Her body was still warm when Inibehe arrived the hospital with his elder brother Pastor Mfon, who had just picked him up from the airport.
As he walked into the hallway, he looked at things strangely, as if he’d never been there before. He had been in Rhapsody Christian Missionary school In London for just four years, and now, coming back home to Nigeria, almost everything wasn’t familiar anymore. His elder brother looked a bit chubby, and his accent had changed.
“Why are we in the hospital, is everything fine?” Inibehe asked in concern.
But his brother nodded and said, “mom has cancer. She wants to see all of us.”
“This isn’t good,” Inibehe said abruptly.
He was the second son of his mother, while pastor Mfon was the first. Their only sister Sifon came when no one expected her. But lady Valerie Okoko, Inibehe’s mother had so much to be happy about in having a female child. She was going to groom all her children in missionary schools, whether they wanted it or not. But all she wanted was for them to grow and die in the Lord’s vineyard. “It’s where life is my children.” She said.
Inibehe had just finished writing his final exams in Missionary school when his father called him to get a ticket and come to Nigeria immediately. He didn’t give him reasons, he just gave an order.
Inibehe’s heart trembled when he saw the crowd of people in his mother’s ward.
They were all pastors, bishops, and reverends.
They all gathered around Lady Valerie.
“He is here Mom,” A female voice said shrilly. That was the only voice that sounded familiar to him It was his sister’s. She walked as fast as she could and hugged him tightly, weeping softly.
“Mom has been really sick Ini, I missed you,” she said and hugged me again.
Inibehe didn’t know what to say; if it was to cry too, or just watch what was happening.
“She will be fine.” He said with certainty as he held his sister’s hands.
His father’s hands held his shoulders, “Welcome my son.”
He hugged his father and then swiped at the rivulets of sweat running down the sides of his face with a crumpled blue handkerchief.
It was the first time Inibehe hugged his father that way.
Bishop Cosmos Okoko had been a strict man , strong, agile man all his life. He was feared and respected. Being the founder of Rhapsody Christian Church worldwide had given him so much, he had legacies and was known to be a great achiever. He’d made his three children pastors and given them his big churches outside Nigeria to lead.
“Your mother wants to see all of us.” A sneer licked the edges of his words.
“I am here.” Inibehe said. He left his father’s arms and walked slowly to where his mother laid. She had oxygen tube connected to her nostrils.
Despite the ravages of the pain, Lady Valerie could still open her eyes to see her most beloved son. She was bald head and ugly. Inibehe realized that it was more than what he thought. He stared at the woman who had been his mother, and carried him in her arms for years. She used to be beautiful, elegant and delectable until cancer came knocking her down. A worried expression deepened the furrow between his eyebrows.
“Mommy…” He called out weakly and held her hands tight.
She took out the oxygen tube from her mouth and then said weakly,
“I have just few things to tell my children and my husband.”
His elder brother pastor Mfon brought out a recording camera from a bag and placed it on the air, recording every sentence and words his mother made.
“I want to thank you all for making me proud.” She coughed and then continued “My husband will mourn me for a year, and then remarry for the sake of the church. My first son Mfon will move to the church branch in America and be there to lead it well.” A nurse suddenly appeared and injected a greenish liquid into her veins. She left within a minute. Lady Valerie continued after she closed her eyes for moments. “My daughter will marry Pastor Usoro Oscar my god son in whom I trained and they will take care of the church in London, while my second son Inibehe Okoko will be married to my god daughter Uduak Ebebe, and then they will chose the church branch they will serve the lord. Uduak is a virgin, I have trained her well for you my son.”
Inibehe’s heart was beating when his mother was talking, but it suddenly stopped when she mentioned Uduak Ebebe, his childhood playmate.
Inibehe suddenly became annoyed, he then asked critically, “Why Uduak mommy?”
“Do not ask questions!” A pastor in the midst of the people who were gathered in the room yelled at Inibehe.
The oxygen tube was placed back on Lady Valerie’s nose.
He stared at his mother, the disquiet he’d been feeling all morning intensified. His desire to leave that scenario was strong enough to surprise him.
Lady Valerie turned cold in the early hours of a Saturday morning.
