Jean is not asleep when her phone rings. To the contrary, she has been turning restlessly in her bed for about an hour now. She has rolled over, pulled the duvet up to her armpits and shut her eyes firmly, but her overworking brain will hear none of it. She has tried covering herself fully and facing the wall, but has quickly realised that the bout of insomnia that has struck her will not be that easily cured. When she makes peace with the fact that sleep will be hard to come by tonight, she switches on the light and picks a book from the bedside table. She carefully removes the bookmark and resumes reading. But as she turns the page, she realizes she does not know what was on the previous page. So she goes back. She does this a couple of times and is about to give up on reading when the phone rings. The book is not the problem; Michael Palmer is actually one of her favorite authors. And The Fifth Vial is as interesting as a book can get. She knows the problem, but she does not know how to cure it.
The phone call is a welcome distraction, but when she sees who the caller is, the butterflies in her stomach increase tenfold. Electric currents are doing dances in her stomach. She is anxious. Or nervous. Is there a difference between the two anyway? Jean does not want to talk to Nicholas; at least not now. Nicholas is her boyfriend of five years. They met and started dating almost immediately they left campus. Marriage was the ultimate goal of the relationship but it was not on the table then because they were both jobless and unemployed.
But they both have steady flows of income now. Nicholas was the first to get a job, a year after their graduation. The job has nothing to do with his actuarial science degree. He had been jobless for months when the church they attend announced a vacancy for a pastoral intern. Nicholas applied. Perhaps he was driven by joblessness; or maybe he always had a secret desire to be a pastor. Whatever the case, he was picked. It was probably not a very difficult decision for the Senior Pastor and the Board of Deacons to make because Nicholas had always been one of the most devout and active members of the church youth group.
A year into the job, Nicholas was confirmed as a permanent employee of the church, and the church sponsored him to study theology. He is now in his third year, but he has already been confirmed as the church’s official youth pastor. When his employment position was confirmed as permanent three years ago, the first thing he did was to take a loan. He gave the money to Jean to help her start the catering company that she had been raving about for months. Jean has a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry, but jobs had been hard to come by. Before she got money to start the company, she had been spending time on YouTube learning recipes, and she had developed a desire for commercial catering. Nicholas wanted to make that dream a reality.
It was Nicholas who also used his connections in the church to get jobs for her young company. He recommended her to members of the church who were hosting small events such as birthday parties. And when he became a youth pastor, he recommended her to many young people who wanted to get married. Jean is a hard working young woman, and she gives it her all. It is not surprising then that her company has been growing exponentially. Currently, her annual income is almost triple that of Nicholas.
“Hi darling,” Nicholas says when she picks up, his voice full of the usual enthusiasm.
“How was day?”
“So what did you say about going for dinner with me tomorrow?”
Jean knows that Nicholas will expect an answer at their next meeting. And rightly so. It has been over two months since he asked her to marry him, and they have been dating for five years now. But she has been dodging the issue. It is fortunate that he is not one of those showy men who want to propose in public, because she would either have been forced humiliate him by declining, or accepting for the sake of his dignity and then breaking off the engagement later. Nicholas proposed to her while they were taking an evening walk. He had saved for a beautiful ring, but there was no fanfare. He did not even go down on one knee.
“Thing is, I am not very good at random plans. Tomorrow feels too random for me.”
“Okay. Give me a date then.”
“I will tell you when I am free so that we can go. Fixing a date is too restrictive. You know how involving my work is, Niko.”
There is a slight pause on the other end; Jean can almost hear Nicholas thinking.
“Jean, if you do not want to marry me just say so. I am getting tired of playing games.”
She considers this statement for a while. It could mean that he doesn’t love her enough. Didn’t the Senior Pastor say that a man who truly loves a woman chases her and does not give up? But then what Nicholas told her last week made sense. That she isn’t a child anymore. She is an adult woman who should be able make decisions. He is right, of course. She is a 28 year old graduate, running her own successful catering company.
There are many things she likes about Nicholas. He is good looking, he dresses well, he is warm and kind hearted and most importantly, he is a Christian. For years, she knew she would be his wife; there was no question about that. But then she met Jeff, and Nicholas’ shortcomings began to show. Jean is uncomfortable with the fact that Nicholas allows her to sometimes pay their bills when they go out for dates. And he has no qualms telling her when he is broke. For instance, two weeks ago she invited him to an event and he said he was broke and couldn’t afford the entry fees. And when she offered to pay for him he accepted. That made Jean very uncomfortable. She feels that Nicholas should have tried harder to find the entry fee. He should never let her know that he is broke, because he is the man. He should figure out solutions to problems, including the problem of being broke. They may have been dating for five years, but he should not stop trying to impress her. They are not married after all.
To be fair, Nicholas is not a miser. Whenever he suggests a date, he pays. And every now and then he gets her a thoughtful gift. And she has not forgotten that he is the one who gave her the capital to start her business. But didn’t Reverend Samantha, the Senior Pastor’s wife, say during the last session of Jerusalem Girls that a man should always foot the bill? The pastor actually stressed that girls should avoid men who share responsibility without flinching because it shows they are not good providers.
Maybe Nicholas feels entitled to her money because he helped her build the business. But that shouldn’t be the case. Helping her to start the business did not take away the fact that he is the man in the relationship, and therefore should shoulder the financial burdens that come with that responsibility. At this point, Jean fears that if she marries him he will ask her to help him pay rent, or school fees or any of the other bills that the head of the house should handle. She has even heard about men who ask their women to help them pay dowry.
Jean also feels that her relationship with Nicholas is just too ordinary. There is no excitement. They started out as friends at the University, and when they found themselves fellowshipping at the same church after completing their studies, their friendship developed into a romantic relationship. But Jean feels that there is no romance in this romantic relationship. Nicholas is a very predictable man. After five years together, she can almost read his thoughts.
Jeff, on the other hand, makes her heart and soul go wild. The very thought about him fills her with excitement. He is a total man. She has known him for three months now, and never once has he asked her to pay anything. He takes her out to dinners in high end hotels and drops her at home in his sleek Mercedes. He is the perfect gentleman: kind, generous, witty, attentive and very romantic. This is the kind of life that she wants. Fortunately, she met Jeff about a month before Nicholas asked her to marry him, so when he asked she already knew that she could get a better life than what he (Nicholas) was offering.
Jeff travelled to Uganda on business yesterday, but they had dinner last evening before he left; it is after dinner yesterday that he kissed her for the very first time. She can still feel the glorious sensation of his lips upon hers, and his large, muscular arms wrapped around her. She felt loved and secure in his arms, and she wants that feeling to last forever. The problem is that she doesn’t know how to break up with Nicholas.
“To be honest Niko, I think I need a break.”
“A break from what?”
“From the relationship. I just need to figure out stuff before I can commit to marriage.”
“So what will we be during this “break”?”
“Jean, have you met someone else?”
“Why are you so insecure? Can’t a woman have peace? You know that is the reason I finding it difficult to marry you. You are so controlling!”
Nicholas listens silently as she rants and raves.
“If you want to break up with me, just do it. Stop causing unnecessary drama,” he says when she finally falls silent.
“It’s over between me and you,” she shouts over the phone. “There, you have it. I am done with your toxic behavior. Good bye.”
She hangs up before he gets a chance to reply.
Image by Anja from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/lovers-pair-love-sunset-romance-1259124/ *
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