Thursday, October 22, 2009

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 16)

‘This is fun.’ Tunbosun thought to herself. ‘I never knew helping others could be this much fun.’ She had just finished clearing the dishes. She had done it with George and Uche as they had done in the afternoon. She had been with George through the afternoon session and had learnt about his dreams. George wanted to be a politician eventually, able to influence the governance of Nigeria in a godly way. She was indeed impressed at how he spoke about the possibility of Nigeria becoming a godly and prosperous nation.
She told him about her vision of starting the first free private co-educational college. She felt it was possible to give people good, and quality education without them paying a kobo. “It’s high time we stopped being overly money conscious” she had said. She could tell that George had been impressed.
She had wanted to share the terrible dream she had had with him but the timing had seemed inappropriate. As she stood with both guys now, she felt it might be a good time to find a way of pulling George apart to hear her dream; it was actually a nightmare. But before she could speak out, George did. “Guys, I need to see someone during this free time before the film show.”
As he said that, Tunbosun was deflated. She was almost sure it was the girl she had noticed with George earlier on. Her next concern was where they, George and the girl, were going to see. She had heard of escapades that were meant to happen today; she hoped George was not that kind. Even if he wasn’t, she feared what that girl that looked attracted to George could do.
“I would see her in the hall” George said, as if he knew what was on Tunbosun’s mind. “Uche, please take care of our young lady” he said, excusing himself, but not before noticing that Uche felt uneasy. He had discovered in the short while of meeting the boy that he was very shy. He only hoped Uche would get out of his shell soon enough.
He hadn’t looked at Tunbosun’s face. If he had, he would have seen a look that would have confused him. Her face was sullen.
“There is something very unique about George. I’m still trying to place a hand on it” Tunbosun said when she was left with Uche.
“I need more than that Uche. You can’t be shy around me o! You had better start talking o” she said, poking him.
“Okay.” He said, smiling. “I think it’s the fact that he is a Christian.”
“Aren’t you a Christian Uche?” she asked, mockingly.
“Not in George’s way. I’m a Christian by religion but with what I’ve seen in George and Fatima…”
“Who’s Fatima?” she interrupted.
“George’s best friend”
Tunbosun wanted to faint. So, there was even another friend that was close to George; close enough for Uche to call her George’s best friend. The reality was dawning on her gradually that what she needed from George was not exclusive attention or anything special. She just needed to be his friend and learn whatever she needed to learn from him. It was a hard truth to stomach but she had to. She had to stop herself from getting jealous.
“Okay” she said, responding to Uche’s answer.
“Their lifestyle is so different from any other Christian I’ve met. They are consciously trying to please God in all they do. I’m personally contemplating becoming like them; that is, getting that committed to Christ.”
“Yes. But I’m waiting for something” Uche said.
“What’s that?”
“It’s confidential!” he said, seriously.
“Nonsense. What do you need secrets for?”
Uche thought a while. “Okay, it’s actually not a secret, just that it has nothing to do with anyone else but me and God.” He looked at her and saw she was waiting for him to talk. “I made a deal with God, that I would give my life to Him if Fatima returns to the conference tomorrow.”
Tunbosun pondered on that a while. “Why did you do that?”
“Because I have felt at different times that God doesn’t care about anyone. These two made me see differently but I need some confirmation. Fatima is in the hospital and she said she would be out tomorrow. I find it rather impossible, so I want to test how serious God is about having me.”
Tunbosun smiled. “You’re shy but hard inside”
“If you say so.”
“But I heard a preacher say it isn’t right to put God to the test.’
“I didn’t know that. I’ve already done it; the ball is in God’s court now.”
“God must have really dealt hard with you for you to be this callous about Him”
“What happened?” Tunbosun asked.
Uche couldn’t see himself telling another person. The only person he had told was Fatima but there was something he had omitted and that’s what he wanted to tell Tunbosun, he was going to leave the other details out. “My sister died in an accident. I later learnt that the car that hit the okada on which she was seated, was a church’s car. It had the logo of a church on it. People said there was a driver and someone at the back; who they supposed would have been a pastor. Onlookers said if he had stopped and taken her to the hospital, she might have survived but he sped off.” Uche paused. “That was the day I began seeing God as a despot who just did as He pleased.”
