(Continued Rocking the Boat II)
Jack walks away, laughing softly. Charlotte feels like a fool. How can one man have such power over her? Is it that she has never really gotten over him all these years? She wishes she had the poker face that some people possess; a bronze face that can mask her deepest emotions and desires. But as it is, she has a malleable face that pronounces all her emotions through a multitude of expressions.
Jack has walked to the boardroom, so she purposes not to go there. She walks to the Children Centre, a new building that hosts Sunday School classes and the office of the Sunday School pastor. The Sunday School pastor is a young woman called Susan, a jovial girl in her late twenties. Her excitement around children is usually infectious. Charlotte decides to seek refuge in Susan’s office.
Susan’s face lights up when she sees Charlotte.
Charlotte has actually been a second mother to Susan. Susan’s parents were hopeless drunks in their prime. They brewed and sold illicit brew in Mumbi village, a profession that caused them to be in constant battles with the police. Susan has seven siblings, and none of them went beyond class eight. They have all been inducted into their parents’ trade.
But Susan was always different. She started coming to Bethlehem Victory Chapel when it was beginning, and was one the initial ten Sunday School children. In those days, Charlotte was the Sunday School teacher. While her then boyfriend Ryan preached in the main service, Charlotte would keep the children busy on the grass outside.
Susan used to come to Sunday school in dirty, tattered clothes, and she looked so malnourished that Charlotte took a personal interest in her. Charlotte befriended her, and got to know her family. Charlotte bought her clothes and used to send her home every now and then with foodstuff. Then one time, her parents got arrested as they often did, and were sentenced to six months in prison. The children scattered amongst the various relatives, as they often did. But this time Susan did not knock at a distant uncle’s door; she went to Charlotte’s house. She was in class seven.
Charlotte stayed with Susan from that day on, and even after her parents were released, Susan refused to go home. When Charlotte got married to Ryan, Susan was part of the deal. But it was not a big deal: Ryan had supported Charlotte’s decision to take in Susan.
Susan passed her KCPE and was admitted to Mumbi Girls High School. During the school holidays she would help Charlotte with the Sunday School children. By the time she was in form three, Susan had made up her mind to be a pastor. She scored a B+ and joined St. Paul’s University for a Bachelor’s degree in Theology.
When she graduated, Ryan ordained her as a pastor, and Charlotte handed over the children ministry to her. The ministry now boasts about two hundred children, and Susan has divided them up according to their ages; 2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9 and 10-12, popularly known as pre-teens.
Susan is an effective administrator, and has rallied a team of volunteer teachers. She has developed a curriculum that got approved by Ryan and the church board three years ago. She updates it annually. She often organizes trainings for the Sunday School teachers. Over the holidays, she organizes the Vacation Bible School. Her influence is not limited to the Sunday School Centre. Ryan has discovered that she is a useful member of the Church board, often coming up with deep insights and clever solutions to some of the more challenging situations that the church faces.
But she is a charming Sunday School teacher too, with a bias to the youngest children. She teaches the 2-3 and 4-5 classes. She often jokes that if she weren’t a pastor, she would have been an ECDE teacher. Her office is sparsely furnished. She says it is to make it “child-friendly.”
“It is surprising to see you here at such a time. Is everything okay?”
“Yes, everything is fine. I told Martha to handle to guests. I wanted to take it easy today. Where is that juice that you normally give the kids?”
Susan heads to a cupboard that is at the corner of her office. She fills two disposable cups with orange juice. She hands Charlotte one cup and then settles behind her desk with the other.
“Are you sure you are okay Mom? You look rattled…like you have just seen a cobra.”
Charlotte laughs. That description is so accurate. That is what Jack is-a cobra. But she is not about to open up to the younger woman. That would mean a reversal of roles. For years, Charlotte has been mentoring Susan around relationships, like a mother should. She was there when Susan was crushing on a boy that wasn’t paying attention. She was there when Susan’s young heart was broken by a classmate in Bible School. And she has been cheering on the sidelines as Susan thrived under the attention of Boniface, the youth pastor at Bethlehem Victory Church. Susan and Boniface are engaged, and are set to get married this December.
How then can she, the older woman who is supposed to have seen it all, supposed to explain to the younger woman that she, Charlotte, is suffering from adolescent angst? No way.
“How is your father?” she asks to divert the attention of the younger woman from herself. Susan’s father has been hospitalized at Murang’a County referral hospital for months now. His liver is badly damaged, no doubt because of years of taking illicit brew, and doctors do not think he will live much longer. Susan’s mother died when Susan was in High School.
“He is hanging on there, but I don’t think it will be much longer now. You know, even though my parents were messed up, I don’t want to be an orphan. Even as an adult.”
“I understand,” Charlotte says, holding the younger woman’s hand. “I am sorry that you have to go through all this.”
“Are you okay, girls?” Ryan asks from the door.
“Yes,” Charlotte replies. “Susan is just a bit emotional because of her father.”
“Oh my poor girl, I am sorry. Look, why don’t we all go to lunch? I am starving.”
“Great idea. I am starving too. Come on Sue.”
“Alright, you go ahead to the car,” Ryan tells them, handing Charlotte the car key. Charlotte and Ryan attend church services in the same car. “I will go and hunt for Boniface.”
Charlotte is in her office at Ngeka Centre staring down at the town below. She has audit reports to look at, but she hasn’t been able to achieve much since morning. Jack has been occupying her mind. What is he doing in Murang’a? And why is he so hell-bent on destroying her marriage?
Yesterday, as she, Ryan, Susan and Boniface were having lunch, she was so distracted that they all noticed. The three of them were having a lively conversation, and she stayed quiet. That was very unusual of her, because she is ordinarily a very talkative woman. As they were driving home, Ryan tried to prod her to talk about it, but she deflected his questions by changing the subject. She could tell he was not fooled, and she felt horrible inside.
Last night she had trouble finding sleep. Ryan made it worse by trying to seduce her into making love. Eighteen years and two children later, Ryan and Charlotte have a healthy sex life. But yesterday Charlotte found it difficult to get excited about the act. Ryan tried to arouse her, but after thirty minutes of foreplay, he gave up and rolled to his side of the bed to sleep.
She knows he was frustrated. But she also knows that the reason he is frustrated is not so much because they did not have sex, but because he knows she is hiding something from him. He probably wanted them to have sex so that she could be more vulnerable and speak to him about her worries. But that failed, which means whatever is worrying her is a major thing. That must have frustrated him. In the eighteen years that they have been married, they do not keep secrets from each other. So Charlotte understands his frustration. But how can she explain this to him?
She is still staring outside when the phone on her desk rings. After she picks, her secretary informs her that she has a new client, a walk in.
“Let him in,” she instructs.
The client turns out to be the very man that Charlotte doesn’t want to see. Jack.
“What are you doing here?”
“Good morning to you too, sweetheart.”
“I am a client. I have already paid consultation fees. I want you to take over the accounts of my company.”
“There are many accountants in this firm. I will refer you to another.”
“I specifically want you.”
“Please leave Jack.”
Charlotte moves towards the door to open it, but Jack intercepts her. He holds her in his hands and kisses her. She struggles for half a second then yields to the passion of the moment and kisses him back.
Image by 1388843 from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/people-emotion-dramatic-female-1492052/
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