By Kingsley Olanrewaju Efughi (souloho19)
Turn not thy face from death away
care not he takes thy breath away
coming at thee faster and faster
he’s not thy master
but servant to thy maker
what or who created death created thee
and is the only mystery
– The book of counted sorrows
The rain had taken a break, leaving the sky blue and clear with the clouds white and taking different shapes. Throughout the past week, the rain had fallen non stop day after day, confining the residents of Amaife to their homes. But now it seemed the clouds had run out of cats and dogs and so the sun was out and shining brightly, birds were chirping and singing, building nests and basking in the sun. Overhead an airplane could be seen, with red wings and a red stripped tail. The low rumble of the plane drew the eyes of Ndidi and her younger sister to the giant mechanical bird above.
“Aeroplane bye bye! Aeroplane bye bye!”
“Come again tomorrow!”
Ndidi and her younger sister shouted at the top of their lungs as they skipped towards the stream, their empty water pots balanced on their heads. Ndidi was six years old and her sister was four. Ifeoma her sister had a small pot, ,more like a jug and not up to a litre balanced on her head. she would always cry to accompany her sister to the stream and so her mother always indulged her, giving her a smaller pot to carry. Ndidi’s pot was much bigger.
Presently, they skipped towards the stream, with Ndidi thrilling her sister with the description of other airplanes she had seen. “There was this one that was very loud and smaller, like a dragon fly…it was beautiful.”
Ifeoma’s eyes grew wide “Do you know the name?”
“Mummy said it’s a helicopter”
They got to the stream and Ndidi held her sister’s hand and moved towards the shallow part. She proceeded to fill her pot first before fetching her sisters’. Suddenly, Ifeoma let out a piercing high pitched scream. She pointed at something in the water and Ndidi looked in the direction and also let out a blood curling scream.
The two girls abandoned their pots and took off, running towards the path they had come. The only sound to be heard was the high pitched frightened screaming from both girls. Even the birds had fallen silent as though observing a minute silence for whatever had frightened the sisters.
In the stream, the body remained afloat, she was Unclad and her body was bruised badly. Her lifeless eyes stared up at the clear sky as the gentle current of the stream carried her lifeless body down the stream.
Her name was Chisom and she was the third girl to be raped and killed in Amaife in the past one month.
The fume from the generator entered his office directly, making him cough in his sleep. His eyes fluttered open as he inhaled the deadly gas. He mumbled incoherently to himself and got up, dragging his feet tiredly as he shut the window. His ceiling fan didn’t provide much breeze and he had to rely on cross ventilation from outside most of the time. But his office was badly positioned and anytime the generator was on, he had to shut his window because of the air pollution. He stretched and cracked his knuckles as he returned to his seat. He had been updating a form about the monthly expenditures of the youth church before he dozed off.
His name was Osita Azikwe, he was called Osi by everyone or pastor Osi by his church members, mostly the youths. He had been ordained as the youth pastor of New Life Ministries barely a month ago and he remained devoted to his duties.
As a young man, he had a very good rapport with the youths and was able to maintain a good interaction with them on any topic. He strived hard to maintain a relationship were they could reach him for any advice and he could gently but firmly instill morals and the rules of righteous living in them.
He was two weeks shy of his twenty sixth birthday and remained the youngest pastor in the church. He was chocolate in complexion and very lanky. He had a towering height at 6’2 but was quite on the slim side. He had never entered a gym in his life and saw no reason for it. He detested violence and to be frank, he was never conscious about hisn outward look. He was extremely good looking with his stand out feature being the dimples on both sides of his cheeks and an Adam’s apple that bobbled whenever he talked.
Osi was the fifth and last child 0f his parents. An igbo father and a Yoruba mother. For long he had harboured anger towards his parents because all his siblings had been born outside the country. In the United States. But when his mother had been pregnant with him, she had risked having a miscarriage and flown back to Nigeria to be beside her father who was dying. Osi had been born a week later and his grandfather had gotten better.
When his visa application was continually denied while his siblings (Two boys and two girls) had flown in and out of the country, going to the states and coming back with pictures he had been filled with so much bitterness and had sent himself on exile. When he had graduated (Mechanical engineering) from the university of Portharcourt, he had remained in the state vowing to settle down and cut all ties with his family.
All that had changed when he met Reverend Okafor: The overseer of ‘New Life Ministries’. He found a new life and released himself from all anger and bitterness and reconciled with his family. Three years later, he was the youth pastor of the church and was immensely satisfied with his life.
Presently, he was busy with updating the Expenses for the month of May of the youth church. “We need a new Drum set, new amplifier…..definitely a new generator” he said to himself as he resumed his duty.
There was a knock on the door and he glanced up.
A young lady walked in “Pastor Osi, good afternoon please the reverend wants to see you”
“Theresa, how are you. You’re in church for choir practice?”
She nodded shyly “Yes….I have a special number to perform tomorrow”
Osi smiled “Wonderful! I can’t wait…tell the reverend I’d be with him shortly”
Reverend Okafor was in his late fifties. He had a powerful aura about him and a rich, deep voice which most times didn’t need the help of a microphone to reach everybody during a sermon.
