Shade had noticed Utibe and one of his friends walk towards the gents, leaving their third friend. She looked in the guy’s direction and saw he was staring at her, a smile curving his lips. She didn’t know what to make of his look but it made her feel uneasy all the same. She was so sure Utibe would have told his friends of the stuffs they did. She wondered if the guy’s smile was a mocking one.
She looked away, ashamed. ‘I would speak with Utibe has soon as he walks in’ she said to herself. As she yet thought, he walked in with his friend. Shade’s heart beat fast. It was going to be a very difficult task for her. She dreaded the look of hatred or rejection she would see in Utibe’s eyes when she told him that she was opting out.
As he sat down, as expected, his eyes found her. His expression confused her. She had expected to see a satisfied look; one of accomplishment, since she had given him almost all he wanted the night before. If there was supposed to be another look, it was supposed to be one of anger that she hadn’t let him go all the way. But what she saw was neither of the two. It was a look of sadness. He didn’t hold her gaze for long, he lowered his eyes. That was unusual of him.
‘What has gotten over him?’ she asked herself. She decided she needed to do what she had to immediately. She walked over to where he was seated with his friends, greeted them, and asked to see Utibe personally. She looked at the reactions on his friends’ faces. The fair and tall one, who had been staring at her earlier still had something to his look that unnerved her. She decided to do something about it.
“You know you’ve never introduced me to your friends” she said, facing Utibe who was already standing beside her.
“I’m sorry. My bad”, he said. “This is Okpara” he said facing the other one. He extended his hand and she took it. “And this is Stanley” he said facing the guy Shade really wanted to know. He extended his hand and she took it. His grip lingered a while and there was a sensual tint to it. She withdrew her hand, knowing what the guy thought of her. A cheap, dirty girl. She turned to Utibe, and saw he was irritated by his friend’s gesture.
“Let us go” he said. She followed him. He led her outside the dining hall, and they found a lone bench to sit on. They sat down. Silence hung between them for a while.
“Shade, you called me out to talk, please go ahead”, he said.
“I am afraid to say what I want to say”, she said, and saw the expression on Utibe’s face, which made her smile. “I’m obviously not pregnant.” She said, and they both chuckled knowing that was off point. Shade felt a little better after the light moment.
“I cannot go on like this. I have broken my promise to my mother and to myself. I sincerely want us to remain friends but we cannot continue with the physical intimacy. I have cried for several hours between last night and now”, she said. She looked at him to see his expression. Surprisingly, he seemed to be listening patiently. No traces of disapproval.
“Sex spoils everything. Thank you for not forcing me yesterday. But I still feel so dirty that we went as far as we did. I promised myself it would never repeat itself again.” She looked at him, her eyes pleading. “Do you understand?”
“I do.” He said, taking his eyes off her.
Shade was so relieved. “Utibe, I’m sorry for…” He raised a finger, stopping her. Shade’s heart was caught in her throat. She wondered what he wanted to say.
“I’m the one who should be apologizing to you, Shade.” He said, looking at her with sincere remorse. “I’m so sorry for making you do the things we did. The understanding hit me more this morning that girls, as roses, are to be treasured and nurtured, not trampled upon. Please forgive me for what I did to you.”
Shade was dumbfounded as she listened to Utibe apologize.
“Am I forgiven?”
“Yes , you are”, she replied, smiling heartily.
“Friends?” he yet asked.
“Friends.” Shade said. She thought her heart would burst with the happiness she felt. This was too good to be true. This was indeed a miracle and Shade was sure that if things could work out this way for her with Utibe; narrowly escaping losing her pride, then the prospect of remaining a virgin till her wedding day was very possible. If only she knew Stanley’s plans, she wouldn’t have been so sure.
The clinic was a makeshift one for the conference but it was well equipped. Faith Archibong lay on one of the beds, with her face buried in a pillow. She had walked into the clinic immediately after the briefing because she was feeling depressed; she needed to be alone. She told the attending nurse she had menstrual pain. That was true, but Faith never needed drugs for her MP. It was just a good excuse to get away from everybody for a while.
The pillow that gladly welcomed her face was now soaked. A lot was going through her mind. She had succeeded in blocking many memories from her mind; especially the memories of her early childhood, but meeting Shade yesterday had brought them pouring back in leaps and bounds. She was already feeling the weight of the memories when the guy walked up to her yester night. She made out with him, hoping it would distract her from the pain she was feeling but it only made it worse.
She had woken up sad and with a heavy heart. She hit her head severally against the pillow, biting into the flesh of the pillow with her well manicured nails, as the tears streamed out. Thankfully, she was the only in the clinic at the time. She had resorted to taking pain relieving drugs whenever she felt depressed. Now, they seemed to be getting ineffective, and she feared that if things stayed this way, she might find herself on hard drugs in no time. She dreaded the thought; knowing the agonies that accompanied that but she felt helpless and unable to stop the pain that threatened to kill her. She was dying inside.
