RAKIYA (2)

Episode 1

Rakiya was jostled out of her thoughts as Ali thundered a slap across her cheek. She collapsed to the mud floor as her baby let out a cry. Rakiya had been lost in her thoughts- in her world, soliloquizing without an awareness of Ali’s presence. Ali is her husband. She was betrothed to him at the age of six when he visited her parents with some firewood and yam tubers. He was forty. She experienced menarche at the age of nine, and her father parceled her to her husband’s house the following day to prevent her from zina. Ali was forty-three. Rakiya had cursed her menarche. Ali broke her in roughly the same night and left her writhing in pains. “What is happening to me?” She had cried all night long. She cried every time Ali went out and returned home. It did not matter if she was sore or bleeding, Ali’s desires must be satisfied. It was either she submitted her body, or met a harsh fate of whips and lashes before the eventual rape. He owned her. He bought her. She must obey and yield. She will be blessed by doing so. None of it made sense to her, but she was told it is the way of Allah. Allah has a great deal of respect and love for women, and this is shown in the ordinances he had commanded to protect her. Rakiya would sometimes wonder if the Imams were lying about everything. Why did Allah speak to men alone? Why did his ordinances change concerning men? Do they not want him to greatly love and respect them as much as he does women? Rakiya felt the laws and commandments were too prejudiced in favour of men and said another prayer to bind and resist the rebellion that shaytan was planting in her heart against Allah’s will.


Ali was a zealot. More like a fanatic, a bigot. Whilst the men in her life gave away her life and childhood to prevent her from the wayward life, they somewhat endowed themselves with the religio-cultural liberty to have sexual relations with men, women, and beasts alike. Rakiya suffered recurrent sexually transmitted infections and miscarriages in the first two years of her marriage. On a certain night, she feared she might die like her mother and escaped the hut, trekking 5.7km to the Médecins Sans Frontieres outstation. It was a cold and windy harmattan night. With wobbly feet and quaky lips, she collapsed a few yards away from the clinic. The health workers took her in and contacted her father by procedure. Her father, Mallam Nasir abdicated responsibility to her husband, Ali, who stormed the clinic with his friends and harassed the doctors to discharge her. It was not cultural for two men to own a woman. You are either the property of your father or the property of your husband. Hence, since she got married, she had become the property and responsibility of her husband but unfortunately, the health workers were alien to the culture and called on her father instead of her husband. It was the ill-treatment from Ali that prompted her to trade some of her mother’s wrappers and jewellery for two hundred and twenty naira. She thought it wise to have some money to look after her own health and her baby’s health but the religious council ruled such a thought as rebellion against her husband and lack of submissiveness.
Another kick from Ali brought her back from her mind to the reality of the hut.


“Kai, ki tashi ki bani abinci, ki bar mafarkin hauka anan!” Ali commanded her once more to go get him his food and stop hallucinating.

Image from brainkart.com

The baby’s cry had reduced to barely audible whimpers. She should not have been born. Does Ali know that she wants the baby dead? That she is sorry for bringing the baby into this messy world? Is anybody aware that she has had a sprain in her wrists since she had the baby? Do they even care that she is not lactating? Rakiya had shriveled up to 22kg at 12years of age, lying by her baby- a tiny bag of bones, she wished Ali would kick her once more and crash the hut on her and the child. For the first time since she had the baby she had refused to name, tears rolled down her face as she shut her eyes and sojourned into the abyss. A cold stream of water rushed over her and she jerked back to consciousness, gasping for breath as she woke up to Ali cussing her. Ali threatened to deal with her and stormed into the room to get a whip. Rakiya looked across the room and beheld her poor baby, looking lifeless. A gush of maternal energy thrust through her childish bones and she picked her up and fled. Not knowing what to do, she pulled her hijab from her head and wrapped the emaciated lifeless child with it as she defied the gust of harmattan wind and dust as darkness enveloped the day. She ran through the dark, determined to make the 5.7km journey once more and submit the child at the feet of nurses, even if that was the last thing she did before dying. Rakiya struggled to breathe as she ran, but she had no will to stop. From a distance, she beheld the rays from the security halogen lamps of the facility and started breathing through her mouth to augment her oxygen needs. It was dry air and fine dust, leaving her throat parched and dry. But she kept running.


“Rakiya. Her name is Rakiya. Malnourished…Carpal Tunnel Syndrome…Baby is in shock…cyanosis…postpartum depression…page surgery for VVF!”

Rakiya struggled to accommodate the bright lights and commotion as orders were flying from one person to another. The Flying Doctors ambulance landed on the helipad of the Trauma Center at the National Hospital, Abuja.


“Stay with me, Rakiya. I’m Dr. Amina. Your baby will be fine. You will be fine.”


She had passed out enroute the clinic and the Medecins Sans Frontieres ambulance had picked her up by the roadside on a return trip from Maiduguri. At first, the paramedics thought she was a victim of a hit-and-run but when the emergency doctor examined her and the child, there was no such indication. The baby was in coma and the team proceeded to fight for the mother’s life. Air lifting them to Abuja after preliminary care was the general consensus of the team on call. Dr. Amina was in the air ambulance and closely monitored the vital signs every second. She had two children to look after- one was a mother, one was a baby; two children failed by the same country.


“Nagode sosei.” Rakiya whispered inaudibly as the gurney descended with the elevator. She remembered Dr. Amina from the village outstation. Her baby will be named Amina.


“Zan lura da ke, Rakiya. I will take care of you.” She clasped her hands in hers as she briefed the attending trauma surgeon.

Epilogue:

Rakiya is a fictional character whose life is representative of the lives of children, especially girls, in many parts of the world, particularly the Northeastern part of Nigeria where many are not just impoverished and denied basic human rights, but are victims of local and global political and religious oppression just because of where they were born.

Forced into child marriages, poverty is further propagated as many have been displaced by the ongoing war between the government and terrorists. Homeless, many are further oppressed by the NGOs who use their faces to raise and misappropriate funds.

We should not be shy to have these conversations. Our world is not safe until the least privileged and most vulnerable is respected and dignified. From UNICEF to state assemblies, we should keep up the pressure to outlaw child marriage.

There is a Dr. Amina in every Rakiya if we care to nurture our children.

#ChildNotBride

RAKIYA (1)


Pulka, Borno State, Nigeria.
Sunset, 10/12/2018.


The loudspeaker from the village mosque blared the call for the maghrib, summoning faithfuls for the sunset prayer. Men often went to the mosque to pray, while the women stayed back at home. Islam has strict rules against women praying in the same place as men; the village ustaz taught them that this was to protect the women because even if they provided a demarcation, anything can still happen and fingers will be pointed at the victims. Proving impropriety exposes the woman to social ridicule. Proving impropriety is a long tortuous, almost futile journey. Hence, religious leaders agreed that prevention is indeed better than cure.
Rakiya was still as footsteps of male faithfuls raised the dust beside her wooden window. Couched in a corner of her hut, lost in a world in her mind; somewhere faraway, she wondered what life truly meant. She pulled herself up and prepared to perform her prayers. Her devotion was to Allah. Regardless of how her life had turned out, He created her and ordained her to go through life as His servant. She picked her sleeping baby from the mat, strapped her to her back, and went to the back yard to prepare dinner. It was important for her that dinner was ready before Isha prayer time to prevent heavy-handed punishment from her husband.

Rakiya hurried to the backyard to sort out the firewood from the storage, and that was when she painfully realised that the corrugated iron sheet laid upon the logs of wood to protect them from rain had been blown off by tropical winds; the logs were drenched. She hurried to the Mallam’s, shop down the corner and purchased some coal with all she had.

It was twenty naira.

She had been saving up for six months to start her business. She sold some of her late mother’s belongings and made two hundred and twenty naira in proceeds. Her husband had beaten her and dragged her before the family head. It was adjudicated that she was rebellious and not submissive as Islam has commanded wives to be; thus, she was forbidden from any venture or business but instructed to always obey her husband to merit the full rewards of Allah. Unknown to the panel, she lied when she told them she only made two hundred naira from the sales. She reserved twenty naira for herself. Rakiya fanned the coal cubes to a bright red glow and dinner was underway. She gathered her vessels and proceeded to the community reservoir to fetch some water for her family. The sun was on its way home but the evening was still warm. The earth was well baked from the day’s heat and the radiation was everywhere, the water was warm. However, evenings are refreshing. Farmers returning home and calling out greetings to one another, children playing in the streets, traders returning from the market and recounting the day’s gossip, Rakiya enjoyed the buzz before darkness blankets the village. The buzz this particular evening had a peculiar spring to it; she overheard a conversation between two okada riders and could gather that the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Hon. Mustapha Goje might visit the community for the Jumat prayers on Friday. She once saw his wife, Senator Halima Goje at the polls,her Ankara glistened with bright stones; market women gossiped that the attire was nothing less than 250,000 naira- a sum Rakiya could never comprehend, but associated with affluence. The women had mentioned Lagos and America in the gossip. Rakiya once saw a beautiful picture of Lagos on the television as she stretched her neck into the only barber’s shop the village boasted of while she hawked masa for her step-mother. It was forbidden to be seen with boys or be associated in gatherings with men, so she dared not step in. Lagos looked beautiful from her glance, at least busy. She often wondered what life was, behind the hills of Pulka. She grew up with aspirations to be a big woman, own a big shop, and export Ankara fabrics to America. Inspired by the rich wives of politicians, she knew she could make it in trade if she sold what they needed. Her aspirations grew when she heard from Okada men at the park that a black man became the President of America.


