fiction, Inspiration

Roundabout

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Pastor Thomas Olaide looked over his sermon one last time as the worship team was on the penultimate song. He never did this, he believed in preachers fully engaged during all aspects of worship but today was different. He wasn’t prepared, neither was he ready to preach but he had to. It had been a busy fortnight for the man of God.

Last weekend, he was somewhere on the tiny island of Seychelles preaching for a dear friend. It was beautiful but tiring with 2 sermons each day for a five-day conference. Then there was another conference where he spoke for two days in South Africa; while in Durban, he got an invite to attend the grand opening of a new auditorium from a colleague who had planted a church in Accra, he travelled to celebrate God’s goodness and stayed an extra three days to rest and finish the final chapters of a book that was four months late. Pastor Thomas was back in Lagos Saturday morning and was still tired, only grateful to be reunited with his wife and four children. He did not want to do a Sunday sermon.

“C’mon Pastor, you have to finish the ‘Love your Neighbour’ series. It’s been great for the audience even outside of church, massive podcast downloads and great TV ratings. This last sermon would be great content.” One of his associates counseled. His publicist thought the same. A Christian television network executive in the US sent the church office an email after he had seen a sermon from the series and wanted to find out if Destiny Encounter, his television programme could feature on their network, the ‘Love Your Neighbour’ series would be the flagship.

Pastor Thomas agreed to preach the final sermon of the series that Sunday. Glory Tabernacle was one of Lagos’ rising churches with a network of church plants in growing suburbs and a main sanctuary in Idimu, one of the outskirts of the city, which technically made the popularity of the church both divine and dramatic at the same time.

Pastor Olaide chose to preach at the first service of Glory Tabernacle Lekki , the latest church plant of the ministry. He knew that even though this particular church recorded two thousand in the main service, less than a thousand people usually showed up for the 7am service. He would use the service to ‘warm up’ then preach at the main service, the version which would be suitable for TV and online streaming.

The church, although just a tent, was very beautiful to behold. With at least 20 years of ministry experience, the Lekki church plant was very carefully planned. Everyone knew that the Lekki church was the future headquarters of the church even though the leadership had not announced such plans. They did not quench the rumours either.

The worship leader reeled song after song, and the work force was well dressed. A protocol officer led Pastor Laide from his vehicle which had stopped right in front of the auditorium.

“Eagle is entering the auditorium now, do we have a clear for the pulpit? 7 minutes…? No way….tell the worship team it’s a wrap…Thank you….over and out….” The tall protocol officer spoke into a microphone attached to an ear-piece, he was damn serious. Pastor Olaide was pleased, he loved the excellent and dutiful approach with which these ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ approached serving at Glory Tabernacle.

They arrived inside the auditorium from the side to settle in the reserved seating area for ministers . The interior was well decorated with state-of-the-art sitting and lighting. The video screens across the auditorium and the top-notch worship band looked sweet with their well-laundered suits and ties. They wrapped up singing way-maker with the congregation and once the the song was over, everyone applauded. In a split second, a man went to the pulpit.

“It’s so great to have pastor worshipping with us in this service. Ladies and Gentlemen, Please put your hands together and give a ‘Glory Tabernacle Lekki church’ welcome to our father in The Lord, Pastor Thomas Olaide…” Minister Malvin Okon’s baritone voice jolted Pastor Laide to reality, as he quickly grabbed his tablet and walked to the pulpit.

He silently looked over the crowd of four-hundred once there and another thunderous round of applause followed. Many stood to their feet to give a standing ovation.

“Isn’t Jesus good?” He loved that as an ice-breaker especially when he said it with that signature smile of his that had graced programme flyers, newspapers and social media pages.

“Let us pray….Father we come to a moment of your word….” Gbam! Gbam!! There was a loud noise and a few murmurs, they appeared to be coming from outside. “….we pray that you open this word………..” the noise was louder this time. There was an explosion and screams filled the air.

In less than 30 seconds, there was pandemonium in the auditorium. A protocol tried to shield Pastor Laide but a gunshot hit the man in the chest and he fell lifeless right at the pastor’s feet.

