Love was a problem for me. It was a complexity I tried to convince myself that I didn’t need; a combination that had been denied to me by my vocation. In my third year of theology at the seminary I was yet to hear the voice of God calling me to serve Him.
Professionally, I am a soldier. The Chaplains’ Corps was the last army unit I ever thought I could be posted to after my graduation at the Armed Forces Training College. Father wanted to be a military ordinariate. The day he met my mother, he devoured the forbidden fruit and said “Go to hell God with your call”. Remotely, he still believed that it was God’s will he met Mother.
Sister Elizabeth of the Order of Mary the Immaculate Conception was passionate, outspoken, unwavering in her convictions. She listened to no one below the rank of God, and delved too much into the service of the church she loved.
Thoughts trundled in my mind like a train during the ride to Sr. Elizabeth’s convent in Nairobi. When I saw her, my heart whooped. She was in her seven-frilled habit, a snow-white veil swathing her head.
Sadistic, no, sexual, thoughts entered my mind. I wanted to peel every layer of her holy dress and make love to her.
I talked nonsense. Holy crap. The shock on her face was a constellation of her eyes admonishing me and her lips quivering.
“You can’t just leave,” she said.
“How’s so, Liz? I’m not going to live a lie for the rest of my life.”
“Victor, I can’t be with you. What you’re asking of me is impossible …”
“Impossible as it may seem, but I know you too want it. We both were not cut for this.”
“Remember I have taken my vows.”
“Temporary vows, Elizabeth. Temporary. That means you could change your mind any time.”
“That’s trifling with God, Victor. You can’t play trial and error with God.”
I wanted her back. She had once followed me, she could do it again.
“That’s ridiculous, Victor.” Her lips were trembling. Her face dull, devoid of emotions. Her eyes were like gunshots fired at the soul of my soul.
“What are you going to do?” I asked her when I realized she no longer loved me the way I thought she did.
“Nothing. You know where I belong.”
“Let’s go then.”
“To where you belong, start afresh the life we left.”
“You don’t understand. I now belong to the Church.”
I looked at her. “What?”
“You heard me. I am not leaving with you.” She paused. “People change. Life changes; but not for life. Vic, you need to live, but not with Sister Elizabeth.”
“Well, I would like to know now that you mention it,” I said.
“What would we, no, you, tell people?” she stared at me with glaring eyes. “What would you tell the parish, your family and friends, the Christians, and the Bishop?”
“You can’t tell people anything. They know too much about you than you do.”
She faced me. “Isn’t this some sort of brewery for sin, Victor? Don’t even try it. You are using the sword that would kill you.”
“God can’t kill me for leaving the seminary. Plus, there’re a lot of things we do not know, Elizabeth. This is one of them. There are others.”
“I don’t want to know about them, what they are.”
“No, you don’t,” I agreed. “Look, what do you want? An apology for telling you the truth? For telling you to break your vows? If I’m sorry is that I have not told you to be sacrilegious, heretical, blasphemous, or to curse God.”
“This is never going to happen, not with me.”
Don’t walk out on me, Liz.
“Look, Victor. Your leaving the seminary means nothing to me, and concerns me in no way. Everybody carries their own cross. Carry yours to God and tell Him that you did not want to be a priest because you couldn’t control your bodily desires. I have left my past. I live for today. The bible says we forget the past, our sins would be forgiven for those who repent, and our failures would be perfected.” With that she rose to go.
I stood up and blocked her way. “Elizabeth, stop being disillusioned. This wasn’t part of our plan. You just shut me off when you came here. What happened to us, Elizabeth?”
“What exactly do you want?”
“I want you. I need you because I love you.”
Were I firing a gun at her she couldn’t have reacted such smartly.
“I am sorry, Victor.”
A tight feeling rose from the pit of my stomach and blocked throat.
“I am sorry too, Elizabeth,” I said, my hackles beginning to rise. “You don’t see the depravity in your so-called church. Which is better: live with sin or in sin?”
“That’s not what you told me is why you’re leaving.”
“Well, it’s part of the bargain.”
She said nothing.
“Elizabeth, stop playing naive and blind. You know what I am talking about. You’ve seen it. All we’ve in the church is Romeo & Juliet garbed in albs and cassocks and frilled convent dresses.”
She was silent for a long period. “I am not leaving,” she said at last. “Period.”
I knew that her mind was made up. I took a step towards her and she stepped back. I put my hand on her shoulder. She didn’t pull it away. That encouraged me, but I didn’t pull her to me.
“Do you remember that day?”
“How can I forget?”
“What you told me?”
“Everything is as fresh as morning dew in me, but it’s all gone, Vic.”
We were in the convent chapel. I didn’t care when I kissed her. Her mouth was cold and soft. I smelt her hair, ran my hand through it. I kissed her cheek, felt the softness, salty with tears I hadn’t seen or known where they had come from.
Slowly, she pushed me away; her hands between us where I had felt the rubbery of her breasts on my chest. She stared at me, deathly pale, disapproving what I had done. At last she pried off me without even a word.
Liz, who do you think you’re? You don’t belong there. You’re just a fucking slut, not a nun. You were never a nun. Not chaste … I thought as I watched her walk away from me.
“You are going back to the seminary, Victor,” my father boomed. “I am your father and I know what best is for you. You’ve got no right whatsoever to question my stand on certain issues. My mind is made up.”
Who the hell does he think he is?
My heart palpitated as adrenalin coursed through me. I stood up, halted before him and gave him a mock salute.
