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Gold of Ophir

 

Gold of Ophir

Jane Aimée

Dedication

To the Holy Spirit, my Teacher and Guide.

To Nkeh Nancy, a special friend.

Copyright Jane Aimée, 2017.

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. All correspondence can be mailto: [email protected]

About this story

Thirty year old Bethany didn’t imagine marriage would take that dreadfully long to come by. She is panic-stricken and becoming bitter as the prospects of marriage look slimmer. She faces pressure from within and without. She is tired of being without a ring on her finger. God places different individuals in her life, but will Bethany receive the influence they are supposed to exert upon her?

The part played by Bethany and other characters make this novella suitable for singles of all age groups.

Disclaimer

This story and its characters, places, business and names of churches, are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to real names or true life scenarios is fictitious or coincidental.

Table Of Contents


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p<>{color:#00F;}. Felicity, the Assistant Pastor

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p<>{color:#00F;}. Do beliefs matter?

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p<>{color:#00F;}. Another Woe

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p<>{color:#00F;}. A birthday party

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p<>{color:#00F;}. The frustrated teacher

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p<>{color:#00F;}. Accused!

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p<>{color:#00F;}. Get the Fisherman’s attention

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p<>{color:#00F;}. Barry. F. Bessome

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p<>{color:#00F;}. Gold of Ophir

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p<>{color:#00F;}. Daphne’s calmness

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p<>{color:#00F;}. A ring on my finger

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p<>{color:#00F;}. Ms. Loretta of Moyaka

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p<>{color:#00F;}. Flying on Eagles’ Wings

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p<>{color:#00F;}. A Nervous Breakdown

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p<>{color:#00F;}. It’s him my heart loves

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p<>{color:#00F;}. The ring on my finger

Chapter One: Felicity, the Assistant Pastor

“I have done some adjustments in the choir, and Faith will be coming in as lead singer and master of the choir whilst you are re-assigned to the children’s church. That department is leaky ever since the kids’ Pastor left and you are the right person I think should join the other kids’ teachers and caretakers.”

Bethany remained quiet for several seconds, trying to determine whether the decision by the Assistant Pastor was reasonable. She had not anticipated that decision when the female cleric asked to see her in the office after church service that Sunday.

“But Pastor Feli (—)”

The young dark lady was interrupted by the look of finality in the Pastor’s face. “That’s your new assignment, Bethany. I want you there. You’ll meet the church secretary for materials and further inquiries as you may need.”

Bethany thanked the Pastor and left the office, greatly displeased with the decision. She stopped in front of the next door. There were a handful of people there, waiting to see the Senior Pastor. Seeking his authority was her only recourse against the new assignment. But then she hesitated, feeling uncomfortable with the thought of making an appeal to him. How do you appeal to a man against his wife?

Disappointed, and with no other proper alternative, she went out of the building. There were scores of people around but she didn’t spot George, who she had expected to see waiting for her after church. She stood at the entrance and let her eyes look all over. She didn’t see him. She went inside the building; there were still some people inside. She looked around but still didn’t see George. More saddened, she slowly walked out and away from the church property.

The Grace Tabernacle, Green-Way, Beaumont, was home to a little over six hundred adult members, besides children. Bethany was three years old in the congregation. Because of her commitment to the church, and what others called the anointing on her life, she had been entrusted with the role of the lead singer and choir mistress. She was unofficially the church music minister.

She loved it; the congregation loved her too. The decision by Pastor Felicity to reassign her was not only unacceptable to the lady but was going to get the disapproval of many in the church.

~~~~

A taxi dropped her in front of home, a small apartment building on a housing estate in the First London neighborhood in the Beaumont city. She shared the apartment with her friend Daphne.

Their living room was moderately furnished –a sofa, an armchair, a coaster, a reading table, two side stools, a flat screen television and a book case. The floor was tiled with ceramics. White lacey curtains and blinds hung on the window and doors to the two bedrooms, making the appearance look very beautiful.

Bethany was too weak to eat. She lay on the sofa, waiting for her housemate and Big sis– as she regarded Daphne, who had gone on a long weekend to the Moyaka Home For Girls.

It was late in the evening when Daphne came in. Bethany immediately set the table for dinner, while narrating what had happened with Pastor Felicity. As they ate, the two ladies speculated on the reasons why the Pastor could have taken such an out-of-the-blues decision. The female cleric had always loved the young lady’s singing, and always insisted on her leading most of the times even when Bethany felt others should be given the opportunity. Even if a change in assignment was warranted, the Pastor would have, in normal circumstances, consulted and gotten her consent.

Bethany had the intuition that the decision was not taken from good motives, though she had not gotten any hint from the Pastor’s voice or gestures. Daphne was cautious to concur; it wasn’t in her nature to be hasty in making truth out of assumptions. She advised Bethany to take the new assignment calmly, but the discontented girl still desired an appeal against the decision.

“I will talk to Pastor Carl. That is the only option I think I have.”

She expected Daphne’s approval, which would give her reason to override her convictions. But she was mistaken.

“You do not dare pit a Pastor against his Assistant, especially when they happen to be husband and wife. It is better for you to submit, even in dissatisfaction, than to bring discord into the marriage.”

“I wish I attended your church. But I thought the Lord asked me to stay at The Tabernacle.”

“You don’t even know the facts and you are already regretting your stay there? I think it’s too trivial to cause worry.”

Bethany didn’t think her friend was correct, but she was not offended. Their relationship was deep, having started three years back, from the first day Bethany came to work in Beaumont as a Teller in the City Investment Trust. She knew no one there and had very little money. She had met Daphne in the dark streets, and she had taken her in, to spend the night before looking for a place of her own the following day. But that night lasted for years.

Beaumont was a metropolis, with a population of over five hundred thousand. It was home to many churches. Bethany had attended a majority of them to see which one she liked and had settled for The Tabernacle, and that didn’t interfere with their relationship a bit. Not until then did she express regrets about not following her housemate to the Golden Gate Fountain Church.

“I hate working with kids, Daphne,” Bethany spoke after a long pause. “I don’t fit in the children’s church. I guess you don’t sympathize with me because you are a teacher and love being around children.”

Daphne laughed. Her friend was right about her love for children but she would not agree with her opinion that the Teller and aspiring singer could not work with kids.

Bethany continued, “apart from working with figures, the next best thing I know how to do is write songs and sing.”

“Bethany, at the moment you have no option, do you?” She didn’t.

They finished eating. A tired Daphne went to her bedroom. Bethany lay on the sofa to think about George.

~~~~

At the parsonage that Sunday evening, Pastor Felicity served Mrs. Gotlieb her favorite Egusi pudding and white yam. The visitor friend was a light-complexioned, stern looking, albeit jolly, grey-haired woman in her fifties. The two women were at least ten years apart in age – the visitor being the older – but bosom friends. Mrs. Gotlieb always had every Pastor’s wife for an intimate friend.

Many times she and Pastor Felicity would have a good discussion, with several agreements and amicable disagreements.

“Mrs. Gotlieb, I needed peace,” the Pastor confessed. “I admit I’m a jealous person, but it was a necessary measure. From the day Carl stood up at the pulpit and commended that girl’s voice, I can’t stand her singing again. Sometimes I think I’m wrong but I can’t help it.”

“You should be jealous over your husband. I was jealous with mine when he was alive.”

Pastor Felicity’s touch of guilt for her action was relieved when she heard it was acceptable.

“But I hope she doesn’t stay away indefinitely.” Mrs. Gotlieb said. “She’s good, you know.”

The lady Pastor indirectly avoided the suggestion. “Mrs. Gotlieb, you know, a vocation like ours does expose one to many uncomfortable situations. The other day, I read in the papers about the affair of a certain Pastor with one of the church workers. I think it said the wife is seeking a divorce. It got me worked up. Only the woman loses in such cases. The man is quick to remarry.”

Mrs. Gotlieb watched as her friend removed fruits from the refrigerator. Felicity was a tall and elegant lady, one who knew how to take care of herself. She had four children. But Pastor Felicity always made sure that she looked as young as possible.

“I understand. Try and keep your husband. It’s good for family and ministry. But I must tell you that a man who wants to have an affair would still do. It’s in the mind and desire, Pastor Felicity.”

“And opportunity too, Mrs. Gotlieb, which is where I come in – to disrupt it. Carl said he believes she would make a good Pastor’s wife. That is why I want her very less noticeable around the pulpit. We shouldn’t knowingly give room for the devil, should we?”

“What if Carl wants her back in the choir?”

Pastor Felicity was uncomfortable with the question, but she was anticipating his reaction to the change. She explained her plan to inform her husband about the change and make sure it was irreversible. Mrs. Gotlieb showed her surprise, and the cleric justified: “It is good for family and ministry, Mrs. Gotlieb. The Tabernacle doesn’t lack good singers.”

Pastor Felicity then cleverly changed the direction of the conversation. She knew Mrs. Gotlieb had a favorable rating of Bethany and she sought to destroy it before her friend would want the young woman back in the choir and on the stage.

“Mrs. Gotlieb, do you think beautiful and truly dedicated Christian women should be single for a long time?”

The older lady answered in the general voice, choosing to ignore the perceived insinuation. “I know these-days girls. They set too high standards that no man can meet. Back in our days, we only desired a godly man; but today, they don’t want much of that. They want much good looks and riches. And they forget to know that good looks don’t matter much. Being without a man is worse than waiting all your life for a good looking one.”

“But Mrs. Gotlieb, you think good looks are not necessary?”

“Of course they are, Pastor Felicity, but when girls want the man with the perfect nose, perfect eyes, perfect forehead and muscular arms, what do you get? Large numbers of single ladies around causing lots of trouble.”

“I’d agree with you about the trouble, but I love the fact that Carl is handsome.”

“Good thing you got him. Unfortunately, most these-days girls expect one that never shows up, and before they realize it, they are eager to accept anyone, I mean anyone, but none is forthcoming.”

One thing Pastor Felicity liked about her friend was her reassuring nature. Never was there a time she didn’t feel comforted talking with Mrs. Gotlieb. For the more than four years that she and her husband had been pastoring The Tabernacle, Mrs. Gotlieb had proven to be a true confidant.

“But Pastor Felicity, do you think it is the same experience with Bethany, – or every other single lady?”

“Why, Mrs. Gotlieb. You said it yourself.”

As the Pastor saw her off, Mrs. Gotlieb went again on the issue of the singer.

“Pastor Felicity, don’t let that girl stay with the children indefinitely.”

The Pastor laughed and said, “If she gets married tomorrow, she’ll be back the day after.”

Mrs. Gotlieb was sure Pastor Felicity was joking.

~~~~

The suspense George was putting Bethany through was getting almost unbearable.

How long does it have to take? I no longer have the time for prolonged relationships. I’m not too young for an extended dating period. This is still hide-and-seek. I hate the suspense.

She and George looked suitable for each other. She could hardly wait for the walk down the aisle –it had been a long wait, one which she was tired of.

“Lord, I pray that George be the right one. There is no reason why I should be single at this age. I have a job and I’m doing ok. Two of my juniors are married, with kids. Mum keeps asking me when it will be that I tell her the good news she desperately wants to hear.

“Please Lord, I pray that you convince George of your will for us and that he should open up about his intentions towards me. He is playing with my emotions.”

Impulsively, she sent him a Sunday evening greeting text message, and waited impatiently for its reply. The wait was in vain. At past ten o’clock, after having checked her phone uncountable times, she put it off and went to bed. She found it hard falling asleep, but when she finally did, her dreams rewarded her. They were filled with George the entire time.

When she put on her phone after devotions with Daphne in the morning, she was still hoping that George’s reply would come in. He must have seen the message later, when she’d gone to bed.

The reply did not come.

This is unusual. Her stomach churned as she took a taxi to work.

Chapter Two: Do Beliefs Matter?

The break room at the City Investment Trust branch at Beaumont city had the usual smell of coffee. It was 10 a.m. and a good number of the staff of one of the city’s biggest financial institutions was in for the mid-morning break.

Kaleb talked loudly –he was known for that by his colleagues. It was also customary to hear him whispering, to avoid being overheard by the Manager, about his preference for something alcoholic.

“I wish a day will come when hierarchy will give us something more energizing than caffeine – something alcoholic.”

Boyd, seated next to him laughed at the joke. “Alcohol is neither an energizer nor advisable in work environment.”

“Boyd, hierarchy could do a study on that. Let some of you be given caffeine and some of us the alcoholic content, for a month. Then let them evaluate mood and effectiveness at work for both groups. I bet you those on the second group will have performances shooting through the roof.”

The others, except Bethany, laughed at his description of the graph plot for his best results group. She listened with absentminded attention. She was not interested in Kaleb’s talk because it was useless. Additionally, her imaginations as to why George did not reply her text made sure she was not amused.

Felaï, the naïve, newly employed housekeeper never ceased giggling and fidgeting with her muffler as she listened to the conversations.

The atmosphere during coffee break was always dominated by Kaleb’s talk, and sometimes no one knew with certainty if he was joking or serious. If it was the latter, his gestures and mannerisms would not agree with his words, thus he had passed for the company’s comedian.

“And colleagues like our dear young Felaï would be so energized and warmed up from the inside that they would cease wearing mufflers even in the heat of the day.”

No one in the room remained without a laughing face, even in the smallest degree, except the comedian, whose face was as straight as it could be. Bethany shared the awkwardness with Felaï. The shy lady bowed her head and then gently pulled the muffler off her neck. To ease the awkwardness she felt, she decided for another cup of coffee.

“Please, Mrs. Yahfeh, pass the container of sugar this way,” she said to Bethany.

“Felaï!” Kaleb shouted, “Don’t repeat that mistake again. Don’t come between Miss Bethany Yahfeh and her luck. Did you see any ring on her finger? I wanted to put one there but she turned me down on grounds that I am not a spiritual guy.”

Felaï turned her look towards Bethany. The latter, unruffled by the comment, was looking straight at Kaleb. The undeterred comedian continued talking.

“I was initially intimidated by the fact that she is taller and a bit fleshy than me, but her stronger point against me was that I am not spiritual.”

Bethany got up and left. It was useless to engage Kaleb to an argument because it would be like adding fuel to fire.

Later in the afternoon during his break period, Kaleb came to the front of his co-Teller’s glass booth, when no client was there, and leaned against its walls.

“Bethany, you think I make a lot of cheek-in-tongue comments, don’t you? Sometimes I can be serious. I often use humor, humorously though, to get the message across. I would want to know from you my chances of success before I embark on such a serious journey. Would you consider me if I meant those words?”

When the lady answered in the negative, he was not discouraged. “I know I am not a good guy –I will be the first to acknowledge it, knowing that honesty about wrongdoing is prized highly than dishonest piety – but you shouldn’t have reservations about me. The me you see is the me you’ll get; nothing to pretend about. It’s not even like I’m a bad man. Just the spirituality.”

Bethany didn’t answer and the young man wouldn’t leave either. “Bethany, I am not that kind that will stop you from worshipping whatever you want to worship. I just love you for who you are –your manners and everything.”

Bethany remained silent.

“This Christian classification of individuals into the ‘desirables’ and ‘non-desirables’ doesn’t foster social unity, and causes a lot of you ladies to be on the losing end. There are not too many marriageable Christian men compared to the single ladies thronging the churches.”

“Kaleb, marriage is not a mere social tie; it goes way beyond that. It is a spiritual union. We are good work mates but not good marriage mates. You don’t have the same values that matter most to me – even your conscience bears witness to that. So, you knew already what my decision would be. Who I am is inseparable from what I worship. If you don’t want my God, you also don’t want me.”

Weird! What are beliefs all about? The self-proclaimed agnostic, borderline atheist wondered as he stood watching the lady busily keying data into the computer. It hurts to look at a lady for whom you have feelings and yet an irrelevant belief system stands as a barrier. I didn’t originate the feelings; they just came. What am I supposed to do?

“Can you change your own beliefs for her sake?”

Kaleb turned to see who spoke, but there was no one beside him. The other colleagues were in their respective positions attending to the clients. He became scared, but pondered on the question as he continued watching her. He desired her, but if it came to changing to align with her beliefs, he would NOT do it.

The voice came again.

“Then why do you think she’s weird for refusing to change hers to accommodate you.”

It was so audible he thought the others heard it too, but no one looked like they heard it. He then judged that it was better for him to leave her alone, else something more terrible might happen next.

Chapter Three: Another Woe

After church on Sunday, with a headache from shouting during the kids’ service, Bethany stood at the corner of the building to watch the adults come out of church. She had not seen George during the week, and since he still had not given a reply to her message, she was eager to know if he was actually in town.

He was. She saw when he came out and stood on the paved area in front of the building with a group of friends. She waited impatiently, being more irritated by the inquiries from many people about her absence from the choir.

There was no indication that George would look for her, so she went closer and motioned to him.

“Hi,” she said, with a shy but worried smile.

“Hey. How ‘you doing?” He had a plain face.

“Not too well.”

“Anything the matter?”

“Nothing much, but I guess you should already know what the matter is.”

“O I am sorry. I got so busy that I forgot to reply your text message the other day. How’s work. And why were you not in the choir today?”

Bethany began to suspect that she had been dreaming too much about the man and that the expected end might never come. She replied his inquiries as to her absence from the choir.

An awkward pause followed her reply. She tried to engage him in more conversation but it was obvious that he didn’t want to talk. She said goodbye and left for home. He returned to his friends.

~~~~

Daphne met Bethany lying on the sofa, with a face that said she’d been crying.

“I was wrong all along about George. He never had thoughts about marriage nor about me.”

Daphne was confused. She had not met George before, but she had heard a lot about him from Bethany. For the past two months, she always came home every Sunday or sometimes Wednesday nights with a gist of what George had said or done, and it was evident that he was highly interested in her.

“I was certain that he was interested in me. Right now, I am very confused. He had never asked me out officially, but we talked a lot. I shouldn’t be telling you this, you know how he would sometimes call on phone and we would talk for hours. I knew it wouldn’t be long before he officially opened up about his intentions to officially date me.”

