Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 20)

It took sometime before Doctor Festus could utter any words. He just stayed there on his knees with his head bowed, tears running silently down his cheeks. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry; they were all waiting and ready to see how things would unfold. The only sounds that filled the air were Tara’s sobs.
“I’m so sorry” were the first words that came through his lips. “I know I cannot give you back your child, but I want you to know I’m sorry for killing it. I have been plagued with guilt and fear ever since.” He lifted his eyes and looked at her. “I would undo what I did that day if I had the power to but I don’t. I looked for you, so I could apologize but couldn’t reach you. Now, I am here.” He paused and looked in Fatima’s direction. Her eyes were closed; she was praying.
“I just gave my life to Jesus yesterday. He has forgiven me, but I won’t be satisfied until you’ve forgiven me also. Please, forgive me.” He said. He moved a little closer and repeated his words. “Please forgive me.”
Tara looked at the man of the floor before her. She would have cursed him and walked away but the man that spoke to her now was not the same man that spoke to her in the abortion clinic; there was something different about him. It must be the new life in Christ he had just acquired. Instead of the hatred that she had nurtured in her heart, Tara felt a sense of compassion. It was strange to be feeling this way for the man that had the power to prevent the abortion from taking place, but still made it happen. That was the feeling she had all the same. Compassion. Mercy. Forgiveness.
She looked around her at the four people who surrounded her. She was grateful for their presence and support; they had made this ordeal less tasking for her. She slipped her hands out of Tunbosun’s and Uche’s hands and went on her knees in front of the doctor. She smiled at him through her tears. “I forgive you sir” she said, as she opened her arms for an embrace, which Doctor Festus gladly received. The four on-lookers applauded softly, as tears trickled down their faces.
It was like that moment should last forever. They remained like that for a while; both parties offering and receiving forgiveness. When the two were done, they let each other go and rose to their feet. Fatima moved over to Doctor Fetsus and hugged him. Others took their turns in hugging Tara and in shaking Doctor Festus’ hand.
George looked at Tara. She was obviously relieved; he could feel it as he saw her smile, trying to clean up her face.
Doctor Festus was ready to go, so they said their byes and waited on that spot till his vehicle was out of sight.
They walked towards the dining hall. There was not much to say. Each person just relished the moment as they walked in silence. All other discussions would be suspended till later. The moment was too important to be trivialized with petit talks.
There was so much noise around. The sun wasn’t helping matters either as it shone so bright. Boys and girls littered the sports ground, indulging themselves in one game or the other. Fatima had missed the setting; it was so good to be back among them. She had been told to join groups of her choice; and she ensured she joined groups that didn’t have any of her friends in them. She felt she needed to meet more people.
She had kept quiet throughout the morning session, trying to take in the procedures and processes. During the Networking session, in the afternoon, she had met a boy who wanted to become the Ben Carson of Nigeria. He wanted to be a neurosurgeon. Fatima was impressed as he talked about the things he was already doing to achieve that. He had read many books already and had an idea of the universities he wanted to go to achieve his goals.
If Fatima learnt anything from the boy, it was the need to be determined, focused and organized. She was challenged to sit down, and with God, plan her life. Life wasn’t just meant to be lived through; it was to be purposefully lived out.
As Fatima sat facing the volleyball court and watching girls play the game so well, her mind drifted to what had happened in the morning between Doctor Festus, and the girl whose name she later knew to be Tara. She smiled. Forgiveness was such a beautiful thing; both for the offender and the offended. It brought joy, peace, and lightness to the involved parties. Fatima was so sure Doctor Festus’ life was going to get better now that he had found God and had made peace with the girl he offended.
She thought about the Tara girl; she hoped the girl was free too. The thought of Tara reminded her of her dear friend George. She had seen how he went over and held her in the morning. She wondered how the two met. A smile curved her lips. Any girl would fall flat for George. He was all and more a girl could ever want. Fatima noticed that the Tunbosun girl too seemed to have something for George. Fatima only hoped George would be mature enough to handle his friendships with the opposite sex. It really could be difficult at times.
