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Chairman drove furiously down Agherson Road. He nearly knocked down Finiku who was crossing the road at a leisurely pace. The madman had to jump into a nearby gutter to avoid being run over. Jumping up, he ran after the vehicle, shouting:

"Were! Were! Madman! Hired Killer!"

"Be careful, Baba Vic.," cautioned Victoria's mother.

"'Shadap!"

His car screeched to a halt in front of his gate and he horned impatiently. His police orderly, P. C. Sola, came out of the gatehouse to open the gate. He had opened only one side when Chairman rammed the car through. Sola had to jump back to avoid being knocked down by his boss. He fell on his back a short distance from the swinging gate.

Chairman jumped down from the car and stormed into the house. He did not even look in Sola's direction, but his wives ran over to help the policeman to his feet.

"Sony o, uncle," said Beatrice, Chairman's younger wife who he snatched from Brother Ojo.

"Are you alright, Sola?" asked Mama Victoria.

"Thank you, ma, I'm okay. But wetin bite Oga so? No be church you people go? Abi na fight you go fight there today?"

Inside his plushy, football-pitch sitting room, Chairman fumed as he paced. He felt humiliated. How could he, the Executive Chairman of Lagos Island Lagos Government, the richest local government in Nigeria, be subjected to ridicule by such riffraff?

"Just because I rub yansh on the same pew with them, they think we are equal, eh? They have now turned me and my first family into objects of public ridicule and mockery. Well, I'll show them that we don't belong to the same class. I am in a special class while Pastor Job and the rest of the church belong to a junior class. It is only fools who say all birds are equal. The pigeon is no match for the peacock in size and beauty. I '11 show them that I'm a peacock while they are pigeons!"

His wives filed in and tried to calm him down.

"Don't mind them, dear. I for....."

"Shadap!" Chairman shouted "Who asked for your opinion, eh? Who puts dog's mouth inside shit? Human beings call a meeting, the gorilla looks for his trousers. Does he think that anything standing on two legs is a man? Who asked you to talk, you left-over of a madman!"

Sister Beatrice felt too hurt for words. She began to sob as she headed for her room.

"Get out of my sight! Was it not because of you that I 'm being derided as a wife-snatcher? And all for what? Had I known you were such an empty barrel, I would not have bothered to woo you. You are just fine for nothing. You're as barren as Hannah ever was!''

"Ha! Baba Victoria!" exclaimed his elder wife.

"Shadap, mother of prostitute!"

"You call me mother of prostitute, Baba Victoria?"

"Yes, you're the mother of a prostitute because it is only a prostitute that gets pregnant without knowing the man responsible. Your daughter, that egbere daughter of yours claims she is pregnant for a spirit. Don't you know it is the spirit of fornication and prostitution that gave her belle?"

"Baba Victoria! How can you say such horrible things about your own child?"

"My child, eh? I'm no longer sure she is my child o. Sooner or later, you will tell the truth about Victoria. Our fathers say that when a house is well ordered, the bastards in that house have not grown up yet. Soon we shall know who Victoria's father is."

Victoria' s mother wisely kept silent. Chairman strode to the bar and poured himself a large shot of brandy. He drank it neat at a gulp. He poured himself another which he sipped as he paced. Victoria entered and her mother signalled to her to retreat. But her father had seen her and shouted:

"Come here!"

Victoria obeyed but stood at a dashing distance to the door.

"Tell me, Victoria. Are you sure I am your father?"

"Of course, you are my daddy?"

"Then tell me, like a good daughter the man responsible for your pregnancy. I don't care if he is a cripple or a blind man, whether he is rich or poor. Of all the men in the world, the only one I object to is John the son of Baba Ijesa and I know that you're too sensible to befriend the son of my arch-enemy. So, don't fear to tell me the name of the man."

"But Daddy, I've told you it is a spiritual pregnancy."

Chairman threw his hot drink in Victoria's face. She cried out and was quickly hustled out of the room by her mother. Her father fumed:

"Bitch! Asewo! Public toilet! Shameless prostitute! You better listen o, both of you. My patience has run out o. A man cannot cherish beef so much he kisses every cow he sees. Kokumo! Kokumo! When will Kokumo not die! You cannot because you are my only child spoil my father's name. I'm giving you up till next Sunday to tell me the name of the guilty man or I'll remove that doggy pregnancy of yours with a tin cutter. Bitch!"

He refilled his glass and sat down to sip it. Dapo, a Christian brother came in later to commiserate with him on the happenings in the church. He expressed his shock that people like Baba Ijesa could be bold enough to accuse Chairman in public.

"I'm not surprised at Baba Ijesa's behaviour," responded Chairman. "1 know he has not gotten over the fact that I beat him to get the title of Seriki. And, of course, the Council is still owing him some money for some contracts he has executed for us. So, I'm not surprised at Baba Ijesa s behaviour. The man who really annoyed me was Pastor .lob himself. He went to America for only six months and came back to abuse people anyhow. Now he claims to be the only born again Christian in the church. Does he think the rest of us are born against Christians? How can Job, the son of Baba Carpenter at Ita Faji be abusing me, Job whom we all contributed to send to university? That same Job now threatens to remove my chieftaincy title."

"He meant what he said o,'' cut in Brother Dapo. “In fact, the committee was constituted after service."

"Really? Who are the members?"

"Baba Ijesa is the chairman."

"What!" Chairman shouted as he jumped up.

"Deaconess Quadri is the vice and Brother Ojo is the secretary."

"Jesus Christ of Nazareth! Job has put all my enemies in that committee."

For a long time, Chairman remained silent, pondering how he could checkmate Pastor Job.

