The lecture hall was full to capacity. All the students were seated for the 7am briefing, after which they would go for breakfast. The briefing was the time when the activities of the day would be stated, and when other necessary announcements would be made. It was a procedure unique to this annual conference; the organizers intended to keep the students on their toes at all times; so there was no program list given to the participants; they only got to find out what was going to happen on the day on the morning of that particular day.
The Conference Director greeted the students and began talking. He stated that the first session of the day would be a mind-stimulating program where they would be put in groups and expected to come up with ideas that would benefit the community. They would convert whatever ideas they come up with into projects to be executed in Port Harcourt in the course of the conference. After that would be lunch, then they would be grouped again after lunch for a socializing event; where each student would meet at least 5 new people and they would teach each other new skills or just transfer knowledge.
The strange thing about this grouping was that it was not going to be voluntary, that is, no participant could chose what group to belong to. They were asked to take numbers from 1 to 10. They were warned not to change their group as it could affect their personal assessment negatively at the end of the conference.
After all that was done, the Director told the students he had announcements to make. After saying a few, he ended with the last one. “One of us had a crisis yester night and was rushed to the Teaching Hospital. Please do well to pray for her speedy recovery. Her name is Fatima Yuguda. Thank you all for your time. You can go for breakfast now.”
Uche was immobilized. He did not know what to think. He did not know where to start from. ‘Was this the source of the feeling I had earlier today’. He tried so hard to take in the message. Fatima was having a crisis. He had discovered from his many years of reading how dreadful it could be for an SS patient to have a crisis.
He remembered what Fatima told him the day before. “Moreover, since when I accepted Christ, I haven’t had a crisis; not once…Would be four years tomorrow” she had said. ‘What a terrible coincidence’. Uche thought as he began getting upset with God. ‘Why would you allow this to happen to someone so devoted to you? If you could do this to Fatima, what hope is there for me in this world with a God like you? Fatima doesn’t deserve to suffer.’
Thoughts from his past came hunting Uche again, and he concluded. ‘God, you must be heartless! I wonder why people even trust you in the first place.’ Uche stood up angry and walked out of hall, gritting his teeth to keep from shedding tears. ‘Life is so cruel’ he concluded, wondering how miserable he would be the rest of the conference without his new friend around.
“In all things, give thanks” Those were the only words George managed to mumble to himself over and again as his eyes filled. He had once seen his male friend in a crisis and the thought of Fatima going through the same was more than he could handle. He had been looking forward to seeing her, to get help and direction, but now, she was beyond reach and he didn’t know for how long she would be away. He suddenly felt so alone.
But he remembered a scripture they both had leant at one of the fellowship meetings in school and that was the scripture he now confessed. He knew beyond a doubt that God had good plans for all His children and that all things would eventually work out fine. He decided to give God thanks even though it was hard to see a reason so to do.
‘But God I prayed’ he directed that thought at God. Though he didn’t get a reply, he knew God had had his prayers. It could have been worse. Right there in the hall, he bowed his head and prayed silently for his friend, asking God to keep her strong through it all. As he prayed, he felt led to also ask God to strengthen him and others like Uche who looked up to Fatima. He wondered if anyone would be allowed to visit her.
George looked up, feeling much relieved that he had cast his cares upon God. He noticed however that the girl sitting next to him was still there. And what he saw was a replica of what he had seen the night before. She was crying again.
Before George knew what was happening, he heard himself saying, “God loves you”
He was about reprimanding himself for being forward but the girl looked up at him, and the tears intensified. It was at that point that he knew the Holy Spirit had just spoken through Him.
He said it again. “God loves you and can make you whole again!” George couldn’t believe he was the one saying those words because he didn’t even know where the words were coming from. The girl began to sob.
George on a normal day would have felt embarrassed, not knowing what to do, but this time was different. “If you’ll let Him, He’ll make you new.”
He didn’t touch her hand though he wanted to, to comfort her but just felt it would be inappropriate at the moment. He just kept saying the words as they came for the next few minutes, oblivious to everything else.
By the time she calmed down, without looking at him, she voiced her thanks.
“Would you want to talk about it?” he asked. She shook her head. “You can trust me” he said, and with that she looked up at him again. George could see fear in those eyes. He was sure someone must have really hurt her.
She kept her head down and sat motionless. It seemed like she was analyzing the offer he had just posed. She then wiped her tears and rose to her feet. She looked at George and said barely above a whisper. “Thanks. I would love to” With that she walked away from him and towards the exit of the hall.
George was at a loss. It had been quite difficult hearing what she said, now he wondered what she meant by ‘I would love to’. “Oh!” he breathed with a smile. He remembered the question he had just asked her. She had just agreed to open up to him. He didn’t know when she would but he knew she eventually would.
‘Fatima, I wish you were here to see what happened.’ George was so happy. God had spoken through him and now, he was about to become a counselor. It seemed too good to be true. He rose from the seat and smiled as he walked out. ‘God, you sure have a way of making seemingly ugly situations turn out beautiful’ he said in his heart.
