Crookstians

At that moment, the cathedral’s large doors flung wide open with a resounding bang. The noise died abruptly without an echo. Everyone appeared frozen in action, like a tableau or like they were posing for the camera.

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The African cathedral at the end of the street ended its Sunday service over an hour ago. It was a wonderful service; a welcome service for the beloved Bishop Dairo, who had been absent for two weeks. The bishop had embarked on a spiritual mission to a mountain (or Ori-oke, as the Yorubas call it) in Ondo state, for a 14 days (and 14 nights) prayer and fasting. The amiable bishop beamed with joy throughout the thanksgiving service.

Indeed, he looked fresher than he was two weeks ago but it is only the devil-inspired ones that would deem it suspicious. After all, Moses was on Mount Sinai with God for 40 days and nights and he came back looking radiant.

Songs of praises and heavenly hymns made the service glorious despite the noticeable absence of the choirmaster.

Now, majority of the church members have gone home. The cathedral was almost empty, save for a few top church officials waiting behind for a mandatory meeting with the bishop. Prominent among then are; the Venerable (who is next in rank to the bishop), a number of deacons and deaconesses, the churchwarden, the Choirmaster’s assistant and the youth leader.

It was not the first Sunday of the month, when church workers’ meeting usually hold. In fact, it was the last Sunday of the month, and would eventually be the last church meeting for majority of those present. As these top church officials gathered to sit, on a number of pews in front of the bishop’s throne-like chair, one could perceive a strange tension in the atmosphere. Brother Timothy, the youth leader could sense that it was stronger than any presence of the Holy Spirit he had ever felt.

“Brethren”, the bishop began. Even he, seem more solemn than he had been in the morning. “We are gathered here to discuss a very crucial matter, that came to my notice just this morning.” The bishop paused as if waiting for them to absorb what he had just said. He gauged the look on their faces.

“It was reported to me that the building fund, as well as the generous donation made to the church by the local government chairman for the proposed maternity home, developed wings from the church coffers and …”

“WHAT!?” Some of the officials shouted.

“JESUS!” Another exclaimed. Then there were one or two shuffling of the feet and muffled murmurings.

When the voices had quietened, the bishop spoke again with much calmness. “Yes. I screamed Jesus’ named too when I was told. Now, I am going to call the Ve…” He stopped abruptly and peered at the faces of those that sat before him as if searching for someone. “Wait a minute. How come the choirmaster is not here. Nor in the service this morning. Where is he?”

A plump woman in the white and velvet choir robe, the choirmaster’s assistant, coughed. She sprang up nervously, like a surprised cat, from the second pew. She coughed again. Then she cleared her throat. “Your Holiness sir. Erm… the… the erm…” she stammered in a voice that sounded strange to her own ears. “The choirmaster, Sir, is… erm… he is at the…”

“In the jail. Where he rightly belongs.” A male deep voice cuts in, harshly. It was Deacon Solanke.

“What?!” Apparently, the bishop was the only one who seemed shocked. The others only sighed and muttered. “Deacon, I don’t understand what you just said.” The deacon rose now, a tall and broad-shouldered man who had retired as a police superintendent.

“Sir, I only came to church today to honour your return from the mountain. I had determined to never set my feet in the church until I see that good-for-nothing bastard behind Kirikiri bars where his kinds belong.”

The bishop was confused. What he couldn’t also fathom was the knowing look on the other officials. “Can anybody explain what is going on here?” He exclaimed.

The choirmaster’s assistant, who was still standing, suddenly found her tongue. “Sir erm… what happened was that brother Bankole was caught… huh… was caught in compromising circumstances…”

“Compromising circumstances my foot!” Deacon Solanke barked at her, to which she quickly shrank to sit. “That… that devil’s heir, whose mother ought to have had buried instead of the placenta.” Now his voice took a teary note. “I caught that hell bound crook naked in my house… he was defiling my… my daughter. My innocent daughter.”

Brother Timothy stifled a chuckle. He was the sole occupant of a pew at the back. And he had been listening with uninterested attention until he heard deacon Solanke call his daughter ‘Innocent’. Another chuckle escaped the corners of his lips. He couldn’t help it. It’s funny when parents assume they know everything about their children. Titi Solanke or Baby T as he fondly calls her, was as far from innocent as heaven is from earth. And he could bet his salvation that it was Baby T who had seduced the good-looking choirmaster.

He heard the gist from another youth in the church who was a neighbour to the Solankes. The deacon and his wife had unexpectedly returned home from a cancelled trip. And what did they happen to see? A half-naked choirmaster on top of an equally naked Baby T. The deacon in a rage worthy of mad bull had given the choirmaster the beating of his life. And was on the verge of splitting the wretch’s skull when neighbours came to his rescue. The bloody half-naked choirmaster was taken to the hospital but woke up the next evening in a police cell. But nah God save me sef sha, he thought as he glanced at the deacon who was now sitting. It could have been him. He could recall some of the countless sexcapades with Baby T. Some had even happened right here in church (at the dimly lit back of the church or the toilet) during those monthly youth vigil.

“My God! This is serious!” The bishop exclaimed. He took off his gold-rimmed spectacles, mopped his sweaty brow and nose with a white handkerchief and carefully put on his spectacles again. “But when did this happen?” He asked no one in particular. It was obvious that he was the only one ignorant of the ugly event.

“On Friday, Sir.” The Venerable chipped in. He had been erstwhile strangely silent.

“Friday? And nobody saw it fit to inform me?”

“Your Holiness, your line has been unavailable for about two weeks now.”

