Happy Reading ****
The unforgettable Sunday came when Inibehe wore a suit and a bowtie after a very long time. He stood at the mirror for a long time, staring at his image. He stared at his bible for long moments and then whispered, “I am still your servant oh lord, I must not bear the name pastor, or own a church. But I will still worship you and love you. Stay with me in this moment.”
There was a world of pain in those words.
It was a Sunday to remember.
The morning sun offered some warmth. But as soon as he got into his car, he felt the chill. He suddenly remembered that he had to pick the divorce papers along with him to the church. He rushed back to the sitting room and heat flooded his body blazed from his cheeks when he saw Uduak’s signature on it. She’d agreed to the divorce and Inibehe’s smile was more appealing than apologetic.
He took a deep breath and drove to the church.
He had invited almost all the bishops and senior pastors of different Rhapsody Churches in Uyo to a program in his church. But it wasn’t really a program as the invitation stated.
Inibehe walked into his office and looked at his wedding picture for long moments, then he glared at his picture.
When he overheard the choir’s ministration from his office, he knew that the service had begun. He took his bible and walked into the crowded church. The front lines were filled with bishops and pastors.
His eyes caught with his father’s and Bishop Cosmos probably felt his son was going to make him proud. And after the church program, he was going to tell him of what he saw at bishop Charisma’s house.
The church gave a loud round of applause when Inibehe walked into the podium to deliver his message.
And as he stood there, he looked at the choristers, the bishops, the pastors and the congregation. His eyes searched for Uduak in the crowd, but he couldn’t find her. He looked at his father for several long moments, a calculating gleam in his compelling eyes.
He took a deep breath and then said. ” Today, I gather you all here to officially say that despite the fact that I have Jesus Christ as my lord and savior, and that I’ve got to serve him all the rest of my life. From today henceforth, I Inibehe Cosmos Okoko, ceased to be referred to as Pastor Inibehe…” There was murmuring as his father stood up immediately in the crowd. He couldn’t believe his ears. He stared at Inibehe, absolutely dumbfounded.
Inibehe continued in a quiet, relentless, voice.
“I am now as ordinary as every one of you out there, sitting in the congregation, yet still loving the lord. I no more serve as a pastor of Rhapsody ministries. Uduak Ebebe and I, Inibehe Okoko are officially divorce…”
There was another loud murmur again, as the church people began to scream “No! No! No!”
But Inibehe tightened his face, and a cool reserve slid into his eyes.
“Uduak Ebebe has nothing to do with me from today henceforth. Thank you and God bless you all for honoring my withdrawal speech and resignation as a pastor. But I am still a servant of God.”
Some bishops shook their heads as they watched him walk out of the church with his bible in his hand.
Bishop Cosmos stood as if frozen to his spot. He thought he was aware of the divorce issue. But he wasn’t sure of why his son had to quit serving in the ministry. He had everything given to him on a platter of gold. There was more to this that he didn’t know. The pastors and the bishops held his both hands and walked out of the church, in the midst of a confused loud crowd of congregation who were asking questions and seeking answers.
Everyone was stunned. Too shock.
Inibehe went back to his office and wept bitterly. He’d imagined his father’s face when he cried. How he stared at him in shock. He was innocent in all of these, and he never knew that he was always manipulated by his mother to do things he’d never thought of.
He drove home that day thinking of the words he had said before the congregation.
And when he drove into his compound and saw his father’s car parked at his garage, he was ready for every painful word and query he was going to say out of his mouth. But despite all of his bittered words, he will pack his luggage and move to London, where he will start a family and be with the love of his life forever.
His father stared at him aghast when he stepped into the sitting room. He suddenly walked toward him and hugged him tight to himself. The smell of his Creek perfume burst his nose. He could hardly believe that his father who would have slapped his face or threatened to cease his wealth or render curses on him was hugging him tightly.
“Your mother and I did a terrible thing to you. We’d thought we were right. There are things I just found out. It breaks me as a man.” He echoed faintly. His words came out sharp and staccato, not at all like his usual husky tones and his dark brows lifted interrogatively.
“You are a brave man Inibehe Okoko.”
