Some months later
The contractions began a few minutes after midnight.
Anjola had ignored it, not wanting to raise alarm like she did when she fell into false labour sometime ago. But after a while, they grew more consistent and increasingly painful.
The doctor had told them it should come anytime that week and they had prepared for it. As it washed over her in quick, painful waves, she remembered to breathe. She gingerly moved her bulky frame from the bed, moaning as she made for the door.
The contractions did not stop. She was definitely in labour.
“Mummy!” she cried, trying hard to keep the panic from her shaky voice. She bent over, clutching her burning backside as she counted the agonizing seconds before Mrs. Adegbite ran to her room. She clamped down a small scream as another wave of contraction washed over her.
Immediately she saw Anjola, Mrs. Adegbite did not ask questions but led her downstairs, giving quick instructions to Emmanuel while her husband made for the garage. The walk to the car and the subsequent drive to the hospital seemed like the longest journey of Anjola’s life.
Everything happened in a blur; the seemingly distant whisper of Mrs. Adegbite on the drive down as she quietly prayed, the calls, the quick, urgent voices and movements of doctors and nurses and her own hazy pain that made it hard to think.
Through it all, she tried to hold on to the one truth from Isaiah 46 verse 4 that had occupied her thoughts all week and sprang to her foggy mind in the midst of the painful chaos;
Even to your old age, I am He, I am He who will sustain you…I will carry you.
She held on to that thought with the last focus she had as she fought for her life and that of her child.
* * * *
Victoria ran like a demon possessed human down the hospital corridors, looking this way and that for the Maternity Ward. Some patients stared at her and she knew she must be quite a sight with her disheveled hair and slippers but she didn’t care. She had not bothered to bathe or change to something suitable. That was the last thing on her mind just then.
She came to an abrupt halt when she saw the ward and rushed quickly to where Emmanuel sat with Toke and Anjola’s mother.
“Good morning ma,” she greeted both women absently. She turned to Emmanuel, “Where’s mummy?”
“She’s with Anjola.” He smiled, revealing a pair of dimples, “It’s a girl.”
She gave a cry that was part exultation and pleasant surprise, jumping around like a toddler on sugar rush. “Praise God!”
When Mrs. Adegbite called her that morning around 1a.m, it had been to request her to pray for Anjola as she had gone into labour. She had held vigil with her mother and would have dashed for the hospital at that hour if her mother hadn’t cautioned her.
“There’s nothing much you can do if you go now. Let’s just keep praying,” her mother had said. She had not been able to reach any of the Adegbite’s after then. Worried, she drove down to the hospital with her mum immediately it was 6a.m.
“Can I go in?”
He shook his head, “They said later. They only allowed Mummy because she’s staff.”
Victoria nodded and finally faced Anjola’s family, “Congratulations ma.”
They both smiled at her and nodded. “Thank you for everything,” her mum said.
“Oh, thank God.”
Victoria settled into a seat beside Emmanuel as she tried to catch her breath and grasp the reality that Anjola was actually a mother now – few months after her seventeenth birthday. She smiled. While they waited, she tested several names in her mind to decide which one she would call the baby.
“Elise,” she said to Emmanuel with a dreamy smile. He gave her a look that told her she might as well have become an alien. She chuckled. “That’s what I’ll call her.”
“If someone didn’t know better, they’ll think you’re the one who just had a baby.
When they finally let them see Anjola, Victoria took one look at the baby and burst into tears.
“She’s so perfect!”
Anjola laughed weakly, “Vic, I can only handle one baby at a time abeg.”
Victoria gave her a mock glare. “I don’t blame you.” She wiped her face and gently picked up the tiny baby, smiling with wonder. Her face was round like her mother’s but it was difficult to tell who she looked like just yet.
“Miracles do happen,” she whispered.
“Yeah, yeah…they do.”
* * * *
Anjola agreed completely: miracles happened indeed. If she had doubts before, they had skipped out the window the second she held her baby in her arms. It was all a miracle: how a human had come out of her body, how her plaintive cries greeted the world, how her small body fit so perfectly in the cradle of her arms. Her heart had immediately been gripped with a fierce love she could not explain.
She tried not to think about how she had wanted to get rid of this bundle of miracle. It would have been a disaster too great to explain. She was just so grateful God had stepped into her foolishness when He did and how He had used Ugochi.
Ugochi had gotten a job at the hospital where Mrs. Adegbite worked; when Victoria told her about Ugochi, Mrs. Adegbite had promised to help her and she was offered the job some months later.
“So what will you call her? I’ll call her Elise,” Victoria said, rocking the baby gently. She looked so serious, like the baby would break if she dared to breathe. Anjola chuckled.
“Elise? Waz da one? Abi is Elisabeth?” Toke asked, bewildered.
Mrs. Adegbite smiled. “Elise is a beautiful name,” she looked at Anjola expectantly. They all seemed to be waiting for her to speak.
Anjola smiled soberly. “I’ll call her…” Her teary eyes rested on the miracle cradled in Victoria’s arms. “…Iyanuoluwa Aboluwarin Elise.”
* * * *
Iyanu grew into a strong, bustling child and it became increasingly clear to everybody that she had inherited her mother’s features. Being a mother was not easy on Anjola, but she learned to adapt quickly, enduring sleepless nights and taking the responsibility for another human. But even that did not steal the sheer joy that came with holding her little girl in her arms or just watching in wonder as she grew so fast.
