Imade was due to return to Abuja in two days. Mixed feelings were running through her, she had missed Abuja, but she loved who she was in Benin. There was a sense of fulfillment she got from working with the orphanage. It wasn’t a paying job, yes. There were no corporate clients to kiss their ass or cover it, whichever the case might be and it made her feel good, like she was doing something meaningful.
She had made a bit of progress with Lara; the girl wasn’t speaking with words yet but she was using the drawing pad. The drawing pad that she guarded with her life. She took it with her everywhere she went, clutching it in her little fist like a secret. The one thing that the kidnapping experience had cured Lara of was her clinginess. Imade remembered when she met Lara for the first time and what a chore it had been to tear her away from Mrs Osakwe, the soulful look she had in her eyes when she had been sent to hang out with the other children.
Now, the little girl seemed to crave her space more than anything else. She shrunk away from displays of affection and spent time on her own, drawing and reading the books Imade had gifted her. Mrs Osakwe had mentioned to Imade that Lara still suffered nightmares – there were nights she woke up crying and covered in sweat, and those were the only times she let Mrs Osakwe hold her in comfort.
“Sometimes I think she’s getting better,” Mrs Osakwe said to Imade. “Sometimes I think she’s getting worse.”
“I think she should see a specialist,” Imade suggested, again. Mrs Osakwe had been shying away from bringing in a psychologist to examine Lara and Imade didn’t know why.
“Not everything can be solved by specialists,” Mrs Osakwe said. “Or don’t you think God can heal her?”
Imade shook her head, “Yes, God can heal her…but from what? We don’t even know what is wrong with her. That’s where a specialist comes in. We need to hear from them what they think is going on with her. It may be deeper than what we think it is. When we know what is happening with her, then we can know what to pray about.”
“Or is it the money that you’re worried about?”
“I don’t know. We have spent a lot lately on this whole Lara thing, money that we don’t have. We still have an orphanage to run, you know. The other children need to be taken care of too. We can’t just keep pumping money into hospital treatments while other things suffer. We all need to move on.”
Imade opened her mouth to object but realized that Mrs Osakwe’s mind was made up. There were things she couldn’t impose, she had to know where to draw the line and do her bit. Right now, all she could do was pray that Lara found healing and expression with her drawings.
Dapo could no longer deny that there was something there between him and Imade. Since Lara’s return, they had finally gone out on the much-awaited date and he had enjoyed hearing her laugh out loud, a sound that had been scarce in the past few weeks. He liked the way she laughed when she was really into it, not the lopsided grin she gave when she found something mildly funny, or the perfunctory smile that came to her lips often. Her laughter was a bellyful, gurgling sound that made him want to laugh along.
He had been thinking about her a lot lately, and had finally spoken to his Pastor about his ongoing turmoil.
“So, you like her?” Pastor Onos had asked in his usual straightforward way.
“Dapo, you know liking a woman isn’t unspiritual, right?”
Dapo had laughed at the teasing question. “Yes sir, I like her.”
“So, what is the problem?”
“The problem is everything that is my life.”
“You know what I’ve been through with…women. How they often back out when they find out I’m a single father. I just…I already told myself I wasn’t doing this whole relationship thing again. I mean, maybe I’m destined to be like Paul. He never married and he did great.”
“I’m sure Sophia thinks different. That girl wants to marry you off.”
Dapo blinked, “did she tell you that?”
“Whenever she comes around to spend time with my kids, I hear them talking about the sisters in church that have the potential of being great stepmothers. You know they’re teenagers now. She is beginning to need her space but she also doesn’t want to leave you feeling like you are alone. You both have an admirable bond.”
“You think? I feel like I didn’t know what I was doing the first few years with her.”
“Dapo, look at me.” Pastor Onos placed a hand on his shoulder. “You are not just a good man; you are a great father. You made the most of what life handed to you and you are raising a lovely young lady who is an arrow for God. Any woman who doesn’t see that or appreciate that does not deserve you.”
“Thank you, sir. Your words mean a lot to me.”
“On the flip side, if you are this worried about what this Imade will think, that means you must really like her.”
Dapo shifted in his seat, looking away.
“And it is nothing to be ashamed of. Instead, I think now is the time to take her to our Father. Pray about her, then tell her about Sophia. Like you said, the earlier you know, the better.”
