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" MORE HASTE ...the marital trials of Brother Segun... DEDICATION Dedicated to my loving wife, AbolanleAbigael, who had to wait seven years for our firstborn, IniOluwanimi, to come, and by extension, to all waiting mothers. EPIGRAPH Sun, Very Soon You waited till you are worn When will you Pampers your newborn Night may seem long and forlorn Soon, it will be the turn of the sun And you will see your long-awaited son Nay, daughter to start your new morn Abiodun Soretire, April 2014 PROLOGUE The atmosphere dripped with emotion. Even Sola, the 13-year old, caught the current. Her eyes, fixated on the mother-son scene, were saturated with the tear-gland fluid ready to trickle down any moment. Mrs. Toriola had succeeded in infecting every occupant of the sitting room with emotive germ. Segun contracted the endemic and a lump was stuck to his throat. He was gradually getting mollified as he succumbed to the feminine tear-power supplying the atmosphere with the electricity in high horsepower. He is no wood, how will he not succumb! Yes, it will only take a wood to stand unyielding when mother's tears start yielding in squirts. He dropped his head, shook it vigorously and was still for a while. When he finally lifted up the bloodshot eyes, his exasperation had been defused. 'But Mummy, I'm confused. He said he was not my father. Here you are saying I should forgive him being my father. Would there be smoke without fire? Would Daddy...' the first time in many days his heart and mouth would reconcile to call Mr. Toriola Daddy, 'have said it if nothing broods at the back of his mind? Mummy, does the mouth not speak out of the abundance of the heart?' The conveyance of his conviction was wrapped up as he awaited its effect. The middle-aged mother heaved a great sigh but not of relief. It was time she visited the past she dreaded even its mere mention. She acute-angled her head on the upright, the backrest, of the sofa as she travelled down memory lane... Cascading tears pervaded every particle of the emotional pause. Segun squeezed his eyes shut as if remembering something. CHAPTER ONE He woke with a start. He rubbed his eyes severally just to be sure he had left the realm of dreams. It was a cool night, one of the equable nights of the rains towards the tail-end of April. He was bedraggled in the water mass soaked up the centre of the mattress. The nightmare must have set off some mechanism that produced the clammy sweat. The water outline drew an abstract map in the middle of the foam encouraging a sagginess that brushed his back on the wooden support. Segun sat up immediately and yanked off the wet bedcover. He checked the time. It was just twenty minutes to two. Grimacing in horror, he ran back his mind over the phantasmagoric dream. He had seen three men knocked at a door. Someone inside unlatched the door. Before he could keep the door ajar and peep to ascertain who the visitors were, they burst in. And the next thing he would see: a man bearing striking resemblance to him. He was sure they were not one and the same person. The man, in his mid-30s, was dragged out into the open half-standing-half-kneeling pleading for mercy. The three marauders, armed with machetes having blades reflecting the gloom of the moonlight, butchered him in violence so cold-hearted – it beggared description – but not without the honour of informing him on which bill the sudden death was striking – a land dispute. The blows came in torrents and never stopped until the man was as dead as a doornail. Then they left wearing a villainous beam of satisfaction. A man, who had heard the distress shouts and had come out, crossed their path. He too was silenced and laid flat writhing in excruciating pain with few blows of the machete. Thereafter, the heinous trio made off in sustained glee of fulfilment. A woman heavy with pregnancy, who looked like the first victim's wife, fearfully trotted out of the house where she seemed to have been confined by the bosses with knives. On seeing her husband's lifeless and decapitated mass of flesh in a pool of blood she gave a long shriek of terror, and passed out. That was the scene that unfolded last in the nightmare before Segun was brought back to reality. Presently, he jumped out of bed and made for his cell phone. The bed was terribly unmade and the sheet unusually rumpled; the centre of the bed was slowly recovering from its saggy mission. Ordinarily, Segun would straightway have remade the bed ensuring the bedding was neatly tucked. Meticulous he was at doing it every time he rose from bed. But, this night, the couch would get no such attention. Pressure had prevailed on protocol. He punched in Pastor Tunji's number and depressed SEND button. Before it could ring at the other end another thought ran through his mind. Why disturb Pastor at these wee hours? Can't he wait till the dawn breaks? He cut off the almost connecting call, knelt by his bed and began a violent supplication. One clause stood above others in the prayer – I reject it in Jesus' name. * * * * * 'Hold on,' Pastor Tunji said as he made for the door. Though a bit ruffled at the early morning caller, something struck a chord in the stranger's voice. When the knock first came he was fast asleep. The persistence in the knock woke him and with sleepy eyes he asked who it was. The fellow's 'It's me, Pastor,' a semi-anonymous response suggesting familiarity, met Tunji's faculties just recovering from the metabolic slow-down which beauty sleep had subjected them to. It took him some few more minutes to fully recover but then he wouldn't want the person at the door to identify himself again. He had made it a bit of courtesy. He always likened himself to a receptionist – her prospects in the career cannot be taken away from how well she receives visitors. The faint day's first ray of light revealed the minute hand of a contemporary battery-operated pendulum clock some seven shorter marks away from Roman figure twelve. The more conspicuous silvery hour hand was a bit farther from five. As the pastor of a medium-sized congregation in town, early calls on him to attend to one emergency or the other had become part and parcel of him. The other day he was awakened around quarter to five, a bit earlier than now, to settle a gruelling quarrel between a couple over whether to have family planning or not. Anyway, this voice is familiar, so, no cause for alarm. 'I am covered,' he muttered as he held the handle of the Union lock. He lifted the door a bit by the handle and with the other hand turned the key in the lock anticlockwise in three complete revs. He pressed the stiff knob arc down and pulled the wooden door open. Standing at the door was ... 'Brother Segun!' the Pastor ejaculated. For a long one minute, the brief lull that followed engaged him in a goggled-eye stare at the visitor before he could find his tongue again to string some words together. 'What's the problem?! Hope all is well.' 'Good morning, sir.' 'Oh-oh-oh! I'm sorry. Good morning. Never seen you here this early? I'm really surprised beyond measure, you know.' Then he realized he had kept his guest at the door all the while, 'Please do come in.' 'Sorry for disturbing you so early, sir.' 'Ah-ah, it's no bother at all!' Tunji closed the door behind them and they settled down. With all the gory details, Segun recounted the dreadful dream he had in the night breaking into dawn at the moment. When Tunji had swallowed whole the details, he gave a deep sigh and sank deep into meditative silence. 'Let's pray,' Tunji said as he held out his hands. Segun plugged his into them and the Pastor offered prayers to God on the subject matter. After ten minutes or thereabout, the prayer session came to an end with doxology. 'Brother Segun, it is well.' 'Amen, sir.' 'You see, I'm yet to get any interpretation to the dream from God. Really surprised I didn't have even the slightest insight into it. But not to worry we will keep on praying. No evil plan of the wicked shall prosper over your life in Jesus' name!' 'Amen!' 'I cancel any plot from the pit of hell in the mighty name of Jesus!' 'Amen' Their conversation thereafter went warm and hearty and peace pervaded the atmosphere. Finally, Segun stood to go and was seen off to the door. Just before he turned his back on the door, Pastor Tunji asked, 'Aha! How is your sister? Hope she is doing fine?' 'Yes, sir, by the grace of God.' 'My regards to her.' * * * * * The atmosphere was tense between the father and his son. They were both alone in the sitting room; though poised for a tête-à-tête nobody was saying anything at the moment. It appeared the present scene was in the aftermath of a previous conversation that never went cosy. The eyes of the elderly one was bloodshot; brows furrowed in concentration like the exaggerated veins on an idealized sculpture. He scowled at the son who stared at the ground in a sulk. 'Is this what I will get for all my years of caring for you and paying through my nose for your education?' the father's angry and stentorian voice broke into the silence. Then it was the turn of Segun to speak. He slowly lifted up his head and with much pains explained to his father why he would not, with his own means, support the marriage to a second wife. In Segun's words, 'It's unfair sharing love with a woman all the while only to now go hunting for another all because she's wizened.' Another reason why he would not subscribe to the troubling idea was because it contradicted Christian faith. As if the word 'faith' was the cue for his line, Segun's father blew hot once again. He would not have Segun lecture him on how to be a Christian – after all, he had been one while Segun was still a twinkle in their eyes. The argument dragged on and the paterfamilias became more violent with words. Has the aspiring matron given him a love potion immune to all oppositions and senses of reason? Whatever the case, Segun was unrelenting in giving a calm but capital no. When it dawned on Baba Segun, his alias in the neighbourhood, that no form of appeal, violent or sullen, could produce result with the adamant son, he retorted, 'Do I blame you? The parable of the elders is true indeed; if a home is at peace it's simply because the inside bastard has not yet come of age. Pshaw!' He gave a sustained hiss like the snake and walked away from the father-son meeting. The purpose of the meeting is defeated already, what is he still waiting for anyway? His so-called son has made up his mind not to fulfil his filial responsibility of financing his marriage to a second wife. He headed for the door of his room. His son's repeated calls of 'Daddy' behind him sounded way lower than a whisper in the way he ignored them. He entered his room and slammed the door with a bang so resonating the whole building felt it. Segun gaped in horror and his bottom stayed glued to his seat for the next several minutes. His daddy's reaction was more than he bargained for. CHAPTER TWO Kemi, Segun's fiancé, came visiting. In Christendom of the day the simple but sanctified title 'Brother' or 'Sister' must come before your first name. Despite some years of engagement, Segun still addressed his future partner as Sister Kemi. Kemi, Mr. Atidade's daughter, too called her love by the corresponding appellation 'Brother Segun'. A lot happened in the relationship over the past two weeks which shook it right to the foundation. The obstacle race they now ran started on the day of their formal wedding introduction. In this part of the world, wedding introduction is the first formal meeting of the families of the intending couples. It is a time of festivities and family members are at their best in period fashion and style. Joy sets the pace, merry-making caps the day. Amidst the jollification and jubilation, the crux – proper introduction and exchange of gifts – is never missed. Also the delivery of elder's speech and prayers have a prominent place reserved for them. Segun and Kemi's introduction programme looked like every other from the start and everything went well until it was the turn of Segun's father to address the gathering. Allowing the father of the future groom to speak seemed the gravest mistake made at the function. His words unloosed the nuts keeping back jaws from dropping; every pair of lips present was parted in horrendous amazement. He rattled for what seemed like ages on the dark side of Segun, his son. Above all, and most pathetic, he left no one in doubt of Segun's paternity. Segun was not his son but was adopted only out of compassion. He finally declared his dancing naked in the public as a selfless step in the best interest of the lady's family; to guide them in making informed decision. Without waiting for response or reaction, he walked out on the gathering. Others of the groom's side, seated facing the other family like the opposition in a British parliament and looking beaten by a simple majority vote, wished it were all but a bad dream. The atmosphere was imbued with uneasy silence. A dropped pin at the moment would sound like a pot tipped over; hanging in the air was tension of pandemic magnitude. They finally plucked up the courage and stood all up at once managing to drag themselves away from the scene without uttering a word to bid their to-be, or not-to-be, in-laws farewell. Segun would not move an inch from his seat. He felt his whole world tumbling down. With a jerk Baba Kemi stood to go. 'When a man prayed not to see shame but eventually got disgraced in a proportion he least bargained for, his prayer would automatically change gear, "Lord, spare my life!"' he thought to himself. With a rare show of confidence he walked out of the shame. Segun, with sharp reflexes like a good goalkeeper, sprang up from his seat and dived to grab his in-law's leg. Sinking to his knees he was sorely apologetic at the feet of Mr. Atidade. The embattled in-law, with the gross embarrassment a moment away still ringing in his head, would have none of such plea. To hell with the nose if cut off to spite the face. He freed his leg and made for his house. And the once promising wedding introduction came to a premature end. That was two weeks ago. The couple had since been raising high-power emissaries of elders and family relations upon another to pacify Mr. Oluwole Atidade. So far their pleas had all proved abortive. Oluwole would not even want to set his eyes on Segun. Of late, however, another peace-making delegation was organized and with the calibre of people involved, hopes were high they would deliver. Kemi had gone with them and Segun was anxiously looking forward to her coming to give the outcome of the meeting. One then could understand the restlessness and fidget when Segun discovered Kemi was at the door. He opened the door with enthusiasm but shrank when Kemi's face greeted him. The look on her needed no service of an interpreter to decipher. It is fish as the old Yoruba metaphor would say. He muttered welcome and silently carried his drooped shoulders and lolled head back to his favourite seat, the three seater. He sank deep into the velvet armchair. Kemi saw the verbal delivery needless. Feeling like death warmed up after the long, exhaustive session the peace league had with her father, she too walked unsteadily to the sofa Segun sat in and sat beside him with her head propped against the backrest. A distant observer would think she was appreciating the newly painted white ceiling and the stately hanging ceiling fan when actually she did not see anything around her, beautiful or ugly, sublime or ridiculous. Her thought had travelled far ahead of days and months to the end of the year, the time they fixed for their marriage ceremony. December 23 was fast becoming a mirage, a hope that was not to be. She had remembered the prayers and planning they had invested into it. The invitation cards were with the printer. All her daydreams and fantasies about the day and the days to follow – the connubial bliss of a Christian home – came to her and hot trickles of tears rolled down her cheeks to form a pool on the cloth over her cleavage. 'Sister Kemi! Sister Kemi! Sister Kemi!!' Segun had to sing out the name thrice before the bearer came back to herself to give a faint 'Yes?' 'Though a difficult time for our relationship,' began Segun, 'I would want to reassure you of my love.' He re-adjusted and faced her. It was then he noticed her wet face, he pulled a white handkerchief out from his trousers and offered it to mob the tear-soaked face. She collected it and intermittently wiped her tears as Segun spoke on. 