Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 34)

It was a beautiful morning indeed. For the first time in days, George woke up with praise on his lips. His heart was free of the shame and guilt that had filled it since the first glance he had on the porn magazine. He could worship his God again, and that brought so much joy to him.
If anyone had told him prior to the meeting that he was going to walk out, confessing and repenting of his sins, he would have said it was impossible but that was exactly what he had done. The grace of God in that atmosphere had been too strong and overwhelming for him to have refused. The moment Faith mentioned his case, he was awed at God’s great mercy, and he knew he would be a fool to wait another day; it was his day of deliverance and he wasn’t going to let it pass him by.
George remembered what happened after the meeting, and he smiled. When he returned to his seat after the altar call for repentance, apart from the relief of being free from his sins, the other feeling that plagued him was fear; fear of rejection – fear of criticism. He wondered how his friends, who had definitely respected him and looked up to him, would see him. He dreaded the look he would see on their faces.
He had wanted to sneak out of the hall immediately after the meeting but before he could even move, he saw folks walk towards him. Without words, they took turns hugging him and at that moment, all the fear was gone. He was practically astounded that they would empathize with him and not condemn him at all. He couldn’t have been more grateful. Even more surprisingly to him were the tears he saw in their eyes when they hugged him; they felt his pain. He was indeed blessed to be surrounded by such great friends.
George had apologized to Fatima for keeping his struggles from her and he thanked Faith for allowing God use her for him. He had received hugs from Tara and Tunbosun but he hadn’t spoken with them. He was sure they had forgiven him but he wondered if their friendship would be the same as before. If their friendship became strained, he decided he wouldn’t blame them. They were human; it was bound to happen.
‘Father, I thank You for bringing me back home. I’ve missed You so much’, George said to God as he yet worshipped on his knees by his bed side. And as he did, he received an inspiration at that moment; he had an assignment to do while at the conference.
He was to reach out to boys who had the same problem of addiction to pornography and masturbation. As he shared his story, he was sure many of them would open up. As he was about to rise to his feet, he heard God make an addition which made his knees weak. “There’ll be girls among them; girls have these problems too.”
“I was dazed beyond measure when I saw him walk towards his seat”, Shade was telling Tunbosun. “My eyes had been closed but when I opened them after the prayer, I saw him.”
“I was surprised too. I knew there was something wrong with him”
“Yes. He had not been himself lately but I couldn’t place what it was. We had talked on several occasions, on personal basis and also because of our group project and I couldn’t just shake off the feeling that there was something eating him up. I couldn’t have possibly imagined that it was sexual addiction.” She paused. “But I’m so glad God came through for him yesterday.”
“Same here.”
“It just reminds me of the fact that only God knows what is in the heart of everyone. It never shows on the face what people are thinking, desiring, doing or carrying-”
“Carrying?” Shade asked. “I don’t get”
“Diseases” Tunbosun said, making a face.
Shade giggled. “Now I get. But why did your mind go there?”
“I don’t know…guess I just remembered my father. Anybody looking at him wouldn’t know he has cancer-” She paused. “had cancer” she finally said and noticed that Shade frowned.
“I’m so sorry”
“Don’t be. If I had mentioned it yesterday and you were sorry for me, it would have been okay but not now.”
“What happened between then and now?”
Tunbosun smiled as she said it. “God healed him”
Shade was wide-eyed. “Serious?”
“Did you call home?” Shade asked.
Tunbosun shook her head.
“So, how do you know?”
“God said it through Faith last night.”
“Oh!” Shade exclaimed. “It was your father?”
“I believe so. I can’t wait to call him and ask him to go for another check-up. I’m so sure God has healed him.”
“I believe so too. Congratulations!”
“You could say that again.” Tunbosun said. “Guess we should go to the bathroom now.”
“Yeah” Shade said, and rose to leave when Tunbosun held her back. She looked at her friend. “Watsup?”
“How are you feeling now?” Tunbosun asked.
Shade understood what her friend was asking about. Since her episode with Stanley, Tunbosun had asked her every now and then how she was doing. “I’m much better now, thank you.”
“I’m glad to hear that. Have you seen the Stanley boy lately?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“What will you do when you see him?”
Shade thought for a moment. “I would walk up to him and tell him I have forgiven him.” She saw her response brought a frown to Tunbosun’s face. “I’m actually considering inviting him for the meeting tonight.”
“I’m not so sure about that but it’s your life sha” Tunbosun said. “What about Utibe?” she asked, not wanting to talk about the Stanley boy again.
“Utibe seems to be finding God gradually and I think Okpara is warming up too.”
“Seems so.” Tunbosun affirmed. “Saw them at the meeting yesterday. Have you spoken with Utibe lately?”
“No, I haven’t” Shade said, and then added. “The last time we spoke was after the briefing yesterday. I miss talking with him.”
“I feel you. Try to make out time to talk with him even if for a few minutes.”
“I would really love that; more than you could imagine.”
“Then make it happen” Tunbosun said, as they made their way to the bathroom.
It was going to take more than the whistle to get Fatima out of bed. She had slept exhausted the night before but that was not her reason for still being in bed. She was dead worried about Uche. The gap he had created between them in the past couple of hours had made her know how strong her feelings for him were. She felt bereft. She missed him.
Fatima was sure she did what was right when she refused him but seeing him drift away made her wonder if there was another way she could have passed the message across without hurting him.
What bothered her the most was the girl that she had seen Uche with. That girl obviously had something up her sleeves; Fatima wondered why Uche couldn’t see that.
“Father, I’m so confused and scared. Please show me the way to go”, Fatima pleaded with God, hoping and desperately desiring that Uche’s eyes would be opened to see the truth.
Tara got up late. After the meeting, she had taken some time out to worship, and that went deep into the night. She had been refreshed spiritually but her body had also demanded rest.
She looked round and saw most girls in her room were ready to leave for the lecture hall. As she stood from her bed, she saw someone walk towards her. It was Faith. What a pleasant start to the day.
“Good morning Tara”, Faith said as she got to her.
“Morning”, she replied, trying to suppress a yawn.
Faith giggled. “Just waking up?”
“Something like that. Don’t mind me.” She stretched. “What brings you to my room this morning?”
“Aren’t you happy to see me?” Faith asked, faking a frown.
“Oh sure, I am!” Tara smiled. “It’s not everyday a prophetess walks into your room first thing in the morning.”
Faith waved her off. “Be serious for once Tara.” She paused and then sat on her bed, patting the bed. Tara got the message and sat.
“You want to tell me something?”
Faith nodded.
“Can I quickly have my bath? You are ready for the briefing; I am not.”
“It won’t take long”, Faith insisted.
“I know it is none of my business, but I felt I owe it to you to tell you”, Faith started, noticing the questioning look on her friend’s face. “I had a dream last night and it was revealed to me that you still haven’t forgiven mummy for what she did to you.” She paused, watching for Tara’s reaction.
Tara nodded.
“God asked me to tell you that you should forgive her. He says when you do, you’ll enjoy a greater release of His anointing when you lead people into worship than you’ve experienced so far. Unforgiveness is the only thing standing in your way presently from reaching that height God desires for you.”
Faith studied Tara as she spoke and couldn’t blame her for the struggle she was facing. When a mother forces her own daughter to commit an abortion, hatred is automatic. But not where God is concerned. Forgiveness is expected.
“What do you have to say to that?” Faith asked.
Tara was quiet for some time. “Thank you so much dear. I know I have to forgive but the knowledge doesn’t make it any easier to do. I would have to think and pray about it for a while. Only God can help me to achieve that.”
Faith gave her a hug. “God will strengthen you through it.”
“Amen. Thanks sis.” Tara kept her head down; it was obviously a weight she was still bearing.
“You had better hurry and take a bath; it’s almost time.”
“Let me run. We’ll see at the briefing. Bye’
“Bye”, Tara said, then called out. “Faith!” Faith stopped and turned to face her. “Thanks again”
Faith smiled. “Anything for you dear. Hurry up!”
His shoes were shining black and his uniform well pressed as usual. Uche was waiting for the whistle. He was feeling things he had never felt in his life. Christiana was responsible for this and he was okay with it. Though he had been skeptical about what she wanted them to do the night before, he had been disappointed when that facilitator saw them and sent them back to the hall.
Through the night, he had thought of little else than Christiana. He had stared at her so much the previous day that her facial features were engraved on his heart. If he were an artist, he would draw her face flawlessly. She had flaunted her body all through the day and Uche had indulged himself a couple of times. The moment that had set him on fire was the point when she had asked him to hug her.
The last person he had ever hugged like that had been his sister, in the days when their going was good. Christiana made him feel wanted. She made him feel relevant. She was not like Fatima who he cared for but who threw his love right back in his face. He missed her; Uche was sure he might never ever meet another girl as pleasant as Fatima. He would have decided to remain friends with her as she suggested but he still didn’t understand why she had refused him, in spite of the reasons she gave.
Meeting Christiana didn’t make matters easier as she totally stole his heart and attention. Uche actually felt privileged that a pretty, attractive, and highly-sort-for girl like her would shun all other boys for him.
‘I am so lucky’, he thought to himself. He had seen different boys on several occasions look at him with eyes that spoke volumes. Left to him, he would have been so intimidated by their glares and run away from the girl but Christiana seemed to notice and she kept making him feel all the more important; holding his hand and smiling at him. When she looked at him, she made his heart beat madly as she looked like a girl who had found her life’s love. He felt so unworthy of it yet so happy about it.
With that, Uche tuned his mind off Fatima totally. ‘Fatima, Christiana is giving me all I ever asked of you and even more. I don’t need your friendship’, he thought to himself just as the whistle was blown.

