Monday, August 18, 2008

Novella: Choices (Chapter 5)

The applause was loud and deafening. The 6th Annual National Secondary Schools’ Bible Quiz Competition was at its peak. The 12 competing schools had now been reduced to the final two; Royal College, the host school and Kristos High School, the new comers from Imo State. It had been an exciting competition so far with no dull moments.
They were on the last round, with one more question for each school.
“Royal College, pick your question. You only have questions 17 and 83 left.” The Quiz Arbiter announced.
“Question 83” Pearl said.
“Question 83”, the arbiter repeated. “Who was the father of all who live in tents and raise livestock?”
Moni and Pearl whispered to each other and Moni voiced up. “Jabal”
“Spell it” he said.”
“Correct!” he announced. There was a thundering applause from the audience. “And Kristos High School, you don’t have a choice about your question. Question 17. Who was David’s mighty man who fought until the sword stuck to his arm?”
Ifeoma looked at Chuba who was already staring at her in disbelief. “I told you it would be asked” she said, smiling. He motioned her to say it out.
“Eleazar, son of Dodo.”
The hall was dead silent waiting for the arbiter. He took a moment to look at his notes, for no other reason than to heighten the suspense. He looked up at the Kristos students and frowned, then smiled. “Correct”. There was another loud cheer.
“Now, since we’ve gotten to this point, we are going to ask both of you a joint question. You’ll write down your answer and the Timekeeper would come collect from you after thirty seconds.” The Quiz Arbiter looked in both directions. “Royal and Kristos are you already?”
“Yes sir” the four contestants replied, now terribly nervous.
“In the sheet of paper given to you, quote Psalms 68:5”
Moni screamed and reached out to hug Pearl. “This is unbelievable” she mouthed. She looked at Pearl and saw her eyes fill and the tears spill over. She wondered why Pearl was being so emotional but guessed that was her way of expressing this joy they both felt. “You’re da bom, girl! Write it down, Pearl” she said, giving her best friend the pen.
On the other side, two heads stared at each other in disbelief. “You must be a prophet, Ifeoma. I forgot entirely and didn’t learn it but I believe you did.” He said, smiling at her.
“I didn’t either” she said and hung her head.
“I can’t believe this” he said. He looked over at his opponents and saw they were beaming. He hung his head too. Turning, he faced her. “Just write something; at least you have an idea.”
“Okay” she said raising her head and he saw tears on her cheek. They had worked so hard for this.
The Timekeeper came on cue and collected their sheets. After the arbiter read through, he asked the contestants to quote it verbally, starting with Royal College.
Pearl stood and quoted it; Ifeoma stood and did same. The arbiter showed no emotion when either quoted. Only those who knew the verse had any idea as to who had won.
The Quiz Arbiter cleared his throat and announced. “All contestants have done beautifully well, especially our last four contestants, representing Royal College and Kristos High School. I actually enjoyed myself as they all showed the stuff they’re made of. They all spoke with confidence and –” He saw the audience was getting restless, waiting for the answer. That’s exactly what he wanted. “Okay, straight to the point,” he said, smiling and walked to the center of the podium.
“The winner of the 6th Annual National Secondary Schools’ Bible Quiz Competition is…” he paused, relishing the moment. “Royal College, Lagos” The screaming, hooting, and shouting was in itself exciting. The members of the audience were on their feet and it took some screaming from the arbiter to quiet everyone down.
“The last four contestants,” he looked at his notes. “Moni, Pearl, Chuba and Ifeoma would represent Nigeria in this year’s African Christian Students’ Conference in Cape Town, South Africa in August this year; all expenses paid. The audience cheered. “The champions of this year, Moni and Pearl would be giving full scholarship for their first year in any Federal University in Nigeria.” Another applause welcomed that news.
