Continued from Unforgiven I
She heard the voices around her as she began to regain consciousness. She recognized Pastor Tim and his wife Mrs Adeleke’s voice. And then the other voice. Charles’.
She didn’t want to open her eyes; she wished she could stay like that forever. She thought she’d left her past behind her… why had it come back to haunt her when she was just picking up the pieces of her life back?
“Maybe she wasn’t feeling too well,” Mrs Adeleke was saying.
“She attended service today and…anyway, let’s give her some space. I’ve prayed for her, she’ll be okay,” Pastor Tim’s voice sounded soothing.
“How long has she been in your church?” It was Charles.
She didn’t want any conversation going on about her, especially not with Charles involved. Her eyes sprang open immediately.
“She’s awake. Ethel, how do you feel now?” Mrs Adeleke leaned over her, touching her head.
“Fine. I’m okay. I guess I was just tired ma,” she sat up on the couch, her eyes avoiding Charles.
“Oya come, let me put you in a cab so you can go home and rest,” Mrs Adeleke helped her to her feet.
Ethel wasn’t sure how to feel about leaving Charles alone with her Pastor. Only God knew what he would say.
“Are you sure you’re better now?” his voice filtered into her ears.
She thought she could detect a tinge of concern in it. Concern indeed. Charles doesn’t care about anyone except himself. Remember that Ethel.
“Maybe someone should take her home. She might not be coherent enough in a cab,” he continued, “Tim, what do you think? I know you people have had a stressful day so you need to go home and rest. Let me take her home instead. I have my car here.”
What?? “No!” her single shout rent the air. She straightened herself, pulling away from the support of Pastor’s wife. “I’m okay. I’ll be fine in a cab sir, ma.”
She’d successfully avoided looking at Charles. Hang on Ethel. Only a few more seconds and you’d be out of here.
“Okay dear. Let’s get you a cab,” this time Mrs Adeleke led her firmly out.
She didn’t breathe easy until she was seated in the cab and on her way home. And then the tears came. The pent up emotions she’d kept for three years. The tears she’d failed to release when Charles had left her without a word.
She momentarily forgot that the cab didn’t contain just her because she let out sobs that racked her body uncontrollably.
Why now? Why this coincidence? Pastor’s brother? Charles! God!
“Madam wetin happen?” the cab man peered at her through the mirror.
She was after all; a pretty lady. It wasn’t all the time fine girls cried in his taxi. Although she hardly qualified as a girl. Woman, more likely.
She didn’t reply. Instead all he heard were sniffles and it was as though he hadn’t spoken.
Three years it’d taken her, to get what she called a semblance of her life back and now he was here to destroy it. Just like he did; all those years ago.
Not like it was entirely his fault. A voice reminded her. You weren’t exactly blameless.
Where are you at times like this Jesus? Why don’t you just strike some people dead so they don’t have to ruin other people’s lives? She wondered.
And yet she knew He wouldn’t do that. No, God was far too kind to strike Charles dead.
And what about me?
The taxi rolled to a stop and it wasn’t until the driver honked three times that she realized she was home.
She fumbled in her bag for her wallet, tears and catarrh dripping from everywhere possible on her face. She didn’t bother to wipe them off as she rummaged her bag.
“How much is it?” she asked.
“No worry. Dat other madam don pay,” he replied, watching her curiously.
Ah. Pastor’s wife. Such a kind soul. Everyone was kind in Harvest of Hope church. Perhaps that’s why she found solace there; hoping that a little of the kindness would rub off on her and make her kind too. She sure needed to do some kind acts to atone for her past.
She stumbled out of the cab, clutching her bag in one hand and her high heels in the other.
Walk bare feet. Who cares? After all, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.
What does that have to do with anything? Jesus isn’t going to wash my feet no matter how filthy they are.
The conversation in her head made little sense to Ethel as she walked up to her doorstep; yet she welcomed it. She’d taken refuge in those imaginary conversations when she was younger; when Mum was busy with another client. They kept her company, sometimes the voices were witty and sometimes they were cruel. To her and to others.
But they were all she had when there was no one to talk to.
She unlocked the door to her one room apartment and stepped in. Home; sweet home. More like home, sour home. This used to be the other place she liked being, apart from church. But right now, it felt like the last place she wanted to be.
Maybe the morgue would have been better. No trouble there.
She wanted to cry some more, to make herself feel better but she realised she was closing up again. The self-protective wall was coming up again; making it impossible for her to shed more tears.
Slowly, she walked to the bathroom and peeled off her clothes. A shower was the next thing on her mind. It would make her feel better, cleaner.
But it won’t make her forget the fact that Charles was back. In town. At least not in her life. He would never get that part of her again. So why was she afraid? He was over and done with. Her past was past…she was born again now.
So why don’t I feel like it? Why don’t I feel new? Why don’t I feel forgiven?
The pattering of the water drops on her body did nothing to answer those questions. She showered in silence, no humming and no voices.
It didn’t take long for her to fall asleep on the couch in the living room. It was when she woke up five hours later that she realized how exhausted she was.
The doorbell began ringing the exact moment she woke. She glanced at the clock; 7:06pm. Who could that be? A neighbour?
“Who is it?” she asked.
Just as she thought. Her neighbour.
“Okay. I’m coming.”
“So what do you want…” the words died on her lips as she opened the door. It was Maria all right; but right behind her, stood Charles.
…to be continued next week
By Mimi Adebayo