“WHAT HAVE I GOT MYSELF INTO?” (SHORT STORY)
Chinedu averted his eyes from Nonye. She was gazing at him with so much love and it was making his mission so much harder to execute. He had been wondering what her reaction would be when he broke it to her. Would she be able to take it or would she dissolve into tears? Now he knew the answer and he wasn’t sure he had the nerve to go through with it.
She was such a nice girl, so unsophisticated and straightforward. Brought up in a strict home and church, she knew nothing about male-female relationships. She was quite reserved and steered clear of the brothers in church. When she asked to join the choir, he, as choir director, consented and took her under his wing. He gave her special attention to encourage her to stay and improve her singing talent in the competitive atmosphere there.
She slowly opened up to him and could actually hold a lengthy conversation with a guy who wasn’t her brother for the first time. But he also noticed that it seemed she was falling for him. She hung on his every word and would look at him all dopey-eyed.
“Good for her,” he thought. “She is a grown woman and it’s time her emotions were stirred instead of living in a cocoon.”
He didn’t mind being the one who helped her shed her toga of naïveté and imbibe some social skills. So rather than cool her ardour, he ignited it the more by taking her places, like youth camps and concerts, to experience things she had never been privileged to before.
He began to teach her to play the piano, got her interested in literature, movies, secular and contemporary Christian music to help broaden her view of life. She flowered under his attention and he advised her on how to dress, not immodestly, but to at least show that she had a really good figure. He gradually introduced her to jewelry, weave ons and makeup also.
All this was possible because she had gained admission to the university shortly after joining the choir and her parents knew they’d be fighting a losing battle if they expected her to remain the way she was. They were even thankful she “was with” Brother Chinedu. Better him than all the ill-mannered youths out there. Chinedu was God-fearing and he would never take advantage of her, they believed. And he didn’t. Theirs was a wholesome relationship.
Meanwhile, all the girls who had trained their sights on Chinedu in the church stopped pestering him. He was so relieved about this as the altercations between girls who wanted to stamp him as theirs were becoming embarrassing. He, therefore, made no attempt to correct anyone who assumed he was planning a future with Nonye. He was a friendly, jovial sort and everyone loved him but since he was spending much time with Nonye, they respected that and waited for the “good news” announcement from the pulpit.
Then sixteen months after they met, Chinedu, who had been looking for a better job got one with a company in Lagos. About the same time, a suitor (not the first one) came for Nonye’s hand in marriage. The pastor as usual invited her, informed her of the man’s proposal and asked her to pray. She nodded respectfully and left.
But as usual she had no intention of doing any such thing. Her heart was with Chinedu and any day now ….
When the pastor waited and did not get a response from her as usual, he began to figure out the way Nonye’s mind was working and summoned Chinedu. Never one to waste time on rigmaroles, he shot a question that made Chinedu to jump right after he was seated in his office.
“Now that you’ve got a better job, how soon will it be before you officially ask for Nonye’s hand in marriage?”
“Daddy!* Nonye! Marriage! I don’t understand.”
“My question is not complicated. How soon? That means, ‘When?'”
“Daddy, I still don’t understand. Am I not the one to tell you I want to marry and who I want to marry?”
“So you think I jumped the gun?”
“Yes, Sir,” Chinedu replied, adjusting himself in his seat and nodding vigorously.
“Ok, then, let me rephrase. What are your plans for Nonye?”
“My plans? Daddy, her parents are taking care of her. Is there a problem, I mean, moneywise?”
“Look, Chinedu, I have no time for this. If you want to marry Nonye, settle it now. If not, go straight from my office to her and lay your cards on the table. Have I made myself clear?”
“Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir!” Chinedu responded diffidently and shuffled out of the office.
There was no way he was going to go to Nonye directly as the pastor ordered. He needed to process his thoughts and compose himself. He avoided his house since his mum’s prying eyes would detect that something was wrong and went to see a brother in the church, Clement.
After exchanging pleasantries, Chinedu began to seek advice.
“Bro Clement, I’m just coming from Pastor’s office. I don’t understand but he’s trying to force me to marry Sister Nonye.”
“Force you! How? … Which Nonye are we talking anout? Your own Nonye? That one is in the bag already, abi dey wan introduce polygamy for church?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Everybody knows that Nonye is your wife. You no see as brothers leave her alone and sisters no dey disturb you again?”
“That is no reason for me to marry her. No one deserves unnecessary harassment but Nonye is just my sister. She’s my daughter in the Lord.”
“Your daughter … Ol’ boy, no make me laugh! Is it because she’s your daughter that she has been refusing suitors? Daughter ko, daughter ni!”
“What are you talking about?”
“So you don’t know? Deacon Okike told me she has turned down three suitors in the last four months. Because she’s your daughter!” Clement poked Chinedu’s ribs with that last bit and began to laugh.
Chinedu then realised that he was in the soup.
“What have I got myself into?” he cried.
He had labelled Nonye “Mission Accomplished” in his mind some months back and had been seeking means of gently extricating himself from her as he didn’t feel quite as strongly for her as she did for him. Besides, he had no intention of getting married in the next five years because he wanted to further his education. He tried to turn her attention away from him by introducing her to other brothers but she didn’t get it. She was respectful to the brothers but did not respond to overtures of friendship from any of them.
It was, therefore, a prayer answered when he got the Lagos job. He had planned to leave with promises of coming home often which he wouldn’t keep in the hopes that she would eventually marry someone else. He justified himself when his heart condemned him by reminding it that he never proposed to Nonye, he never discussed a future with her.
“So why the subterfuge?” his spirit asked him.
“I just don’t want us to unravel any delicate matter. We didn’t talk about it before and it would be better not to do so now,” was his uneasy reply.
“Everything must be done decently and in order.”
That one unsettled him. He didn’t know if it was his spirit or the Holy Spirit but it was an advice he was not prepared to heed. Until the pastor called him.
And here he was with Nonye, ten minutes into his visit, and still lost for words. In the end, he asked if she was hungry and took her to a nearby restaurant. They ate and chatted about recent movies they had watched, books they had read, stuff like that. Nothing was said about marriage, suitors or the future.
Nonye went home feeling that she and Chinedu were still on. Chinedu, on his part, went home to perform the hardest task of his life: to write a lengthy missive to Nonye explaining the goals of his relationship with her, the need for her to relate with other people and choose a spouse if she had an acceptable suitor, and appealing for her forgiveness if he had hurt her by the way he carried on.
But in the end, he couldn’t bring himself to write that letter. He just didn’t know how to start or proceed. Instead, he fled to Lagos the next morning as he earlier planned. He hoped that Nonye and everyone else in the church will in time forget the whole episode and not think so badly of him.
Ⓒ Edith Ugochi Ohaja 2016
Daddy* – Christians often call their pastors Daddy.
“abi dey wan introduce polygamy for church?” is
Pidgin English for “or do they want to introduce polygamy in the church?”
“You no see as brothers leave her alone and sisters no dey disturb you again?” means “You didn’t see how brothers left her alone and sisters do not disturb you again?” in Pidgin English.
“Ol’ boy, no make me laugh!” is the equivalent of “Dude, don’t make me to laugh!” in Pidgin English
“Daughter ko, daughter ni!” means “Daughter indeed!” The italicised are Yoruba words.
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