‘What’s up with Uche too?’ she asked herself as she remembered Uche taking her hand in his earlier in the day. She had accepted his hand, desiring to increase the bond of love and power for Tara in the morning, but now, she wondered if he didn’t misinterpret her intentions. Moreover, as at the last time they spoke, he hadn’t accepted Jesus. She wondered if her action hadn’t sown a seed of doubt in his heart. ‘Hope he doesn’t see me as a hypocrite now?’
She decided she would explain to him why she had accepted his hold; she couldn’t afford him thinking otherwise. She hadn’t seen either Uche or George since breakfast. They had been in different groups, and she was asked to eat her lunch in the clinic, so she could take her drugs immediately.
The nurse had delayed her so much that by the time she was out, it was Sports time. She had looked round for them but didn’t see them. It was then she settled down to watch volleyball. She wondered where her friends would be. She concluded they would be gainfully employed wherever they were. So, she decided to focus on the game.
As she watched the girls play, she appreciated their agility and skill. She knew she could never ever be in their shoes; playing volleyball. She laughed at herself. She was too short for that.
“What she lacks in height she has in heart”
“I agree with you Uche. I wonder where she is.” George was saying. “I didn’t see her in the dining. I wonder if she has eaten.” George heard a giggle and turned. It was Tunbosun. They had all packed the plates together. She had taken the last set to the women and he hadn’t noticed when she returned. “What’s funny?” he asked, amused.
“You guys are something else”
Uche raised an eyebrow.
“See how you’re fussing and doting over Fatima, even in her absence. You two would make good husbands.” The boys smiled. It was a welcome comment. “Can we go for sports now?” she asked, still giggling and shaking her head at them.
“Fatima would be so surprised we continued with the plate packing” Uche said, as they headed for the field.
“I’m sure she will” George affirmed.
“What Sports are you guys going to play?” It was Tunbosun asking.
“I’m simply a spectator but George is a basketball star.” Uche said, winking at the tall ball at the other side. Tunbosun was between them.
“Don’t mind him o.” George said, looking at Tunbosun but couldn’t mistake the look of admiration in her eyes. He felt uneasy. He had always had girls flocking round him before he became born-again but after that, they seemed to leave him alone. Now, he wasn’t having vain girls flock round him but intelligent girls who seemed to be seeking God; who seemed to need him. Girls he couldn’t shun or run away from. Girls he had come to know in a few days. Tara and Tunbosun; girls he was beginning to have feelings for. George was confused. He would have to see Fatima; she would have the solution he needed.
“See her there” Tunbosun said. They had started their search at the near end of the sports ground. The volleyball court was farther in. Tunbosun had spotted Fatima first.
Uche felt a tight knot in his stomach. He had never felt this way before; it was a strange feeling. He wondered how mere seeing someone could make you feel so uneasy. He remembered the question he had asked God earlier in the day. He had not gotten a reply yet; not that he expected one anyway.
As they approached Fatima, Uche knew he wouldn’t be able to ask her in the presence of the other two. He would have to wait till an appropriate time.
When they reached her, George covered her eyes from behind. Fatima didn’t even think twice before calling his name. She knew George so well. She seemed engrossed in the game, so they joined her on the seat and watched the game with her.
Fatima suddenly turned her head towards them as if she had just remembered something. “Where were you guys? You came late for Sports.”
“Oh! You’ve just remembered we’re here, right?” George, sitting closest to her asked, teasingly.
“Sorry, I just didn’t want to miss the game-point play”
“So, you’re a volley ball fan?” Tunbosun, sitting between George and Uche asked.
“Nope,” she said, smiling. “Basketball!” she said, and as if planned, she gave a hi-five to George whose hand was already up. They all laughed.
“It’s unfortunate nature hasn’t favored you on that side, Fatima” Uche, farthest from Fatima, said, heightening the laughter.
“I’m not intimidated”, she said amidst the laughter. When they had simmered down, she asked again, “Where were you guys?”
“We were clearing up the dishes.” George said.
Fatima was taken aback. She looked from face to face and relished the smiles she saw on their faces. What she had started with Uche had continued even when she left; she was indeed surprised. They were now four, she included.
“You seem surprised” Tunbosun said.
“Pleasantly so” Fatima replied, smiling. “I had no idea Uche continued” she paused, than added, “not to talk of having disciples”.