Inibehe stared at him for several seconds, and then he knelt before him and asked impatiently. “Bless me, father.”
Bishop Cosmos laid hands on his head, and when he began to pray, there was wonder in his voice.
Uduak’s mother stared at her daughter like she was reading something on her face. A calm settled over her. She didn’t believe her ears.
“You knew this a long time ago, and you covered it up for your selfish interest.”
“What would I have gained for telling you that Dad was having an affair with the late Valerie?”
“And what have you gained for telling me now?” She uttered a word she didn’t generally use.
“You’re such a shame. And you and your father have gotten what you deserve. Shame to you.” Her mother added.
Uduak forced herself to exhale slowly. There was more than a chance to start all over again.
Her Mother felt oddly hollow inside. Anger built slowly, tempered by an odd sense of deflation.
“Don’t say a word to anyone about this.”
“The bishop already saw Charisma and I together. He knows. He thinks that Inibehe is right by divorcing me.” Uduak said.
“You should leave town for now. Go to Lagos and stay with my sister. She will be happy to accommodate you.”
Her mother said. Uduak nodded calmly. But she was not leaving for Lagos without telling Bishop Charisma. She held her mother’s hands and left it immediately, walking away to her room to pack her bags.
Moments later, Uduak’s father entered the sitting room.
“How are you doing Ima?” He asked.
She glowered at him. Her courage faltered. She stood up and walked toward him, giving him a hard slap on his cheek.
“You cheat! Servant of God my foot! You have caused this shame to my daughter and I.”
He held his cheeks with one hand, heat burning down one side of his cheeks. “What have I done to deserve this?” He asked painfully. But she walked away with painful anger in her eyes.
She will tell him of his sins, and he will weep and ask for forgiveness.
“It’s the devil.” He cried out to his wife.
Inibehe arrived London with deep joy in his heart. When he sat behind the car that took him from Luton Airport. He’d inhaled a deep breath when he could view his house from inside the car.
When he alighted from the car and saw Serena from afar, he screamed her name.
Serena turned, and when she saw that he was the one she couldn’t help but cry the more. Inibehe was surprised to see tears in her eyes. He stopped the taxi and ran toward her.
“What is the matter? Where is your school mom Nduke?” He asked. But she kept crying the more.
“Sir I need to get away from here.” The cabman said. He rushed to the car, took his luggage and counted few notes of pounds to the driver. He zoomed off, leaving Inibehe and Serena together on that lonely street.
His heart was heavy with the weight of fear and worry. He walked as fast as he could toward the house, rolling his two huge boxes after him. His heart beating so fast and heavy like it was about to explode.
Serena cried even louder. Her stern expression and teary face obviously told him something was wrong. But he was not sure what it was. He hoped nothing had happened to Nduke. When he got to the house, he threw his boxes on the floor and knocked on the door for several times. Pressing the doorbell switch and waiting impatiently for Nduke to open the door.
He could still see Serena walking slowly toward the house and crying at the same time.
Mutely, he stared at her for a long time. His eyes wide with so many thoughts and imaginations.
His legs became weak. He could not move anymore.
“Jesus, for the few years I have served you, do not let anything happen to the woman I love.” His voice was shaken.
So many emotions tumbled inside him that he was almost going crazy.
Anger and resentment drained away. All he had in his mind were questions, unanswered questions.
And when Serena got close to the house, her pain lashed him where he stood.
There was a malignant sensation of evil in those tears that dropped from Serena’s eyes. The last of his anger trickled away when he saw how badly she staggered as she walked. Panic suffused his face.
Inibehe stood there, trying to marshal his chaotic thoughts.
Torn between anger, hurt and sorrow, he walked as fast as he could toward her and dragged her hands. “Where is Nduke?” He yelled with anger in his eyes.
“She is dead!” Serena said tearily. Crying even louder. She wiped furiously at her eyes as she kept crying.
Inibehe’s head exploded. His heart shattered into pieces. He was shocked. He stared at Serena till her words sputtered into silence. She was saying something. But he didn’t hear her. The fierce light of love faded more slowly from his eyes, but the power of love that he’d felt for her looked oddly defeated.
