by Wafula Khisa
The sun was hiding behind the thick dark-grey curtains of the sky when I awakened. The whole land was covered in white, probably as a result of a heavy downpour the previous night. My eyes were still heavy with sleep. They itched terribly. I could have resisted the urge to remain in bed and enjoy its endearing warmth, but the task ahead could not allow it. I had just graduated with a degree in Theology, and by good luck, been ordained as a youth pastor in our newly-formed church, Altar of Holiness Tabernacle. That day, I was going on my first mission: preaching God’s word. And like a disciplined souljah, mission is always the king. I could not allow a mere worldly pleasure, like enjoying a delicious sleep, to deny me the glory of performing my duty.
I had been invited for a fellowship in Bungoma. And as a young man who was expected to dedicate his youthful energy and knowledge to serving God, it was prudent that I arrive there on time. Being late would set a bad precedent, something the kingdom of God abhors as it desires to expand and accommodate every Tom, Dick, and Nanjala. I had hardly brushed my teeth when I heard a violent knock at my door.
“Benson! Benson! Open,” someone shouted. It was a woman in distress.
I listened keenly. My heart thundered, threatening to break my ribcage. The toothpaste dried in my mouth. And a thin layer of sweat formed on my forehead.
“Benson, please open! I’m finished…” she pleaded desperately.
It was mama Rose, our neighbour. I could tell that from her violent accent. For a moment, I tried to figure out what evil could be ailing her since her family was among the few in the area that had never seen the ugly face of the monster called suffering. It seemed to be bathing in God’s endless showers of blessings every passing day.
“Good morning, Mama,” I greeted her upon opening the door slightly.
“It’s bad, my son,” she replied, grabbing my hand.
“What’s the problem, Mama?” I asked, a little disturbed.
“It’s Rose, my son. She’ll kill me!!” she screamed.
“Rose?? What happened to her? Is she dead?” I asked.
“No,” she cried, “Just come and see!”
She had literally pulled me to her house before I could open my mouth to say a word. To my utter surprise, Rose was in good form and health. What the hell is going on? Has this woman gone nuts? I wondered.
Rose was the only child in her family. Her father, Mr. Olando, had once served as a District Officer in Bungoma before venturing into a timber business after retirement. Her mother was a retired teacher who later found a fortune in farming. Word had it that her parents had suffered a series of miscarriages before conceiving her. After her arrival, they had prayed for more, but nothing came forth. They resigned to their fate, accepting the fact that it was God’s will to end up that way. She was therefore a miracle child that meant the world to them. They went to all lengths to do and provide everything for her. She attended some of the best private schools in the country— wherein a parent has to pay school fees through their nose. After graduation, she had enrolled for a master’s degree immediately and thereafter got a fully-funded scholarship to enroll for a doctorate in Germany. When she returned a few years later, she was the pride of the village. A perfect example for every mother who advised their daughters to succeed in life.
At the University, she was an active and devoted Christian souljah. I first met her in the church choir. She sang her soul out with great passion and dedication. Her angelic and soft voice was good enough to call God down from Heaven on his resting day. She touched many hearts and gladdened many ears. But that was not the only gift she had. She had a smooth round face and sparkling eyes that could light the darkest of days. Her long, dark hair was spread out, overflowing to her back like the pretty brand ambassadors of Nivea or Amara lotions.
She had given her life to Christ at a tender age and dedicated all her time and energy to seeking the glory of God and studying. She had absolutely no time to indulge in the simple pleasures of life, unlike girls of her age. They drink everything that comes from a brewery like a whale, smoke shisha and weed like a chimney, and engage in immoral activities. Unnecessary sins that have sent many to early graves or motherhood. Her strict Christian background had ensured that she treaded on the narrow path of righteousness and purity. And she wrestled with all forms of demons and listened to her parents to realize this. She refused to be moved by random sagging trousers, deep voices and strange hairstyles. Such things belonged to a dark world that she didn’t want to be associated with. She avoided them like a plague. And men, after several futile attempts at hitting on her, gave up.
