Distance Episode 9

0
562

Brother James was the
unapologetically longwinded and
pompous leader of the Sunday School
class for youths in the church
Tobi attended.
Truthfully, most people referred to it
as the “Singles’ Sunday School Class,”
because it was attended by young,
unmarried people. The married folks
had their own class. But for whatever
reason, the church chose to call this
one the “Youths’ Sunday School Class.”
Brother James partially fit the
definition of a youth as envisioned by
the Church. He was a tall, saucy-
faced, energetic 32-year old, who was
gainfully employed as a Geography
and English teacher at a secondary
school in Asaba.
Although he was just a teacher, his
ambition was far-reaching. His desire
to attain the position of school
principal in the near future was
matched by a parallel desire of the
same intensity: to find a wife. He
believed that he had found the right
woman. Her name was Tobi.
In Brother James’ mind, Tobi was the
embodiment of everything he desired
in a woman: she was tall, elegant,
attractive, well-mannered, and for the
time being, quite active in church. In
Brother James’ dictionary, active in
church meant God-fearing .
You see, at Aunty Priscillia’s
insistence, Tobi had become more
involved in church activities to while
away time. She joined the Children’s
Ministry, but she only served there on
weekdays. Sunday morning was the
time set aside for her and Dimeji to
attend one service together.
Sometimes, Dimeji attended the one
hour Sunday school class with Tobi,
before going to the main service, but
on other days, they skipped Sunday
school entirely and went straight for
the service.
Whenever Tobi and Dimeji showed up
for Sunday school together, Brother
James would invariably steer the topic
for that morning’s class in the
direction of ill-suited
relationships. Unequal yokes, was the
term he used regularly.
Tobi had brought this observation to
Dimeji’s attention many times, and
each time, he dismissed it casually. He
said that Tobi was only being too
sensitive, and on one occasion, even
said that she was probably imagining
things.
“Just ignore him.”
That was Dimeji’s advice.
Tobi tried to take Dimeji’s advice to
heart. Oh, she really tried. But, the
harder she tried to ignore Brother
James and his little digs , the more
obvious it was that he was being
deliberate and determined
to oppress them, as Tobi put it. To
complicate matters, she noticed
another trend.
On the rare occasions when she came
for Sunday school alone, Brother
James would change his strategy: he
would ask her to read almost every
single bible passage referenced in the
Sunday school manual, and would call
on her by name to answer questions.
By name.
The entire thing irritated Tobi, but she
kept attending because in her own
stubborn way, she felt that it would
take more than Brother James’
bullying to force her to leave. So, she
kept coming, and Brother James kept
at his game.
That Sunday morning, Tobi reluctantly
went for Sunday school alone.
Because she had dragged her feet
getting ready for church that morning,
she got to church late. She entered the
room for the Sunday school class when
the lesson was already in full swing.
Before she came in, they had been
discussing one topic: faithfulness in
serving the Lord. Brother James stood
in front of the class, wearing a black
suit that looked like he had inherited it
from a man twice his size. The multi-
colored flower print shirt he wore
underneath did nothing to redeem
the faux-pas that was the suit.
This ensemble was his typical Sunday
morning outfit, with the shirt he wore
being the variable, and the suit being
the constant.
In one hand, he held a well-worn
black leather bible, and in another
hand, he held the paperback Sunday
school manual. If the church had
granted him permission, he would
have brought a cane to flog those he
considered to be less intelligent, who
did not answer questions correctly. In
the absence of a cane, however,
Brother James employed a more
effective weapon: his tongue.
He had just made a long and verbose
statement on Abraham’s dedication to
God. As soon as Tobi entered the
room, he quickly changed the topic to
companionship.
“…. And Abraham loved Sarah!” cried
Brother James, with so much fervor
that the other people in the room
looked at one other in surprise. One
look at their faces told Tobi all she
needed to know: Brother James had
just changed gears. He was up to his
usual trick again.
“Without Sarah, there could be no
Abraham! Without Rachel there could
be no Isaac! Without Mary there could
be no–“
“Rebecca,” said Tobi, under her
breath, to correct Brother James’
improper reference to Isaac.
“What was that? Sister Tobi, is there
something you would like to share
with us?” Brother James said, hope
rising in his voice, along with his
Adam’s apple.
Tobi could not believe it. Did this guy
have a recording device hidden
somewhere on her person? How on
earth did he hear her from that
distance? She was sitting at the very
back of the classroom of about forty
people, with six rows of chairs. As she
sat thinking about it, she realized that
he must have had his eyes glued to her
the entire time, and saw her lips
move.
