“When you went off on a missionary trip to Africa, we certainly didn’t expect you to come back with a wife,” Mrs. Cartland exclaimed, her expression one of disdain as she looked at her son.
Rolf sighed. “Naija isn’t my wife, Mother. I’m not sure why you think she is. I’m sure I was clear in my letter that if I didn’t do something, she was going to be taken out of school and married off to a man old enough to be her grandfather. In Nigeria, girls like Naija and younger are given in marriage without their consent.”
“And so you decide to bring her to England. What about her parents? I can’t imagine that they would let you just whisk their daughter away like that.”
“Her parents and I came up with an arrangement which will benefit all parties. They were going to give her away in marriage because they are poor and need the money. The man they were going to marry her to, has money but I offered them more money in exchange for marriage that Naija come to England instead. I will put her through university. After, she graduates, it is up to her if she wants to remain here or return to Nigeria. Her parents agreed that if she should return, she is not expected to be married off but can get a job so she could continue to support them. While she is here, I will send money to them on a regular basis to keep them.”
“You’re going to send them money?” Mrs. Cartland was aghast. “And how long do you propose to do that?”
“Until Naija can afford to support them herself.”
“And when exactly will that be?”
“When she finds steady employment after graduating from university.”
“I fear, my Dear, that she’s going to take advantage of your generosity and you will find yourself supporting her for longer than is necessary. You’re far too indulgent and gullible when it comes to the dregs of society.”
Rolf’s lips tightened but he held his temper in check. “Mother, I appreciate your concern, but Naija isn’t like that at all.”
Mrs. Cartland didn’t look at all convinced and was about to say something else when her daughter, Rosalind spoke up. “Rolf, let’s go for a walk. It looks absolutely gorgeous outside. Mother, please excuse us.”
Grateful for the interruption, he rose to his feet and after excusing himself, he followed her out of the room. “Thank you for that,” he said to Rosalind as they walked down the hallway.
She glanced at him. “No problem. I could see that you were trying very hard not to blow your top. And Mother can be very irritating at times.”
Rosalind laughed. “All right. Most of the time.”
Rolf’s lips twitched. They were outside now and it was a gorgeous day. “Let’s take a walk by the stream.”
“What a splendid idea!”
The stream was about a ten minute walk from the family’s mansion. “Do you remember when Dad used to bring us here on a Sunday morning? While he and I fished, you fed the ducks pieces of bread from the egg and cheese sandwiches Mrs. Hogwarth made?”
“Yes and I remember getting pecked by one of them and Dad had to bandage my hand with his handkerchief. I was scared of the ducks after that.”
“Yes, that’s how Mrs. Hogwarth found out that you fed her sandwiches to them and she clobbered you.”
“Yes, I was scared of her after then too. Oh, Rolf, what a riotous childhood we had. I miss Dad.”
“I miss him too.”
“He would be so proud of you, being a missionary and all. It was something he himself loved. He always regretted leaving the field when he married Mother. She never understood his love for it. She preferred being the wife of a government minister rather a missionary’s.”
“I love being in full-time ministry, helping communities in London and overseas. It’s how I met Naija.”
“You’re in love with Naija, aren’t you?” Rosalind commented, looking at him closely.
He blushed. Nothing ever escaped her. “Yes,” he admitted quietly.
“I see the way you look and act around her.”
“Can you imagine how Mother would react if she knew?”
Rosalind waved her hand dismissively. “It doesn’t matter what Mother or anyone else thinks, Rolf. You have to follow your heart. It’s your life, your future and your happiness that are at stake here. Remember, Mother wanted me to marry Reginald but I married Maxwell instead? Reginald was a good man but I didn’t love him. I was mad about Maxwell and we have been happily married for twenty-six years now.”
“I think you made an excellent choice. Maxwell is an exceptional man.”
“Thank you and yes, he is. Does Naija know how you feel about her?”
He shook his head. “No.”
“Don’t you think that perhaps it’s time you told her?”
His heart lurched. “I don’t know,” he said in alarm.
“Come on, Rolf, don’t be such a coward. Sometimes, happiness comes by taking chances. I took a chance with Maxwell and looked how that turned out.”
What she said made a lot of sense but the thought of revealing his feelings to Naija was daunting. He would have to think about it some more. “I’ll think about it,” he said after a while.
Rosalind slipped her arm through his and smiled. “All right,” she said. “Sleep on it, then.” They continued walking alongside the river, enjoying the sunshine and the quietness.
Naija was already at the park, waiting when Rolf got there the following afternoon. He had just come from a staff meeting. She smiled when she saw him and the large brown paper bag in his hand. He smiled as he sat down beside her. “Have you been waiting long?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No. I got here about five minutes ago. Thanks for getting this. I’m starving.”
He opened the bag and took out a box of Fish and Chips and handed it to her along with a plastic knife and fork. He took out the other box. On the bench between them, he put the cups of flavored milk tea and the straws. After he said Grace, they tucked into the food. It tasted as good as it looked and smelled. As they ate, they talked about different things. And all the while, he was thinking about what Rosalind had said. He wanted to tell Naija how he felt but he was terrified.
“What’s wrong?” Naija’s question startled him.
“Nothing,” was his quick response. A pause and then, wanting to shift the attention away from himself, he asked, “What are you plans after you graduate from university? Will you stay here in England or return home to your family?”
She thought about it. “I’ll stay here,” she said. “I’ll find a job or I can become a missionary and work for you.”
“Being a missionary is an admirable vocation but what are your dreams? What would you really like to do with your life, Naija?”
“I like writing. I like to write about what I see around me.”
“Sounds like you’re thinking of becoming a journalist. That’s very good. Perhaps, you’ll let me see some of your writings.”
“I will,” she promised. “I keep a journal. It’s almost full. I write about university, what I observe on the campus, what I hear on the News and the conversations I have had with my host family. I’ve written a lot of things about you as well.”
His eyebrows arched. “Really? And what exactly have you written about me?”
“How you’ve been so good to me and how blessed I am that you came into my life. I will always be indebted to you, Rolf.”
A muscle began to throb along his jawline. “I’m the one who’s blessed,” he replied. Their eyes were locked. His heart was racing. This is foolish, he thought. I’m behaving like a lovesick fool over a girl almost half my age. She just sees me as her benefactor, nothing more. All she feels towards me is gratitude.
“That isn’t all I wrote about you,” she said shyly.
He swallowed hard. “What else did you write about me?”
She looked nervous now. “Rolf, I know that I’m only eighteen years old but, I–I was hoping that our age difference wouldn’t matter to you.”
“What are you saying, Naija?”
“What-what I’m saying, is-is that I want us to-to be more than friends.”
He expelled his breath in an unsteady sigh. “Are you sure this is what you want?” he asked, his expression tense.
She nodded at once. “Yes,” she replied. “It’s what I’ve wanted since we met.”
“Oh, Naija,” he cried, his cheeks suffusing with color. He set the empty boxes aside and rose to his feet. He reached down and pulled her up. “It’s what I want too.” He pulled her against him and his eager lips found hers. Overhead the setting sun cast its crimson glow on them.