The pastor could not believe what was happening. “What’s going on?” He shouted looking in the direction of Minister Okon, and as Okon tried to respond he was hit. Now the screams were deafening as a stampede was now in the auditorium, ushers ran alongside the congregation, and for the first time the small size of the doors were a problem as everyone fought for the door. Others aimed for the windows, chairs were being broken and people were stepping on each other.

He could hardly believe his eyes. Fear gripped him as he managed to begin speaking in tongues. Should he run? Lanre his Personal Assistant of five years was coming in his direction. Pastor Olaide shouted: “Lanre stay where you are…..Don’t come just stay…………”

Lanre couldn’t understand the gestures from Pastor Olaide. As he got closer, he was hit in the neck. And he fell writhing in pain.

The screams were loud and the pandemonium became a stampede. Fear gripped the heart of many including Pastor Olaide’s as men dressed in black tee-shirts over combat trousers and boots entered the auditorium from different entrances. They used their guns to hit the congregants who were trying to escape and many ran back into the auditorium. They hushed the people by shooting sporadically into the air to command attention, then a man who appeared to be the leader ordered everyone to lie down on the floor.

A bigger man with an AK-47 strapped to his chest and shades across his eyes emerged. The room was now quiet except for a few sobs which were quite audible.

“Pastor Thomas Laide…..it’s good to see you…in the flesh!!! You look shorter than on television!” The man laughed at his own joke. His domineering figure was intimidating, as he moved, Pastor Laide saw a knife in his waist and his blood went cold.

The pastor cringed and then gathered all the courage left in him. “What do you want?”

“I came to worship. Surely the house of God is open to everyone. Sinners and saints….Isn’t that what you guys preach?”

“Not after you’ve shot and killed people, scared others and disturbed the peace and sanity of this church.”

The big man sat on a chair on the first row, and was quiet for a moment. “Well Jesus is the prince of peace…isn’t he? And surely he has all the power…so how could we hijack the peace? Yes we hijacked the liturgy but not the peace. C’mon Pastor….let’s have church….preach your sermon…Don’t be shy.” The dry laugh was annoying.

All across the auditorium were men with guns at different places, and Pastor Laide had not been this terrified in a very long time. God what’s going on? Surely the one who keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps?

His eyes met with that of a heavily pregnant woman in a corner sobbing uncontrollably. There was a little child close to the pregnant woman holding his mother tight. Immediately he was heartbroken even further. “I’ll preach…but you’ve got to let the people go….”

“Let the people go?! Am I Pharaoh? Well it won’t be church anymore if all the people left. Aren’t you a mega-church pastor? You speak to at least 25,000 each week…..so why do you want an empty church?”

“Well where there are two or three gathered in God’s name, he is there…” Pastor Thomas Laide replied. Where was the courage coming from?

“Oh fair enough I will let some people go halfway through your sermon.”

Pastor Thomas Laide knew that if he was going to make it alive he had no option but to play along. His shirt was soaked with sweat from fear-laden perspiration. What would he preach? He wondered. Once finally on the stage he put his hand on the pulpit he had begun to preach from about forty minutes ago.

He opened his notebook and wondered what he would say or what was most appropriate for the ‘occasion’.

“Look man of God we haven’t got all day….Preach something.” The big man jeered.

Pastor Thomas closed his eyes for a second and opened them. And he knew that he was about to preach the hardest sermon in his twenty-something years in ministry.

“Lord give your servant utterance and open this word to us in these moments in Jesus’ name.”

A loud “amen” rang from the front row and from other parts from the auditorium, there were a few chuckles too from the men-in-black.

“Romans 3:23 All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God! People of God, this won’t be a long sermon but an appealing one: you must be born again! Every man, woman, boy, girl…everyone born of Adam is a sinner! 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that all born of Adam will die, but all in Christ will be made alive. Judgment is coming upon this world, everything in this world will pass away one day but only one thing can save – salvation in Jesus Christ. Acts chapter number four and verse twelve tells us that salvation is found in no one else and there is no name given to us under heaven by which we must be saved apart from the name of Jesus….”

