Akunna held a piece of broken mirror in her right hand, and another piece in her left. She held them up high, one in front and one behind, then she turned sideways in order to get a better look at her hair. The light of the bulb hanging down from the ceiling made her hair shine where the hair cream lined her parted hair.
She smiled at her reflection revealing a set of white teeth with a gap in the middle. Nodding, she set down the mirrors on the scarred table, beside the plastic pomade jars and small bottles of perfume – gifts from her cousins in the city, and all of them empty – and ran the palms of her hands down the sides of her black skirt.
“Where are you going?” Her mother asked her when she stepped out into the courtyard.
“To the Mission Mama, for service.”
“Service, ehn?” Her mother narrowed her eyes.
“Kedu zi ichafu gi? Or you don’t need scarf because it’s not Mass?”
“It’s in my bag.” Akunna held out the small leather purse with the green patterns which was slung across her shoulder.
“I forgot that Catechist was coming to say service today. Look at the time and I am not even prepared.”
Akunna held her breath. She prayed that her mother would not ask her to wait so that they could go together.
“You know what? Just go ahead. I will meet you there, inugo?”
“Yes mama.” Akunna managed to keep her relief from her face.
“Ngwa nu, go well o.”
“Yes mama.” Akunna turned the corner, ducked into the lane that ran between their house and Akirika’s house. At the intersection she turned left towards the village market and the Mission building.
She looked at her wristwatch and picked up speed, the dust rising with each slap-slap of her flat rubber slippers to cling to her recently oiled feet.
‘If I get there early enough, I may be able to get a seat in a place where I will be able to see the altar clearly.’
At this thought, she smiled.
“Aru na obala Jesu,” Catechist intoned solemnly, holding the host a few inches from her face.
“Amem” Akunna responded, sticking out her tongue. Her closed eyes flew open when she felt cool metal graze her chin. The smile disappeared from his face before it was fully formed; making her wonder if she had imagined it.
Catechist moved on, and the Mass server with him. Akunna walked with slow, measured steps to her seat. Her palms were pressed together and held out in front of her, the tips of her longest finger almost brushing her lips.
After service Akunna hung around the gates for a few minutes. When her mother asked that they made their way home together, Akunna mumbled something about Legion work. Walking alone in the gathering dusk, she wondered if she had not made a mistake. She was considering the wisdom of her actions when she heard footsteps behind her. Her heart skipped a beat. It took all of her willpower to keep from turning.
The owner of the steps soon drew level with her.
“Aku,” Catechist called to her. Her steps faltered as her heart crashed to her feet, tripping her. “Salute your mother for me, o.” And he was gone before she could ask him if he didn’t see her in the church.
Lights were on in some of the houses she passed, the bulbs hanging from their verandas illuminating some of the area in front of them.
“Don’t you know it’s not safe for a girl to walk alone in the night?”
Akunna jumped, startled by the voice. She had not heard him walk up to her.
“And who said I was walking alone?” She hated the quiver in her voice. Her heart still raced, but it was no longer from fright. The feeling spreading through her body warmed the back of her ears.
“Good point,” the owner of the voice conceded, falling in beside her. He walked with a slow assured gait and she slowed her brisk steps down to match his own.
Akunna looked sideways at the boy who had appeared beside her; it was the Mass server from the Mission. Now she knew she had not imagined the incident earlier.
He had bushy hair which gave him a wild, unkempt look. His hairline ended in a widow’s peak which, combined with his thick eyebrows, made it seem like he was always deep in thought.
His nose flared, and his lips… Akunna made a discreet sign of the cross.
“My name is…”
“Ekene, I know.” Akunna kicked herself. Now she would appear too eager. They lapsed into silence.
Akunna had first seen Ekene at the village provision shop. It was her mother’s birthday and she had gone to buy a birthday card.
She walked into the shop and was surprised to see a boy sitting behind the counter, reading a novel – she was expecting to find Sam&Sam there. Everybody called the jovial shop owner Sam&Sam after the store and Akunna, like a lot of people, never bothered to find out what Sam was short for, or why there were two Sams in the name.
“Good afternoon,” she had smiled at him.
“Good afternoon.” He replied, setting his book face down on the counter.
Akunna cringed. She hated when people did that to books, or turned down a corner to mark the page they were on. She bit back the lecture about broken book spines she had given to her friends over this issue.
“Do you have birthday cards for forty years?” She asked instead.
“Please come with me,” he said coming out from behind the counter. He took her to a shelf on which greeting cards were arranged in some sort of order: Birthday cards at the top, followed by Wedding cards, Congratulatory cards, Success-in-examination cards, I’m sorry cards and at the bottom right, Get-well-soon and Sorry-for-your-loss cards.
“These are all the cards we have.” He swept his right hand across the shelf.
“Why are you here?” Akunna asked him.
“Ehn?” He blinked. Who is this one again?
“I asked why you are here. You don’t seem interested in what you have to sell, or the people you are to sell them to. So I ask again, why are you here?” Not waiting for his reply Akunna turned round and left the shop.
What a waste of fine boy. She shook her head. I wonder where he came from. But wait o, you have mind, talking to him like that. She giggled as she made her way home.
That Sunday at in church Akunna looked up from her hymn book as the priest and the Mass servers walked in procession to the altar. She gasped when she recognised the second figure dressed in green and white vestment. He looked in her direction at that moment and their eyes met. Akunna averted her eyes, her heart racing.
She found out from Fidelia, her best friend, who was a member of the choir, that his name was Ekene and he was Sam&Sam’s nephew who had come from township to spend the holidays with him.
Akunna went to church every Sunday and service whenever she felt like. For a long time getting her to go more regularly had become a running battle between her and her mother. But in the two weeks since she saw Ekene in church, Akunna had attended every church program.
As they approached the intersection by Akirika’s house, Ekene slowed down some more.
“It was nice walking with you,” he said.
“Same here,” Akunna replied. She bit her lower lip to stop the smile that threatened to accompany her declaration.
“I hope I see you again. Soon.”
This time she did not reply him. She slipped into the shadows between both houses and walked the rest of the way home without looking back.
“I hope I see you again. Soon.” She played the words over and over in her head. She pushed her bedroom door open, jumped on the bed and pulled her pillow close to her chest.