PRAY FOR US

 The sound of rain is disturbing. The pitter-patter of every drop on the zinc roof of our one bedroom and parlour apartment was the source of my frustration. So I angrily stood up and tiptoed my way through my siblings that lay on the floor to our dimly lit passage. I sat on the wooden stool just beside Brother Ejike’s cupboard and in no time, mosquitoes had already come out to play. I swatted them more out of frustration than for the sake of protecting my legs. These legs that the whole world adored; long, slender and fair as custard. The passage was too dark for me to see them so I ran my hands through them as though reminding myself of the gift I was given. Not just the legs but my whole body. A blessing and a curse; everyone wanted me but I didn’t want everyone. All I wanted was Ernest. Was that too much to ask?

It’s hard to be a devout Christian when you look like you belong on the cover of a magazine. I will admit I cannot recite the bible from Genesis to Revelation but at least the Bible has nothing against people like me loving God.

For the sake of the pang of my conscience, let me rephrase; loving the church.

No, loving to be in the church.

Who am I kidding? Loving Ernest brings me to church but I still deserve some credit, right?

I became a Legionary to be close to him. I loved the sound of his voice when he led us in reciting the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The smooth bass that managed to combine the humility of intercession and the authority of leading a whole legion in praying the rosary. I like to kneel at the right side of the grotto just beside the flower pots and the frame of St. Rosemarie of Lima. From there, I could see his every move; the rise and fall of his Adam’s apple when he called upon our Mother Mary; every facial expression, every move; every part of his hot chocolate skin. It’s one of the things I love the most about him; the fact that we compliment each other in every way. He was the melanin to my vanilla, the yin to my yang; Fire meets gasoline.

I know I wasn’t the only one who shared that sentiment; I see the way other girls in the legion look at him and giggle; whispering to themselves all kinds of obscenities. I know that since Ernest began taking prayers in the Legion, even though he didn’t have to, our numbers have tripled. I can see all their sycophantic faces from behind my flower pot, St. Rosemarie bears me witness. The way they are awed by him and are not ashamed to show it. They all but ooh and aah at him every time he comes up; as angry as I am, I cannot really blame them. With the passion Ernest has, there is no need to wonder. But I still wonder, if he is as passionate a lover as he is in prayer.

I want to ask him myself, I want to go talk and sway him but each time he crosses my path, my feet are frozen solid and my tongue weighs like a thousand pounds. With the way the other ladies flock around him after every meeting is over, it’s always surprising how his eyes always find me; not that i am complaing. Except that my response to his every “Sis. Ezinne, How are you?” is a frantic nod like someone who’s having a seizure.

Ugh, I disgust me.

If I cannot even get words in, how on earth is this love story going to progress? Not like we even have any hope either. My father already has a dozen Upper Iweka business men wooing him for my hand in marriage. I cannot afford to ruin his expectations; my husband will be our ticket out of our leaky one room and parlour apartment near Tarzan. Most importantly, I cannot afford to ruin Ernest. So after I had this epiphany, I resorted to avoiding him. No Legion of Mary, No Ernest. Until I sort myself out, there are plenty of fishes in the sea after all. This went on for almost month; I was able to fabricate very convincing lies to my parents and use the various outings I had with my suitors as cover for not attending legion meetings, they were too pleased that I was now beginning to pay my suitors some form of attention to care. Yet, I could not lie to myself; I was at the verge of losing my mind.

So imagine my shock when I got back from the main market one evening and found Ernest and my father deep in conversation. I was ecstatic and afraid. He sat there smiling at me; I gave him a quick once over and I found that he looked glorious in his striped shirt and black trousers. I have never seen him wearing those, my heart raced at the possibility of him trying to look his best tocome see me? My father, on the other hand, was glaring at me sternly; ecstasy apart, I knew I was in trouble. Ernest asked if he could speak to me alone and my father agreed, mumbling something about joining my mother in a society meeting. So here I was alone with Ernest, in my Father’s house. Odd, isn’t it? That my father would leave his daughter with a man and go out for a meeting. I know but…

“Sis. Ezinne, how are you?”

