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Chuma Nwokolo



Chuma Nwokolo

Nwokolo is author of Diaries of a Dead African and publisher of



photocredit: Andrew Ogilvy


 The Redemption of Pati Mugodo

I visited Toni Mugodo and his new live-in lover, Pati, on Friday, intending to make my own little caustic observation on his new relationship and leave it at that. That is my style really, just one or two telling comments, nothing heavy-handed that anyone can take offence over. After all, I am just a pastor. Ikerre-Oti may be a village, but this is also the 21st century and I do know my place. It is probably one caustic observation too much that earned Father Jose his empty church on Cowrie Road.

Frankly this was not a trip I had been looking forward to, but it was already a week since Constance Mugodo flashed me and burned up my two-thousand naira recharge card weeping on the phone. Their twelve-year-old marriage was in mortal danger; concerning this, there was no question. And if there was a time for all good men to make their feelings known, it was now, before Mugodo did something silly and game-changing – like giving the new girl a ring, a baby, or both. Although she didn’t put it quite so pointedly, as she wept she hinted – rather crudely – that since I couldn’t pray a baby into her womb despite the half-dozen expensive vigils I had hosted on that account, the least I could do to justify my pastoral credentials was to confront the wench of a home-breaker.

I did have my reservations as I made my visit that evening, for Mugodo wasn’t a man that abided The Work of God courteously. It seemed to me a foolhardy undertaking, this attempt to move a man from the woman he wished to live with, to one he ought to live with; especially when he had made his wishes so clear by leaving his Lagos house for Constance, and hurling her bags through the windows of his Ikerre-Oti house (in the sight of scandalised neighbours) when she followed him there. It seems only fair to admit that, as I pressed the bell that Friday around the end of June, I didn’t exactly have a sleek succession of caustic comments on the tip of my tongue.

A small woman opened the door. It was a hot day in Ikerre-Oti, and it grew even hotter as I stepped into the modest, air-conditioned bungalow for which Mugodo had given up his expensive Lagos mansion by the Lagoon.

It was hard to decide who was the more beautiful, as between this home-breaker and Constance, but only because true beauty was a thing of the heart rather than the physical body, and my pastoral eyes do not look upon women in the superficial manner of other men… yet, if one were to look at women with the eyes of other men it would be hard to disagree with Constance’s teary opinion that her husband had clearly been bewitched by an occultic enchantress.

This strange woman had nothing to weigh against Constance. She had inch-long hair, full eyebrows, and no protuberant feature; there was nothing there to snag the eye of a roving man (and Toni Mugodo had roving eyes). She was just this wisp of a woman, hardly an inch over five feet, and her only riveting feature was, perhaps, the engaging smile which seemed tailor-made for her face. Constance had far more going for her in the way of statuesque beauty, having clinched a vulgar beauty crown in her youth – which happy season could not be terribly more than fifteen years ago.

The woman in front of me was still in her youth, and as comfortable as I was not. She wore a glittering ring on the critical finger, which threw me off my stride. My heart fell on Constance’s behalf. I shook her hand, but she hung on to mine, leading me by the hand into a chair. At a more propitious time I will write some more about this overlong handshake, in the meantime, she was saying, ‘You look like you need a drink,’

‘No, I’m fine.’

‘And a meal,’

‘No, really, I am fine.’

She excused herself politely. I looked around the room. It had been many months since I last visited Mugodo and Constance here and I did not recognise the place. Constance’s garish photographs were gone, of course, from the walls. In their place was just the one photograph of the new woman sitting demurely on Mugodo’s lap. They were both smiling widely, with Mugodo’s grin a clear inch wider than that of the girlwoman in his lap. My ulcers burned unaccountably. My own Hannah had never sat on my lap for a photograph (which was a good thing; were she ever to do so, I could not have smiled so for the camera). The chairs of the new dispensation were comfortable, but they were so low that I was almost sitting on the ground. The aroma in the air had clearly come in an expensive aerosol can, although I wasn’t sure I liked it that much. This was definitely the lair of another woman… and that other woman seemed to be spending quite a while away. I glanced at my watch. The chairs were so low that having sat down, I was reluctant to get to my feet.

I heard a ping that sounded suspiciously like the all done! of a microwave oven. I frowned as she returned with a steaming plate of stewed catfish on a bed of rice. This was all heralded by an aroma of luxuriant sumptuousness, in the midst of which I caught a whiff of something coconuty and quite agreeable. I swallowed. I had not eaten coconut rice in… twelve years? A cold beer sweated beadily beside the food. I hadn’t drunk alcohol in much longer, but the beer was of course completely out of the question. Concerning the food however, it was indeed a pity that I happened to be on a fast, and that I had an unflinching policy never, ever, to eat while on Reconciliation Duty. Besides, there were always going to be moral questions about eating a woman’s food and then advising her lover to throw her out.