“I can imagine your pain” Tunbosun said, and Uche could see that she meant what she said. “I’m a Christian by religion. I hardly even go to church myself but I have not seen God as wicked, just as a boring big man upstairs. But that is changing gradually”
“Guess we are in similar shoes.”
“Seems so” Tunbosun paused. “There’s even something I wanted to tell George”
“Guess you’ll tell him when you see him.”
“Yep” Tunbosun said. She looked at Uche and asked herself if she should just go ahead and tell him the dream she had had the night before. She changed her mind and decided she would keep it for George. Little did she know that Uche had the solution. Her silence had just endangered her some more.
Uche was struggling. As he spoke with Tunbosun, he debated with himself whether or not to mention to her that he heard some guys talking about a Tunbosun that they wanted to have. They really sounded like they were going to do something terrible to her. He convinced himself that it couldn’t be a decent girl like this Tunbosun they would want to take advantage of. ‘It must be another Tunbosun’ he said to himself.
With that, Uche dismissed the thought. He would later wish he had spoken up.
As Okpara sneaked behind the dining hall with Christiana beside him, he couldn’t calm his heart. It was beating so fast. The girl didn’t even know his name and didn’t seem to care. As he tried to find a convenient spot in the dark area, he could see couples in different locations though he couldn’t tell who was who.
He wondered how come the authorities hadn’t found out about the activities that took place. Were they that blind or that careless? When they got somewhere he felt was okay, it occurred to him that he was about to lose his virginity in a place many had lost theirs; both boys and girls.
Something deep within him told him he was about to make the mistake of his life but he subdued the thought. ‘I have come this far. I have to finish what I have started.’ Okpara told himself.
It was just a few minutes to eight but Fatima was really fagged out. She had just eaten dinner and taken her drugs. Doctor Festus had left the room a new and happy man. Though tired, she couldn’t contain the joy that she felt at being an instrument through which God touched her room mate and the doctor. She could see God had started a work on Nurse Maureen but she had this conviction that God would perfect the work Himself. She had played her part already.
Before Doctor Festus left, she had told him that she felt alright enough to be discharged. Knowing her better now, he hadn’t argued but asked to examine her. By the time he did, he smiled. She was fine and ready to go. He told her he would take her back to the conference himself. That was indeed very tripping. “God is indeed wonderful!” he had said, awed at both how God had healed his patient so fast and how He had planed it as a means for saving a dying doctor.
Fatima was not left out. She was still basking in the wonder of all God had done. He was indeed a God worth living for and she was bent on pleasing and serving Him for the rest of her life. Still smiling, she lay down to rest, looking forward to seeing her friends the next day.
As George entered the hall, he could see Tara. She was seating on the same spot she had sat in the morning when they had their first conversation. “Father, please make me a blessing to this girl and help me not to lose my head”, he said to God as he descended the aisle steps.
“Watsup Tara” he said as he got close.
“Hi George. I’m good, thanks.”
“You’re quite early. Don’t you eat at all? Didn’t see you at the dinning hall throughout today”
“I don’t eat out normally, so I find it hard eating the food they give us.”
“So, what have you been eating since we got here?” George asked, curious.
“Buscuits” she said, smiling.
George shook his head; he couldn’t believe it. “I’m glad I found out about this before you collapsed. That’s about to change. You’ll learn how to eat out when you have no choice” George said, trying to sound big brotherly.
“I hear you” she said and then looked at her wristwatch. George understood. They had about thirty minutes to the start of the film show. They needed to get to business.
“I’m listening, go ahead”, George said, making her know he got the message.
“I’m not proud of what I’m about to tell you. I just feel I need to let it out. I hope you won’t hate me when I’m done”
“Sure not!”
