CROSSING THE LINE
“I see a small fire burning in your church,” the young woman sang in her melodious voice. “There is opposition building up against you.” Her big almond eyes settled on the figure leaning towards her, hands clasped between his knees. Her slim wrists shot in the air, “Like a storm, it is gathering force.” She slapped her palm flat on the arm rest of the chair. “But you will overcome.”
Timi sat with his mentor Pastor Ajakaiye, mesmerized by the voice of the caftan clad woman before him. Her eyes were captivating. As she turned her head this way and that, Timi could not help looking at her smooth flawless neck. Concentrate, his inner voice chided him. You are on a mission for God.
Timi lowered his head as the woman continued to prophesy, making a quick prayer of forgiveness. It had been thirty minutes since they entered the small apartment with five cane woven chairs and large soft cushions thrown into them. The windows were covered with heavy damask curtains that made it almost impossible for the blistering hot sun that caked the soil of the city and baked it inhabitants at that moment, to penetrate. The cream walls were bare except for a big wooden cross that hung above the flat screen Samsung television sitting on a black wood stand.
“Thank you great one,” the figure before the woman said in a low voice. “You have done well.”
Timi was surprised by the reverence he heard in his mentor’s voice. In fact, in the thirty minutes he had spent in the small living room, sitting between the tall half bent figure that was his pastor and quiet mysterious figure that was his deputy, a thousand thoughts had raced through Timi’s mind. He did not understand what was happening. His two years at Glory Bible College had not prepared him for what was unfolding before his eyes. He looked at the small weird object in Pastor Ajakaiye’s hand. It was the stuff that gave you nightmares. The object which looked like a stone was black and covered at the top with a thin red string. He wondered how Pastor Ajakaiye, a small wiry man who inspired thousands around the country and sent his congregation of over fifty thousand into fits of ecstasies, could be sitting head bowed before a strange beautiful woman who stared vacantly into the air and gave prophesies about an impending betrayal.
Timi raised his eyes back to the woman. She was looking at him now. His heart did a wild dance against his rib cage before settling down again. Their eyes held briefly before she broke contact to look at the pastor who sat with his head bowed before her, sweat beginning to collect around the armpits of his deep blue babanriga.
“Watch out for those around you,” she said in her sing song voice. “Trust will be a costly mistake for you.”
Pastor Ajakaiye’s head continued to jerk up and down in agreement as the woman spoke, his small sighs released in concert with his movements. Finally it was over and they filed out of the apartment one after the other. Across the room, in her high backed cane chair, Timi saw the woman regard him once again with interest.
Timi drove in the Honda Accord his mother had given him for his birthday. As Don Moen played in the background, Timi’s thoughts drifted occasionally to the woman he visited with Pastor Ajakaiye. Earlier in the day, as he helped coordinate the crowd moving towards the alter to have their foreheads smeared with the light yellow olive oil in Pastor Ajakaiye’s hand, he could not help recalling the black object the young prophetess had given his mentor.
“Help me God,” He said aloud, applying slight pressure to the brake of his car to stop for the small family of six trying to cross the road. Impatient drivers honked behind him but Timi ignored them until the woman in her white lace Iro and Buba had managed to drag the last of her children, a small boy whose bright red Aso Oke cap threatened to cover his entire face, across the road. Timi watched the happy skipping child dressed in white danshiki with a smile. He wished he could be as carefree as the little boy sucking happily away on the bright yellow Popsicle as he clutched his mother’s hand. Adulthood seemed to be robbing him of the most valuable thing he had ever known. Now trust was strange to him. Three weeks ago, in that dimly lit living room with bare walls, he had lost his childhood over again. The honking began in earnest again and Timi released his brake and sped towards Maryland. He hoped he could remember the light green two storey building. He had questions to ask.
The door was opened by an elderly woman with half moon reading glasses perched on her nose.
“Yes?” She asked, holding the door. “Can I help you?”
