Monday, June 14, 2010

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 32)

Tara sat on her bunk waiting for the whistle to go for dinner. It had been a very long day; she had known it would be during the briefing when she heard the line up of activities for the day.
They had had two leadership seminars immediately after breakfast. The seminars stretched till lunch time. Tara had enjoyed the seminars but sitting on one spot for hours didn’t sit down well with her. She had been relieved when the whistle went for lunch. Her stomach was already hurting when it was just past noon.
After lunch, they had their group meetings; the community-project group meetings lasted two hours and so did their networking meetings. It was now past seven and Tara just wanted to sleep. She wished she could but two things still had to be done. She still had to pay homage to her stomach, and she had to attend the meeting that would hold immediately after dinner. Those two were extremely important. Sleep could wait.
She hadn’t seen her friends through the day; they were in different groups. It was one of the reasons she looked forward to hearing the whistle. Having godly friends was a rare gift and Tara was glad she was one of the few that had that blessing. The story of her life would never be complete without the friends she had met during the conference. That, she was very sure of. She only wished she too could be more of a blessing to them as they had been to her. She felt very indebted to them, especially George.
As the thought of George flashed through her mind, she smiled. She didn’t know how he’d managed to do it, but he had done a good job on not getting her attached to him. She had been sincerely scared to open up to him initially; afraid she might lose her head in the process but she was glad that hadn’t happened.
She hadn’t spoken much with him lately and she wondered why. ‘I hope we get to talk this evening’, she said, still waiting for the whistle.
Fatima knelt by her bedside and prayed; that was all she could do. She had many things to pray about. Top on the list was the meeting they were going to have after dinner. She was sure more students would turn out. She craved for direction; she sincerely pleaded for God’s help. She wanted to do it only as God would have it.
Next on her mind were her beloved friends; George and Uche. She had been worried about George’s withdrawal. She could see it without being told that something was wrong; she just didn’t know what the matter was and she wondered why he hadn’t opened up about it. Fatima knew she would eventually have to ask him but knew she had to pray about it first.
When she prayed for Uche; she did with mixed feelings; a part of her accused her for what was happening, while another part encouraged her. She hadn’t spoken with Uche throughout the day.
When she had returned from the hospital, she had joined groups that didn’t have any of her close friends in them, but now she wished she hadn’t done that; at least, she would have had an opportunity to talk with Uche had she being in his group. She knew that the only opportunity to talk with him would be after the meeting; she hoped he would be willing to talk.
As she yet prayed, the whistle went. She wished she had more time to settle things with God, but that was not to be; she trusted however that God heard both her said and unsaid prayers. With that, she rose to her feet and trusted God to take care of the events of the night.
Uche had mixed feelings as he exited his room. It had been a while anybody made him feel so special and cared for. Christiana had stabbed her two group meetings during the day and followed him to his groups. She made him feel wanted, needed, and loved. That was exactly what he needed. Fatima had just rejected him. This was a welcome compensation.
The only sour taste in his mouth was the uneasiness that refused to leave him. He couldn’t tell exactly what it was, but he just knew what he had shared with Christiana in the last few hours was nothing compared to what he shared and enjoyed with Fatima and the other guys. His budding relationship with Christiana just felt off. He had no reason to think that way as she hadn’t said or done anything outside the ordinary, but he still felt that way.
She had told him stories of her life; telling him secrets he was surprised a fine girl like her would reveal to guy she had just met; it was one of the things that made him feel there was a future for their new friendship. ‘She trusts me’, Uche thought to himself. He had to console her on one occasion when she mentioned that her father was late. She looked so vulnerable and he felt a need to protect her. The fear he had initially that she was a bad girl had been dispelled. Maybe she was just accustomed to wearing tight and revealing dresses.
Uche had willed himself on many occasions in the course of the day not to look at her chest or legs; she was just so careless when it came to that. ‘She doesn’t know better’, Uche said to himself, convincing himself she wasn’t aware of the effect it had on guys. Listening to her confessions had made him come to the conclusion that she was a good girl who had been a victim of unfortunate circumstances in her past. She had sounded naïve and teachable.
‘I’ll talk to her about her dressing’, Uche thought as he approached the dining hall. He wondered how he would balance his friendship with Christiana with his friendship with his other buddies. He knew she didn’t fit into their circles. He was in a dilemma; who would he sacrifice for whom. Would he sacrifice Christiana for Fatima and the others or the other way?
Still confused, he walked into the dining hall, and as if she knew what was on his mind, the first person he saw, smiling straight at him from the table closest to the door was Christiana. She was smiling like someone who had missed a dear friend and was so happy to see him again.
