Welcome to a new series on REDigion, your number one faith-based blog. While we hope to launch into our new home in the coming year, we shall start off ‘TRIANGULAR’ here. I hope you not only enjoy this story, but also allow the Holy Spirit draw insight and lessons for you. In this world, troubles will come, but don’t get carried away. You got Jesus and He’s got your back. Sit back and relax with this series and ensure you follow episode by episode so you can get a full grasp. Also, please share the story on all your social media. You may not know how your little, kind act will go a long way in someone’s life out there. Also, your comments in the comment box are welcome. Thank you and have a good read.
SATURDAY, 5TH JULY 2014
Pauline Okonji drove carefully through the entrance of the Ikeja City Mall in the upper middle-class area of Lagos. It was the first Saturday of the month of July and though the day was bright and sunny and looked very promising, Pauline’s spirit was dampened with sorrow and she tried to hold back the tears that threatened to fall. When the security man handed her the pass and greeted her with a smile, she chipped a quick response and hoped he had not noticed her swollen, red eyes which she had tried to hide behind her heavy mascara. She took a quick glance at the rear-view mirror and was not surprised at what stared back at her. Her once cheerful eyes now looked lifeless and her chubby cheeks were sunken like a deep hole. Her charred lips had been covered up with red lipstick she had quickly applied before rushing out of the house… a place that had now become hell for her.
She found a vacant spot in the parking lot and quickly swerved into it before another driver took the shot. Though it was barely 10a.m, the mall was already busy and she was not about to take chances. In Lagos, one needed to be very smart or else, one could get toppled over by another and everyone was right in his own eyes, especially the ever-rushing Lagos driver. She switched off the ignition and took in deep, tired breaths. Though she was here to pick up a few groceries, she knew she had come for more. She desperately needed an escape route, away from the troubles that had plagued her life for many years, away from a home that reminded her of her failure as a wife, away from a man who had made it his life’s mission to tell her how much of a misfortune she had brought him.
This morning, she had woken up with a heavy heart and while lying on the bed and staring at the rolling ceiling fan, she had given thought to a terrible idea she never would have imagined in the first place. At least, if she did it, she would no longer be a problem to her dear husband. After all, there was nothing they had together anymore – no love, no commitment, they didn’t even sleep in the same bedroom anymore. He had moved out of their bedroom three months ago, after all, she had failed to conceive after eight years of marriage. That was the root of his many ‘issues’ with her and it was further fueled by an irritating mother-in-law who never failed to remind her of how ‘fruitful’ they were in their own family and how she was the weak link. She must be Nwanyi-iga, her husband’s mother had told her to her face, and have been cursed by the gods, never to have children for an evil she committed which she had refused to confess. Her in-laws had never liked her and had not hidden their displeasure at their son’s marriage to a woman outside their tribe. Her husband, who she thought would stick by her side for better for worse, had eventually succumbed to their beliefs, and had condemned her too. First, it was her inability to give him children, then it became her food which had become tasteless to him before the complaint that she was getting unattractive started.
“Don’t you see how the wives of my friends dress? Can’t you just be like them and use your head for once?” He had barked at her last Sunday before they left for church. “I still wonder at what I saw in you in the first place. Go and change that dress! I don’t want people asking if you are my mother.”
Amidst tears, she had run inside her room and picked another dress, which yet didn’t satisfy him enough. If only she had listened to her mother’s plea not to hurry into marriage with a man she barely knew, but she had been blinded by love… love that had failed her and left her a dejected woman.
Her mind flew back to that dreadful day nine years ago when she met George for the first time. It was the happiest day of her life, or so she had thought. She had just completed the National Youths Service Corp programme, a Federal Government-designed year-plan for fresh graduates, and had decided to attend a celebration party hosted by one of her friend’s rich parents who were based in Kaduna, where she had served. It was in the party she met George, whom she thought was the most handsome man she had ever seen. He, too, had been struck by her and two days after, they had started off a romantic relationship, so sweet that she considered herself the luckiest girl in the world. She had met her match made in Heaven and God had answered her prayers in the least likely of places. It was, therefore, no surprise when she had given him an immediate answer the moment he popped the question. It was a dream come true. She was just twenty three. Naïve. Impulsive. Very foolish. Perhaps, if she had been wise enough to ask for more time, she would not have made the greatest mistake of her life. And now she would pay for it for the rest of her life.
A mixture of laughter snapped her back to reality. A young man and a woman were laughing over what the young man was saying as they walked to the car next to Pauline’s. They appeared happy, like they had no problem in the world. The man secretly tapped the lady’s bum playfully and she squirmed loudly.
