Sunday, March 7, 2010

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.

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