She nodded, doubtfully. “I grew up in a very strict family. My parents, especially my mum didn’t give us any breathing space. We couldn’t voice out our opinions about anything. It was so suffocating. I can’t remember ever thinking well of myself. My self-esteem since when I knew myself was zero. We couldn’t go for our friends’ 10th birthday parties or other relatively harmless occasions. No one even wanted to visit us; we were practically in jail.
“I even remember a day when my friend in primary four gave me a fine biro; I had never seen the type. She said her mother brought it from Canada when she traveled. I was so happy I showed my mother immediately I got home. Do you know what my mother did?” she asked rhetorically, facing George.
“She broke it and threw it into the trash can.” She said and saw George’s expression. Anyone would wonder why. “She said I must have gone begging my friend for it. She was so cross with me that day. I cried my eyes out.” Tara said, blinking back tears. “It seems like yesterday. It was just awful.”
George listened carefully. He decided not to interrupt her with comments or sympathies.
“That was just one occasion out of numerous others. My father didn’t help matters as he was hardly at home, and whenever he was home, he left his wife to take charge of his children. We are five children. I am the third born and the first daughter. But things changed for me when we moved here. My father started a business here in Port Harcourt and we moved with him.
“I was enrolled in Rumuokoro private college to start SS1. That same week I met a fellow student who just seemed to pick interest in me out of the many new students. I was flattered by his attention. He kinda did some orientation for me; putting me through some things so I could get familiar with the environment and procedures in the college. It was like that for about three weeks. I was on cloud nine; I had never felt so loved before. I looked forward to going to school, and found reasons to leave school late, so I could keep gisting with him.” She smiled as she recalled those moments.
“He introduced me to his friends, so I had many people I was talking with. My self image began to improve gradually. But I soon noticed changes in him. The first day I noticed was the day he looked so hard at me; I was very uncomfortable under his peruse. He then said, ‘you’re the most beautiful girl I have ever met in my life’. I was so shocked to hear those words, I couldn’t even reply. He must have noticed my surprise; so he went on to make more comments, even those I thought a boy shouldn’t pass at a girl.
“I was so lost in his words; I didn’t want him to stop. It was the first time in my life anybody would say something so nice to me. One thing led to the other, and I got to trust him with my life, telling him about how I felt my parents hated me and all.” She paused. “Looking back now, I think that was when he decided to capitalize on my weaknesses. Shortly after I confided in him, he asked me out, and I gave him an answer immediately, scared he would change his mind if I waited a minute. He was the first reasonable guy asking me out. Others had been neighborhood touts or unserious uncles.” She smiled, a sad one. “At least, I thought he was reasonable”
“After one month of the euphoria of dating him, by the way his name was Douglas; he began demanding things I knew I shouldn’t give in to. I had gone to church all my life and I had a relationship with God, so I knew some things were wrong but I feared losing the only guy that had ever showed me love in the way I understood.”
Tara noticed students had started entering the hall; she knew she had to speed up. “It started with kissing, then smooching, till he did things to me I never knew I could ever allow. Then, he popped the almighty question about seven months ago when we just started the new session. He asked me for sex and I said no.” Tara buried her head momentarily in her hands, then raised it up, smeared with fresh tears.
“I wish I had kept it at no. I wish I never even allowed him to touch me in the first place.” She shook her head in regret. “He pestered me for a whole week. I couldn’t think straight throughout that week. I cried over and again. The pressure was so much because I thought he loved me. I eventually gave in and cried throughout the whole ordeal. He didn’t seem to care however.
“When I left his house that day, I cried till I got home. I had gone to his house from school, so I was still in my uniform. I cried myself to sleep. I hated myself for what I had just done. I told myself I would never do it again. I asked God to forgive me; I prayed for forgiveness a whole week.”
“Did he just let you be?” George asked, feeling it was high time he asked a question.
“For a while. Seems he was still enjoying his conquest. We kept talking but never talked about what happened that day. Two weeks after, he started behaving and saying things that made me know he wanted to have me again and I told him plain blank he would never touch me again. I told him what we did was wrong and that we should never do it again or any of the kissing or touching thingies until we were married.” Tara laughed. “I actually thought we would get married – silly me.”
