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A Pillar of the Community

A Pillar of the Community

About the book

A Pillar of the Community is about the gripping and potentially deadly relationship between the ?witness? and the protagonist, as the two men?one a malevolent and sadistic embodiment of evil and the other a hypocritical and immoral public servant ?get tangled in a web of intrigue, power and blackmail. The novel is a penetrating study of evil, religious hypocrisy, the exploitation of women and the exercise of power. All this is set against a well-textured background of social and moral corruption. It is a novel of social comment that moves relentlessly to an unexpected and alarming conclusion. There is vibrant evocation of local color and the attitudes of segments of the people of this fascinating West African country.

 

CHAPTER 1

 

      Jedidiah Thomas, B.Sc. O.R. had become a pillar of the community. He had to be. How could an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the Rokel not be a pillar of the community? An honor such as that was only given to those who had distinguished themselves in their chosen professions or in public life: individuals who had risen to the top by sheer hard work and perseverance, or who had been so single-minded in pursuit of the task in hand that their exemplary conduct had been brought to the attention of the President of the Republic. He thus singled them out for national recognition, honor and praise. Had not the President himself, His Excellency, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and Fountain of Honor, pinned the insignia of the award on his breast and shaken his hand in a grip so vice-like and intimate that it signified his welcome to that select group, the pillars of the community? Scoffers might say that such honors were cheap; that favoritism and nepotism played a much more important role in the selection of the recipients than excellence, merit and competence; that one was much more likely to be honored in this way if one had devoted one's life to licking the bottom or shoes of some important personage. Let them scoff, Jedidiah would say to himself. They only said those things because they were eaten up with jealousy and envy --failures, all of them, whose names would never feature in the distinguished list of recipients of national awards. He, Jedidiah Thomas, knew that he richly deserved his recognition and honor.

      Even if he had not been a pillar of the community before receiving this award, the award itself automatically made him one of the elect. Had his name not been broadcast on the national radio throughout New Year's Day as the list of recipients was read out? Had he not received congratulatory messages, letters, and phone calls? Had not many people he met in the street, at church or at work saluted him and told him that he had proved himself a most distinguished son of the soil and that everyone was proud of him? Had not even his enemies in the civil service kowtowed to him with the utmost sycophancy, completely forgetting that he was the cause of their being denied a promotion, a scholarship, government quarters or a loan? Had he not been invited to the glorious investiture ceremony at State House itself? Was he not being invited by all sorts of organizations to be Distinguished Grand Chief Patron, or Distinguished Grand Chief Worshipper? Had his stock not risen among his fellow freemasons, and was he not in line for succession to the Master's position? Had not the honor done to him boosted his campaign during the church elections and secured him an easy victory as People's Warden over a wealthier and more pompous opponent?

      Yes! There was no doubt about it. He was now truly a pillar of the community, one of the people who really mattered, and he was determined to retain this position come hell or whatever. He had struggled all his life to achieve this kind of position and recognition and no one, but no one, was going to take it away from him. If anyone dared to say or do anything that might jeopardize his position, he would skin him alive! He would make him regret the day he was born! He, Jedidiah Thomas, B.Sc., OR, People's Warden, Master-to-be, Permanent Secretary, would never let that happen to him.

One fine late afternoon in June, clad only in a pair of khaki shorts and a white singlet, his six foot frame stretched out on a hammock, Jedidiah Thomas was relaxing on the balcony of his five-year-old mansion on Juba Hill, overlooking the sea. The house had been appropriately named, ?My Repose.? As he enjoyed the beauty of the waves lashing the shore, and the three-mile-long beach where he could see footballers playing, fishermen and fisherwomen haggling over the price of newly landed fish, and hosts of near naked tourists enjoying the warmth of the tropical sun, thousands of miles away from their own snow-covered lands, Jedidiah stretched an arm towards the bottle of Heineken beer that stood on a stool near him. He took a deep swig from it, sighed with contentment, and replaced it on the stool. Life was good! Yes! Even in this poverty-stricken land where street children roamed around and scrounged from dustbins in competition with the dogs, where scores died unnecessarily every day from malnutrition or lack of proper medical attention, where even a fairly well dressed person who approached you was as likely as not to be a beggar, life was good. He had made it, and he was enjoying the fruits of his labor.

