Sunday, March 7, 2010

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 24)

The feeling was more than she could put into words; she was simply exhilarated. Faith Archibong couldn’t remember the last time she had woken up with so much joy in her heart. She felt like exploding; wanting to tell the whole world how great it felt to be free again. She had just rededicated her life to Christ the day before, and she was still trying to contain the bliss that it brought.
She knew things were not going to be automatically sorted out. She knew she would still have to deal with the scars of her past. She knew difficult times would yet come to test her faith but deep within, she was convinced that no matter what storms came, as far as she was with Jesus, she would be safe and secure. That was all that mattered to her; having God’s backing and approval. She had starved herself of that in the past few years; it was time to bask in it.
She recalled the events of the previous night and marveled at the great work God had done through the girl she later knew to be Fatima. She had been awed by Fatima’s story; which she had briefly told her on their way for the show yester night. She wondered how a Muslim turned Christian could grow so fast and become the pillar for many other Christians; even those who were born into Christian homes, like she had been. The girl was something.
Faith looked around. Most girls were still sleeping, only a few were awake. She wondered what would be going through their different minds. She wondered who would be wishing she was never born, who would be wishing she was born into another family, or wishing to be more intelligent, or wishing she was still a virgin. Faith wondered. If only she could have access to know what was in the mind of people; she would be able to help them.
She was sure there would be many more girls who were hurting, and crying deep inside but looking all so prim and proper on the outside, like she had been before yesterday.
She smiled. When last had she thought of anyone other than herself? She was already changing; she could feel it, and she was grateful to God for it. She longed for a speedy restoration where she would enjoy fellowship with God as she had once done.
She slid to her knees, wanting to pray; something she hadn’t done since her mother died. It felt so good, her eyes filled. “God, I’ve missed You so much. It’s so good to be back home…” she started and she began to talk to her maker and lover.
As she was about rounding off the prayers, she remembered the words God spoke through Fatima the night before. He had said He wanted to use them to reach out to the students at the conference. ‘That is something worth living for’, she thought to herself. “Lord, I’m so awed that You would choose to use me immediately. You’re the best and I’m forever indebted to You.”
Faith rose when she was done and prepared to use the bathroom. She had no clue that God had not even started with her yet. He had a special welcome-back gift for her. A gift He was going to give her shortly.
Uche smiled. He had wondered what the outcome of his letter writing would be. He was still wondering. Fatima was sure good at keeping a poor boy in suspense. He had tried so hard not to look at her facial expressions when she was reading his letter, but the pest to his right had given him no choice.
He knew if he kept his face straight or attempted to look right, that girl sitting next to him was going to mess with his mind. He had wondered what was wrong with the girl. When she had put her hand on his, he had been so irritated by her gesture; he almost said some nasty things at her. He kept his cool however, but he couldn’t deny the feelings she had aroused in him.
Knowing there were no other available seats, and not wanting to interrupt the romantic moment with Fatima by asking her to switch places with him, he knew the only thing he could do was turn towards the left and incline himself in that direction, away from the temptress. Doing that made him see every reaction Fatima had to his lines.
He smiled as he remembered the particular time when she laughed spontaneously; she had laughed so loud, she had to cover her mouth when she saw heads turn. Then, the moment came when she was getting to the end of the epistle; to the crux of whole writing. Uche’s heart had been in his mouth. He could hardly breathe. He noticed she suddenly became sober, only smiling a few times; but not an excited smile. He had wondered what she thinking. He was still yet to know.
After reading the letter, she had smiled at him as she tucked it into her purse. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow”, she had said, still with the smile, but a smile Uche had not been able to decipher.
Now, tomorrow had come and Uche was nervous. He had hardly slept through the night, and was one of the first to wake up. He had planned on looking for her during the briefing, in a few minutes time, to get her response, but he decided against it. ‘It would be wrong of me to rush her’, he had told himself.
He still wished he could have expressed his feelings to her verbally, in person, but he had not been able to do it. He had heard people say writing love letters was a cowardly style. He felt the same way but he knew it couldn’t have been any other way. ‘I might as well be a coward, but Fatima already knows how I feel about her. That’s all that matters’.
He was about to jump down his bunk when he remembered he hadn’t read his bible. Fatima had told him it was the best way to start his day; starting with God, with prayer and the bible. He smiled, as he reclined on his bed. He definitely owed a lot to this short Hausa girl who had brought newness to his life. That’s why he hoped to have more with her than mere friendship.
Uche closed his eyes, and began to pray.
“It’s another day; Lord, I need Your strength”. George said, concluding his prayers as he opened his eyes. He had witnessed miracles the day before; Tara’s morning miracle and Faith’s evening miracle. His faith had grown in leaps and bounds with the help of those two events. However, his weakness had caught up with him on the same day. How ironic.
He was thankful to God however that he had made it through the film show without lusting after either of the two at his sides. He remembered how he had been addicted to pornography and masturbation before he gave his life to Jesus. His addiction had made him view every person in skirt as an object of his lust; undressing them in his heart. He had never done it physically however.
Yesterday was his first time, since conversion, looking at the girl in places he shouldn’t. He couldn’t think of a reason why he felt tempted to look in the first place. Everywhere he had been since his conversion had been full of ladies, some even dressed carelessly, yet he hadn’t thought twice about stealing glances in the wrong direction. He was sure the devil was waging some serious war against Him, and he actually felt incapacitated to fight back.
He had asked for forgiveness and he was sure God had forgiven him. His only fear was that he was going to do it again; he was going to hurt God again and fall into the same sin he had just been forgiven of.
He remembered he had heard a youth pastor say that one of the ways to say clear of sexual addictions was to avoid those things that ignited the sexual desire. George had analyzed this and decided he needed to stop reading secular novels, reduce the number of films he watched, and steer clear of secular music. He had succeeded in doing that.
Times had come that he had almost fallen, but God had been there to strengthen him. ‘Why did I look at Tara yesterday?’ he thought to himself. ‘I won’t do it again’ he proposed in his heart, as he sat up on his bed. He was on the lower bunk. He noticed his leg hit something, pushing it under his bunk. He reached for it and pulled it out. What he saw immobilized him for a few seconds, as he stared at it; unable to take his eyes off.
It was a pornographic magazine. Wondering where it had come from, he looked up and saw his bunk mate’s hand hanging down. It must have fallen off when his bunkie slept off while feeding his eyes.
George’s heart was beaten fast. ‘Don’t fall for it’, his conscience screamed at him. A stronger force, however, seemed to be in charge now. He looked to the right, and then to the left, every other person seemed distracted. He knew he couldn’t look at it there, anybody could walk into him. He slyly put it into his tracks, which he had worn to sleep, and walked towards the toilet. That was the only place he could look at it without being found out.
His heart pricked him with every step he took towards the toilet, but he had lost the fight; he wasn’t even trying to fight anymore. He was going to look at those pictures and allow things progress naturally. George knew he had just placed himself directly in the hands of his worst nightmare. He was at the devil’s mercy now.
