The knock came once, tap . . . twice, tap . . . tap. Reluctantly, the man hurled himself from the bed. He had been working on some documents. His friend in Nairobi who worked with the AU Refugee Commission wanted him to look at them in return for some money for he was a man without a job who spent his days, for the last one year and counting, sleeping, reading newspapers and following the news on Al-Jazeera and TVC. He’d wondered who could be knocking so gently – had the knocks been loud, he would have thought it was his landlord or the landlord’s solicitor – he’d panicked until he opened the door . . . and yawned. Two ladies stood facing him. He yawned again, covering his open mouth with the back of his left palm.
‘Kedu?’ they greeted.
‘Who are you?’
‘We are Jehovah’s Witnesses—’
‘I don’t have the time.’ Before he could bang the door, one of the ladies said,
‘You can spare a few minutes for Jehovah . . . can’t you?’ He paused. He didn’t care much about Jesus but it would be unwise and unscrupulous to close the door to people who made one feel he was closing the door on Jesus Himself.
‘What do you want?’
They responded in unison, ‘To share the word of the Lord with you.’ It was a line they’d used more than a thousand times, he knew. Downcast, he stepped aside. They walked in.
The room was only spacious enough to contain a set of cushions, a wall television, a home theater and a glass centre table, all purchased during the time when the Immigration Service spun money like the minting machine, before he was laid off for accepting bribe from some Chinese immigrants, and before all his women left and turned their eyes that way when they saw him on the sidewalk.
He was feeling sleepy. ‘I’ve had a busy day. What’s up?’ he asked.
‘We would love to share the word of God with you. Thank you for inviting us in. Do you have a Bible, Brother?’
‘Yes. But not sure if I can find it.’
The younger lady said that wasn’t a problem. She opened her Bible to the book of Revelations. She read a portion and they talked for fifteen minutes or thereabout before he said he wanted to go back to sleep.
They invited him to their fellowship on Wednesday, ‘It will do you a lot of good, Brother.’
‘Draw you closer to God—’
‘I’ve heard.’ He stood. They dropped a leaflet on the table. The older lady rarely talked. He didn’t care.
When they left he didn’t lock the door but went back to lie on the cushion.
On Friday evening, he returned from the bank, having cashed the Naira equivalent of $125. On his way home, he bought half a bag of rice, some yams, half a sack of garri and some meat from the slaughterhouse. He considered making Egusi soup and immediately imagined how it would look: the grounded melon sauce, with plenty palm oil and over cooked beef and Nsukka pepper. His taste buds were already tingling with desire.
Once he got home, he settled on his cushion and turned on the television to the news that the Panama Records had been leaked and some world leaders had been implicated in some financial tax evasion fraud. There was a tap on the door. He walked across the room to unlock it.
There was a lady – dark in complexion, average height, slim and voluptuous – he took in all those details before looking at her face: dark, two small tribal incisions, and a shaved head, creamed and shiny.
‘Who are you?’
‘The Jehovah’s Witness—’
‘Oh. We met the last time.’ He held the door.
‘I’d like to share the Word of God with you.’
‘Uhhmm,’ he wondered whether to invite her in. He was hungry and wanted to prepare his egusi, ‘I’m sort of busy, right now.’
Her face grimaced. ‘I won’t take your time.’
He looked her up and down. He liked what he was seeing. ‘Come in.’
She entered the room, sat on the cushion and brought out her Bible. ‘We didn’t see you on Wednesday.’
‘What happened on Wednesday?’
‘We dropped a leaflet the last time, inviting you to our thanksgiving fellowship.’ He looked at the table. She followed his gaze and saw the leaflet, among other documents, including a book with a torn cover.
‘You didn’t even look at it?’
He wanted to tell her that she was beautiful but couldn’t find the words. He wondered if it was right to tell a preacher that. He swallowed saliva.
‘You wanted to say something.’
‘Do you want anything?’
‘I am fine, thank you.’
