African Women Chronicles: Lara (Chapter 4)

As I walked towards the church gate feeling dejected and not sure what to do next, or where to spend the night, I heard footsteps behind me and a female voice followed.
“Sister, wait! Please wait!”
I stopped in my tracks and turned around slowly, only lifting my head slightly enough to see who it was. I realised it was the same usher who had been standing at my side only moments ago. She was a young woman; I guessed she must be in her mid-thirties. From her nice dress, jewellery, and well groomed hair, I could tell that she was well off financially. I did not speak but lowered my head again, as I waited to hear what she had to say.
“My sister, please I would like to have a word with you, but unfortunately, I cannot do that right now as the church service is still on. Please, come with me, let me get you a chair so you can sit outside and wait for me until service is over, and then we can talk.”
I started to shake my head and decline the offer as I was embarrassed and just wanted to disappear from the church premises and go somewhere else where no one knew anything about the humiliation I had suffered. However, a voice on my inside advised me against it. The voice reminded me that I had come to the church seeking help. This lady who was now seeking audience with me may want to offer that help but I would not know it unless I waited to hear her out after. What did it matter who God used to help me, whether pastor or member, as long as I received help? What did it also matter what humiliation I received or what the people who had humiliated me thought of me as long as I received the help I so desperately wanted.
I nodded my head in agreement; but, I said to her, “Please let me wait for you by the gate instead.” I hoped she would understand. There was a security house at the gate where the security man had his office and I preferred to go there and wait. If I was not allowed to wait inside then I would sit on the stairs in the front of the building and wait for service to be over. Fortunately, she understood and said she would come there to meet me as soon as the service concluded. Then she did something which surprised me beyond words. She reached out and embraced me. I was dirty, had not had a bath for days or brushed my teeth and I smelled really bad. She, on the other hand smelled good, and she was also wearing a nice perfume but she seemed to have no qualms about embracing me. It was more than I could handle and so I started to cry. As I did, she rocked me in her arms and assured me that whatever the matter was, all would be well. Then, she withdrew and placed her handkerchief in my hand.
“Go on and wait for me, I will come to meet you once the service ends.” She turned to go back into the church building, while I turned in the direction of the security house at the gate. When I got there, surprisingly, the man I met allowed me to sit inside and not once did he give any indication that he was uncomfortable having a smelly person close to him.
As soon as the service ended, she came to me as she had promised and thanked the gate man for letting me stay in his office. I went with her and she led me to a quiet area in the church premises where we could talk. For the next thirty minutes we talked, she told me her name was Bose and that she felt an urge to help me but did not know what my circumstances were and what I wanted to do. I told her without delay as I was excited that finally I was going to get some help. However, when I explained how I had left home, she tried to persuade me to go back but I had made up my mind that it wasn’t an option so she soon realised she was wasting her time and instead she asked how she could help me. I explained that I had come to the church that day to see the pastor because I needed to take a bath and change my filthy clothes so I would stand a better chance of getting employment. I told her that once I got a job I would be able to look for accommodation and save up money to go to school.
She listened to me speak and after I finished she was quiet and didn’t speak for about ten minutes, or so it seemed. I could tell she was in deep thought, and then finally she sighed deeply and said, “I live alone, I am not yet married but my work is very demanding and I usually don’t have time to do my house chores. It would be nice to have someone who would cook and clean for me so I can come home and put my feet up. If you can work for me in that capacity I will provide you with accommodation, clothing and feeding and in addition pay you a small salary which you could save towards your education. How does that sound?”
How did that sound? It sounded good, better than good; it was for me, a dream that had come through. Overnight, I had gone from someone looking for a job, a place to sleep and food to eat, to someone with a job, a place to sleep and food to eat, plus a salary. It was all too good to be true. I was really excited. Initially, when that visiting pastor had asked that I be taken out of the church, I had thought I was mistaken in coming to the church for help but God came through for me in another way. I still got help from the church, only it didn’t come the way I had planned and expected. She could tell from my reaction that I was pleased with the offer and so without waiting for an answer from me, she rose to her feet.
“Come on, let’s go home. It is late now and I have to go to work tomorrow.”
I followed her to the almost deserted car park where her Toyota Rav4 was parked. We got in and she drove to her house. On the way, she told me a little more about herself. She was a branch manager in one of the new generational banks and had been transferred from Lagos to Abeokuta less than a year ago. As I already guessed, she was in her mid-thirties and was still unmarried although she said she believed that God would send her the right man for her in His own time.
After driving through the town, which had gone to sleep, for about fifteen minutes, she finally arrived at her house which was in the GRA. It was a three bedroom semi-detached house and only a barbed wired fence separated her house from her neighbour’s. The house was tastefully furnished but a bit untidy. As we entered she apologised for the mess and added that she didn’t always have the time to clean and that was why she required my services. I didn’t mind, I was glad to serve, I had served my sister Nike, but all I got in return was verbal and physical abuse. I would use that same energy to serve aunty Bose as I had already started to call her. I felt sure that if I served faithfully, I would never have to look for another church to spend the night.
Aunty Bose showed me to one of the spare rooms which she said was now my bedroom. To my amazement it had an ensuite bathroom. As a matter of fact, all three bedrooms had ensuite bathrooms. My room in my dad’s house didn’t have an ensuite bathroom, only mum and dad’s room did, so I was really excited. The room had a double bed, a beautiful rug which matched the curtains and an air conditioning unit. It was really more than I expected. I was grateful and I vowed I would serve so much that aunty Bose would never want me to leave this beautiful house. She provided me a towel, new toothbrush, some toothpaste and soap so I could take a bath. By the time I came out of the bathroom, there was a heap of clothes on my bed, I had noticed that she and I were the same size and same height so I knew her clothes would fit me. I had thought she would provide me with one dress to change my filthy one but what was on my bed really astonished me and as I went through them I realised they were designer labels and a lot of them looked like they had not been worn at all or if they had only a few times. I was really amazed, she had thought of everything from night wear to casual and formal clothes. As I looked through them, I remembered how my sister Nike had insisted that I leave behind the clothes she had given me. These clothes I had now were a lot better than anything Nike wore. I was truly grateful. I did not hear her come into the room, but suddenly there she was holding a bundle of money towards me.
“I don’t have underwear and shoes to give you so tomorrow I will send the driver to come and take you to the market; he knows where I buy my things and he will take you there. Get some underwear and shoes and a nice handbag. When you are done, he will take you some where you can braid you hair.”
As she spoke my hand went up to my hair which I always held with a ruffle since I left secondary school, as Nike never gave me money to style it. I could hardly believe I was going to make my hair. I knelt down to show I was grateful but she reached out immediately to pull me up to my feet.
“Please stand up. I am acting as instructed by the Lord, so give Him all the thanks.” As she turned to go, she looked over her shoulder. “Dress up and come and eat some food.”
It was all like a dream to me a good dream so I certainly didn’t want to wake up. Dinner was rice and stew with some fried plantain. It was the first decent meal I had eaten in days and once again, I was grateful. God had been good to me since I left home and for the first time since mum passed I began to think deeply about everything she had told me about God’s love. It made more sense to me now that it was practically manifested in my life and I decided that day that I wanted to serve God even more than mum had. So as I retired to bed that night, taking mum’s Bible with me, I didn’t use it as a pillow or place it under my pillow, I actually opened it and began to read.

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