I had lost contact with her when she went abroad. Perhaps everyone was busy pushing their ways through life and trying to understand the world. Even after her return, I only bumped into her occasionally. And we never had time to discuss anything. It was therefore hard to believe that something troubled her as she looked fresh like a flower.
“Hey Rose! What’s going on?” I asked, offering my hand for a handshake.
She pulled her mouth and sneered. That broke my heart. I could see despair written on her mother’s face. Perhaps she had expected me to save the situation. But I was no Christ! That response sadly indicated that I was bound to fail.
She was now pacing up and down like someone in a hurry to go somewhere, but was being delayed by something. A few meters away lay her bags, probably filled with all her earthly possessions. They gave a perfect picture of someone who was leaving for good.
“You see the bags, Benson? She’s going! She’s going!” her mother cried.
“Did you quarrel with mama?” I asked. “See, let’s solve this. You don’t have to act this way, please.”
When she finally opened her mouth to speak, tons of words gushed out of her mouth like water from a broken pipe. She lamented. She condemned. She threatened. She swore.
“Pastor, I’m leaving for the city. I need another life,” she said with finality.
“Oh, what do you mean? Aren’t you okay with this place?”
“Pastor, haven’t I been a respectful and God-fearing daughter to my parents?”
“Of course. No question about that.”
“Didn’t I heed my parent’s advice and kept myself pure?”
“Yes, very important indeed…”
“What have I gained?”
“You’re a respectable and admirable woman, Rose. And very beautiful, for that matter. Your name is sung beyond these ridges. What more do you want?”
“I’m glad you said my name is sung… Let me ask you, man of God: Have you heard what people around here sing about me? I’m that good-for-nothing spinster whose degrees can’t fetch a husband! Who’s a woman without a husband? Pastor, I’ve waited and waited, from the dawn of time to dusk, in vain. Look at me now, I’m 40. No man admires me. I’m like old-fashioned clothes in a shop that attracts dust instead of buyers. Where do you want me to hide my face?” she lamented.
“I understand your plight, my sister. But you don’t have to question God. He has plans for everyone. Maybe yours are yet to mature. All we need is pray and hope…”
“Don’t tell me that! How many times have I prayed? Hasn’t God been silent, probably enjoying my suffering? I’ve fasted and planted seeds as my Pastor advised. I’ve been hopeful. What more haven’t I done?” she protested.
“I understand your pain…”
“You don’t understand anything, Benson. You’re a man. You can still marry even at 50 and life would go on pretty well. Where on Earth have you heard of a woman getting children at 50?”
“I’m sorry about your condition. You see, ways of God aren’t like ways of man. Sometimes He takes ages to answer our prayers. And many people don’t live to witness that for their patience, like a candle on a windy night, runs out easily. Who knows, maybe God will make your dreams come true tomorrow. Just exercise a little patience please…” I said.
“I’m sorry. I don’t need that kind of motivational talk now. I may be a little patient, as you say, but where is the time? See, time is not a commodity one can easily recover once it’s lost…” she argued.
“Well, so what are these bags for?” I asked resignedly. Trying to change the topic.
“I’m going to find a man in the city. I know there’ll be someone eagerly waiting to embrace me,” she said.
“No, my daughter,” her mother interjected, “the city’s rotten. It’s littered with prostitution, drugs and evil. You’ll die…”
“Let me prostitute and die… I don’t care,” she fired back.
“That’s a sin, it’s forbidden.”
“Who forbids it?”
“God, of course! And the Holy Bible.”
“Keep that to yourself, Mama. I’ll not bind myself to what the Bible says and let the glory of life pass me by. I know many of my college-mates who slept around with men for money and got pregnant. They are happy now, married or with kids. None of them are dead…”
“Those girls are not you. Don’t soil yourself trying to ape them…”
I watched mother and daughter wrestle with little interest. I didn’t know what to say. Moreover, I was a little displeased by the fact that the issue had made me to my journey. It was a family problem, anyway.