“STOP!!!!!!” the big man shouted! The auditorium went immediately silent! “Bravo! That’s impressive…” He now applauded sarcastically as he rose up from his seat and now paced back and forth in the space between the altar and the first row. “I wish you preach these kind of sermons more often….but you don’t….you’ll never try this.” The big man’s voice was now quieter and softer as though he were making an appeal.

“……Thank you but can we at least finish the sermon?….You asked me to preach because you want to hear God’s word, don’t you?……..” The pastor said hoping to be obliged.

“Finish so that what will happen? So you give an altar call and the message will so touch us that my men and me will come before this altar kneel and cry and say the prayer? Then right after we will surrender our guns and the police will take us away?” The big man laughed aloud….his men joined. “Not today…that’s not going to happen. Save this one for your crusades…if you ever do them cos pastors like you are too ‘cool’ to do such things. There’s no money there so you don’t do that.”

“God calls us to go everywhere with the gospel.” The pastor shot back.

“Well you have churches in Lagos and South Africa, there’s a Port Harcourt church and a growing congregation in Abuja….you have presence in four places….is that how far the gospel goes?”

“I serve where I have been graciously planted.”

“Oh is that right? It seems to me that your church is located in very economically viable places positioned to meet a certain class of people who can sustain your idea of church both sociologically and financially.”

The sobs from the congregation left was now thinning out as the two men faced each other. Pastor Thomas wondered what this was about, it was the farthest thing from a robbery, neither was it an assassination. The leader seemed in no hurry to rob, kill or maim, it was as though the conversation they were now having was important.

“Well Mister…..you are entitled to your opinion.”

“My opinion….is correct and you know it pastor. Just look at you and your prosperity messages, the prophetic declarations you offer in a cozy atmosphere…..the words of wisdom and motivation which your members cling on to for their dear lives…..is there any life in these things?”

“I beg your pardon, I preach the gospel! The gospel is my message…..” It was now the pastor’s turn to raise his voice!

“What gospel? The gospel of increase without compassion, financial gain over integrity, the ‘blessing’ over unrighteous living….motivation and false hope…….? Sir your gospel is a fraud. This is a very diluted version of Christianity….”

One of the gunmen rushed quickly to tell the big man something in his ears. He nodded and responded quietly with a whisper. Pastor Olaide wondered what the man’s problem was. However, for the first time in a long time, something in his heart resonated with the attacker’s perspective. Had he been wrong all along?

“As we were saying pastor….”

“Jesus is my message. What I preach is all in here.” Pastor Thomas lifted a copy of The Bible for emphasis.

“…If you say so pastor….if you say so…But I am here because I am hurting….” He paused weighing his next words carefully. “………….You had an opportunity to change my life and all this dead and injured people would have been unharmed, but you did not….I wish you did…” his voice began to break, yet it was emphatic, anger-laden, and loud.

“How so?” Pastor Thomas’ mouth suddenly went dry and a cold sweat appeared on his forehead.

The big man walked close to the altar and rested his palms on the platform once he got very close.

“I was in prison for five years. Agodi prisons in Ibadan for two then transferred to Kuje for another two and then Onitsha to serve for a year. Pastor, I saw Christians….men and women with transformed lives. I knew some of them before they had become Christians and I know they truly changed. One of them would tell me often in my local dialect “Jesus touched my life, I am brand new and now I want nothing else than to tell everyone how good this Jesus is because he can touch you too.” I heard those words every day for two years in Agodi. These men had no fine church buildings or smooth talking preachers, they had The Bible and each other and their faith was authentic. They were not perfect but their growing faith was evident…..”

The pastor nodded. “That’s good…that’s commendable. That’s the power of the gospel”

“Let. Me. Finish…….See, here’s my confusion….if those guys had the gospel and it did what it did in them and I and other inmates could see changes, how come your gospel did not bring any changes to your people so close to me?” The attacker banged his strong hands on the wooden platform but the impact was absorbed by the beautiful rug covering the wood.

“What do you mean?”

