African Women Chronicles: Lara (Chapter 3)

As I walked towards the gate, I could hear Tola screaming and crying from the veranda.

“Lara, come back. Please come back.” She pleaded with me.

Nike was also doing some screaming of her own. “Leave her alone, let her go. She is an evil child and all she has brought this family is one calamity after the other. We are better off without her!” She declared.

“Nike, this is wickedness. This is evil. She is our sister! This is not right!” Tola cried helplessly, but as usual, she was too weak to stand up to her immediate elder sister.

I didn’t stop to hear what Nike had to say in response; I hurriedly unlocked the gate and stepped outside, shutting it behind me and walking away as quickly as my legs could carry me. I wanted to get away before they tried to stop me. I wanted to be free from my sisters and all the heartache they had caused me. I wanted nothing more to do with either of them or with any member of our family, for that matter. I decided I was fed up; I wanted nothing to do with the past. I wanted to bury the past and move into the future, into a new life. I wasn’t sure where I was going or what I was going to do but I knew I wanted to go far away where no one from my past would ever find me.

I kept walking and it helped to clear my mind. I thought of mum’s death, dad’s disappearance and my sisters’ attitude towards me, and not for the first time did I come to the conclusion that I was alone in the world. The only person who had really cared about me was mum and mum was gone, as a result of my selfishness and inconsiderate behaviour. I had to take my life in my hands from this time onward. If I looked up to Nike and Tola, I felt sure that my life would be destroyed. Mum had been dead for almost five years and they still couldn’t bring themselves to forgive me. When would the hatred and bitterness end? Suppose dad never returned for us and I remained with Nike, what hope did I have of a good future? If dad did not send money would she willingly go to work to pay my fees when the money dad sent she found difficult to share with me? I thought very carefully about the matter and concluded that I was better off taking my life in my own hands. I would not go back; I would go forward and work hard to give myself the good future I desired.

I was lost in thought and did not realise how late it was until I noticed the road side shops shutting down for the night. I knew I had to come up with a plan very quickly if I didn’t want to spend the night on the streets. I was a little confused though, and unsure what line of action to take. I had never left home on my own before so I did not really know what to do to fend for myself, but what I did know was that I wasn’t returning home. I would stay on the streets until I made something out of my life. I kept walking, until I came to a large church that was holding a night vigil service. As I watched the singing, dancing and clapping of hands, I suddenly realised that I could go in and join the service, that way I would have a roof over my head for the night. That was exactly what I did. Don’t ask me what message was preached as I did not hear a word that was said; I sat quietly at the back and drifted in and out of sleep. Early the next morning when the service ended, I noticed a good number of people did not leave immediately as it was still dark. They lay on the floor and benches and tried to catch some sleep. I needed no invitation; I looked for a corner on the floor, coiled up and drifted off to sleep, using mum’s Bible as my pillow.

When I woke up, my body ached as I had not slept on the floor before this time. However, that was the least of my concerns. I was hungry and needed to eat some food, but I had no money to buy food and since I didn’t want to beg anyone in the church, I picked up my Bible and kept walking. That day, I decided that in order to put some distance between me and my past I would leave Lagos State. Staying in Lagos meant I could run into my sisters or people from my past and I didn’t want that. The closest state I could reach by foot from my present location was Ogun State, so I decided to go to Abeokuta, the state capital to settle for a little time. That Saturday at about noon, I began my long walk in the direction of Abeokuta. I knew I would not get there that same day and that was fine, I was in no hurry, I already knew where to spend the night, so, wherever I reached before nightfall, I would look for a church in the neighbourhood and sleep there and the following day, I would continue my journey. My accommodation was already taken care of but I still wasn’t sure what to do for food and I was really hungry. I knew I had to eat something or I would have no strength for my journey the following day.

That evening, when I reached Sango-Ota, I was really weak so I swallowed my pride and approached a road side food vendor. I offered to work for her until she closed that night in exchange for something to eat. At first, she appeared sceptical and began to probe me. She wanted to know who I was, where I was coming from, and where I was going to. I was not prepared for all the questions she was throwing my way and so when she asked about my parents I broke down and began to weep. It seemed to do the trick because immediately she consented to the offer, possibly because she pitied me. It didn’t matter to me why, all that mattered was that she agreed and no further question was asked. She could tell I was starving, so after I had done my chores she served me a meal that was large enough to be eaten by two people. I divided it, ate one portion, put the other in a small plastic bowl she provided and I left to find a church to spend the night. The following day was Sunday so a lot of churches were not open but I was fortunate to find one that had all night prayers going on and without any invitation, I jumped in; once again I had a roof over my head for the night.