Without thinking hard, Uche knew what his choice was. He was going to stick with his new friend. His others friend would have to wait their turn.
Christiana could feel her heart hit hard against her chest. She had made good progress with Uche during the day, and seeing him walk towards her only heightened her excitement. She longed to quickly do what she had to do and dump him. ‘See the fool smiling. You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into’, she thought as he reached the table.
“Hey Uche!”
“You took some time’
“Yes. I had to take a shower”
“Oh!” she smiled, and waited for him to sit. She then faced him and looked straight into his eyes. “I missed you”
Uche just stared; a lump in his throat.
Christiana could feel the effect her stare and words had on the chap. She couldn’t blame him; she was irresistible. “Did you miss me?” she asked, wanting to pull him in a little more.
“I…did” he managed to say, sounding nervous.
“I like your outfit”, she said, taking a brief look at what he wore, her eyes settling on his shoes. “Nice shoes”
“Thanks he said.”
She knew what she was doing, and she couldn’t help feeling good with herself. She was making him have to look at her – at what she was wearing because it would be impolite of him not to return the compliment. She could see he was struggling not to look at her but he had to if he was going to pass a comment.
She had deliberately chosen the dress she wore. They had been told the evening program was going to be a comedy show; they had been told to come casual. She was doing just that.
She wore a tight purple spaghetti top and a short jeans skirt. She had no apologies to anyone for what she wore; she had a mission and she wasn’t going to fail. She was going to do whatever it took.
She looked at Uche. “Don’t you like what I’m wearing she said”, still prodding him to look. With that, he looked at her and as quickly, took his eyes off. She wanted to laugh but suppressed it.
“You like it?” she said, trying to save him the stress of saying it.
Uche nodded. “Can we get our food now?” he said, obviously trying to save himself from the awkward situation.
“Sure” Christiana said and rose. She knew she was making him uncomfortable, and she was indeed pleased. That was exactly how she wanted him to feel – uncomfortable.
He could tell that dinner had been served and folks were already eating. George strolled into the dining hall and looked round. He noticed a hand waving at him from a distance. It was Fatima. His heart dropped.
It had been a while since he talked with his friend and he actually wondered when that would be. His heart was getting hardened; he could feel it. It bothered him but he felt helpless to stop it. He was now looking at the pictures and going to the bathroom often to do the obvious. He didn’t even bother asking God to forgive him anymore because he knew in a few hours he would do exactly the same thing he had done.
When he was outside the hostel, he was feeding his eyes on girls who wore tight or transparent clothing. When back in the hostel, he reached for the porn magazine he had hid away. He was still surprised that his bunkmate hadn’t asked him or other room mates if they had seen the magazine. He guessed the boy was too ashamed to ask people for it.
That was George’s undoing as he had unlimited access to it whenever he needed it. He was beginning to fear that if in the right environment with a willing girl, he might do something he would greatly regret. He hoped that opportunity would not pose itself until he had found his way back to God- free from this disease of lust.
Now, looking at Fatima as he drew closer to her, his heart pricked him. She would be so disappointed if she knew what he was doing. He decided he would have to make sure she never knew. He would act as normal as he could. He brightened up and added a smile to the façade.
“Hi Fatima”, he said when he reached the table she was sitting.
“Hi George. I haven’t seen much of you.” She said, looking concerned. “You’ve been aloof for a while.”
He smiled as he joined her. “Was just experiencing some stuff. I’m good now”, he lied.
Fatima seemed relieved. “I’m so glad to know that. I have been worried for you since I noticed your distant look yesterday.” She paused. “It’s so good to see your smile again.”
George nodded, smiling. Deep within, he hated to be lying to her but knew he was too deep in this mess to begin to tell Fatima anything. Confessing to her would hurt her; he didn’t want that to happen. Looking at her, he could see that something was still on her mind; something she hadn’t mentioned yet.
He might be deep in sin, but he still had a heart; he still cared for his friend. “Fatima, what’s up?”
She looked at him. “As in?”
“You look troubled about something”
She smiled, but it was a tired one. “I was worried about you.”
George shook his head. “I know. But there’s still more.”
Fatima nodded, knowing she couldn’t keep it away from her friend.
“I’m listening”, George prodded.
“It’s Uche”
George was confused. “What’s it about Uche?” he asked, then smiled as a memory flashed through his mind. “I saw you concentrating on a letter two nights back during the film show. Did he…?”
He left the question unfinished. He had been friends with Fatima for years. He knew she would fill in the blanks. And in response to his unfinished question, she nodded.
“Don’t tell me!” George said, grinning.
“Shshhh!” Fatima hissed, to calm her excited friend.