“Rebecca,” Tobi repeated, in a loud
voice. “I was just correcting you,
Brother James. You paired Rachel with
Isaac. Rachel was married to Jacob.
Rebecca was married to Isaac.”
Ordinarily, Brother James detested
being corrected or reproved in any
way in front of other people. But
because it was Tobi who was doing the
correction, he was more forgiving,
and even praised her.
“Brethren, you see, that is why it is
good to study the word. We should all
become scholars of God’s word, just
like Sister Tobi,” said Brother James,
beaming and pointing a long nail that
should have been clipped weeks ago in
her direction.
A few people turned around to glare at
her, mostly women, and Tobi could
feel the disapproval of the other class
attendees from all corners of the
room.
“I don’t know what this guy thinks he
is doing, singling me out like this. At
this rate, he has succeeded in making
more people hate me,” Tobi thought to
herself.
She was right.
There were other young women in
that room who hankered after Brother
James’ affection and craved that sort
of attention. But he showered it on
the one person who would rather not
receive it. The irony! Such is life sha.
Tobi endured Brother James for
another ten minutes, after which it
was time for the service. As she picked
up her things to leave, Brother James
all but flew from the front of the class
to the back row where she was.
“This guy is the original Superman!”
Tobi exclaimed inwardly. “I could
have sworn I saw him in front just a
second ago.”
The man who stood beside her was all
smiles as he told her that he wanted to
see her briefly after the service. Tobi
laughed at the word “briefly.” She
wondered if he even knew what it
meant, seeing that he hardly ever kept
to time.
“Ah, but you are seeing me right now,
Brother James. Abi, is it someone else
that is standing in front of you?” said
Tobi, hoping he would get the hint and
leave her alone. He did not.
“No-o! Sister Tobi, you’re so funny!
God-fearing and funny. You are truly
blessed,” Brother James said with a
smile, exposing a chipped tooth in the
upper row of his teeth. Tobi wondered
if he had chipped it while trying to
crack a bone, or if someone had filed
that particular tooth with a nail file in
his sleep. The angle of that chip …
“Really?” said Tobi, failing to see how
her sarcastic remark could have been
interpreted as a joke.
“Yes, you are. Too funny, in fact,” he
insisted.
“Okay, Brother James. I am all ears.”
“No, Sister Tobi. Not now. Let’s see
each other after the service. There
will be more time then. God bless you
sister,” he said as he sped off to secure
a seat in front of the church.
“See each other, indeed,” said Tobi,
mimicking him. “E be like say you no
know me.”
Clearly, Brother James did not know
Tobi. She dutifully went through the
motions of the church service. But as
soon as the Pastor’s sermon was over,
while most people’s eyes were closed
during the altar call, she slipped out
and headed home.
By the time they shared the Grace, she
was sitting on top of an okada,
halfway to Okpannam Road. The
meeting with Brother James would
only take place in his dreams.
The following day was a Monday. She
had a job interview at one of the
numerous hotels in Asaba, which was
famous for its hospitality. The
position was for a front desk clerk,
something she was over-qualified
for. Who goes to the university, goes
through the trouble of acquiring a
degree, and then graduates to work at
a job that does not even require a
secondary school certificate?
Tobi considered this over and over
again as she prepared to leave, but
under the circumstances, she knew she
did not have a choice. It was far
better to be working at this job than to
be unemployed. She was sick and
tired of staying at home.
The interview itself lasted less than
thirty minutes, but Tobi ended up
spending more than four hours just
waiting for her turn. There were
almost twenty other people waiting to
be interviewed for the same position
that day, and the interviewer, a small,
robust man who was one of two
managers at the hotel decided that
interviews were not his priority.
He went to take care of numerous
official and unofficial duties, while
the poor interviewees waited. He
made phone calls, dictated memos to
his secretary, possibly left comments
on people’s Facebook walls, and even
went out to lunch, while all these
people waited for him. Tobi, whose
interview was scheduled for 9:30 am
did not get interviewed until it was
almost 1:30 pm.
As she left, thoroughly exhausted, she
decided in her heart that if she ever
owned her own business, she would
do things differently.
“Chei! I have suffered. All this wahala
just for one miserable job interview?
How much will they pay me sef?” she
thought to herself as she walked to the
nearest bus stop.
“Not enough, that’s for sure.”
She was so deeply immersed in her
own thoughts that she did not see the
man across the street that first waved
to her, and when he did not receive
any response, crossed the street to
meet her. It was Brother James. ?
? ?
– to be continued –