Jeremiah grew up the same way most of us did. He was born into a Christian home and had been strongly warned against close friendship with girls since his childhood. But despite all the warnings his dad made, Jerry, as he is fondly called, couldn’t help it when his heart began to gravitate towards a girl in church when he was just fourteen.
He always thought of her even when she wasn’t around him, and his mind never became silent when she was near. And though young as he was, Jerry knew the way he felt meant something. He didn’t feel the same way with the other girls in his church; only Grace; the daughter of the church youth leader. Just three days after he actually turned sixteen, Jerry walked home from an errand he had run for his mother that afternoon when he saw Grace coming from the other direction. Immediately his eyes spotted her, his heart lost its senses and his feet missed a step under him. But still Jerry walked on; and Grace came nearer too.
About ten metres separated them when Jerry’s mind calmed enough for him to construct the sentences he planned to say when they meet. ‘Hello Grace…’ He played out the opening statement in his mind. ‘No. Hello doesn’t sound sweet. I will say Good afternoon, Grace’ He reasoned. ‘Or should I say Sister Grace?’ Ten metres became four and Jerry knew he must stop thinking and just go ahead and act in any way his mind directed. When she was just a metre or two away, Grace smiled as she walked nearer but the smile only added to Jerry’s confused state of mind. ‘Good afternoon, Jerry.’ she said, still smiling. Glad he wasn’t the one to open the conversation, Jerry quickly responded. ‘Good afternoon, Grace.’ As they stopped in front of each other, Grace stretched out her hand for a handshake.
Though his heart beat wildly at the gesture, Jerry still mustered enough willpower to put out his hand and receive the handshake. Their hands didn’t linger and the handshake was the briefest in Jerry’s entire life. Yet, he never forgot the date. ‘Happy Birthday in arrears. My dad told me last Tuesday was your birthday.’ Grace said. Surprised and elated, Jerry bent his head in gesture of gratitude. ‘Yes. Thank you.’ he said simply. The two of them parted seconds later and headed for their homes. But even when he got home, Jerry never forgot. After he had given his mother the errand report, he went into the room he shared with his brother and sat on the single chair they had. Jerry took out the diary his brother bought for him as birthday gift and wrote on its first page. ‘I shook hands with Grace today.’ he wrote the date and the time estimate and then wrote some few lines about the ‘event’.
He dropped his pen, raised his hand and looked closely at the hand that had received Grace’s hand. It seemed the right hand had a brighter colour than the left. The hand also felt different; it felt heavier. Jerry looked at the parts of the hand touched by Grace and smiled in pleasure; then he brought the hand down to his chest. His hand rested on his heart and he felt the beat become more rapid. This time, Jerry did more than smile, he laughed, though alone in his room. And it was that day he knew what he felt for Grace was the same thing he had read about in novels. Grace had always feared God even before she knew who he really was.
Her mother had groomed her to never dare dishonour the Creator of heaven and earth, and always keep his commandments. Even when she was just twelve and didn’t understand many of the Lord’s rules, she made sure she did her best to steer clear of doing anything wrong. And whenever she failed to do right, Grace always felt sorry with a renewed promise to always act right.
Two years later, she had been genuinely saved from her struggles when she raised her hand in church and joined the people who came forward for salvation. And though she was still young then, the fear she had for God became love for the Heavenly Father and she found it easier to live right. But as she walked towards home, she found it wasn’t that easy to push away thoughts of what just transpired between Jerry and her. ‘What even made me shake his hands?’ she tried to reason. ‘But it is not the first time I would be shaking hands with a boy. So, why am I feeling somehow?’ She thought about speaking with her elder sister about it but decided it wasn’t that important. When she finally arrived home and resumed her school assignments, her mind drew away from Jerry’s handshake and focused on the algebraic expression before her.
The two teenagers saw each other in the next church service and smiled. Though there was no handshake this time, the smile on their faces seemed to tell each other a story no one else could hear. The very few times when Grace didn’t arrive church on time, Jerry caught himself wondering and looking towards the door whenever someone entered. The two continued their silent friendship for the following couple of months before Jerry gained admission to a federal university in another state. Though he couldn’t actually identify the reason, Jerry knew he had to tell Grace before he left for school. On the last Sunday he spent home, Jerry wore his one suit and promised himself to speak with Grace before he left the church. When the preacher spoke on God’s love, Jerry was wondering about another kind of love. And when the Pastor rounded off his speech, Jerry was still revising the manner he would approach Grace and the words he would speak. About two hours after he had been speaking to the congregation, the preacher ended his message and called for prayers.