Christiana stayed in the bathroom foyer, waiting her turn to use the shower. She had succeeded with two guys now. She didn’t know either of their names and she didn’t care. Her mission was being accomplished without hitches. The guy she had the night before had not been a virgin. She smiled.
The world was indeed getting worse. She wondered how many secondary school students were still virgins. She had lost her pride at the age of ten. Not willingly but forcefully. That was history now. She was the one in charge of her life now and she was going to do as she pleased.
Remembering the satisfied face of the guy, she smiled, knowing he would hate himself when the die was cast. She could hardly wait for that moment.
What amused her most however was the response of the Igbo chap during the show. She had expected a response similar to what she got, but she had still been entertained by his reaction all the same. He had acted like he had just been touched by a leper. If she had not known men; if she hadn’t been used by them, she might have thought the guy was a no-go area. If she hadn’t been a veteran in the business, she would have backed off. But she knew men, even more than they knew themselves. She knew all the keys she needed to press to make them do things they never thought they could do.
Christiana was so sure that the Igbo boy was still feeling the heat from her touch. That was the power she had. She giggled when she remembered a boy she dated; whose life she eventually ruined; it all started with a simple handshake; just a shake. The Igbo Christian boy had gotten a little more than a handshake; she could bet on her life that he was going to fall like a pack of cards before her.
She relished the thought. ‘It’s high time Christian boys too suffer’ she said to herself, smiling.
Fatima woke up and tried to register her surroundings. ‘Where am I?’ she thought. Then, it dawn on her she was at conference. She had had a dream where she had been talking with Doctor Festus and Nurse Maureen until she slept off. She had then woken up, thinking she would be staring at the hospital walls, only to be staring at a drooling neighbor.
She recalled she also had another dream; more like a revelation, where God made her see what He wanted the seven of them, who were at the dining hall together the previous night, to do. She made a mental note to inform the others after the briefing. It had indeed been a pleasant night’s rest.
She knelt on her bed and prayed. She thanked God for all the episodes of the day before; right from her returning from the hospital to Tara and Doctor Festus’ reconciliation, to the news of Uche’s salvation, to Faith, Shade and Tunbosun’s rededication. It had indeed been a wonderful day, and she thanked Him for that. Then, she got to the part of Uche’s letter and a smile played across her face.
She thanked God for blessing her with a good friend like him and talked to God about his letter. She already knew what her answer would be but she needed to get confirmation from God before she went ahead.
“Father, what is Your response to Uche’s request? He wants us to be more than friends; he wants us to be…” she giggled, leaving the last word unsaid, knowing God understood. She was sure God was giggling too.
She waited in silence as she listened to hear what He would say. Soon, she heard God whisper verses of scripture into her mind. She knew those scriptures so well, and they only confirmed what she knew would be her response. She only wondered how she would tell Uche. Was she going to write it down like he did? She smiled, knowing she wouldn’t do that. She would tell him in person.
The verses God whispered to her were Ecclesiastics 3:1 and Ecclesiastics 12:1.

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 25)

It had been her longest night of the conference. Tunbosun hardly slept. She felt her friend’s pain as if it were hers. She had insisted she would sleep with Shade on her bed. She had seen the relief on her friend’s face when she had offered because Shade had been visibly shaking.
Tunbosun had been one of the first to leave the hall when the show was over. She had been so sleepy, she wanted to crash immediately. She had gotten to the room only to see a shivering and sobbing Shade. She had been confused; it was too contrasting. She had just seen Shade over an hour ago, smiling and relishing in the pleasure of being back with God. Next picture was a sobbing girl; it didn’t fit at all.
She remembered how it all happened as if it had been a few minutes back. Shade had been lying down when she entered the room. Shade was either not aware of her presence or chose to ignore her. She reached out to smooth her friend’s hair.
“What’s wrong Shade?” she asked. Shade had kept mute. “Talk to me girl” Tunbosun tried to get Shade to talk but she didn’t say a word. Tunbosun gave up after about thirty minutes of futile efforts. She assumed it was one of those times when you just cry your eyes out for no reason until you feel better.
She chose to sleep only to wake up one hour after to hear Shade’s sobs. Everywhere was quiet, everyone was asleep. Shade’s sobs were the only sounds breaking the silence. ‘I haven’t seen this type before o!’ she thought to herself. On her crying days, she had lasted thirty minutes – one hour maximum. But what she was witnessing was definitely much more than that. She decided to try again.
“Shade, watsup?” she said, wiping the tears on her friend’s face with the back of her hand.
Shade sniffed and looked at her for the first time. “Stanley…” She couldn’t continue; the tears wouldn’t allow her.
“Who’s Stanley? What happened to Stanley?” Tunbosun was confused but kept stroking her friend’s hair. She needed her to know she was there for her. Shade didn’t stop crying. “Who’s he?” Tunbosun repeated.
“Utibe’s friend” she said without looking up.
Tunbosun blinked rapidly. She couldn’t afford to be thinking what she was thinking. ‘No, it can’t be!’ she persuaded herself, yet dreading the worst. It was then she remembered how Utibe had hurried out of the hall when she had told him Shade was with his friend.
Looking at Shade’s face twisted in pain, her fears were confirmed. Tunbosun was short of words; she didn’t have anything to say. Her own eyes filled. How could he do such a thing?
“Did he touch you?” she eventually asked.
Shade only nodded.
Tunbosun dreaded the next question she was about to ask but knew she had to; that was the bottom point of it all. Still stroking Shade’s hair, she asked. “Did he…” she couldn’t finish her words. They were too much for her shaking lips, but she was relieved when she saw Shade shake her head.
Tunbosun heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank God!” She sighed again, and wanting to be sure Shade understood what she had asked, she repeated herself. “So, he didn’t…” she was still unable to finish it.
Shade shook her head. “He didn’t get in” she said between sobs.
“It’s okay dear. It’s okay” Tunbosun said over and again, trying to re-assure her friend.
“It was horrible.” Shade managed to say. “I wanted to die.”
“Sorry” Tunbosun kept saying, between her friend’s statements.
“I struggled so hard to fight him away, but he hit me so hard, I nearly went unconscious.” Shade squeaked as a memory seemed to flood her mind. “He just kept touching me; I willed my heart to stop breathing but it didn’t; it was hell. I had stopped fighting him by then. I had resigned myself to my fate, crying hysterically.” She looked at Tunbosun briefly.
“It was horrible.”
Tunbosun just nodded, tears now spilling down her cheeks, as Shade talked on.
“It was then God saved me” Shade said, shaking her head, unable to bear the emotions surging through her. “I was so numb with pain and fear that I didn’t know what else was going on around me. The last I had noticed was that he was unzipping his trousers. It was at that point I closed my eyes, awaiting the inevitable.”
Tunbosun’s eyes were wide, even as the tears flowed. She couldn’t wait to hear Shade spill out the remaining details. She tried to imagine herself in Shade’s shoes and she immediately shook her head, trying not to progress with the imagination. She just couldn’t stomach the thought.
