BEFORE WE GOT MARRIED Episode 5 by Ife Grace.
‘I watched you grow up in this church.’ The Pastor’s wife started, her buttocks pushed backwards and her hand resting loosely on her thighs.
‘I still remember when you were a tiny little girl. You and my daughter, Hannah, would fight to sit on my laps. I’d give you biscuit and then you’d jump down and run to play with Hannah at the back of the church auditorium. That sweet girl has become a beautiful young woman that I’m so proud of.’
Tomi swallowed hard as her mind went down memory lane. This woman was dear to her heart. She was twelve when one day on her way out of the church’s secretariat, Pastor Shade had pulled her aside. Her skirt was stained with blood. Scared and embarrassed, the woman had allayed her fears and shown her how to use a sanitary pad.
Tomi glanced at the Pastor’s wife and wondered if she wasn’t making a mistake with Femi.
Pastor Shade clasped both of Tomi’s hands. ‘Tomi, when I say the decision you have taken is dangerous, I’m not just speaking off the top of my head. There are things you don’t know about the family Femi came from. God has opened the eyes of our Pastor to see terrible things concerning his lineage. Do you think Sis Bimbo’s death was ordinary? You don’t want to spend your marital journey fighting ancestral wars. There are many things I can’t say to you. My dear daughter, you must end this relationship. Is that clear?’
A lump stuck in Tomi’s throat. What was she supposed to say? Her anger had dissipated and was replaced with fear. What if she was wrong? Can a woman of God really speak from the flesh? Did she hear God well? Her heart was torn in different directions.
‘Thank you ma.’ Tomi said quietly, hoping this was the end of the conversation.
‘So are you going to end this?’
Tomi smiled sadly. She didn’t want to hurt this woman who had been part of her life from the day she was born.
Lord, please give me the right words, Tomi prayed.
‘I’ll take what you’ve said to the Lord. I believe He’ll show me what to do.’
Tomi thanked her again and quickly left the office. Instead of going home, she walked back into the church auditorium. Some of the ushers were stacking up the chairs while others swept. She kept her face straight ahead as she walked to the front of the altar. She knelt down.
‘Lord, you are my strength. I can’t do this on my own. Sometimes, I wonder if I actually heard you. The frailty of my heart scares me. This pressure is getting intense. Lord, please do something. If I am wrong, show me.’
I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Those words filled her with calmness. As she walked home that evening, she knew with all assurance that she was not alone.
Tomi stood silent for a few seconds before opening the entrance door that led to the living room. Her mother was set to leave for a prayer vigil with her prayer partner.
‘Did you see the Pastor’s wife after the bible study?’
Tomi stopped and looked at her mother. She had to stay calm.
‘Yes I did.’ Tomi answered.
Tomi’s mother smiled and stood in front of her daughter. ‘I hope she was able to convince you. Femi is not the kind of man that fits the future God is preparing for you. Be patient. The right man will come.’
Tomi’s lips trembled. She was boiling with anger. She opened her mouth to respond but she thought against it. She watched her mother leave the house and then slumped into the sofa.
Lord, when will this end?
‘Tomi.’ A hand appeared on her shoulder.
Tomi jerked out of her thoughts. Her father was sitting beside her.
‘Oh dad, I didn’t see you walk in.’
He smiled sadly. They sat there in silence, side by side, staring at the TV.
‘I should have divorced your mother long ago.’ Tomi’s father said, breaking the silence.
Tomi turned sharply, surprised to hear her father say those words. He suddenly looked tired and his face was pale. Tomi noticed strands of grey hair on one side of his face. His lips were cracked. Compassion filled her heart and she locked her hand with his.
‘She never forgave me for what I did with Bimbo. For ten years, your mother laid my sin before me. She kept reminding me that I was a disgrace to this family. You and your siblings are the reason I stayed back.’ He went on. ‘I grew up with a single mother and I didn’t want my children experiencing same. So I stayed. I lived through the mockery, the reminders of my shameful act because I loved you. Right now, Your mother and I are strangers. I don’t even know her anymore.’
Tears stung Tomi’s eyes. She leaned on her father’s shoulder. ‘Oh dad.’
