Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 22)

Faith had left the clinic at noon. She had just loafed around for most of the day. She had lost her appetite; nothing seemed appealing to her. This had been her worst depression spell in a long time. She had refused to go in for dinner but sat on a pavement opposite the dinning hall.
She felt alone, uncared for and miserable. The tears began to flow again, and the walls she had built finally came crashing down as her tears became sobs. “God, I don’t even know if you can hear me. I know I have hurt you so much…” The pain in her heart was so great, she could hardly breathe. “I remember when we were so close and I served You. It all ended when mummy died. I am so sorry for saying it was your fault. I’m so sorry for all I have done wrong, God. Please forgive me.”
She wept uncontrollably before her first love; confessing her many hideous sins to Him; begging for His forgiveness. And as she did, she suddenly felt a wave of mercy and love rise in her. It was a feeling she couldn’t put into words. The tears kept flowing but they were now tears of gratitude.
She was so awed at how forgiving God was. With all she had done to hurt Him, He was forgiving her. It was too much for her to bear. She went on her knees there, not caring whoever might see her, and she rocked there in the presence of the God who never gave up on her but waited for her to come to the conference where He would meet with her again. She was indeed grateful.
“Father, thank you for bringing me back home. Thank you so much. I have missed you, Lord. I love you so much.” Even as she said those words, she knew she couldn’t undo the past she had created herself. She couldn’t undo the many days and nights she slept with several men; many of whom she couldn’t even remember. She couldn’t undo the words she had spoken against God. She couldn’t bring back the many pregnancies she had aborted; the babies she had killed.
She knew she couldn’t undo all these but if God had forgiven her, then there was hope of a better future. She would not allow the devil to eat her up with guilt. It was a new dawn for her; Christ had made her new, and she would live with that consciousness. Still on her knees, she asked, “God, so what next now?”
It had been a while she had heard God’s voice and she wondered if he would answer her. She suddenly felt a nudge to look upward. The dining hall. “What’s with the dining hall?” She then felt led to go in. “But dinner is over. Why should I go in?” The nudging was still there, so she decided to obey. She wiped her tears, dusted her skirt, and walked towards the dining hall. A weight of years had just been lifted off her neck by the Saviour Himself; she felt free. She felt new.
Stanley had tried over and again to scheme out a tactic he would use to get Shade. He wanted her and he was going to get her. ‘I have to have her tonight or it might be too late.’ He had sat with new friends during dinner as Okpara and Utibe had left him. As expected, Shade had sat Utibe during dinner but he had left very early.
Stanley had wondered why until he remembered that the program for the night was a mock reality TV show and Utibe was one of the producers. He had to be in the hall early enough to plan it. Shade was rounding up her meal, preparing to leave. Stanley had told his new friends to go ahead that he had some business to settle. There were just few people left in the dinning hall.
He did a quick scan and couldn’t identify any face he knew, until he looked at his far right and saw Tunbosun standing with four other people. They were laughing, and seemed in no hurry to leave the dinning room. He wondered what they were waiting for. ‘Tunbosun, tomorrow would be your own day’ he said to himself. It was Shade’s day. He walked towards where Shade was seated. He stopped mid-stride when he heard someone call Shade’s name, walking fast in that direction. He turned to see it was Tunbosun.
‘What is your problem girl? Why are you spoiling things?’ he thought to himself as he watched her reach Shade before him. The two girls now walked towards the direction Tunbosun had just come from. Frustrated, he walked towards the exit, deciding he would wait for Shade outside. One night wouldn’t pass without him having a new girl.
Faith was getting close to the entrance when a boy almost bumped into her. She moved away to let him pass; he wasn’t even looking up; he must have been so angry at something or someone. It was then, she noticed he was the guy she slept with the night before. The Stanley guy. He looked so composed; like he knew his game well when it came to girls. He acted like nothing could get at him, but Faith knew better. She had been there.
