The Reverend, seated on the edge of his bed, flipped through the Bible pages with a look of dismay on his face. He mumbled something under his breath before placing the Bible down to retrieve a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. With a cigarette sticking from the corner of his mouth, he thumbed the lighter’s wheel with so much force than Tony thought was necessary, but it didn’t ignite. He thumbed it again, this time harder, and when it still wouldn’t ignite he plucked the cigarette from his mouth and threw it against the wall with a groaning sound. Tony, who was watching him in silence, slowly got out of his bed and picked up the pack of cigarettes lying on The Reverend’s bed, drew out one stick and stuck it in The Reverend’s mouth. He then gestured for The Reverend to give him the lighter, which ignited with just one stroke from him.
He walked back to his bed and watched as The Reverend took a long puff, letting out the smoke through his nose.
“What’s going on with you?” Tony asked.
“Mind sharing a smoke with me?”
“I see. Still clinging to your resolve of leaving this place a clean man, huh?”
Tony chuckled. He had promised himself that he wasn’t going to let prison life change him into someone both he and Eve would resent once he was out, so he had resisted all attempts from The Reverend to try and make him share a smoke with him. The Reverend’s eyes grew redder and Tony wasn’t sure whether it was from smoking or from anger.
“So you are not going to tell me why you are agitated?”
The Reverend pressed the cigarette butt against the ashtray already overflowing with cigarette butts to put it out.
“What does Jeremiah 12:6 say?” he asked.
“I am not versed with the book of Jeremiah, or any book for that matter,” Tony replied. “What does it say?”
The Reverend shook his head. “Even your family has turned against you. They act friendly but do not trust them. They are out to get you, and so is everyone else.”
“Is that you or Jeremiah speaking?” Tony asked, although he already knew the answer. He loved this conflicted personality that The Reverend cast. That he would paint his lungs with all shades of black from constant smoking and at the same time lighten his mind with memorised Bible verses. If The Reverend were a book, you would want to read it again after the first read because one reading wouldn’t be enough to make you understand what the book is all about. He looked calm, and at the same time dangerous. From the days Tony had shared the cell with him, he had established that he was a wealthy man, which was intriguing because the wealthy rarely ended up in prison.
“I knew this day will come,” The Reverend said. “The day when they would finally manage to turn her against me.”
“Who?” Tony was confused. “Who has finally managed to turn her against you? And who is ‘her’ in this case?”
The Reverend pulled out an old photo from his mattress cover and gave it to him. Tony’s face flashed with a smile, eager to finally see how the woman breaking The Reverend’s heart looked like. But his forehead creased with disappointment because the photo was of a little girl of about 7 years of age. She was in a red dress, black rubber shoes, and posed with her hands akimbo. Her bright smile, which revealed a set of white tiny teeth was pleasant. He looked up from the photo to see The Reverend staring at him in a way that suggested he was expecting him to say something, a compliment perhaps, and so he said the girl was very beautiful.
“Your daughter, I reckon?”
“She’s all grown now,” The Reverend said, his eyes flashing with pride only a proud father could have. He stared at the photo for a few minutes after Tony handed it back to him before returning it where he always kept it, under his mattress cover.
“How old is she?” Tony asked.
“You never reveal a woman’s age with or without her permission, Mister, who raised you?”
A roar of unexpected laughter escaped The Reverend’s mouth. “Idiot,” he said, “You should meet her.”
“My mother is a she, not he. And I have already met her.”
“I am talking about my daughter. She is an environmentalist and loves to talk about things no one wants to hear about, just like you.”
“Oh, so you make me listen to you moan about your family turning your daughter against you and you can’t listen to my story about being brought up by a single mother?”
“Yes. I am an elder, I get to decide what to listen to and what not to. Anyway, as I was saying, she loves talking. I thought she will be a journalist with all her nosiness but no, she chose to be an environmentalist, working with some dodgy NGO always ranting about the effects of cutting trees and all that nonsense.” He sighed. “I am only glad she never talks to me about trees because I don’t give a rat’s ass about trees. I think people shouldn’t cut trees and all, but I just don’t see myself being the one to tell them not to.”
“Is she married?”
“Why? Are you not happy with your wife? What is it with you young men nowadays. You don’t . . .”
“Forget I asked,” Tony said and spread himself on the bed, hands behind his head as if he was already fantasising about The Reverend’s daughter and her love for trees. When The Reverend laughed, his short stifled laughter, Tony smiled, happy that he was back to his good moods.
“The Reverend, your daughter is here,” one of the guards, a short bald man with a constipated smile, came to their cubicle and announced, with the kind of enthusiasm that showed he was happy to be the one to deliver the news. The Reverend jumped out of bed, fumbled to slide his feet into his shoes and dashed to the door, gently tapping the guard’s back as if in appreciation. Before he was out of sight, Tony asked if he could go meet her too and the Reverend shouted his approval and Tony was quick behind him. He didn’t even ask the guard if it was okay to meet someone else’s guest because he knew what was fine with The Reverend was fine with everyone else in that prison, and that included the guards.
AlthoughThe Reverend had said the previous day that he would have loved for him to meet his daughter, he could only allow him a few seconds to introduce himself and leave, and the few seconds were all Tony needed to conclude that indeed God was unfair in His dishing out of beauty. The lady before him looked nothing like the little girl he saw in the photo the previous night. She stood tall in her leopard print towering heels. In her blue jeans, her hips begged for freedom and when she rolled her eyes when Tony loudly noted that her nose was just like her father’s, Tony forgot for a second that he was a married man, so he said, “I love trees, by the way,” and enjoyed watching her eyes lighten up. As he walked away, constantly looking behind to see if she was watching him and meeting her gaze, he felt like he had already cheated on Eve because maintaining the gaze at each other, as innocent as it seemed on the surface, bore a more serious meaning.
Editor: Nyarinda Moraa