The Choice (chapter 17)

Sarah sat behind the counter, her head on the table, sleeping. Mrs. Mbok, her colleague, walked in through the door. She stopped by the counter and stared at Sarah, who was fast asleep.

Mrs. Mbok lifted her wrist and cast a glance at the watch strapped on it. It was just a few minutes past ten in the morning. Mrs. Mbok shook her head. Thoughts ran through her mind. How could Sarah be sleeping at this time of the day despite a load of work on her table yet to be completed? The Sarah Mrs. Mbok knew in the past was a relentless, hardworking, and dedicated staff. Sarah never slept on duty except occasionally when she did during the break. And even at those few times, it was usually as a result of keeping vigils in the church as she had claimed. But of recent, Sarah had been sleeping at work almost daily, usually in the morning.

It wasn’t plausible that she went to church for vigils every day when she knew she needed to work. Could Sarah be pregnant, Mrs. Mbok thought. She shook her head. Sarah was too respectable to do such a thing. She was yet to be married; how could she be pregnant? It couldn’t be. Everyone knew Sarah was a devoted Christian. She had always stood against unrighteousness in the office. She never got involved in anything of questionable standard. And she was never tired of telling people to do the right thing. She dared not be pregnant before marriage. Mrs. Mbok discarded the thoughts on her mind.

Mrs. Mbok smiled. She still remembered times when Sarah had told her to say the truth always, including writing the exact time she got to work in the attendance book. And times, Sarah had refused to collect a share of money gotten from shady deals. Each time Sarah moderated the devotion, which was held once every month in the workplace, she would speak expressly on living a righteous life. A person like that wouldn’t be pregnant before marriage. It really couldn’t be, Mrs. Mbok thought. Mrs. Mbok tapped Sarah. “Hello. Wake up. What’s up with you? Why are you sleeping?” she said. Sarah raised her head and rubbed her eyes. Her eyelids fluttered as she struggled to stay fully conscious. “What’s wrong with you? It’s just ten in the morning, and you’re this fast asleep?” Mrs. Mbok said. Sarah looked up at Mrs. Mbok, groggy. “Mrs. Mbok. Good morning,” Sarah said in a heavy voice. “Good morning. I said it’s just ten in the morning, and you’re this fast asleep. Did you keep a vigil?” Sarah shook her head.

She remembered she would have to explain why she was sleeping if her answer was negative. She nodded immediately. “This one, you are shaking your head to this side and that side. What’s the answer you are trying to give? Did you keep vigil last night?” Mrs. Mbok said. “Yes, I did. I went for a program last night,” Sarah lied. “Wait, have you been keeping vigil every day? I’m asking because the way you sleep these days is alarming.” Sarah formed a quick smile. She knew Mrs. Mbok too well. Mrs. Mbok was the office’s eye. She saw everything, including what wasn’t her business. She never hesitated to ask questions. Always wanting to know everything about everybody. That was the kind of person Mrs. Mbok was. And whatever she knew about anyone, she never kept to herself. Gossiping was ingrained in her nature. “Yes. There’s this Forty-Nights-With-God program that I’m attending. It often leaves me tired in the morning,” Sarah said.

She was lying, and she knew it. How else would she conceal her pregnancy from Mrs. Mbok’s prying eyes? Sarah didn’t care that she had lied. She couldn’t dare face the humiliation that awaited her if Mrs. Mbok knew she was pregnant.

She might end up resigning from work out of frustration. That was how bad it could be. “Are you kidding me? Forty nights! Who organized such a program? Aren’t they aware that people have work to do in the morning? Or do they expect you to be sleeping at work? As you often say, workers are not supposed to spend employer-paid time on personal stuff. Are the organizers of the program not aware of that?” Mrs. Mbok said, curiosity on her face. “Mrs. Mbok, please leave me alone. After all, it was not as if they compelled anyone to attend the program. I went out of my own volition. This should be my headache, not yours,” Sarah said. Mrs. Mbok ignored Sarah’s ‘mind-your-business’ tone. “But wait, Jummy attends your church. Is she not aware of the program? Or did she just decide not to attend? I know you drag her along to almost every program you attend. But Jummy hasn’t been sleeping around and having a puffy face as you do,” Mrs. Mbok said.