“America? What is America like?”

Rakiya had such unanswered questions locked in her mind. She could not approach the men, and the women had no answers. America sounded big, bigger than how Lagos sounded and everyone seemed to know America.

“Could America be the gateway to Al-jana?” She built towering imaginations in her mind and cherished them. However, she also learnt that America was an enemy- an enemy of her people. She had no understanding, but she overheard the boys say that America is against the will of Allah. America in Rakiya’s mind was a land of possibilities and horror in conflicting but equal proportions. She had encouraged herself that if she harnessed the values her mother taught her, she could work hard and be like the city woman, Sen. Halima, and someday showcase her culture and business to the wife of the American President – her Ankara fabric, her big henna shop.


“Can a woman even be president in America?” Rakiya wondered. She wondered where the thought came from having been taught by religion and culture that men are natural leaders and women are natural supporters. Has she ever seen a woman speak up in the mosque before? Why was she thinking in rebellion? Rakiya closed her eyes and quietly asked for forgiveness because she had allowed shaytan whisper sin to her mind.


“Young woman! Get me my food and stop hallucinating. You’re running insane! A woman can never lead men.”

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The Abyss (3)

In 2008, she was sent to school empty with no food, not even toothpaste. Just two thousand naira. Her parents had told her that there was no money. She had a thousand and four hundred naira left when she got to campus. She decided to buy a bar soap, toothpaste, and a toothbrush. Left with a thousand and two hundred naira and not knowing what food to buy from it, she returned to her hostel and curled up in bed as her roommates offloaded their bags of food from home. “You look so lean and pale. Are you sick? One of them had asked. “I’m fine now” she responded. She was not sick, she lied out of embarrassment. By the next morning, she woke up to the news of the party her parents threw to host their club the same day she left home. It pierced her heart.

Every thing began to make sense. Her father had told her that if she were a decent and considerate child she would have postponed her university education for his extramarital child to complete hers first. He further went to brag to Tola’s face that his other child would be very successful and bag scholarships because she is respectful of her father. Those were days of innocence, Tola took no offence. She had stopped expecting things from her father in SS2 when she asked and did not receive. It was understood that her father’s family never wanted her for her gender and her complexion and they had plainly communicated it to her. Somehow, she only felt a tinge of rejection while experiencing it because she did not expect much from them. Seeing her father express the same sentiments as them only added pain to the tinge of rejection. She simply managed it by withdrawing into a shell, away from him. It was easy to manage provided it came from him. It was impossible to manage when it came from her mother. Tola had extolled her sacrifices and motherhood. The anticlimax of her mom was difficult to bear. It crushed her. Once, she was drenched in her tears at 11pm and her friend had to visit and offer comfort.


Life did not get easier. It got tougher and she had to toughen up. Toughening up gave her an adapted personality, but it helped her move on. A crucial point came in time and Tola was not just abandoned by her mother, she was lied to. This forced her to remember her 1999/2000 session in secondary school. Her mother, in trying to establish a legacy of success had exempted her elder sister from all chores to give her time to prepare for WASSCE. Her success would be a family legacy. Tola stepped up to fill the gap. It was stressful. That was when her appetite changed. Running the family, trekking over 10km to school, 1.5km to fetch water, and another 5km to get supplies for dinner, while looking after two younger siblings and a baby brother at 11-13years took its toll on her school performance. She sat for her junior WASSCE and passed, but she does not look at the certificate because the grades do not represent her abilities. It was a sacrifice for the family and it will be worth it, provided her elder sister was successful at her final exams. Thankfully, she was. A family legacy was established. Tola was next in line to propagate the legacy. Years passed by quickly and when she was to write the exam, there was no exemption from house chores for her to prepare. Nobody even cared. The policy had been abolished. Her brothers challenged her on the legitimacy of the policy and won. Only one legacy remained, to pass the exam at a sitting. It was no big feat to achieve because it was imperative by her own standards to pass it once. Getting into secondary school, her father had threatened that if she did not pass the entrance and interview exams to get into the desired school, he was going to dump her in an unrated community school. Tola already foresaw depression and hooliganism as definite outcomes of such a school and every time she remembered the threat, she was motivated afresh to pass both exams. Academic excellence became her own culture. Something she must achieve with or without threats or help, even when it meant studying under the moonlight.


She had pushed on, firmly believing that education and faith in God liberates from shackles and limitations. She had believed in family – a safe place where you will always be welcome, no matter what. However, 2019 rolled into 2020 and while she was still looking out for family and clinging on to every thread of relationship with them while slipping into the abyss, they could not hear her cry for help. She had wept for a straight week. The uncontrollable tears of abandonment. She was in agony. Her heart ached.

Sometimes in March, she balled into a corner and wept for hours. She had earlier told her mother that she might be battling depression but her mother had rebuked it in Jesus’ Name. Scared that she was losing her mind, she called a friend and told him she would have to see a therapist but she was too broke to afford one. Winter was intense. She stopped running and hiding and called her mother “you are the one I’m angry at”, she lamented “Mummy, you really abandoned me. What have I done wrong? You come through for everyone except me. I feel unwanted and abandoned.” Like a mother, she allowed her. “You’re wanted. Don’t ever feel unwanted”she responded “just understand that I bear the responsibilities alone and I’m trying my best.” Tola experienced a moment of catharsis. She felt relieved.

For a while, she came into healing when she stopped running and addressed the source of this new channel of anger. She did not feel like she needed therapy anymore. It was sorted out. She was fine. She reconnected with the family group and reverted to saviour mode, looking for whose needs can be met, checking on people, and trying to foster relationships. Once, she had told her mother that she did not know that her sister was owed a month’s salary but her mother had responded on the group that that is what happens when you are not close to people. It felt like a public jab. Her idea of a family was a unit more closely knit than the Kardashian unit, but overtime she had come to terms with the fact that her family was not designed that way. She could only try to build her own future family as she desires. Ignoring the jab, she apologised to her sister and moved to assist financially while wallowing in a financial mess herself. She spotted acne on her youngest sister and moved to fix it by ordering some products. That would be the most they have spoken in the year. She sourced a business project for her youngest brother. It did not take long for her to see that the relationships were plastic, they were not working. Worried about the same thing years ago, she had complained to her mother that most of her siblings only hollered when they needed something and she was beginning to feel used and unloved. Here she was again with nothing tangible to discuss with her siblings. Each person seemed to be involved with their own friends, their own social media, their own worlds. One could literally send a message and get ignored for days. When she got tired of reaching out, she hollered her sister and told her that she’d not heard from her in a while and she felt like they were drifting apart. Her sister had apologised and made an excuse that the family group was enough platform for communication. She got the message. It was almost the last time she made much attempt to communicate. Respecting people’s space was important. While not trying to have a transactional relationship but a meaningful one, she still decided to send a token to warm up the atmosphere for communication.
It did not take long for her to see that there was no genuine relationship.

Her brother who might share a similar degree of abandonment had reached out for a need but received no attention, not even in words. She had reached out to him and sent a token. Shortly after that, a party ensued. She reached out to her sister and asked why inspite of the fact that the family ignored his need, we responded with a party. As a non-aggrieved fencist, she responded that she had stopped letting herself get worked up by such. Her response took Tola to 2017 when her sister was in need but she could not help. She did not take the position of the non-aggrieved fencist when she realised that mother had the means to help; rather, Tola stood as her sister’s advocate and pleaded a good case, urging mother that her sister might plunge into depression if the family did not help. Mother instantly helped though it was not convenient for her. Father and her elder sister had an excellent relationship and he is often happy to come to her aid. Tola realised that her sister could have taken up a more active position than the placid stance. Perhaps, a fundamental difference in personality. She remembered how her friend’s non-limpid approach was the bone behind the success of her sister. She did not only mobilise the family on two occasions to rescue her from depression, she challenged the embassy legally and got her baby sister her visa. Talk about the strength and safety of family even when you fail.

Tola soaked herself in the tub as though to rinse away her embarrassment. She had recently lashed out at her brother and though she knew she was right, she felt she was wrong and apologised, promising to not antagonise him again. She was exasperated not just by the issue at hand, but by the string it pulled. Her brother was of the religious stock that idolised ignoble leaders as some messiah. One’s political inclination is not a problem as much as where they stand on matters of justice and humanity. Morality became immoral the moment it united with sycophancy and bigotry to justify injustice against humanity. People could disagree on inflation indices, doctrines, economic policies, but where it pertains to (racially motivated) murders, religious terrorism, (religion motivated) women subjugation, violation of human rights, injustice against children, and such issues that fundamentally stem from who you are, Tola believed that if your opinions on these topics consistently align in a certain direction, you do not have an opinion, you have a character. She had lashed out at her brother and stormed out. Though she was right, she felt she was wrong in that uncomfortable conversations that drive change cannot be held in isolation and must be held without aggression. Her mother reached out to her and told her to grow in maturity and wisdom. Her father reached out with similar words. Her siblings fenced her out. Nobody gave a hoot if she was dead or alive.


Embarrassed and defeated, she wished she had not lashed out. Not because she craved the non-existent relationships, but because she could have not made things worse by jarring their feelings. She returned into hiding for days and tried to confront what was consuming her.


“Ifeanyi, I lashed out again.”  She texted a friend who is a doctor.