Daphne sat closer, too concerned to say a word. Her silence was better than words at that moment. She knew exactly how Bethany felt.

“Maybe he was just a nice guy and I read much in between the lines,” Bethany sighed. “But the affection and attention were unmistakable that I am sure he had something in his mind. I don’t know why he suddenly changed.”

~~~~

The following Sunday, not completely persuaded that George was off the hook, Bethany planned to engage him into more discussions after the service. Immediately after she came out of the kids’ church, she stood at the exact spot where she had stood the previous Sunday. As usual, some members kept quizzing her about her absence from the choir. She tried to be polite, but inwardly, she was irritated. Her eyes longed for George.

He came out, but he was accompanied by a beautiful lady. Bethany had never seen her before.

Who is she? Maybe she’s his sister who’s paying him a visit. But the feeling in her stomach and the thoughts in her mind said she was just trying hard not to believe what was the obvious.

From the corner of the building where she stood, now very unaware of the greetings others threw at her, she observed keenly his gestures with the lady. She read much into every smile and watched as the pair greeted others. When he finally opened the car for her, all her suspicions were settled. That’s her. That’s the reason he no longer wants me. O Lord, where did I go wrong? When will it happen?

The people questioned her absence from the choir, but compared to the sadness in her heart, that was irrelevant.

Her feet would have given way had she not walked faster to the road to get a taxi. She found it hard restraining the tears while in the taxi.

Reaching home, she went straight to her bedroom, locked the door behind her and fell on the bed and listened to the panic rising up in her heart.

She had dreamt marriage was not going to take that dreadfully long to come by, but it now appeared it would be longer. There was no one on the horizon, and she didn’t know when any would come along again.

The picture of her favorite gospel singer hung on the wall above her piano stand.

Charlette was her role model. The aspiring artist planned to sing with the same fervor and dedication. Bethany pulled out the second drawer of the bedside table. The songs she wrote were neatly filed and kept there. Under normal circumstances she would have loved to follow the vision in her heart, but first things first. I want to have a home, with kids.

She heard the Condemner’s voice in her mind –he had recently become very loud-mouthed. It’s never going to happen. You missed it long time ago.

Bethany wished she could silence him, but the more she tried to shut him up, the more he talked.

You are only wishing Bethany. You doubt it will still happen. I can assure you: it won’t happen.

“O Lord,” Bethany sobbed, “please remember me. I have served you as diligently as I know how to. Please grant me my heart desire for a godly mate.”

Chapter Four: A Birthday Party

Samantha and Mavis answered Daphne’s call to her house to help prepare for a surprise birthday party for their friend Bethany.

Mavis lived several apartments away. Samantha had been in the neighborhood before relocating a few months back to Small London, to get closer to her church.

Mavis was the first to come, followed minutes later by Samantha. They brought gift boxes and placed them on the table in the living room.

Daphne had already baked a heart-shaped, chocolate-colored cake, and proceeded to cook green rice. Samantha set immediately to decorate the cake, beautifully carving a Happy Birthday Bethy wish.

As she worked on the food, she kept taking in tablespoonfuls of the frosting. Daphne, who was cutting fruits for Mavis to make a purée, did not fail to caution the overly fleshy lady on the dangers of too much sugar and fats.

“Samantha, too much sugar and fats not good for your health. You’re already fattened enough.” Daphne carefully threw in a humorous tone to avoid offense.

Samantha remained quiet for some time before replying. “What good did I achieve when I was as thin as a needle? Who will care if Samantha were crawling on the ground from overweight?” She concluded her response with another spoonful of the sweet mixture.

“We will,” Daphne answered, looking at Mavis. They were accustomed to Samantha’s classic response about her weight.

“Why would I expect you to say differently?” Samantha asked, going into the kitchen while scraping the bowl which had contained the mixture with the spoon to put in her mouth.

Staring at Daphne, Mavis threw in a joke. “You’re lucky you don’t attend our church; you would have been greatly offended by a common joke: “as fat as those who eat their tithes.”

The statement made Daphne uncomfortable; it could probably get Samantha enraged. Samantha came out of the kitchen to inspect her decoration of the cake.

“I have heard worse than that, Mavis. And if that joke was truth, you would be the fattest among us.”

Daphne turned her gaze on Mavis, her eyes begging for a refutation of their friend’s statement. Mavis defended herself: “We all know things are difficult. That peanut salary of an office worker hardly goes through the first two weeks after payday. When I’ll get a better job, Lord knows I (—)”

“Nobody lacks what to spend money on,” Samantha replied. “Just accept the truth: you don’t want to pay tithes. The bigger the salary, the longer the list of things to spend the money on.”

“No,” Mavis disagreed. “I would learn to discipline myself and pay tithes when I begin to earn more.”

“Mavis, the truth is that if you don’t discipline yourself in the little, you would still not be able to discipline yourself when you have plenty,” Daphne said. “The Lord Jesus said if one is not faithful with little, he would not be entrusted with much.”

“You think he applied that to paying tithes?” Mavis asked. “Was He not talking about spiritual gifts?”

Mavis spotted Bethany through the window. Daphne quickly lit the candle and the three friends stood by the door, ready to shout a surprise birthday wish.

Bethany was at first scared of the unexpected faces screaming “happy birthday Bethy”! But the last word of the phrase was barely gone out of their mouths when her facial expression turned to sorrow. Not responding to the wishes, she entered the living room and looked at the table set in her honor: the cake, the food, the drinks and the gifts.

“Thank you,” she said coldly, sitting on the sofa.

“But welcome to the club of the super singles would have been much more preferable than a happy birthday wish.”

The mood in the house turned gloomy; not even the moody Samantha expected that response from Bethany.

“No matter what Bethy, it’s just an appreciation to God for another year,” Daphne tried to console.

“It doesn’t feel cool anymore adding another year. There’s nothing about adding another year to be thankful to God for.”

“How old are we talking about?” Samantha asked. Bethany replied, “Officially thirty one.”

Samantha went immediately to the table and put out the flame of the candle with her left index finger and thumb. Taking the knife, she sliced a fair chunk of the cake and sat down on a dining chair and began to eat.

“Thirty one and you are complaining?” She asked. “Do you know my number?”

None of the friends knew Samantha’s real age – she never told anyone – but they would place her with Daphne at thirty six.

Bethany felt bad. She wished she could pretend and be able to appreciate the gesture of her friends. “Daphne, I just can’t suppress my feelings nor pretend to be excited. I do appreciate your effort to throw a party for me but I just have to let you know how I feel.”

“When I was a young girl,” Samantha came in again, “I visualized myself at thirty with a good job and married with three kids. Today, I am far above that number – I don’t even mention it again; my stomach can’t stand to hear it – with a job but no husband, no kid. Life can be unfair, you know.”

An awful silence followed for almost a minute, with Samantha helping herself to the cake while the others tried to make sense out of her words.

“Life is unfair to women,” Samantha continued. “A man on his dying bed can still get married if he wants to but a woman cannot, even if she has the money to buy and maintain a guy. And then the most disgusting is society’s evaluation of one as if some kind of curse or hex is upon you.”

“It’s nauseating hearing you ladies talk.” Mavis hadn’t spoken since Bethany came in and ruined the mood.

“I’m twenty nine – not official though – and I honestly don’t want to clock thirty still single. The prospects don’t look good thereafter.”

“Do we need reminders of that?!” Samantha shouted with a full mouth. “It’s obvious, isn’t it?”

What was more obvious was that if they didn’t wake up to join her in the eating of the cake, Samantha was about to eat as much as half of it alone. Her anger at the topic could only be pacified by chunks of the sugary food being gulped down her throat, almost without mastication. She was greatly ticked off. Her dreams had been dashed by life circumstances and she hated being hinted of her failure.

“I don’t want to remain single. Lord knows I (—)”

Mavis didn’t get to complete the statement.

“Mavis, will you shat’up? Shat’up!” And Samantha had had enough. She gulped down her drink, took her handbag and went out in rage. Each remaining lady served herself and ate in silence.

~~~~

Samantha came into her dark apartment and switched on the lights. The usual lonely greeting it reserved for her was there. Every item stood where she had kept it; no rat or even a fly disturbed anything. The cemented floor was unusually cold –not just in its temperature but even in the way it stared up at her.

She stood behind the closed door for a considerable length of time, looking at each item in the living room: a small round table, covered with light blue and white checkered, cloth stood in the middle of the room, a vase at the center of the table, two dining chairs, a couch just beside the door. The television used to be in the living room but she had taken it to the bedroom.

An arch separated the living room from a small portion that served as the kitchen where there was the kitchen cabinet with the gas stove at the top, and shelves on the wall above where other utensils were kept.

A bunch of ripe bananas beckoned on her from the table. She had had enough from the birthday party, yet she still impulsively approached the table and sat on the chair, taking a finger from the bunch.

The Condemner’s voice came forcefully, your God has treated you poorly, re-echoing Roland Baye’s words.

He was the fifty years old former Administrator of the St. Lawrence & Serita Hospital, Beaumont, where Samantha worked as an Administrative Assistant. He left almost a year back but it had been hell for Samantha when he was there. He had severely taunted the lady as a retaliatory move for her rejection of his opportunistic advances.

Miss-is Samantha Bibber,” he would say, putting emphasis on the mockery title, “religious faith is useless if it doesn’t add value to one’s life. I would say yours is more of a talk and no show Christianity…I can guarantee you: you are waiting in vain. So you might as well relax those standards of yours – if not for me, at least for someone else. You can’t take those assets to the grave. You need to fulfill the purpose for which God made them…You thinking some guy will fall from heaven, for whom you were created, go down on one knee and propose? That happens in the movies, not in real life. You are too old for such romance.”

And he would let out a fiendish laugh that revealed both his sadism and his disappointment at not having his wanton desire satisfied.

“You have some little resolve left ‘cause there’s still some glimmer of hope. When you finally clock forty-five and menopause knocks on your door, I swear all resolve would be gone…You know I just feel sorry for you. Unless a man loses his wife by death or divorce, there’s no hope for you…Maybe you think it’s some great beauty or youthfulness I found in you. I have a beautiful wife in her thirties; just that as a man, one must flirt around.”

She had searched for years after school to get a good paying job, and getting another might not be easy. She wouldn’t then let her anger loose on the boss, preferring to let him continue spewing out those disgusting words which re-echoed in her memory to mock her when she was alone.

“Report the harassment to the hierarchy. That hospital should have a Board of Directors,” her mother had advised.

Samantha had not agreed. “Mum, who will take an Administrative Assistant’s word against the Administrator—I mean they’d acknowledge it can happen but that’s as far as they would go about it.”

“Then seek another job. The environment you work in is very unhealthy, though the job pays well.”

“Mum, you talk as if quitting a job and finding another one is easy. You know how I struggled for many years before securing this job. Besides, people are the same everywhere, just in varying degrees in their opinions.”

Samantha then recounted an incident at a certain reception in the city where she had sat close to some respectable ladies with whom she conversed jovially for a greater part of the evening. They kept addressing her as Madame, as in the title for married women. When the ladies later discovered Samantha’s single status, their countenances looked embarrassed, not just because of their assumption, but also at such a misfortune as to be that old and not yet married.

“O sorry, I didn’t know,” one said, with a smile that tried to conceal her surprise but it was too late; she had betrayed herself.

“God’s time is the best,” the other lady added, and went on to other discussions.

Shortly thereafter, Samantha got up to leave. From the corner of her eye, she saw one of the women turn to whisper into her companion’s ear. And they turned to look at her. She could feel their eyes on her back as they watched and talked about her.

Your God has treated you poorly. The Condemner wouldn’t stay silent.

Samantha gathered the pile of banana peelings away into the waste basket outside. Coming back in, she put off the light from the living room and went into the bedroom to sleep.

Not even the darkness would hide her from the sorrow she felt in her heart. The darkness rather seemed to magnify the sorrow. She tossed and turned in bed for a long time before finally falling asleep late in the night.

Chapter Five: The Frustrated Teacher

Children are usually synonymous with play and inattentiveness, but Bethany was yet to learn even after three months of their being together, that she needed to exercise patience with them.

She had more than twenty kids in her class, aged five to seven. The kids talked and played and fought over possessions even while the exasperated teacher tried to teach them from the picture rolls.

But they would become excited when it was a singing and dancing class. While the children enjoyed it, she felt uncomfortable with all the childish dance styles which she was expected to do. Why do I have to go through all this? Why should everyone have what they want and Bethany what she doesn’t want?

There were rumors already flying around of George’s imminent marriage. Bethany hoped it would not be solemnized at the Tabernacle. She didn’t know how she would respond if she had to witness George marrying someone else. He had never asked her out but she had so engaged her emotions for him that it still pained her to think he had dropped her for someone else.

The adults continued to miss her. She answered endless questions every time. The one that made her conclude Pastor Felicity had wicked motives in the reassignment was from the Senior Pastor. When he talked with her, she could see from his facial expression that he didn’t approve of it.

