The bad thing happened, but it didn’t happen until a day to the outreach. It didn’t happen until other tiny, good things happened in Imade’s life.
Good things like exchanging Whatsapp chats with Dapo. Like laughing over funny little anecdotes with him and sometimes, Yvonne. Good things like visiting the orphanage, sometimes rolling up her sleeves and reading stories to the children in the common room, and afterwards sending reports to Mrs Ajayi while curled up in her hotel bed.
Good things like sitting with Joy and listening to her sing, and sometimes answering the questions of her curious mind, with Mrs Osakwe listening in from her cubicle-office.
And then Mrs Ajayi told Imade that her time at Benin was coming to an end. With the information contained in her daily reports on the orphanage, they were ready to make the transaction formal.
“What will happen to the staff?” Imade asked, thinking of Mrs Osakwe to whom the orphanage meant more to.
“We intend to renovate and rebrand, for want of a better word,” Mrs Ajayi replied. “The place was nothing to write home about when we visited two months ago.”
“So, does that mean you’re going to let go of the staff?” Imade asked.
“No, I don’t think it’s necessary to do that. Besides Mrs Osakwe really has a heart for that place and if we are not going to be there to run it, she is the one person I trust to keep the place in good shape.”
“Okay, great. That makes sense.”
“In other news, how are you enjoying your stay in Benin? I know we’ve kept you beyond the expected time. It’s been what? Three weeks?”
“It’ll be a month in two days, and it has been…quite interesting. I almost don’t want to come back, haha.”
What Imade was really thinking was how she was going to miss the children, Mrs Osakwe…and yes, Dapo when she returned to Abuja.
“That’s interesting. Care to share why? Or you’ve suddenly fallen in love with Benin?” Mrs Ajayi asked.
Imade chuckled. “Well, it feels like my life has been a lot fuller since I came here. Spending time at the orphanage with the kids, Mrs Osakwe, just gives me a different perspective on things.”
“Hmm, can I tell you a fun fact? I was an orphanage baby too.”
Imade sucked on her teeth. The air in her hotel room suddenly became warmer. “Really?”
“Yes. My mother was a teenage mum. The same old story. Young girl pregnant by a man whose identity she could not recall. A careless night of partying, drinking, sex. And voila, there I was. She died in childbirth though, and I guess I wasn’t…wanted. I lived in the orphanage till I was five and got adopted. I must tell you, the living circumstances at the orphanage were unfriendly and unsightly. It’s why I have this burden in my heart for orphans, children who spend their life wondering about who they are and where they come from.”
“Wow, that’s…that’s a lot, ma.” Imade wasn’t sure what to say.
“It was…at a time. I remember spending my childhood always feeling out of place, never quite fitting in because I thought I wasn’t good enough. No matter how much love my parents showered me, I wanted more. I wanted them to prove to me every day of my life that they loved me.”
“Did you have siblings?”
“Yes. I have two older ones. A boy and a girl. And you can see how this complicated my childlike mind. I spent most of my early years with my parents feeling like a charity case. And they were the most loving family ever. They still are. Even after what I put them through.”
“Wow. I just remembered, one of the children here tried to commit suicide once a while ago,” Imade said.
“Unfortunately, the attempted suicide rate of orphans and adoptees is four times higher compared with non-adoptees. I can’t remember how many suicides attempts I had after I was adopted. I remember one where I woke up to see my mother crying over me, and for the first time I thought: this woman actually loves me. It’s like being in the midst of love but being unable to recognize or accept this love. It’s why when I met Jesus, I struggled with understanding his love at first, but when I finally did get it…oh, dear Jesus. All I wanted to do was tell everyone I knew about this extraordinary love of Christ. Ah…I have taken too much of your time, Imade. Let me allow you go to bed. I just want to thank you again for being my eyes, ears and mouth over there. God bless you, always.”
“Thank you, ma, for sharing this story with me. It makes me value what we are trying to do, more.”
“We often take our lives for granted, forgetting to live in thanksgiving and gratitude. But every day, I try to remind my children of the privilege their life is, to keep all of us grounded and mindful. Have a good night, my dear Imade, and may God give you the desires of your heart.”
“Goodnight ma,” Imade said.
As she hung up the call, Imade lay in bed letting her thoughts drift. Before now, before meeting Mrs Osakwe and the children, she had thought she had seen all the hardship life had to offer but it was turning out that she had been living in a glass house. The worst of her familial problems, were the pressure from her parents to marry, and the competitiveness she dealt with from her sister.
She couldn’t complain really, because she did have a family, a biological family that had provided the best they could to the best of their knowledge. Yes, they had made mistakes like other parents, comparing her to her sister while growing up, hanging expectations on her that threatened to pull her down, criticizing when they should have been correcting. But in the end, they were her family. Hers.
Suddenly feeling the urge to speak to her sister even though it was past 8pm, Imade picked up her phone and dialed.
The last time they had spoken had been when Imade called to congratulate her on the birth of her son four months ago. What she had been doing since then, was view her sister’s Whatsapp status updates, deluding herself that she was still keeping in touch with her by watching her life in reels.
“Hello,” the voice was a whisper. “Ima?”
“Hi, Abieyuwa. How are you?”
“Right now? Trying to sleep before Kitan wakes for his breastmilk. It’s been a while, sis.”
“Yes, I’ve been…busy.”
“Busy planning a wedding, I hope?” there was a small chuckle from the other end.
This was one of the reasons Imade rarely spoke to her family – the fact that they would bring up the one thing she had not managed to achieve yet.
“Busy with other things,” she replied, refusing to rise to the bait. “How’s Kitan and your husband?”
“They are doing great. Kitan is growing so fast I’m in awe. You should come visit one of these days. We’ll be pleased to host you.”
Yes, and shove all your happiness in my face. Imade heard the thought float into her mind.
“Okay. I was just calling to check on you. Congratulations on your husband’s promotion.”
Abieyuwa was one of those people who shared almost all their wins on social media. The few times Imade had tried to warn her away from it, they had argued about it.
Everyone isn’t you. We are not all cool, calm and collected like you. Yuwa had said. Some of us have fire and grit.
And you don’t have to constantly pander for attention from people who don’t care. Imade had retorted.
You’re just jealous.
Of all the things her sister could accuse of being, jealous was the one that hurt the most. And maybe that was because it hit close to home.
“Thank you,” Yuwa said now, pride booming in her voice. “He worked so hard for it. In fact, we’re taking a trip to Spain this December to celebrate.”
And there it was, the ever-present brag.
“That’s great. Have fun in Spain.”
“Okay sis. Thanks for calling. My baby is awake now, let me go and pick him up. Goodnight.”
And without waiting for Imade’s response, she hung up.
If there was one-word Imade could use to describe her sister, it was self-absorbed.
But still, she was grateful she had a family to call hers.
A day to the outreach with Dapo’s team, Lara, the girl who barely spoke, went missing.
That was the bad thing that happened.