      Jedidiah Thomas, or Jedi as his mother called him, and as he came to be known to those closest to him, was forty-nine and had good reason to believe that he would live for at least another thirty years. He enjoyed robust health, a fact he attributed not just to his rather austere and abstemious life, but to his indulging in rigorous exercise every morning, and also to the mixture of raw egg and orange juice which he swallowed even before taking his bath. It was this rigorous regime that ensured that, while most of his contemporaries had grown potbellies that hung over their belts like burdensome bags of rice, he still retained the figure of a young man. His abdominal muscles were hard and very firm. His biceps bulged like a middleweight boxer's. His chest looked like a lion?s, and his thighs and legs were as strong as those of an ox. His jet-black skin seemed to ooze health from every pore, and shone as though it had been polished with shea butter. Not a single strand of gray was visible in his abundant hair; not one of his teeth was missing; and only one scar on his right leg, the relic of a minor accident while he was a boy, marred the supple smoothness of his skin. Indeed, Jedidiah Thomas could easily have passed for thirty-four, a fact which he used to advantage in those situations when he wanted to pass for a young man.

Jedi took another swig from the bottle of Heineken, sighed deeply, belched loudly, and half closed his eyes as the cool early evening breeze from the Atlantic fanned him lightly. With his arms, thighs, legs and broad chest exposed to the breeze's caressing ministrations, he felt a tingling sensation all over his body. Yes! Life was good.

      It was inevitable that in this euphoric mood Jedi should start having vaguely erotic fantasies. His eyes still half shut, he smiled as he remembered the scores of girls and young women who had been at his beck and call over the years. He thought of the ease with which he had seduced them and taken them to his bed and made them squeal and squirm with pleasurable pain, made them feel the weight and power of those boxer's arms and wrestler?s body and thighs, made them scream out his name in ecstasy and beg him to "kill" them. Yes! Life was good.

      Gradually, Jedi started to doze; then one of those involuntary jerks that sometimes accompany the process of falling asleep, almost upset the unfinished bottle of Heineken. He awoke with a start; only just in time to stop the bottle from crashing on to the tiled floor of the balcony. As he set the bottle to rights, he turned his head slightly and his eyes landed on the most terrifying sight he had seen in his entire life. His heart missed ten beats and sweat broke out on his forehead in spite of that cooling breeze which had been fanning it so seductively only a few moments earlier.

What Jedi saw with such consternation was nothing more nor less than a girl in school uniform, walking up the street towards his house. Now the sight of a young girl primly dressed in her school uniform should not normally cause consternation; certainly not to an innocent mind, especially as the girl herself, dressed so neatly and decently, looked the very picture of innocence. Why should her sudden appearance throw the principled pillar of the community into such a state of terror? The fact was that in spite of being a pillar of the community with an undoubted reputation for sobriety and moral rectitude, Jedi, like so many other men of his status, had a secret vice. His weakness, up till then carefully concealed from the outside world, was an almost pathological fondness for seducing adolescent girls.

He had never married, a fact that he attributed to his determination to throw all his energy into his career and climb steadily up the ladder of preferment. At least, this was how he justified his prolonged bachelorhood to his relations, and to acquaintances who cared to ask. That is, until he admitted to himself that the real reason was his attraction to girls of, sixteen, seventeen or so. Any woman over the age of eighteen left him absolutely cold. Oh, he had had relationships with older women, several of them, scores of them, but it had been just animal pleasure. They had all left him absolutely cold. Now, if it had been possible for him to marry a girl of sixteen or seventeen.... It was true that in the past, and even now among certain African tribes, middle-aged men married girls of sixteen, but how could he, in this modern age and given his ethnic background, marry a teenager? That did not happen among his own people. And, in any case, girls of sixteen were in the habit of growing up. What would he do when his sweet teenager turned twenty or twenty-one?

