I trudged on, bound hands and feet. The darkness that engulfed, thick and familiar, my daily experience. Yet, I walked, unbothered, overwhelmed by my existence, accepting my circumstances. After all, was it not the same for others?
I was on course, created by the one who had stolen my joy, and I allowed it; he killed my spirit, and I did not say a word; he destroyed every chance of life, the everlasting kind, and I did not care. I had too much to deal with here. This evil one remained behind the scenes, not showing himself, blowing the billows, and creating a narrative of lies for people like me. Did we know? Did we care? I took whatever life threw at me, carried the burden, wondering if this death I called life was all there was.
All I wanted was to assuage my hunger and deal with the daily challenges that walking with shackles created. I was good as long as I could endure and continue with my race. How was I to know that the endpoint was utter destruction?
But the source of light said NO!
He would not give up on me. NO! He would set me free.
“Name your price,” He asked the one working overtime in evil mastery.
“Your life,” was the reply.
“Done.” My Lord said without hesitation.
I did not know about it nor see them transact for my life, but He did what He said He would and set me free. I did not know Him, nor did I do anything for Him in return. All He did was for love. He had made so that He would carry.
I was still trudging on my way. Of course, the evil one wanted me there. He did not say a word, though he knew the truth. He remained quiet, pushing harder, keeping me entrenched in death and on the path to destruction.
Until the Light, who is Life spoke; of everlasting love and a deep well of grace. He spoke of an overflow of mercy and life without end. As He wove this narrative into my heart, the shackles started to break and fall off. As the truth hit, the darkness around me began to recede, as if it could not bear the light emanating from Him and in every word He uttered.
He spoke of a heavenly position in Him and my place in the Godhead. Me, a god with God? Who knew? His voice reverberated a kindness I had never felt, with a love I did not deserve, and His light and truth set me free completely. My life, He said, was a gift from Him, bought with the blood He shed on a tree, which I could never repay and never needed to.
“What do I do now? How do I live for you?” I asked, eager to serve this man, my Master, and My Lord.
“You have been re-born a light and truth bearer, full of life. Intricately woven and perfectly assembled for me. The plan is for you to do my will as you live for me alone. Walk with me every moment of your life, for it is easy to slide back into the old. I will teach you my ways and guide you on the right path. Will you do this?” He said
“What happens to the life I have here?” I asked, confused.
He smiled. “That was death. I dealt with it once and for all. Lay your life before me and make room, and you need never worry about another moment in your life. This new life I have given is too sacred and beautiful for less than glory. Are you with me?” He said, stretching His hand out to me.
I grinned as I laid my hand in His, in trust and total dependence. “Of course, my Lord.”
There was a time I could not introduce myself this way, stuttering and stammering because how could anyone look at me and call me blessed?
I lived by standards foreign to my original design, upheld cultures contrary to my soul, and turned strange myself.
The rat race? I was the fastest rat, but I realized over time that it does not lead to cheese or dry fish. The sad truth, people are still running.
When and where did all this start? This need to be someone relevant and respected, who my parents could be proud of.
I grew up with the understanding that if you were not someone of importance, beautiful, connected, or knowledgeable, you were not relevant and could stay stuck on a wall for the rest of your life.
My parents loved us, but no matter their education, they were already part of the system that expected a girl child to grow up, make something of herself, lay all that at a man’s feet, have children, and die happy.
But alas, though I sought it with all my heart, things didn’t go as I or my parents planned. Though passably intelligent, I failed at school. I was too big when the ‘it’ girls were slim. Life seemed to conspire against me, and in shame, I developed a low self-esteem that kept me at home, eating and happy.
Instead of finding happiness in the externals as I thought, I turned inwards to the stuff that could keep me happy-books, movies, and then God last. We always had that relationship I couldn’t define. First, it was about the fear of hell, but I lost interest when I realized that bad people weren’t dying and going to Hade’s palace. Then it was for help with school after I messed up horribly, and when help didn’t come the way I expected, I lost interest again till I found the truth.
Now, what does the truth do? Light for your darkness. For the first few years under my spiritual father, I heard the truth and grasped the concept a little, but I still sought to live by the culture and way I knew and grew up to live. To meet their goals no matter how I had failed to before. To press on and meet the challenges family, friends, and society had set for me, regardless of what God wanted.
I ran that race. I chased those goals. I didn’t meet any; none.
I have seen many in life who checked all those boxes and got t-shirts with their achievements printed on them. I have seen some who met some life goals and were celebrated, but I didn’t meet any of mine. I didn’t understand; my parents didn’t understand. I needed help grasping the problem, as I had all the resources available to succeed.
I faced challenges trying to conform to the rules and regulations, to belong, but I have yet to do so. Now I know that someone planned that I would not. No, could not until I came to Him, rid of those shackles that held me down in a race I could never win.
Liberty, what is that? The ability to live life as God created me led by His Spirit, not in the flesh. Is that way of life possible? Ask everyone from Abraham to John. They all lived facets of that life, but I am to live it fully in my day.
I still live in the world; how can I say I will not live by its rules and regulations? But Christ died and freed me from the chains of sin and death. Therefore I am enabled by grace to live the God-life in God-awareness.
From the moment I wake until I sleep, I am to immerse myself in God, doing His will and being led by Him (His word). Not led by my desires, friends, family, or life. I do what God tells me at all times, not what I want, what my parents or society wants. I live as God’s child, protected and provided for by Him. That is my reality, my daily walk, and practice.
Is it easy to leave this life behind? It is by faith, enabled by grace. The truth is that this world is dark, and what we all do at best is to grope around in search of some light. I would rather live by faith in Him (the Light).
How do we live by faith? Hebrews 11 defines faith as:
💡 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 NKJV
Living by faith is living with the assurance that you have what you hope for and that the evidence of the unseen realities God has promised are yours. How can you get this assurance and proof? From God.
We have turned away from our true selves because, from birth, we have been mired in the operations and life existent in the world. The eyes of men are blinded by the god of this world, who propels them to live by doing instead of by seeking and waiting.
God said in Jeremiah:
💡“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13 NKJV
God expects our all. Not some parts of us, but all of us. That is the only way to live in Him, not the world. I live daily to ensure He is my all, as His child. In that practice, I see how He protects me and how the miraculous can be possible at all times. Unbound, unrestricted, enabled for the impossible.
Baba opened his door and shut his eyes when he saw his visitor. The tears threatened to spill.
“Thank you, Father.” He whispered as he opened his door again, to the young lady standing on the other side. “Ifeoma, good morning to you.”
“Good morning, Baba. I hope it’s not too early to visit?”
“If it were, would it stop you?” He asked with a smile as he turned back into the house.
Not sure whether to follow, she waited for him to come out. He did, with the chair she sat on the day before.
“Sit. How may I be of service?”
She sat, thinking, while he took his seat and watched her, his eyes narrowing as he prayed.
“My mother believed God is real, but until now, there has been nothing to show it. Yesterday, you reminded me of her life and how she sought to worship this God, but for what? I don’t understand what it’s all about. He neither speaks nor hears, nor is He interested in my life.”
“And yet, here you are.” He said, smiling.
“I am here to understand what you see, what mommy saw and believed. That is all.”
Baba looked down and thought and thought. Ifeoma almost felt sorry for him but figured that since he had decided to mess with her, it was his duty to answer the hard questions that plagued her for so long.
“Are you here to get me to prove to you that God exists?” He asked, looking up at her.
“Well, can you?”
“Why would I, when the truth about God’s existence is everywhere? You are breathing His air, standing on His earth, questioning His existence with the mind He created in you. Need I say more?”
“Even if He created everyone, why leave us to the mercy of the accursed earth, with no help, no support? He could have just left us on train tracks to be run over. How can people still equate Him with love?”
Baba looked up and greeted a passing neighbor who held his wife’s hand as they hurried to work. He looked on till they disappeared, a side of his face lifting in a smile, as he turned to her.
“I was married for 40 years to my life partner. Love didn’t come immediately, the real one, of course, not the nonsense people live out now. Over time, we trusted ourselves more, became more comfortable with each other, and complimented one another. We were in sync most of the time, as you young people like to say.” He said as he smiled.
“One day, she was there, the next, she was gone. Forever. I saw her everywhere. I continued speaking to her as I tried to go about my daily activities, but one day, it dawned on me that she wasn’t coming back. She would not walk through the door again, with her smile meant for me alone. She would never make my favorite meals or do all in her power to help me relax at the end of a hard day.
I believed God, but it was difficult.” He said, shaking his head as he looked up and away. “Her illness had been short and swift, leaving a gaping hole in my life. When the immensity of my loss hit, I bowed under the pain and cried to God for help, for anything that would enable me to lift my head again to see the rising sun.
One morning, I realized that though we had loved and worshipped God as sovereign, my wife had been my world. Not that you can’t love people, but she was my sun; a position only God should have.
I sat up and repented before the King of kings. I started to talk to Him about my pain. I spoke to Him as I took a bath, as I made myself breakfast, as I washed up, and as I got ready for work. I spoke to Him about everything, because I know He is. I continued by faith, believing He heard and would soothe my hurt and use it for His glory.”
Ifeoma couldn’t take her eyes off the man. She didn’t know about his wife, nor her death.
“God started to confirm things in my mind. I would take action and realize that God had spoken it and I had acted in obedience. I started to listen more and to obey.” Baba said as he laughed. “Oh, but I made mistakes. Sometimes, I would act out as I desired, believing God was with me, only to discover I was doing what I wanted and not what He wanted. Over time, I came to know and follow Him, and my tears turned to joy.
You see, Ifeoma, it is true that God owns everything on the earth. The land, the people, animals, trees, all that is for His glory. He chose a new family for me, of which you and your mother were part, and you are still family to me. The more I grew to trust and spend time with Him, the more His Spirit taught me, and my eyes were opened to a higher reality. Let me stop there, but do you see we have things in common? Man wasn’t dropped into the world by a cruel monster-creator to suffer and die. We are here to achieve God’s purpose. Your mother understood this and lived her life in the hope that her days were in and for Him.”
“Why doesn’t He talk to me? Why didn’t He comfort me when mommy passed, or even try to show He cared? There was nothing from Him.”
“I suppose it would not help to tell you He was right there with you, every moment. However, you should know your mother didn’t bring you here to listen to our stories, or to continue a custom of fellowship. She hoped that you would understand that God exists and that He can be sought and found. My advice, dear child, is seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and everything else shall be added.”
A frown marred her forehead with lines as she raised an eyebrow. “And what does that mean?”
He smiled. “Look for God with all your heart. Allow His rule over your life, and He will provide all you need to live out the purpose for which you were created. Believe me, you are chosen. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t.”
Ifeoma spread her hands wide, even as her eyes widened. “But how do I find Him?”
Baba laughed as he stood, looking at her. “Ask Him every day to teach you to know Him. Ask by faith and believe that He will instruct you in the right way. Can you do that?”
“Is that all? Don’t I need to read the bible, go to church, etc.?”
“Well, the God I know will lead you on the path of righteousness for His name’s sake.” He said and laughed when she rolled her eyes. “That means He will show you the next thing, when you need to do it and how. The most important requirement when following the Shepherd is to believe and to wait on Him.”
Ifeoma left Baba’s house that day tasking herself with communicating with God. Would He speak to her? Would He even want to? How? Thinking on these things, she said a simple prayer in her heart and hoped that the Heavenly Father, who stood close, heard.
Amara smiled as she put the plates in the dishwasher; the perks she got from living with Gerald astounded her. They moved into the penthouse of a high-rise apartment building in the Central. Now Amara understood the life Gerald lived.
Gerald took her shopping and changed their wardrobes, explaining that since they were no longer in Wilderness, they could upgrade a bit, Amara agreed. Her head was almost coming off with the force of her nods. He also provided money for her family, which she accepted with gratitude and trepidation.
The apartment on the twentieth floor, painted in pale cream and lilac, had a feminine effect, Amara thought a bit much, but Gerald loved the colours. A spacious three-bedroom flat, with all rooms en-suite, including a large living room. They turned an enclave before the kitchen into the dining area. Amara loved the kitchen, it came with all the required accessories; Gerald loved the coffee maker most.
The furniture shop delivered their beds the day before, and Amara felt like she could float. They painted her bed purple, with a lilac cushioned headboard and added extra drawer spaces by the sides. By the time she went shopping with Gerald for the living room seater-set, Amara acknowledged his wife would be one lucky girl.
She left the kitchen, worried over how dependent on him she had become. They started their book discussions again in the evenings after Gerald returned from work. He accepted a job catering for church events. The church president connected him to the Church’s care group, and the orders were pouring in, regardless of the case against him in Wilderness.
They took morning walks early, as Amara kept complaining about her weight. Gerald always prayed, so they walked in silence. They never discussed the infection in Wilderness because she refused to believe his God healed her, but after the different tests confirmed her free of the infection after his prayer that morning, she could not deny the truth. Amara still did not want to acknowledge God’s goodness to her; however, on the first morning they walked, she thanked his God.
Amara still noticed the looks from Gerald when he thought she looked elsewhere. When she wore her new clothes and got ready for shopping, his eyes mirrored his thoughts. She did not understand the power with which he held himself in check but recognised his God meant too much to him.
His all-encompassing love for his God worried her. Would such love allow him to care for a woman as well? With a lip pout turned left and narrowed eyes, she pondered the question as she went to her room and got ready for the day. Amara planned something big. She told her parents she would pick up Alex and informed Gerald of a surprise. She hoped he would love her daughter.
