by Jacqueline Ewers
push the key in the door. Kicking off my
shoes, I head for the kitchen. Most
nights I can’t be bothered to make the effort to cook a proper meal. The microwave pings as my toast pops out of the
toaster. I pour baked beans over brown
bread. The smell is comforting. I settle down in front of the telly. The evening passes as I watch several
episodes of Say Yes to the Dress. Getting ready for bed, I pull a long satin
nightdress out of a drawer full of negligees.
After slipping it on, I bundle up in a cardigan. I wouldn’t be this cold if I had a husband to
snuggle up to. I put socks on and slump beside my bed to
pray. God, have you forgotten me?
been praying for a husband for years.
I’m fed up of the repeated chorus ‘I am praying God will send you a
husband, Sister Maxine. Wait on the Lord and be of good courage.’ Today was the
worst. After Pastor Kendal’s sermon: Don’t
Worry Your Boaz is Around the Corner, everyone came to encourage me. I wanted to tell them to bog off. God, why haven’t you sent someone for me? It is so unfair. Disappointment climbs into bed with me. As I fill the empty space on my right with
pillows, tears fall on the duvet cover.
We were a tight-knit church youth
group until members started getting married.
It was great to begin with. Sometimes I was bridesmaid two or three times a year. But by twenty-eight, I was in the group of women
no one chose to marry. By forty, friends
stopped looking out for guys for me saying ‘I was too picky’. Others said my ‘lack of faith’ was the reason
I was still single.
sit with Amanda in Tuesday night Prayer Meeting expecting the same routine; a
few songs followed by prayer. Pastor Amy
gives an exhortation entitled Trust God, Your Ram is in the Thicket with great
animation and enthusiasm. Voices mingle
as members respond to the message.
‘Praise the Lord!’
Suddenly, Pastor Amy calls me to the
altar. Sweat beads form on my upper lip
as I try to avoid the glances of the others. Terrified, I make my way wondering what she’s going to say. Pastor Amy shouts from the podium,
‘The Lord says you will be married
within eighteen months.’
Stunned, I lift my hands in praise. ‘Thank you God, finally you’ve heard my
next evening while scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, a notification pops
up. Shiloh Church is holding a speed
dating evening tomorrow. God, will I find him there? I register for the event.
small church hall is decorated with clusters of red and white balloons with tables
covered in contrasting red and white paper table covers. There’s a low buzz of excited voices. I feel as if I have arrived late even though
I am ten minutes early. Ten smartly
dressed men casually discuss sport amongst themselves. I see nine impeccably presented women clustered
in groups of three. They seem to know each other. I note their smiles fixed in place to catch
the eye of a potential mate. I approach
one group saying ‘hello’. Heat rises to
my face as I sense their scrutiny. I’m
so glad I changed into something smart before leaving work. A bell rings. The room becomes quiet. A fifty something woman introduces herself as
Sister Yvonne. Her hair is swept back in
a simple pony tail and her face make up free. She prays to open the evening
asking for God’s direction.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, when you came
in you were given a number. Please sit
at that table. The bell will ring after
10 minutes. Gentlemen, you will then
move onto the next table in a clockwise direction.’
I am quickly bored with number
one. He only speaks about his Lexus
car. On close inspection number two has
pencilled in his eyebrows. A definite
no. Number three just quotes scripture
the whole time. Number four, doesn’t
make eye contact. I think he’s a bit
shifty rather than shy. The fleshy gaps
between the straining buttons of Number five’s shirt put me off. Six makes it clear that he is the centre of
his world. Seven is looking for a woman
to replace his mother. Eight becomes uninterested
when I say I don’t like football. Nine
is Pete. Our conversation flows with
ease. He’s a Pentecostal. Tick. Working. Tick. Funny. Tick. Looking for a wife. Huge
tick. God is this him?’ I don’t really engage with
Number ten because I’m thinking about Pete.
The final bell rings. Some men
duck for the door, while others linger. I
quickly look at my phone pretending not to notice Pete coming towards me.
‘Hey Maxine, you fancy grabbing
something to eat tomorrow evening?’
‘Yeah, why not?’ I say, trying to
mask my excitement. He gives me his number and we arrange to meet at Tooting
Bec Station at 8pm. “Thank you Jesus, I didn’t expect to meet my husband so
soon.” I sing “God my provider” all
the way home, fantasising about my wedding.