She was sure there was something eating him up inside that made him look so hard on the outside; something that caused him so much pain and fear. Faith hoped he would find God someday, so he could find the cure to his internal disease; the disease doctors could never see – the disease of the human heart.
She continued into the hall and it was almost empty; save a bunch of students clustered at one table. Faith felt a final nudging to walk towards them. She wondered why as she tried to imagine what she would say. She obeyed still, longing to have whatever God had in store for her.
They were ready to pack the plates and Tunbosun had told them she wanted to include her friend. When they had consented, she hurried to call her. She had introduced her as Shade. She seemed to be a nice girl. Fatima looked over Shade’s shoulders, and saw a girl walking towards them.
The girl looked like the girl that had danced the same night Fatima performed her dance-drama. Fatima wondered what such a girl would be doing walking towards them. It was then she heard His voice.
“She has just returned home – a sheep that strayed; please welcome her and nurture her”. Hearing that, Fatima understood clearly what she had to do. While the others were still getting acquainted with Shade, she walked round the table and walked towards the girl. On reaching her, she extended her arms for an embrace, and the girl, without a word, received the embrace. The next sounds Fatima heard where sniffs as the girl began to cry.
Fatima had not known what to expect; she was only obeying God. Now, tears came down her own cheeks too. It was like God put His own heart into hers and she could feel what He was feeling at the moment. It was then she remembered the parable of the prodigal son; how the father welcomed the son home.
After a while, still holding the girl, she walked her to where the other five were standing; watching and waiting. When she got to the table, she helped the girl to her seat. When Shade saw the face, she went over to her.
“You know her?” Fatima asked.
“Yes I do. What happened to her?” Shade was asking Fatima.
“I don’t know the details, but God told me she is a sheep that has just returned home” Fatima said, and noticed that Shade’s hand flew to her mouth and her eyes filled almost immediately. Fatima smiled; Shade likely knew something they all didn’t.
Shade reached out and hugged Faith, who was still lost in tears. Every other person watched silently as they watched another miracle like they had witnessed in the morning. Tara, who was an observer this time, watched in awe. They were about to hear the story.
When Faith eventually lifted her head, Fatima told her what God had led her to do. She then introduced the others, trying to assure Faith she could feel safe with them, and open up to them. It was after Fatima’s words that Faith found her voice.
She started from the beginning and told them how God had used her greatly when she was much younger. She told of how she heard God speak to her clearly, how He revealed secrets to her in dreams, and how he even used her once to bring to life a baby that had just died; still in her mother’s arms. As she spoke, they all listened with rapt attention. No one wanted to miss a word of the things she was saying.
She told them about her exploits in Federal Government College, Ipetumodu. Shade confirmed the things she said. “Almost everyone who had a problem came to me for counseling and prayers; I was just a junior student. I was just so in love with God and as I served Him, He blessed my family, my academics and every other thing that mattered to me. So, I was encouraged to go on”, she said.
Shade, who thought she knew so much of Faith’s life when in FEGGI was herself dumbfounded when she heard the things Faith had done, and experienced in her relationship with Jesus. Faith even told them of the day, while in JSS3 she went on a three-day marathon fast, drinking only water. For a JSS3 student, Shade thought that was very remarkable.
Then, Faith got to the part where the tears threatened to begin again. It was the part that had changed her life till this moment. “…Then, one month after we moved to Calabar”, she continued, “my mother was diagnosed with advanced cancer of the breast. My faith had never been has strong and has adamant as in those few months my mother lived after that. I prayed so hard, fasted, stopped watching TV, and just did everything I could do to let God know I was sacrificing so much for my mother’s health.
“I told my mum and everybody that cared to listen that my mum was going to get well ‘cause God would heal her. Four months after her diagnosis, she died.” Faith said, as a tear made its way down. “That’s when I revolted. I felt I needed to give God a classic revenge; not an ordinary one; but a record-breaking one that would hurt Him so bad. So, I did everything I had preached against, gave my body to every boy in Cross-River who cared to have me. It was simply terrible.