Uche giggled. “We really missed you”, he said and George nodded in assent. Uche felt silly all the same. He had wanted to personalize that statement but he just couldn’t open his mouth to say it. But something was happening; Fatima was looking at him. It seemed more like she was studying him, trying to read his intentions. He felt uneasy, more so, as the others noticed what was happening.
He was relieved when she smiled and faced George. “I missed you guys too.” She directed her gaze at Tunbosun. “I’m glad you met my friends and kept them company; they would have died, missing me, had you not been there. Poor things”, she said, taking turns eyeing the boys as she reached out to touch Tunbosun’s hand.
George had introduced Tunbosun to Fatima earlier, but she had forgotten her name. She hated to have to ask the girl for her name again. She only hoped someone would call the name, and just then, George did and Fatima memorized the name.
“Tunbosun, your head is swelling, right?” George said, and then faced Uche. “I wonder what these girls would do without us. The wouldn’t survive a day”
Uche was saying something to support him while the girls were opposing the boys all at once. Anybody watching them would have had a good laugh.
After a few minutes of chatter, George and Tunbosun excused themselves. “We’re two-of-five leaders in our group. We fixed a meeting for 4:30; we have to leave now” George said on their behalf.
Fatima made a pouting face, and George smiled. She was so good at acting. “Uche will take care of you” he said, as he stood. Fatima smiled. “You guys have a great time”
“We will” Tunbosun replied.
There was silence between them for a while. “I thought you were supposed to take care of me?” Fatima said, making that pouting face again.
Uche giggled. “I’m a very boring baby-sitter.”
“That’s a lie!” Fatima said, poking him.
“It’s good to have you back”, he said, looking rather serious.
“Same here”
“How long do you still have to take your medication?”
“Two weeks”
Uche frowned. “That’s a lifetime. I hate drugs”
“I had taken drugs all my life until four years ago when God healed me. So, drugs are no strangers to me”
Uche was lost I thought.
“What’s on your mind?” she asked.
“I was wondering. Do you know why God allowed you to be sick after four years? Seems kinda confusing.”
“Uche, I don’t know all the reasons, but at least I know a few.”
“I’m listening”
“He used that opportunity to prevent a woman from suicide,” she saw Uche’s eyes widen, “He also saved Doctor Festus from his sins and guilt. He wrapped it all up by using it to free Tara, George’s friend, from the pain and bitterness of her past.” She sighed. “If that was why God made me sick, the sickness was too little a price to pay for those great miracles. They were worth every pain I suffered.” Fatima smiled. “God never does evil. Whatever He does is for the good of those He loves, He is a good God; a gracious Father”
Uche was lost in those words. He willed her to continue but she seemed to have stopped. This life of joy and peace she lived was the major thing that drew Uche to her. Her beauty only crowned it. Uche was so emotion-laden, he wondered if this was the time to make his feelings known to her.
He looked at her and his heart went wild. She was smiling at him. It was just a simple smile; but his mind went gaga. ‘Should I tell her now, should I not? Should I, should I not?’ He was still struggling with his feelings when he heard her voice.
“Seems there something on your mind. What is it?” Fatima asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I-” his words just seemed stuck.
Fatima smiled, then poked him. “Cough it out!”
“I gave my life to Jesus this morning.” As he said it, Fatima screamed. He was happy to see the joy on her face but he felt very silly. ‘Is that what you wanted to say, shy boy?’ he chided himself. He wondered if he would ever have the courage to tell her want he wanted to tell her.
He decided to accept his predicament and enjoy the celebration of his salvation. Fatima was already celebrating.
“I’m so happy for you!” she said, and seemed not to be able to curtail the excitement. “How did it happen?”
“God used you to sow the seeds in my heart and He did the rest.”
“Praise God!” Fatima said.
“Halleluyah!” Uche responded, smiling. He didn’t have all the answers yet but he was going to take one day at a time in faith believing that God would prove Himself to be the great and good God Fatima had painted Him to be. Uche chose to believe God.
As he saw Fatima still beaming in joy over the news of his salvation, he was so sure the day would not end before he asked her out. He wouldn’t be able to sleep until he had done so.

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