More than a year later
Slim stared at his reflection in the mirror and sighed. He wasn’t sure what he expected to see, maybe bloodshot eyes from a fitful sleep, but the look he found in those dark eyes threw him; haunted.
Yes, he was haunted.
He opened the tap and washed his face again, hoping to restore himself back to normalcy or maybe to cleanse himself from what was haunting him. He had been doing this for a year now but to no avail.
“Slim?” he heard the silky voice of Natasha – if that was her real name – from the room but remained quiet and shut his eyes as though willing her away. He had picked her up the previous night at the club and they had spent the night together.
Now he just wanted her to disappear. He couldn’t remember what lies he had told her but he knew they had to have been smooth ones for her to still be around.
Slim sighed, took a shower and walked back to the bedroom.
Natasha was lying naked on the bed, a suggestive look on her face. “Good morning, handsome,” she greeted him with a smile.
He shook his head and walked to the bed, gathering the blankets around her.
“We have to leave now. The hotel bills expire by 12 and I have an appointment this morning,” he ignored the bewildered look on her face as he put on his jeans.
“B-but, you said…” she sputtered.
“Look, I don’t know what I said but whatever it was, you have to start getting ready.”
She opened her mouth as if to say something but got up. While she took her bath, Slim discreetly checked his wallet to make sure his money was intact. The last girl he had picked up had made away with his money and up till now, the number she gave him kept saying “not available.”
He would not be a fool twice.
While he waited for Natasha, he tried Anjola’s number again and was not surprised when he was told it was switched off. He thought again about the last time he saw her and the familiar weight settled on his chest. Since that day, he felt like he was walking under a very large, brooding cloud no matter where he went or what he did.
Natasha walked into the room and eyed him, hissing as she walked past him to get her clothes. He ignored her and made a call to Harrison. They were supposed to meet by 10a.m. He usually spent the weekend with him on the courts.
Somewhere in his subconscious, he noted that Natasha had hissed for the seventh time.
“Natasha, can you please stop that?”
She gave him a searing look as she threw on her gown. “So that’s it ehn? You will just use me and dump me like that?”
Slim closed his eyes for a brief moment. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
“Look, I’m sorry if you feel that way. But to be honest, nobody is using anybody here. It was mutual. We both had a good time and that is that.”
She said nothing as she finished dressing and picked up her handbag. When she got to the door, she scowled at him. “You are a lying bastard. Men like you deserve to be thrown in the hottest part of hell.”
She turned to go but stopped, “Oh, and by the way, it’s Nerissa.” And with that, she banged the door with such a force that made him worry for the walls.
Slim gave a sigh of relief. He had been worried she would make a scene like that girl he had picked up two months ago. He didn’t need that kind of drama in his life.
He waited for some minutes before he left the hotel room and handed the keys over to the receptionist. He walked down to the bus stop and felt the beginnings of a headache. He had slept very little and his body was beginning to revolt.
Several times in the past few months, he had just picked up any random girl to fill the gaping hole and soothe the rising guilt in his heart. But like today, it never worked.
He just ended up worse than where he started.
He picked a bike to Harrison’s and hoped he wouldn’t meet his mother there. The woman made him nervous. She always looked at him like she knew his secrets.
And oh, did he have secrets.
His mind flashed back to the haunted look he saw in the mirror and he understood why he should feel so exposed.
His eyes said it all.
He was not the same man he had been. He was losing himself and it annoyed him to no end. It annoyed him that he could not cover up his guilt like other men, it annoyed him that he was seeing himself as less of a man, it annoyed him that he could not release the suffocating stench of what haunted him to the air, to anyone.
Because Slim was a man with a dark secret.
* * * *
Anjola had made all her papers for her O’Level exams with excellent grades the first time she sat for it.
She finally decided to settle for a Nigerian University, at least till she could figure out how to invade Harvard. But no one had been more shocked than her when she was unable to get admitted even after she met all the cut off marks.
After dreaming of Harvard for so long, she had thought getting admission into a Nigerian school would be automatic especially since she saw herself as ‘settling’ for less.
She had been extremely angry and frustrated when she waited for University of Lagos’ first list, second list, third list… still; nothing.
“People that we are even managing sef,” she said, trying to hide her disappointment. She was furious at the injustice of it all, especially when she had met their requirements, when she had read her brains out even while juggling a hyperactive 32-month-old toddler.
Iyanu was usually well behaved but she got very cranky when she was hungry and her bustling personality put Anjola constantly on her feet. Even though Mrs. Adegbite, Victoria and her mum sometimes helped out with babysitting her, studying and attending tutorials were still done with a lot of difficulty yet she had managed and those wicked people still had the guts to deny her.