Amara started thinking about introducing Alex to him after they moved out of the Church quarters. She felt a sense of peace about presenting her daughter to her best friend, a title she gave him in her heart.
She opened her wardrobe, and a laugh escaped her lips at the fabric colours hanging there. Her smile waned a bit when she remembered her daughter possessed nothing new. She shrugged the downer off, promising herself that once she moved into her own house with Alex, she would splurge on the girl.
Amara picked Alex up with extra clothing for the next day, then they set off for the Central. Gerald was in the house when they arrived. The food on the dining table, coconut rice, and chicken sauce looked sumptuous, and the aroma made Amara’s mouth water. She smiled when she heard soft music playing from the speakers set up around the house, while she made Alex comfortable in the living room. Amara strolled to Gerald’s door and called out to him.
A few seconds later, he opened the door to his bedroom in his vest and jeans. “Hey, Amara. What’s the surprise?”
“Come with me.” She said, with a half-smile on her lips. Her heart raced as she led him to the living room, unsure of his reaction. The way she kept looking at him made him sober up, and he followed her lead.
Once there, Amara pointed at Alex. “Gerald, this is my five-year-old daughter, Alexandria.” Turning to her daughter, she smiled. “Alex, say good evening to Mr. Gerald.”
“Good evening,” Alex said, offering him an imperceptible bow.
Gerald’s mouth opened, but nothing came out. He sat down in the chair opposite Alex’s and beckoned to her. The little girl hesitated, not sure about him, and leaned towards her mother. Amara led her to him and took a seat next to them, watching.
Gerald looked at Alex and back at Amara, smiling, “She is beautiful, like you.”
Amara smiled back.
“Alex, you can call me Gerald.” He said to the little girl, who nodded. “Are you hungry?” Alex nodded again, smiling. “Good, there is enough food to feed an army. Have you ever seen an army?” He asked the little girl again as he led her to the dining table.
Alex nodded. “On T.V.”
He smiled and looked at Amara, winking, before he turned to Alex. “Good, excellent. Tell me all about them.”
As they got to the dining table, Alex looked back at Amara to confirm she was coming with them. Alex took the seat Gerald offered, confident in the smile her mother flashed her.
Amara walked into the cafe and spotted Acapella and Romeo at once. They stood out with rough clothes, though their best, and loud conversation, although they were trying to be quiet, as they leaned close to talk.
Amara smiled as she strolled to their table, noting the discomfort on the faces of the people sitting near the boys. The boys smiled at her, standing as she neared their table. The smiles, a rare occurrence, meant a lot to her. She greeted them, and they all sat.
Amara ordered coffee and water for the boys; the cafe did not serve alcohol. The boys preferred bland to sweet, without alcohol.
She turned to them, still smiling. “You boys surprised me with your call. What’s the news?”
Acapella coughed. “Snake, we are not sleeping on the fire matter. We have been working underground to find out who wants you dead. Nma is the game master.”
“Be careful. The woman has evil plans for you. The fire was child’s play. She wants you dead. The boys and I are watching her and her boys. Leaving Wilderness was a good play. Stay where you are.” Acapella said, and leaned back as the server delivered their orders.
The news shocked Amara, but not as much as the boys expected. In the business of prostitution, the strong took the weak out, clean. If not Nma, someone else would attempt the same thing, seeing as Amara’s relationship with Madam Meg deteriorated with time. It was Nma’s need to kill her that confused her more than anything else. There were so many ways to take her out, death should have been the last option.
Looking at her boys, she smiled again. “My people, well done. I wonder what I did to the girl to incur her hate?” She looked around, frowning, then focused on them. “Boys, I will send you small cash. Call our man to run a search. I want reports telling me everything about her. Find out her village, family, friends, enemies, everything that connects, and call me with the information.”
The guys nodded. Standing, they hailed her and left the cafe.
Amara tried to understand Nma’s motivation and shook her head, smiling at the girl’s good fortune. If they had met years ago, Nma would not have had enough teeth to tell the tale. Amara sneered at the thought of fighting with Nma now. What a waste of time and energy. Madam Meg must back her, but Amara suspected the Madam was not aware of Nma’s murderous schemes.
She looked up at the ceiling. “Did you save me from her that night?” She asked, shook her head and looked at her coffee. “If you did, you have my attention. You may not want me to kill Nma, but I need to teach her a lesson about messing with the wrong people. So, I am inviting you into my planning sessions from now on, since I understand you need to be with me at all costs.” She stood smiling and left the cafe. A plan forming in her mind.
Two days later, as Amara listened to Acapella’s report on Nma, her irritation grew. Nothing he said gave any clues to the reason for Nma’s hatred. She waited for him to finish. “She is an Otuma girl. They sold her to Mr. A, so? Acapella, pick one of her girls from the house and torture her. Find out why Nma is after me. I will send you money now. Do you understand?”
She hung up and sat back in the living room, annoyed. She spent almost all the housekeeping money Gerald gave her on this matter. He called the money, house funds, but he bought groceries and cooked most of their food.
Amara looked up to the ceiling. “Your boy is trying. I want to pay him back, but he will not agree to my mode of payment. He is so afraid of you he cannot see the packaging in front of him. More like he can, but won’t dare touch.”
She preferred to wait for Gerald at lunchtime. He made food time an event. She rolled her eyes at her thoughts, but did not berate herself too much. She stopped punishing herself long ago. Amara realised earlier on that she cared about Gerald. She would ask Gerald for the cash without discussing what it was for. Telling him was pointless.
Now, to deal with Nma. Amara picked up her phone and called an old acquaintance. Someone useful to her in her younger days in the brothel. He picked up on the second ring.
“Hah, long time.”
“Hello Lawrence,” she said, infusing enough warmth into her voice and lowering it for effect. He never hid the fact that he wanted her, but she never mixed the hustle with play. “I hope well?”
“I am fine, my sister. Quite surprised at your call. Anything for your boy?”
“Lawrence, boy?” She asked and laughed. “I need you to help me handle someone. Can you?”
“Hmm, is this person in Wilderness?”
“Yes, she is. She wants me dead, and I want to teach her I can’t die unless I say so.”
Lawrence laughed. “I can do anything for you, but anything for your boy?”
“Haba, Lawrence, of course. How much are we talking?”
Lawrence laughed again. “Not how much, but when? When can we be together?”
Amara’s eyes searched the room, as her brain searched for a response. “Lawrence, but I don’t do such things. You and I go way back.”
“Yes, but this guy wants you. I never forgot about you. Even when you moved up to the big leagues and forgot about small us. I kept asking around. I think I fell for you. Come and ease my suffering, and the girl is dead meat.”
Amara weighed different options to dodge the request, which surprised her. She would have given his request a second thought before, but not now. She shook her head at how much Gerald was messing with her system. “Lawrence, you mean you are not aware I contacted the AIDS virus?”
His sharp intake of breath was not quiet. She heard him swear.
“AIDS, when, how?” he asked. “You, Amara? You are lying.” He laughed, his unease obvious. “You are pulling my legs.”
“Ask around in Wilderness, Lawrence. The news is all over the place.”
“Oh, my God, you are serious. I am so sorry, my dear. How are you doing?”
“Coping. That is why I am surprised this little goat still wants me dead. Haven’t I suffered enough?”
“I would have visited, but you cannot still be in the brothel. Madam Meg would not agree with you living there with the information out in the public. Where are you now?” He asked.
“I’m in a small room at the back of Wilderness, near the rubbish heap. Don’t worry about me, you cannot come here. Just tell me how much I need to pay for you to deal with the girl. There is some money I saved up.”
“The money you will use to treat yourself? Don’t worry, I will do this one for you. Any plans on how you want her dealt with?” he asked.
Gerald asked her out to the beach that Sunday. Amara went out and bought clothes to make Gerald’s beach experience a living hell. She wanted him to put off the good boy mask for once.
Early Sunday morning, Gerald prepared the refreshments for the beach. He fried fish, beef, chicken, some calamari and big prawns. He also prepared peppered gizzards and snails. Amara thanked the lord for the man. She walked out to the kitchen ready, with a wrap-round kimono dress and sandals. Her hat sat well on her hair, and she tucked her sunshades into the collar of the dress.
Gerald looked up at her and smiled. “Ready?”
She nodded, smiling back. She would shock him out of his celibate state. He wore a t-shirt and shorts. The shirt clung to him, showing off the muscles he gained in the gym. He believed a full-time chef should advertise wellness and healthy living to his customers. He looked so edible from behind. Everything looked strong.
He turned back to her, and she almost jumped out of her skin.
Gerald noted her reaction. “Are you alright? Why are you so startled?”
Amara smiled at him. “I’m fine, you caught me day-dreaming.”
“Do you want to talk? The beach can wait.”
“No, let’s go.”
He nodded and turned to leave, with Amara right behind him. She inhaled the scent of his perfume and groaned. She did not know who was dealing with whom at that point in the campaign.
The car sped off, and she took a side-long look at him, smiling. She loved the way he made her problems a priority. He always dropped everything to listen. Nobody else treated her like he did. She continued to worry about their time of separation. Would she be as unscratched as she thought?
They got to the beach, and Gerald found the right spot with chairs, a table, and an umbrella. The empty beach met Amara’s needs. She wanted Gerald all to herself, with as little an audience as possible.
They laid their stuff on the table, and when he sat, Amara started the show. Still standing, she took off her hat and removed the sunshades from the nook of her shirt, putting them on. She removed her kimono and draped it on the arm of her chair, and turned back to the water without looking at Gerald, taking some steps forward for effect.
Gerald coughed a loud one. “Amara, the shorts are not decent.”
She turned to him and smiled. “That’s why we call them bum shorts.”
She turned back to the water and knelt on the sand, trying to build something, anything. When she moved forward, the shorts hiked up with the movement. Something fell off their table, and she turned back to look. Gerald uncrossed his legs and bent to pick the can of ginger ale on the sandy floor. The unease on his face evident, and she smiled. He looked up and caught her at it.
“You’re doing this on purpose.” He said, his voice low with understanding. It sounded like a come-on.
Amara moved close to him. The one-piece bikini she wore with the shorts, showing off her breasts to quite an advantage. “I want you, Gerald, and I am unashamed to say it.” She said, turned and walked off towards the water.
Gerald said little at the beach. He did not look unhappy, but his mood changed. He answered her questions with smiles and made small comments. She hoped she had changed his mind.
Later that night, after a movie, he told her to stay back for a while. Amara sat down, expectant; his face gave nothing away, nor did he look at her.
“Amara, I’m moving out.” He turned to look her in the eyes, still not displaying any emotion.
Amara did not understand. “What did you say?”
“I’m moving out of the house soon.”
A long pause. “Why?” She asked.
He hesitated, looking at the empty screen of the T.V, scratching his head, and then he folded his arms. “I can’t do what you want me to do. I want to, but God comes first.” He said as he laughed, nervous. He turned back to Amara. “God is omnipresent. Working and staying out of the house should have helped, but today… I realized that I only kept my attraction at bay.” He touched his lips with his fingers as if trying to control what escaped from them. “I was kidding myself, and I am afraid I might give in to you soon. God help me. I won’t be far away; I’ll try to get accommodation in a building nearby–”
“Someone wants me dead.” She said. She had to say something to shut him up before she screamed.
“What? What did you say?” He asked, moving close to her.
“Someone wants me dead. You should be here with me. I promise not to pull that stunt ever again. I promise not to aggravate you anymore, but please stay. This is your house; I should be the one to leave.”
He moved closer and held her hand. “Do you know who?”
“I believe a girl from the brothel in Wilderness. The reason escapes me, but she hates me.”
“Nma.” He said, looking at her and nodding as Amara’s eyes widened. “She set me up in the quarters as well. She started the gossip about me. God showed me you are her actual target. I’m just a side goal, but He also told me to leave everything to Him.” He said, taking her hands in his. “I will stay, not because I can protect you, but because I want to. Marry me, Amara, please.”
Amara’s heart fluttered. He knew how to keep the good stuff coming. “Why? Because we want each other?”
“It helps,” he said, smiling. “Marry me because God wishes us to live and grow old together.”
She took her hands from his. “God abandoned me when I needed him the most. If He can do such a thing, what is a mere man? Men promise heaven and all, but nothing ever comes of it. Gerald, you mean well, but I just want to enjoy your body, and when we are done, we are done. Why is it so hard? I am sorry, but I don’t believe in promises. Good night and thank you for staying.” She said and stood to leave.
“Remember Amara, leave Nma to God. He will protect you himself.” Gerald said as he watched her leave.
Gerald stepped out of his room, as Amara was coming out of the bathroom. They both stopped and stared at each other. Amara smiled, and Gerald felt warmth flood his body, from his head to his toes.
“Good morning,” He smiled back at her and continued walking to the living room. Unsure of her mood.
Amara stepped into his path, blocking him. “Good morning Gerald, off to work? Here, let me help you with your shirt.” She reached out to touch his shirt. Gerald caught both her hands with his own and put them down.Amara smiled. “I understand. You don’t want me touching or kissing you?”
Gerald did not return the smile. “Amara. I hope you slept well. Breakfast is in the microwave. I will talk to you at noon.” He continued on his way.
“Is my weight the problem?” She asked from behind him. He turned back to her, his brows furrowing. “I checked the weighing scale in the bathroom, and I added about 4kg. Is that why you don’t want me?”
Gerald shook his head, turned, and walked away; this time hoping to leave the house as fast as possible.