“Please, I’ll encourage you to stay with the kids. I know you don’t love being there but it’s still service to the Lord. We have asked for a kids’ Pastor from the headquarters and I’m sure very soon you’ll be back in the choir.”

~~~~

The new children’s Pastor arrived three weeks later. Bethany saluted the arrival with great joy and attended the rehearsals with the choir during the week. Faith, the new leader didn’t like her return but the others were glad to have her back. On Sunday, she sang with the rest of the choir while Faith led.

Mrs. Gotlieb, who assumed the young lady had been demoted even upon return, didn’t appreciate the arrangement. She fidgeted in her seat, watching her friend seated beside her husband on the pulpit in obvious discomposure.

After church Bethany was summoned again to the Assistant Pastor’s office.

This time around the female cleric was grim and firm: “I don’t want you in the choir, Bethany.”

The young lady was confused. Had the kids’ pastor not come?

“And we are not going to talk on this again. If you are needed in the choir, you would be informed.”

The unwanted singer had all doubts taken away – her placement in the kids’ church was not out of necessity. But she was still lost as to the true reason behind Pastor Felicity’s actions.

Bethany thought the emotional turmoil was unbearable, but she was still to encounter another incident that would increase her pains.

She left the pastor’s office and was met outside the church building by Mrs. Gotlieb, who had been longing to talk, nay, to advise the young lady.

Clad in her cream-white suit and boater hat, the old lady clasped Bethany’s right hand in both hands and held it for some time before releasing. She then pulled her aside, out of the hearing reach of others.

“So glad to see you back in the choir. I missed you. I can’t wait to hear your voice again.”

“No, Ma’am. I’m remaining with the children.”

The lady nodded her head to indicate that she understood, and then proceeded to say why she’d wanted to see Bethany in the first place. “Miss Bethy, are you soon to bring to public the lucky gentleman?”

Sensing the uneasiness in Bethany’s face, Mrs. Gotlieb added, “I know you are a serious girl and I understand you are taking your time to make the right decision. Is that not so, Miss Bethy?”

“No Ma’am. I have no man in my life right now.”

“Why?” Mrs. Gotlieb was careful not to sound too judgmental in her tone of voice. “You are beautiful and spiritual. Are you too strict on what you want? Maybe you could consider what is essential from what may be compromised. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“I do, Mrs. Gotlieb. But that is not why I don’t have someone.”

“Miss Bethany.” Mrs. Gotlieb held Bethany’s hand again. “I recommend you pray seriously.”

The tone of her voice had a mixture of concern and fear, for she wouldn’t like to hurt the feelings of her favorite choir leader. “Being without a man is not really a comfortable place. When you are married, you command respect from everyone, but when you are single, people look down on you. Look at little Mabel, whose wedding was just announced. She’s already getting respect from everyone even though she is just nineteen. I suppose you are getting to thirty, right?”

Bethany wished the conversation could end but she could not just walk out on the respectable lady. She had to endure the battery of questions and counsels.

“It would do you a lot of good in ministry to get married. Right now your status is some…’ She hesitated before continuing, in whispers. “Some sort of hindrance, some sort of barrier.”

She looked intently at the face of the girl, wanting to inform the young lady on the reason why she had been reassigned. Bethany understood but kept her outward reaction in check. Internally, she was boiling.

“If my two boys were not all married, I would have been recommending you to them. You are a good girl.”

Bethany was not paying attention any longer. She wished the elderly woman would release her but Mrs. Gotlieb was far from through with her intentions for the conversation. “Miss Bethany, my first son is a medical doctor, did you know that?”

Bethany shook her head.

“His wife who is just thirty something years has had her uterus removed because of hmm…hmm…the term used for the condition has escaped my mind. The fortunate thing –which is what I want you to know – is that they already had kids. Do you understand what I’m saying, Miss Bethany?”

No Ma’am, I don’t WANT to understand. I just wish you could let me go! “Yes, I understand, Ma’am.”

“Good. Think of what I have said and pray. God answers prayers, do you hear me?”

Bethany nodded and Mrs. Gotlieb caressed her back. “God bless you, Miss Bethany.”

Mrs. Gotlieb turned and went into the church building. When Pastor Felicity came out of her office, the older lady was quick to plead on behalf of Bethany. But she started her plea with wisdom. “Our dear singer is back in the choir. I thought she was going to resume her position.”

Pastor Felicity knew how badly her friend and confidant wanted the girl back. “No, Mrs. Gotlieb. I have spoken with her. She is staying in the children’s church.”

“Pastor Felicity, your jealousy is too much. It will be obvious to everyone now that it was not necessity that took her to the children’s church. There’s a new Pastor for the children, whose wife is equally a children’s lover.”

“Mrs. Gotlieb, I spoke with Carl on this issue –and it wasn’t comfortable. Let’s leave it as it is.”

“I bet you that poor girl is frustrated.” Mrs. Gotlieb looked at her friend and made a demand on the bond of friendship. “I can’t stand that boy –Faith, I can’t stand him. His sings as if he’s trying to impress someone or such. He’s too full of himself. Pastor Felicity, you remember I was always up, with hands stretched towards heaven, when Bethany was the one leading.”

“My dear Mrs. Gotlieb, my decision is good for family and the ministry. I don’t think Faith is bad. I know you prefer Bethany, but at the moment, things hurt no one –really. Your frustrated girl will fare well. I can assure you.”

Chapter Six: Accused!

Sometimes it is better to be ignorant of why you have to suffer humiliation in the hands of certain people you respect, for ignorance as they say is bliss. Your assumptions about their actions, since they are just your imaginations, may not hurt that much. But what would you do when you discover it is about a problem that already gives you anxiety and sometimes sleepless nights?

“When you are still single at a certain age, you are considered fair game by almost anybody.” Daphne became blunt in her opinions as she tried to console the saddened Bethany. They were seated outside their apartment. “Everyone thinks they know why you are still single and it’s their place to advise you on what to do.”

“I should say that that approach is even better. It shows they are trying to offer a solution to the problem.”

“Solution? Like in Samantha’s church? Two separate Sundays I have been there, and each time I have witnessed all the singles called up front and the demon of singlehood allegedly cast out of them. Just when did singlehood become a demon? I bet you, it hurts psychologically, seeing the demon doesn’t want to leave. Some solutions are worse than the real problem.”

“Would it not have been nice if Pastor Felicity done that, instead of feeling threatened? And she should have privately cautioned her husband about his mouth rather than venting her anger on me!”

Bethany broke the knuckles on her fingers, anger on her face and muttering to herself: “She thinks I love being single? If things could turn out the way I want, I’d get married tomorrow!”

Daphne looked fixedly at her. She knew firsthand the challenges and pressures from within and without that singles faced. She too became angry at what Bethany was being put through.

“There are singles who have regrets –wrong choices, wrong decisions, attitude problems, which resulted in them not being able to maintain good relationships that end in marriage. And then there are those that can’t even be faulted for their status, yet people just say things as if they understand why every single lady is the way she is.” She sighed.

Bethany stared at Daphne. She’d had never heard Big sis talk that way. Not with those strong emotions.

“I’ll leave The Tabernacle. Pastor Felicity can’t keep me there.”

Daphne didn’t think it was the right decision to take. She advised Bethany to let the anger and sadness of the moment subside before she could consider the option.

“But you can learn to love the kids’ environment. They are an awesome group of people to connect with. For one thing, they don’t think anything is wrong with you.”

Bethany didn’t argue with her friend’s advice. She loved Daphne dearly, yet she was certain that thirty six years old Daphne didn’t have the same perspective with her on the issue. Has she accepted that her chances for marriage are gone? I still have some chances and nobody is going to ruin them for me. “You wouldn’t talk same if you were in my shoes.”

“I’m fortunate to have a good Pastor’s wife, who is also a counselor and an encourager. But that’s because she’s just being herself. If you want to be where no one would talk about you, then you just have to go to some cave and live the life of a hermit. But the truth is that man is a social being.”

“There is a reason why some people adopted the live of a hermit. May be they saw that as the only way to be totally pleasing to God, free from man’s opinions.”

“That attitude falls short of God’s standard. God made man for relationships and connections. We just have to learn to foster good associations while avoiding toxic ones. Do you know I left a single ladies’ group because the group leader turned the whole thing into a training ground for desperate men-hunters? The group was started with good intentions for singles to meet together and encourage each other. But all of a sudden, I don’t know how, the whole atmosphere of the group changed. Every meeting became an opportunity to learn a new tactic on how to grab his attention. A few of its members became disgruntled, but the leader and some supporters were bent on leading the group the way she thought was right. The membership and attendance of the group has greatly diminished.”

A silence followed while they listened to the sound of cars and bikes. Sitting on the verandah or leaning against the iron protectors that surrounded the verandah was one of their favorite activities. Many a time they discussed serious issues there. Bethany was deeply troubled.

“Pastor Felicity is a hindrance to me, an enemy of progress.”

“Maybe. But if I can be honest with you I’d say I don’t think she can stop you from pursuing God’s purpose for you. Bethy, I honestly think it’s time you get busy your vision. That will cause the pressure you feel from within to lessen. You need to divert some of that pressure into your vision. You may not have to leave the Tabernacle but don’t let her stop you. You can pray about it and know what to do.”

Bethany chuckled inwardly. Even if I leave the Tabernacle, I am not going to start a solo music career. I will only sing in the choir. Who knows? May be by being very busy I was blinded to the men who had been interested in me? I will stay with the kids or go to the choir if allowed. That’s all I’m willing to do for the moment.

An ash-colored Carina E wheeled into their driveway. Bethany threw a questioning look at Daphne. The latter winked. She had been expecting the visitor.

The average height man, in his early forties, well-built, clean-shaven and shaved head, came out of the car, holding a paper bag. Daphne welcomed and introduced him to Bethany as her colleague. She then took him inside. Bethany remained outside until Daphne came out asking her to join them.

The younger lady spent the entire time with eyes on the phone and ears on what the others were discussing. She was eager to know who he was, apart from being a colleague, and why Daphne had not hinted her on the expected visit.

He was not the first male visitor they’d had but He was the first to come in the true semblance of a suitor, as implied by his gift bag, which the curious girl later discovered contained among other things, a bottle of Daphne’s perfume and a You Complement Me key handle.

“Wow! You can be secretive!” Bethany exclaimed as soon as the man was gone.

Daphne laughed and then sighed. “If it’s something I was sure will work out, I’d have told you. But for the moment I’m just watching.

Bethany widened her eyes. “Will not work? Daphne you are not a little girl, neither is he a little boy. Someone is serious here. Big sis, please don’t mess this opportunity up.”

“It’s complicated, Bethy. First, he has a broken heart –his fiancée of more than four years just recently called off the wedding. He’d already informed the school staff body of the wedding.”

“What!?” Bethany wondered what kind of lady in her right mind would call off a wedding.

“And second, he gives the impression that I’m obliged to accept him. Bethy, you understand the reason why he thinks that way.”

“Daphne, what kinds of objections are those?” The baffled Bethany threw her hands up in the air.

Daphne was quick with an answer. “He keeps talking about the lady! Even in your presence he still mentioned her. Bethy, I don’t want to be evaluated through the standards of another woman that I have never even met. Even though she was the one who left, he still keeps telling people what a nice and diligent lady she was, and that he doesn’t know what came over her. He thinks I should be desperate. Bethany it hurts!”

“What is wrong if he thinks you should be desperate? Go ahead and accept the guy. The essential thing is to get the ring and enter his house. Or, if you are really too proud, inform him that Bethany Yahfeh is super interested.”

“Bethy, please (—)”

“Big sis, we must admit the bitter truth. There’s an age a woman reaches that she shouldn’t expect men to treat her as some teenage girl. We are old enough and past the time for such chasing. This guy too is old enough and wants to settle down. Accept him, period.”

“Okay. I can try to give him a chance.”

“Is he Christian?”

“Can’t tell for sure. But he attends church.”

“But he doesn’t look like one who’d resist change and maturity if you are serious in getting him interested in the things of the Lord –that is if he’s not yet Christian.”

“We’ll engage in a lot of talking and getting to know each other. But (—)”

“But, just don’t take too long. If he’s Christian and you like him, which I know you do, accept him. Settle the other issues when you guys get married.”

They both laughed, Daphne shaking her head.

“Big sis, you could be married in less than three months!”

“You think so?”

“I believe so. Once you give him a chance – and take him to mum, O Jesus! Mum would be so happy! – Once you take him to your parents and they give their approval, what else? All these talk of getting to know the other person well is mostly idealistic. You only know the real person when you get married and start living under the same roof with them.”

“I hear you, Marriage Counselor, Bethany Yahfeh, Ph.D.”

They laughed for some time before Bethany continued. “Big sis, there’s no reason why you should not marry this guy. You both are teachers – that means common interests; you both are old enough to know exactly what you want. And the greatest thing: this guy has a broken heart, meaning he does not have time for any game playing. Forget the fact that he talks about his ex. Who would not do same if they were in his shoes? The more you give him a chance, the more he will quickly forget about her.” Bethany laughed and added, “Someone said: ‘a man with a broken heart is the easiest man to have. His heart longs for love and solace.’”

~~~~

After school on Monday, Mikael Nguni took Daphne out to an expensive restaurant, where they sat there the entire afternoon, talking to great lengths.

Mikael was still wrecked emotionally from his sudden breakup. Instead of the date being an occasion of knowing the other person and talking about what mattered most to each other, Daphne spent the time counseling Mikael.

The conclusion of the date was obvious: time would be needed to wean him from his obsession with his ex.

~~~~

While Daphne was out dating and eating, Bethany was on fasting and praying. After work, she went to church and lay on the altar and prayed till when darkness started falling.

When she reached home and entered her bedroom, sadness overwhelmed her. She became mad at God. She threw her bag on the piano and sat on the bed.

“Lord, how long am I going to do this? What is wrong with me?” she asked aloud. But what was really in her mind was different, bitterer than the words she uttered. For crying out loud, you are my Father. You should know I need to be married. I have been serving you with all my heart. Why are you doing this to me? Do I need this much fasting? How much praying and supplication will be enough?

Her thoughts were interrupted by Daphne’s coming. Bethany quickly asked for updates on her relationship with Mikael. If she’s still uninterested, then I’ll have him.

“We are still talking. It may take a while for him to forget about her.”

~~~~

Daphne was mistaken. Mikael did not forget his ex; He didn’t get the opportunity to do so. The she came back into his life, right into his waiting arms.

A week after his first date with Daphne, Mikael’s ex came visiting and demanding reconciliation. But he was gentlemanly enough to copiously apologize to Daphne, regretting that he had been too quick to approach her.

Surprisingly, Daphne wasn’t hurt; she rather felt relieved.

“Why would he not go back to her? You did not give him enough reason to tell her he was with someone else.”

“Bethy, we are talking of last week’s event! He would still have gone back to her. The truth is he wanted someone to fill the void in his broken heart, and it just happened that I was the most credible and available choice. Had I gone for him, I would have had my own heart broken right now.”

“So you are not hurt?”

“I know it’s strange to admit, but I believe I would have been hurt if I married him without his heart being truly healed first. You remember those stories of people getting back with an old flame?”

Bethany wore a straight face as Daphne laughed. “I am just joking. I am not saying he would have done that, but it could be a possibility given his obsession with her. They’d been together for four years; a week of dating me was not enough for him to let her go. As an antithesis to your saying about the easiness of getting a man with a broken heart, let me say this: ‘a broken heart is the most dangerous heart to fall in love with. It longs for love – its lost love’. Unless it heals, you are treading on shaky ground by falling in love with. If that lost love suddenly returns, you may just find yourself with a broken heart –your own heart.”

Bethany, though surprised, admired her friend’s calmness and courage. She told herself that had Daphne been a man, she would gladly ask him to marry her. Her ability to be composed in the midst of situations that caused panicky anguish in Bethany, produced admiration for the older in the younger.

They believed their bond was indissoluble.

But that friendship was soon to receive an accusation that was more hurtful than what each or both ladies had ever experienced.

The source of the rumor was unknown but it finally entered the ear of Pastor Felicity. She had been losing ground and excuses to give to some members of the congregation who wanted Bethany back on the stage. She thus bought the rumor with all her heart and immediately summoned Bethany, who had not even heard of it then.

Jealousy left untethered sooner or later begets malice. Pastor Felicity’s words were as malicious as her tone of voice when she spoke with the young woman.

“Two old single ladies, not blood related, but living together for years. Bethany the evidence is clear against you and you know the stance of the Grace Tabernacle on the homosexual issue.”

Bethany felt a dagger go through her heart. She could scarcely contain her emotions as she sought to reply the accusation. “It is painful for me to even think that someone cooked this up. Daphne and I are just friends! When (—)”

“Why do you live together when both of you work and can each afford a place of your own? Friends are not obligated to live together, are they?”

“When I came to start work here in town, I didn’t know anyone but I met Daphne and she took me in. We became very good friends and didn’t see why we should separate until necessity demands.”

“You have no way to prove your innocence.”

“Neither is there any proof to the accusation leveled against my friend and I.”

Pastor Felicity knew there was no proof, but her hostility was not yet satisfied.

“But what are you waiting for anyway? Shouldn’t you be a wife and a mother by now?”

Bethany breathed heavily, the tears flowing freely. She remained quiet until Pastor Felicity asked her to leave.

The cleric remained in the office. Her conscience and God’s Word told her she was wrong. But she would not stop what she had set in motion. Bethany was directly under her spiritual leadership, as every other female in the church, and it would pain her more to have Pastor Carl get the upper hand in the matter. He had reluctantly consented to the arrangement and she would not lose face by reversing her decision.

~~~~

The church committee set up to examine the malignant rumor sat and did not prove Bethany guilty. But for the sake of people’s opinions, she was asked to move out of Daphne’s place and look for her own.

It was a traumatic experience for both ladies. Bethany was reluctant to abide by the resolution taken by the church committee. “It’s time for me to leave that church. They can’t dictate where I live and with who I live. I’ll seek membership in your church.”

“No, Bethy. That is not right. If we continue staying together and you leave the Tabernacle, it would help strengthen the lie. Besides, churches collaborate; your action would be communicated to my church.”

Bethany decided to swallow the bitter pill.

Chapter Seven: Get the Fisherman’s attention!

The church auditorium was a beehive of activity at 5 o’clock, Friday evening. The decorators were putting final touches to their work, giving the hall a facelift consistent with a wedding ceremony in accordance with the customs at Grace Tabernacle. The choir was rehearsing at the left of the platform. The bride and groom’s friends practiced the escort march along the pews.

The bride and groom emerged from the corridor that led to the pastors’ offices. They had been with the senior pastor, receiving the last session of counseling usually reserved for the wedding eve.

The young girl beamed at the groom, who was equally delighted, when she saw the bold inscription worded with cellulose paper and pasted on the wall behind the pulpit: Mabel weds Cornelius.

The two stood for several minutes at the edge of the platform, drinking in the beauty of the décor and receiving early congratulatory messages and hand waves from the workers and their busy friends.

The sound of Bethany’s voice caused Mabel to turn towards the direction of the choir. She was grateful to find her there. Few days back she had had a hard time begging Bethany to make her day a success. The singer had initially replied that Pastor Felicity would not permit her to sing, but even when the Pastor had given the green light, she was still hesitant. The rumor of her being a closet lesbian had dampened her spirits and she gladly stayed in the children’s church. Weekly church programs were attended out of obligation. George was now a married man. No guy was on her horizon. Things seemed just to be going bad for her. She was resorting to a withdrawn life from church.

Mabel stared at her until their eyes met. The bride expressed her gratitude with a smile and head movement. Bethany nodded in reply, her mouth too busy to smile properly.

The soon-to-be husband and wife then joined their friends in the bridal march rehearsals.

Pastor Felicity came into the auditorium a few minutes to six thirty. The workers and everyone else had completed their preparations, and only the singles were left.

It was customary at each wedding eve to have a talk with the soon-to-be marrieds and the rest of the singles. Among them were those secretly next in line or those still in the wait for Mr. or Miss Right.

Bethany became uncomfortable when she realized that the speaker for the night was Pastor Felicity. She was certain the cleric would not miss an opportunity to throw an offense at her. Pastor Felicity didn’t do that –at least not until the end of her talk. She spoke so well, with lots of inspired words.

Bethany breathed a sigh of relief when she saw her close the bible, which meant the talk, was over. But then the spiritual leader had one last reminder to all who had a part in the program the following morning. “Look your best,” she said. “I am talking to the females. Singing in the choir is not enough. Get attention other ways too. Let the hairdo, the makeup and everything – you girls understand, right? – look great. Really great.”

The females shouted in excitement, except Bethany and Nancy, another choir member, who was seated beside her. These were the only two among the ladies gathered there that understood the deeper meaning of the Pastor’s words.

“Single guys attend weddings with fishermen eyes,” Pastor Felicity continued. “So my dear girls, make use of opportunities like this, is that right? Look your best and get all the attention you can get. That is not out of line with being spiritual at all. Am I right?”

Thunderous applause.

“I wish all of you the best. Good night.”

The audience clapped hard as the emcee took over from the Pastor.

~~~~

Bethany met Nancy who was waiting for her at the door. The two walked out of the church property together, in silence. They were not friends, but Nancy, a nurse at the St. Lawrence and Serita Hospital, had noticed the unfair treatment meted out to the other lady by Pastor Felicity. She had been longing to talk with Bethany.

Since they had no close relationship, it was uncomfortable bringing up such sensitive issues. Nancy judged she needed to be tactful. “I just hate this thought of looking great to catch attention. Can’t one just simply look great?”

Bethany replied that she too didn’t buy the idea, though she only said so because the contrary could not be uttered. She was confused about the accuracy of her thoughts on the issue. But her reply emboldened Nancy, who spoke her next statements with lots of feeling.

“God willing, I will be getting married in three months’ time, and (—)”

“Wow, congratulations.”

“Thank you Bethy.”

Almost half a minute passed with none of the ladies saying a word. Bethany’s interjection with a congratulations caused Nancy to pause. She had to muster up courage again to say what she had intended to say.

“One of the reasons why I am happy about getting married is because I will be able to demonstrate my zeal for God without my motives being judged. The belief is growing and it is gaining momentum: every serious single sister in the church is serious just so as to get the attention of the single guys. I believe there’s some truth there, yet if care is not taken, the generalization can become discouraging to those who sincerely want to put their energies into serving God, for nothing else but simply out of love for Him.”

Bethany remained quiet. She silently concurred to some extent with what her companion said, but found it hard to verbalize it. Besides, she was hurting, and at the same time, if she could be certain of a successful outcome the following day, she would do exactly what Pastor Felicity advised. She knew about the pressure that went along with that kind of attempt to get attention, but she would be willing to endure it, if it guaranteed her the expected outcome.

“To think that all of one’s efforts in serving God boil down to a mere request for a husband?” Nancy wondered. “Lord knows that thinking pains me.”

Bethany felt she should say something, though she didn’t want to. All she wanted to do was to go home and either talk with Daphne or go to bed, and ponder on her unbearable situation.