      Once Jedi diagnosed his condition, he had taken his mind back to his youth and early manhood for its first signs and symptoms, and realized that they had always been there and could have been recognized if anyone, including himself, had bothered to look for them. When he was fourteen, fifteen and sixteen, it had been perfectly natural for him to have girl friends of fourteen, fifteen and sixteen, but even when he turned seventeen, eighteen and nineteen, even twenty, he had continued to prefer girl friends in their early teens. His friends teased him now and then about his going with "babies," but it was not seriously meant, because boys of their age often had girl friends who were three years or so younger. No one had considered his preference as being in any way abnormal, and neither had he, until, as a young teacher of twenty-one or twenty-two, he discovered that he could not take his eyes off some of the fifteen and sixteen-year-old girls in the third and fourth forms of the school where he taught English and mathematics as a young graduate. He kept fantasizing about them and seized every opportunity to put his arms around their shoulders and tease them. Some of the girls evidently had crushes on him; after all, he was the youngest and most attractive of the male teachers. Some of the girls even contrived to visit him at home on the pretext of going for private lessons. Jedi could easily have taken advantage of his position and seduced them, but, in those days, he had high principles and had decided that fooling around with his pupils was wrong and unprofessional. Besides, he knew that he would never live down the shame and disgrace if the parents discovered such an affair. In any case, he had no opportunity to seduce girls at home because he still lived with his mother in those days. She was determined that Jedi should not become like the father who had abandoned them for another woman, and she had taught her son to follow the paths of righteousness. To keep Jedi on the straight and narrow, she always contrived to be around whenever the girls came for their ?lessons?.

      So Jedi had contented himself with merely flirting and indulging in his fantasies until the day he decided that if he continued to restrain what he considered to be his real nature, he would slowly burn up inside. He then began to yield to his secret desire as discreetly as he could; but as he grew older, he realized that seducing young girls had become an obsession. He spent most Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the juvenile discos known irreverently as ?Sunday Schools?, where the dancing was intended for teenagers, but it was perfectly permissible for older men to sit at the bar enjoying, not only their drinks, but also the tantalizing sight of nubile young things prancing around singly, in groups or with their boyfriends; gyrating their hips and supple waists, while their ripe breasts trembled beneath thin blouses. It was at one such ?Sunday School? that Jedi met girl who was now walking towards his house in her school uniform.

      On that day, he had just taken a sip of his Heineken when he noticed a petite girl coming through the lounge. He almost dropped his glass. The girl was hand in hand with an exceptionally tall young man whom Jedi took to be her boyfriend. What a face! he thought, staring. It was the most beautiful face he had ever seen, and he had seen many, with his favorite chocolate brown, complexion glowing like warm butter. She smiled at her boyfriend, and two glorious dimples appeared in her cheeks, making her look even younger than what he was sure was her age: sixteen. She radiated happiness and had an air of innocence that Jedi felt sure was quite deceptive; no boyfriend would allow such a captivating specimen of a girl to remain innocent for long. She had on a fawn-colored chiffon dress which barely reached her knees and exposed a good deal of her thighs and all of her long, elegant legs. She was wearing dark underwear under the dress, but he could still make out the molding of her hips and breasts.

The girl noticed Jedi?s gaping mouth and popping eyes, understood what it meant and stared boldly back at him with the most delicious smile he had seen in years, before sauntering past him with her boyfriend.

Angels in Heaven! thought Jedi, What a babe!. I just have to have her!

      And he wasted no time. He rose from his seat with his beer in one hand and went outside to take a vantage point on the edge of the courtyard. From there he could see the girl clearly as she danced with her boyfriend. Jedi made sure that she was never out of his sight and feasted his eyes on that lovely form, while his heart palpitated with growing lust. The girl continued to throw smiles and glances in his direction, and when she was sure that his eyes were riveted on her, wiggled her shapely hips even more provocatively. Without saying a word, Jedi had let her know that he wanted her; and she was dancing her consent. Had he not been consumed with lust, he might have thought her behavior quite shameless. However, a man in the throes of desire never criticizes the conduct of its object, especially when such conduct is an indication that she is equally attracted to him. This girl clearly knew what she was about and Jedi found himself saying almost audibly,

Yes! I am going to have her!

