JETH stared at the row of chocolate bars and candies. If she were here with him inside the store, she’d be grabbing on every kind of candy on the shelf, piling on Snickers and Kit-Kat bars because those were hers and her mother’s favourites. She was sweet-toothed to a fault and always teased herself that she was lucky to be so petite framed.
Gosh, he missed her so much.
He wasn’t even sure anymore what was keeping him away from being with her. He wasn’t even judging her—not anymore, if he ever unconsciously did so. He missed her, loved her, wanted to be with her—and yet, he couldn’t bring himself to dial her number or go over to her house to see her.
She’d stopped calling. In the last one week and some, she hadn’t called. Not once. She probably had seen through his repeated meaningless, lying excuses and wasn’t having none of them anymore.
She was hurt. Jeth knew that. He didn’t have to hear it in her voice or see the pain etched on her face to know it. He’d hurt her. His withdrawal was hurting her. His silence was hurting her. He was hurting her and Jeth hated that he was doing so. Yet he felt somehow helpless on how to stop himself from continuing doing so.
He should call her.
But what would he say to her?
What did he want to say to her?
“You mean he broke up with you, just like that?”
The astonished somewhat breathy voice broke into Jeth’s distressed thoughts and he found himself tuning his ears in the direction of the conversation.
“He didn’t broke up with me.” The other voice, feminine as well but a little huskier than the other, said with a touch of snootiness. “I broke up with his pompous self-righteous ass. Imagine him thinking he was too good for me, like what the heck?”
“I can’t believe this. I thought Daniel was one of the rare good guys.” There was still a measure of shock in the first voice. “He’s a worker in church for Christ’s sake and he’s forever preaching Christ-like behaviours.”
“Uh-hmm, I guess he doesn’t consider forgiveness part of being Christ-like.” A scoff accompanied the tone of derision. “Ameh, Daniel was a hypocrite jor. I just realised that last week. All that his holier-than-thou attitude was pure show. He’s just like the rest of these church boys, all pious-prayers and tongue-speaking, thinking themselves better than the rest of us and yet nothing at all like Christ. Imagine him telling me he didn’t want a wife who will be more sexually experienced than he is. Like I’m some kind of a sex-crazy whore.”
She hissed and muttered something Jeth’s prying ears didn’t quite catch.
“Eh-eh. So, just because you’ve been sexually active before him that makes you more experienced?” The first voice echoed the hiss. “Is he not experienced himself? Or does the fact that he is a man mean that his having sex before marriage was not a sin and a breaking of God’s law? What a hypocrite! He wants a virgin wife when he is not a virgin himself. Is purity only a virtue women should possess?”
“Don’t mind the idiot! It’s okay for him to have sinned and repented but not okay for me to do the same and earn equal right of acceptance. He wanted to know how many body counts I’ve got and when I blatantly refused to so demean myself, he started on how if it wasn’t much, I wouldn’t be ashamed to share it with him.”
“And what is his business with how many you’ve been or not been with since it happened before his time, eh?”
“Help me ask the pretentious prig. He says he has a right to know everything about the woman he’s planning to spend the rest of his life with. And that if I can’t come totally clean, then I’m hiding something. Then he pointedly asked if I’d been with more than six men?”
“Shuo! He actually asked that?”
“He did. And when I told him, in no uncertain terms, that he was intruding on my right to privacy and dignity, he went how there should be nothing hidden between us and how if I couldn’t tell him, then he’s worried I might be more experienced than he can handle.”
Another hiss. “I just realised then that I was dealing with a church phoney. I could have told him I’d only been with five guys before meeting him, but if he was going to judge me based on what was past and gone, then he doesn’t deserve to know and doesn’t deserve that I remain with him. So, I told him that I was done and wanted out. He didn’t argue oh. Just said something like maybe it wasn’t God’s will after all.”
“Hypocrite! Still calling God when he doesn’t know the first thing about him.”
“You can imagine now.”