Timi looked at the door again to be sure he was in the right place. Sure enough the white sticker with “Grace 2010” written in bold red letters was plastered high on the door just as he had remembered it. Just like the cross in the living room, it was one detail his overzealous Christian mind had committed to memory.
“I am here to see someone,” he said, bowing slightly. The woman looked at the bible in his hand. “She is resting now,” Her sharp nasal voice informed him. “Come back tomorrow.”
Timi looked at the coarse door mat under his black shoes. Tomorrow was work and Mondays were the worst days for him. After hours of compiling reports and meetings that stretched endlessly for hours, driving from the consultancy firm in Victoria Island where he worked to Ikeja was an ordeal he was reluctant to endure. Not even for the truth he longed for.
“It is very urgent ma,” he told the woman, putting on his winning smile. “Things of the spirit,” He tried desperately when her face refused to loosen into a smile.
“Mum, let him come in.” A voice said somewhere behind the woman. Timi recognized her voice immediately. His former confidence was replaced with trepidation as the reality of what he was about to do hit him. The woman looked ready to protest but the voice said again. “I have rested enough, allow him in.”
The woman’s shoulder sagged in resignation and she moved aside, leaving a small space for Timi to scqueeze through, and he did, trying his best to avoid looking into her hostile eyes.
She was sitting in the chair he sat the last time he was there, her hair loose on her shoulders and her face childlike as she looked up at Timi.
“Hello.” She said, gathering the hem of her black skirt around her ankles. Timi studiously avoided looking at the sleeveless red cotton blouse that exposed the tiniest hint of a cleavage. Her lips were parted as she watched him.
“Good Afternoon,” Timi did a small nod he hoped was respectful enough to pass as a bow.
“Please sit down,” she said, motioning to the empty seat beside her. As Timi moved towards the chair, he saw the elderly woman slip out of the room from the corner of his eyes and sighed inwardly in relief.
“I am sure you are wondering why I am here,” Timi began slowly. The woman shook her head.
“I was expecting you.”
Timi was floored by her admission. Expecting him? Was she some kind of witch? This was the time to ask those bothersome questions.
“That is exactly why I am here,” He told her, shifting in his seat so that he faced her now. “What are you?”
“I am who I am.”
Her calm response sounded like blasphemy to Timi’s ears and he stared at her with a confused frown. He went for the kill.
“Are you a witch?”
The woman smiled slowly, her eyes travelling to his lips. Timi licked his lips in an automatic reaction and cursed himself when he realized what he had done. Forgive me God; he prayed silently, I need your help right now.
“If you say so,” She continued to pin him with her bewitching gaze. Timi fought off the attraction with determination. I bind you Satan, he told the sneering voice reminding him that she was just a woman, and a desirable one at that.
Timi looked at the Bible on his knees. Everything he had ever held to be true rested on a shaky foundation now. He wasn’t about to let one strange woman with possibly evil powers destroy his world.
“You know I have always had love for God here,” He said, pointing to his heart. “Ever since I was a child, I was conscious of God in ways that other people were not.” The woman listened to him, the air in the room growing so still, it was impossible not to hear his own breathing. “After my university education, my zeal for God and the gospel led me to Bible school.” He paused to let his words sink. “But three weeks ago, you managed to take away everything I have always held to be true.”
The woman inclined her head to right, watching him, “How?”
“You gave a man of God a weird thing to use on the believers in his church,” He accused in a soft voice. “You consort with God’s anointed prophets to bring destruction to the church.”
The woman smiled, showing well arranged pearly white teeth. Timi was taken aback. That was not the reaction he hoped for.
“You are fighting the wrong person,” Her slim shoulder rose and dropped in a shrug. “I can’t stop your pastor from finding short cuts to success.”
Timi’s power of speech left him and he stared at the woman perplexed. Why was she so offhand about the matter?
She arranged her skirt once again, “You Christians!” She said, shaking her head as she did.
“Are you not afraid of God?” He found his voice again, “Of hell?”
