The Holy Sin by Femi Owolabi
My teary eyes searched for absolution in the phlegmatic face of the judge, as she slowly perused through the lines of the paper in her hands. It was the last of the papers she’s been reading since she overruled my lawyer’s objection. Barrister Ken- my lawyer had speciously argued my case.
As the judge read towards the conclusion, she paused and gently removed the glasses perching on her nose. Then, she wiped her face, and cleaned the lens of her glasses with a tissue-paper she fetched from the glass-case before she put it back on.
“This is my judgment!” She boomed gutturally, raising her face.
The courtroom became calmer. My heart raced faster than the tick-second and I held my left breast firmly as though my heart would jump out of my body. I felt the bounding movement. Would this verdict determine the length of my life? I couldn’t subdue the fear that ran from my hair through my sweating-toes, where I stood inside the dock, flanked by two armed policemen.
Vanity. I shrugged. Nevertheless, I ambivalently waited for my fate.
“After hearing from both sides, it is a pity that the counsel to the accused has not been able to convince this court. All the information extracted from these witnesses is enough evidence that the accused is guilty as charged. Therefore, you, Nora Benson has been found guilty of the murder of Ferdinand Williams- who you claimed was your fiancé.”
She paused and turned her gaze at me.
I sniffed nervously, and as our eyes became four, I dropped my face, soberly.
“You are hereby sentenced to death! You will be given a lethal injection and your slow death shall be monitored.” She slammed the gavel against the table as she rose to take her leave.
“Coooooooourt!” The court-clerk’s voice rose to a scream, and vanished in the cacophonous noise that followed the judgment.
I loved my life. Ferdinand was my life. I loved Ferdinand.
It was my last week in Kaiama at the Bayelsa State NYSC Orientation Camp, and we had just returned from an endurance trek. I was tired, but I had promised Judith my bunkie that I would attend the last meeting with the young pastor- her cousin that pastors in Yenogoa who had been coming to preach and advertize his church to the fresh corps in camp. I had declined her invitation twice. Judith kept saying nice things about her cousin, his preaching and even about the church she hadn’t attented. I used to be the shy type and was extremely introverted, but in the few weeks that I had met Judith- her lifestyle had largely influenced mine. Just as I had spent four years in school without being noticed, albeit my beauty sometimes draw people’s attention to me, I thought I should quietly do my one year in Bayelsa unnoticed as-well. But with Judith, it was almost impossible as she took me everywhere she went- introducing me as her friend.
Hurriedly, we went to the hall where some Christian corps members had already gathered, listening to the pastor. Sincerely, I was mesmerized by his oratorical prowess. His gesticulation and his voice had a sheer similarity with that famous American preacher- my favorite preacher. He was gorgeously dressed in a black fitted suit, an inner-white shirt with a yellow tie to match with the pocket-handkerchief on his suit. His afro haircut was dark and sheeny. And as he gesticulated, I noticed the ostentatious display of his yellow-gold wristwatch, silver bracelet and a glittering ring on one of his index fingers. I smiled when I remembered what Judith once told me about the meanings of ring-wearing. On the thump means that the wearer is a widow or widower, on the index finger means that the wearer is searching, on the middle finger means that the wearer is engaged, next to it means marriage and on the last finger means divorce. I was just smiling. I was totally carried away by his looks. He was an apt definition of handsomeness. And yes, he was spiritually worded. He was just quoting scriptures offhand like a preaching-machine. After all, I wouldn’t have missed what brought me for the meeting. I had to concentrate on the spiritual things when I noticed the suspicious eye Judith gave me. She was sitting beside me and wasn’t sure where my mind was.
“….. So as many of you that would be posted to Yenogoa city, I encourage you to join us every Sunday 9am for a live changing service at the Sanctuary of Praise Church. Service holds at the banquet hall A, Arietallin Hotel. Let’s bow our heads for prayer.” He concluded his sermon, and he removed a white handkerchief from the inner pocket of his suit, to wipe his sweaty face.
All heads were bowed, except mine. I envied and admired this young man of God that I forgot my gaze on him until Judith pinched me. “Nora bow your head jor.” She whispered.
Everybody had left after the prayer. Judith held my hand and I reluctantly followed her to meet her cousin, the pastor who had been waiting outside.
