He snapped and got into real dark moods a lot, but at least he stayed. She had been irresistibly drawn to him from the beginning. He looked like a stray dog, one that needed food, shelter and a good cuddle. Lacy offered the first two but dared not hint on the third.

Just as Aunt Ann had warned, he insisted on paying for the room, and food. Lacy obliged him. She stayed in a block of apartments and didn’t have much use for help, but he offered to work in the yard, take out the trash, do her small laundry, cook, clean, and give her a vacation in her own space till he was strong enough to hit the road.

Thomas Garet continued to stay in Ravena’s condo down the road. Her friend had more than three months left of her exchange program to Tanzania in East Africa and allowed Lacy the use of it.

They settled into a routine, and he visited her every other day to cook and clean. The arrangement was ludicrous because she did not need his services.

“We have a guest minister coming over to my church, Thomas, I thought you might want to come with me?”

“Haven’t been in church since Molly’s burial.” He picked the trash and walked out.

Lacy swallowed. He’d given her all manner of short, sharp answers about his life before they met since she asked who Molly was. It was obvious he didn’t want to talk about his wife or the tragic circumstances around her demise, yet he did. She let him have his way.

But how would she reach out to him? If she let him be every time he walked off on an attempt.

She followed him out. “Pastor Paul is a renowned international minister. He has the word.”

Thomas smirked. “He sure does now.” He brushed past her back into her space.

She followed him. “It’s rude to walk off when I’m trying to have a conversation with you.” She bit her lip.

“Then don’t have a conversation with me!” He glared, his blue eyes dead cold.

Her voice shook. “Thomas, please—”

He stepped back as if she threw him a punch. “Don’t try to win me!”

She clasped her hands. “Of course not. I—”

“I don’t want to go to your church. And I don’t want to be nice. To you or anyone.”

His words came out jerky, and for a moment, Lacy realized she had struck something in him. He never spoke this much. He stared her down for a second then turned to wash his hands.

Lacy touched his firm shoulder blade and squeezed before he stiffened. “Allow God to heal you, Thomas.”

He turned to her, his angry blue eyes blazing. “I—”

“Ssh.” She pulled him into her arms. “Allow God to come back.”

“He did nothing for me. I loved him with all my heart. Still he took everything from me.”

His sobs shocked her but she had prayed for him every single night since the day Charles Taylor shot him on the street. She needed to seize this moment.

Deep, throaty cries shook his body and she held his 200 pounds of toned muscles until they subsided.

She cupped his face and smoothed back his wild, blond hair. He might get a cut if she could convince him. “God loves you, Thomas, and he welcomes you. Home.”

He looked sideways for a moment and closed his eyes. She could almost taste his struggle. Thank God, she thought.

Her heart sang a song of healing and redemption. She prayed for courage to see him through. She whispered words of comfort and assurance, and he nodded intermittently. One day, she prayed he would return her gesture, and love her back the way she loved him from first sight.

For now, she was content to lead Thomas Garet on his way to finding love again.


The End.

Images by Jacqueline Macou and Federlos from Pixabay

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The battle line is drawn.

Aduke stands in the yard and stares at Maya, her back against the fence. This is not a dream. She touches herself and knows it is real. Ben stands beside Maya, appeasing her, pleading even. There are tears in his eyes. He is desperate for something but all Aduke can think of is her daughter, her back against the wall of the compound, and someone she has spiritually recognized as the enemy, standing beside her, luring her, cajoling her.

Maya’s attention is fixed on Ben.

“Maya!” Aduke calls. “Come home to me. It’s over. He has no control over you anymore.”

Ben cries. “Maya, no. Please. Don’t go. Don’t force me to hurt you.”

Maya’s eyes dart from Ben to her mother. Her eyes are clear. There is no confusion anywhere. Yet, she doesn’t move. Ben pats her cheek and smiles.

“You know how much I love you, Maya. All that I’ve done for you. You know.” He blows her a kiss. “And I will marry you. I promise.”

Aduke rubs her forehead. She’s fast losing patience and can’t believe she’s still here, waiting. Relaxed even. She hadn’t slept all night after Ope left. But she’s woken up to find Maya in the yard, speaking to Ben.

This is not a dream. Ben is right here.

Aduke sighs. “I will count three. Maya. Go inside.”

Aunty Ranti opens the exit door and stares at them for a second. “I will call as many as can come.” She fumbles in her bag for her phone.

