He collected the offering that Sunday. When he stood up from the ministers’ section, adjusted his expensive suit and marched towards the altar to take his place behind the pulpit, the whole Church screamed in excitement.
When he smiled, the energy in the Church became supercharged and when he quoted the scriptures and reminded the Church on why they should bring their offering to the House of God, they all chorused Amen.
Whatever he said was golden, whatever he said was truth, it was power, it was life, it was everything.
No wonder he wanted nothing to go wrong with his life. He had carefully built this image that the Church had come to love and worship, he was probably going to inherit the Church with the millions his parents owned and so, he would do anything to make sure his image wasn’t smeared.
That irritated Tamilore, the type of man he had chosen to be irritated her.
When they had met four years before, he had been different. He had been the twenty nine year old that wanted something different, the twenty nine year old that was not afraid to have the type of fun that would potentially lead you into trouble.
She excused herself and whispered to her elder sister that she had to use the toilet. It was a perfect time to leave, because Yetunde was as mesmerized as the rest of the Church to bother about what was going on around her.
Tamilore found her way to the bathroom, entered one of the very clean toilets which smelled of fresh flowers and vanilla, making her almost forget she was in a toilet.
She closed the door, sat on the toilet seat, pulled out a stick of cigarette and lit it.
She was not a habitual smoker, and she certainly preferred weed to cigarettes but things had changed. She had changed. These days she did anything that made her feel better momentarily.
She leaned on the tiled wall as she smoked away and allowed her mind to drift away from where she was.
She had returned from London some weeks before to come and hide here in Nigeria. Her family did not know that, her mother was going to try to beg it out of her when she visited later that week but she was not going to say.
The secret was buried deep inside of her, inside of her and the pastor’s son.
It was not easy for her to be the way she was or had become, society had not accepted her, family had never understood her and love had never agreed with her.
She tried to blur out the memories that had now turned her into the woman she had become as she lit a second stick of cigarette.
She was almost done with the second stick when she heard the continuous cuss words coming from inside the bathroom, immediately followed by sounds of frustration.
She listened, waiting for it to pass but it did not. So she stood, threw the stick of cigarette inside the trashcan and left the toilet.
She found Ms Yellow in front of the large bathroom mirror voicing her frustration about the zip of her skirt which she realized was worn out.
Tamilore wanted to say something, she wanted to tell her to pull out her blouse and cover the skirt with it, but she decided against it, washed her hands and left the bathroom.
Yetunde glared at her as she took her seat near her in the Church, “where have you been?” she queried, then sniffed her dress, “Please don’t tell me you went to go and smoke.” she was mortified, she could not believe her sister and Tamilore knew she fought the urge to pull her out of the Church and slap sense into her.
“Tamilore, this is not going away soon.” she muttered as they listened to the sermon.
He sat in front of the pastor’s wife office, waiting for his mother to summon him and Alero who joined him and placed a hand on his. She smiled at him as she squeezed his hand.
He did not know what to say, did not know how to react, did not know what to say to the fact that she did not seem to question the decision made for them by his mother.
She just eased into the role like it was something she had wanted all her life, something that was good for her, something that was the best decision anybody could make for her.
His mother had told him to pray about Alero and when she had asked him that morning if he had prayed and gotten a response, he said No.
Then she stared at him for long, her eyebrow raised as if to question why God would take such a long time to answer his prayers and then went ahead to ask, “Maybe you have made God angry and that is why He is not speaking to you.”
She was the one who had taught him in the past that what seemed like silence from God was not denial, it was Him trying to make him see something but now his mother was telling him it meant he had pissed God off.
The door to her office opened and one of the ministers stepped out, he smiled at them and greeted them.
Then Jide and Alero proceeded into the office.
Grace Rogers’ office was a reflection of her; she hung quotable quotes of hers on the wall, pasted different wallpapers of herself which she had made different people make for her and her table was filled with award plaques she had won for different purposes in the past.
She smiled at Alero and Jide as they took a seat opposite her. “What should I get you people because it is going to be a long afternoon?” she asked and as Jide made to ask what that meant, four elderly people filed into the office.
Jide recognized them when he saw them because they were ministers in the Church and they were members of the marriage committee.
The marriage committee in Jide’s church comprised of three women with faces that looked like it had not smiled in decades, who wore skirt suits which seemed three times bigger than them and who Jide hated to admit, were hostile and nasty.