The prayers finished during the early hours of the morning but everyone stayed back to catch some sleep until the day was bright. As they started to leave, perhaps to go and prepare for the Sunday morning service, I got up from where I lay and walked out. However, I wasn’t going to prepare to attend the service, I hit the road and continued my journey towards Abeokuta. I planned to get to Ifon that day and if I did then I was certain that within two days, I would reach Abeokuta. That day, I did not have to look for food, I ate what I had and as usual, when night came, I looked for a church to pass the night.

Finally, I arrived in Abeokuta where I hoped to settle for some time, until I decided what I wanted to do with my future. I had two options, I could work for some time and save money to go to school or secure work that would allow me time to go to school. By now, I knew how to get food to eat and a place to sleep but I realised I also needed other things. For instance, I had not had a bath or brushed my teeth for about four days and even I knew that I stank. I decided I would no longer work for food but for money so that I could buy some toiletries and clothes and pay for my own accommodation. Therefore, as soon as I entered Abeokuta, I began to go to the shops and road side food vendors who I thought would want to employ me as a sales girl. However, because I smelled really bad, they sent me away. They couldn’t bear to be close to me, let alone allow me spend time in their presence to ask for a job. I was embarrassed to say the least but I did not let it bother me. I knew all I needed was a bath and change of clothes and I would be able to stand before anyone and convince them to give me a job. I abandoned the job hunt temporarily to go in search of a church where I would spend the night, as it was starting to get late. As I looked around for a church, it occurred to me that I could go to the church pastor to seek help. This thought had never crossed my mind prior to this time. For me the church was a safe place to spend the night and when day came I jumped out and was back on the streets. Surely, the brethren would provide me with soap and water and a change of clothes? If I got rid of the stench then I could go back to look for work. As I entered the church where I desired to spend the night, I decided I would go to see the pastor in charge after the service ended and tell him of my plight. I felt very confident that I would find help in God’s house. My mum had been a committed Christian and had helped the needy around her explaining to me at the time that it was her obligation to do so as a child of God. Thus, I was very excited and filled with hope for the future as I sat in the back row of the large church auditorium. There was a healing service that evening, I had seen the banner and billboard outside the church; it seemed the church was hosting a few visiting ministers. I wasn’t sure how long the service would last but I didn’t mind, I was there for the night anyway.

As I sat in the service I completely forgot for a while that I stank but, not for long. Soon, people around me began to move seats and those who were unable to relocate gave me dirty looks before they openly covered their nose some with their hands, others with handkerchiefs. They did not do it quietly so it caused quite a stir and other people who had no idea what was happening turned to look in my direction wondering what all the noise was about. I bowed my head in shame and stayed in that position. I am not sure for how long I was in that position but suddenly I heard a voice from the pulpit say, “Will an usher please take that young lady outside?”

I raised my head instantly and looked towards the pulpit, and there he was, the man who had spoken. I remembered seeing him on the billboard and banner outside the church building. He was the main guest minister for the healing service. And I had overheard some of the members talk about him prior to entering the church auditorium. Apparently, he was a very young minister from outside Abeokuta who had only just graduated from the university and started his own ministry which was growing at an alarming speed as he was used mightily by God in healing all types of sickness and disease and he had even raised the dead on one occasion. My head had been bowed and I was completely lost in my thoughts so I didn’t realise he had come up to minster until I heard him ask for me to be taken out. Yes, he was talking to me; I knew this because he was also pointing in my direction. The dirty, smelly, girl everyone was moving away from and noisily too. Obviously, he felt the need to have me removed from the auditorium before he could preach his anointed message. Perhaps, my filthy presence would stop the flow of the healing anointing. Although I was seated behind, I remember that our eyes locked for what seemed like an eternity but in reality it was only probably a fraction of a minute. Then I looked away, and as I did, I noticed that an usher was already standing at my side. That was not all, the entire church was now looking in my direction, and I looked like a pig. I was even more humiliated than I had been when I went in search of work. I had thought I would find help in God’s house, amongst God’s people. I thought a pastor’s duty was to care for people and show them God’s love but it seemed I was wrong.  I fought back the tears as I bowed my head again, picked my mum’s Bible and walked out of the church.

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