A Friend in Need
Pastor Adekunle was a strict man. Before he got called into the ministry as a full time pastor, he served briefly with the army. He used to tell of the rigorousness of their training sessions. His home was a mini-barrack. Back in the day, when I was much younger and used to go over there to spend the holiday with my friend, he would sit us down and read a set of rules to us before anything else: You must not get out of bed before saying your morning prayers. All house chores must be done before breakfast. You must finish all your holiday assignments within the first week of the break…
Aside those, the life there was regimented. You dared not sleep beyond 5 am. Hearing his footsteps alone was enough to summon your spirit from whatever dreamland you went back to the land of the living. Otherwise, horse whips would do the work. To him, waking up late meant no other thing than that you played too much during the day or was awake beyond bed time. Breakfast was served at 8 am, lunch at 2.30, and supper at 7.30, after which we were allowed to watch the television for just 30 minutes. The evening prayers would be said for another 30 minutes before daddy shooed us to our bedroom. ‘Early to bed, early to rise.’
After we were gone, he would settle down to watch the news or whatever it was that he watched, while we would hide in the room playing games. He believed we were asleep, so we kept our voices as low as possible. We’d invented several paper, number, and word games that sometimes kept us till midnight. We had a jotter where we kept our scores hidden under Tayo’s bed while the games tools were stuffed in a shoebox under a pile of clothes concealed somewhere in the wardrobe. Getting caught playing games at bed time meant we would do frog jumps till our femurs ached and we could barely stand upright.
As non-indulgent as he was, he still represented a caring father who listened to us anytime we had genuine issues. He taught us the Scriptures, answered our questions and, occasionally, told us stories. Sometimes, especially on weekends, he would take us out for an early morning jog. We usually came back almost breathless.
Tayo’s mom was a nice woman—by our judgement. As far as we were concerned, she was our saviour. Anytime we did something wrong, we ran to her first. It’s not that she cosseted us. No. She only seemed to understand our childhood tendencies more than her husband. She corrected us when we needed correction, but in a more tolerable way.
I remember this one time she grounded us for a whole day for fighting in church. One of the children in the Sunday School had said something mean to Tayo and I had to defend my friend by hitting the boy. A fight ensued, the youth pastor broke us up and reported us to Mrs Adekunle. She decided not to tell her husband because she knew what thorough beating we would get. Instead, she shortened our ration of food during supper that night. Who dared ask for more? The day after, after dad had gone out to the office, she locked us up in different bathrooms and we didn’t come out until it was supper-time. Compared to Pastor’s horsewhips, that was fair. And, that was the last time either of us ever fought in church.
Things haven’t changed much. He is still very much of a stern disciplinarian. Looking back now, I appreciate those disciplines he instilled in us early in life. They have moulded us into responsible young men. But now, Tayo had made a mistake. Neither of us could predict what his reaction would be.
‘Tayo was just healing.’ I thought. ‘This is probably not the best time. But then, Tolani would soon be delivered of a baby boy. Wouldn’t it be fair to let the Adekunles know they were going to be grandparents in few weeks’ time?’
I had to say something. “I am of the opinion that you should tell them.” He looked worried. “I have no idea how you will present it to them but they deserve to know.”
“I know they do… but I’m afraid.” His countenance fell. “I’m too scared to imagine what my father’s reaction would be.”
“In the worst case, he could disown you.” He looked terrified. Should I have said that? “But, I’m sure he won’t. You’re his only son.” I added quickly.
“I need to think deeply about this.” He concluded as we continued our journey home.
Days passed. I longed to know what his final decision was. He didn’t mention it when we met in church on Sunday. We didn’t have time to talk that much because he was busy attending to people who hadn’t seen him in months. They wanted to know what kept him away for so long. He only told them he needed the break but that he was back and better.
For me, I was finally free from the endless questions on his whereabouts, especially from the head usher. No one, aside me, knew the main reason behind his long absence. He’d asked me to keep it secret, and I’d agreed. Everyone was glad to have him back.
Eventually, he came to my room during the week. He had thought of something. “I have decided to tell them.” He looked searchingly into my eyes as if he was expecting me to comment. Then he continued, “But I can’t do this alone.”
“What are you insinuating?” I interrupted. “I’m not facing your father with this kind of news. I think I’ve done enough as a friend should do. If you need my help in any other way, I’ll be here for you. But to help you break this news to your parents, I’m sorry, I’m out.”
“If my best friend is rejecting me already, then my father would be justified to disown me.” His eyes welled up with tears. That was my Achilles’ heel. Seeing him cry made me emotional.
“I’m not rejecting you, Tayo.” I toned down. “I just think this is a family matter that must be settled indoors.”
“You are my family, Femi.” He managed to say between sobs. “You are the only brother I have.”
He was right. He was his parents’ only son, just like me. My parents’ frequent out-of-town journeys made me spend more time in their house. We were like each other’s brothers.
I thought for a while. “I think I have an idea.”
“Spill it!” He dried his eyes waiting to hear what I had to say.
“I think Mrs Okafor can help? She was able to help Tolani break the news to her parents, she should be able to help you too.”
“I’ve thought of that but I don’t know if she’d want to.” We had met her only once. Though she’d spoken to Tayo within the week, he didn’t want to bother her with his cross.
“There’s only one way to find out.” I offered my phone. “Call her.”
The phone rang twice. No one answered. That was unusual. Mrs Okafor always answered her phone—ALWAYS. I collected the phone and redialed, putting it on speaker volume. The line rang again, and just when it was about to disconnect, it was answered.
“Hello!” The voice wasn’t hers. It was a man’s. ‘Maybe it’s her husband.’ I whispered to Tayo to whom I had passed the phone.
“Hello sir. I want to speak with Mrs Okafor.” He struggled to say.
“Is that her name? The owner of …” He paused. He seemed distracted. Talking to others around him while he was on the phone with us. What a lack of telephone manners! Indistinct discussions went on in the background. We tried in vain to pick any meaningful sentence.
“Over here. Please come faster. She’s bleeding. I was walking by when …” The siren of an ambulance wailed loudly that we couldn’t hear the rest of what he said. That should be the voice of the man holding the phone. We became worried and impatient.
Soon he was back on the line. “What did you say her name was again?”
“Mrs Okafor. Please, tell us what is going on. Is she alright?” He left speaking with us again, repeating the name to someone around him.
“I can’t say for sure.” He told us. “I saw her lying on the floor in front of a psychiatric hospital. Maybe she’s one of their patients trying to escape before she was hit by a cab.”
“No, she’s not a patient. She works there.” We argued.
“Well, she has been taken inside. I hope she makes it. It guess it was a ‘hit-and-run’ and she’s lost much blood.” The line went dead.
Without second thoughts, we prepared and left to see her.
To Be Continued…