“See ehn, this is a sign. Even God doesn’t want me to study here. I’m done with this abeg,” she vented to Victoria who just gave a small smile and said nothing.
“What’s making this one smile now?” she asked her friend, annoyed. This only made her burst into a full blown laugh.
She sobered. “It’s okay, Anjola. God knows what He’s doing.”
Anjola shook her head. It was easy for her friend to say that when she was in her final year and had immediately gotten admission after secondary school. But she had learned long ago that her friend’s life may look perfect to her, but it was not and God had her right where He wanted her, when He wanted her there. So there was really no need for comparison. Besides, the past few years had taught her to trust God when she couldn’t trace Him; when He didn’t make sense.
Anjola spent most of her time searching for scholarships and making applications online. She decided to cut some slack on the Harvard anthem and checked out other universities. She finally decided on Liberty University or UCLA.
“This girl, you are not loyal at all o! What happened to patriotism?” Victoria teased.
Anjola gave a mock frustrated sigh. “We need the knowledge to help our country na.”
“What is wrong with the schools here? They give knowledge too.”
She gave her a searing look and Victoria laughed.
Anjola took another job as a salesgirl and tried to scrape off as much as she could for savings, much to Mrs. Adegbite’s chagrin. But Anjola had decided long ago that she would be nobody’s charity project. It was a matter of debate between her and her surrogate mother.
“Anjola, you just have to allow people help you sometimes. It’s okay to be independent but be careful of pride,” Mrs. Adegbite would say in that soft voice and Anjola would nod and pretend to agree.
The youth group at their church organized a skills acquisition program and she took catering and sewing classes along with Victoria and Toke who was now married to Debo and expecting their first child.
When she gathered enough money, she got an international passport. She was going to apply for her SATs when Iyanu fell seriously sick.
She was diagnosed with appendicitis and they had to spend so much on surgery. Anjola again found herself caught in a web of uncertainties. Why did her life have to be so full of surprises? She felt twenty years older than eighteen.
The application deadline elapsed and she had to wait for another year. It did not make it easier that Iyanu was two already and needed to start school.
She considered homeschooling, especially with her daughter’s frail health, but decided it would not afford her the time she needed to at least build herself and study for the following year. She’d just get a very good school for Iyanu.
Emmanuel was admitted to University of Ibadan and Anjola wondered again why her own case had to be different. Even Segun, her younger brother was now preparing for his JAMB. It hardly seemed fair.
But two years of discipleship and growing had taught her that God’s idea of justice and fairness – in fact his idea of everything – was far different from hers. It was hard and some nights she found herself wrestling with old feelings of doubt and anger at it all, but she always found solace in God’s word.
“Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered,” she muttered whenever she felt discouraged and dissatisfied with her life.
She prayed for strength, prayed that the reality of the cross would be her daily reality and when she was tempted to compare herself with others, she prayed for them instead.
* * * *
Slim worked like a horse from Monday to Friday, with barely enough strength to do anything else but bathe, eat and fall in bed at the end of each day. He did not have to stay back late at work but he saw it as the best way to cover up and deal with the darkness overshadowing him.
And when the weekend came, he went clubbing, found another random girl and filled the weekend up with as much social activities as he could manage. Sometimes he spent weekends with his widowed mother but he started getting tired of her when-will-you-get-married anthem.
At 28, all his siblings were either married or had kids but he didn’t see any of that on his radar soon, especially not with the things haunting him. For some reason he couldn’t bring himself to stay more than three months with one woman. It never worked out. He always got bored or the girl got fed up with him. So he settled for one night stands instead.
After spending two months without visiting, his mum called him.
“Henry, when will you visit your mother?” she asked. She sounded tired.
“Mummy, I’m sorry. I’ve just been very busy lately.”
He heard her sigh at the other end of the line. “Even on weekends?”
“Yes ma. More customers have been coming in. People need insurance these days, you know,” he lied.
“Tor. So when will I see you now?”
“I’ll come tomorrow.”
Slim had a feeling his mother was not well. So, he called to cancel his date with Harrison at the courts. Basketball could wait for a week.
When he got home, he took one look at her and knew his suspicions were correct. She was looking leaner than the last time her saw her.
“Mummy, what happened?” he asked, peering into her pale face.
She sighed and whispered, “Cancer.”
His heart sank and he knew that the darkness haunting him had grabbed at his family. He spent another tormented night, tossing and falling in and out of various nightmares. And it always ended with the scream.
The next day, after his mum left for church, he got dressed and wandered around, watching as people hurried along in their Sunday bests. And for the first time in a long time, he wondered if those dazzling lights in the churches he saw could overcome the darkness that threatened to choke him.