Tomi raised her head and looked at her father again. How had she been under this roof and never for once noticed the gap between her parents. She should have seen the signs somewhere. How could he hold such pretense for such a long time.
‘It was one huge mistake with Bimbo. I still regret the night we spent at the hotel room.’
Tomi was curious to know the details. She knew by doing that, she’d be opening up old wounds. She decided to try all the same.
‘Dad, what really happened?’
Her father looked at her. His eyes held pain and regret.
‘Your mother and I were having misunderstanding at that time. Our marriage was already hitting the rocks. We just couldn’t understand each other and we kept growing farther apart. Then Bimbo showed up in church with her two kids. There was something about her that attracted men.’
‘She was stunning.’ Tomi said, remembering the times she had met Femi’s mother. ‘She had such beautiful eyes. Her body shape is out of this world.’
Her father let out a breath. ‘When reports about her affair with some of the men in church broke out, I saw her as one disgusting woman. I boasted once to the deacons that I would never fall for her.
‘Bimbo called me one morning and was crying on the phone. She wanted to talk privately to me. Your mother was in the room that day. I wondered why I lied to her. I should have just told her who had called. I guess I did it because I knew at that time that many of the women in the church had turned their backs on her.’
‘So you went to see her?’
Tomi’s father nodded. ‘Yes. I just wanted to hear what she had to say. As I drove to where we were to meet, I felt a restraint in my heart. I knew I just make that trip but I ignored the warning. Now I wished I had listened. After we talked, I started to feel a this overwhelming desire to see her again. We started spending more time together.’ He stopped. ‘I hate remembering that night.’
Tomi touched his hand. ‘Dad, you have to forgive yourself.’
‘Sometimes, I wished I had kept the secret of our affair to myself. When I told your mother what I’d done, she called me names and reported me to the pastor. I was made to stand before the workers to confess my sin. I wasn’t angry with her for letting the church know about what I’d done. I was ready to take responsibility for my actions but what I don’t understand is why she still cannot let it go.’
Tomi saw tears in her father’s eyes and her heart reached for his. He looked at her straight in the face.
‘Tomi, if you want peace to reign in this house, you must let Femi go. Sometimes, we make sacrifices for family’s sake. We don’t always marry who will love if it’s going to affect our immediate family. Just when I thought things were getting easier with your mother, your relationship with Femi brought out the demons in her. Please my dear daughter, if you really love me, leave him. There are wounds in the past that’ll never heal.’
Tomi stood up and left the sitting room, shivering. Her world was tumbling down and ripping apart the little hope she had left. She found her way to the veranda and sat on the floor.
Femi dialed Tomi’s number the second time. It rang and stopped. He dialed the number again.
‘Baby, please pick your call.’ He whispered, praying silently.
No response. He leaned against the body of his boss’ car and stared at the phone screen. Why wasn’t Tomi answering her calls? Last night, when he called and she didn’t pick up, he thought she’d slept. Since he got out of bed in the morning, he had tried her lines several times.
‘Femi, good morning.’
Femi raised his head to see Becky walking towards her car dressed in a black chivon top and flowery skirt. Her black high heels gave her a confident look but when Femi went over to meet her, he noticed her eyes were puffy.
‘Becky good morning. Hope you slept well.’
‘Not exactly.’ Becky responded.
Had she been crying? Femi moved closer. ‘Becky, are you okay?’
Becky forced a smile. ‘Don’t mind the way I’m looking this morning. I just need some more rest.’
Femi rested his hand on the door as Becky climbed into the car. ‘Becky, when was the last time you spoke with Tomi.’
‘A couple of minutes ago.’ Becky took a long glance at his face, wondering if she should have held her tongue. When Tomi called, she had said nothing about any misunderstanding with Femi.
‘What’s going on?’
Femi grinned and stepped back. ‘Everything is fine. Have a beautiful day.’
He stood there as Becky pulled out of the compound. His thoughts went back to Tomi again.
His phone rang.
He thrust his hand quickly into his pocket and reached for his cellphone.. Finally, Tomi had decided to return his calls. He was disappointed when a strange number appeared on his screen.