He fell unconsciously to the floor. But he only saw Nduke’s face when he closed his eye and passed out in the cold London weather.
The loud scream from Serena woke Inibehe. He rose and stood to his feet, immediately walking around confusedly.
“Which hospital is she?” Inibehe asked in a shaky tone.
“Saint Ann’s hospital on the ocean road.” She said, still crying.
He gripped her hand tight and ran with her toward the main road.
And while he was running breathlessly, he muttered. “I spoke with her yesterday before I boarded, I did. She told me the baby was kicking fine.”
When they finally took a cab that got to Saint Ann’s hospital, he threw money at the cab guy and ran out of the car, followed by Serena.
“I want to see my wife. Her name is Nduke, she is black. She has dreadlocks.”
“Calm down sir. A nurse will take you to her room.” A white lady with a black squiggly brow said oddly.
“What happened to her?” Inibehe asked.
“She had little abdominal pain. She will be fine.”
There was silence in the air for moments as Inibehe turned to face Serena.
“She will be fine? I thought…” Inibehe whispered.
“But I came here a few hours ago and you said she is dead.” Serena said.
The nurse startled in exclamation.
“No. I Thought you asked for Nuke? Nuke is the white lady who died this morning from food poisoning.” The nurse said with a British accent.
Inibehe laughed tearily. He could not believe his ears.
Serena pronounced Nduke’s name as ‘Nuke’ and Inibehe as ‘Ni-be’. He had corrected her countless times, but she kept calling them that way until they got used to it.
“You mean she is alive?”
“Of course.” The nurse replied softly. “She is in room 508.” She added.
Serena held Inibehe’s hand and led him to the room Nduke laid.
She was asleep when they walked into the room. She was lying down with her stomach facing the ceiling. When Inibehe saw her protruded stomach he walked toward the bed and kissed her forehead, then her stomach. She opened her eyes and her heart lifted when she saw Inibehe. Nerves played havoc with her stomach when she tried to sit up.
“Why are your eyes wet, is everything fine?” She asked, looking at Serena.
“The nurse said something, I thought she meant you.”
“What did she say?”
“That Nuke is dead.”
“May the Lord forbid!” Nduke exclaimed softly.
Inibehe began to laugh so loud. As he hugged her and kissed her lips.
Serena sat beside her and walked her fingers on Nduke’s big tummy excitedly. There was a joy in the room for as long as they all stayed together.
On that same day, Nduke was discharged. Doctor Francisca, her own doctor told her that she will be due in two months.
While awaiting fatherhood, Inibehe had started buying baby clothes and diapers in large quantities from the mall. He’d bought a bed and mickey mouse wallpapers for the baby’s room.
“It’s going to be a girl. Doctor Francisca told me after the scan.” Nduke said after she went through the things Inibehe had bought from the mall.
Sifon had call the next day to inform Inibehe of her wedding in Nigeria in five months time. She will be getting married to her brother’s best friend Laurel Dixon.
“By that time, Nduke and I will be married too. But here in London. Your niece will be around by that time.”
“Niece? Is she pregnant?”
“Yeah,” Inibehe replied excitedly.
“Oh Ini, you’re going to have such a happy family. Can she be my little bride?” Sifon asked.
“No. She will be too little by then. Still a baby. Take Mimi, Mfon’s daughter.”
“I will let aunty Eno know about this. Daddy said he will want all his children to be at the wedding so that he can bless us all.” She said softly. “I also heard that Uduak was caught kissing bishop Charisma, few days before you withdrew from the church.”
“Who told you that?” Inibehe asked giggling.
He chuckled softly and then asked, “did he tell you something else?”
“No.” She replied softly.
Inibehe wasn’t surprised to hear that Uduak cheated too. He was still smiling when his sister hung the call.
He was happy that Uduak had found love too.
He kept smiling, memories of the past clinging to his heart.
“Love is the greatest of it all, God was right.” He muttered to himself.
Marrying Nduke officially was his next wish. He wondered what she was going to look like in a wedding dress, Like a fairytale princess or a black African queen from Nigeria?