The only man in the committee, a balding grey man in his sixties, called Pa Jacobs, was just a figurehead.
Jide wondered, anytime his mother came home and talked about how she and the other women made all the decisions, if Pa Jacobs was ever allowed to speak and if he knew he was there just so they could say there was a man in the marriage committee.
“Olajide, the marriage committee is starting your marriage counseling today.” his mother said with a sweet smile as she waved the four other members of the committee into the leather seats in the office.
She had not let him consult God; she had purposely not let him finish because this was another decision she had chosen to make for him. It was yet another decision that was going to be made by her in his life.
Jide managed a smile and waited for the counseling to begin. He did not want to do this but he could not disagree with his mother.
“She said you were smoking during the service and that everybody around you could perceive the smoke when you walked back into the Church. Tamtam, if you people will keep going at each other like this, shey you would come and stay with me in Surulere?” Lamide asked Tamilore over the phone, her voice burdened with concern for her sisters, both of which she knew would kill each other in a matter of time.
“You are staying with your boyfriend, I cannot move into your boyfriend’s house. It won’t be nice.” Tamilore replied, she would have taken the offer but she could not stand Lamide’s boyfriend, something was off about him and she had not expected her sister, her sweet sister to end up with someone like him.
She could not go to their house to stay, even if she wanted to, she could not stay anywhere close to that man.
“But all of these wahala nko? You both have never agreed…”
“Nobody has ever agreed with Yetunde.” she pointed out and she heard Lamide chuckle.
“Does she still count the meat in her pot?” Lamide asked, giggling.
Tamilore laughed, “I don’t know. But I bet she still does. She counts the pure water in the fridge though. I’m sure she counts the air too, to know if I have inhaled more than her in a day.”
They both burst out laughing. Lamide was Tamilore’s best friend, her favorite person in the world and her preferred sister but fate kept dealing Lamide wrong blows and she’d not been independent enough to house Tamilore when the latter returned suddenly from the UK.
“Does she have a boyfriend now?” Lamide asked, forgetting the real reason she had called and now going on to fully gossip about Yetunde. It was what they did, they bonded more over their dislike for the person their elder sister was.
“Who will date her? She is sickly obsessed with her pastor’s son though.” Tamilore replied
“Ha that one too is too fine now. Anyone will be obsessed with him but I doubt he would pick Yetunde in a million years. she will snuff the life out of him in one day.”
They laughed again and they talked about everything, everything but the reason Tamilore had suddenly left London and come home without anything but a box of clothes.
“When you are ready you will tell us, I know” Lamide had said to her the night she appeared at Yetunde’s doorstep and the latter had freaked out and called Lamide to come over immediately.
“Just don’t vex her, okay?” Lamide said now as the brought the call to an end, “Please try not to fight.”
Tamilore promised her she wouldn’t as she ended the call.
Their mother visited later that week and as Tamilore had expected, she had tried to make Tamilore talk by crying and pleading and wailing all at the same time.
“Oluwatamilore, all your mates are getting married and doing well in their careers, first you said you wanted to be a tattoo artist, later you said you just wanted to be travelling up and down the world and be taking pictures, now we don’t even know which one you want to do and you ran away from England and came here for a reason we don’t know. Do you want to kill me?” her mother asked, her eyes filled with tears.
It was hard for Tamilore to see her that way but she could not say anything. She had not even come to terms with what happened yet, she could not say much without destroying herself and becoming an emotional wreck.
“Mummy, I will talk when I can” she muttered and her mother gaped at her in stunned silence.
She left two days after but not before Tamilore overheard her and Yetunde talking about taking her for deliverance in MFM and counseling with Yetunde’s pastor in Church.
Tamilore never left the house. She usually stayed indoors all day, read different books, listened to music and brood over her blog where she discussed boho fashion and where she dared not visit at the moment.
But her period suddenly started and she could not get into Yetunde’s room because she had locked the door.
She improvised with tissue paper, slipped into a knee length print dress and stylish retro ankle boots that she had bought from ebay a few months before, and then made her way out of the house.
It was an opportunity to visit the mall. She would buy sanitary towel, use it in the toilet and probably see a movie afterwards.