She opened the Bible and began to read from Psalm 97. He watched the television while she read. When she raised her head and noticed he hadn’t been paying attention, she smiled. He said, ‘Sorry but my attention is on the news.’
‘I was following it before I left the house. The Panama leak?’
‘Yes. Such a shame. There must be Nigerians involved. We are the most fraudulent in the world.’ He wondered why he’d mentioned that, considering it was corruption that had cost him his job.
‘I heard the Senate President is mentioned.’
‘Yes. Won’t help his case at all at the Code of Conduct Tribunal’
He shook his head.
‘Talk of landing from frying pan to fire.’
‘I agree. He should resign—’
‘Have you seen or heard of a Nigerian politician who resigned before? That never happens. Here we have leaders who believe in their pockets and in enriching their families more than in changing the plight of the masses. In fact, it is wrong to call them leaders. A leader is supposed to have the interest of his people at heart and place it before his. Here, the political position is both an economic and social security.’
‘I agree.’ He stood and went to the refrigerator. He poured a glass of juice for himself. ‘Do you care for a glass?’
‘No, thank you.’
While he sipped, he watched her from the rim of the glass cup – her skirt rode up to her knees.
‘So the Holy Bible teaches us righteousness—’
‘What is your name?’
‘Temitayo is mine.’
He sat on the dining table and listened as she talked. After a few minutes he stood.
‘I must excuse myself. I need to cook. Make yourself comfortable if you want to stay.’
She stood abruptly. ‘Thanks for your time.’
He came close.
‘You should stay. I want to prepare egusi soup.’ He said that with pride. She smiled and thanked him.
‘You should read this.’ She brought out two copies of the Awake. He glanced at each of them.
‘It is free but to support the publication, you can drop some money . . .’ She brought out a brown envelope, ‘whatever you have.’
‘I . . . don’t have money now. Perhaps you can have it back and when next you visit I may have something to give.’
‘No. Take them. Keep them. Next time, you can give.’ She smiled. He noticed her gapped tooth, right in the centre of her lower dentition.
‘What of the other lady . . . the younger one you came with the other day?’
‘Mma? She is fine. But not with me today.’ She turned and headed for the door.
‘Thanks.’ He dropped the books on the table.
Temitayo didn’t see her again for two weeks and he found himself checking the windows every time he heard footsteps. Every time he heard a knock on any of the doors on the building he wished it was on his door and that it was her. On the third week, on Wednesday, he went to the fellowship. It was 5pm. There were about twenty young people present. They sat on plastic chairs, in a circular form, discussing the Bible and arguing intelligently while interpreting the teachings of the Holy Book. But Emilia was not there.
Before he left, after he was given a free copy of an abridged Bible and encouraged to come the next time, a young lady came to him.
‘Thanks for coming.’ He saw she was smiling, her eyebrows raised, her face bright.
‘Yes. A couple of weeks back. At your place.’
‘Oh.’ It was the lady with Emilia the first time. ‘What of your friend?’
‘My friend? Oh. Emilia? She isn’t here today. Emilia only comes when she can—’
‘Why? Is anything the matter?’
She paused. ‘No. Don’t worry about her.’
‘But she is fine?’
‘I’m sure she is.’ The young lady smiled and looked away. ‘I have to go,’ she said. ‘Thanks for coming. Bye.’ She turned to leave and Temitayo stood, wondering if he should have asked for Emilia’s number.
Two days later, he returned from the football viewing centre and saw Emilia sitting by the door, reading a book. He wiped his face with his palm, twice, to be sure. It was evening, 5pm. Vehicles zoomed past in haste. Hawkers screamed out their products in desperate bid to sell before nightfall. He watched her until she lifted her face and saw him. She stood quickly.
‘Welcome.’ She stretched her skirt this way and that, making it go down below her knees. She hoisted her leather bag on her shoulder and carried her book in her left hand, flexing the right to ease her muscles.
‘How long have you been here?’
‘Mma told me you came by? So good of you to have come.’
He unlocked the door.
‘Did you enjoy the fellowship?’