“Let’s get home first, baby. You cannot even imagine what I have in mind for you.” The lady teased.
“Ha! I can’t wait.” The man replied excitedly as he unlocked the car and placed the bags of groceries at the back seat. “You cannot imagine what I have in mind either. I hope the kids don’t come back on time.”
“I hope so too. It’s been a while we had our alone time.”
“Catch!” The man threw a bunch of keys over the car to the woman. “You drive.”
“Really?” The woman gave him a confused look. “You really want me to drive?”
“Isn’t that what you were begging me for this morning?”
“Yes!” She jumped in the air and blew the man a kiss as she moved over to the driver’s seat. “Now, we’ll see who is the better driver.”
The man laughed heartily as if his wife just cracked the joke of the century. “You better bring your A-game then.” He got into the passenger’s seat, unaware of the woman who watched them from the red Mazda car beside them.
As they pulled out of the parking lot, Pauline broke down completely. Why me? Why me? She wept like a baby. I deserve to be happy too. I deserve a man who loves me. I deserve a happy home filled with happy children.
Almost immediately after the couple pulled out, a big SUV with tinted glass quickly took the empty spot, taking more space and Pauline quickly cleaned her face not to draw attention to herself. A casually-dressed young man came out of the driver’s seat and walked to the other side to open the door for the person seated at the owner’s corner. Pauline could barely pick out who the person was, but from the look of the car, it would be, no doubt, someone who was very rich and influential, perhaps a politician. Her mobile phone vibrated and she picked it up. When she saw who the caller was, she cut the call, switched off the phone and threw it at the back seat. His voice was the last thing she wanted to hear. Already, her head had started to ache when she saw his name. He could be her husband, but he had no right to her anymore. He lost that authority the day he told her if he had his way, he would divorce her right away.
She checked her face in the mirror. It had become a mess with the tears and the mascara and her swollen eyes were bare to the world. Her pain, which she was trying to hide, now hung open for the world to mock her with. She fumbled with her bag and brought out an handkerchief and a pair of very dark sunglasses. She dabbed at her eyes and wore the glasses before she opened the door of the car, placing her bag on her arm. When she saw her reflection on the car’s side mirror, she was a bit satisfied at what stared back at her. This was who the world would see – a tall, slim, dark-skinned, stunning, successful woman in her prime. No one would know that underneath that beautiful skin was a woman who was crying desperately for love and attention. Simple things she was ready to give the world for.
Lola Williams was getting impatient as she scanned through one tuna can to the other, trying to avoid the ingredients the doctor had warned her not to eat. At 62, she counted herself lucky to still be able to do her shopping herself. Not that she did not have maids to run such errands, but recent developments had made her want to appreciate the little things of life. Things like doing your own shopping, stopping to say hello to a neighbor, and making those little calls to the people you cherish. Especially when you were told your time on earth was fast coming to a close. Every minute would begin to have more value and things that once did not matter would suddenly appear important, as if your next breath depended on them.
She glanced at the younger woman beside her, taking in her beauty and her youthful radiance. She had looked exactly like that a long time ago, when life had been happiest and with the man of her dreams beside her. She sighed sadly. How I miss you, Tobi. Life has never been the same since the day you said goodbye. Now, I have to face my battles alone. The younger woman looked very confused in her choice of beverage to pick as she checked one can after the other.
“Have you tried Ovaltine? It’s the best for me.” Lola spoke softly. “Also good for kids.”
The woman gave her a ‘did I ask you?’ look and didn’t mutter a word. Instead, she managed a forced smile that did not reach her eyes and faced the counter again as if the old woman never existed.
Lola could have chosen to be angry, but instead, she smiled inwardly. Strangely, this woman reminded her of who she was some thirty years ago… lost, lonely and embittered, hiding her pains behind a steel face covered with dark-rimmed shades. At some point, all she had felt was emptiness that ate to the root of her soul and left her stark naked to the shame life inflicted. She had suffered depression and at some point, thought of killing herself. She actually tried to. She remembered that cold evening when she had stood at the edge of the Third Mainland bridge, counting down to the moment she would take the leap. Everything had come crumbling down before her eyes and she could take it no more. It was at that moment she met Jesus face-to-face. Actually, Jesus had come in the form of a man. A man named Tobi. She could still remember his first words.
“You can either take the leap forward to death or backward to life. It’s your choice.”
That had been the most difficult decision of her life to make, but she was glad she made the right choice. Tobi had not only come with a chance to a better life, but with the key to sustain it. He had led her to Jesus and the day she accepted Him as her Lord and Saviour, she had found hope in ways immeasurable. Jesus had been her light and stay after Tobi had been involved in the car accident that took his life eight months ago. And when she had received some terrible news from the doctor two days ago and had wept bitterly in the shadows of her room, she had found solace in this same Saviour, who was always there to comfort her.