      The rest was quite simple. There was usually a scramble for transport at the end of the ?Sunday school?. That was the best time for pouncing on the prey, so as soon as Jedi realized that the girl and her boyfriend were leaving, he started moving towards the car park. The girl had thrown him an even more meaningful look, which seemed to say, "If you really want me, make your move now or lose me, perhaps forever." Jedi understood that look. He got his car out and drove slowly until he was nearly abreast of the young couple. The girl turned round and smiled. Her boyfriend also turned round, and put out his hand to signify that they were looking for a ride. Much later, it occurred to Jedi that it was a matter of supreme irony that it was in fact the boyfriend who had asked him for a ride and thus facilitated the seduction of his girlfriend. It was considered a matter of honor for a boyfriend to secure a ride for his girlfriend; it boosted his masculine ego. Little did the boyfriend know that in the act of satisfying his male ego, he was sending his girl into the arms of a middle-aged man.                                                                                            

During the drive, Jedi skillfully drew out personal information from the girl and, to avoid suspicion, from her boyfriend, and communicated as much about himself as he thought necessary for his purpose. He found out that her name was Emma King and that she was in the third form at school. He found out where she lived, where she went to school, and what she did with her spare time. He also told her where he worked, what his position was and where he lived. He asked the young man a few questions, but could barely remember his name, let alone what he said he did for a living. Jedi knew that he and the girl were playing a game, and what made it all the more enjoyable was that the boyfriend seemed quite unaware of their motives and intentions. He had no doubt that the girl would look him up afterwards

      And she did; but what Jedi did not expect was that she would come to his office and in broad daylight. He had just finished dictating a letter to his secretary one afternoon, when the female typist buzzed to tell him that there was a young lady, as she put it, in the outer office to see him.

"Let her come in, Mrs. Cole," he told his secretary as she left the office, and soon afterwards, there was a light tap on the door.

"Come right in," he called out, then almost jumped out of his seat as a young girl in a blue and white school uniform tripped into the room. It took him a few moments to realize that it was Emma King, for in her school uniform she looked even younger than her sixteen years.

Jedi did not associate Emma King with innocence, yet there she was in front of him the very picture of that quality. But this was not what made him almost jump out of his seat. It was common knowledge that some middle-aged men in the civil service were having liaisons with juveniles, "juvies," as they were called. Most of these ?sugar daddies? did their best to keep these affairs secret, so the worst thing that could happen to them was for a juvenile lover to turn up at the office in her school uniform. It meant she had just come from school. The whole office then surmised that she had come to engage in some shady activity with their boss before going home.

Jedi felt even more embarrassed because, in her uniform, Emma King could really have passed for fifteen or even fourteen. What would Mrs. Cole say? What would the clerks and typists and messengers say? Would they spread the rumor that their own Mr. Thomas, whom they had always believed to be a model of integrity, sobriety, and continence, was having an affair with a schoolgirl? Oh my God! He would never be able to live down the disgrace. He would never be able to maintain discipline in that office after that. And Mrs. Cole had just respectfully and thankfully obtained his consent to serve as Distinguished Grand Chief Patron at the annual thanksgiving service of her Mothers? Union. He was quite sure that she had asked him, not just because she knew he would make a substantial donation, but because she considered him a worthy and exemplary pillar of the community. Now this!

      Emma was completely taken aback to see Mr. Thomas's chagrined expression and the beads of sweat that had formed on his temple. Her face fell and her knees went suddenly weak. What was the matter? Could it be that Mr. Thomas was having second thoughts? That he no longer wanted her? Had she come all this way and braved going through that office full of gossiping clerks, secretaries and messengers to be rebuffed like this? A minute later, she realized the source of the trouble.

?Shut the door, please,? Jedi said, sounding official, then went on in a hushed and agitated voice:

"Why have you come here in your school uniform? Don't you know that you will cause all kinds of rumors about us? Why did you have to visit me in my office? Couldn't you have gone to my house in the evening?"

So that was all, thought Emma as she flashed her beautiful smile and took the seat that Jedi had not offered her. Oh these men! They were all the same! Always wanting their fun, but unwilling to be found out.

"But Mr. Thomas, you talked so much about your work and your office that I thought you wanted me to come here," she lied. "If I had known that you wanted me to go to your house, I would have gone to your house. In any case, you did not mention your wife??

It was true that Jedi had not told Emma and her boyfriend that he was a bachelor. It had simply not occurred to him at the time.