‘Oh yes. It was intelligent. Nothing like what I’d expected.’ They entered the house. He drew the curtains and offered her water.
‘I was passing through the neighbourhood and decided to stop by to thank you for coming and to invite you to come by next Wednesday.’
‘I will if you will be there.’
‘You should be there with or without me.’
‘I went there because I was . . . wait, let me change. One minute.’ Temitayo vanished into the room.
When he came out, dressed in a polo shirt and combat shorts, she had turned on the television. She stood when she saw him. ‘Can we discuss the Bible?’
‘Not today. Please sit.’
‘I must leave then.’
He didn’t want her to go yet. He turned on the fan.
‘Are you feeling hot?’
‘So I was at your fellowship . . . what do you have to give me in return?’
Her eyebrows raised in alarm. ‘I mustn’t give anything. You did it for your soul. You see, worshipping God, learning his words and teachings enrich the soul.’
‘Yeah. But it was something I’d never done.’
‘You should try it often.’
‘I should cook for you.’
She held her breath. ‘I must leave.’
‘Tomorrow by this time.’
‘I won’t come.’
‘Does your religion forbid that?’
‘Ah no. But . . . I am . . . I am married.’
They gawked at each other. There was something in her eyes. He couldn’t place it. He felt like tracing his finger through the tribal marks on her face.
‘See you tomorrow.’
‘I won’t come. God be with you, Brother.’
Temitayo had little money left but in the afternoon, he went to the slaughterhouse and bought chicken and a little beef. He bought ede, oha and ogili. While Femi Oke talked about racial profiling on AJ Stream, he pounded the overcooked ede in his mortar, the one his last girlfriend left behind, along with two of her stilettos and her jacket. She had left her undies too but he threw those away when he found them in the drawer.
The soup was simmering when there was the quiet tap-tap on the door. His heart dived into his stomach. He answered the door, dressed in chinos and a singlet.
‘You came?’ his voice unsteady.
She smiled. ‘I didn’t want to make you feel bad.’ Temitayo wanted to ask of her husband. If she had kids. How long she’d been married.
‘You look good.’
‘If your food taste as good as it smells then you should open a restaurant.’
‘I should. I am jobless, you know.’
Her face contorted in pity. ‘Don’t worry. God will provide a job.’
‘If you pray about it with conviction you will find a job.’
‘Do you care for anything?’
‘I should help with the meal.’
‘No. It is my treat.’
‘But I never helped when you taught me the Bible.’
He saw her face brighten in a smile. She sat and raised the volume on the television. The rain started. He heard her sigh.
Temitayo called from the kitchen, ‘Good it is raining. It hasn’t rained this year. I wonder what the world is turning into!’
‘It is a sign of the end time. We should all be more prepared!’
‘I don’t believe the world will come to an end!’
‘It will, for the paradise to come to be. The Word of God is clear!’
‘The day one dies, their world comes to an end!’
‘That is human’s thinking!’
The rain intensified while they ate. He watched her lick her fingers up and down, several times. He congratulated himself.
‘Who taught you how to cook?’
‘My girlfriend . . . ex.’
‘It is costly to maintain a woman.’
‘And it is tasking maintaining a man.’
Temitayo laughed but noticed her slight discomfort. He assumed it had to do with the rain that continued to increase, falling in sheets. He couldn’t see out of the window.
‘I don’t have a car.’
‘The rain will stop.’
It was 7pm.
Temitayo didn’t see her again for two weeks. She had collected his number before she left the last time. She had refused to give him her phone number, promising to ring him instead when she got home – she never called. He was planning on going to the fellowship before the rain had resurrected all the mosquitoes in the town and he became sick.
Temitayo lay on his long cushion, shivering when the tap-tap sound came. He knew it was her. He groaned a welcome when she pushed the door open.
‘Jehovah. You are sick?’
He managed a smile as she dropped her bag on the floor beside him.
‘What is it?’
‘I think it is malaria.’
‘Have you taken any drugs?’