The news of her death went viral. There were crowds of people at the hospital and the family house of Bishop Cosmos Okoko.
“I heard she was a powerful woman. She supported her husband to earn all what he has now.” One of the nurses at the hospital said to another.
“Hmmm…She was a man in a woman’s body. May her soul rest in peace, chai.” The other nurse replied with a shrug.
Mfon, Inibehe, and Sifon put on a sad face. They had wept bitterly the morning the doctor told them the news of their mother’s death.
Mfon’s wife Eno, was the only one who didn’t shed a tear. She still had her makeup on, her red ruby woo lipstick had so much brightness. She didn’t care if the family were in mourning, all she did was cuddle her daughter Mimi in her arms like a teddy bear.
“What are we going to do now?” Sifon asked, her eyes were already deepened in tears.
Mfon and Inibehe drove to the hospital, led by some bishops and pastors, they went to take the body of Lady Valerie to the mortuary.
“That is how the Lord wants it to be. May she rest in peace.” Bishop Charisma said in a baritone voice, as the others responded in unison ” Amen.”
There was sadness in the air, as even the earth wept. It rained cat and dog, like never before. A white sheet was covered from the feet to the head of Lady Valerie’s body. She had turned stiff and cold.
Inibehe wore a dark glasses and wiped his eyes frequently as tears kept running out uncontrollably.
There was a loud cry on the hallway, it was a girl’s voice.
“No, she can’t be dead. I spoke with her last night. She is alive. Jesus won’t let her go!”
The nurses tried to console her. But she wept bitterly.
Inibehe walked down the hallway to see who it was, and when he saw that it was Uduak, he tried to dodge her, but she had already seen him too.
She ran like a puppet on a string or someone at the tail end of their stamina toward Inibehe. Her long, dark hair tangled around her face, hiding her features.
“You came into the country and you didn’t let your wife-to-be know?” She said tearily.
“Is that what we should be talking about now? I lost my mom and here you’re talking about wife nonsense!” Inibehe yelled. His voice had no hope of saying one more word, it had cracked like he had a frog down his throat. He tried to walk away, Uduak sprinted toward him and held his hands.
“I am sorry for your loss, she was my mother too.”
But Inibehe didn’t respond. He walked away and sat inside the car, thinking about his mother, and his girlfriend Nduke had been in his heart all along. She was his first love, and just when they were at the point of getting married after missionary school his mother came up with another story. His mother’s words repeated itself frequently in his head. He became confused. He began to weep bitterly again, but with the picture of Nduke and his mother in his imagination.
His thoughts were disrupted by the sound of the ambulance. His mother’s body was on its way to the mortuary where she will be kept for fourteen days before burial.
Someone gripped his forearm. He realized it was being shaken hard in an attempt to get his attention. “Be a man guy! Mom is gone, you shouldn’t cry like a woman!” His brother Mfon said. Inibehe wondered if a man wasn’t created with emotions and feelings, or didn’t he have sensitive hormones in him like his sister. He wiped his eyes and wore his dark glasses again.
News of lady Valerie’s death had reach rhapsody missionary school in London. When Nduke heard the news, she was heartbroken and thought of calling her boyfriend, then she finally did.
“I am so sorry. I heard the news this evening at the chapel.” She said in a low tone.
“How are you?” He asked her calmly.
“I am not fine. Details of your mother’s death have been vague and wildly exaggerated as usual.”
“What did you hear?”
“I heard some pastors say that she’d shared a few churches to you and your siblings, and also given you and your sister a partner.”
“What partner?” His heart gave a foolish lurch.
“I heard she gave you a wife.” She giggled.
“That’s not true.”
“I know.” Nduke retorted abruptly.
Nduke was extremely attractive, and more than once Inibehe had caught a hint of sensual awareness slumbering in her serious gaze. He loved her so much, and as tempting as she was, Inibehe had never tried luring her into sexual acts. He was disciplined and principled, likewise Nduke. She was one of the most beautiful young female black pastors in London. Being an orphan, her foster mother, Lady Irene Etiobong had wanted her to be a woman of God so that she can take over the family foster home and then be an assistant pastor at one of the rhapsody churches.