“Pastor Ferdy….” Judith screamed as she ran into his opened arms.
“Ehn ehn, Ferdy meet my friend Nora Benson.” Judith pulled me closer.
“Oh glory to God!” Ferdinand looked at me as he stretched out his hand to shake me. And while my hand entered his, my friend continued.
“Pastor see ehn, Nora studied Biochemistry at the University of Jos. She is from Kafancha in Kaduna State. She grew up in Kaduna city. She is born-again. She is a nice girl, and in fact she single and….”
“J-U-D-I-T-H!” I cut in.
Ferdinand smiled, nodding his head and my friend laughed, winking mischievously.
“It’s ok.” Ferdinand coughed in. “Errm, Sister Nora, I hope you didn’t forget to put your name, phone number and email in the list that went round during the meeting?” He asked, wearing a stern face.
“Yes pastor! I wrote it for her- after my name, Nora Benson….” Judith cut in laughingly.
He slowly let my hand off his, as he repeatedly said, “God bless you.” He then hugged Judith and told her he would call her on phone as soon as we were done with camp. He waved at us, hopped into his car and drove off.
That evening, Ferdinand called me on phone. I was washing my whites outside when Judith rushed out with my phone, shouting, “Nora you get call o.” Quickly, I dried my hands and took the phone from her. We spoke for almost twenty minutes, and Judith was still standing by, smiling mischievously.
He called throughout that week, everyday. He prayed for me and always instructed me to pray with some selected scriptures. Let anybody tell me then that I would marry a pastor, I would snap my fingers- circling it round my head three times, to reject it in-Jesus-name. However, I think it is only a blind woman that would resist what I strongly felt for Pastor Ferdinand.
Soon, I was carried away by his blarney and I was swimming in the ocean of adulation. Remove this pastor thing, Ferdinand was romantically sensitive. He decorated me with the sweetest words. After we had been posted to our places of primary assignment, he came to pick us from the camp; Judith, myself and a few Christian corps members that were posted to Yenogoa. Ferdinand’s church had prepared a lodge for us. But that night he gave me a special attention as he took me out for dinner. Judith feigned tiredness and begged for a take-away-ice-cream.
I really enjoyed our first outing. It was full of romantic and nostalgic feeling. At the serene corner of the eatery, where we sat opposite each other, Ferdinand told me everything I needed to know about him. He told me about the divine encounter he had when he was in the UK studying Neurology and that becoming a pastor wasn’t his will. God ordered him to return to Nigeria after his studies, to work in His vineyard. He unnecessarily told me many things. I was just curious to hear him say what he really wanted from me. That same night, he eventually spoke his mind, albeit in a diplomatic way, or could it be the pastoral style of asking a lady out? He only said he had gotten a spiritual conviction that the lady he would marry will be fair-complexioned, tubby, gap-toothed, God-fearing and would probably be a Southern Kaduna girl. He had always talked about the hospitality he enjoyed from the people of Southern Kaduna region when he did his NYSC in Kaura, four years ago.
I had to vomit the laughter that had accumulated in my mouth.
“Ok o, pastor Ferdy, God will grant you your wish o.” I said to him, jestingly.
Things happened pretty fast. We were already in love.
Two years after the completion of my NYSC, I had been in Yenogoa where I was retained with the Private Hospital I served with. Judith had returned to Uniport for her masters. And I had been worshipping at the Sanctuary of Praise Church where Ferdinand was the assistant pastor. I was becoming uncomfortable with his so called perks of spiritualism, when all these church girls were always coming around him for counseling. He was a loveable handsome pastor. He however fondly flaunted me as his fiancée and I became more secured that Sunday that Pastor Roland- the senior pastor, addressed me as Pastor Ferdinand’s fiancée, in his sermon. I shyly lowered my head when those unfortunate sisters turned their gaze at me.
Ferdinand had taken me to meet his parents in Port-Harcourt. They were very soft with me and prayed endlessly for me. They couldn’t hide their excitement that at last, their only child brought his wife to them. Ferdinand was thirty-one and they were bothered. A later date to meet with my parents in Kaduna had been fixed too.
