Published: 07 Sept 2019
An accounting clerk, aspiring singer, church choir leader, the attractive Bethany has everything going on, except one. To find her Mr. Right, get married, start a home, and serve God.
But the hurdles to her dream life are many. It appears she may never arrive at the Land of the Married.
Trailed by gossip and rumor, she is accosted by unusual romance, and surrounded by real-life friends and virtual acquaintances, whose opinions directly and indirectly influence how the story unfolds.
Bethany beamed when she saw no one else at the door to the office. That was a double blessing: George waited for her in front of the church, while in this office, another opportunity for a romantic relationship might present itself. What a relief after two years of lonely singleness.
After knocking, she half-opened the door, a broader smile on her face.
A woman, seated behind a large table, motioned for her to come right inside.
Bethany's enthusiasm diminished, for Mama had a straight face. That was unusual.
Standing a meter away from the table, Bethany said, "You called, Mama,"
"Bethany, I have made some adjustments in the choir. Faith will replace you as the lead singer and master of the choir while you're re-assigned to the children's church."
Bethany's eyes enlarged and pierced the face of the woman. Was that shocking announcement the purpose of the summons? What about the divorced man with three kids in need of a wife? Or was it the next item on the agenda?
Instead, an explanation for the decision followed. A new pastor for the children was not forthcoming, and Mama saw Bethany as the most appropriate interim helper to the other teachers and caretakers.
Bethany came closer and supported her hands on the table. "But Mama–"
Mama shook her index finger. Bethany's mouth gaped.
The young woman pulled out the visitor's chair from the side of the table and sat down.Her eyes still stayed on the spiritual leader's face.
"That's your new assignment," Mama said, her voice so firm that Bethany drew in a deep breath. "I want you there. Meet the leader of the children's department for materials and specific assignments. Good day."
"Mama, I don't fit in the children's church."
"This is not a rushed decision. Get to like it. You were assigned the role of the choir leader—you can also be reassigned to another area."
"I understand, Mama.All I'm saying is, I can't teach children. I've never done that before."
"Every skill can be learned over time."
Mama stood up, picked her bag and Bible from the table, before adding that Bethany didn’t come out of her mother's womb leading a choir.
Bethany got up too, stood still for several seconds, and then turned to leave.
The young woman turned and approached the table once again. Was it now time for the sweet news?
Not that she cared much for a new lover; George was the man of her dreams. But it would be heartwarming to discover that another man also yearned for her.
Mama's face didn't foretell such good news. "I don't feel comfortable anymore being addressed, Mama. I'm still young. Call me Felicity or Mrs. Thompson, whichever is preferable to you.
"And my husband is Pastor Carl, not Papa anymore."
Bethany's chest rose and fell, several times, while her eyes blinked in quick successions. What had occasioned such an attitude from Mama?
Almost a quarter of a minute passed before she said, "Okay, Mama… sorry, Feli… Mrs. Thompson," and went out.
Mrs. Thompson sat back on her chair and glued her eyes to the back of the closed door. After a while, she shrugged her shoulders and then sighed.
A handful of church members queued in front of the other office. Bethany took the last position in the line.
Every other five seconds, she threw a glance at the direction she'd just come from. Mrs. Thompson definitely would not approve of an appeal against her decision.
After a dozen glances, Bethany let out a shallow moan and walked away from the line.
Scores of people stood in little groups on the paved area in front of the church building. Her eyes ran all over the place. Many heads resembled George's, but none of the faces belonged to him.
She stood at the entrance into the building and let her eyes skimmed through the room. Some choir members packed away the instruments at the left of the platform. At the end of the far right column, a group of young people conversed. Laughter came from the direction of the visitors' corner. But where was George?
Bethany took her phone out from the handbag and dialed a number. In vain, she waited for the answer.
Swimming in confusion, she dragged her feet outside and across the pavement to the roadside where she boarded a taxi.
Beaumont's main streets busied, as usual, on that sunny third Sunday in April 2014, but the bustle meant nothing to Bethany. As the church's unofficial music minister, that reassignment decision was as uncalled-for as it was sudden.
And how painful to be replaced by someone whose voice had been as hoarse as a toad's when the now-deposed music minister first came to the church.
Whatever, that was not the most pressing issue to deal with. A part of her heart feared for George's unusual departure from the church without waiting to see her. Trouble, they said, came in pairs.
Inside her living room, Bethany threw her bag on the table at the center of the room and slumped unto the couch on the left.