“Aren’t you going to say a thing, Benson?” her mother asked after feeling my weight of silence. She had also failed in her attempt to persuade her daughter to change her mind.
“It’s okay, Rose. You can go,” I said finally.
“What? What the hell are you saying?” her mother cried, shocked.
“I think it’s better for her. It would give her peace and satisfaction. Don’t you see that her mind is made up already?” I responded.
For a long time, nobody talked. The silence that ensued was so thick that someone could cut it with a knife. Even Rose was surprised by my sudden change of tune. She looked at me in disbelief.
“However, I pray that you do a little favour for me before you leave,” I said.
“What could that be?” she asked gently.
“Give me three days to pray with you. Just three days. If God doesn’t speak in these days, I’d give you fare to go to Nairobi.”
She looked at me, mouth agape. I nodded, probably to emphasize what I had said. She had not expected that, so she was unable to counter it. She was lost for words.
“I’d like us to fast in those three days. And tell God nothing but your desire for a loving, God-fearing and responsible man, not just any breathing earthling with a tail between its legs.”
“Are you sure that’ll work?”
“I can’t promise anything. But I know the God I serve is a mighty God. He has never failed those who trust and believe in Him. He can’t start now.”
“Well, let’s wait and see,” she sighed.
“No. Let’s believe, pray, and see,” I said confidently.
She wiped her tears and smiled. I smiled back, I had won. Her mother was equally overwhelmed with joy. She sang and danced around like someone who had won a mega jackpot, excitement written all over her face. I walked away, knowing pretty well that what lay ahead was not easy. What if nothing happens in those three days? Miracles don’t come easily like rain. Would I have the courage to face her? The fear of failure scared me like hell.
I was riding to church one Sunday morning for a service before leaving for a conference in Nairobi. I had just returned from Mwanza, where I had spent three months doing missionary work. I heard someone calling my name from a distance. There was a sea of humanity on the road, chattering and laughing about. This drowned the voice of whoever was calling my name such that it reached my ears as a mere whisper.
“Pastor Benson, stop! Stop!” the beautiful voice rang in the air, the sound of an imperial trumpet.
It was Rose! She was running like an athlete competing for a gold medal in the Olympics. I did not need a soothsayer to know what had happened to her. She was over the moon with excitement. Her eyes glittered with joy, and there was a sense of pride in her movement.
I applied the emergency breaks, but it was too late. She jumped at me, like a goalkeeper diving for a ball, and embraced me tightly. This sent both of us to the ground with a thud as people looked on, baffled. I nearly died of this unexpected embarrassment.
“What’s it, Rose?” I asked, trying hard to hide my annoyance.
“It worked, Pastor! It worked!” She cried joyfully.
“What do you mean? What worked?” I asked.
“Your prayers! I found him…”
“I’m sorry I don’t get you. Who are you talking about?”
After deferring her dream of going to Nairobi in search of a husband, Rose and I had only talked once two days later. Thereafter, I left for a conference in Namanga, which engaged me for ages. I completely forgot everything about her.
It had happened then that when her three days of fasting and prayer were over, God hadn’t sent a sign yet. She was utterly devastated. She was on the brink of falling into oblivion. She refused to speak to everyone, secretly planning to execute her initial plan. But something happened that evening that completely changed the course of her life. A smartly-dressed man proudly walked into their compound.
“Is this the home of Mr. Olando?” he asked her mother.
“Yes, my son. Can I help you?” she replied.
“Yes, ma’am. Is Rose around?” he asked, smiling widely from ear to ear.
“She’s around. But if I may ask, who are you, my son?” she asked, trying hard to suppress a thought that was now lazily dancing in her mind.
“Well, Mama. I’m Roy Otis, an old college-mate of hers,” he said.
“Oh, that’s great. You’re highly welcome. I’ll call her at once,” she replied excitedly.
