Despite Uncle Jonathan’s warning, I became friends with Oke. Maybe I was tired of being afraid of what a man could do to an unarmed woman; maybe I was tired of being alone. He made me laugh, he listened to me when I had something to say and we made good music together. He was my first friend and his presence brought light into my life.
Every day after school, I would meet him at the school gate and we would walk together until we got to the edge of my street, then he would find his way home. On Saturdays, we came home together after rehearsals but on Sundays we acted like we do not speak to each other because Uncle Jonathan’s eyes watched us from where he and Mama were seated in church.
Mama had found a job as a secretary to a small clinic in town. The pay was not great but it got her away from home every day. She told me that Uncle Maximus had indeed taken over the shop in Benin and had reopened the old one in Warri. I had listened to her talk about it but I had not been interested. Anything that had to do with Uncle Maximus irritated me. But despite all this, life was good. Kano was good to me and Mama. I still had nightmares of the day I killed Edirin but that was my cross to bear, right?
Our parish did an all night every first Friday of the month. It comprised of a prayer and praise program that was exciting and spiritually uplifting. Oke had invited me several times before but I had refused on account of my uncle’s watchful eyes. I didn’t want him to think I had something else with Oke besides friendship, so I had not even bothered to tell him and Mama that I wanted to go. But some months after I met Oke, about a week before my WAEC exams started, I just felt the need to seek God’s face or something. So after lunch that day, I went to Mama at the clinic. She closed from work by six pm and I had to be in church by six pm for a bit of preparation before the program kicked off, so I thought it best to seek permission from her as early as possible. She was on her seat when I came in;
Matilda: “Princess! How are you? Hope you are okay?” she asked as soon as she saw me.
Princess: “I am fine Mama. I just wanted to ask you something.” I replied, taking a seat opposite her.
Matilda: “what is it?” she asked.
I told her about the all night at church and my need to go. Mama looked at me silently for some time;
Matilda: “it is because of that boy shey?” she asked, her eyes on a folder in front of her.
Princess: “which boy? I am going to worship God, not meet a boy, Mama.” I replied, getting angry.
Matilda: “you have to be careful, remember what happened in Benin o.” she said softly.
The image of Osazee and his friends on top of me slammed into me and my heart dropped to the pit of my stomach. I drew a deep breath and stood up;
Princess: “I will not let fear rule my life Mama. Because some demons tried to break me does not mean I will not live my life to the best of my ability, ma. Will I continue to hide from men? Look at what fear made me do to Edirin? Look at what fear has done to you? I will not let a man rule my life, Mama. I will not let mistakes and shame rule my life.” I said angrily and turned to leave.
I heard her running after me and calling my name as I walked out of the clinic but I was too angry to care. At the gate, she caught up with me and grabbed my hand. I tried to jerk it away but she held me strong.
Matilda: “I am sorry dear. It’s just that you are all I have of your father and I don’t want to lose you. There are worse things out there than vile teenage boys. I want you safe, please understand.” She said, looking at me with pleading eyes.
Princess: “then when you leave this world Mama, what will I do? Will I come and hide under your grave. I am 16 years old Mama. I am no longer a child. If by now, I can’t identify good from bad then I must be a fool.” I replied, holding her hands.
Matilda: “this world is more complicated than right or wrong or good and bad o. sometimes, there are shades of gray that is neither good nor bad and there’s outright evil. I know you are no longer a baby but it is a mother’s duty to care.” She replied.
Princess: “it is also your duty to give me the benefit of doubt, mama. I have been a victim of circumstances not the other way round. Don’t make me a sinner for a crime I did not commit.” I said. Mama looked at me and nodded then she smiled and hugged me.
Matilda: “you will have to also tell your uncle o. I will call him before you get to his school.” She said. I smiled and pushed her back to the hospital and headed for Uncle Jonathan’s school.
Uncle Jonathan agreed that I should go without bothering to look up from the notes he was marking. I thanked him and rushed home to do my chores. By 5.30pm, I was out of the house and on my way to church.