'Your love in my heart is no ordinary love, it is divine. My sense of physical attraction wouldn't have picked your kind of a woman but for God who chose you for me and convinced me about it with abundance of proofs. That was why I could even propose to you in the first place. And thank God you gave in to my proposal based on your own personal conviction too. Ever since, we've never had any cause to regret it. And as for this...' He gave a deep sigh, looked down for a moment and then returned his head to regain the eye contact with Kemi. 'And as for this,' he got his tongue back, 'that has come our way; let me borrow the word from the mouth of Pastor Ashimolowo to describe it: it's just an ordinary circumstance. Circumstance, according to him has its original meaning to be 'this circle I'm standing in.' And when you find yourself standing in a circle in your journeying, a time will come that you will stand out of it, if you keep moving on. So, I'm moving on with this relationship. I was strongly persuaded of God to start it and I cannot now be easily dissuaded out of it by a mere circumstance which though has come our way today, we shall look for tomorrow and not find. Kemi...' The title 'Sister' got lost: it always did when emotion got on the high and raw love pervaded the air. The title 'Brother' also suffered the same fate before Segun's name at such times. '... I still love you and I do with the whole of my heart.' The last statement brought sparkle to Kemi's eyes and she plugged her hands into Segun's now outstretched hands. In reassurance of commitment to their love they held on to each other's hands for a minute longer. Had they not resolved not to hold more than hands during emotional whip-up, this particular case would have resulted in a bear bug. Twice or thrice in the past they had hugged but the smooching sensation left them disdainful ever after. To guard against the sex drive overstepping the bounds, they absorbed the code: no hugging; holding hands might just do. At all cost, the bed must not be defiled. Five months after, the delegation-sending continued, yet the issue remained a hard nut to crack. The mountain the wedding introduction raised remained insurmountable. Segun's once strong and dogged determination waned. Those words of his that would make any lady as happy as a lark for having a man who would always stand up for her come rain or shine were no longer strong enough to keep him on the offensive against doubts and hopelessness. He was in such low spirits one blessed evening, alone in his sitting room, when he lifted up his tear-laden eyes and caught a strange sight. Letters and Roman figures, without a hand, pen or brush, appeared and arranged themselves on the wall section between the ceiling and the framed painting of Jesus with outstretched arms and a bleeding heart. The cursive letters and the numerals appeared one after the other like an Ms PowerPoint slide show. At the end of the show the message boldly read Hebrews 10:36 Imaginary or real? He rubbed his eyes vigorously with his knuckles. The handwriting on the wall still stared him in the face. After a minute or two the vision cleared in the same unusual style it came. On recovering from the wonderment, Segun wasted no time in springing up and reaching for his black leatherback King James Bible. He flipped to the recommended text and read out to himself 'for ye have need of patience, that, after you have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.' And long after the page left his view, the word still stayed glued to his tongue. Not only did he play the scripture over in his mind but his voice box also enjoyed a long play-time. When he had digested it enough, he broke down in prayers and pleaded for God's grace. CHAPTER THREE The characteristic strong antiseptic smell of the hospital greeted the slim-built, dark complexioned figure approaching it. Diseases! Diseases! Diseases! What on earth are they here for? No sooner a man bearing with vim and vigour contract diseases than he becomes as weak as to requiring the support of his loved ones to walk. Like a chameleon advancing by stealth towards its prey and a wind-sailing twig moving to the left and right, so do the sickly, haggard and haunted, move, combing everywhere for drug, their sure lifeline. Second in position to death is illness in laying their victims flat on bed for days or even weeks. Plans on money and fortunes get unpleasantly halted when sickness knocks at the door to claim its entitlement. It seems the greater the advance in medical breakthrough the more the number of diseases discovered. And when these predators seemed to have exhausted the employment of human source to strike, they then began assemblage plants for their products in the animal kingdom. AIDS reigned so much for years until it becomes a pandemic; they say it originated from monkey. SARS reared its ugly head for a season in the Middle East; maybe it is not unconnected with an aboriginal animal too. Most disturbing is the one in vogue – Avian influenza. Its nomenclature of course betrayed its source – birds. It is now in our land! And they say when it begins to infect man it will give him only five days to pack his bags in preparation for the cold hands of death. Come quickly oh Lord! Now, the slim man awaited the doctor for the result of the test. Doctors! How enviable a prestige the name carries. Their knowledge seems boundless – they must have a name for every condition, even if the grandiloquent medical jargon would have to confuse the patient further. The result of the test eventually came and Mr. AdewaleToriola, Segun's Father, impatiently waited for the doctor to settle down and make the pronouncement. 'I'm sorry, sir, the test reveals that you have prostate cancer.' 'And what on earth does that mean?' 'Em, em, y-o-u h-a-v-e cancer of the private part,' he voiced the last five words as if a hot slice of yam was stuck between his palates. 'And so?' 'Some part of it would have to be surgically removed.' 'Doctor! Some part of what?!' 'Your pr-i-vate p-a-r-t, sir. It will not affect...' 'God forbid! Over my dead body will you do that!' Mr. Toriola was terribly shaken. He was on his toes almost banging on the Doctor's desk in both frustration and resentment. A person bursting into the consulting room at the moment would mistake Adewale's charge for a threat on the doctor's life for reneging on a business deal. The doctor, who was used to such loss of manners on patients receiving shocking news, stood up and professionally calmed him down. 'Ah Doctor, why must I be rendered impotent to be saved from one useless sickness? No!' In a society where manhood is synonymous with being sexually active and the stigmatization that welcomes impotency better imagined than experienced, Adewale's outburst could be well understood. 'But, Mr. Toriola, nobody is talking about being impotent here. You will still be active sexually after the operation,' the Doctor explained. Despite many pleas and persuasions from many quarters, Mr. Toriola refused to succumb to pressure to undergo the operation. 'I'll rather die a complete man than live a male pawpaw,' he would always say to himself. * * * * * Sound of music, filtering out from the first floor of the Great Nigeria house, mingled with the voice of one on the upper floor leading prayer over a loudspeaker, and the imperative baritone of yet another, on the ground floor, rounding off a Sunday school session. Great Nigeria building is one of the many storey buildings around mortuary roundabout housing almost always a church on each of their floors. The proliferation of churches around the area, one of the bustling centres of the rocky town, made it to receive a whimsical christening: Sanctuary roundabout. On Sunday mornings, like this particular one, it is commonplace for sound waves from varied sound systems – sophisticated, simple; blasting, whispering – to fight for the attention of the ordinary people across the streets. But what percentage of the people on the street turns up for the services as a result of the sound one is never too sure of. Pastor Tunji's congregation were responding to the praises with strong excitement in the air; one of their best praise-worship leaders was on the microphone. Sister Ayoolape, popularly called AY by her numerous fans and admirers, knew how to hold the congregation in ecstasies. She held great sway with her sonorous voice, lovely face and applaudable control on the instrumentalists – she knew how to make them give her what she wanted. The wall of the warehouse-turned-church reverberated with heavy music. It was one of those popular gospel macosa entries that was on the lips of everyone at the moment; Baba Baba Baba Baba Baba loke, Baba a a a a The space in the front, between the pulpit and the pew, was filled with adventurous dancers who felt the legroom at their seats was too strait for the Davidic dance to freely express their joy and thanksgiving to the creator. Others, less adventurous, found a space in the aisle to dig it. The spaces in-between the blue plastic chairs, which constituted the pew, had few people standing in them: those who did not know how to bend to the music and the lyrics. None of the ushers could frown at the scatter-diagram formation the chairs assumed as the youths engaged in the macosa shake-a-leg. The dancers first formed a bow with their legs and then began to shake them as if rendered uncontrollable by Parkinson's disease. As the leg-shaking progressed they raised their shoulders rhythmically in an over-gestured shrug and stylishly dropped them with the palms almost landing at the centre of the lower abdomen, switching from the left arm to the right and back like a pendulum. With one step forward and two backward in that posture, and a jerk of the head, they completed the exotic macosa dance. After about twenty-five minutes, the praise session came to an end to usher in the worship session which was not in any way less eventful. Some sank deep on their knees to pay homage to the Giver of life while some others lifted up their hands and heads in His colossal awe. Patches of worshippers here and there grimaced and shed tears in emotional response to the ministration. The curtain fell on the fleeting seven-minute worship and it was every man for himself as the congregation was left without ministrations of any sort for a few minutes to enable the people unwind and recover from the mood via personal thanksgiving prayers or individual worship songs. But for two very peculiar testimonies which marked a heavy presence during the testimony time the service would have gone on uneventful from the point forward. A brother that introduced himself by eight names at a go had come out to give a medical testimony – actually, that was the nomenclature commentators passed on it at the end of the day's service, during the fellowship-after-fellowship. The octopus-of-a-name brother used almost every clause in his testimony to display, in ostentation, his wealth of medical cum anatomical terms... 'I diagnosed a subacute myalgia of unknown aetiology around my thoracic cavity so I gravitated on my pelvis and pentadactyl hind limbs to the servant of God. He laid the pronated surface of the dermis and epidermis covering the phalanges of his right upper pectoral limb on the region and opened his buccal cavity to rebuke the myalgia, I felt a sharp locomotion around my external and internal intercostal muscles and diaphragm; I was cured from the pathological development instantly. Praise ye the Lord oropharyngeally'. The response of alleluia was deafening and that with a thundering applause for a job well done in thrilling the audience by the way of intricate show-off. He came down from the platform and walked back to his seat with an air of importance around him. A couple of people around his seat even shook hands with him. For the healing or the oratory? Only God knows which. Another gave a unique testimony of how he had swarm of mosquitoes around his head for days. He had tried everything to drive them away but failed. The solution came when he combined the effect of the prayer of one of the ministers for him with a spray of Baygon. This time around the reaction from the congregation was roars of laughter everywhere. About two people laughed so much their chairs almost tipped over; one of them actually fell headlong in the process. May be they never believed devil could make mosquitoes haunt a fully grown man in broad daylight as a form of spiritual onslaught. Well, he who experienced it knew better; he wouldn't laugh at himself. The time for the message finally came and everything suddenly changed. The solemnity of and the reverence for the moment can be felt in the atmosphere, both in depth and in thickness. The General Overseer of Jesus My Lord Ministries, Pastor TunjiAdetiloye, grabbed the wireless microphone laid, for his personal use, on the stool to his left and stood up to go behind the pulpit. His two associates, sitting one to his left and the other to his right on upright chairs resembling ones at the heads of a dining table, stood up in accordance with the entrenched tradition of pre-message respect for the GO. Their Daddy-in-the-Lord progressed from his armchair to the tinted all-glass pulpit. His Bible had earlier been placed on the lectern by the armour-bearer who had proceeded to carry it from the stool on the right immediately the choir rounded off their special rendition - the cue for the message. The five-and-a-half-feet tall man of God stood on the podium and for the next two to three minutes would say nothing; his eyes roamed wild among the puzzled people. The gaze went to the choir and stayed for some troubling seconds. They were well dressed – every one female among them had something in the name of a hat to cover her head, as opposed to some members on the floor who adopted a free stance. Their music, too, had been superb right from the praises to the just concluded rendition. So, what is it? The stare left them wondering as it went 180 degrees to the Pastor's aides standing at ease on his left. Neither of them had come late for the pre-service ministers' prayer and every ministerial assignment given to them so far in the service they had carried out to the best of their abilities. Why the suspicious look? His eyes turned over to the degrees they had come to meet the bewildered gape of the floor members. What is wrong with Pastor? Hope all is well. Such was the tone of the muted conversation in the house of God. His silence was finally broken and what followed was the most unusual message they had ever had from that altar. 'It is a mad world!' the GO bellowed over the state-of-the-art mega sound system. His audience looked at one another in a knowing way, as if saying, 'Did we not say something is wrong with the Pastor?' Unruffled by the sympathetic look and the low murmurs, Tunji continued with the atypical sermon preached without an introductory prayer or allowing the listeners to relax on their seats; they stood like the officers and men of the Nigerian Police Force receiving instructions from their DPO. 'I know you might have wondered what has come upon your Pastor. Yes, the way I turned my head around in silence was unusual and in fact absurd. And many thoughts would have run through your mind as my gaze travelled from one end to the other. But listen to me, nothing is wrong with me. I am in complete control of myself. As usual, I had prepared today's sermon through some sleepless nights searching the scriptures and praying that the message makes meaningful impact on our lives. Up to five minutes ago I had maintained the status quo waiting for the time to preach. Then, all of a sudden, I heard the voice of the spirit of God in my spirit clearly saying, "It's a mad world: a world of breakneck speed: 30 seconds-microwave oven, pop-in-and-eat fast food outlets, near-speed-of-light rocket, real-time internet networking and the much-fantasized human cloning that will need no 9-month pregnancy. Why do they always want everything so fast? They are always in a hurry for everything. Anyway, it's the world controlled by the prince of the lower air whose time is short and days are numbered. So, I wouldn't be surprised. But, why? Why would even some of my children also climb on the bandwagon of haste? Did I not say that he that believes will not make haste?" 