“Answer me, Gerald.” She said, following him.
He stopped at the door, not bothering to turn around. “I am not a body you can assuage your needs with. I cannot explain the depths of my feelings. You wouldn’t understand. I want to be with you, but you don’t want to trust or believe anything I say. I want to help with your struggles, Amara. Let me.”
Amara turned and walked back to her room. Gerald stood looking at the door until he heard her bedroom door close. He left the house wanting to scream or kick something.
She had taken to teasing him, sometimes in anger and sometimes out of boredom. She was his first item of discussion in God’s presence. He kept asking the Father what he could do to help her. She confused him further by not talking. Tired of seeing her wallow in whatever was eating her up, Gerald stayed out of her way. They would start leaving the house, he decided.
When Gerald got back at noon, an empty house greeted him. Amara didn’t tell him she was going out. He called her phone, and when she didn’t answer, he sent a message. He waited a while for her response, but nothing came. As he got up to leave the house, he hesitated at the impatient raps on his door. His eyes widened when he opened the door to the last person he expected to see.
“Oh, hello. Nma, correct?” He asked, putting forward his hand with a smile.
Nma, dressed to murder, rushed forward in her too-tight dress to grasp, and shake his hand. “Yes, Pastor, it’s Nma.”
“I’m sorry, but Amara is not here at the moment.” Gerald said as he tried to extricate his hand from the grip.
“No, sir. I came to talk to you.” She said, holding on.
Gerald grinned as he used his other hand to remove hers. “Nma, I am not a Pastor. Please call me Gerald. Since you came for me, let us go to the church office.”
“Gerald, Pastor Josh is using the church office, and I want to talk to you about Amara, alone. Can we talk in your house?”
Gerald wondered if she dressed up for an outing, or for him. The first option seemed scary. “Sure, come in.”He said as he moved aside for her to walk in and closed the door behind them.
By the time he turned back to her, she had made herself comfortable, so he took the seat beside her.
“Gerald, did Amara tell you anything about her health issues?” She asked.
Gerald was quiet for a minute. “You mean, about the AIDS?”
Nma’s mouth opened a bit. She composed herself, seeing her news did not trouble Gerald. “Well, she lost all her customers, and she is a no-go for every Madam in the city. She can never work here again. Since she’s staying with you, I took it upon myself to tell you about it.” She smiled, leaning forward to show-off more of her exposed breasts. “A man like you, who is kind enough to allow a harlot into his house, should not earn such wickedness for it.”
Gerald looked down, praying for wisdom. “Nma, I presume Amara is not your friend?”
She looked away from him. “Oh, we are close. I thought you could not be aware of the situation because you are still living with her. Women are good at hiding such things. I wanted you to be informed.” She turned back to him, smiling.
“Gerald, why are you still living with her if you know she is an AIDS carrier?”
Gerald smiled. “Nma, Amara doesn’t have AIDS.”
“Oh, is that right?” Nma asked after a long while, looking at Gerald, a pitiful look. “Did she say so?”
“Yes. Since you are close to Amara, you can help tell all her friends the good news.” Gerald said and stood. “I need to head back to the office. Thank you for coming and for looking out for me.”
Nma stood and walked close to him. “Gerald, I can do so much more for you,” she whispered. She kept her bag on the seat she had vacated and snapped the clasp of her dress from the shoulder. It fell away from her body, leaving her naked except for the matching bra and panties she wore. “I liked you from the start, and I hoped you would like me too.”
Gerald picked up her dress from the ground. He took her by the hand and dragged her to his room. He opened the door, shoved the dress at her, and pushed her in. “I’m giving you fifteen seconds before I call the women in the church. I’m waiting for you here.” He said and closed the door behind him.
Twenty seconds later, Nma walked past him and into the living room. Gerald picked her bag and handed the minute case to her. “I may not be a pastor, but I am still a man of God. Please ensure this never repeats itself. Leave.” He gestured to the door with his hand. She looked him over, smiled, and turned to go. Before she got to the door, he called her name.”Don’t come to this house again to visit your close friend or me.”
At midnight, Gerald stopped pretending to read and turned off the side lamp near his bed. He had waited long enough; he would try to sleep.
Amara came in at 2 am, and Gerald listened to the noise she made as she walked into her room. He gave her five minutes before he went to her door and knocked.
“Amara, I’m coming in. I hope you’re decent.” He waited for ten seconds and turned the door handle. The room was dark, and she giggled as he turned on the light. Her blanket moved, and he wondered why she would hide from him. He heard her whisper to herself to be quiet.
He moved to the bed, and grasping the blanket from her hand, pulled the cloth away from her face. She kept struggling, though. “Amara, can we talk? I’ll wait for you in the living room. Please dress up.” He let the blanket go and walked out.
Gerald waited for fifteen minutes in the living room before returning to her. The door was still open, and she was snoring.
A week later, severe sores appeared on Amara’s face. They started from her mouth, but after a day or two, moved to her chin and her jaw. She complained of weakness and fever.
Gerald took her to the hospital when the medication she got from the pharmacy some days earlier did not seem to work. A day later, they picked up the results, and oral herpes happened.
Stunned, Gerald moped at the doctor as he confirmed the report and asked her questions about her lifestyle. Back in the quarters, Amara was on the way to her room when Gerald decided he was done with her attitude.
She stopped but didn’t turn around to face him.
Gerald prayed for wisdom and patience. “From your reaction to the sores, is this your first experience with such a thing?”
“Do you think this happened because of your night out last week?”
Amara was quiet.
Gerald stepped closer to her. “Where did you go that night? What happened?”
Amara lifted her hands up and took steps away from him. “Oh, for god’s sake. I’m an adult and can do as I please, even if I am living in your house. Can’t I have some privacy? I went to get my itch scratched, since you wouldn’t oblige me.” She turned and moved close to him. “I am what I am, and I needed a man. A real man for one night, to make me whole again. I hope I have said all you wanted to hear?”
Gerald looked at her for a while, walked past her, and left the room. She followed him to his room and bristled as he locked the door.
“Come out here. What did you expect? I am a prostitute!” She hit his door. “Open this door now and listen. This is my way and my life. You played the God’s boy role perfectly, but I wanted you to touch me, hold me. I must survive. Do you understand? I have people depending on me, waiting for money to feed and go to school? So, don’t enter your room and judge me, you judge. Come out! This is the Amara you wanted to marry; this is the girl God sent you to love. Are you tired already? This conversation hasn’t started yet? Come out, now!” she shouted, kicking the door.
Gerald opened the door, advanced towards her fast and held her shoulders, forcing her away from his door. Amara stepped back in fear, but remained still, waiting. She looked like she had resigned herself to whatever he meted out to her.
Gerald dropped his hands and shook his head. “I would never hurt you, Amara, never. All the words you shouted at me must ring true to you, but none made sense to me. This is not the first time we are dealing with the threat of disease together. I sat with you in the hospital for the HIV screen tests. I waited with you for the results, believing you couldn’t be positive.
“If you wanted a man, you should have agreed to be mine and we would have started the marriage process, but no. If there are people depending on you, come to me. I can sort you out, again and again. You are your own worst enemy and until you are clear on that, I will always be the guy by the wayside to you.” He turned and walked back into his room, locked his door again.
The next morning, Gerald knew what he had to do. On his way to work, he went to Amara’s room and opened the door. She was sound asleep on her bed, still wearing the clothes from the day before. He went to her and laid a hand on her head. A fever lit her skin like fire, the sores taking up more space on her body.
He knelt beside her and prayed for healing, finishing with thanksgiving. He left her room and closed the door behind him.
When Gerald returned at noon, Amara lay sprawled on the center carpet, sound asleep. She must have been watching the television because the news was on. She littered her medicine packs all over the table. Gerald decided not to disturb her and went to the kitchen. He noted she finished the food he left, or he hoped so.
He prepared lunch and went back to the living room to sit and pray, not eating. He finished and noticed that Amara was looking at him.
“Good afternoon. What’s the time?” She asked.
He smiled, surprised she was speaking to him. He checked his wristwatch. “1 pm. Are you still hurting from the sore?”
“Yes, thank you. Do you believe your prayers work?”
Gerald nodded. “Yes, Amara, I believe prayers work. If not for prayers, I wouldn’t be here today. God makes his power available to those who believe and trust him.”
She sighed and lay down again. “I’m happy for you.”
They remained in silence, and Gerald enjoyed the experience. He continued to speak to God in his heart about the situation at hand.
“Would you help me? With cash, I mean?” She asked, not looking at him.
He nodded. “Yeah, how much do you need?”
Amara sat up. “About two hundred thousand haras. Can you spare such an amount of money? I’ll pay you back.”
Gerald’s eyes flashed. “How would you pay me back, Amara?”
She looked down at her hands and did not respond. Gerald didn’t think she would. He moved to the carpet and sat next to her, holding her hands.
“Marry me, Amara, please. I’ll care for you and all your dependents. You won’t do such jobs anymore.”
Amara removed her hand from his. “Gerald, your offer is tempting, but I know first-hand what women mean to men-nothing. I swore never to shackle myself to any man a long time ago. I have no safety net to fall on if your feelings change or your God asks you to move on. How will I survive?” She took his hand again. “Can’t we be friends? Good friends?”
Gerald sighed and nodded. He stood and helped her up. “I need to return to the Church. Let’s be friends for now. I’ll always be here for you, as long as God gives me breath.” He said as he turned and walked to the door. “I will transfer the money as soon as possible.”
At first, Gerald was oblivious. He kept doing his daily work until it was clear the staff no longer helped him out like before. First, the rude stares, the whispers behind his back came next. From church staff, women in the church, to some men he knew. They were all making efforts to ignore him.
After a day of careful thinking, he went to Pastor Josh.
The pastor made him sit. “Gerald, Nma brought a sexual harassment allegation against you to our attention. The Parish Council has said nothing yet, but Nma informed certain members of the parish that you tried to sleep with her in your quarters.”
Gerald sat up and moved closer. “What do you mean, I tried to sleep with her? How? And if I may ask, how am I the last person in the Parish to hear about this?”
Pastor Josh raised an eyebrow. “Well, I was going to call you in this evening to brief you, but as you have found out yourself, it is well. Amara living with you does not help this matter. This accusation laid against you affects the whole parish. People will think I condone such things, and to be frank, this situation is not good for both of us. I must insist Amara leave your quarters and you must go home for a while until we investigate this allegation. I will talk to the Church president about this and give you feedback.”
Gerald’s eyes widened. “Pastor, are you asking me to leave? Do you believe the allegations against me?”
“Gerald, Nma is a child of God who attends this church. Prostitute or no, we must defend their rights and investigate, or people will think we are partial to our own. The situation is beyond me. I’m asking you to leave because the members of the Parish Council asked me to send you away. I will investigate the matter myself, prove you are innocent, and afterward, you can come back.”
Gerald got up, thanked the Pastor, and left the office. He went straight to his quarters, entered his room, and locked the door. On his knees, Gerald sought the Father’s face.
His head seemed full, and his mind was unclear. Amara, Nma, Pastor Josh, and the church. He felt darkness trying to overtake him like a powerful wave.
“Jesus!” He uttered as he laid his head on the carpet. The world was fighting against him. He asked God for help, and not knowing how to continue, he fell asleep on the floor in exhaustion and despair.
Gerald was walking hand in hand with Amara on a lonely street. Happy and chatting as they walked, he heard a voice. “Turn around and save your beloved.”
He turned, and Nma was running towards them with a knife. She looked like she was aiming for Amara, but Gerald stood in her way.
Nma stopped and glared at him. “Out of my way, Pastor boy. She must die.”
Gerald shook his head. “No, she will not die. She will live to praise the Lord.”
Nma laughed. “Which God? If you don’t step away from her, I will make your life a living hell as well. Now, move.”
As Nma made to strike, a hand appeared from nowhere and slapped her hard. She hit the ground face down, and her knife fell away from her.
The voice sounded loud in Gerald’s heart.
‘Therefore, thus says the Lord: “If you return, Then I will bring you back; You shall stand before Me; If you take out the precious from the vile, You shall be as My mouth. Let them return to you, but you must not return to them. And I will make you to these people a fortified bronze wall; And they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you; For I am with you to save you and deliver you,” says the Lord. “I will deliver you from the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem you from the grip of the terrible.”
Nma beamed as the other girls fawned over her. Madam Meg made her the head girl of the house with Amara gone. She would be the one assigning customers to the girls,’ and best of all, Amara’s room belonged to her. Once announced, most of the girls’ gathered at the bar cheered, and Nma declared drinks all round. The barman put on some music, and everybody danced as they wished her well.
The ladies, who would not speak to her before, came to her table to talk. Everybody congratulated Nma, trying to scale into her good books. Nma smiled at the scene playing out in front of her with understanding. Her time had come, and she would dry it out.
Soon, most of the girls left the bar for their rooms. Nma and her trusted companions, Enna and Rowie, remained.
“Nkoli shimmied away, right after madam Meg. She didn’t pretend to hide her shame, follower of rubbish.” Enna said, taking a seat by the bar window.
Nma smiled, sitting as well as she took a swig from the beer bottle. “Don’t mind the losers. Nkoli is a small fish; no harm can come from her. I will teach her a small lesson later to show her who the real boss is. As for her mentor, I am not done with her yet. By leaving the brothel, she started the journey on the path I planned for her.”
Rowie looked at Nma wide-eyed, dropping her beer bottle on the table. “Babe, you mean you orchestrated her exit?”