“You are right,” she said. “People will always judge and say things they do not understand. We just have to forget about them and live our lives.”

The Condemner mocked, you are a liar. You don’t believe in what you just said. Just forget about them and live our lives?

Bethany threw a glance at her companion, in the street light, in order to estimate her age.

You can talk of zeal now and not attention-seeking because you are maybe twenty three, twenty four or twenty five at most, and engaged to be married in three months, but if you were to reach my age still single, I bet you wouldn’t talk same; at least not with that same fervor. Who cares what people say about attention-seeking? People only say what they see happening. So what’s the big deal? I would do anything possible, as long as it is not inherently sinful, to get married.

“Your place is in the choir, and I pray they should allow you be where you ought to be.” Nancy spoke softly, but the angry undertone could not be missed.

Bethany realized that Nancy knew about Pastor Felicity’s actions against her, but she decided not to agree with the nurse’s statements. It hurt to think of what she was being subjected to, and though discussing it would make her feel relieved, she chose to stifle the desire to get Nancy’s sympathy. She justified to herself that she didn’t know much of her companion to open up more to her.

“I’m busy with the children,” she replied. “And I’m loving it too.”

Nancy became quite uncomfortable. Her words seemed not to have comforted Bethany as much as she had anticipated. Maybe she shouldn’t have spoken with her at all. She believed it was not a nosy attitude that had motivated her to talk with Bethany that evening, but then maybe, just maybe, she didn’t know how to be tactful enough about such sensitive issues. Maybe she should have done much better praying for her in the closet than talking.

They walked in silence until the juncture where their ways parted. “I’m praying for you,” Nancy said. “Everything’s going to be fine.”

Bethany was grateful for the concern. She held Nancy’s right hand in both hands and said, “Thank you sweetheart. I appreciate it.”

A friendship was born that very moment.

 

Chapter Eight: Barry. F. Bessome

Bethany found Kaleb’s silence about his desire for her curiously disturbing. In the coffee room, he continued with his humor but never would mention her in any issue about relationship. He did not come again near her teller booth for discussions unrelated to work.

She knew absolutely well that going by her standards, there was no possibility of any relationship working out between them, unless he changed. The temptation of the long-tried method to get the guy to church came knocking on her heart. She resisted it on grounds that it was selfish trying to get him saved just so she could marry him. And the method was not going to work on Kaleb, even if she tried it. Before his declaration of interest in her, she had talked to him a few times about Jesus and Kaleb was the most uninterested person she could think of. He was public about his being agnostic and borderline atheist.

But she missed his admiration. It feels so good to have someone interested in you, even if they are not the right one. Those flirtatious looks surely make one feel important. Those passion-filled words are so exciting to hear. I know I’m wrong but I’m so starved of romance that…Lord Jesus, please I’m sorry. Please forgive me.

She would soon forget about Kaleb’s lack of interest when romance came knocking on her door in the person of a certain Barry F. Bessome. He came for the services of the City Investment Trust where he met Bethany. Barry’s card revealed he was a lawyer in one of the chambers in town. On the second visit a week later, he asked her out.

He was sincere, serious and had the kind of imposing male presence that Bethany always longed for. He came close to proposing on that first date. Or maybe Bethany was just too desirous of getting his love that she thought he almost proposed. The truth is, he didn’t exactly almost-propose but there was every indication that he wanted the relationship to work. Proposal, is it not always done as formality? All along the relationship, the two individuals know they are headed for marriage; that the time will come when the man would bring out that beautiful piece of golden ring, or silver for those who prefer that metal, and ask the woman the big question.

Bethany was excited. She shared the news with Daphne, with whom she had basically moved back in.

“We spoke much on very important topics – you know I don’t want to waste my time with the wrong guy. I don’t want a prolonged dating period that won’t take me to the expected end. So, I had to make sure from the beginning that he is the one I would want to go with. “There is a lot of common ground between us. He almost proposed!”

“Where does he fellowship?”

“At the House of Glory Church…and…from his talk, I can sense he loves God very much.”

Bethany’s face began to fall for fear that Daphne might have objections to the relationship. She looked straight at Daphne’s eyes to get the reaction. Big sis replied: “I have no objections. If he’s Mr. Right, we rejoice together.”

“Physically, he’s very passable.”

Laughter prevented her from continuing, for almost a minute. “And spiritually, he’s ok too. Just a little bit of concern though.”

Bethany didn’t want to give Daphne the impression that she was putting this new guy on a pedestal. But she failed; she ended up praising him more. “He talks of traveling out of the country and doing some other stuff. He even says I could go back to school and pursue a Master’s degree and things like that. I’m just thinking of what to do with the music ministry vision.

There was a silence. Bethany silently begged for Daphne to say something. When nothing came from the other mouth, she continued “maybe, after all God doesn’t want me in that direction, with my reassignment in church and then Barry talking of other things. May the direction of events not be saying that God wants me in a different path?”

“You have to pray about it. You don’t have to discard the vision. Traveling abroad doesn’t change anything about your vision. But, yes, sometimes we may have desires and dreams and God will change them. Man proposes, (—)”

“But God disposes,” Bethany completed the phrase. She was grateful for Daphne’s reply.

“But don’t make a decision yet. Pray and think about it.”

“I will.”

Bethany was certain he would propose on the second date. To be certain that all was going to go well, she decided to call her parents to ascertain their approval of him should he propose.

“Inter-tribal marriages are not very welcome in my place,” she told Daphne. “I know my parents are so eager to see me get married that they may willingly consider someone out of the tribe, but one never knows.”

“I agree. You are dating him.”

Bethany immediately dialed her mother’s number and waited nervously for her to pick the call. After the usual banter, she informed her of Barry. Mum was super-excited. Bethany’s marriage was a long-awaited dream. Her parents eagerly wanted to see it materialize.

~~~~~

Bethany wore an ankle-level short-sleeved silk gown. Her favorite soft yellow color. The loveliness of her chocolate-colored face, having received a meticulous touch of foundation and powder, was more than enhanced by the jewelry and the hairdo. A curly hairstyle, golden hoop earrings and accompanying chain. She looked fabulous.

Daphne approved the excellent look. They chatted while waiting for Barry to come pick Bethany up.

“I’m a bit nervous.”

“Why? You have any forebodings?”

“No. Not at all. It’s that kind of feeling you have when what you’ve long desired, and sometimes despaired it might never happen, seems to come so easily. You know, from all I discussed with Barry on phone this week, if he proposes tonight, I’d not have any reason to turn down his proposal.”

“You are so sure he will propose.”

Bethany laughed. “Big sis, stop reading my mind.”

There was a knock on the door. The lady in love took one last glance at her housemate. The latter blew a kiss which she caught and opened the door.

Barry took the right hand she extended, with his left hand and did not let it go. He waved at Daphne from outside. Daphne waved back. Barry took his lady away.

“Lord I am not in the right place to tell her this. It will be misunderstood.”

During the week, Daphne had developed misgivings about Barry. She’d not known him except from Bethany’s account. She had only seen the man on the day he came to drop Bethany after their first date.

She strongly felt Barry was not genuine; he was a fortune hunter. But she was in a dilemma. At thirty six, she found it difficult to tell the thirty-one year old Bethany to turn down a guy. Her opinion could be interpreted as flowing out of envy.

“Lord, I can’t do it,” she whispered again.

~~~~

The evening progressed well. The blue lit room, at the restaurant of the five star Nova Hotel, coupled with soft music on the background, was a perfect scene. They ate stuffed chicken and dodo. Afterwards, they whiled the time over the special non-alcoholic wine which Barry had ordered.

The smile on his face said that he would soon pop the big question. He wore a grey shirt underneath a black suit. Bethany supposed one of the suit’s pockets held the engagement seal. He grinned each time their eyes met. Every time, she responded by turning her face down. Inwardly, she wished he would get over with the emotional display and get unto the real deal.

Her phone gave a message notification. She read it and turned pale, face glued to the phone’s screen.

Dear, I don’t know how u will feel but I just have to say this. Barry wants to use u to get money from ur company for his travel plans. He’s one of those boyz. I love u. Nancy.

To say that Bethany was stunned would be an understatement. She felt glued to the chair, her eyes still glued to the screen as if she was experiencing a nightmare.

At that moment, Barry sent his hand into the left inner pocket of his suit. It was time to catch the beautiful lady in her distraction. He held out the golden band with the right hand and only the touch of his left hand grabbing the lady’s ring hand made her realize that the long awaited moment had come.

The ring was as beautiful as Bethany could have wished. A large diamond, which would be conspicuous to anyone who met her afterwards, was implanted at the top of the gold ring.

Her heart beat raced. She would not take it, yet she didn’t know what to give for an explanation. Her desire for the man had been very obvious.

Barry noticed the change in the lady’s mood but did not withdraw his extended hand. Bethany looked at the ring in silence. The coming of the waitress forced her to make a decision about the offer. “Barry, give me time to think.”

“Bethany. Is there a problem?”

“Barry, I…I can’t take that ring right now.”

“Sweetheart, I admit this is too early, but (—)”

“No, Barry. Please let’s hold on…for a little more time.”

The young man, though disappointed, however showed gentlemanliness. He told himself that women would always play hard-to-get.

~~~~

He dropped her as instructed at number four, Bellrose Street. It was 7:15 p.m.

He was about to plead for a prompt consideration but the troubled lady dashed out of the car immediately it came to a standstill. She made straight for the third building off the street.

“Bethy, you forgot your purse!” She came back to take it. Barry clung to the purse, still begging for her consideration. He transferred the purse to his left hand and then held her hand with his right. It felt warm. Bethany looked straight into his face, her pulse certainly out of normal range. His handsome eyes. His lips. Her heart was bleeding. She succeeded to get the purse, and started with a run, even as Barry called for her to come back for more talks. He could not understand her sudden change of behavior.

Nancy opened the door when Bethany knocked. The nurse knew why her friend had come. She let her in without a word, bracing herself to give details of the message she had sent. Bethany sat down and was silent for several seconds. Her head was hung down; her hands rested on the laps. When she took up her head, Nancy looked down at her own nails.

“I do not remember telling you about Barry.”

“Yeah. And I do not know him.”

“I am confused. What then is going on!?”

“This afternoon while I was in prayer I became burdened for you but I didn’t understand what was going on. I continued in prayer until the Lord gave me a word for you. I intended to talk with you tomorrow in church but later on I felt compelled to send you that text message.”

Bethany felt even more pained. Her suspicions that Nancy might have gotten news about the relationship from someone else or might have seen them together were debunked.

After what seemed like a quarter of an hour, though it was not more than three minutes, Bethany spoke again.

“Nancy, I agree with you that the message is from the Lord. What I do not understand is why he would only speak for the purpose of restraining me. If He can be that clear about me not marrying Barry, why can’t he just bring the right person my way?”

“Bethy, the Lord has not restrained you from marrying Barry. He has saved you from heartbreak. Barry was never going to marry you. Marriage proposal was just a bait he was using on you to achieve his goal. Once he got the engagement ring on your finger and had you buying into his lofty plans, he was going to convince you to take out a loan from your company which he was never going to repay. He planned to disappear after getting the money.”

A long painful silence followed.

“Nancy, I’m tired of being single. When will the right person come? God seems to be doing nothing despite my constant fasting and praying –there’s no prayer point I have not prayed about that I think is worth praying. If He can be that clear as with my relationship with Barry, why doesn’t he settle the issue of marriage for me, once and for all?”

Nancy did not know how to answer the question.

“I am bound to get into these sorts of nonsensical relationships as long as the Lord doesn’t make His will clear to me.”

Nancy came closer and held the grief-stricken lady’s hands.

“I can’t stand the pressure and the ridicule any longer,” Bethany complained, “I just want to be married.”

“Dear, I know you feel hurt, but remember that the Lord has your good at heart. He will never do anything to hurt you.”

Those words sounded like clichés to Bethany’s ears. “But His silence is hurting me. I’m tired of having people say things to me they themselves do not understand. I am being restricted in church for no fault of mine. Colleagues sometimes make jokes about me.” Bethany knew she was exaggerating. Kaleb alone made such jokes, though the others would laugh at his comments.

“Dear, I know people may say and do hurtful things to you because you are still single but you can’t just act for the sake of saving your image or to prove something to the mockers.”

Bethany was surprised; she didn’t expect such comprehension from a younger lady who was engaged to be married. She felt greatly comforted.

“When I was your age, I had a lot of zeal for the Lord – I still do – but there are challenges of not being married at my age: the stares when some people get to discover that I am still single; then I have to deal with some opportunist married men –once they discover one is still single, they just think you are available for them; then there’s the unusual restriction I have in church for the simple fact that I am single and a threat; the constant advice that I should pray harder; all of these get me frustrated. I have been praying but (—)”

Charlette’s You Alone played softly from the radio beside the window.

The two friends listened. There was a divine download in the air.

For the first time ever, Bethany welcomed mental objections to the opinions –for that is how they sounded to her that time – of her favorite gospel singer. Yet inwardly she could not kick against the goads. That sound was dropped on time, and though she didn’t appreciate its timely message, she did recognize its intended purpose.

As the sound died down, she gave her last complaint and reason why she must get married. “Nancy, I’m equally tired of restraining the passions from within. I keep asking myself, ‘how long am I going to do that?’ I sometimes do get loose in my fantasies and…and…it gets hard. You understand what I mean.”

How can she understand? Here she is, soon to be married. What has she known about endurance and abstinence?

The nurse had another surprise for her sister and friend.

“I understand, dear. It will surprise you to hear this from me – we are Christians and there’s nothing wrong in discussing these issues. I have a strong libido, and it has not always been easy. I prayed about the loose fantasies, and this is how the Lord answered me. He said I have no business nurturing unclean imaginations about sex: that I shouldn’t add fuel to a fire without the authorized fire extinguisher, unless I want to get into trouble. The feelings come because it’s normal, but I strive not to engage in unholy imaginations. At the beginning, it was hard, but the more I strove to keep a healthy mind, the more I have been able to maintain the right boundary between normal desire and filthy thoughts.”

Bethany swallowed hard. Which was more painful, she couldn’t tell, the counsel or the youthfulness of the counselor?

“Dear, you shall get your fire extinguisher,” Nancy said with a little laugh, trying to cheer her up, but Bethany did not find it funny. That SHALL is not a specified date. Why would you not laugh? Your fire extinguisher is a few months away from being authorized. You don’t even know the mental agony I am in right now.

~~~~

Daphne was still awake, waiting, when Bethany returned at 10 p.m.

The look on Bethany’s face and the ring-less finger initially made her think that Barry had not proposed. She felt relieved. She had feared that her lack of courage to talk about what she felt concerning Barry might have led to Bethany engaging in a bad relationship.

Bethany recounted the events of the evening and Daphne listened keenly.

“Dear, the Bible says ‘the heart of man is desperately wicked’. Who could have known that he was a con, looking at his innocent face? Thank God for divine intervention.”

Bethany pitted her thumbs against each other while the remaining eight fingers stayed clasped together, her hands resting on her knees. The evening, which had started off as a memorable day, turned into one of her worst nightmares.

Their discussions, which went past midnight, ended with the resolution that she should send Barry a text message to inform him of her decision of not wanting to see him again. To make sure he would not take it as one of those women’s playing-hard-to-get tactics, she wrote:

I do NOT want to ever set my eyes on you again. I know about your evil plan.

~~~~

Bethany lay in bed beside Daphne that early morning hour, staring at the ceiling without seeing anything in her view. She believed life was leaving her being.

You would think that such divine intervention intended to avert suffering and preserve dignity would be greatly welcomed by one who professed faith in an all-knowing good God; but the lady, like most of us humans, would not appreciate that work of God which we perceive as negative, without first seeing its positive counterpart.

Barry looks too clean and innocent. Who could have thought? I wish this were a long dream, from which I would wake up to find out that the day for our second date had not passed. And that Barry is the right one for me.

Chapter Nine: Gold of Ophir

Two months after Bethany’s birthday party, Mavis started dating a guy in church, but she kept the relationship secret from her friends. Four months later, when she and the fiancé had gone through the church’s premarital counseling and the banns would soon be announced, she decided to inform her friends before Daphne should hear it for the first time in church.

The bride-to-be also wanted to solicit their participation in the wedding program in whatever capacity they would want. She met Daphne and Bethany in the former’s house

“He’s the man of my dreams!” she said excitedly. “He’s smart, highly educated and …of course, capable.”

“Wow! Congratulations, Mavis.” That was Daphne. Bethany remained silent, seated on the arm-chair. “Bethy?” Daphne gave an inquisitive look

“Well, don’t judge me.” Bethany replied. “She hid it from us.”

Mavis explained that because of a past failed relationship she had decided not to make the relationship with Samuel public until the walk down the aisle was certain. But Bethany would not have it. “Haven’t you seen those videos of people separating at the altar?”

“Well,” Mavis shrugged her shoulders, “but my relationship had reached the point I couldn’t keep it secret anymore. You didn’t want me informing you after the altar, did you?”

“How long have you known him? I remember that during my birthday, six months ago, you didn’t talk as one who was dating.”

Daphne, who was seated on her computer screen at the table, sent a piercing look that told Bethany to shut up. She knew the motivation behind the question. Mavis knew too but refused to answer. She changed the course of the conversation.

“You ladies just tell me which part to you’d love to play. Already, Samantha says she’s not in the mood –that she’s sick. I wonder what an excuse, given that the wedding is in a month’s time.”

“Mavis, I’ll bake the cake,” Daphne said and then added, to the delight of the bride-to-be, “for free.”

“O Jesus! Daphne, are you serious?”

“Hmm”

Bethany reluctantly promised to later think on what part to play. As soon as Mavis was gone, she let her feelings speak.

“Listen to the man of her dreams,” she said with scorn, “smart, highly educated and…of course, capable. Capable? Yet she is excited for a free wedding cake!

“Bethy”

“They are the kind of Christian fiancées that start living together even before walking down the aisle. How long have they even dated before hurrying to the altar? I hope your church does pregnancy and other probing works before conducting a wedding as done in The Tabernacle.”

“Bethany, stop it”

“And I’m sure that she who cannot pay tithes is bearing the…the…the brunt of the wedding expenses, just to make it happen in no less time.”

“Shut up! Shut up! One more evil word from you again and…” That was the harshest tone of voice Bethany ever heard from Daphne.

“You and Samantha may have your nasty thoughts about Mavis, but that doesn’t change a thing. She’s getting married whether you think she deserves it or not.”

“Daphne! I am going through a lot of pressure! You are the last person I would expect to add to it.”

“Your ideas about Mavis’ marriage are not caused by your pressures. It’s because you think she’s not spiritual enough and therefore shouldn’t get what you long for before you do. You think God rewards spirituality with marriage, huh!?”

It hurt. Bethany immediately took her leave.

“Bethany, please come back. Bethy!” Daphne ran after her but did not succeed to stop the angered friend from boarding a taxi.

An hour later, Bethany, already in her apartment, received a text message from Daphne.

Bethy, I’m sorry for raising my voice at u. Pls, forgive me. I love u. will see u tomorrow after u come back from work.

She did not reply the message immediately. Daphne was the biggest encourager she had ever known. For Big sis to have raised her voice, it meant the situation had really gotten into her.

Bethany was hurt and sorrowful at the same time. Had she known that the evening would turn out that way, she would have avoided the encounter. She admitted to herself that the way she had responded to Mavis’ invitation and what she had said about her to Daphne was unchristian. But the thought of the less spiritual persons having it easier than her made her unwilling to accept what Daphne said. Why does it have to be that way?

She needed to reply that message:

Big sis, I’m equally sorry. Forgive me. Pls, give me some time to cool off.

She knelt beside her bed and prayed. “Father, I am sorry for what happened this evening. I shouldn’t have talked about Mavis that way. It was bad. Please forgive me.

“Lord you know my thoughts and feelings. I cannot hide them from you.

“I’m getting more anxious with each passing day. I know I shouldn’t be. Your Word says I should be anxious for nothing, but that through prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, I should make my request known to you and your peace shall keep my heart calm.

“I don’t know what request to make of you right now. I have been praying.

“Okay, this is what I’ll request from you. Show me something. Just help me out of this anxiety and panic mode. Please dear Lord, help me. Amen.”

She got up from the place of prayer, took her phone and called Mavis.

“Dear, I’m sorry for what happened this evening. Please forgive me.”

“It’s okay, Bethy. I forgive you.”

“Is the bridal train already full?”

“Not yet. I still need four more ladies”

“Count me in”

“You are a darling! Bethy, thank you very much.”

“You are welcome. Let me take a rest. I’m so tired from today’s activities”

“Good night sweetie.”

Bethany dropped the call, feeling greatly relieved. But then some thoughts fleeted across her mind. Mavis is not walking in total obedience to God’s Word. Am I right in accepting to be part of her bridal train? She let out a moan. Was this the voice that constantly condemned her? Or just her thoughts? Or maybe God?

She was sick and tired of her wearisome thoughts. A sigh, lights off, she went to bed and soon fell asleep.

~~~~

Nancy’s wedding was around the corner. She was leaving Beaumont for Beachmond, not to return after the wedding.

Bethany went to see her. They’d agreed she would join the soon-to-be-married woman on the eve of the wedding. Other church members who would attend the ceremony would arrive on the wedding day which was a week ahead.

The two friends stood around the packed stuffs inside the house, shooting the breeze, eating peanuts, and waiting for the driver Nancy had arranged to come pick her up. Beachmond was not a great distance away, thus the ladies found no annoyance with the driver’s delay. They enjoyed their time together.

Nancy went for something in her handbag that was on the table. Bethany looked into the bag and saw a small metal box. Out of curiosity, she took it.

It was a beautiful gold-plated box, the size of a man’s fist, containing gold jewelries. The wall on one side was covered with a mirror and the opposite wall had the inscription: To the King’s Daughter, Nancy, my Gold of Ophir.

“Gold of Ophir?” Bethany asked. “This is a common phrase in the Old Testament, but I’ve never thought about it. These jewelries were made out of gold from Ophir?” She was certain they were not.

Nancy smiled, dimples appearing on her smooth cheeks. She explained that the inscription was made by her fiancé, David, and that the phrase referred to her, not the metal from which the jewelry was made. Bethany was eager to know more.

“David told me that Ophir was a place in Bible times that was famous for its gold. Other countries had gold too but gold from Ophir was esteemed for its purity, and highly prized as the best of the best. And the phrase, Gold of Ophir, was later used in poetry to mean something that is precious, treasured and well-guarded. That’s what he told me. I’ve never checked it out for myself.”

“I see,” Bethany replied, telling herself that not every curiosity needs to be gratified. The explanation of the phrase did make her feel bad about herself. It said a lot of things about what David thought of Nancy. For a man to think highly of a lady, it means that woman must be exceptionally virtuous.

“We are all daughters of the King, and therefore gold of Ophir – precious, treasured and highly-prized.” Nancy said, having noticed the friend’s changed mood: “He says we are precious and that’s how we ought to see ourselves. People may not always see us as precious, but our heavenly Father treasures us. He sent His only Son Je (—)”

“Nancy, sorry to interrupt you. I know you are naturally an encourager, but sometimes it’s good to tell the truth as it is. I’m at a point now where I desperately need to stop being bothered about my single status and people’s opinions about that status. So please, just tell me the way it is. David had more reasons than the fact that you are born-again to give you that tag.”

Nancy hesitantly nodded. “Yeah.”

Bethany looked more closely at the box, taking out some of its contents to admire. She had a thought on her mind, and decided to be frank about it.

“Nancy,” if I have to be honest with you, I would say your talk always makes me feel ashamed. Yeah. I don’t know if I have treasured myself enough or if another person would see me as precious. I love God, for sure, but it’s sometimes hard to have a good opinion of oneself, especially under certain conditions.”

“Bethy dear, it has more to do with how you see yourself than what others have to say. And I love you and never have had any reason to make you feel ashamed.”

Bethany nodded. It was hard on her feelings some of the things Nancy used to say but there was no doubt they came from a heart of love.

“That’s a cliché,” Bethany replied. “People say it all the time. The hardest part is doing it –actually learning how to think well of oneself and to forget about people’s opinions.”

Nancy thought for some seconds. “I don’t think it just means choosing to start thinking whatever one can visualize about oneself. That can be very hard to do because life has a way of making most people have poor images of themselves, even if they succeed to hide it from the outside world. There’s always someone else or something to compare with. So there’s that constant battle.

“For me, it has stemmed from my Identity in Christ, not who I naturally should have been. That picture has affected the way I’ve to chosen to live and my decision to promote chastity, virtue and integrity. For the Lord’s sake. Six years of being born-again and two years of being with David.

“It’s so nice to have him recognize it but I’d still have wanted to be who I think God wants me to be, who He says I am, notwithstanding.”

“Nancy, you are deep. David is sure blessed to have you,” Bethany admitted, very much wowed by her friend’s sincere but simple faith. “You are a nice person. Where did you meet?”

“We met here in Beaumont, during my last year in the university.”

Bethany put the box back into the bag. Nancy continued, “My spiritual mentor really deserves the credit. God was so gracious to me and brought someone my way who made sure I was rooted and grounded in the word and in relationship with God. One thing he told me is that it is important to build a firm foundation for one’s life based on God. That affects every stage and phase of life –some challenges don’t cease when one gets married.”

Bethany nodded. Nancy continued. “It is true that singles face many challenges, but the reason for compromise most times is for the sake of acceptance and to feel important. But one’s identity is not determined by their civil status. It’s society that tells us that lie and many singles are yet to realize it.”

Bethany looked in surprise at her friend, not because of what she said, but as usual, because of who said it. She wished she had known as much at Nancy’s age. Was God answering her request for help? Was this the help she needed?

“One thing my mentor stressed about identity, especially for the single, is that if I look at marriage as an achievement, something to make me feel happy, important and admired, it was going to create trouble for me. Marriage is work, so the wise say. With divorce rates increasing –God forbid it for me –and bereavement too, once married doesn’t mean always married. So what happens if one’s identity is tied to marriage?”

“Nancy, I agree with you, but you certainly do not know, and fortunately will never know some of the challenges I go through, and what people say, whether out of genuine concern or plain nosiness. Widows are the only class of singles that are treated well – they receive sympathy. Divorcees are judged and condemned. The never-marrieds are judged, made fun of and despised. Just greet or talk to a brother in church a certain way, and ‘you are seeking for attention’!”

They both laughed so hard that Bethany tripped on a bag standing in front of her. Nancy, in a bid to stop her from falling, caught her with great force and dragged her towards herself. Instead of keeping a balance, the force with which she had pulled her friend caused them to fall down together. That made their laughter sweeter and longer. They sat up on the floor.

“Some standards are set by society, whether we like them or not,” Bethany said after the laughter had died down. “So, we just have to accept being part of the society in which we live –at least just to stop all the trouble from people.”

“I disagree.”

The horn of a vehicle sounded outside. Nancy went out to call the driver in. As Bethany stood alone in the room, the Condemner’s voice came clear: You ought to be ashamed; look who is teaching you. Shouldn’t it have been the other way round? And if you are honest with yourself you’d admit that she is not telling you anything you haven’t heard, except that Gold of Ophir explanation thing. You know the difference between you: she’s got the experience; you’ve got a head full of knowledge.

Just shut up! Bethany told him.

When the vehicle was ready to leave, Nancy embraced her friend tightly, whispering into her ears, “We are daughters of the King. We are Gold of Ophir, married or single. Father sees us as precious. Don’t let anyone condemn you or cheat you out of your identity in Christ. Live out of who you are in Christ. I love you.”