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 35)

The hall was already filling for the briefing as students poured in. Christiana had been there earlier, waiting and planning. It was another day. She had failed with Uche the previous night, not because he had been strong but because a silly teacher had gotten in her way. ‘Today will be different’, she convinced herself.
She had not planned to stay this long trying to get just one guy. Her plan was to get at least seven before the end of the conference. She had just gotten two and it was already the sixth day and she was stuck with the third. The only reason why she was still patient with him was because she longed to get a good boy. One good boy was worth three bad boys. She couldn’t wait to get it over with and dump the boy.
‘Uche is boring. If not for what I want, I could never even survive a five-minute conversation with him’, she thought. She smiled as she remembered how good her acting was. She would do excellently well in Nollywood. When she smiled at him and touched him lightly, on the hand, or shoulder, she could see how much he was deceived by her actions. ‘He actually thinks I love him. What a fool!’
She was going to play all her jokers. ‘You’ll be mine today, Uche, and by tomorrow, you’ll be a stranger to me.’ She giggled. The game was getting very interesting.
Christiana looked to the door as she had been doing and saw Uche was coming. All was set, as she had worn her joker uniform, the uniform that had put many of her teachers on her laps. Only God could save Uche from her today and she knew He won’t because Uche had deserted Him. ‘You’re mine, loverboy’, she thought, welcoming him with a smile as he sat on the seat she had reserved for him.
Shade had left Tunbosun in the room. She just felt a urge to get early to the hall for the briefing; Tunbosun on the other hand seemed to be taking all the time in the world to get set. As she entered the hall, she saw Uche with a girl and waved at him, he waved back with that do-not-disturb-me kind of wave. She got the message and walked on.
She heard someone call her name and she turned. It was Utibe. She turned and walked towards him. Butterflies were having a field day in her stomach. As she reached him, she remembered the first encounter she had had with him at the dining hall line. She smiled. Life was indeed funny.
Shade was glad however that the direction of their friendship had turned from the physical path it had been going to a more platonic path. Still, she couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable under his stare as he was presently doing.
“Please sit”, Utibe said, pointing to the seat beside him. Shade obliged. “We’ve not talked in a while.”
She nodded.
“Are you running away from me?”
Shade smiled. “I couldn’t even if I wanted to.”
“I’m happy to know that. Let me assume you’ve been occupied with many things, rights?”
Shade nodded.
“I’ll give in to that.” He paused. “By the way, I have been having fun at the meetings. Every night seems to get better than the previous.”
“You could say that again.”
“Guess what?”
“What?” Shade said, clueless.
“Okpara came with me yesterday and he gave his life to Christ.”
“Serious!” Shade screamed.
Utibe nodded, giggling at Shade’s response. “Jesus sure has a way of getting even the hardest of hearts.”
“Sure, he does”
There was silence between them for a moment and the cause of the silence was obvious. Somebody had to say it. A name was bound to be mentioned. Utibe wished he didn’t have to but he had no choice.
“Do you think there might be hope for Stanley?” he finally said.
Shade didn’t answer and he couldn’t blame her. Even though she said she had forgiven Stanley, Utibe was sure the mention of that name still brought unwelcome feelings.
“Have you talked with him since that day?” he asked, disregarding his first question.
Shade shook her head.
“Shade, I hate to say this but I have been learning a lot from you guys and from the bible George gave me. I know God wants our forgiveness to be total.” He paused and looked away briefly before returning his gaze. “You need to face Stanley once and for all, and put this hurt behind you. Inviting him to the meeting tonight would only make matters better.”
“Utibe, I’ve thought of doing so too and I really want to but it’s hard”
He took her hand and squeezed it lightly. “God will help you to do what you must. That singular step is enough to convert Stanley; that’s if he still has a heart.”
“I’ll try but I’m making no promises.” Shade said, still doubtful. She knew it was right thing to do but what she doubted more were her emotions; she wasn’t sure she would be able to go through a decent conversation with Stanley without either getting upset or shedding tears. She hadn’t seen him since that night; she had been thankful for that but with what Utibe was saying, she knew she needed to deal with the issue once and for all.
“I guess I’ll talk to him after lunch or-” she was still talking when she noticed Utibe look in a direction. She followed his eyes and saw it was Stanley. Her heart slammed against her chest. Seeing him again would have been a nightmare on another day. She was glad Utibe was there with her. ‘This is the guy that wanted to rape me and distort my future’, she thought and the hatred wanted to surface again but she remembered hatred and bitterness were one of the worst heart diseases any man could suffer.
‘Lord, I’m sorry. I forgive him again. Please give me the strength to go through with this’, she prayed silently. As he drew closer, she noticed bruises on his face. They were healing but were still obvious. Shade now understood better. Those bruises were definitely Utibe’s doing; the bruises were the marks of her deliverance.
“Stanley!” Utibe called out. The tall guy had been walking straight without glancing sideways. The call of his name had taken him off guard. He turned and faced the voice that called him.
Shade immediately pitied him. It was like she was watching a Nollywood film. His face turned pale immediately as he looked from Utibe to Shade and back to Utibe. She could see he wasn’t comfortable either meeting them again after that night.
“Please sit for a moment.” Utibe said, pointing at the chair in front of them. Stanley was clearly surprised. He was too shocked to think clearly or even respond; he just sat. He wasn’t expecting them to be this kind to him on their next meeting.
Utibe stared at Stanley’s facial wounds for a brief moment. “I’m so sorry for hitting you,” Utibe said, sincerely.
Stanley opened his mouth to respond but words were not coming out. He couldn’t believe what was happening. Before he could close his mouth to hide his embarrassment, Shade voiced out.
“I forgive you for what you did to me; and for what you even tried to do that you didn’t succeed in doing.” Shade knew the feeling. Stanley was dazed; he was still trying to understand what was happening. She looked into his eyes for the first time since that day. “I hated you that day but God who alone can heal a hurting heart, healed my heart and made me capable of forgiving you and even loving you.”
Stanley opened his mouth again but words just couldn’t come out.
“You don’t have to say anything’, Shade said. And as she did, she saw tears well up in his eyes. “God can change your heart too. All He asks is that you give Him a chance. He will forgive all your sins and give you a new start.” She paused and looked at Utibe who was listening carefully to all she was saying.
“I’m sure you’ve done similar things to other girls but God can cleanse you of all your filth.”
Stanley nodded. That was his first response of the day.
Shade looked at Utibe and he understood what she meant.
“We usually have a meeting in the dining hall after diner. We would be pleased to have you around tonight.” Utibe said, and Stanley blinked back the tears that were fighting hard for their freedom.
“That’s all we wanted we say”, Shade said.
Stanley nodded, unable to look into either their eyes, stood up and walked away. Shade kept her eyes on him as he went. Even the biggest of boys could crumble into pieces when confronted with undeserved love and mercy. Stanley, the player, had become so gentle; that was the power of forgiveness. It had the power to change, transform and set free.
‘Thank you Lord for the grace and strength you gave me to go through it’, she breathed silently to her Father. Shade then looked at Utibe who had a gentle smile splashed across his face. A very infectious smile. She smiled at him in return. “Thank you, my friend”, she said.
“Friend?” Utibe said, smiling with his mouth moving as if trying to taste the word he had just mentioned. “That tastes good.” He said then reached out for her hand and squeezed it. “You’re welcome, friend”
The briefing was coming to an end and Fatima still didn’t know what to make of it all yet. The organizers had brought a new twist to the whole thing and she couldn’t help wondering how this new programme included in the conference would turn out. The Conference Director had just announced that they would have a Career overview talk by a veteran guidance counselor. That was still okay, but the one that had caused a stir among the participants was the next announcement.
“We would be having a two day programme called ‘Career Orientation’”, he had said. “You will all be going to industries, companies and organizations related to your career choice. You filled forms at the start of this conference and you indicated what careers you wanted to pursue. It is with that information we will assign you to where you will do your orientation.”
The hall was dead silent as he spoke on. “We have fifty bodies here in Port Harcourt that have decided to partner with us for this course. They have assured us of comfortable accommodation, decent feeding and reliable security for you all during your stay with them. This is the first time we would be doing something like this. We hope you would behave yourselves decently. So, we would have an average of twenty participants to each institution and you would be there for two nights. When you’re back, you will give us reports on what you learnt and observed.”
That had been the core part of the announcement. When participants became restless, asking to know where they were going, the director had said they would be informed immediately after the Career talk. All participants were expected to get their light luggage ready immediately after breakfast and brought with them for the talk. Departure for the designated institutions was going to be immediately after the talk.
There were mixed feelings among the participants. Fatima was on the side of those who were just plain confused. She really didn’t know what to think or do. The first thing that perturbed her was the meetings they had hoped to have. Those would obviously have to wait till they were back. She decided she would call for a meeting immediately after breakfast before they all went packing.
The Conference Director dismissed them and as Fatima stood to leave, she analysed the possibility of her being in the same organization with Uche. She was immediately excited at the prospect but became deflated just as fast when it occurred to her that it wasn’t possible. They were in different career lines. She was still musing over that when she saw a boy and girl still sitting towards the back as others were leaving their seats.
She wondered why they were not in a hurry to leave. It was then she saw their faces. It was Uche and his new friend. Her heart sank. She thought to look away and act as of she didn’t see them but she decided otherwise. As she walked up the aisle stairs, getting close to them, she called out to Uche and waved at him.
Fatima couldn’t believe her eyes. His response was so cold, she almost waved again, thinking maybe he didn’t see her but she knew he did. He just didn’t care anymore. Fatima wanted to cry. For the first time in months, she just wanted to find a solitary place and do nothing but cry. She felt rejected; she felt badly wounded.
‘Is this how Uche felt when I said no?’ she asked herself as she got out. ‘He is definitely repaying me back in my own coin’; she said to herself as the first tear slipped out of her eye.
“God has a purpose for everything; we’ll just need to trust him”. It was George saying as they had gathered together for an impromptu meeting immediately after clearing the dishes.
Tunbosun smiled as she heard George speak. He was back to himself again; it was a pleasant sight. Many of them were destabilized by the turn of events. It was indeed a timely word for them. They had agreed that they would have to postpone the meeting till they were back but Faith had suggested that they carry on with the meeting, in a mini form, in their respective organizations.
She told them to try to organize morning and evening devotions in whatever accommodations were made available for them. They had consented to that; that was the best they could do.
She wondered why Fatima had given the responsibility of updating them to George. Fatima looked sad; somewhat.
As George yet spoke, encouraging them, Tunbosun desperately hoped they would be assigned to the same place. They had had some time to talk together at different times, being the leaders of their community project group, but she still wanted more; she still wanted to be with George. What Tunbosun didn’t know however, was that she wasn’t the only one who wanted to be with him.

