Sunday, August 23, 2009

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 11)

The hall alone couldn’t do for the group discussions that had been scheduled for the morning session, so only five groups remained in the hall while the facilitators of the other groups led their respective groups to other suitable locations. The Conference Director had stated during his opening remark that at the end of the conference, their projects would be graded and the best group would be awarded. That was all he needed to say to raise the eagerness of the participants to put in their best.
Tunbosun was in Group 7, one of the groups that were led out of the hall. She loved things that had to do with bettering the lot of the society, so she was sure with her inputs, and those of other intelligent colleagues, her group stood the chance of coming out on top. Their leader, who later introduced herself as Dr. Ogechi, was very friendly and helped make integration among the group members easy.
Before they began anything, she told them to bow their heads for prayer. That seemed to surprise many but she didn’t seem to care. Afterwards, they took numbers; they were 102 altogether. She told them specifically that she wasn’t there to tell them what to do, but to assist them whenever they got stuck. She stated that they would need to have leaders and asked for volunteers.
A few seconds passed without anybody raising a hand. Then, a hand was raised, then another, then another, until nine hands were up. Tunbosun was still contemplating on whether or not to volunteer, when Dr. Ogechi voiced out. “Any other person?”
At that, she raised her hand, making it ten volunteers. They were asked to come into the center of the circle that had been formed. They were four boys and six girls altogether.
“We only have five positions to be filled, so we would have to nicely eliminate five of you” Dr. Ogechi said, smiling at the volunteers. “Thank you for volunteering, but now I need five of you to volunteer to return to their seats.” She said, looking rather serious now, and that educed some giggling from floor members.
Tunbosun felt embarrassed and wondered if she should step down. She thought it over quickly and decided to give others a chance. As she was about moving, she noticed one of her co-volunteers was already going to his seat. He was a tall and lanky boy. She was encouraged. Soon, three others joined them, returning to their seats.
“Shall we give a round applause for our ‘5 men standing’” Dr. Ogechi said, smiling. “But I’m going to surprise you all by announcing to you that our leaders would be the five that opted out and not these five that chose to stay. They decided to sacrifice their desires, so others could have opportunities.”
Her statement was greeted with different reactions. “Friends, please come out.” She said pointing in the direction of those who had returned to their seats. “And folks, please return to your seats”, she said to those who were still standing, making a bow in their direction and swinging her hand in the direction of their seats; signaling they should have their seats.
Looking at the reactions on the different faces would have been an experience for anyone present. Reactions varied from disappointment, to surprise, to anger, to frustration, to disapproval but as at before, Dr. Ogechi showed she didn’t care about the reactions. She had something to say.
“It’s not all the time that those who step down for others are better than those who refused to step down, but most times, their hearts are usually large and kind; the kind of heart an intelligent leader needs to have. I might be wrong, so we would watch how things will play at the end of our project. Please put your hands together for our five leaders”. The applause was quite impressive.
“We would like to meet you” she said smiling; now facing the five. “Let’s start from you”, she said looking at Tunbosun.
“I’m Tunbosun Badmos of Standford College, Abuja.” She said and as she did, she saw the expression on faces. People generally respected students of Standford, both for their social class and for their academic reputation. She wasn’t affected by all of that. She wanted people to respect her for who she was, Tunbosun Badmos, and not for what school she attended.
She listened as the others introduced themselves. She was however keen on knowing the name of the tall and lanky boy. There was something about him that was different, though she couldn’t place it. She hoped she would somehow get close to him. ‘This is so strange of you Tunbosun’ she was telling herself, but she just couldn’t shake off the feeling. He just didn’t seem like the other guys.
When it was his turn, she heard him say, “My name is George Ahmadu of Comprehensive College, Kaduna”. She noted his name and Dr. Ogechi continued with the introductions.
When she was done, she stated that they would just need to trust her instincts as a psychologist. She stated that from the way the five introduced themselves, she knew what office each person would fit into.