Nma smiled at her and winked. “By the time I am through with the worthless prostitute, that old cargo, she will wish for death.”
Enna smiled at Nma. “I trust you, my friend. You can put people in their place. What about another beer? We are still celebrating, aren’t we?”
Nma whistled. “Stanza,” she called to the barman, “more beer bottles here.”
The girls whooped, hailing her.
“Listen, this is a new regime. The days of the old are over. I don’t understand how you girls could stand taking the customers Amara assigned to you, pretending that the good ones all requested for her? When I told madam, she asked her to stop attending to new customers. I made that happen.” Nma said, smiling at the looks on their faces.
Rowie raised her hands. “Powerful babe. Nobody told us. The changes in Amara’s relationship with madam Meg gladdened us, and we gave glory to God. So, the glory goes to you, Nma.” They laughed.
Nma sobered up and looked out the window. “I’m not done. No, not at all. I will make sure Amara never works again. If she does, it won’t be in Haraya. She is not aware of what is coming for her.”
“Nma, what did she do to you? It must be horrible for you to hate her this much?” Enna asked.
Nma remained silent. From her first week in the brothel, she hated Amara. The customers she wanted all chose Amara, and they assigned her the cast-offs. She waited her turn, endured the old and the drunk as they treated her like a penny-penny harlot.
She worked hard until the money she made the brothel opened Madam Meg’s doors to her. Once she gained access to Madam Meg, she filled the old lady’s ears with all sorts and few near-truths.
Amara thought she was better than others because she could read enormous books and speak well. Nma would show her everybody had their own time.
Mr. A hated to wait, and worst of all, he hated to wait for Nma. She did not value his time. If not for the fact he sponsored her in Haraya, he would have abandoned the hag a while ago. Packing up to leave, someone shouted his name, and he groaned. Why would she be calling out his name like that in a hotel lobby, for god’s sake? He closed his eyes and sat down again, ignoring her call. Her heels clicked on the floor, loud enough to drown out a drum. Mr. A held the armrest of his seat tight, waiting. When she appeared before him, he closed his eyes again, wishing for the ground to open. Nma dressed like the local masquerade.
Nma sat down facing him, smiling, then she called out to the bartender. Mr. A couldn’t speak. He swore never to meet her during the day or anywhere people knew him again.
“All these years, and nobody taught you how to dress? You beefed Amara and couldn’t learn a thing or two from her?” He asked, hissing as he shook his head.
Nma leaned back in the cushioned chair, looking confused. Her eyes furrowed. She checked her wristwatch. “I’m a few minutes late, Uncle. Why are you comparing me with Amara?”
Abiodun held on to the chair tighter and put his head back, eyes closed. He could make money at any meeting he attended. Nma provided money sometimes from the various deals they made together; it was the sole reason he agreed to meet her. He tried to focus on that fact. He leaned forward. “I’m not your uncle. Didn’t we discuss this?” Shifting back into the seat, he looked at her. “Why did you ask for this meeting?”
Nma looked at him with her mouth turned down. She opened her handbag, took out a beefy envelope, and dropped it on the table. “Check it.”
He picked up the envelope, looked inside, and held it up. “What’s this about?”
“What is Amara up to?”
Mr. A put the money in the pocket of his jacket and smiled. “Well, she’s about to hit it big. Madam Love is setting her up for life, here in the Central. She left you guys in the minor leagues and upgraded herself. I suggest you do the same.” He said and stood to leave.
“I’m not done yet. I gave you a lot of money for the seedling of information you dolled out, don’t you think?” She looked him in the eye.
“You asked, and I told you what you wanted to know. What else do you want from me?”
Nma smiled. “What if I tell you how both of us can make more money off Amara?”
Mr. A looked at her for a while and sat down. “I’m listening.”
“Amara pays you for every customer you assign to her, right?”
Mr. A nodded.
“What if I give you a cut from my customers every day of the week?”
Mr. A laughed. “I don’t understand. Why?”
“I want us to figure out a way to ensure the deal between Love and Amara falls through.”
Mr. A sat forward, a frown marring his handsome face. “Listen, you are taking this jealousy thing too far. Your plans are late. Madam Love furnished an apartment for Amara, and she will move in tomorrow.”
“I will double your cut if you can help me stop Amara from working with Love. You must also do it before tomorrow.”
The fire in Nma’s eyes caught Mr. A’s attention, and he leaned back, getting comfortable. Now, this he could use. “The money you make in your seedy brothel in a month cannot pay for the shoes I’m wearing. You can’t scratch out enough for this one.”
“I’ll do anything. Make sure Amara fails.”
Mr. A frowned. “Well, my foreign customers are looking for a certain type of girl.”
“What type? I can do anything. Tell me.” Nma said, leaning forward.
“They want a girl who can sleep with their dog.” He said, looking away.
Nma hesitated for a minute. “Is that the only way?”
Mr. A nodded. “You cannot pay me from the peanuts you make. This is the only way I can ensure the risk I’m about to take is worth my while.”
“How much would we be making?”
Mr. A smiled and looked at her. “Enough to make us rich.”
Madam Love did not respond to Amara’s greeting. She stood facing the windows, looking out at the city. “You dare come here after all you’ve done?” She turned to Amara. “After all the money I spent on you?” Madam’s hands clenched and unclenched.
She advanced towards Amara, eyes growing wide and showing the whites “Chief Ekwerre used to be my biggest customer, the one I reserved for only my best girls? What did you do to enrage him so? Imagine, he asked me never to call him again? Your first customer, for god’s sake, and you messed it up. You’ve messed me up.” Her voice rose in pitch with every statement.
Amara stepped back. “Madam, I…”
Madam Love rushed forward, hand in the air, and stood in Amara’s space. “Shut your mouth, harlot! How dare you try to speak when I’m talking? Who are you? You low down, dirty piece of trash. I wanted to wash you off the streets. In one evening, you set me back by years. Now tell me, how can I maintain you? Our biggest client is gone. How?”
Amara stepped back again. “Madam, please let me explain.”
“What do you want to say now? There is no deal between us henceforth. I never want to see you again. Leave my house with your bad luck.” She said and walked out of the room.
Amara could not believe or understand what happened. What did the lady mean? Who was Chief Ekwerre? She pulled out her phone and called Mr. A. Maybe he would have answers.
Mr. A answered on the seventh ring. “Hello, Amara.”
“Mr. A, do you know of a Chief Ekwerre?”
“Amara, oh Amara, why did you do this? After everything she planned for you. I am sorry, but I am so disappointed. I need to look out for the customers I assign to you from now.”
“What are you saying? I did nothing. I don’t know this Chief Ekwerre. Please, Mr. A, this is a big misunderstanding. It is a set-up. Help me beg Madam Love. She canceled our agreement.”
He sighed. “I don’t understand you. Madam said the Chief kept calling your name as he vented at her. He canceled their agreement, and it cost Madam. He pays the rent for her apartment, meaning she needs to move. Amara, this is not very good for you or your reputation. What happened?”
Armand came to stand by her. “Miss, please leave, or I’ll call the police.” Amara cut off the phone line and nodded, exhausted.
Amara did not leave her room for the rest of the week, and the tears stopped then as well, but she cursed Madam Love and the mysterious Chief. She refused to speak to Gerald, and he respected her need for privacy. He kept trays of food and snacks outside the door of her room for breakfast and dinner.
On Saturday, she transferred money to her parents for their upkeep, still unwilling to visit Alex. The devastation she felt left her hopeless. Her plans seemed like a pile of baby bricks, which someone built up and destroyed in an instant. Now, she did not have a job or a place to transact business.
Amara called up her old customers to meet them at hotels close to their workplaces. Hope rose again like waves in high tide. Minute by minute, as she planned, the future looked liveable, possible; she could start again.
The next Monday, Amara wrote out the list of the customers she called. She finished the list a minute before she received a text message alert. She checked the sender, a customer on her list. Amara could not believe the insults the man sent her. She tried to call him back when she received another text message. A second customer threatened to beat her up whenever they met again, and the texts kept coming. By the twelfth message, Amara sat on the floor, dazed, unaware of the tears dripping down her face. They all accused her of being an AIDS carrier and would deal with her for not disclosing her status.
Gerald returned late and found her in the dark living room, still lost. He put on the lights and went to stand by her side. On the center table, pieces of paper torn to bits took up space like flower petals scattered by the wind. He watched as she stood and walked away, leaving him in the room without a word.
“I can help Amara, please.”
She stopped. “No one can help me.”
Gerald went to her and turned her round to face him. “Talk to me.”
She looked at him, and his eyes implored her. Wanting to be held by him, she closed hers. Amara knew that if she gave in to his demands once, that would be it. She opened her eyes. “I’m fine, Gerald. I need time to compose myself. Can I stay here for a while? I hope it won’t be too much trouble?”
Gerald shook his head. “No trouble. Take as much time as you need.”
When she left, he glanced at her phone. A text-message showed on the screen. He picked it up and read.
“Amara, go to Madam Love. I understand your hesitation, but state your terms. I don’t believe she will take advantage.” Mr. A said all this without looking at Amara once. He fiddled with the lapels of his jacket, pen, and kept checking his phone.
Amara kept looking at him and smiled. What did she expect from a no-good pimp? “Mr. A, I thought we had passed this stage as friends. I asked to stay with you for a day. You are aware of why I cannot go to Love; she is too intelligent to miss such an opportunity. Terms? You want me to go to her begging for a place to stay, and you talk of terms?” Amara picked her bag, stood and left the restaurant.
Mr. A caught up with her outside the high-brow establishment in the Central; he liked to go big.
She turned and smiled at him as he held her hand. “Don’t worry; I will sort myself out. Thank you for your advice.”
Amara turned to leave, trying to wrench her hand from his, but Mr. A held her even tighter.
“Babe, this is not personal. My flat might not be the best place to stay, even for an hour. I am experiencing serious problems with my landlord and some moneylenders I did business with in the past. I don’t want you getting into trouble because of me.”
She laughed. Did Mr. A think she was clueless? Whenever he had money problems, he went underground, people knew not to go to his house. Even she, as friendly as she had felt to him, understood that. In such situations, he transacted business on the internet and by text message.
She removed her hand from his and walked away, promising herself never to forget to leave the trade and its associates in their place.
Later that evening in the brothel, she sent a message to Madam Love stating she was ready to do business and requesting for some time to put her affairs in order. Love responded with a text, congratulating her.
Amara picked up her box from Nkoli’s room and left Madam Meg’s establishment. She abandoned all the furniture she built herself, not wanting any disputes with the owner.
Outside the brothel, she met with her boys. Amara handed Alpha full rein to her space in Wilderness until she got a space. She needed their services, and they were like family. She smiled at how one can find family and loyalty in the least expected places.
Amara set off for the only place she knew she could hide for a while. Nobody would think about looking for her there. As she got into the taxi and gave the driver the address, she relaxed into the seats and closed her eyes.
Her need to go underground could not be over-emphasised. Amara would have the time to think about who her mysterious enemy could be. She discussed the situation with her boys, and they promised to put their ears to the ground.
At the Transformation Place parish, Amara stood for some time outside the church gates, smiling. She imagined the reaction of her unsuspecting host and tried her best to quiet the laughter threatening to bubble out of her.
She picked up her stuff and strode into the compound. A lady directed her to the pastor’s quarters, informing her Gerald was in his. Amara walked toward Gerald’s quarters, nervousness slowing her down. She got to his door at last, and knocked.
“Hold on a minute, please,” Gerald called out from within the house.
Relieved, she waited, looking around, and hoping no one would spot her. Once Gerald opened the door, Amara strode past him and into the house, going straight to sit on a chair in the room.
“Welcome,” Gerald said to the waft of air that blew in with her and closed the door.
Amara turned to him, waiting for him to sit before she made her request. “Thank you, Gerald. I’m sorry for barging into your house uninvited, but I am in a bit of a crisis, and I need your help.” She paused, waiting for Gerald to say something. He didn’t. “I need a place to stay for a while. My room got burnt, and Madam kicked me out of the brothel. I promise not to be a nuisance to you.” She finished talking as fast as she could.
She looked at Gerald and laughed. His mouth was wide open. A slow smile built on his face as he waited for her laughter to stop.
“Are you done laughing?” He asked, amused.
“I’m sorry. I imagined you would react in so many ways; the actual response was funny. Please forgive me.”
Gerald nodded. “I understand your predicament, but as you must know, I am not the presiding pastor here. He will decide if you can stay. I’m sorry about the situation at the brothel. I hope you didn’t get hurt?”
His response hit Amara hard; she did not like Pastor Josh and had not figured him into her plan. Gerald was the first Christian to treat her differently, like an everyday woman. Josh looked down at them like the others. She felt Josh’s condescending air as he delivered the gifts during his visits, so she stayed away from him and his bribes.
“Amara, are you alright?” Gerald asked, his brows raised in worry.
Amara looked at him and nodded. “Yes, yes, I’m fine. So, what do we do now?”
“Let me change and take you to Pastor Josh. He’s in the parish.”
Amara sat in the Pastor’s office, opposite his chair, looking at him. She stared him down and he looked away, blinking. The pastor didn’t like her, and she wanted to enjoy him squirm while tackling her case.
“Well, Gerald, ah, this is sudden. Can’t the young lady take up a room in a hotel or a friend’s place? She has several friends.” Pastor josh asked, focusing on Gerald.
“Sir, I believe all her options are exhausted, or she wouldn’t come here. A hotel may look like the best option, but you must agree with me, the safest place for a young woman is in the church.”