Her lips pursed in deep thought before she gave a light shrug. “What for?” she asked with a smile. “My life here on earth is hell already.”
The admission touched Timi and he swallowed the sharp retort on his tongue.
“Can you please explain what you mean?” He wanted to help her. Something in her was calling out to him.
Her eyes caressed his strong lean face, “Only if you open your mind.”
She began to speak to him in what sounded like a sermon. Timi held on to the Bible for dear life as he listened to her. She was an enigma and her words confused him more. Mid way into the conversation, she said something about intuition passing off for powers and then cast a furtive glance at the door opposite where they sat. Soon she was addressing the power of faith and he listened, resisting her words with fervour. Hearing her use a familiar concept to explain her strange disposition was almost like an abomination to hm.
“The mind manifests what it believes,” She told him at last. “I am just a mere mortal like you.”
Timi was not convinced, “But I saw you pass that black thing to my pastor.”
“I only gave him what he sought.”
“The prophecies,” Timi reminded her.
“I showed him what he wanted to see.”
Timi shook his head. She wasn’t making any sense. He remembered her words upon seeing him again. “You said you were expecting me.”
“I told you before,” she said with a smile that caused two small dimples to appear in her cheeks. “Intuition,” She looked at her hands. “A woman does not need to be a witch or a prophet to recognize attraction.”
Timi felt as if he had been struck by lightning. It was true. The past few minutes had been filled with his tormented thoughts. Thoughts that was neither religious nor holy. She continued looking at her hand. “I should know your name if I had some extra powers.”
“So, why are you telling me all this?”
The woman appeared to think about it before shaking her head. “I don’t know.”
Timi looked at the cross on the wall for some minutes. “How long have you been doing this?” He asked when he turned back to her again.
She smiled that haunting smile again. “All my life,” she said sighing. “Everyone thought I had a gift for prophecy when I made a few lucky guesses.”
Timi looked at the door where the elderly woman had disappeared. “So you make a living on distributing strange looking objects and prophecies to men of God?”
She smiled again. “Who said they are strange or the prophecies are false?” She inquired sweetly. “Your men of God believe them.”
“You know, after service today, Pastor Ajakaiye humiliated Pastor Demuren.”
“Who is Pastor Demuren?”
Timi didn’t know if she was pretending but he ploughed on. “Three of us visited you that day,” He told her with a frown. “The third man was pastor Demuren.”
“Oh,” was all the woman beside him said, still managing to smile.
“He accused him of spearheading a campaign to remove him from his office.”
Timi was becoming impatient. “You made that man of God lose faith in his deputy with your prophecy.”
“A fearful man is quite predictable.”
“What do you mean?”
The woman rolled her eyes, “These things are easy.” She leaned backwards in her seat. “That was the eighth deputy your beloved pastor was bringing to this house in the space of just six months.”
Timi stared at her blankly. He did not know that. It was only seven weeks ago that he joined the church.
“A man who constantly thinks he is being chased by enemies will always find enemies where there are none.”
Timi felt himself begin to sweat. He had come here with questions but answers were fast eluding him. Confusion clouded his brain. The woman stopped to fix him with an almost loving stare.
“You wear your heart on your sleeve.” Her hand crossed the chair separating them and touched his arm lightly, “An open book.”
Timi steeled himself from reacting to her hypnotic gaze. “So in essence, you are a fake.”
The woman recoiled as if she had been struck, her hand moving from his arm. “I am not a fake.” Her eyes filled with anger. “Your pastors,” she swept an arc in the air. “All of you that come seeking miracles where there are none.” She deflated like a burst balloon, “Are the fakes.” Her voice thinned out in exhaustion. “I think you should leave now.”
Timi swallowed. Her passionate display had thrown him off balance. Contrition filled him.
“I am sorry.” He looked down at his feet. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Just leave,” She said, closing her eyes.