The big man laughed sarcastically and suddenly stopped. He silently swore, dropped his eyes for a second, and then lifted them, his hands gesticulating in sync to emphasize his words:

“The man who supplied me guns for my operations before I went to prison was a minister in your church. He sold guns to me and my men and he knew everything about what we did with the guns. If I remember correctly this man even gave us a tip-off on potential people and places to attack and we shared the spoils with him. Yes pastor, one of your spiritual sons…close to you!!! I’m not done. Then there was Trish my girlfriend who was faithful to your church, served as an usher in your headquarters for as long as ever. I loved Trish….for 6 months Trish lived with me. From my house, she went to your church and served your ‘God’, had your books, tapes, devotionals, stickers, paid her tithe, sowed her seeds, put money in the offering….she knew what I did yet she never confronted me, neither did she chastise me. She never shared the gospel with me….She said nothing…..If she did I would have listened, if her life was attractive I could have left it all…how does the same ‘gospel’ transform one group yet leave the other even worse off.. Trish instead was satisfied with making outrageous financial demands and reassuring me that the works of my hands were blessed because she was in my life!”

“I’m sorry for….my heart goes out to you but even when the children of God gathered to present themselves before The LORD, Satan was among them… I cannot be held responsible….”

“Oh you can pastor, you f…king can!!! You are the shepherd. You should care for the flock. People like you make me angry…you know why? Cos the gospel has a bad name with too many of your lot….”

“Shadow, make we dey go abeg….” Said the guy who had come to the big man before. Sirens could be heard faintly from a distance. The gunmen began to emerge from their various positions as each headed for the closest exit.

The big man cocked the rifle in his hand and began to shoot non-stop shooting at anything and everything in his sight as he made for a side door to his right. Screams and sights of blood did not deter him; not even Pastor Thomas’ shouts of plea could make him do otherwise.

Once he reached the door, he looked back at Pastor Thomas who was on his knees with tears in his eyes and his clothing stained with blood. The big man pointed the gun in the pastor’s direction and fired three shots, two reduced the pulpit into clutters of wood and the last hit Pastor Laide’s arm.

The gunmen disappeared.

Pastor Thomas Olaide fell to the floor in acute pain. He screamed again and again with his eyes shut. He felt sick in his stomach. He opened his eyes to look at his wounded arm….NO BLOOD….NO WOUND…NOTHING! He wondered why his arm wasn’t hurting or bleeding….!

He looked at his surroundings and noticed he was in his undergarments lying on the floor of his bedroom, the digital clock above him read 5:38. The television was semi-loud with a news bulletin being read on Channels Television. Pastor Thomas Laide sat up confused…he was so sure about what had happened a few moments before. His tears were real though and his heart was still heart broken.

He was glad it was a dream, yet he couldn’t stop sobbing!

*The above is purely a product of the writer’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, organizations or circumstances is only a coincidence and highly unintentional.

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fiction, Inspiration

Boarding Pass (3)

He has made everything beautiful in its time

Ecclesiastes 3:11a

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IMMESAURABLY MORE

When Demi got to Lagos, Mike was furious. “Dude it’s like you missed a penalty kick in the 89th minute of the Champions League final. How did YOU let her go? Ke tu e se je” He said. The last question in Asaba genre of the Igbo language meant how did that happen, and Mike rarely spoke his dialect except in dire circumstances.

“What was I supposed to do?” Demi responded raising his voice slightly.

Ikeja Electric restored power. The humming of a freezer in the background was a delightful soundtrack.

“What you were supposed to do? Jump on the plane. That’s why you have money. Jump on the plane or the next one. You should be in the US now tracking her down. You have money, you have a visa…” Mike reclined in a chair to calm down. Above him was a picture of himself, his wife and his daughter. Demi stared at the picture for what appeared to be eternity.

“There is a company to be run. I barely know this chick. I can’t justify jumping across the Atlantic for a girl. Yuck.” Demi was trying to sound tough.

“Can I sincerely ask you if you are crazy? Do you have mental issues, do you smoke crack in your spare time? Don’t you remotely think this chick might be THE ONE and you didn’t fight?”

“Pardon me but I am not a hopeless romantic like you. America is a faraway place….” Demi got out his phone, he could use a distraction right now.

