Total Reading Time:10 minutes

“God, am I a potato?” Jeremy soliloquized a little too loud he was sure he was heard by his neighbors on the other side of his thin-walled England house. Everything about his life had been eventful, a striking show of heavenly magnificence–his survival as a frail child, success despite growing up in the backwaters of Makoko, yet an uncertainty continued to unnerve him. Like an adversary swearing to pay back–eye for eye, he felt his past glare at him and would with the ruthlessness of an untamed beast, rip him of all he had.

Brushing his low-cut hair with his hands, clammy, despite the stealth cold of emerging winter, Jeremy feared God would never attend to his perpetual desire for a spouse–someone who would be stupefied by his horrendous voice as she was his built chest. He grinned, his sparse brows, dark, butter-smooth skin, a stunning combination of beauty and perfection. He was grateful that his physique made up for what he lacked in his voice. He didn’t possess the gifting of a virtuoso, but he would try, if she insisted on being serenaded.

But where was she? And would God consider him fit for His daughter?

In seconds, the past played in a slideshow of events too painful to recall. Jeremy winced, his soft, youthful looks morphing into the grotesque of an agonizing teen. He was back again in his secondary school in Lagos, Nigeria, holding hands with her. He recalled her tummy-rumbling chortle, high-spirited as the reckless tides of the Bar Beach and how though her hair was cut low – a rule that most government schools in Lagos at the time, mandated of girls, she was effortlessly beautiful. Willing himself to the moment, Jeremy struggled to forget his former adventures however long ago they were. They said time blurred memories, his only seemed to reinforce with every elapsing moment.

Jeremy strolled across his living room minimally ornamented with neutral-colored paintings and matching cushions. At one extreme was a simple dining set which he sometimes shared with his tenants, and at another, Abeg, a sprawling decorative plant gifted to him at work. He recalled with amusement, how he had been surprised to discover that people gave names to plants and was further befuddled when asked to name his. The dove-eyed assistant who had bought the plant, came to mind as she beckoned, entreating Jeremy for a name as other members of the team did. “Isn’t she a lovely snake plant?” Jeremy’s eyes had widened, and the assistant had explained that the name was only due to the shape of the leaves. God, abeg oo, Jeremy had thought that instance while suppressing an urge to chuckle and had known Abeg, a colloquialism referring to a plea, would fit best as a name.

Jeremy’s phone vibrated just as he was about to reach for the fridge in his kitchen and a notification from his church’s workers’ group popped up. The choir needed people to play the drums and keyboard as both instrumentalists had called in sick. Jeremy volunteered to help with the drums. He wasn’t excellent but he could manage a simple backbeat. Hurrying to make a breakfast of sandwich and tea, he listened to the songs that the choir members had forwarded to him. His phone buzzed again, this time indicating a notification from one of his social media accounts, but he ignored it. Going through unending couple reels earlier had left him in a despondent state, he was not prepared to go back there.

The familiar longing for companionship shrouded Jeremy again, thick like the blanket of darkness cast over this autumn day. What was this dilemma? Why had God planted these desires in him if he would only be plagued by them? He remembered his futile attempts at seeking a wife. Most of the women he had met were only goggle-eyed because of his finance or looks. Releasing a defeated breath, Jeremy wondered if his past wasn’t just haunting him.

The clock struck half the hour to the start of service, so Jeremy left for church, one prayer on his heart:
Lord, please forgive me. Again.

Jemima wore her hair in a curly bob, tied an Ankara scarf at the base, and applied some mascara before leaving for Church. The variety of churches in Birmingham, especially those of African origin, was one of the reasons she preferred the city to Sheffield where she had schooled and now worked. Her best friend, Dami, who she had met in their first year at uni, at ACS, the African Caribbean Society – a union for students from the said region, always teased her about going to African churches only because she wanted to marry a Nigerian man. Jemima, raising a shoulder in mock indifference would reply, “I have a right over my preferences.” Her dad, though a Dutch man, had had several business dealings in Nigeria and had picked up much of the culture and had, about the same time, found the Lord and her mum. It was the reason home felt more Yoruba than Dutch, and Jemima understood the Nigerian language even having lived in England most of her life.