‘Lumartem is good. But you are in pain. You feel cold? Did you take them with Panadol?’
She rummaged through her bag and rushed out. When she returned she made him take two tablets.
‘Have you eaten?’
‘Do you have anything—’
She rushed out again and returned with five packets of Indomie noodles and two tins of sardine. He was already sleeping.
When she finally brought the food, Temitayo allowed her to raise him up and accepted the fork from her with a shaky hand – she took it from him and fed him. He was nervous. He vomited on her skirt. She stood, alarmed. She wanted to say something but couldn’t utter a word. He ran to the bathroom. He vomited some more. He returned to find her standing by the door.
‘I am . . . sorry.’
She didn’t say anything. She entered the bathroom and took his sponge and cleaned herself.
Temitayo knew she was angry. His head was banging and he was shivering, from both illness and fear. She turned, saw him, and burst into laughter.
‘You look like a ghost.’
‘I am sorry.’
‘You should lie down. Come.’ Temitayo allowed her to lead him into his room. She covered him with a Nigerian wax wrapper she found by the bed.
‘Thank God.’ He watched her scan the room. ‘I must leave now.’
‘There is still time.’
‘Should I bring your food?’ He said nothing and she went to the sitting room and brought the plate of food and kept it by the stool beside the bed.
‘I must leave.’
‘Was your husband angry with you the other day?’
‘Yes. He was furious but I told him I was held by the rain.’
‘You didn’t tell lies then.’
‘I rarely tell lies.’
‘Your doctrine forbids that?’
‘All doctrines. All religions. All faiths forbid lying.’
‘I have noticed that all Jehovah’s Witnesses have this calm nature.’
‘The spirit doesn’t reside in a noisy body. When you are calm it helps you to meditate.’
‘Tell me how it started.’
Temitayo noticed she was still standing by the door. There were patches of wetness on her dress, making it cling to her body, showing the slight bulge of her stomach. She hopped from foot to foot. He wondered if she was reluctant to leave.
‘The Jehovah’s Witnesses.’ The mention of that seemed to brighten her up. She began to tell him. He patted the bedside. She sat beside him. She was halfway done when he began to snore, shivering a little. She lay beside him and stretched her legs, making sure their bodies weren’t touching. She slept.
He had a dream and woke with a start. The wall clock said it was 7pm. He woke her. Saliva had crawled out of her mouth, smearing her arm. She wiped her mouth with her palm and yawned, avoiding his face.
‘I am sorry.’
‘For sharing your bed.’
Temitayo smiled. He was feeling better. The cold seemed to have vanished.
‘A bed sharer is someone who sleeps with another.’
‘Did I not sleep with you . . . on your bed?’ she looked away.
‘I mean someone who shags the other.’
‘Don’t use such words.’
‘You are not a child.’
She stood abruptly. ‘I must leave.’
He stood. ‘Thanks for everything.’
‘You are thanking me for the food you didn’t even eat.’
‘I will eat it.’
‘It is cold.’
‘I will warm it.’
He walked her to the door.
‘Can I hug you good night?’
‘Kai! No! I am a married woman.’
Temitayo’s friend in Kenya gave him a job — an online editor for $500 per month. He was busy all week. She hadn’t called but he noticed that he couldn’t stop thinking about her. He Googled Jehovah’s Witnesses, read about them and cursed himself for falling in love with a married woman who was his preacher.
Emilia visited the following day, dressed in a long skirt and a shirt. She was carrying a paper bag and knocked on the door twice before pushing it open. He stood up and hugged her. She groaned and protested. ‘If you do that next time I won’t come here again.’
Temitayo took the bag from her and brought out apples, tins of sardine and geisha and packs of noodles.
‘For the food the other day.’
‘And you want to pay me back.’
‘You look tired. How is your family?’
She sighed and sat down. Temitayo sat on another cushion facing her. She sighed again and said, ‘Have you been studying your Bible?’
‘Yes. It’s been amazing,’ he lied. Women prefer it when you lie to them, he thought.