She started by announcing that George would be the Leader of the group. As she said that, Tunbosun felt something she could not remember ever feeling. Desperation. She wanted to be the assistant leader, as she knew it would make her work closely with this lanky boy she wanted to meet.
“…Our assistant leader will be Tunbosun…” Dr Ogechi said, and continued.
Tunbosun was so pleased but tried not to show it. ‘George Ahmadu, I look forward to knowing you more’ she said to herself, sincerely pleased. It was the only thing in the conference so far that had made her look forward to the remaining eight days. She looked forward to working with this boy for reasons she couldn’t explain to herself.
Uche was taken aback with the sights in the hospital. He could not remember when last he had been to a health facility. He saw suffering almost everywhere he turned to. There was so much to see; from the women carrying their wailing or feeble children to people with skin diseases, to people looking so emaciated, it was clear their death was imminent.
The question that had played on his mind earlier in the day resurfaced again. ‘Why would a God who claims to care so much for humanity allow people to suffer so badly? Don’t people claim that He is a God of love and can do all things; I can’t see any proof of that right now.’ He said to himself as he, George, and Mr. Aminu waited in the congested waiting room. He had been surprised when he got to the car that was to convey them and saw that no one else, not even the Conference Director was accompanying them. He had expected more participants to volunteer.
He couldn’t help voicing out his disappointment to Mr Aminu and he had been told that the Conference Director hadn’t made it open but had only called the three people that Fatima had particularly requested for. Uche wondered why the CD would do that. On the other hand, as he waited, he couldn’t help feeling somewhat special that Fatima had requested for him to come.
He concluded in his mind however that whatever he felt when he saw Fatima was going to decide his fate with this God. ‘If that girl is suffering, God, then you and me are toast!’ Looking to his side, he noticed Mr. Aminu was reading a newspaper but George seemed to be concentrating; looking at nothing in particular. It was then Uche noticed something. Though George’s lips were not parted, they were moving slightly. ‘What is this guy doing?’ was Uche’s thought as he saw a nurse walk towards them.
“Please come up with me” she said, as they rose to follow her.
The moment nurse Maureen told her that her guests were around, Fatima was thrilled. She felt new strength cruise into her body and she was grateful. She propped herself up and continued talking with God, as she had been doing often in the past hours. A part of her rejoiced she was admitted; it gave her time with God she hadn’t had in a while.
As she committed her friends’ visit to Him, she heard Him say something to her. “He needs encouragement” she heard clearly. She did not need to think hard to know who the Lord was referring to. “Lord, please help me to be what you need me to be to Uche today. Holy Spirit, please teach me.” she said to her best friend, and relaxed knowing He would help her.
The door creaked. Nurse Maureen just opened it and told the guests they had thirty minutes to spend with Fatima. She noticed they greeted the other patient before coming to her bed side. Fatima had not yet had much to talk about with the woman who lay there. She seemed to be a Christian as she read her bible in the mornings but she was very reticent. She hardly said a word, except when nurses or the doctor came around. Fatima knew they would get to talk soon; what she didn’t know was how soon it would be.
She returned her attention to the trio that had walked towards her. Mr. Aminu had a look of casual pity, the type of ‘I see sick people every time, but sorry all the same’. She couldn’t fault him. He was still unmarried and obviously without kids. She was sure having a family would soften him a bit.
George on the other hand looked truly concerned for her. The moment he got close enough, he slipped his hand under hers and held it as he looked at her. She could see from his facial expression that though he didn’t like the state she was in, he wasn’t much troubled. He knew she was safe because she had Jesus. There was just this knowing in his eyes that there was nothing to be worried about.
The look that bothered her was that of Uche. He was quite expressionless and that bothered her. She was unable to decipher what he was thinking. And for her, that was not a good sign at all. It was then she remembered what God had told her earlier about encouraging Uche and she received wisdom to do just that.