Taking off her air pods as she walked into the small church filled with worshipping saints, Jemima knew that beyond a tribe or race, she wanted a man who loved, honored and feared God. The Christian walk was a legacy her parents had bequeathed her and one, she wanted, her children.

An usher welcomed Jemima and led her to a seat in front. Legs jittery, Jemima sat, feeling as though the spectacle of everyone’s focus. In a swift inspection, she took note of the congregants–prattling children eluding their parents’ hold, an unoccupied keyboardist seat, and then, an excellent choir trying to complement the efforts of a struggling amateur drummer. Her brows creased in a curious frown. She knew the drummer. Wasn’t he Grandaunt Sheila’s neighbor? She recalled seeing him drive into his car park as she overlooked the street from her grandaunt’s house one time she visited. He had been a breathtaking sculpture of melanin perfectness that day, dressed in blue knickers and a white sweatshirt that read, Abba’s.

Jemima took another look at the drummer and much for her guilt, having caused him a distraction, he missed a beat. She wanted to laugh at this stranger, remembering also her lack of coordination when she first learnt to play as a child. She mouthed, “I’m sorry” instead, and he responded with a calm smile as though he had known her and could tell she wanted to tease him. The keyboardist’s seat remained empty for another five minutes. Sensing an urge to join the choir, Jemima called to an usher. “Can I help with the keyboard? I can play if that’s okay.”

“Oh, sure.” The usher said, her response enveloped with warmth. She encouraged Jemima to be comfortable and do as she pleased. “Besides, it’s thanksgiving day so the praise session is for about thirty minutes.”

Jemima occupied the keyboardist’s seat, while avoiding any eye contact with the drummer whose proximity was starting to perturb her. While she played, she glanced at his fourth finger and felt a thrill of joy seeing that it was unoccupied. Realizing that she was getting distracted in the Lord’s presence, she chided herself and willed herself to be in her best behavior. She was in Church to seek the Father not a fine drummer-boy.

The lady ran fiery fingers over the keyboard, fiddling with complex scales as though they were basic notes. Jeremy watched her in admiration. He was no music expert but could tell skill when he saw it. He was grateful this first-time worshipper had come today. She was piquancy to his simple backbeat. When the pastor commenced preaching, Jeremy mindlessly approached the lady who was starting to tinker with his sensibilities with her fluffy dome of hair and dark-fair skin, the semblance of marmalade. He noticed an Ankara scarf tied beneath her hair and knew she must have some African roots. “You play really good.”

The lady’s clove-shaped lips pulled in a beam. She thanked Jeremy and he observed a hint of a lisp and a forward bite. She was beautiful nonetheless. “Have you been playing a long time?”

“Since I was five or so.” She brushed a wayward strand of hair hanging over her face and tucked it behind her ear. Her accent though British, had a cadence that said she wasn’t a Birmingham local. 

“I learnt to play the drum as a child too but never went past the basics.” Jeremy replied. The pastor asked the church to get sat so Jeremy led the lady to empty seats beside the choir stand. “Here you go.” He pulled out a seat for her and sat after she did.

“Did you continue to practice after you learnt to play?” The lady whispered as the sermon went on, her manner polite, her dimpled smile, simple.

“I see my performance earlier gave me away.” Jeremy laughed quietly as she did, careful to not distract the congregation. He explained that he wasn’t part of the team and was only covering for the absent instrumentalist. “Well, my name is Jeremy and it means ‘God will uplift’. I don’t do great but God always helps me stay on beat the rare times when I need to play.”

“Hmm,” The lady tilted her head one way as though assessing him, and the intensity of her gaze, the upward pull of her cheeks, rotund like meatballs, ignited something deep.

Jeremy felt a quake within, that familiar throbbing of the inside to be owned and to own. As though sensing his struggle, she looked away and gave a nervous smile. “You don’t believe my claim?” Jeremy asked, laughing in an attempt to calm his racing pulse.