“Don’t worry, Aunty Ranti. The defeat is done but he doesn’t want to let go until he is disgraced.” Aduke sighs. “You can go where you want.”

“Are you sure?”

Aduke smirks. “What you are seeing is a carcass. If you want to watch this drama though, you can wait. But the victory is won. We won all through the night. The battle is won.”

Aunty Ranti raises her hands. “Halleluyah!” Then she glances at all the parties, her brows furrowed. “Did you preach Christ to him?”

“His ears are deaf, and he cannot hear.” Aduke stretches out her hand. “Maya, come on inside. You shouldn’t have come out in the first place.”

Maya takes a step towards her mother. Ben falls on his knees.

“Don’t go, Maya, my love, please. Please.”

“What do you want with her?” Aunty Ranti shouts. “Let go! I command you in the mighty name of Jesus.”

Maya continues towards her mother and when she is close enough, she falls into her arms, crying. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”

Aduke rubs her back. “You couldn’t have known. Even I don’t know.”

“I am finished. Maya, don’t leave me!”

Aunty Ranti points at Ben. “Confess now or die in your sin.”

Ben screams and falls on his back. “I will confess! I will confess. I don’t want to die.”

Two people from the block of flats walk in through the gate as Ben screeches and rolls on the ground. They take out their phones and begin to record.

“I want to sleep with Maya. I want her. Her destiny. When I sleep with her, I will swap destiny.”

Aunty Ranti screeches. “Jesus!”

Aduke draws in a shuddering breath and tears slide down her eyes.

“Continue, you wicked man,” Aunty Ranti says.

Maya sobs. “I’m sorry, Mummy.”

Aduke pats her back and sniffs.

“They will kill me. If I talk more.” Ben growls. “Please go! Go away.”

One of the tenants who just walked in runs outside and packs some sand, which she deposits on Ben’s head. He screams and sits up.

Aunty Ranti glares at her. “What does that mean?”

“He will confess. He may choose to die in his silence but now he can’t. His power is spoiled,” the girl says.

Aduke shrugs. “All sorts of beliefs.”

“Confess!” Aunty Ranti shouts. “Now.”

People from inside the building start to come out after noticing the commotion outside.

“Five girls. No. Six. Seven. Eight.” Ben claps. “I sleep with them, and they become dundee. I take their destiny, they take mine.”

“I’m calling the police,” a man who just came out of the house says and hurries out of the compound.

It’s early enough but not too early. More people come outside and some who probably were just passing by outside the gate, sensing or hearing of the commotion, come in to watch. Aduke leads Maya inside. She doesn’t want to be here for questioning when the police arrive. The crowd takes over, pouring dirt and throwing stones at Ben. By the time the police arrive, he’s almost dead from the mob action.


The end.

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Everything looked normal with Maya but Aduke was not convinced her daughter was in complete limbo. She smiled in her normal way and even asked for food. With her continuous fasting and Maya being indifferent to anything happening in the house, Aduke had not cooked in a few days. She fumbled in her bag for money.

“Please buy rice and beans from that restaurant down the road.” She shoved some notes into Ope’s hand. “With dodo and meat. Plenty of meat.”

“Yes, ma.” Ope stole a quick glance at Maya before he hurried off.

Maya lay on her back and rested her head on the arm of the couch. Her eyes were bright in an unusual way, as though she was looking at, or had seen or experienced something celestial. Aduke paced at first, muttering prayers quietly. But when she looked at Maya, her daughter’s eyes were now widened and bulging as though they would pop.

Aduke shouted. “Blood of Jesus! I plead the blood over you, Maya Angela, omo Aduke! The enemy shall not steal your soul! Jesus! Jesus!” She stood over Maya and made eye contact. “Peace in the mighty name of Jesus! Every divination and enchantment is broken now, over you, Maya Angela. Now! Receive peace in the name of Jesus.”

Gradually, Maya’s eyes relaxed, and her lips parted. “Has the food not come?”

“Jesus! Take over! Holy Spirit, fill Maya, take your place, we bind the devil. We curse the devil. Loose! Loose your hold, oh devil, over Maya’s soul. She belongs to Jesus.”

Maya sat up and laughed. “Ah, Mummy, I’m hungry.”

Aduke started to speak in tongues, ignoring Maya’s light mood and attitude. This was a battle like none she had ever experienced, and something told her, the group of prayer warriors may help but she had to be the one to snatch Maya out of the enemy’s grip. She knelt beside Maya and placed one hand over her forehead and the other on her belly.

“Whatever is inside that is not of God, come out! Now!”