'I felt the Holy Spirit was just making a general comment on the body of Christ. I thought it was only a message for Christendom in its entirety. But, he cautioned and told me not to go too far; He was talking to me about this congregation staring me in the face right now. And this is how He put it: "many are they among you, my sons; who are going at breakneck speed, slow down or else you break your neck!" I heard this and I was shocked. I climbed the pulpit with only one burning passion – that the Holy Spirit might point out those concerned to me and that I might shout at them at the top of my voice, "stop trying to outrun God!" That passion made me look around in the way you've seen it. I pursued it vigorously with my eyes but it was not to be. I couldn't figure out just one person among you in that mess; He wouldn't tell me. The Holy Spirit wouldn't tell me...' He went on his knees and, with great emotion and troubling of the spirit, pleaded with his congregation, 'Please, my dearly beloved, make no haste! Our God is not slack concerning his promises; wait for Him. He will make all things beautiful for you in His time. Don't outrun God. I beseech you by the mercies of God, don't! Don't outrun God!' As he continued to hammer the last sentence, knees, two by two, in the congregation, began to find the carpet-laid floor until more than half of the population were with bowed heads and bended knees. With profound groans and deep wails, the suppliants raised their voices to God. * * * * * 'Aboruboye nile ifa o?' 'Aboye bo sise o!' the bald old herbalist replied the voice greeting him from outside. Baba Awo was busy consulting his oracle consisting of some kernels on a wide cane dish. He himself, garbed in immaculate white wrapper tied over his right shoulder and a complementing white singlet as the top, sat on a local mat with the objects of his consultations in-between his outstretched legs. Many grotesque objects hung in a slipshod manner all over the room. On the floor of one of the corners of the strait apartment under the aegis of the Irumoles were carved human head figures wet and sticky with oily libations with a square piece of red clothing hanging over the point where two walls met. Baba Awo finally stopped his incantations to attend to his client. 'Regular or novice?' 'Regular, Baba!' 'Then you may proceed to come in.' Mr. Toriola entered, undid his shoes at the foot of the door – only the sole of his feet, and not that of his shoes, could touch the sacred mat or else he commits a sacrilege. He took a bow to the ground in form of an ablution to the gods at the red corner and then sat cross-legged on the mat to make his case before Baba. He had decided to seek the traditional way out of his present predicament. 'Dewale, you have the solution already. Just dab at the floor and impress its peace upon your heart thrice,' the octogenarian said with a thickly accented dialect. After observing the figurative instruction literally, Adewale was charged exorbitantly for the treatment. He agreed to the terms and paid a deposit of more than half of the cost on the spot. The bald man took all his time to rise to his feet and then exited through a door, plainly covered by the dried hide of a wild carnivore, to an inner room. When he reappeared, it was with a gourdlet plugged in the mouth with pigeon's plumes. He handed it over to Adewale and directed that he should add some of its content to his food for a whole week and the prostate cancer would soon become a thing of the past. With drenching showers of thanks and lion-brave confidence he departed the den of the gods. CHAPTER FOUR As fate would have it, AY and Segun met one-to-one, on two occasions, within a week. The first was in the evening of that peculiar service. Pastor Tunji had announced there would be no evening house fellowship at the centres. He charged all and sundry to use the hours meant for the fellowship they had now been relieved of to go out into their localities for aggressive personal evangelism. AY was occupied with some gossipy whispers, as it was becoming of the choristers of their days among themselves, at the time of announcement. Of course, she missed the information. In the evening, she was on her way to Segun's residence, the house fellowship centre for those living around Onikoko. Both surprise and doubt gripped her as the blue, one-storey building started coming to view. The time was quarter past five, they should be fifteen minutes into the meeting now, but no sign of any ongoing activities inside could be seen. No two cars – Brother Wale, the centre coordinator's blue Datsun 120Y hatchback and a cream flat-boot Benz 190 saloon belonging to Deacon Agbaye – were parked outside and no worship filtering out of the room to welcome her. AY was a habitual but timely latecomer – fifteen minutes past, no more no less. In the church she was a celebrated, near-venerated, worker but at the centre, a notorious benchwarmer. Her late-coming was part of her tactics to free herself of any commitment in the group. Fifteen minutes was enough time to have apportioned all the responsibilities available to those present. Her bewilderment deepened when even Brother Segun's face wore a look of astonishment on sighting her. 'What's the problem? No house fellowship today?' she retorted. 'Good evening Sister AY. Nice seeing you around.' Segun attempted breaking the tension. 'Ah! Ah! Please pardon my poor sense of courtesy, Brother Segun. Good evening. But I'm actually at a loss. What's happening to the house fellowship?' She was never done with her confusion. 'Un-hmn! I was wondering myself because this is the actual time you normally surface at the house fellowship. You really come for the house fellowship?' Though she felt the question was a bit stupid she gave a nod all the same. 'If you were not at the service this morning I would have understood. But now I'm stupefied.' AY quickly changed her approach knowing quite alright that she had missed something in the morning announcement. 'I'm sorry. I was busy during announcement. Was it announced that there would be no fellowship today?' she asked pitifully. 'Yes, we were to use the time for personal evangelism in our neighbourhood. In fact, I was just preparing to go out for that when you came in.' 'Ah! Pardon my ignorance. I'm sorry for delaying you. Let me be on my way then.' She stood to go. Segun would not let her. This is a sister admired by almost all the single brothers in the church. An audience with her is a golden privilege that must never be allowed to be short-lived. So, she must not go just like that. 'No, not so soon. Not until I have treated you to light refreshment with soft drink. And if you wouldn't mind we could then go out together for the witnessing. At least, the Bible too said he sent them out two by two.' Though they both laughed over the witty allusion, she tried to put up a feigned resistance to the intended treat. Segun's persistent enthusiasm ensured it did not go through. He kept her busy with his album while he dashed out. In no time he was back with a bottle of fizzy Fanta pineapple and a package of sumptuous pie, looking professionally baked by a Mr. Biggs-standard fast food joint in the neighbourhood. 'Sister AY, I'm sorry this is all I could offer o. You know this is a chronic bachelor's place. But really, if not for my pot that was on holiday I would have made you a lump-less pounded yam as smooth as the earlobe, with good Amaranthus soup garnished here and there with powerful balls of egusi, and a big fresh catfish carrying a big egusi ball on the floor of its mouth.' 'Um! If all the ingredients are here right now, can you cook half as good as you just have painted?' She beamed and the radiant face threw up its elegance. Segun was spurred on to be a good laugh. 'You try me. Just enroll me in this year's National Maggi Cooking Competition and see how I will defeat chefs from Mr. Biggs, Tantalizer, Sweet Sensation, Mama Cass, just name it. You go know say khaki no be leather. I was not my Mummy's special assistant in kitchen matters in those days for nothing. I bet, with due respect to your royal and precious majesty, if I will not beat you hands down in a cooking contest.' 'Whaoh! Unbelievable!' 'The unbelievability is my pleasure, Madame. By the way, Sister AY, I must confess that the praise and worship session you led this morning was something else – it was electrifying, soul-lifting and heaven-rendering' 'Ah-ah! I'll take that for flattery. Who am I and my talent to deserve such an accolade?' 'No! who has the time to spare on flattery. I mean every word of it. You are a rear gem to the church. May God continue to increase you to bless our generation the more.' 'Amen !' She responded laughingly. 'I mean I was really, really, really blessed by the ministration.' AY was all giggles till she finished the light refreshment provided. Straight after, she freely offered herself to be his witnessing partner. Not that they didn't face what they set out to achieve – in fact they led five to six people to Christ – but their partnering off naturally ended up a date. A relationship was established; platonic or more, only time would tell. The second encounter was an offshoot of the first and was as coincidental as the first. In their course of seeking out souls to bring the Good News to, AY had informed Segun of her upcoming birthday on Friday and wanted him to be her guest. She was only marking it and not celebrating it, she had stressed. Segun should therefore not expect much: 'Just to take sobo and some groundnuts with friends.' She had jocularly said. Friday is here. Segun put on his best shirt – a light blue packaged shirt sent to him by his cousin abroad. He was proud of the top because of its Marks and Spencer label. With a pair of navy blue plain designer trousers, well-buffed, black, narrow-toe shoes and a black Versace belt, he completed the dressing. He contemplated knotting a tie but dropped the idea after amusing himself with the question: 'Segun, are you the ministering MOG of the occasion?' * * * * Baba mimo mimo mimo mo wa sope o oba nla Baba mimo mimo mimo mo wa sope o oba nla F'ore to o se laye mi o po oba nla F'ore to o se laye mi o po oba nla The popular track of Tope Alabi, a Yoruba Gospel music performer nonpareil, charged the atmosphere of the mini-hall from the background, as the items on the birthday programme were happily carried out with a romp. The generator of the music was the Ore ti o Common album disc turning in the CD player of a 3500-watt Sharp stereo standing as tall as the third of an average man's height. The stereo stood at one angle of the hall designated DJ's corner while its two woofer speakers were placed high on corner-braces, one adjacent the DJ's corner and the other opposite it. A ring, with the celebrant's chair and a cake-carrying decorated table at its head, was the seating arrangement. Brother Sola, popularly called Wonderful Brother, was in the centre turning here and there to compere. From time to time he cracked side-splitting jokes and the assembly found it difficult not to get their teeth into them. 'The brevity of the chronological mensuration cannot accommodate the longevity of the provisioned thingamabob for the programme...' 'Eh-eh, oyinbo poju!' one lady ejaculated from the audience. 'Please, sir, can you help us break it down? Abeg, no give us migraine, dear professor emeritus!' another, a brother, requested. 'Anyway, what I'm saying in essence is that though we have a lot of things to do, the time is short, OK?' 'Effico! The hall roared with amusement and applause. You mean you can't remember this brother? He is the one and the same person that gave the medical testimony. Who knows whether he studies his dictionary, medical or English, more than his Bible. 'Thank you, thank you. Don't mention it. What are enemies for!' His ironic use of 'enemies' caused another fit of giggles to permeate the audience. 'The basket has been passed round and you must have picked something. Now if I point at you, just walk up here and tell us what is inside the piece of paper you picked.' He pointed at one brother but that one said the basket did not get to him. He pointed again and the lot fell on Segun. He came out, unwrapped the paper and read out what he foud therein. 'Dance and gist with the celebrant for two solid minutes!' 'Whaoh! That is phantasmaglorious! Hold on, please hold on DJ. None of us should be left out in this networking. This is what we are going to do. Get someone beside you and you too can interact with him or her for those two minutes. No dancing in your own case however.' He turned to Segun and AY who were now standing together. 'And to both of you, "Holiness to the Lord" o?' He feigned a baritone, 'Thou shall not tamper with the holiness gap.' The two beamed with enthusiasm. 'I request the DJ to play us a soft, slow-moving gospel. They can't be dancing marcossa and still be able to colloquize. Yes or no?' The echo was in the affirmative. 'Meanwhile, if you can't find anyone to spin a yarn with, I'm very much available. Let the music roll.' It was time to continue where they stopped on Sunday evening as they rocked lazily to the music. When it all ended the two minutes seemed two seconds. Segun craved for more. * * * * * Segun got to his door but could not put the key in the lock. He bent to the peephole and discovered another key hanging in the lock from the inside. Definitely Sister Kemi is around. He knocked at the door and Kemi was prompt to open. They held hands and got inside. She had come with the progress report as usual. 'Brother Segun, the good news is that Daddy's attitude is getting more and more favourable by the day. From the look of things he will give his full consent with one or two more delegations'. She noticed Segun was not showing interest. It was taking him unnecessarily long pulling off his shoes. He was bent double to the task and would not even lift as much as his eyes when she mentioned 'good news'. 'Brother Segun!' she tapped him on the back, 'it seems you are not even interested in what I'm saying. You are not saying anything. Is anything the matter?' Segun jerked up his head, managed a reluctant smile and spoke with an interest that was only skin-deep. 'I'm interested now. Nothing is wrong, it's only that I'm tired. I'm sorry.' 'Then say something to the issue on ground,' Kemi queried. 'I'm happy. Yes, I'm happy that Daddy is responding. I just pray that the Daddy upstairs will grant us good speed.' 