She could see through Shade’s eyes to the pain lying deep within. It only made her wonder how many girls were like Shade who had gone through such a horrible experience; making them wish they had never been born. ‘Why does God allow such to happen to innocent people?’ It was a question that plagued her mind; a question she didn’t have an answer; a question she doubted had an answer.
“I waited a couple of seconds and nothing happened. I was too scared to open my eyes.” Shade wiped at the mucus trailing down from her nose to her upper lip. “I then felt a hand on my forehead; I jerked my head slightly. My fear was palpable. But I noticed the hand was gentle. The touch was soft, not the type I had suffered in the past few minutes.”
Shade smiled then, through her tears. “I thought for a minute that I had died and it was Jesus touching my forehead, comforting me in His love.”
Tunbosun too smiled, sniffing.
“I opened my eyes and looked at the figure in front of me. It was Utibe. My tears increased then. Seeing him brought new emotions that almost suffocated me there as I cried.” Shade sat up then and Tunbosun joined her on the bed. Tunbosun reached out to hold her and Shade reclined on her, resting her head on Tunbosun’s shoulder.
“I was filled with both unspeakable relief, and shame. Relief that I had been saved from the worst after all but shame at what I looked like. If it had been someone else that rescued me I wouldn’t have felt that way but it was Utibe. I wondered, and still wonder what he thinks of me now”, Shade said.
“He helped me with what was left of my clothes. When I was dressed, I still had to hug myself; I still felt naked. I was shaking all over and couldn’t speak a word. I couldn’t even say thank you. As he was leading me away from the darkness, I saw a figure writhing in pain, and I was sure it was Stanley. I wondered what Utibe had done to him.”
Shade sniffed. “My emotions had been so short down, I didn’t even have the energy to hate Stanley at that moment. I just wanted to leave the place. And as if Utibe knew what was on mind, he led me to the hostel, without saying anything. His presence was enough, he needed say nothing.
“When we got to the gate, he let me go and I looked at him. There was a deep sadness in his eyes. I couldn’t decipher who or what the sadness was for. My heart was in a wreck. I had managed to calm down on the tears but after I saw the look in his eyes, and I had turned away from him, the tears kept coming again till they became sobs.”
Shade lifted her head and looked at Tunbosun. Her cheeks were all wet. She returned her head to her friend’s chest. “Thank you” she whispered to Tunbosun.
A knot rose in Tunbosun’s throat. “You’re welcome” she said, barely above the whisper. The moment was special.
“I went straight for the shower”, Shade continued. “I was there for nearly an hour, shortly before you guys returned. I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. At every recall of what he did to me, I scrubbed a little harder, hoping to wash away all the filth I felt.” Shade stirred when she heard someone get up, probably to use the toilet. She lowered her voice.
“When my skin was almost blistering, I decided I had scrubbed enough. I wore my night gown and lay down. Then, you walked in.” Shade said, and closed her eyes.
Silence hung between them for a couple of minutes. Tunbosun noticed that Shade’s breathing had eased up, compared to when she had just started talking. Talking about it must have relieved her a bit.
“I’m so sorry dear” Tunbosun said, patting Shade’s arm.
Shade nodded.
“Are you going to report Stanley?”
“That beast!” Shade spat.
Tunbosun was taken aback. There was so much venom in those two words. She felt for her; she was sure Shade’s hatred for Stanley was growing by the second.
“I don’t know yet”, she said. “I can’t afford everyone knowing what happened to me and making me a pity-case”
Tunbosun decided to keep her own opinion about that; it wasn’t the appropriate time to insist Shade did anything. “What about Utibe? How do you hope to handle that?”
Shade was quiet for a while. “I’m confused. I don’t know. If there’s anything I dread more than death; it’s rejection. I would prefer to avoid him, expecting the worst, than to believe there’s still hope for us to remain friends and be rejected.”
“Do you think Utibe is such a person?”
“I really don’t know what to think”, Shade said, resignedly.
“Didn’t you even wonder how Utibe knew you were there?”
“It occurred to me but I couldn’t come up with anything.”
“He just passed by me and I greeted him”
“You?” Shade was surprised and Tunbosun understood. She wouldn’t have greeted him on a normal day.
“I’m sure it was God that made me do so.” She paused. “I told him where you were and he started running. He must have known what his friend wanted to do. Thank God I did what was right.”
Shade didn’t respond to that.
“No comments?”
“I would rather say thank you, than say thank God. Where was God when all this happened?” Shade said, obviously bitter.
“You can’t afford to think that way”, Tunbosun said, hoping Shade would listen. “I think you should be thanking God because the devil planned far worse for you but God came through for you, right on time.”
Shade seemed to be considering it. “But did the whole episode have to happen at all?”
“That, I have no answer to,” Tunbosun admitted, sincerely. “But I still know God does no evil; He did well to you by sending help to you.” Tunbosun shook her head. “Can you imagine what we would have been saying now if Stanley that finished what he started? I think you owe God some praise.”
“I guess so” Shade said.
“Let’s pray together” Tunbosun offered. She had just rededicated her life to Christ and she still had a long way to go; even in knowing how to pray, but she was going to do it anyway. She had one assurance, and that was that God would hear her no matter how incoherent her prayer sounded. Shade assented and they prayed together briefly. Afterwards, Tunbosun offered to sleep with her and she agreed.
Now waking up after about three hours of sleep, Tunbosun felt like she hadn’t slept at all. Her arms were around Shade from behind, like a protective mother. Any girl with a warped mind would have thought unthinkable things just looking at them but Tunbosun had no apologies to anyone; she knew she was pleasing God; anybody could think what she wanted to think.
She looked at her wristwatch, not wanting to rouse Shade just yet. It was 6am. She knew she had to get up, or they would be late for the briefing. She leaned over and spoke into Shade’s ears.
“Virgin, wake up!” she whispered. She said that intentionally because she knew Shade needed re-assurance that she was still clean. That was the worst bane of sexually-abused persons; they almost always felt dirty afterwards. At times, that feeling stayed with them throughout their life time. Tunbosun couldn’t bare the thought of Shade living with that mindset for the rest of her life.
When Shade didn’t stir, she repeated it again.
“Virgin girl, wake up!”
Eventually, Shade opened her eyes and sat up. It was then Tunbosun also sat up. She gave her friend a good morning hug, and asked her how she was feeling. Shade seemed to be much better. It was obvious she was still struggling with the memories. Tunbosun just hoped she would get over them fast.
Tunbosun got down from Shade’s bed, and prepared to freshen up. As she did, two things plagued her mind, and she pleaded with God to take care of them. She wondered how Shade would face both Utibe and Stanley. And she wondered if her own turn was around the corner; she remembered the dream she had had. She had almost been raped in her dream, nights back. She wondered if that dream was meant for Shade or if her episode was yet to come. She desperately hoped this was the end of it.