A fish smell permeated the air, and her stomach rumbled. But the young woman behaved like a dog mourning a beloved fellow canine. No appetite.
Instead, she powered on the flat screen television before lying back on the chair to watch a second television set.
In her mind's eyes, she saw herself standing on a porch and watching her husband's blue Chevrolet come into the driveway. She walked down the steps to the garage and opened the car door.
The young man with a goatee, dressed in a blue and black suit, with a blue bow-tie on a white shirt, came out. She kissed him, took his briefcase, and led the way into the magnificent living room.
Vegetable salad, spaghetti and stew, and fruit awaited him on the dining table. But first, she took off his jacket, shoes, and socks, and gave him feet and head massages, a delightful welcome-home package she reserved for him each time he returned from work.
"Honey," George said when they sat at the dining table, "what's up? You've had that smile since I came in."
She giggled, waited more seconds, and when his stare widened, she said, "Someone will soon be a father."
George dropped his spoon. "Did I hear you well?"
"Yea. I found out this morning when you'd left for work."
George pushed back his chair and rushed to her side. Holding the sides of her tummy with both hands, he placed his head on her belly. Bethany supported his head with both hands.
"I can hear him," the husband said.
The wife cracked up in laughter, turning her head towards the ceiling.
"O, baby, thank you." George got up and stared into her dark eyes. "Thank you for making me a husband and a soon-to-be father."
"Thank God, honey. He brought us together."
"Yea, I know. You know what? I'm going to smother you with affection. Tell me whatever you want, and I'll get it for you."
Bethany laughed again. His promise reminded her of the day he’d proposed on the beach in Beachmond under a coconut tree, with the breeze from across the Atlantic Ocean bearing witness to that eternal bond.
On bent knee, with a gold ring in hand, he'd promised her a haven of matrimonial paradise. Now in their umpteen years of marriage, he lived up to every word of that promise and beyond.
"Anything, honey." Bethany came back to the imaginary living room. "I'll appreciate anything you buy for me."
Some months later, still in the mental movie, George returned home to a heavy wife lying on the couch. Coming to sit on the carpeted floor beside the chair, he held her hand and kissed her forehead.
"Baby," he said, the affection in his voice so thick that a saw would not tear through it in a minute, "I regret the fact that I can't share in this pain with you. I wish I could somehow transfer the baby to my tummy even just for a month. But you know that I love you, don't you?"
Bethany nodded in slow motion.
"See what I got for you and our baby." George pulled a paper bag closer. Apples, oranges, blueberries, mandarins, and, of course, a large bar of chocolate.
His wife's big smile quantified her appreciation for the chocolate, whose yummy silky texture she could already feel on her tongue.
George went into the kitchen and returned with a knife. While Bethany enjoyed the deliciousness of a fleshy red apple, his tender hands massaged her swollen feet.
"George," Bethany said aloud, waking up from her fancies. "I love you so much. I can't wait for our marriage to become a reality."
She rechecked her phone. “Honey, please, call me.”
In the evening, Bethany set the table for dinner while informing her housemate about Mrs. Thompson's out-of-the-blue decision.
"I thought she loved you," the housemate said.
"She did. Even gave me money the past two Sundays."
"Then why the sudden change of attitude?"
"I can only guess it's because I told her last Sunday that I'm desperate for marriage. She said that as a good Christian Single, I shouldn't be desperate."
Bethany's eyes widened, and her hand froze in mid-air with a plate. So that was it? She was being stripped of her place in the choir because she used the platform to expose herself to men? But what was wrong with that, anyway—if it were indeed true?
The other woman disagreed. It was unlike the brown-complexioned woman to be hasty in making truth out of assumptions. She advised Bethany to take on the new assignment.
"Daphne, I know that Pastor Carl will overturn that decision." Bethany sat down and pushed the bowl of white rice towards her friend. "But if he doesn't say something by Sunday, I'll talk to him. My place is in the choir."
Bethany expected Daphne's approval of that plan, yearning to have her convictions overridden. Unfortunately, Daphne opined about the wrongness of pitting a pastor against his assistant, especially when the two happened to be husband and wife.
"It is better to submit, even in dissatisfaction, than to bring discord into the marriage."
Bethany contorted her face and then placed her fork on the plate.Daphne had a distinction for always disagreeing on the methods of accomplishing desires.
"I only want to complain and state my objections to the new assignment. I'm not even trained to minister to children."
