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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.