It started benignly enough.
It was around 10.55 am on a Sunday midmorning. The church was filling up because the service was just about to begin. Raphael was seating next to the aisle, but there were two spaces to his right. One had the handbag of Linet, his friend of many years. She was up on stage preparing with the rest of the worship team. The other seat was completely vacant.
Raphael heard movement on his left, and when he turned, he saw an usher gesturing him to move one space to the right, so that the space next to the aisle could be left vacant. Usually, Raphael would have stepped aside to allow the late comer take the inner seat. He has a strong preference for aisle seats. But the late comer who the usher had brought was one of the most beautiful women that Raphael has ever seen. She gave him a bewitching smile, and before he realized what he was doing, he took Linet’s handbag and moved it to the vacant seat on the extreme right side, and then took the middle seat. He would now be sandwiched between Linet and the woman, who now sat on the aisle.
“Thank you,” she told him as she extended her hand towards him, before sitting down. “I am Annette.”
“My name is Raphael. Are you new to our church?”
“Yes, this is my first time here.”
“Did you come alone? How did you get to learn about our church?”
“I was visiting a friend over the weekend and she fellowships here. My friend couldn’t come today though because she had to rush to her parents’ home this morning over an emergency.”
“I hope everything is okay with her and her family.”
“I really hope so too. She received a call in the morning as we prepared to come to church and was told that her mum had collapsed in the bathroom and was in bad shape. Please say a prayer for her today. Her name is June and her mother’s name is Muthoni.”
Raphael didn’t know anyone called June, but then it would be impossible to know everyone in a church boasting almost a thousand congregants.
“I sure will.”
Their conversation moved on to other things and they were so engrossed that in their conversation that they did not hear the service being called to order. They were amongst the last to stand up as the moderator of the service invited the senior pastor to come and officially begin the service with a word of prayer.
As they stood, Raphael’s eye caught Linet’s who must have been watching from the pulpit. He felt a tinge of guilt even as she smiled at him with what he thought was sadness. Linet has been his friend for many years. They sit together in church. He has even asked her to be his girlfriend, but she turned him down. Was she playing hard to get? Is she now feeling jealous because of the new woman who is now seated beside him?
Raphael wasn’t sure how he felt about the situation. One the one hand, Linet had rejected his romantic advances, and friend-zoned him, so-to-speak. In that sense, she should not have the right to stop him from seeing other people; and he knew she wouldn’t try. She is too decent for that. Still, she was his friend and he did not want to lose her friendship in pursuit of a romance he was not guaranteed would materialize. At the same time, he still felt something for her, and if she was indeed jealous and that that jealousy drove them to a relationship, he would gladly take it up. Linet was a woman he knew, loved and trusted, unlike the strange woman seated next to him.
But their relationship was complicated.
Raphael had met Linet through his late wife Samara. Linet and Samara had been college buddies and the best of friends. When Raphael started dating Samara, Linet joined his circle as a consequence. She was and still is a mature but fun-loving woman, just like Samara was. Raphael married Samara when he was 29, after three years of dating. Samara was 28, just like her best friend. Linet was an integral part of the wedding preparations. From leading the wedding fundraisers, to mobilizing people and leading planning committees, she was at the forefront of making the wedding a success.
Linet had gotten married the previous year, and Samara had played the same role. Raphael had done his best to help in Linet’s wedding preparations, although Samara was the one at the forefront. Perhaps the biggest part he played, other than giving money, was attending meetings and driving his fiancée from one point to another as she shopped and ran errands for her best friend. Raphael is a reserved man and he lacked the energy of his vivacious fiancée, but he did not mind helping out in whatever way he could. That was in deep contrast to Linet’s husband, Micah, who a year later stayed away from Samara and Raphael’s wedding, and as Raphael came to learn later, even tried to discourage his wife from “being too involved”.
Raphael’s fairy tale with Samara was cut short just a year after their wedding, when she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. For the two years that followed, Raphael’s life was turned upside down as he watched his best friend of four years waste away. He tried everything. He took her to the best hospitals. She first went to the Nairobi Hospital and later to India for her mastectomy. Intense sessions of chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed, and she slowly recovered. But just under two months after she was declared cancer free, a lump was discovered by doctors in her other breast. The process started again. Samara died after two painful years of struggle with cancer.
Raphael was widowed at the age of 32, and was left broken hearted, financially ruined and emotionally wrecked. Thankfully, he still had his job, although that had started to hang on the balance as his superiors began to tire of his frequent absences. Samara had not yet conceived before she fell ill, so Raphael was and still is childless.
During those two years of struggle with cancer, Linet stood steadfastly beside her friends. She was at the frontline organizing fundraisers for Samara’s treatment. She visited her friend at the hospital daily and when Samara and Raphael flew to India, she would video call them every day. When Samara was declared cancer free, it was Linet who threw a surprise party of close friends and family members to celebrate. And when the cancer came back, she once again took her place in the struggle. During this entire period, Linet also acted as Raphael’s support system always encouraging him with words of hope. She always knew what to say and at what time, to lift his mood. She was their rock, even though she had a young family to take care of. Linet had given birth to a daughter about a month before Samara’s initial diagnosis.
