JETH always believed that when he was ready for love and for marriage, he would feel a certain kind of quickening in his spirit. A foreknowledge elucidated by a possible growing feeling of an emptiness that hadn’t been there before and that required filling. It would be nothing impulsive, nothing unanticipated and definitely, nothing sudden. It would instead be a slow, steady and meditatively thought out feeling and he would find himself prepared, in every way, to take whatever steps were demanded of him.
He had thought like this most of his adult life. Well, not quite most of it. But long enough that he couldn’t recall never thinking that way.
But he was not thinking love… or marriage, when he roused from his bed that morning. They still were not conceived in his thoughts when as he knelt for his morning devotion, his heart quickened with these words: ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.’
Jeth pondered why, when those words from the book of Proverbs were not part of his morning inspirational word, would skip into his heart and persist there. He had his bath, his morning cup of ginger tea and still, the words lingered and repeated themselves again and again in his heart.
Unable to stop himself from doing so, he mulled over them as he drove to church for the nine-thirty a.m. service. But once inside the church, and service opened with songs of praise and worship, he cast off the ponderings, buried the words, and immersed himself in worship.
Then he heard the voice. A husky alto of some sort. It speared through his closed-eye worship as the hymn was being sung and roused an odd feeling inside of him.
Jeth pried his shut eyes open, slowly dropped his raised head and turned it, just as slowly, to his left. His eyes scanned the aisle next to his, his ears tuned, and somewhere it struck him the unusualness of that, only to her voice.
He found her. Right at the middle of the third row, standing, head lifted, eyes shut, hands raised heavenward, a black floral print skirt and a three-quarter sleeved rusty-red coloured shirt draped over her. Petite would be the right word to describe her stature, for she would be barely an inch or two over five feet when the length of the heels Jeth was certain she’d have on her feet was subtracted. Her mouth was coated in the faintest shade of red and it opened, in exultant worship, Jeth thought, as she rang:
Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.
Who was she?
He’d never seen her.
Okay, he didn’t know every member of the church. That was simply impossible. But surely, if she’d been here a long time, he would have… heard her rich, resonating and weirdly penetrating throaty voice, at the very least?
The woman beside him, likely in her fifties and very much the mother-type, cast him a stern glance and Jeth swiftly shifted his gaping eyes and struggled to recollect himself. He was in church, for heaven’s sake! He should be singing himself, not getting dazzled by a lady obviously deep in worship of her God.
Heavens, what was wrong with him?
He opened his mouth to re-join the choir, which he could now dimly hear… but the words of the last stanza of the song wouldn’t come to mind. No coherent thought would. Jeth blinked and focused, determinedly, on the viewing screen pinned to the wall.
Yet, even as he mumbled distractedly the lyrics, he still heard her. And her voice still triggered that humming beat in him.
HE trailed her out when the service mercifully came to an end, refusing to consider the wisdom in doing so. Once outside, Jeth pushed through the exiting throng of people, hastening his steps to meet up with her.
His perception of her physique had been correct. She was petite. Most likely five-feet-two. Her body frame was slim and subtly curved; her skin—from her face and the visible parts of her arms and legs—was a dark shade of copper.
“Hello. God bless you.” He sidestepped a boy… man to fall in-step with her.
“Oh. God bless you too.” She cast him a quick glance.
Her smile was instant and warm. Her voice, low-pitched, slightly accented and a tinge gruff. The gruff had been almost absent when she’d been singing.
“Did you enjoy the service?” He liked her smile. It dimpled faintly on the sides of her smallish, top-bowed mouth.
“I did.” She gave a single nod. “Did you?”
“I…” It would be a sin, and God might smite him, to overtly lie. “Like every time, it was a new experience.” That was close enough to the truth.
She said nothing. Only seemed to quicken her steps.
“Are you new here?” Her perfume, he could catch a whiff of it, was subtle… and alluring.
“Not so new.” Her eyes, shadowed in dusky brown and neatly lined, swept over him and then away as she apologised to a couple she skirted around to walk through the half-barricaded entrance. “Why?”
“I’ve never seen you here, that’s all.” For one as small as she was, she moved fast, Jeth noted, elongating his own steps.
“Hmm. So you know everyone in church, huh?”
She sounded amused, and a trifle derisive.
“No, I don’t. But I feel like I would have known you if you’ve been here long.” He jerked his head to the left. “Ah, my car is parked across the road.”
“Then you should be crossing the road.”