“You’ve tried. I can’t blame you”


“I’ve apologised but I will stay away to deal with this. I think this is depression. It’s been more challenging this year.”


“I know you. You’re bigger than depression. It’s normal to lash out. It’s normal to cry. I’m almost depressed myself and you will help me out.”


“Thank you. It’s not normal. If you knew me before, you’d know it’s not normal. I’ll need some space.”


“Please don’t push me away, baby.”


“I’m not pushing you away. I promise you. I just need some time to face this.”


“Okay. I’ll be hear if you need me.”


Tola felt alone in a dark pit. Ifeanyi did not know her enough to help her. He had been through a lot and been a very good friend, she did not want to afflict him with her woes or sap the energy out of the friendship. She also did not want to disturb Austin, who just found love. Austin was a key reason she had survived the year. Her very own guardian angel. She knew who she must talk to, her soul mate, her brother, her friend and lover, he was eight hours away and must be asleep, but she had blocked him. Blocked him over a communal tragedy. She had missed him every single day since she blocked him but was terrified to unblock him. She had blocked him to preserve the sweet memories and prevent the bad ones from forming. Unblocking him was a risk she was willing to take. His arms will always be open.


“Hi Ayobami, I know I have unfriended and blocked you. I’m struggling with depression. I need you.” Tola summoned courage to push the send button.


He instantly responded and gave her a call.
“Babe, let’s go through this together. You don’t have to fight this alone.”


“It aggravated in 2018, when I started lashing out” Tola dissolved into tears as she recounted history.


“I knew it! It was 2018. I saw the changes. I’d sometimes see your reaction to certain things and tell myself that this is not Tola. How did your family not see this?… Where was I when you were homeless?… I’m so sorry. I’ve never seen you this emotional and I’m sorry I made you block me by not choosing my words. How did your sister not see that you’re lashing out?… And your brothers?… It’s a cry for help. I knew when it began to happen because you’re a pure soul and so full of love. You have a saviour mentality like I do, but I’ll need you to be there for yourself for now. Just a little selfishness. I’m happy that you reached out to me.”


“You’re the one person who truly knows me.”


“I was afraid your last memory of me would be horrible. It shattered me. You’re the one person I’ll always love and nothing will change that… let’s do this more often… you’re not alone. Let’s do this together. Okay? I’ve never seen you this emotional but I can assure you that we will win. I love you always”.

“Thank you for taking my call.”


With that, it was easier for Tola to embrace the night, feeling looked after and not abandoned. Having unburdened her heart and facing her shame in tears, she knew the powers the abyss held over her were broken. Her friend came in as a one-man SWAT team with a beam of light from the chopper and a lifeline to rescue her. She was thrown into the pit, but like Joseph, she was sure of getting out; like Jesus, the grave will not hold her down.

The Abyss (2)

An outcast.

Ugly memories overwhelmed her. She wanted to draw the curtains, but she knew better than to waste her time on such wish again. God did not honour them in times past, she is sure He will not honour them now. Like Jesus, she surrendered her spirit; not unto death, but she gave up the fight, recklessly abandoning herself to God’s care. If it be death, so be it.
She closed the app and managed to drag herself to the bathroom to prepare for the day’s work.

It was going to be a big busy day at work. Everyone was excited about it. Everyone, except her. Her performance was stellar at work, but her spirit was down. Her managers could see it. “Try and speak up. Try and raise your voice. Try and engage more. Try and add some cheerfulness.” She would agree to every evaluation and try to raise her voice but her voice would not go up by a decibel extra. How would she explain that she needed to raise her soul for her voice to add a decibel and she has been struggling to raise her soul? She thought of lying that her voice was heavy because of the advent of winter but the lie made no sense, so she aborted it in her head and promised each time to do better. Each time, her performance improved, but her cheerfulness declined, and she got the same evaluation.


She hid in the bathroom during her break and ignored the pangs in her stomach. Anger? How did I get here? She splashed some cool water on her face to reduce puffiness from tears and returned to work.

“Are you comfortable talking to people?” Her manager had asked at some point.


“Yes, I am. I’m sorry it’s been a tough day for me. I promise to do better.” She responded and actively tried to put in effort. How would she have explained that she had avoided her mother’s call because she felt enormous pressure about the video call, and was hiding because she was ashamed, embarrassed, and defeated? She was hiding her face and her voice.
She wrapped up work, assuring herself that the next day was going to be a better day. She knew the traits: outbursts of anger, tears, apathy, panic, withdrawal, lethargy. Lethargy was all easy for her to manage with pills, glucose, and vitamins. She excused withdrawal as some self-development, when in reality, she was hiding. Panic was all new to her, and she could not properly rationalise it. Apathy could be scary. She recently asked a friend : “is it okay to like someone one day, and the next, I do not care about them though they’ve done no wrong?”


“It’s totally okay, dear”


“Ah! Thank you!” she relaxed “I thought it wasn’t normal and something was wrong with me.”


“You’re absolutely fine, my dear.” He loved her, so he saw no wrong but she knew a lot was wrong and she needed help. Nothing tells her that a lot was wrong as the unnecessary tears, apathy, and outbursts of anger. The most shameful and embarrassing was anger – lashing out at people and overreacting to issues. How does she walk into a clinic and tell the doctor “I have some problems. One of them is anger. I think I’m struggling with depression.” She would most likely say it with a smile and a calm voice, making the doctor think she’s absolutely crazy for wasting his time. Yet, she does not just smile because she is pleasant or something is funny, she smiles when she is embarrassed.

Lashing out at someone is embarrassing. More embarrassing when you beat yourself up for it and drag yourself in humility to apologise for your indiscretion. It did not matter to her if the other person was wrong, overreacting demands an apology because you have unnecessarily hurt the other person’s feelings and probably strained a relationship. When did she become this?


2018.


2018 was a hard year to forget. It is no secret that everytime she thinks about an ex or somebody mentions an ex, her mind goes to just one person. It was a very hurtful heartbreak. It snapped her body and snapped her mind. She remembered that a doctor looked after her body, but she left her mind unlooked after. She was a naturally shy person, and quite reticent by primary nature. She could not take time off work to deal with the heartbreak, so she bottled the pain as she returned to work. Her best friend had called a day after the heart break and instead of offering comfort, she was cold and cruel. Tola remembered how she had travelled to comfort her friend when she was in a fix, and got offended at how cold her friend was. She told her to back off. Her friend got upset and ended the call. The following day in her pain, she decided to reach out to her friend and iron out the matter, but her friend had already called off the friendship. The pain became real. How do you go through a cruel heartbreak without your friend? She spoke with her friend’s mom and brother and realised that her friend had given her mom a standing order to not communicate with her. The rejection aggravated. She was forced to confront a heartbreak from a lover and a heartbreak from a friend alone. She could not face it alone, so she buried it.

That was when she started lashing out. She would apologise for lashing out, then it would happen again. She became quite easily irritated. She had been running from an unwholesome adaptation. The abandonment and hurtful words from family even when she was homeless haunted her. 2018 pulled all toxins from history into present. Her first job was to cater to the family. She remembered when her colleagues had saved up enough to further their lives after a year but she had only saved a fraction, her sister whom she had been the most financially committed to asked her what she had done with her money that she had no savings.


“Beauty without brains”, “you’re a useless sanctimonious plastic Saint”, “this person is a choice child and will do better than you”. Words from her parents that she had buried with kirk Franklin’s Imagine me came back to punish her.


Over what my momma said and healed from what my daddy did. I wanna live and not read that page again.” She’d sang at first in tears, and then with joy, celebrating a breakthrough.


However, 2018 made it seem like her breakthrough broke her through. Not for once did her father call to offer comfort. Neither did her mother. For comfort, she went talking to the ex-lover who disrespected her some more and this aggravated Tola who begged her mother to not open the door for disrespect. She felt a fresh start might help her get a new beginning, so she changed her environment and changed her job. Changed her church, changed her car picked up a craft, changed her job. It greatly helped in moving on, and moving on she did till she embarked on a project bigger than her hustle. For 2years, she begged, grovelled, she even asked that the assistance came as a loan, yet she got none. It would have been better if she got none because there was lack. Unfortunately, she got none because she was a nonentity. After declaring that there was no money, her parents had thrown two big parties that were the talk of the town. That was the idea, if the town would not talk about the parties you threw two months apart, why throw them? She saw how money was lavished and she felt raw pain. She remembered another year.


2008.

Next episode

The Abyss (1)



Forcing herself to sleep through the night but barely getting any sleep from the 9 hours she invested into getting quality sleep, Tola woke up, fatigued, and familiar with the feeling. The cloud of heaviness was palpable. She was digging into the earth, begging to be buried. She had hidden from everything. Disappeared from Facebook, vanished from twitter, deactivated her email notifications, placed her phone permanently on silence, and avoided taking calls. She preferred to be contacted by text messages and chats, chiefly because they give her the power of attorney – the rights to respond at a convenient time or not. By “convenient time” she meant replying after taking time to prepare herself to make up her mind to read the messages. She recently stopped communicating with her soul-friend on the basis of a fundamental difference in ideologies where human rights are concerned. It hit her. It tore her apart, but she did not want to watch him metamorphose into the unimaginable. She desired to preserve the remnant of the person she knew.

Days had gone by with her struggling for sleep and appetite. This particular week was a struggle. She had lashed out at her loved ones in that all-too-familiar irrational anger, and hid from them. In return, they ostracised her after chastising her. In shame, she apologised but the embarrassment made her borrow her head under the ground some more. There is no where else to run to, no Facebook to deactivate, no notifications to silence; the coping mechanism is now to face the darkness she has been battling but unwilling to admit.