It takes me all day to get
ready. I choose an outfit to show off my
figure. Hair freshly styled, flawless Mac
face, I head out for Tooting. The thrill
of dating bubbles away feeding my excitement.
‘I can’t believe I’ve found him already.
Thank you Lord’.
‘Hey Maxi, you look great.’
‘Thanks, where are we are we going?’
‘Oh, it’s not far.’
chat chirpily as we walk down the road. ‘We’re here,’ he announces. My breath catches in my throat. As we go inside, the Chicken Cottage menu
looms over me. He throws the words ‘Dutch
yeah?’ over his shoulder at me, and then places his order. Not wanting to look as if I can’t pay for my
meal, I order a wrap and a drink. I
watch him shovel a handful of chips in his mouth. As he talks about himself, bits of chips fall
to the table. He absentmindedly picks
them up putting them in his mouth. ‘This cannot be the one, no bloody way.’ I try to be pleasant but when the chicken fat
runs down his chin dripping onto the table, I get up mumbling something about
feeling sick and leave. Deflated,
wondering about the promise of a husband, I make my way home, blocking his
I brown the meat, the spicy curry powder, mingled with ginger and garlic waft
throughout my flat promising a tasty meal.
Rice simmers away releasing its buttery aroma. It’s been so long since I cooked a proper
meal. Amanda chops cucumber.
‘Did you hear? Marj is pregnant.’
‘Because she’s single she’ll have to
give up her post as Sunday School Superintendent. Such a shame, she loves those
‘Now she’ll finally have one of her
own. I know what it’s like to be sick of
being the godmother and never the mother. Do you think she did it on purpose?’
‘Who knows?... I blame our church
rules; no sex before marriage; no co-habitation; no marrying non-Christians. I feel smothered.’
‘This purity thing ain’t easy.’
‘Well, I got myself a rubber friend
to keep me company.’ Amanda confesses as she sips her wine.
‘What you saying to me? You know that’s a no-no.’
‘What’s a girl to do?’
‘I’m keeping myself pure for my
husband.’ I say, not mentioning crying
many nights wondering where he is.
‘You do just that. God is faithful. The prophecy will come to pass.’
continue chatting during our meal. I
savour every mouthful. I had forgotten
how much I love my own cooking and eating with company. After Amanda leaves I wash up the dishes mulling
over my secret encounter with Brother Barry.
first noticed him visiting in a Sunday morning service three months ago. His smooth baritone voice caught my
attention. I admired his dapper look and
fudge-coloured skin. ‘God, is this him?’ I approached him striking up a conversation. His Paul
Smith aftershave gently tickled my nostrils. He became a regular visitor. ‘Can I have your number?’ he asked one
day. ‘I just want to check you get home
safely.’ No guy had ever bothered about
my safety before.
‘Yes of course.’
He was charming. I felt special and valued.
‘That colour on your nails accentuates
your beautiful long fingers.’
‘That scarf you’re wearing looks
fantastic. It compliments your eyes.’
dates were incredible. Tea at The Shard
and Cocktails at Maxwell’s. A far cry from
Chicken Cottage. I loved being a couple. ‘Please
God let this be the one.’ I subscribe to
‘Let’s not tell anyone we’re dating
just yet. It’s much more exciting.’
‘Ok,’ I said wondering why.
After a while, he asked if he could
spend the night at my flat. When I said
no, he ignored my calls and messages. A
week later I decided to go to his house.
I rang the doorbell. When he
opened the door I confronted him.
‘Why are you ignoring me?’.
‘As you’re here, come in. I know what you need.’ he said reaching for
‘For God’s sake B. Stop it.’
I knock his hand away.
‘Max, I don’t know why you’re carrying
on like your fanny is paved with gold and lined with diamonds. I should be able get me some sex anytime, I’ve
earned it. Those dates were investments,
it’s payback time.’
‘If it wasn’t for the grace of God,
I would cuss out your backside.’ He slams the door in my face. I kick the door shouting ‘Arsehole.’
was furious, mostly at myself. I can’t
believe I imagined us walking down the aisle. I found out later that Barry had slept with a
couple of my single friends at church. Now,
I’m glad it was only my temper I lost with the bugger. Drying the dishes I ask ‘God, was the
prophecy really a word from you?’
my way to buy hard dough bread and bun, this guy walks up to the 250 bus stop,
T-shirt exposing toned muscles. His eyes
are a striking caramel against his rich chestnut skin. I fancy him straight away.