“Oh boy, I don’t like the way things are looking. These guys are spoiling show.” Stanley was saying to Okpara and Utibe as they made their way to the dinning hall. “I had already pictured that there would be sports today, so I could execute my runs with Tunbosun.”
Stanley was not the only one whose plans had been disrupted. Utibe’s had been too. With the new schedule, he wondered if he would have the opportunity to progress with Shade. He had been tempted to look out for her and know what group she would fall into but pride got the better of him. He knew she would be looking at him; he didn’t want her to feel he was desperate for her; he felt that would make her feel too special. He decided however not to mention that to the boys.
“That reminds me. You said we should ask you about the idea you had after the briefing” Okpara chipped in.
Stanley smiled. “You really hate this girl. You really want me to nail her for good!”
“Okay then. It would be Utibe who would do most of the work.” Stanley said.
Utibe who had been rather quiet in the conversation was taken aback. “Please don’t do that to me. Okpara is better than me in all these things now!” He said, trying to avoid any responsibility Stanley would want to place on him.
“You be slacker.” Okpara said, slapping him on the back. “Hear wetin Stanley wan talk first before you complain.”
“No mind am” Stanley said. “Na easy thing I even wan make he do o!” He looked at Utibe and smiled when he saw the defiant expression on his face. “Na only you wan enjoy for his place. Is it because you already have that Shade girl in your palms? See…s” Stanley said, placing a hand on Utibe’s shoulder. “All I need from you is to get Shade to agree that she will deliver my package to me.”
The look on Utibe’s face showed he was lost and so was Okpara.
“Let me break it down for you. On the next day we have sports, since they have cancelled that for today, I will need your girl to lure Tunbosun into that uncompleted building. I will take it up from there.” Stanley watched Utibe’s face as he tried to process the new information.
“That shouldn’t be a problem” Utibe finally said and then added. “But that means I would have to tell Shade what our plans are.”
“Why not.” Stanley replied.
“You’re sure she won’t report to the authorities when she hears what we hope to do. I’m not sure that girl will betray her friend.” It was Okpara chipping in.
“I think she will” Stanley replied. “I know girls. If it were to be Tunbosun, she won’t betray Shade just to please a guy but I’ve analysed Shade; she would be too willing to do it.”
“Stanley, I agree with you on that.” Utibe said. “With the petty talks we had yester night; it’s even obvious that she feels Tunbosun is too rigid. Shade will do it. When do I tell her?”
“You could tell her during breakfast now. I’m so sure, she’ll be dying for you to get to the hall so she could come over and sit with you.” Stanley said, giggling. “Shade reminds me of the first girl I slept with when I was fourteen.” He burst into laughter. “Girls could be very stupid. Shade fits that profile perfectly.”
Utibe smiled. “But I wonder what she would be able to say that would convince Tunbosun to follow her into that building. That girl is smart o!”
“Are you telling me? I have turned it over severally in my mind. You’ll tell her…”
“Double up guys!” The Conference Director hollered from the entrance door of the dinning hall, interrupting their discussion. They had to jog up along with the few stragglers ahead of them.
The moment Shade saw the trio enter the hall, her excitement increased. She kept looking at Utibe, hoping he would be looking round to see where she was seated. He wasn’t. She followed him with her eyes till he sat down. As expected, the other two guys left a space beside Utibe, obviously for her. She was about to stand, when a firm hand held her lap down, as discreetly as possible, preventing her from standing up.
It was Tunbosun. “Don’t you have some trace of female dignity left; as least, a little?” Tunbosun was looking at her with a combination of concern and anger.
‘This girl is beginning to irritate me. She is talking as if she’s my mother’ Shade thought to herself, as her friend talked on.
“Why would you just throw yourself at a guy? Why are you the one going to meet him? Why can’t he be the one looking for you?”
She had just echoed Shade’s thoughts. Though she wanted to discard it, she couldn’t. She had been disappointed when Utibe came in without making an eye-search for her. She had felt that way too in the hall some minutes back. The moment she knew they would be taking numbers, she had looked in his direction to see what number would be his. He was number 3.
When it was her turn, she was number 1. She had decided to lie when asked and join Group 3 so she could be in his group. What upset her however was that throughout the numbering period, Utibe did not once look around in search of her to find out what her number was and she had felt very cheap.
Now, he had just done the same thing and Tunbosun had talked about it too. Her ego shot up immediately. ‘No guy is going to take me for a ride’ she thought to herself. “Thanks girlfriend.” She said facing Tunbosun. “I won’t go over”.
As she said that, she saw relief flood Tunbosun’s face. ‘Why does this girl care this much?’ She thought, wondering if the feeling was mutual. ‘Am I this concerned for her?’ she asked herself, and deep within she knew the answer was no. Just then, a weird thought came to her mind and she actually wondered where the thought came from. ‘If a reason ever occurred where I had to chose between making Utibe happy and making Tunbosun happy, who would I chose?’
As she asked herself, she stole a look in Utibe’s direction and looked at Tunbosun who had started eating her food. She knew the answer, and that answer made her feel guilty and ashamed of herself. Utibe’s happiness was her priority!