And his daughter, would look like him or Nduke? And if she looks much more like him, he will name her Timaro, which means remember that love.
The Morning Timaro was born, it was also the day Uduak had wedded Bishop Charisma in a small church in Lagos.
One of the former church members of Inibehe had called to inform him of the news of Uduak’s wedding. But he was less concerned about it. His eyes were gritty from lack of sleep. Nduke had been in pains all through the previous night, and he was awake, right by her side.
He was in a room with her when she gave her last push, and the whole of Timaro’s body fell out from her mother.
Inibehe widened his eyes when he saw how beautiful and hairy she looked.
“She looks like me.” He said excitedly as he watched the nurses clean her up and wrapped her in a towel, placing her on Nduke’s chest.
“She is so pretty, just like you my love.” He said delightfully to Nduke who was trying to see the beautiful face of their love child.
She inhaled a deep breath when she saw how pretty she looked. Inibehe kissed her and carried Timaro from her chest. He cuddled her until Nduke was cleaned up; she slept off and woke up and still smiled at Inibehe still walking around with their child in his arms.
Two months had passed and Inibehe was set to wed his longtime lover Nduke.
He had made plans for a perfect garden wedding. And his elder brother Pastor Mfon had promised to join them together in holy matrimony.
On the morning of the wedding, the guests, and mostly ex-students of Rhapsody missionary school had gathered under a well-decorated canopy that covered over a hundred people.
Nduke was dressed in an ivory wedding dress. She had a white crown on her head, and she kept her gaze fastened on Inibehe as she walked down the aisle.
The guests stood still, as she hung her hand in the air, and he reached to it, clasping his hand in hers. Serena walked behind her as her bridesmaid. While Eno rocked little Timaro in her arms until she’d slept off.
“Will you Inibehe Cosmos Okoko, take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forth, to love and cherish her…”
Nduke blinked rapidly, afraid to cry, she might not be able to stop a damn burst. She forced the necessary smile on her face, gritting her teeth hard against the emotional lump rising in her throat. She fixed her gaze on Inibehe’s radiant face as he made his vows to her in a deep voice that throbbed with commitment.
Nduke spoke her vows softly. Inibehe looked at her with glowing adoration.
Then Laurel Dixon stepped forward to hand over the wedding ring. Inibehe smiled at him. Laurel smiled back too. Then he turned and shared the smile with Nduke, the most beautiful smile he had ever directed at her, and for some reason, it broke her iron control and the treacherous tears swam into her eyes.
She swallowed hard and put up her finger, and they exchanged rings. She could feel the moisture clinging to her thick lashes, but at least, she stopped the tears from dripping down her cheeks.
She took a few long, deep breath as pastor Mfon concluded the ceremony.
“…I now pronounce you man and wife.”
He started to usher Inibehe and Nduke over to the table where they were to sign the marriage certificate. And after they’d signed, Pastor Mfon signed in place of his father, while Sifon signed in place of the mother.
There was joy in the air as loud Nigerian gospel music was heard.
Nduke and Inibehe held their hands and danced out.
It was a Nigerian wedding in London. And the reception hall was quite small, but classy.
When Laurel made a toast for Inibehe, tears rolled down his eyes when he said ” This is love. You both have taught me what love is truly.” There was a loud round of applause after he made his heart thrilling toast.
After the eating, dancing, and melodies, everyone went back to their different destinations.
Bishop Okoko had demanded to carry Timaro with his bare hands.
“I want to see my grandchild and my daughter-in-law.” He said over the phone. There was joy in his tone when he spoke of Nduke and Timaro.
In few months time, Sifon will be married to Laurel. And everyone will visit Nigeria again. After the wedding, the families will kneel in the midst of Bishop Okoko, and he will bless all his children and give to them their own share of his wealth.
He will name Timaro ‘Ediongseyene’ and dedicate her to the Lord.
Mfon will be ordained the new bishop of Rhapsody after Bishop Okoko, and the church will continue to grow as it used to be.
Nduke and Inibehe will relocate to London, where they will be in each other’s life forever.
Author: Vicky Bon Uzor