'Amen. He will. But you know God's time is the best. He makes all things beautiful in His time and ours shall not be an exception. God will help us. Let's just hold on to Him till the end.' Segun concluded the dialogue with, 'It is well.' Somebody else is beginning to steal Segun's heart. A real-life osmosis is taking place across his heart – love is moving from an area of higher concentration to that of lower concentration. But then, when the two sides are balanced, one must be discarded, for the heart understands romantic love only in the language of elimination by substitution. There can be no greater confusion in the heart than that of love. CHAPTER 5 3 – 2 = 1 heart praying 4 u. 1 + 1 = 2 eyes looking at u. 3 + 4 = 7 days thinking of u. 7 + 5 = 12 months asking God to protect and bless u, because u're special! How is ur day? The Lord is ur muscle. Shalom. Segun finished punching in the short message and was about sending it when he caught sight of the figure 269/2 at the top right hand corner of his Nokia 1100's LCD. That suggested the message had spilled over to the second page, meaning an additional cost. Segun, a shrewd and thrifty SMS-sender, could not tolerate it. The service is called short message and it should remain as such. He looked for ways of trimming down the text to one page. After reading through twice he discovered he had been too generous with spaces. He removed the space immediately after every punctuation mark and operation sign. Still the character-and-page number indicator was reading 279/2. What could he do? He removed the 'g' ending all the present participle verb forms. He abbreviated 'months' to 'mths' and 'because' to 'cos', then 'at' was transformed to its internet sign, '@', and the conjunction 'and' to its popular symbol '&'. When it would still not go for one page he finally decided to delete 'shalom' and was happy with what he saw at the corner – 300/1. No wonder some of his friends called him SMS Ijebu. On several occasions he had sent texts with too many contractions. It would take the receiver several minutes of logically slotting in the missing letters for the meaning of the SMS to flow out. He could receive a 3-page text and resend it in just one page. He had to be this generous with the text because of the recipient involved – AY. But ironic enough, he was a well-known magnanimous giver among brethren. He keyed in AY's number offhand – no need of going through the search option in the terminal equipment's phonebook. OK. In about twelve seconds the screen read, 'Message sent', and ten more seconds, 'Delivered to AY' flashed on and off the display unit. AY flashed back to acknowledge the receipt of the text. Segun's gaze had stayed on the petite, black-and-silvery Nokia expecting the flash. Terminating a call while still ringing, before the called could pick it up, had become a cheap form of sending warm but dumb greetings and acknowledgment to friends and loved ones. The verb 'flash' was whimsically coined out for this special service maybe because of the speed involved. The flasher must be on the red alert – his ear on the receiver-mic and his thumb on the red button – or else he has himself to blame. Actually, flashing costs nothing. You must have airtime validity and a few kobo of credit left though. With that, one could go ahead to flash the whole world. But if one of those flashed prematurely picks the call, maybe accidentally or deliberately – as a sort of punishment or mischief – your flashing credit goes down the drain. So it is a game of speed. An extended use of the flashing technique plays out when the younger intend sending the older a free electronic SOS which could be equivalent to a telegram message that sounds like: please call me. Segun flashed a smile and then withdrew to his sofa to reminiscent on the series of happenstance, as the Americans will say, that had brought him thus far with the beautiful and talented AY. Only a month into the relationship and the developments seemed built over years. The way nature arranged the events and their rolling out, scene upon scene and act upon act, made Segun conclude: 'God is arranging the circumstances to prove a point.' 'And what is the point?' 'This lady is meant for me.' 'Are you sure? Has that conclusion passed the joy and peace test?' 'My peace seemed a bit withdrawn about it. But does it really matter? Time can take care of that.' 'You are treading on a dangerous path, Segun, you are!' 'Allow me please!' and with that he ended the conversation with his conscience. His mother, Mama Sola, came visiting two hours later. Her furrowed face bore the concern of the severing relationship between Segun and his father. Baba Segun lay critically ill at the General Hospital, Oke-Ijeun. He had been there for two weeks but Segun did not bother to send a word, much less a visit. The gap between him and his father, created at the pre-introduction, yawned by the day. Things were making a turn for the worse and Mama Segun could bear it no longer. She had come in the company of her last born, Sola. 'Ah! Segun! You are wicked. Did your younger brother not deliver my message to you that your father is sick and bedridden?' her emotional outburst characteristically feminine. 'Deji delivered your message. But I can't come,' Segun said bluntly. 'Why, Segun, why?' Mama taken aback. 'What do I have to do with him again, Mummy? He had denied me. He did. He said he is not my father. He said it with his own mouth and I've made myself to come to terms with it. The denial sank so deep and I lost all feelings toward him. I had to actually force myself to even pray for his recovery, and that once. I struggle with my conscience daily but visiting him is too much an honour I can't afford, Mama. He went too far to shame me only to carry me farther to shear me of all feelings and honour I hold for him...' 'Segun! Segun!' his mother cut it, 'My Adesegun! If we forget not yesterday's grudge we will have no one to take to the game.' The crown that brought me conquest The Alani who is no fool In a single swipe He splits eko, the half-solid gruel Twenty wraps down the gut And he still wants more Adesegun, their son in Igbein The Igbeins, the sons of Ojowu And Ojowu, the son of Sikiki Who would bring home produce If the farmer he met on the farm Even in the farmer's absence He would still cart the produce home But then in superfluity The farmer's cursing Ranting and raving Never took a toll on your ancestor And cursing never does On your lineage ever since Son of ...' 'Oh! Please, please, please, Mummy. You know I don't like all this ancestral praise-singing. Please stop it...' 'Adesegunfunmi, my one and only! Eh! For the sake of this my womb that bore you for nine months; these my knees that bended to bring you to birth; these my two breasts that nourished you in your first year and for the sake of this my back that carried you for two years, please forgive your father. Jo oko mi. My son that is like a husband to me, please. Everyone has his day of blunder. Agreed that your wedding pre-introduction day was his day of blunder, eh? But Alani ogo, Alani is no fool, please find a place in your heart to forgive and let bygones be bygones. You need to bury the hatchet my son.' The atmosphere dripped with emotion. Even Sola, the 13-year old, caught the current. Her eyes, fixated on the mother-son scene, were saturated with the tear-gland fluid ready to trickle down any moment. Mrs. Toriola had succeeded in infecting every occupant of the sitting room with emotive germ. Segun contracted the endemic and a lump was stuck to his throat. He was gradually getting mollified as he succumbed to the feminine tear-power supplying the atmosphere with the electricity in high horsepower. He is no wood, how will he not succumb! Yes, it will only take a wood to stand unyielding when mother's tears start yielding in squirts. He dropped his head, shook it vigorously and was still for a while. When he finally lifted up the bloodshot eyes, his exasperation had been defused. 'But Mummy, I'm confused. He said he was not my father. Here you are saying I should forgive him being my father. Would there be smoke without fire? Would Daddy...' the first time in many days his heart and mouth would reconcile to call Mr. Toriola daddy, 'have said it if nothing broods at the back of his mind? Mummy, does the mouth not speak out of the abundance of the heart?' The conveyance of his conviction was wrapped up as he awaited its effect. The middle-aged mother heaved a great sigh but not of relief. It was time she visited the past she dreaded even its mere mention. She acute-angled her head on the upright, the backrest, of the sofa as she travelled down memory lane. 'It was some twenty-nine years ago. You were six months in my womb then. Some three men, armed with matchete, burst into our home while your father and I were asleep. They dragged him out and, oh my God! They murdered him, in very cold blood!' She stopped cold and the valve to her tear-store let go freely. Cascading tears pervaded every particle of the emotional pause. Segun squeezed his eyes shut as if remembering something. Yes, the dream. Those three men. That man he bore uncanny resemblance to who was hacked down mercilessly. The woman heavy with pregnancy. Every detail streamed up his memory. Then, they were obscure, even to his pastor. But now, the pictures came out crystal clear. 'The dream!' 'What dream, Adesegun?' 'I saw everything in that dream a year ago!' 'Eh, what did you see?' 'Daddy was matcheted to death. You came out, saw it and blacked out. I saw everything vividly in the dream.' When weeping weds wondering, a sight to behold indeed it is. With eyes oozing tears and mouth agape in wonder, the matriarch was lost in meditation on God's awesome reign of providence over the earth. 'So it is true that Daddy is not my father. But wait Mummy, why then do I bear Adesegun Toriola?' 'I'm not yet through, Adesegun. After the incident, which God showed you in your dream, a lot still happened. I was revived and comforted afterwards. I had hardly adjusted to this which life threw at me when it threw me another. No sooner were my days of mourning over than your father's family stood against me insisting I was responsible for his death. Gbolagade mi, my one and only. How could I have killed my loving and graceful husband! There was no means I didn't employ to prove my innocence. I even subjected myself to swearing an oath before the deity. Still they tortured my existence. When I couldn't bear it anymore I ran away and came down to Abeokuta here. Your pregnancy was eight months old then. Though Abeokuta was supposed to be the country-home of all Egbas, I knew nobody - no friend, no relative. I went through hell. Life was toughest. I had to attend to wicked canteen owners, sell pure water and peddle fruits and vegetables. 'Because I couldn't afford antenatal care I resigned to fate; if God would permit I would be delivered of you safely but if not and I would have to lose my life in the process, so be it. But thanks be to God who had a better plan for me. He saw my plight and divinely connected me with this man you have known as your father all your life. He took me in with the pregnancy and took every responsibilities over it and over you when you came. It was life moving from the depth of the quagmire to the height of the mountain range – a new lease of life. And it was to honour the man that has done, and means, so much to me that I gave you his surname. Maybe by that step, Adesegun, I went too far, please pardon me. You are of age now, you can right the wrong. Your real father's family name is Alapatira. You can be Adesegun Alapatira. But please Adesegun, even if your surname walks away from Toriola, let not your affection for him toe the trail. He has done so much for you and your mother. Please, let his pound of past good deeds outweigh this his penny of momentary misdemeanour. He still loves you Adesegun.' The atmosphere has been charged up again. Tears freely flowed down every eye in the room. If an outside observer called it showers of tears he would make no mistake. Even if a man who had just had tortoise's head steak, a diet believed by the Yorubas to be an exclusive preserve of a scrooge, had walked in, he would shed proper tears, not crocodile. 'Adesegun,' she picked up the reconciliation bid where she left off, 'every minute that ticks away tugs Adewale Toriola closer to the grave. And only you can restrain his galloping down six feet below the earth.' 'Me? Why? How?!' Segun erupted with a repertoire of one-word questions in response to the responsibility being stacked against him. Something was in his mother's voice that told him this was not about footing his foster father's hospital bill. He had known her all his life and could bet his life on it that her prod was not pecuniary. There was more to it than met the eyes and he couldn't wait to hear her out. 'When your father, I mean the man you bear his surname before now, spurned medical treatment, despite degenerating health, I prevailed on him, as a last resort, to go with me to seek spiritual help in a church. There, we were given the only antidote that would remedy the situation.' 'And what was it?' growing impatient. 'That he has so much offended an anointed one and what we have at hand is the consequence. Only the prayer of that same anointed one can save him from the dangling doom.' 'And?' 'And when I added one to two in my heart, I arrived at you.' 'Mummy!' 'Adesegun, if all my pleas have landed right on your eardrums then it is time to act and that quickly. Adesegunfunmi, my one son that is worth seven others.' * * * * * Still, Mr. Adewale Toriola was adamant on not undergoing the testoctomy. Had he, he would have long been placed under the deep X-ray therapy. That means his case would have been transferred to UCH, Ibadan – the only health institution in the South-West with the deep X-ray machine. He had been to the radio-therapy ward of UCH before to visit a cancer patient on admission. Though the patient, a childhood friend, eventually died of the disease, images of the untold hardship faced by those who had come from far and near to 'pass under the machine' were still fresh in his memory. There were always too many people waiting for their turn on the roll every day. Eventually some would be turned back in gross disappointment at the end of the day, around 7pm sometimes. These had had their names called out in the morning among those to be attended to in the course of the day. Schedule for exposures would have to be thrown into the trashcan. Ten exposures to be taken within two weeks might extend over two more weeks. That is if the patient was even lucky and also knew how to rub the palm of the attendants. Only God knows the ratio of those who died out of the scarcity of the essential healthcare infrastructure to those the obstinate cancer killed. That he met many from the East there could mean that even in the South-East, the machine was almost non-existent. 'Ah! Nigerian Government!' he muted the exclamation as his nervous system reminded him he was in a hospital – sustainable silence, aside from involuntary cries, must be the lifestyle. 'Why worry my head. I never fully subscribe to Western medicine anyway. Testoctomy, injection or deep X-ray, I would have none,' he rounded off the soliloquized murmur. He was right. It was the wife's plea cum pressure that saw him to the hospital, and with the way things were going, the hospital management might soon discharge, or rather evict, him. What was he still waiting for – he had blatantly refused all the other options beside pills and capsules offered. * * * * * The cab pulled up in front of the freshly repainted General Hospital and Segun took his time to alight. He couldn't be faster. The front passenger seat had pressed so hard on his long femur-borne knees and would need to push it a bit forward to free his legs one at a time, like legs stuck in the proverbial local palm oil mill. The cab, a Datsun 120Y saloon painted with Ogun State taxi colour of green with two parallel yellow stripes running along the sides and the centre of the boot and the bonnet, was near rickety. He partly regretted not being selective a bit. It was the custom of Abeokuta commuters to pick and choose cabs. They had all the time and chance – resources scarce to passengers in Lagos, a neighbouring state, who were ever in a mad rush. This was Segun's first time at the hospital. He was welcomed by the board on the gate showing the visiting hours. 4.00 – 6.00pm! Thank God it's just some minutes after four. So he would have been turned away if far, far earlier. He exchanged pleasantries with those at the security post and as it is becoming of every visitor he asked for directions to the male ward. With reluctant steps he entered the hub of the hospital. The deceleration was due to the ongoing conflicts in his mind – the guilt of not making the get-well-quick visit earlier and the vent of deflated pre-introduction fulfilment. A bold label betrayed the male ward. He was just navigating the corridor towards the nurse/inquiry desk at the other end when he stumbled on a familiar voice. He turned in its direction and there at the farthermost corner to the left was his mother. His gaze steeply descended and met his old man's. He froze. A minute or two later, he clicked into gear and started towards the bed though against a most powerful friction. Adewale's quest for forgiveness swelled to the brim. With an emotional call-out, he broke his son's resistance. He extended arms hungry for an embrace. Segun was overcome. He rushed into the arms. Sparkling tears hunted one another down their natural gorges on the face of the on-looking mother, and wife. She watched the intertwined two in a togetherness that has so long eluded them all with rapture. From the endocardium Adewale rolled out the Elastoplast, 'Adesegun, I am very sorry for all the hurts I have caused you. Please, do find a place in your heart to forgive me.' All eyes with good sight in the ward turned away from the captivating Nollywood Yoruba movie on Gateway Television, the state-owned station which the ward TV was tuned to and which hardly featured such on its daily line-up. The unfolding scene at the ward's outstage stole the show and tucked in all attention. Surely, Segun did forgive his father. He passionately prayed for him while still deep in his embrace. The joy of forgiveness gained entrance and Adewale's body reacted positively to it. He could not conceal it. After the prayer he opened up. 