“…..nowhere is that far, wasn’t it Westlife who said something about swimming across a river just to climb a thousand walls?”

Demi shot him a glance, stood up and once he was at the door he said disgustedly: “Did you just quote Westlife? Good evening?”

Mike stood rooted to the spot wandering what he had just said.

Like twenty seconds later, Demi resurfaced: “Yeah dude, that’s how stunned and rooted to the spot I was when Shade left me. I feel your pain.”

Six Months Later

Monday was Demi’s longest day of the week as interim CEO. The Board had agreed to appoint him CEO on an interim basis. The canceled wedding was proof that he had indeed made an attempt to meet the requirement to become CEO, or so they thought. His father had stepped down on medical grounds, and these days with more chemotherapy, although he felt better, he preferred to focus on his health than the business. Thus Demilade was in full control and under pressure to perform.

Meeting after meeting made Demi tired. He had yet another one before closing at 8:30pm. He was glad when he got a call from his Operations Manager canceling the meeting. Just as he exited the building, his phone rang.

“Hello?” He tried to sound alive. Leaders are supposed to be alert at all times. “Hello?”

“Hi CEO or shall I say interim CEO?” He knew the voice.

“Shade?”  Demi sat on the curb outside ‘Cobblers R Us’ unconsciously and the security men surrounded him in a rush to check if everything was alright.

“There you go. How are you?” She sounded excited, sweet and alive.

“I am fine thanks. I just sat on the curb, I am shocked.” The security men helped him to his feet, his driver ran to grab his things. He signaled for him to just bring the car.

“I knew you would be, I hoped I would get through to you. “

“For heaven’s sake where have you been? Your dad is the only way I know you are alive. That’s not good.” Now it was raining just like it had been on the night she left and he could close his eyes and just almost touch her again.

“Well someone asked me to get a job. I was busy doing just that.” She chuckled.

“About that…what I was trying to say was….” He scratched his head, and his driver wondered who it was that made his boss appear so ordinary.

“….You don’t have to explain Demi! I was just joking. Plus it was great advice. I have a job with a medical research firm in Maryland.” Shade was excited.

Wow there goes my dream of ever getting her back. “Congrats. I am happy for you.” He managed. Lord save me from lying.

“Thanks. Plus one more thing. I sort out started checking out church when I returned. Last Sunday I made a decision to be a Christian….”

“You are joking right?! Don’t play with stuff like that.” Demi protested, his heart beating faster than normal.

“I’m not. Check out my last post on Instagram, there’s a picture of me and my testimony.”

Demi grabbed a tablet and swiped as fast as possible. And He saw it.

“Oh God, you’re not joking. You aren’t joking. This is amazing!” His grin was as wide as ever.

“I said to update you about my situation. Thanks Demi.”  He didn’t want her to go.

“Um…You skype right? I’m home in thirty minutes tops.”

“Not while I’m at work. Maybe later. But I’m sure you’ll be well asleep by then. We are six hours apart remember?”

Homecoming

From thereon, Demilade looked for meetings that would take him to the United States. None came. The closest was three months away. He couldn’t wait. He took an early vacation.

A day before his trip, he got a call: “Demi, I’m coming back home.”

He was in the middle of some handover meetings with senior management. He wouldn’t have taken the call, but rules are often bended when people fall in love.

“Coming back home where?”  Nigeria was never home to her, at least that she said again and again. Demi’s question was valid.

“Nigeria! My company is launching out to Africa, and they want three of us to oversee the launch. I’m doing West and Central Africa, it would be a lot of trips, but I work from Lagos, my office would be there.” Shade said in such a hurried manner, she was running out of breath.

There was silence. Demi sank into the leather swiveling chair unable to say anything, too stunned. “Demi, you there?”

“I’m here. I’m too stunned. This is too good to be true.” He said almost whispering. She could only laugh. The day was brighter from thereon.

****************************

A week after the call, Demi was at the airport. Her plane had touched down. It was raining in Lagos as it had been all week. He adjusted himself for the umpteenth time.

