A Novel by
Pamela McCree Sampson
© 2011 Writers’ Blaaq, Inc.
Victoria Falls, affectionately abbreviated to Vic Falls by anyone who’s ever been there, is one of the world’s greatest natural spectacles. Declared a World Heritage Site, the falls – and much of the town of the same name – fall within a 23,4km² national park, which neighbours onto the 573km² Zambezi National Park. The falls are the stuff of legends, romance and myth. Long before the Scottish missionary and explorer, Dr David Livingstone “discovered” the falls on November 16, 1855, the local Batonga people had named them Mosi-Oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders”. The more prosaic Livingstone named them for his queen, but departed from his normal, pedestrian writing to observe in his diary that “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”
Today, the town of Victoria Falls can rightly claim the title of “Adrenaline Capital of Africa.” Still essentially a village carved out of the African bush, Vic Falls is home to a seemingly endless variety of adventure sports. Bungee jumping off the railway bridge and white water rafting through the Batoka Gorge downstream of the falls (said to be the world’s most exciting stretch of rafting) are just the two most obvious attractions. For surfers, a new addition to the attractions is a chance to bodyboard the huge standing waves set up as the river bounces off underwater boulders. Floating above the falls in a tandem microlight is perhaps the ultimate way to see what Livingstone’s angels saw, but for the less adventurous, there are regular helicopter and light aircraft flights for a similar perspective. Sublime sundowner cruises on the broad sweep of Zambezi River upstream of the falls while sipping a Zambezi Lager, are an exquisite way to experience an African sunset, while the more energetic can hire canoes for gentle, guided paddling trips – steering well clear of the sweep of current leading over the lip of the falls (and the many pods of hippopotami).
But perhaps best of all is the constant lure of the falls. A network of trails leads through the rainforest surrounding the smoke that thunders. Hire an umbrella and raincoat, and happily spend a day or longer simply gazing at the incredible vistas of one of the natural wonders of the world. When the river is at its lowest, as little as 20 000 cubic metres per minute flow over the lip of the falls, but when the mighty Zambezi is raging in April and May, as much as 500 000 cubic metres a minute smashes down into the Devil’s Cataract below, and then powers its way through the Batoka Gorge.
Find this and more information at http://www.go2africa.com/zimbabwe/victoria-falls/victoria-falls/.
In a matter of seconds, his manhood would rise and the Beast would roll on top of me, plunging past my opening, ovaries, and finally hitting the “back wall.” My immediate tears would stain the pillow as he held down my hands and wrists to keep me still. No amount of begging, no amount of kicking, no amount of my soft screams about the unbearable pain could stop him. He just kept going...he...just...kept...going.
We must commit ourselves to the purpose of the Lord and the purpose of faith.
This morning’s service was like all the others, and so was Tyrone’s objective – to get folks out of their seats and into his world. Last week, he alone brought the whole congregation to their feet, then to their knees with tears in their eyes. His fingers elicited hypnotic melodies on the keyboard and once a few of the choir members got the Holy Ghost, he knew he had them all. Blessed Assurance had always been a labor for him to get through, so last year, he introduced his own jazzy arrangement – or, rearrangement, rather. This morning, the keys seemed hotter than ever.
This is my story, this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long…
Yes, this was Tyrone’s song. His fingers glided effortlessly across the keyboard, giving the listeners something exotically different with every stanza, every phrase. He commanded the old hymn to do what he wanted, putting the notes in a lilt his audience had never heard, and would never hear again. See, what kept them coming back was the way Tyrone never played songs the same way twice. At one point of the song, he held up his hand and the choir knew that was their cue to stop singing and simply sway to the rhythm of the music. It was now that Tyrone was the star, no need for vocal accompaniment.
At 24, he was the youngest Minister of Music in the Northern Baptist Council of a church that size. During his last five years, he had created a devoted, mixed following of parishioners and for lack of a better word, fans. No one at the church wanted to admit it, but the pink elephant in the sanctuary was that Tyrone was the reason the congregation had swelled to a membership of 10,000 people — 5,000 of which never missed a service. Tyrone had demanded, and the church had agreed, he should be paid at least $50,000 annually with cost of living raises, of course. How else could the church survive without his powerful deliverance of musical entertainment? That’s why people went to church anyway, isn’t it?? Yes, it was a phenomenal show every Sunday, every Wednesday night, and every special occasion. And to think, they were all getting a free performance. Heck, perhaps he should demand an even higher compensation. But, he didn’t think too hard on it. He knew his nightclub would be taking off soon.