'Segun, while you were praying, something moved in my body and I felt light.' 'Hallelujah! Glory be to God. That is the Spirit of God,' Segun concluded. No doubt, the jinx had been broken and the siege over. CHAPTER 6 The balance of the day assumed a sloppy sloth towards the even. The blazing ball that had extended its rays to the horizon for the greater length of the day retired with moderate brilliance at its trail. The golden plate warmed up to clock in for the administration of the heavenly canopy. It trotted over the mountains of grey clouds emerging a spitting distance from the rendezvous where the crown of buildings and trees fused with the firmament. Wisps of smoke from the fires of wives in the city suburbia prepared the atmosphere to well-deservedly welcome the handover. The swing shift was for the re-solemnization of what the daily attempts at providing bare necessities had put asunder. Husbands would be brought back from the daily hustle and bustle into the safe hands and gourmet pots of their wives. Segun was in the sitting room overcome in two parts. The physical and mental exhaustion induced by the rigors of maintaining two jobs a day was the first part. He was a pedagogue at both a public secondary school and an evening private coaching centre. His work schedule was usually rounded off by six o' clock. The other part of the exhaustion was emotional. He was fuming at the reception his wife threw at him. It was his first day out to work after their wedding. AY had answered his homecoming compliments from the bedroom. She would not bother coming out. And when he endured it and composed himself to demand his right of food, the mistress's response shocked him the more. Without apology she threw instructions at him, 'Get to the kitchen and check the blue warmer, the wraps of Eba are there. Help yourself to the soup. I really need this sleep so badly.' His little remaining strength drained from him instantly. He dropped into one of the three single-seating armchairs – the one closest to the main door. With head lolled forward and propped on the arms, he fumed in silence like a bottled acid. His condition sparked off a spate of reminiscences. Things he never stopped to think of then climbed up his cerebral neurones. With Kemi, the scenario would have been different. Poor lady! Strongly, he was feeling for her. He could remember the last time he set eyes on her. He felt sorry for how he treated her then. It was in his bachelor room. She had burst into the familiar terrain – she even held a spare key – brimming over with triumphant joy. From outside she had called out to Segun announcing her father's final submission to the will of God for the couple. After the long wait she believed the news would be victory at last for them both. But the sight that met her eyes stunned her joy to evaporation in a nanosecond. She stood stone-cold. Segun and AY were at the table sorting out wedding invitations. To confirm her open doubt Segun extended an invitation to her without as much as a word and continued with his engagement. She congealed for minutes. He had noticed her out of the corner of his eyes and could imagine seeing her mind's eyes staring at her world crash-landing like the almost always fatal Nigerian plane crashes. He felt sorry for her. If he could have stood up, walked up to her and declared with a smile, 'It's all just a big joke. We are still together,' her numbness would have been salvaged, though that would be the most unbelievable joke ever hatched. He remained on his seat half-heartedly busy. Omoye has already made her nude appearance at the market square. Of what good is running after her with a complete set of attire. AY was quite aware that this woman, shorn of joy and left to devastation in the emotional torture chamber, had her man first. Either out of malice or out of contempt, her inner judge to determine, she made no input as well. Segun's heart was as heavy as tonnes of cocoa beans for the length of Kemi's stupefaction. It seemed like ages. Then the uneasy relief came. Without as much as a whisper, Kemi walked out of the house and his life in the speed of a snail. Back to the present, another journey down the immediate past was about to begin in the convolutions of his forebrain over the same subject. 'Kemi, what a woman! She gave her best within the limits of what Christian courtship would allow?' He thought. He recollected some occasions at the more mature stage of their courtship when she would come to help with some sanitary chores and meal preparation while he was away at work. When it was a quarter to six she would set the table, covering the dishes and enamel bowls, and then dash out. Welcoming one's husband from work with an endearing osculation, warn embrace and hot dishes is a delight exclusively preserved for marriage, she would not want to have a premature taste of it – she often told him days later. How he longed for those days when he would come in to a surprise meal set on the dining with a note. The note, usually clipped at an edge to the tray bearing the stock bowl, would most affectionately read: I LOVE YOU 'Now I have a wife, at home from morning till evening. Thanks to her leave. Yet no set table. Not even a warm welcome to rub off the day's demand. Sleep has engaged her in an assignment more important than all these. Imagine! I should go to the kitchen and dish out my food myself! My own self! What does she take me for? Her child? That's very naughty of her. Kemi would never do such a thing. I lost her by a whisker of impatience. Ah Kemi! What a great loss!' 'Comparing themselves with themselves they are not wise.' 'But should one not appreciate what is good? We must call a spade a spade. You too know it too well that Kemi is better off.' 'Crying over split milk?' 'Very painful I allowed it spill in the first place.' 'Why not try to make the most of what you now have rather than cry over what you never can get again.' 'But this is too much. In her first throw she hit me below the belt!' 'Stomach it and prudently communicate your displeasure later on.' Easier said than done. The advice from the voice in his heart looked perfect. But the devastating exasperation would not take to it. It had taken a toll on him for two hours already. Lassitude now drowned him in the sofa on which anger had earlier floored him in supineness. It was a quiet fit while it lasted. From the time he gave his life to Christ, ten years ago, he had worked through his temperamental disposition to provocation. It was transformed from tantrum to sulkiness. The change was really necessary for him to continue as a faith possessor and not just a professor then. Countless times he had had to get rededicated to the course of the Christ in those his developing days. No thanks to the unchristian verbal outbursts. Each time he responded to the first impulse when angered, he would be digressed a bit from the Way. And the muddling of the conviction to repent with the devil's deception of loss of salvation would make him go a day or two on a prodigal journey. It would take the next available altar call to save the day and his soul. Though commitment to God's service along the line had saved him from the toing and froing, he still had issues with anger. Anger had been around him for donkey years. Even in his teens, Mama Sola preferred sending him on an errand when he was boiling. She would say, 'That is when he would deliver on my errand in no time at all.' She was right. The young Segun would neither greet anyone on the way nor throw banters the whole length of the fit which usually outlasted the assignment. 'Segun no longer boils. Thank God for Christ. But he can still be too sullen for comfort.' One of his childhood friends had remarked during Segun's last birthday when it was time for free-for-all remarks. Segun admitted it was his cultivated weak point. It was a quarter past eight. AY was having a sweet sleep on her matrimonial bed. She turned her side unconsciously. Her sleeping lips moved and muttered some undecipherable words for a long second before they were sealed again – a strange reflex for an adult, much less a female adult. Certainly, she was in the middle of some dream. Back in the sitting room, Segun was still lying on the three-seater. He was lost in thought, oblivious of the darkness that had crept into the room. Visibility was difficult but then his sight was not here but there, in the mind. The silhouette of shapes and figures in the room, imposed by the protracted power cut of Power Holdings, the Nigerian electricity authority, cried for illumination from a lantern at the very least. Segun's mind was too preoccupied. Out of mind. Out of sight. 'Tolu was right. My sullenness is very unpleasant. Not only to others but also to me myself.' He thought. He was thinking about the torrents of thoughts that always bedevilled him and sapped his strength dry whenever he was in a sulk. No, I won't with my own hands destroy my home. I might not have liked her approach. Her presentation might be rude. But then there's no smoke without fire. I must get to the root of it. But till we have a heart-to-heart, I give her the benefit of the doubt. I'm learning to lean. Just then AY walked into the sitting room quietly and carefully. With her right hand she scrambled for the way until the hand came to rest on the arched back of the two-seater. Her hands ran the arch through its length until she got to the far end of the sofa, opposite the kitchen door. She did not bother to call out to her husband. The absence of the lantern light had its usual conclusion; her man had either slept off on the rug or in one of the sofas. In the kitchen she located a box of matches and the lantern. She struck four sticks successively and failed. Each time, the reddish brown spark substance produced flame but the attached uncooperative stem stifled it almost immediately. 'Ah! Niger! Nothing is of quality again in Nigeria. Gone are the days of the popular and effective triple-picture match boxes.' She breathed her frustration. She was lucky on the fifth attempt. Quickly she suspended the transparent glass globe with the side-lever and torched the lantern's wick with the flame. The globe released. The flame regulated. Something told her to check the blue polystyrene food container. Her eyes popped when she saw the three wraps of eba, a food made from boiled and creamed grains of cassava, intact. She instantly knew she was in for trouble. What has she done wrong. She started some self-probe. For some five minutes, her legs would not agree with her heart on presenting herself at the sitting room for the obvious subpoena. Her eyes surveyed the kitchen aimlessly but vigorously, like the proverbial ear-cut thief. At last she summoned up the courage and advanced towards the sofa-and-electronic-gadgetry room, albeit slowly. The light led the way she sluggishly followed. Then she lowered her eyes on the sofa for three. There lay her beloved. He turned in a reflex towards the infiltrating light and his eyes looked horrible when AY zoomed in on them. She has jumped into the river already, fearing the cold now is useless. Though the grim face was highly repellent she drew closer and closer to it. Then she did what she never in her wildest dream thought she would do: she sank to her knees before her cross partner. Her tender hands seduced him to forgive while her mouth quickly laid out her reason. 'Sweetheart, I'm very sorry. It was not intentional. I was having some headache. So, I took Panadol and a nap to help me up.' Segun was floored by the explanation. His seething was stilled instantly, like the soup in an aluminium pot. One pleasant thought made a mockery of him. 'Women, so powerful! What is it they want they won't get!' He got up, sat up, helped her up and tendered a complementary apology. 'I'm sorry too in any way I've overreacted. I'm again sorry if I've been too harsh on you. We are still learning to understand each other. But it will no go without saying that communication builds a strong home. I wouldn't have felt offended if you had included a sentence or two about your headache in your welcoming words. I would have even forgotten about the food first, come around to the bedroom and stroke your hair. And the anointing in my hand would have cast off the intruding headache.' She beamed. 'I'm sorry sweetheart. I will take note. But it's not too late for the stroking.' She feigned an headache, 'I'm still feeling the headache.' The now love-drunken husband readjusted his posture, like a pastor swinging his shoulders to feel a newly given designer suit. 'Makaru ma tarasmiku!' the man of God was in the spirit as his hands descended on the pick-and-drop braids. AY responded promptly like one being delivered; she wriggled and jerked from head to waist. 'Ah! Man of God, I feel like falling!.' 'Maskarururi! Fall! Fall! Fall!' He tipped her head and she fell, like a pack of Whot cards, on his lap. 'You are an unusual deliveree; you should fall on your back and not forwards. The presence of your head on my lap is tempting. Get up and let me re-deliver you! Looska!' How they both laughed at the well-acted home-grown drama. AY eventually served the eba with okra soup. They ate their fill amidst teasing and pulling of legs. The drama then proceeded to the bedroom. It was a night to remember. CHAPTER 7 One year passed with speed. No bloated face, no protruded tum and no pale skin. AY became worried. Every time she saw her period, her tears flowed along. 'When will I become a mother?' Segun could not provide an answer to the incessant question. All he could do was to persuade her. At times, a mild reproof would do: 'Just a year down the line and you shed tears this much. What would Sarah have done after fifty years of marriage and no child. She would have shed blood I suppose. Why will you kill yourself before the child itself comes? You don't need all these. God has not forgotten us. He will give us the fruit of marriage at the appointed time.' He would end up diluting the reproof with a sermon. 'But when is the appointed time?' 'Only God knows that. At any rate I know this: God's plan for us is the best for us.' 'I know too. But why not let us go for a medical checkup so as to know where to direct or re-direct our prayers?' 'I have no problem with that.' Tests upon tests followed. Different gynaecologists and infertility experts were visited. The diagnoses and results pointed in one direction: nothing was wrong with them. AY was overwhelmed with the outcome. Faced with the fast approach of the second year, she found the clean bill of health grossly unacceptable. Now that she had run short of ideas, she was compelled to wait for the appointed time. * * * * * Later in the year the couple had visitors. It was from the woman's side as usual. Segun often had wondered in his bachelorhood days why it had to be those of the wife's side who made the most calls. Reports from his married friends then elicited his quest. And up till the moment he had not yet found a solid answer. His mother- and sister-in-law were the visitors. Sade, AY's younger sister was on vacation. She therefore decided to follow her mother down on a stay with the couple. It was the third at the one-and-a-half-year old home. They planned to stay three weeks – the whole hug of Sade's 200 level first semester break. In the night of the first day, when the husband and wife had finally retired to their matrimonial chamber from the day's bustle, Segun uncorked the displeasure he had tried hard to bottle away from their guests. 'Why would Mama and Sade come all the way from Ikija to stay with us for not just one or two days but three full weeks without any prior information? In this world of GSM! Or were you informed but failed to tell me?' he queried. 'No, Sweetheart I am as well surprised seeing them. And immediately I registered my disapproval. I most especially rebuffed Sade, who ought to know better, for not making contact with me on phone prior to their coming. Mama tried to explain how they attempted to make the phone contact only to be met with the news of a two-day loss of GSM network signals to the village and its environs. She said she insisted on coming for the visit because her entire being was crying out to see us and she could not bear it any longer. I was still not satisfied with her explanation because I had at the back of my mind the fear of how you would react to the situation. Mama read my feelings and offered to go back to the village immediately. That floored me. I quickly mellowed and told her it has not gotten to that. And you know what sweetheart?' 