The voice at the other end sounded excited. ‘My name is Caleb. Am I speaking with Femi Akintunde?’
Femi tried to place the name with a face. ‘Yes. Mr Caleb, what can I do for you?’
‘Do you attend Garden Assembly?’
Femi hesitated. ‘Not anymore.’
‘Can you remember one Caleb, an SS 3 student you led to Christ about nine years ago?’
The name immediately clicked. Femi’s eyes widened. ‘Caleb!’
Femi covered his mouth with his hand. ‘What a surprise.’
He remembered the week he had returned for the semester break and Caleb had approached him after the first day of the youth conference. He was tired with his life. He wanted Jesus to take away the emptiness he felt in his heart. He’d led the boy to Christ that day and groomed him until few months later when Caleb’s father got a political appointment in Abuja and had to move his family away from Ado.
‘Where are you now?’
‘I’m in Lagos.’ Caleb responded in a confident voice. ‘I run a human resource consulting firm. Yesterday morning, while we sorted out CVs, I walked over to the table of one of my employees to get a quick update and my eyes went to her desktop and boom! right on her screen was your CV. I asked her to forward it to me because I needed to confirm if it was truly you.’
Femi didn’t know what to say. ‘This is unbelievable. I’ve lost count of the jobs applications I’ve written.’
‘Can you make it to Lagos before the end of the week? We really need to talk. I’ll book a hotel room and cover every other expenses. As regards getting a job in business strategy and innovation, it is settled. So when should I expect you?’
Femi thought he was dreaming. Could this be real? ‘Can I get back to you shortly.’
‘That’s fine. You can reach me on this number. Bro Femi, you can’t even understand what your impact in my life has done to my Christian walk. I can’t wait to see you again.’
When Caleb ended the call, Femi folded his hands and started laughing.
‘God, is this how you work?’ He muttered to himself.
He couldn’t believe his days as a driver was almost over. He was going to miss his boss who had become a father to him but it was time to step into the next phase of his life.
Femi’s phone beeped. He tapped his message inbox. Tomi.
Hi dear, can we see this evening. I’m sorry I’ve not been picking your calls. I’ll explain when we see. I love you.
He smiled and tapped on the blank message box. He started to tell her how worried he had been when he couldn’t reach her but he stopped and deleted the words.
I love you too Tomi.
‘Femi, what are we going to do? We are locked out on every side.’
Tomi put her hand beneath Femi’s arm as they walked towards a concrete slab at Fajuyi park. Femi waited until they were seated before directing his attention at her.
‘We pray and trust.’
‘We’ve been praying. Nothing is happening.’
Femi touched her cheek softly. ‘We walk by faith and not by sight.’ He stretched out his legs. ‘What do you say to morning devotions every day and fasting once a week.’
‘I’m in. Femi, sometimes, my faith just fails me. There are times I wonder if I’m actually the right helpmeet for you. ’
Femi stood up and turned around. He stopped in front of her, grinning broadly. He spread out his arms. ‘Can’t you see that I’m growing fatter and my skin is glowing more and more? My heart is at rest Tomi. I’m so happy.’
Tomi laughed. ‘I’m happy too. It’s like we should just get married tomorrow.’
He returned to his seat beside her. ‘There is gist o.’
Femi told Tomi about Caleb’s call. This was an opportunity for him to get the exposure he needed to pursue his dream. He’d also be able to pay some of her bills.
Tomi was not happy with the news and she didn’t make any attempt to hide her disapproval. ‘You want to pick a job in Lagos and leave me here in Ado?’
Femi was lost for words. He’d expected her to be happy . Didn’t she want him to leave the driving job for something better?
Femi’s expression was grim. ‘If I get this job, I promise I’ll be coming to Ado every weekend.’
Tomi flared up. ‘It’s not enough! You can’t just leave me to fight this battle alone. I need you here Femi. For goodness sake, you can see for yourself what we are already going through. Only God knows how long it is going to last.’
Femi touched her shoulder. Tomi pulled away and folded her hands.
