That Sunday evening Brother Innocent stepped into Papa Ejima’s duplex at No. 44 Ogbatuluenyi Drive, Housing Estate, Onitsha, Papa Ejima’s twin daughters told him that their mother or one of them – the twins -would certainly be impregnated by Brother Innocent, this handsome Brother Innocent with a pair of dimples on either sides of his chin and a musical voice that’s reminiscent of Don Moen. They said they wished Brother Innocent’s “holy” holiday in their house would last for only seven minutes and not for seven days so that no one would get pregnant.
“You two are artful rubbish-talkers!” Papa Ejima said, elevating his eyebrows and creasing his face. “Such nonsense. Brother Innocent is renowned in this city and even beyond as the personification of purity. He does not smoke. He does not drink beer. And, of course, he doesn’t chase women. Each time I listen to him as he spreads a duvet of gospel over the women of the Precious Blood of Jesus, I feel there’s a hurricane blowing me out of this iniquitous universe, blowing me into Paradise.”
“I reiterate, I like fine boys, Daddy,” Ada said and puffed a laugh.
“I’m warning you. Take this your charming man away from us. ”
“We’re not joking o.” But Ola, the younger, but taller twin, was stifling laughter.
Papa Ejima grabbed his weapon – an orange umbrella – and a hush fell. A gecko scuttled across the cobweb-coated portrait of Christ on the Cross, which hung on the turquoise wall. A rising wind made the windows rattle and the smell of curry wafted into the living room from the kitchen. A knock at the entrance split the lugubrious silence.
“Mama Ejima, are you?” Papa Ejima asked the door, ears cocked like a dog. “Who’re you, please?”
“It’s I, Brother Cent. I’m back from the evening Mass,” a musical voice answered.
“Oh, come on in!” Papa Ejima said, hurriedly opening his Bible to give Brother Innocent the impression that he, Papa Ejima, had been poring over the Word of God.
Brother Innocent asked, “Brother Jude, are the bodies of your wife and two daughters well covered up against temptation?” and Papa Ejima said, “Yes…no…hold on!”
He examined his daughters’ white gowns, scarves – and the walls, as if a half-crazed foe had pasted a picture of a nude woman somewhere to embarrass them. He said, “Come in, man of God.”
“But our clothes are transparent,” Ada whispered, tittering. “He might see my nipples – or Ada’s red underwear through his reading glasses.”
Their father brought his quivering finger to his lips: Shut up, girls.
They relished annoying him, these girls.
The door creaked open, as if in pain, but only the raw stench of sewage came in. “I’m now entering,” said Brother Innocent’s tentative voice.
“We’re not naked, Mr. Cent,” Ada shouted. “Come in, if you desire. Stop this – ”
Papa Ejima chased the giggling twins into their room with his umbrella. Thirty or forty seconds later, he trudged to the door to welcome Brother Innocent. As Brother Innocent lowered himself into the sofa he said, “Otito diri Jesu,” and Papa Ejima said, “Na ndu ebebe. Amen.”
Then they began to talk; they talked about Father Damian’s captivating sermon in the morning, talked about Mama Ejima, who’s habitually beneath the mango tree, lost in a Thomas Hardy’s novel, talked about Papa Ejima’s only son, Uchenna, a Biafra agitator, who was shot dead by the Nigerian soldiers last July. He told Brother Innocent that he, Brother Innocent, was now his son, pal and personal pastor. He told Brother Innocent that he’d like him to look after his wife and daughters while he’s away in Israel on a pilgrimage.
“I willl, Brother Jude,” Brother Innocent said. “I promise.”
* * *
He was in Jerusalem for five weeks, Papa Ejima, and his daughters hadn’t phoned to ask him how he was doing. He was the only one who phoned incessantly, inquiring if the man of God was well-fed with fish and jollof rice, inquiring if they – his wife and daughters – still knelt before the man of God for his prayers. But in his sixth week in Jerusalem his daughter, Ada, flashed and then sent him a text: Ola and I are both pregnant, Dad. Bro. Cent is responsible.