He never went to church and his mother had in fact stopped trying to persuade him to go. So he was shocked when he found himself walking through the gate of one of the churches. Word of Faith Church, the sign board said.
He found a seat at the back and wondered what he was doing there. Maybe he just needed something new in his life. At least religion always seemed like a good way for people to satisfy their conscience. He sure needed that.
“Today, we’ll be looking at the parable of the two sons in Luke 15 verses 11 to 32,” the pastor behind the pew was saying. He was a clean looking man with a sprinkling of grey hair.
“I hope we all have our Bibles. If your neighbour doesn’t have one, turn to them and say, “Always bring your Bible to church,” the man said as he shuffled through his Bible.
His neighbour, a slim lady with a generous coating of pink lipstick, turned to him but stopped when she saw the stony look on face.
The pastor had someone read through the scripture.
“Now, from this scripture, we would see that both sons actually needed a revival, both of them had their problems. Yet a lot of times we focus on the younger son. But first let’s consider the younger son,” and then the pastor when on to narrate the story of a son who wanted a part of his father’s inheritance even before he was dead.
“See, that son did not want to stay in the presence of his father. He wanted to live life on his own terms. He took his portion of the inheritance and wasted it on wild living. Another translation calls it, ‘foolish living.’
We are in a lot of ways like that younger son. It is a life that doesn’t want to have anything to do with God, a life that wants to live on its own terms and a life wasted in foolish living,” the pastor paused as he looked around the congregation.
“He spent all he had. And oh, when you walk away from the Father, you will spend all. You will waste all you have on worthless living! You’ll think you are having fun but if only you knew how much of a waste you are making of your life. You’ll spend and be spent. Your life becomes empty because the source of life, the one from whom you got the portion in the first place, is missing!”
“Hmm!” lipstick-neighbour grunted but Slim only dimly registered it in his subconscious. His heart was beating like a voodoo drum.
“He spent all, this young man exhausted all and when he began to be in want, so he fed on swine’s food. And that is where sin leads you. That is what sin makes of you: you feed on the food of pigs! But when this young man came to his senses, he made up his mind to go back to his father. He did not delay!” the pastor pumped his hand in the air. “Somebody turn to your neighbour and say, “Don’t delay!””
His neighbour turned to him and repeated what the pastor said, ignoring his stony face this time. He wasn’t even paying attention to her. All his focus was on the pastor.
“And when this young man came to his father, oh glory! What joy! What delight! What show of love! That even when he was a long way from home, his father saw him and kissed him! What love the Father has for you! If only you would just leave your foolishness behind, if only you would just arise, if only you would come back to God, if only you’ll come to Jesus. He is waiting for you!”
The pastor seemed to be looking straight at him, “I said He is waiting for you. The source of life and light. The giver of all that is good and beautiful. His father kissed and embraced him, he restored him back to relationship with himself,” he took a sip of water and continued.
“When the son got back to his father, did you notice how he was not condemned? Even after the son condemned himself, the only answer his father gave him was, “bring the best robe, put a ring on his hand, shoes on his feet and kill the best calf around!” God wants to clothe someone with a new robe; a robe of righteousness. He wants to give you a ring of ownership, He wants to put your feet in shoes so you can move for Him, He wants to bring you to His feast! If only you’ll come. ”
* * * *
Anjola smiled as she saw people walking up to the altar to get saved. She always loved seeing people turn back to God, but even as she delighted in that, she prayed in her heart. As usual, her dad had delivered the word of God in a way that always got to her.
She realized, like the older son, she needed to be concerned about the matters that concern God, that she had to be intimate with God more that she worked for him. How she…
She blinked as she saw the tall, lanky man join the group of people in front of the altar. She craned her neck and focused on the him; he was putting on a green shirt and faded jeans.
“Dear God!” she muttered, her eyes widening as she saw it was indeed Henry standing before them all to surrender his life to Christ. Well, she didn’t see that coming! She had spent so much time and energy running away from this man and here he was in her church, proclaiming her faith.
It almost seemed surreal.
She was glad about it but couldn’t help wondering how he had found the church. Or had he been following her? She shook off the thought.
After praying, they led the new converts away and in a split second, their eyes met. Shock registered in his eyes and he missed his step but quickly recovered and followed the counsellors.
Anjola’s heart beat wildly as she wondered what it was she saw in those dark eyes.
* * * *
I know it has been a while and I am the worst blogger in the history of blogging but you will have to forgive this girl. I have some new stuff cooking these days, if that is any consolation. Don’t worry, you’ll be the first to know!
Thanks for sticking around.
Don’t forget to comment and share. You can find previous episodes here if you’re wondering what all the fuss is about.