Continued from My Flesh and Blood I
Flora is too stunned to speak. How could they? Ruth has been like her own child. In addition to educating her, Flora changed her nappies countless times when she was a baby. She fed her; she bathed her. This girl was a toddler just the other day. And now she wants to kick her out of her own house? The house that she built with her own money? This is quite unbelievable. No wonder she has been so rude in the recent past.
And then there is Jerome.
Flora remembers the first time she saw him. He was playing the keyboard in the Christian Union. He was also a first year student, but she hadn’t seen him before then because it was the first week and classes had not yet began. Apparently he had hit the ground running as far as the Christian Union was concerned. It was their first week and he was already in the praise and worship team. But as she learned later, the Union did not have a keyboard player, so when they learned that Jerome could play, they snapped him up.
Jerome was as good looking then as he is now. He was a tall lanky lad then, without the goatee and moustache that have become his signature. But the other features were all there: the large, dreamy eyes, the strong jaw that makes his face good looking in a rugged way, the charming smile that reveals a perfect of teeth and the juicy curved lips that made Flora sin in her heart many times then.
Flora joined the praise and worship team just so she could be close to him. She did not even know that she could sing, but she convinced herself that she would be a backup singer, with her lousy voice drowned by the voices of the other worship team members. She hoped he would notice her, and that he would like her. But she knew that it would be a long shot, because he seemed to be a magnet for girls.
But he did notice her. Within a couple of months, they were dating. To be fair, Flora is also a very beautiful woman and she has an angelic voice. She quickly became the lead singer of the CU worship team, which means that she spends a lot of time with Jerome as they practiced songs. They dated from that first year at the university until they got married. Many girls, even within the Christian union, resented her just because she was Jerome’s girlfriend.
Of course he is even more good looking now. He has added some mass, so he looks manlier now. Back then he was just a skinny kid. But he is not fat, thanks to the fact that he now goes to the gym regularly. He now has money as well. Back then he had nothing. He told her that he had been getting the minimum amount that HELB disbursed, and that he was even sending some of it back home to his parents. Flora is the one who fed him. He would always show up in her hostel room at meal times, and they would share whatever she had cooked as they prayed and hoped for better days. He always snacked on the chapatis that she made for sale, which he downed with strong tea made with her tea bags and her sugar.
Flora is realizing now, over a decade later, that Jerome never once offered to help her cook the chapatis that she was cooking and selling to raise money. He did not seem to even think he could do a side hustle of his own just to boost his income. He was comfortable eating her food and devoting his time to his studies and the Christian Union. Ironically, she is the one who excelled in her studies. She graduated with a second class upper division, and Jerome could only manage a pass. Yet she is the one who was juggling a million and one things. She was a B.Ed student, just like he was. She was also an active member of the Christian Union, as he was. But in addition, she was also doing CPA privately. She was also running a chapati business. And she was also playing wife to him.
If he had his way, they would have become lovers back then, but she put her foot down and told him that they should fight their sinful desires and remain chaste till marriage as God intended. Back then she feared that if she did not give in and satisfy him, some other girl would snatch him from her. She was only comforted by the fact that he was a born again Christian and he agreed with her that they should wait till marriage.
Now, as she stares at her younger sister who now claims to be pregnant for him, Flora wonders whether she has been played for a fool all these years. Jerome rose to become the Christian Union chairman in their final year, while she became the worship leader. Has he been cheating on her all these years? If he can impregnate her own sister while he is serving as a pastor, what would stop him from fooling around before he became a pastor?
“You know what Ruth. I am not going to fight with you over a man. If Jerome wants you, then you can have him. But just so you know, I will take everything that belongs to me, except the house because I cannot carry it. You and your beloved will have to buy your own items.”
Ruth rolls her eyes at her sister dismissively, and then goes back to watching her movie. Just then, the front door opens and Jerome gets in.
“Hello ladies,” he says in his characteristically cheerful tone. Both women ignore him. Ruth has gone back to watching her movie, while Flora is staring furiously but silently at her husband.
“What is the matter?” he asks meekly, staring from one woman to the next. He can feel the tension in the house.
“Have you been sleeping with my sister?” Flora finally asks.