“Babe, na wa oh. This is really the problem with these our born-again brothers. They always feel like na dem holy pass.” First voice pealed out another disgusted hiss. “It’s funny how they judge more than the so-called worldly guys out there do. Where then is the Christ in us if we are still so quick to cast the first stone?”
“My dear, Jesus has said it, it’s not all who call him ‘lord, lord’ that really are for him. I’ve let it go abeg. One thing I know is that there are good Christian men in church. Daniel is not the rule, he is the exception and I am blessed to be rid of his self-righteous stiff ass.”
“Sir, can I help you with anything?”
The hesitant and a little suspicious voice startled Jeth out of his concentrated eavesdropping and he swung his head to the right to stare at the aisle attendant. “Ah, no. I’m just taking some chocolate bars.” He grabbed a couple of Snickers. “Thank you.”
He didn’t allow himself to think as he traced the way to the counter to have his purchases charged. He couldn’t. His head was reeling with too much guilt and self-condemnation. He was only desperate to get home and to—clear his head.
He heard his name just as he was opening his car door.
Jeth turned and was shocked to see that it was Rita. Rita, a little older that when they’d last seen each other, very much pregnant and beaming a twinkling friendly smile. She hadn’t changed much, he noted, not weight wise. The lines of aging on her face were mild too. She’d been two… or was it three years older than him, he absently recalled. She’d also been much more experienced and had been the one to welcome him into the world of sex with an expertise that had shocked his naïve inexperienced mind.
“Rita! My God, it’s been such long time. More than a decade.” Jeth let go off his car door-handle and walked to her. “Wow, what a surprise!”
“A surprise it sure is.” Rita grinned and the dimples Jeth vaguely remembered flashed. “Funny how people can stay in same city and not run into each other. Well, we—that is my husband, son and I—only returned to PH a little over a year ago. Better job offer and all that for the man of the house.” She leaned her back against her car and smiled inquisitively at him. “So how’ve you been, Jeth? Been such a long time. Still the same old-fashioned guy who just about anything shocked speechless?”
“I was an old-fashioned guy?” Jeth felt the charge of heat at her teasing. “I guess I was. Though I never saw myself that way. Had this image of regular kind of guy in my head. Still, I’ve been good and doing well, I think. And it looks like you are too. Husband, son, another kid on the way.” He aimed a smile at her stomach. “You look good and I’m glad to see that.”
“Not what is expected of Wild Rita, right?” She guffawed. “You know how they say good things happen to good people?” At his nod, she winked. “I used to believe that and had no hopes of ever getting my share of good things. But I got surprised. I met a good man. Your old-fashioned, reserved and by-the-book kind of good man. He’s a Pastor. Was a Pastor when I met him but that didn’t stop me going after him in my usual enthusiastic way.”
Her deep laughter broke out boisterously as she gave her head a shake. “It was still those days when I was a wild little thing and sex was a huge validation for me.” She angled her head and gave him a thoughtful stare. “You know I never got around to saying sorry I initiated sex between us when you were clearly not ready for it.”
“Ah…” Jeth cleared his throat in embarrassment. “Water under the bridge, all of that. Besides, you didn’t force me. You initiated, I could have insisted on my no and backed away. Let’s, um, leave it in the past where it belongs.”
Even as the words left his mouth, it struck him that that was what he should have said to Shiloh—let’s leave all that in the past where it belongs. Why hadn’t he been able to say that?
“You were always kindly. That’s the finest thing about you, your kind heart.”
But he hadn’t been kindly with Shiloh, had he? Jeth’s heart twisted with guilt.
“Matthew is like that too.” Rita smiled. “He has this thoughtful, empathetic, kindly spirit and no matter what you do, or have done, it doesn’t faze him. He was like that with me. Naughty, wild me did everything to get him to fall into temptation… Lord have mercy on old me.” She rolled her eyes and chuckled. “Nothing worked though and thank God! He was and is still so faithful to God. He didn’t shoo me out of his life as many would have done. Like what’s with this wild chick, Lord I’m not having none of that.