* * *

That night Pastor Ojoge sat pensively in the sitting-room of his rented apartment. A plate of Amala with an appetising Gbegiri soup was in front of him. Another plate contained choice meats, assorted. But Pastor Ojoge did not touch any of it. He stared into space, lost in thought. He knew that the committee set up by Pastor Job was heavily weighed against his benefactor. He must find a way round the problem.

He had pretended to be at the vanguard of Pastor Job’s born again revival. He must not do anything to arouse the suspicion of Pastor Job. Yet he must find a way of saving his benefactor from public disgrace. All these thoughts engaged the pastor’s mind, driving away any appetite for food.

Deaconess Jane had eaten before the arrival of her husband. She served him and went to do something in the kitchen. When she came back some ten minutes later, her husband had not touched the food. She observed him silently and then went back to the kitchen. When she came out some minutes later, the food was still untouched. Deaconess Jane was piqued.

“Dear, if you’re not ready to eat now, let me pack the food. Only you know why you’re holding malice with food, good food. But I don't want my food wasted. It is unpardonable to waste food in this time of austerity.”

“Pack it.”

Pastor Ojoge went to sit on a sofa still in his pensive mood. When Deaconess Jane came out of the kitchen a few minutes later, she found her husband deep in thought, his palms cupping his cheeks.

"I don't like this kind of behavior, dear. As a man, I expect you to be more decisive. Instead of acting, you sit and look like Lukman, playing Mister Nice. Monkey dey work, baboon dey chop; what manner of injustice is that? And you sit there dejectedly like a vegetable that falls into a gallon of kerosene! Do something!”

"What?"

"I don't know and I don't care. All I’m sure of is that I’m not going back to the bush of Oke-Awo. Death is better than disgrace. To go from pastoring a cathedral like this one back to a village parish is death sentence enough. I will not follow you if you don t do something. And I know that no man who has done for this church the great and mighty things you have done will allow another person to reap the harvest. Except the man is a big fool!"

"Pastor Job and I are both workers in the Lord's vineyard. If Paul plants and Apollo waters, it is God who gives increase. Paul and Apollo are mere husbandmen in God's Vineyard.

"You're absolutely right. Perhaps you don't know that even though all men of God are equal, some are more equal than others. While one husbandman rides a Mercedes, the other husbandman rides a legedes! Dear, you better launch yourself into marathon prayers and fasting. Otherwise, you will find yourself washing the feet of your mates!"

"God's time is best, dear. As our fathers say: the head that waits patiently will one day make good."

"That's a totally misconceived adage. If your type of stubborn head waits much longer, it will only gather dust!"

And with that, Deaconess Jane stormed out of the room.

* * *

Deaconess Jane and Pastor Ojoge were not the only ones who seemed to have agreed to disagree that night. In their plushy sitting-room, Pastor Job and his wife Shade were arguing hotly. Both agreed that the subject of the pastor's sermon was necessary. They, however, disagreed on the timing and method of delivery. Sister Shade contended that Pastor Job should have been more cautious, adding that heaven helps those who help themselves.

"A pastor that tempts God by lying in the path of a speeding truck will die like a dog even if God's anointing drips from his clothes!"

"But do you expect me to overlook the corruption of Christian values in our church? As pastor, what is my responsibility?”

"Agreed, you must do your duty as pastor and condemn such acts. But remember, no prophet is ever popular in his own town. You were born and brought up in this local government. You can't afford to be rash. What another pastor can do and get away with you can't try."

"I know, dear, I know. But everything has its own time. There is a time to be born and a time to die. There is a time to kill and a time to heal. There is a time for peace and a time for war. This is the time for war, dear, and as a man of God, I must not shirk my responsibility. I am a pastor today in order to destroy all the works of the devil. I am ready to do it, not caring whose ox is gored. I know that before I went to America, I used to appeal to people. But over there, we have been taught that the new born again person must be a radical. No negotiation with the Satan. So, no more appeal. Satan's head must be bruised without apologies. When Jesus found many money changers and traders in the temple in Jerusalem, he drove them out with a whip. He did not negotiate with them. He did not ask them when it would be convenient for them to leave. That is what is expected of us shepherds. A pastor that does not do that is only trying to please the world. Such a pastor will incur God's displeasure."

"Don't forget that you're an indigene. You can't behave like an alien!"

"That bothers me little, dear. I can't fear man and displease God,"

They were still arguing when Pastor Job’s mother knocked and entered. At first Pastor Job was alarmed to see her so late in the night. But his mother soon put his mind to rest. As an only child, his parents meant so much to him and he to them. After Mama had rested, she explained that she had come to beg Pastor Job to tread softly henceforth. According to her Lagos was abuzz with his intention to upset the natural scheme of things in his church because of a new brand of born againism he imported from America.

She reminded him that as an indigene he could not do as he liked and that "we met corruption in the world and would leave corruption behind us when we die". Pastor Job was dumb-founded. How did his sermon spread round Lagos in less than ten hours? Before he could respond, his mother went on her knees to beg him. He and his wife quickly helped Mama up onto her feet. In the Yoruba culture, it was an abomination for a mother to kneel to her child, even if the child is a pastor.

* * *

In their bedroom that same night, Mama John was begging Baba Ijesa to forgive Chairman for using money to snatch the Seriki title from him. She appealed to his finer virtue as a Christian, saying that Christians were not supposed to hold malice or stay angry all day long.

"And you know what our fathers say that a man who cannot forgive cannot keep his friends."

"A friend indeed! A throat-cutting friend! Look, Mama John, I don't, want to talk any more. Good night o."

He turned his back to her and pretended to be fast asleep. Mama John tried to coax him back to attention but failed completely. Instead of responding, Baba Ijesa began to emit loud, theatrical snores. Mama John finally gave up and switched off the bedroom light.



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Abiodun Adeniji

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