Daphne swallowed the load in her mouth and spoke with a voice void of sympathy."You'll just have to learn on the job. How do you know she'd not spoken with her husband before informing you?"
For the first time, Bethany expressed regret at not following Daphne to her church. "I stayed in the Tabernacle cos I felt the need. Now they want to push me aside?"
"Betty, at the moment, you have no appropriate options, do you?"
Bethany's eyes fell on her plate. Patience.
At the parsonage that Sunday evening, Mrs. Thompson placed a plate of white pudding and white yam on a side table in front of her guest.
The visitor friend, a light-complexioned, stern-looking lady in her mid-sixties, was a woman in whose blood resided the tendency to have every pastor's wife in the Tabernacle, Green Way, Beaumont, as a friend, no matter how big their age difference was.
"Mrs. Botlib, I needed peace," Mrs. Thompson said. "I admit I'm a jealous person, yes I'm very jealous—Carl is my husband, why shouldn't I be?
They both remembered that day during a service in a jam-packed auditorium, when Carl stood up on the pulpit and eulogized Bethany's voice for over a minute. That instant triggered an itching body and sweaty palms in Mrs. Thompson each time Bethany was on the microphone.
Mrs. Botlib's deep voice rang through a bite of the pudding. "Felicity, are you saying there was anything more to that compliment?"
Mrs. Thompson chuckled. Guilt clung to some portion of her conscience, for lack of tangible evidence to her claims."You wouldn't understand, my dear."
She reminded her friend about one of Carl's failed dreams—to marry a woman who could sing well.
"You imagine how humiliating that was for me to hear him say that. Carmelita says my voice sounds like the bark of her dog with a damaged throat. And then she compares Bethany's voice to that of a nightingale."
"Felicity, my voice is as hoarse as yours. But I'm not jealous of anyone. God has–"
"How can you be jealous when you're not the pastor's wife who has to sit across from her husband twenty feet away, while a young woman with a sweet, seductive voice sits three feet away to his right? I'm jealous over our love, Mrs. Botlib."
"You should be," Mrs. Botlib said, seeking to please her friend. She further added that even God remains jealous over His children. "I protected our love when my husband was alive."
Mrs. Thompson relaxed her face;the haunting feelings of guilt vanished.
"But she's good, you know." Mrs. Botlib put the empty plate away. "The choir never used to sing that well until she came and took over, doing a great job in teaching and training. I don't doubt that some people come to church just to hear her sing.
"Carl is right, after all. Many pastors would love to have a woman who can pull the numbers up."
Mrs. Thompson's heart jerked; the effect of her friend's statements felt like lightning. Was she some dead weight to her husband's ministry? That was impossible. Her commitment to the call sparkled.
She cleared her throat and said, "Mrs. Botlib, you know, a vocation like ours exposes one to many uncomfortable situations. The other day, I read in the papers about the affair of a certain Pastor with one of the single church workers. I think it said the wife is seeking a divorce. It got me worked up. That's not the route I want to walk after twenty-four years of marriage. I'm still young."
Jumping up, Mrs. Thompson grabbed the empty plate and cat walked into the kitchen, hilariously showing her youthfulness to Mrs. Botlib. Her four offspring had taken little toll on her body, for in her early forties, she was a rose with yet a much longer time before the primary signs of wilting. Flawless makeup would place her at thirty-six.
"I understand," Mrs. Botlib said when Felicity returned with a plate of sliced pineapple. "try to keep your husband. It's good for family and ministry. But I must tell you, a man who wants to have an affair would still do. It's in the mind and desire, Felici–"
"And opportunity too, Mrs. Botlib. Which is where I come in—to disrupt it. I want that girl very less noticeable around the pulpit. That way, my husband's desire for her would lessen."
"Well, thank God, Carl understands."
"He initially objected," Felicity said. "That hurt me. It made me realize that something had indeed been cooking between the two."
Mrs. Botlib picked her teeth while saying, "Felicity, you are my friend, so let me tell you the truth. Your imagination is the pot cooking up ideas for you, causing you to hear and see things that are not.
"Carmelita stays away from church for months, and when she resurfaces, she brews some trouble before hibernating again. If you ask me, she's the junior sister to the devil himself."
Rubbing her palms together, with her eyes on her toes below the table, Felicity embraced her guilt feelings once more.
"If Bethany is the source and object of lust to my husband, she has to give way even if the choir suffers. That is better than having the church suffer from the scandal of an affair."
Mrs. Botlib shrugged her shoulders, holding her lips up in contempt.To be continued
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