Anjola jumped as she felt a heavy blow on her shoulder. She looked up to stare at her cousin’s face silhouetted by the dim lights of the bar.
“You don’t hear again, abi?” she asked as she pointed a finger to her ear which was adorned with a dangling earring.
“What is it, Toke?”
“You cannor see customer standing in your front? What are you even reading up and down sef?” When Toke was angry, she only answered questions with questions. Anjola looked behind her to the burly man standing at the other side of the counter, swaying like a palm tree in the breeze.
“What do you want?”
“Give me…” Hiccup. “Give me…one…orobo,” he finished in a slur, hitting his big belly on the wooden counter as he swayed forward and back.
She looked at Toke. She had shifted and Anjola could see her sweaty face smeared in a pathetic attempt at makeup. Night time was her time.
“This man is drunk now,”
She shook her head and addressed the man who she knew very well was someone’s father.
“Oga, you should go home.”
“I say, give me drink!” he barked (as much as could be managed with a slur) and banged his hand on the counter.
Anjola was used to this, she knew there was no reasoning with a drunken man. She sighed and proceeded to serve him what he asked. He hobbled to the nearest seat, humming an off-tune as he went.
It was past nine and Anjola knew it would take all of one hour before the music would stop and the drunk men would take over the bar floor; begin a fight, hurl chairs and nearby objects at each other and hobble home as the vigilante boys helped clear the bar of the human nuisance. And then tomorrow, they would be back again.
On some days, Anjola was lucky to sneak home before the fights began or convince her mother to allow her leave early with her siblings – there was thirteen year old Segun who sometimes sat with some of the men, sipping a non-alcoholic drink and laughing at their jokes, eleven year old Pelumi who sometimes stayed at home to play with their neighbours and watch TV with their stepfather, six year old Remi who helped to serve the customers alongside her and Toke and then Bolu, their nineteen month old whom everyone adored.
Sometimes, Anjola wondered if Adio never got jealous of their mother staying out so late and in fact of all her escapades. It was no secret in Aje that Titilope (or ‘Mama Tee’ as some called her) had affairs with men. In a place like Aje where your business was everyone’s business, she made it a point to feed the gossip machines.
According to legend, by the time Titi was nineteen, she had slept with almost every unmarried man on her street and spread her tentacles to other streets in the community. Before long, she had topped her game and begun affairs with married men. Her third adultery resulted in Anjola.
Wale Bello had denied impregnating Titilope, so Anjola had grown up without knowing her father. She couldn’t recall a time when this didn’t look normal. In fact, when she was younger, she had thought having a father was like a cherry on a cake; if it came, fine, if not, well, what did it matter?
“You never talk about your father, why?” Chinwe, her friend in primary school had asked. They were in primary six then and were at that stage in their lives when their conversations often revolved around what their parents did or got them.
“I don’t know. He doesn’t exist.”
Chinwe gave her a look that said she could as well have told her the earth was flat. But she said nothing.
All through her secondary school, Anjola had avoided every conversation that involved her father. Not like it mattered though. She had attended Aje community school and everyone probably knew already.
Her mother never talked about him and she never asked. But that did not stop her from hearing the whispers and side comments from her neighbours. They seemed to know even more than she did. She could go to a local store and someone would say; “I saw your father yesterday” or “Your father’s wife just had a son, finally”. How they knew these things was beyond her.
After picking pieces of the puzzle here and there, Anjola surmised that her father was a married man in search of a male child, frustrated that his wife had six girls, he had found a mistress who again gave him a female child so he denied the child and moved on.
When Anjola was three, her mother had Segun whose father had died in a street fight a year after he was born. His father, Deji, had been an only child so his widowed mother claimed the child after the death of her son. But when she too died two years later, Segun had some back to live with them in Aje.
Pelumi came from another married man, Sunday, who had been decent enough to set up a business for their mother before hightailing. He still showed up sometimes to see his son, but they had not seen him in the past two years.
Adio came later on and finally married their mother, warts and all. Remi and Bolu were his children. He was a nice man; he had a job at the local government secretariat, didn’t drink more than one bottle of beer at once and never laid his hand on their mother. Although he always seemed so distant, Anjola still liked him. There was something about the way he was neutral to them that was comforting. She never felt like she had to say anything to him and that was fine with her. This made her wonder why he stayed after their mother obviously still cheated on him.
“Aunty Jola, let’s go home,” Remi said, her small voice trailing tiredly.
“What’s the time?” she asked. Remi gave her a look and Anjola chuckled. Her sister had trouble reading the clock. In fact, she had trouble with school in general and their mother always gave her hell for it.
“Maybe you will go and learn trade. Stupid girl!” she would say, swatting her head.
“Alright, just tell me where the hands are,” Anjola told Remi and saw the relief on her face.
She came back and told her, “The long hand is on three and the short hand is on nine.”
“That’s fifteen minutes past nine. Okay?”
Remi dutifully nodded.
