When Pastor Emma came to our church as the new Pastor sent from Headquarters, things began looking up for the church. Unlike Pastor Chuks who only knew to preach sermons in his meek voice that made us cry and rush to the altar for forgiveness from sins we committed and those we weren’t sure we did, Pastor Emma would tell us in his powerful holy voice that we would get whatever we believed and prayed for, if only we had no doubt. He would also tell us to be specific about what we were believing for. That would be right before he would make us scream our prayers of faith to claim what we were believing.
I wanted a car. A moon-blue Hyundai Elantra. Like Mr. Tony’s, though his was sky blue.
My wedding party was six months away and I could only dream of Chichi and I stepping out of my gleaming Elantra as the church cheered and congratulated us.
Mr. Tony was the newcomer who got the rousing welcome from our choir of twelve on his first day of worship. He had a dignifying, calm and confident aura about him, like a Morgan-Freeman-Vin-Diesel hybrid. As though, with him, nothing could ever go wrong.
He introduced himself to the church as a contractor who was staying in the community for the duration of his contract and would only be attending our church for that time. His family lived in Abuja, he told us. He hoped to be able to give his best to the Lord while with us.
Though he would smile anytime I greeted him after services, I never could ask him what contract he was working on. Our community had no ongoing government construction – everything was the way it was. I wondered why no one seemed to mind that the contractor living among us was executing no project we knew of. Maybe it was because he was always the first to render a helping hand whenever the Pastor announced the church needs. Or because he never refused anyone who came to him for help.
During a prayer meeting one evening, I brought my prayer point before the Lord. I shut my eyes and imagined my need placed at the Lord’s feet as I prayed in the loud voice Pastor Emma taught us, the more to make the Lord know I had no doubt he would answer me. After prayers, when I opened my eyes, it was to Mr. Tony’s face staring at me, a knowing smile on his placid face. It reminded me of my secretary staring at me whenever Chichi and I stepped out of my office after long minutes of closed doors together.
“You really want the car, right?” he asked me as we walked out of the church’s door.
I stared at him, embarrassed.
And I told him why.
He smiled and walked away, his head bent in thoughts.
On the Sunday after, he caught up with me at the door again. He was breathless and for the first time ever, excited.
“Your wedding is three weeks away, right?”
“Yes?” I inclined my head at an awkward angle, as I left the question in the air.
“Here’s the key to mine. I am done here. I am leaving tomorrow. Only Pastor Emma knows. I prefer my leaving quiet and unannounced. That loud welcome was too much for me. Consider this gift from me the answer to your prayers.”
The world spun. Then exploded in a billion suns. I couldn’t stand, so I sat on the steps at the entrance of the church. Church members who saw me would have seen the imbecilic smile on my face where I sat that Sunday.
“Come,” he pulled me up and led me to the car, where it seemed to gleam differently. I was following him to the car, when I remembered Chichi. She would be back from her own church and she would faint from elation. I was sure.
“Give it a test drive. You can go to your Chichi’s house to share the good news.” He said with a wink as he opened the door for me.
I loved the way the engine purred when I turned the ignition and how it bucked when I shifted to the drive gear. It was rearing to run the world with me. My Hyundai Elantra. Heaven-sent.
I waved goodbye as I drove out of the church compound, stunning Chichi as I had been stunned was the only thing on my mind.
Thoughts of Chichi taking numerous selfies of us as we went everywhere in our Hyundai were the mental activities I engaged in for the fifteen minutes that brought Chichi’s rust-brown gates to my view. I brought my phone to call her when I heard the siren behind me. It was a Police squad van and the driver was flashing his headlights at me in the afternoon light. I parked with a groan.
What now? I thought as the police men jumped down as though to quell an ongoing robbery.
“You are under arrest.” The leader barked out at me as he strutted towards me, his face held no promise of kindness.
FOR WHAT? My thoughts were in stammers.
“You have the right to remain silent…”
I swore, sweat forming in bulbs fast on my forehead and nose.
“What have I…?”
A slap that distorted my grammar caught me smack, making my question end with “did” instead of “done”.
“Na you dey go carry girls commot for the university wey dem no go see them again, ba? We don dey find this car e don tey.” Another slap ended the allegation. The man spoke with a Hausa accent and his hands were leathery, like cowhide.
Sadness and anger and fear washed over me with a concurrence as an officer slapped steel cuffs around my wrist. They bundled me into the van, while an officer got into the Hyundai. The two vehicles drove off, with the van taking the lead. As we drove by Chichi’s gates, I thought I caught a glimpse of her over the laced fence, she was leaning on the veranda’s banister with her friend, Kemi, her head thrown back in laughter to a joke I could not hear.