“Anjola!” Slim shouted as he hurried out of the church, weaving through the throng as they exited the building. She turned back and looked around uneasily, as though unsure whether to wait or run for her life. He knew her indecision was justified so he slowed down a bit as if waiting for her to decide.
Slim caught up with her where she stood by a black car, a little girl sitted on her hip and blessing him with a wide smile as he approached them. The girl had Anjola’s features but there was something about her eyes…
“Hi,” he said, unsure why exactly he had called her back or what to say now that he finally stood before her.
“Hi.” She didn’t smile.
“Urrm…I…,” he gestured to the white coated church building, “I just found myself here this morning. I don’t even know why I came you know…” What was he saying?
She gave a small smile, her eyes softening. “I’m glad you came.”
He wanted to smile back but wasn’t sure how that turned out as he tried to keep his eyes away from hers. Every logical bone in his body was telling him to run as far as he could from her, everything he knew told him he didn’t have to do what he knew he should do.
“What the pastor said…really hit close. I’ve never really seen God that way before… It was just…” He took a deep breath. “Well, I just wanted to say ‘hi’”
She smiled and nodded.
“And that’s a beautiful baby you have there.”
“What’s her name?”
“Oh. That’s a really beautiful name.”
She smiled again. They just stood like that for several heartbeats with Iyanu staring at both of them with a smile.
“Hey! I’ve been looking all over for you!” a short girl walked up to them, stopping when she saw him. She gave him a quick once over.
“Oh!” Anjola seemed to remember her manners. “Victoria this is Henry. Henry meet Victoria, my friend.”
Victoria smiled and extended her hand, her eyes still questioning. “Nice to meet you. Hope you enjoyed the service?”
“Yeah…yeah, I did. Very much.”
“So, we’ll be seeing you often?”
Slim caught a movement from Anjola in the corner of his eye. He shrugged. “We’ll have to see about that.”
When Slim finally left them alone, he felt like he had been holding his breath and was finally free to release it. Being around her made him nervous, it made him feel haunted and caged no matter how much he tried to shake it off.
Yes, there was a strange, new kind of peace he felt after what happened at the church. He knew now that God had forgiven him of all, he knew that he had not just satisfied his conscience with a false sense of security in religion but had gotten hold of something firm. He knew there was more to come yet; like he had just been given a gift and he would need to unwrap it to find the delights within.
Yet, with all this, Slim couldn’t shake it off.
As he walked back home, Slim became sure of one thing – he would not be seeing Anjola again. He would find a new church, explore his new faith and try to forget whatever secrets from his past that haunted him. After all, hadn’t that counsellor told him, “old things have passed away”?
* * * *
“So, who was that guy?” Victoria asked as she held back Iyanu’s hand so she could clean her face smeared with cereal. They had gone back to Victoria’s house after church, leaving the adults at church to attend the couples’ fellowship leadership meeting. Uncle Chidi and his new wife, Grace, were also part of the meeting.
Anjola shrugged, “A friend.”
She sighed. “Anjola, I know you enough to know that there was more to that guy. It’s all over your face.”
“Well, I met him back at Aje. He was going to help me get into Harvard.”
Victoria raised her brows. “Really? So, what happened?”
She remained silent for a while as she chewed her food. “I don’t know. Things just happened and it just didn’t work out.” She paused. “I guess I just felt like he was lying. Everything about what he said didn’t seem quite right.”
Victoria thought about that. “I think he likes you.”
“Yeah, I thought so too. But he insisted he just wanted to be my friend and help me. It’s nothing really. I just don’t know why he makes me feel…off.”
There was silence
“Well, I’m glad he came to church,” Victoria finally said.
Anjola nodded, “Yeah. He even came out for the altar call. I really hope he doesn’t go back.”
“Did he sign up for the discipleship class?”
“Ah… I really don’t know.”
“Oh well, I trust the counselors to follow him up.”