Once she appeared from the door marked ‘Arrivals’, he was sure he had been smitten. She was as beautiful as ever. She was cautious herself. Nobody knew what to say.

When she was finally before him, he wanted to tell her a thousand things but only this one came out: “Did all your bags come?” That wasn’t what I meant to say, That’s not what I should have said.

She nodded. And they couldn’t resist the urge to go into each other’s arms. He lifted her up, well made a shallow attempt to, and she screamed.

Once in the car, Demi started the engine but he didn’t move. Then he stopped the engine and got something out of his jacket. “Last time, it was our parent’s idea. This time, can it be ours? Will you marry me?”

She looked at him. “ Gee,It’s been a long flight. If I say yes, would you drive me to my Dad’s and let me be?” Demi nodded like a child.

“Ofcourse yes. That’s the major reason why I convinced them to launch in Africa genius.” She replied with fatigue in her voice.

Demilade was elated. Shade was tired yet excited.

“Bae, I guess your dad still has the invitation cards for last year’s canceled wedding, could we perhaps just use a biro to change the date?”

She shot him the ‘You are joking, right’ glance. “Is the economy that bad?!”

He winked at her.

 

 

 

 

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fiction

Boarding Pass (2)

And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being Acts 17:26-28 NKJV

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A ‘Romantic’ Elope

Demi woke up with a very funny idea. It always amazed him how creative he was in the mornings. After a long hard brainstorming last night and some prayers (this he was learning, and so far, it appeared to work), he had a plan. He texted Shade, well he rewrote the text five times to arrive at:

Good morning Beautiful. Arise and shine. Call me when you see this.

She called back two hours later.

“Demi?!….” What kind of game is he trying to play?

“Hey you. Um…can we do lunch?” Was he asking her out on a date?

She agreed, they did lunch that afternoon. Over a steaming bowl of Amala and Gbegiri at Bukha Hut, Demi unraveled his mysterious plan: “…..And that baby is how we get out of this scheme.” He thought it was brilliant, she thought he was crazy.

But when she arrived home that night to see printed Invitation cards and her father signing them at the table, too buried in the activity to even return her greeting, she was irritated.

“Demi, uh….thanks for lunch today, do you think the plan would work?” She said with desperation when she finally settled in to make a call.

“Say what, Girl? The network over here is bad.” Demi replied with a chuckle.

“Do. You. Think. The. Plan. Would. Work?” Shade asked again.

“Ofcourse it would. Oh I heard the first time. Your American accent is gorgeous damn….”

She cut the phone, and put it down smiling. She couldn’t tell if it was the plan or the man that tickled her.

 

*****************************

Thursday afternoon, they were in Abuja. A delayed flight due to weather conditions meant that they had to spend three and half hours together before leaving Lagos’ MM II. Now they were a little more than just acquaintances.

Demi now understood Shade wasn’t obnoxious, and Shade understood that Demi was not a Lagos ‘player’ with a lot of money. They had exchanged stories.

The plan went sour the moment they found out that Shade couldn’t just buy a ticket to the US, just like that. Currency issues with the Naira meant the foreign airlines were quite hesitant with selling tickets, thus Shade was on a waiting list. If they approved, she would be given a ticket.

“You are always….always on the laptop.” Shade blurted out on Friday evening. Demi Shrugged. She wasn’t lying. “Let me tell you something Mr would-be CEO, the company would flourish in your absence, the world would move on if you God-forbid died. Take a chill-pill.”

Demi put down his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes. “This is why my father wants me to get married. Would you marry me?” He chuckled.

“Joker!” She smiled. “Hey, let’s take a selfie. If we are supposed to be on a trip shopping for the wedding, we have to make it appear so.” They took selfies: the smiling one, the pouting one, the crazy-faced one. Ten shots later, and three Instagram posts later, it was boring.

“I like this one, Bae and I…the world can wait…Are you always mysterious and introspective?” She asked curious as ever.

Truth was he just wrote something. “Um…I’d rather refer to it as being spontaneous.” his was a cheeky yet smart reply.

The evening wore on beautifully. They went to dinner, and just…talked! And with each conversation, they felt less vulnerable with each other.