Maya gasped. “There’s nothing inside me.”

Aduke stared at her. “That stubborn spirit, fighting for my daughter, come out! Now! Here my voice. Maya is a child of God. The Bible says there will be no divination against the daughter of Zion. You have come to the wrong place. Loose!”

Maya smiled and shook her head. “Okay, now. Continue.”

Aduke laughed. “Devil, you have failed. You knocked on the wrong door. Not only will you leave Maya alone, but you will also be disgraced. The Bible says we have triumphed over you and made a show of you openly! You shall be openly disgraced in the name of Jesus.”

Maya rolled her eyes and stared at the ceiling. Aduke could see her indifference turning into anger but she was ready for this. Until this spirit gets out, she would not rest.

“You Ben, or whatever you call yourself, I address you now. Wherever you are, whatever you want to do with my daughter, you have failed. I curse you and your evil intention.”

Aduke stared hard at Maya as she mentioned Ben over and over again, but Maya just rolled her eyes a couple of times and then closed them. Within minutes, her breathing evened out and her body relaxed. Aduke stood and continued to pray over her.

Ope knocked and entered with a bag of food.

“Welcome, Brother Ope. Thank you so much,” Aduke said.

Ope looked at Maya. “How is she?”

“I’ve been praying over her. But she’s asleep now.” She took the bag of food and placed it on the dining table. “She’ll eat when she wakes up.”

“Okay, ma. The devil has failed over this one.”

“He has.” Aduke motioned. “Come and sit down. I want to tell you something.”

Ope followed her to the dining area and both sat. She related the series of dreams she’d had long before Maya got admission into the university. The one where she sat at a diner with a man and Maya. The troubling dreams she had shared with Aunty Ranti and they’d prayed about.

“It’s the man. Ben. When I saw him in that vision I had, and then in person today, I knew. He was feeding Maya, giving her things to drink and I couldn’t stop him then. But we have now.”

“We have.” Ope sighed. “But he will not let go so easily.”

“Until he is disgraced. I will pray for his soul to be saved but if he doesn’t repent.” Aduke shrugged. “Then he will go too.”

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Thomas watched Charles Taylor arraigned. He wanted to see it. The man looked young for a father of a teenager. His dark eyes seemed like an endless pit, Thomas saw no life in them. As his charges were read to him, he merely stared into space.

Lacy walked into the room with a tray of freshly brewed coffee and two giant chocolate chip muffins. The smell of the delicious mix wafted to Thomas’ nose and drew him to stare at his hostess.

She’d visited him every day of ten days till he was strong enough to leave the hospital, and offered him a place till he could decide what next.

Lacy placed the tray on the bed beside him and glanced at the screen of the 14” TV mounted on the wall ahead.

“You are seen as a hero,” she said.

Thomas moaned. “I am no hero.” He wanted truly to be nice to her. But he was here at her mercy.

She lived alone in a condo and though he was yet to ask, he thought she’d improvised her bedroom into a guest room. Whatever the case was, he had no plans of staying with her or in this town. His animal instincts told him to move on.

“It’s not what you say. Several people caught the event on—”

“I know what several people caught, Miss.”

The coffee smelled so good. As soon as she settled him into the room, she’d disappeared, only to return with this. Against his better judgment, he picked a muffin.

“I spoke with Aunt Ann just now.” She smiled. “She sends her love.” She chuckled. “Told me she knew I’d be with you sooner than later.”

“Why would she say that?”

“I don’t know.” She walked to the blinds and peeped. “It gets hotter every day. This weather can’t decide.”

“You told Mrs. Covender your plans to keep me.” He poured coffee.

It was just so American of her to serve him coffee late in the morning, and for him to accept it with gratitude. Though he showed none of it. He realized to his shame he hadn’t told her a single “thank you.”

She half-turned. “Plans to keep you?”

“Do you? Plan to keep me?”

She shook her head. “Who are you? Why did you follow me here?”

It dawned on him he had indeed. Maybe all along the way he’d refused to admit it, but he couldn’t hide this anymore. He wanted to find her. He trained his eyes on her, and she stared right back.

“These are nice.” He raised the muffin and took a bite.

Several sips of the delicious coffee, and a giant muffin gone down, he rose.

She took a step toward him. “The doctor said you needed rest.”

“What did Aunt Ann say?” He drawled the old lady’s name. He did need to rest.

The bullet had nearly taken his shoulder off. He was glad to heal so fast. But he was a roamer, a stray dog. He could never stop in this place.