8:24am.


She pulled off her duvet and wondered why the bible app notification had not popped. God was not excluded from the people  and things she hid from. God had always been a refuge even in trying times. They fight, they make up. Typically, the fights range from an hour to a day. However, two months ago, she felt so let down by Him and had a panic attack. She hid it from her family and friends but confided in two friends. The walls closed in on her. Her heart raced so fast, her heart pounded so forcefully, and her mind went blank as anxiety crippled her in the exam cubicle. The previous day it was hysteria. She cancelled the exam and returned home, feeling relieved and fresh. A heavy burden was lifted. The money and time she spent preparing did not matter to her at this point. She was thankful that she did not lose her mind. “It’s accumulated pressure from this year” she had told her friend who called her on her way back home “I have been greatly stressed this year “. She returned home to rest and take the exam a month later. Back in the exam hall, a different venue, she fought to keep it together. “You are all you have” she told herself as she faced the first segment and struggled to catch up. “I can do this”, she kept reassuring herself as her head pounded. Confident that she had flunked the first segment, she decided to take the optional ten minutes break and restrategise for the second lap. She excused herself for the bathroom, shut the door and looked into the mirror “You have to do this. You have to win this fight”, she fought some more with words as she put the woeful first lap behind her and went in for the second phase. It was not an easier lap. Her head pounded, fatigue set in, she struggled to keep her focus as time raced against her. She could not complete all the questions before time ran out. The result was instant; while she did not break the ceiling, she did not perform too poorly. With that, she signed out and left the hall for a walk in fall. The evening was beautiful. The golden sun glistened from the windscreens of polished vehicles. Beautiful red maple leaves added colour to yellow trees and evergreen fir trees. The air was fresh, nature was happy. A beautiful lady with a brunette hair rode past in a blood red Tesla model 3. “Whoosh! Sexy” she smiled at the car as though she understood car language.


8:30am


She summoned courage to stay on the journey to make peace with God. The Bible app had the daily verse, a  video recording of a non-judgemental preacher delivering a six minute sermon, a script that preached the topic in a different light, a prayer, some encouragement, and a place to request prayer.


“Request prayer?” she asked in her mind. The app afforded you options to request privately or share with friends. There was a column to put the issue. “Pain”. She deleted it faster than she typed it. She does not want a track record of her abyss. If she died, she did not want people finding it out and throwing a pity coffee chat. She did not want a record of it on the Internet. She dug into the app and saw some topics for people going through a challenge. She knew she must select “Anger”, but a second topic caught her attention “When God does not make sense”.  “This must be a non-judgmental app”, she reassured herself in her mind that the pastors on the app are probably not the evangelicals who could fit as Christian terrorists. She erased the thoughts as she tried to focus on the devotional. Yet, she couldn’t assimilate what she read.


“God, I’m drifting away. Help me”


It was an agonising prayer. She pressed a button to activate the audio accessibility feature and have the app read the devotional to her again. She shut her eyes as tears streamed down uncontrollably. The cloud of heaviness blocked her mind. She could hear the app, but she could not assimilate. Truly, God is not making sense. A month ago, she was David in the 44th chapter of the Psalms, angry at God for failing to honour his words; here she is feeling like Jesus on the cross, feeling abandoned by a God you need.


“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani?” She laid in her agony, feeling lonely, ostracised, rejected, sinking, by God and family.

Next episode

ADÚ

Adú is a movie shot in English, French, Arabic, and Spanish languages, across certain African cultures, and available on Netflix. The main plot was in Cameroon. I am Nigerian and a self-appointed evangelist of this movie. Of course, I’m Pan-African and #ProudlyAfrica. So I’m preaching the gospel for you all to see it. I am not critiquing the movie. I’d rather ignore the subtleties and take the message. The movie and its message has kept me awake, powerful enough to intercept my “missionary” break from blogging (I have you beloved readers in mind, and I have some story finished a while ago, coming up for you by the end of the month). The movie ended on a tragic note for me.

I want ADÚ to win every award in every category (including music 🎧😁 yes! Grammys and Headies too. Give everything to him). He’s such a phenomenal child. I could never act that good, even if I were raised to the power of 10. I could not stop thinking about how he must have ignored the entire crew as though they were absent. He carried every emotion and followed them through. He transported us into the movie. I expect every award ceremony to invite him and ship every award to his home. I need to thank him for electrocuting us out of our complacency, with just enough voltage to activate our senses without killing us.

Dear to my heart since the Yemen crisis started has been the kids of Yemen, and the IDP kids of Northern Nigeria, displaced by terrorism (I feel so guilty like I haven’t done anything). I have a couple of friends working in the troubled villages of Maiduguri, bordering Chad. They provide health interventions to these kids and their families, whose only offence was that they were born in a different geographical space – born just like us. The pictures are often very disturbing. Medical textbooks might not be inclined towards publishing them. Everytime I go under my duvet in a cold weather, I remember them – homeless, cold, hungry, probably ill. I can never erase from my mind, the picture of the Syrian kid that washed on the beach. I remember the colour of his outfit, and how that did not change the world. Rather, we became more obsessed with Forbes list, possessing Instagram with glamour, hailing ourselves as billionaires, while the economy of nations ailed due to no natural cause – just man-made policies, politics, and (in)actions. Perhaps, we can all sacrifice something for our world- sacrifice a Friday hangout, a vacation, some ambition, changing your phone every six months, buying that hair,… And I hope to God that the agencies we donate to help the people in need. We are just a war (fuelled by inhumane leaders), or a disaster away from ending up like them.

(The plot in Adú was neither Yemen nor Nigeria, but the message holds)

My heart broke when Alika died and fell off the sky. I wanted to grab her and give her a proper funeral at least. I could not stop imagining the effect of temperature and pressure at such heights. I could not imagine how some people are comfortable to introduce themselves as the leaders of nations that have a sizeable number of their children in distress. I was so excited when Massar and Adú survived the night sea. It was so ecstatic, I nearly got into the screen to join the hug. I wanted to enter the screen and fight when they took Massar away. I was so upset. Adú had gone through a lot, especially with Massar. They deserved to be together. Again, the scene reminded me of the reality of many kids, separated from their loved ones at borders by policies signed into law by the leaders we vote in. It was too much to allow my mind think about why black people are immigrants but white people, even when they are illegal are not. To wander into that would be to relieve the injustices of scientists who propagated scientific racism. However, we have learnt to not sit in the pains of history. We can forge a new trajectory and rewrite history for posterity. My feelings were sinusoidal all through. I wish every Congress and legislative chamber in every part of the world, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, resume every Monday by watching Adú. Maybe the next time they plan to embezzle our common wealth or buy themselves cars in hundreds of millions, Adú’s image would flash their minds. Or they would remember Alika falling from the sky.

And you, dear voter, the next time you are tempted to defend a corrupt leader, perpetrate violence, vote a bad leader, or insult the integrity of the electoral process, remember the many Adús your choices could create or avert.

While many Sub-Saharan Africans are often irritated by the dishonest representation of Africa by Western media and movies, I am more in my feelings by the fact that African leaders validate such representations. I look forward to a future where political leadership in Africa is a call to duty, and not a clarion call to morbidly amass wealth, and impoverish the nation. Quite alright, Africa is not all poverty and slum; but I’d rather we are more concerned about the quality of life of the black African in Africa, than how some people represent it. If the average African lived a decent middle income life, there wouldn’t be a need for representation or ill-representation. Glory speaks for itself.

While I can’t wait to read your views on the movie in the comments, I shall raise an e-glass to the success of Adú and the glory of Africa! 🥂

AFFECTION IN AFFLICTION: THE MOVIE (6)

Previous episode

Bisi Alao was resplendent and glowing in her glory as the mother of the groom. She had called the CEO of Elizabeth R events,  Ibidunni Ighodalo to organize a meeting between her and the Master of Ceremony. She respectfully gave clear instructions to the woman, asking her to eliminate the cultural practice of kneeling as they do not want their daughter-in-law to kneel. Bisi had lied to her that the culture in their family was for the bride to sit on the laps of her parents-in-law, as kneeling was a sign of weakness and slavery. As recent tradition, she wore matching outfits with the bride’s mother who is now her newly found bestie. Otunba Alao and Mr. Ayinde also wore matching outfits. The photographer arrived to schedule as instructed by the event manager. Bellanaija weddings  had set the motion in stage for this wedding as Instagram fans laid in wait, expecting pictures to start pouring in. Running an earlier commentary of “how we met” generated a huge social media buzz and publicized the wedding. Lagos was the national party headquarters. Abuja was more laid back. Having a Lagos-like party with the Tejuoshos, Akinladejos, Alaos, and Adenugas in Abuja was actually a big deal. The media follows the money. Whenever Lagos money moves, the media moves. People who are naturally not a fan of the social media buzz went ahead to follow Funke on her Instagram page, after they read her story. “Such a strong woman”, “strong black woman”, “wow! She’s my senior from school o”, “black queen”, those were the comments they left on her page when pictures from her bridal showers were released. Funke is not given to the attention that wealth and success commands, perhaps because she was born into privilege and taught humanity while at it. However, her friends serenaded her with laughter as they read feedback from internet users to her.