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 36)

The Career Overview by Dr. Mrs. Asuquo of the University of Calabar had been quite interesting. After her one-hour speech, participants were given the opportunity to ask questions and they asked lots of them. It was obvious many students were still in the blues as to what career to pursue.
Many where toeing lines that their parents had either coaxed or actually coerced them into. It was an eye-opener for majority of them. A few, through the short talk got to identify new career opportunities available to them that they had no clue about prior to that time. It was a worth-while talk and Tara was so glad she was there.
It was now time to hear the names of the students going to what institution. The Conference Director started with those who would be going to the Governor’s office. He said such people were those with careers that were politically inclined.
Tara knew she was in that category. More important to her was the conversation she had once had with George, when he casually stated that he would want to be a politician so he could right the wrongs in the society. Now she hoped with all her heart that she would be put in the same institution as he.
Just as she was thinking it, she heard her name being mentioned.
“…Omotara Omoba, Ahmed Abubukar,…” the CD was announcing.
Now, she knew she was bound for the governor’s office. Was George going to be with her? That was the only question left on her mind. With every new name mentioned her temperature rose. The tension increased as she saw the director was getting to the end of the list.
“Chinenye Friday, and…”
The CD had one more name to call, and he seemed not to be able to tell what name it was as he called a colleague to help him. He was just doing his work, taking his time, while Tara in the audience couldn’t wait to hear what name he was going to mention.
“George Ahmadu” the CD said as he put the paper aside and picked another. He had just made someone’s day.
Tara’s face was all smiles after she heard the name called. It was all she could do from shouting. She was indeed very happy. She looked forward to the two days she would spend with George at the Governor’s office.
As she looked forward to it, she suddenly became wary. She longed to become closer to George in terms of friendship but she feared otherwise. She remembered her fears the very first time she had talked with George, and those fears re-appeared. ‘Am I sure that with two days exclusive with George without our other friends, I will not lose my heart to George in a precarious way as I did to Douglas.’ She was still musing on that when an unbidden fear added itself to her plight. ‘Am I sure George has recovered fully from his challenge? If he hasn’t, will he want more from me than I can offer?’
These were questions she had no answers to; questions she dreaded with every bit of her heart.
She would have felt horrible if not that she had come to terms with the fact that she could not always have what she wanted. She couldn’t do anything about the fact that George was not going to be in the same place with her but she wondered at a sight that had caught her attention.
She had heard Tara’s name being mentioned earlier. So, when George’s name was mentioned, she looked over at Tara and saw her smile in a way that spoke volumes. ‘I never knew Tara liked George this much’, she thought to herself. “I wish them both the best”, She said to herself, sincerely.
In the past five days of the conference, she had had time to think and she was beginning to get the opinion that marriage might not actually be for everybody. She had not come to any conclusion yet; she was only considering it.
The CD had mentioned a few other organizations and those going there. He then called the name of the next institution; Government Technical College, Trans Amadi. At that point, Tunbosun knew her name was probably going to be called as she sought a career in education.
Her name was the fifth name mentioned. Soon after, she heard Faith’s name. That was a good one; she had so much to learn from Faith, especially pertaining her walk with God. Close to the end, she heard a name she hadn’t even expected; Stanley.
‘I’ll run away from that guy like I would a rabid dog’, she thought to herself. Little did she know that the rabid dog was at the verge of change and needed a helping hand; without which he was doomed for misery.
A part of Shade rejoiced that she wasn’t going to have to see Stanley day in day out, but she lamented inwardly for her friend, Tunbosun who would be stuck with him. She only hoped it would be the sober Stanley she spoke with in the morning that would surface at the school they were going, not the cruel, lustful one.
She didn’t bother to hope Utibe would be in her group because they were on opposing lines. He wanted to be a Dentist, and she wanted to be a Professional Caterer. Her elder sister, studying at Obafemi Awolowo University had told her there was a course like Home Economics there where she could sharpen and professionalize her culinary skills. She had been so happy to hear that then; she was bent on being the best chef in Nigeria.
After a few other industries had been called, The CD mentioned OK foods and started calling out the names. She thought her name would be called but it wasn’t. The next was UAC foods. It was then her name was mentioned. The only other person she knew in her group was Okpara. She was surprised when she heard his name. She guessed he wanted to study Food Science Technology or something similar; something manly.
She remembered the stories Tunbosun told her of how Okpara had pestered her so much in school for a relationship but she had refused and how he had planned on several occasions to humiliate her without success. Shade now replayed the words Utibe had told her earlier in the day about Okpara’s salvation. They were two contrasting pictures. That transformation could only come from God, and she was indeed happy for Okpara. She hoped to be a source of encouragement to him while together at UAC.
She turned to face Utibe who was sitting next to her. “Don’t miss me o!”
“I’ll try” he said, then added, winking. “Take care of my friend for me o!”
Shade shoved him playfully. “I don’t know about that o!”
Utibe laughed it off, knowing he could trust his friends Shade and Okpara. He returned his attention to the platform, waiting to know where he would be assigned for the next two days.
If there was ever a time she needed desperately for luck, as she believed, to work for her, it was now. Christiana hadn’t bothered on previous occasions to know what career Uche was hoping to pursue because she really didn’t care. But when the announcement was made that they would be doing Career Orientation, it was the first question she asked him.
He had said he wants to be a doctor, and she had been overly excited as she had put Nursing in her form at the start of the conference. She had put nursing, not because she really wanted to be a nurse, because she didn’t but it was the first thing that came to her mind to write. And now, she congratulated herself for being lucky. Her classmates in school, majority of who were Christians, would always say it’s not luck but God’s favour. She didn’t agree. Luck was luck.
She hoped luck would be on her side again. So far so good, two hospitals had been mentioned and neither she nor Uche’s name had been mentioned. Now, the CD was calling names of people that would be in another hospital. She didn’t care to listen to the name of the hospital; all she was concerned about was being in the same place with her prospective trophy. She had worked so hard and sacrificed so hard to get him, she only hope fate would agree with her.
“Christiana Mark”, her heart caught as she heard her name but she didn’t have to wait three seconds long as the second name after hers was the name she had longed for. “Utibe Edet, Uche Nwokocha…”
The CD continued his list but she didn’t care anymore. Luck was on her side. She turned to Uche, who was to her left and gave him that smile that guys only saw in Hollywood movies; that I-can’t-live-without-you smile. The smile accomplished its mission as Uche smiled in return. She could see he wanted to be with her too. Having sometime alone with Uche was all she had ever wanted since she laid eyes on him. Now, she was going to have two whole days and nights too. It was too good to be true.
‘How dare anyone say there’s no luck!’ she thought, smiling. She gave Uche another smile, and as she did, her plans for the two days began coming together immediately.
‘You’ll leave with me this afternoon a boy but you will return as a man and your life will never be the same again’. She thought to herself, smiling. ‘Only God Himself could possibly resist the package I have for you, Uche, even angels would fall if they were in your shoes. You are mine’. She would allow the next two days tell the story.
Fatima had cried immediately after the brief talk they had had in the dining hall after breakfast. The tears had come immediately she reached her room. She was aching for her friend, Uche. She loved him as a friend and brother, not in any romantic sense; and it felt pure and right but she hated what he was allowing that girl do to him.
Still in tears, she prayed so hard that God would capture his heart somehow, hoping by any chance she or another friend of theirs would be in the same group with him. But after hearing the names that had just been called, it felt like a whole weight of lead had been placed on her heart. She could hardly breathe. It felt like she was seeing her close friend being led to the slaughter with his eyes closed and she was powerless to do anything about it.
She knew he wouldn’t even listen to her if she even tried to talk with him. She had never known that her heart could bleed this much. She hated to imagine what plans that girl had for Uche. Two nights alone with that girl? Fatima was scared.
She knew the only thing left for her to do was to pray for him, and that she would do. She half-heartedly listened to the other lists the CD read. The only point she paid attention was when she heard her name mentioned. She was to go to the Rivers State Television station. She noticed she was the only one whose name in that list she knew.
Feelings of rejection wanted to creep into her heart again. These were strange feelings to Fatima and she knew she wasn’t supposed to give in to them. She discarded the thoughts and reminded herself that God loved her and was working all things together for her good, even if she didn’t understand how it would all turn out.
“Lord, please make me a blessing to those I would be staying with for these two days and let me get lost in your love during these two days”, she prayed. After a brief pause, she added with so much pain in heart. “And please save Uche from that girl’s tricks; open his eyes to see the truth.”
With that she let things be, trusting God desperately to make things work out fine for them all.
The parking lot was filled to capacity. Several luxury buses were parked, waiting to convey participants to their respective organizations. They were there with representatives from their institutions. One after the other, they began driving off with the students. It was a new experience for the hosting organizations and they were clearly excited about it; was another way of offering some help to the building of the future leaders of the nation.
Unknown to both the conference organizers and even the hosting organizations, the two days of Career Orientation were two days that would change the stories of some of the students forever. Some for good; some for bad.

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 37)

Day 7

The atmosphere was quiet; the environment was serene. No boys running; no girls screaming. Anyone who had been there the previous day would have felt the sharp contrast. The conference venue was practically deserted. Participants were in their different career-related organizations. It was the full day they were going to have there. They wouldn’t be back until the following day.
Many things were already taking place in the different locations; things that only time would reveal; things that would begin to manifest in a couple of hours when the participants were back. In fifty different organizations, some students were being made, and some were being marred.
The conference was still on; just in different places and lives were being shaped.

