Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of "A Man is Known by the Company He Keeps" (without using the actual phrase). (01/31/08)
TITLE: Undue influence
By Folakemi Emem-Akpan
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“Are you okay?” She asked him for the umpteenth time that evening. He was going through the motions of dinner, demolishing his food into bit-sized pieces, stuffing the morsels into his mouth, chewing. But there was something wrong with him, she could swear, a cloak of depression that seemed to ensnare him.
She asked again if he was okay. For the umpteenth time, he nodded yes. Pushing her food about in her plate, she decided she wasn’t going to question him again. If there was anything she’d come to learn in the past year, it was that Richard was no longer the same man she’d been married to for three years. Since he started at his new job, he’d become temperamental, given to mood swings, lashing out at her, at their toddler, retreating into the television whenever he was home.
It was their third anniversary, and if not for the fact that she’d been planning this dinner for more than two months, he wouldn’t have come.
“Perhaps we should go home.” She suggested. There was no use pretending, and by the way she wasn’t eating anything either. As it was, they were going to pay for two plates of food none of them had bothered to eat.
As they made their way out of the restaurant, Lara pulled her overcoat tighter around her. The night was blustery, and they had a ways to walk.
“Hey. One moment please.” Richard said to her, already trotting after an impeccably dressed man who had come out of the restaurant at the same time they did. She watched him catch up, watched him strike a conversation, watched his face show the first signs of animation that day, and suddenly understood.
The man he was speaking with could be none other than William, his co-worker at the office. He was the only person Richard spoke about with enthusiasm nowadays. It was always William this, William that.
For ten minutes, Lara stood in the cold and wondered what kind of person William was to have such a hold on her husband. She almost did not notice that the two men had approached her.
“Lara, this is William.”
She shook a hand that was as cold as her freezer and gazed up into glacial eyes. A tremor ran through her and for the first time since she became a Christian, she had not a doubt that she was in the presence of evil.
All of a sudden, she understood why Richard had become the way he was. He was a Christian too, but had never been as strong as she was. And now, William had a hold on him. A hold whose effects were mood swings and a disinterest in anything familial.
When they got home, she discharged the babysitter and tucked her son into bed. When she returned to their bedroom, Richard was already asleep. She sat beside him and ran her fingers along his jaws.
He was basically a good man, under undue influence. If she didn’t do something drastic, William’s hold on him was only going to get stronger, and Richard’s relationship with his family only worse.
She began to pray in the Spirit, perspiring so profusely it was like she had been drenched by a bucket of water. For an hour, she was that way, slightly bent at the waist, her hand on Richard’s.
Then she had a shower and climbed into bed beside her husband of three years.
“You know, I’ve been thinking.” Richard announced over breakfast the next morning. For the first time in six months, he’d risen early that morning to have devotions with her, then he’d played with their son in his room for a while.
“What’s that?” she asked as she poured milk over Trevor’s cereal.
“Maybe I should stop working at Mark’s and take that job I was offered last month. I heard it’s still open.”
The new job he was talking about was owned by an elder in their church and she’d pressed him to take it at that time. But he’d been adamant, refusing to even consider it.
Joy surged in Lara’s heart, and hope blossomed as well. Things were going to be all right.
“Would you like that?” she asked.
“The pay’s good, and I’ll have more free time. I’d like to spend more time with you and Trevor. Or what do you think?”
She nodded briskly and he didn’t see the tears that rolled down her cheeks.
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