He wasn’t that way. He never judged me either. He only listened when I wanted to talk, gave me his best advice and was my friend for a long, long while. Then finally, he started getting through to me. It was inevitable anyway.” She grinned. “Cool, classy dude not falling for your shenanigans and keeps saying he believes in a better you, at some point, you’ll start believing. I did and I’m grateful I opted to take that chance.
We’ve been married now four years and this here,” she rubbed her bulging midriff, “is baby number two and it’s a she. So says scan and daddy-to-be is super-excited. I’m excited too, I guess. Another girl in the house would create some sort of gender balance. But that’s enough about me. How about you? Still not taken by any of the good girls in the city?”
“Actually I am.” Shiloh has taken his heart. He was hers. He’d been a stupid fool, but he was hers. “We are yet to make it official though.”
“Stop wasting time. I can assure you that marriage is a good thing. When you have the right partner, that is.” Rita winked. “But I’m sure your girl is just right for you. You’re too meticulous to make an error like that.” She reached out and gave his arm a quick squeeze. “Such a pleasure to see you again, Jeth. I hope we get to do so again, so you and Matthew can meet one another. We worship at the Redeemed Christian Church of God, the Jesus House Parish. Where do you worship?”
Jeth told her.
“Hmm, a friend’s been inviting us to your monthly week-long program. Maybe I’ll talk Matthew into going and we’ll see you there. For now, take care of you, Jeth.”
“You do the same.” Jeth held her car door as she bundled herself behind the steering wheel. “Nice to see you again, Rita. Looking forward to you taking up that friend’s invite and being a part of our life-changing services.”
“We’ll surely will. See ya.” She gave a wave and then started her car, reversing even as she gave another wave.
Jeth strolled back to his car, got inside and momentarily shut his eyes. His head was pounding, not as hard as his conscience was though.
“What kind of a Christian have I shown myself to be, Lord?”
The woman he loved had shared with him a painful part of her life she obviously wasn’t proud of and instead of appreciating her complete openness and willingness to share all of herself with him, what had he done?
“I judged her. Judged her when I had absolutely no right to. Judged her when I was no better. Judged her when I should have comforted her and loved her even more.”
Jeth dropped his head against his chest and blew out a hot breath. He needed to ask forgiveness—from Shiloh and from God. He’d heard a mind-boggling tale and instead of seeking God’s wisdom in prayer, he’d—leaned on his own understanding. Or better yet, on his own lack of understanding.
He blew out another breath, inserted the key into the ignition and started the car. He’ll head home to drop off his shopping bags, get on his knees before God and ask his forgiveness for not letting him into the situation. Then he’ll request grace to know how to face Shiloh.
He needed grace there—big time.
He was walking through his kitchen into his bedroom when the loud bang halted the string of prayers he was already muttering. Jeth had only two seconds to debate whether to ignore the knock or not before a louder bang buried that contemplation.
“Christ, who could that be?” He muttered. “Who’s that?” He barked, marching across his living room towards the door.
“Shiloh.” His heart literally tumbled as he repeated the name.
Dear God, she was here! Was that good… or bad?
Inhaling, he turned the key in the lock, unlatched the bolt and yanked open the door. It wasn’t good. Her dark irate expression screamed it.
“Shiloh…” He started.
But she cut him off. “So you are still on this Planet Earth, huh, Jethro? Here was I starting to think that maybe your pious sanctimonious ass must have leapt through the white clouds as Elijah surely did. Missed your step on the angelic leap, hmm?”
“Shiloh.” Her eyes were flashing liquid fire but Jeth could see the pain in them.
“Let’s get inside, Jethro. I’ve got plenty to say and very little time.” She shoved past him.
Jeth shut the door, begged God for that grace and turned.
She was standing at the centre of his living room, arms crossed over her chest.
“I am sorry, I…”
“Let’s not do the apology and placation thingy, hmm. Our cards have been laid out on the table and it’s time to play out the game.” She turned up her mouth in a mocking smile. “You know what you are, Jethro? Anyone ever told you what exactly you are?”