While every other person in church prayed about the message, Jerry talked to God about Grace and his planned meeting with her. When the service officially ended and people dispersed, Jerry sat still and waited for Grace to stand up and walk by. He watched her closely while she sat and wrote something on her jotter. The rest of the girls and boys in the teenage church stood up and left until only Jerry and Grace sat in their chairs. While most of the congregation dispersed and went out the church door, many persons were still standing around, gathered in small groups and discussing. But while all these went on behind them, the two young souls sat in their chairs in silence. Grace still wrote on her notes while Jerry still looked at her, waiting. A thought crossed Jerry’s mind, telling him she was waiting for him but he dismissed it too quickly. ‘Why would she?’ he thought. ‘She doesn’t know I would be leaving for school yet, does she?’ When he could no longer stand the feeling of apprehension he had, Jerry stood up and walked up to where Grace sat. ‘
Happy Sunday.’ he said and then sat in the empty seat just beside her. Grace looked up smiling. ‘Happy Sunday, Jerry.’ The way she spoke and looked at him made Jerry wonder if she had not truly been waiting for him. ‘How are you?’ he said and tried to look at her writings. ‘I’m fine.’ Grace expertly covered the note when she noticed he was peering. Jerry’s face betrayed the question on his mind and he smiled before looking away from the notes. ‘Are you not going home yet?’ he asked. Grace folded the paper she had been writing on. ‘I was writing something.’ she said. ‘I have finished now.’ Jerry wondered what to say next and realized the speech he prepared had left him. She kept folding the paper into smaller squares and smiled as she did so. ‘I will be travelling to school on Tuesday.’ Jerry blurted out and exhaled, pleased to have finally gotten it out of the way. ‘Yes, I know.’ Grace said simply. ‘My dad told me.’ In all the rehearsals he had done for the conversation, Jerry never imagined she could already know about his impending departure.
He never reasoned that his parents might have told Grace’s parents already. For a couple of moments, no words came to Jerry and he just stared straight at the pulpit the pastor had vacated. ‘God be with you.’ Grace’s soft voice broke the silence. ‘Read well and don’t follow bad friends.’ she repeated the same words Jerry’s mother had been saying since he had been preparing for school resumption. Jerry chuckled. ‘I will not follow bad friends, don’t worry. And I will face my books.’ Grace smiled too and held her bag against her knees, a sign she wanted to leave. Jerry took notice and stood up. ‘That’s what I came to tell you. You too, read your books well and join us next year.’ ‘I will.’ Grace said and also stood up. As the two of them walked out of the church beside each other, a few old heads were turned but the two teenagers took no notice. At the entrance of the church, Grace stopped.
‘Jerry, wait.’ She said. He stopped and turned to face her. ‘Take this.’ she handed the folded square of paper to him. It was then Jerry understood why she didn’t want him to look at the notes before. He collected the paper with a big smile on his face though his eyes had questions in them. Immediately the paper was in Jerry’s hand, Grace walked away quickly, almost running. ‘Goodbye!’ she turned and waved at the astounded Jerry before she went out of sight. He raised his right hand and waved back but was still too stunned to speak. A few moments later, Jerry also left the church building and felt light and happy as he walked home. His mind screamed at him to tear open the paper and read the content but he restrained himself. ‘I have to settle down to read it.’ he smiled as he walked home alone. He felt like running but he only walked briskly. He wanted to laugh out loud but he only smiled. His lips spread across his face as he replayed the short time he had spent with Grace and the words spoken. Though short, it was the longest conversation they had ever had. Jerry felt his pocket for the neatly folded piece of paper and wondered why he didn’t just read it while he walked home. ‘I will be home soon. No need to hurry.’ he assured himself for calm. The road that led from the church to Jerry’s home took ten minutes on the average, but on that bright day, he was home in less than six minutes. Only his younger sister had gotten home when he entered the house, his parents were still meeting with other adults back in the church. Jerry, grateful for the silence, went quietly to his room and locked the door from within. He sat on his medium-sized mattress and settled down to read the content of Grace’s letter. Careful lest any part of the paper got damaged, he gingerly opened the squares until the alphabets looked back at him. And then, Jerry read. ‘
Dear Jerry,’ the letter was introduced officially. But to Jerry, the ‘Dear’ in the opening salutation of the letter meant more than normal. He read the word four more times before he proceeded with the rest of the letter. ‘I was very happy when I heard you gained admission into the University to study petroleum engineering.’ Jerry wondered how she knew the course of study he was offered but he went on nonetheless. ‘I am writing this letter to congratulate you and also tell you to study your books when you get to school. Remember the son of whom you are. Don’t disappoint us…’ Again, Jerry stopped at the ‘us’ and reread it to himself numerous times. Though the pronoun suggested a plural collective entity, it sounded to his ears as if it was personal. ‘Don’t disappoint me.’ Jerry read out in a whisper. ‘Make sure you finish with first class,’ the letter continued. ‘I will see you during your next break. Till then, take care and God be with you.’ Jerry’s face brimmed with smiles and his eyes glowed as he read the concluding part of the letter. ‘Yours sincerely, Grace.’ She ended. As soon as he finished reading, Jerry went to the beginning again and read each word twice before moving to the next. When he had almost memorized all the words of the letter, he finally refolded it. He opened the brand new Bible his dad bought for him specifically for school and placed the folded paper between the end of Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. And as he did so, he couldn’t help but feel an old part of his life ended that day, and a new chapter opened before him.