“What did you say?” He asked. “Yes, right?”
Fatima shook her head, and noticed George frown.
“Why?” George asked. “You don’t like him?”
“It’s not about that George. It’s not the right time for folks like us to get into relationships. Our emotions are still very unstable and we could easily get carried away and do stuff we aren’t supposed to do.”
George nodded. He respected Fatima so much. He could tell it was a great struggle for her to refuse Uche but she did it because it would please God and because it was for their good, both her and Uche, in the long run. She was a strong girl. George wished he had been that strong when faced with the temptation to look at that magazine that morning. He had fallen. Fatima had stood her ground. He was happy for her.
“But my fear is that he could do something stupid in response.”
“I don’t get” George said, questioning.
“He’s still new in faith and I doubt he understands why I refused him.”
“Uche is smarter than that.”
“I don’t think so” Fatima said, pointing discreetly in a direction. George looked and saw Uche sitting with a fair complexioned girl.
“Who’s she?” George asked, still looking in their direction.
“I don’t know but I know she means no good for him, but if I tell him that, he might throw it back in my face.”
“What can I do?” George asked, looking back at Fatima and wanting to help in anyway possible.
“You could pray for him.”
George nodded, but knew he couldn’t do that. ‘God won’t hear a perverse fellow like me’ he thought. He looked at the plate in front of her. “Sorry I disturbed your eating. Please go on.”
“It’s no problem. Aren’t you eating?”
“No. I don’t like Porridge.”
“Sorry, I forgot.”
“How many people are we expecting for today’s meeting?” George asked.
Fatima sighed. “I really don’t know but I guess we would be at least double of what we were yesterday.” She paused and looked in Uche’s direction.
“What’s wrong again?” George asked, as he saw where she was looking.
“Do you think he will come for the meeting?”
“Why not! I’m sure he will.” George said but saw Fatima wasn’t sure. “Should I make sure?”
“If you don’t mind” she said.
“Okay”, George said and stood.
“Thank you” Fatima mouthed as she watched George walk in Uche’s direction.
They were almost done with their food. Christiana had enjoyed every bit of it because she was in charge; things were going as planned. She and Uche had shared laughs, giggles, she had even poked him in the side and he laughed. In all their fun, she was sure he was getting more accustomed to looking at her as he didn’t avert his eyes anymore. That was progress. But he wasn’t gawking yet; she would ensure he did.
“Uche!” someone called, and they both turned. It was a tall, lanky boy. Christiana could remember his face from the meeting the previous day and she recalled he was the one she saw earlier in the day when she was waiting for Uche. He was one of Uche’s Christian friends. She knew he could undo all the work she had been doing for hours in just few minutes. She wouldn’t allow that.
“How are you?” he said, when he got to them, extending a hand to his friend.
Uche took it. “I’m good.”
The tall boy looked at her and Uche did the introductions. “Please meet Christiana. Christiana meet George”.
“A pleasure meeting you,” the George boy said and returned his gaze to his friend. He was talking to them from across the table. “Uche, are you coming for the meeting tonight?” he asked.
As Christiana heard the question, she knew the moment had come and if she didn’t do something, the battle would be lost. She discreetly moved closer to Uche until her legs were touching his. That was the first step. She then placed a hand on his. That was the second. She then voiced out. “Haba Uche! We’re not through with our gist.” She said, in the most vulnerable voice possible, her hand still resting on his, eyes pleading.
“I’m not sure…” Uche was saying.
“We can join them after I finish telling you what happened to me that day” she said, alluding to something they had started talking about earlier. All she wanted to succeed in doing was getting Uche to leave the hall with her after dinner. She was sure she wouldn’t let him come back. She just needed to convince him to leave with her.
He looked at her then at George. “I would join you guys later.”
As Uche spoke, Christiana noticed the George guy walk over to her side. “Uche, are you sure about this?” he asked.
“Hm-mm” Uche said.
Christiana looked up at George and noticed for the first time that he was looking at her. He was trying to do it as slyly as possible. If she wasn’t a master of the game, she wouldn’t have known what he was doing. ‘No wonder he moved over to this side. He wanted to see more of me’, she thought to herself.
As the two friends talked, she kept seeing George, from the side of her eyes, looking at her chest and her legs. ‘Hypocrite!’ she spat silently.
When he was done, the George guy left. Christiana was sure he had fed his eyes well. She smiled. ‘I planned to have one good Christian boy; seems I’m going to have two. How splendid!’ she thought to herself. ‘Guys are all the same. Puppets that can be easily tossed about by a girl who knows what she possesses.’ Christiana couldn’t have been happier.

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