“So….how does it feel to be a billionaire’s son?” She asked with a soft laugh.

“You tell me. Your father is a billionaire as well. Billionaires in Naira are just starting. When you convert the net worth to the dollar, it’s not so much anyway.” He shrugged.

“Oh please…..this is not an interview with the Financial Times, can you just be real?!”

“Ok…well there are two sides: you have a lot of fun because you can do almost anything, money is not exactly a problem. It can make you stupid because what others consider a blessing, you see it as a right. Then there’s the other side where you work crazy hard to protect your wealth.”

“….And you play hard as well?” She asked with a wink.

“Maybe in my early twenties. Straight out of college, partied hard, painted the town red. I almost got into trouble a lot. But God’s mercy, that’s what I call it, just helped me cos the moments of pleasure versus the long-term effects….” Is there something she wants to know?

Their dessert arrived just in time.

“So are there any liver problems, STDs or diseases I should know about?” They both laughed.

“Girl, are you like out of your mind? Oh wait you’re a doctor, I forgot that. I’m sorry I can’t provide my medical history….” Another laugh. “….But as far as I know, I had none of those. I consider that to be a miracle in itself.”

The marriage issue was the elephant in the room though and as they ‘washed down’ dinner and desert with a glass of wine. Shade decided to ‘hunt the elephant’:

“I have being dying to ask a question..” Shade started.

“Shoot.” Will the questions ever end? He played cool though.

“This marriage benefits you more than me. You become CEO, you lead a Billion Naira company into the future, and I give you kids. You can play along and have an affair outside, like some side-chick or something like most African men….why aren’t you going along?”

He sighed, and took a long sip from his chapman; The grilled Chicken was to die for!

“First of all, when you say MOST African men cheat, that’s an accusation without empirical evidence…..”

“….I apologize”

“…..Second I don’t want to do this to you to me, to us…this….arranged thing where we have no commitment, and we are almost being forced….”

“Who says we have no commitment? We’d say vows in front of a pastor or priest in front of God?!….” She protested.

“…more like lying. Because we haven’t made up our minds to…or more like I haven’t made up my mind to. I’m not sure this is how God intended marriage in the beginning.” Demi made his case with the most serious look she had ever seen of him.

There was a silence brief but meaningful and her next words came right out of her heart. “You are a godly man. Are you religious?”

He gave her a look that made her clarify her question: “Mercy….miracles…..now…marriage and God’s intention?!”

“Well I am a Christian…..” He replied afraid that all his street-cred was about to be burned yet at peace with his confession.

“Jesus-follower Christian? or Christianity as per religion?” Shade asked her voice slightly lowered.

“Jesus follower Christian!” Demi said even more sure this time. She was quiet. He did not know what to think.

“Karl Max said religion is the opium of the masses. Most people around here need God for blessings, miracles and breakthroughs, why on earth do you need God? C’mon you know I’m right.” She had to speak a bit louder above the sound filtering from a Jazz band playing on the hotel foyer across the room.

“Shade, the point of Christianity is not getting blessings. Man’s ultimate purpose is to worship God. Without it, life is empty and meaningless. This applies whether you are rich or poor.” Where did that answer come from?

“Wow, well I wouldn’t call myself religious. I am sure God would be very mad with me at the very least.” Shade forced a laugh. He was straight-faced.

“Why?”

“Let’s see…one….I partied hard in college, alcohol, some drugs in my freshman year. And oh…sexperiments in my sophmore year. I was sober in my Senior year” Shade winked. Demi mouthed ‘wow’. She laughed.

“….oh one more…” She looked away. “..Early on in my medical practice, I lost a child, a patient, due to neglect. I mean I misdiagnosed his condition, and prescribed a drug that killed him. My supervisor swept it under the carpet and the hospital paid a very heavy fine to keep the family quiet. I was fired to avoid the scrutiny of a medical board which could revoke my license. And to this day, I live with a guilt nothing can ever take away.”