Anjola had quickly fallen into her new routine that dedicated most of her time to Iyanu. The Adegbite’s continued to graciously fend for her and the baby. But determined to not to be a burden to anyone, Anjola got a job as a salesgirl at a boutique as soon as Iyanu was able to sit up.
“Why did you do that?” Mrs. Adegbite had asked when Anjola told her, none too pleased.
“Mummy, I don’t want to be a burden to anyone. Besides, I’m a mother now and I need to take full responsibility.”
“Anjola,” she held her hands, “you are a daughter to us now. You can never be a burden.”
“I know and I really appreciate it. But…I just need this.”
Mrs. Adegbite did not say anything about it again and Anjola was grateful. Victoria also tried to talk her out of it but gave up. She would never be comfortable eating off other people’s tables and not paying her dues. They wanted to help but she knew she had quietly entered a new phase of her life that required a new level of growth from her.
So, Anjola worked Mondays to Saturdays from morning till evening. Iyanu stayed with her while she worked and made life easier for her by being cheerful, so everyone usually wanted to babysit her. She ate like a horse and slept like a chicken, taking light snoozes before she was up and going again.
For some reason, Madam Lola, her boss, had taken a special liking to Anjola; she randomly gave her and Iyanu gifts and raised her salary twice for no reason at all.
“Maybe she wants to give you to that her fine son,” Lara, her colleague, teased her.
“You’re not serious. Do I look like someone anybody would want to give their son?”
Madam Lola’s son, Hillary, usually came around the boutique and had hinted twice that he was interested in Anjola. She had politely refused, trying to hide the horror she felt at the mere idea of getting that close to a guy. It was the last thing she needed. And like she had told Lola, she did not see herself as someone anyone would want.
She was damaged goods.
Sometimes, Anjola noticed some traits in her child that were obviously not from her but she tried not to dwell on it for too long. It was a hard reality she could not ignore that Iyanu had not fallen from the sky but had come from a dark season in her life. She told herself not to dwell on the pain of the past but to focus on the blessing that pain had brought.
Several months later however, the nightmares returned – the tall man with the hat haunted her sleep for several nights. Once, it had been Iyanu holding a knife to her throat and asking her with wild eyes, “Where is my daddy?”
She woke with a start, a scream lodged in her throat. She groped the dark for Iyanu and quickly held her in her arms to reassure herself it had only been a dream. She later told Mrs. Adegbite about her nightmares.
“How long have you had them?” she asked thoughtfully.
“They started after the…the rape but stopped some months later. They returned again last week,” she sighed. “This one with Iyanu was just yesterday.”
The older woman didn’t say anything for a while, her eyes fixed on the onions Anjola was slicing.
“Have you prayed about it?”
She shook her head no.
“I didn’t really think much of it. I thought it was just my mind reliving its troubles or something.”
“Let’s pray about it. But I think you also need to be careful not to hide the truth from Iyanu when she’s old enough,” she saw the look in Anjola’s eyes and shook her head, “I know it will be hard but you have to. The fact that you are intending to hide it should tell you something.”
Anjola thought about that for a while. “I don’t know. Isn’t that too much information for a child?”
“That’s why I said when she’s old enough and also to be careful.”
She shrugged. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
* * * *
A year had passed since Anjola had her baby and Victoria was worried. She was worried that her friend seemed to have settled to a life that was less than what she should have. She was worried that she no longer dreamed. She was worried that Anjola was slowly being molded into mediocrity.
Victoria knew she needed to do something about it but wasn’t sure if it was time to raise the issue with her. She was happy her friend had finally made peace with God and herself but there was a thin line between contentment and complacency and Anjola had crossed that line.
“Madam Lola said she’s planning to make me her manager,” she said with so much excitement that made Victoria wince and it was then she knew.
It was time.
“Anjola, what are your plans?”
Her smile froze, “What do you mean?”
“I mean don’t you want more than being a salesgirl and Iyanu’s mummy?”
Anjola tightened her lips saying nothing. Victoria shook her head wondering how they had never talked about this before. Ever since she met Anjola, she had always struck her as a girl heading somewhere, like someone who had dreams bigger than herself. But now…
“I don’t know, okay?” she yelled. “I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to go to Harvard and wear vintage dresses. I wanted a lot of things but I know better now.”
Victoria opened her mouth to speak. “Anjola…”
“And you know the funny thing?” Anjola interrupted, her eyes taking on that faraway look. “Toke used to tell me not to dream of such nonsense and that if I got lucky, I’ll get a guy who lived in a flat and my children would take me to America.” her mouth twisted in contempt. “Maybe I should just wait for Iyanu.”
“It’s not too late.”
Anjola looked at her. “It is for me. Tell me where do I start from? I didn’t even write my final exams. I don’t have a secondary school certificate. Even if I did, what do I do with Iyanu? Dump her?”
Victoria sighed. “I agree it looks impossible but I believe so strongly that God wants to do something with you. Talk to the Adegbite’s. Pray to God.”
“I don’t know…”
Victoria kept quiet, thinking. Finally, she said, “Anjola, do you think that maybe you should just slow down and ask God what He wants? Maybe just look within and examine your motives? Why did you want those things you wanted so bad?”
Anjola raised her brows.
“Think about it.”
* * * *
Err…I’m sorry I didn’t post last week 😦
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