“That you’re a good man. And you will work for any kindness extended to you.”

He laughed, and she smiled. “I would. What kind of work can I do for you?”

“Tell me how you came to be here, and I’d be more than pleased to convert it to rent.”

He stiffened. “I won’t stay here.” He swayed and involuntarily sat on the bed. “This looks like only a room. Did you vacate your space for me? Why?”

“This is a friend’s place. She’s been away since the beginning of spring and will be till the end of summer. She let me bring you here. At least until she returns.”

Her voice was low. Much as he had no plans to hurt her, he couldn’t do what she wanted. Hang around and—and get attached.

“Who’s Molly?”

His head jerked up, and he glared. How did she know?

“You’d wonder how I had such access to you at the hospital?” She walked to him and a meter away, stopped. Warm, grey eyes stared into his cold blue. “All through the first night, you asked to see Molly. Only Molly. When I got to the hospital in the morning, the nurse asked if I was Molly when I requested to see you. All harried.”

She’d lied?

He snickered. “Seriously?”

She sat beside him. “I may sound silly, but I did this, all of this, going through—being here. I did for Molly. I guess she must be a woman you love dearly.

“When I entered that hospital in the morning, I just wanted to be sure you were fine, and to know if your family had been contacted.”

“You lied to be beside me.”

She fixed her gaze on his chin. “Do you hate me for it?”

Hate her? His throat worked up a nasty comeback but her eyes. Molly’s eyes. They spoke to his soul.

“Molly was my wife. She was killed by a drunken driver eight years ago. A minor, I believe. She was seven months pregnant.”

Lacy did what he least expected. She cupped his face and smiled. “Welcome home.”

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Ben massaged Maya’s back as she lay on the bed he had made for her. Nu Shooz’s “Should I say yes” played in the background. At some point, he had taken her blouse off, but she still had her underwear and skirt on. She didn’t care. He wanted to possess her, and he had told her so. Today was the day she would lose her virginity to him. He promised he would marry her after he worked things out with her mother. She felt drowsy but she also wanted to be wide awake when he…did it. Which was sure. Tonight. Now.

His hand moved to her hips and he massaged her there, creating a fascinating feeling she had never known before. A soft moan escaped her lips followed by his groan. Maya shut her eyes, willing this feeling to stay forever. Ben’s hand moved to the zipper of her skirt, and he drew it down. A strange cold wind enveloped her exposed flesh and Ben laughed.

“Yes, you’re going to be all mine. Now.”

“It’s cold,” Maya mumbled.

A knock on the door startled both. Ben tossed a blanket over her and walked out, snapping as he went. “Let me see who it is.”

She continued to lay on her stomach for what seemed like forever. Where was he? Would he not come and finish what he started? She sat up and looked around the room. His room, she assumed. The bed itself was a single bed but the room was large with a lot of leg space leading to a set of…she counted eight wardrobes. What did a man need all this space for? His dressing table had many crystal balls and bottles of perfumes, lined up in rows. Something caught her attention and she stood. She didn’t know why it mattered. But it did. Her brand of perfume stood alone in front. The room was brightly lit and there were standing mirrors on the door of the wardrobes and many colorful artwork and artifacts, but this line up caught her attention.

Why did Ben have so many ladies’ perfumes and none for men?

She walked over to it and stared at four rows of women’s perfumes but hers was that only brand and it stood separate. It wasn’t a new bottle either. Half-used. For a moment she thought this could have been the exact bottle she had in her room. It had been a gift from her mother for her seventeenth birthday. A rare collection by Dior. She reached out to pick it.

“You shouldn’t touch that.”

Maya jumped. She didn’t know when he returned but his voice was just a finger-touch away from her and cold air seemed to blow over her neck as he breathed. Her lips trembled. Had she done something wrong? Why was the air so tense and frigid? Why was the atmosphere closing in on her? What could she have done wrong? She had visited Ope’s room on campus before and sat at his study table, touched his stuff. She never felt as if she was intruding. Was it because this perfume looked exactly like the one she had at home, and she couldn’t remember ever giving Ben?

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. She dared not turn to look at him though.

Her mind seemed clear and shame washed over her on her state of undress. She willed her fingers to zip up her skirt, but she was too frozen to move even her hands.

“Dress up. Your mother is here. I tried to decide whether to let her take you or not.” He swung her around viciously and she shrieked. “But another day will come.” He breathed that cold air into her face. “Now, get out!”