“…..But the blood of Jesus certainly can! And before we had our crazy life moments, God was ‘crazy’ enough to send his son to die on the cross so that anyone who believes in Him via His son Jesus can have their sins paid for, thus they are forgiven and free. Nothing we have ever done is bigger than what Jesus did on Calvary. But we have got to accept and appropriate the grace freely given.”

There was silence! Like one where no one is sure exactly what should be said. He took her hand and squeezed it gently but firm. Are you even supposed to do that? Demi Focus. He cautioned himself.

The night was getting windy and it was their cue to hitch a cab to the hotel. “Demi, did you just preach to me?!” she said once they were in the cab. She had switched moods almost instantly.

“Yup. I think I might have. Was it good?” Demi replied attempting to sound upbeat.

“I don’t know…But if it was I’m supposed to be crying and converted. But since I’m not…oops sorry.” She laughed in a way that if he hadn’t known better, he’d call her drunk.

“You are evil.” He said with a grin.

“Sorry! But seriously I would think about it.” She said with a smile.

“I have to write that letter to my Dad tonight.” Shade said a few moments later, bringing their minds back to the plan. He agreed she should. They needed to stay focused.

The plan was for her to go to the US and email her father vowing not to return until the whole marriage was cancelled. Abuja was also Demi’s secret part to see if he was right to dismiss Shade. Only he knew that part though. So far, he wasn’t sure if he ever wanted to let her go though.

It is so hard to say Goodbye

Saturday moved so quickly. In the morning, Shade got a call from the airline:

“Yes ma’am your ticket purchase was approved and we even have a flight to New York you can be on tonight, if you want?”

“I’d take it !” She replied quickly before she changed her mind. Demi wasn’t sure if he liked the plan anymore.

All afternoon, they shopped. She wanted to take away as many Nigerian memories as possible: Sandals, hats, hand-made shoes, books, Kilichi, bags, clothes, etc. By early evening there was a full box, scratch that, two full boxes.

In the evening, she was ready to go and when they got to the airport, neither wanted the plan anymore but neither had the courage to opt out.

She checked in and thereafter they had some time before she would finally disappear. They shared a Coke, just one can, with plantain chips. They were barely talking now.

“Shade, you are beautiful and smart. A doctor with prospects and a bright future…..”

Oh God please let him beg me to stay, not to go. I won’t even move. Wait Shade you’ve got to have a response. Focus.

“….Get a job in the US! You have lived your life with your father’s decisions, now you live! Live the life you have always dreamed and don’t you look back.” He closed his eyes meaning every word.

What?! Is he pushing me away? Is he even serious? “What?!” Shade blurted out.

“What?!” He replied. She stood up suddenly. “Are you sending me away? Demi? I live where I want, I do what I want! My decisions are my decisions. Yes my father has directed them, but I made those decisions. Don’t you tell me what I can or cannot do with my life!” Now Shade was raising her voice as tears welled up in her throat.

What did you just do Einstein? You just ruined a perfect moment Demi. Why are you just stupid?  “Shade please don’t take this the wrong way!”

“How am I supposed to take it?” He begged. This wasn’t happening. “I was…….” He was interrupted by the airport announcer.

“Passengers boarding Emirates Flight A630 to JFK, New York, please proceed to gate 3 immediately! Passengers boarding Emirates Flight A630 to JFK, New York, please proceed to gate 3 immediately.”

Shade turned and left. Demi stood wondering what in the world had just happened. It would be a long trip to Lagos in the morning. He would take the bus.

*****************************************

Somewhere midflight across the Atlantic, Shade recalled the entire situation and cried her eyes out. Did she overreact? Was Thursday, Friday and Saturday a romantic scam? For one moment, she had felt he was very sincere but why did he push her away? “Get a job in the US? Who is he to tell me where I am to live. If he didn’t want me, why didn’t he just say so..?” She gathered herself and she wondered if she hadn’t created a scene already. Thankfully she hadn’t.

Her eyes travelled across the aisle to a Hispanic couple. The man appeared to be in pain and what appeared to be a nebulizer on his nose. The woman, his wife seemed to reading to him from a tablet. Was she speaking English? Shade strained to listen for some reason:

She could hear the woman reading in English above her accent: “….I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.”

Was God trying to talk to her?

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