The air seemed dry. He had woken up with a heavy heart. He couldn’t remember when last he had felt this sad. It was as if he had failed a terminal exam. That was Utibe’s plight. He was seated in his school uniform, waiting for the whistle to sound. Boys were walking around the room, making noise as usual. He was just staring at nothing in particular.
He remembered the look on Shade’s face when he had seen her the night before. Her eyes had been closed when he reached out to touch her. He had never seen someone so scared in his life. He felt responsible for her and wanted to do all in his power to make sure she was alright. He had wanted to apologize to her when he helped her to her hostel but the words just didn’t come out. Guilt held them hostage.
He blamed himself for what happened to her. He had been so stupid to listen to Stanley’s counsel when the whole thing started. Worse was that he hadn’t taken Stanley’s words serious when he said he would have Shade. He had been so sure Shade would never give in to him. What he hadn’t considered was that Stanley was capable of forcing her.
Utibe wished he could take back the hands of the clock but he knew that was impossible. What had happened had happened and he was going to live with the guilt for the rest of his life.
He was thankful however that he had reached Shade right on time; just in time to prevent Stanley from doing the final havoc. If anyone had told him he could be that violent, he would have denied it. What he did to Stanley surprised him. He had the advantage that he took Stanley by surprise, and at a time his defenses were low. The first punch he threw had landed on Stanley’s head.
While Stanley was still wondering what hit him, he had landed more punches with all the strength he could muster. When he was sure Stanley was incapacitated, he moved over to help Shade. He hadn’t been able to see Stanley’s face clearly in the dark but he was sure he had given him scars that would remain for a very very long time. And with that, he was satisfied.
His dilemma now was whether or not to report Stanley. He wouldn’t have debated it a second if not for Shade. He knew reporting it would make the news spread. He didn’t want that kind of popularity for his friend. ‘I will ask her if I should report it’, he thought to himself but as he did, an unwelcome thought filtered into his mind.
‘That’s if she even ever wants to see me again. She must hate me for what I allowed my friend do to her’. That brought a wave of regret through his heart.
Utibe shook his head. He knew the chances were high he might have lost his friend but he wasn’t going to give up all so easily. ‘I know you must hate me right now, Shade but I’m still going to do myself this one last favour. I will beg your forgiveness. That’s the least I can do.’
Those were his thoughts as the whistle sounded. It was time for the briefing.
All the attention was killing. Stanley wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there. All his roommates had been asking him how he got the bruises on his face and arms; those were the visible ones. Some even laughed at him; making up different stories about how Stanley was beaten mercilessly.
He could hardly touch his nose; it seemed broken. It had been bleeding last night but he managed to stop the bleeding. He couldn’t blame them; he looked miserable. He never knew Utibe was that strong. He was learning his lessons.
The boys around him told him he needed to get to the clinic for check up but he wondered what he would tell the nurse. It would only worsen his problems. But analyzing his predicament, the option seemed to be the only way. It would be worse if he went to the briefing with his face in that state; it was sure to draw the attention of the facilitators, and maybe even the commandant. He decided to go to the clinic, trusting his lying skills; he would cook up a believable story.
But as he stood to begin walking to the clinic, a thought crossed his mind; one he surprisingly hadn’t considered before. “What if Utibe or Shade report me?” he asked himself. His heart beat so hard it slammed against his chest.
He had no answer to that question.

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 26)

The air-conditioner in the hall seemed rather too cold. Tara wondered why. She was one of the first people to arrive at the hall for the briefing. She took her time to admire the intricate pattern of the hall. The architect must have been very meticulous when designing the structure. It was so beautiful.
She had read about amphi theatres; she had even seen the picture of one on the internet. The hall had a similar form; only it was not as big as the regular amphi’s. She looked at her watch; it was a quarter to seven. Her mind did a quick back-flip; recalling the events of the previous day. The day had seemed so long, because so many pleasant things had happened.
Her life had been restored, and her heart was renewed. She owed it all to God, and to George, who He had used. At the thought of George, she looked back and scanned the hall. It was unlike him to be late for the briefing. It was one of the many things she had come to respect in him. He was time-conscious and was almost always early for the different line-up of activities.
She sad smile curve her lips as she remembered her mother. Her mother had never been early for a meeting; not once. She would always leave home at the time a meeting was supposed to commence, and would dash out of the house frantic. Tara wondered why her mother couldn’t be more organized.
She criticized her mother inwardly until she began noticing the same trend in herself. ‘God forbid, I cannot turn out to be like mother!’ she had said, chiding herself someday. But that hadn’t changed things.
When she came to the conference however, she decided to work on her promptness to programmes, and so far she had been doing a good job. She was proud of herself. Noticing George’s discipline with time had also been an impetus for her. She looked back again and didn’t see him coming.
She placed her bag on the seat to her right. She hated to keep seats for people, but she indulged herself this once. She knew George would want to seat in front, so she decided to reserve a seat for him. ‘I’m doing this for George’, she convinced herself. But deep within she knew there was another force at work. She actually wanted George to seat next to her. She smiled at herself.
‘You’re a silly girl, Tara’, she teased herself as she turned again. This time, she saw him, and he was walking in her direction. But even though there was still a distance between them, she knew something wasn’t right. She couldn’t place a finger on what it was but the fact was undeniable.
When he reached her, he greeted her with a smile. Tara thought the smile was forced. She ushered him to the seat next to her. When he sat, he became unnaturally quiet. She was beginning to get worried.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing”, he said, without looking at her “Just a long night”
“Mm-hmm” he said, trying to look distracted.
“George, look at me”, she said.
He did, and tried to smile but Tara wasn’t fooled. His eyes were not the same. They were not the same eyes she had looked at when they had spoken for the first time, neither were they the same she had taken comfort in when he counseled and talked with her at different times. Something was wrong. He looked sad. He looked defeated.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Talk about what?”
“About what’s wrong with you.”
George laughed, but it sounded so strained. Nothing looked or sounded right with him this morning.
“I trusted you with my worst secrets, George”, she said, now sounding pained. “Why won’t you do the same with me?” She noticed that got his attention, but instead of opening up, he seemed to withdraw further.
“I’m not keeping anything unsaid that needs to be said”, he told her, but she could see he was lying. She decided to let it go. Maybe he didn’t trust her as much as she trusted him. And if he did trust her, maybe it was something he felt so pained or ashamed to talk about. She decided to give him some space if that’s want he wanted. She only hoped he wouldn’t let that burden grow till it knocked him out.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it, but please know that I’m praying for you.” Tara said, noticing a tiny glint in his eyes. She then knew beyond all doubts that something terrible was eating him up
George felt his eyes fill. He had to look away from Tara; it couldn’t bear to look in her eyes. The guilt was too much to bear. After months of being sober and clean, he had finally given in to his lust. He had walked into that toilet and consumed the magazine. He had feed his eyes to stupor. There was no turning point at that moment. Before he left the toilet, he had topped it all up. He had masturbated.
George blink, fighting hard to keep the tears away. He felt so terrible; so dirty. He had done it again. Looking at Tara had made him feel horrible; like a pig. If he could feel this bad, being with Tara, he wondered how he would cope with Fatima. He couldn’t even dare to think of God now; he hated to imagine the hurt and pain in God’s eyes.