Timi sighed and drew to his full height. He approached the door with heavy steps. But as soon as he reached to touch the door handle, he turned and approached the woman’s rigid figure on the chair.
“You can call me if you ever want to talk.” He said, dropping his small white company card on where her hand rested on the chair. Her eyes remained closed and she gave no indication that she heard him. Timi closed the door and walked back to his car, a dozen questions following his heels like relentless demons.
Timi lay down on the single couch that was in the living room of his apartment. Yolanda Adam’s soulful voice was coming from the slim silver speakers standing beside the small music player in the glass stand that supported his 42 inch flat screen television. He sang along with the chorus, eyes closed and right leg flung against the head of the white leather couch.
So I need to talk to you, and ask for your guidance
Especially today, when my world is so cloudy
Guide me until I am sure I open up my heart
The phone beside his ear jarred him out of his singing as the loud ringtone filled his ears, sending a ringing through his brain.
“Ow!” He yelped, sitting straight and pushing his left index finger in the affected ear and wiggling it back and forth. He picked the phone with his right hand, squinting at it. “Who is this?” He wondered as he stared at the unknown number.
“Hello?” A soft female voice said at last, five seconds after Timi refused to speak.
“Who is this?”
There was a slight hesitation before the voice said, “My name is Sarah.”
Timi’s shook his head. He didn’t know any Sarah.
“I am sorry, but I don’t know any Sarah,” He spoke the thought in his mind.
“You came to my house with your pastor.”
Timi flung his legs to the rug on the floor and sat up in his chair. Grabbing the silver remote control beside him, he pointed it to the music player and reduced Yoland Adams’ singing to a low volume.
“Hey,” He started, but remembered that he was not talking to a friend. “Good Evening.”
“Good Evening,” She responded at the other end of the phone.
“It is nice to hear from you.”
Silence greeted his words and he looked at the flat Samsung phone in his hand confused. “Hello?” He said into the phone, wondering why she was quiet. He thought he heard her quiet breathing. “Sarah?” He tried again.
“I am here.”
Timi sighed in relief. He had been thinking about her all week. It would kill him to lose the call.
“Thank you for calling.”
More silence. Timi looked at the phone again. The minutes continued running, so he put the phone back to his ear.
“How was your day?”
“It was no different from every other day I have lived on this earth.”
Timi sighed. He had been thinking about her as a woman. The last thing he wanted to be reminded of was her odd way of speaking. He was trying to build his faith back even though he had abandoned Pastor Ajakaiye’s church. The last thing he needed was more confusion.
“I need your help.”
Timi sat straighter. “What is wrong?”
“I need to leave my house.”
Timi’s left brow raised in surprise. “Why?”
“I will explain later.” Her voice was still cool but Timi sensed desperation in her tone.
“Are you running away from your home or something?”
The last time he had received a call like this was when his childhood friend Ese had decided to run away from her home in London where they grew up. She had ended up dead. Her life brutally cut short by a car accident while driving with her Chinese boyfriend. It had only been a year since he returned to the country but he didn’t know if people ran away from their homes in Nigeria.
“Are you going to help me?”
Timi’s heart and mind wrestled with each other in a vicious fight. One was telling him to listen to her plea for help while the other was reminding him of his resolution to stay away from strange doctrines and people that challenged everything he had believed from childhood.
“Yes,” He said and his heart did a whoop of victory. Mind slumped in defeat. Timi closed his eyes and wondered if he was making a mistake.
“I don’t know where I am right now,” There was a pause but Timi could hear cars honking in the background. Was she lost? He wanted to ask her but he changed his mind.
“Look for any street sign around you.”
There was static before she came back. “I am walking towards a bus stop that says Oni..” She paused and came back again. “Oni..gbogbo.”
Timi knew the place well but he was puzzled over her confusion of her location. She was only a few streets away from her house.
“Can you find a place to wait for me?”
“I will try.”