“I now call on Bayo and Sunbo, the outgoing champions from La Ville Academy to congratulate the runners-up and decorate the new champions.” Bayo walked up the podium with Sunbo by his side. They went over to congratulate Chuba and Ifeoma. They then moved over with wreaths to decorate Moni and Pearl. Bayo shook Pearl and moved over to shake Moni. When he did, he lingered a little and bent slightly forward and whispered, for her ears only, “Baby, I am proud of you”. Moni’s knees buckled at his nearness and at those words he spoke.
Bayo stepped back and allowed Sunbo shake Moni’s hand. Moni noticed however that there was something different in Sunbo’s eyes, compared to the high school arrogance and disdain that used to be there. It seemed more like an inner glow finding expression through her eyes. “Congratulations Moni” she said and stepped away.
“Thanks” Moni said disarmed by the look in Sunbo’s face. She had initially planned to spite the girl if they won the competition but that seemed uncalled-for now.
“Thank you Bayo and Sunbo” the arbiter said. “We believe you all had fun. Keep reading your bibles. God bless us all and God bless Nigeria. See you next year!” The hooting was back again as school mates congratulated each other and exchanged contacts with the new friends they had made from other schools.
Bayo waited for Moni at the last stair from the podium. “May I have the honour of walking with you?”
“As the outgoing Champion, yes!” she said, trying to seem as unaffected by his presence as possible.
“Can I have a few moments with you?” he asked.
“Okay” she said, facing him.
“Alone” he then added.
“For five minutes” she said, and then added with a smile “My fans are waiting for me.”
“You bet. Where can we go?” he asked.
“The laboratory block. It’s two blocks behind this one” she said pointing to the block ahead of them.
“Okay, then.”
They walked silently for the few minutes it took them to get to the laboratory block. Bayo intentionally didn’t say again. He allowed Moni’s mind do all the thinking. He’d done this several times, it wasn’t going to be hard for him. And it was working. Moni’s hands were getting wet and sweaty, and her mind raced in different directions. When they got to the laboratory block, with no one in sight, Bayo knelt down in front of Moni, took her right hand in both of his and looked straight into her eyes with those pleading eyes of his.
Moni’s heart was stuck in her throat. She couldn’t breath.
“Moni!” Pearl screamed in the hall. ‘Where is this girl’, she asked herself. She had been talking with Ifeoma and Chuba on the podium. When she turned, her best friend was nowhere in sight. She ran out and saw two figures walking alone toward the laboratory block. ‘Moni, please don’t be stupid!’ she pleaded in her heart. She wanted to share with Moni what had happened to her that made her cry on the podium.
After her first meeting with the Maranatha girls, she had felt free and alive. She had rededicated her life to Jesus. She had opened up to them about her life. They had told her to tell her step-father off; that she couldn’t play along anymore, they had prayed with her and told her she had to forgive both her step-father and her biological father who ran away from home. She struggled with those thoughts all night, and as she was about to sleep, she made a request of God. “If you’re truly now my Father as You stated in Psalms 68:5 and You want me to forgive my earthly fathers for what they have done to me, please let us be asked to quote this same scripture in the quiz on Saturday.” That had been her prayer.
When the arbiter had asked that final question, she couldn’t explain the feeling in her heart. She was awed by God’s love and concern for her and the tears came naturally. Now, she wondered how she would go about the forgiving business. The next day was ‘Visiting Day’; the last Sunday of the month and her step-father was going to come. She thought, ‘How am I going to tell him that I’m not doing again and I’ve forgiven him for defiling me so far? Would it jeopardize his marriage with mummy? If it does, how would my mum, my brother and I survive? If anything goes wrong, mum would never forgive me!’
Moni wasn’t the only one who noticed the duo walk away from the hall. Sunbo saw them too. She had known Bayo was trying to get Moni back right from the time they were seated together on the front row, honored as outgoing champions. He kept looking at her; hardly did he pay attention to anything or anyone else. He seemed hungry for the girl. She only wondered why.
