Moses Abednego lived life in neutral. The managing director of Memoram Brothers Printing Press, Orilonise Street, Ikorodu, Lagos, here was a man who had turned moderation into a lifestyle. Never had a drop of alcohol touched his lips except sacrament wine, the only smoking he did was of fish that he bought at Sangrouse Market.
There were no visible vices one could attribute to him unless of course humility could be counted as a disadvantage especially in a survivalist city like Lagos where he had lived for the past forty-nine years. He offended none and was generally found to be agreeable by all. Even in his appearance he was affable, never far removed from a smile although his slightly over-large and protruding teeth did lend to that impression. He was partial to the safari suit, always in muted colours and he wore a neat, low, slightly greying afro and well-made sandals which his brother sent him at regular intervals from Kaduna. He did not go looking for trouble and always made a swift exit on the rare occasions that trouble came looking for him.
Like the time when he had accompanied the pastor of his church to Murtala Mohammed airport to go and pick up the pastor’s wife, who had just returned from a spiritual pilgrimage to Milan, and the police had pulled them over insisting on searching the car; Moses had been the first to jump out with his hands in the air shouting, “We will cooperate, we will cooperate!” eager to acquiesce and avoid any sort of trigger happy activity. It was the Pastor on the other hand who was shouting abuse and raining curses down on the avaricious policemen. It was not until some money had exchanged hands, a lot of which was donated by Moses, that the policemen allowed them to carry on their journey, although it was Moses’ apparent cowardice and or lack of faith that was highlighted whenever the pastor retold the story.
Then there was the day of the church bazaar a few years back. As church secretary Moses had remained in the office, while the rest of the congregation stayed outside enjoying the festivities with a live band and plenty food and drink. He was counting up the offering money and putting them into orderly piles of denominations, which he would deposit in the bank first thing the following morning. Just as he was wrapping an elastic band around a thousand naira wad of fifties Nneka Omoera had burst through the door, “Here you are Mr Abednego! I have been looking for you everywhere,” she had breathed.
Nneka was in the choir – a soprano, and did not tolerate anyone telling her differently, she was in her mid-thirties and was positively piranha-like in her quest for conjugal bliss. She had manoeuvred quite determinedly through all of the single men in the church and a few of the married ones too and so it was inevitable that she would eventually work her way round to Moses, a confirmed bachelor with a more than modest income.
“Nneka, how are you?” Moses had asked pleasantly.
“I am not very well oh Mr Abednego,” she had said although her wide, gap-toothed smile and glossy eyes seemed to contradict her words.
“Oh Nneka I am sorry to hear that. Have you got any Robb or Mentholatum? Or is it malaria? Do you want me to go to the chemist and get some Daraprin for you?” Moses had asked with genuine concern.
“Mr Abednego it is not that kind of illness,” Nneka said, “I feel something burning deep inside,” she proclaimed.
“Burning? Perhaps you have a fever or are suffering from indigestion? I think I have some Andrews Liver salt somewhere,” he made to look around the small cluttered room.
“I do not have indigestion Mr Abednego,” Nneka complained.
“Ah ha then it is a fever, you must take some Panadol to bring your temperature down.”
“It is not a fever. You see I am love-sick for you,” Nneka declared.
Moses’ eyes had goggled behind his thick-lens glasses.
“Nneka, you cannot know what you are saying; a bad spirit must have entered you and made you say such a thing! Go home and read Psalm 118 and pray!” Moses half-shouted.
It was not long after he had rebuffed Nneka’s advances that a rumour began to circulate about Moses’ assumed impotency.
Through all these ridicules and more Moses had not allowed himself to get bogged down. He understood the caprices of human nature and turned often to the Scriptures for the inspiration and motivation to get him through each episode. He found the book of Job particularly comforting and could quote chapter and verse much to the irritation of his pastor. Thus he considered himself spiritually armed against the more dangerous barrages of life and looked forward to a comfortable beige existence.
But nothing could have prepared Moses, not the entire book of Psalms, not Ecclesiastes, nothing in Leviticus, Deuteronomy or Judges, for his meeting with Rebecca.
Rebecca was the daughter of the chairman of the church’s board of trustees. No one had ever met Rebecca before because her father had shipped her off to school in England from the moment she could hold a pencil and make a legible mark on paper. Everyone however, knew everything there was to know about Rebecca because being an only child to her widowed father; she was the joy of the chairman’s life. Her every achievement and accolade was reported to all by her proud father and even received mention in the church newsletters which were printed by Memoram Brothers Printing Press. Moses therefore could recount in perfect chronology each academic accomplishment Rebecca had ever had as well as each step of her professional career.
