A Friend in Need
Months after Ben’s delivery, I noticed that Tayo had soon relapsed back into his depression. I confronted him with my observation and demanded an explanation. “Your greatest fear is over. Your parents have not disowned you. Tolani is fine, and so in Benjamin. What then is your problem?”
“I’m fine, Femi. It’s nothing serious. I’ll get over it.”
“What are you getting over? Is anything wrong, again? And, please don’t tell me there is another Tolani somewhere.” I said, half-joking, half-serious.
“Do you now see me as someone who sleeps around?” Tayo’s visage spoke displeasure. “Because I made a careless mistake that will haunt me for the rest of my life, you now see me as a regular fornicator?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you.” I moved closer and hugged him gently. “You are my brother, you know? Whatever bothers you, bothers me.”
“Not in this case, Femi. I need to deal with my own problems this time. I don’t want to keep nettling you with my headaches. You have your own life to worry about too. In fact, this is not something you can help me with in any way.” He replied, freeing himself from my embrace.
“I may not be able to help, but I can listen to you. Sometimes all you need to do to feel better is talk about it.” I persuaded him to open up till he did.
“It’s about my grades.” He cupped his face with his palms.
“Grades? What about them?” I knew Tayo to be a very brilliant chap. “You are one of the brightest brains I’ve ever known. What is going on?”
“They’re low. My internship report that was supposed to carry many points was a mess. The emotional trauma I was suffering then didn’t allow me to concentrate. I rushed the report, left out important details and submitted in haste because I wanted to get out from this environment and go far away. Even when I resumed for the new session, the days I locked myself up and didn’t attend lectures, I missed assignments and tests. I’m suffering the consequences now.”
I stood speechless for some seconds. He was right; I couldn’t help him with this. We weren’t even in the same field. “What are you going to do now?” That was the best I could say.
“I’ll try to make up for the lost points in this final semester. Though I may not be able to graduate with a first class, I will try to strengthen my current grade so that it won’t keep drowning.”
“Make sure you that. And, if there’s any way I can be of help, don’t hesitate to let me know.” We rounded off our talk while left for a meeting in the church.
During the days of Tayo’s exile, Sister Maria, the head usher and member of the Protocols Department used to ask after Tayo very often. After almost every service, she would come to me and ask if I’d heard any word from him. My usual answer was ‘No’, and I also encouraged her to keep praying for him. At a point, I started suspecting that something fishy might be going on but I brushed off the thought as quickly as I could. Was she not the head usher? And was it not her duty to know who was and wasn’t in church? Perhaps, she was just doing her Christian duty of being her brother’s keeper.
On a particular Sunday, I was expecting her to come and ask after him as usual. I had prepared an answer for her, and maybe a few interview questions too—like asking if she was asking out of goodwill or for personal purposes. And she did come indeed.
“Good morning, Pastor.” Two knocks came on the door that was already opened as Sister Maria peeped in. “That was a wonderful sermon, I must say. I was blessed.”
“Oh! Good morning, Sister Maria. I’m glad you were blessed.”
“I really was. I’ve never heard the parable of the sower expounded with such clarity before. And the prayer session, wow! I had to re-examine my heart to know what type of soil’s in there. God bless and keep you for us in Jesus’ name.”
“Amen.” I nodded in agreement as I quickly allowed my own message minister to me too.
“This is for today’s service. Someone’s name is still missing.” She handed me a hand-written attendance book. I gazed at the sheet, a little concerned about the figures at the moment, while mostly admiring the beautiful lettering with which she’d penned the report. Her comment was an indirect question. I had to think of an answer.
“Have you tried calling Brother Tayo? Because, I have tried reaching him several times, but hasn’t answered or returned any of my calls.” I said, forcing a smile.
“If he isn’t answering your calls, there’s no chance he’ll answer mine either. We’ll just keep praying for him.” It looked like she sensed an air of not wanting to talk about him with her, or whatever it was that was wrong with me, so she withdrew. Maybe she thought I’ve not tried hard enough, or that I knew more than I was telling her.
It was our conversation that Sunday that contributed to my decision to sit at Tayo’s door till he opened his door that Saturday morning. I didn’t want to face Maria with the same old tale. And thankfully, I didn’t have to because Tayo was back in church the following day. I’d kept an eye on them to see what would happen but I noticed they just greeted casually, talked briefly, and parted. I felt a breeze of relaxation blowing in my direction, yet I remained very watchful. I was convinced within myself that either of them had something up their sleeves.
As the weeks multiplied into months, little Ben started growing, his face becoming more like his father’s. Mrs Okafor had been taking care of Tolani and the baby as she promised. I’d gone there frequently while I was working on my dissertation. Mrs Okafor was very helpful. Of the cases I used during my research, Tolani was one of the patients whose cases proved very useful. She agreed that Mrs Okafor release the details of the therapy sessions she had with her, and that she would be willing to answer any further questions if I had any. A few others also gave their support, and the research was successful.
Tolani had some issues with her studies too. She missed a number of classes because she was too shy to go to school with a protruding belly when all her friends knew she wasn’t married. The fear of the looks, the mockeries, and the side talks troubled her. She eventually faced her fears early enough after some sessions with her counsellor, and she scaled through. It was though at first, but eventually her friends rallied round to support her academically, mostly out of pity. When she missed any lecture, there was someone willing to bring her the notes to copy, explain things to her, and help with her assignments. Being a brilliant student herself, she caught up fine.
Though, I’d not gone there for the past few months, as the final exams approached, I paid Mrs Okafor a visit. I needed some practical guide to solving some questions. Since we’re family now, I visited her at home. The moment I opened the door, I was greeted with a sight that made me both happy and shocked—happy to see Mrs Okafor was pregnant again, and shocked to see Tolani whom I hadn’t seen since the last time she drove us to Tayo’s dad’s office. All the times I’d gone there, I’d asked after her only once and I was told she travelled. I hadn’t asked any further to keep them from misinterpreting my actions. I had feelings for Maria already, and though I was still praying about it, I didn’t want them to think I was falling in love with Debby.
The moment I set my eyes on Debby, it was as if all the feelings I had for Maria disappeared. I cautioned myself quietly and tried to be as composed as possible. I knew I was going to have an emotional tough time there with Debby around, so I braced myself for any eventuality the moment I sat down.
To Be Continued