The following week, Anjola registered for her SAT and it had taken almost all of her savings. She had started, fully intending to fill out Law in her form but as she did so, “I know the plans I have for you” kept resounding in her heart. So after she filled out the first two choices with Law, she found herself filling out Journalism as a third option.
Somehow, the idea of it had been in her mind for a few days and she wasn’t sure what to make of it – she had never dreamt of being a journalist, it had never been in her agenda or crossed her mind for once.
She begged for less hours from her boss so she could attend the tutorials and she agreed. But after two weeks, the woman – Mrs. Arome – decided that she couldn’t put up with an employee that didn’t work more than ten hours a day. So she fired her.
Anjola decided not to get another job for at least a few months so she could focus on her studies. She had checked out a few scholarships and knew that it depended a lot on how she performed in her exams. Mrs. Adegbite suggested they register with an agent who would help them with the process but Anjola was skeptical.
“It would be expensive. I don’t really have that kind of money,” she said.
“And who said it would be your money?”
“But how are we sure we can trust them?”
“We’ll find those we can trust.”
She wanted to argue but decided against it. She really didn’t have an option, especially since her own mother seemed to have washed her hands off her. The highest she did was come around to see her daughter and granddaughter. She never asked how she was faring or what she planned to do with her life. Anjola wasn’t even angry; not anymore. She had come to a point in her life where she stopped expecting anything from anybody.
“Bose keeps asking after you,” her mother told her during one of her visits.
Anjola smiled. “Bose… I miss her o. What did you tell her?”
“That you are still at your pastor’s place.”
“Where’s she now?”
“She’s in school. She comes home once in a while.”
“Do you have her number?”
Her mother nodded and gave her the number. Anjola called her the next day.
“Hello,” a distant voice answered.
“Bose, it’s Anjola.”
There was a brief silence at the other end followed by a gasp.
“Anjola? Anjola Sonibare?”
She chuckled. “Yes. How are you now?”
“Anjola! Where have you been? I keep asking after you but your family wouldn’t give me your number or address. They wouldn’t even tell me what happened to you. Why did you just disappear like that?”
“It’s a long story. We’ll probably talk about it one of these days. But first, where are you?”
“Long story? But it’s not fair the way you just disappeared like that. I was so worried.”
Anjola sighed. “Bose, I’m sorry. I just did what I thought was best.”
There was silence for so long that Anjola worried she had dropped the call. “Hello? Are you there?”
“Yeah. I’m just wondering what could have been so bad that you couldn’t even tell me. I thought we were friends.”
“I know. You have every right to be angry. I’m sorry.”
“Oh well, I’m in OAU now.”
“Wow. That’s great. What are you studying?”
“International Relations. How about you?”
“Err…well, I’m not in school yet.” Anjola closed her eyes and prayed she wouldn’t ask her further questions.
“Really? You of all people. So what have you been doing all this time?”
She sighed. “It’s part of the long story.”
“Wow. I never imagined you’ll not be in the university by now. It was me everyone thought would not go to school. What happened to Harvard?”
Anjola gritted her teeth. No one could ever accuse Bose of being tactful. “When will you be back from Ife so we can see?”
“Next two months.”
“Okay, call me when you’re around,” she said halfheartedly, wondering if Bose was mature enough just yet. If their conversation was anything to go by, Anjola wasn’t sure that was so.
They talked for a few more minutes before they hung up. And somewhere in between “goodbye” and the disconnect tone, Anjola decided the ‘long story’ was not ripe enough to be told.
* * * *
The fan circled tiredly above and Slim watched as the blades constantly chased each other without ever quite meeting. He wondered if that was not a metaphor for his life. He felt like he was running around in circles, unable to reach a point he desired no matter how fast or steady he ran.
He lay his head on the Bible sitted on the table before him. He had found a church after his encounter the other day and ever since been unwrapping the gift he had been given. Day after day, he unwrapped things that just kept blowing his mind. He had never expected to find himself so engaged in anything that had to do with God. Yet, that was what was happening to him.
