The Imam’s call to prayer rang loud through the still early morning air. Anjola groaned as she rolled partially to the left, stopping when she hit Toke’s sleeping frame.
She did not need a clock to know it was 5a.m.
Her eyes were still heavy from sleep but she knew she had to get up. As the resident cook, she needed to make breakfast and pack lunch for her siblings along with other chores that were typical of her mornings.
She gently set aside Remi’s leg which was tossed carelessly on her stomach. The girl was an athlete in her sleep and Anjola could not count the number of pain she had endured from sleeping by her half-sister. She, Toke and Remi occupied a mat at the foot of the bed while the boys – Timothy and Segun took the left side of the room and her mother, Adio and Bolu slept on the bed.
She was about to get up when she flopped back on the mat, sighing. Today was not going to be business as usual – she was going to start her day with God. She was a new person and so her routine had to change. Victoria had told her about having her quiet time and attending church. She had missed church yesterday which was a Sunday and had forgotten to have her devotion but she decided today would be different.
So she sat up and cradled her face between her knees as she tried to pray. Saying the words felt really weird but she continued. Victoria had told her prayer was like having a conversation with a friend.
“Dear God. Ah…good morning. Thank you for this new day: for the air, for life itself. Thank you for my family: my mum, for little Bolu, Remi, Toke, Timo and for Adio and Segun’s snore that tell us they’re still alive,” she paused, smiling. Okay, she’d better get serious. Did God like jokes? She made a mental note to ask Victoria.
“Father,” she savoured the word, “thank you for this new…life that you have given me. I still don’t understand a lot of things to be honest but thank you. I can feel somehow that this is real, you know? The peace I feel, the contentment is just so…”
Anjola paused as she heard a rustle beside her. Toke was up. Her heart sank. Her cousin was like an alarm; once she was up, everyone was up.
“Lord, I really want to do this but I’m feeling distracted already. Can we do this some other time?” the question hung in the air like yesterday’s leftover and she wondered if she wasn’t crazy. Was God even listening to her?
“Jola, what do you?” Toke poked her side as she pointed a torchlight on her. She sighed and raised her head.
“I’m fine. Just praying.”
“I was praying.”
“Ahn, Ahn. When that one start?”
Their voices stood, stark and loud in the quiet morning and roused their mother. After her, Bolu began to cry, then Remi sat up, suddenly awake.
Great. She didn’t even get to read her Bible. So much for ‘quiet’ time.
* * * *
Victoria dropped her phone and placed her face in her hands. This was not happening.
Uncle Chidi had just called her to tell her he was resigning as the youth president. She played it in her mind several times and still couldn’t believe it. If there was anyone who was passionate about God’s work, it was him. He had been the one who encouraged her when she was weak and had managed to infect her with the passion he had. Of course, she knew he was human but she just did not expect that from him.
They had spent about fifteen minutes on the phone while he told her about his discouragements with the pastorate. Why he had felt the need to tell her was still a mystery considering he had many ‘spiritual’ friends but she had kept quiet, listening, knowing that he wanted to let off a load. He hadn’t been bitter or anything, but beyond the words, she could sense his frustration.
“It is not just the refusal Vick. It is not just the fact that I have to plead and dance around before getting approval for basic things but it is that I cannot see a shared passion. And I don’t want to dishonour authority, so it’s better I leave,” Uncle Chidi had said some seconds before the end of the call. Victoria had searched her head for the words, for anything that would stop him because the way she saw it, leaving was not the solution.
“But…do you think leaving is the solution? What if God wants you to do something about it?”
“I don’t think so. I will support them from the pew.”
She did not argue with him after that and they ended the call with a few pleasantries.
She had thought he would be the one to help revive the youths of their church and that hope was dashed now. What would she do now? What could she do?
“Babes, what happened?” her roommate, Clara, stood above her with concerned eyes. She hadn’t heard her come into the room. She gave a weak smile and shook her head.
“I’m fine. Just thinking.”
“Were you able to get the milk?”
“Don’t change the subject. And yes, I got it,” Clara dropped a bag on the table both of them shared. It was evening and they were about to have dinner. And since her roommate consumed their provisions like she was a wolf, they had to buy milk again just after a week.