Bimpe Onakoya, the artistic director of Maybelline, Newyork Nigeria, did not recreate her to a glorious bride, as some make up artistes do, she channeled her beauty and highlighted her features in a soft glow that allowed you see the beauty of the bride. Cameras flicked as the photography team took multiple shots from different angles. Every thing had to be in place and perfect, though the bride asked them all to ease into what they had to do. TY Bello had the signature look that screams “TY Bello” even when the picture is dispersed in a sea of a thousand pictures. Only TY Bello takes a picture like TY Bello. Ibidunni, walked in to gas the bride up for the day, showering her with encomiums while telling the beauty team they had thirty minutes to wrap up.

“We will be done in 15minutes. Just finishing touches on the make-up.”

“Aunty Bimpe, I love you. You make my work so easy.”

“We bless God, dear. Love you” Bimpe responded calmly. She sets herself to finish her work before hand and bless the bride in words and token. She considers it a privilege that she is a part of the team responsible for laying the foundation of a new home, a new generation, she does not handle it with levity. She gave the bride a reassuring maternal hug, said some prayers, and handed over the gift she had brought with her.

“Thank you, Aunty”. Funke gesticulated in gratitude.

“Congratulations, my love. I’m so proud of you” Bimpe responded. “Now let’s get the newest bride married to the love of her life!”

“Let’s just hold hands and bless this new home” Ibidunni joined hands with Funke and Bimpe in prayers, thanking God for the day and the future.

Funke sat back in the limousine reserved for the day as she watched the bridal train file out. Her maid of honour, Tinuke, one of her childhood friends who had flown in from Dublin asked if she should pour her a drink. Funke declined because she did not schedule a bathroom break and could not imagine a wedding ceremony where the bride left the solemnization to use the bathroom.

“This is so huge, Tinuke” Funke looked around “Is this even for real?”

“Wait until you see the reception, babe” Tinuke replied. “It is bigger than you think and you have not seen it all”

The parents of the couple came to the limo to be sure all was set. Beaming with smiles and full of pride for how far the planning had come, the event manager came around to inform them that they needed to be seated already.

“Daddies and mummies, please follow my assistant back into the church.” Ibidunni gently disengaged them from the bride. “Funke love, it’s time.”

The pipe organ went off with the processional hymn, the congregation rose, and the choir led the hymn”

Praise, My Soul, The King of Heaven

The sound driven by the pressurized air through the organ pipes, resonated with the vocals, and the vibration was as though angels joined and quaked the foundations of the cathedral. This was the day everything stood still for Funke as she marched down the aisle, regal in white. There was Femi, standing at the altar, the most handsome she had ever seen him. His smile revealed marble teeth, his eyes glistened. He promised to make this happen and he has. Taking it each day, in faith, in love, they had gotten here. She was walking down the aisle to meet him. Her father did not walk her. Both families are somewhat iconoclastic. Her father had rejected the notion of bride price, and neither was Otunba subscribed to the idea either. Their engagement ceremony was more of the families coming to know each other and exchanging gifts. Her father had said there was no progressive logic behind a father walking the daughter down the aisle, if not to show that she was a child that needed to be handed from one man to another. So here she is, walking herself, she looked at her father, he nodded lovingly. Her eyes caught Bisi’s beam of smiles, she looked so beautiful. Bisi blew her a kiss. Funke smiled at her mom, Otunba nodded to cheer on. Her gaze went back to her love, standing at the altar, she saw the best man pass him a handkerchief. She saw that tears had welled up in his eyes. Her heart was moved. This was really happening.

“Do you take Olufunke, Ibidunni Akande as your lawfully wedded wife?” The priest asked Femi.

“I do”. He responded with enthusiasm.

“Do you take Oluwafemi, Adekunle Alao as your lawfully wedded husband?” The priest asked Funke.

“I do”. Funke flashed him her most assuring smile.

Back in the congregation, Otunba Alao slid his hand in his wife’s and squeezed it gently. He whispered in her ears “Thank you, Bisi Alao. I love you.” She wore a girlish smile on her face and soaked in the affection.

“Do you have it here?” she whispered.

“Locked in the car.” He replied.

The couple returned their attention to enjoying the solemnization of their children and the legal addition of a daughter to their family. The little gift they had prepared for the couple would be handed over at the reception. When Otunba promised Femi while they faced hostilities from his wife, that he would make it up to them, he had nothing planned as it were, but Bisi would later come up with a gift worthy of an atonement. It had gone as planned. They were able to purchase a home in Maitama in the couple’s name and had the documents and keys wrapped in a gift box.

“The Recessional Hymn” The priest announced to close the ceremony. “The couple leads the way, followed by the bridal train, their parents, then the congregation. The Recessional Hymn: To God be the Glory”

The pipe organ led a powerful introduction, as the choir caught up with it in deep basses, and high sopranos, balanced with natural tenors and amazing altos.

To God Be the glory, great things He hath done

Author’s Note:

Thank you for staying tuned. Do not forget Ali, Femi’s new ward. We shall meet him in the future. I do hope you are safe, healthy, and observing precautions as our nations open up amidst Covid-19. Stay safe, remain bold, and keep in touch. If you enjoyed this piece, you may share the posts, and drop your comments.

AFFECTION IN AFFLICTION: THE MOVIE (5)

Previous episode

Funke poured herself into her work, touching base in whichever geographical location needed more managerial assistance and campaign in getting the product to the desired market height. While she needed Paris to pump in more money to Africa and make the desired results easier to achieve for the SSA team, it was also funny that achieving that would only work by convincing Paris that the investment was worth it by bringing returns on the seed investment. While Nigeria was doing a good job of meeting their monthly budget, Funke is pushing the team to exceed their budget for the quarter, in order to make up for the deficit in Ghana and Kenya. This would also be the basis of her defense in advocating for reinforced marketing budget for the two countries. She would need to visit both countries more often than she did, so it does not appear as though she neglected them to concentrate on Nigeria, thus leading management to draw conclusions as to why budget was not met in both countries.

Wedding plans did not affect her work much. She and Femi had given the job out to the foremost event planner – ElizabethR Events. They trusted the professionalism of the company and only interacted as necessary for scheduled updates. Quite unlike many brides, Funke is not a control freak and would take her wedding day anyhow it comes provided it came with Femi and their loved ones. This is a typical trait of the Akinde Family. Femi would often tease that their Guzape family home should be renamed Love & Tranquility Villa, as he loved to escape to visit his would-be in-laws anytime he wanted an escape from his Maitama apartment. Femi was welcomed with open arms from the very first day he visited and Mr. Akinde took him in like a son. His wife, Morenike, would send the driver to Femi’s house with groceries on a weekly basis, a bowl of jollof rice, jars of different soups and wraps of fufu. Femi would often tease her that her ministry was directly waging a war against his fitness destiny. It was a huge temptation to return from gym on Saturdays only to find Wasiu, her driver, off-loading food into his home.

Back in Lagos, Bisi Alao, had intensified her schemes to get Kemi Coker involved with her son, Femi. She would send expensive gifts to Kemi’s office in Femi’s name and whenever Kemi expressed concerns that Femi would not talk to her nor reply her messages, Bisi would assure her that men do come around. Otunba Alao walked in on the duo on a warm afternoon, and overheard such a conversation. He exchanged warm pleasantries with Kemi and excused himself to go rest upstairs. He was bothered at the length to which his wife would go just to keep Funke away. He had these thoughts rummaging his mind as he laid in bed, when Bisi walked in; still the beautiful, brilliant, and passionate woman he has always loved.

“Honey, why are you doing this?” Otunba asked with unmasked curiosity.

“I want the best for my son.” Bisi replied.

“Does this include his happiness?” His brows furrowed.

“Yes, his long-term happiness.” She went ahead of his thoughts and responded in advance.

“How do you mean?”

“I know you think I’m evil. But you will remember that I was a graduate of nursing before I proceeded to do my MBA and diversified into the oil industry. I know how these things go. I don’t want my son to marry someone that will make him a widower. I love my son.”

Otunba drew close to her and held her hands. “I don’t think you’re evil, sweetheart. I know you want the best for us and have given us your very best. Come on! Look around. We have this family because of you. You made me. You made our sons.” Otunba took a deep breath and proceeded to select his words carefully. “You will make our grand children as well. Femi is not happy. If we manipulate him, we become witches as scriptures say. Why don’t we support them and pray for them? What if Funke were to be our daughter? Would we be happy that she is treated this way by another family? This is not our legacy, Bisi. We are a kind family, nurtured with love. You nurtured us.” Otunba took another deep breath as her silence encouraged him to proceed. “Please, my love, let us support our children in love and prayers. Funke is our daughter now. None of them will die. We will beseech God.”

“Hmm….” That was all Bisi had to say in response to her husband’s sermon.

“Thank you, honey.” He embraced her. “Thank you, God will honour you. You will raise our children in good health. We will not mourn any loss. Let’s just trust God, ehn? That’s what we started our lives on, that is what we will continue to do.”

————————————————————————————————–

“Oga, Oga Wasiu carry food come again o. Make I serve some for you?” Ali accosted Femi as he turned his ignition off and alighted from his vehicle.

“You’ve joined them, abi?” Femi teased and handed his duffel bag to Ali. “You’ve joined mummy to militate against my destiny. You people want to kill me with food. I rebuke all of you.”

 No, sir” Ali laughed. “I can quickly make pounded yam. The vegetable smells really delicious. Or do you want Eba?”