He hated himself for what he had done. And yet, he knew it wasn’t over yet. Though he hated it, he still felt powerless to stop at the moment. He was sure he would pick up the magazine again when he returned to the hostel. That only made matters worse as he felt helpless to stop from killing himself, because that was what he was doing – killing himself slowly.
‘George, do you have to be such a fool?’ he chided himself as the Conference Director started addressing them. He was momentarily distracted from his thoughts. Something the CD was saying caught his attention.
“…there would be no group meetings today. We would all be going on a day-long mobile rally, advocating the rights of children. You will all go for your breakfast immediately after this briefing, and return to your hostels where you would be given your rally T-Shirts. We would commence the rally at 10’o clock. We would have different stops so we could rest, during one of the stops, we would have lunch. That should be around 2:30 at…” The CD looked at his colleagues for confirmation of the information.
“Yes, at the Central Park at Rukpokwu. We would return here at 5pm.” The participants murmured. They couldn’t imagine walking for a whole day. The Conference Director however seemed unaffected by their complaints.
“You won’t be the first to do it, neither will you be the last” he said. “You won’t die.” He paused, and looked at them a while. “But there’s some good news. After you’re back and you’ve had your shower, you would have dinner. Immediately after dinner, we would our O-Y-O night.”
He was pleased as he saw the confused looks on their faces. Only a few seemed to understand what he was talking about; possibly those whose siblings had been at the conference before.
“The O-Y-O night, meaning On Your Own is the night when there is no organized programme from our end. Every participant is free to do as he or she pleases. You could read, sleep, chat, or have informal group meetings. Just do as you please.” He then frowned. “Just make sure you don’t do anything stupid. If you’re caught, that will be serious O-Y-O for you o!”
Giggles littered the air. They understood what he was talking about.
He dismissed them almost immediately and George stood to leave, but Tara grabbed his hand and nudged him to sit down. George was bemused. “What’s the matter?”
“You’ve forgotten our meeting?” She asked.
“What meeting?” he asked back, but she just gave him that remind-yourself look. “Oh!” he said, slapping his forehead, “I forgot.” They had agreed the previous night to meet after the briefing. Fatima and the others would be joining them upfront soon. He would have been excited on a normal day to enjoy the company of other believers but today was different. George was afraid. He was ashamed.
Utibe’s ears tingled when he heard the CD mention that nobody should be caught doing things they ought not to. It was then he felt it would be a good idea to report the case of last night; believing and hoping that the organizers would send Stanley packing from the conference. He was a misfit and didn’t deserve to stay. Utibe decided to make that happen.
But first he needed to talk with Shade. He had a mission to accomplish that couldn’t wait one more minute. He had marked where she sat the moment he saw her walk in. He had been on the look out for her. When she walked with her friend, he could see she wasn’t herself; seemed more withdrawn than ever. He couldn’t blame her. But she still looked much better than he had imagined. He was glad she wasn’t been too hard on herself. He was sure she owed much of that to her friend, sitting beside her.
He stood up and started in their direction. As he walked, he noticed they were making moves to leave, so he quickened his steps. By the time he reached them, and looked at Shade, his mind went blank. He couldn’t remember all the apology lines he had rehearsed over and over. He just stood there transfixed.
He noticed Tunbosun excused herself; she knew the two needed to sort things out. Shade lowered her eyes but not before he saw the pain that still resided there. ‘This is all my fault’ he rebuked himself. “Please sit” he said.
She sat, eyes still down.
He went on his knees beside her. Her eyes shifted then and she looked at him in shock.
“What are you doing?” she whispered, the expression on her face unchanged.
“Shade, I am very sorry for what I allowed to happen to you last night”, he started and her eyes shifted from his and found her hands again. “If I had never touched you in the first place, Stanley would not have had a reason to do so. It is all my fault. I don’t know if you’ll ever forgive me but I won’t be able to live with myself, knowing I never apologized.” He paused and lowered his gaze too. His eyes were beginning to fill. “I’m very sorry, Shade. Please forgive me.”
By the time he looked back at her, tears were dropping from her eyes. His heart ached. It was like something was squeezing it tight. He didn’t know what to say as a tear made its way down his own cheek.
Most people had exited the hall, so they were not going to have many spectators, but even if the whole world watched, Utibe didn’t care. He knew he was doing what was right and he felt so right about it.
“I’m not asking you to remain my friend; that would be too much to ask. I don’t deserve it. All I’m asking is that you forgive me.” He stopped there and there was quiet between them for a while.
Shade then lifted her wet face and looked at him. “You did nothing wrong, Utibe; you did nothing wrong.” She shook her head. “I actually thought you would never want to see me again. I felt so cheap and dirty yesterday. Thank you for coming to my rescue. I would be most pleased to still have you as a friend”, she said, managing a smile.
Relief flooded Utibe’s face. “Thank you” he said.
“Thank you too!” she said and opened her arms for an embrace. It was a brief hug but meant the world to both of them. They wiped their tears and Utibe stood, helping Shade up.
“I also want to know your opinion about something”. Utibe said, but noticed Shade was looking elsewhere.
“Can we talk about it after the rally? I have a meeting now.” She said. “Hope you understand”
“Perfectly” he said, as he watched her walk towards her waiting friends.
Utibe felt like a new man. He had been in a terrible state since the night before. It felt as if he was just breathing for the first time in twelve hours. “I would have to postpone asking her about reporting Stanley till evening”, he said to himself as he made his way out of the hall.
They were all waiting for Shade. They welcomed her with smiles. Knowing they didn’t have much time, they motioned Fatima to proceed.
“Please, let’s pray” she said, and they bowed their heads in unison. The prayer was a very short one but not short of power. She employed them to sit as she shared something with them.
“I’m in the blues myself as to what God wants to do in and through us at this conference but I know it is going to be awesome”, she started, and noticed that they were all paying attention. “When I was meditating this morning, after my quiet time, the Lord dropped a scripture in my mind, making me know what His purpose for gathering us together was.”
She paused. It’s a popular scripture from the book of Isaiah; Isaiah sixty-one verses one to three” she said and began quoting it by heart.
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He might be glorified”.
She repeated the verses again and did so slowly, hammering on words of importance. “God has called us to spread His love; to radiate His light in this place.”
She looked at Tara. “Some girls in this place have been hurt and are suffering like you did. God wants to touch them with His loving power as He touched you.”
Tara nodded, silently.
“God wants to use all of us”, she said. “He is not going to leave any of us out”. Looking at their faces, she saw what she had expected to see in some faces. Doubt.
“You might be telling yourself that you have nothing to offer anyone; that’s the biggest lie you could possible tell yourself.” She paused and took time to look in every eye. As she did, the look that gave her most concern was George’s. She had expected him to be the most excited; full of faith and expectation at what God was about to do, but he wasn’t. There was something to his look that Fatima couldn’t decipher. She would talk with him later. She had to deliver God’s message now.