Her own thoughts too were plaguing her. She was still asking herself why she had agreed to having Bayo come stay in her house. Then, she had thought she had good and strong reasons, but now, seeing him again after nine months, she wondered if it was such a good idea. He still had this hold over her, and he knew it. He was her first and her only, in fact. She had dated only one guy after Bayo but never slept with him, for reasons known to her.
She looked at him again, as he walked away with Moni by his side. ‘How am I going to tell him what happened to me after he left, what I did, and what I have become now? I can’t imagine what the look on his face would be when I tell him. Worse still, I hope I won’t still fall flat for this guy I know very well to be a player. One night under the same roof with Bayo is enough to do the magic’.
“We tried. I’m sure God is proud of us though He might have wanted us to be a little painstaking by checking out that verse that we forgot” Ifeoma said as they waited for their driver who was nowhere in sight.
“You’re right. It’s painful though. And I blame myself for it” Chuba said.
“Don’t. It was my fault. You were tired and deserved to sleep. I was just bored and chose to look out at grasses. Can you imagine? I should be spanked” she said smiling.
Chuba was happy to see Ifeoma smiling again. She had been quite down immediately after losing the competition. The South Africa trip was a good compensation; something to look forward to.
“I heard that Pastor Franklin Jentezen from Gainesville, USA usually comes around for the African Christian Students’ Conference”
“The guy of ‘Keep your underwear on’?”
“Yes! The same guy”
“Wow! I’m glad we would be there”
Chuba was taken aback. ‘We’? She was thinking of both of them. If it were him, he would have personalized it. He was getting to know Ifeoma more, and he had just discovered something new; she was selfless. He stole a look at her when she was not looking. ‘Father, I know I don’t deserve this kind of girl but how I wish You would bless me with someone just like her when I’m ripe for marriage’ he prayed silently.
As if she had heard him, she looked at him and smiled. Chuba missed a heartbeat. She reminded him of the Proverbs 31 woman, just that Ifeoma was still a girl, not to be barged with emotional commitments. He could see she respected him, or was it admiration he saw in her eyes, he couldn’t tell. ‘Only if you know who I really am; how messed up I really am, the things I struggle with, you would never want to see me again’ he thought.
And again, as if reading his mind, she looked at him. “I’m proud of you, Chuba; any day, anytime.” She smiled as she looked at her friend. He was so strong, mature and godly; he acted far older than his age. ‘God, I’m so insecure, shy and afraid of the future, while this guy is so strong, intelligent and mature in You. I know I’m not good enough for him but I think I need him. And I might never have him if I don’t do something quick. Is it okay Lord if I ask him out?’ she asked God silently, feeling silly about the request but waiting for an answer.
Few motorists and bike riders noticed the girl standing on the mini-bridge overlooking a pond. Anyone would have assumed she was relaxing, enjoying the scenery under the bridge. But only Shola Bankole knew her reason for being on that bridge. She was tired of life and was ready to end it all. She kept analyzing the water below, she either needed it to be very deep; deep enough to drown her or very shallow, shallow enough for her to break her neck when she dived.
She mentally sought for one reason to stay alive but she couldn’t find any. She’d lost all her true friends; there wasn’t anybody to fall back to. Her parents had given up on her when they heard about her activities on campus. The only person she knew she could run to and won’t turn her back was Thomas Baderin. He had preached to her in her first year on campus and got in touch once in a while but she had never been nice to him. She knew he wouldn’t turn her back but she couldn’t bear the shame of going to him, tail between legs.
‘Let me relieve myself of this pain once and for all. I’ve come too far to turn back now. I only wish I had made better choices.’ Different memories flashed through her mind; the good, bad and the ugly. She lifted her left leg to the top of the bridge’s slab. She looked back and saw no one was looking. With final, resolve, she lifted her right leg, the tears flowing down her beautiful face unabated.

Written By Timilehin Adigun.

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