It was her first day as a staff. A real job. She was supposed to be excited and all, but here she was at the back of a vehicle she had never seen, being driven by a guy she’d never met. She’d been up to prepare at 5am and by 6am on the stroke, she’d gotten a call that he was outside. Shola had thought it was a cabman of some sort since Joe had only said “I’ll have someone take you to work and back in the meantime”. It had turned out to be a tough looking older man in an SUV. He had spoken to her nicely, introduced himself as Razak and insisted on carrying her bag. She was too tired to object extendedly, so she let him and got in the back while he held the door open.
She’d not slept well at all last night. Joe had only said he was fine and safe and within the country. He had also mentioned he was staying in a hotel and would be here until he could figure out exactly who the guys who had stopped her were. In the meantime, she was to be “cautious” and call him immediately if she thought anything looked or felt strange. She let him know she didn’t feel safe any longer and he had reassured her everything would be back to normal “very shortly”. Still, she had had a fitful sleep. She tried to relax and enjoy the ride to work. A firm nudge woke her up what seemed like 3 seconds later. Actually she’d slept all through the ride and was now at the bank. “We are here” Razak said. She thanked him, got her bag from him and got off. He told her to a call him if she needed anything.
The ride to and fro the office was a huge help and she made sure to thank Joe especially for it. “I’d like to drive myself, sometimes, though.” she had added “That’s OK. Just let Razak know when you don’t need him.” Waking up on Friday morning she decided she wanted to drive herself to and from work. When she was done preparing and about leaving, she found Razak outside as usual. She told him not to bother taking her to work today, she would drive herself. The man quietly stepped aside made a quick phone call, came back with a smile, wished her a safe trip, got in his car and left. She found it quite a challenge, being that she had never driven that far in rush hour traffic. Joe only laughed when he called her at work and she complained of the stress it had given her.
Later, she got a call from her zonal pastor, she’d not seen her at the mid-week service and was wondering if she was fine. Shola explained about work and all. Her pastor happened to work on the island too and suggested they had lunch together. Shola agreed. Inside, she was wary. She had only missed one service, did that warrant a phone call? Yes, maybe on Wednesday night after service or sometime on Thursday. Friday was a little far off. Did it warrant lunch? Now, that was on the extreme. There was something her pastor wanted to talk about and there was only one way to find out – meet her for lunch. At lunchtime, she made the drive down to the restaurant, she spotted her pastor’s car and managed to park beside it. She had not gotten used to the BMW, but she liked it anyway.
Inside, she spotted her pastor and sat down opposite her after greeting. “How are you, Shola?” she asked, “I’m fine ma’m.” Shola responded smiling shyly. She liked the woman. “My very own big girl banker! Is that your car?” she asked looking through the window at the Black BMW X6 parked a little too close to her Toyota Camry. “No, ma’m!” Shola replied laughing, knowing at the same time that Joe would be discussed at this table. Surely Titi had ‘ratted’ her out. “Your folks’” she pressed, “My boyfriend’s” she clarified. “Oh! Really? Tell me about him!” she asked with a motherly smile. At home, she had simply said the owner of the cars was a certain Joe who was her boyfriend. Full-stop. No further details. But here, she came clean with the details – how it had all began and where things stood presently. She did so, despite feeling betrayed by Titi, because she needed someone to bare it all out to.
When she was done, Pastor Keji, was holding her and wiping a rush of tears off her cheeks with a paper napkin. “Shhhh! Honey. You are spoiling your make up.” she teased. Shola laughed a little and felt relieved. She sipped some water and calmed down. “Shola, I know how you feel. Good men are hard to find and most times when you find one, there is almost always a ‘but’ – a child somewhere, a not so good habit, a temper, a family issue, a financial challenge, genotype issues, a wife/girlfriend, a nasty divorce ongoing or like this case: shady pasts or dealings. You know how I mean?” she asked, Shola nodded. “I know you love him, but we have to be objective as women. I want you to go home today and think long and hard about this. Pray too. I’ll pray along with you.” she said then gave Shola a hug.
9 days after Joe’s hasty departure and Shola’s second week at work, in a phone conversation on her way home, Joe mentioned that he was making plans for her to come see him where he was. Her heart leapt at the idea, she really needed a face to face with him. If she had to go on much longer without it, her head was going to explode. She’d thought and prayed and still the love and the fear had remained in an intoxicating mixture. Pastor Keji had assured her it would clear up before long. She agreed to taking the trip to see him, she would find a way to get it around her folks at home. “Awesome! Razak’ll book your flight, prepare to fly on Saturday morning. Do not pack a bag. He’ll pick you up to the Airport.” Joe said, “I should not pack a bag?” Shola asked surprised, “No, dear, do not. Trust me.”. At the sound of the words ‘Trust me’, Shola felt a chill run down her spine. She could tell the ‘no-bag’ move was a security precaution of some sort.
Saturday morning, Shola dressed up and waited. She had confided in her mum the night before that she was going to see her boyfriend in Abuja. Being that she didn’t know where she was going herself, she made that up. “Yes, he worked in Abuja, he was recently transferred.” and “of course I’ll be back on Sunday.” were other things she said. Her mum agreed to cover for her with her Dad, who was away on a trip at the moment but might be back by Sunday. The plan was to say she’d sent Shola on an errand to her sister’s in Epe. At 7:30am, her phone rang. It was Razak “Good morning, ma! I’m downstairs.” he said. Heart racing, she got up and headed for the door with nothing but a handbag she’d spent all night packing and re-packing. All she had taken were her IDs, ATM Cards, some cash, toothbrush, a change of underwear, body spray, phone charger, her small Bible, a pen and some cosmetic items.
It took almost two hours to get to the Airport and Shola wondered if they had arrived in time for her flight – whichever it was and wherever it was headed. Joe had called a couple of times on her way pleading with her to stay calm, “Its a surprise.” he had said. “Patience…” Shola murmured over and over to stay calm. She had an SMS ready which she had drafted to send to Pastor Keji and Kola. It simply stated that she was off to ___ (this she’d fill in the moment she knew) to see Joe. She planned to send it when she was already onboard the plane, she did not want to be talked out of her decision to go see him by Pastor Keji. That way both of them would have a general knowledge of her whereabouts. Razak led her to the Arik Air check-in counter, a few minutes later, he handed her a boarding pass.
“Calabar! Business Class.” she thought. Now, she at least knew where she was going and when she was leaving – 11:10am. She edited the SMS as she ascended on the escalator to the departure floor. She looked down and saw Razak still standing and looking up at her, she waved at him and he waved back. It was funny, she only had a stranger to bid her farewell on her first trip by air. She went through customs hassle-free and waited till she heard her flight called. She had tried calling Joe but it would not connect. She joined the queue and at last got in her seat in business class, a window seat. She smiled for the first time that morning, “Joe, always so thoughtful.” she said. She knew her seat and its class was no accident. She got her phone out, pulled up the SMS for Pastor Keji and Kola and hit ‘send’.
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