      "Did I tell you that I had a wife?" He muttered, a note of lingering irritation in his voice. "You will find no one in my house when you visit me. I have no wife. There is only my houseboy, and he is usually off work at about five when I return from work. There will be no one to disturb us, my dear. We shall be absolutely alone, just the two of us."

Jedi's tone, which up to this point had been a little rough due to his anxiety and annoyance, softened noticeably as he said those last words. He now leaned over his desk and lovingly covered Emma?s dainty hand with his. The anxiety had been caused by her stupidity in coming to his office in her school uniform, but the irritation was at least partly caused by the fact that he had felt slightly cheated. He had wanted Emma to visit him at home where he could have her all to himself and they would not have to hide from prying eyes and idle gossips. For one chagrined moment he had felt that the girl had decided to play hard to get or perhaps did not intend to capitulate after all, in spite of the signals she had sent to him at the ?Sunday School?. Now, however, her statement about a possible wife reassured him. He knew that she was more than willing to yield to his advances.

As if to reassure him further, in response to the pressure from his large strong hand, Emma increased hers gradually, lowered her eyelids, and gently tickled the inside of his palm with her index finger. Her half-closed eyes gazed straight into his, and a little smile played around her soft lips. Jedi felt desire rise powerfully in him and his heart began to pound.

She is mine! She is mine! I will have her! he exulted silently. Wow! She seems so knowing, so experienced! God! Innocent young girls don?t exist any more.

It never occurred to Jedidiah Thomas that he was one of the reasons there weren't any innocent young girls left in the city. He was about to ask Emma when she would visit him at home when she herself asked in a seductive murmur,

"Well, when do you want me to visit you at home, Mr. Thomas?"

      They made the appointment in whispers, and at the end, Jedi warned her not to visit him at the office any more, unless it was unavoidable, and certainly not in her school uniform. Only after all this was settled did Jedi suddenly realize that he had to find some kind of explanation for those inquisitive office gossips, who, he was sure, were straining their ears in the ante-room, trying to hear some of his conversation with Emma. He now asked Emma in a loud voice how she was getting on at school and how her mother, Cousin Ayo, was doing. Emma immediately understood what he was up to and played her part to perfection. Her fertile imagination invented all kinds of difficulties that her mother was going through and sounded so convincing that Jedi was sure Mrs. Cole and her clique would believe her even if they did not believe him. There was genuine dismay and sympathy in Jedi?s voice as he told Emma he was extremely sorry to hear that Cousin Ayo was ill, and that she should take back his good wishes to her; that he would make a point of visiting them after work on Friday with some provisions and financial help to tide them over. Emma thanked him with the utmost respect. Thus, Jedi killed two birds with one stone. He had made sure that Emma would visit him at home and he had, he hoped, stopped the tongues of Mrs. Cole?s and her colleagues from wagging.

Emma had visited him at home, not only on the agreed date, but on several other occasions. The three months they had been together were among the happiest periods in Jedi's entire life for he was constantly amazed by Emma's resourcefulness as a lover. She seemed an inexhaustible store of new ideas to keep him aroused and fulfilled, carrying him on wave after wave of passion during which he seemed to lose his mind, regain sanity, lose it again, pounce and claw with the ferocity of a tiger, get a grip on himself and move with the elegance of a swimmer on softly billowing waters, swoon with delicious ecstasy, then bounce back to life and explode like a cannon ball Where on earth had the girl gained all that knowledge and experience at her age, he often wondered. Surely, not from that young lover of hers! Whoever said it was wrong to make love to young girls did not know a thing. This was the life! Let them ask him; he knew.

      The affair had been going swimmingly when Jedi turned his head on the day in question and saw the delectable Emma approaching his house, dressed in her school uniform. She had never visited him at home in her school uniform before. What on earth had got into her? Hadn't he already told her not to visit him in her uniform? Well, he remembered that he had specifically said that she should not visit him in the office dressed in her uniform, but he assumed that an intelligent and worldly-wise girl like her would understand that the restriction applied to his home as well. Why was she acting so strangely? Was she doing it deliberately to throw him off balance or to assert her independence as she often did?