“About your name or your ability to stay on a beat?” She teased him with her eyes and Jeremy wondered if this stranger would be agreeable to becoming his friend. He liked her already.

“No comments.” Jeremy teased back and they both paused to listen to the sermon. Though the pastor preached on the cross and salvation, all Jeremy thought about was the mind-boggling stranger sat beside him.

The service ended at exactly one, the message concise yet a blessing. Jemima loved the pastor’s humor and how he explained the word with simplicity and grace. She wished she didn’t have to go back to Sheffield and could come back the next Sunday. Church members welcomed and thanked her for playing the keyboard. Jeremy, the drummer, had been called aside by someone so Jemima met other people who proved as amiable as himself. She was about to leave having nothing else to do when she noticed Jeremy excuse himself from his meeting and hurry to her.

“I hope you loved the service,” Jeremy asked, reaching for a handshake, his grip soft and chilly.

Jeremy’s handshake though convivial, felt partly alien due to the fading pandemic and exciting, awakening an awareness in her. She swallowed, feeling her tummy churn. “Very much.” Jemima responded as the pastor approached her to say hi.

Jeremy greeted the pastor who had a chat with Jemima about if she was new to Birmingham and if she needed help with anything. When the pastor left, Jeremy asked Jemima if she had driven or walked to church. “I am headed towards Solihull. I can drop you wherever you like.”

“I am going your way. You live on the same street as my grandaunt.” She giggled seeing unbelief cover Jeremy’s face. “I saw you once when I visited.”

“Are you joking?” Jeremy asked, trying to recall ever seeing this bepuzzling woman who was starting to be the focus of his rapt attention. The truth was he could not tell his neighbors in a sea of faces as he never really saw them and they all never went past salutations in the rare conversations they had.

Jeremy led Jemima to his car and during the drive home, they both talked about their lives – how they had both been born in Nigeria, how Jemima had moved to the Netherlands at five because of her dad’s job, and how they moved again to the UK because of her dad’s transfer. Jeremy explained that he was the clinical lead physiotherapist in orthopedics and trauma at one of the hospitals and Jemima talked about her job as a product designer. “Tech roles are the gold mines now.” Jeremy said, chuckling as he halted the car for passing traffic by a give-way sign.

“I did not start off with product design in mind. I did electrical engineering at Sheffield Uni and discovered I loved graphics design after I graduated.” She watched both Jeremy and the road as she spoke, warning him of negligent pedestrians emerging from a football match. “I took some courses to basically switch career paths. What uni did you attend?”

“The University of Lagos, Unilag.” Jeremy asked Jemima if she had heard of it, driving into the street that led to their homes.

“Of course, what do you take me for?” Jemima added that she had cousins who went there. “Four of them at least.”

Jeremy parked by the pavement that led to Jemima’s grandaunt’s home. He wished the journey home had been longer so they had more time to talk. Would she be happy to give her number so they forged a friendship deep in God and in themselves? All through the drive and in Church, he had made unspoken prayers about her and had felt the Lord’s approval. Jeremy didn’t know much about Jemima, but he felt allured by her calm personality and bright smile. Much more, she seemed to love the Lord like he did, and this realization disturbed him. What if he wasn’t deserving of her? The past came to mind, convincing he could never have a girl so beautiful, yet pure, for a wife.

“Are you okay?” Jemima tapped Jeremy’s hand lightly, rerouting his wandering thoughts. She was expecting that he would ask for a date or her number at least as they both seemed interested in their conversations, but Jeremy said nothing a while. “Are you fine?”

“Oh, yeah.” Jeremy brushed his hair and managed a smile. “I guess I will see you around.”

“Take care.” Jemima gave a calm smile, dropped off Jeremy’s car and thanked him for the ride.

Jeremy knew he had been a fool the instant he let go of Jemima. How could he allow his insecurities rid him of the blessing God had given him? His eyes burned with tears as he knelt by his bed, thinking of how guilty and undeserving he felt. Had God truly forgiven him? And had He forgotten, blotting out his sins though they were too awful to be told? So many years had passed yet he was still plagued by the ghosts of his adolescent life—the pale face of his teenage girlfriend emerging from a chemist’s shop after an abortion.