Unknown to Raphael, Linet’s marriage was crumbling. The marriage came to a screeching halt about a month before Samara died when Micah kicked her and their daughter out of their matrimonial home and brought home. Linet took it in her stride, renting her own house where she started life with her daughter. Leaving nothing to chance, she filed for divorce and for full custody of her daughter. By then, even though Samara was still alive, she was far too gone to realize what was going on with her friend, but Raphael was feeling very guilty. Samara died the day after Linet’s divorce papers were filed in court.
Raphael was convinced that it was Linet’s dedication to her ailing friend that had made her marriage fail. But she assured him that the marriage had been rocked by problems even before Samara’s fell ill. She had just been covering up for her husband, who had turned to be an irresponsible alcoholic and womanizer, because she had not wanted to be seen as failure. She had wanted her marriage to work, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.
As time went by, the friendship between Linet and Raphael solidified. She joined his church and even became a member of the worship team. It became obvious that they liked each other. Eight months after Samara’s death, and about a month before Linet’s divorce became absolute, Raphael asked her to be his girlfriend.
But she turned him down.
She argued that their emotions were still too raw. They both were still mourning a woman they had loved, and Linet said she felt as though they would be cheating on Samara if they dated so soon after her death. Maybe that would change with time, and as their emotional wounds healed. Besides, she was also still struggling with the wounds from her broken marriage, and needed time to heal. She wasn’t ready for a relationship. Not with him, and not with anyone. But she made it clear that she wasn’t tying him down. If he met someone else before she healed, she would be happy for him.
Raphael was disappointed, but he respected her position. They continued to be friends, and even continued to sit together in church.
That Sunday midmorning was just a typical Sunday, until an usher brought Annette to sit next to him. Annette was probably the first woman to catch his attention in many years, apart from Samara and Linet. And she was different from those two in the sense that he had been friends with them for months (and years in Linet’s case) before he started seeing them with a romantic eye. But with Annette he was intrigued almost the minute she sat down on the vacant seat next to him.
Linet, ever perceptive, noticed his body language right away, from her perch on the pulpit. And unlike what Raphael feared, she was happy for him.
“You like the new girl, don’t you?” she asked him after the service. Annette had by then been whisked away by ushers to the visitor’s longue alongside other visitors, where they were meeting the church’s pastors and their wives over a cup of tea.
“I haven’t given her much thought,” he lied.
“Liar!” she crowed. “I will get you her number, because you may never see her again. Ask her out for lunch. Or dinner. Get to know her. Then decide if she is worth your time. But don’t be in a hurry, because as they say, Rome was not built in a day. You need to know what she is all about before you make a move to initiate something concrete.”
True to her word, Linet got him Annette’s phone number that same afternoon. And that same week Annette agreed to go out for lunch with him. Lunch date led to a dinner date three days later. Then another dinner date. Then a nature walk at Karura Forest on a Saturday afternoon. Annette became a regular at Raphael’s church. Raphael liked Annette so much that he asked her to be his girlfriend within a month.
But the romance is not going according to plan.
They have been dating for barely three months, but Raphael is already tired. He just doesn’t know how to exit the relationship. Annette has turned out to be a very insecure and possessive woman. First, she started by edging out Linet from his life. She told him she felt that she was competing with “his best friend” for attention, and gave him an ultimatum: he would have to choose who he wanted between them. When Raphael told Linet what his new girlfriend was saying, she told him she totally understood.
“I have to respect Annette’s space in your life. We should go slow on the phone calls and meetings. I will even find some other spot to sit in church.”
“I am sorry Linet. I feel like I did you wrong. We have gone through so much together.”
“No, you didn’t,” Linet said, laughing. “You have to move on with your life. And even though we cannot continue to be as close as we have always been, I will always be your friend. I will always be there if you need me.”
“Thank you Linet. You can always count on me as well.”
The next target of Annette’s insecurities was, surprisingly, Raphael’s dead wife. Under her instruction, Raphael removed his wife’s photos from his living room and from his office. She said that he needed to move on. She was not willing to get involved with a man who was still emotionally entangled to his dead wife. Those were here precise words.
Within weeks, Raphael’s other friends became targets, especially the female ones. Annette has been stalking him, even on social media, targeting females who are even remotely friendly to him. She had been aggressively “marking her territory”.
Annette monopolizes his free time and wants to be with him all the time. She insists on coffee dates every evening till late, and wants to be with him every weekend. She has been throwing hints of wanting to move in with him, hints that he has been resisting. Raphael feels suffocated and isolated. He misses his old simple life. His life with Samara. His life with Linet. He misses his male friends, who he used to watch football with.
But he doesn’t know how to get rid of this strange woman he brought upon himself.
(To be continued on Saturday.)
Image by Alem Coksa from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/silhouette-sunset-nature-man-sad-6824894/
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