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 38)

Day 8

Tires squeaked. Horns blasted. The quiet of about forty hours had come to an end. The participants were back. They arrived at different times but all within thirty minutes as they had been prior informed. As they arrived, they were welcomed by conference officials and told to go straight to their rooms. They were to reconvene in the hall for briefing at 10 am.
Tara sat on her bed, unpacking her bag. She had a lot she would have to wash later. She hadn’t known working in the governor’s office was so much work but now she did. There had been one thing or the other to do. There were some lazy staff there but with what she saw, she discovered there was a lot of work for whoever really wanted to work.
She and her other colleagues had been given a ten-minute audience with the governor. They were ten special minutes as she got to see the man behind the progress of Rivers State. He was already doing his campaign for his second term, so it was a great sacrifice on his part to spare time for them; a sacrifice Tara sincerely appreciated.
He asked them if they wouldn’t mind going with him on the rally he had that day. They obliged gladly. George seemed to be the happiest as he was able to see some of the procedures involved in the execution of a political rally. It was indeed tedious work and many faceless people were doing all the underground work.
With how interesting it was, Tara couldn’t discard the dirty things she perceived were being done behind closed doors. Politics was indeed a dirty game. She wondered if there was any hope for Nigerian politics. She had voiced her fears to George when they returned to their quarters and he had said that was the major reason he wanted to be actively involved in politics; to make right as many wrongs as he possibly could. She admired his courage.
The twenty of them had been put in a guest house. The guest house had about thirty posh flats. Each flat had five large rooms. They were given one flat. The girls had two rooms to themselves, while the guys had three rooms. There was a sitting room where they met to talk and watch TV. They also had unrestricted access to the Mini-Sports complex that had a lawn tennis court, a basketball court, a mini football field, and a swimming pool.
Tara and George took many strolls within the guest house; they had ample time to talk. Tara smiled as she remembered. She knew George had a good sense of humor but she didn’t know how much until now. He was a character. He made her laugh on several occasions till she had to hold her sides; her ribs aching.
Tara was glad that her fears hadn’t materialized, and for that she was grateful. She had noticed other colleagues of theirs act in ways that made her know they were doing stuff but George did nothing of the sort. He treated her as a sister; a sister he cared about. She felt safe and protected around him during their stay there.
What tripped her the most, however, was his openness and sincerity. The previous night, their second night, he had called her aside and said he wanted to talk with her.
“You know you confided in me about your pain when we first met?” he asked rhetorically.
She had simply nodded.
“It’s my turn”, he had said. And with that, he told he the whole story of how he first fell to lusting after girls. He told her how it had graduated to pornography and then masturbation. He said he was very grateful for God’s deliverance at the meeting they had but asked her to keep praying for him. He said the battle was a continuous one and he needed all the strength possible.
She had felt so unworthy of his trust when he said all he did. She had felt responsible to pray for him since then; she owed him that much. She sincerely hoped they would remain friends for a very long time. She had sought to have friends who would sincerely love her and care for her without wanting anything in return; friends that won’t take advantage of her, and she was beginning to find them. George was one of them. She was beginning to feel loved indeed.
Tara then remembered that the conference was almost over, and she would soon be back home to her nagging mother. She was about feeling bad but scolded herself. She had to make the best of the three days left. God would take care of what happened afterwards. With that, she put her travel bag aside and walked towards the convenience.
She looked forward to enjoying every bit of the conference; opportunities like this came once in a lifetime.
If there was anything like a happitometer, George was sure his reading would exceed the highest calibration. He felt like someone who had just gone to war and conquered. In actual fact, that was exactly what had happened. He was just won one more battle and he couldn’t curtail his joy.
The moment he had gotten to his room, he had dropped his bag on the floor and jumped on the bed. He lay face up, whistling so loud and clear. He wished he could see the devil’s face. George was sure the devil was seething with anger.
When he was leaving for the Career Orientation, George had known he would have fun working in the governor’s office but he had sincerely dreaded what would happen after office hours, especially with Tara in his group. He had failed God and himself so often that he didn’t trust himself anymore.
He had pleaded so hard with God to help him. Just before their bus took off on their departure day, he picked his bible and opened it. Tara was already seated next to him then and he was already feeling uncomfortable. He had repented of lust and sincerely desired to run away from it but he had been so deep in it just a day ago and he was just recuperating. He could easily relapse, and he hated even the thought of that.
He opened 1st Timothy. His eyes found Chapter five and he began reading. When he got to verse two, he stopped and read it again. He was reading the Contemporary English Version. “Show the same respect to younger women that you would to your sister.” He was sure he had never seen that verse before. The words from that verse popped out to him as he read that line over and again.
And just like that, he felt something change in his heart. George could literarily feel the burden lifted off his chest. He was free indeed. He just had to imagine how he would treat his younger sister and he knew how he would treat Tara and any other girl henceforth. If he wouldn’t be staring at his sister’s chest or stealing glances at her legs, he wouldn’t do that to any other girl. If he won’t look for opportunities to touch his sister in inappropriate places, then he had no business wanting to that to any girl.
As he was still meditating on those words, he saw Tara bring out something. He looked and saw she was also bringing out her bible. He was already being a good example to her; that was good. He asked her for her bible. He wanted to read it in another version. She was holding a KJV bible. “…the younger as sisters, with all purity.”
There was an addition there; the purity part. So, it wasn’t just enough to respect them, he had to do so in purity; with no dirty intentions lurking anywhere in his mind.
He returned the bible to Tara who collected it with a smile on her face. He smiled back. He was sure it was going to be a lovely time out. God had just given him a life-saver.
Looking back, it had indeed being a lovely time. He had shared several moments with Tara, and times with the others too but he hadn’t even felt like lusting after any of the girls; not once. He had gone and retuned without hurting God; he was more than happy; he was ecstatic.
When he knew their time was almost up, he had felt obligated to talk about his past with Tara. And when he did, he was glad he did. There was no condemnation written on her face. Instead, he saw understanding there. She felt his pain and struggles. She prayed for him there and he felt strengthened even more.
“Thank you Jesus”, George mouthed as he lay on his bed. He couldn’t imagine his life without God. He had three more days to go and he remembered God telling him he would have to tell his story to others, to help them. Trusting God to lead him aright, he proposed he would not hold back, but would yield himself to God to be used as God deemed fit.
‘I hope someone invents a happitometer someday.’ George thought to himself, laughing. ‘I think I’m about to burst’.
“Thank you Faith. I can’t imagine the guilt that would have been eating me up now had you not been with me.” Tunbosun was saying. “I act like a child at times.” She said, shaking her head.
“It’s not your fault dear, it happens!”