“Is dat all, madam?” A young man of about twenty five approached her, carrying a basket full of groceries.
Lola turned to face Emeka, her driver, who had accompanied her into the store. “I am just a bit confused whether or not to buy tuna. I have to be careful of what I eat now. You know I am getting old.”
Emeka laughed. “Old ke? No, madam. You dey look young than before sef.”
“Indeed. Wait till you get as old as I am, then you will understand you cannot eat as many things as you want anymore.” She returned the cans back into the rack. “They are processed foods any way, not healthy for me. Let’s go and pay. The crowd here is becoming too much for me.”
They passed by the younger woman who didn’t even look as if she acknowledged their presence. Pauline watched as the elderly woman walked away with so much confidence and dignity and wondered who she really was. Obviously one of those high-class society women who thought they could wield power over other people’s lives, poking their noses into other people’s businesses. She saw the boy walk after her like a dog after the trail of its owner. She shook her head in disdain. The boy looked like he must be rendering other ‘services’, apart from driving the woman around. These days, one should not take things at face value. She pitied the woman’s husband, who must be old and blind that he could not see what was happening right under his nose. She refocused her attention on the beverages she wanted to buy and sighed. The last time she bought Bournvita, her husband had complained it was not sweet, as if she was the one who manufactured it. She wanted to buy Milo this time, but he might complain it was too sweet. It appeared he would complain of whichever one she bought. The old woman had advised she took Ovaltine, which was ‘also good for kids’. That had struck a nerve in her. Why would everyone try to throw a jab at her? Was it her fault she could not have kids? She adjusted her glasses and turned away from the beverages section. She would buy none of the beverages. Her life was not at all sweet anyway. As she walked to one of the payment tills, her eyes caught the rich woman standing at the till next to hers with a smile on her face. It was as if the woman had no problems in the world. Her eyes were sparkling with contentment and when they caught hers, Pauline quickly turned her face to the other side. She didn’t like the way the woman looked at her. It was as if the woman saw past the pair of glasses down into the crevices of her soul. Pauline felt naked before those aged eyes.
“I swear, I didn’t take anything.” A loud, female voice distracted everyone.
“Just come with me to avoid embarrassment.” One of the store employees, dressed in clean-cut white uniform, spoke gently to her.
She was a young girl, not more than seventeen and she looked disheveled. Her shirt and jeans looked very tight and dirty and her hair had been packed in a hurry, leaving many strands falling off. “I told you I didn’t take anything. I am not going anywhere with you. What kind of embarrassment is this?” She shouted at the top of her voice, not bothered that she was drawing attention to herself.
“That is what you want us to believe, but the camera says another.” The staff was getting agitated as he was joined by a couple of security men. “You have to come with us so we can do this more civilly.”
The girl shook her head. “No. I didn’t take anything. That your stupid camera is lying.”
Without warning, the guards picked her up and dragged her through the store to an inner room, much to everyone’s surprise. She struggled to liberate herself unsuccessfully and kept shouting till the door was shut.
“That is how they do.” One of the female customers on the queue started. “They are many here o! Beggars and thieves! Thank God for CCTV. If they think they can also come to a place like this and steal and go scot free like they do in Balogun and Oshodi, they are mistaken.”
“Lagos nawa!” Another customer responded. “That is why I cannot settle here. After today, I am leaving for my Abuja, where life is better and thieves are less in number. You people are trying.”
A third customer, a man this time, countered. “Whether Lagos or Abuja, thieves are everywhere. Abuja is even worse. Is that not where your leaders are looting our money every day? They are even the real thieves in this country.”
An argument started as each one tried to maneuver the talk to his favour. Lola’s mind was elsewhere. It laid beyond the closed door. She wondered the kind of treatment the poor girl was getting and what would have pushed her to come to steal in a place like this, why she would have risked her life when she knew she could easily be caught. There was only one answer to that. Poverty. In a country where resources were concentrated in the hands of the few and the majority was suffering. Poverty had driven the girl to do things she ordinarily would not have done. Lola, herself, had once been a captive to this monster and had God not come to her rescue just on time, the monster would have taken her life.
She pushed gently through the queue. “Excuse me, please.”
“Where you dey go, madam? Make I come?” Emeka asked, looking confused as to what his boss had in mind. He knew she was a spontaneous woman, after working with her for close to six years now, but sometimes, she still did some things that mystified him.
“Just wait on the queue. I will be back.” Lola instructed as she made her way to the door where the girl had been taken.