He attended weekly Bible studies and had been assigned to Mr. Raymond for follow up. The man was a few years older than him and very friendly. Henry saw him like a rock; he was steady and never got frazzled by anything Henry did or said. He calmly answered all his questions and gently prodded him to make daily time with God a commitment.
He had advised him to start a daily study, beginning with the book of Matthew and today, he had come to a text that bothered him.
Henry raised his head and read the highlighted text again.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
As he read that text the first time, only one thing and one person had come to his mind and he just knew what God was trying to tell him. Well, at least that was what the word of God was saying. Whether or not he thought he heard God speaking was still a matter of debate between him and Raymond.
“God speaks through his word. You need to believe that,” his new friend would say.
Henry never saw himself as that kind of person and frankly he always thought people who said “God told me” were just annoying. But now, he wasn’t so sure anymore. If not, why did he feel like he was being nudged in a direction he really didn’t want to go? Because left to him, he would never have read such a meaning to that text.
He closed the Bible and looked at his watch. 6:10am.
He called Raymond.
“Hey Henry,” he answered on the first ring, sounding as upbeat as usual.
“Good morning. I need to talk with you.”
“Anytime you’re free.”
“Well, how about now?” Raymond asked.
“No, of course not. It’s too early. I’ll come over on my way from work.”
Throughout the day, those words would not leave him alone. So he was relieved when he finally met with Raymond, knowing he could at least get the load off his chest. Raymond gave him a glass of juice but Henry didn’t even look at it. They sat in his living room and Henry began to speak.
“Wow,” Raymond said after he explained everything to him. There was a heavy silence and Henry felt exposed, yet free. He felt like the cloud that hung over him had finally taken a break even though it was still lurking around.
“Yeah. It was one of the reasons I wandered into that church.”
They spoke in low tones as Raymond tried to explain the text to him and finally he said the words Henry had been battling with all day.
“You’ll have to come clean.”
* * * *
Henry visited Anjola’s church the next Sunday and it did not not come as a surprise that the Pastor spoke on ‘Forgiveness’ that day. It seemed like God was choosing every possible means to speak to him these days.
He walked up to her after the service and took deep breaths to calm his erratic heart. He had never been so scared in his life and he wondered if he would not just take her number so he could call or text her instead. Yet he knew he had to do this. He thought about the fan metaphor and reminded himself that he could never really go forward till he passed this point. Or he’d keep running in circles.
It was make-or-break.
“Hey Jola,” he greeted.
“Hi Henry. You came,” she smiled, genuinely pleased. Her child sat beside her, smiling at everyone who passed by. The church was buzzing with after-service activities.
He avoided her eyes. “Can we talk?”
“Why?” she asked curtly.
“Don’t worry. It’s not what you think. Really.”
“Okay, how about now?”
“Err…well…” he hadn’t expected it to be so easy. “I don’t know… I need a place that is a bit more…private.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t do that.”
He looked around and saw her friend approaching them. Other people were greeting her as they passed by. Maybe talking was a bad idea. He didn’t want her creating a scene here…and she was going to create a scene. He knew it.
“Or you know what? Can I just get your number? I’ll send you a text and call you later if you want to talk.”
Anjola hesitated so he added, “Please.”
She gave him the number and he left, waving at her friend as he walked away. When he got home, he prayed. He and Raymond had been praying about this. He knew it would have consequences and Raymond had not sugar coated his words when he told him.
“You have to be prepared for anything. But at least, you’ll settle your heart.”
He took a glass of cold juice to calm his nerves, said a brief prayer again and picked up his phone to send the text.
“Anjola, I have been blind, a very foolish man in the past. There are a lot of things to be said about that and what I did. But I have not had peace and God has been convicting me for a while now. I just have to come clean. I know you will hate me and you have every right to do so because, Anjola, I was the one who raped you. Please forgive me.”
* * * *
Hey there! Episode 26 will be up next week Friday as usual.
You’ll find previous episodes here.
Have a beautiful weekend.