“Even my mind is made up,” I said, and with that I about-turned and marched out.
We were huddled in bed, cuddling. Mariah Carey was singing to us We Belong Together. Her cell phone rang and she picked it up pronto. Her expression changed as she screamed in joy, laughing. Whoever the caller is must be making her ovaries go off like fire crackers, I thought as a pang of jealousy stung me.
“Guess what, babe?” she said when the call ended.
“Honey, you know me. I’m not good at guesses.”
“Come on, babe. Try pleaaaaaaase …”
It’s a trap. Never try it. So I didn’t fall for it.
“It’s Val, babe,” she said. “She’s coming over. She’d stay for some time.”
“Wonderful. She’d even help you with the shopping and all.” Being dragged to our wedding preparations was the last thing I wanted. So, the prospect of someone else being there for her was my exit from the whole brouhaha.
“And watch her like a hawk, I am not ready to be seduced by your best friend.”
She gave me a light slap on my arm. “I believe in you. You’re not that slippery. Moreover, Val can’t do that. I trust her, I know her well.”
Valerie was Elizabeth’s best friend. We all came from the same ‘hood; grew up together. Valerie was the kind of friend parents warn their children not to keep. ‘She’ll teach you boys,’ Elizabeth’s mother told her. But Valerie and Elizabeth were inseparable. The beating and the castigation didn’t separate them, then Elizabeth’s mother stopped trying to keep them away from each other.
My father was a good friend of Elizabeth’s. They were more than just business partners—they were Brothers, had influence in the church all the way to the Vatican. Rumours had it that they were Freemasons. Dad was a good friend of the Pope, it was the Pope who allowed Father to marry. Insider information had it that the Pope was even considering allowing priests to marry, but Dad was not patient to wait for the time to come. For all he knew, it could be black smoke from the Sistine Chapel.
Elizabeth and I grew up together; our families shared moments: birthdays, religious and national holidays, family prayers. When our parents went to Rome on some church errand for the church in Kenya, they took us with them. My most memorable moment was when Pope Francis took Elizabeth and me in his arms; he was so strong for his age. I cherish that photo to-date.
Elizabeth was her family’s candy, and the lily of our family. Mom loved her so much that it hurt she did not have a daughter of her own. When we came of age, Mom and Dad fought: she wanted me to be a family man, to continue the family line, perhaps with Elizabeth, Dad wanted me to fulfil his military ordinariate dream. However, I had set my eyes on Elizabeth.
After high school, Elizabeth went to the University of Nairobi. Dad got me into the army.
It was the shock of my life when I was posted to the Chaplains Corps, the first ever General Service Officer in the history of the Kenya Defence Forces, all Dad’s doing. Priests join the army when they are already serving priests as specialist officers and undergo a four-month basic military training course.
The Chaplains’ Corps sent me to the seminary. I said goodbye to Elizabeth. She cried a river. “Wherever you’ll go, I’ll follow you,” she told me. I doubted she would join the convent, but she surprised me.
I was not meant to be a priest. Many are called, but few are chosen. I had a serious chat with God. We agreed He could as well make use of the ones who were joining it to make money. So, I left. I asked Elizabeth to go with me—wherever you’ll go, I’ll follow you, she had told me—but she refused.
So, when, a year later, she called me and told me that she had left the convent, I welcomed her back to my life. I’d had other women in my life, flings that didn’t mean anything, but none took me to the heights Elizabeth did.
Valerie and Elizabeth worked together at the Nation Media Group: Val was an investigative reporter with the Daily Nation, Elizabeth was an anchoress, with NTV.
Now that Elizabeth and I were about to wed and Val had moved in with us, I watched them closely. There was something strange about them: they did not seem get enough of each other.
In the afternoon of this day, Elizabeth’s Buick and Val’s Honda were in the garage. I cursed the senseless fiend for invading our privacy. The front door was locked, so I used the back door. As I entered, two floral bikinis caught my eye on the sunbathing decks at the swimming pool. Soft music played in the house and I was immediately aroused.
Halfway up the stairs to the bedroom I heard low soft moans and whispers. The door was ajar.
I came to an abrupt halt and peeped, hypnotized.
When I couldn’t take any more, and before I made a mistake I would regret the rest of my life, I mentally counted from one hundred backwards. Stealthily, I snuck out as I had come. I half ran half walked to my car and drove to nowhere in particular. I needed to think.
At last I made the decision: Val had to go.
I ignored all the signs, the signals. I’m such a fool.
When I arrived home later in the evening, Liz and Val shone like diamonds. Dinner was served, and we ate, ambivalent.
I wanted to go to bed early. Liz said it was OK. “I will join you later, babe.”
No way. Not today. I wanted to be with her. I reached for her. Time to go, babe.
“Good night, Val,” I said.
“Night too, lovebirds.”
“And Val … ahem … I think Liz and I need some privacy,” I said. I squeezed Elizabeth’s hand. “I mean, give us some space because you know we’re planning to wed soon.”
Valerie’s face turned from bright to dull in a fraction of a nanosecond, but I pulled Elizabeth before Valerie could say anything and went to our bedroom.
“I’m coming back. I want to talk to Val,” Liz said once we were in the bedroom.
Not this time round. I am the boss.
“You are going nowhere!”
“What!? If that’s what’s in your mind, Val is going nowhere.”
My heart skipped a beat.
“She goes, I go with her,” and with that, Liz stomped out.