Through The Eye of FAITH (5)
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Patience was troubled. Faith was nowhere to be found and the first class was about to start. She glanced at her wristwatch and at the door for the umpteenth time. She hoped nothing bad had happened to the little girl. After watching her cry yesterday, she had felt overwhelmed with sadness for her pupils and anger at the Head Teacher. How could he be so heartless? He hadn’t even budged an eyelid at the way the debtors felt when he mentioned their names and embarrassed them. Was he that callous? To think she had actually ‘liked’ him! When she had caught him staring at her during her class, she had been very self-conscious at how terrible she looked. When he assessed her from head to toe, she had felt very ashamed at how she looked. While he was immaculate and handsome, she had looked like the school’s cleaner. Not that it mattered, he obviously was not interested in her and he made that clear from the first time they met. Throughout the entry interview, he never smiled at her, though she had flashed her teeth several times to impress him. Despite that, she had felt a certain pull to him, which was dangerous. She should not feel that way towards any man. Not now. Not ever. It would lead to a dead end like it always had.
Her mind drifted to Faith again. Only one reason could explain the girl’s absence. The fear of the Proprietor had probably kept her away. Patience made up her mind to pay the girl a visit during the short break and bring her to school. She would not allow the devil to play pranks with the girl’s life as he once did with hers. No, not again. She excused herself from the class and headed straight to the Proprietor’s office. She was going to tell him what she thought of his action and what she had in mind. That was what Jesus would do, wasn’t it?
When she got to his office, he was arranging some books on the shelf. She knocked on the open door and when he turned, she nearly ran back. This would be very difficult, but she had no choice. God, I stand like Esther before the king. Please grant me my desire.
“Good morning, sir.”
“Hello, Miss Patience. What can I do for you?” He dusted a big book and placed it on the shelf.
“Sir, I’ll like to have a talk with you about what happened in my class yesterday.” She shifted uncomfortably.
He looked at her squarely. He was only in her class once and knew what she had come for. “If you are here to complain about how I carry out my job, then I am sure you know your complaint will lead to nothing.” Truth was after that scenario, he had felt very angry with himself, but he was not ready to admit that to anyone, no matter what was at stake. “I am doing my job. If you have been doing yours at all, there should be no debtors in your class by now.”
Patience stiffened and tried to control her anger. She had a goal in mind and if it meant taking insults, so be it. “Well, record shows my class has the least debtors in the school and I have come here to make it even less.”
“What do you mean?”
Patience closed the door behind her. “I have a request to make sir.”
Dapo surveyed her. What did she want this time? He stopped arranging and sat down at the edge of the table. “What is it?”
“I want part of my salary taken out as payment for one of my pupils.”
“Excuse me?” Dapo didn’t believe what he just heard.
“I will like to pay the fees for one of my pupils. Her name is Faith. I am sure you remember her. She was the first debtor you called yesterday.”
Dapo didn’t know how to respond. “Are you sure you know what you are requesting? You want me to take out of your salary this month to pay for Faith? How much will you have left?”
Patience knew this was a big risk but she wanted to do this. “YES! If you want me to sign an undertaking, I will gladly do it. She is the only one left in my class and she has not come in today. I do not want her missing out on anything.” God, you know I will suffer for this later, but I trust You enough to take care of my needs.
Dapo studied her a bit. Unsure if he should approve of such a rare act of benevolence, his mind did a quick calculation of her salary and the possibility of her sustenance after the deduction. With an uncharacteristic concern in his voice, he proceeded to reason with Patience but she would not recant her decision. She looked very determined and ready to do anything to have her way and her face was set like a flint. “Okay then. How long do you hope to sustain this?” As long as God gives you strength? Without waiting for a reply, he snapped out of his feelings, assumed his boss status and brought out a piece of paper and handed it over to her. “Write the undertaking and sign.”
When she collected the paper, their hands brushed and she stepped back reactively. He, on the other hand, didn’t seem to notice as he turned to his shelf and continued his work. Quickly, she penned down her decision, placed it quietly on his table and left his office as fast as her feet could carry her. By the time he turned, she was nowhere around and he sighed with big relief. That part where his hand touched hers tingled, but what overwhelmed him most was her decision. Never in his life had he seen such act of kindness to the detriment of the giver. She was one in a million and he was inspired. Did selfless people like that still exist? He spent the better part of the morning thinking what life would have been had he been a beneficiary of such kindness and for a split second, he wished he could share the burden with her.
Two hours later, Patience walked down the street to Faith’s house. She had got the address from the class register and luckily it was about 10 minutes’ walk. Like most of the buildings on the street, the house was dilapidated and very dirty. There was no drainage system and the dusty road was filled with sewage from the houses, yet the occupants went about their daily duties like they had no care.