We had just finished a wonderful Wednesday evening service. Ferdinand preached. His preaching was centered on chastity. He titled it ‘How pre-marital sex ruins your life.’ As usual, he preached energetically and when he made an altar call for those who had been sexually involved with their boyfriends or girlfriends, an unbelievable number of them rushed to the altar. Most of them were ladies. I was also caught unaware when suddenly, Ferdinand said this, “thank God you all know Sister Nora, my fiancée. As enticing as her red lips are, I have never tasted it. No, not until we are married.” The congregation hummed, laughed and applauded. I smiled, but I was ashamed. I saw Pastor Roland and Sister Ini his wife, both nodding in admiration. They were proud of our relationship.
It was a communion service that lasted till dark hours. I ought to have gone home but I had promised Ferdinand to make dinner for him. I still waited while he received compliments for his preaching. It was 9pm and he told me not to worry that he was going to take care of himself. I insisted. I was going to make a fast-food for him. Noodles or something. We drove hastily down to his house- a luxuriantly furnished mini-flat.
Ferdinand’s problem was his inability to cook. He could hardly light a cooker, and I wasn’t comfortable with the way he lavished money on eatery foods. I had always helped him on this whenever I could.
We arrived at his place and I rushed inside the kitchen. He threw himself in the sofa, groped for the TV remote and switched to a Christian channel.
My fiancé’s kitchen was messed up. I had to start with the cleaning that took another thirty minutes. Then, I checked his fridge and saw that the stew I made for him the last time I came was still remaining. I thought I could boil rice for him. Every time that I peeped at him, I saw him dozing off, on the sofa. The stew was iced, and it took some time to get it heated. I had spent more than an hour inside the kitchen, and when I eventually brought his food to him, it was a few minutes to 11pm.
After eating, we both didn’t understand what should happen next. Driving me down to my place and returning that time would be too risky. I wouldn’t even allow it. He started pleading that it was his fault, but I told him not to say that again. Then, I asked if I could use his bathroom and that I would need one of his t-shirts that I could wear to bed. He stood still, staring at me.
“Ermm, Nora but I can still drop you…” He said, picking my handbag and his car key.
“NO Ferdy, it’s too late. Our gate would have been locked already.” I cut in as I collected my bag from him, and I helped myself in.
I had bathed and was already in bed when he knocked. The only thing I had on me was a white t-shirt of his that stopped above my knees. I had to quickly get a towel around my body as I got up to open the door for him.
“Oh, Nora sorry, I need to pick my night wears and errm please if the ac is too much for you, the remote is there.’ He said, looking at where he was pointing. He couldn’t look at me.
“Ferdy,” I called him romantically as I moved closer to him.
“Nora” he replied in the same manner, and now he was looking at me.
“I love you.” I whispered, walking into his arms.
“I love you more.” He circled his arms around my waist.
And then, I couldn’t explain what traveled through my mind. Our minds. I wasn’t sure if it was a kiss, but I felt someone tasting my lips. And then, I felt a gentle touch on my nipple. And then,…………And then……..
And then, I woke up in his arms the next morning, naked.
“No! No!” He screamed, and I quickly jumped out of the bed to dress up.
“Oh no! Jesus!” He sobbed, regretfully.
I didn’t know what to do; however I wasn’t sure if I felt bad. I zipped my skirt, buttoned my blouse and knelt by his side on the bed.
“Nora why did you allow this?” he asked raucously.
“Ferdy, let’s ask for forgiveness.” I intoned tenderly.
“I said why… why?” He crunched his teeth furiously and grabbed my neck in his angry hands. I was almost strangled.
“Ferdy,” I shouted, struggled with his hands and then forcefully pushed him off me.
His head swung backward and pierced through the mirror by the bed.
I covered my ears and screamed my throat out, till the neighbors rushed in. The room had been flooded with Ferdinand’s blood.
I didn’t tell anybody what happened. Not even Barrister Ken, my lawyer. Not even Judith, my friend and my potential sister-in-law. Not even Pastor Roland. But as I was helped into the black-maria, it occurred to me that for almost two months that I have been standing this trial, I have not seen my monthly flow.
Kindly follow the writer on twitter @fEMIoWOLABI. Femi Owolabi is the author of Echoes in the Web. You can also check out his writing profile on Naijastories.