“Mathew — Hey! Wait up!” Olivia’s voice rang through the street as I continued walking. I thought she’d sigh and go on her way like she often did, but I heard footsteps behind me and I realized she was following me.
“Mathew!” she yelled again. Her voice was closer, and I tried to quicken my pace which is hard to do when you have hands weighed down with grocery bags. I let out a groan of frustration when I felt her claps her hand on my shoulder. I stopped in my tracks, just standing there as both of us let out heavy breaths.
“Mathew,” she said again, but with a softer voice. “Didn’t you hear me? I wanted to talk to you,” she said. My mind felt fogged. I didn’t have anything to say to her, and I didn’t want to speak to her if all she had to say was ‘come back.’ I shrugged her hand off my shoulder, and she let out a surprised sigh.
“Why are you acting like this?” she asked as I started walking away again. “What’s up with you? Talk to me Math.” I paused in my tracks, letting out a deep sigh. It was early in the morning, meaning the streets were empty and it was just her and me on the road. Biting down on my bottom lip I decided to turn to face her. Her face was red from running, and her red brows were knitted in a tight frown.
“I don’t have anything to say, Olivia,” I said after a while of us just staring at each other. “And if all you have to say are words convincing me that I can change, I don’t want to hear them,” I continued. Olivia opened her mouth but closed it before letting out a sigh. She folded her hands over her small chest as her lips formed a tight line.
“Friends are supposed to tell you the truth, Mathew,” she started, walking closer to me until she was standing right in front of me. “If I turn a blind eye to what’s happening, won’t that make me a bad friend?” she asked, and I just stared at her. At a point, I would have agreed with her, but now that I was in the receiving end of the almost aggressive concern I wasn’t sure what to think.
“Have you ever considered that you might not understand what I’m going through?” I asked her as I dropped the plastic bag of groceries on the dirt road. My hands were hurting from holding them. “You’re making me anxious and irritated—”
“That’s the spirit telling you what you’re doing is wrong,” she said, cutting me off.
I rolled my eyes, bringing my hand to my temple. “You don’t understand Olivia. Being at the station and having you all bombard me with reasons why how I feel is wrong makes me feel anxious and unwanted. Being with Nath makes me happy. If you were me in this situation wouldn’t you pick staying with Nath? Doesn’t that seem like an easy enough decision?” I asked, and Olivia just stared at me.
“Sin is sweet — bittersweet. It dresses itself to look attractive, and when you’re in its clutches it pulls you into the depths of sorrow,” Olivia said, making me groan again. I wanted to leave, but right now I was irritated and had something to say.
“Olivia, I want to ask you something, if that’s okay,” I said, and I watched as she shrugged.
“Go ahead,” she said before using her hands to arrange the material of her floral skirt.
“How come when Christians suffer it’s God trying to strengthen us, and when nonbelievers suffer it’s God punishing them?” I asked, and she just stared at me. “How come when nonbelievers have a good life or feel happy with themselves it’s sin dressing up to deceive them, but when Christians prosper it’s God blessing us?”
“You’re a lovely smart woman that at one point I called my friend — you’re still my friend. How is it that those clear and obvious double standards exist, and we just accept them as fact? Do you really believe people we deem as unbelievers have no chance at happiness? Do you think I’ll be forever damned it I choose Nath and not the church?” I stayed quiet after my little monologue and Oliva just stood there. After a while of waiting for her to speak, I sighed, bending a bit to pick up the plastic bags I had dropped when I realized I wasn’t going to get an answer.
“See you later Olivia,” I said, turning my back to her.
“I’ll pray for you.” I heard her voice say. I winced at how firm and final it was. It felt like a knife, stabbing away at my back that I had turned to her.
“Prayer’s not a weapon Olivia,” I said. “Prayer should be done with love, not malic,” I finished before I continued walking. I didn’t hear footsteps behind me, which meant she probably just stood there and watched me leave.
I was still breathing heavily when I got home. Nath had left for work, so it was just me in the flat. I went to our room, kneeling by the bed as I tried to calm myself down. I didn’t want to be angry with Olivia. I really didn’t want to resent the people that I grew up and shared memories with. She was just applying what she thought was right in my situation.
“It’s annoying,” I said before biting into the piece of cake in my hand. I was sitting between Nathaniel’s legs on our bed, ranting to him about my encounter with Olivia on the street.
“Well, you said it yourself, she doesn’t know any better.” I opened my mouth to reply to Nath after swallowing, but I closed it, biting down on my bottom lip as my eyes moved about the room. It was around eight in the evening now, Nath had gotten back an hour ago. I had started working short four-hour shifts in the library, so I still got back home before him even though I left after him.
“I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m just saying it is what it is,” Nathaniel sigh, stroking my arm before giving it a little squeeze. “It’s okay to be irritated but remind yourself that you only know better because you’re on the receiving end.”
A sigh left my lips, and I nodded before resting back on his chest. He was right. Maybe I should take out some time and message Olivia and Sam. I had blocked their numbers a long time ago. I wanted to still be friends with them. I really did, but it would be hard with both of them breathing down my throat about my decision. I looked up at him, and he smiled before reaching for my cheek to dust of the crumbs.
“To change the conversation—” Nath paused, bending a bit so that he could give my lips a peck. The peck turned into a kiss, and the kiss into a brief make-out season. When he eventually pulled away my cheeks were warm, and his full lips were slightly red.
“That was a nice distraction,” I said, and he chuckled as he pushed some stray strands of hair out of my forehead.
“It was, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do.” He smiled down at me before looking up at the clock that hung over the bedroom door. “You said your mother was coming over. When exactly?” he asked, and I sat up before bending to the side to grab another piece of cake from the plate sitting on the bedside table.
“In a few weeks,” I answered before taking a bit of the piece of cake in my hand.
“I should get the guest room ready them. How long will she be staying?” Nath asked me as he reached out for my hand. I struggled a bit, but we both laughed when he pulled my arm towards his face so that he could take a bite of the piece of cake in my hand. My face was hurting from smiling, it just felt great to be around Nath.
“I don’t know how long she’ll be staying, maybe I’ll ask her about that later,” I said, and Nathaniel just hummed.
My mum has been calling us more frequently since I gave her the number to the landline. Nath also had her number, and she had his number as well, but they had never called each other. It was okay — baby steps were okay.
Speaking of baby steps my father was now appearing in the video calls. He would say ‘hello’ and ‘bye’, and sometimes he would even input to the discussions I had with my mother. I talked to my sisters now, but even though no one said it I kind of knew I wasn’t allowed to tell them what was going on. It was nice to talk to them though. Learning about their classes, friends, and church activities made me smile. They knew who Nath was, they just called him ‘uncle.’ They knew he was out of place. Jessica had asked about his tattoos, and sometimes ask why I was suddenly allowed to call home. She also asked where Olivia and Sam were, but I had overall gotten better at lying, and it didn’t make me feel bad because I wasn’t ready to explain my complicated situation to her.
“I like this,” Nath said, and I blinked, realizing that I had zoned out. I bit down on my bottom lip when I realized he was talking about us being together.
“I like this too,” I said. “A lot.”
I really do, I sighed, shifting a bit so that I could look at him properly. We were both in joggers and tank tops. You could say Nath was influencing my choice of clothes now. I didn’t mind at all.
Nath smiled as I turned around so that I was facing him. He bent a bit, reaching out for my face before cupping it and giving me a kiss. It didn’t take long until I was laying on my back and he was hovering over me giving my face kisses as he ran his hands over my body.
I remembered Olivia telling me I couldn’t be happy without the church, but here I was, as happy as ever.