Pastor Josh nodded. “I understand, but the visiting pastors have occupied the rooms in my quarters.”
“There is a guest room in mine.” Gerald was smiling.
Pastor Josh laughed. “No, Gerald. No matter how responsible you appear, housing a young woman of her profession would attract attention. Let’s not discuss it. She cannot stay here. Come up with better options?”
“Pastor, all alternatives are exhausted. Leaving a woman of her profession in a hotel would cause more danger to her soul? Please, reconsider.”
Amara glared at Josh. She was angry and did not hide it, but a word from her would end the negotiation, and not in her favour. Josh seemed to struggle; a frown darkened his handsome face. His eyebrows furrowed together.
He sighed and looked at Gerald. “The option you chose is not advisable, but based on your stellar behaviour, I will allow it. Please let her stay within your quarters until she leaves; I do not want the parishioners getting the wrong idea.”
Gerald smiled and nodded. “Thank you, pastor; I will do as you have instructed.” He looked at Amara and gestured to her to thank the Pastor.
She looked at Josh, not understanding why he agreed. “Thank you, pastor; I will stay indoors until I leave.” She lowered her tone and looked down, calling a truce for now.
Nodding, Pastor Josh turned away. A sour look on his face.
Gerald assumed Josh had given in to him because of his family’s status in society, and not as guided by God, and it worried him. He didn’t want to be the rich kid who pulled his weight around the parish. He hoped the events of the day would not cast a shadow on his relationship with the man.
Back in his quarters, he put Amara’s suitcase down in the living room and sat down, gesturing for Amara to do the same. He prayed for wisdom in his heart and turned to her.
“Welcome again to my quarters. You are free to do and use anything you need in this place. Now that we are done with the Pastor, let me tell you the reason I am allowing you to stay here. I am not only doing it out of Christian charity but also because of my reason for seeking you out.”
He moved close to her and took her hand. “You will be my wife, by God’s grace.”
Amara let his words settle, removed her hand from his and moved back into the seat. There was no expression on her face.
Gerald sighed. “God wants us married. He set a plan for our lives, which is bigger than us. I want you to believe me, Amara; think about it, why would I lie?”
“I’m out of here.” Amara said, as she moved to her suitcase and pushed it to the door. She hesitated for a while and turned to him.
“For an intelligent person, I expected more originality from you. God, wife, plans?” She scoffed and started unlocking the door.
Realising she was serious, Gerald rushed to block her path. He covered the doorway and withstood the punches she aimed at him. When she realised she was not getting anywhere with her actions, Amara stopped and walked back to her seat.
Relieved, Gerald left the doorway, grimacing with pain, and sat next to her.
“Listen Amara, I understand you are upset at my words, but before you came here, you deemed me trustworthy. I didn’t want to bring any of this up; it was my secret until we achieved a level of friendship and trust but look what happened today. You cannot come to my house and not be aware of my intentions. I don’t intend to seduce or sleep with you, if that’s what you are worried about.” Gerald stopped, hoping for a word or gesture, any reaction at all to show she understood.
“I’m sorry to be laying this on thick, but for you to stay here, we must agree to certain conditions. Please turn and listen to me, Amara.”
It took a while, but she turned and looked at him. Her face was still blank.
“As long as you are here, I will provide for you, but you must stop work. It is my condition.” He said and waited for a response.
A week passed, and they fell into a schedule of sorts. After the first morning Gerald made breakfast, they agreed to draft a plan for food preparation. She thought about not cooking though because nothing she made was as good as his.
The husband-and-wife topic did not arise again, but they continued their book discussions in the evenings. Amara worked with Gerald’s schedule and was happy with it. He left early for his walks in the morning and returned to the parish about 8 am. At 9 am, he went to the church office to help Pastor Josh until noon, when he took a break. They would watch a movie or read together until two in the afternoon before Gerald would head out again to help Pastor Josh. He was back by six or seven in the evening, and after takeout or a meal prepared by either of them, they discussed their current book.
Amara smiled as she thought about their routine. They lived like an old couple, content with their life together. Amara asked herself once or twice what she wanted in a man? She came up blank. Gerald was handsome, kind, and treated her like an equal. He was someone she would do well with, but sweet words flow like calm waters when all is going well.
She accepted her life long ago; resigned to where she would end up in the afterlife. She didn’t need the complications of a judge who would look at her based on his standards. Gerald might talk marriage and all, but did he understand what wanting a prostitute for a wife entailed? Did he think she would just leave her business to tend to a man and his whims?
Amara shook her head and checked the clock. Almost noon, and Gerald would soon be back to the quarters. She received a message from madam Love the day before, asking her to provide a date to move into the apartment prepared for her. Amara had sent no reply, and she worried about her reluctance. She couldn’t get attached to the pretty man of God; it wouldn’t do. Something else had been simmering on the burner of her mind, and she smiled at the thought. It would be her last gift to Gerald. She would give it to him before she left, and she hoped he would accept it. She noticed the looks he gave her when she seemed to look elsewhere. The way he froze when she touched him by accident or looked into his eyes. He wanted her; she was sure of it.
They lived together for two weeks, and Amara stayed indoors as agreed. It surprised and pleased Gerald. He got to know sides of her she allowed. Amara could be a closed book. He asked God to soften her heart for His word to find a place. Gerald also asked God to strengthen him as they adjusted to living together. He desired her, not only as a friend.
To deepen the relationship would be hard if she didn’t talk to him about her life, making the hope of marriage difficult. He knew Amara was independent and a loner; she didn’t need him.
When he got to his quarters after his morning walk, Amara was sweeping the living room in a short flowing dress, which outlined her body as she moved. Gerald stood still at the door for a while, then shook himself, forcing his legs to move.
Amara wore her headset, listening to music, and didn’t hear him come in. He closed the door behind him, walked up to her, and tapped her on the shoulder.
Amara yelped, turning to him in alarm. The sudden movement showed off her legs and other parts of her body Gerald didn’t want to think about.
“I’m sorry I scared you. Good morning Amara.”
“Good morning, Gerald. I was so engrossed in the song and in what I was doing. How was your walk?” She asked, smiling. That caught him off guard. Her smiles were rare, unless they read and discussed books. The smile threw him, and he kept staring at her.
“Gerald, is something on my face?” She asked, dusting off her face with her palm.
“No, Amara, nothing. I’m sorry I was staring. Your smiles are infrequent, and I was a bit dazed by it: Smile more. Did you receive good news, though? You seem ecstatic about something.”
Amara dropped the broom on the ground by the wall and, taking his hand, led him to a seat. She smiled as she spoke. “Thank you, Gerald, for allowing me to stay here for this long. The time has come for me to move on to my place. I got an apartment in the Central, and I’ll be moving tomorrow. I can’t express how grateful I am.”
“Tomorrow?” Gerald asked, a frown on his face. He was aware she would leave soon, but the urgency baffled him. “What’s the rush? You can stay here until the end of the month. Did I do anything to make you uncomfortable?”
Amara smiled, still holding his hand. “Gerald, you are a good man, the best of hosts and a wonderful chef. If only for your food, I would live with you forever. However, people depend on me. I need to return to work.”
Gerald removed his hand with care. He dug his toes into his sneakers to keep from speaking his mind. How could she look at him with a straight face and say she was going back to prostitution? He looked at her and tried to control himself.
“Listen, Amara; I want you as my wife. I want to take care of your dependents as well. Why would you return to prostitution?”
Amara shook her head. “Gerald, do you think that at your word, I would drop my way of life and depend on you? What right-thinking person would do such a thing? Do you understand the ramifications of your words? How many women have you dated in the past, and how long did the relationships last? Your ‘I love you’ today may turn to ‘I regret knowing you’ tomorrow. Please, Gerald, be realistic. I don’t believe in Cinderella stories or miracles.” She caught her breath. “Listen, I call you my friend because you are. Let us not fight on my last day here. Be happy for me, please.” She said, smiling at him.
Gerald got up and walked to the window. He stood for a while, and after a couple of minutes, turned back to her. “The reality, Amara, is that you are to be my wife. I understand I cannot stop you from your chosen path, though I am not happy about it. The plan for us to marry was not mine, but God’s. He loves and…” he stopped at Amara’s raised hand.
“Spare me the details of a loving God,” she said, standing up. “While you are at it, ask him where he was when I needed him most. Your breakfast is ready; I’m off to pack.”
Gerald awakened to kisses, which were moving up from his leg, and groaned in pleasure. The groan woke him up. He tried to get up but could not. Amara covered his body with hers, naked, not allowing him to move.
Gerald was sleeping in his boxers, and Amara’s effect on his body was undeniable. He laid back again and closed his eyes.
“Gerald,” Amara whispered.” I want to give you my body as my parting gift. To thank you for everything, and because I want to.”
Her statement registered in his mind. He closed his eyes tight and moved her away from him, laying her on his side.
He stood and covered her body with his blanket. He did not want to put on the light because seeing her would distract him. Gerald was quiet, asking God for his next steps.
Amara crawled on the bed towards him. “Gerald, what’s wrong? Don’t you want me?” She said, kneeling on the bed beside where he stood. She placed a hand on his thigh, making him jump.
“Amara, sit.” He said and flipped the light switch..
She looked at his body and obeyed, smiling.
“I want you, but taking what you offer is like rape to me.”
“No, take it as my parting gift. I want to give it to you from my heart.”
“It’s a gift for your husband, me, but I’m not your husband in your heart.” He turned away from her, wanting to control himself. “I want to provide you with love and a home. It would be best if you give your body to me as your husband. I hoped that there would-be time for us to learn about each other. We cannot build the relationship God expects on sex, but on faith, companionship, trust, love. Those are the foundations I want to grow with you. I want to teach you to trust, to love, and to lead you back to God. I want all of you, not just the parts you will give.”
He walked to the head of the bed, took a pillow, and left the room. His heart and desires in it.
Customer traffic in the brothel lessened the next week; the streets were getting too hot. A famous entrepreneur overdosed on drugs in the area, and the police were picking up any and everybody.
Amara told her boys not to cross paths with the police for a while until the heat settled. In the evening, she fixed herself up and met with Abiodun, known as Mr. A. They met in the city center, the Central. The area housed government offices, private organizations, and industries. It was the meeting point for big business; too boisterous to be residential.
Grand hotels took up space in the area; for visitors to stay and do business or find pleasure. The Central also boasted clubs for the rich and the super-rich, and for those who sought extreme comfort and escape. Mr. A scheduled a meeting for Amara with an industrialist. A Mr. Marshall, whose wife, traveled out of town for a few days. He and Amara went way back, as she always soothed his lonely heart.
Excited about the evening, Amara took extra care of her appearance. Mr. A stood in front of the Excellency hotel waiting; the rendezvous point. Dressed in a grey three-piece suit, Amara smiled as she hugged him. “Hello lover, long time.”
A handsome man in his early fifties, Mr. A kept himself in shape. He smiled back at her, looking her over with approval. “Mr. Marshall can be petty about every little detail. I came to ensure everything goes well. You look beautiful as always, my dear.”
They strolled to the elevator, which took them to the thirteenth floor. “Madam Love would like a word sometime this week if you can make the time.” He said, looking at her.
Amara did not say a word, waiting for the root of the matter.
“She needs you now, Amara, and you can make so much money off her customers. What’s the hold-up?”
Amara smiled and turned to him. “Tell her I will call her later in the week to schedule a meeting. Wish me luck.” The elevator doors slid open, she stepped out and walked away.
Their first book club meeting left them sated. They discussed the first chapter of the chosen book in-depth. The story started with action, a mysterious murder. The chief investigator, the protagonist, suspected a member of the dead man’s family.
“A question,” Amara started the discussion the next day, once they took their preferred seats in the cafe.
Gerald removed the book from his backpack and thumbed through to the chapter up for review. “Shoot.”
“Why would a person kill a member of their family for money? Not their extended family, but mother, father, brother, or sister?”
“My question would be, what is the value of family to such a person? What did his parents teach him or her about life’s basic values? I am not speaking for the killer, but you would need to put a higher value on money than on whatever the family can provide to take such a step.”
Amara nodded, thinking about her family. Written off at a time she needed them the most, they seemed like specks of dust on the sand to her now. The whole family, including the extended, treated her like trash. Still, would she go as far as killing them for cash?
The server brought their coffee and left.
“So Amara, what does family mean to you?”
Amara thought about her answer. “Can we find a perfect family situation anywhere? I believe all families have their problems. It is what makes us human; however, I expected more from mine. I can’t blame them because they acted as society expected and shunned the sinner.”
He smiled. “If you think like that, you can forgive them. I am glad you realize no one is perfect.”
She laughed. “Forgive them, hah! They think I’m the one who needs forgiveness,” she said, looking out the window. She chose her seat near it because of the view. Thinking there helped clear her head.
“We all need to identify where we missed it. This would enable us to retrace our steps. If we need to forgive people along the way, why not?” Gerald said.
Amara looked at him. “Easy to say, but difficult to live out.” She paused. “I was sixteen, scared, and pregnant. Abandoned by all I loved; my parents included. They only accommodated me to avoid the shame of seeing me homeless. No one wanted to talk to, encourage, or help me with the pregnancy. I can never forget the pain of those nine months, ever. You will not believe this, but my parents held a grudge against me the entire period. They still do, for my shameless act. Forgiveness does not come easy to people, my friend. I believe my parents would have sold me at the time for any amount to dispose of me.” She smiled at him. “Story over. Back to the book and the handsome detective.”