Sarah racked her brain for what to say. “Uh. This particular program is not organized by our local church. It’s a special program for willing ministers, and it is held somewhere else. That’s why Jummy isn’t aware,” she said. “Okay. No wonder. But how do you intend to do your work if you sleep like this every day?” Sarah laughed. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll get my work done. You know I’m often not in a hurry to leave the office, so I’ll be fine. Thanks for your concern.” “Alright. You’re welcome,” Mrs. Mbok said and walked away. Sarah sighed with relief. She wanted nothing to do with Mrs. Mbok and her telltale attitude. Sarah pulled the documents she had been working on before sleep rid her of consciousness closer and resumed her work. Mrs. Mbok walked into the office she shared with Justina, another account officer. “Justina, nothing person eye no go see for this office o,” Mrs. Mbok said. Justina looked away from the computer on her table and stared at Mrs. Mbok. “What did your eyes see this time around?” Justina said. Mrs. Mbok cleared her throat and clapped. “Hmm.

Na Sarah, my eyes see o,” she said. “What’s wrong with Sarah?” Justina said. Mrs. Mbok pulled her chair closer and turned it to face Justina’s chair. “The way that lady sleeps these days is fishy.” “I don’t understand. Do you follow her home to know how much she’s been sleeping?” Justina said.

Mrs. Mbok raised a palm in the air. “Home as how? Nah, the office I dey talk about. She sleeps at work almost every day.” Justina shook her head. “I’ve not noticed.” “How will you notice when you never leave your desk? Yesterday, when I went to buy a sachet of water outside, she was sleeping. The day before, when I was going to give her a file, she was also sleeping. And many other times, I can’t start listing now. In fact, I still caught her sleeping today,” Mrs. Mbok said. “Mrs. Mbok! Your eyes are something else. When you won’t stay at your duty post, why won’t you see what others do not see?”

Mrs. Mbok hissed. “Person goes dey talk serious matter; you go dey do one kind. I dey serious o. I dey suspect se Sarah don get belle.” “Mrs. Mbok, stop it. What did Sarah do to you to deserve this kind of derogation? Everyone in this place knows that can’t be true. Sarah is not an anyhow person. She’s a disciplined and morally sound person. How could you think of her like that?” “Stay there. She’s pregnant. I can recognize pregnancy when I see one. Examine her carefully when you see her. You’ll understand what I’m saying,” Mrs. Mbok said. “That’s not possible, I insist. It’s true that I’ve been looking forward to Sarah inviting us to her wedding someday, but I know she wouldn’t rush things. She’s not a kid. She can’t be younger than thirty-five. Why would she do such a thing now?” “Justina! Sarah can’t be as old as that. She should be thirty-two, max.” “Even at that, there’s no reason to do such a thing. Sarah is a decent person I like very much. With her level of spirituality, she wouldn’t dare do something like that,” Justina said. “Spare me.

You don’t know what you’re saying. Such cases litter the whole place. I don’t give any reverence to people like her. They are often the worst kind of people. Snakes in the grass.” Justina laughed. “I know why you are talking like this. It’s because that lady has tried correcting you a couple of times in the past. I knew you were never cool with that. But you don’t need to go to the point of dumping pregnancy at her pure doorstep.” “Pure, my foot. You’re the one she can deceive. You’ll see. Thank God pregnancy can’t be hidden for long. We’ll both see,” Mrs. Mbok said. Justina bobbed her head. “I would rather wait until then than believe such a lie. I can bet it with anybody that Sarah wouldn’t stoop so low to do such.” Mrs. Mbok sniggered. “In your mind. It had better not be pregnancy. Seriously, I can’t wait to get some words into her skull. Sarah will hate me in this place. The nonsense she says when anchoring our monthly prayer meetings will turn against her. I’ll see how glib she gets in talking about righteousness.” Justina sighed. “You sure have grudges against this lady. Anyway, I have to get back to work now.” Mrs. Mbok turned her seat and faced her table, irritation in her eyes.

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