“God, please forgive me.” Tears flowed in a steady stream and Jeremy drew in ragged breaths. What if Jemima left him after learning of his past? What if no one could ever love him?

I love you and I am with you always.

Jeremy realised he needed to accept that at salvation, he became the righteousness of God in Christ and that God kept  no records of his past errors. He knew he would have to receive this truth otherwise defraud himself of his blessings. No longer would he be a captive to his fears. No longer would he live in the guilt of his past. Today, he declared, was his day of deliverance.

Jemima wanted to go back home although she had planned to stay longer to help her aged grandaunt. Jeremy, the neighbor and drummer from church, came to mind. He had easily spurred interest in her but had the same time, crippled every expectation she had. Since returning from Church, she had been by herself in her room, wondering when she would meet the man God had promised her from scriptures.

Jeremy came again to mind as he had several times this evening. She felt an urge to pray for him and she did, unsure of what might be going on. Although their brief acquaintance led nowhere, she blessed him like he was her longtime friend and prayed that it would be well with him.

Jemima was changing into her pyjamas when she heard the doorbell ring. To not bother her ninety-year-old grandaunt, she looked through her window and found Jeremy deposited like a forlorn cat by the entrance. Was something wrong? She threw a robe over and flew to the door, ensuring to not arouse her sleeping grandaunt with noise. Jeremy’s face lit up like a hot air balloon when he saw her.

“I came to ask – if you’re happy –” His words came off in short, nervous sentences so Jemima gave an understanding smile to help calm him down. “Could we go on a date and talk some more whenever you’re free?”

Jemima observed him, trying to judge if his request was some whimsical burst of fleeting emotions. “You mean now?”

“Whenever you want. I loved every bit of our conversations today. I want to be your friend and much more if you find me agreeable.”

Jemima laughed, easing the tension that was starting to build. “I’m free now.” She excused herself and returned in a jumpsuit and a thick overcoat.

They walked around the meadow that encircled the street, and headed for an Italian restaurant towards the town center, talking more about their lives, nuances and landmarks alike. Jemima believed in the same tenets of the Christian faith as Jeremy did and Jeremy knew he could tell her about his past shortcomings without her judging him — but not today. He would allow their relationship more time. After they had both finished slices of pizza margherita and orange juice, Jeremy took her hand and asked her for another date. “I’m falling headlong in love with you.”

“Hey, slow down.” Jemima chortled, giving a friendly caution.

“Okay, no rush. I love you and I want to marry you.” Jemima looked a way, her smile shy so Jeremy gave some reassurance. “But of course, we’ll take things slow or at whatever pace you want.” Jeremy was filled with the awe of God’s goodness. How had God attended to his heart’s desires in a day? Time passed with neither of them saying anything. Jeremy knew Jemima, this deposit of heaven, God has blessed him with, might need some more time to reach her convictions of him and he was willing to wait.

“I will need a while to pray about your request.” Jemima finally said, giving Jeremy’s hand a reassuring pat.

From experience, Jeremy knew that that tentative response from a Christian girl was most of the time, indicative of a promising outcome so he didn’t fret. Jeremy and Jemima walked back home, talking some more about their lives and within, they both thanked the Lord who only could have gone beyond oceans to bring their worlds together.

4 thoughts on “Oceans Beyond”

  1. 🥺🥺🥺 Wow I am yet to begin reading but I decided to come drop my comment in advance because I know that by the time I’m done reading, I won’t be able to type again and would jus want to be lost in the sweet memory of the book😁. Thank you so much Rume for always being an amazing woman and sister to us for writing us amazing stories to read and be blessed per time. Love you😍

  2. I thought I wouldn’t have the nerve to type after reading, apparently here I am, speechless, not even knowing what to type but at the same time know I’ve gotta type something. Wow! Beyond Oceans is really an inspiration for me, thank you for reminding us that God’s intentional about us and always has a plan for us. Despite our Past, thoughts and imaginations. He’s got good plans for us🥺🙏🏾. Thank you Ma’am 😍

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