“The thing is, she’s going back to Abuja in two days. It’s making me rethink things. Like, what if there is no point to all of this?”
“Dapo! Why are you talking like you don’t serve a God that is working behind the scenes? Talk to God about it first. Listen, if she’s a believer like you are, then God is father to you both. He won’t speak to you and keep her in the dark. That’s the benefit of being equally yoked, son. It’s like being on the same wavelength. Trust me, if this is meant to be, it will be. Just go and talk to God about it first. I will pray along with you, okay?”
“Okay sir,” Dapo replied, chastened. He knew what he had to do.
Imade had a surprise planned for Dapo. It was her last day in town and she wanted to do something special for him. She wasn’t sure what or if anything was happening between them, but he had been especially kind to her and Mrs Osakwe, and she wanted to thank him for his kindness during her stay in Benin.
Or maybe, what she really wanted was to see him again, know more about him. In the past weeks that they had been spending time together, she felt like there were layers to him that he kept off-limits. So, while she enjoyed sharing about herself with him, she noticed that he didn’t talk much about himself.
Maybe, she thought, it was as a result of being in ministry. Perhaps he had learned to keep himself closed off so as not to give women a wrong impression. Yes, that had to be it, she thought.
Because she liked him. A lot. And she suspected that he liked her too but he wasn’t being very forthcoming with his emotions and she wasn’t used to that. She was used to men telling her how they felt about her, how she made them feel, maybe not in words but through their actions, through their eyes. She could tell when a man was falling for her.
Like, with Lamide, it was easy. He began to attend church more often as an excuse to see her. He took her out on countless dates and couldn’t keep his eyes (or hands) off her. He was always wanting to hold her hands, loop his arm around her waist, touch her face. Affectionate gestures that were a tad premature at the time but which he dismissed as being part of his nature.
I’m a touchy-feely person, he said.
Even if, there should be boundaries. I want to do things right and you should respect that if you care about me.
Oh, how foolish she had been, thinking that she could change a man from who he was to be the man she wanted him to be. She had been blinded by the attraction that burned between them, ignoring the nudging of the Holy Spirit.
Do not be unequally yoked.
With Dapo, there was something muted about him; a subtle sizzling energy roaring beneath the surface. It made her curious, what was he about? What made him tick?
They had agreed to meet up the day before her flight was due, (her treat this time), she had decided to show up at his house to pick him up in an Uber – her attempt at seeing where he lived.
It was five-thirty when she arrived at the black gate with Number 36 written with dry-red ink. She told the Uber driver to keep the car running while she went in to ‘surprise’ Dapo. She had gotten his address from one of the members of his outreach team who she had gotten close to because of the orphanage.
She rang the bell that was stuck in an old-fashioned manner, to the pillar beside the gate.
After waiting for five minutes, she heard the bolt on the gate make a scraping noise – the small gate opened to reveal a teenage girl clad in jean shorts and a black t-shirt that said avec Jesus.
There was something familiar about her, the way she tilted her head to the side. Imade couldn’t quite place a finger on what it was. She tried to guess her age – fourteen, fifteen? Who was she? Maybe, a neighbour? Although, from what she could see, the compound looked like it housed only one occupant.
“Good evening. Can I help you?” the girl asked, in a clean chirpy voice – the voice of someone who was schooled.
“Um…I, my name is Imade and I’m looking for Pastor Dapo?”
“Oh, my dad? I’m not sure he’s expecting visitors but can you wait here while I ask him?” the girl turned to go back into the house.
“Maybe you didn’t hear me before, my dear. I said I’m looking for Pastor Dapo. Pastor Dapo?” Imade stressed the name.
“I heard you perfectly ma. You are looking for my dad. I will go and speak with him now, don’t worry.”
“My dad. Is…is everything okay, ma? I don’t know you. Let me just call my dad, please.” A panicky look crept into the girl’s eyes.
“Wait,” Imade put out her hand to stop the gate from shutting behind the girl. “Your dad as in…your spiritual father?”
The girl looked at her, flustered. “Ma?”
Just then, a face materialized behind the girl. “Soph, who is it?”
The voice was familiar, a sound she had come to know in the past few weeks.
Imade blinked once, twice, as she looked up at Dapo and shifted her gaze to the girl.
“Imade?” Dapo called, disbelief crowding his face.
“No, no, no.” Imade shook her head, took several steps back and ran.