So many parents wanted their children to be pastors of a Rhapsody church, it was an honor to any family who had a child who was one.
But there was something about Nduke and Inibehe, they wanted more than just being a pastor of a church.
A month after Lady Valerie’s burial, a family meeting was held at the family house in Ukana Iba. Everyone was dressed in black attires.
Mfon held his nine month old daughter Mimi in his hands. while his wife Eno sat right beside him.
Moments before the meeting started, Uduak appeared in a black Cinderella dress. Eno looked at her meanly from her head to her feet, she was irritated by Uduak’s sight.
“Good morning everyone.” She greeted politely. Everyone answered in chorus except Inibehe and Eno.
“What is she doing here?” Inibehe asked, looking at Mfon’s face.
“For the meeting. She is going to be family soon.” Mfon replied smugly.
Bishop Cosmos cleared his throat and said, “Be quiet everyone. Y’all heard what your mother said in her last moments. We should all honor her words and keep to the promises we made.”
“I didn’t promise mama that I was going to marry Uduak. I only listened to her wishes”
“Don’t be stupid!” Mfon growled. “Nobody disobeys mom. You must do what ever she said, at least in honor of her memories.”
Deliberately, Inibehe stared hard at Mfon. He didn’t say a word.
“You have heard your elder brother Ini, you have to marry Uduak as soon as possible. When are you graduating from missionary school?” his father asked boldly.
“Next month.” He replied.
everyone clapped excitedly for Inibehe.
“It’s so sad that your mother won’t be there.” Bishop gave a loud sigh. He turned to Mfon and asked, “When are you leaving for America with your wife?”
“In two days dad.” Mfon replied abruptly.
He turned to his daughter and asked
“And you Sifon?”
“I will stay till my wedding with Usoro. We are waiting for you to keep the date.”
“Why is he not here?”
“He is with Bishop Ananias for a meeting with the other pastors.”
“Good.” Bishop nodded.
He then turned to Inibehe and asked
“And you Inibehe, when are we visiting Uduak’s family?”
Inibehe was mute for a moment before he reluctantly replied oddly. ” I don’t know yet.”
“What do you mean you don’t know yet? You have to do this for mom Ini.” Sifon sneered.
He was still mute. All what he needed was a sleep; something he hasn’t been able to achieve since his mother died.
“Getting married to Uduak wasn’t planned.”
He finally said boldly.
“Why? Tell me why you’re always the stubborn and difficult one among the three of us? Why won’t you marry Uduak? Mom gave you a virgin and such a delectable beautiful woman for a wife and you’re taking forever to just do it!”
Eno; Mfon’s wife pushed a strand of her hair drooping moistly against her forehead before she said shrilly, “Let Inibehe follow his heart honey, he is matured.”
“Shut up woman! are you saying that my mom’s wishes should be forgotten just like that?
Eno rolled her eyes and didn’t say another word. She was a stylish woman, hard to crack and hated to be commanded. Lady Valerie’s death relieved her of a lot of things. She hated her so much because she controlled her husband Mfon and everything he owned. They had never been friends until her death.
She inserted a chewing gum in her mouth and stood to walk away. “I need to ease myself. “she said, and walked away, making sound with her stiletto heel.
Bishop stared at Inibehe directly in the eye. He had anger in his tone. “I will never forgive you if after your graduation you don’t come back to take the wife your mother made for you.”
His father’s incredulous expression amazed him. He had wondered why being married to Uduak was that important to the family. Inibehe turned and stared at Uduak, his eyes narrowed. There was absolutely nothing intriguing about her that got him bewildered. Apart from the fact she looked reserved and resolute. She looked like someone who was homely trained. But she wasn’t Inibehe’s kind of woman.
“Dad, I have spent thirty good years of my life doing all what you and mom asked me to do. I wanted to be a computer engineer, you said no. Mom said she wants me be a pastor, you supported her. The both of you didn’t care if that was my dream. God didn’t call me into this, you both did. While in London, I had to go to an online university and a missionary school all at the same time, just because I want to achieve my own dreams”
“Your mother and I want the best for you and your siblings.”