He knew that Emma would now be almost at the gate and that he should go downstairs and let her in quickly before she started attracting comment from the neighbors. He was about to jump out of the hammock, when it occurred to him that some neighbor might be watching him and that his jumping briskly out of the hammock might attract suspicion. For all he knew that busybody, Mama Sawyerr, Clarence Thorpe's fat idle mother-in-law next door, had already seen Emma standing at his gate and would be straining her short fat neck to find out what was going on.

      So Jedi moved as slowly and unobtrusively as possible from the balcony. But once he got into his bedroom, through which he had to pass in order to get downstairs, he ran like a man who had just been told that his house was on fire. Although he was almost fainting with trepidation, he opened the gate as noiselessly as possible, let Emma in while putting his left hand to his lips to indicate that she should not say a word, then shut the gate again trying not to make a sound. As soon as they were within the house and out of earshot he railed:

"Why have you come here in your uniform? Haven't I told you before not to visit me in your school uniform?"

"But Mr. Jedi, you said I should not visit you in your office in my school uniform. You never said anything about your house.?

"Well, it comes to the same thing. Surely, you have intelligence; you should be able to understand that. I don't want us to do anything that will arouse suspicion or expose us to scandal. After all, you are a schoolgirl; do you want your name to be circulated around the whole town?"

"All right Mr. Jedi, I will not do it again. I am supposed to be attending a sports meeting at the stadium, so I dressed as though I was going to it, but I came straight here instead. I had to see you today, and the sports gave me a good alibi. Mr. Jedi, please don't be annoyed with me.?

She said the last few words with a little pout, her voice almost tearful.

"I am only a little bit annoyed with you," Jedi said, putting his arms around her and speaking in as tender a tone as he could manage. God! Whenever she spoke to him in that soft, pleading, half-crying tone, whether it was genuine or faked, he could not help himself. It made her sound so young and soft and vulnerable and feminine that he felt extra strong and protective and powerful and could hardly wait to have her again.

      So they had a most magnificent time together. Afterwards, as she half dozed in his arms, Jedi gazed at her slim young body with worshipful adoration. God! Wasn't he lucky! To think that all that youth and beauty and sweetness belonged to him! That he could have it whenever he wanted! That he was still enjoying what his male contemporaries had stopped enjoying decades ago! That he could make her scream and sob and writhe, throw her limbs about in wild abandon, scratch and claw, bite and beg and shudder in a way in which, he was sure, that oaf, her boyfriend, could never make her. He was sure he couldn't; otherwise, why did she keep returning week after week, at least once a week? Although he was old enough to be the boyfriend's father, he had strength, power and experience on his side, He felt immensely grateful to the Almighty for allowing him to enjoy such youth and beauty. Yes! Life could not be better. He was at the peak of his happiness.

      Emma's beautiful face looked even more radiant with the eyes half shut and her lips apart. She moaned softly like one waking up from sleep, stretched, cuddled into his arms and then, quite inexplicably, began to sob.

"My dear," he said, quite concerned, ?what on earth is the matter?"

Instead of answering, she cried even more vehemently. Jedi had to hold her tightly as her slender little body shook with sobs.

"Whatever it is," Jedi said, ?please tell me. Let us solve the problem together. I am here to help you. Is your boyfriend giving you problems? If he is, tell me, and I'll deal with the clown. I know your father is dead, but I am here to take his place. I will deal with any boy who gives you problems. You just say the word."

But Emma exploded into even more heart-wrenching sobs. Jedi was quite perplexed.

`     "Emma, please tell me. Whatever it is, tell me. I am sure we can solve it between the two of us. You are not doing yourself any good by crying. Besides, some of the neighbors might hear you crying; and that will not do any good to my reputation. Come on! Stop this silliness and talk to me."

Emma seemed to decide that it was time to talk because she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and said,

"Mr. Jedi, I have something to tell you. That is why I came today."

"Well, what is it?" Jedi snapped, anticipating some unwelcome information. "Has your boyfriend found out about us? Has your mother found out about us?"

"What a foolish man!" thought Emma. ?His only concern is that his filthy tricks should not be found out. He cannot think of anything more serious than that. Well, I'll let him have it straight. Let's see how he takes it."

"Mr. Jedi," she began, the tearfulness returning to her voice although her eyes were now quite dry. "Mr. Jedi, I couldn't find my period this month."