So I waved my hand in a firm, pastoral, No. Her smile widened, if that was at all possible, ‘In my own village, she said, as I tried hard not to stare at her mid-section, ‘hospitality is not offered, it is pressed.’ Her stomach looked as though someone had pressed on her a couple of large dinners that she really didn’t need. My heart fell even lower, on Constance’s behalf.

‘An excellent Christian virtue,’ I agreed, ‘but today, I must insist-‘

Swiftly, she uncorked the bottle of beer, which sighed a belch of lager into my nostrils; I knew the nostalgia of forbidden things, and realised (by God!) that there were suddenly more things at stake here than the sanctity of Constance’s marriage, ‘-and in my village,’ she laughed, ‘it is the height of rudeness to reject the hospitality of a hostess.’

I laughed right back. As a pastor, I had a failsafe way of rejecting hospitality without causing offence. Nobody ever wants to be the cause of a pastor’s fall from grace, ‘Unfortunately,’ I said, fingering my white collar, ‘I’m on a fast-’

‘-Aha, you have to end it now, won’t you?’

‘I do?’

‘Well it’s pointless continuing, now that you’ve told me. You’ll have to start it all over again… It is scriptural, isn’t it? The Bible says that when you win the glory of man, you lose the glory of God… or something like that…’

After that deft bastardisation of scripture, she hurried back into her kitchen (and by this pronoun I do not mean, of course, to concede that the kitchen was now hers; I only mean that she possessed it as utterly as a woman could possess a kitchen – without being a maid). She fetched a thimble of what smelt like curry sauce, and a napkin. Then a side dish of… banana fritters? Everything went onto a trolley which she positioned, with a delicacy of exactitude, precisely in front of me. I must also confess that up till this point – and this was some fifteen minutes into my visit – I had not had the opportunity to formally introduce myself, how much more to ask after Mugodo. Indeed, my language, up to this point had very little of the caustic in it.

‘And what do your fellow villagers do,’ I asked, genially, ‘if they are too full to eat, and they don’t want to be rude to a hostess?’

‘They stay in their own houses,’ she smiled, slipping out again.

I am of course a pastor with fifteen years’ experience. I raised my eyes upwards (from where my help cometh) and left them there: I did not look temptation in the eye. Yet, the food was hot, releasing such a stupefying aroma into the air that the aerosol sickliness was quite overwhelmed. I was drinking more saliva that was my wont. This was ridiculous; and I knew I had to pull myself together.

I visualised Constance’s teary face and reached for my stiffest and most formal attitude. The only means of saving this visit was to create professional distance between me and the Subject of the Adulterous Liaison, which was not compatible with the acceptance of irresistibly presented meals and drinks from a home-breaking hostess. This was not true hospitality; she had every reason to court her lover’s visitors – particularly one that arrived wearing a clerical collar. When she entered with ices in a small glass, I steeled myself and rose, offering a polite handshake, ‘The Reverend Moses Ekpo,’ I said formally. My voice was the gravely one I used for my Jezebel sermons.

She set down the glass and we exchanged another, more formal, handshake – which ended promptly on this occasion. Her hand was cold from the iced drink, and limp from my pastoral put-down. Her smile was quite gone. ‘The irreverent Pati,’ she said. There was mischief in the voice and I looked at her carefully. She sat down abruptly. I sat down too, this time, away from both food and woman, but she rose and rolled the trolley up to me, the ices of my water tinkling invitingly in their glass. (and by this pronoun I do not mean of course to suggest that I had mentally succumbed to her blandishments - at this point) She smiled, waving her small, expressive hands over what I must confess was now a minor feast, ‘my dishonourable hospitality,’ and then she curtesied; despite her flippancy it was difficult to handle such vulnerableness. Her voice was very supplicant… indeed, never did a fallen angel approach the throne of glory with more supplicant words, ‘you will at least drink a glass of water and bless me?’