“He agreed but I noticed our relationship began to turn sour. He snapped at me often. Most painful then was his flirting with other girls right in my presence. I wondered what he was doing behind my back if he could go to that extent in front of me. I was still wondering how I would handle his taunting when I found out, five months ago, that I was pregnant. My world turned around in that moment.” Her hands instinctively found her belly.
George’s eyes went there too, and he could guess what had happened, but he wasn’t going to guess. Just as she wanted to continue, the anchor for the film show picked the microphone and set the ball rolling. Tara swiped at her tears. George touched her hand lightly and withdrew it, a sign of comfort in the most decent way possible. “I’m so sorry Tara”
She nodded. “I’ll finish up tomorrow. I just know I have to finish telling you this story as it would help me.”
George nodded. He would have wished she continue but he knew she won’t be able to keep talking during the film show; those sitting near would be able to hear her. And immediately after the show, all would be expected to file straight to their hostels; no talking or loitering would be permitted at that time.
He longed to hear the remaining part. ‘Lord, even before tomorrow when Tara will finish opening up, please begin your work in her life. Touch her and make her whole’ was George’s prayer as the film began.
Shade was staring blankly at the motions on the screen. She couldn’t think straight. She had just done things that made her feel dirty. What some of her friends had made so much noise about now seemed like nothing after all. Utibe had wanted to go all the way but she didn’t let him. He did practically every other thing with her body and she felt like trash.
The only consolation she kept giving herself was that he loved her. ‘He loves me. He loves me’ she kept repeating to herself over again, convincing herself what she did was okay since it was with someone she loved and loved her back. He was seated beside her; holding her hand as they watched the film. The lights in the hall were off, so no one could see them. Moreover, most were engrossed in the film. The gesture itself was a source of comfort to her.
As the pictures of what she had done flashed through her mind again, she wanted to throw up. She held herself, but her greatest fear was that she was going to lose it all the next day. She could tell that Utibe wasn’t going to take no for an answer on their next escapade. Her head spun. ‘I came to the conference a virgin. Is this how I’m going to let it go; just like that?’ It was a question she was afraid to answer because she knew the answer.
The moment they got to the hall, Christiana said bye to Okpara and walked away. He had been thinking she would want to sit with him. Disappointed, he found a seat two rows away from where Christiana was seated, where he could see her easily, but not too clearly. She still didn’t know his name. They had just slept with each other. It was obviously not her first time but was Stanley’s first time.
He felt a void in his heart that he couldn’t explain. It was like something in his life that had been there all along was now missing; it was a feeling of being incomplete. The only thing that excited him was the thought of telling his friends that he too had done what they boasted about.
He stole a look in her direction, and what he saw made him pause to take a better look. The ongoing film scene was a bright one, so it lit up the hall and he saw what knocked out the breath from him. Christiana was already flirting with another guy! Now, he was convinced there was more to that girl than met the eye.
Okpara bit his lips in regret. He wished he could take back time a few minutes, but he knew it wasn’t possible. He decided he would tell the guys about it. ‘At least, Stanley would know how I should handle it’, he thought to himself. Okpara had no clue what he had just gotten himself into.
Stanley was slouched on his seat. One down, four to go. He knew Faith herself was a player when he had walked up to her in the first place. So, her type wouldn’t even want to be with him again, and he wasn’t interested either. His mind went back to Tunbosun and his desire mounted.
He decided he would ask Utibe how much progress he had made with Shade. If he had made satisfactory progress, Stanley would tell him to ask her to help him get Tunbosun where he wants her. Till then, he would wait patiently for the time his prey would fall into his hands.
‘You are wicked!’ Stanley’s heart pumped hard. Where did that come from? His conscience hardly pricked him when he did the nasty stuffs he did. He was really surprised that any part of him actually abhorred what he was about to do. But before his conscience could get the better of him, he silenced it. ‘Girls are not worth the stress of love. They are to be used and dumped’ he said to himself and continued watching the film.

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