After she was gone, Ben doubled over and threw up on himself. He had only one more chance to get her, then the fires he had kindled would consume him. He couldn’t let that happen. He couldn’t! The consequences were worse than a painful death. He couldn’t!

A voice in his head screamed. “It returns to sender. It returns!”

He couldn’t!!!

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Ope wasn’t sure this was right, or maybe he was overreacting. Maybe he had taken this too far. Snooping around to find Ben’s house and talking to his neighbors. Even going as far as trying to gain entrance into the house without success. At least, he now knew where to look if Maya went missing. Again. It was day seven of the fast, and he could not keep still. She had left school in a hurry and he worried about her whereabouts. A girl her age should have one good friend everyone associated her with, and Maya had none, except him, so he justified his fears and fierce faith.

At first, he thought he should follow her but how? If he had his own car, that would make sense. As he watched her get into a taxi in a hurry, he also thought of calling Ben and warning him. Maya was not herself anymore and now he was sure this man was responsible. The worst part was that he had nothing to hold as evidence. He just knew. His spirit was not at rest.

Maybe he needed to share his thoughts with Maya’s mother. They were in this fast together and she was the mother. She would have greater intuition.

Aduke just got in from her high school teaching job when Ope knocked on the door and entered as prompted.

“Ah, Ope. I was just about to call you,” Aduke said. “We are in battle.”

“Ma, we are. I have not had any rest for two days now.”

“Hmm.” Aduke cackled. “Sit down. Heh! I don’t know what this is, but I know God is in control. The devil is not joking, and neither must we.”

“Yes, ma.” He sat. “God is greater than the devil.”

“What will you drink?”

“Right now, nothing, ma. I decided to go completely dry until this is over.”

Aduke sat facing him. “My brother, I have been totally dry since we started. A drop of water has not touched my tongue for seven days!” Aduke clasped her hand. “And today. In school. I had a vision.”

“Glory be to God.”

“I saw a man dump the body of a girl by the bush. At first, I was afraid it was Maya. But it was not Maya. Then, I saw a family looking for their daughter. They went to the man’s house and he denied ever seeing the girl. My spirit lifted and God told me that man had plans for my daughter.”

“God forbid.”

Aduke laughed the short sharp laugh again. “As if it wasn’t enough, I saw Maya with a man. The man. And I came to myself.” She sighed. “Students were in class and it was close to the end of the day. I had to hold myself tight not to scream. As soon as we closed, I came home. I was about to call you and Aunty Ranti.” She sighed. “My spirit ministered to me that he will sleep with my daughter. Once he does that, he will exchange his destiny with hers, and she will become useless in life. Afterward, he will decide to kill her or leave her to be a liability to her family.”

“Describe the man you saw in the vision, ma.”

Ope heaved and puffed as Aduke described Ben, to the red cap he wore, and the funny shoes, to the glint in his eyes, and his scowl.

“That is Ben, ma. The evil one. I know his house.”

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Local stations went agog with the news. A stranger in town gunned down by Ellicott City resident, Charles Taylor.

Taylor had a history of madness but recently had lived clean for months with his daughter, Charlotte. Many had argued Taylor feigned his condition but different psychologists and psychiatrists who examined him concluded he was mentally ill but could be treated. Since he was discharged more than four months earlier, he had been calm.

Lacy stared at the news from her real estate front office post. “Coulda been anyone,” she muttered.

The crowd scattered around the fallen man while Taylor waved his weapon and cussed. Bold onlookers recorded on their phones and devices. Cops arrived shortly and downed the mad man with a stun gun.

“America is full of angry people.” She turned to her work. But sighed. “Coulda been me. Dear Lord.” She walked that lane every day to her house a couple of blocks away.

What on earth was Charles Taylor doing with a gun? How did someone with a history of mental instability get arms?

Lacy was working late as she did most days but this just made her so miserable. On average, Ellicott City was safe. She had lived here all her life despite her aunt’s constant prodding to move to Union Bridge.

She looked at the screen ahead again and her jaw sagged. The identity of the victim had been revealed. He was now in the county hospital in the emergency room, alive but in a critical condition, and WBAL 4 had a picture taken from his backpack.

His shaggy dark blond hair looked like a hand just ran through it and he stared at the camera with a tinge of defiance around his mouth, his blue eyes bright enough to singe even through the screen.

“Oh dear, he’s here.” Lacy checked the time from her Tinkerbelle silver-strap watch and gasped. “It’s 9pm already.” She didn’t know she’d stayed so late.