He leaned on the pillar, watching the choir go through the practice for their song in preparation for the Sunday service the next day. He saw Theresa hurry to take her place, She had such a lovely voice: He thought to himself with a smile. He was about to ask her about the young pastor when his eyes caught movement from the rear of the church. His smile grew wider as he watched Osi’s lanky frame make his way towards him. He had a special fondness for the young pastor and indeed he loved him like a son.
“Let’s go to my office!” he shouted over the choir’s uniform voice blasting from the overhead speakers.
Osi nodded curtly and followed the reverend.
“Are you done with filling the expenses?” Reverend Okafor asked, settling behind his desk, sinking into his massive comfortable leather seat.
Osi sat down across from him “Not yet sir, I’m almost done”
“Okay, that wasn’t why I called you anyway” the reverend replied
Osi got up and opened the mini fridge. He removed a bottle water and returned to his seat. His relationship with the reverend was a free one. They both had a deep regard for each other and enjoyed an enviable easiness in their interaction.
The reverend’s office was spacious, the walls were decorated with framed photographs containing motivational quotes and bible scriptures. On the table was a framed photograph of his wife and two daughters.
Osi drank deeply from the bottle. the water was chilled. “I’m listening sir”
“Well you know of our rural uplifting crusade coming up”
“There’s been some changes”
“What happened! What kind of changes?”
The reverend leaned back in his seat. “Osi do you believe God has a unique purpose for everyone?”
Osi had no idea where the reverend was going (or coming from) but he nodded slowly.
“Years ago” the reverend continued “Your mother had to rush back to the country to be with her dying father, incidentally she was pregnant with you and so, you were born in the country”
Osi wondered why the reverend was recounting his own history to him, in fact everything the reverend knew about him, he was the one who had told him.
“Interestingly, your mother’s father got better the moment you were born and would live for another decade, meaning his time had not yet come at the time”
The reverend drummed his fingers on the desk “You see, we serve a mysterious God, he works in mysterious ways, do you believe if your mother hadn’t come back when she did, you would have been born over there and as a citizen, you wouldn’t remain in this country but would be living there as we speak”
Osi nodded “That’s true…I know”
“Also you never would have met me, and more importantly you might not have met Christ” he cleared his throat and Osi waited for the punch line “But the interesting thing is you would not be ale to go for this assignment God has placed in my heart for you”
This time Osi sat up “Assignment…..what assignment?”
“You are going to lead the rural uplifting crusade”
“Me? but what about evangelist Tomori?”
“This assignment is for you” the reverend waved his question off “The Lord wants to use you for great works”
Osi was silent for some seconds. Finally he said “How long is the cusade?”
“It would last for a week”
“Who would accompany me?”
“Your team of youth leaders and deacon Oforbuike as well”
Osi winced when he heard of the deacon. The deacon disliked him immensely and didn’t bother to hide it. According to him, osi was too free and wordly to be a pastor, to be the head of the youths. He was more qualified for the position but still remained a deacon. Osi had been chosen.
The reverend fired on, oblivious to his thoughts “We would be hosted by a dear friend of mine: pastor Bartholomew, he has assured me of maximum hospitality”
Osi nodded for the umpteenth time that afternoon. So be it, he was a leader and he had to be firm. He couldn’t let anyone (The deacon) get under his skin.
“One question sir….where is the crusade taking place?”
Amarachi was 21 years of age. She was the most sought after lady in Amaife. Her beauty had no equal. She had a face well defined with all the right angles. Clear brown eyes shaded under full lashes and a full mouth. Her father: Dé Nwachukwu was one of the three leaders of the community and he was tired of receiving visitors all asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Amarachi had been clear: she planned to finish her education before any thought about marriage would cross her mind. Her father knew she was intelligent and very strong willed and so he didn’t force her. Moreover he had a high regard for education and wanted his two daughters to be well educated.
Presently, Amarachi was in the compound: in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup over a fire. She touched the spoon to her hand and tasted it. “More salt” she said to her friend.
Oluchi was her best friend. Had been her best friend since childhood. They had been inseperable and did everything together. Oluchi passed the bowl of salt to her. “Did you hear about Chisom?” Oluchi asked as her friend sprinkled salt in the food.
“I heard, so so bad…they said her mother fainted when she heard”
“My God, she was the only child….who found her?”
“It was little Ndidi and her sister” Oluchi replied setting up another fire
“Who is this devil? What kind of terror is this?” Amarachi asked worriedly
“That is the third girl in four weeks” Oluchi replied striking the matches.
The two friends talked for some minutes about their peaceful community that was getting more dangerous by the day.
“Ehen….Paul is coming back tomorrow”
“Paul? Oh…your brother”
“Yes he’s coming from Lagos, and he can’t wait to see you”
Amarachi raised an eye brow “really”
“Yes..we would go and pick him at the park, pleeeeaaasssee” she added batting her lashes playfully when her friend hesitated.
Amarachi rolled her eyes “Oh..all right”
Dé Nwachukwu patted the young boy on the head as he dropped the jug of palm wine. “Thank you my son”
“Yes sir, Dé John would be outside soon”
The young boy hurried inside the house. There was something intimidating about Dé Nwachukwu. Maybe it was his piercing eyes or the fact that his mouth never turned upwards when he smiled. Especially not this morning when he seemed to be in a bad mood.