After his performance, and three encores with nine people still screamin’ with the Holy Ghost – would the song ever end??? – he packed up his things and motioned discreetly to Nina, his premier alto. She had a voice that could move even Satan to seek the Lord. Tyrone used her whenever he needed to put the crowd over the top. Her voice was orgasmic and he couldn’t wait to be with her this afternoon. His music always put him on a natural high and he wanted her to join him on today’s wave of emotion. He was the star and he knew she wouldn’t mind being his #2 today. Nina allowed him to be himself. She listened as he talked about his dreams, about his accomplishments, about how great everyone knows he is. She never got tired of hearing about the greatness of Tyrone and his natural gifts. She knew he was beyond gifted and she would never let him go. She believed Tyrone was hers. Hah! Silly girl…but, she served his purposes for now. With his talent? There are so many women out there, and so little time. Today, however, she was his to have however he wanted. Hmmm…perhaps he could get her to “sing” in the park today, and without all her usual, melodramatic protests.
“Hey T! Where ‘ya goin’? Church ain’t over, Daddy’s about to preach!”
“Yeah, well, um, Nina and I got somethin’ to do, today,” Tyrone flippantly answered his older brother. Terry was always dippin’ in his business, why can’t he just leave him alone?!
“Hey, Nina,” Terry finally acknowledged her presence.
“Hi, Terry, I enjoyed your Bible study this morning, as always. Could I come by sometime to talk to you a little more in depth about the women we’re studying?”
Terry could see his brother was getting anxious as he replied, “Of course, you can stop by my office anytime tomorrow. I’ll be around. You know I’m always available to my students. Any woman in particular you want to discuss, or just Biblical women, in general?”
Tyrone interrupted, “Look, Terry, you all can discuss that tomorrow, let’s go, Nina!”
As Tyrone yanked Nina toward the door, Terry forcefully asked, “You know, Tyrone, Dad’s counting on the both of us to be here for this afternoon’s appreciation. I know you’re going to be here, right?”
“Yeah, yeah, whateva, man. Right now, I’m outta here!” Tyrone answered. He had one thing on his mind, right now, and it wasn’t his dad’s 45th anniversary celebration at the church. He knew somebody else would have to fill in for him—well, at least, try to just provide some music. He knew no one could ever take his place.
“But, Tyrone! Daddy needs you!”
“For what, Terry???” Tyrone shouted, “He’s got you!!! You’re his #1. You’re the man who’s gonna follow in his footsteps. He doesn’t want me here and you know it. He’s ashamed of me, he just wants to pimp me for my music. Now, if I show up, I show up. If I don’t, I don’t. I’m outta here. Peace!”
Tyrone grabbed Nina’s hand and hastily sauntered out against Terry’s wishes. Why he gave his older brother such a hard time, he didn’t know. Especially when he knew he’d return for the 4 o’clock celebration. Nobody could deliver the music like Tyrone could. Perhaps it was time his brother recognized that.
What Tyrone didn’t recognize was just how uncomfortable Nina had become. She wondered to herself how she could be so caught up with such a childish egomaniac like Tyrone. Though he indeed was all that in her eyes and in the eyes of the congregation, she hoped he didn’t think he could get her to go against her wishes…again.
“Nina! You comin’?!” Tyrone bellowed from the car as the afternoon’s musical program occupied his mind. He had already gotten up and dressed as her ever-shaky hands fumbled with the buttons on her dress.
The yelling of the anxious Beast beside his latest new car brought reality back into sharp focus. It was the return trip to the here and now that hurt her more than anything the Beast could have ever done to her physically. Victoria Falls, or at least some spiritual semblance, needed to come soon for her. How long could she endure this Satan, masked in the beautiful BA-holdin’, musically gifted body of man whom she called her own for so long? Could she really be saved, even though she continued to take the easy way out, knowingly and willingly doing wrong ‘cause she was too scared and lazy to do right? Nina closed her eyes and prayed for a new day, not feeling the fresh bruises and ripped flesh the Beast left in his wake of passion.
“Yeah, um, okay, I’m ready,” she answered as she brushed the dirt and blades of grass from her body. She hoped she didn’t look as frazzled and pathetic as she felt on the inside. She took a deep breath and walked toward Tyrone’s BMW. She faked a smile and wiped at her puffy eyes as she once again approached the man of every woman’s dreams.
