, and realized my blunder. Ene had asked for my phone as soon as we stepped out from church, and I had unwittingly handed it to her, forgetting to close the photo gallery.
“Really, Luke? Is this why you failed to notice me all these years?” Ene snapped. “After all the care and concern I have shown you, only to realize my competition is a married mother of two? But you wouldn’t know…..sugar mummy knows better than to invite you to church. You were kept a secret, like all disgusting things are. I didn’t know you had such unique taste. Enjoy your life….gigolo!”
“It’s not what you think”, I pleaded, running after Ene, but she responded in “talk to the hand” fashion. I looked at Joan-Marie (Anita) one more time, screaming, “two kids?! Bloody cougar!”, then hissed and walked away.
I tried dialling Ene five times on getting home, but she kept ignoring the calls, and ultimately barred me. I wept silently; I had lost a friend, and I had painfully discovered that for weeks I was being used to scratch and itch and fulfil a want. I slept after emptying four bottles of Star Radler…..but I found myself thrusting into Anita in my dreams, and by the time I woke up, my shorts had been smeared with ‘natural starch’. I struck my palm to my face and shook my head.