She brightened up and smiled and closed her eyes.
‘You feel tired?’
‘I am tired.’
‘Do you want to sleep?’
There was a short silence. ‘If you don’t mind.’
‘You can use the room.’
‘I will sleep here.’
‘No.’ Temitayo went to her and dragged her up. She protested but he threatened to carry her so she walked towards the room. He turned on the fan.
‘I have a job now.’
She turned and stared at him in amazement, smile spread on her face, her eyes twinkled in a funny beautiful way. ‘I told you to trust in God and pray.’ He told her about the job. ‘I work from 5am till 2pm every day.’
‘Uhmn, not really. I will get used to it.’
‘Thanks be to God.’ He watched her sit on the bed. He noticed how massive her hips were. He swallowed saliva quickly.
‘Don’t come in, please.’
‘I won’t disturb you—’
‘No. That is not what I mean. Don’t just come in.’
‘Are you hungry?’
‘How is your health now? I forgot to ask.’
‘I am fine, as you can see. Do you want food?’
‘No. Thank you.’
Temitayo closed the door. He peeped through the keyhole, watching her unbutton her shirt. His mouth flew open. Her breasts were massive and threatened to burst the brassiere. She folded and laid her shirt gently on the plastic chair by the foot of the bed, on top his pile of clothes. He swallowed all the saliva in his mouth and watched as she hesitated before unzipping her skirt. She pulled it down and folded it before placing it on top her shirt. She lay on his bed. He continued to watch, uncomfortable, filled with uncontrollable desire and lust. He heard her snores.
In his sitting room, Temitayo turned down the volume on the television so as not to wake her. His mind fought with the images that had just been saved a few minutes back – his mouth was dry. He lay back on his cushion and thought about her. Who was she, really? Why did she feel comfortable with him . . . in his home? He wondered if there was something was driving her away from home.
Temitayo went to his kitchen and prepared some noodles with fresh tomatoes and pepper. He ate some and kept some for her in the case she was hungry when she woke up. He gave in to the urge and went to the door and peeped. She was snoring. He hesitated, opened the door and entered. He stiffened as she shifted and lay prostrate. He tiptoed to the bed. He watched her body heave up and down in breathing. He watched the curve of her hips. He wanted to bend down and sniff her body but conquered the urge to do so. He climbed the bed and lay beside her, facing his ceiling. After a moment, he felt her shift. He turned and saw she had opened her eyes.
‘I was afraid you were going to touch me.’ He could hear tension in her voice.
‘No.’ They lay like that, not touching, not talking. ‘Unless you want me to.’ He heard her snores again. He couldn’t sleep.
Now Emilia would come every Tuesday, sometimes twice a week. Mostly by 3pm. She would eat noodles prepared with fresh tomatoes before going into Temitayo’s room. So he would make sure the room was swept, he would make the bed, changing the sheets always, to please her – he wondered if she noticed. He would peep from the keyhole as she removed her clothes except her underwear and brassiere before lying down to drift into snore-filled-sleep, then after a few minutes he would join her. Not removing his clothes, feeling a great urge to, but afraid she might stop coming. He would stay awake. Now he had mastered her breathing, recording it in his memory, then with his phone, but he didn’t take her photographs – he didn’t want to insult her decency.
She would wake around 5pm. And tell him stories – about her friend Mma who was from Enugu, unmarried and desperate to find a man. Once she said, ‘Should I connect you both?’
‘Us both? Mma and I? No.’
She told him about members of her fellowship: the banker who read his Bible even at the bank counter and paid for the publication of Awake with his salaries. About the elderly woman who was sick and always prayed aloud as if she was in a Pentecostal church. About one of her staff who always called in sick and she was beginning to suspect foul play. But she would not tell him about herself or her family or where she worked and the kind of work she did. Once she told him about her mother who died in Adamawa on her way returning with some other women from the tomatoes market. Tears came to her eyes when she was done telling him. He didn’t say anything. Later when she left he’d wondered if he should have held and comforted her.