'What?' Segun found himself being the respondent. 'I was humbled and relieved at the same time when you came in and received them with unexpected conviviality!' 'Uhmm, grammar!' 'You taught me. Honestly, sweetheart, they, who had sat precariously all the while awaiting your arrival to know their fate, stretched their legs and felt at home when they saw your warmth.' She untucked the insecticide-treated mosquito net over the bed at her side and climbed down. She then went on her knees before her 'head' who had all the while sat on the edge of the bed. 'Olowo-ori-mi, my sweetest heart, permit me, on behalf of my family, to apologize to you. I know it has not been easy feeding the two of us much less two more mouths coming out of the blue to join the number. For love's sake please bear with us. And the patience comes with an expiry date – three weeks.' 'Please, get up,' he helped her up, 'I was not angry, only surprised. We have always been well informed of Mama's visits in the past. So I was wondering if all was well when she burst in on us this time around. But it was perplexity all the way when I got to know it was just a three week long chatty call. I tried but in vain to understand the rationale behind this. And the best person to supply the reason is you. And with all your explanation I think Mama's excuse is tenable. Such Mama's passion is a surge that can never wane until it is fed to satiety. What is wrong in a mother's heart crying out for her daughter. The blame in all these goes to the treacherous GSM operators. They only concern themselves with increasing their customer base and making more money. They couldn't care less about improving on their epileptic services. Shame on NCC that could not mete out stiff measures against them. They are just all out to get us ripped off of our hard-earned money. I wish I were NCC Executive Vice-Chairman. I would without delay place a ban on all those useless street promos they stage to rake in more customers and instruct them to rather give those already hooked up to their network value for their money,' he was fuming. 'Aluta continua! The activist in my husband has already taken over.' She feigned a clenched fist and started a mock protest song. 'Solidarity forever Solidarity forever Solidarity forever We shall always fight for our right.' Segun laughed over it but he was not done yet. 'But honestly honey, you can't imagine the kind of havoc these people are wreaking around.' 'You mean like the one having to do with Mama's visit and us?' she had been bought over. 'That's even a drop in the ocean.' 'A hyperbole I suppose?' 'No, no, no, not at all. Are you not aware of the poor GSM services these days wherein your call is misdirected to someone you never know from Adam sometimes speaking a lingo you never hear from the womb.' 'Of course I am. Was it not of recent that my friend, Sayo . . . you know her now! That one that said you were two years her senior in Lantoro High School.' 'Yes, yes. That diminutive lady.' 'That's it. She forgot her phone in her friend's place but thought she had lost it. What heightened her fear was when we called the phone and it was a strongly accented Hausa man who managed to identify himself as Alhaji that picked it. Only on redialing did we discover that the phone was with her friend. Her call had been re-routed to an Alhaji. Since then some of our mischievous friends never cease to tease her, "When next are you going to see Alhaji? Please don't forget your phone there this time around o," they would say.' 'Honey, your friend's case is better. It only ended in teasing. Let me give you this vivid and lucid case which ended up in a broken home. A nearly five year old marriage ended on the platter of these people's negligence.' 'What!' she suspended the closing of the gaped mouth for minutes. 'The wife's friend was trying to reach her over the phone to extracool at midnight. The husband picked it and it was a male voice he heard at the other end. Meanwhile the friend could not hear anything and her credit burned on. She abruptly terminated the call. But the husband had heard enough. He flared up and said he believed the man must have cut off when he discovered he had been caught in the act. The wife tried in vain to convince him from the call records that it was her friend by the name Sola who called. The long and short of it was that he sent her packing with two kids.' 'Sweetheart! I think the foundational problem in that marriage is distrust.' 'Agreed. But the GSM poor service added petrol to the fire which consumed the relationship whole.' AY suddenly assumed the posture of one in deep thought and that did not escape Segun's notice. 'Honey, what is it?' 'Let me not bother you with it. It's not all that important.' 'What do you mean by it's not all that important? I want to hear it.' 'Okay. Promise you won't be cross with me.' 'I promise,' the more eager to know. 'Will you ever trust my explanation if something like that happens to us?' 'Hah-hah! You know now!' 'Eh, I know but I just want to ...' Segun stopped her mouth with his index finger strapped across her lips and with the other hand stroking her hair he spoke a la their wedding day. 'Yes, I do. I will ever trust and love you. So help me God.' Quickly he switched position from the bridegroom to the joining priest and in line made his voice guttural to spell out the adapted creed, 'Will you, Ayoolape Deborah Oyediran, trust and love Adesegun Peter Toriola as your wedded husband all the days of your life?' With sheep's eyes she promptly thinned her voice and responded in a soprano. 'Yes, I do. So help me God!' The two faces became radiant and the night caught the light. After the marriage act and before sleep finally closed their eyes Segun still found the time to chip in the million-dollar question: 'Why do the wife's people visit more than the husband's?' and he was stunned with the straightforward answer he got from his wife who responded sharply as if she too had been thinking about if for some time. 'Simple!' She said, 'Anyone who visits a couple will have more time to spend with the wife, the homemaker, than the husband, the hustler. And who can feel much more at home with the wife than her own people? Chikenah!' 'Uhm! The sage old woman has spoken.' Segun put his hands together in low ovation. 'Than-k you m-y s-o-n,' she shook her voice like a very aged woman. 'You are not serious, who is your son? Thou wizened great great grandmother,' he tickled her and the conjoint giggles and laughter turned the night's light up the more. CHAPTER 8 Mama could not complete her holiday. A matter requiring her urgent attention arose in Ikija after two weeks with the Toriolas. 'Ah Mummy, ki lo de!' AY's heart was thumping as she collected her phone back from Mama to terminate the call from the village. 'Kosilaabi o. Ma kaya re soke!' [No problem. Don't give yourself any heartache] Mama assured her daughter. She then went ahead to explain to the two agitated children that it was her kolanut trade that had sent the invitation. Satisfied with the explanation, the two then began making preparations for Mama's travelling. That was Thursday. Mama travelled on Friday. On Saturday, an event took place that sent the other guest to follow on mama's trail before the expiration of her intended length of stay. AY had gone out to plait her hair. She was not expected to be back until two hours later. That had been her grouse with the hairdressers in the locality; they were too slow. But then she must dress her hair when due; if not for her own sake at least for her husband's. Segun was still in bed though half-awake. Twenty minutes after his wife had left for the hairdresser's he felt a supple hand on his bare breast. The tenderness message travelled wildly all over his body. Back so soon? That was what he wanted to instruct his vocal cord to convey through his mouth when on opening his eyes he met a different figure altogether by the bedside. She sat halfway her length from the waist upwards almost nude with only a cleavage-advertising wrapper, loosely tied, on. * * * * * * Ay could no longer contain her impatience. She had had to wait for twenty minutes for an early bird's hair to be set. Despite the hairdresser's pacifying pleasantness she stood to go instructing the hairdresser to flash when ready for her. * * * * * * Segun's resistance weakened with the persistent stay of the tender hand on his cold chest and the elegant face in his electrified gaze. 'You sent for me?' beamed the owner of the hand, with winking and goggling accompanying. Segun was completely lost. His system was on fire. How could he escape this mountain that had come to Mohamed even when Mohamed never gave it a thought to get to it! His flesh was already caving in. Where was the libido-holding power of his bachelor days that kept him chaste till the wedding night? Or has his first carnal knowledge broken the hold irredeemably? It was no time for question, but action. Blood pumped turbulently into his male machinery. He grabbed her shoulder to commence touchery and her wrapper easily fell. At that instant, a bizarre grace fell on him and what he couldn't do in front of the curtain he did in the full glare of nudity. His inner strength was roused as he came to his senses. He immediately let go. Furrows of anger disfigured his countenance very quickly, 'Get out now!' He shouted at the top of his lungs. And that one hastily covered herself back with her wrap and ran out like a rabid dog. She knew too well that the man had successfully weathered the seduction storm. Segun was still panting out the so much adrenalin pumped into his system when AY burst into the bedroom with alarm. 'Sweetheart, what happened? Whom were you shouting at like that!' her eyes, as well as her hands, joined in the demand for an answer. Segun gave her the graphical details. Message decoded, it was now AY's turn to take the baton of tantrum. 'You mean she came in here and attempted to lure you into sleeping with her on my matrimonial bed. Unbelievable! Ah! Sade! My God! S-a-d-e!' she stormed out and made for the guest room where Sade sat on the floor coiled like a tightly wound spring in shame. She was given the beating of her life despite assuming a pleading posture in welcome of the boiling sister. 'Please! Please! I'm sorry! Anti mi, please! Please forgive me! It's devil's handiwork!' she sputtered amidst the drenching rain of open-palm blows. Segun's intervention could do nothing to stop the exploding smacks until exhaustion did. Then AY broke down and both the beaten and her bailiff threw a weeping party. Segun came to the one that was his, put his arm under her armpit and guided her to their room. The weight the situation placed on her heart was not as much as the subfertility it reminded her of. In the bedroom, she wept cat and dog. All of Segun's homilies and consoling bounced off her earwax achieving nothing. The futility made him resign to the usual last resort – subtle threat. 'Is the childlessness on your own side alone? OK, I've gotten children from some lady elsewhere, eh? Or did the doctor say anything is wrong with you or with me? C'mon, we are in this together now! Why behaving as if the entire burden lies with you? I've been trying to pacify you since, you refused to be pacified. Don't force me to change my mind! What's with you now?' It worked as it always did. She tightened her hold around her man, gave the final sob and sigh, a forced calm then ensued. Segun finished it up with a continuous stroking of her hair and the concomitant repetition of the Christian cliché, 'It is well.' Sleep saw their heaviness and, out of pity, came to soothe it. Sade did not allow the glimmer of the next day to open its shutter before she took off under the cover of the gloom. Only God knows what she told Mama, but the couple never exposed her atrocity to a third party. * * * * * The heavens wailed loudly and the teardrops pursued after one another to the heart of the earth. The highlands tilted the water towards the lowlands and the lowlands emptied it into drainage. The land was thus cleansed. But the political intrigues making the rounds stained it back with a different sort of dirt – accusations, cross-accusations and counter-accusations. They flew freely in the air. He who loves his head should wear crash helmet, ducking won't help. It was the third term era. Actually, the fire started with genuine concerns about constitution review. But because the No. 1 was at daggers drawn with the No. 2, the good intention of the former received a garb of mud from the latter before it left the boardroom for the public domain. The feedback? It could not get messier! The constitution review effort lost its identity to become Third Term Agenda. Opinion polls here, public hearings there. Where will it end? The two sides fought tooth and nail to overcome at the Waterloo – the National Assembly. The parliamentarians were two – the pro-third term and the anti-third term. Those on the fence before were jumping down fast to take sides. The whole wide world was expecting a crescendo soon. The venue was the red chamber of the National Assembly. The upper house, the more mature, would have the first go. Nigeria sat before the television to observe the climax of many days of horse-trading, political bickering and mudslinging. The press had had a field day. It was now the turn of the legislature to have the final say. Segun too was glued to the TV like most of the adult portion of the 140 million Nigerians. Alas! It was a stunning anticlimax. What a disappointment! The constitution amendment bill was devoid of any serious or sensible polemics. It was decided with a voice vote. When the Senate President demanded for the 'aye' of the draft bill enthusiasts, a muffled silence took over the chamber. Where were the swelling ranks of the pro-third term senators? What could make those with vested interest vastly divested of their interest and that sheepishly? The nays eventually had it at the hit of the gavel but neither exultant joy was written on the faces of the conquerors nor grave disappointment on the countenances of the conquered. Only the observers, across the length and breadth of the land, could not afford to be indifferent. To many of them, it was an utter waste of valuable time and scarce government resources to have embarked on a mission that would only meet a dead end at its full stretch. Segun shared in that view. Why throw the baby out with the bath water? The third term clause should just have been removed while allowing all the vital issues like fiscal federalism, resource control and revenue sharing formula to scale through. Why lavish so much money on the senate constitution review sub-committee and their many public hearings only to sell us a dummy at the end. The failed coup of the militarized democracy resurrected the poet in Segun and he put down a verse of it. Its trappings from the outset Look a coup d'état But settings at the sunset Cut a cul-de-sac Much ado about hogwash Segun was now aware of the pounding pressure on his rectum and he headed towards the john to ease it. As he made an entrance into the conjoined toilet-and-bathroom 1, AY exited the master bedroom for the living room. The TV had been left running. The words of the man on the screen caught her attention. The man, clad in plain blue suit, a sky blue shirt and a chequered tie to match, was one of the operators of modern trado-medical centres in an ongoing traditional medicine trade fair organized by the TV station. He was oratorical and had the charm that would hold his hearer spellbound anytime. He was ahead of the pack. The fluency of his English suggested he was read to some appreciable level. Though AY in her normal self would have hissed and instantly tuned to another station, three factors wormed the man into her heart. One, she was losing hope in this waiting game, she needed a drastic measure. Another, the man claimed that six months were too much for his patients to conceive, and in six months' time the medics would declare hers an infertility case – the medical