Amara arrived at Madam Love’s flat early. A high-rise building in the Central. It boasted a view of the city like a painting in an art gallery. Amara loved the picture. She rang the bell, and a man answered the door. He asked her to sit and wait for the madam; he knew madam expected her.
She sat on the dark green sofa, which complemented the mauve cushion and the abstract floral wallpaper, a dramatic backdrop in the room. Amara smiled at the metallic ceiling pendant, which housed the light bulb. The decoration reminded her of the high-end clubs. Madam Meg could not compare with Madam Love, though they did the same business. Amara nodded her head; it was time to move up.
“Hello Amara, so nice of you to come.” Madam Love said as she entered the room in her long floral gown. Tall and still beautiful, men still flocked around her when she appeared in public. Mr. A told Amara the lady hit fifty-five the year before.
Amara got up and allowed the Madam to kiss her cheeks before they both sat down facing each other. “Hello, Madam, you called, and I answered.”
“Thank you. Tea or something cool to drink?” Love asked.
The temperature in the room compared to that of the Swiss Alps. Amara would swear to it, though she had never been. She longed to ask Madam Love if she thought she lived in Antarctica.
“Tea, please,” Amara said, hoping for the lavender tea she enjoyed the last time she visited.
“Good choice,” Madam Love rang the bell on the side of the coffee table, invisible to the eye. The man appeared again. “Armand, please serve tea. The Lavender Cinnamon I got from China would be perfect.” He nodded and left. “So, tell me how you are faring. Abiodun told me your madam almost stopped you from working.”
Amara smiled. “Well, I do not blame her. Who would? She considered our meeting as disloyal to her and took the steps she thought most beneficial for her business.”
Love threw her head back and laughed. “Business, you say?” She asked, recovering from the joke she enjoyed alone. “Let me tell you how to do business, dear. None of my girls are mine to do as I please. They can do business with my customers from anywhere, if they pay me my cut. The cut, darling, is the essence of the relationship. Without the pay, how do we survive in this cruel world? So, Meg is losing money because of pride and disloyalty? Hah!” Love shook her head.
Armand brought in the tea tray and laid the engraved china set on the coffee table. The tea set transformed the place, giving it a Chinese tearoom look.
“This is beautiful china, Madam,” Amara said.
“Thank you, dear. I hope you enjoy your tea.”
After a few sips of the tea, which filled the nostrils and lingered on the tongue as it warmed its way to the belly, Madam turned to business.
“Amara, our first meeting did not go well, and I apologize. I underestimated you, thinking a girl from the ghetto would jump at any and everything to work for the big boys in the Central, but you set me straight. It must be why big wigs like Marshall want only you.” Love smiled at her.
“I want us to build another relationship, this time as equals. You give me my cut, and I give you the big boys. I will set you up in a flat in the Central to make business more accessible for you, and I’ll make sure everything you need is at hand.” She leaned close to Amara. “Say, yes.”
Amara smiled at Love. No madam would provide you with all Love listed if the stakes did not stack up in her favor. Love would benefit a lot from the deal, and until Amara understood everything in the agreement, she would continue to dilly dally.
“Thank you, madam, for the kind offer. Give me a week to think?”
“Haba Amara, do not be coy now. Who else can provide you with all of this? Listen, my time makes money. I will give you two days, nothing more.”
“Why me, Madam? Many younger and more beautiful girls abound. Girls well-known for their techniques. Why me?”
Love looked at her, a slight smile on her face. “Because it is you, Amara. Only you would ask such a question. Connected to your inner self, you have clear goals for your life. You carry yourself with enough poise to enter and leave any room. The customers who stick to you can tell. They understand one can’t fake such a personality. Those are the men I want. Men of stature recognize strength and presence when they see it. A woman who knows her power, but still maintains her place, is sexy, don’t you think?” Madam Love burst into laughter. “Oh, I see us making lucky money together, my dear.”
Amara tilted her head to the side. “Give me two days, madam, and I will send you my answer.”
Alex ran to hug her, and Amara laughed, thankful for the love of the child. She bought Alex books and a toy car. The girl tended towards the boyish. They stood outside her parent’s home and heard her mother speaking to someone on the phone.
Amara sighed, reluctant to engage. “Where is grandpa?” She asked Alex.
“He is sleeping, Mama. Grandma says he is down with a fever.”
Amara nodded and gave Alex the bag of gifts. “I want you to read these books every day. I will take you to the Shawarma place this weekend, and you will read a page from one of them to me… promise?”
“Thanks, Mama, you’re the best.” Alex hugged her again.
The more Amara looked at Alex, the more she liked Madame Love’s offer. She would achieve her dreams of starting a business and living with Alex. She played with the child, and thoughts of a home, a better school, and a better life for her child flashed through her mind like a dream becoming clearer and clearer.
“Hey Alex, how about living with Mama soon?” Amara could not stop her thoughts from slipping out of her mouth.
Alex turned from playing and looked at her. “Can I, Mama?” She asked, the smile of a minute ago gone.
“No, darling, next time say, ‘may I’, alright?”
Alex nodded. “May I, Mama?”
Amara smiled at her. “Yes, soon. Be patient, love, and keep it our little secret. Don’t tell anyone-grandpa or grandma, no one?”
Amara was fighting a masked assailant. In the dense darkness, they fought on an empty road. The man tried to choke life out of Amara as he pinned her to the ground. He wore all black, but his red eyes were his only visible features; Amara shuddered at the way they glowed at her. She panicked as her strength ebbed; she kicked as well. The man kept up the chokehold. Her attempts did not deter him in the least. Amara’s hold on him loosened as she lost strength and any hope of being saved in that darkness.
Out of nowhere, he appeared. A man just stepped out of the shadows and strode towards them with speed. The assailant turned to find out the person bearing down on him, when the newcomer placed one hand on the assailant’s arm and threw him off Amara, and into the darkness like garbage.
Turning to her, he said, “wake up now.”
Amara woke up to smoke. When she tried to open her eyes, the smoke hurt her. The noise of people screaming and pounding on her door reached her. She staggered from the bed, coughing, and felt her way to the door. She unlocked it and fell into the arms of someone, Nkoli.
“Oh, thank you, Jesus. Aunty, we have been knocking. People are trying to enter your room through the window to stop the fire. Come to my room.”
Amara could not understand what Nkoli said about the fire and went with her to the room. She lay down exhausted on Nkoli’s mattress on the floor, still coughing.
“Aunty, since your room is open, let me go back. Please stay down.”
Amara nodded and smiled at her. She understood Nkoli needed to look out for her. Some girls would use the opportunity to their advantage. Nkoli came back with the keys to Amara’s room and related what she knew of the fire.
On her way to the toilet, when it was still dark out, smoke filled the hallway. She traced the source to Amara’s room and started knocking. The noise made from knocking woke up the others, and they all tried to force the door open.
Amara smiled. She changed the door to the room the month before, and if she had not opened it herself, it would have been difficult to open from the hallway. Madame Meg’s boys also tried from the back to remove the barrier at the window in the kitchenette. They found a gaping hole in the new mosquito net Amara changed earlier in the month.
That last bit of information confirmed Amara’s suspicions. Someone tried to burn her room down with her in it. At a loss about who would do such a thing and why, she kept her thoughts to herself.
The fire damaged most of Amara’s kitchen area and burnt up part of the table. The side of the room affected was black with soot. Madam Meg invited her for a meeting after they cleaned up as best as they could that day.
Amara thanked her and sat down, waiting.
“I hope you are alright? No health problems from the fire?” Madam swirled the tea in her tea cup slowly.
Amara shook her head. “None, Madam, thank you.”
Madam Meg nodded, sipping from her teacup. “Amara, I will not waste your time. Fate has moved us to the next stage of events. We have been going back and forth about your departure from the brothel. I think this is the best time.
“My boys found your scented candles around the burnt areas, so you caused this minor disaster. I will not ask you to pay for repairs if you leave without a fuss. I will renovate the room for Nma. She always coveted the little room, and since she is the house star, she deserves to have what she wants. You have decided on Love as your Madam. I hope you find success with her. God be with you in all your future endeavours.”
Amara’s heart stilled. This was the end, though not the way she hoped, and it seemed Meg was done. Her face cracked into a smile she did not feel, as she knelt, then crawled towards Madam Meg.
“Thank you, Madam. When nobody would, you took me in. You nursed me back to health and helped me start this job. You taught me the ways of the world and helped me stand on my feet. I have not been disloyal. Madame Love hasn’t hired me yet. I understand the reason for your anger, and I ask for forgiveness. I want us to part as friends, not enemies, please?”
Madame Meg looked at her, and the look of sadness in her eyes struck Amara. “Amara, I don’t need this. I took you in as the daughter the man upstairs did not give me, and Alex, like my own. Don’t you understand how much your betrayal hurt? In my shoes, what would you do? I set things up, so in a few years, you would run this place.” She looked up and pointed a finger. “Why can’t people be loyal? Why does everybody want more? Where did the contentment spirit fly to?” She paused, looking down. “Go, go to Love then, and be happy.”
“The invasion took Haraya by surprise. We could not protect ourselves; it was so unexpected. One day, a beautiful garden of Eden and the next, a war-wracked city. Years later, we found out the truth. Our Ekoki neighbors on the east helped the invaders; jealous of God’s constant grace over us.” Elder John, the parish’s oldest, said and shook his withered head, bending as he concentrated on the floor.
Gerald sat next to him on a pew after an evening service, trying to understand what happened to Wilderness.
“Foreigners invaded Haraya, once secured by the beautiful mountains, which protected her and our neighboring communities. The Otuma people in the north-the desert dwellers, accessed the land they could not enter before the invasion. Created by God as thieves and liars, we knew them for what they are- desecrators of lands. They leave everywhere they touch wretched.” Elder John turned to Gerald looking him in the eye, “beware the Otuma people, son, do not deal with them.”
Gerald nodded in solemn agreement.
Elder John looked away and forward, as if he was watching the story play out in front of him again. “Over time, our land of forests, lush vegetation, and loving families changed. Like the foreigners who invaded us, we turned greedy. Our people became corrupt and self-serving, forgetting the reason for the peace we enjoyed, but the corruption didn’t start after the invasion. No, it started before; small and festering like an ugly wound.
“The people of Ekuma in the west were aware of the change in Haraya. Our pastor is from there, you know, Pastor Josh.” The elder said, pointing to the pastor’s office. “They appear high and mighty, like white-washed sepulchers. We called them our sister community and enjoyed inter-marriage and good trading relationships with them. Now, Ekuma strains to touch us from afar; treating us like lepers, not wanting to be tainted with the degenerative effect of the invasion.” Elder John spat on the floor of the church, and Gerald wondered if the act did not desecrate the house of God.
“Ekuma stayed safe and content in their land; buffing up their security to keep out foreigners. They kept their children innocent and religious, and their church bells ringing, while we suffered. Ahhh…” He waved his hand with force as if he swatted away an errant fly.
“Our poor lived off the land. Farming, hunting, doing menial work, and serving the rich. We, the underprivileged, couldn’t beat the system, and couldn’t join either.” Elder John said and remained silent for a while, looking off into space. Gerald waited in hope. The story couldn’t have ended.
The Elder shook himself, as if coming out of sleep. “In 1969, it became clear the government would care for some areas, not all. The reports submitted to the people stated that because of the dearth of resources from the land, the government could no longer support the maintenance of specific communities.
“They provided management incentives for the community heads to enable them to manage themselves. The rich supported their residential and business sites, while the poor communities remained in squalor. In the end, Wilderness, called Zion, degenerated.
Elder John smiled. “A peaceful place, once home to prayer warriors and God-seekers who gathered to worship and seek God’s face for Haraya. The first government-appointed Community leader wept as he changed the name to what it is now, but in hope.”
Gerald went to bed that night, understanding in part God’s heart for Wilderness. The next day, as he walked the streets, he took a position over Wilderness. He passed dilapidated buildings, children meant to be in school hawking their mothers’ goods, and he prayed.
Gerald continued to pray and speak the word of God as he passed the brothel. Men hurried out after a night with girls who did not understand. He also prayed for the girl, God’s choice for him, and walked faster.
Back at the parish, he laid Wilderness before God, Zion, and spoke to his father in heaven about the time for its restoration.
On the next Thursday, at noon, Gerald prepared to go visiting. He changed twice, nervous. Frustrated, he looked around and stopped at his reading table; his bible lay on it. Gerald smiled at himself and knelt where he stood in worship.
“I’m sorry I act so unrighteous, Father. Thank you for the opportunity to do your will. You sent me to her. Help me choose what to wear and what to say. Help me stand as your priest and king in this matter. Open her eyes to you and not to me. I exalt you over today’s meeting in Jesus’ name.”
He stood and walked to the wardrobe, opened it, and as he flipped past clothes, he spotted his favorite black t-shirt, hanging on a pair of blue jeans. He took them out. Once dressed, peace settled over him like a warm shroud on a chilly night. His mission was all about God and designed by God, and he found rest.
The question was, would she remember him the way he remembered her? It flashed past, wanting to nag, but he smiled, looking up.
Winners’ lane bustled with people. Most of the residents were small-time farmers, traders, and of course, the area boys, who milled about transacting their kind of business. People hustled until almost midnight each day.
Gerald got out of the taxi and closed his eyes, maintaining his place before God in his mind. Unsure what to do next, he stood in the same spot until someone tapped his shoulder from behind. He turned, and three young men stood behind him, their identities undeniable. The one with a scar moved closer.
