A friend in need
For Tayo, next in shock-magnitude to the news of Tolani’s conception, was the news that she was expectant with child. I can’t say categorically what we thought we would hear, but it seemed like that was the last thing either of us expected. For a moment, I was unexplainably happy—perhaps, because my friend was going to be a father, and I was going to be an uncle—but the exclamatory look on Tayo’s face quickly drained the happiness. Truth was: he was not ready!
When, I confronted Tayo about his mixed feelings, he admitted that he thought she had terminated the pregnancy, since he hadn’t heard from her since the breakup. On one hand, he was sad that he’s plunging into fatherhood unprepared; on the other hand, there’s a tingling sensation he felt each time he thought of himself as a father. Thinking straight was difficult.
Since the unknown woman promised that she’d call us back, all we could do was wait. She sounded like a nice person, so I believed she would fulfil her promise. The days we had to wait for were like months to us. My phone was always with me, and the enthusiasm with which I checked the phone each time it rang was unparalleled. When she finally called, I rushed to Tayo’s room before answering the call. I arrived there panting like a chased dog.
“Hel… hello… Hello ma.” I tried to hide my heavy breaths from the microphone of the phone, which was hard because it was on loudspeaker.
“Hello, Tayo’s friend. I don’t remember you mentioning your name during our last conversation.” Her voice was calming. ‘I’d love to meet this lovely woman someday,’ I thought within.
“I’m Femi. Good evening ma.” I said, acting normally.
“Good evening, Femi. Are you free this weekend? I mean, you and Tayo.”
“We are free ma. In fact, we can come tomorrow if that is okay by you.” I looked at Tayo to know his thoughts about it. He gave a satisfactory look.
“Tomorrow would have been fine, but I’ll be on duty. Let’s make it Friday. I’ll text you the address.” She replied as I wondered what type of duty she was referring to.
“Friday is perfect. We’ll be expecting.” I was rounding off our discussion when Tayo asked to speak with her. I passed him the phone quickly.
“Hello ma, this is Tayo.” He introduced himself immediately.
“Hi, Tayo. It’s good to hear from you.” Tayo’s face was straight. He wanted something more than just talking with her.
“Please ma, I guess Tolani is mad at me—and she has every right to be—but, can I just speak with her? I’ve not heard from her in many months. Please, let me just say ‘hello’ to her.” Tayo pleaded.
“Listen, my dear,” the woman replied, “Tolani is not mad at you; at least, not anymore. If it makes you feel any better, I was the one who discouraged her from contacting you after the incidence and exchanged her line with a new one to monitor her communications. More than once, she has tried contacting you, but I keep stopping her. I’ve been doing that because I believe it’s necessary for her healing. And, I’m sorry, you can’t speak with her now because she’s not here at the moment. When you see her on Friday, you’ll hear the full story.”
“Okay ma. Thank you all the same.” He said with disappointment in his voice.
“You are welcome. I’ll send the address shortly.” The call ended.
We sat there in silence waiting for the address, meanwhile my mind was busy thinking. ‘What did she mean when she talked about Tolani’s healing? Was she sick? Since when? What could be the nature of the sickness? Hope it isn’t life-threatening? Hope it won’t affect the life of the baby?’
My thoughts were interrupted when the phone beeped; the text just came in. The content further heightened my curiosity and worry. It was a hospital address—a psychiatric hospital. It was practically impossible for either of us to hide our concern. We tried to figure out the possible situation of things till we reached our wits end.
There was one more thing we could do: pray. So, we prayed together that day and every day after that till the D-day arrived. We even met to pray together again before setting out on our journey on the appointed day. And I’m glad we did, because if we hadn’t, only God knows what would have happened that day.
Mrs Okafo, as we later learned, was the woman we had been speaking with. She was the wife of the youth pastor in the church where Tolani served as a youth leader. She also doubled as a counsellor at a psychiatric hospital in town. Needless to say, she was a loving, caring, and an awesome woman.
Despite the characteristic delinquency and frivolity of most juveniles even in church, she always found a way of transforming them into responsible young men and women, useful to God and their community. Tolani enjoyed working with her; in fact, theirs was more like a mentor-protégé relationship. So, when Tolani came to her own hour of emotional crisis, she knew just where to go.
