The mountain was filled with moguls. But He would not leave me to brave it alone.
"Watch the path of your feet.
And all of your ways will be established."
~ Proverbs 4:25
"When will you let me see your face again?" came his voice through the phone.
The voice belonged to Paye, an attractive, 30-year-old man whom I had met while living in a remote city in Liberia. Paye seemed different from other Liberian men I had met during my nearly year stay in this war-torn country.
He had degrees in accounting and economics — rare among men his age whose college years had been disrupted by 14 years of unforgiving civil war. He also spoke succinct English — evidence of many years of formal training by foreign teachers, he said. Most surprising was that he wanted only two children so that he could "afford" them and that he was waiting until marriage to start a family.
Paye's decisions about family planning aren't typical ones for most Liberians. It's common to see families of 10 or more children with parents who aren't married.
I learned all of this while waiting on a money withdrawal at the bank where he worked as a manager. If you are wondering how I got so much information in such a short amount of time, you should know that getting this kind of information is my job. I'm a freelance newspaper reporter.
I had come to Liberia to record the stories of its people more than six years after a civil war that left the entire country in ruins. It was my hope to bring more awareness to this small West African nation that shared little-known ties to the United States.
Liberia was founded by free-born black Americans in 1822. They sailed here to flee the persecution they had endured as black Americans in a country rife with racism. But the vicious cycle of oppression traveled from the United States and landed in this tropical "land of liberty." The new settlers began oppressing the indigenous people and taking them as their slaves. Many years of rivalries among Liberians eventually led to a 1980 coup d'état and a civil war that erupted in 1989 and didn't end until 2003.
By then, an estimated 200,000 Liberians were dead and tens of thousands had become refugees.
Paye was one of those refugees. He fled to neighboring Ivory Coast, where he found work as a guard at a diamond mine. Later, both his parents died. As a child, he dreamed of going to the United States — as do many other Liberians who consider the United States their "big brother."
His description of Liberia: "Hell."
I felt sorry for Paye. And I found him interesting. He was attractive and charming. He had persevered and risen above circumstances that seemed if not impossible, then certainly despairing.
He asked for my cell phone number, and I happily gave it to him.
"Please let me see you," he asked during that same phone conversation. His request was sincere. Convincing, too.
That night, he picked me up, and we made our way down a broken, bullet-crusted road toward the city center. In the dark car, with only the moonlight revealing our faces, Paye was calm and smooth. I was nervous and played with my freshly washed hair.
"Look at you, playing with your hair," he said looking over at me. "Your hair is beautiful."
He slipped one hand off the steering wheel and reached for my hair, pulling his fingers through my strands.
I was surprised by his quick move. But I didn't stop him.
I'm not making excuses. But it had been a long time since I had felt loved by someone. It had taken more than two years to get over my ex-boyfriend, Matt, and all of the pain and rejection I had felt in those post-breakup years began to bubble up as I approached closer to 30 as a very, very single woman.
Paye pulled his hand back to the steering wheel as if nothing had happened, and we continued down the road. We both could feel that something definitely was happening. He drove slowly, expertly avoiding the deep potholes in the road bearing the toll of war.
Finally, we reached the city's main street, where we parked and walked to a local eatery that sells bowls of rice and drinks. We sat at an outdoor table under the glow of colored lights, surrounded by throbbing music.
And that's when I learned that Paye had a girlfriend.
"You don't think it's wrong to ask me out when you have a girlfriend?" I protested.
"I'm not married yet," he said.
I was disturbed.
"But you have a girlfriend," I repeated. "If I were your girlfriend, I'd dump you. It's not right, what you are doing to her — or to me."
We spent the next few minutes debating his dating ethics. Paye looked awkwardly at the road. Unfortunately, I've encountered Payes in Liberia and in the United States before.
I'll never forget an American man who sat beside me on a bus when I was a college student interning in Washington, D.C. He asked me on a date, and I asked him about the ring on his finger. He and his wife had an "open relationship," he said.
I wasn't open to that kind of relationship then, and I wasn't open to it now. I had dated cheaters before. My first high school boyfriend cheated on me at the tender age of 13. So did a man I dated seriously shortly after college. I still remember the loathing I had for my exes and the women who gave into their advances. I also remember thinking how I would never do what they did, should I ever be in the same situation.
I, however, was about to be put to a test.
"I haven't found true love yet," Paye said.
"But that doesn't justify pursuing other women when you already are in a relationship," I said. "What makes you think that everything will change when you are married — that you'll never look around again?"
"When I find true love, I will be committed to it," he said.
"I don't believe that," I said. "When you get married, the temptation still will be there."
It turns out that I, being the journalist who happens to know a lot of people in town, already knew Paye's girlfriend (although, I didn't know they were a couple). Fanta is a beautiful Liberian woman. She is much more than someone whom Paye is dating. She lives with him. She cooks his dinner, washes his clothes, shares his bed. Shockingly, she is giving birth to his child next month.
I was angry. But more than anything else, I felt betrayed and disappointed and rejected — all over again.
"I think it's time to go home," I finally told Paye above the pounding music pouring from the restaurant's insides.
As we walked to Paye's car, I saw one of my girlfriends sitting outside a nearby shop.
"I see you've got yourself a Black Diamond," she teased.
"No, he's just a friend," I insisted.
On the way back down the dark road, the moonlight revealing only our faces, Paye tried to win me over again.
"Don't you feel anything for me?"
It was an unfair, troublesome question. Even though his actions were repulsive and his words now seem so clichéd on paper, I still felt drawn to him. I was caught somewhere between his eyes and his words.
"Paye, you have a girlfriend," I said.
We pulled up to my house. I opened the car door and said a quick "Good night" without looking his way. The next morning, I deleted his number from my cell phone.
My friend was right. Paye was a "Black Diamond" — a man of any nationality who defrauds a woman through disrespect and infidelity. I'll add that I don't think all Liberian men are like Paye. There are wonderful Liberian men who are admirable husbands, and some of my girlfriends can attest to this. But on the slope of a night thick with newly fallen temptation, Paye was leading me down a treacherous course.
The thrill of black diamond ski slopes is in the danger. The quick whoosh of speeding skis, the slopes slicked with moguls, the challenge of making it down the mountain breathless and unscathed. But once one steps out on the course, one can't turn back. And the potential for getting hurt is as risky as an avalanche in the Sierra Nevadas.
I knew that no matter how good-looking Paye was — or how much I wanted to hear his words — that I couldn't let my emotions make a decision for me. The only way to deal with my temptation was to loosen its grasp at the first chance I got — even if that meant being as abrupt as the swift swing of a car door.
The night after our failed date, Paye's freshly deleted phone number flashed across my phone display. I knew my only way out was to continue on my own path of escape.
"No temptation has overtaken you but such is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it," it says in 1 Corinthians 10:13.
I silenced the phone.
I thought of Fanta — likely unaware and deserving of someone who would love her faithfully. She — the woman cooking his rice, carefully ironing his shirts for work, sharing his bed — was she committed to him? Or did she, too, have others?
I prayed for both of them.
I prayed that Paye, orphaned in his adulthood and growing up in a culture of infidelity, would know the faithful, committed love of Jesus. I prayed that Fanta — giddy with the thought of being a new mother in just a few weeks — wouldn't get her heart broken and would know that Jesus will hold her heart forever.
And I thanked God for not leaving me alone on a mountain filled with moguls. He gave me a way out — just like His word always said He would.
Copyright 2009 Christina Holder. All rights reserved.