Faith couldn’t blame her. She noticed right from the time they got on the bus that Tunbosun wanted to be as far away from the Stanley boy as much as possible. She could imagine why. The boy wasn’t Tunbosun’s type. Faith remembered how she had slept with him on the second day of the conference. She just wanted a distraction that night and it seemed Stanley wanted the same and they indulged themselves. That was it. Players knew their game.
They had only said hi on few occasions after that; nothing more. It was just a one-night fling. Thinking back at that night brought a pang of sadness to Faith but it was soon replaced with gratitude to God that that episode was now in past. So, she could imagine how repelled Tunbosun would be to be close to him. At least that was what she had thought.
It was later when she talked with Tunbosun that she discovered that it was Stanley that had attempted to rape Shade. That made the whole picture clearer. Neither of them knew then how things would turn out.
They had been sitting on opposite settees in the common room of the female staff quarters in Government Technical College, when Stanley walked in on the second day of their stay. It was already getting late and Faith was surprised to see him. She was about to ask him what he was looking for when she saw him walk towards Tunbosun. It was an interesting sight.
Tunbosun hadn’t noticed him until he sat down. When she looked up, from where Faith was sitting, she could see a combination of emotions in her eyes; fear and disgust. Weird combination.
“Yes?” Tunbosun had asked, the word dripping with hate.
“Please can I talk with you for a moment?” he had asked, and Faith noticed he was not himself; he seemed rather sober.
Tunbosun laughed rather too loudly, pointing her finger at him. “The kind of talk you had with my friend?”
Stanley hung his head but it seemed Tunbosun didn’t notice. “You want to finish what you couldn’t finish that day abi? You want me too?” she asked, sarcastically. “You always wanted me, right? Don’t take me for a fool.” She stood up and eyed him till Faith thought Tunbosun’s eyes might pop out. “I hate your guts. The sight of you irritates me”, she said and walked out of the common room.
When she did, Stanley sat there unmoving for a full minute, then stood up and walked towards Faith. ‘What do I say’, she asked herself. When he got to her, he sat down.
“Please help me beg your friend. I really need to talk to her.”
He seemed genuine enough but Faith couldn’t tell if he really was. “What do you want to talk to her about?”
“I have confessions to make and I need her to forgive me.”
“Why do you think I would believe you?” She paused. “Why do you even think you can convince me to talk to her?”
“Because I know you’re not the same girl I slept with days ago.” He said, frankly.
Faith smiled, but it was a sad one. She was glad he could see the difference in her life already but she still wished she had never done it. She thought about apologizing to him for agreeing to it that day but she felt it wasn’t the right time. She stood up. “I’ll be right back.”
Faith then went outside to talk with Tunbosun who was just staring at nothing in particular. “Tunbosun”
Tunbosun turned. “Don’t tell me you actually want me to talk with that…that thing!”
Faith frowned. “I won’t be so quick to condemn someone that God loves.” That seemed to calm Tunbosun some. “Why not just listen to what he has to say. I’ll sit with you, so you don’t have to worry about him attacking you.”
“You sound so sure. How do you know he has something genuine to talk about?” Tunbosun asked, wary.
Faith put her hand around her friend’s shoulders. “Because I have been a player before. I know when a player has finally come to his senses like I came to mine that evening in front of the dining hall.” Faith prodded her forward. “Let’s go listen to the young man.”
With that the two of them returned to the common room, and went over to where Faith had been sitting; where Stanley was now seated. Faith sat beside Stanley and Tunbosun sat on the stool opposite Faith.
“Thank you Tunbosun for giving me a chance. Thank you too Faith for helping me”, he started. “I’m here because since I spoke with Shade and Utibe yesterday, I’ve had no rest.”
Faith saw surprise register on Tunbosun’s face when he said he had spoken with Shade.
He took his time to tell his story. “I was sexually abused by my aunty when I was a small boy and she consistently used me for about five years. By the time I was twelve, I knew more about the female anatomy than most men did. That was how my problem started. When I started having female friends in school, I started making out with them. It soon became second nature to me, so much that I just did it without any feelings or emotions for the girls. I also felt no remorse for what I was doing to them.”
“A part of me knew it was wrong but I shut my conscience down completely. I grew worse with every passing day. I had become an addict and I couldn’t help myself.”
Faith was looking at Tunbosun all the while and noticed her features soften gradually. The hate was gradually turning to empathy.
“I’m so sorry for what I did to your friend. I was mad then that I didn’t succeed but I’m happy now that I didn’t. Your friend didn’t deserve it.” He paused and looked like he wanted to say something very serious.
“Why I am apologizing to you is because from the onset it was meant to be you and not Shade.”
Tunbosun’s hand flew to her chest and her mouth hung open. “I’m so sorry. Okpara challenged to have you and I took up the challenge.”
“Okpara!” Tunbosun mouthed slightly above a whisper.
“Yes. The whole story is complicated.” Stanley shook his head. “In summary, when Utibe said he wasn’t doing with Shade again, who was supposed to be my key to you, I decided to do it for him.” He hung his head.
Tunbosun closed her eyes tight, obviously fighting the emotions welling up in her. Faith reached out and squeezed her knees. By the time Tunbosun opened her eyes, Stanley was on his knees in front of her.
“I have been in bondage since I was seven. I saw something different in Shade and Utibe yesterday. I can see the same in you and Faith now.” He looked at Faith.
“You don’t have to tell me. I know it is Jesus that has made a difference in your life. If He could save you, I guess He can save me too.” Stanley’s voice was beginning to shake as tears spilled out of his eyes. He bent over and began to sob. “I’m so sorry, God. If You can, please save me.” He said and kept sobbing.
Without being told, Tunbosun and Faith joined him on their knees, placed their hands on him and began praying for him. When he had calmed down, they led him in the sinner’s prayers. Tunbosun then apologized for her initial outburst, and Faith and Stanley apologized to each other for what they had done.
Minutes after, he walked out of their common room a changed man, with a heart committed to God. Faith and Tunbosun smiled through their tears as they saw him off. Faith knew it would be hard process for him starting afresh with God and running away from fornication but she knew that with God’s help, Stanley could make it through.
Now, back on the conference ground, Faith was glad they had had the opportunity to touch someone’s life.
“I have learnt my lesson”, Tunbosun said. “I will never again turn down anyone who comes to me, no matter how bad. I will yield myself as a willing instrument to God for His use as He deems fit.”
Faith smiled. “Now, we’re talking.”
“I hope Stanley will come for the meeting tonight.”
“He promised he will”, Faith said, reminding Tunbosun.
“Shade and Utibe would be so delighted.”
“You bet!”
“Let’s hurry with these stuffs so we don’t get late for the briefing’, Tunbosun said, pointing at the laundry they hurriedly wanted to do.
The first thing Stanley did when he returned to his hostel was to go on his knees and thank God for saving him. If God could save someone like him, then he promised to live the rest of his life seeking Him and pleasing Him. It seemed too good to be true. He was indeed grateful to God, and to those He used to find him.
There were two things he regretted the most. The first where the many girls he had deflowered or defiled; there was no way to return to them what he had stolen from them. The second were the many boys who looked up to him and he had led astray. There was no way he could call them back and show them the right way. The best he could do now was make right as many wrongs as he could and refrain from doing any more wrongs.
Stanley knew the first step was to keep a safe distance from girls till he got his footing back. It would be hard but he knew he had no choice than to do so.
There was a girl, however, that he still needed to talk with before he started his girl-abstinence. That girl was Shade. He owed her an apology.