She had bought the sanitary towel, used it and just purchased the ticket when she saw him. He was looking as eerie as always, speaking to a man who looked as ugly as death and he was glancing around as if he was scared of being seen.
She paled, the blood draining from her face, her heart jumping into her mouth. She could not let him see her, she had to run fast but the words only registered in her mind, her body was not responding to it.
Then he looked and saw her and started towards her.
She ran, ran through the crowded mall and made out of it. She jumped into the first cab she saw and told him to take her away from there.
Afraid that he might actually follow her to the house, thereby cornering her, she told the driver the only place she thought was safe at the moment, Jide’s office.
He dragged her out of the office, down the stairs and into his car downstairs, as if he was afraid to be seen with her.
Then when they got into the car, he faced her and asked what she wanted.
“He’s here!” she shouted and for the first time he saw the horror in her face. She looked as if she had seen a ghost. She was also breathing heavily, whatever had happened to her, she was yet to get over it.
“Who is here?”
“Him! The him that was the reason I ran to Nigeria to hide, the him you should be scared of because nobody can protect you from…”
“Don’t call me that! Don’t fucking call me that!”
He did not say anything else, he watched as she tried to calm down, as she tried to breathe but it was difficult. He held her, told her gently to take it easy.
“He knows about the murders and he knows you have what they are looking for and he is here and he saw me. Its only a matter of time before they get to us and we will be in trouble when they do.” She looked at him and added, “That’s if they don’t murder us like they did her.”
“This person knows about Kim’s murder?” he asked, exasperated.
“He knows more than that, hot dick.”
“You asked me not to call you Suga spice, don’t call me hot dick”
“I’ll call you whatever I want.” she snapped and then slapped his hands off her shoulder. “Its not like I knew who you really were or your real name.”
“We were having fun, who we really were didn’t matter.”
“Nothing mattered to you. Nothing. Of course, everything was fun to you. Including breaking my damn heart.”
He tried to touch her but she moved away, “Suga…”
She flashed him a stony glare and he quickly stopped, “I’m sorry I did not tell you who I really was…”
“Its four years too late.” she snapped and opened the door.
“Where are you going?”
“Away from you” she said and got out of the car. He followed her and stopped her, “You said there is a murderer looking for us.” he said to her and she shrugged, as if unbothered by the evil fate lurking around the corner, waiting for them.
“What if he finds you?”
“Then I will tell him where to find you because you have what he wants.”
He was confused; he did not understand what she was saying anymore. She saw his face and she knew he was lost, so she told him, “The night of the murder, Kim dropped something with me. When I got tipsy, I dropped it in your jacket. Three months ago, this guy and another one cornered me on the way to a local store in London; they wanted what it was that Kim gave to me four years ago. I did not know what it was, I could not remember, besides if I could, I did not think whatever she gave me was anything useful so why would I have thought about it especially since the night ended in tragedy and everyone could barely think.”
She lowered her voice as she continued, “They said it was some very important data and ordered me to find it in three days. It took two days for me to remember where it was. Then they came to my apartment, they had found me somehow. They demanded for it, I told them it was in Nigeria and then they tried to kill me.”
Jide froze; she had been in that much danger while she was all alone, without help, without any form of protection. He wanted to do the first thing that came to his mind, he wanted to gather her up in his arms and tell her he was sorry she had to go through that but he couldn’t.
The hatred she felt for him now was strong, he could see it in her eyes even as she spoke to him.
“I fired a gun in self defence and killed one of them, the other ran after me but didn’t catch up.” She shuddered as she remembered that night and how the crowd outside her apartment had helped her get away. She lived in a crowded neighbourhood in London and she had disappeared through it, making it hard for the guy after her to locate her.
She had returned to the apartment the next day, picked a few things and left London a few days later.
The body had mysteriously disappeared from her apartment when she returned.
“Now he is in Nigeria and trust me when I say we’re screwed. We would be dead in days if he finds us. So I am going to ask, where is what I gave to you the night Kim died?”
Jide agreed with her that they were screwed, because there was no way he could provide what they were looking for.
She looked at him expectant. When he did not reply, she asked, “Are you going to say something?”
“I gave out that jacket and a few of my other clothes before I left the states after I left London and as for whatever you gave me, I have not seen it since that night.”
She swayed, he ran and held her from falling. And as his firm hands caught her, she told herself she was dead.