‘You can’t leave me here. Look for a job here. Besides, working in Lagos will sap your energy and leave you depressed. I don’t care how much you are going to be paid there.’
Femi clenched his teeth. Anger rose in his heart. Why was Tomi selfish? This was a great opportunity for him. He had to convince her to believe he was making the right decision.
‘Tomi, I’m tired of Ado. I don’t want to stay here.’
Tomi eyes held him. ‘Femi, please. I need you. Let’s get married first and then we can do whatever we want. I will gladly follow you to Lagos.’
Why can’t Tomi understand? He might never get this kind of opportunity again.
The silence between them dragged on until Tomi stood up and looped the strap of her bag over her shoulder.
‘It’s obvious you have made up your mind. Just know that I cannot fight this battle alone. The lions here are ready to tear us apart. If you leave, I don’t know how much longer I can hold on.’
Tomi walked away from the park. When she turned, Femi was sitting where she’d left him. He didn’t look away.
Tomi walked faster, the turmoil in her heart threatening to explode.
Femi sat on his bed, confused.
Jesus, what am I supposed to do?
His boss had given him the permission to take the trip to Lagos. Tomi didn’t want it.
He was torn between his love for Tomi and moving on with his plans.
He sighed and reached for his phone. He would cancel the appointment with Caleb. Tomi needed his support now that her parents wanted him out of the way.
Caleb’s number didn’t go through. As he tapped his phone screen to dial the number again, Tomi’s call came in.
Tomi was silent for some seconds. ‘Oh now I’m Tomi abi? Not sweetheart. Not dearie.’
Femi smiled, his heart leaping at the playfulness in Tomi’s voice. ‘Baby mi. My one and only sweetheart. The woman who makes my heart go gigi.’
Tomi chuckled. ‘Be whining me there.’
‘You know I’m not. Me that couldn’t sleep well after you left for Lagos. I was always thinking about you. I’d look at your pictures and wished you’d just call for once. After a while I had to delete your contact and everything that reminded me of you just so I could get my sanity back. And then you came back, and I proposed and you said Yes. Chei, Tomi, how can you call that whining.’
Tomi laughed softly. ‘I love you Femi and I’m sorry about the way I reacted at the park.’
‘I’m also sorry for not seeing things from your end. We made a commitment to fight this together. I’ll tell Caleb I won’t be able to come to Lagos again.
‘Sweetheart, no.’ Tomi protested. ‘Please go and see him. I feel strongly this is part of God’s plan. I want the best for you.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘,Thank you.I will-‘
Femi stopped talking when he heard his sister shouting his name and rapping on his bedroom door. ‘Can I call you back? Bukola is at my door.’
‘I’ll be waiting.’ Tomi said and hung up.
When Femi opened the door, his sister was standing at the entrance, tears streaming down her face. In her hand was a brown diary. He stepped aside for her to enter his room.
Bukola faced Femi. Her temper was at full steam and her lips quivered as she spoke. ‘Mummy had nothing to do with Stella’s abortion. She was set up. Can you imagine?’
For one moment, Femi was confused. ‘What are you talking about?’
Bukola wiped her tears and leaned on the wall. ‘I’ve been clearing out mum’s belongings. Today, as I unpacked the last box, I saw this diary at the bottom of the box.’ She stopped. ‘You remember Pastor Shola’s daughter.’
Femi was impatient. He wanted to get to the end of the story. ‘Yes, Stella. Mum helped her get an abortion.’
‘Remember it was because of Stella that she was excommunicated.’
Femi nodded. ‘So what happened?’
Bukola flipped to the last page of the diary and held it out to her brother.
‘Mum didn’t do it. Stella confessed to her that it was Tomi’s mother that planned with her mother to get the abortion and –‘ The words choked her throat. ‘Just read it for yourself. I’m going to do everything in my power to deal with that church. And you see that god forsaken useless mother of Tomi, she will repay everything she has done to mummy! She is a stupid, useless.-‘
‘Will you just stop and let me read!’ Femi shouted.
Bukola folded her hand and stayed silent. Femi held the diary and began to read his mother’s last entry.
BEFORE WE GOT MARRIED Episode
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