Nina Forest was 24 and stunningly beautiful. However, no one could ever convince her of that. Somehow, somewhere, quite some time ago, Nina lost anything resembling self-esteem. Through the years, however, she’d learned to hide the saddest heart in the world under a mask of activity. To get away from anything that could possibly let others on the inside, she threw herself into her work. She excelled in anything academic, making the Dean’s list at the private high school, where she graduated two years early, Harvard undergraduate, Princeton graduate, as well as the National Conservatory of Music where she’d spent every summer since she was 16 as a vocal prodigy. When she wasn’t in school, she hid within the walls of the church. Having been there since being in her mother’s womb, she now belonged to five different service organizations, where she was president of four. The only reason she wasn’t president of the fifth is because she was sick the night of the election and couldn’t get the papers in on time.
Today, perhaps she’d worked up enough courage to speak to Reverend Gables about whatever it was that seemed to be killing her on the inside. She’d kept it hidden for so long that much of it she didn’t even remember herself. It had been nagging at her for years, yet every time she got the nerve to get it out, she’d just throw herself into another project to ease the pain quickly rising in her soul. She’d lose her breath and start hyperventilating, and then the hives would begin. It was just so much easier to discuss something else, anything else. As she walked through the door of the classroom, Terry greeted her with his big smile that should have put her at ease. She hoped he wouldn’t notice her hands beginning to break out. With the exception of Sunday mornings, she long ago stopped wearing dresses. The scars on her legs from old hives she’d scratched beyond healing needed to stay covered, for her sake and for everyone else’s.
“Good morning, Nina. What’s got you here so early? You’ve got another hour before class begins.”
“Good morning, Reverend. I just thought I’d um…well, maybe, just get a head start, I uh…”
“Nina, is there something wrong? You know you can talk to me about anything, and in the strictest of confidence.”
“No! I mean, yeah, I mean…nah, nothing’s wrong, Reverend. I’m just…just tired, I’ve got a lot going on right now. I probably just need to slow down,” she said as her skin began to heat up and tingle.
Terry immediately noticed her uneasiness as she started shifting from her right leg to her left, then itching her hands and arms as if something visible only to her was biting her. He wanted to put her at ease, but he didn’t want to risk saying the wrong thing. She needs to talk, but he didn’t want to push.
“Well, Nina, so what’s been going on, well outside of let’s see, your choirs, the silent ministry, the youth ministry, the church orchestra, the…”
“Okay, okay, I get it, I get it,” Nina smiled in resignation. “Yes, I’ve got an awful lot going on here.”
“Yes, not to mention your teaching position at the university and all the job offers you’re pondering. How do you do it all?” Terry asked genuinely amazed and bewildered with his student’s phenomenal accomplishments.
“Well, I have to keep busy, I mean, I need to keep busy, rather, I just like having a lot to do. Don’t they say idle hands are the devil’s workshop?” Nina nervously asked, while still scratching her hands and nervously fidgeting at the door.
“Nina, why don’t you have a seat? How’s your spiritual journal coming?”
“Oh, it’s um, it’s going great. You did say the journal entries were private, though, right? I mean, we don’t have to share them with the class or anything, do we?” Nina asked with an air of desperation in her eyes.
“Oh no, Nina, your journal entries are between you and God. You only need to share something if you feel comfortable doing so. Is there something you’d like to share with the class? Or, even with me? Remember, nothing goes outside of this classroom.”
“Well, no, I’m not quite ready for that, Reverend. Besides, my journal would probably just bore everyone to death anyway. There’s nothin’ in there worth anything. So! What’s today’s class about?”
“You know, Nina, it’s funny you should ask. Until a few moments ago, I didn’t know myself. While walking through the grounds, I ran across Pheneas, the new groundskeeper. He gave me one heckuvan idea.”
“Pheneas? New groundskeeper?” Nina asked as she pondered the books, and the staffing of Mt. Maji. Being involved heavily on the finance committee, she would have known whether the church had hired a new groundskeeper. To her knowledge, there were no hirings or firings going on at the church.
“But, we haven’t hired…” Nina tried to explain.
”Today’s class will explore the spiritual map.” Terry interrupted.
“Yes, kinda like when you’re in a mall, you look on the directory, and you find the spot that shows You Are Here. From there you decide where you want to go, then how to get there according to the map.”
“Well that sounds easy enough,” Nina replied.
“While it may seem that way, but forming and following a spiritual map is much harder than you may think. So, today we’re going to discuss doing just that. Actually, your spiritual journal is a big part of it. You’re already well on your way. Nina,” Terry asked gently, “Are you sure there’s nothing you’d like to discuss with me privately?”
