The atmosphere was rife with tension, fear, and accusations. Mrs Osakwe had hidden herself in her office after calling Imade to tell her about Lara. When Imade saw her, head in hand, she looked smaller, like she had shrunk within the space of a few hours. On the phone, she had sounded frantic, out of breath.
“I just got back from the school,” Mrs Osakwe said, when Imade hurried in. “You were the first person I thought of calling.”
“Thank you for calling me,” Imade replied. “What happened? How did it all happen?”
“It’s the school. They all go to school together and come back together. We have taught them to be responsible for each other. The school is not far from here. She was with them this morning when they left for school. But when school closed and they were all supposed to come home together, she wasn’t there. They usually wait under the mango tree in front of the school for everyone to come out so they can walk in a group. They waited and waited but Lara didn’t come out. One of them, Adora went to her class to check, but she wasn’t there. They asked the teacher and she said she hadn’t seen her after break time. Can you imagine? Since break time! And you didn’t raise the alarm. That’s when they knew something had happened and they came home to tell me.”
“So, you went to the school?”
“Immediately. The teachers were still there and giving me this lackadaisical attitude. I walked to the headmaster’s office and told him what happened. That’s when they took me seriously. We’ve searched the entire school premises, but no sign of her. Imade, I don’t know what to do. I’m confused. This has never happened before!”
“Could she have run away?” Imade was pacing the small office, thinking.
“I don’t know. I…I don’t think so. Lara is a…special child. She suffers from selective mutism and anxiety. She gets worked up in unfamiliar situations and when she encounters unfamiliar people. So, I don’t think her issues will make her think of running away. This place…this place is her comfort zone. She won’t just leave. God, Imade what am I going to do? I don’t even know where to look.”
“I think…I think we should call the police. I mean, how many hours has it been since you discovered she was missing?”
“About three hours now. I don’t…I don’t know if the police will help us. They don’t really care about…people like us. Like these children.” Mrs Osakwe was in tears now, distraught.
“Hold on, let me call Pastor Dapo. Maybe they have someone in church who is in the police who can help.”
Imade was panicking as she dialed Dapo’s number, but she couldn’t let Mrs Osakwe see. It was hard enough having a missing child, but having a missing child who had developmental problems? That was brutal. It meant Lara was more vulnerable than the average five-year-old.
“Hey, how are you?” Dapo’s warm voice came on the phone.
“We need you. Something happened.”
“What? Where are you?”
“The orphanage. Please, come. A child is missing. Mrs Osakwe is in shock, we all are. This place is a mess.”
“On my way,” there was a click that signaled the end of the call.
It was 8pm when they left the orphanage, Imade was drained physically and emotionally. She sat in the passenger’s seat in Dapo’s car, head bowed against the dashboard. They were both quiet. The events of the past six hours had left them drenched in sadness and worry. Pastor Dapo had informed a member of the church who was in the police force and had gotten two officers to pay a visit to the orphanage.
The officers had questioned the staff, the children, and even Imade, jotting down notes in their pocketbooks. Then they asked to see Lara’s sleeping corner, to rule out the fact that she had planned her escape.
Escape. Imade scoffed when she heard them use the word. They were talking about a five-year-old for goodness’ sake. A five-year-old with special needs did not plan escapes. The most likely scenario was that she had been taken. But by whom? That was the question she hoped the police officers would help them provide answers to.
She could not begin to imagine the things that could happen to Lara. She could have her organs harvested; she could be molested. The best-case scenario was a ransom demand. Or was it? Was there really a best-case scenario in this case? What would they want from an orphan? What was she worth to them?
The orphanage was in a somber mood when the policemen left with an old photo of Lara for identification purposes. The children were afraid, huddling together like a unit. Lara’s disappearance had hit them too. As Dapo and Imade prepared to take their leave, Dapo had gathered them all together in the common room to pray.
“In the midst of trouble, prayer is our only response,” he told them, turning to the staff whose eyes were puffy from tears, and Mrs Osakwe who sat on the floor, exhausted. “We are going to pray for little Lara. She is God’s child and he loves her. We will pray that God keeps her safe and brings her back home to us.”
There was silence. No one felt like praying. Or maybe they were too tired to pray.
“I want all of us in one minute to say a heartfelt prayer for Lara. She matters to us all on an individual note, so, we all need to say the prayer for her no matter how hard it is now. So, go ahead. Tell God what you want.”
It had been hard, really, praying when fear was thick in the atmosphere, but Imade understood why it was necessary to do it. They could not afford to let the fear rule them. So, they held hands, bowed their heads and muttered prayers under their breaths.
Finally, Dapo rounded off the prayers, “Lord, please bring her home. Keep her safe, protect her. She is your daughter, one of the little ones you so much cherish. Father, please protect her from the evil one. Wherever she is right now, whether she was taken, we throw confusion into their camp. We speak forth her release because our covenant is nothing missing, no one missing. No one missing, dear Lord. Thank you, Lord, because we know you hear us. In Jesus name.”
After the prayers, Imade had felt peace settle in her heart, but as she sat in Pastor Dapo’s car now, waiting for him to say his goodbyes and drop her off, she felt the fear begin to creep in again.
This episode is dedicated to all Special Needs Children out there. KEEP BEING SPECIAL!