“God assured me that He was going to amaze us all with the great things He would do through us.” Looking round again, she called their names. “Faith, Tara, Tunbosun, Shade, George, Uche…” She paused for effect. “God is counting on the seven of us. We cannot afford to let Him down.”
“How are we going to go about this?” Faith asked, with glowing eyes.
Fatima was pleased. She could feel God restoring Faith to her first love very fast. This was going to be very interesting. “I had been wondering about that myself, knowing we hardly have so much free time. But God amazed me again.”
“How?” it was Uche asking.
“I had to smile when the announcement was made. I felt like tickling God; He is just so sweet”, she said and anyone looking at the girl would know beyond doubts that she was madly in love with Jesus.
“The moment the Conference Director mentioned the O-Y-O time, I knew that was the time God had prepared for us to start”. As she said that, she saw understanding dawn on them.
“So, where are we going to use?” Tunbosun asked.
“I feel God leading us to the dining hall.” She saw some raised eye brows. She understood their concerns. “We have developed some rapport with the kitchen staff through our clearing the dishes. I trust God to grant us favour with them.”
“Who would ever have thought we would need them some day?” It was Uche saying, smiling.
“You’re right. That’s why it pays to do good at all times; just because it is right to do good. There’s always a time of reward.” Tunbosun said.
Fatima was impressed with her response. She could see God was doing a good job on everybody already. However she noticed Shade hadn’t said anything yet, neither had George. That bothered her a bit.
Not wanting to mention their names directly, she spoke out. “We need to be united in this. If there’s something anyone wants to talk about; a reservation, a fear…” she paused as she was about the say the third. “…or even an unconfessed sin, now is the time to speak up”. She waited. They all waited. Nobody signified.
“If we’re all good, let’s pray. But before we pray, please let us make sure we invite as many people as possible; just tell them we just want to have a small get-together in the dining hall immediately after dinner. Hope that’s fine with us?” she asked.
They nodded.
She then turned in George’s direction. “Please pray for us”, she said. For the first time in her years of knowing George, he seemed uncertain, even reluctant to pray. But he did anyway. And the prayer sounded shallow in Fatima’s ears.
A wave of panic hit her. She couldn’t afford to lose George to lukewarmness. She had to talk with him. She knew now was not a good time; she decided to fish him out during the rally and have a tête-à-tête with him.
She dismissed the meeting, and friends talked as they exited the hall.
Tunbosun had thought Shade would tell the others about what happened to her. When she hadn’t, she felt Shade probably still needed more time to heal before telling others. But the person who bothered her most was George. He had seemed rather withdrawn, like he didn’t belong among them. That felt so weird. She had been able to notice him because he was seated directly opposite her.
On another day, he would have smiled all through the meeting; probably winked at one or two people, including her, but she had seen none of that. Worse was that he was actually looking sick. ‘Maybe he has a fever’ she convinced herself. It was the only excuse she could give.
He indeed had a fever, but what Tunbosun didn’t know was that George had a fever of the mind; the worst fever ever known to man.

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 27)

Any onlooker would have been amused by the sights. The sun was setting but that had not reduced the heat in the air. The gates were wide-opened and the participants trudged in. They were indeed a pity sight. Some had to be held by their friends, many had opted for the ambulances that had gone with them, and others literarily pushed themselves forward; taking every step with so much effort. It had been a hectic rally.
The facilitators didn’t need to expend energy making the students go to the hostel, as was the case normally. They of their own accord headed straight for their hostels. Some hit their beds straight up, not having enough strength to even peel off their shoes. Others made it to the bathroom to have a bath. It was a day they wouldn’t forget too quickly.
They had walked, jogged, walked, jogged and walked all through. They had sung most of the way, stopping at different points both to rest and distribute fliers that advocated the rights of children. The lunch break at the Rukpokwu Central Park had been a welcome break for them. Even the facilitators seemed to need a break. Their legs were hurting badly.
It would have been really dreary and exhausting if there had been no side attractions but the Man-O-War officials had been enlisted to help with the long trek. The songs they led lightened the moments; making even the most tired persons to laugh, at least giggle. But what was most strengthening was the power of togetherness. Being together, helping each other, and singing with each other propelled them through.
The power of unity.
They had been given two hours to get themselves together. By the time the whistle went for dinner, the dining hall experienced an unprecedented crowd in the first five minutes. Never had participants turned up so early for any meal. They were famished. Uche had been one of the first to enter the hall. He couldn’t remember when last he felt that hungry. He could hardly wait to start eating.
But that was not the only thing he could hardly wait for; he was still itching to know what Fatima’s response to his letter would be. He was dying to know. He wondered however if there was any likelihood he would get a reply that day because the premiere meeting was going to kick off in a few minutes. He was sure that was the major, if not the only thought on Fatima’s mind at the moment.
He had seen every other person walk in and take their different seats but he hadn’t seen Fatima yet. He wondered where she could be. Wasn’t she hungry?
His table was called to come for food. It was time to fill his belly; every other thing could wait a few minutes.
The room was silent except for a muffled sound that came from the corner; sounding like a girl in pain trying to stifle the sound of her tears. There in the corner, a little figure crouched on the floor in what seemed like an agonizing posture. Her lips were moving but her voice wasn’t heard. The only sounds were the sounds made as a result of her pains – her groaning.
Fatima had been down there for ten minutes and she wasn’t in a hurry to leave. Everyone had gone for dinner, but she knew there was no dinner for her. God had placed so great a burden in her heart for the many hurting souls in the conference that eating seemed so trivial. She wasn’t going to eat until the next day. She would pray and pray and pray until God touched every bleeding heart and restored every straying soul.
The more she prayed, the greater the intensity of the burden she felt. It was like God was transferring His heart to her; like she was feeling His very own pain; the pain of a Father who was bleeding for His many lost children; the tears of a groom weeping for His wounded bride. She had never felt that way before. It was a new experience, but a welcome one as she prayed and interceded for the lost sheep of God’s pasture.
She soon began to hear God tell her things she was to do when she got to the dining hall. She opened her eyes, reached for her bag, where her notepad and biro were, and began to write. She didn’t understand some of the instructions but she was in no position to question God. She knew beyond a doubt that God knew exactly what He was doing and all would work out perfectly in the end.
As she scribbled down the instructions, she felt like another Moses; another Noah. She was receiving specific instructions from the Almighty God Himself. She was indeed awed. The instructions might not have been as grand as the patriarchs’ were; might not have been as tripping as hearing the dimensions for constructing an ark or for fashioning the Ark of the Covenant but it meant the world to her all the same.
When she was done writing, she took some time to thank God for what He was about to do, and for counting the seven of them privileged for such a great task. She rose to her feet and carried her bag which had her bible in it. On her way out, she stopped at the bathroom to wash her face; she needed to look fresh.
Wanting to ensure all she needed was there, she looked into a bag again, and while looking through, she saw a paper in her inner zip. Without opening it, she knew what was there. Uche’s letter. She smiled; she would give him her reply after the meeting.