“I know what I want. If Mfon and Sifon decide to obey you and mom, and to live your own dreams, fine. Good for them. I can’t live in that discomfort anymore. The bible didn’t say that.”
“Obey your parents in the lord, for it is good. Honor your father and your mother and you shall live long.”
“Not at my discomfort!” Inibehe yelled angrily.
“Shut up! Are you yelling at daddy? You just yelled at daddy Ini.” Sifon said angrily.
Bishop shrugged unhappily. While Uduak sat there, watching everyone argue and fight over Inibehe’s decisions.
“Inibehe…” The sound of his name on his father’s lips raised a lump of longing at the back of his throat. Inibehe sat there, but couldn’t utter a word.
“I don’t know what you will preach to your congregation when you’re ordained a pastor. But if you don’t obey your mother for this last time, you will be disowned!” Bishop said bitterly and walked out of the sitting room. His head almost hitting the chandelier, he bent and walked passed.
There was silence in the air for moments.
More than anything in this world Inibehe wanted to be in London as soon as possible. He wanted to get over his mother’s death, and the other issues his family was compiling.
When he arrived his school in Kenley, he inhaled a deep breath and said “Thank you Jesus for a safe trip.”
He alighted from the cab and rolled his box behind him.
There were a lot of things he missed; The smell of RMS, the sound of the chapel bell, and the face of his girlfriend Nduke.
He got into his room that was given to him specially by the school and stood for a moment. He didn’t find it the way he left it. Nduke had helped him clean and tidy up the entire place when he left. He noticed her dress on his bed, he rushed and carried it, inhaling it passionately like it was balm.
“You’re back!” Nduke’s voice came in from the door. She strode toward him and hugged him tight. “I missed you.” She said warmly. “How was it? the burial?” She asked. He shrugged unhappily and lowered himself on the bed and looked at Nduke directly in the eye.
“The lord has been faithful. Do we have a date for our graduation?”
“Not yet. I heard it’s been postponed in respect of your mom’s death. Most students are gone. The school is scanty. Only few reverends are at their quarters.”
“I am glad I’m back.” He said softly.
Long, slender fingers rested against the skin of his lightly tanned bare arm. Inibehe felt as though those perfectly manicured nails had stabbed his soul. She followed the nails up the arm to his face and discovered the sadness in his eyes.
“You’re not fine. You will get over her death soon. The lord will console you. I am here.” She said in a deep, pleasant contralto. Inibehe gave a loud sigh and said, “It’s not about mom’s death.”
“Then what else is making you sad?”
“It’s…it’s my dad…” He faltered.
“What about him? Is he ill?”
“He is driving me crazy.”
“I have never had a daddy. But I know they are good people to their kids.” She said mildly.
“He is forcing something on me. They chose my career, they wanna control my life. I am just tired.”
“They want the best for you. I wish I had parents who loved me this much.”
“Are you happy to be here? I mean I met you four years ago and you told me you never liked the fact that your foster mom wanted you to be a pastor just because she felt you could make a good leader in Rhapsody.”
“Now I am happy. Because I’ve met you
and I have known the lord more now. I can lead a church! don’t disobey your parents. You have to make everything possible to make your mommy’s soul at peace.”
“Even at your inconveniences?”
“Even if it hurts you?”
“No. you won’t do anything to hurt me.”
“But what if following my parents heart desire toward me will hurt you?”
“I don’t know. Just know that I am always here for you. I am your friend, your sister and…”
“My lover.” He cut in. “One day I will make love to you.”
“Stop Ini!” She exclaimed. They began to talk about school. She was like no one he had ever met, laughing up at him with bright brown eyes that sparkled with good humored mischief.
He teased her over her dreadlocks and her beautiful face.
She was bright, witty and incredibly easy to talk to.
She made him think well, she made him laugh deep, honest laughter from the heart. And as hours slipped away, he felt more freely alive than he had in a long time.
She wouldn’t let him kiss her. She wouldn’t let him hug her. Despite his highly reputed charm, she still told him “we can’t do this Ini.” She merely smiled when she said these words to him. “You’re a pastor, what will you preach?”
He thought about her that night, how he was going to explain to her that following his parents dreams was going to hurt her really bad.