The familiar melodic bass yanked me from my reverie back to the vision that was before me; the gorgeousness that looked as comfortable in our tiny parlour as he would in a palace. Wait, he asked a question, didn’t he?

 “Hmmm?” was my reply. Really, I disgust me.

“I asked how you are but I think you should sit first.” He patted the threadbare sofa and I sat at the other edge. I found that sitting down calmed my nerves a little.

“So? How are you?” I made a vow in my heart, against every fibre of my being not to nod like an epileptic.

“I’m fine, Father”. I mentally congratulated myself, now I was just a teeny bit less disgusted. Although, in all honesty, I did not see the next question coming.

“Are you avoiding me?” he said. This time the smile had left his eyes, it was replaced with… hurt?

“No, Father”, I mused. Oh God, I just lied to a priest, I’m going to hell!

“Ezinne, you have to be in confession this Saturday. I know you just lied to me” I looked at him. He just called me by name and scolded me in one breath. My feelings were conflicted.

“I’m sorry, Father” I squealed.

“Good, so I need you to be honest with me. No lies. You’ll speak the truth and it will set you free, can you do that for me?” That was all it took to get me nodding like an epileptic again.

“So have you been avoiding me?” This was a trap, a catastrophe in the making; the butterflies fluttering in all the crevices of my being could tell as well. I have never been this anxious; so much so that I felt I would throw up. But, I had already given my word, it was better than going to hell for all eternity. Quite frankly, a part of me wanted to get it over with as well. So I spoke the truth.

“Yes, Father” Here goes nothing.

“Ezinne, why have you been avoiding me?” I wanted to look everywhere else but a him so suddenly, the buttons on his shirt became very interesting.

“Because I want to get married, Father”

“So you stopped coming to the legion because you wanted to get married?”

“No, father”

“So what is the problem?”

Silence.

“You had to stop seeing me because you want to get married?” The hurt in his voice drew my gaze from his buttons straight to his eyes and I was right. He was hurt and it broke me to know that, I was hurting him.

“Yes, father”, I could feel my eyes begin to sting. Don’t cry Ezinne, you dare not cry!

“Did I do something wrong Ezinne?”

“No father”

“Tell me, if I did. I promise I won’t be angry. Honestly, I was thinking about you and I found out that that Legion is not the same without you. Your voice when you sing the Ave Maria, your smile and even the funny way you nod your head. I don’t know…

“I love you”. I should not have said that. He should not have made me say it. This shouldn’t be happening. In fact I should not have been born!

Tears began to well up in my eyes and I didn’t realise it until he wiped them with his bare hands. He shouldn’t have touched me because I can’t explain the speed with which my lips found his, hungrily and in haste as if my next breath depended on it. Soon, his hands were on my side but to my uttermost dismay, they were only there to pull me away.

“Ezinne…” he called out my name with a tone as chaotic as it was arousing. And without another word, he was gone. Out of our house, out of my life, out of St. Theresa’s Catholic Church Onitsha.

Finally, I decided to marry Ifeanyi, he was the most bearable of all my suitors and I knew he adored me the most, so I thought why not? Mass was by 10am and as I dressed up I felt a pang in my chest. You have to go through with this, I thought to myself, Ernest is gone and he’s not coming back. Ifeanyi loves you more than life itself; you’re doing the right thing. I continued to recite this mantra all the way to the church auditorium. I have to admit, it was working.

Soon the procession started and the priest was on the altar. Hold on, Priests; two of them. Our parish priest and I could not make out the other face from the concealment of my veil. Better still, I was hoping against all hope that it wasn’t him. The parish priest led the opening benediction and thanked Fr. Ernest Nwankwo O.P. for joining him to serve the mass. My heart missed a beat but I think it stopped completely when he took the microphone, and the smooth melodic bass that plagued my dreams said the words, “Thank you Fr. Dan for having me. I would never miss Sister Ezinne’s wedding for anything in the world” The crowd cheered but I was hyperventilating.

Why God? Why did you let this happen? How am I supposed to say my vows in front of him? You may now kiss the bride?!! Those words filled me with a kind of terror that I have never known. I looked at Ifeanyi, who was all smiles, making the sign of the cross, and my heart cringed.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us!

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