“The only thing you should be pounding right now is your books, Ali.” Femi retorted.

“Oga that one no enter now. Hahahaha…na awaiting result I dey. We don write WAEC and JAMB” Ali replied in like manner.

“Sha make sure you pass if you don’t want me to pound you into yam. You should even start going to the gym sef. I won’t allow you grow a belly under my roof. Oya, let’s make light eba and watch Arsenal trash you. I’m hungry sef.”

“I talk am. I just sabi say you gars dey hungry after carrying those heavy things. But sha, na Chelsea go trash you sha o, Oga”

“Go make the food, my friend, let me do the laundry before match starts in an hour. You pay me a thousand if Chelsea beats Arsenal.” Femi retrieved the duffel bag from him and proceeded to the laundry room.

Truly proud of how far Ali had come since he met him at the airport and began to live with him, Femi wore a wide grin as he loaded the washing machine. It would be his delight to see him gain admission in the coming session. His phone vibrated in his pocket and he picked it to see that it was his mom. “Dear Jesus!”, he muttered under his breath as he mentally prepared himself for the ensuing conversation.

“Sweet mum!”

“How’s my favourite son doing?”

“I’m fine ma. How are you mom?” Femi asked with uneasiness, praying the conversation was over before it started.

“I’m fine o. Your father and I are good. Fola is also doing well, just that I don’t know where he went to eat rubbish that his stomach is disturbing him and he decided to come pack himself in my house, stooling all over my bathrooms.”

“Hahaha…He’s your baby now. Maybe he needs some breast milk with the oral rehydration therapy” Femi teased as the conversation got lighter. He relaxed a bit.

“He should go suck his father’s breast.” Bisi observed a moment of silence. “How is Funke?”

The silence at the other end of the phone was palpable. Femi thought of the many possible ways he could respond without getting things heated up.

“Femi are you there?” Bisi asked.

“Funke is fine, ma.” Femi replied softly.

“Oluwafemi, I’m sorry for my actions. I was just being a concerned mother. I guess I was driven by passion.”

“M-m-mo-mom, no, that’s that’s that’s okay…” Femi stuttered as he became overwhelmed with emotions.

“No, that’s not okay.” Bisi continued. “If you guys will not be coming to Lagos anytime soon, I could just come spend the weekend with you folks in Abuja, you know! Some bonding, some of those good roads and restaurants you guys brag about.”

“Come on! Mom. We will be glad to host you.” Femi was still in disbelief “Wow! Thank you, ma”

“I love you, my son. Extend my love to Funke.”

“Wow! Love you, mom”

The call ended with the phone plastered to Femi’s cheek as he was yet to recover from the surrealness of what just happened. Did his mother just approve of Funke? Just like that? What happened? How manage? Is she fine? Is she on her death bed? Is it a dream? The whirling sound of the machine jostled him out of his thoughts and he panicked. He needed to call his father and be sure his mother was not dying anytime soon.

“Femi Alao” Otunba picked the call in a very relaxed manner.

“Hello dad! Is mom okay?” Femi asked in urgency

“We are all doing fine, and we are only bothered by the anxiety in your voice. I will recommend that you take a deep breath, son, and regain composure, lest you hyperventilate.”

“I just received a call from….”

“I know. I told you we will handle it. She is right here by my side, we are having wine and wondering what you look like when you panic with your biceps and beards.”

“Dad!”

“Yes”

“Stop teasing me.”

“Stop panicking and go about your day”

“Thank you, Dad. Thank you so much. I don’t know what you did, but thank you.”

“Go make your woman happy, son. I am making my woman happy and you are intruding”

“Dad?”

“Goodbye son, my love to Funke”

“Bye, dad.”

Femi looked at the screen of the phone. It was no dream. Just like that and hostilities are gone!

“Thank you, Jesus!!!” He screamed with his might and Ali came tumbling from the kitchen.

“Oga, wetin happen? Arsenal score?” The look of terror on the boy’s face made Femi realize how loudly he must have shouted.

“Don’t worry. Food don ready?”

“Yes, I don serve am sir. It’s on the table. Hope all dey okay sir?”

“Oh yes! I received some good news.”

“Toh! I sha reason am say match never start sef.” Ali clasped his hands “we thank God o. more good news sir. More good news.”

“Thank you, Ali.”

undefined

Wedding preparations moved into top gear. T’s were crossed and I’s were dotted. Elizabeth R events had cleared reservations at Fraser Suites for friends and families, flying in from Lagos, the UK, and North America. For the groom and his men, a reservation was made for the three-bedroom deluxe penthouse. The bridesmaids got the same, while the bride was isolated in a two-bedroom deluxe with her hairstylists and the renowned make up stylist, Bimpe Onakoya. The couple were well aware that the Alaos were enough and capable of making it a society wedding, but what they underestimated was the size of the Akinde family and how so closely knitted, that the extended family functions as a single unit. Cousins flew in from everywhere. Guzape hills had a resident caterer for a whole week because Morenike Akinde figured out that the kitchen would be grossly overwhelmed. Meals were directed to the caterers, while every other domestic staff worked together in cleaning and organizing. The Akindes insisted that Otunba and Mrs. Alao stayed in their home as their guest and not at the hotel. What was meant to be a wedding, became a couple’s vacation. The men would go golfing and playing all day, while Morenike went fashion shopping with Bisi, introducing her to all her friends, and treating her to some Abuja cuisines.

“It’s like you will return to Lagos without me o.” Bisi said to Otunba as she joined the men to watch the news. “This Abuja feels like home. I don’t feel stressed.”

“This is why Abuja people do not like to have you Lagosians around.” Otunba returned the gesture “You will introduce Lagos stress and traffic to the city.”

Everybody laughed.

“Who is you Lagosians? What are you?” Bisi rubbed her husband’s beard.

“I’m Nigerian. I don’t know what you people are talking about, but I know that I’m ferrying you back to Lagos with me. I can’t allow one Abuja small boy to start winking at my wife because his godfather made him a senator” Otunba replied.

“Ko je je bee!” Mr. Ayinde interjected “He dares not. We will gouge out his eyes and return such a senator to the village.”

“Please don’t let my husband stress you, my friend” Morenike emerged from the kitchen with two glasses of smoothie and handed her one. “See them eating suya and wine after dinner. They will soon grow bellies on us.”

“Women stress over everything. It’s just suya. Wine is healthy. Reservatrol abi what do you people call it? Mr. Ayinde replied.

“Resveratrol, baby. And it’s not in that champagne that you people are drinking” Morenike winked at him.

“We will buy them treadmills.” Bisi took a refreshing sip of her smoothie.

“Awesome! Great idea for a birthday present. With waist trainers” Morenike exclaimed.

“Sounds like a plan” Bisi and Morenike clicked glasses.

“See conspiracy right before our eyes!” Otunba Alao and Mr. Ayinde looked at each other in disbelief.

Final Episode

AFFECTION IN AFFLICTION: THE MOVIE (4)

Previous episode

“Look who we have here!” Fola exclaimed as he opened the door “Hashtag Femi&Funke 2019!” He pecked Funke and hugged his brother.


“How you doing, bruh? I learnt you’re about to displace Forbes CEO” Femi slapped his back as Fola led the way to the living room.


“A-ha! You’re the one doing great stuff” Fola returned the praise-singing “I learnt Silicon Valley boys wanted to buy you for three million dollars but you refused to sell.”


“Mehn! It is what it is. I wish African boys owned their home and stopped gushing all over twitter whenever Silicon Valley boys visit the continent. These guys are not tourists. They are hawks, sharp businessmen. I sometimes cringe when I see boys submit their work in a PowerPoint presentation as though they had been working for Silicon Valley approval.”


“It’s an eagle-eat-rat world. Maybe it is a relic of the colonial mentality that makes us celebrate it whenever folks from the West visit to inspect our work. Perhaps, it’s capitalism – the power of money and influence. Whichever, Africa will emerge with time.” Fola sighed “But I’m proud of you, brother. You inspire me.” His countenance brightened.


“You are the most talked about investment banker in Lagos. Do you know how proud that makes me feel as your big brother?” Femi looked around “By the way, where’s mom and dad?”


“Upstairs. Let me go tell them our 2019 couple is here”. He gave Funke a pat “I came to give you guys moral support. I am aware of everything and know how funny mom can be.”


“Thank you, Fola” Funke responded with a smile.


The steward came in with a tray of juice to welcome the couple and to announce to them that the table would be set in ten minutes. Otunba Francis Alao had earlier discussed with his son, Fola, to ensure that the kitchen prepared adequately for the couple because he was sure that his wife, Bisi, would rather see to it that not even a glass of water was available for the visit. Femi observed the nervousness in Funke as she held on to the glass of juice with shaky hands without taking a sip.


“Breathe, Babe.” Femi stood up and sat by her side, placing his arm on her shoulder. “We have all the support we need. Mom will come around”.


“But what if she doesn’t? We need her blessing, Femi.”


“We have the blessing of the Most High” Femi smiled.


“What’s the correlation, Femi?” Funke looked at him with masked irritation “Can you be serious for once?”


“He has the hearts of Kings in his hands, babe.” Femi rubbed her shoulder for assurance “I don’t want you to be worked up over our wedding plans. We’re simply asking God, the state, our family and loved ones, to bless and celebrate the bond we share. That is what we both believe the wedding process is about. We have been in a marriage, though yet to be married, we will not let the wedding process stress us.”