She would come every week for two months and they would lie on his bed, sharing each other’s company and silence, while he would nearly burst out of unfulfilled desire. At exactly 7pm she would ask him to leave the room before she dressed up. Then she told him one evening, just before he left the room, ‘I think I have been followed.’
‘To this place. Twice.’
‘How do you know?’
‘I am not sure of last week. But today? I am sure someone was following me while I was coming here. I had a hunch and kept looking back.’
‘Who could it be?’
She chuckled, saying, ‘I don’t know.’
‘It’s most likely to be him. He’s the jealous type.’
‘Hmmn. I don’t want anyone coming here to pour acid on me.’
Their eyes met.
She giggled, a little too loudly, ‘Don’t be scared. It is not as if we are doing it. . . .’ She placed her hand on his back. He felt blood rush to his brain. He wanted her touch to linger. He felt like turning to grab and kiss her, but was scared of what her reaction would be. ‘Now go, please. I need to dress up.’
There was a knock on the door three days later. It was 2pm and Temitayo had just finished his online work. Emilia never came by 2pm. She didn’t knock like that either. Reluctantly he went to the door and opened it. A man was standing there, dressed in suit – a grey suit and dark polished shoes.
‘Good afternoon, Sir,’ the man greeted.
‘Can I come in?’
‘Who are you?’
‘It has to do with Emilia.’
Temitayo hesitated. ‘Please do.’
Inside, Temitayo watched the man take in the sitting room.
‘I am Emilia’s husband.’
Temitayo’s jaw dropped and he knew that the man noticed.
‘Please sit down.’
‘I prefer to stand.’ The man looked around the room again. ‘My wife has been coming here . . . to see you.’ It wasn’t a question so Temitayo didn’t say anything. His heart was pounding against the walls of his chest.
‘My wife. She died on Saturday—’
‘What?’ Temitayo sat with one buttock, beads of perspiration appeared on his chest, feet, palms, and chin.
‘She dropped a note, asking me to come here and inform you—’
‘What . . . happened?’
‘She killed herself.’
Temitayo watched the man’s face now.
‘She said to tell you . . . that you are a good man.’
‘I. I. . . .’
‘What has she been coming here for? I’d like you be sincere with me?’
Temitayo wondered how Emilia could have been suicidal. He didn’t notice any signs. In fact, they had made elaborate plans about an upcoming church convention in Jos and she had talked about how fun it was going to be travelling together in the bus. She wasn’t sick, at least not to his knowledge. She didn’t seem suicidal. It couldn’t be true.
There was an awkward silence.
‘Your wife . . . she taught me the word of God. She was a . . . great preacher.’
‘Yes,’ he said in calm bewilderment, ‘just that.’
Emilia’s tall, broad shouldered husband seemed to relax.
‘Was she sick?’
The man studied Temitayo, still looking for signs that he was sleeping with his wife.
‘Please, where is the note she left . . . for me?’ His words jostled the man.
‘The note?’ he began to stutter. ‘Oh, yes, the note.’ The man’s voice became subdued. ‘I forgot to bring it. Perhaps next time . . . now that I know where you stay.’
Temitatyo wasn’t convinced.
“When is her funeral?’
‘No date . . . yet. I will make sure to let you know when we finalise arrangements.’
‘God be with you.’
The man closed the door behind him gently, after taking in the sitting room for the final time.
Temitayo stared at the door long after he’d left. He wished he’d asked him if Emilia was depressed, perhaps suffering from some mental disorder. Even if something was wrong, he was sure that she wasn’t capable of killing herself – she was too immersed in her religion to have done that to herself – no matter what the problem was. Temitayo continued to wonder what had happened to Emilia as he went into his room, laid on the bed, turned on the recording of her snores, and wept.
Obinna Udenwe (@ ) is the award winning author of Satans & Shaitans and Holy Sex. His works have appeared in Munyori Literary Journal, Expound Magazine, Praxis Magazine, Brittle Paper and Fiction365.
Related country: Nigeria