(I first wrote this story as a short story titled ‘A Girl’s Plea of Love’ in May 2017. As I always do with these old stories, I am tinkering with it, expanding it and spicing it up until we have a novella.)
Charlotte is sitting at the front row of the church service, listening to her husband Ryan. Ryan is the Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Victory Chapel, a relatively small church in Murang’a Town. The church has about five hundred members, spread across two services. Most of the congregants prefer the second service. The first service, which runs between 9 am and 10 am, averages about a hundred to a hundred and fifty congregants. The second service, which is the service they are currently attending, usually has between three hundred and four hundred attendees.
Charlotte and Ryan have been married for eighteen years now, and have two children. Gordon, seventeen, is a form four student at Murang’a High School. Stella, fifteen, is a form two student at Bishop Gatimu Ngandu Girls.
Charlotte is grateful to God for this man. Together, they have built a comfortable life for themselves. They met twenty four years ago at Maseno University, where they were both undergraduates. They were both serving in the Christian Union, but they did not start dating until they reconnected in Murang’a a year after graduating.
While at the University, Charlotte hardly noticed Ryan.
Charlotte’s first love was Jack. For a long time, Charlotte couldn’t get him off her mind. Another thing that was permanently inked on her mind was that moment when she first noticed his masculinity. That magical moment was frozen in time; it would be a story to be told to her grandchildren.
The story of that encounter was supposed to become the living tale of her clan; her clan with Jack. They would spend their sunset years sitting in their comfortable yellow sofas, whiling away their retirement years while listening as their six-year old grandchildren narrated exaggerated versions of the story to their four and three-year old cousins.
That was the plan that was embedded in Charlotte’s mind for years.
It sounds foolish now, but it was so real at that time that she could feel goosebumps on her skin whenever she thought about Jack. The encounter itself happened when she was a teenager. It was just after a church service; Jack, a young man of medium height, was wearing blue jeans and white T-shirt. His charming smile disarmed her and shattered all her defenses, even before he uttered a word to her.
“Hello Charlotte?” he had said, stretching his hand. That had sounded so mature and grown up. It is not like she was seeing him for the first time. They had grown up together. They attended the same primary school, where they competed for the top spot in the class during those eight years, before parting ways at the end of their primary school learning. He went to Nyeri High School, while she went to Precious Blood Kilungu Girls. She did not see him during their high school years, so she did not notice the teenage transformation of a boy into a young man.
Suddenly, on this particular day, he stood before her looking all grown up at 19. Both of them had just completed their KSCE and were looking forward to being active members of the church youth group before going off to the University. Charlotte felt something move in her, perhaps the rejoicing of their unborn children in her ovaries. For this was a historical moment. A moment when she realized she was deeply in love with him.
“Hi” she had replied, her hands trembling slightly. He had engaged her in casual conversation. All the while she kept shifting her weight from one leg to another, in feeble attempts to hide the sudden rush of adrenaline that was filling her knee cups with jelly. She did not hear much of what he said, except that he had asked for her number. He did call, and the rest fell into place naturally. They were meant to be.
They both went to Maseno University, and their relationship blossomed. Charlotte pursued a Bachelor’s degree in accounting while Jack was pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. Jack became her god, and her constant fear was losing him. Whenever she met a cute girl, she would be overwhelmed by insecurity. Would Jack see the girl too? Would he dump her to pursue the new beauty? Jack was hers. And she could not imagine losing him. They would get married, have two adorable babies and then grow old together. It was all figured out in her mind.
But, like most teenage relationships, it all came tumbling down within months. They started drifting apart. When she sensed it, she desperately tried to keep him. But the more she tried, the more distant he became. She even broke her chastity vow and started having sex with him. But it was not enough to save the relationship. Jack became more and more distant, and eventually pulled the plug on the relationship. She lived in denial for a while. Quite predictably, her next relationship was a rebound. She was still trying to recreate the image of Jack with another man, and it ended disastrously.