“That I probably should.” Jeth agreed, pushing through the human and vehicular traffic now on Birabi Street, to keep up with her. “But, ah… my name is Jethro. In case you’re wondering who the fellow stalking you from church is.” He joked, and prayed she loosened up at the not-quite-good joke.
She didn’t. But she aimed him one of her quick glances. “Jethro?
“Yes. You know, Midian Priest and Moses’ father-in-law.” Jeth smiled. “But you can call me Jeth. Less BC-sounding.”
“Hmm. Okay.” She refocused on her path.
“So… what’s yours?”
“What’s my what?”
“Why?” Momentarily flummoxed, Jeth searched his head for the best response. “You mean, why do I want to know your name?”
“Right. Why I want to know your name.”
Gosh, the temptation to lie! No, he was sticking to the truth, however unserious and in-church-to-score Christian it made him look like.
“I heard you singing, during the hymnal ministration.” Jeth stole a glance at her face. She couldn’t have looked anymore disinterested. Gosh! “It just… struck me. Your voice, I mean.”
“Did it?” She spared him a sidelong glance. “Shouldn’t you have been singing in praise of God instead of listening to others while they sang?”
“That I should have been. And I was, until your voice slipped through my subconscious.” She’d stopped at the unofficial bus-stop by the end of the street and Jeth knew he would lose her soon. “Look, this might sound corny and wrong to you, seeing as we’re just coming out of church, but I’d like to get to know you.”
“I’m sure you think you would.” She flagged down a taxi, pulled open the front passenger door and cast him a glance. “But I don’t come to church so I can get picked up. And, you should really try to give your heart and mind, not just your body, to Jesus.” She slid into the car. “Have a great rest of your Sunday, Jethro.”
Jeth watched the Toyota saloon car zoom off and wondered if he should be serving himself a dirty slap or a punch. Or maybe, he should just be asking God for forgiveness for spending the better part of the hour and half in church, feverishly praying for the service to come to an end.
And just because he’d heard one lady’s striking voice.
Gosh, you messed up, Jeth, he chided himself, turning to walk back to his car. You messed up and you gained nothing.
But… who was she? Who, in holy heaven, was she?
SHILOH made straight for her bedroom as she entered the house. She kicked off her shoes, picked up the black pair to go replace them on her shoe-rack and then, started taking off her clothes.
The clothes neatly slipped on the hanger, she hung it back in her closet and grabbed a denim skirt and tank top for home wear.
Then she grabbed her phone from her bed and headed out for the kitchen.
Brunch—since eating at almost noon couldn’t be called breakfast and wasn’t quite lunch—was rustled in tomatoes and eggs noodles and a glass of chilled pineapple juice.
Men were so predictable, Shiloh thought as she ate. For a moment, she’d thought he was some nice brother, probably a worker since he’d been all-official looking in dark coloured three-piece suit, wanting to greet her and wish her a happy Sunday.
But no. He’d been like the rest of today’s unserious-minded church-going Christian men, only on church pews to chase after skirts.
I heard you singing indeed!
When that glorious choir had been singing? Yeah right, Shiloh scoffed and filled her mouth. This was surely a generation contending to out-do Sodom and Gomorrah. Young men who came to church solely to pick up girls?
And what about church sisters too? Become born again and get into church service just to catch the attention of a “god-fearing” brother?
What was Christianity being turned into: a win-big show-business?
Shiloh made a disapproving noise with her tongue as she picked her glass of juice. She wasn’t feeling self-righteous. Once, she’d been like that — going to church without really letting God in and living as she pleased.
But she knew better now. And sometimes, she wished everyone else should too. God, and church, shouldn’t just be taken for granted.
The front door creaked open and she knew it was her mother.
“In here.” She called out, shelving the fruitless ponderings.
Her mother came in and Shiloh’s face instantly wreathed with smiles and a look of admiration.
Joy Ikhide was an admirable woman. She had the impressive height and build of an amazon-looking woman. A physique she’d inherited from her father, while Shiloh was said to look like her small-framed mother. She was also beautiful. Physically so, and more importantly, Shiloh always thought, mentally and spiritually so.
If she was a better Christian today, it was because her mother had prayed her through.
“Noodles again?” Joy Ikhide rolled her eyes at her daughter. “Don’t you get tired of it?”
“You don’t have to eat it, if you don’t want to.” Shiloh grinned. “There’s bread in the refrigerator. I could fry you up some eggs and make tea.”
“It’s past twelve, so bread is a no-no.” Joy declined. “I think I’ll go straight for lunch. Snacks were served at the West’s baby dedication. Furo was insisting I go home with them, but I promised I’d come over to the house in the evening.”