“Go and call Segun.”
Ten minutes later, she secured a sleeping Bolu on her back with a wrapper and they headed home, leaving their mother and Toke who was sitting on a man’s lap.
When they got home, Adio was already snoring on their bed, so they all had to huddle on a mat beside the bed. And as sleep came that night, Anjola wondered when her life would finally make sense.
The bus heaved as it went over another bump, slowing down a bit as a woman and her two children quickly crosed the road. The noise in the bus was like a distant sound as Victoria’s mind wandered restlessly. Some of the youths were engaged in serious discussions, some chattered and laughed loudly, while others clapped and sang like they had no care in the world. She wished she could do that but at the moment, she was trying to calm her erratic heart and focus on her prepared speech.
“You need to relax,” she turned to look at Uncle Chidi seated beside her. He had a concerned look on his face.
“Who says I’m not relaxed?” Victoria asked, trying to look shocked.
“You’ve not said anything since we left the church and you look like someone just died.”
She smiled. “Well, is it not because someone died I’m here anyways?”
He laughed and she joined him. “Very funny. Well, cheer up. He has resurrected,” they laughed again, their merriness joining the noise in the bus.
She sobered. “Do I have to do this?”
She was talking about their evangelism trip. Victoria had spent every minute since last week when she heard about the youth outreach, worrying and trying to talk Uncle Chidi into excusing her.
“Please, I’ll stay back and pray for you guys,” she had said but he always overruled her arguments. Uncle Chidi was their youth president and since he was appointed earlier that year, had changed their programmes. He cancelled their monthly concerts and replaced them with outreaches, diverted all funds for weekend love feasts to missions and had set up a daily prayer chain and Bible study plans. As expected, he had gotten both friends and enemies for doing that. Some of the youths grumbled about his ‘know-it-all’ attitude but Victoria thought it was great what he was doing. It was long overdue; the youths of her church needed an awakening. At least, she knew she did.
“You know you have to,” he answered, fixing his eyes on the road.
“But the missions team always say, ‘If you can’t go, give. And if you can’t do that, pray.'”
He shook his head, “The command is, ‘Go ye into the world’. Every Christian is expected to share the gospel,” he paused and looked at her, his eyes serious. “And you know that you cannot go if you don’t pray and what is your money for if not to support the gospel? So you see, you have to do all: go, give and pray.”
Victoria opened her mouth but closed it again. She sighed. He was right.
“But I can’t, Uncle Chidi. I just feel so…” her voice trailed off. How could she explain how terribly inadequate she felt? Or how the very thought of opening her mouth to preach the gospel made her scared? Will he also understand when she said she always felt awkward starting a conversation with people she barely knew?
“So what?” he promted.
“You know what your problem is?” he asked but didn’t wait for an answer. “You think this is about you.”
She opened her mouth to speak but he held up a meaty hand. “Wait, let me finish,” he turned in his seat to face her squarely. “You’re too concerned about how you would look to people, too worried about what they would say. And you forget that you are not going in your name. You forget that Christ is the one to be promoted, not you. Will you allow people to perish in darkness while you sit in light?”
Victoria was speechless. Uncle Chidi had never spoken to her like this before and despite all the voices that rose in her mind in indignation, she knew he spoke the truth. Of course she wanted people to know about Christ’s love, she just wished there was a way to do it without having to talk to them.
“But, I feel like a hypocrite when I do what I don’t feel like doing,” she made one last feeble attempt to excuse herself.
“Imagine you are walking and see a house on fire. It was tragic and every one in the house died. If you had somehow been given the opportunity to warn them two hours before, what would you do?”
She nodded, understanding. “I’ll warn them.”
“Exactly. Do you think you would be concerned about offending them? Or be worried about whether or not you can deliver a convincing speech?”
She shook her head.
“See? All you would want to do is warn them. All you would want to do is get them out of the house. Victoria, allow God. It is not about you. It is about Him. People need to know this love, give them the chance.”
They were now in traffic and their bus had stopped, causing heat to flood her body. But Victoria felt like her heart was infused with a greater heat. She understood what he said and could feel it slicing her heart in a way she knew only the truth could do.
“But I still feel so powerless,” she said, almost to herself.
He nodded, his eyes compassionate. “I understand. That is why we have the Holy Spirit, Victoria. He is the one who changes men, not you. Your job is simply to show up and have enough love to stand in the gap for the lost. Allow Him.”
And with that, he picked up his phone and tucked his earphones in his ears. Victoria knew he was giving her the cue to think.
They just passed the intersection that led to the inner-city. She knew they had at least twenty minutes to get to their destination. But that was enough.
It was enough time to engage God in a serious conversation.
* * * *
– Do you think Anjola should have asked about her father?
– Do you think that some Christians are called to go, others to give and others to pray or do you think everyone is expected to do all three?
– Was Victoria’s fear justified or was Uncle Chidi right?
I’ll be posting episode three on Friday, so be on the look out.