What an expensive joke, he thought and deleted the preposterous message. But at night, Brother Innocent phoned and said that the twins were really pregnant. “But I am not responsible, Brother Jude,” he added. “Don’t mind your daughters. The devil has possessed them -”
“Holy Mary!” Papa Ejima jumped out of his feathery hotel bed, as if a soldier ant had just stung his buttocks. “Why hasn’t my wife told me about this improbable abomination?”
“She’s reading a novel – or a poem and…Don’t cry, Brother. The Lord is our strength. In Isaiah chapter – ”
Papa Ejima put down the phone while the man of God was still speaking.
* * * * * *
At the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, he ignored the hellos of the people who knew or pretended that they knew him. Since his Jude Cement Industry made him a millionaire every animal in jeans wanted to be his friends. In Onitsha, his white-haired chauffeur became surprisingly chatty and daring. “These men of God sef!” the aged man said. “Them bad. Obi, my fliend, tell me say that young born again Christian wey dey our house give one married woman belle in Owerri come run come Anambra. And now im don give your twins belle. Even Madam don’t know. Ada and Ola is ashamed. They no fit go back to their university for Awka. They cly their eyes out and go South Aflica.”
“Shut up, Okoye!”Papa Ejima roared, startling the driver.” ‘Touch not my anointed and do my prophets no harm’. Don’t you read your Bible! See, never speak ill of a man of God. What you’re saying is grandiose rubbish. And if you talk again I’ll fire you.”
And so the aged fellow drove in silence till they got home. Papa Ejima instructed his chauffeur to pack the cream-coloured Murano jeep outside the gate and the old man obeyed. “I want to sneak into the girls’ room, catch and pummel them until they disclose to me why they slept with some filthy sinner and pointed their bloody fingers at an innocent Innocent.”
He turned and marched into the tranquil compound. Even the living room was tranquil, but there were low voices in conversation in his bedroom. He flung himself up the stairs. Rested his half-torn ear on the cold metal door and listened. “…Roll down your skirt, please,” Brother Innocent was saying. “Or let’s elope to Lagos, Mama Ejima. I love you. I will take care of you. Gravitate away from Jude your odorous husband; a man who’s so fat that sometimes I wonder if he swallowed a Samsung TV…”
Jesus Christ of Nazareth! Papa Ejima shouted inside his head.
“Look, Mr. Innocent, the beer you gulped is not good to you,” Mama Ejima said, and laughed. “Please leave the bed. I want to scissor out some juicy excerpts from these emerging writers’ submissions. Besides, my daughters will be scandalized to see us here…Where are they, by the way? I haven’t seen them since I returned from my sabbatical in Nairobi.”
“Mama Ejima, please. Let’s be lovers. I’m young, gorgeous and creative in bed. See? My dick has already stood at attention like a Major General. Papa Ejima is obese and clumsy. That elephant cannot even spell ‘soya beans’ and his teeth are not up to seven…”
Papa Ejima removed his ear. His heart was thumping and his hands were damp. God had exposed the devil and he, Papa Ejima, must kill the devil. He tiptoed down the stairs, picked his umbrella from under his small altar and then stumbled up the staircase. He booted the door open, ran to the devil who was perching on the bed with the man of God, and attacked her. “I knew you were an artistic prostitute, a devil, an Eve!”he shouted, as he hit his lanky woman on the neck with the umbrella. “You gave the man of God beer, Mama Ejima, and made him want to sin, right? He’s not himself, I know. You made an anointed man of God drink beer! You made him remove his singlet and…Oh I am sorry, Bro. Innocent!”
Brother Innocent had scrambled to his feet; the white singlet in his hand was trembling. He said, “B-brother Jude, forgive her for she – we – did not know what she – we- ”
But Papa Ejima wouldn’t listen; he beat his wife, punching, kicking, slapping, while Brother Innocent buckled his brown sandals with shaking hands and his eyes searched for the nearest open window.
Papa Ejima was still thrashing his wife when the voices of two young women and the wailing siren of a police van were heard in the distance.
Bio: Esomnofu Ebelenna is a Nigerian writer. His work has appeared in Scarlef Leaf Review, Tuck Magazine, African Writer, Storried and elsewhere.
He is working on his fuck-you novel.*
*Editor’s note: We don’t know what that means either