“I’ll tell you later. Right now, I’m hungry.”
They spent the next hour eating and talking about their day at school. She and Clara had been roommates from their first year because like her parents, Clara’s parents were rich and had thought the school hostels unfit for their daughter. Ever since they started living together, they became fast friends and had never had any major fights, so they had decided to continue staying together. Clara’s bubbly nature endeared her to Victoria. She was one of those people who could make everything sound funny and had a comeback for everything. Sometimes, Victoria wondered if she had a book of punch lines for every situation.
While they finished their dinner, an image of Anjola crossed her mind and in a flash, it was gone. That gave her pause. It had been two weeks since she had seen her and that was the day she said, “I do” to Jesus. The following week, her school had resumed and she did not have a means to contact the girl. She had been praying for her but was slightly worried about the way she left her to herself. And her youth group had not visited Aje since that second time. She would have to make the trip down to Aje that weekend, even though she was supposed to go with her Dad for her new laptop that day. Maybe she would convince him to give her a ride there.
“…so we were planning to build a borehole for them,” Clara was saying. She belonged to an NGO and was talking about their project for the year. They always split them in groups and had them carry out a project for any community in Lagos with an aim to solve a problem. Their target this time was a small community in Oworonshoki where Cholera was prevalent with the children because of the dirty water.
“But that sounds expensive. How do you guys plan to raise the money?”
“We haven’t fully laid out the plans but we were thinking fundraisers and auctions. Niyi, our leader, told us to go brainstorm ideas for next week’s meeting. It is very doable if we can carefully plan everything out.”
“Hmm…” she said. With the look in Clara’s eyes, Victoria knew it was a challenge she was thrilled to take on. A thought crossed her mind and she smiled.
Her youth group had wanted to do a social response for Aje but the church had not released money for them so they had to cancel it. It was one of the reasons Uncle Chidi had left, even though he insisted it was beyond that. What if they could raise the money themselves? What if they could still have the outreach? Now her smile was very wide.
“Why’re you smiling like close up advert?”
* * * *
The cold air bit its stinging fangs into her skin as Anjola hurried past the junction and walked down the lonely path to her right which led to the Aje market. She negotiated the dark road, the sounds of crickets and distant voices were drowned out by the beating of her heart.
She hated walking late at night. She hated the dark and could have gone home since 8p.m but for Toke who had insisted on staying back to entertain Debo. Her siblings had gone home with Adio when he came to the bar. Toke had promised they would go home early but immediately she saw Debo, she seemed to lose all sense of reasoning. Out of anger, Anjola had decided to take the journey herself even though it was 10.30p.m. Maybe she should have waited for them but she had been too angry to think about it.
But now, with nothing but darkness and empty corners surrounding her, she berated herself for such a stupid choice.
She heard the sound of footsteps approaching and increased her pace. Oh, God. She did a quick sweeping glance at her surroundings and saw that she was walking through the market and the stalls were dark. She thought of turning back but decided against it.
Those were definitely steps behind her. She wanted to run but thought it would make her look scared. Maybe it was just someone going home…maybe a market woman. But the market closed by 9p.m.
The footsteps behind her were getting closer and she walked faster. What would they want to even steal from her? She had nothing of value except her books and the Bible she had taken with her. She stole a glance behind her but saw nobody.
But it was not a guess anymore. Someone was following her. She hit her leg on a stone and yelped, grabbing her foot and hobbling along. When she was about to reach the gate of the market, she saw a shadow moving behind her.
She dared a look back.
That was when she saw it; a man, silhouetted by the moon, coming from a stall.
She opened her mouth to let out a scream but it was muffled by a hand, the air suddenly filled with the smell of alcohol and ‘Igbo'(marijuana), choking her.
She stretched her hand to grab for him, for anything. She felt the collar of his shirt and yanked it in desperation.
A heavy blow landed on her head as her back hit the dusty ground.
His blurry face came close as he hit her again.
The world went black.
* * * *
– How could Anjola have avoided distractions when she prayed?
– Was Uncle Chidi wrong to have left? If so, what should he have done instead?
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Episode seven will be up on Friday. But check this space for other posts before then.