“I was going to head over to your place but…”
“But you’ve been mega busy. I know that lame excuse. You’ve bored me on end with it. But you are a bad liar, Jethro. Know what else you are, hmm?” Both her eyebrows arched as she wiggled one foot on his floor. “A self-righteous judgmental prig and a spineless coward. I thought there was more of a man in you but I guess appearances could be deceptive.”
“I’ve been a fool, Shiloh.”
“I was coming to that one.” She sneered, the fury in her eyes gleaming. “You’re a liar, a self-righteous prig, a spineless coward and…” she jabbed a finger at him, “a can’t-see-beyond-his-righteous-nose fool. I told you my story, Jeth. Not because you asked or because it was your right to know, but because I loved you, trusted you and I wanted to share even that with you. I told you the worst part of me, no holds barred, nothing held back.
It wasn’t who I was anymore but I shared it. I let myself open and let you in. I left myself bare for you to see who I’ve been and who I was now. But you know what you did?” She jabbed again her finger. “You slapped my openness in my face and treated me like a fool for daring to trust you. It’s been almost three weeks, Jethro. Couldn’t you work up the balls to at least tell me to my face that you don’t want to be with me anymore?”
“Shiloh.” Jeth’s voice was strangled and he inched closer.
“Stopping calling me in that I-am-the-victim over-gentle voice, you jackass!” She stabbed her finger against his chest.
“I was wrong. I was a fool.” Jeth curled his hand around her finger.
“You are bloody right you were!” She wrenched her finger free and took a step back. “I had a wicked past. I was the irrepressible promiscuous child her mother and brother didn’t know what to do with. I made myself a commodity for men and paid a high price with the blood of an innocent child.
But I made a change. I made a change and turned my life over. And for the last five years I’ve been living that change. Five years and counting, Jethro, I’ve been celibate. No sex, no cigarettes, no wild nights, no bad-girl gangs. That is who I’ve been the last five years—Shiloh Ikhide, simple, eyes-on-her-goals, loving her God and doing her very best woman.
And I was praising my God that day. I had my heart lifted up to him in worship when your righteous self started listening to me and decided: oh there, I’ve found myself a wife. I didn’t come after you, Jeth. This woman with the cavalier past didn’t come after you. You didn’t the coming after and you wouldn’t take no for an answer. You heard me, saw me and wanted me—whatever it cost.
Only you weren’t prepared to pay the real price, were you?” Her mouth twisted in a scornful smile. “You were just a church boy after getting yourself a vestal virgin bride, weren’t you, Jeth? You came after me thinking: she’s got to be a virgin. Right?”
“I am sorry.”
“So am I.” Tears shimmied in her eyes but she furiously blinked them back. “Sorry because once again, I am making the mistake of trusting someone who isn’t man enough to stand by me. Sorry because once again I gave my heart to a man who’s not worthy enough to value such a priceless gift. Sorry because I was fool enough to think that you deserved better simple because I had a past.
But you know what, Jeth? It is I who deserve better.” She jerked her head and held his eyes steadily. “Yes, I am the one who deserve better. I deserve better than a man who knows not the first thing about true, self-effacing love. I deserve better than a man who is too much of a coward to face the woman he proclaims he loves. I deserve better than a man who hasn’t the faintest idea what being Christ-like means.
I deserve better and so I am going to get better.” She paused the barest second, then jerked another single nod. “You might have just two body counts, Jeth, but that doesn’t make you better than I am or better than anyone else. I want you to learn that truth for next time you are blessed enough to meet a good woman.”
She turned. But Jeth grabbed her by the arm. “Shiloh, don’t go!”
She jerked off his hand. “This is what you wanted, Jeth. Be man enough now to own it.”
“I don’t want this, Shiloh. Please.”
“Too late, Jethro.” She turned and marched through his door.
“Shiloh!” Jeth went after her. But she had a taxi parked and got into it.
*** ~~~ ***
WARNING: Final Chapter next. Don’t you dare leave this post comment-blank!!!