“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
By the time I concluded my account, my mother was in tears, thinking of all I had suffered at the hands of Tony and Uncle Bill. Kemi too was tearful. Both were short of words. My mother spoke first.
“I will never forgive myself. SIX YEARS??? You mean, my own brother abused you in this house, under my nose for six years? God have mercy!!!”
I didn’t know what to say to that. I wanted to tell her to forgive herself, but it was a really big thing for a mother to miss! Though I no longer blamed her for how my life turned out, because I also chose the path of promiscuity and I chose to push my husband away, I still think the lack of attention and affection I got from her and my father caused me to seek attention and love from strange men.
“What I can’t get over is this Tony guy! What a monster! I wonder how many guys like him are out there? There is just too much injustice in this world!” Kemi lamented.
My mother sobbed loudly. “You know… There was a part of me that suspected something… I just didn’t want to believe it… I thought…”
“Sorry? You mean you knew?” I stared at my mother, horrified that she had not been as blind as I had thought. “Why did you never ask me? Why did you leave me with him when you had such suspicions? Why didn’t you look into it, Mom?”
Kemi’s eyes were also on Mama.
“He’s my elder brother! I have always looked up to him… I didn’t want to accuse him, wrongly…when I had no proof. I thought maybe it was even the TV you were watching that was making you so…so… I don’t know what the word is.”
“Mama??? God! You never once asked me… Do you know how abandoned I felt by you? I needed you! God, I can’t even look at you right now…” I rose up from my seat, my bitterness and anger towards my mother had been rekindled. How could she have known, or even suspected, and done nothing? “I have to get some fresh air.”
Kemi ran after me and took hold of my hand. “Don’t run away again, Promise. Please forgive Mama. She was going through a lot too, with Daddy never being around and all. Please…”
I didn’t say anything. I was still trying to process what I had learnt. Was it that my mother didn’t understand the psychological impact of sexual abuse on children? Did she never consider that when deciding to protect my uncle’s feelings rather than my childhood? What kind of mother would treat her child’s well-being so recklessly?
I guess that is the kind of mother I would have been, I thought, thinking of my aborted child. Selfish people should not be entrusted with the lives of others. I knew I was selfish, and that is why I couldn’t contemplate bringing a child in this world. I didn’t have the capacity to love him or her. But you never gave her a chance at life, said a voice from within. What sort of life could she possibly have had, I responded. That was not your decision to make, the voice replied conclusively.
I suddenly realised that my baby would have been a girl… The voice said ‘her‘. She was real, and I had discarded her as though she never mattered. I had killed my daughter, but my mother had given me a chance! Yes, she made a huge mistake. But that was forgivable. What I did was unforgivable! I forgive you. There it was again! I forgave you. Forgive your mother.
“Oh, Kemi… I think I am hearing voices in my head!”
“What sort of voices?” Kemi looked at me, perplexed.
“Like someone inside is talking to me. It can’t be God, can it?”
“Don’t you believe in God?”
“I don’t know… After last night, I think I am starting to. But I still don’t understand why now? Where was He before?”
I was right here.
“I believe God is always with us. But it is only when we are ready to know Him, and we open ourselves to Him that He reveals Himself. Many times, we are the ones who refuse to see,” Kemi said.
“I don’t know if I’m ready. I don’t feel ready. I don’t understand His ways at all! How can He say He forgives me? I am the one who needs to forgive Him! He made me this way… He did this to me… And now He wants a relationship with me…and is talking about forgiving me? I don’t understand it…and I don’t want to understand it. I would rather not believe He exists! The world makes sense that way.”
“Except that you already believe He exists. Can you hear yourself? He is already communicating with you, so deal with it! You can’t make Him unexist because it is more convenient for your theology… Since He is God, you really do need to care what He has to say.”
“Okay. So, I believe. Now what? Does that make me a Christian?” I stopped and asked Kemi, desperate to understand what was going on with me.
“No. The Bible says even the demons believe and shudder! You need to have faith, and have faith in Jesus Christ, to be Christian. Faith is both trusting and obeying God, and it goes beyond simply believing that He exists. Right now you don’t trust Him, and since you don’t trust Him, you can’t obey Him…”
“Okay, so how do I trust Him?”
“You have to first listen. The Bible says, faith comes by hearing and hearing of the word of God. When you listen to Him, then you can choose to believe what He says or not. If you believe Him, not just believe that He exists, then you are putting your trust in Him. And if you really trust Him, you will obey. If you don’t do what He says, it shows that you don’t actually trust nor believe Him. When you trust and obey, you have begun to have a loving relationship with God. Jesus promised that all who believe in Him will be saved, and all who show they love Him by obeying Him will receive His Holy Spirit.”