“What are you looking for, butter boy?”
Gerald looked around and, seeing no one available to help, left his fate to God. “I’m here for someone.”
Alpha wagged a condemning finger in Gerald’s face. “Who are you looking for in the ghetto? You boys are here again to use our girls’ and run? Boys, beat him.” Alpha said, as he hissed and turned. One of the younger boys kicked Gerald’s leg, and he went down. Another boy lifted his leg to kick Gerald in another part of his body he knew would hurt when they all heard someone shout.
“Snake, this is another one. Leave us so we can finish him.” Alpha said, his tone quiet.
Gerald tried to turn from Alpha to the owner of the voice, whose heels clicked rhythmically on the once tarred road. Her form appeared before him; her face was not in his line of vision. The pain robbed him of breath, and the will to move.
“Help him up.” She said.
Gerald yelped as pain shot up his leg on his way up. He gritted his teeth as he looked up, and his eyes widened. It was her.
She looked at him, with her head cocked to the side, eyes almost in slants. “Aren’t you a pastor? What are you doing here on a Thursday?” She said and folded her arms, waiting.
“I came to visit someone.”
Amara smiled. “You did? One of the girls catch your fancy?”
Gerald nodded. “Yes, you did.”
Amara’s smile fell off her face like a curtain falling off a wall.
“Boys, I’ll deal from here.” She said and turned to Alpha, her meaning clear. He nodded and gestured for the others to leave with him. They left Gerald, dropping the support they offered, and he staggered a little before he regained his balance. The pain forcing tears.
Amara looked at him with a half-smile. “I’m sorry, but I don’t attend to customers anymore. I can recommend some girls you might like. Someone like you would like them young and supple, or are you one of those deep ones who doesn’t care about age or size, as long as they are women?” She said, a wry smile on her face.
Gerald met her gaze, no expression in his. “If you won’t listen to me, I leave.”
Amara walked around him. Once she stood before him again, she said, “Come.”
Gerald followed her into the brothel and straight to the bar area, walking with a limp. When they got to the bar, Amara walked in and gestured with her hand to a seat.
“So, on our way to the bar, none of the girls caught your attention?” She asked and turned to him.
Gerald shook his head. “I need some water, please.”
Amara nodded and called to the barman for water. “They will serve you water. I need to talk to our madam about your request. Give me ten minutes.”
She left him there, not waiting for a reply. Someone walked from the window area towards him. He recognized the girl who introduced herself as Nma the last time. She sheathed her body in a short dress. Gerald expected a lot of men paid her the attention she craved.
She stood before him. “Hello again. I hoped you would come with Josh yesterday. I missed you.”
“Do you always call him Josh?” He asked.
Nma smiled. “I call him Pastor Josh to his face. What do I call you, Pastor Gerald?”
“No, I’m no pastor. I’m assisting Pastor Josh.”
“Well, Assistant,” she said, moving between his legs and sitting on the painful one. “Let me show you a good time.” She said, as she massaged his head.
Gerald gritted his teeth to stop the yelp, which almost escaped his lips. He got up with a wince and moved her body to the next seat. The strength of her perfume could give him nasal injuries.
He smiled at her. “Thank you for the offer. Quite a perfume, strong and catchy. I’m here for the lady who brought me to the bar. I’ll wait for her if you don’t mind.”
Nma looked down and then up at him, presenting him with a smile, which didn’t quite reach her eyes, and fake lashes.”I’m always available, honey. This body and the perfume are yours for free. All you need to do is ask, anytime.” She stood and twerked away, while he sat down again to wait, not noticing.
Amara walked back into the room, looking at him with her customised slight head tilt. “My name is Amara. Our boss asked me to introduce Nma, who just left you as the last alternative. What’s wrong with her?”
“Nothing is wrong with her or any other woman here. I’m here to talk to you.”
She moved closer to him. “Look at me,” she said, trailing a hand over her body from shoulder to hips. “What can’t another woman give you?”
Gerald’s mouth dropped open, a slight opening. Was she flirting with him? “I want you,” he said. Once the words passed his lips, he realized his mistake and shook his head. He tried again. “I’m here to talk to you, I mean.”
Amara leaned into him. “Are you here to pick my brain about the pros and cons of prostitution?”
Gerald sighed. “Can we go somewhere private where we can talk?”
Amara smiled. “If I go anywhere with you, you pay, whether we study scripture or know each other.”
She turned and walked away. “Follow me.”
They exited the bar and Amara turned left, moving down the hallway. She stopped in front of a door, opened it, and stepped in. Gerald followed her and halted at the entrance. It was a separate world from the one in the brothel. It reminded Gerald of the Alice story.
He stepped in and from the soft scent of incense to the cleanly painted walls and sparse furnishing, Amara’s other side was clear. The decor looked simple but well thought through. Gerald relaxed, impressed.
“Sit,” she called out from behind the curtain.
He sat on the chair and looked at the odd items on her table. Madame Bovary, the Penguin version, lay near a tablet placed face down. He looked at her and back at the table. Did they belong to her?
She stepped out from behind the curtain, carrying a sealed bottle of water and a glass tumbler on a tray. She placed them beside Gerald and sat on the bed, looking at him.
Gerald smiled. “Are you reading Madame Bovary?”
Looking at the book, she smiled and nodded, “have you read it?”
“No. Do you read often?”
“Any chance I get. Some of my loyal customers own library cards. With their help, I can borrow books from the Library in the Central whenever I want. However, I don’t think we are here to discuss reading, are we?”
Gerald liked her straight-forward manner. “No, we are not. Just to talk.” He said with a smile.
“Sure, as long as we don’t talk about God.”
He nodded. “Fair enough.”
He remained quiet for a while as he prayed about his opening.
“You are on the clock, man of God,” she said, looking at the clock hanging on the wall.
“I knew you as a child.” He began.
Amara laughed. “Not possible. We are from different worlds.”
“Some years ago, you saved me in front of your mother’s shop from some young boys who threatened to beat the devil out of me,” he said, smiling. “Your mother gave me money for transport, and you made sure I got home safe. I never forgot the incident. Do you remember?”
Amara turned away, as if in thought. When she turned back, her expression was blank. “I don’t, but how are you sure I am the girl from your past?”
Gerald looked at the mark on the side of her face.
“Oh, the mark,” she said, nodding.
Gerald bent his head in disappointment, thinking of the next thing to say. He planned the story of his salvation at her hands as his starter.
“How is your mother?”
“I understand your comment about the separate worlds we come from, but are we all not similar underneath?” he asked.
Amara laughed, long and loud. “Similar? Did you say similar? Where did you go to school?” She asked.
“In London and Switzerland.”
“My complete education, or the lack of it, stopped on these streets. So, please do not insult me by comparing us. How long are you paying for?”
“How much is the charge for an hour?”
“Why would you be paying for an hour? What are we talking about?” She asked, and when he kept looking at her, she continued, “the cost for an hour of my time is 5000 haras.”
“Isn’t that steep?” He asked.
The sides of her lips turned up. “What, for a prostitute? No, I warned you to choose someone else. This prostitute does not work anymore, a fact I spelled out to you. When I do work, I do not come cheap. So, can you pay Mr.?”
“My name is Gerald, and yes, I will pay, and keep paying.”
Amara looked at him, leaning forward as if to ask a question, but leaned back again.
“Am I boring you?” He asked.
“Your money, your headache, Mister; however, I can teach you a little about pleasure.” She said, leaning forward again and moving close to his seat. “Listen, if your conscience is the problem here, don’t worry. God doesn’t come this far. I promise you pleasure you’ve never experienced before. What do you say?” she asked, smiling.
He smiled, covering the heavy, steady thump of his heart, and picked the book. “What books do you like?”
She sighed, moving back into the bed. “I like mystery, sci-fi, and erotica to keep me updated.” She said and smiled again, her look intense.
He nodded, standing up. He was uncomfortable, and it was moving to a level 10 mark. “How long has this session been?”
She looked at her bedroom clock. “Thirty minutes, give or take.”
“May I transfer the amount for an hour to your account?”
She smiled. “Why not?”
She provided her account details while he made the transfer on his phone. He showed her the success notification and turned towards the door. She got down from the bed and followed him. She bumped into him as he turned to speak to her, and he held her hand to steady her.
“I will keep coming here for you. I want to understand what happened to the girl who saved my life.” He said, looking into her eyes.
She removed her hand from his and turned away. “If she is the reason you are coming here, don’t bother. The girl you remember died and went to hell. It will be difficult for me to attend to you again. As I told you earlier, the madam of this place wants me to stop work.”
“Then, may I take you out sometime?”
“For what reason? Do you like me?” She asked, looking into his eyes.
He nodded, looking back at her.
She looked away. “Well, I don’t like you. You church types think we are here waiting for you to come and save us.” She looked back at him, her eyes narrowed, a bit of anger flashing. “Newsflash, this one is ready for hell. I’m waiting for the bus, if the accursed place exists.” She went back to her bed, gesturing for him to leave with her hand.
Gerald looked in the pocket of his jeans for a pen and the small notepad he always carried. He wrote his name, address, and phone number. He tore the page out and placed it under the book, where she would find it.
“I will visit you again. I am neither here to transform you, only God can, nor am I here out of gratitude. You are a major part of my life. If you gave up on God, God did not give up on you. He will always love you, accept it. Take care.”
He left her room, not turning back as he limped into the street. His body’s response to her shocked him. Gerald took his time with women, getting to know them before desire built up. He wondered whether the sudden need resulted because of her location and work. He needed help with this one as sure as the night came after the day.
Gerald went to a bookstore the next morning and bought books in the genres she had mentioned, but no erotica. He asked the Holy Spirit for help with his purchases and took the books straight to the brothel in the taxi he hired.
Amara stood outside the brothel, talking to the same area boys when Gerald arrived. He got out of the cab and waited for her to finish. Alpha nudged her, nodding towards him, and she turned. She looked at him and the bag in his hand and turned back to the group, not saying a word. He waited. Five minutes later, the discussion group separated. Amara walked up to him and stood, not speaking. Gerald smiled as he lifted the bag of books in his hand. “I brought books.”
Amara looked at the bag and back at him, not saying anything.
“Can we go somewhere to talk?” He asked.
“What makes you think I want to talk to you? You might be one of those crazy people whose madness is not yet full-blown.”
Gerald laughed. “Come on.”
She turned away from him for some seconds and turned back. “To take me out, you will double the money for my time. Is it alright with you?”
He would pay her from his foreign account after today; he didn’t have enough in their local currency to continue transacting with her. “Sure, why not? Where to?”
Ten minutes later, they sat in a taxi headed towards a cafe outside Wilderness. The location looked a little different from Wilderness but appeared cleaner and saner.
Gerald raised a brow when they got there, following Amara to the counter where they placed their coffee orders. Gerald ordered black coffee, while Amara ordered a Macchiato, before they went to find seats.
Amara looked at the bag in his hand. “Did you bring me anything?”
“I told you I bought books for you.”
Amara smiled at him. It transformed her face, making her look younger. Gerald smiled back; grateful his purchases elicited such a reaction. He handed her the bag, observing her face as she took out the six books he bought her, one after the other, and read the blurbs.
A server brought their coffee and left.
She looked up. “Thank you. Do not pay double today; I am so pleased.”
“I’m happy too.” Gerald said, praising God.
Amara sighed. “I wish I had friends who read. My dream has always been to read with people. Are you acquainted with any reading groups?”
Gerald shook his head at the question before a thought crossed his mind. “I am not aware of any such groups, but even if I did, you would read their choice for the period, not yours. So, what if I become your reading partner?”
“Do you like to read?” She asked.
“Yes, I picked books written by my favorite authors for you. What do you say?”
“Well, I don’t want to waste your time or anything, but if you insist.” She said, smiling at him.
Gerald nodded. “How do we go about our reading?”
He smiled as she tilted her head. “We’ll need to meet often. Is three times a week too much?” she asked.
“Perfect. You can add more days.”
Amara smiled, her eyes widening. “Do you mean it? What if I said five days a week?”
Amara pumped the air with her fist. “Yes! What time every day would do? I am good at noon, and we can read or discuss the book for an hour.”
Gerald nodded, drinking his coffee. “It works for me, as well. When do we start?”
“How about tomorrow? I will not hold you to the agreement on the payment we discussed.” She smiled. “I’m not supposed to take money from you, but a girl has got to eat. So, you will pay me the hourly rate?”
“Fine, I understand. We start tomorrow?”
Amara nodded, drinking her coffee, and looking at the books again. She picked one and gave it to him. “Why don’t we start with this one? I like the storyline. Do you have a copy?”
He looked at the book and noted the name. “No, but I can get it. Where do we meet for our discussions?”
“This place is alright. I know the owners, and I am comfortable. Is it convenient for you?”
Amara leaned forward. “Why me?”
Gerald leaned back into the comfort of his seat.
She continued her queries. “Why are you interested in me? Why not a younger girl, smarter or among your class?” She stayed in position, watching his face.
He leaned forward, close to her. “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you, but please trust this; everything I do with you is with a sound mind. I want us to be friends, and not because you saved me all those years ago. I promise you, the more we meet, the more you will know me, and I hope you will want to relate with me as well.”
She looked like she wanted to say something but thought against it, as she tilted her head to the side, still watching him. Looking down at the book, she smiled as she continued to drink her coffee. Gerald shook his head at the wisdom of God.