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 39)

Shade had been too stunned to speak. She was indeed grateful to the organizers of the conference for such an idea; she had fun. She had been taken aback at first when she discovered that out of the eighteen of them going to UAC, thirteen of them were boys. She assumed they were there for the engineering part but was dazed to discover than ten out of them were hoping to make careers as chefs; wanting to excel in making both local and international dishes.
Speaking with them had afforded her the opportunity of knowing why they opted for this field. Many of them said they had discovered that food was a daily necessity and that Nigerians would spend money to get exquisite dishes; that’s exactly what they wanted to offer; exceptional cuisines.
She had been tripped when she heard them talk but the person that tripped her most was Okpara. He not only talked but he acted his talk. She had never seen a better cook. The staff at UAC had to call him privately and learn some recipes from him.
When she had some time with him, she had asked him how he got to know how to cook so well. Okpara had said that his mother forced him to be with her in the kitchen when he was growing up. “But at some point, I started looking forward to watching her cook. It soon became a hobby”, he had said.
Shade, for the first time in her life, had seen someone her age who loved cooking and baking more than she did. And even more profound was that she had seen someone who was better than she was. And he was a guy! What a thing! She threw her pride away and learnt from him as much as she could when they were together in the kitchen.
Since they weren’t allowed to join in the production of products like Gala; they could only watch, they were allowed on their first evening to cook for themselves and for the kitchen staff. By the time they were through, Okpara pioneering the process, the kitchen staff begged them to cook for all the staff that lived in the quarters throughout their stay. A request they gladly accepted.
Shade practically wanted to stay there. She was doing what she loved doing, and she could see her colleagues were having fun too. They had become like a family in the few hours they were together. She doubted any other group would have become has bonded as they had become in their few hours of being together.
Another thing that further bonded them was the fact that majority of them were Christians. What they experienced in their quarters was like a continuation of what had been at the meetings in the dining hall. They gathered on the two nights and two mornings they were there, including the morning of returning to the conference. They felt God all the way.
Shade was so glad that her circle of friends had just increased. There was nothing as good as having friends who love the same things you do and love God just as much as you do. That was the definition of splendid!
She couldn’t wait to see Utibe and download all the fun she had had at UAC. She hoped he had fun too.
Tired was an understatement. It felt more like exhaustion. Okpara lay face down on his bed. His sincerely wished there was no briefing; he wanted to sleep.
He had lots of fun at UAC but he had cooked and cooked. He appreciated the comments people passed about his culinary skills but it was telling on his body. He hadn’t done that much cooking in a while. He owed this ability to his mother. She wasn’t a prefect wife or mother but she had been exceptional in the kitchen and for that, he would be forever grateful to her for rubbing it off on him. Seeing his colleagues lick their hands and scrap their plates had been enough satisfaction for him.
The greatest satisfaction he received however was from the devotions they held, led by Shade. When he attended the meeting in the dining, he hadn’t seen her do anything. He assumed there were people more mature than she was in the faith. But at their quarters, she had been something else.
She was a great worship leader and an impressive teacher also. He had experienced commendable growth in his walk with God in the past two nights with the help of Shade and the other Christians that had been there. A few Muslims even joined them on the second night. It was hard to see the love of God and stay away. His love was indeed so beautiful.
Okpara had ideas prior to the conference that his culinary skills would take him far in life but with his meeting and accepting Jesus, the confidence had increased and he was getting surer with every passing day that there was a great future ahead of him in the food industry.
There was only one pain that gnawed hard at his heart. A pain he still hadn’t found the strength to talk about since the day he first mentioned it to Stanley and Utibe. It was a pain that brought fear with it. As he thought of it, he felt even weaker.
He wished he could take back the hands of the clock and undo what he did on the second day of the conference with that Christiana girl. He had lost his virtue that day and he still mourned the loss. He feared he had traded a large lump of his destiny with that singular act of that dark night.
“Oh God, please let your mercy avail for me. Please God!” he pleaded as he drifted to sleep, hoping to wake up when the whistle went for the briefing.
‘How on earth am I going to tell Shade what I did?’ Utibe asked himself. ‘She will never forgive me.’ Even as he thought this, Utibe knew he would eventually have to tell her. If he didn’t, he would never forgive himself.
‘What got into me yesterday?’ was a question he asked himself; a question he couldn’t answer. It had all started on the evening of the first day they spent at WellSpring Hospital. They had just had a courtesy visit to the Chief Medical Director. Afterwards, they were given a tour of the hospital.
When they finally settled in the ward that was temporarily converted to their lodging place, he noticed one of Shade’s friends. He guessed his name was Uche, if he remembered right. The guy was flanked by a pretty girl. Utibe couldn’t remember ever talking with her at the conference venue but something about her caught his attention.
He was staring at her and tried to justify it but knew he had no tenable reason. He diverted his eyes but found her again, and this time, he couldn’t take his eyes off. He saw the way she was looking at the Uche boy, and he wished it was him she was looking at that day.
A few moments after, a nurse came and told them another ward had been made available for the female students. The girl left and Utibe felt relieved. She was really making him lose it. They were told to settle in; dinner would be served in a few minutes.
When they got to the place they were to eat, Utibe found a seat somewhere in the middle. They were obviously not well equipped to host them but were trying their best to make available all they possibly could. The boys got there first. They had changed into comfortable clothes. Utibe looked at the Uche boy and saw he was seated on the last row at the back.
Utibe was still trying to wonder why the guy would move that back till he saw the girls were coming. As he saw them coming, his eyes caught a sight and his jaw fell; his mouth stayed opened. He had to will himself to close it. He knew he wasn’t the only one staring. ‘Didn’t any of her friends tell her something?’ he asked himself.
The girl was wearing an outfit that clearly spelt out what kind of girl she was. She revealed too much. Not the least bothered with the stares, she walked straight to the back to seat with Uche, and at that moment, Utibe started feelings things he knew he wasn’t supposed to. His thoughts went to the things he had done with Shade before God had arrested him. He indulged himself as he remembered what he did, and he just felt like feeling those sensations again.
Dinner was soon over. Boys returned to their ward-turned-room but Utibe noticed Uche didn’t return with them. It was a complete hour before the guy returned and when he did, he hit his bed straight up and slept. Utibe needed no prophet to tell him; he knew what had happened and that only made matters worse for him.
The next day, he could do nothing other than look at the girl. Even in her ward coat that she wore, she was a sight. He knew what he was doing was wrong but he just couldn’t think straight with that girl in sight.
The fire exploded when he realized that she had noticed his stares. She immediately made him know she was okay with it and even wanted it. An alarm sounded in his head immediately. He knew this was trouble; a girl that would flirt so easily with anybody was to be feared. That was what his head was telling him, but his body was responding differently.
During lunch, a neurosurgeon had come to them and asked to know those who wanted to be neurosurgeons. Uche and another boy raised their hands. He then said he would want them to watch a surgery he had to carry out that evening. As he said that, he saw Uche had mixed feelings; Utibe understood why. Happy to witness the surgery but unhappy to be away from his girl.
Utibe’s heart began to beat very fast as his mind was beginning to stray in a direction that scared him. ‘She would be free tonight. If only…’ he was still thinking it when something happened that made his head spin some more. She boldly looked sideways to where he was seated and smiled at him. Utibe was dumbfounded. He quickly diverted his eyes. ‘What did that smile mean?’ he asked himself.
By that night, when he was back on his bed, he knew what the smile had meant. Immediately after dinner, she had led him to a corner in the hospital, most likely where she had been the previous night. He was just a step away; just one step away from losing it all when it seemed God Himself slammed a hammer hard on his head. He suddenly discovered how far he had gone and what he was about to do.
“No!” he had shouted out. He knew whispering it was not enough. He needed to shout it to get enough strength to end it right there. Without caring about her pleas, he got himself together and ran away. When he got to his bed, he was practically out of breath. He went straight to his knees, and with all sincerity, he repented in tears, asking God to forgive him for his first look at the girl.
She had introduced herself as Christiana. He asked God to forgive him for all he did, and he profusely thanked God for saving him from himself just at the nick of time. He spent several moments on his knees and got up only when he now felt right with God. Since that moment, he had felt so ashamed of himself, wondering how his friend, Shade would react if and when she found out.
That was still the question on his mind as he prepared to go for the briefing. He had almost lost it all in only two days, how was he sure he would survive in his Christian faith the moment the conference was over. He really wasn’t sure but he believed that God who saved him from the previous night’s temptation would help him not to ever fall again.
God had forgiven him. He now wondered if Shade would.
Uche was upset. He didn’t know what to make of Christiana’s withdrawal. When he had become friends with her, he thought she was the replacement he needed for Fatima. She had accepted him when Fatima had rejected him. She had made him feel macho; that was exactly what he had always needed.
She had said words that first evening at the hospital that made him think she might even want to marry him. She had said, “To show you how much I love you, I am willing to give you my body right here and now. If you love me, you’ll allow me to show you how much I love you”
Those were the two sentences that had made Uche do what he did that night. It was almost as if she had pre-planned it all with how it went but Uche didn’t care then. Now, he did. By the time she saw him the next day, it was like she was just tolerating him; like she couldn’t wait to be rid of him and that bothered him greatly.
He had proposed to talk with her, but the activities of the second day had been hectic, and were further compounded when he was told to witness a surgery. And if he wasn’t mistaken, he saw a smile on her face when the doctor had made his announcement. Uche was upset and confused.
‘Did I do something that upset her or is she dissatisfied with me?’ he really didn’t know what to think anymore. They had barely spoken since that night and he feared he might lose her if he didn’t do something fast. He couldn’t lose two girls in one week. He definitely couldn’t. If he was going to lose anyone, not Christiana. He had given a part of him to her that he could never have back and he had done so because he thought they had something going for them.
‘Christiana, you said you love me. Please don’t do this to me’, was his silent plea as he hoped to win her heart back.
She was all smiles. Christiana was on top of the world. Her plans before the Career Orientation had been disturbed but things were back in order. She had nailed Uche; she had succeeded with a good Christian boy. In fact, it had almost been two. She had been so happy when she saw that another so called good boy was attracted to her. She knew the other guys were staring at her but she was just concerned about getting the good ones. His name was Utibe.
What she still didn’t understand was how he had escaped at the last minute. He was the first person she had ever seduced, and started the process with, who had escaped the final stage. She was still wondering about that but decided not to let it bother her. She had failed with Utibe. She knew that if he could have said no at that point that most felt was a point of no return, whatever power helped him would keep him from falling into her hands a second time. She wouldn’t even try a second time.
That was bad news. She won’t allow it spoil her mood. She needed to revel in her victory over Uche’s defenses. She had no business with him again; her mission was accomplished. She needed to move on. ‘I hope to still get at least two more boys before this conference is over’, she thought to herself.
Then, she remembered the tall Hausa boy that had come to invite Uche for their meeting the night before they left for orientation. ‘I’ll see if I can have that one too’, she thought to herself.
She smiled again as she remembered the look on Uche’s face in the bus when they were returning. He looked like a kid who had his ice-cream seized and was struggling hard not to cry. Christiana discovered during their orientation that he was a very intelligent guy. He really knew what he wanted to become – a good neurosurgeon.
“Sorry Uche. You can never become a neurosurgeon. I just made sure of that.” She said to herself, giggling. She was satisfied. It was time to move to the Hausa guy.
Fatima sat in the lecture hall. She was there early as her group had been dropped earlier than most other groups. The two days had been basically days of prayer for her. She had refused to eat throughout. There was no need to pray when Uche’s life was at stake.
On the first night, she had been so distraught, she didn’t pray. She just read her bible and lay on her bed. Before she slept, she had felt a nudging to pray for Uche but she just didn’t think she had enough emotional energy to get through with it. ‘I’ll take my time to pray tomorrow’, she had convinced herself.
It was the next day she took time to pray for him. The leading to pray for him wasn’t as strong as the previous night and that scared her a bit. She hoped she hadn’t let Uche down; she hope she hadn’t been sleeping when she should have been interceding for him. She discarded her fears and believed for the best.
But as she prayed for him on the second night, the picture that kept coming to her was the picture of a guy that had come to the meeting twice. She had seen him talk with Shade a couple of times. She didn’t know his name but she knew when God wanted her to pray for someone.
Fatima had gotten on her knees and began praying for the boy. She was surprised at the passion with which she was praying for him. She prayed most in tongues because she had no idea what to pray about. And she knew beyond doubts that the Spirit of God was actually praying through her.
After close to two hours, she rose from her knees and slept. She felt fulfilled, knowing her prayers definitely had made a difference in the guy’s life. Just as she closed her eyes to sleep, the first thought that bothered her came screaming again. ‘Hope my not praying for Uche last night didn’t cost him much’.
Now, still waiting for the briefing to start, she still wondered. She hoped to get all the answers she needed when she saw him. Fatima hoped she would see him soon.

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 40)