"What!" Jedi jumped up as though an electric current had passed through his body and towered over her. It was now Emma?s turn to fear that he might alarm the neighbors. She began to feel that she should probably have broken the news more gently. Was he going to hit her? Her heart began to pound so fiercely that she felt breathless.

"What did you say?" Jedi shouted. His eyes looked wild and sweat had already appeared on his brow. ?What did I hear you say?"

Emma was now crying in earnest.

"Oh my mother! Oh my mother! What shall I do? What shall I do?"

"I said what did I hear you say?" Jedi took her by the shoulders, half lifted her off the bed, and gave her a violent shake.

"I said ....I said I ...I did not see...my ...my ...my period this month, sir."

"Then you can bloody well go and find it wherever you left it," Jedi said coldly and let her fall back onto the bed.

      His mind was in complete turmoil. He hadn't bargained for this. Well, he knew that if you had sex regularly with a full-grown female you should expect that she might sooner or later become pregnant. But somehow, Emma had seemed too young for that to happen. Too innocent. This was why he had hardly bothered to take the kind of precautions he might have taken with another woman. He simply could not associate pregnancy with her.

This was not the first time that a woman had told him that she was pregnant for him. He already had two children by two of those mature women whom he had been forced to go with for appearance's sake. They were grown women, and he had believed them as soon as they told him. But this girl! Just look at her lying down there crying her heart out! In any case, was she telling the truth? How could he be sure that she was telling the truth? Did he know her well enough to trust her?

"How do you know you are pregnant?" he asked pointlessly, and then added, "How do you know you are not mistaken?"

      ?Mr. Jedi, I know I am not mistaken. Apart from missing my period, I have been feeling dizzy and I have even vomited."

"Did you see a doctor?"

"Oh no, sir! I would be too ashamed. I only talked to my friends"

Well, that was something to be grateful for, Jedi thought. If she had seen a doctor, she could not have avoided dragging him into it. And how could he, a forty-nine-year-old senior civil servant admit to being responsible for a seventeen-year-old girl's pregnancy? No! It was good that she had not yet seen a doctor. Then something even more alarming occurred to him and he blurted out:

"Did you tell your friends that I am responsible?"

"Oh no, Mr. Jedi! I couldn't do that, sir. I had to talk to you first."

At this Jedi breathed a sigh of relief. At least, no one, apart from the two of them, knew about the father?s identity. Not yet, anyway. But a nagging suspicion still troubled him. Could she be trying to place her pregnancy at his door in order to protect her worthless boyfriend who would certainly not have the means to do anything about it and was far from being ready for fatherhood? One could never trust these girls. They appeared as innocent as the day, but they could be as wily as the serpent himself, as wicked as Delilah. Perhaps Emma was trying to lay the pregnancy at his door to protect her worthless boyfriend. He could picture the scene: both of them laughing at him behind his back, calling him, ?Sugar daddy?! ?Juvie lover!? Yes! He could see it all now. What a fool he had been to think that she really cared for him and even preferred him to her boyfriend! How they must have laughed as they both squandered the money that he regularly gave her! He was their insurance policy, or more specifically, the boyfriend's insurance policy. That young savage must have known that he could plough Emma to his heart's content without fear of any consequences, since consequences would be laid at Mr. Jedi?s door. What a fool he had been!

      These confused thoughts so enraged Jedi that he took Emma roughly by the shoulders again.

"Even if you are pregnant, how do you know I am responsible?? he demanded, glaring down at her. ?What about that boyfriend of yours? I am sure you have been messing around with him almost every day. If you think you can fool around with him and then lay the consequences at my door, you are very much mistaken. Go to him. I am sure you will find your period under his pillow."

As he said ?pillow?, he pushed Emma back onto the bed. The girl was now sobbing pitifully.

"Oh God! Have mercy on me! What is going to happen to me? What is going to happen to me? If I had known that this was how you would react, I would never have let you touch me, Mr. Jedi. After I have allowed you to do whatever you like with me, after I have given myself to you freely, this is how you treat me! Like a dog! I do not blame you; I blame myself. I should have tried to be a good girl as my mother always warned me to be. It is more than two months since Abdul touched me. We quarreled, as I told you. It was because of you that I told him not to come near me anymore. I can swear on anything, drink anything to prove you are responsible. If I am lying, let the child inside me rot and kill me. Oh God! Oh my mother! I am finished! ?