“How are you feeling now dear?” Mr Aminu asked.
“Much better now, sir” Fatima replied.
“I hope you’re taking your drugs faithfully?” he asked again.
“I’m trying” she said, smiling at him, knowing he knew how much she dreaded taking drugs. He had been there five years back when she had an attack in her JSS1 Second term.
After answering his questions, she politely told him she needed to be alone with her friends and he willingly obliged. She motioned Uche to sit on the seat where Mr. Aminu had been seated and told George to get the other chair that was beside one of the vacant beds.
“How have you guys been?” she said, looking from one boy to the next.
George was the first to respond. “I’ve been good. But seeing you now, I’m better” he said, winking at her.
She smiled at him and then faced Uche. “And you?”
“Just there” he said.
Fatima was not satisfied with that but decided to let it pass. “Hope I haven’t missed too much?”
“Nah!” George responded. “We just got into groups for community projects.”
“Sounds lovely. Are you guys in the same group?”
“No. I’m in Group 7” George said, and then faced Uche.
“I’m in Group 1.”
“Cool. You guys must be having fun.” As she said that, she glanced at the wall clock and discovered she had just fifteen minutes left with her guests. Nurse Maureen was a very dutiful staff; Fatima was sure she would walk into the room at the exact moment the time was up. She decided to make the best of the remaining minutes.
“I have something I need to tell you guys” she said, propping herself up a little more. “I wondered myself why on earth the God I had served faithfully for the past four years would cause this to happen to me.” She looked at them as she spoke and saw they were listening to every word she was speaking.
“I had to ask myself if there were sins I had committed, for which I was being punished. As I wrestled in tears through the night, the Holy Spirit brought a scripture to my mind. ‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.’ That was enough to do the magic. I’m waiting to know exactly why this happened.” She paused. “But I have a clue” she said with a mischievous look, in a mock whisper.
She was just so special. Uche and George couldn’t help smiling. Fatima was pleased with their smiles. “Should I tell you?” she teased and they played along, nodding their heads.
“Doc needs a doc.” Her words were met with confused faces. She was pleased. “I thought you guys were smart. I’m disappointed” she said, giggling.
“What do you mean?” Uche asked this time, smiling.
Fatima was fulfilled, seeing Uche smile again. She knew God was doing some work on his heart. “I would have wanted to tell you but I think I like suspense. Wait and see” she said, hoping Nurse Maureen would come in, so she won’t have to give in to their pleas as the boys were already pleading for an explanation of her statement. ‘Hurry up Nurse!’ she pleaded silently.
“Please!” the boys echoed over again and Fatima kept shaking her head with her fingers to her ears. Just then, the door went ajar and Nurse Maureen entered, much to Fatima’s delight.
“Gentlemen, it’s time to say bye” the nurse said.
George and Uche faced Fatima with mock disappointed faces and she stuck out her tongue at them. They smiled. As they were about leaving, she called their attention. “Hey guys! I’ll miss you both.” She said and saw they were touched by her statement, not knowing how to respond. To help them out of the awkward situation, she decided to say something else. “See you guys tomorrow”
That statement now elicited raised eyebrows.
“You’re wondering how on earth I would be out of here tomorrow. You just watch and see.” She winked at them, then added. “Now, get out of here, before I change my mind” she said, looking so serious all of a sudden.
The boys laughed, Nurse Maureen joined in the laughter too as the three stepped put of the room. Fatima was just a big case. As they stepped out, she lay back down on the bed and lifted her heart to God. She couldn’t have planned it better. “Thank you Father for taking absolute control. I love you”
As she was about to close her eyes to rest, she heard the now familiar voice saying. “Two more hurdles to cross”. She was taken aback. She had thought she just had one more person to minister to; Doctor Fetsus. She wondered who the second was. Just then, her room mate sighed, catching Fatima’s attention, and she heard God tell her, “Talk with her now. Don’t wait one more minute or it would be too late”.

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