Fatima was the last person to leave her room. She had felt a need to take some time out to pray for Uche before speaking with him during dinner. The moment she got back from the Sports arena, she had had a quick shower and then taken taken time to pray for Uche. She had thanked for the privilege He was giving her to touch another life and asked that He would help her to be a true witness and not mess things up.
When she had felt satisfied, she rose up. Thankfully, the hostel gate had not been closed. As she was walking out of the hostel, she remembered she had a performance that night, so she prayed in her heart, asking God to help her. and she knew he would. Now, she had a mission to accomplish for God.
Table Ten had just been called to come for food. It was almost time for Table Eleven; the table Uche was seated on. He had reserved a seat beside him for Fatima but she was nowhere to be found. He had thought they shared the same enthusiasm and that she would want to come early to continue their discussion. But now, about fifteen minutes had passed, and she hadn’t come. ‘Maybe she has thought well about what I did and has condemned me too. I knew she won’t understand. Why did I tell her?’ Uche thought to himself, going down the tunnel of depression again. He put his head on the table, waiting for his table to be called.
“Are you sleeping?” came the voice he had come to cherish. Uche looked up and saw Fatima smiling at him. His heart beat a little faster. She was just so sweet. “Sorry I’m late”
“It’s okay” Uche said, sincerely relieved his fears didn’t materialize. “I thought you weren’t going to come again”
“I’m so sorry, had to settle some things first”
“Please sit” he said just as he heard his table being called. “Let’s get our food first”
“Ok then”, she replied and they went to the serving point.
The meal was beans and plantain. Some students were delighted to eat it, some were not. Uche was among the former, while Fatima, latter.
“This is my favourite food?” Uche said, after taking the first spoon.
“Really?” Fatima said, giving him a disgusted look. “It looks like a baby’s faeces!”
“Hey! I’m eating” someone from across the table said.
“So sorry!” Fatima said, laughing and Uche joined in too.
“May be if you liked it, you would have been taller than this” Uche said, teasing her.
“Thanks!” she said, making a face. “I’m okay like this. You’re the one who’s too tall”
“I hear you; please let me eat my beans o!” Uche responded, smiling. They ate in silence for quite a while. “Thanks for this afternoon”
“You said you have something to tell me, right?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Guess it’s my turn to listen” Uche said, smiling. He was getting use to smiling often now, thanks to his new friend.
“I guess so.” She said, and dropped her curtlery. “A minute please” Fatima started looking through her bag, and it took a little while.
“What are you looking for?” Uche asked, wondering.
“I don’t know where I kept it…Oh there you are!” she said, bringing out two wraps of sweet.
“Sweet?” Uche was yet to understand. “Why the urgency and seriousness in looking for it?”
“Like I said earlier, beans and I are not friends. I dislike the smell that comes out of the mouth after eating beans” she said, winking at him as she threw one to him and started opening hers.
“You’re something, Fatima!”
“Thanks. I take that as a compliment.” When she was sure her breath was okay, she started. “It’s about my father and mother. Since I knew myself, they have been at logger heads with each other. There were times when I was in primary and in my Junior school days when I would cry everynight when I got home.
“Daddy used mummy as a punching bag, and she didn’t make things any better. The kind of abuses she used on him, I wouldn’t even dare to use on an animal. I lived everyday so gloomy, dull and depressed. If you had seen me in those days, you would have run away from me. It was a terrible situation.”
“How did they change?”
Fatima smiled. “They haven’t changed. They are still one of my greatest concerns.”
“So?” Uche asked.
“Interesting. How did that happen?”
“I met a guy that brought me joy even in my pain” Fatima’s face brightened as she said that but Uche didn’t share her glaee. He could only think of the lanky boy he saw Fatima chasing earlier that day. ‘Is this what you wanted to tell me; how that lanky boy brought you happiness?’ Uche was about to tell her he wasn’t interested when she mentioned a name.
“I met Jesus” she said, “and he turned my own life around. He’s the secret of my joy and cheerfulness. He healed my hurts, helped me to forgive my parents and to forgive myself”
“You had no reason to forgive yourself. You did nothing wrong”
“I had to” Fatima said. I’m the only child and sometimes my father quarreled with my mother about her inability to bear more children. He wanted boys but she said it would be risky. I am a sickler and the probability was high that any other children they had would be sicklers. So, I was angry at myself for years that I was cause of their fights.”
Uche nodded, knowing how much guilt that would have brought her.
“But I listened to Pastor Bimbo Odukoya when I was on vacation at my cousin’s in Lagos. I was just flipping through the TV on a Sunday. Then, I was a muslim and was home while they went to church. It was her looks that attracted me; she was beautiful and dress smart, plus she’s short like me” Fatima laughed, and so did Uche.
“She talked about forgiveness that day, and the message just seemed for me. I couldn’t change the channel but listen through. At the end, she said the only key to forgiving others was first, receiving forgiveness form God, then forgiving one’s self. I didn’t need further persuasion. I gave my life to Jesus Christ that day, in that sitting room at Lagos, saying the sinner’s prayer after Pastor Bimbo.
“Thereafter, I felt so much peace in my heart. I forgave myself and forgave my parents. It was a choice I made and God helped me. In conclusion, she said, anyone who wanted to live to the fullest had to chose to be happy; that happiness was a choice; not a matter of circumstances. That day, I chose to be happy and God has been helping me.
“When my cousins came back, they had to ask me what happened. I was smiling. That was strange for me in those days. I spent two more weeks in Lagos and listened more to Pastor Bimbo and my cousins were also of great help.”
“What did your parents say when you got back?”
“Nothing. Till today, they haven’t said a word. Frankly, I think it’s because I have not given them a reason to complain. They can see positive changes in me, and though they are not saying it, I’m sure they are proud of me. Moreover, since when I accepted Christ, I haven’t had a crisis; not once. I have lived in great health”
“That is remarkable. How many years ago was this?”
“Would be four years tomorrow”
“Haven’t there been times you would want feel depressed again?”
“There have been such times” Fatima said, “but God had always strengthened me through. He’s my best friend.”
There was silence between them for a while as Fatima allowed God do His work in Uche’s life. When she felt she needed to voice out, she asked him. “Would you want the same to happen to you?”
“Yes, I would”
“Would you received Jesus into your heart now?”
Uche paused. “I’m not ready for that yet. I really want this joy you have but I’m not ready to accept Jesus yet.”
“Why?” Fatima asked, hoping he would change his mind.
“I don’t know” he lied, hoping she wouldn’t press and she didn’t.
“It’s okay. But I hope you would give it a thought?” Fatima asked and Uche nodded. Fatima noticed almost everybody was out of the dinning hall and their plates littered the tables as it had been at lunch. She had felt a need to do something then, and now, she knew what she would do. Even if she wasn’t going to wash, she would clear up the plates and clean the tables.
“Are you ready to go?” she asked Uche.
“I would meet you in the hall” she said “I have some work to do.”
“Clearing up the dishes!”
“You cannot be serious!” Uche said, but as he stood there, she started with their table. There was just something so different about her. ‘This Jesus she has must be worth it’. Uche shook his head, smiling at his new friend as he joined her, picking up the plates.