“And with every day, my sorrow grew deeper and my heart harden the more.” She sniffed. “Sometimes I longed to have again what I had lost but I always succeeded in dragging myself back to the pit. But today, for the first time in close to two years, I heard God whisper words of love to me in my most depressed state; that was all it took.”
She looked round at them. “I’m here now, and I feel His love around me like I have never felt it before.” She started crying again, but continued through her tears. “What grieves me most now is the time, years, and opportunities I’ve lost to sin. I can imagine how far I would have gone with God, if I didn’t go on this crazy journey I embarked upon”
She shook her head, and then lifted her hands to God with tears streaming down her face, unashamed. “But I thank you dear Father that you didn’t for one day quit on me. Thank you for forgiving me. It’s so so so good to be back home, Lord. I’ve missed you. Lord Jesus, I love you!”
Putting her hands down, she wiped her tears, and for the first time in two years, she smiled. A smile that came from deep within her soul; a smile of rest and contentment.
The moment was so precious, everyone just remained silent. The only sounds heard where the sniffs of the different people lost in the moment.
“I want to rededicate my life to Christ today”, Shade said, breaking through the silence. “Please you all should pray for me.”
“Me too.” Tunbosun said as she walked towards her friend and they both knelt down before God, in the presence of the others. Fatima, George, Uche and Tara formed a chain around the three girls; the two who were rededicating their lives to Christ and the one who had just come back home and began to pray for them.
When they were done, they took their turns hugging one another. Then, Fatima looked at them all and said she had a message for them. “God says it’s no coincidence that we are seven right now. He wants to use us to be instruments of His these next seven days of the conference. He says we would experience and see things we have never seen before. He’s asking us to offer our lives for His service as He uses us to bring liberation to students here.”
As she said it, she could see the fire in each person’s eyes. Only the devil himself could have been in that atmosphere, seeing God work mightily and not want to be His instrument in spreading that fire to many more seeking, lost and confused students that littered the conference. It was going to be a great task indeed.
They agreed they would meet immediately after the briefing the next day. They encouraged each other to pray ahead, so God could lead them as to how to go about the whole plan.
George looked at his wristwatch. “We’d better hurry up with the packing of plates. We are behind schedule.”
They started work immediately, the new recruits not left out. They were done packing all the plates and cleaning the tables in less than twenty minutes. The women thanked them as the custom was now. The seven of them felt fulfilled.
As they exited the hall, jubilant at the responsibility God had laid on their shoulders, they had no clue that the enemy too had just upgraded his own arsenal and was ready to cut them down one after the other. It was going to be war, and the war was starting the same night. Immediately.
Shade turned when she heard her name to see Stanley beckoning on her. He looked rather sober; not acting like the player-boy she knew him to be. She decided he must have something worthwhile to say. She had been straggling behind with Tunbosun; others were quite a way ahead. “I’ll meet you in the hall, go ahead”, she said to Tunbosun, who then jogged up to catch up with the rest.
“Why are you not in the hall?”
“They’ve not started yet.” He said.
“What’s up?” she asked, noting that just a few people were any where in sight.
“Utibe sent me to you” he, said, lying. While he waited for her, Stanley had cooked up several lines he was going to use in persuading Shade to walk to the back of the dining with him. He would do the rest from there; he just needed her in the right spot. Of all the lines he had tried, this seemed to be the most logical, and he was going to use it very well.
“I thought he was to go early to help with the setting up for the show.”
“Yes. He has done it already and came back. He then told me to tell you something; something he was too afraid to tell you himself.”
Shade was scared. She wondered what it was that Utibe would be afraid to tell her about. She dreaded the feeling that was creeping up her spine. She couldn’t stand it. She was afraid.
Stanley on the other hand was happy; he could see the fear in her eyes. He just needed to choose his next words carefully, and Shade would be vile in a few minutes.

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