From where she was, Pauline snickered loudly. She was right about this old woman. Couldn’t she just mind her business just like everyone else was doing? Must she poke her nose into things that obviously did not concern her? Or did she think because she was rich, her affluence would make way for her?
Lola knocked hard on the door thrice and when someone opened, she demanded to see the girl.
“And who are you?” The security guard asked, a bit angry at the boldness of the woman.
Lola raised her head with a smile that was hard to resist. “Oh! I am Lola Williams, and I am here to pick my goddaughter.”
“Your goddaughter?” The guard scorned. “You mean the thief?”
Lola laughed, waving her hand. “Oh! She can be naughty at times and trust me when I say ‘naughty’. Let me talk to the manager and resolve this issue as soon as possible. I don’t want further embarrassment for us.”
The guard didn’t know whether or not to believe her. “Stay here. I will be back.” He closed the door, leaving Lola standing outside.
Lola took a quick glance at the crowd waiting at the till and hoped they did not think her as foolish as she considered herself. What am I doing? She thought. What am I getting myself into? Godmother to a girl I barely know and one who is obviously a thief? She hoped nobody in the crowd could recognize her. That would be a further embarrassment.
Pauline thought the old woman, not only foolish, but over-confident. Who did she think she was, trying to be savior over other people? She hoped the woman got the answer she deserved and that would put her in her place.
The door opened and the employee who had caught the girl came out. “I hear you are the mother of the girl.”
“Godmother, actually.” Lola corrected. “I will pay for whatever it is she stole. But please, don’t press this case further. She is an embarrassment and I will deal with her appropriately.”
The staff scratched his head as if pondering on the next step to take. “Okay. You can come in. if not for you, she would have slept in the cell tonight.”
“Oh, thank you. Thank you so much.” Lola gushed with appreciation as she walked past the open door.
Pauline rolled her eyes in disgust. Who would fall for that kind of crap? Godmother? Was that even a real thing?
“Hmmm… just look at the girl and look at the woman.” A customer spoke. “Who would have thought they are related? Imagine a girl like that coming from a rich family and still stealing.”
“You think stealing is normal? That girl is possessed of the devil.” Another customer opined. “She should be taken for deliverance in MFM. By the time they are done with her, that spirit will disappear.”
“What a shame! That old woman try sha. If na me, I no go even go near am. Make she die for prison.”
“Next customer, please.” The cashier called out.
Pauline emptied the content of her cart and waited for the cashier to scan all the items, while her mind was on what was happening behind the closed door. Would they take more of the old woman’s lies? It was obvious she was not in any way related to the girl. Even the contrast in their clothing was enough evidence.
“N12,850, ma.” The cashier looked at her expectantly. “Are you taking these ones too?” She pointed at some baby bibs that were left by the previous customer.
Pauline glowered at the cashier. “Do I look like I am nursing a baby? Or are you mocking me?”
The girl looked confused. “I am sorry. I thought it was meant for you.” She quickly picked up the items and placed them on the corner of the counter. “I am not mocking you in any way.”
“Then do your job well!” Pauline flung some cash on the counter.
The girl quickly picked up the money and packed the items for her customer. There were times she hated her job and this was one of it. Customers could be very pushy sometimes, and while the popular slogan ‘customer is king’ is rung in her ears every morning, sometimes she wished she could have her way and retort. This particular one would not have gone scot-free at all.
Pauline picked her bags angrily and stormed out of the store, but not without first giving the cashier another scathing look. First, the nosy old woman and now the garrulous sales girl! Why should the world keep shoving her problems up her nose? Already, the home front was too hot for her and now, she had to face same discrimination from the outside world, where she thought she could find some solace?
She had planned to pick up a couple of things from other stores, but the recent event had disorganized her. She marched hastily back to her car and as she walked through the foot court, the loud sounds of children’s laughter that came from every corner made her want to cry. It was as if they were making fun at her and her inability to have children. She quickened her steps, hoping she would make it on time before she collapsed on the floor in tears and embarrassed herself.
By the time she reached her car, the tears were already falling uncontrollably and a few passersby noticed her, but made no attempt to ask her what was wrong. That was how she wanted it. She didn’t want anyone poking into her affairs. She flung the bags to the back seat and turned on the ignition. She locked the doors and put on the air conditioner, trying to shut out the world completely, but failing woefully as her mind drifted to an event that occurred ten years ago… the event that had taken her life on a downward slope.