Dé Nwachukwu folded both arms on his cane and tapped his foot impatiently. He was in a state of distress. His village was in a state of distress. Three of their daughters had been abused! Raped mercilessly, beaten and given a dishonourable death. Where the gods asleep? Who could be behind such devlish acts?
Dé Nwachukwu sighed and shook his head in dismay. Too many questions had been plaguing him this past month but no answer was forthcoming. Now three families had been thrown into grief and the worst thing was he feared for more families, he feared for the young daughters of Amaife. He feared for his two daughters-
Dé john moved the curtain aside and stepped out. He was a very tall man and he and his friend Dé Nwachukwu always cut a contrasting picture as one was tall and the other short. Dé john had his pipe in his mouth. This was his trademark look, he had on a singlet and a wrapper tied round his waist. He sat down on the bench across his friend. He also looked gloomy.
“Dé, I won’t greet you good morning because there’s nothing good about this morning”
“I agree” Dé Nwachukwu nodded, finally picking up the jug of palm wine and pouring the contents into a cup.
“What I’m wondering is where Pà Kenneth is” Dé john commented, puffing on his tobacco pipe.
“He told me he had a meeting with Bartholomew”
Dé John scoffed “the pastor? What is he doing running after churches now?”
Dé Nwachukwu sipped from his cup “apparently a crusade is coming from another state and the pastor plans to host them”
“Is that what we need right now?” Dé john asked in disgust
“Well it appears the gods have forgotten us, so maybe that’s what we need” Dé Nwachukwu replied, his voice rising a bit.
“We need to call a meeting. Our women are getting scared”
“I can’t argue with that, very soon they would all lock themselves indoors” Dé john agreed helping himself to the jug.
“Maybe that’s the best thing” Dé Nwachukwu said. Frankly, he was getting worried for his daughters
Especially Amarachi, she was widely regarded as the gem of the village and now more than ever her father was worried for her safety. The three girls that had been murdered had things in common: they were beautiful, they were in their early 20s….
“We need a concrete solution my friend” Dé john brought him back to the present
“yes I agree…we need to rally our youths”
The team of youth leaders consisted of 5 people. The head was Osi who was the youth pastor, his right hand man was an extremely thin man known as Gregory, he was the assistant pastor of the youth church and Osi’s close friend. Then there was Bukky, she was the official secretary and had the responsibility of editing the monthly editions of the church’s “on fire” magazine. The last was Ovie a.k.a Biggie. Ovie was the treasurer in charge of managing and recording the finances and expenses of the youth church. If Gregory was slim, then Ovie was the complete opposite. He was outspoken and lively and Osi personally thought he was fun to be with.
That Sunday, Osi had announced that they had an emergency meeting after the service and so they waited.
“Please I don’t have to remind you of the contributions we talked about” Bukky announced settling down into a chair.
She lowered her voice, looking pointedly at Ovie “concerning Osi’s birthday”
“I didn’t forget” he shrugged
“Lemme sha remind you guys”
“What is this meeting for anyway?” Gregory asked, he was seated on the edge of the desk. There were only three chairs in Osi’s office after all and Ovie was tucked comfortably in two while Bukky sat across the table in Osi’s chair. Osi himself was nowhere to he found.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody didn’t call this meeting to remind the rest of us about a certain contribution for a particular birthday present” Ovie jabbed his thumb at Bukky when he said “somebody”
Gregory chuckled and Bukky rolled her eyes. Before she could speak, the door opened and Osi stepped inside
“You’re all here…..good”
He entered the office and shut the door gently.
“What’s going on?” Ovie asked immediately.
Osi glanced at him. He paced round the small office “we’re going to spearhead the uplifting crusade”
“Are you serious?” Gregory asked sitting up
“What do you mean we?” Ovie asked
Osi stopped pacing and looked at his friends “yes Greg…I’m very serious and Ovie I mean we…as in the four of us”
“Just us?” Bukky asked
“Well, the deacon is going too…I’ve been in a meeting with him and the Reverend all afternoon. We leave for Amaife tomorrow”
“Amaife! I’ve never heard of it before!” Ovie exclaimed
“Yesterday was my first time too, Ovie I need a statement of our purse contents immediately…there’s so much to do”
“But tomorrow….why weren’t we told sooner, to have adequate time to prepare?” Bukky asked, getting up to offer the chair to Osi.
He remained standing. Truth be told, his mind was far away. The deacon had thrown some not so subtle shares at him during the meeting and Osi could easily tell that the deacon was rooting for him to mess up and for the crusade to be a failure. For the first time he began feeling the weight of the responsibility. But he was determined to strive under pressure not cave under it. “Don’t forget we are not here to serve men…we have a lot to do…Gregory you have calls to make, we need visiting ministers for the duration of one week, Bukky the fliers and tracks and paperwork..its so many…Ovie let’s know how much we need!”
They all got to work. They were a team, a unit and division of labour was essential for success.
Story continues stay tuned!