Shade looked around. A few people where hanging around. They had possibly been invited for the meeting. She had forgotten to invite anyone. Still scanning for any familiar faces, she saw Utibe on the far corner, sitting on his own. He seemed he was also waiting. She could only wonder who had invited him.
They had to clear plates, as usual, before the meeting started. George had been asked to ask the women for permission earlier and they had been too pleased to accommodate them; glad to have an opportunity to appreciate the students who had been helping them. They cleared the plates as fast as they could. Shade noticed that as they did, some students stared in disbelief, some watched in horror, feigning disgust at what they were doing. Shade sincerely pitied the future spouses of the latter.
A few, however, decided to join them. That made the work much faster. Fatima had come in just as they were about to start clearing up the plates and Shade couldn’t deny she saw something different in her new friend’s eyes. She was almost scared to look at her; there was a special glow in her eyes; like she had just spoken to God face to face.
Moments after, Fatima called for everyone present for the meeting to gather together. As they did, Shade did a rough count; they were about thirty. ‘Not a bad start’ she thought. Utibe was to her far right. He seemed a little uncertain as to why he was there but he stayed anyway. Shade turned to her far right and saw a girl sitting there. She was too far for Shade to ascertain what she was waiting for. She looked away and focused on Fatima who now stood in front of them all.
Disappointment sounded a trivial word to use in expressing how she felt. She was pained; deeply pained. Her plans were getting delayed and she wasn’t in the mood for delays. She had been lurking around, waiting for the Igbo chap to walk out of the hall. She had been stupefied when she saw him and a group of others clear the plates. She had endured the delay then, but this was getting worse.
Christiana shook her head. Now, it seemed they wanted to have a meeting of some sort. This wasn’t how she had planned it to be. Not at all. She had hoped to get a hold of him immediately after dinner and twist his head till he was exactly where she wanted him to be; in her arms. But now, he was farther from her than she had hoped. She was in a dilemma as to whether or not to wait.
She hadn’t wooed any other guy that day; she had been pre-occupied with thoughts of getting the Christian boy, and now she was about to go empty handed. She couldn’t afford that. Her problem now was she didn’t know how long their meeting was going to be. After some analysis, she decided she would join them. She walked over to where they were clustered. Her eyes were fixed on only one person and she walked in his direction.
She was headed for the Igbo chap she had proposed to ruin. If it meant she had to be patient, a virtue she lacked completely, then so be it.
As Fatima looked at the few people gathered together, her heart soared in joy. She didn’t know exactly what God wanted to do but she couldn’t wait to have Him start. She introduced herself to the students gathered. As she was doing the introduction, she saw the girl she and Uche had seen in the dining the day before. The girl was headed towards Uche. She now knew beyond doubt what the girl was there for.
She smiled. She wasn’t fazed. She was definite the girl was going to have an encounter that would disarm her. She came seeking Uche, but Fatima was sure she would leave, having at least tasted Jesus. It was a pleasant thought.
God had instructed her earlier that Tara should lead worship, Faith should lead prayers, and she should take the word. They were the three He wanted in the fore front for the first meeting. The seven of them would then share their salvation experiences briefly, and counseling would begin immediately after. Fatima was so sure plenty of counseling would be needed. She had made that known to them immediately they finished clearing the dishes.
When Fatima was done explaining to everybody present why they were there, she motioned for Tara to walk to the front. Tara did and the meeting began.
As Tara walked to the front of the small gathering, she felt something rush through her veins. It was something more than adrenaline; more than a hormonal rush. It felt more like she was feeling a presence all over her. The moment she opened her lips to begin singing, she understood what she was feeling. It was a divine presence.
The song she started with was the only song she sang for the fifteen minutes of worship. On another day, she would have resented the idea but it wasn’t her doing. God was moving through the song and He was leading her to repeat it over again. Most knew the song, but those that didn’t caught up fast. Her pitch rose every time she started over again.
Draw me close to You
Never let me go
I lay it all down again
To hear You say that I’m Your friend
You are my desire
No one else would do
Nothing else can take your place
To feel the warmth of Your embrace
Help me find my way
Bring me back to You…
You’re all I want
You’re all I’ve ever needed
You’re all I want
Help me know You are near
Those were the fourteen lines that God used to start off His work. Tara’s eyes had been closed all along as she sang the song; she had gone on her knees at some point as tears started streaming down her eyes. By the time she was rounding up and she opened her eyes to look at those she was leading in worship, her heart soared. She had never felt such bliss before and the tears kept flowing.
Every single person was down on the floor, most with wet faces. It had been a very long time she had seen anything like it. She then sang the final two lines of the song, lines she hadn’t sang so far as God brooded over His children.
I’m desperate for You
I’m lost without You
They repeated those two lines till there was calm. She stayed there and felt someone join her. It was Faith; it was time to pray. Tara wondered how Faith was going to take over; the anointing in the air was just so strong, but when Faith started, Tara smiled through her tears. God was indeed at work.
Without warning, Tara, on her knees, began to sing in tongues. It was a beautiful sound. As she did, others there who were already baptized in the Holy Ghost joined her. Others who weren’t Holy Ghost baptized just remained quiet. A few minutes after, the singing became prayers, as they roared in tongues to the heavens. Any demon standing close would have fled.
Faith was just doing as she was led; she hadn’t planned it that way. A few minutes into their praying in tongues, she began hearing some voices she hadn’t heard before, praying in tongues. She opened her eyes and what she saw stopped her cold as she marveled at God’s handiwork.
Without anyone laying hands on anyone or cajoling people into speaking in tongues, people were receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, right there on the ground, with the evidence of speaking in tongues. Faith was filled with joy. If this was all she was going to witness; the worship and the baptism of the Holy Spirit, it was enough a memorial for a life time, but she knew God had just started with them.
They continued praying solely in the Spirit for the next half hour. Faith had come to learn that when God was in a place, moving in His power; people never remembered to check the time; if anything at all, they never wanted the experience to end.
As she led them in prayers, Faith began to see things with her eyes closed. She had been so scared, she opened her eyes, but now she was even seeing clearer. It was like God was showing her the hearts of the different people around her. She felt the hair on her neck stand. She was dumbfounded. She had always longed for a spiritual gift but that was over two years back when she had been seeking God with all her heart.
Tears trickled down her face. God had finally remembered her on the day after she came back home. This God was too much. She wondered if she would be able to handle the gift well, because she was already seeing things that she was sure were top secrets in the lives of those people.
“My grace is sufficient for you”, she heard God whisper in her eyes. It was like cold water had been poured on her. She felt refreshed by those words. She was re-assured.
Soon after, Fatima joined them in front, on her knees. She quietened them and rounded up the prayers. When she was done, she asked them to rise and take their seats.
As they did, she could see the different expressions on their faces. Some were elated; some seemed relieved while a few seemed surprised at themselves, wondering what came over them.
