Lunch was about to served. Uche was seated where he had sat with Fatima the first day he had seen Christiana; when she boldly flirted with him. He was still trying to gather the courage and put together the words he would need to express himself to Fatima in a few minutes when he saw Christiana walking towards him.
He frowned. He obviously wasn’t interested in talking to her; he didn’t even want to see her again. She had humiliated him the day before. As she approached, Uche saw she wasn’t herself; wasn’t the all confident Christiana he had been with in the past days; she seemed sober, kind of subdued.
When she reached him, she handed him a note. He looked into her eyes and the sorrow he saw there frightened him. When he collected it, she turned and walked out of the dining hall. Uche wondered whether or not to read whatever was inside. The look on her face was enough for him to fear reading it but on a second thought, he assumed she had written an apology letter, explaining why she had spoken roughly to him the previous day.
With that, he opened the paper. ‘HIV Test Result’. He was still wondering what it had to do with him until he saw the name written there and the status of the person. His mind was still trying to put the pieces together, but the last words in the paper, written with biro clarified whatever doubts he had. ‘I AM SO SORRY’, he read.
Uche just stared at the paper. He was fighting hard not to believe what his mind was telling him. It couldn’t be. He tried to read the words again but he couldn’t see clearly as tears blurred his vision. He blinked so he could see clearly as two tears made their way down both of his cheeks.
He wondered if Christiana knew before she met him or if she was just finding out. He discarded the thought. That was irrelevant now. His test had shown him he was HIV negative but he knew if he were to go for a test in three months time, he would definitely see something different.
As the understanding dawn more on him, the tears intensified. He placed his head on the table and wept silently. One night with Christiana had sealed his future. The shame and regret he felt was nothing compared to the sorrow he felt. He was going to die prematurely. ‘Uche, why?’ he lamented. ‘Why did you do this to yourself?’
He had thought he would confess his sins to Fatima, receive forgiveness from her, be led to the Cross for forgiveness again and get restored but the story had changed. He couldn’t tell her anything again. This was too bad. He had messed it all up. He wondered if there was any reason to live anymore.
As he yet thought, he felt a hand rest on his shoulders. He looked up and saw it was Fatima. Her eyes reflected the love of Christ. The love he had felt in his first days at the conference; the love he had walked out on. He felt all the more ashamed. He shrugged her hand off and stood to leave, not caring about the tears that marred his face.
“But Uche, you said-” she was saying. Every word she spoke oozed out with love and concern. Uche felt unworthy of those.
“I’m sorry, Fatima. I’ve changed my mind”, he said and walked out of the dining. He was going to nurse his wounds alone; he couldn’t bare the shame of exposing his folly.
Okpara couldn’t stand up from his seat. Strength seemed to be sipping out gradually. He remembered he had felt a foreboding before and after the time he lost his virtue with Christiana. Now, he understood clearly. He had with his two legs walked into his own death. There was nobody he could blame for it. She had said she was sorry, and from his heart, he forgave her. It had been his choice. All he could hope for was God’s help.
Even as he sat there, the only comfort he had was that he was now a son of God, and even if he died prematurely, he had a home waiting for him above. He was indeed thankful for the meetings that had been held in the dining hall. That was his only hope now. He wondered how despondent he would have been now if he didn’t have Christ.
As the thought of the meetings came to him, he remembered something that made his adrenaline begin to flow again. He remembered a word Faith had prophesied about during their last meeting. He had just said amen to it, thinking he was claiming it for someone else but know he hoped the words were for him.
“Amen!” he said to himself, remembering the prophecy. Faith had said, “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.”
Hope sprang up within his heart. The only interpretation he received from that was that God would heal him of the virus he had gotten on the night he had been with Christiana.
With that, he was about leaving the hall when he saw Faith approach him.
“Hi Faith, how are you?” he asked.
“I’m good, thanks. And you?”
“Could be better”, he said and Faith nodded as if she understood what he meant by that. That made Okpara a little confused.
“You remember my testimony?” Faith asked him.
“Yes. I wasn’t there that night but Utibe told me about it.” Okpara could remember clearly how awed he had been when Utibe told him of Faith’s story. A fervent Christian who turned herself to everyman’s girl in order to get back at God but eventually found grace with God again. That was indeed amazing. It had been one of the things that won Okpara’s heart for Christ.
“Good” she said. “With my past, I was so sure I was going to be HIV positive when I went for testing today. But guess what I saw?”
Okpara just looked on.
“I was negative. I don’t have a trace of the virus in my system and God gave me a witness that I didn’t contact it either through the nonsense I did with Stanley.” She paused, beaming. “That was nothing short of a miracle; a miracle I would always be thankful for.”
Okpara smiled, but it was a sad one. He wished the same would happen to him. “I’m happy for you.”
“That’s not all”, Faith said. “I had already left the hall and was about joining others when God told me to look for you. He led me here. He said I should tell you that the word He spoke through me yesterday was for you and that the miracle He did for me, He has done the same for you.”