Inibehe spent lots of time eating the almond pie Nduke had baked at the school kitchen for him. He flirted lightly and so did she, glad she never took him seriously. That made it a little easier to ignore the enticing curves of her body and the way she always smelled so clean and fresh.
It had been much harder to ignore the play of lights gleaming in her enticing dreadlocks.
Physical attraction aside, Inibehe had the good characteristics of a loving husband. And Nduke knew, she liked everything about him. He had a lot of respect for the goals she’d set. She was bright and eager with big plans for her life.
Inibehe’s phone suddenly rang, and when he saw who it was, his countenance changed. It was his father, and he knew what he wanted to say to him.
“Pick your call.” Nduke said playfully.
Inibehe reluctantly placed the phone to his ears.
“I have been sending voice messages and emails, but you have not replied any of them.”
“I have been busy.”
“We are visiting Uduak’s family soon. I will like you to come home immediately after your graduation.”
“Graduation date isn’t fixed yet.”
“I will call the reverend and give him the date as soon as possible.”
“Even after graduation, I will be in London for a while before I come home.”
“Arrant nonsense! you will do no such thing. I am fixing the date for your graduation and you will be back to Nigeria for your wedding, or else I will disown you and render you useless!” His father said and hung up the call.
Inibehe’s face saddened. The pie fell off his hand. He stared at Nduke and wondered if he should tell her what his father said.
“Are you okay?” Nduke asked. He nodded calmly and held her hands.
“Nduke, whatever comes between us, I will always love you.” He said emotionally.
“If there is something bothering you that you can’t say, let’s go pray about it at the chapel, the lord can do all things.”
Inibehe pivoted. He stared at Nduke with a fathomless expression.
He let out a troubled sigh. Almost reluctantly, she shook her head and dragged him up to stand.
They walked together hand in hand to the chapel, where they knelt at a well decorated podium and prayed.
Despite the prayers, Inibehe was still disturbed.
“Oh God help me.” He muttered under his breath.
He was saddened by his father’s words.
There was a knock on his door. It was an exciting knock.
“Pastor it’s me, Eddie.” A young boyish voice came in from outside. Eddie was Inibehe’s school son, he was also the boy he mentored since his first year in school.
“Come in.” Inibehe said loud.
Eddie walked in excitedly and said “The school graduation list is out, your graduation is next week,” he said excitedly.
But Inibehe wasn’t happy. He gave a fake smile and then giggled.
“Good. Thanks be to God.”
Eddie expected more drama from him. He’d wanted him to jump up and scream in excitement, but Inibehe’s heart was heavy with thoughts. Thoughts his bald head school son might never understand.
Few moments later, Eddie had left.
Inibehe became devastated. A noisy group of teenagers passed by his window, they talked about the graduation, laughing and jostling one another.
He was tempted to open the brandy his Jamaican friend Laurel had given him a year ago. He’d wanted to taste something he’d never had before, so Laurel got him a brandy. It was an expensive one.
For several long seconds he stood there with the brandy in his hands. He suddenly opened it and sipped it from the bottle. He sipped it continuously until he felt that he was becoming tipsy. He could remember how his body sang with desire when Nduke hugged him the previous day. He’d wanted her more with each breath.
Nduke unexpectedly clicked the door open and saw him sip the brandy from the bottle. She’d come to tell of the graduation notice, but what she saw amazed her.
“You’re having alcohol?” She asked, looking amazed.
Inibehe nodded.”Give that to me.” She whispered and struggled to get the bottle from him. He held her tight to himself and wouldn’t let her off.
She strained against him, incredibly soft.
He pulled her face toward his and began to kiss her. He’d thought she was going to resist, but she didn’t. He doesn’t know what was going on anymore, but Nduke didn’t kiss like a virgin, and he didn’t care. She kissed like a woman who knew exactly what she wanted. If she told him to stop he was pretty sure he could have. But she didn’t tell him to stop and his hands and his mouth had separated from his fuzzy brain.
Nduke closed her eyes against the memory that was trying to flash in her thoughts.