“You’ve gone philosophical.” Funke took a deep breath.


“I’m glad I could make you take that deep breath. See how easy life can be when we breathe? Get some oxygen into those tensed muscles, girl.”


Funke abruptly stood up, spilling her juice as she heard Otunba descend the stairs.


“Look who we have here, bestowing her elegant gracefulness on us mortals!” Otunba announced with open arms as he descended the stairs, picking his words and raising his voice to a crescendo. It is no surprise that he raised chivalrous sons who are theatrical in speech. His two apples fell directly under the tree.


“Good morning, daddy.” Funke knelt as a sign of honour and respect.


“Oh! Come on! My dear, that is not necessary” He assisted her to her feet with an embrace “Please, feel free daughter. You’re home.”


“I am very surprised to see that her weak knees can touch the floor.” Bisi Alao took everyone by surprise. Nobody saw her descend the stairs. Disgusted by her husbands plot to welcome her to their home against her instructions, she continued: “I’d recommend you hold her properly, seeing that you invited her, and see to it that her legs are in proper shape as she leaves. I do not want any Guzape Hills parents to come harass me in Ikoyi that I broke their daughter’s joints. I will show them the stuff that Lagos is made of!”


“Mom!” Fola pulled her blouse to caution her acerbic remarks.


“Good morning, mummy.” Funke’s voice quaked as she struggled to suppress the embarrassing tears. She tried to kneel in greeting again but Otunba held her firmly in his hands, straightening her up as she made the attempt.


“Oh please!” Bisi dismissed the audience and moved to the dining.


“Bisi, love.” Otunba started as he motioned to the boys to migrate to the dining area. “Abuja will never fight us in Lagos, and our lovely Funke is our daughter. We are peaceful and sociable in Lagos. We will never fight Abuja. Just give us some lively party and good food, and that’s all Lagos has ever wanted.”


“The great Owambe spirit!” Fola took the cue from his dad to re-channel the conversation to a lighter one. They indulged in some social gossip and political news as breakfast went on. Otunba nudged his son, Femi, under the table to lighten his mood. Knowing his son, he knew he was struggling between being a man in charge of his emotions, respecting his mom, and defending Funke’s honour. Otunba knew he was weighing the consequences of an emotional outburst, while trying to prove to himself that he is ready for the higher responsibility of marriage. It is beneath a husband and a father to succumb to emotional outbursts. He had never seen his father give in to such weakness or be led to the slaughter by negative emotions.


“I see the government is beginning to discuss climate change, mom.” Femi hopped on a topic that would delight his mother in showing forth her brilliance. “How does that affect our oil and gas?”


“There are two sides to every country, dear.” Bisi straightened up in her seat and took a sip of water. Femi, Fola, and Otunba exchanged a knowing look as Otunba gave Femi a nod, thanking him for following the cue. “The world is hypocritical at best. You see, countries that make the most noise about human rights are the ones that blow up civilians and commit all sorts of atrocities in the name of economic and national security.”


“Hmm…Good point there, mom.” Fola sought to draw her out some more.


“The big nations on the climate change move are the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide. So, it’s all theatrics and showmanship. They have nuclear powers, blow up other nations, and are strong players in the oil market. Don’t they all know that nature regulates itself? She propped her elbows on the table with her palms open as she looked from one person to another. “All of these is just politics to class the nations and keep weaker nations under with ridiculous regulations. All Nigeria does is oil and gas. We’re not responsible for the world’s problem.”


“Neither are we the largest producer of oil.” Femi chipped in.


“You can say that again! Apart from pollution from generators, we do not even have enough cars and trains for our population to be bothered about climate change activism. We need to be industrialized first, and build more infrastructure.” Bisi submitted. As one who sits on the board of three oil companies, Bisi comes alive in vain glory and a display of insightful knowledge whenever the spotlight is on her.


“You make good points my dear” Otunba cleared his throat lest he interspersed his speech with guttural coughs because his wife finds that disgusting, though he quietly enjoys it. “Our government should be focused on infrastructural development for industrialization to take place. However, we might take a cue from wisdom and be environmentally aware as we pursue that. I also believe that nature resets itself and we are not the first human civilization to arrive on the scene, but we are the most fickle and weak.”


“I often wonder the quality of minds of people that set the world’s stage as we have it today. Designing curricula, investigating time, the laws of nature, gravity, organizing society, these things look simple but they are a lot, if we gave it some thought” Funke joined the conversation, looking at Bisi, hoping to elicit some warmth from her. “It is amazing that in education for example, the curriculum for mathematics was broken down into basics that can be taught to a 2year old in nursery one, and built up into an edifice that a post-doctoral candidate will have to unravel. If not for advancement in communications technology, our dispensation might not have had much to contribute to human advancement.”


“And that’s a lot, my dear” Otunba quickly chimed in as the entire table observed Bisi’s laser eyes rest on the rock on Funke’s ring finger as though she was trying to invoke the powers of Thanos in blasting the rock. “The internet changed everything. Absolutely everything. You young people are so blessed.”


“Um…Femi, that reminds me.” Bisi shifted her malicious gaze off Funke to flash Femi a warm smile. “Kemi said she has been trying to reach you but you have not been returning her calls. I hope you are able to see her today, this one that you are kuku on the island already. She is a lovely and strong girl.”


“Thanks mom.” Femi knew he must not let this moment pass because it was the moment that defines if he was man enough to be a husband. “Kemi and I talk, but I will not be seeing her anytime soon. Funke and I have a couple of things to get done in Lagos because we have to catch an early flight to Abuja tomorrow.” Femi held Funke’s hands in his. “We’re getting married and we would like to inform you first before going to her parents.”


“Wonderful!” Otunba exclaimed as though it was news to him. “That’s my son! I actually thought the ring was a fashion ring. You know, ladies and accessories. Congratulations my dear!” Otunba rose to welcome Funke afresh to the family.


“This deserves a toast!” Fola stood up, mimicking his father’s energy and popped the champagne.


“Toast to what!” Bisi exclaimed in indignation. “You people must take me for a fool. When was the last time the steward placed champagne at our breakfast? Was I born yesterday? You men are so simple, you think I am unaware of your plans?” She faced Fola “Even you, when was the last time you spent the whole weekend at home?”
Fola felt uneasy under her gaze, looked away and shifted on his feet.
“You can organize whatever you want and scheme anything behind my back. Nobody marries my son without my approval, and not even a weakling at that. I will not allow my grandchildren inherit a disease. Not on my watch!”Bisi called her driver to prepare to move out in ten minutes because she had an appointment at the salon to get her hair and nails done for the birthday dinner of Ronke Tejuosho, the deputy director of the Department of Petroleum Resources, and wife of Otunba Kolawole Tejuosho.


Otunba Alao was pretty stunned at his wife’s vituperations. He has known her for 35years and would never imagine that even in her most volatile state, she was capable of saying such things to anyone’s face. Understandably, she had voiced her concerns, objections, and reservations, in private, he just assumed that they would remain private, or at most, subtle. It was quite jarring to see her pour out all her frustrations on the poor girl, embarrassing her before everyone. He knew he had to do something, lest his own sons began to see him as weak.


“Let’s move to my office, gentlemen and lady” Otunba re-installed himself as the leader of the Alao dynasty, assured the couple they had no concerns, reaffirmed that he will speak with his wife and she will come around with her blessings. He apologized for the embarrassment Funke had faced and promised to make it up to her in due season. The delegation decided that a wedding ceremony was feasible for the year and that it was best for Funke’s family to agree on the date the couple decides, before the Alaos start making plans. Otunba believes it is cultural and respectful to let the bride’s family have the say.


Funke and Femi made more rounds of visits across the city and its suburbs before retiring to the hotel.
“Babe, I’m sorry about mom. She will come around” Femi said as he stepped out of the shower.


“Thank you, Femi. I understand her concerns, though it hurts to be the one receiving them.”


“I know!” Femi drew closer to her and grabbed her hands. She has kept herself busy all day with mundane activities like typing away on her phone to wiping the sparkling hotel mirror, just to distract herself from having this conversation.


“I don’t think I can do this, Femi. It’s harder than I imagined.” She broke into tears.


“Put it on me.” Femi wiped her tears with his palm and locked her in an embrace as she sobbed into his chest. “Put it all on me. I promised to protect you and be by your side, and you can hold me to that.” Femi rubbed her hair and continued. “Mummy will come around, baby. I promise. She will love you and your health will be fine. Our kids will be fine.”


Femi lifted her face to look into her eyes “can we pray about this?”


Funke nodded in agreement.


“Father, we give you thanks for today…”

Next episode

AFFECTION IN AFFLICTION: THE MOVIE (3)

Previous episode

The doctor’s appointment went faster than they had envisaged. It drilled the certainty they had pretended to avoid into their lives. The instruction was simple: Discontinue hydroxychloroquine and prednisolone. The prescription was simple: weekly methotrexate injection. That was all. The doctor said something different that they were not very prepared for: “This is the gold treatment and if you do not experience remission, we will just find how to live with it. It is a lifetime affliction. Good that you have a great support in Femi…” Dr. Falana pointed at Femi and continued his conversation with Funke “…ensure you run your monthly blood work and please do let me know if you have plans of getting pregnant. We will need to take you off the injection at least three months before conception”.

The ride home was quieter than Femi was comfortable with. Quiet, yet laden with unspoken words. There was a lot to be said but neither knew what was to be said and when it was appropriate.