“Oh yes. That’s true. I had to switch off my phone.” The bishop cleared his throat and continued. “I was on the mountain, you know. On such spiritual exercise, one need to do away with worldly distractions.” He looked away from the venerable and addressed deacon Solanke. “Deacon Solanke, please accept our sincere apologies for that awful incident. I shall come to your house this evening and God shall direct us in that matter.”

“You are very kind, Sir.” Deacon Solanke muttered.

The bishop said nothing for two minutes. Then he cleared his throat. “Now, with that unpleasant incident behind us,” Deacon Solanke muttered something inaudible. “Let us go back to the reason for this meeting.” The venerable shifted in his sit. “First, I shall like the churchwarden, Mr. Mobolaji to inform this gathering what he told me this morning before the commencement of the service.”

Mr. Mobolaji, a short slim man in blue multi-patterned ankara stood up. “Thank you, Your Holiness.” He said with a slight bow. “Everyone here knows that it is my duty to keep account of the church money. A task which I have diligently and with all honesty performed this past 12 years since I resigned from my bank job.” One of the deacons yawned. “And as a devout…”

“Mr. Mobolaji, exactly what you told me this morning, please.” The bishop said.

“Yes Sir. Exactly two days after the bishop left.” Mr. Mobolaji said addressing the gathering. “The venerable and two other members of the building committee came to my house and asked, no demanded that I withdraw for them the building fund from the church account. To which I replied that to do such I would need a written approval from the bishop. But they insisted and the venerable stated that in absence of the bishop, that he, the venerable was the interim bishop and therefore demanded my obedience…”

“Oh please!” the venerable said with a wave of the hand.

The churchwarden continued unbothered. “The next day I withdrew the building fund, precisely N431,050 from the bank and gave it to the venerable. Then two days after that, I put a call through to the office of the local government chairman to remind him of his promised donation to the church. You must imagine my shock, when I was told rather rudely that some church officials had collected the said money the previous day…”

“WHAT!” A number of the gathering exclaimed.

“Venerable Oyelaja”, the bishop began before the churchwarden could continue.

“Can you please explain what this is all about?”

The venerable rose, first casting a wicked glance at the churchwarden. “Your Holiness. It appears that you have been misinformed. First, allow me to state that the alleged missing money is in safe hands…”

“Safe hands indeed!” Mr. Mobolaji hissed.

The venerable gave him another wicked glance, a I-dare-you-to-talk-again look. “As I was saying, the money is not missing, not even a Kobo of it. I and every other member of the building committee considered it expedient to have the building fund along with the donation in our hand so as to quickly execute the building project.”

“Yes!” “That’s true.” Some members of the building committee echoed.

The venerable continued, “A tactical decision which certain small minded individuals cannot comprehend but resort to maligning the integrity of my person and that of my committee…”

“But venerable, you ought to have discussed it with me.”

“Your Holiness, like I said earlier, your line was unavailable.”

“Okay. So can you make available to me documented proofs of transactions you have made as regards the building project?” The bishop asked.

“Along with proof that the tokunbo car you just bought is not from the church money.” Mr. Mobolaji chipped in.

“WHAT?” The venerable’s head seemed to enlarge, his eyes flaring. “Are you calling me a thief?”

“There’s no better word.”

“Oh. You short foulmouthed demon. You’re going to get it.”

The venerable was now stomping his way towards the churchwarden with clenched fists.

Just before he could test the strength of his fist on Mr. Mobolaji’s face, about three or four men stepped in between the unevenly matched men. Every other person was standing, including the bishop who couldn’t understand how the day had started out great and now turned sour. Could it be any worse than this?

“Venerable Oyelaja! Mr. Mobolaji! The two of you quit it right now!” He was shouting at the top of his voice. The venerable was shaking his right fist at the churchwarden. A number of church officials between them. The churchwarden was standing on his toe, snarling like a rabid dog.

“The both of you stop it right now! We are going to resolve this like Christians and not resort to name calling or fisticuffs like the unbelievers! We are…”

At that moment, the cathedral’s large doors flung wide open with a resounding bang. The noise died abruptly without an echo. Everyone appeared frozen in action, like a tableau or like they were posing for the camera. The venerable had now managed to grab hold of the churchwarden’s thin neck and was still holding it.

A figure appeared at the doorway. For a second or so, you would have thought it was that fiery angel of the Lord who had stood with a sword in the way of the hired prophet Balaam and his talking Ass (donkey). The figure moved forward up the aisle, now it was a man wielding a cutlass. Behind him appeared another figure, a woman or a figure that was formally a woman. She was whimpering. Her hair loosed and scattered. Her face, looked like she had gone 12 rounds of boxing with Mayweather and Tyson, or both.

“Where is he?” The cutlass wielding man barked at her. He looked around, chest heaving and eyes flaring like Sango. No one answered, moved or breath. “Where is the bishop?” He shouted and struck one of the pew with the cutlass.

“Egba mi o!” The bishop screamed from behind his throne-like chair where he had crouched in hiding. He bolted for the cathedral’s side door, screaming for help, his priestly robe flailing behind him like a flag. The cutlass wielding man gave a hot chase.

To your tents, O Israel! Everyone else ran out of the cathedral in different directions.

* * *

Later that evening, brother Timothy sat on the edge of his bed while his fiancée bathe his swollen forehead; the aftermath of a hasty flight out of the cathedral. He had tripped over the collection box.

The choirmaster’s assistant had just left. And she had told him a rather ear-tingling tale. The crazed cutlass wielding man that appeared at the cathedral was an agbero. And the woman that followed him was his wife. The bishop had apparently, camped the agbero’s wife for two weeks in a guest house.

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