‘You been waiting long?’ he says
‘Only a few minutes.’
‘Happy Easter. I’m on my way to Brixton for bun and bread. I can imagine the queue when I get there. I hope the bus comes soon.’
‘I’m going to the bakery too… sorry
for being forward but you sound Jamaican.’
The bus arrives, I get on first.
‘Yes, I grew up there but came back to
London a while ago. Have you been?’
‘My parents used to take me when I was
younger. Beautiful island.’ I’m chuffed when he sits next to me. As we chat about Jamaican Easter traditions, I
check his wedding finger. Empty. I think to hell with it and ask for his
‘Amanda, I’ve met this guy. We’ve been dating for a few weeks now.’
‘Really? I can’t believe you’ve kept him a secret.’
‘I wanted to see if things would work
out. Guess what? He’s a Jamaican
‘Shut…up, a minister.’
‘I know right. He’s Baptist, but he’s sweet like condensed
milk. Pray he’s the one.
He makes a mean
steam snapper, stuffed with okra, and callaloo steeped in butter. Oh my word, when I ate the fish I embarrassed
myself. It was so tasty I sucked the
juice from the fish head.’ We talk about
Jamie for the next two hours.
I pray ‘God let him be the one.’ Dating is fun. It’s the first time I’ve felt loved: Surprise
flowers at work, and unexpected gifts. We laugh comparing the similarities and
differences between Jamaican and Black British culture. I’m constantly learning something new. I look forward to our evenings together which always
end in prayer.
‘What’s up? It’s the middle of the
night?’ Amanda answers her phone sleepily.
‘Sorry, I know it’s late but I can’t
wait ‘til morning…I’m engaged.’
‘Max. That’s fantastic! Tell me everything. How did he ask? What’s your
‘This evening we went to watch the
World Championship athletics. Jamie
asked me to marry him just after Usain Bolt won his last race. Fans were standing cheering, chanting and waving
the Jamaican flag. The atmosphere was electric.
It took me two seconds to say yes. My ring is platinum with green and white
diamonds. So beautiful. I can’t believe I’m finally getting married. I’m too excited to sleep, you coming over?’
‘I’ll be there in half an hour.’
she arrives we squeal, drink champagne, dance around and tumble down giggling
like little girls.
Pastor Kendal announces my engagement, brethren dance in the aisles praising
God for answered prayers and the fulfilment of the prophecy. Some older sisters struggle to move their
arthritis ridden bodies so bang their walking sticks on the carpet.
is the final fitting for my dress. The
sweetheart neckline trimmed with scalloped lace emphasises my bust line. The shimmering diamanté crystals and beads on
the bodice hug my body. My image takes
my breath away. I run my hand over the
weighty satin of the skirt, such a luxurious feel. ‘Jamie will over the moon when he sees you.
You look breath taking.’ Amanda says.
‘You expect me to leave my church
after over thirty years Jamie?’ I shout,
no regard for others in the coffee shop.
‘Yes, of course. You know it’s tradition. I want you to serve with me in my church.’
‘Why can’t you serve at my church?’
‘Maxine, stop your stupidness. I want you by my side as my wife at home and
in ministry. If you can’t do that then
it’s simple, you’re not ready to be my wife.
Let me know what you decide.’ He
walks out the door.
I wrestle, wondering am I ready for
marriage, to compromise and give up some of my independence? Do I have what it
takes to leave the church I know so well despite its flaws?
‘You look dreadful. Bags under your eyes, hair matted
together. What’s going on?’ Amanda enquires.
‘Jamie’s expects me to join his
church after we’re married. I’m scared
of change. I haven’t slept properly or
been out for days.’
‘Are you out of your mind? You knew all along you would have to go to
his church, it’s tradition. You would
pass up marrying Jamie for what exactly?
He really does love you, even the blind can see that. Look at all the times he’s put your choices
first. Fix up Maxine, stop being selfish. Call Jamie and tell him you’ll follow him to
his church. After all, you two belong
we sign the marriage certificate, Jamie declares ’You’re the answer to my
prayers. I love you Mrs Thomas.’
love being Jamie’s wife. We’re both
getting used to married life. It’s been
good. I’m quite settled in his church
now. The members are really nice to me. I hardly see the old youth group but Amanda
keeps me up to date on our nights out. It’s
funny, Jamie really did turn out to be my unexpected ‘ram in the thicket’.
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