jargon for two Gregorian years down the exchange of marriage vows without conception. And the last straw that gave her camel's back a compound fracture, the man said the power of herbs and leaves only would do the magic – no incantation, no divination. AY took it all, hook, line and sinker. She copied down the shop stand and also the permanent address of the centre. It was now time for deliberation and decision. Should she inform her husband of her intention? Negative! He would never be a party to seeking help in traditional, or as they now christened it, alternative therapy. Had they not once discussed an issue relating to it and Segun had made his stand known! If he was ever to use herbs and leaves for physic he would prefer fetching them from the living plant himself. Going for all those crudely concocted herbal preparations was no option for the fear of fetish or metaphysical involvements even when there was a claim to the contrary. Another deliberation was on where to visit the man – his trade fair stand or permanent address. The latter naturally sailed through because of the fear that too many eyes would be there to pry at the former. Thus she concluded the arrangements but acted as if nothing happen when her husband returned from shedding the barbells in his rectum. CHAPTER NINE The azure sky romanced the verdant vegetation and the rustic settlement was sandwiched in a festival of blues and greens. AY alighted from the intercity cab and took her journey to the backwater settlement. Eweje is one of the many villages and towns culturally and socially attached to Abeokuta, the headquarters of the Egbas. It is just a five-to-ten minute drive from the main town and has a Baale, the community head that reports to an Abeokuta king who oversees its relevant section of the Egbas. The kings in Abeokuta are not five for fun. Two times AY's left big toe kicked against some stone or stump along the grassy footpath. A bit of superstition worked its way up her heart but her Christian frame shunned it recklessly. Lepers never build their colony within the town walls, the old saying goes. The trado-medical centre was sited on the outskirts of the community. Leprosy. Sin. Sinister. Her heart again ran through the flashes but she came out unscathed. As she trod the sinking sandy part of the road, cacophony of school-children chatter surged from a nearby primary school. She checked her time; it was a quarter to twelve. Having confided only in a fellow-teacher of her sneaking out, return she must to school before the second period after the long break for her class. Otherwise, what she cooked and the whole house got razed by fire, her no-nonsense head-teacher would get wind of. And not in vain was Mr. Adekunle called the iron man of NUD Primary School, Obantoko. Among the teacher folks in Abeokuta, only the greenhorns would not be in the know. She had had an encounter with him once, not too long ago. It was still fresh; within the post-specialisation regime of primary school pedagogy. She was tardy for her Home Economics class. On getting to the class, Mr. Adekunle was already there, fuming. He gave her the telling-off of her life right in front of the pupils. Never, not even in never-never land, would she wish another chance encounter with him. So, she hurried. In no time, the frontage of the lair came to view. The semi-urban bungalow had a low fence of joined wooden posts, tapering at the upper ends, round it. She drew closer. Her eyes caught an object around the lintel and her heart got engaged again. It in fact skipped. 'AY, are you doing the right thing?' her conscience worked the bellows, the bellows of scruples, turbulently. The picture of the previous day burst in on the ember's luminance. The time was 6:45 pm. Pastor Tunji, flanked by his recently wedded wife, was at the Toriola's for the King's business. 'The Lord asked me to seriously charge you and your household not to relent in your waiting on Him. He said at the appointed time He will come and 'Sarah' will have a baby. Sister AY, it is your turn to be that Sarah. I see Gen. 18:14b read, "At the time appointed I will return, according to the time of life, and Ayoolape shall have a son!"' 'Amen!' responded the couple and Pastor's spouse. 'On a final note, God will want me to leave this scripture with you: Heb. 10:36. Brother Segun, can you please read for us?' 'Ok, sir.' He got his Bible, scuffled it for a moment and eventually rested his search on a page. Then, he ran his eyes down the page to the prescribed verse. 'For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.' 'Patience is the word, Sister AY.' At the synapse, the words jumped on the train of Memory Present. Patience is the word, Sister AY. Patience is the word. Pa-tience-is-the-word-Sis-ter-A-Y! Each syllable hit her heart and the sounding was in thumps. The arc of cowries over the door firmly held the heavy drumsticks of syllables and the rising beats became more and more unbearable. She hesitated for some seconds but eventually made towards turning back. 'Madam, welcome,' a voice said over her back. Were she palm oil she would congeal to red stone. The only consolation was that it was an inviting voice. She stepped up her courage and turned in the direction of the voice. It is better to turn around and see what will kill you than to swell the rout of those feared dead. What she saw was not a killer but a kid who looked every inch the physician's apprentice, nay, scout. He must had been there all the while watching the pilgrim's progress towards their safe haven and only came to the rescue when the wayfarer seemed to have missed her way and was turning back. Apart, part of his chores was to give every of the path explorer a welcome feel – a sort of a PR job. 'Have you come to see the doctor, or how can we help you, ma? You seem not familiar with this terrain.' She calmed down and tried to compose herself. 'Thank you, I – I – I've really come to see the doctor,' she spluttered. 'Why, he's at home. Please...' She brought down her voice and motioned the boy to do the same. 'Wait. I will like to find out something from you first.' The boy looked puzzled. What could that be? AY continued, 'The doctor claimed over the TV that he doesn't use juju, but what are those cowries doing over there?' The boy in his late teens, burst into a belly laugh. He must have gone at it for a minute or so before realizing the embarrassment he was causing the visitor. He adjusted, apologized and then went ahead to give an answer to the question that had tickled him so much. 'Ma, my oga is a man obsessed with the relics of the glorious history of our people before the Oyinbos came to our land to spoil it. One of such is the cowries. You know, ma, that was the means of exchange for goods and services, our legal tender, then. It has nothing to do with his means of healing.' He looked out of the corner of his eyes to see if she would buy the explanation. She did. She swallowed it whole and heaved a great sigh of relief. Now, she was ready for a consultation with Dr. Were, but not without first passing a commendation note on the boy's pleasantness and intelligence. 'What is your name?' 'Lateef, ma!' 'You have a good head on your shoulders, Lateef. You must not end it here.' Lateef beamed and responded, 'Thank you, ma. Actually, I was in SS1 going to SS2 when my only sponsor died. These odd jobs I do to raise enough money for me to go back to school.' 'And God will help your determination.' She dipped her hand into her purse – the biggest luggage you can sneak out of school with – and gave him two crisp one hundred naira notes. 'Thank you, ma,' he tucked the money in his pocket as he led AY to the consulting room. CHAPTER TEN Segun had been pacing the corridor for two hours. Yet, no soft cry from the labour room, but AY's noises all the way. She sang, prayed, groaned, shouted and lamented. Two hours into the labour and not as much as the head of the baby came close to the obstetrician's hand. She pushed until she ran short of the breath to push. The two doctors, one consulting, the other resident, and two midwives were helpless. Eventually, when everything else failed, the leading doctor dashed out and invited Segun to the consulting room. Segun was confronted with the option of a caesarean. It was a tough decision but with the situation at hand he gave informed consent and quickly appended his signature on the paperwork. On the way to the theatre, AY's disposition assumed a sharp wonderment. And she engaged an unseen being in a supernal communion. 'Who are you?... I have nothing to do with you... Leave me alone in Jesus' name... covenant? What covenant?... Yes, I was at Dr Were's place. And so what... I say leave me in... the coin I dropped in the bubbling chalky water. You know about it?... I dropped it actually into your hand? ... Liar! You are a damn liar. Yes?! I took out of the water after dropping the coin. Were said the water contained ground limestone and some purely herbal mixture that would hyper-stimulate pregnancy hormone on contact with metal such as the coin. True to Were's words I took in a month after. So, stop lying. I never had a deal with you. I rebuke you in Je... What! The coin! That's the coin! Ah! The exact coin I dropped into the water. Ah! Deceit! Fraud! Were deceived me! Ah! Were! Were! Doctor, help me tell Segun, my loving husband. Tell him Were deceived me. And I allowed myself to be bought for a price as a sacrifice to Were's thirsty demons. Ah! Segun, I'm sorry!.. Yeh! Please, Death, please, have mercy. Don't strike me. Please don't bring down that cudgel. If I had known I would have ...No, don't hit...Yeh! Yeh! Yeh!' She started jerking and gasping for breath. The team forgot about the operation for the moment and quickly grasped the life-saving apparatus. She was put on oxygen and resuscitation pressure was applied on her ribcage to simulate breathing movements. But all failed, woefully failed. She passed on to an uncertain eternity. The medical team saw it all, they were petrified. Breaking the news of the split gourd and its spilt water is enough burden. How can Segun cope with the much more details they saw en route the theatre? They therefore agreed to keep the latter off the record. Segun was broken to the bones when the doctor eventually broke the edited news after a rather long pacifying preamble. 'AY! AY! AY! My God! My wife, gone?! No!' On and on the emotional turmoil went. The doctor tried his best; only God knew the number of pats on the shoulder, 'Take-heart' and 'Be-a-man' that eventually brought Segun to a momentary calm. With no family member around to offer support – they had all gone out in search of money for the caesarean section – he took his destiny in his hands and walked out in sullen quiet. * * * * * The room saw its occupant's predicament and quickly wore a sombre mood to blend in, like the chameleon. Thanks to the power cut and the approaching evening shadows. Exactly a week after the demise of his better half, the haunting shadows were here again. And he was all alone to receive them. Had he not turned away family members and sympathisers after four days of unending flocking! Dilemma? Segun was not in a dilemma, but a trilemma; nay, a trilemma of dilemmas. The dilemmas, each historic in itself, from the Biblical to the Shakespearean – Job's to blaspheme or bless, Peter's to deny or defy and Hamlet's to be or not to be – stayed for hours in his higher mental function area. A million and one suggestions and the dilemmas intertwined to pull the network of strings across his brain. From the sublime to the ridiculous, the suggestions flowed till late into the midnight. Tick-tack-tick-tack-GONG! The modern pendulum clock adjacent the electronics stand hit the gavel for 1am. Segun's blankness continued. His eyes fixed glassily on the window blinds while he himself was fixated on the considerations and deliberations gallivanting his neurones. He sat still as a statue on the three-seater, cut off completely from the surroundings. Power Holdings had just restored the electricity. The TV shouted for its volume to be reduced, the security light begged to be switched on in the gross darkness outside and the industrial fan revved to call attention to its control knob, the statue remained unmoved. The glassy eyes suddenly thawed and hot tears emerged in showers. The black leather cover of the Bible that had sat quietly on his lap received the loadful on its centre and then redistributed them, in-between its embossed groves, to the spine and edge. The spine drained its portion on his trousers while the water that travelled to the edge soaked the hapless sheet-ends nearby. When the rains subsided, after about thirty minutes or thereabout, Segun suddenly grasped the Bible, rose in a single stroke and flung the sacred book as far from him as possible and shouted: 'God, you are dead!' EPILOGUE Segun was at the dining table waiting for the meal. He was beginning to grow rather impatient. Every other thing was set on the table except the food itself. The spoon and the knife lay supinely on the table-mat to his right while their counterpart, the fork, lay low in preparation for action on the left. The sweating bottled water fizzled at the top beside a scrupulously clean glass cup. Even the toothpicks were stacked in their container like Joseph's standing sheaves. But the food was missing. After five more minutes the food finally arrived. It was rice and stew garnished with a lot of beef. No sooner was it placed than Segun grabbed the spoon and buried it into the profusely steaming rice. Though the eyes were suggesting the food was very hot his stomach would not want to wait a second longer. In no time a spoonful of the rice landed on his tongue and all hell was let loose. His mouth danced wildly and his tongue recklessly. It was uneasiness all over. Quickly, his lips made an O-vent in-between them to suck in air continuously. The bloated grains knocked about in his buccal cavity for some time before their eventual cooling off to make the onward journey to the gullet. But not without leaving a permanent mark in the cavity – a burnt tongue and a scathed palate. As he nursed his wound, the old man, his server, came to the dining room and sat on the chair at the narrow edge of the table, opposite him. He gave him a stern look for a moment and then asked, 'Your wound, whose fault? I that brought the food or you that took the food? Whose fault, Segun? Whose fault? Whose fault...' Segun long closed eyes popped suddenly from the REM and alarm was written all over him in his reclined position on the three-seater. He stealthily arose and got his mind stormed with the dream and its obvious interpretation. Impatience kept jingling his upstairs bells. No doubt he had been impatient in many things. The wind of memory breezed in in a flash bringing to him Kemi's condolence visit the other day with her husband and her six-month-old daughter. He had been impatient and maybe AY too. Though he had his own areas of haste at his fingertips, he could not pinpoint AY's. 'Old man, the fault's mine, not yours. It's mine!' The clouds again gathered in his eyes and when fully loaded another round of showers was delivered on his laps. The swelling emotions tugged his legs and straightway he fell on his knees to weep in the bosom of his Lord. He cried passionately for mercy. And how he found peace with God and with life! "
"" \nThe Amulet\n\n(Custodian Novel #1)\n\nSmashwords Edition\n\nCopyright 2009 by Alison Pensy\n\nTh"(...TRUNCATED)
""\n100\n\nSECONDS\n\nto\n\nMIDNIGHT\n\n# A Clan Story\n\n## JOHN FRANCIS KINSELLA\n\n##\n\nCopyright"(...TRUNCATED)
""\n\n# The Units\n\nJamie Mackay\n\n#\n\nSmashwords Edition\n\nCopyright 2013 Jamie Mackay\n\nLicens"(...TRUNCATED)
"" \nGateway To Heaven\n\nby Maggie Diak\n\nPublished by Maggie Diak at Smashwords\n\nCopyright© 201"(...TRUNCATED)
"" \n## SATAN:\n\n## The Sworn Enemy of Mankind\n\n##\n\n## Harun Yahya- Adnan Oktar\n\n##\n\n## Pub"(...TRUNCATED)
"" \n#\n\nTHE DOGS MAY BARK \nBUT THE CARAVAN MOVES ON\n\n### The Spirit Realm And I\n\n### Raja Ara"(...TRUNCATED)
"" \n## (3 Book Romance Bundle)\n\n## Loving The Bull Ride\n\n## Cowboy Down Under\n\n## The Escort N"(...TRUNCATED)
"" \n# The Arab States and \nthe Palestine Conflict\n\nContemporary Issues in the Middle East\n\nBy"(...TRUNCATED)
""\n\nTHE CONSUL FROM TUNIS\n\nand other ghost stories\n\nNicholas Foster\n\nPublished by Nicholas Fo"(...TRUNCATED)