Nina took a deep breath…”Well, maybe.”
And Terry indeed wondered where Nina is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Where would she like to be, and how could she get there? Could Terry help her? Terry continued to pray for guidance in helping Nina and all of his students.
We must conform ourselves to the principles of the Lord.
Nina kept her mind off of Tyrone for the time being. In fact, she didn’t even recall the previous Sunday’s afternoon events. Unbeknownst to her, her psyche had long ago set up an intricate web of defense. One day, she’ll remember, she’ll have to remember.
She thought about the Bible study and the interesting new character in her life – Pheneas. Terry said he was a gardener, but Pheneas seemed much more knowledgeable than just someone who brought floral life to the church landscape. Just who was this Pheneas, and was he indeed a real person, or just someone Terry invented to teach the lesson of the spiritual map? All Nina knew for certain is the church had not hired any new groundskeeper, nor had the church brought on any new volunteers. Well, she’d check it out Monday when the church office re-opened. Whoever Pheneas was, she thanked God for him. She couldn’t wait to get back home and write in her journal again. She was excited to get something down on paper. Just where was she and where was she trying to go? Where did God want her to go?
Oh well, it would have to wait just a little longer.
Right now, she had to meet Kimberly at the bridal salon for the second fitting. Now there’s a happy couple. Kim and Roderick have been dating since their college days. Kim was only a freshman when she met the handsome senior, Roderick Bretton Lesure. Kim was so incredibly intimidated when they first met. Now, after eight bumpy, yet glorious, years, she just couldn’t imagine herself with any other man. Rod was truly her soulmate. Nina wondered whether she and Tyrone would ever really share that kind of happiness. Kim and Rod had the perfect relationship, coming through all kinds of growing pains together successfully. No doubt, they’d have a perfect marriage.
Nina easily pasted on her smile as she walked through the doors of the bridal salon. Kim was already there talking to the salesperson about the bridesmaids’ dresses.
“Yes! They’re absolutely beautiful, I just don’t like the bows on the front,” Kim said as she plucked the bow off the front of the sample.
“Ms. Dixon! That dress costs far too much money for you to just go around ripping the fabric!” the saleswoman gasped.
“It’s okay, I’m buyin’ it, along w/five others…and I want the bows off all of them!” Kim screamed.
Nina knew Kim could be a little more than assertive at times, but the wedding plans had definitely put her in rare form lately. Kim was used to getting what she wanted, but she was usually a bit nicer about things. What was making her so frantic? The wedding was still three months away and the plans were nearly complete. Kim was an organizational fanatic. As maid of honor, Nina had taken care of most things, the girls had been fitted, the parties fully planned, menus selected, everything had been done. This was the point where the bride could relax, yet Kim just wasn’t herself.
“Kim, what’s wrong? Is there something I can do?
“No, Nina, I’m just, oh I don’t know, I’m just not myself today. Truth be told, I haven’t been myself for awhile.”
“What is it? Something I can do to help?”
“Well, I hate to even bring this up…I’m just stressin’ over nothin’. Things are just fine, really.”
“Um, well, lookin’ at the way you bit off that woman’s head and spit it back at her, I know there is something wrong. Now spit it out, what is it? Are you getting nervous about the wedding?”
Kim motioned for Nina to have a seat on the sofa next to her. Her voice became quiet and sullen as Nina took a seat ready to listen. Seemingly right on cue, the saleswoman brought a small tray carrying two dainty cups of herbal tea. Kim began to talk as Nina blew away the hot steam before slowing sipping the welcomed beverage.
“No, Nina, nerves have nothing to do with it.”
“Well then if not nerves, what’s got you so on edge?”
“I really hate to even say this, but I just feel like there’s something wrong between Rod and me…something really wrong.”
“Well, what do you mean? How could there be anything wrong? You two are the perfect couple.”
“Nina, things are not always what they appear to be on the outside.”
Nina nodded in agreement, completely understanding the gravity of Kim’s statement. Sheesh, if Kim only knew what Nina was feeling about Ty.
“I just feel like the closer this wedding gets, the more Rod is becoming distant.”
“Go on,” Nina gently pushed as she felt Kim trailing off.
“Well, it’s just that I love Rod so much. We had so many plans for the future, and now when I bring up actually putting the plans into action, he blows me off and tells me to stop worrying; that things are fine. He acts like he’s doing me a favor by marrying me. He makes me feel like I’m a mosquito he wants to swat away.”
“Kim, you sure you’re not just letting the stress of the wedding get to you? Maybe you’re just reading him wrong. Rod loves you! You two are made for each other and there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for you!”