Inibehe could feel a swell of passion as clearly as it were happening right now. The lush roundness of her breasts when he’d unbuttoned her dress and pushed up her bra. The heady reaction to his mouth on her tender skin. She’d been so wild. A match to tinder of his desire. Maybe if he hasn’t taken Laurel’s brandy…
He’d wanted her for so long.
He succumbed to primitive urges and claimed her innocence.
He inhaled, surprised to find himself in her body. He couldn’t remember anything after that stunning shock and the incredible, mind-blowing pleasure of his own release. He had no idea how he had his bath and wore back his pyjamas.
There was a memory hunting Nduke’s mind all along, while he was making love to her. It was a flashback of the bittered rape experience she had with her foster father when she was still a teenager. He’d molested her over and over again. Until one day, she became suicidal and wanted to kill herself. It was her deepest secret.
Her foster father died in a Sosoliso plane crash, his death gave her joy. But she’d thought of her foster mother Irene, who loved her husband so much. He was a pastor, and no one would have believed her if she’d reported that the man who stands on the pulpit every Sunday morning to preach about the lord was her worst nightmare.
Guiltiness hit her like a thorn in her heart. She began to sob softly at the chapel podium. She’d wondered why she had to make love to Inibehe; Despite the sweet, beautiful passion it came with, it reminded her of a sad memory she’d been struggling to let go.
Inibehe had awakened hours later, alone and cramped on his bed. If it hadn’t been for the lingering scent and taste of her, he would have told himself he dreamed the entire scene.
Guilt had been his harsh companion driving through his room that morning.
If he lived to be a million he would never forget the lovemaking he had with Nduke.
Making love to Nduke had hunted him for years, and he felt fulfilled for doing so.
Few days to his graduation ceremony and his heart trembled again. His graduation was something that he would have been happy for, but he’d wanted it to be prolonged for his own reasons.
A day to the graduation day, Inibehe’s father called that morning. His phone rang several times, but he didn’t pick the call. He kept staring at his father’s name appear on the screen. His mother’s words replayed in his head like a recording.
He reluctantly picked his Father’s call, after he’d missed like seven of it.
“Inibehe Okoko, I have been calling you.”
His father said boldly.
“I have been busy.” He said casually.
“Your sister, your brother and his wife are on their way to London for your graduation. Your mother will be so proud of you in heaven. Your wedding date has been fixed. We are just waiting for your arrival. I am proud of you my son.” His father said excitedly.
“Thank you,” Inibehe said abruptly and hung the call without hearing what his father will say next.
He wanted to talk to Nduke, he wanted to tell her of his father’s plans for him and how he detests them all. He strolled out of his room to Nduke’s hostel, and when he got to her frontage, his heart blew a cut. His hands shook when he was about to knock the door.
Nduke’s school daughter, Serena was ironing Nduke’s graduation gown excitedly. She was white but almost looked like Nduke. “You’re not gonna leave for Nigeria soon right?” Serena asked Nduke.
“I don’t know yet,” Nduke replied softly.
The door suddenly clicked open, and when they saw that it was Inibehe, there were bright smiles on their faces.
“Pastor Nibe.” Serena called out excitedly.
Inibehe gave a soft smile and said “I call ya name ‘Serena’ I pronounce it fluently. what happens to mine?” They all gave a loud laugh as he fell on the bed.
Moments later, Inibehe said to Nduke “Can we talk at my place?”
“Is everything fine?” Nduke asked, Inibehe nodded.
They held hands together and strolled back to his apartment.
When he got into his room, she sat on the chair, while he knelt down before her.
“Something is wrong my love. I need you. I want you. I have always wished to spend the rest of my life with you, and I still do.”
She offered him a friendly nod. She probably thought he was renewing his vows and love for her.
Inibehe paused for a long moment and then said, “My father wants me to marry my mother’s goddaughter. It was my mother’s wish too. It was what she said before she died. It matters so much to her.”
“So?” Nduke asked almost in a broken whisper.
“The wedding date has been fixed. I never knew,” he said bitterly.
But Nduke’s heart had fallen. Her eyes were soaked with tears instantly. It was as if she knew that he was going to say these things to her and she was prepared for it.
Author: Vicky Bon Uzor