Dataset Card for BookCorpusOpen

Dataset Summary

Books are a rich source of both fine-grained information, how a character, an object or a scene looks like, as well as high-level semantics, what someone is thinking, feeling and how these states evolve through a story. This version of bookcorpus has 17868 dataset items (books). Each item contains two fields: title and text. The title is the name of the book (just the file name) while text contains unprocessed book text. The bookcorpus has been prepared by Shawn Presser and is generously hosted by The-Eye. The-Eye is a non-profit, community driven platform dedicated to the archiving and long-term preservation of any and all data including but by no means limited to... websites, books, games, software, video, audio, other digital-obscura and ideas.

Supported Tasks and Leaderboards

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Dataset Structure

Data Instances


  • Size of downloaded dataset files: 2292.89 MB
  • Size of the generated dataset: 6336.36 MB
  • Total amount of disk used: 8629.25 MB

An example of 'train' looks as follows.

This example was too long and was cropped:

    "text": "\"\\n\\nzONE\\n\\n## The end and the beginning\\n\\nby\\n\\nPhilip F. Blood\\n\\nSMASHWORDS EDITION\\n\\nVersion 3.55\\n\\nPUBLISHED BY:\\n\\nPhi...",
    "title": "zone-the-end-and-the-beginning.epub.txt"

Data Fields

The data fields are the same among all splits.


  • title: a string feature.
  • text: a string feature.

Data Splits

name train
plain_text 17868

Dataset Creation

Curation Rationale

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Source Data

Initial Data Collection and Normalization

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Who are the source language producers?

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Annotation process

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Who are the annotators?

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Personal and Sensitive Information

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Considerations for Using the Data

Social Impact of Dataset

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Discussion of Biases

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Other Known Limitations

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Additional Information

Dataset Curators

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Licensing Information

The books have been crawled from, see their terms of service for more information.

A data sheet for this dataset has also been created and published in Addressing "Documentation Debt" in Machine Learning Research: A Retrospective Datasheet for BookCorpus

Citation Information

    title = {Aligning Books and Movies: Towards Story-Like Visual Explanations by Watching Movies and Reading Books},
    author = {Zhu, Yukun and Kiros, Ryan and Zemel, Rich and Salakhutdinov, Ruslan and Urtasun, Raquel and Torralba, Antonio and Fidler, Sanja},
    booktitle = {The IEEE International Conference on Computer Vision (ICCV)},
    month = {December},
    year = {2015}


Thanks to @vblagoje for adding this dataset.

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