“Well, what?! Girl, you’ve got an awesome man in Rod, you betta hold onto him ‘fo you lose him! You’ve been together eight years! I know you not gon’ throw all that love and all those special memories away just ‘cause you feeling a little jittery before the ceremony.”
“Okay, I guess you’re right. It’s just that he seems so…so…”
“So what?! You know what it is? I bet Rod is feeling just as nervous and as jittery as you are. Now is not the time to push him. Just comfort him, love him, soothe him when he comes home, and wait for the magic of the wedding. Girl, you are going to be Mrs. Roderick Bretton Lesure!”
“You know what? You’re right. I’m blowing things way out of proportion. I’ll try and relax, all I have to do now is wait for the magic…oh, and make sure those stupid bows are off those dresses!”
The two women laughed and exhaled in glorious anticipation of Kim’s future. Things can only get better from here. Kim has a phenomenal fiancé and she wasn’t going to do anything to mess this up. They have come too far for it not to work and she was going to do everything in her power to make sure Rod knew she was by his side for the long haul. They had too much invested in one another. She had given him her life and she was sure it was mutual. She had waited for this her whole life. She had prayed and prayed for a good man and she finally got him. There’s no way this wedding wasn’t going to work.
Life could not be that cruel.
We must conform ourselves to the principles of the Lord.
Slightly buzzed from last night’s Happy Hour specials, Nick’s determination sped him across town to the club where he knew Tyrone would be anxiously waiting for the band to rehearse before the first set at 9:00. He wondered to himself why he should be racin’ across town just to please Ty. Since he’d gotten out of college two years ahead of schedule, Ty had been a thorn in everybody’s side. Nick was just sick of it. Sick and tired of havin’ to follow Ty’s lead, sick of him over-performin’ in church, sick of him gettin’ all the credit for the band’s performances, sick of him paradin’ around as if he’s God’s gift to women, music, and church. One day, Nick would be the star…it was only a matter of time.
Being Nina’s twin, Nick was always in the shadows, never out in front getting at least a little of the attention. Nina was always perfect. Straight A’s. Dean’s list, even where there was no Dean’s list. Shelves full of first-place awards from the National Conservatory of Music, long ago overshadowing anything Nick did while at the same institution. Community service plaques and citations. Five church groups, at last count, while headed for a great new career in…in…just what the heck was Nina studyin’ these days anyway??? He knew his sister was someone you couldn’t help but love. Heck, everybody loved Nina. The usual “big brother protects his little sister” mindset never had the chance to kick in. She was the actual protector. While growing up, she had gotten him out of so many scrapes with neighborhood bullies; she gained a reputation of someone you didn’t mess with. Killing part about it was she didn’t have to raise her voice nor her fist to make people understand that they should never again threaten Nick, nor anyone else in her family. Then, she’d end up inviting the thugs over for cookies and Kool-Aid. She had a way of making her brother look like a real punk! She was even born first, by a measly ten minutes!!!
He always felt that that few ten minutes somehow had snatched all the confidence, beauty, talent, and intelligence from their mother’s womb. Nick got the leftovers. He lived in Nina’s shadow. “Are you Nina’s brother?” “Are you as smart as Nina?” “Are your grades, talent, vocals, and service as good as Nina’s?” “Don’t you want to be more like Nina???”
He was NOT going to live in Ty’s shadow, too. He just couldn’t take it anymore. It was time to take things into his own hands. But, then again, how could he? When it comes down to it, neither Tyrone nor Nina ever did anything to Nick but care for him. Ty was his best friend and in fact, it was Ty who encouraged Nick to take more advantage of his inherent ability to make the sax sing the silkiest songs, from classical to jazz. And it wasn’t Nina’s fault she was so perfect. She worked hard at everything. Although, he wondered whether anyone else noticed during the past few years how Nina seemed to become more solemn and introverted. She just didn’t seem like the Nina he knew growing up. Oh well, she’s 24, and maybe the pressure to be perfect all the time is finally getting to her. She’ll be okay, though. Nick was glad when she started dating Ty, the best guy for the best girl. He knew Ty would take care of her, no matter what. When it came down to it, Nick loved them both tremendously.
But, tonight, the two of them made him sick to his stomach. He continued to push his Nissan Pathfinder through the streets. He knew if Tyrone were to even think about yelling at him tonight, he wouldn’t be responsible for what would happen.
Nick took another swig of Hennessy and closed his eyes periodically to dream of tonight’s performance.