      In spite of his utter self-absorption, Jedi was not a monster. He had genuine tender feelings towards Emma and the sight of her wailing so pitifully, softened his heart. Besides, the fact that she was prepared to swear a terrible oath convinced him that she was telling the truth and he was indeed the father of her child. How could he abandon a girl who had given him so much pleasure? Even if her boyfriend had been responsible, he had also eaten at that table. Surely all she would want from him was help with getting rid of the pregnancy. That wouldn't cost much; and he had the right contacts. Afterwards they could return to their sweet, cozy, relationship; just make sure they were more careful.

He sat down beside Emma to make amends for his harshness.

      "Alright baby! I am sorry!? he cajoled. ?I did not mean to hurt you. I do believe you and I will take care of everything. We will work it out, okay?...okay?. Come on! Stop crying?."

Emma was quite willing to be apologized to and comforted, for she had had horrible visions of being abandoned to her fate. She had already begun to see herself as a disgraced and ruined girl, forced to leave school, perhaps stigmatized for life. Inevitably, the change of atmosphere in Jedi?s bedroom led to another bout of lovemaking, on this occasion, the most ecstatic that they had ever experienced. On the part of one it was inspired by gratitude and relief; on the part of the other by re-awakened lust and the recent confirmation of his potency. The pair seemed to go outside of themselves as they clawed at each other, reckless of any consequences. The tempo of their movements quickened fiercely as if they were being goaded by forces completely beyond their control. At the height of their passion Jedi roared like a lion pouncing upon a helpless victim. He grabbed Emma?s slight body with all his strength as though afraid that she would escape from his grasp. As he triumphantly poured out his life-seed, he felt her shudder beneath him with uncontrollable spasms, as she let out the most deliciously satisfied sigh. Sated and exhausted himself, Jedi sank down on her with his whole weight and immediately fell into a deep sleep

      They remained like that for quite a long time and it was Jedi who stirred first. He opened his eyes, looked at the clock by his bedside and realized that they must have slept for almost an hour, for it was already past seven o?clock. Darkness had set in. My God! he thought, rolling off Emma?s motionless form. It was about time the girl was on her way. The sports meeting must be over and her mother would be expecting her back. Emma seemed to be in absolute repose, her face as radiant as an angel's. Jedi smiled fondly, congratulating himself for having brought about this look of heavenly contentment. Then he remembered that she was pregnant.

For a moment he could not believe that this innocent-looking little girl could possibly be pregnant. He kissed her lightly on the cheek then began the process of waking her up.                                                     

"Come on, baby!" he said, shaking her slightly, "it is time to wake up. It is time to go. Your mother will be getting anxious."  

There was no response. Boy! He must have worn her out with his virility. He was feeling immensely proud of himself as he made a second attempt to rouse her.

"Emma, wake up! You really must wake up. It?s already half past seven. It will probably be nine by the time you get home. Your mother will start asking questions. Wake up."

He shook her again, rather more strenuously this time, then realized something very odd. The girl had not even stirred. Indeed, her only movement had been caused by his shaking of her shoulders. What a naughty girl to be sleeping so soundly when her mother was probably getting frantic with worry! Another thing struck him as odd. Surely someone who was sleeping so soundly should be breathing heavily; that was the natural thing. Yet not a sound was coming from Emma. In fact, she did not seem to be breathing at all. A wave of alarm surged through Jedi's body and he jumped off the bed as though stung by a deadly snake. What on earth could have happened? Had the girl fainted? Or was she playing tricks with him? Taking Emma by the shoulders, he shook her once more, this time so roughly that the whole bed rattled as it never had before, not even at the height of their lovemaking.

"Stop playing these tricks Emma. Wake up! Wake up, or I'll slap you."

But the girl hung limp in his arms and the beautiful jaw now fell open. Beside himself with alarm and panic, Jedi put his ear to her nostrils. Not a sound! He then put his ear to her chest. Her heart was absolutely still. He felt her little palm. It was already quite cold.

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