“What? How could you even think…”
“Don’t humiliate me like this, Jero,” Ruth says, rising to her feet. She doesn’t look as confrontational as she was with her sister just a few moments ago. To the contrary, is begging, with tears in her eyes. “You told me that you loved me; you told me that you wanted a baby of your own, and that you wanted me to carry it because this woman here has been unable to. I have fulfilled your wish, and I am now carrying your baby. Are you going to deny me and your child?”
Flora notices that she is now calling him “Jero” which is a variation of his name that nobody has ever used before. His closest friends call him “Jay”.
“Are you telling me that you are pregnant?”
“Yes darling, I am carrying your baby in my womb.”
Forgetting that he had been trying to deny the affair, Jerome pulls Ruth towards him and hugs her tightly, and then kisses her deeply in the lips.
“Oh baby, why didn’t you tell me this before?” he asks while still holding her in his arms.
“So it is true?” Flora asks while fighting back tears. “You have been messing around with my sister in our own matrimonial home?”
“You have been unable to give me children, Flora. Every man needs descendants, otherwise what is the point of even having property?”
“But you are a pastor, Jerome. You preach against adultery.”
She has called him “Jerome” for the first time in over fifteen years. Before today he was always “sweetheart”, “darling” or “honey”.
“Having a second wife is not adultery. Abraham, the father of our faith, had son with Hagar, when Sarah failed to give her an heir. Jacob, who is called Israel, had Rachel and Leah, who by the way were sisters like you and Ruth. I will not even mention Bilhar and Zilpar. You already know the story.
David, the man after God’s own heart, had up to eight wives excluding concubines; Michal, the daughter of Saul was his first wife. Michal could not give David any children, so he got oter wives. You know them. Abigael, Nabal’s widow; Ahinom, Maacah, Haggith, Abital, Eglah and Solomon’s mother Bathsheba. Eight wives. And this was the man after God’s own heart. But I don’t even know why I am telling all this. You already know it.”
“All that is in the old dispensation, Jerome. And you know that. You have preached Paul’s letters to Titus and Timothy about men having single wives many times. You believed it. What changed?”
“I discovered the truth. Our God does not change, Flora. His standards are always the same. If he approved the multiple wives of the fathers of faith, he could not have frowned upon it later. Paul was only addressing issues that were brought about by jealous wives of church leaders…”
“You are now twisting scripture to suit you.”
“Say whatever you wish, but Ruth is now your co-wife, and I expect you to co-exist peacefully. You will remain in the master-bedroom because you are the first wife, but I will be spending some nights with Ruth in the guest room. I also expect you to support me when I visit your parents to pay dowry.”
Flora cannot take it anymore. She storms out of the house and walks to her parents-in-law’s house, tears streaming down her cheeks. Jerome’s parents live just across the fence, because all this is ancestral land. They welcome her with smiles, which turn into concern when they see her tears. Flora enjoys a warm relationship with her parents-in-law, which is hardly surprising considering she has been supporting them financially for years.
“What is it child?” her father-in-law asks. “Why are you crying?”
Amidst sobs and tears, Flora explains to them what has happened.
“But what is wrong with having a co-wife, child?” her mother-in-law asks when finishes speaking. That catches Flora off guard, because her mother-in-law is a staunch Christian, plus Jerome once told her how his mother had raised hell once when she suspected her husband of cheating.
“Mother, it is against scripture…”
“No, it is not. David, the man who God himself said was a man after his own heart…”
Flora zones out as her mother-in-law repeats the same lecture her son has just given her. She leaves the house abruptly, tears coming back in a flood. It is now getting dark, even though it is only 6.30 PM. She crosses back to her home but pauses before going to the house. She needs to talk to someone, but she doesn’t want to involve any of her friends in her marital problems. There is one person she can think of.
She and her mother have never really been close. But Martha is still her mother and a Christian, and she just might offer some words of advice. Flora makes the call and pours her heart out.
“Listen, child. All men want a child of their own. In traditional Africa it is actually wives who got child bearing women for their husbands if they themselves could not conceive. You should consider yourself lucky that your husband chose your own sister as a second wife. He could have chosen some mannerless woman from God knows where to carry his children. But God led him to choose your sister. Ruth’s children are just like your children, so thank God for this instead of complaining.”
Flora throws her phone to the ground and bites her lip to stop herself from screaming.
To be continued on Wednesday
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