When Patience entered the house, which was filled with three doors on each side, an unpleasant odour welcomed her and she covered her nose as she wondered which door led to Faith’s home. Suddenly, one of the doors opened and an old man came out. He was slightly bent, yet he looked strong. He studied her with keen interest and Patience felt a chill run through her body. She needed to leave here on time.
“Good morning, Baba. Please I am looking for Faith.”
He pointed at the door directly opposite his and walked away without a backward glance. Patience watched him leave and wondered how old he was. She knocked on the door several times, but there was no response. She was not about to leave until she got what she came for, but after many unsuccessful attempts, she gave up. As she stepped out of the house, she heard the sound of the door. At the entrance stood a frail-looking, heavily pregnant woman who looked like she could drop any moment. She was dressed in an over-sized blouse with a loosely-tied wrapper round her stomach. Her hair, which was woven into two strands, was unkempt and her eyes were swollen like she had been sleeping for hours. She beckoned at Patience to come into her home, but Patience hesitated a bit. As much as she wanted to know about Faith, She was not sure if she wanted to disturb the woman further.
“Aunty… what do you want?” The woman rubbed her face with her hands. “Was it you that knocked?”
“Yes.” Patience moved closer. “I am looking for Faith. Are you her mother?” Being a new session in school, she hadn’t gotten very familiar with the parents of most her pupils.
“Looking for Faith? Who are you and why are you looking for my daughter?” The woman coughed twice into her hands and rubbed the residue on her wrapper.
“I am her teacher in school and I have not seen her this morning, so I decided to pay her a visit. Is she sick?”
“Sick? God forbid! My daughter is not sick. She prepared and left for school right before my eyes. I was to get some money so I can pay her school fees today. I am sure she is in school because she promised me she would. Please tell me my daughter is alright.”
Patience was getting restless. “Madam, Faith has not been to school this morning and if she is not here, then she is missing. I suggest we report to the police immediately.”
“Ha! Police?” The pregnant woman flung herself on Patience. “Faith has killed me today. Her father will send me packing. You people should look for my daughter for me o!” She held on to Patience’s cloth. “I don’t know what you have used her for because she went to school and now you are telling me another thing. WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER?”
Her voice attracted the neighbours who came rushing in to see what was going on.
“Mama Faith, what happened?” Everyone asked at the same time.
Patience didn’t like the way things had gone. All she wanted was to see if Faith was alright, not to come and create a scene. She watched Faith’s mother roll on the floor amidst incessant coughs and felt very sad to be the bearer of such bad news. Not only had this made her feel terrible, it had also awakened a hurt she thought she had overcome. Her mind travelled back to sixteen years ago when her own mother had chased her out of their home and warned her never to return.
“Useless pig!” Her mother had shouted on the street as she flung Patience outside the gate. “Good for nothing girl. You and your bastard must not step into this house again. Ashawo!”
Patience had never felt more helpless and scared. At age 16, she was pregnant and alone in the world. Despite constant pleas to her mother, she was never allowed into the house and when she knew it would be difficult to take care of her unborn child, she knew she had to do the needful… a decision she regretted every day of her life and which cost her much more than she bargained for. She had found solace in the devil’s haven and had paid bitterly for it.
Now, as she watched Faith’s mother weep for her daughter, she wished her mother had at least shown a little compassion. Perhaps her life would have been better. Perhaps not. In all, she thanked God she was where she was today. If not for Him…
She pushed her way through the little crowd towards the wailing woman. “Ma, did you discuss anything with her this morning?”
Mama cleaned her face. “Yes, we discussed school fees and… and…market.” She paused and her eyes lightened. “Faith must have gone to the market. Please lift me up.” When she stood, she tightened her wrapper and wore the nearest slippers. “I am going to the market. My daughter is there.”
Patience looked at her wristwatch. Short break was almost over and if she followed the search party, she knew she would be risking her job. Yet, she knew her mind would not rest till she saw this through, so she followed the people closely behind.
Few minutes later, they walked into the crowded market and straight to the pepper sellers’ depot. The stall was open but Faith was not there, which led to people getting more frantic. Quickly, the search party spread round the big market to start looking for the lost child. Patience knew she could no longer wait. She needed to hurry back to class, though her mind was on Faith. As she stepped out of the market, she felt a sudden thirst and called out to the nearest water vendor backing her.
The vendor turned and Patience nearly choked on her feet. Faith stood directly opposite her in a tattered uniform and a small bowl of plastic bottles on her head. The bottle Faith wanted to hand over slipped to the floor and she quickly dropped the bowl. Time itself stood still as Patience pulled Faith into an embrace as they both bathed themselves in the pool of their tears. “Where is the God of Daniel, Miss Patience?” Faith cried into her teacher’s arms.
The question tore at Patience’s heart and as she tightened her arms around the girl, she whispered a word of prayer. Jesus, please take control.