Fatima smiled. She couldn’t have imagined a better start. Whether they knew it or not, God had started a great work in their lives, hers inclusive. She had felt things she hadn’t felt in a long time as they had worshipped and prayed. It had been like a moment of re-awakening of dormant areas of her walk with God.
When they were all seated, she started. “We have all felt something new today; some people have experienced more than one new thing today”. She saw nods of agreement. “God is set to yet do more among us. Please be open to Him. As we prayed, He told me that He was distributing gifts to some of us, healing our wounds, restoring our joy, amidst many other things I can’t begin to mention.”
Their expressions told her they agreed with what she was saying. They were experiencing what she was talking about.
“I had planned to share the word for a couple of minutes but I feel God asking me to step out of the way.” She paused and looked round at them. “Seven of us would share our encounters with Jesus; we’ll tell you how we met Him and what He’s doing in our lives. Please listen to every line. At least one person among us will have a story similar to yours.”
She went to her seat as she called the first person forward. Tunbosun.

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 28)

Her legs were still shaking and her lips quivering. She had lost control of herself and she wasn’t happy about it. She hadn’t started speaking any strange language like others were doing but she had fallen to her knees in tears. She felt like she had been bewitched. She felt most uncomfortable. Christiana wanted to bolt out of the dining hall; it was suffocating.
As she prepared to leave, unwilling to subject herself to any more of the hypnotizing skills of these people, she felt a light tap from behind. She looked back and saw the girl that had led prayers; prayers in languages she had never heard before. Christiana raised her eye brow.
“You don’t have to go” she said.
Christiana was dumbfounded. They were not only hypnotizers; they were also mind-readers. Her head spun. It was like her mental reasoning had been shut down, she couldn’t move. To worsen it, she felt a hand touch hers and she turned to the left and just stared in unbelief. Anyone would have thought she saw a ghost.
It was the Igbo chap. She had actually momentarily forgotten about him. She had come to seduce him only to be mesmerized by his friends. Now, he was the one touching her; she couldn’t believe her eyes. It seemed the girl from behind had retreated when she saw the Igbo guy was taking over.
“Please just wait till the end of today’s meeting”, he said. “If you still aren’t satisfied after, you don’t have to come again.” As she stared into his eyes for a very first time at close range, she saw something in his eyes that made her want to start crying all over again. There was peace, innocence and love all combined in his eyes.
She couldn’t refuse the offer. She nodded.
He removed his hand from hers and it was then she realized she had been holding her breath. She couldn’t believe what was happening to her. She had always been the one with power over guys; she toyed with them in her fingers as she pleased, but this guy was different. He seemed to be the one that had an effect on her.
She was struggling with what she was experiencing but her real self got the better of her soon enough.
‘It must be this hypnotic atmosphere that is making me weak’, she convinced herself, still stuck to her seat. ‘I’ll try again tomorrow in my own zone, where my atmosphere of lust would be palpable and this Igbo boy would dance to my music’.
She listened half-heartedly to what the girl upfront was saying. She couldn’t wait to get out and recuperate.
Uche knew he was next after Tunbosun to share his story. Fatima had told them that they should be free and open up; not holding anything back. She had made it clear that it might just be a detail they planned to omit that would be a blessing to someone there. He braced himself up for the things he had to share. It had been an ordeal telling only Fatima days back, now he wondered how he would tell the many people whose eyes would be fixed on him.
He looked down at his notepad where he was jotting some things Tunbosun was saying, and it reminded him of the letter he gave Fatima. He instinctively looked in her direction and saw she was looking at him. His heart pounded in his chest. He wondered if she was looking at him for reasons he would have loved to believe or as a signal that he should be preparing to go up next.
He looked away; almost sure her reason for looking at him was the latter. ‘Fatima, please give me an answer. Your silence is killing me’ he pleaded silently. A few minutes after, he joined in clapping as Tunbosun made her way to her seat. As he stood and walked up front, he noticed some girls where wiping their eyes.
That was the power of testifying about Jesus. He was determined more than ever to tell the whole story. All God needed him to do was tell them how Jesus came into his messed up life and turned things around. That was the greatest evangelical tool as it made people know God could do the same for them.
He silently prayed that God would use his testimony to draw people to Him as he had used Fatima’s testimony to draw him.
There was a strong battle taking place. A war in George’s mind. A part of him rejoiced at what God was doing at the meeting. Another part of him, which seemed to be stronger, told him he had no right to be there not to talk of being happy at what was happening; he was a despicable hypocrite.
He willed himself to listen to Uche’s testimony. The boy was already growing fast in his relationship with God. He shook his head. Why on earth did he have to allow lust get a better part of him? It would have been a better case if he knew he had genuinely repented and was not going to continue, but he knew that wasn’t the case.
Even during the worship, where everyone seemed lost, he had been replaying the images he had looked at earlier in the day. Even when he joined others in praying in tongues, his mind had wandered far away. George knew he would be back to the magazine immediately after the meeting was over. He knew he wasn’t repentant. Not just yet.
He wondered what guts he would have in a few minutes to talk to these seeking hearts, as he was going up next after Uche. He would just tell his story and walk back. But deep inside, he knew that the best he could get from that was an emotional response from the people; there would be no life in his words because his life was presently void of true life.
‘Just act normal, nobody knows what you’ve done, and nobody will ever know’, a vile spirit whispered in his ears, and the words seemed to bring ill comfort to George. He was beginning to lose it. And it was only the beginning.
God was on the move and Faith had to keep up with Him. He had opened her eyes to see that the girl in her front was about to leave and God obviously didn’t want her to. He had prompted her to talk and Faith obeyed. She noticed Uche heard her and took it up from there. The girl was still seated, and Faith was happy God was using her.
She listened to Uche’s story as he shared his testimony. If he hadn’t said all he said, nobody would have known all he had gone through. The meeting so far had been awesome and she was glad to be a part of it.
She was going to be the last person before Fatima to share her testimony. She had so much to say; her only constraint was time. She would have to summarize all she would say. She wasn’t proud of her past, especially in the last two years of her life but she was proud of what God had done to restore her.
And the only way she was going to make people appreciate what God had done for her was to make them see how terrible she had been. She didn’t care about the shame it would bring her, because she knew not everyone there was sincere and some might choose to broadcast the things they had heard at the meeting.
She cared about only one thing; and that was enough to keep her going. She cared for the one boy or girl; just that one fellow out of the few dozens seated that her testimony would liberate. It would mean the world to her – and to God.
Minutes later, she applauded as Uche made his way to his seat. George stood up and began walking forward when God opened Faith’s eyes. Her hands froze in mid air; she couldn’t clap anymore. She blinked, thinking her mind was playing tricks on her, but opened them again to see the same thing.
What she saw made her cringe in horror and repulsion. ‘God, why are you showing me this?’ she asked silently, still staring in horror.
“George needs help. I love him too much to let him stray away.”
Those words combined with what she had just seen made tears spill out of her hearts. She would do whatever God needed her to do to help George. She tried not to remember what she had seen; it was gruesome sight.