She packed her bags and rushed out of the building.

“Another late night for you, Miss,” Brandon, the night guard waved at her.

“Yes, Brandon. Stay safe. Good night.” She waved down a taxi. She never drove to work. Now she wished she did.

“Good night, Miss Lacy.” He raised his voice. “Are you alright?”

“Will be,” she said before she got into the cab. “County hospital. Thank you.”

A few reporters hung around the parking lot, waiting for more news on Thomas Garet. Will he survive? While in the cab, Lacy listened to a local radio station do an analysis of Taylor’s condition and veered into the gun laws debate.

At the hospital, she went to the reception. “I know the Taylor victim,” she said, breathless. “He is a hiker. I brought him almost to Ellicott City. Is he alive?”

The intern at the front arched her eyebrow and swatted off imaginary strands of salt and pepper hair from her eyes. “What’s your name please?”

“His name is Thomas Garet.”

“I mean, your name.”

“Oh, Lacy. Lacy Kintley.”

The young lady waved toward the waiting area. “Please wait.”

Three hours later, Lacy finally got hold of one of the doctors on duty, who could give her information on Thomas. He was safe but no one would be allowed to see him till he was strong enough to decide.

“He’s lucky,” Doctor Florand said. “He’s got thick skin.”

Lacy chose to wait until Thomas came out of the OR. She was allowed to peep through a small opening of the door. She murmured a soft prayer for him. He looked so peaceful and she prayed he was.

On her way home in the early hours of the following day, she wondered why he’d come off her car. He knew she was coming here to Ellicott City.

“Lord, please keep Thomas Garet safe. Let him live. I don’t know what happened to him, why he’s so far removed from social warmth but I know he needs you. Give him a chance to find you…”

Lacy opened the door to her one-room condo and for a long time, wept into her hands as she prayed for the stranger who she couldn’t stop thinking about.

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Maya didn’t think she still had a coin in her hand. Okay, now she believed Ben had some diabolical powers. He, to give him some credit at least, did not put her under a spell-like people did in home videos. She was sound. She continued to top her class in all her courses like she had always done from time immemorial. Ope, and her mother and the prayer warriors were overacting, as they normally did, and Maya respected Ben the more, that he had found out what her mother was up to, and he wasn’t getting angry or frustrated about it.

They entered his house and familiar sweet light-headedness overwhelmed her. She swayed and Ben’s hand shot out to stabilize her.

“Are you okay?”

She smiled. “I am now.”

He winked. “Do you know where you are?”

Maya laughed. “Of course.” But for a moment she didn’t. It looked like his house but then, his eyes also turned green for a second.

“I’ll get the coin.” Ben walked away.

Maya recognized the room, but it seemed to whirl around. She wanted to sit but couldn’t find a chair. A voice spoke inside her head, Ben’s voice, telling her he loved her and her mother didn’t. He wanted the best for her, and her mother didn’t. He was right. Calling a prayer meeting over her was very embarrassing. All those people surrounded her and casting demons out of her was just so unfair. Ope berating her over Ben was unacceptable. She didn’t want any of it anymore.

“Do you love me?”

She startled and Ben stood right there behind her. He wore his famous red cap, the one he had worn on a few occasions previously. It made him look funny, larger than life, she couldn’t understand it. She nodded, though her head suddenly felt so big, too heavy for her neck to carry.

“Say it. Say I love you, Ben. Say I am your life. Say you will do anything I ask.”

“I love you, Ben. You are my life. I will do anything you ask me.”

Ben laughed and sighed. “Thank you, my love. I love you too much.” He held her hand in front of her. “See, I have put a new coin. It is a sign of our commitment to each other. We are joined forever by that coin.”

Maya stared at her hand, but she couldn’t see any coin.

“I have it too. See.”

He held out his palm to her. She saw nothing in it. But didn’t want to say so and disappoint him. His eyes glittered and he looked genuinely pleased and in love. She felt nothing. Deep inside her was an emptiness such as she had never experienced. Maybe she was supposed to feel sad about being in love. Maybe she just didn’t know what the love feeling should be like. After all, she had never been in love before.

“Will you kiss me now?”

Maya faced him. His eyes glowed green, or did she imagine it? Her head still felt heavy and her stomach was sunken as though she would have a running stomach or something. She wanted to smile, but her lips seemed too heavy to move.

“Yes. I take that as a yes.” He drew her face closer to his.

She went willingly. She didn’t seem to have any bones in her body to resist even if she wanted to.

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