“I have declined the project with Tosin, and asked a week leave from the HR.” Funke broke the silence. “Good thing is that she granted it unequivocally. I can rest and regain vigor and vitality before I return to work.”

“Hmm…”

“I also discussed some investment opportunities with an old friend from uni.” Funke fiddled with her purse. “I might not be able to work for too long anymore and do not desire to be a liability. So, I’m thinking of investment options.”

“You are not a liability, Funke.” Femi responded with concern “You will never be a liability. Whatever this is, we are together in it and I assure you, it is a commitment with no expiry date.”

“I love you, Femi and I appreciate your commitment thus far, but your countenance changed since the doctor’s office, and I love you enough to understand that this might be hard on you.” Funke’s voice began to quake as she fought back tears “I will hold nothing against you if you want out, babe. You deserve better.”

Femi veered the car off the road and abruptly parked. He adjusted in his seat and faced her squarely, grabbing both her hands.

“Whatever you are thinking up in your head, dear, does not represent how I feel for you.” Femi searched her eyes for assurances as he spoke “This is not just a feeling; it is a commitment. I do not want you to overthink anything. You may invest if you desire to, but even if you stopped working today, I am here for you. Whatever you saw on my face was not caused by you. I had a mild disagreement with mom before clinic and I have been replaying it in my mind.”

“Is mom fine?” Funke suddenly became concerned “What happened, Femi?”

“She auditioned two Lagos girls for me to marry, and I kicked against it.” Femi tried to give a brief summary while hiding the bone of contention so as not to make Funke feel worse than she felt.

“You mean…” Funke could not form words and tears streamed down her face.

Femi knew she could decipher what he tried to hide. Who would not? Mrs. Alao, a nurse had told her friends that a lady with systemic lupus erythematosus had cancer while trying to explain it in lay terms to them. Femi would forever live to regret discussing Funke’s autoimmune condition with his mother. He was naïve to think he could get medical advice on how to live with it and support one with no clear diagnosis. Doctors have courted rheumatoid arthritis, undifferentiated arthritis, lupus, and are back to call it rheumatoid arthritis, with a manifestation of Marfan syndrome. The tests come negative in the face of unmasked symptoms, and this has led astute doctors to confusion. Many seronegative rheumatoid arthritis patients would go on to develop antibodies over the years which changes their diagnosis to seropositive rheumatoid arthritis. However, it has been over a decade and her tests would still come back as negative, and he thought he could lean on his mother’s clinical experience for knowledge. Unfortunately, his mother weaponized the information to harass him to quit the relationship. It was not long after he realized his naivety, that he overheard her telling her friends that SLE was like cancer. Femi knew he was better off asking google for help than his medically endowed mother.

“You can blame me, Funke.” Femi lowered his voice “I should not have told her about our condition, and I will fix this. I won’t let her harass you”

“I told her as well” Funke replied with a defeated stare.

“You did?” Femi gaped.

“She asked me to pass her the juice pitcher the other day we visited. She observed that I tried to lift it with my right hand but quickly supported it with the left hand. Your mom is a smart woman” She chuckled and wiped her eyes “She later asked me in the kitchen and I told her”.

“How I wished we kept it to ourselves, dear” Femi heaved a sigh.

“Maybe we were raised to esteem respect and truthfulness” she teased.

“Maybe we should have been raised with more lessons on discretion” Femi rolled his eyes.

Funke finds it easier to live free and light, when she has no secrets and skeletons to keep buried.  A beautiful personality, albeit, an easily exploited one in the real world. She began to see the wisdom in having some discretion, and giving people as much information as is necessary and they can handle. If there were to be a postgraduate course on information management, Funke would probably be the first to enroll. Perhaps, she would not learn anything more than she has learnt on information compliance at work- guarding everything jealously and knowing who has the requisite clearance for access to certain information. She might need to start classifying people in her life and assign level of access to each class, before releasing information to them.

“Babe, why are we not even married?” Femi asked out of no where as though an angel clubbed some fresh consciousness into him.

“Huh?” She was jostled out of her thoughts. She had not realized that Femi was back on the road driving. She was too young to have her memory mixed up with gaps. She will ensure she took an overdose of rest before the pressure of work resumed the following week.

“Let’s get married.”

“Femi are you asking me out? Hahaha!” Funke mimicked a laugh

“No, I’m not. I’m asking you to marry me.” He shot her a side glance.

“The difference is the same. Dhurr!” Funke rolled her eyes. “In your car? Just like that?”

“You’re so sweet, pumpkin. Don’t worry, I’ll do the surprise proposal thing later and formally ask my queen to marry me, but can we agree to get married?”

“This year?”

“That would be perfect, hun”

“Yes”

“The budget is distributed to take advantage of peak sales in the third and fourth quarter of the year.” Funke scanned the audience for unspoken consent. “However, guys, it will do us a lot of good to hit the ground running and hit a budget surplus in quarter two.”

“We have not done much in the north, and this budget my territory is supposed to churn up, is not very realistic, Funke.” Simon, the product consultant responsible for the northern territory submitted.

“Hit me with your plan.” Funke stood akimbo.

“We have launched in Kano and Abuja, aggressive campaigns with distributors and key accounts is of utmost importance.” Simon scanned the bullet points in his notepad. “I would expect some investment in Jos and Sokoto this second quarter. If we do this, we can begin to harvest returns even from states like Kaduna. I have all these mentioned in the proposal I sent.”

“Thank you, Simon.” Funke took some paces “I have reviewed your business proposal and it is brilliant. The north is my baby and we will work together to ensure a huge success in that territory. Capturing Abuja and Kano is a must. We will grind day and night to ensure that. So…” she continued “…we have increased our budget for marketing in the north. We will not only support you; I will work alongside with you on the field and we will review our progress in our monthly business meetings.”

“That’s great, Funke” Simon sounded relieved “The north delivers.”


“Lagos!” Funke turned to the Lagos team “You are the mitochondrion of this team. Any worthy challenges?”

“Traffic!”, “Apapa is a mess!”, “Driving to the island is a headache” Lagos team reeled out their environmental challenges in a rancorous chorus.

“Hahahaha” Funke laughed. “You will need to take that up with your governor”

“Tell Paris to buy us power bikes.” Tunde chimed in and everyone laughed.

“Indeed! I’m calling John right away to send power bikes specifically to Lagos team” Funke responded sarcastically. “So, Lagos, check! Southwest, Check! Port Harcourt-Uyo-Warri, check! North, I will be with you next week.” she looked up from her notepad to gain Simon’s agreement. “East! Hmm…Aba, Onitsha, Enugu, Owerri, guys, I’ll see you in two weeks. Okay?”

“Yes, ma’am!” Chike responded.

“One more thing before we disperse, guys.” Funke raised her hand to draw their attention. “Gym and spa memberships have been added to your health insurance plan.”

“Woo-hoo!” glee filled the air.

“You can say that again!” she continued “Take advantage of everything guys. We have observed that some of you have not gone for medical or dental check up in the past year. You guys work hard and have earned these entitlements. Use them” she raised her hands “Use the gym, use the spa. A healthy team is a winning team. Kapish?”

“Yes.” The team chorused.

“It’s a wrap guys! Thank you all for your active participation. Remember, we’re going hard to let the world see the stuff Nigerians are made of when we meet for the mid-year review in Kigali. If SSA is hosting, then SSA is winning. I want to see you guys celebrated and take huge chunks of the profits shared, and I believe we can.” Funke pitched.

“Yes! We can!” Ngozi chorused.

“Impossible is nothing!” Tola shouted her favorite mantra from the other end of the hall.

Funke felt her phone vibrate in her pocket, grabbed her iPad and bag, and excused herself from the hall as the team proceeded with plans to go clubbing at Quilox, Victoria island. It was Femi. He was waiting at the lounge. They had made arrangements to visit parents and family members in Lagos to announce their wedding date, and Femi figured the timing was good since Funke was in Lagos for work and all he needed to do was fly down to meet her. The arrangement was to pass the night in her hotel and begin rounds together the following day. It was important to him that they went everywhere together, presenting a solid front, so as to dissuade family members who have unpalatable commentaries to run, and to promptly address relatives who are bold enough to run them regardless. This was why Femi decided that it would defeat purpose if he went ahead to his parents’ home and Funke came from her hotel the following day to meet them.

“Hey babe!” Funke beamed with smiles as she sighted him sitting handsomely.

“See my girl doing boss things” Femi stood up to embrace her.

“You smell so fresh. Did you shower in air?” she poked him

“I was born fresh and that’s why you tripped for me” he kissed her.

“Let me get you settled in” she made to push his carry-on.

“You bet I’m not going to have you push my bag, right?” Femi objected. “Now give me your bag and lead the way, princess.”

“So, we’re doing some team bonding exercise tonight.” Funke started to fill him in as she headed to the elevator “Return flights for everyone are scheduled for tomorrow to their various destinations. The guys voted to go clubbing, so we’re headed to Quilox in about an hour. I wouldn’t know if you’d like to come.”

“Hmm…” Femi started “…if you’re asking me out on a date, you bet the answer is yes. Drinks on you.” He stuck out his tongue.

“You’re such an unserious chicken, Femi.” She drew close to him, soaking in his fragrance.

“This is why you love me and I know you want to kiss me right now, but you are resisting.”

“Elevator kiss” she whispered.

“You bet you want it” Femi kissed her passionately till the door chimed open. Thankfully, no one was standing there.

Next episode

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