This was the point at which I drank; which was also the point at which I knew that Constance’s cause was quite hopeless, for the distance between the glass of water and the first, delicate, fritter of banana was but a half-inch. Concerning the fast, she had a point, of course; and it was there in Mathew Chapter 6:

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Since I was not going to get the credit for this particular fast it seemed logical to get the benefit of the meal, before it went cold. So I put that first fritter into my mouth and chewed. O, how simple are the greatest pleasures of this sinful world! (I was well into the meal before I remembered that Satan also quoted scripture when he tried to derail Jesus’ fast in the wilderness, but… Satan had come with the suggestion of a meal. This was a feast. And then again, I was no Jesus.) Still, I ate with Christian restraint, soberly contemplating the terms of the blessing I would have to render to the homebreaker when I was done; did I dare bless the child growing in the womb? I had to be careful not to bless her in terms incompatible with Constance’s conjugal entitlements…

Yet, there she was: sitting, not on the chair beside me, but on the arm of the chair in which I sat. And let me clarify: it was not a sexual gesture, this sitting on the arm of the chair in which I sat; neither was her proximity suggestive in the least. It was simply witchery of the most motherly kind. What it said was: I am interested in the next spoon you are going to put into that mouth, in the next word you are going to say. It was like that continuation of our first handshake that evening, that leading of me by the hand into a chair. That also was not sexual, being more of a superfluously tactile solicitousness.

‘So where is Mugodo?’ I asked,

‘Aha! So he was the one you came to see after all!’ that laugh again, ‘I shouldn’t have cooked for you!’

‘It is not that at all,’

‘Oh really?’ Constance’s caustic and satirical voice echoed in my head.

‘Beg your pardon,’ I asked, disconcerted.

‘I said, “Oh, really?”’ she replied.

I paused as I put the first spoonful of fish into my mouth. That lucky bastard, Mugodo. The fish was unbelievably flavoured. Hannah cooked all my meals at the rectory and the crustiness of her fish left me vulnerable, oh so wide-open, for this olfactory, gustatory experience. The fragment of fish dissolved on my tongue. I felt a twinge in my throat as salivary glands convulsed, flooding my mouth with fluid. I trembled in catfish heaven, lost in a rapture than I only occasionally found, halfway through devotional services on the mornings that my best chorister, Grace Okitipa, was at her phonic best. I shut my eyes, tight; most pastors are alike in this actually, in the closing of the eyes as we enter into transcendental experiences… but additionally, I was trying not to weep over catfish.

‘What’s the matter?’ anxiously,

‘No, nothing.’

‘It’s a bone!’ the alarm in her voice, the hand on my shoulder,

‘No, I’m fine,’ I took away her hand politely, but it was a mistake, that closing of my eyes. I now felt the prick of moisture in my eyes, which she was sure to spot if I opened them now. I kept them shut.

‘Here, drink,’ a glass in my hand,

I gulped… ‘beer!’ I rose precipitately, spilling the rest of it down my black suit. Eyes wide open now, I grabbed the glass of water and drank it down.

‘You don’t like it?’

‘I don’t drink beer!’ I spluttered, ‘I’m a pastor for God’s sake! I haven’t drunk alcohol in fifteen years!’

‘But Jesus turned water into w-‘

‘And Satan preached to Christ as well!’ I snapped angrily – and I was truly furious now! Probably more furious than I have been in all the years of my ordination! I cannot recall how many times that year alone I have turned down a glass of whiskey, a tot of gin, with the modest, Thanks, but I haven’t had a sip of alcohol in the fifteen years of my ministry. Now I would always have to add: ...apart of course from that glass of beer Mugodo’s lover slipped me, which doesn’t really count because my eyes were closed and she was sitting on the arm of my chair...

I raged, ‘I am not going to enter into a theological debate with you!’ I set down the glass of water, and the glass of beer.

Now, I have replayed this final scene in my mind hundreds of times. I did not plan what happened next. It was probably the shame of it all. At any rate, my indignant words had launched me on a certain trajectory of outrage, and much as I longed to sink back into the comfort of the chair, the catfish and the Christian conversation, I found myself stomping for the door.

‘But, Reverend Moses-‘

Her voice was conciliatory enough, but the momentum of my outrage swept through her, ‘Do tell Mugodo that I called,’ in my gravely voice, and before I knew what I was doing, I was standing outside the slammed door, feeling a little like a man that fled a restaurant without paying, halfway through an expensive meal: I hadn’t blessed the woman.

Many a night I have started up from sleep with the clap of that door ringing in my ears, haunted by the forlornness of that final But, Reverend Moses, squirming at the idiocy of my pompous Do tell Mugodo, and chagrined at my betrayal of poor Constance; for in the dead of night it was the homebreaker’s unborn baby for whom I prayed, not for the wife’s empty womb. But it is the thought of that slab of barely-tasted catfish, forever enshrined in my bereft Cathedral of Taste that gives me cause to groan (and brings the sleepy slab of Hannah’s arm across in her motherly embrace).

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