She had been returning from night study with some of her friends in preparation for their final school examination that was to take off the next week. One would have thought that since they were within the school premises, they were safe. Plus, that was not the first time they would be having a night group study and returning back to their rooms in the middle of the night. But that night was different. On their way back, they had stumbled upon some guys who were obviously returning from a secret meeting. The red bandanas they wore around their heads and hands proved they were members of a cult and they reeked of marijuana. The boys didn’t waste time in letting their intentions known and while the girls had run for their lives, two of them were not so lucky and Pauline was one of them. That night, the gang of twelve boys had taken their turns one after the other on the girls, after they had gagged the girls’ mouth to stop them from crying for help. It had been Pauline’s worst nightmare and had left a scar on her that was difficult to heal. Luckily, with the help of her friends, family and the University’s support, they were able to trace the culprits and expel them, but still, that was not enough to take away the damage they had caused. The school’s doctor had sadly informed her of the impairment the act had brought to her womb and that it would be difficult for her to conceive, except by a miracle. Her cervix had been scarred, changing the course of her life forever and depriving her of the joy of motherhood. As the years passed by, she had held to a tiny ray of hope, believing that the expected miracle would take place, but it never did. Every day, it looked like it never would. She placed her head on the steering wheel and wept bitterly. She had never told her husband about this. It would only bring more chaos to her already-muddled life. Perhaps, her in-laws were right. She was indeed cursed.
A loud argument from outside distracted her and she quickly cleaned her eyes to see the old woman and her ‘goddaughter’ quarrel noisily as they came closer to the car.
“Why should I thank you? I didn’t ask for your help. I got everything under control!” The girl barked at the woman, not minding if she sounded rude. “Who are you anyway, claiming to be my godmother? I don’t want an old hag as my mother. I don’t even need a mother!”
“Do you know who I am?” Lola asked quietly, trying not to get angered by the little girl’s outburst. “I risked my reputation to save you from spending the rest of your days in prison and this is what I get in return?”
The girl folded her shoulders and turned her face to the other side. “Just give me my bag and let me go. I didn’t beg you anyway.”
“You want something you didn’t pay for. You have no right to it.”
The girl turned a distorted face at the woman. “Because you paid for them does not mean they are yours either. I took them first.”
Lola turned to her driver. “Give her the bag.”
Surprise shone on the girl’s face at the turn of event. She had expected another retaliatory remark, but instead got the opposite. She grabbed the nylon from Emeka and started leaving, without another glance at the woman who had helped her out of a difficult situation.
“Madam, you dey try o! If na me, I for don slap the girl since. Which insult be dat na?” Emeka didn’t like the way things turned out. “Dat is why it is not good to do good things for people sometimes.”
“Don’t say that, Emeka.” Lola corrected him. “Because people don’t appreciate what you do does not mean you should stop doing good. If we all stop doing good, can you imagine how wicked the world will be?”
Emeka shrugged and unlocked the jeep. Sometimes, his boss said and did things that were beyond his understanding, but he loved her all the same. She was the only person he had worked with and had never had a problem with. Instead, she treated him more like a son than a servant and he was grateful for that.
He opened the door at the owner’s seat. “I don ready, madam.”
Lola barely heard what Emeka said. Her eyes were on the retreating figure of the belligerent young lady she just spoke with. “Get me my phone, Emeka. I need to speak to Sarah urgently.”
Emeka shook his head and brought out the phone in the small compartment of the car. “Here, madam.”
Lola punched some keys on the phone. “Hello, Sarah. Sorry to bother you. I know it is Saturday, but I have a small job for you.” She scratched her nose. “I need you to use all the tools you have, Facebook and whatever, to trace someone for me. Then you can show me on Monday. The name is Tosin Ayoola, I think. Yes, she is female. Can you do that for me? Good. I know I can depend on you. Have a lovely weekend.” She disconnected the call and handed the phone over to her driver. “Thank you.”
Emeka nodded at the open door. “No problem, madam. We dey go now?”
“Yes, please. I have had enough stress for the day.” Lola gently stepped into the car with Emeka’s help.
When Emeka walked over to the driver’s side, his eyes caught the ones of a woman sitting in a red Mazda car and who obviously had been watching everything that had happened. He couldn’t blame her. The scene was unavoidable and quite interesting for anyone who cared to watch. It was like a Nollywood script being acted out. He jumped into the car and started the ignition. He looked at the woman at the back seat through the front mirror. “Na house we dey go now?”
“Yes, let’s go home.” Lola replied. She was emotionally exhausted after all she had gone through. The doctor must not hear of the stress she had taken herself through today. He had clearly instructed her to take enough rest as much as she could, but the allure of a morning shopping had been irresistible. As they pulled out of the lot, she had no idea that a pair of interested eyes followed them, wondering what kind of superwoman she thought she was.