“In that case, let me cut up some yam for you and do a smoked fish tomato sauce.” Shiloh picked her plate and walked to the sink. “How about that?”
“That sounds wonderful.” Joy beamed and gave her an affectionate side hug. “I’ll just rush inside and change, then be back to be treated like a queen.” And winking, she bustled out of the kitchen.
By the time she returned in cotton three-quarter length shorts and one of her big-sized T-shirts, Shiloh already had the yam on fire and was slicing the tomatoes.
“So, how was service today?”
“Simply uplifting.” Shiloh responded and sent her a smile. “The teaching was on winning with prayer and it was a revelation realizing how often we pray without first aligning ourselves with what is God’s will through his word. It was just eye-opening. I’ll let you have my notes once you’re done with lunch.” She skinned the onions and started chopping it. “And after the wholesome service, I got served with one of those my-name-is-Bro-Gideon-and-the-Lord-said-you-are-my-wife types.”
Joy chuckled at her comical description. “And what did Bro Gideon actually say?”
“Bro Gideon was actually Brother Jethro.”
“Jethro?” Joy laughed. “I don’t think I’ve actually ever met anyone bearing that name.”
“Me either.” Shiloh got the mackerel smoked out of the refrigerator and slid it into bowl. “But obviously there are people, apart from Moses’ father-in-law and old-fashioned White folks, who bear that name. Anyway, Jethro, or Jeth as he nicknamed himself, said that he got struck when he heard me singing during service.”
“Ah. But you didn’t believe him.” Joy surmised.
“Of course, I didn’t believe him.” Shiloh made a scornful noise as she forked the yam to check its state of readiness. “Inside an auditorium that must have held at least two thousand plus worshippers and he heard me? Please, that was just a line, mum.”
“He might have been sitting close to you.”
“He wasn’t.” Shiloh disputed. “I was on the third row and I was kind of aware of those sitting around me. But even if he was somewhere behind me, he couldn’t have heard my voice, not with the choir singing at same time and the instruments blasting.”
“Well, maybe he has highly receptive ears. Or maybe, your voice was unusually raised.”
“Mum, stop being his advocate.” Shiloh chided and lifted the pot of yam off the burner. “He had no business being in church and listening to a girl sing. Then coming after that girl because we all think we can offend God and then get away with offering some cheap prayer of penance. It’s not just right.”
“Maybe it’s not.” Joy acquiesced with a faint smile. “Maybe it was wrong of him coming after you. “But…” she drew the plate of yam closer and pinched a piece with the fork stuck into one rectangular-cut portion. “But I always wonder about the earnest prayers we make for our young Christian women to meet true Christian brothers. Isn’t the church the best location for such a meeting?”
“Thinking like that, mum, is why these so-called “Christian brothers” are taking advantage of coming out of a church service and walking up to a lady to start talk blah-blah-blah.” Shiloh countered, adding all required seasoning to her sauce and stirring. “I just feel like everyone is somehow taking God’s merciful love for granted. You’re in church for God, so be there for him—body, mind, heart and spirit.”
“Maybe you should have taken a moment to tell Brother Jethro that?” Joy teased.
“I did too. Right before I got into my taxi and zoomed away.” She set the plate of sauce in front of her mother and sighed. “Ended up paying the cab driver an overcharged hundred naira because highly-receptive-ears Jethro didn’t allow me bargain before I got in.”
Her mother laughed. Then waved a hand as she hawked. “Give me water, please, before you make me choke with your wise-cracks mouth.”
Chuckling, Shiloh walked to the refrigerator to get a bottle of water.
IN her bedroom, as she lay on her bed trying to loll herself into her afternoon nap, Shiloh picked her Bible and slid it open to her favourite book. She read all the books and epistles of the Bible, as often as she can, but the Songs of Solomon, she read every single day. And most times, more than once in a day.
She just loved the poetic, oddly passionate words. It made her marvel that God possessed in his heart such an ardent love for his children. And it made her dream of someone… a man, saying those words one day to her. At least, words quite similar, but just as ardent and just as true.
I sleep, but my heart is awake.
It is the sound of my Beloved that knocks saying,
Open to me, My sister, My love, My dove, My undefiled;
For My head is filled with dew, My locks with the drops of the night.
“My heart is open to you, Lord.” Shiloh whispered in prayer, setting down her Bible and slipping her eyes shut. “Come in, my heart’s only love, and never again go away.”
Dedication: For February celebrants. True and everlasting love is my prayer for you.
And for all lover of love.