by Nnadozie Onyekuru
His heart was divided on the pew. There was a part of it which urged him to meet the woman after Mass. The other part wanted him to forget about her and focus on his prayer, especially since his neighbor’s baby had stopped crying. If the baby had not cried, his eyes would not have wandered around the church, and he would not have seen the woman disobey the usher.I would not follow this queue, she seemed to argue with the usher before veering to a line of her own choosing,jamming it. He wondered how she felt when at the end of the row, in front of the altar, she answered, “Amen” to when the priest said, “Body of Christ.” When she knelt on the pew after receiving Holy Communion, she clasped her hands together in prayer.
He met her after Mass, after waiting at the door nearest to her pew. One half of him was tossed with jitters but the other was as firm as a rock. As the minutes she spent in prayer grew, so did the jittery half in him. Still, he waited for the woman and watched her prayer take its dramatic turns. On her pew, after Mass, she raised her two hands up and swung them to the left and right like a pendulum. She bowed and bowed towards the altar.
She did not realize he was waiting for her. She was surprised when he spoke to her after she got out—the stretched lines on her face betrayed it.
“Good evening, Sister,” he mumbled. In his parish, women were called Sisters and men, Brothers.
“Good evening, Brother,” she and another woman replied.
The other woman was a parishioner too: her friend, he supposed. He pointed at the one he had waited for. “Sister,” he beckoned to her, “Can I speak to you in private?”
She took a short pause before responding. It was a pause long enough for discernment, but short as the deep breath he took when, from outside the church a few minutes before, he saw her finally standing from her pew.
“No,” she said to him, “You can say whatever you want to say here.”
“It wasn’t nice of you to disobey the usher.”
As he said those words, he felt like a wedge went off his chest. The woman laughed loudly—the sort of laugh folks in a taut deliberation poured out from their hearts when someone put forward a trite resolution. She turned to her friend, and they started to talk in pidgin English. Walking some steps behind them, he picked up pieces of their conversation; they were talking about the usher.
“Make she no disturb me for church O! Make she leave her control for her husband house.”
“The man don suffer. Dis kin wife na purgatory for dis world.”
“Na im make I dey pray all the time. I no want make my son marry dis kin wife.”
They parted ways at the gate of the church, near the shop where he bought a couple of doughnuts. As he sat on one of the benches outside the shop, his heart was no longer divided; there was one thing which echoed within him—a regret at not minding his own business. He placed a second order at the shop. A bottle of cold Fanta would accompany the doughnuts well and relieve his imprudence, he thought. There were some parishioners sauntering towards the shop. They came to buy cold drinks after Mass as the sunrays, in their infancy, were crawling on the earth. The woman, too, came to the shop to buy a sachet of pure water and she forgot her change save for the attentive shopkeeper who called her back. There were stretched lines on her face, those stretched lines that showed up when she was spoken to after she left her pew. The lines endured. They were there when, walking out of the gate, she mistook a turn in the street for the one she meant to follow.
Nnadozie Onyekuru is an alumnus of the Fidelity Bank International Creative Writing Workshop (2010) taught by Helon Habila, Madeleine Thien, and Tsitsi Dangarembga. An earlier unpublished draft of Decision was a finalist of the 2021 J. F. Powers Prize for Short Fiction organized by Dappled Things, The Quarterly of Ideas, Art, and Faith.