We arrived the hospital about an hour earlier than scheduled, so we felt we could use some minutes of relaxation, and maybe sightseeing. The later was a bad idea and we wished it never crossed our minds. We learnt that you don’t go sightseeing in a hospital, especially a psychiatric one. The patients there wouldn’t be if they had a choice. There are enough museums, zoos and amusement parks for rubberneckers, not hospitals.
Anyway, we knew how bad our idea was immediately we entered the first block of buildings. We saw things—scary things. We couldn’t even move past the second ward before turning back to find a tree to sit under, in silence.
“Do you think Tolani could be in one of those wards?” Tayo asked, after some minutes. I had been thinking too, but my thoughts were far from his. I had an important question for him but it could wait.
“Honestly, I can’t say.” He didn’t seem satisfied with my response, so I continued, “One thing I do know is that God is in control. We have prayed, let’s see how things will go.”
“I’m not sure about that, Femi. Let’s just go home. I can’t bear to see her in a horrible condition knowing that I was responsible for it. I can’t! I just can’t!” Tayo’s voice began to shake as he stood up to leave. I got up and ran after him.
From the past experience, I’d learnt that almost nothing could stop Tayo from crying. The only thing that has always worked was prayer. I reminded him of the prayers we had prayed together in the past few days, and even before setting out on our journey; of how he, while leading the prayer that morning, had committed everything into God’s hands and asked Him to take absolute control. I challenged him to believe.
It was already fifteen minutes to the scheduled time and waiting beyond then could be counter-productive. Tayo was already contemplating going back home, and I wasn’t going to let that happen. I called-up the person we came to meet immediately.
“Good afternoon ma.” I greeted, eyeing Tayo. He was telling me to put the phone on loud-speaker, but I refused.
“Good morning, Femi. I hope you are still coming.” I was thinking she thought we were calling to cancel the appointment. How wrong I was! She was just teasing me. She knew how desperate Tayo was to see Tolani again.
“Of course ma. We are already in the compound. We arrived some minutes ago.” Tayo was still not sure of what to do. He appeared to be thinking.
“In that case, from the main gate, turn left. You’ll see a building marked ‘Youth Counselling Centre’. I’ll meet you at the door.”
Curiosity covered Tayo’s face since he didn’t hear our conversation.
“Wait,” he said, “We can do it this way. You will go back to the ward to meet her, if she’s okay, then you can call me to join you.”
“NO!” I said emphatically. “Do you think I ditched classes to come here for a joke. I came here WITH you, not FOR you. If you don’t want to see her, I can as well take my leave.” My voice was getting raised.
Tayo knew I was getting displeased with him.
“I’m sorry, Femi. Please, try to understand how guilty I feel right now. It’s not that I don’t want to see her, I’m just scared.” He apologized.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. Come with me.”
We got to the building just in time. Mrs Okafo was already waiting at the door. She was a middle-aged woman, attractive and dainty.
“Welcome, gentlemen. I am Mrs Okafor.” She said, as she conducted us into a small room beside the office that had her name on the door. “Tolani should be here any moment from now. Please make yourselves comfortable.” She left the room to return with some bottles of water.
“Thank you very much ma.” We said together.
“Tayo does not look happy.” She said facing Tayo as if they’d met before.
“Erm, erm, I… I’m fine. I’m fine ma.” Hiding his surprise at how she knew which of us was Tayo was impossible. I was shocked too.
“Don’t be shocked,” she said, as if she was reading our minds, “I’m a trained psychologist and that’s my job. I knew who was who between you two the moment I saw you.”
Just then, Tolani walked in and despite her protruding tommy, she still looked delicately beautiful. While reading Tayo’s journal, I had painted a picture of her in my mind. She was far more beautiful than I thought.
“Welcome, my dear,” Mrs Okafor said to Tolani, as they hugged each other. “I’ll leave you three to discuss and be in my office next door. If you need anything, just press the bell on either side of that table and I’ll be here in a jiffy.” She said, as she left the room.
The three of us sat there, looking at one another and waiting for someone to break the silence.
To be continued.