Imade had never been great at handling big emotions, mostly because when growing up, her parents were big on poker faces, so much so that even if they were going through turmoil underneath the surface, they maintained an unwavering exterior. When her parents fought, her mother pinched her face into a frown and answered her children with one-word answers, while her father took a drive or a long walk or just generally made himself scarce. Large, emotional outbursts were her sister’s thing, and even then Imade regarded her with awkwardness. When she’d experienced her first heartbreak in her second year of university, she had cried alone in the toilet of her one-room apartment off-campus, telling no one.
As she sat with Mrs Osakwe in her office, listening to her deep sobs, Imade shifted uncomfortably. She was not going to pretend that she understood Mrs Osakwe’s pain, it seemed so huge for one person to carry, but somehow in her heart Imade knew God wanted her here with Mrs Osakwe. Because the truth was, Mrs Osakwe couldn’t help Lara heal if she hadn’t healed herself.
“It’s okay ma,” Imade reached forward, patting the older woman’ bent shoulders.
“Do you know the worst part?” Mrs Osakwe asked, raising her head, tears spilling down her face, “I am a hypocrite. I tell Joy about God and encourage her to have a relationship with him, while struggling with my relationship with him.”
“You’re not a hypocrite, Mrs Osakwe. You are human and despite what you think, deep down, you still love God. This way you’re feeling is just temporary.”
“Temporary? Temporary? Ha! Imade, I’ve been feeling this way for years!”
“And yet, you have managed to bring up your daughter pointing her to God, teaching her about God? Trust me ma, it is very temporary.”
Mrs Osakwe tore off a sheet of tissue from the roll that sat on her table and she blew her nose into it.
“I think I’m afraid to talk to God,” she said when she was done.
“Why do you think that is?”
“Because I am afraid of his answer. I’m afraid…I will stop loving Him.”
“And perhaps, that is the true test of our love for God. Do we love him only when things are going good and his goodness seems so evident, or do we love him no matter what, even when his goodness is not so evident?” Imade asked.
“Because the truth is, in the good times and not-so good-times, God remains good. That is His character. He isn’t good because he does good things for us. He is good because he is God, that is who He is. And I’m talking to myself here too. I mean, it’s so easy to doubt God’s goodness when things don’t seem to be going our way. But let’s think about it: do we only love our parents when they buy us gifts and all the stuff we need? What about when they don’t? what happens then? Do we renounce them as our parents?”
“Hmm,” Mrs Osakwe grunted in response.
“I mean, it’s easy to blame God for everything that goes wrong in the world because we human beings always need someone to blame. But what happens when we make choices that eventually lead to bad consequences? For example, the man who drinks and drives and ends up running someone over is definitely not God. He is someone who made a bad decision that ended up killing someone. The problem is, the family and loved ones of the person who was a victim of this accident, will turn to God and blame Him. Why? Because it’s easy. We don’t want to face the fact that more than half the time, we human beings are responsible for the terrible things that happen on earth.”
“Hmm,” Mrs Osakwe made the grunting sound again.
“We’ll be shocked how often God’s hands are tied in situations like these. He is God, yes. He made the earth, yes. But then he turned around and gave it to man, that is me and you, to manage, to be responsible for it. He is not going to step in and throw a lightning bolt from heaven every time he spots something bad about to happen. However, what He can do, is turn around a ‘bad’ situation into something good. Beauty for ashes, garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. That kind of thing. The problem is that we often spend time wallowing in the bad things that have happened to us that we don’t see the beauty God wants to turn it into.”
As the words left Imade’s mouth, she marveled. The things she was saying were not things she had thought of before, they were not things she had had to speak about before, but she knew they were the things Mrs Osakwe needed to hear. God was using her to reach out to this broken and hurting woman.
“What you should do, Mrs Osakwe, is to look for the beauty in your ashes. Don’t run away from the ashes. Imagine if you hadn’t found this orphanage, then you wouldn’t have found Joy or these children. Whether you know it or not, these children are part of the reasons you are still alive, sane. Be thankful for that. Take your eyes back to Jesus, I’m sure He’s missed you.”
Mrs Osakwe’s eyes were filmy as she grasped Imade’s hands across the desk, “thank you. Thank you so much, Imade. You are truly God-sent.”
Lara lay facing the wall, her thin body curled like she was trying to disappear. She flinched when Imade sat on her bed and Imade marveled at how fearful the little girl was.
Her head was still bald, her wounds still healing, the one good thing was that she had regained her appetite and so she was eating more these days. If she avoided the other children before, now she actively stayed away from them, often preferring to sleep all day or just lie in bed facing the wall.
Imade wanted to reach the little girl, she wanted to know what was going on in her head, what had happened to her, if she was okay, so many things to know. But Lara was decidedly mute. Even though the children were happy she was back, they didn’t spend much time with her because they could sense her aversion to them. The first few days of her return, they hovered, asking questions, touching, poking, sympathizing, but she had flinched at every contact and finally, had howled, a loud monosyllabic sound – the only audible sound they’d heard from her since then.
After that incident, they all stayed away, not because they didn’t care, but perhaps because they couldn’t understand.
Today, Imade had decided to try something new. She had stopped by the bookstore that Dapo had recommended for her (she wondered how he knew anything about children’s books, but didn’t ask) the previous day and bought some early reading children’s books (again, Dapo’s recommendation) and a drawing pad with a pack of coloured marker and crayons.
“Hey Lara,” she said, softly, because everything about the girl seemed fragile. “I got some things for you. I hope you like them.”
The girl didn’t bother to turn over to look at her. She was still.
“They are books with some really nice pictures. I think you’d like them.” Imade continued.
“I’m not sure how well you read but I hope these are easy enough for you.” Imade rustled the paper bag, trying to get her attention. “Oh, I…um…I got a drawing book for you too. And some markers, if you would like to…draw anything you like.”
And for the first time, Lara moved. She unfurled herself, a caterpillar trying to exit its cocoon and turned slowly to face Imade. Her big gloomy eyes found the drawing book and settled on it. She stared, mesmerized.
Then she reached out and touched it gently, like treasure.
Imade held her breath. What did this mean? Had she found a way to reach this little girl?