The church was empty when I arrived. The few persons around were those whose duty it was, to clean the church for the week. I looked for a pew at the back of the church, right under the choir gallery and sat down. I wanted to surprise Oke with my presence. While there, I suddenly heard singing. It was coming from the altar but there was no one there. It was so soft, I could barely hear the words but the tune was familiar. I started humming along with the invisible singer. After sometime, curiosity got the better of me, so I got up and walked to the altar. I peered into the sacristy to see the owner of the voice that had captivated me but saw no one. I was turning away when I saw an old woman staring at me from another small entrance to the altar that I had not taken note of before. The woman smiled at me;
Woman: “are you looking for someone, child?” she asked.
Princess: “where you the one singing just now?”I asked, looking at her in surprise.
The woman smiled and walked to the altar and started dressing it. I watched her quietly, then she started singing again. Her voice was beautiful. I just stood there and listened to her. When she was done, she walked up to me;
Woman: “You love music?” she asked, still smiling. I nodded. “You don’t like prayer much though?” she asked. I frowned at her question. Who was she to question my prayer life?” I thought to myself.
Woman: “the battles you face are not to break you but to make you strong my child.” She said.
I stepped away from where I stood. I didn’t like the familiar way in which the woman spoke like she knew me. She smiled
Woman: “God loves you.” she said, then she turned and walked away.
I stood staring at where she had stood for some seconds then I turned away. Oke was standing with a girl at the entrance to the church. He looked so handsome; I smiled and walked towards him, forgetting the woman immediately.
The program was as awesome as I had thought it would be. At first, I was shy; just clapping and moving from side to side but it got to a point when I just didn’t care who was there by my side, who was looking, who was gossiping, or who was judging and I started dancing. It felt good to dance for God as the music filled me with joy and with hope. I danced until sweat covered my eyes. We danced and we sang until our parish priest came up to the altar and settled us down.
He preached that night about letting go and forgiving oneself. He said that we find it easy to forgive others much more than to forgive ourselves of our mistakes. We hold the sin, the error of our ways before us and even when God reach out to us, we let the sin, which he has already forgiven, stand in our way. Sometimes we even accuse ourselves of things that were not our fault; it cannot be the fault of the wife that her husband is a brute and beats her up. He spoke for forty-five minutes and I tell you, he was talking to me. I sat on that chair and held my broken body in my hands and stared at all the broken parts. When he called for surrender of our fears, our pains, our broken selves to God, I was the first on my knees. I was crying, I was full with the pain and as I cried, I felt like a bucket of dirty water being poured away. I was setting myself free.
After the prayers, praise continued and at about 4am, I got up and walked out of the church. I stood outside and stared at the moon, as the music from inside the church filtered to me. I suddenly felt the need to talk to Mama, to share this new feeling I felt inside. Without waiting for the program to come to an end, I entered the quiet night, and directed my steps home.
I got home after forty-five minutes walk. I don’t know what gave me the guts to walk home alone that night. I just know that I sang praises from the church until I got to the door of my home and no one stopped me on the way. I had left the house with my spare key, so I opened it quietly and walked softly to the room I shared with Mama. When I entered, she was not in the room. I was dropping my scarf on the bed when I heard the noise. It was the sound of someone moaning. I listened closely, she was moaning in pain. God! Mama is injured!” I thought to myself as I rushed out of the room.
I stood in the darkened corridor confused. The sound had stopped then suddenly, it increased; Mama was almost shouting. It was coming from Uncle Jonathan’s room. “What is he doing to Mama?” I asked myself as I rushed into his room ready for a fight.
The moon threw its silver light on the entwined limbs of the adulterers. Mama was under Uncle Jonathan. Both of them were naked and Uncle Jonathan was grinding into her with wild abandon. Mama’s mouth was slack and her eyes were shut tight, her hands were squeezing the bed spread tightly. I took all this in about a blink of my eye.
Question: Chai! Princess has seen things beyond her o! What will you do if you found your mother in such a compromising position?