“Okay… So what if after I listen, I don’t believe and I don’t trust Him. Does that mean I am going to hell like the demons?”
“Well, if you don’t believe Him, why would you be concerned about going to hell? You can only be worried about going to hell if you actually believe that hell exists…and so that means you believe Him, but you are just being stubborn about submitting to Him…in which case, you would be right to be afraid of hell!” Kemi said.
I looked at Kemi, and I knew she was speaking the truth. I believed, and it wasn’t because I choose to believe, but because I could no longer deny that I do. Now the challenge was what I was going to do with that knowledge. I have been running from this knowledge for so long, and now my sanity depended on me embracing this truth, rather than running from it. Maybe God would have helped me, if I had not been too proud to ask for help, and rather denied His existence and His love.
“Please pray for me, Kemi. I want to have faith like you do.”
Right there in the street, we held hands and Kemi prayed over me.
Kemi and I returned home in the late morning. We’d carried on walking and talking for about an hour after our prayer time. Kemi brought me up to speed with what had been going on with her, and how she and Mama had been getting by.
Mama had been retrenched from her job as a Receptionist about a year after I went to Lagos. Since then, she had taken on menial jobs in Ibadan, working with a cleaning agency. At the moment, she was between houses, because the people she worked for had traveled out of the country about two months ago. She was now looking for a job independently as a Nanny, as the agency usually took a significant amount of her meager earnings each month.
Kemi had completed her undergraduate course in Accounting at the University of Ibadan. Toyin’s work in Lagos, as an Electrician, had helped towards her fees. However, she had supplemented it with a side hustle, and was also saving towards doing a Masters in Accounting. But with Toyin’s untimely death, she didn’t have enough to enrol for a Master’s degree, and even what she had saved was used in laying Toyin to rest. Toyin did not have any savings.
She was now looking to do her NYSC with the next session, and hoped for a placement in an Accounting Firm. She had been writing to a few firms in Ibadan, and distributing her CV widely. With Toyin’s passing, and neither of them gainfully employed, they had been struggling to manage the little money Mama had saved over the years and the little that came from Kemi’s hustle, as a make-up artist.
We bought some small provisions with the remainder of the money in my hand, until I could make a trip to the Bank to withdraw from my savings. When we got in the house, Mama was in her room praying, so we didn’t disturb her. We continued our bonding, and began to cook soup for dinner.
“You’re back,” Mama said, as she stood at the door. Kemi gave me a knowing look.
I went to Mama and embraced her. “All is forgiven, Mom. I love you.”
She hugged me tightly, and Kemi came in to join in the embrace. It was a good long hug. Soon, we returned to our cooking, and were laughing, as we recounted stories from years gone by.
“Mama, Promise is saved!” Kemi announced excitedly at the dinner table.
Mama looked up at the ceiling dramatically and shouted “Praise Jesus!!!” I giggled. “Trusting in God will be the best decision you ever made.”
I nodded and smiled. “I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn, and trusted in Him sooner. Maybe I could have saved my marriage.”
“It’s not too late. From how you described your husband, he seems like a God-fearing man. I’m sure he will find it in his heart to forgive you,” Mama said. “Have you called him?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know if I am ready. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him. I did and I do. But too much has happened… And I am even more sexually damaged than before. I’m afraid that I will still hurt him. I am still very new at Christianity.”
“At least you should talk to him… Keep the communication lines open,” Kemi added.
“I don’t know what I would say. Wouldn’t I just be giving him false hope…?”
“Don’t make the same mistake you did with God. Forgiving you is his choice. Don’t deny him that, if there is a chance that you could be reconciled. Also, if he doesn’t hear from you, he might move on. Are you sure that’s what you want?” Mama asked.
I thought for a while. “Yes. I want him to move on. That’s my gift to him. A fresh start. He deserves a wife without my plenty issues!” I tried to smile, but my heart was heavy with sadness. I wanted my husband to be happy, even if it wasn’t with me.
“What do you deserve?” Kemi asked. “I’m just saying… Don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t you think you deserve a good man, after all you have been through?”
I looked at Mama and Kemi. They both made some good points. But I couldn’t fathom it. What right did I have to ask for a second…or was it third or fourth chance from Ope? Yes, I was saved, but what did I really have to offer him? I had nothing going for me, and I couldn’t understand why he would still love me, or even want me.
“Just promise you will pray about it…” Kemi said.
“Okay. I will.” But I was yet to figure this prayer thing out.
I sat quietly and ate my dinner. Their expectations were too much. I didn’t have the strength to hope for my husband’s love and forgiveness. The thought alone was making me sick with anxiety. I was not ready.
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