Back in Calabar, she was one of the most popular party girls. Whenever guys she dated found out she was a secondary school student; they were always surprised. She dressed and acted, in the least, like an undergraduate. She was indeed blessed with a big stature and developed very fast as a girl, not to mention the beautiful face she always flaunted around.
Almost every happening guy had had her. She was no one’s girlfriend. No one tried to settle down with her. They just had mutual fun and moved on. That was the life Faith lived. She didn’t need money from the rich guys because her father was rich; she didn’t need the grades from the teachers because she was intelligent. Nobody seemed to understand why she allowed any guy have her.
Only Faith knew.
She was trying to get back at someone. She was executing a revenge that had lasted close to two years. She wanted the victim to bleed in pain and sorrow – She was trying to get back at God. She wanted to punish Him.
At different times, she would remember the fun times she had as a young Christian; savoring the moments she would shed tears as she worshipped God in fellowship, the times she saw the raw joy that flowed from a fellow student who she’d just led to Christ, or the moments people told her how blessed they were to have her as their friend. But as those memories came, one stronger memory also came which negated them all, and made her adamant on getting her own pound of flesh from the God who let her down.
It happened when she became thirteen, shortly after they moved to Calabar. Her mother was diagnosed with cancer of the breast. The doctor said it was at its advanced stage. Her mother was the most committed Christian she had ever known in her life. She was the last person Faith had thought would be sick, not to mention, with a terminal disease.
Faith went on a seven-day fast the moment she heard. She made so many vows to God, sowed so many monetary seeds for her mother’s healing and attended many healing services on her mother’s behalf. With all she did, Faith was so sure her mother would get healed. Her friends who saw her then in school noticed she was growing lean at a fast rate. She literarily carried the burden of her mother’s recovery on her head.
There was a night she stayed up late to pray and worship God. She felt so much peace after that time of fellowship that she started telling everyone who cared to listen that God had healed her mother and she would be well again.
Two weeks after, Faith was in dance rehearsal for a concert her church was organizing when she got the call that changed her life. She was told to come home quickly. She headed for home, excited; thanking God that she would see her mother on her feet. By the time she got home and saw what had happened, her senses literarily packed up. Her mother was dead. She just lay on the floor and sobbed all night.
She mourned her mother’s death greatly because she had been the closest person to her when she was alive. After the days of the funeral, it was now time to settle issues. She shut herself in her room. With tears, she told God how much He had failed her. She felt He was wicked and callous; a God who loved to make people cry.
‘Is this all mummy gets for her service to you?’ she had asked. ‘Is this all I get too? God, you’re wicked!’ she had said that day. It was then she proposed that she would do everything she had stayed away from because she was serving God. She decided every guy who wanted her would have her, she would dance to songs that she knew God hated; she was simply out to make God mad.
Faith turned her face and stared at the wall of the clinic. She felt like dying. She had thrown everything she ever treasured to the wind. She was nothing. “I have loved you with an everlasting love”
Faith’s heart caught. Who was that? She turned her head to check the other end of the clinic. She was still the only one there. It had been two years since she last heard God speak to her because she had totally shut Him out of her life. Those words washed over her, refreshing her like a cold bath on a sunny day.
She had discovered in the cause of her rebellion that if there was anyone she was really hurting by the things she was doing, it was herself but she had refused to stop, telling herself she had gone too far to return. ‘God won’t accept me again after all I’ve done to Him and I have no pride or respect among people anymore.’ Those were always her two excuses.
But she decided to listen to this smoothening voice that she had missed. In little more than a whisper, she asked. “With all I have done, you still love me?” She didn’t get a reply to her question.
‘Silly me. I actually thought God would remember me and take the time to hear me, not to mention, talk to me’ she thought to herself. She was fatigued from the much crying and drifted to sleep, and as she did, the words she had heard kept sounding in her ears. “I have loved you with an everlasting love”. And somewhere deep within; a place where Faith had built a high wall that shut God out, something had begun to happen.
The wall had begun to crumble.
Christiana located the boy she had flirted with yester night, during the movie, and went to meet him. She didn’t mind being looked at as a fool or cheap girl. She had a mission to accomplish and she would accomplish it. After speaking with him a few minutes, as they waited for breakfast, she was re-assured that he was already in her palms.
As she talked with him, she did a quick scan of the boys in the dining hall and an idea crossed her mind. ‘Why don’t I test my persuasive skills?’ She had gotten two guys that obviously wanted to do it. Now, she wanted to get the good boys; especially the Christian boys. She decided to be on the look out in the course of the day. Whoever she spotted to be a good Christian boy would be her target. “I’ll see how Christian indeed these boys are after I make their heads spin. This will be an interesting conference!” she said to herself, smiling.