“Love you too, dear. Thank you so much. Safe journey and see you next week.”

~~~~

“I’m happy for you, Big sis, but I still can’t believe you bought a car!”

“Bethany, I needed one.”

Bethany had reason to be scared about the purchase –it was unusual around, as much as she knew, for a single lady to ride a car. It meant just one thing.

“I know your fears, Bethy, but I can’t continue to live as if I’m waiting for some man somewhere to come give me the life I need. Is the purchase a sin?”

Bethany shrugged her shoulder, and then shook her head. “I don’t think so. No, but…”

“Are you taking a ride with me or not?”

“I’m in!”

 

Chapter Ten: Daphne’s Calmness

Mavis’ wedding came and passed.

Daphne and Bethany went to visit Samantha at her Small London residence. She had been absent from the ceremony. It was late in the afternoon and Samantha’s telephone number wasn’t going through.

The apartment looked deserted. A fly was struggling to escape the fate of many of its fellows from the stretch of cobweb weaved around the windowpane protectors while its live fellows were partying in the full waste basket standing beside the pillar in front of the door. A layer of dust lay on the windowsill and on the verandah, where footprints were visible. The contrast with the other apartments of the building in terms of sanitation was too great.

The two friends knocked for several minutes and were about to turn away when the key turned in the lock from the inside. A tired-looking Samantha opened the door. She had added more weight.

They had hardly found where to seat when she replied to the unspoken purpose of their visit. “I’m pregnant,” she said and went ahead to sweep away any suspicions from their minds that it was a blunder from a sinful adventure. “It was a very intentional act. And you both understand why I did it.”

There was a deafening silence for almost a minute. “I can’t die childless even if I have to die husband-less. I don’t look that old because I have a younger face but I’m 43, almost 44, so it’s even a miracle.”

Bethany looked at Daphne, surprised; they’d always thought Daphne and Samantha were same age. “You don’t expect me in my old age to have no one to call my own. It’s been a traumatic experience waiting and hoping someone will finally come, but all hope is gone – except for this blessing in my tummy.”

Daphne and Bethany remained speechless. They least expected it. They were dumbfounded at Samantha’s justification of her act. Her frustration had been evident, but the friends had never imagined it would come to the point of deliberate compliance with sinful methods.

Samantha predicted their response to her admission, and did not let them have the opportunity to voice it out. “And don’t you dare talk to me about God. I know all about that crap!” she shouted. “And you would think that after paying my tithes faithfully, after going on Missions outreaches, after working tirelessly in service to the church, that He up there will see and reward my efforts! No! Instead some non-serious youth like Mavis gets married as if it’s no big deal!… And Pastor Luke and wife come here to tell me nonsense! I hope they could…could…could gang up on God until He fulfills his promises to the faithful!”

“Samantha, please calm down,” Daphne pleaded but the irate lady would not, until a plea came on behalf of the baby. She calmed down for a short while.

“They could taunt me for being single but no one will ever call me a childless woman!”

“Calm down,” Daphne pleaded again. “We didn’t see you at Mavis’ wedding and we remembered she said you were sick. Even before the wedding your telephone number wasn’t going through. So we came to check on you.”

“You now know the reason for my isolation. I just wish you let me be. I did it, I don’t regret it and I’m ready for the consequences.” Samantha knew that nothing they said would agree with her decision.

“Samantha, if you are willing to admit you did wrong, we…I am ready to stand by you and give (—)”

“Daphne, if you don’t mind, I think the purpose of your visit has been accomplished. You came to check on me. You’ve seen my condition, and like I said, I did it fully conscious of what I was doing. I won’t take another judgment from anyone. Allow me in the hands of God –let He alone be my judge.”

“No one is judging you.”

“Please, I want to be alone!”

Daphne and Bethany got up to leave.

“And you can tell the whole world about me, I don’t care!”

Bethany was shocked at the frustration of their friend, but equally aware of the anxiety in her own heart. Can I come to this place of sheer madness at the prospect of living single for life? No, this is too far. I cannot reach this stage. O Lord, please help me. She remembered what Nancy had said. But I do not want to be single. Honestly, I do not want to be single any more.

Her teenage and early adulthood fantasies had been filled with the perfect picture of life which she could draw. She had gone a bit loose during her late teenage years. When she later became a Christian, she was no longer permitted, having been restricted by God’s Word, to enjoy the physical relation with a man. She waited for the right time, with the right person. Was the wait to no purpose?

She remembered some few faces of some people, male and female, who didn’t take the same stance with her. One Justilina with whom she had been acquainted many years back, would once in a while get out of bounds. She would defend herself and justify her actions. “God understands. I don’t produce the emotions, yet they get unbearable sometimes. I confess and ask God’s forgiveness afterwards and I move on. He is gracious. He doesn’t expect perfection from us while we are still in this body.”

And then there was Malcolm, the youth leader in the church Bethany attended during university days. Malcolm had read a book in which the author said that the Christian is so united in spirit with God that the body becomes disconnected as far as spiritual matters are concerned. The body is just a house for the real person, who is a spirit. Malcolm taught that anything was permissible in the body as long as the person believed it was permissible.

Malcolm had become so fixated on these beliefs that he blatantly lived in immorality. The church tried to bring him to order, but he believed they were the ones in error. He was excommunicated, but not without his false teaching and behavior affecting a few youths.

But Bethany had resisted the temptation uncountable times. How much longer would she have to resist and endure? What if the right person never comes to usher in the right time? Am I never going to enjoy that privilege? O Lord, please! Please!

Daphne thought Samantha’s case was a very unusual one – the case of a heart that found no purpose living than to fulfill a typical dream, which when it did not materialize, the dreamer was left with no other purpose and value. She was sure much harm was done by single ladies to themselves when they failed to appreciate their worth outside of matrimony.

The two stood beside the car for a considerable length of time. Bethany confessed to Daphne that she was afraid and wanted to avoid a similar occurrence.

“I once was in panic mode and it didn’t help,” Daphne said regretfully. “In fact, it was the greatest mistake of my life. I wish I had known better.” Daphne related a part of her life that was unknown to Bethany.

She had graduated from university at age twenty one, and started getting pieces of work to do. She was a young Christian, and eager to grow in her faith. But then one night, she watched a comedian on television talk about the many women thronging the churches in the search for husbands. The comedian had joked that the large numbers of women had resulted in a scarcity of marriageable men. He had even quoted the Bible, Isaiah 4:1, and then said it was not going to be long before pastors would be conducting weddings for a single groom with seven brides.

Bethany remembered that Kaleb had told her a similar thing.

“I got so scared that I made a resolution,” Daphne said. “I was going to get married as soon as possible.”

The first, second, third and fourth dates didn’t result in the desired end.

“We were loose. We had no boundaries in those relationships even though all the guys I dated were also professing Christians. I was so fearful to lose each – so I had to give in to their demands – but at the end of the day it still wouldn’t work out. My integrity ran down the drain.”

Bethany stood still, goggle-eyed. Daphne’s revelation was shocking. She had known Big sis for three years and could never have conceived such a past about the lady who was a model of consecration to her. Had she heard that from a secondary source, she would never have bought the lie.

“Finally, I recommitted my life to God and severed the last relationship. The guy wasn’t even interested in marrying me. It was another relationship that was going nowhere. I came back to the Lord – my first love.”

A tear dropped from Daphne’s left eye, followed by a smile, causing Bethany’s eyes to swell with tears. There was a pause.

“That was seven years ago.”

“But you truly repented,” Bethany said. “Why would God still be holding that against you?”

It was Daphne’s turn to be surprised. “What do you mean? My recommitment to God wasn’t a covenant for a husband. He’s my God. I needed to make things right with Him.”

Another pause followed.

“I know a Christian sister almost my age, still single and she’s never known a man. And then there are others who lived like I did or maybe worse, but today they are happily married. You can’t affix a general cause to every situation. God doesn’t hold my past against me. I think I appreciate His love for me more now than before.”

Bethany was still staring. Daphne continued. “I did actually meet a good guy just after that, but our perspectives on major spiritual and social issues were so opposite that we had to go our separate ways. That’s the same time I gained admission into the Teacher Training College.”

The two hawks walking on the roof of the house from which they’d come out broke the silence in which the two ladies were immersed.

Some things about Daphne began to make sense to Bethany. She began to understand the reason for the frankness and the intensity of emotions with which Big sis had spoken after hearing what Mrs. Gotlieb had said to Bethany.

“I wish I had known better,” Daphne broke the silence. “I wish I knew when I got born again what I now know. That is why Bethy, you must be careful about panic mode. It never results in good. If you act out of panic, there’s a high probability for regrets afterwards.”

Turning to face her friend, Daphne looked straight into her eyes, seeking to emphasize the point she had just made. She gave a little pause after each sentence.

“Be careful about panic mode.

“Pray, and be expectant, but not in a way that you are ready to clasp in your grip the next man who shows up, caring less of who they are.

“It’s very easy to compromise standards when one is in panic mode.

“While you wait, go about your dreams and find, or why, even create opportunities to make life worthwhile for yourself and others.

“Dig up that vision you have buried and get busy with it; lessen your pressures by diverting some of that mental energy you use in worrying, into doing what God has put in your heart.

“I think you should accompany me next time to Home For Girls at Moyaka.”

“Is it wrong to try online dating opportunities?” Bethany asked. “I mean Christian dating sites.”

“I don’t believe it’s sinful or wrong.”

 Daphne took a last look at the apartment. She felt sad for the occupant whose longstanding emotional state, now coupled with the hormonal changes brought about by pregnancy, was a cause for concern.

“Let’s pray for Samantha.”

“Can we get in the car first?”

They got inside.

“What should we pray for?” Daphne asked.

“I don’t really know. Maybe that God will make her admit she’s wrong and come back to right fellowship with Him?”

“Okay. Father, we are both shocked and discouraged by what our sister has done. You are a loving and gracious Father. Lord, we ask for the ministry of the Holy Spirit upon the heart of our sister. Lord, we ask that you enable her to make things right with you. And Father, we are equally concerned about her emotional state.” Daphne began to sob. Bethany, with tears in her eyes, continued the prayer.

“Dear Father…

Chapter Eleven: A ring on my finger

Bethany was enamored with the eloquence and mastery of self of the female presenter. They called her Zillah, of the national headquarters of the City Investment Trust, situated in Cité. Each time their company organized a national conference, Zillah would be a speaker, and Bethany greatly enjoyed her oratorical abilities. She felt proud of her – for what reason, she couldn’t tell. Maybe because she was a young woman like her. And the audience’s nods were enough to say everyone enjoyed not only the facts being given but the way they were presented.

The lady from Beaumont carved a mental scene of how she would compliment the presenter on her performance during recess.

Zillah said something and there was a thunderous applause. While she waited for it to die down, she unconsciously began to caress her ring finger, turning the golden band several times around her finger with her right thumb.

The act caught Bethany’s full attention and a bout of envy and resentment sprang up from within. All admiration evaporated into the air.

That ring meant Zillah – who was a year or more, younger than her – was married. She was newly married.

The Spirit Woman on the inside (in reality, her spirit person. This voice had recently become more and more perceptible) whispered, “those are wrong thoughts, and you know it,” but Bethany indulged them nonetheless.

Her resentment appeared justifiable. She was not certain if Zillah was born-again or not; and even if she were, her zeal for the Lord was non-existent. Bethany had spoken with her the last time they were together about the things of the Lord and from Bethany’s assessment, Zillah didn’t understand the basics of the faith, though she attended church.

What has that got to do with getting married? The Spirit Woman asked. Why are you slow in learning this? Bethany had no answer, remembering Daphne’s words during the similar Mavis case.

But she still had a complaint. Why do the less spiritual persons seem to get blessed more than I? She replied with a question.

Aren’t you blessed, Bethy? The Spirit Woman asked.

Bethany stared at her left hand and imagined how beautiful it would look with that golden band on the ring finger.

No longer aware of her environment, she lifted her hand from the table, held it closer to her chest. She looked admiringly at the invisible ring on it.

I want a ring on my finger. Then the mental picture turned to her wedding day. Mr. Right – tall, dark and handsome– slid the shiny circle of gold down her slender manicured finger, with a broad smile on his face that revealed his impeccable dentition.

Aunt Juddy, the Spirit Woman reminded her.

It was a painful thought.

Aunt Juddy was a maternal aunt, a highly spiritual woman with whom Bethany had stayed during her university days and some years after she graduated. One time, the young girl was grieving over Marc, who had just walked away from her life with no explanation.

Aunt Juddy consoled, pleaded and rebuked for a long time, but her words fell like water on a duck’s back; the broken heart continued to mourn and would refuse refreshment for many a day.

Desperate and exasperated, Aunt Juddy had finally told the grieving girl very bluntly: “Any man can give you a ring, but not every ring giver is a good mate. And that is the last I would say on this issue!”

Any man can give you a ring, but not every ring giver is a good mate, the words rang loudly in the distracted mind, whose gaze was still on the hand, now placed back on the table. When she had recovered from the grief, those words used to sound sweet to her ears. But that was six years ago. Things had changed with the passage of time.

Any man’s ring is sure better than no man’s ring at the end of the day. I want a ring on my finger. The Condemner laughed and replied her wish, you’ll have to buy one and put it there yourself.

Bethany was humiliated by the mockery. She was about to tell the guy off, when a round of applause jarred her back to the conference hall. Zillah was stepping down the podium, amidst a standing ovation.

Bethany felt ashamed; as far as she could see, she alone was seated among the more than fifty participants.

You really do need to be ashamed of yourself, the Condemner agreed. You know well how to judge Samantha for a crime you are guilty of too, only on a smaller scale.

I didn’t judge Samantha! Bethany fired back, but the foul and loud-mouthed guy was not about to be silenced. O yes, you did!

Bethany reasoned it was unimportant at that moment whether she had judged Samantha or whether she had just been shocked at her actions. The panic in her heart was disturbing.

Chapter Twelve: Ms. Loretta of Moyaka

Moyaka, twenty miles northeast of Beaumont city was home to the Home For Girls, a residence for abandoned and vulnerable girls, sited along the Kembi-Bay—Cité highway.

It was 9:25 am one Saturday morning in mid-July when Daphne turned from the highway and into the gate of the large compound.

Two girls – accompanied by a tan German Shepherd that barked fiercely – fought to open the iron gate. Many of the girls came running, eager to bid welcome to their Auntie as the car made its way into the driveway and turned to park from across the buildings.

Daphne picked them up in her arms – they loved her greatly – while Bethany remained in the car until one of the children asked Glory, the dog, to stay away. Then the young lady came out with wide eyes, fully longing to have a feel of the Home.

The three buildings that constituted The Home For Girls were of stone and baked brick, with corrugated green-colored iron roofing, built in a rectangular form. The largest building in the middle was a bungalow, with a vertical attachment that served as the kitchen. The smaller rectangular structures facing each other were respectively, the storehouse and the laundry house.

The lawn was considerably large and contained installations for children games: two slides, four swings and a merry-go-round.

Ms. Loretta came out of the kitchen wearing an apron and a scarf. She was a tall black lady in her late forties. She had a broad smile that said she was more than happy to have the visitors.

The smell of nutmeg greeted them as she took each lady in her embrace. “Daphne, It’s always a blessing to have you around. It’s been a long time.”

“I’ve been very busy. We just finished marking the End of Course Examinations.”

“I forgot what time of the year this is!”

“Meet Bethany, my friend.”

Ms. Loretta welcomed Bethany again. She then took a look at Daphne’s car –the teacher had told her about the purchase but that was the first time she was seeing the car. Ms. Loretta congratulated her while remarking that she would be expecting more frequent visits to the Home. The guardian lady then took them inside the main building.

The large living room was scantily furnished. There was one long dining table, on which lay many different types of books and writing materials. A heap of toys was mounted beside the door. A baby cot stood near the table in which lay fourteen months old Grace, fast asleep.

“Please make yourselves comfortable,” Ms. Loretta said, pulling out two dining chairs from under the table.

Daphne stood beside the cot and remarked about Grace: “She’s grown so much.”

“Yes,” Ms. Loretta agreed, coming closer to have a look at the sleeping baby. “And getting mature too: the crying has really subsided.”

“She’s gotten acquainted with this love-immersed atmosphere. Before she was brought here, she could tell that she was not wanted. Children can detect those emotions.”

“Daphne, you seemed to know much about children.”

“I read it in some book.”

Bethany was seated at the table, already deeply impressed with what she saw.

“Bethany, we’ll have time later to sit and talk. You can make yourself comfortable with some of those children’s books. I have cookies to cut and place in the oven. Please Daphne, come with me.”

Daphne asked if Bethany would rather come with them to the kitchen. She shook her head, wanting to see the pictures on the wall.

Daphne followed Ms. Loretta out into the kitchen and Bethany got up to take a look at the pictures.

There were several photographs –Ms. Loretta’s college years, outreaches with the children, girls who had passed through the Home, visitors both black and white – but the most remarkable photograph was that of a young Loretta Bale with a tiny baby in her arms. The beautiful features of the lady when she was younger hadn’t changed much.

There were also notes and drawings pasted on the lower parts of the walls – evidently done by the children – most of which praised Mummy Loretta. Bethany read them slowly, imbibing not just the beauty of the sentences but also the feelings which such words could have on the giver as well as the receiver.

The readings finished, she moved outside to the lawn and watched the kids on the playground and on the guava trees at the far end of the Home’s borders. She counted them – twenty one in all. Their ages ranged from little Grace in the crib to the oldest girl in the kitchen, who was in her late teens. There was no doubt in their expressions that they were really at home.

Wanting to get engaged with them, Bethany went to the swings and helped push one after the other, as many as would want to get an amount of the new Auntie’s generosity.

An hour later, Ms. Loretta gave the signal and everyone ran to the tap at the laundry area to wash their hands before going into the living room for the cookies. The four baskets of the freshly baked food were instantly emptied and the kids immediately went back to playing.

Ms. Loretta attached Grace, who had been awakened by the noisy assembly, unto her back with a cloth. Calling on the two older girls to get baskets, she led the way behind the building. There was to be found the poultry and pen, garden and maize farm.

Another German Shepherd guarded the area behind the buildings. Hundreds of chicken were in the poultry, with scores of hens having broods. The goats had been tethered down beside the farm. The garden, fenced with sugar cane, had ridges of huckleberry, carrots, tomatoes, pumpkins, eggplants and different spices. The one hectare farm below the garden had maize in full ears.

Ms. Loretta instructed the girls to harvest huckleberry while she took the two ladies down to the maize farm.

“Daphne, thank you once again for the gifts,” Ms. Loretta said. “We were down to our last jug of wheat flour, and maize.”

“It’s my pleasure, Ms. Loretta.”

“So here we are. It’s been a good year. The maize has done well. You pluck the quantity you can carry.”

“You are welcome again Bethany,” Ms. Loretta said, indicating it was a convenient time to talk. “What has Daphne told you about the Home.”

Bethany smiled. Daphne had said much, which she could not certainly recount in a few minutes. “Summarily, she said I will be inspired when I meet you.” She paused before adding, “And I am. The atmosphere here breathes out much holy inspiration.”

“You should come here during the academic period,” Daphne said, “then you can really talk about holy inspiration. Now the kids are much into playing.”

“How long have you been doing this Ms. Loretta?” Bethany had been eager to hear the inspiration behind the creation of the Home from the visionary herself.

“From a very young age I had this desire to help the vulnerable young girl – I hated to see all the cases of abandoned or molested girls and I always fantasized of doing something about it. When I got born-again in secondary school, I would sometimes think about doing something to help the young girl child. But later on – especially as I headed to college – that desire was slipping away when God got my full attention. I read a book by one American lady, Cornelia Anderson –Who Will Go? –and I knew that this is what God wanted me to dedicate my life to. I then majored in Education and later did my Masters in Child Psychology. I have been active for eighteen years.”

Ms. Loretta listened as the stems bowed to the breeze. There was a concern on her face. “I don’t believe I’ve done much, given that length of time. The school project is yet to see the light of day.”

“He who started the good work will complete it,” Daphne reassured. She knew Ms. Loretta was prone to worrying about the likelihood of not accomplishing all that was in her heart before her active years were over.

“Amen,” Ms. Loretta agreed.

“Did you have any objections – maybe from family or friends – when you decided to dedicate your life to the raising of abandoned girls?” Bethany asked. Ms. Loretta’s reply in the negative was surprising until she added what the young lady believed would have been probable.

“But when it became clear that I wasn’t going to settle down with a man and have biological children, my mother and my friends became greatly concerned. You know I’m from this part of the country, though I studied in the U.S. It’s unusual, the pattern of life I have chosen, except when one is a reverend sister. My mother tried to talk me into organizing the Home in such a way that I would have time for myself – that is, for my own family – but my heart was deeply into this. I couldn’t bring myself to agree to her plan. She has come to accept the way I have chosen to live.”

Bethany was not sure her mother would approve of her taking such a route. She too wasn’t sure if she could do that. But she greatly admired Ms. Loretta. “If you were Roman Catholic, you would surely get canonized: St. Loretta of Moyaka.

Everyone laughed. Ms. Loretta humbly received the compliment. Daphne added, “It wouldn’t be undeserved. Many girls that have passed through her hands are a testimony. And many more are sure to do so.”

“What are some of the difficulties you have?” Bethany asked.

Our two most important needs are feeding and tuition for the kids. Some of the girls have left the Home but they are still under our care. And then there is the perennial problem of having regular hands, like a cook or people to work on the farm and with the animals, especially when the kids go to school. I desire, by the grace of God, to construct a school within the premises, not just for the kids in the Home but for children around the neighborhood.”

“Mummy! Mummy!” One of the little girls came calling from the house. “Some persons are here to see you.”

“Tell them I’m coming,” Ms. Loretta replied. “Daphne, Bethany, let’s go see who it is.”

At the gate was a Toyota Hilux. The driver came in and talked with Ms. Loretta. He and the guy with him, together with the women and some of the children took the contents of the pickup into the storehouse. They were bags and cartons of food stuff and toiletries.

Back in the house, Ms. Loretta showed Bethany around. Each of the four bedrooms had three bunk beds, large enough to have two or more children sleep on, with mosquito nets tucked in. There was the clothes room, where all dresses were kept, to avoid littering the bedrooms. Ms. Loretta shared her room with Grace and the very young among the children.

“God has been faithful in guiding and providing. Many times I worry about what remains to be done, but when I consider what has been accomplished so far, I’m just overwhelmed. All these buildings and the furnishings, plus the land, have been made possible by divine provision through people of goodwill. Sometimes it gets tough but God has been good as you can attest to it.”

~~~~

In the evening, Daphne helped bathe some of the little ones and coordinated the bible studies. If Bethany didn’t have Sunday school classes to teach the next morning, they would have spent the night there. Daphne promised to be back sooner than expected. “Ms. Loretta, when I shall return from visiting with my mum, I will come and spend the rest of the holidays with you.”

Before they left, Ms. Loretta showed them the uncompleted manuscript of her next book. A part of it was her life testimony and the inspiration for running the Home. The following portion captured Bethany’s attention:

Some give the impression that a woman’s mission on earth is incomplete without marriage and settling down, and any who fails to attain that perceived standard is sometimes looked upon as a failure or having an incomplete and unsatisfactory life. I feel complete and satisfied just being who God created me to be. I wonder if I would be happy doing something else than seeing the lives of these young girls transformed by the love of God – right before my very own eyes!

There was awe in the car on the way home. “You were right,” Bethany confessed. “Ms. Loretta is an inspiration. I sincerely want to get married, but she’s made me see life from a whole new perspective.”

Daphne concurred and pushed on the accelerator; the evening was far gone.

Chapter Thirteen: Flying on Eagles’ Wings

For some months after the visit to the Home, Bethany didn’t visit anywhere apart from work and church. Ms. Loretta’s story had left an indelible mark on her and she felt she needed to get her life going on the right track. She had come to love the children placed under her, but deep within there was that nagging feeling that said her life ought to be taking a different focus. There were things she believed the Lord had told her years back about the music ministry but she had just kept them on hold –or willing to abandon them when Barry came around. She had said to herself that when she would get married and settle down, she would then focus on God’s specific will for her life.

She had been comfortable with her position as the unofficial music minister at the church, and the events of the past eight months having increased the burning desire to fulfill her first dream, had caused her to further push the vision to an unknown future time.

She was still hurt from the ill treatment from Pastor Felicity, but she was resolving to not let the pastor’s nor anyone else’s opinion hinder her from going all the way with what God wanted her to do.

At work, she did not go to the coffee room. She only talked when absolutely necessary. As she stayed alone, contemplating and praying, she became convinced that it was time to step into what God wanted her to do.

But there were apparent difficulties. Every female was under the spiritual leadership of the female Pastor. The young lady severally considered leaving the church to another one, but she couldn’t override the refusal in her spirit against such a decision.

She decided to go meet Pastor Felicity. If the spiritual leader would support her decision to get going with the vision God had put in her heart, she was willing to stay in the position in church as a kids’ teacher, since it would not truly hinder her from being a singer.

With apprehension, she knocked on Pastor Felicity’s office, after having secured an appointment with her through the church secretary.

“You’ve been quite calm,” Pastor Felicity greeted. “I hope all is well.”

“All is well, Pastor Felicity.”

Pastor had a smile on her face as she swung from side to side on her office chair. “When single ladies ask for appointment with me, I suspect greatly there’s some guy who’s got their heart kicking.”

The statement made Bethany’s courage begin to fail. What she had in mind was far from what her Pastor was thinking about.

“So tell me, Bethany, is he from our church or another. Do I know him?”

Bethany cleared her throat. She had come, she must talk. “Pastor Felicity, it’s not about a relationship.”

A silence followed. Pastor Felicity rested her elbows on the sides of her chair, and clasped her hands on her tummy, waiting for Bethany to talk. The young lady fixed her gaze on her own fingernails. What is wrong with you Bethany? You are convinced this is what you should do. Just say it!

Pastor Felicity listened as Bethany explained how she felt God was leading her to focus on His specific will for her life, and that she was convinced it was time for her to start going that direction.