The hall was full to capacity. Everybody was back. It was obvious the participants were glad to be back. The Conference Director walked to the podium, clearly glad to be seeing the students again.
“Welcome back!” he said and there was a deafening applause. He went on to tell them what was expected of them that day. “I’m assuming you’ve all had breakfast at your respective organizations.”
“Yes!” many chorused but a few shouted otherwise.
“If they didn’t feed you, you would have to carry an empty stomach till afternoon.” Those who had eaten laughed at their colleagues.
When the noise had quietened, the CD continued his announcements. “I know this is impromptu”, he started. “All the fifty groups would have two minutes to tell us what they gained. I remember you were told you would all give two-minute speeches but that won’t be happening again. This would be it. Just fifty of you will have that chance.”
He scanned the audience. “So, choose a representative each for your groups that will represent you. You will be given ten minutes after this briefing to come together and agree on your representative. You would then be expected to do your presentation when your group is called.”
He could tell they were excited and he was glad about that. But to continue his announcement, he had to calm them down. When he could hear himself, he continued. “After the report, which should take about three hours, we would have lunch. Immediately after lunch, we’ll have the practice for our Sports competition tomorrow; those involved in different games know themselves. At the same time, those who are not involved in the sports are meant to meet in their respective groups to put final touches to the community projects you would be expected to execute tomorrow morning.”
He paused, taking a look as his notes as he allowed the participants make side comments on the announcements he had made so far. “We would have dinner after that”, he said. “I have good news for you.” There was a hush. “Talent Hunt grand finale is tomorrow evening.” Students clapped.
“So, we would have individual and group practice immediately after dinner. That would be all for today. I sure hope you folks will have a great time.”
The Conference Director put his notes aside. “Now, it’s time for your reports. Get together and choose a representative. We kick off in ten minutes times.” He said and walked away from the podium.
Chairs scrapped the floor as students rose, shifted and moved. They called out to one another. The day had just begun.
Eight hours had flown past so fast. George and Tunbosun walked into the dining hall, exhausted and hungry. They had just finished final preparations for their community project. It was now time to refill their stomachs. When they were seated, before the food was served, they filled each other in on how their CO went. Many had started referring to the Career Orientation as CO.
Tunbosun told George about her time in Government Technical College. She had been taken to a JSS1 class.
“Kids could be a big headache” she said.
George laughed. “I don’t envy you. I love children when they are still little but I can’t handle them when they become naughty.”
“You had better learn if you want to be a good father someday.” Tunbosun winked at him.
“Thanks for the advice.” He said, smiling. “Who was there with you?”
“Faith was, and one of Shade’s friends.” Tunbosun was sure George wouldn’t know Stanley so she decided not to say anything further.
“I was with Tara” George said, with a smile on his face.
The smile on George’s face reminded Tunbosun of the smile she had seen on Tara’s face too when she had known George would be in her group. She couldn’t help wondering how closer the friendship between the two had gotten in those two days. She wasn’t going to pry; it wasn’t her business and she had convinced herself that all she needed with George was friendship, and nothing more. She wasn’t going to allow jealousy get the better of her.
As George talked about his time at the governor’s office, Tara walked into the dining and towards them. Tunbosun rose to give her a hug, and George stretched out his arm for a handshake.
“I’ve missed you” Tara said, facing Tunbosun.
“So have I” Tunbosun said.
“What about me?” George asked, making a face.
“I saw you two days and nights running. I’m even tired of seeing your face”, Tara said, giggling, and the two joined her, laughing.
Tunbosun observed as they conversed that there was nothing out of place between George and Tara. She was impressed. What they shared seemed to be plain friendship. She was indeed proud of her friends; that was how things were meant to be. “George was just telling me of the dirty secrets of the government house”, she said, facing Tara.
“It’s really sad. I hate to remember it, least talk about it.” Tara said.
“But with people like us choosing to make a positive difference when we get there, I’m sure things will change.” George said.
“I hope so” Tara said.
“I pray you guys remember your commitments when you get there, so you don’t become exactly like them.” Tunbosun said, smiling yet serious.
That got George and Tara thinking a while.
“I’ve thought about it before. I’ve wondered if these guys didn’t have altruistic desires at some point only to change when they got to power. I guess that’s why I have Jesus; He’ll help me to exhibit self-control and live by truth.”
“Amen” his friends chorused, hoping that theirs would be a generation of godly politicians that would change Nigeria for good.
“I missed you.” Shade said to Utibe when she met him in front of the dining hall.
“Same here”, he said as they entered the hall and found a table to seat.
Shade noticed something was wrong with Utibe but she overlooked it. ‘Maybe the football practice got the better of him’, she convinced herself.
“Your friend is an excellent cook. I learnt so much from him.” Shade said, excited.
“That’s cool” Utibe said, plainly.
Shade wasn’t going to play along anymore. “Utibe, watsup with you? You don’t seem fine. Are you okay?”
“I’m good”, he said.
Shade wasn’t satisfied and she was about pressing him some more when she saw a tall figure walk in their direction. It was Stanley. She didn’t know what to make of his coming. She looked at Utibe and saw he was staring too. As he got to her side, he went on his knees without a word and that caught Shade off guard.
He didn’t wait for them to recover from the shock of seeing Stanley on his knees before he continued. “Shade, I’m sorry”, he said.
Shade looked into his eyes and what she saw was far different from what had been there on the night he tried to force her. She saw pain, regret and sadness there. It was obvious he was fighting the tears. Shade was stunned.
“I am sorry”, he said again. “Please forgive me”, and this time a tear found its way out.
Shade was too stunned to speak. She placed a hand on him. He looked up and she nodded. She then tried to speak past the lump in her throat and all she managed to say was. “Okay”.
She looked at Utibe and saw he still seemed uncomfortable. Whatever was wrong with her friend was obviously something very bad.
She returned her attention to Stanley. “Please stand up”, she said. It was then she looked round and saw some students were watching the drama. They obviously didn’t know what was going on but it was a sight. It wasn’t everyday they got to see a fine boy kneeling to beg a girl, with tears in his eyes. It was like watching a stage drama; just better because it was real.
“Thank you” Stanley said when he stood up.
“You’re welcome”, Shade said still shocked.
“Please thank Tunbosun and Faith for me. They led me to Christ yesterday.” Stanley said.
A smile spread across Shade’s face. Now she understood how the miracle had taken place. It was a pleasant thought knowing Stanley was now born-again. She was again awed by God’s great mercy. If she were God, she would have never forgiven Stanley and removed his past of sin. But she wasn’t God and she was glad she wasn’t.
“I’m so happy for you.” Shade said sincerely. She looked at Utibe and saw that he seemed even sadder than before but he reached out all the same and congratulated Stanley.
“We’ll see you tonight then?”
“Yes”, he said, with a weak smile. “I have to go now.”
“Aight. Bye” Shade said.
“Bye” Utibe echoed.
As Stanley walked away from them, with a calculated gait, not the proud and nonchalant type of days back, Shade could only smile. God indeed had the power to change anyone even the worst of sinners. If he could save Faith, and then save Stanley, no boy, girl, man or woman was out of His reach. It was amazing.
“They’ve just called our table” Utibe said.
They stood up and went for their food. She had never seen her friend this pensive and uneasy before. They were soon back to their table and Shade was going to get it out of him.
“What’s eating you up?” she asked.
“Nothing”, he lied. “Please let’s eat.”
“I’m not going to eat until you tell me what is wrong with you.”
Utibe looked at her and knew she meant every word she had just uttered. “Please, can we-”
“No. Now or never” she said.
Utibe dropped his cutlery and stared at them.
Shade was surprised at herself at how vehement she was sounding but she knew she had no other choice. She had to act this way or her friend might kill himself with whatever he was worried about.
“I have a confession to make” he said.
“I’m listening”, Shade said. She was about getting scared but she calmed herself down. She couldn’t imagine what Utibe would want to confess about that would have made him so moody.
“I did something I wasn’t supposed to do.”
Shade hated suspense. That was why she disliked watching soap operas. Now, Utibe was making her feel nauseated. He had better cough out what was on his mind on she’ll spew on him.
“I saw a girl at my CO” Utibe paused.
Shade’s fingers were already shaking. She wanted to tell him she didn’t want to hear anymore but she knew that was too late now. ‘Did he ask her out?’ she thought. That thought alone was enough to break her heart. It actually seemed to be breaking already. She stilled herself. She needed to hear the rest of it.
“I really don’t know what I was thinking. I’m so sorry Shade.”
“What did you do?” she said, barely above a whisper, her heart in her throat.
The seconds before he spoke seemed like ages to Shade. When he finally did, she was glad she was seated. She would have fallen otherwise.
“I did with her the things we said we wouldn’t do with each other again.”
He had finally said it and Shade didn’t know how to express her grief. It was a blow so hard; she didn’t know how to react to the pain. She just sat numb and quiet, her eyes gradually filling and the tears spilling out. She wondered if she was grieving for herself or for her friend for doing what was wrong. She didn’t know the answer to that.
There were so many questions she wanted to ask but she knew the details would only break her heart the more. There was only one question she knew she had to ask; a question that she would always wish she had asked if she didn’t.
She looked at him as he yet stared at his hands. “Did you…” she couldn’t even finish the question.
Utibe looked at her with sad eyes and shook his head.
Relief flooded Shade’s heart. She had never known she cared this much for the boy. They were just friends but the thought of him sleeping with another girl was killing. She was glad he hadn’t done that but still hurt that he had even touched a girl in the first place.
She wiped her tears. “Utibe, why?” she asked without looking up.
He didn’t respond.
“Why?” she asked again.
“I don’t know” he finally said.
After a long silence, with their food going cold, Utibe made the request he knew he had to. “Please forgive me, Shade.” He paused. “I’ve asked God to forgive me but I also need my friend’s forgiveness. I need you to forgive me. I’m really sorry.”
She took her time to respond but she eventually did. “I forgive you.” She said and could literarily see relief flood Utibe’s face.
“It will never happen again.”
“I sure hope so.” Shade sighed as she made her next statement. “Please keep yourself a virgin for your wife; whoever she will be”
That statement hit Utibe but he knew that was the way things were. They were just friends and Shade was reminding him of that to help them keep things in the right perspective.
“I will”, he said.
“Thanks. That would make me most happy”, Shade said, sincerely.
“Thanks. Your pardon means a lot to me.” Utibe was finally able to smile.
Shade was happy for him and thankful God helped her with the initial hurt and shock. There was one more fact she needed; one she had forgotten to ask.
Shade called Utibe just as he picked his cutlery and he looked at her. “Who’s the girl?”
Utibe’s smile immediately faded.
“What’s her name?” Shade asked, looking as unaffected by her question as she possibly could but saw her words were hitting Utibe below the belt. She hated to take them back but needed to know who had almost gotten Utibe. She was silently thankful to God that Utibe hadn’t gone all the way with the girl, yet she wanted to know who the girl was.
Utibe wasn’t still talking.
“Her name, please” she demanded.
“Christiana” he finally said.
Christiana was cutting her meat when she looked up and saw a very familiar face walk towards her. He was looking like someone who wanted to die; who life was being drained out of. She smiled. ‘You’ve not seen anything yet’, she thought to herself.
“Hi, Uche”, she said.
He sat beside her and seemed at a loss for words. “Did I do something wrong?”
“Do you think you did something wrong?”
“I’m confused. I really don’t know. You’ve been avoiding me for two days now.”
“Really?” Christiana asked, smiling. She was enjoying herself.
“Stop this jokes! I’m serious” Uche had raised his voice a little too loud as a few students stared at him. He calmed down a little. “Please tell me if there’s something wrong I’ve done.”
Christiana didn’t respond.
“I haven’t been able to eat all day. I’ve been wondering; trying hard to think of what I did or said to drive you away and I still haven’t figured it out yet.” He paused and stared at her as she ate, acting as if he wasn’t there. “Christiana, I’m sorry”
“You didn’t offend me.”
“So why this?”
She looked at him then and could see his eyes were glassy; she was really killing him emotionally. She didn’t know he would be this affected by her withdrawal. She wondered what he would do when he got the complete package.
She had been amused by his intelligence when they were on their CO. Uche was indeed called to be a doctor. She had almost changed her mind about what she wanted to do with him then but she remembered what her mother had told her when she was a kid and their father walked out on them.
“All men are the same; wicked and heartless. Never give your heart to any”, her mother had said. Experiences she had had in life had further confirmed that statement. It was with that resolve that she carried on with her plans.
Christiana looked at the boy sitting next to her and she wanted to laugh. ‘Uche, you will never be able to be the neurosurgeon you want to be’, she thought to herself.
He was still pleading with her. Christiana was getting tired. It was time to get rid of him.
“Hey stop!” she spat and Uche froze. He had never heard that voice before. Her voice had always being lovely and endearing but not now. “Do I know you?” she asked.
Uche just stared at her. He must have thought he was dreaming.
Christiana eyed him. “Did you ever think I could possibly like you?” She sized him up. “Someone like you with someone like me. Did the picture ever fit to you? I just wanted to have my fun and I’m done with you.” She would keep the joker till later; this was enough for him as she could see the guy was already falling apart.
She stood up, glared at him and hissed into his ears. “We never met.”
With that, she walked away from him, taunting him with her body movement as she walked out of the dining hall. ‘Let the poor dog like his wounds’, she thought as she walked away victorious. She would look for a bad boy to get tonight. The tall Hausa guy would be her next target. ‘I’ll get you tomorrow’, she thought to herself as she remembered how the tall boy had been staring at her the day before their Career Orientation.
‘Christiana, you’re too bad!’ she praised herself as she scouted for any unsuspecting guy who wanted some fun.