Okpara collapsed on his knees and began crying even as she said so. She knelt beside him and placed his hand on his shoulders. “I don’t know what you did wrong in your past, or where you contracted HIV but God says that like He did for me in His mercies, He has flushed it out of your system.”
Okpara couldn’t find the words to express his gratitude to God. He allowed his heart and his tears of joy to do that. ‘What a merciful God you are’, where his thoughts to God as he wept with Faith kneeling beside him.
It was almost 6pm and it was obvious the conference was practically over. Even the weather seemed to have changed. It was a cool evening. Students were filling their dairies with different names, addresses, telephone numbers and more. They weren’t going to have time to do that the next day as departure was from 6am. Some had very long distances to travel and would have to leave early.
The CD had even said the final word would be said at the Dinner-Awards night, so all could enter their buses first thing the next day and be on their way.
Faith was already feeling nostalgia. She had passed her book to so many people to fill. She wished the conference would last a little longer but it wasn’t possible. Her mind went to what she would wear for the night. She had brought a gown with her. It was a long gown but with a very low neck that would reveal way too much. She hadn’t cared then but now she did. She had asked Shade if she had a camisole. And she had said yes. She would wear the camisole under it. She didn’t care if she looked awkward. She knew Jesus would be proud of her; and that was all that mattered to her now.
She had also come to the conference, hoping to win an award but she knew that wouldn’t happen anymore. She had been picked after the first round of Talent-Hunt on the first day for the final that had held the day before but she had refused to participate. She loathed what she had done to qualify.
She had danced to a song with a lot of lewd lyrics and had danced in similar fashion. She wished she could take back the hands of the clock but that was impossible. All she could do now was refrain from secular music and dance with all her might for God; hoping to redeem the many years lost to dancing for the devil. She didn’t need their award; she needed God’s award.
Faith smiled. She was so full of peace now that she was friends with God again. She felt led to look to her right. Tara was not too far away and she was exchanging contacts too.
God suddenly opened her eyes and the smile on her face faded immediately. She hurried over to Tara, begged Tara’s company for excuse and pulled her friend aside.
“Do you know a woman who is about my height, dark in complexion, wears glasses…” Faith kept describing all she could to depict the woman she was referring to. When she was done, Tara looked stunned.
“That’s my mother you just described.” Tara said.
Then it hit Faith. She remembered talking with Tara who said after she had forgiven Doctor Festus, God had worked on her heart and she had forgiven Douglas and her mother. Tara had said then that she was waiting to get home to settle with both of them. Faith frowned. God’s timetable was obviously different.
“Tara, I need you to trust me on this one!”
“I always have,” she said. “Did you see my mother? Is she here?”
“No, she isn’t here but I saw her alright.” Faith saw the confused look on Tara’s face. “God revealed it to me. Tara, your mother is about to commit to suicide.”
Tara just stared at Faith as if she was speaking jargons.
“You have to call her now. She needs to know that somebody loves her.”
Tara still looked stunned. Faith reached out and shook her hard. “Now!” And with that, Tara began running towards the car park where phone calls were made. Faith followed close behind her.
When they got there, they were both out of breath. Tara motioned the attendant for the phone and she was given. She dialed her mother’s number and waited. It rang. No one picked.
Tara’s knees were weak; her legs shaking. She was afraid. “Oh God, please have mercy”, she prayed as the tears trickled down. She dialed the second time. No response.
By now, she was already giving up, crying hysterically.
“Try again” Faith urged.
She did try again and it just kept ringing. Suddenly she heard a voice.
“Hello” The voice was her mother’s. She sounded like she always did when she had cried for a long time.
“Mum, it’s Tara’, she said, trying to control the emotions threatening to overwhelm her.
There was a long pause.
“Mum, are you there?”
“Yes”, her mum said, sniffing. “I have to go now. Bye.”
“Mum, hold on. I love you.” She said as fast as she could. There was silence. She hoped her mother hadn’t cut the phone yet. She looked at the phone and saw the time was still ticking. Her mother was still on the line. She put it back to her ear.
“Mum, I love you so much. I forgive you for making me kill my baby and I can’t wait to be home to you. I love you, ma.” She said and could hear her mother cry on the other end of the phone. Tara was crying too.
After almost a minute of hearing each other cry over the phone, her mother spoke up.
“Baby, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay mum. I’ve forgiven you.”
Her mother sighed. “I was about killing myself but now I know I don’t have to. If you still love me despite my being such a bad mother, I guess there’s still hope for me.”
“Yes, mum.” Tara said through her tears. “Jesus makes life beautiful. We’ll talk when I get home.”
“Okay dear’ her mother said, sniffing.
“I’ve missed you.”
“I love you, mum.” She said one last time.
“I love you too. Always have. Always will” Tara’s mum said and the phone went dead.
Before she could drop the phone from her ear, Faith opened her arms and Tara fell right into it, shedding the remaining tears. Tears of hope and joy.
“Thank you Faith.” She finally said.
“Thank God dear. He was the one that gave me the gift.”
“What would our lives be without God?” Tara asked Faith rhetorically. She didn’t need an answer. She answered herself. “Our lives would be capital messes.”
Faith giggled. She couldn’t agree more.