Much of the fuss and fanfare over Rebecca’s impending arrival had gone right past Moses as no one found him important enough to notify. He had arrived at the church compound early to get himself prepared for the trustees meeting that evening as he would be taking the minutes. As he approached his office, he recoiled then tripped backwards over the threshold to his office when he found a young woman leafing through some old photographs that were on top of the cabinet. She ran to help him, dusting him off and picking up his now-twisted glasses, “Oh I’m dreadfully sorry for trespassing in your office Mr. Abednego, but you have so many fascinating things in here, I’m Rebecca by the way, Rebecca Phillips. I just…Mr Abednego are you alright? Mr Abednego why have you stopped breathing?”
Moses’ breath had literally been sucked out of him the moment he beheld the face of grace that was Rebecca’s visage. He stammered as she helped him to a chair, when she stepped back and made excuses to take her leave it occurred to him that her touch was the longest physical contact he had experienced with another person in such years it made him sad to recall. She had a freshness about her, a neat and composed elegance that made it difficult for him to moderate his thoughts even in her absence. From that moment on, Rebecca consumed his every contemplation in dreams and when awake. What exacerbated matters was that the girl appeared to have an affinity for him. Her father, the chairman had great respect for Moses because he was honest and learned, she informed him. He was the only one that seemed to treat her normally amidst a sea of sycophants and leeches, he was told, she had much to learn from him, she had said.
Rebecca took to spending time with Moses, helping him to type up documents, translating texts, discussing the letters of St Paul and his attitude towards women. It was the most thrilling three weeks of Moses’ life. On the eve of her departure a farewell party was organised. Rebecca herself had invited Moses and even asked him to sit next to her on the high table much to the objection of the pastor and his wife who had been the chairwoman of the party committee and now had to find elsewhere to accommodate her ample behind. Throughout the lengthy speeches Moses and Rebecca had giggled surreptitiously at the terrible grammar and mispronunciations, when Rebecca noticed that the portion of food dished out to Moses was much less than her own she had promptly switched plates.
“You will accompany me and my father to the airport tomorrow morning won’t you?” she had asked him as the evening drew to a close. “Would you not want some time alone with your father?” Moses enquired. “Nonsense! I’ll be seeing him in a few weeks when he comes to visit. Please come, I won’t take no for an answer.”
Sleep was a stranger to Moses that night as he envisaged himself professing his love to Rebecca while they queued at the airport check- in hall the following morning. He considered the various reactions she might offer, his favourite by far being the one where she confessed her own deep feelings for him too. Early the next morning as he stood with Rebecca and her father, Moses’ Adam’s apple bobbed up and down like a fishing float as he struggled to pluck up the courage to say what was in his heart. He took a gulp of air, turned to Rebecca but she spoke first; “Mr. Abednego, how can I ever thank you for your wonderful hospitality to me? If it were not for you my time in Nigeria would have been immensely dull. I treasure every moment we spent together and am sad that it has come to an end. I’ll miss you awfully and with that in mind…” Moses could barely breathe; it was as though she had read his mind. Who would have considered that a kindred spirit could be found in such a nubile body? “I would like to invite you to visit and stay with me and my fiancé in London. I would so love for him to meet my second father.” She beamed up at him and he heard his heart crack. Moses nodded mutely, fighting back the urge to sob. Rebecca looked from him to the chairman who gave a small nod and a smile, “I have only told my father but we’re expecting a baby, we would be deeply honoured if you would agree to be the godfather?” At this point Moses could no longer hold back his tears.
“Oh Mr Abednego! Please don’t cry! You’ll set me to tears,” Rebecca urged. “I better go. We shall see you soon…godfather-to-be.” With a brief hug and chaste peck on the cheek she was gone.
It took a few moments for Moses to compose himself while the roar of emotion in his head died down but when it did he suddenly felt jubilant. No he hadn’t misheard or misunderstood, there was no confusion, Rebecca had just told him – he was to be a father! The tiny voice in his head that attempted to correct him by insisting she had said “god-father” was dispersed with rare ferocity. Together they would raise a child in the way of the Lord and set him upon the path of righteousness. Of course he had to get to England and be there to support her through the pregnancy and protect her from sycophants and leeches and self-proclaimed fiancés, protect her with his life if he had to. As he set forth towards the British High Commission Moses felt a distinct change of gear in his life as he moved quite markedly out of neutral.
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