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 41)

Fatima was about finishing her food when she looked up and saw a fair girl walk towards the door and recognition hit her. It was the girl that had stolen Uche. She looked to see the direction she was coming from and soon located Uche. He was looking like someone who had just lost a loved one.
Fatima watched him without moving, unable to continue with the food she was eating. There was something he was sad about. He lowered his head on the table but not before Fatima thought she saw him struggling not to cry. She couldn’t leave her friend in that state. Even if he had rejected her, she still cared very much about him.
She stood and walked towards him. When she got to him, she sat beside him. It must have been the same place the girl had sat because that side of the bench was warm. She sat there without saying a word. She needed to pick her words carefully. She silently asked God to help her win Uche back. She could feel it that he was drifting away from God and that really bothered her.
“Uche”, she finally said, hoping he would respond.
He did. He looked up at her and what she saw there made her own eyes fill. His eyes were wet and regret was clearly spelt there. He put his head back down. She could feel his pain. He was feeling bad that he had abandoned their company. A part of Fatima rejoiced. That meant he was coming back to his senses like the prodigal son and was coming back home.
“It’s okay, Uche” she said, and placed a hand on his shoulder.
He stiffened and lifted his shoulder a bit. He was saying ‘get your hands off’. Fatima understood that and removed her hand. It was getting confusing as she didn’t know what to think anymore. Before she could think of something else to say, Uche stood up and walked away without saying a word.
Fatima’s heart dropped. The pain she felt was more than words could say. It was one thing to see your friend hurting, it was a worse case to see your friend hurting and not be able to do anything about it because you don’t know what is wrong with your friend. “God, please what is wrong with Uche?” she silently asked her Father.
She hoped God would speak to her heart but He chose not to. All she heard were the rhythmic sounds made by the loud and hard beats that she could clearly hear coming from her heart. She had never been so sad and afraid.
The dining hall was half full. More students had turned out for the meeting, most likely because the night was slated for Talent Hunt rehearsals and not everybody was involved in that. When the six had met earlier, Fatima had said Tunbosun would open the meeting, George would take the opening prayer, Tara and Shade would lead worship, Faith would lead prayers, and she would round up with a brief word from God. Even before the meeting started, the six of them could feel it that something very special was about to happen.
By time Tara and Shade started the worship, it was like God had just come in person to sit with them. Everyone there felt the presence of God. Towards the end of the worship session, there was quiet for about ten minutes when nobody spoke a word; they just enjoyed the presence of their king.
When it was time for Faith to come up, she told Tara and Shade not to return to their seats and asked the other three to join her in front. That was when the explosion began.
As they began to pray, a girl that had been partially deaf in her left ear just screamed as she felt the healing touch of God. Not long after, a boy who had barely made his way to the hall because of an ulcer was immediately healed.
Students, who had come there unsaved, without an altar call, fell on their faces and began to repent of their sins as the conviction power of the Holy Spirit was strong.
A time came when almost everybody, including the six in front were in tears. They were singing a song that Faith asked Tara to lead. They sang it over and again and it was like God was actually doing what they were asking Him to do.
Create in me a clean heart
And purify me
Create in me a clean heart
So that I may worship you.
As they sang, there was a cleansing anointing that saturated the air. Many who had been carrying the guilt of sins they had committed finally felt forgiven. Those who were struggling with sexual addictions found freedom. It was not something that could be explained with words. It was an inner conviction, stronger than doubts could bend, that God had touched them and changed their lives forever.
Faith suddenly asked everybody to stop and listen. “God says He wants to heal homes now. If you are here and your family has issues; daddy has walked away, or mummy has left. Whatever it is, God is about to make things happen. Please come out.” she said.
About a quarter of the students present stepped forward. Faith asked them to commit their families to God as each of the six out front prayed for them. Faith and the other four fours girls hugged the girls that came out as they prayed with them. George reached out to hug the boys as he prayed with them. It was a very teary moment but not void of the power of God. It was obvious so many students there were hurting badly for their families. God saw their hurts and had decided to come through for them. What a great God.
When they were through, Faith asked them to worship for just a few minutes, and after that, just as she was about to leave the front, God spoke to her heart and she echoed it. “There’s a boy here. God says your past is going to hunt you very soon, before we leave this conference, but because you have come to put your trust in Him, He will conquer for you.”
The hall was filled with a loud applause as she said that. They thanked God for the great things he had done. Fatima walked to the front and asked them to sit.
“I have nothing else to talk about. Seems God has done all the talking Himself.” She smiled as she looked round. “As we prayed, God told me that we are done with this meeting; that He has done all He wanted to do. We can begin to rejoice in His salvation. All we are left with is to stand by each other and help each other grow. So, the meeting has come to an official close.”
Fatima looked in Tunbosun’s direction and nodded. “A sheet of paper would be passed now. Please write your names and contacts, so we could keep in touch with you after this. Please hold on to Jesus; He’s all we have and all we need.”
Anyone looking at Fatima would know she was fulfilled. She had obeyed God and was pleased with what God did through her and her friends. “On behalf of my friends and myself, we say we love you. God bless you.”
All present stood on their feet and gave the Almighty God a big standing ovation.
Stanley was on his feet too, clapping his hands with all his might. The God who had refused to let him ruin himself but had saved him was worthy of praise. He had been surprised at himself when he wept like a child in repentance before God a few minutes back but it felt so refreshing at the same time. He felt new.
He wished he had started attending the meeting earlier but he hadn’t, and if today was the last day, then God must have been waiting for him to show up. He was indeed grateful.
They soon sat down and all wrote their names. Fatima now stepped forward one last time to lead them in the final prayer. When they were done praying, without being told, they all began clapping again. It had been a life changing encounter. Some had attended once, some twice and others the three times. But all lives had been touched by the Father who loves all His children.
As the applause thinned out, Stanley noticed someone walk into the hall with so much aggression. He looked and saw it was the Conference Director. He stormed towards them; anger written all over his face.
“What is this nonsense!” he screamed.
There was a hush in the hall; no one spoke.
“How were you able to do this without my knowing?” He was fuming. “I was informed this morning by a student who was irritated with all your shouting that there was some activity going on in this hall. I forgot to talk about it. I just suddenly remembered now and hurried here to stop the nonsense from continuing.”
“Who is responsible for this?” he yelled.
“Who started this gathering?” he demanded again.
Six hands were raised, and they were around the same corner. The CD turned and stared hard at them. There was no remorse or fear in their eyes, only respect for his authority.
Stanley could see the CD didn’t know what to do.
“The six of you are expelled from this conference”, was the next thing they heard.
And just as the Conference Director said it, Stanley walked towards the six and noticed that every other person joined him. Without raising their voices at the CD, they stood around the six; in front, beside and behind them.
Stanley was the one closest to the man and decided to be their spokes man. “We’re sorry for doing this without your knowledge sir. We also appreciate you for all we’ve learnt and will still learn at this conference. But these six have given us more in three nights than all the conference programs have given us in eight days.”
He looked at his comrades and back at the CD. “With all due respect sir, I say that if you want to expel the six of them, you would have to expel us all.”
Stanley could see shock plain as day in the man’s eyes. He took his eyes off Stanley and looked at the many students that surrounded the six students he had initially spoken to. Without following his gaze, Stanley had a rough idea of how many they were; probably half or more of the entire conference population. The man definitely couldn’t send them all away.
“I have never seen this in my life”. His look turned from shock to awe. “I’ll let you all go”, he said. “But for the sake of others that don’t agree with your religious activities, I have to ask you to stop it. No more meetings from now, okay?”
“Okay sir!” they chorused and began clapping for him. Stanley watched with admiration as a smile curved the man’s lips. He walked out of the hall, trusting they would do same too.
Folks began hugging each other, reaching out to encourage one and another, Stanley knew he had folks to hug and thank too. He had to thank Shade, Utibe, Faith, Tunbosun, and Okpara. God used them to save him, and he would be forever grateful. As he scanned heads, trying to find them, he made a promise to God.
“As I went all out to get in-between the legs of many girls, I’ll go all out to ensure I bring many, both boys and girls, to your saving grace.” That was his promise to the God who had saved him; a vile sinner.
Fatima walked behind the mass of people that were ahead of her. Neither of them knew the CD was going to come and stop the meetings when they had prior decided, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, to stop the meeting. It was indeed a wonderful thing hearing from God.
Looking back at the three nights of the meetings, she was again amazed at God’s handiwork. She had no idea the meetings God had told her to call were going to turn out so grand. She had only obeyed and now she was more than glad she did. She thanked God for touching all that came for the three days. Even those who hadn’t opened their hearts to God yet had the seeds already sown in them which Fatima believed would yield good fruits someday.
In all the joy, she had only one point of sadness. She hadn’t recovered from the sorrow yet. The sorrow Uche had caused her and was still causing her. A few hours back, she had wished with all her heart that he would walk right into the dining hall while the meeting was on. She had glanced at the entrance over and again but had been disappointed each time.
‘Uche, please come back home. God is waiting for you, your friends are waiting for you, and I’m waiting for you too’. That was one desire she longed would be granted before the conference was over. She wanted Uche restored. She had two more days to hope. Two more days to wait.