She eventually got over him. It helped that he had fallen away from the faith and did not attend the Christian Union, so she did not have to see him regularly. His memory was archived in a special part of her heart, but at least she started considering other men by their own merits, not on the standard that was Jack. Or so she thought.
For the next few years, she found the garden of suitors to be terribly wanting. Having lost the red rose, the rest were lowly bougainvillea. There was Raymond, the macho ruffian who sent her emotions on a rollercoaster. But he drank heavily and lacked Jack’s polished mannerisms. She dumped him the day he insulted her while drunk. Then there was Phineas, a good but miserably boring guy. He seemed to have his life figured out, but he couldn’t tell a joke to save his life. Then there was Simon, an okay guy whose capital offense was being two months younger than her. She couldn’t bear the thought of getting married to a younger man. Oh well, Charlotte thinks now, with the benefit of hindsight; the folly of youth.
Charlotte completed her undergraduate studies and got a job as an auditor at Alingo & Gathatha Associates, an accounting firm in Murang’a. Over the years, she has risen to become one of the partners in the firm. With a Masters degree under her belt, and a Ph.D in the offing, she is both the managing partner of the accounting firm and a senior lecturer at Murang’a University, as well as a pastor’s wife. Ryan has been very supportive of her career, just like she has supported his.
When she reconnected with Ryan, she was an associate at her firm, and he had just founded the church. Ryan is from Kangema, but he had opted to start a church in Murang’a town. At the time, the church had about fifty members. Ryan wasn’t making much money, but he looked content with his vocation. He did not become a pastor out of desperation. Having graduated top of his class, he had actually turned down several lucrative job offers to found the church.
Even with fifty members, the church was vibrant, and was becoming popular with the educated, young people in Murang’a. Ryan is an authentic preacher; he is not populist, and money doesn’t seem to influence his philosophy as a preacher. But his patience has paid off financially. Most of the broke graduates who started this church with him are now well established professionals. They give generously and pay their tithes faithfully. So Ryan’s income has grown as well.
Ryan and Charlotte’s friendship grew gradually. Their time at Maseno University Christian Union was the starting point of their conversation, and their friendship grew from strength to strength from there, until one day he asked her to marry her. She agreed because it was the sensible thing to do. There was no magical chemistry involved, just solid friendship with a hint of romance.
She does not regret her decision. Ryan has been her support system, her best friend and her lover for almost two decades. She wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Before I sit down,” Pastor Ryan says. “I want to invite a friend of mine to say hello. He came a bit late so he did not get to introduce himself alongside the other visitors. Jack was a college mate. We sat in the same computer science class at the university, but I haven’t seen him in over twenty years. It is a pleasure to see him again after so many years. I am not sure if my wife knew him because he was in a different faculty. Jack, please come to the front.”
Charlotte’s heart skips a beat when she turns her head. Striding to the front is Jack, her Jack, looking dashing as ever. He is all muscle, unlike many men his age, including Ryan. There is not an inch of fat on his body, and he still has that mischievous smile on his face. And just like that magical day decades ago, he is wearing blue jeans and a white t-shirt. Charlotte can feel goosebumps all over her body.
“Hello Pastor, it is a pleasure to be here. Yes, I know Charlotte, she and I come from around here so we know each other from way back.”
As he talks about her, Jack looks at her with his dancing eyes; Charlotte she can feel herself melting. His eyes are not the warm eyes of a long lost friend. They are the hungry eyes of a hunting lion.
“Introduce yourself to the congregation and let us know what you are up to.”
“Praise God church,” Jack says with his deep voice. His eyes are glancing at the congregation, but they keep coming back to Charlotte. “My name is Jack Gathigia. I am delighted to be here. I have just moved back to Murang’a, so I will be seeing you often.”
As he says that last part, his eyes are squarely on Charlotte. She shivers. For the first time in eighteen years, Charlotte fears for her marriage.
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/man-male-person-black-beard-face-872004/
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