“Bethany, is this just a tactic you are employing to run away from the children’s church back to the choir or you are really sure this is what God wants for you?”

“Pastor Felicity, I don’t mind remaining with the kids.”

“And you are sure you can handle the public reactions to your ministry? ‘Cause it’s not just about having a good and anointed voice. You need spiritual stamina to face the challenges of public ministry.”

Pastor Felicity was right. Bethany had read Charlette’s book, The Prepared Music Minister. The celebrated singer wrote about the challenges of the ministry and how to get prepared to face them and overcome.

Bethany didn’t respond to the question. Saying yes, might be misunderstood as being presumptuous. Pastor Felicity judged the silence differently.

“Bethany, I don’t think you are ready. Concentrate on your present assignment for a while.”

“Pastor Felicity, I think (—)”

“All right. This is what we will do for now. You bring all the songs you’ve written and I’ll screen the theology. You don’t want to go out there and sing error, do you? But in the meantime, you cool down. I am ready to work with you.”

Bethany left the office confused and having mixed emotions which she could not understand. Bringing her songs to Pastor Felicity was not a problem. The problem was that the songs may remain in that office for many more years to come. Dear Lord, I don’t know what to do now.

She never had to bring the songs because the Pastor couple received a transfer notice that week. They were to move in a fortnight, in time to get their kids ready for school in the new location.

No one could be more excited for the news than Bethany. She immediately met with the children’s Pastor and he happily let her go back to the choir.

The new Pastor’s wife was not a minister but she offered herself as a spiritual mentor to the aspiring artiste.

~~~~

For many months Bethany worked tirelessly with the Touchstone Music^®^ studios in the city to produce her debut album. Daphne gave her all the support which only a Big sis can give, opting to be her executive producer with no expectation of a reward or gain. She called it a freewill offering unto the Lord.

“God rightly brought you into my life,” Bethany said. “You are such a wonderful person.”

“One thing I have realized, which I have come to accept as my spiritual gift or call of God if you want me to put it that way, is that I love helping and encouraging others. When I see someone fulfilling God’s purpose, it’s like I should give in all I can to help them realize that purpose.”

“That is true,” Bethany agreed. “Sometimes what we think is our personality is actually God’s calling for us.”

“So dear, forget about the money and concentrate on your work.”

It was a great work, receiving a stunning reception upon release. The young lady immediately became busy, going beyond the bounds of the city to include other cities and towns.

The two individuals she paid special homage to, besides Daphne –for that was her life icon – were Ms. Loretta and Nancy Doga.

When she sat at the long table in the living room at the Home, she still savored the memories of her first impression a year back. Whatever she could offer seemed not enough to say thank you and to appreciate the impact of a simple but powerful woman who had laid down her life, to cater for vulnerable and abandoned girls.

“St. Loretta,” Bethany said “your impact goes way beyond changing the lives of these girls. You might not have known it, but your life was the last influence God used to show me that I was neglecting what He wanted me to do, and that He had all I needed to get going. Thank you for your obedience to God.”

“Bethy, I appreciate your coming and your words. Someone once told me that we should always look at passion and purpose beyond simply getting satisfaction from what we do. He told me that our decision to go ahead with what God tells us gives an encouragement to other people, who might have buried their dreams, to go dig them up and pursue their fulfillment. Little did I know when he said that, that I would one day meet you and have you say the same – not by your words but by your actions.”

~~~~

Nancy, seven months gone into her first pregnancy, and David were delighted to have the singer come spend a week with them at Beachmond, the first time after the wedding. Within the week, Bethany ministered at the church the Doga’s attended.

David took the two friends for sight-seeing. The first stop was at a zoo, which kept several species of wildlife. The next stop was at the national museum.

One evening, they visited the sandy beach of the Great Lake to eat large fishes and bobolo while enjoying the breeze from across the sea.

Bethany thought to herself: I have lived for four years in Beaumont, just eleven miles away from Beachmond, a stone’s throw from these touristic sites, but I had been so engulfed by the cares and pressures of my life that it had never crossed my mind to see some of these features that bring whites and other nationals from overseas. She expressed her gratitude to Nancy and David.

Before she left for Beaumont, Nancy spoke to her, as usual, from a sister’s heart. “I can see you have blossomed. And I know it’s not just about the music and what comes from there. It has to do with the satisfaction that comes from being your true self as God desires. The stress is gone.”

Bethany just kept staring at her friend’s face. She had understood by experience the truth in those words. Once again, she admired her dear friend. Wisdom, she told herself, is not always found with the grey-haired.

Nancy continued. “I have not stopped praying for you. I want to see it happen soon.”

Bethany understood what she meant. She responded with a simple smile.

Chapter Fourteen: A Nervous Breakdown

Samantha had given birth to a baby boy. Neither Daphne nor Bethany saw her for a very long time, each busy in their respective corners. Mavis and her husband had relocated to Cité a few months after the wedding.

One Saturday morning, Daphne decided to pay a visit to Samantha. Though she had sinned and had been unrepentant, Daphne believed the lady still needed their love and attention.

She was met at the door by Samantha’s mother. The sight at the apartment was depressing. Samantha lay on the couch, half-awake, frail-looking and with tears’ track on the sides of her face. The ten month old boy was on his feet, leaning on the couch, crying and furiously pulling at his mother’s hair and blouse. His bottom was bare, with most of his buttocks covered in severe burns on which an ointment was applied.

Daphne didn’t know what to make of the situation. She took the child up and lay on her laps with his stomach down. The little fellow wriggled until she put him down to be with his mother.

Daphne tried talking with Samantha, but the sick lady could hardly utter a word. After several minutes, Samantha’s mother explained.

“She suffered post-partum depression, which was resolved and she went back to work while keeping the child at a Day Care center. I returned home to Belle-Ville. I would call often to check on her and the baby. Three days ago, I called her number and she didn’t pick the call. I then called the neighbor and the lady said she’d heard the baby cry since morning but because he usually cries a lot, she hadn’t paid attention. She was out and would only check later when she returned. I became afraid that something bad might have happened to her, so I left to come immediately. I arrived here two days ago. The baby had been in nappies unchanged for days. That’s why you see those burns.”

Baby Samantha didn’t care a thing about his mother’s condition. He continued to cry and pull her blouse with all his strength.

“The doctors say she has a nervous breakdown. They have put her on anti-depressants. She’s also on anti-hypertensives. If not for the checkup scheduled for next week, we would have left. I want to take her home with me.”

“Why didn’t they keep her in the hospital for observation?”

Samantha’s mother replied that she had declined the option because of the baby’s condition. “He’s off the breast because of the medication, he cries a lot, and with movements to and fro the hospital coupled with the soreness of the burns, I could never cope. I am sixty-two. He’s freer here.”

“Has anyone been here to see her?”

“Yes. A colleague left here just before you came.”

Daphne felt bad when she discovered that no member of Samantha’s church had been there. But she couldn’t verbalize her anger at their lack of concern. She too was guilty of the same attitude. Ever since the day Samantha told them she was pregnant, they’d never checked on her again, even though she, Daphne, had been concerned about the pregnant woman’s emotional state. She had prayed for her to the point of weeping. But after that incident, over a year ago, she had not come checking. She’d only seen Samantha once, in the market, and from a distance.

She decided to redeem herself. “Mum, please allow me take her to the hospital. I will stay with her while you take care of the baby here.”

“O Daphne, do you have to do that?”

“Yes, mum. I’d love to. Samantha needs to be in the hospital.”

“Thank you so much. God bless you.”

~~~~

From the hospital, Daphne called the church secretary at the Springs of Joy Chapel to inform the church of their erstwhile member’s condition.

By Tuesday the following week, when no one showed up, she decided to visit the church office herself. Pastor Luke admitted he was informed by the secretary but the news was not welcome by the church because Samantha was reaping exactly what she had sown.

“Here at the Springs, we do not condone sin,” he said calmly. “If the church suddenly jumps up because Samantha –who hasn’t repented of her evil, and hasn’t been to church for more than a year and half–if we suddenly get worried that she is sick, we are endorsing her act. How then would our action be a deterrent to others who may want to emulate her?”

An extended hand of love towards the errant and emotionally-needy lady, Daphne said was what she was asking for, not a compromise of standards. The guilt, feelings of shame, hopelessness and worthlessness which Samantha was experiencing should not be overlooked by a church which she had faithfully served for seven years.

“You may have a point Daphne,” the Pastor replied, “but still, the blame must go where it belongs. Let her feel the pain of her actions. In that way, it would not only deter her next time, but others would learn from her experience. She was mature enough to know the spiritual and physical consequences of her actions. She was not the only single lady in the church. Her first husband is the Lord, not the church.”

“Pastor Luke (—)”

“Sister Daphne, the church needs to show love, but when someone like Samantha, knowingly commits sin, what do you expect the church to do? Give a blind eye? There’s much talking these days about grace and liberty in Christ. But we need to emphasize the fear of the Lord too.”

“Pastor Luke, Samantha is sick, not just in her body and mind. Spiritually, she is also sick. She regrets her act, but she is being overwhelmed with negative emotions. If she’s not coming back, the church can go look for her. Please, make the healing process easier for her.”

“Why? Because she now has her baby, mission accomplished? So we can restore her to fellowship and everything continues from where it stopped. What is she regretting –the sickness or the baby? I know it is hard, but think of the long term repercussions on the church.”

“Pastor, I am born-again. I do not condone sin. But I equally know the situation Samantha is facing right now. It’s not like the church was never going to reinstate her to fellowship?”

“The church is ready to reinstate her into the family, but first, let the prodigal daughter come home and acknowledge she sinned. This issue is already a blot on our witness concerning the standards of God’s Word.

“I repeat it, it would not be right for the church to go looking for Samantha. She was not a baby in the Lord. Someone born-again for many years should have had the opportunities to grow and mature.”

“Pastor, I accept that the prodigal daughter needs to come home, but the Lord also talks of the shepherd going to seek the lost sheep. I admit I am asking for too much, but I believe Samantha would believe the Springs family still cares about her. You might not know exactly what that would mean to her.”

“Sister Daphne, this is a complicated situation. If you have me emphasizing and maintaining our indifference to Samantha’s situation, it is because of the environment we have today. We can’t just have people sin blatantly, just so they can turn around to confess their sin. Where is the fear of the Lord?

“When she stopped coming to church, I personally went there, with my wife. You needed to hear what came out through Samantha’s lips. It was nothing short of disgusting.”

Pastor Luke and Daphne were not able to find a point of compromise. Each person’s views seemed right from their own perspective.

“We would reinstate her into the family, but first she must come acknowledging her sin.” Pastor concluded. He, however, promised to table the issue to his elders for their final decision. Samantha was in the hospital for a total of ten days but the church did not come.

~~~~

Before she was discharged from the hospital, Samantha agreed with her mother that it was good to go home and recuperate. She was feeling better, but was very aware that she needed a longer time for complete healing.

Daphne and Bethany were present to bid her farewell. Samantha was grateful for their moral support and asked for their continued prayers.

“I still have a long way to fully recuperate, but I have decided that no matter how long it takes, I will heal. I have to get over the stress. I have to get things right with the Lord. That will go beyond just saying ‘Lord forgive me for disobeying your word’. There was a long route I took to arrive where I am today.”

She paused for the emotions to calm down. “God’s been merciful and I’m grateful. I want to walk with him again, until His opinion becomes all that matters to me. Please, pray for me.”

“We will pray for you,” Daphne said. “We are in this journey together with you.”

“I don’t have financial difficulties, so I am not in a hurry to look for another job. After I’m stable, I’ll decide on what next to do. Mum says I should take legal actions against the emotional and psychological harassment at work, but for the moment I just want to heal first.

“You are right,” Daphne agreed.

“Please do pray for me,” Samantha again requested. “And don’t fail to visit when possible. Daphne, you are a teacher, teachers have more free time. And Bethy, when a program brings you to the Belle-Ville area, know that’s also an invitation from Samantha.” She smiled and shed tears simultaneously.

Daphne and Bethany accepted the invitation.

“I’ll certainly come around when I’m stable. I don’t know if I should see the church at the moment.”

“I did tell Pastor Luke that you regret your sin.”

“You did?” Samantha was shocked. “What did he say?”

“They still feel bad.”

“I don’t know for how long I’d be gone. Maybe I should just talk with Pastor Luke before I leave.”

“I don’t think that is necessary, Samantha.”

“Daphne, I think I should do exactly that.”

“No, Samantha, the church should have come looking for you. I told them you were not in good shape. They ought to have walked in love.”

Bethany, silent for the most part, however thought if Samantha wanted to talk with her pastor, it was the right thing to do.

“Big sis, I agree with you that the church should have walked in more love, but notwithstanding, Samantha also has a part to play, given the influence she had in the church.”

They agreed that since Samantha was to travel with the night train, it was possible for her to see the pastor.

Daphne drove them to the Springs, but refused to go into the building. She remained in the car while Bethany walked with Samantha to the pastor’s office. Daphne was still convinced that Samantha should not have gone to see the pastor.

The appointment which was intended to last for a short time ended up going beyond two hours. Samantha wept for a long time before recovering composure and being able to talk with Pastor Luke. He counseled and prayed with her. He also gave her some materials and referred her to some counseling services she could consult in Belle-Ville.

Samantha came out of the building feeling more relieved after having offloaded some of the guilt that was consuming her. She was more than determined to walk the route to healing and emotional stability, no matter how long, and whatever it was going to take. She told herself that if nobody came to her rescue, she was still ready take hold of God, even if it meant longer time to stabilize. She was not going to live one more day accepting those destructive thoughts and feelings.

Chapter Fifteen: It’s him my heart loves

“Your music is good.” The statement came from someone Bethany least expected to get a commendation from.

“Thank you, Kaleb”

Kaleb and Bethany had a bit of conversation in front of her booth. The comedian was not as jovial as he used to be. He complained bitterly about the lack of promotion in the job. He told Bethany that he desired a change of job but the prospects didn’t look good.

But something seemed to disturb his mind, more serious than the lack of promotion or the impossibility of changing jobs. He asked for a more convenient time, when he could tell her what was disturbing his mind.

When the others started going home, Bethany joined Kaleb in the coffee break room. Kaleb had the most serious face Bethany had ever seen on him.

“I took the CD you gave me – it had lain in my locker for a month – and I played it and the effect it had on me was so…I don’t know what to say. But I’ve not been my usual self.”

Bethany became suspicious of his motives. She however, let him talk.

“I know I’m one of those who have mocked anything God, and when you released your album, I said ‘it’s just another way to look for extra income’. But Bethany, after listening to you, I feel like what you have is real. You are passionate about your God.”

Bethany was quiet. Inwardly, she was asking God if there was any hidden agenda in all that Kaleb was telling her. What should she tell him? The opportunities she had had to talk about Jesus with him, she had explained to him the way of salvation, and he had mocked at the fairy-tale.

“Better, can you die for what you belief about God and Jesus.”

Bethany nodded. “I know it to be truth.”

“I want to become a Christian, and if I find it not real, I’ll take your life for it.” That was the first humor-filled sentence he had said that entire day, but it was with seriousness.

Bethany did not show any signs of rejoicing. Kaleb seemed serious, but because of his former desire for her, she found it somehow difficult to believe his sincerity. She prayed with him and told him she would direct him to someone in church who would better work with him to ensure he understood the basics of the faith and how to mature in his relationship with the Lord.”

~~~~

A month after Samantha’s departure, Daphne and Bethany were in the latter’s house where the singer was recounting some of her recent undertakings, opportunities and the single she was working on with her producer. Her friend was not paying full attention.

“I may be going full time soon,” Bethany said. “I am already having problems at the jobsite for frequent applications for days off.”

Daphne nodded and replied, “Hmm.” Bethany was not happy and asked her the reason for the lack of interest in the conversation.

“I’m expecting someone,” Daphne replied. “I hope he comes.”

Daphne had recently caught the attention of one business man in the city. Bethany wondered why Daphne would want to see him in her friend’s place instead. “Does Ful know this place?” she asked.

“No, he doesn’t, and it’s not him whom I’m expecting. This one is a pastor.”

Bethany gave her the look, and Daphne, while laughing, defended herself against the accusation. “Bethy, I cannot date two men at a time.”

She further explained. “I didn’t tell you about him because, though the guy is greatly interested in you, he’s one of those guys that aren’t just bold and upfront. So if I had told you that someone was interested in you and then he finally didn’t show up…I’d (—)”

“But you’ve finally told me.”

“‘cause I’m finally sure he’ll come.”

“Do I know him?”

“I don’t think so. The story is amusing. He’s a friend to the husband of the cousin of my colleague who was sick.”

“Big sis, are you okay?”

“Very fine. When some of the staff went to visit our sick colleague at home, this pastor came to pray. He had been invited by the cousin of our colleague. After the prayer, we were just discussing when the conversation turned to one of your songs. I then mentioned the fact that we basically live together. Afterwards, he took my number and called me later on. We began discussions –about you.”

Daphne laughed for many seconds before continuing. “He asked a lot about you. I have no doubt you will accept him.”

“Making the decision for me already?”

“Bethy, I know you. Sincerely I think he’s a good guy. If he comes, please consider him. He’s one of the pastors at Grace Tabernacle in Maylan. It’s not far; I won’t miss you.”

“Which part of the country does he come from?”

“Belle-Ville, northeast.”

There was a knock on the door. Bethany’s heart started beating rapidly. Would she like the guy? What if he wasn’t passable?

She stood up to ready herself while Daphne opened the door. She was relieved when the passable, though a bit slim, average height, dark man walked in.

Bethany immediately got warm fuzzies. At that exact moment she fantasized about him coming home after a tiring day to receive comfort in her warm embrace. No, girl, cool down. You just met. You don’t know him yet. She had reason to cool down. She had had warm fuzzies too for others. She knew better. Feelings cannot be trusted.

Daphne introduced them to each other. Patrick extended his right hand and when Bethany received it, he held her hand for several seconds, bringing the other hand to lay on top of their clasp.

The presence of Daphne made the initial rencontre less awkward. Patrick was a little shy –some men are, on their first meeting the lady they’d been secretly admiring. But he also had a sense of humor. When Bethany asked him what he prefers to drink, he replied, “Only give me water. The Master already showed us that we can have it turned to wine.”

Beneath the humor was really a desire to get the nervous feeling in his stomach to disappear.

Bethany enjoyed his smile and thought it was familiar to someone’s she knew but could not easily figure out who it was. When he started talking about his family, she recognized the smile. Her joy immediately turned into sadness. Patrick was the third child of their family and last sibling after pastor Felicity, yes, that very Pastor Felicity who had co-pastored The Grace Tabernacle, Beaumont, with her husband, Pastor Carl.

Lord, where did I go wrong that I should merit unfortunate relationship? Why can’t the right person just come into my life? Is this some sort of hex or what? I would have nothing, absolutely nothing to do with Pastor Felicity!

Patrick continued to smile as he talked. He didn’t notice that the ladies were frozen. The buried memories of the malicious rumor were dug up.

Bethany found no reason to turn down the opportunity of knowing Patrick more. She had no objection to give him.

After he left, she however made it clear to Daphne that it was useless pursuing a relationship with Patrick – she didn’t want to meet Felicity, and Felicity, undoubtedly would not accept her for his brother.

“Bethy, making a decision now when Patrick hasn’t even proposed is not wise. The memories are painful but we can learn to forgive and move on.”

“Big sis, I don’t have any grudge against Pastor Felicity, yet the thought of her being Patrick’s elder sister –and consequently my potential sister-in-law, is repulsive.”

Bethany knew Patrick was going to get her sister’s opinion about marrying her and it was not going to be positive. The said sister wielded a lot of influence over her husband; it would not be different with her own blood brother.

“Why didn’t this even come out before now? You said you guys have been discussing. You should have known.”

Daphne admitted that Patrick’s relationship to Pastor Felicity never came up during their discussions. She too was surprised why he had not mentioned it. Daphne however speculated that may be it was God’s arrangement. She too would have been reluctant about bringing them together had the information come up before. Bethany did not believe that explanation.

“No!” she said half to herself, and to Daphne. “I won’t give Pastor Felicity another opportunity to hurt me. She’s capable of standing in the way of Patrick, just to hurt me.”

Daphne came and made her sit down. With a look that said she would not tolerate fear, she pointed a finger at her and said: “you will date Patrick, and you will marry Patrick. Period. Give me your two hands. Let us pray.”

“Heavenly Father, we thank you for bringing Patrick and Bethany together. I pray for your peace to reign in their hearts. I pray you take away fear, and fill their hearts with courage to face the challenges that lie ahead of them. Lord, I ask that you go before them and make the rough way smooth, make the crooked paths straight, level the mountains and bring up the valleys. In Jesus Name, Amen! And Amen!”

Bethany gave a formal ‘Amen’, looking at Daphne’s face with amazement.