“Take a taxi to a filling station called Mobil.” He told her, rushing into his room to pick his car keys. “There are some eateries there.” With one hand, he skillfully navigated his way into his jeans trouser. “I think Mr. Biggs is one of them,” He paused in his actions, realizing the futility of dressing up and talking on the phone at the same time. “Wait there. I am coming to pick you up now.”
“Why didn’t you seek help when you felt as if you were being used?”
They had been talking about her life for the past one hour. Timi had made dinner and had settled down to watch her eat and reveal intimate details that would have shocked him a week ago.
“I didn’t know who to turn to.”
“How old are you?”
“Twenty seven,” she said almost immediately and Timi knew she wasn’t lying about her secluded lifestyle. Most women batted their eyelashes and told him, “Women don’t tell their age.”
“So,” He said, watching her closely. “For twenty seven years you never stepped outside your home without your parents.”
She nodded. He shook his head.
“They said I was special,” The haunting smile was back.
Timi looked at the black and chrome wall clock his mother had forced on him when he got his apartment. It was well past midnight now.
“I think we should sleep now.”
He stood up and waited for her to join him. She slowly uncurled from the sofa. This time she was wearing another floor length skirt but this one was a green Khaki that ballooned around her like an umbrella. She picked her small handbag and held it against her side in a firm grip till the outline of her knuckles showed against her straining skin.
He led her to the room he had prepared for her. A small guest room, furnished with a medium sized bed that took up most of the space. A dressing drawer stood at the foot of the bed. Timi’s mother had taken care to furnish the room to her taste. This will be my room when I come for visits, she had announced to him that day Sunday, one year ago. She hadn’t yet found an excuse to leave his step father to himself at the family house at Omole Estate, so Timi used the room every time his friends came over.
“You can stay here.”
“Thank you,” Sarah said, moving towards the bed. He watched her touch the soft covers of the bed and the white shirt he had laid out for her before turning to him. “I am grateful.”
Timi smiled, happy that he had obeyed his heart and rescued her from potential harm. He closed the door and went to sleep.
The knock on the door was becoming persistent and Timi knew he wasn’t dreaming. He pushed himself out of the bed and opened the door. Sleep fled at the vision in white before him.
“I can’t sleep,” Sarah said, walking past him into his room. Timi followed behind her dumbstruck and trying not to look at her long legs under his shirt. His heart fell to the floor as she climbed into his bed.
“Err…” He said, standing at the foot of the bed and looking at the former prophetess reclining against his pillow. “This is my bed.” He thought he sounded silly but he continued anyway. “I don’t share it.”
Sarah sighed. Timi watched her in horror as she continued to sink into his bed.
“You have nothing to fear from me,” She said, blinking innocently at him. “I have no experience.”
Timi took a few steps forward and sat at the foot of the bed. “Sarah, I am committed to my faith.”
“I know that.” She said, lying on her side and pulling his covers over her body. “I just want to be here now.” She patted the empty side of the bed. “Come and sleep.”
Timi shook his head. It was hard to understand this woman. She had gone from a fearful witch to a seductive temptress in less than a week. His mind laughed at him now. He closed his ears to the nagging voice in his head and climbed into bed. He had come a long way from his bad boy days. He was determined not to go back.
True to her words, Timi had nothing to fear from Sarah. After watching her and sleeping in catches for one hour, he managed to drift into sound sleep. It was only the next morning that Timi found themselves lying face to face with each other. She was watching him with a smile.
“I like you,” She said, head cradled with her hands as she faced him.
Timi tried to stop the smile spreading across his face but failed miserably. “I like you too,” He told her matter of factly and then he remembered his faith. “But I am not going to change.”
The former prophetess continued to smile. Timi watched her, thinking of lay ahead. He saw only the woman before him. He didn’t know what his aristocratic and image conscious mother would do or what his religious friends would say. He didn’t know if it was possible to change her or if one day he would change himself. He didn’t even know if he was in trouble with the law for letting her stay at his place. All he knew was that he had crossed the line and he was never going back.