Rose had quickly recognized Roy the moment she set eyes on him. But her recollection of him was a distant memory. Oh God, what brings this idiot here now? Could he be the factor I need to balance the equation of my life? She wondered. It can’t be. Back in college, Roy had tried, a couple of times, to hit on her but lost terribly. He would re-invent himself, change his tongue and image, and approach her again. He was a man who did not know what giving up was. But she stood her ground. They belonged to two different worlds. She was a church girl whose fear for God and respect for Christian values were comparable to none. He loved pleasure. Women, beer and fun were integral parts that defined his life. Thus, in those days, both of them were like two parallel lines. They were so different, like day and night.
“Forgive me for coming without announcing,” he said after a long silence.
“You’ve done nothing wrong. So you don’t have to apologize. Besides, nobody is hurt when they receive visitors,” she replied.
“Thank you,” he said. “I must admit that you’re a hard person to find. Harder than finding money in these crazy economic times.”
“Oh, am I a wanted person? What crime did I commit that brings you down to our village searching for me?”
“You stole my heart.”
His words struck her like a thunderbolt. They gladdened her heart. For a moment, she was lost for words. She was overwhelmed with joy. But she tried hard to suppress it, lest it turn into a disappointment.
“Oh, when did I exactly do that?”
“Ages ago. And I did everything, even joined the church to fit in your perfect world of heavenly glory to stay close to you. But that hardly moved you. Do you know how it feels for a man to live without a heart?”
“I understand, and I’m sorry. There was so much on my plate at that time. Forgive me.”
“I hold no grudge against you, dearest. I guess that’s how God wanted things to be. Now, I have waited for you on the world’s longest queue, spent sleepless nights longing for you and walked from one end of the world to the other searching for you. I’ve come to try my luck for the last time. And, whatever you say, will seal my fate…”
Everything he said was too good to be true. The words, carefully chosen and articulated, tasted like honey and sounded like music to her ears. Her heart beat fast, threatening to break her ribcage. A thin film of sweat formed on her forehead. But she did not move an inch. Nobody talked for a long time. She looked at the floor, completely avoiding his eyes. She didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. He had said what she had always wanted to hear. What she had not heard for a lifetime. What she had grown a desperate longing to hear.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?” Roy asked.
He was a little impatient and his voice was shaky. As a man who was accustomed to losing and disappointments, he feared her silence could also translate to a big No. And that would not only break him, but it would also shatter his colourful dreams. His life now hanged on her word. Back home, his people were on his neck, threatening to find a wife for him because he had failed to find one on his own. To them, a man of his age who was unmarried was a curse. It didn’t matter whether he was learned or not. And they could not allow the curse into their bloodline.
“What do you expect me to say? All you’ve been telling me are stories. You haven’t asked anything…”
Before she could finish her statement, Roy was on his knee, stretching an engagement ring to her.
“Please marry me!” he said gently and emotionally. “I may not be the perfect man you want, but I believe I’m the best man you need.”
It was unbelievable! For a moment, she pinched herself to be sure that she was not dreaming. What she had once seen in a movie was now happening right before her eyes. Indeed, God works in mysterious ways. She fell to her knees and wept. It was a great moment of glory.
“His people came home and my parents accepted. We shall be wedding next month,” she shouted at the top of her voice.
“Wow, really?” I was lost for words.
“Yes, Benson! Thank you for restoring my hope. Thank you for saving my life. Thank you for helping me find my missing rib. Indeed, you serve a living God.
I could only say “AMEN!”
Wafula Khisa is a poet and writer from Kenya. His poetry and prose have appeared in various (online and in print) literary journals, magazines and anthologies such as Nthanda Review, The African Writer Magazine, Tuck Magazine, Elixir Magazine, Scarlet Leaf Review, Writers Space Africa, The Armageddon & Other Stories, Lunaris Review (issue 7), Hope- An Anthology of Poetry, Better Than Starbucks Poetry & Fiction Journal and Best New African Poets Anthology series among others. His poetry has also been translated into French. His first collection of poetry is A Cock’s Seduction Song & Other Poems (2019).