Gerald worked out early every morning – a walking routine he created for himself. He liked how people walked past with swift steps on their way to their various businesses, minding their own. Gerald’s walk did two things: enabled him to talk to God, and he learned the routes in Wilderness. His daily workout routine started at 5 am, but he did not leave the church premises until 6:30 am, as he waited for more light. He prayed about everybody he encountered on the way: the mothers who rose early to prepare their children for school, people who set up to sell their wares for the day, those hurrying to work, and even the loitering area boys. On entering the heart of Wilderness, the environment changed; even in the near daylight, it seemed as if darkness hovered, blended in and dominated. The toppling houses, the roads filled with rubbish heaps, the aggressiveness and anger the inhabitants reacted with at the slightest provocation, and their penchant to distrust first and ask questions later. He avoided this part of Wilderness; however, God led him this way today and who was he to say no? He did not want to end up in a giant animal’s belly. He took the scriptures at its literal meaning. He moved through a street with measured steps. He noted the name scrawled on the wall of a house, Winner’s lane, before the commotion before him caught his attention. Some men gathered around a man like vultures. The assailants looked like area boys, harassing the one on the ground for money. Gerald pleaded with God not to send him to help and tried to turn around to leave the street. “Keep walking,” He heard in his heart. He continued forward, and as he passed the scene, he spotted her. She stood over the man on the ground like an Amazon. The smile on her face made it obvious she held the reins. He was not aware he stopped walking. She captivated him with the aura of power she held herself up by, but the mark on her face registered more. The scar called to him like an old memory, willing him to remember. His eyes followed every move she made until the group released the man and all walked away. “She is the one,” He heard again. Gerald realised he had been standing in the same position, fear forgotten. God’s words registered. He looked up at the sky, mouth open for a while, passers-by looked at him funny. He closed his mouth and continued walking; this time away from the street. “I don’t understand, Father, which one?” He asked. He spoke out loud and did not get a response. He understood to whom his Father referred.
Back at the parish, Gerald took a bath, readied himself, and walked down to the communal dining area for breakfast. Pastor Josh, the Parish Pastor, sat at the head of the table, reading the papers. “Good morning, Pastor,” Gerald said in greeting as he took a seat. “Ah, good morning, Gerald.” Pastor Josh responded, smiling. A handsome man who could hit fifty soon, Pastor Josh treated Gerald with a bit more kindness than necessary. The ready smiles and constant approvals seemed a bit much in Gerald’s estimation. The Pastor dressed in the required black shirt and grey trousers with a name tag sewn on his shirt. Except for the weight in the stomach area, Pastor Josh wore his youthful face creased with smiles, and strode with a strong and confident gait. “So, Gerald, what are your plans for the day?” “May I follow you on your visitation rounds? I need to acquaint myself with the area. My walks are not as revealing as I would like because I’m avoiding the area boys as best as I can.” Pastor Josh smiled as he put his paper down. “Not a problem. You will get used to them—some areas, faster than others. The people are neither trusting, nor do they appreciate strangers.” Gerald smiled at him. “Don’t worry, pastor. I believe this is God’s place for me. I will acclimatise soon.” The pastor nodded and turned to read his paper. “In time, my boy, in time.” Gerald thought about his task to assist in the Wilderness Parish. He remembered the day he returned to Haraya, the graduate of an international cooking school in Switzerland. He arrived ready to do God’s work, the call on his life a priority which consumed him. Cooking was his second love. The first sight that welcomed him as he arrived at the airport was the poor, women and children. Youths milled about the roads, waving their cardboard paper, chanting freedom choruses, demonstrating for better governance. On one of those cardboard sheets, the name Wilderness stood out, painted in red, the paint bleeding on the paper as if it wept. His parents could not answer his questions. “Listen, boy, the deplorable state of the people started from way back, the fault of past governments. The new administration can’t correct everything. Eat the food you took your time to cook and be merry with your family. Let those people care for themselves. They’ve been doing it for decades.” His father said, ignoring the way his son gaped back at him. Gerald went to God. The day after his arrival home, he took a taxi to Wilderness; the cardboard sign stuck to his heart. Overwhelmed at the raw stench of human sweat, foodstuff on display on the roads, dirty gutters reeking to the heavens, and rubbish heaps, he couldn’t stay five minutes in the area. Wilderness laid heavy on his chest, and he continued to ask God what to do. From experience, he waited, knowing the burden from God was an assignment God would lead and guide him through. As a member of The Transformation Place Church, Worldwide, he asked his church members in the Church’s headquarters for details of the Parish Pastor of the Wilderness branch. A friend introduced him to Pastor Josh, and, after a brief discussion, Gerald donated to the Parish. He continued to do this for a while until God asked him one evening as he prayed. “Who can I send?” Gerald stopped praying. God’s expectations were clear, but Gerald’s mind was not. He sat down at his writing-table. “Do you want me to go, Father?” “Who can I send?” He looked up at the roof and replied, “Send me.” The next week, he got a letter inviting him to the Church President’s office. They had met once or twice since his return from Switzerland, but the invitation baffled him. He got ready and went to meet the man. Their conversation still shocked Gerald whenever he thought about it. The President heard about Gerald’s support and interest in the Wilderness parish, and since the parish needed help, would he be willing to assist the pastor with his duties? The executive council prayed about it and chose Gerald from a list of others, including young pastors. A second request for his help also came Pastor Josh, as he tabled his need for aid before the Executive body of the Church. He informed them about Gerald’s heart for God, for Wilderness, and his generosity. Although Gerald did not possess any pastoring experience, the council, in making their decision, hoped his passion would help the Parish and its pastor. Gerald, in shock, agreed, knowing God had spoken. He would never forget the President’s last words. “God may have brought you back to Haraya for Wilderness.” To the utter disappointment of his family, he gave up employment in a Swiss luxury hotel, an opportunity his parents boasted about amidst their friends, for the job in Wilderness. His mother had still not forgiven him. He started work as the Pastor’s assistant the week after the discussion with the President. He did not know how long the job would last, but believed God stood with him in his assignment. At last, the cook laid his food out before him, cutting off his thought process. She smiled at him, and he winked at her. She reminded him of his grandmother and how she tolerated his opinions on cooking. Gerald turned to eat, a wistful smile on his lips. Pastor Josh lowered the paper. “Did she accept the tips from you?” He asked in a whisper. Gerald smiled. “She did, and I am still alive. The flavour of the rice this morning will stay on your tongue till lunchtime. Try it.” Josh nodded. “Good. I was waiting for your verdict before trying anything.” He opened his plastic food cover and looked at the rice. The appearance was not much better than before, but the aroma beckoned to him and he ate before passing judgment. As he tasted his first fork full, he looked up at Gerald, his eyes widening with every chew. “The sauce still lingers on the tongue. It’s as if she cooked it on firewood, like the rice my grandmother made for us as children. Fantastic, my boy!” the Pastor said, grinning, before he leaned forward close to Gerald, “but please help her with the presentation and keep mentoring her on new recipes. If that is all you do, we will be forever grateful for your presence. Hah! At this rate, we will soon start eating gourmet food here.” He said and turned back to his food, clapping his hands as he dug in. Gerald continued eating; his smile gone and his appetite with it. He chewed slowly, his mouth moving as he listened to the Pastor’s noisy activity. Gerald glanced at the Pastor, assessing the man’s motives for the first time and hoping he was not over-thinking things. He laid his thoughts before God, asking for wisdom and guidance.
Gerald followed as Pastor Josh left the parish for visitation at 2 pm that afternoon. Pastor Josh warned they would visit a dangerous part of Wilderness-a brothel on Winner’s lane. The Pastor visited there every Wednesday and always bought groceries for the girls, as he referred to them. Gerald expected the cook would go to the market for the groceries, but Pastor Josh explained it would waste time and recommended they buy what they needed at a local store. At the store, Pastor Josh bought foodstuffs in cartons and other feminine things for the women. Gerald looked away, embarrassed at how Josh picked intimate female items with ease. At the counter, the shop owner smiled at the pastor, greeting him like an old customer. Gerald noted the huge amount of bills exchanged for their transaction. They packed the shopping bags into the car and sped off. Gerald prayed as they drove along the streets of Wilderness. He prayed for the children, the youth, mothers, and fathers. The thought of the amazon with a mark flashed in his mind-his girl. He shook his head. “Are you alright?” Pastor Josh asked, glancing at him and back at the road. Gerald smiled: “I’m fine, sir. I feel drowsy. I need more sleep.” Pastor Josh nodded, concentrating on his driving. What a lie, and when did the girl become his? Someone he did not know? What would his mother think about her background and upbringing? She almost gave up on him with the Wilderness news. Now she would disown him outright. Gerald closed his eyes. Father, I thank you for this situation. I don’t know what you want me to do with this gift. I believe there is light to guide me on this path. Take the glory, my God. He opened his eyes as their car entered Winner’s lane. Gerald looked around, hoping to see her again. Pastor Josh stopped the car and parked it in front of an old bungalow.
The house, like other bungalows lined up on the lane, possessed communal rooms for bathing, cooking and attending to visitors. They contained eight to ten rooms lined in a hallway, on the left and right, facing each other. The present owners either rented them out room by room, or their children still lived there. In the present, the houses remained standing only in the ghetto, reserved for the poor. The bungalow housing the brothel looked different. Fenced roundabout, with a small gate in front of it, it resembled a widow’s cottage. At two in the afternoon, young ladies littered the front yard, sitting, playing games, and looking out for potential customers. Once the car stopped, some girls came out to greet pastor Josh and to help with the bags. A few ladies choose to help Gerald, casting inquiring glances and flirtatious smiles. He smiled back at some, and nodded at the others, saying hello to each one. Pastor Josh led him to the meeting room-the brothel bar. Five young ladies followed them into the small room. Gerald stood by the door, leaning against a wall, and paid attention as Pastor Josh made the meeting as interactive as possible. He tried to assess Pastor Josh’s teaching style and wondered how he would have done it if he was in the Pastor’s position. He looked around the bar to the two small windows on opposite sides and bare walls, and spotted the girl by the window looking at him. She winked. Her beautiful skin glittered with oil like another membrane. Gerald nodded at her and looked away, back to the walls. The walls were blue ages ago, but now stained with age and dust, acquired other colors. The paint work looked like the work of a depressed artist. Gerald noticed someone standing by his side at the door. He turned and faced the amazon, and all speech evaporated from his head as he gazed at her. “Have we met?” she asked. “No.” She smiled. “Why are you staring at me? Never seen a beautiful woman before?” Gerald looked away. “No.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry.” “Well, Mr. Looker, are you here for the girls? You’re a bit early,” she said, smiling. “No, I came with Pastor Josh.” She looked at Pastor Josh and back at him. “Oh, you are one of those,” she said and turned to walk away. “One of what?” he asked. “Those,” she called out. “What in God’s name is she doing here?” He asked out loud. He also wondered about the mark on her face, why he couldn’t get it out of his head. “Do you know Amara?” The oiled-up girl from the window asked. She stood in front of him, invading his space with each step. Gerald spotted Pastor Josh leaving the bar and looked at the girl again. She was a beauty, but the coldness in her eyes and smile put him off. “No, I don’t. What’s your name?” he asked. “Nma,” she said and turned to Pastor Josh as he came to stand by Gerald’s side. “You didn’t introduce us to your friend, Pastor.” “Ah, forgive me. Everybody, this is Gerald, my new assistant in the parish. He will visit with me from now on. Gerald, the beautiful lady with you, is Nma. This pretty one in front of me is Oge, and,” Pastor Josh turned to point at the other girls, “these are Nkoli, Anwuli, and Funmi. Say, welcome girls.” After the visit, both men remained deep in their thoughts on their way back to the parish.
Just before Gerald fell asleep, Amara’s face flashed in his mind and zapped away like smoke. It wasn’t the face she had grown into, but the face of the girl with the mark, who had saved him many years ago. Gerald sat up in disbelief, recalling all that had happened the first time he met Amara; it seemed impossible. He had tried to forget those memories for the past eighteen years. He yielded them to God years after the incident, when the most-skilled psychiatrists had failed to help him with the nightmares. Amara saved his life. How could he have forgotten her? Years ago, Wilderness, called a different name, appeared well above the poverty line, but signs showed the degeneration process creeping in. He got lost one afternoon after school and missed the school bus, when his class toured the area on a school excursion trip. The area boys, children as well, chased him around for a while, when a girl about his age, with a snake-like mark on her face, stopped the chase and dared the boys to touch Gerald. The commotion happened in front of her mother’s shop, and the woman rushed out to chase the boys away. After listening to him, the girl’s mother gave him enough money to get him out of Wilderness by bus. He thanked her and turned to leave, but the girl stopped him. “Can you go home from here?” She asked. He shook his head and looked down. “Come, I will take you to the bus stop.” She said, leading him by hand. Amara took him to the bus stop and put him on a bus going to the Central, his side of town. She explained his predicament to the driver, asking him to drop Gerald off at the right stop. He tossed on his bed, still unable to believe the amazon woman was the same girl, and stood, unable to sleep. Gerald picked his Bible and read, seeking wisdom as he turned to Jeremiah 32: 37-41: ‘Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them in My anger, in My fury, and in great wrath; I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely. They shall be my people, and I will be their God; then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me. Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all my heart, and with all My soul.’ He knelt to pray. “This is my plan for Haraya. You will marry her as I have married Haraya to myself. She will be yours, as Haraya is mine. Do not be afraid; I am with you.” The Holy Spirit said. Gerald bowed his head low to the ground and worshipped.