~~~~

Kaleb was still jovial, but he had a song on his lips instead of much talking. He looked changed. He did not go for coffee-break anymore.

“I think water is enough for now,” he told Bethany, but she was in disbelief.

Dilan, the brother in church, was working with Kaleb. He testified to Bethany that he believed her co-worker was genuine in his confession of Jesus-Christ as Lord.

Bethany was happy, but she had that little fear that Kaleb might soon begin to talk about relationship with her. She feared for two reasons. He was a new Christian, having been vocal in the past about being agnostic and borderline atheist. He needed time to mature in his faith. Secondly, she didn’t like him. She thought about him, and believed that even if he was fully mature as a Christian, he was not the one for her. In any of these cases, if he approached her about relationship, she was going to turn down his request. She earnestly prayed that he would not. She did not want to go through any of those awkward moments. It was easier rejecting him when he was not yet Christian. She believed there was no way to turn down a brother’s request without feeling hurt too, seeing his disappointment. Each time, when there was free time, he would come around her booth and they would discuss spiritual matters. How awkward it would be, she thought, if he asked her out. She would not accept, and the relationship would be strained. But will the relationship with Patrick work. She liked him, but Pastor Felicity? In-law relationship with such a person would certainly be tough.

~~~~

Patrick, having made his interest in pursuing a relationship with Bethany known, showed his desire to make the relationship work with a lot of enthusiasm. He called for long hours every day, and came visiting every weekend.

Bethany saw her own resistance give way – The more they talked about their lives, and the things they believed God wanted them to do, before she could realize what was going on, the more she desired to be his.

Patrick was different from his sister. He not only had a deep understanding of Scriptures, he had the fear of the Lord. He made sure that they were never in a compromising position. He treasured Bethany, and would never act in a way that said he saw her body as a mere object to satisfy his sexual desires. It was hard on them both, each one having waited for the right person for long periods. Yet Patrick took the bold step to make sure that their relationship honored God. He preferred long hours on the phone. Daphne played the part of a chaperone several times.

Bethany however, was still uncomfortable without having ascertained Pastor Felicity’s thoughts about the prospective marriage. She asked Patrick several times if he thought his family –and by that, she meant Pastor Felicity –would accept her. Patrick became suspicious of her frequent inquiries: his sister and brother-in-law had been Bethany’s pastors. Was there ever a problem?

~~~~

When Kaleb came into the building, Bethany was already in her booth. There were people around, so the two couldn’t talk conveniently. He told her that he had something to tell her. Bethany felt weak that entire early morning. She loved Kaleb only as a brother, and she prayed he would not tell her anything about being interested in her.

During coffee break, he came to her booth. He had a big smile, and his face radiated joy and happiness.

“God is not only real, He is good. I have two things to tell you. One I have been longing to tell you for some time now but I will begin with the second one. Father, please don’t let him say it. Please, Lord!

“I got a new job, in Cité!” Kaleb whispered. “Pays almost double!”

“Wow! Praise the Lord! That is wonderful news”

“I handed my resignation notice this morning. I have just one month to be here.”

They both rejoiced and Bethany waited to hear the next thing. Father, please, don’t let him say it. It would hurt him when I turn him down.

“I hope you won’t forget to invite me to the big occasion.”

“What?”

“The wedding. Some weeks ago, I dreamt you were getting married. The man you were getting married to was called Patrick.”

Bethany got up from her seat. She was surprised. Kaleb continued. “I had wanted to tell you about it since, but I was scared it might not be true, but somehow, in my spirit I think it is true. That is why I decided to tell you. Maybe you are in a relationship with someone called Patrick, or maybe God wants you to know that the man you are waiting for is called Patrick.”

Bethany felt terribly relieved. She told Kaleb about her relationship with Patrick. Kaleb was encouraged to hear his dream confirmed.

They continued talking, with Bethany encouraging him to not let the ‘busy-ness’ of the large city he would be leaving for take him away from God. Kaleb emphatically replied he was not going to let that happen. He’d already asked Dilan about the church in Cité.

“Bethy, continue with the work God has given you. Do it with all your heart. There are many more like me who would only be invited to the Light through your music. Don’t lower the level of your commitment. Take it higher.”

Bethany was wowed and encouraged.

~~~~

Patrick was madly in love with Bethany, so much so that when he called to ask his sister’s opinion about Bethany, and being fearful of receiving a negative report, he changed his mind and only told her that he would be bringing someone to introduce to them. Pastor Felicity understood what that someone meant, and excitedly wished them a hearty Godspeed.

Bethany asked for Daphne’s continued prayers while she and Patrick travelled to Kembi-Bay, where Pastor Felicity and the husband pastored the Grace Tabernacle. She avowed her love for Patrick, and wanted a smooth introduction to her future sister-in-law.

Unfortunately, the Pastor couple was not in when they arrived the parsonage that early afternoon. Pastors Carl and Felicity were attending an inter-denominational meeting.

Their absence made Bethany more anxious. Patrick fell asleep on the couch. Bethany talked with the children but anxiously waited for their parent’s return.

“Auntie Bethany,” thirteen year old Jemima said, “are you going to be our auntie?”

“But Jemima, I’m already your auntie.”

“No, I don’t mean church auntie. Are you going to marry Uncle Patrick?”

“Jemima, Pastor Patrick is my friend.”

“What kind of friend?”

“Don’t mind her, Auntie Bethany,” Ruth, the twenty years old eldest child, said. “She’s a talkative girl.”

The sound of the car in the driveway was heard. Bethany did all she could do to hide her anxiety from Patrick who was awakened by Jemima. Lord, please intervene; the moment has come.”

Jemima immediately went outside. Her mother had hardly come out of the car when she informed her that Auntie Bethany was in the living room with Uncle Patrick.

“I think Uncle Patrick is going to marry her,” she excitedly informed her mother.

“Which Bethany are you talking about?” Pastor Felicity asked

“The one who used to teach the children in Beaumont church,” Jemima replied.

Ruth added, “The musician.”

“Let’s get inside,” their mother instructed. It is needless to say it: she was totally shocked.

Patrick and Bethany stood up as they came in. Very strangely enough, Felicity embraced her would-be sister-in-law, exhibiting no sign of shock or hate in her face.

“Patrick, so that someone was Bethany,” Pastor Carl asked, gripping his hand warmly. “You are welcome.”

“I am as shocked as you are, honey,” his wife stated. “All the same you are all welcome. Bethany, your music is great. I must tell the truth: you are doing wonderfully.”

“Thank you, Pastor Felicity, I appreciate.” Bethany actually felt anxiety leave her as if a heavy cloak was being taken off her shoulders.

“Bethany, you are welcome,” Pastor Carl said. “So you caught the attention of my brother-in-law?” Everyone laughed, including Pastor Felicity.

“Let her have a taste of the life of a pastor’s wife”, Pastor Felicity said. “Welcome, sister-in-law-to-be and fellow pastor’s wife.” Pastor Felicity embraced Bethany firmly.

As they were treated to a three course meal that evening, Bethany looked forward to the private meeting, in which she expected Pastor Felicity to profusely apologize for her past actions and words. She must not have felt comfortable to do that in the presence of everyone.

The meeting did come but not the apology. The cleric was happy her brother went for such a talented and devoted singer. And very strangely again, she rationalized her past actions.

“You know, as a Pastor’s wife, you need experience too in different areas. You can’t be lopsided. I am sure your time with the kids was a valuable experience for you. That kind of opportunity teaches one about patience in dealing with people we would normally not like to be with.”

What about the gay accusation? What did that teach me? For God’s sake, I forgave you. For Patrick’s sake, I forgive you. Thank you, Jesus! This hurdle has been dealt with.

~~~~

Chapter Sixteen: The ring on my finger

Patrick and Bethany’s next trip took them Belle-Ville to meet their respective parents. Bethany had not been nervous about informing her parents by phone. If they had been willing to accept Barry, they would not have issues with Patrick since he was from the same region as them.

Her mum and dad, but especially her mum, were very happy to see Patrick. Mum immediately took a liking for the man. She narrated to her daughter how one of how friends had wearied her with the question ‘is Bethany never going to get married?’

“In the nights, I would lie on my bed, and ask God, ‘Lord, what is wrong with my daughter. Isn’t she beautiful? Isn’t she a good girl? How can her junior ones all be married and she is just there as if no man is interested in her’?”

Bethany replied with a smile.

“My dear child, I pray that everything goes well. When you called us some time ago and asked if we could allow you to go with someone out of our region, we accepted, but afterwards we never knew exactly what happened that the man did not come to see us.”

“Mum, I’m sorry. It was such a shameful thing that I could not bring myself to tell you at that time. The man was a scammer. God saved me from disgrace.”

With the blessing of their parents bagged, the next stop was at the office of the pastor of The Grace Tabernacle, Beaumont. Pastor Roy-Leslie Mona accepted to do their premarital counseling

~~~~

The next day after the meeting with the Pastor, an urgent call from Daphne made Bethany to abandon the food she was cooking. She immediately rushed to see her. To her utter surprise and delight she met Patrick there. She did not expect to see him in Beaumont that day. He was in a suit and shirt. Her mind quickly discerned why he had come.

Daphne got up from where she was seated, and grabbed the camera on the table. Patrick sent his hand into his jacket pocket and brought out the ring. Bethany cross both hands and caressed her arms as Patrick presented his love speech.

“Bethy, I don’t know if I am the man you truly deserve. Five months may seem to be a short time, but I must confess that ever since you came into my life, things have changed in me. For the better. I thought I was intimate with God, and I had become somewhat complacent. With your desire for more intimacy with Him, and with the ministries God has entrusted us with, I feel more compelled to get more intimate with Him. I want to be the godly man God wants me to be. As the spiritual leader of the home we shall build together, I desire and ask God’s help so that I may be able to lead my family in and with the fear of the Lord. Bethy dear, would you join me in this journey?”

Bethany stopped caressing her arms. She quietly stretched forth her left hand. Patrick got down on his knee and slid the golden band on the finger. Then she noticed that her finger was not too neat. That afternoon, she had picked huckleberry leaves. The deep-green colored vegetable usually leaves marks on the nails that need thorough washing to get them off. Her friend had called at the moment when she had placed the pot on the fire. She had not taken the time to brush her nails.

Patrick stood up on his feet and took her into his warm embrace for a several seconds before releasing his grip.

“Looks like someone just said their marriage vows,” Daphne joked.

“I thought so too,” Bethany joined in the laughter.

“It’s better that way,” Patrick said. “On the wedding day, I might be too nervous that I may become tongue-tied.”

“Bethy, you have a comedian in your hands,” Daphne laughed.

After much laughter, Daphne took still photos. She had recorded the proposal.

“Big sis, you should have hinted me. Take a look at my fingernails. I had not yet washed them after picking vegetables.”

“I guess God arranged it in such a way that I should see the nails in the state I will constantly find them. That’s because huckleberry and fufu-corn is my favorite dish.”

Bethany laughed. She was grateful for his comments.

~~~~

Bethany lay on the bed, her chest supported by the pillow. She stared at the ring on her finger. It was not as beautiful as a certain ring she had been offered two years back. Barry’s ring. Patrick’s ring was plain: no precious stone, and no inscription. It was just a symbol.

Yet that symbol represented a love she could trust. That symbol represented a love that was not out to deceive her with the said symbol. That symbol stemmed from the love of a man she could trust would nurture and lead a godly home. A love that was ready to encourage her to boldly pursue her calling.

She remembered how she had cried, when God in His mercy and love, had robbed her of the joy of receiving that ring with a large diamond stone. There was someone for her, yet she had allowed the desire for a golden band on her finger to almost stop her from ever meeting that godly man. She had let the desire for the band make her to be envious and jealous of others, nurturing evil thoughts about them and accusing God of being unfair.

She had fantasized about a ring being slid down her manicured finger. Finally it was pushed down a not-too-neat finger. Yet the giver of the ring loved it. Aunt Juddy was right after all. She needed to inform and engage her in prayer for the success of the wedding which was planned for a month’s time.

As she stared again at the golden object, it looked more beautiful. She saw not the ring anymore. She saw her love for Patrick and his love for her. And the children they would bring up. There and then, she made up her mind to do whatever it would take to have a successful marriage.

Now I know what to teach my children, especially my girl child. My children shall not have to go through the same mistakes I made. A godly man – and woman, is worth more than a piece of gold, fashioned into a circle, decorated or not.

Slowly, she got up from her position, and knelt beside the bed.

“Lord, thank you.” She remained kneeling for several minutes. No other word came out from her lips. God, who sees the thoughts of man’s heart, heard the gratitude of her thoughts and emotions.

Cupping her face in her hands, she sobbed profusely for the next several minutes.

~~~~

Bethany felt bad that Daphne was her maid. But the good-hearted lady felt it was no shame or humiliation for her. She was happy for her friend and sister, the one with whom she had endured a good dose of the challenges of the single life.

“I can’t say thank you enough,” Bethany did not restrain the tears, even though the makeup was done and she was in her white gown, waiting for the driver to take her to church. “For all you’ve taught me and how much you’ve influenced my life positively, the Lord will reward you. I truly wish you were the one getting married.”

“I’m glad you won’t be leaving Beaumont. It’s amazing the way God works.”

“Daphne, I just want to let you know that you are someone special. You are precious, treasured, Gold of Ophir, my one (—)’.

“Gold of Ophir?” Daphne asked with surprise. “What does that mean?”

The driver gave signal that he was ready. Bethany turned and whispered to her friend, “I’ll explain the meaning after the honeymoon. Let’s go.”

The ceremony took place at the Grace Tabernacle, Maylan. It was Patrick’s last week in the church. Two weeks back, he had received his transfer to the Beaumont congregation. Since Pastors Carl and Felicity left, only one pastor was brought in, and the church desperately needed another pastor. The children’s Pastor had been constantly filling in the vacant position.

Among the many present at the wedding, including Kaleb, Nancy and Mavis, was Mrs. Gotlieb who sat next to her bosom friend. Pastor Carl was the officiating minister. Pastor Felicity commented on the bride’s beautiful look, saying how lucky her brother was to have fallen for her.

Mrs. Gotlieb whispered into her ear, “it now appears to me that you should have taken Carl’s words about her being a Pastor’s wife as prophetic rather than a threat.”

Pastor Felicity whispered back, “well, there was nothing prophetic in those words –or maybe there was – but his copious use of superlatives in complimenting her vocal abilities had masked any prophecy clues.”

“You never to cease to amaze me,” the elderly lady whispered back.

END

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Aimée describes herself simply as a lover of Jesus Christ who has been radically transformed by His unconditional love and grace. She enjoys writing, singing, dancing and encouraging others to live out their full potential in life by pursuing God’s good purposes for their lives.

Upcoming books by Author

Jedidah Belle Solomon (Beloved of God)

You can connect with her

Twitter https://www.twitter.com/janebienaimee1

Read her Shakespir interview at https://www.Shakespir.com/interviews/Wanfeyin


Gold of Ophir

  • ISBN: 9781370400423
  • Author: Jane Aimee
  • Published: 2017-08-21 02:32:17
  • Words: 31483
Gold of Ophir Gold of Ophir