…the story of a young Christian who found answers
Everybody has a story. But I was born without a story and not till I clocked 18 that Reverend Thompson, my father, decided it was high time he explained how he, a white man, fathered me, a black boy. I remember that night vividly. We had just finished supper and I was about to clear the dishes when he asked me to sit back.
‘You are not a kid anymore,’ he began, ‘I know you are burning to find answers to questions you’ve gotten weary of asking.’ He sighed, then continued, ‘but tonight, I will tell you all you need to know…’
So that night, Reverend Thompson told me how my parents had been early converts in a southern village; how some of the villagers conspired against them; how they killed my parents and three older siblings; He told me how another convert picked me from the little hut on our farm and delivered me to him… That night, I couldn’t take it. I stormed out and cried like a baby. I cried like I just came to the world, in fact, I came to the world that night. For that night, I found the genesis of my story. Reverend Thompson later told me how my fatherland has developed into a major town. ‘One day you will return there and your life will indeed be a testimony,’ he said. I believe in the biblical principle of forgiveness but I don’t think I want to return to a people who killed my family.
Years passed by and I clocked 21. I had finished my elementary education in the mission basic school and had won a scholarship to study in the mission school abroad. My joy knew no bounds. Finally, my accident of a life was shaping into a story. I was to resume school in November but in the interim, I was to help teach in the mission school. It was indeed a wonderful experience; how overnight I transformed from a student into a teacher. The first day, I entered my class with my hands in my pockets and nodded as my students stood up and chanted ‘Goodu Morning Sar!’
Then I saw her. Laila. She was smiling at me. She looked so beautiful in her blue cheeks with her long curly hair weaved into cornrows.
‘Good morning and have your seats,’ I said.
Laila was one of the mission children. Mission children are children with a special interest in the mission house. Laila’s case was the most pathetic of them all. She was orphaned at the tender age of 2 and has since then lived with her only relative – her granny. Maman-Laila, as Laila’s grandmother is often called is a very hearty woman. Whenever I accompany Reverend Thompson to her house, which I love to do, she always gives me a bowl of groundnuts to take home. She never came to church but lets her granddaughter come to Sunday school and the mission school. Laila eventually turned out to be a very bright child. She always led her class. Whenever I saw her, something in my heart melts and that is exactly what I felt standing before her as her teacher.
Two weeks after I became a teacher, Laila’s grandmother passed away and Laila moved to the mission house. She cried day and night and could not be comforted. One night, I woke up to discover her crying by the stairs outside. She leaned on my shoulder and wept bitterly. I held her close and then told her my story. I told her what Reverend Thompson told me; how God has it all planned; how like a potter, he shapes our lives for good no matter the odds. Laila wiped her tears and hugged me. I was grateful it worked.
Laila gradually began to adapt to her new life. We became so close and inseparable. We became so close that we need not talk; merely looking at her eyes and I could tell what she was thinking. Reverend Thompson noticed this and objected.
‘You have to be careful around her,’ he said. ‘She is a girl and remembers, you must lead an exemplary life like you’ve always done, ok? You are the Reverend’s son.’
I never understood what he meant and didn’t bother to ask either. One day, while I was cleaning the bookshelves, I came across an unusual book ‘The Christian Approach to Courtship.’ I read it and was amazed it answered most of my questions about Laila. ‘So I wasn’t doing anything wrong,’ I said to myself. ‘Why then is the Reverend challenging me?’
Questions bubbled in my head but I decided to wait and play along. Then October came and I was getting ready to go. Laila couldn’t bear the thought of me leaving her to school abroad and sometimes she cried when we talk. I knew it’s all for good, for even the Bible says ‘weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.’ ‘I may leave Laila now,’ I said to myself, ‘but it’s only for a while and it is for good; it’s to make me a better man capable of taking care of her.’ But, I feared one thing. What if Laila finds love in another man? What becomes of me?
So that night I tiptoed to the Reverend’s room the same way I did as a child when I was still afraid of the dark.
‘Is that you Samuel?’ he asked, as he sat up on his bed.
‘Yes,’ I replied, and sat beside him.
That night, I poured out my mind to him and he listened as rapt as ever. I told him about the book I found and ran from pillar to post and back to pillar then I finally let it out – ‘I love Laila.’
‘I know,’ he said. ‘And I know you want to get committed to her before you leave, I’m proud of you… Go ahead and ask her. Once she gives her consent, you can have my blessings.’
I was too amazed to speak and happily stormed out in search of Laila. I found her in the courtyard by the flowers.
‘I love you, Laila,’ I said. ‘And I’ll love to spend my entire life with you…Will you marry me?’
‘Let me think about it,’ she said smiling.
Laila can be full of surprises but I should have known she can be very conservative also and this for sure is one of her ways of sticking to traditions. So I decided not to bug her and we talked about other things.
The next day, a Saturday, I set out for the next village to submit my papers to the Diplomatic Officer in charge of my district in furtherance of my journey. By the time I was through it was getting dark, so I slept there as Reverend Thompson advised. The next day, I picked my bicycle and rode back to the village. As I rode to the church, I noticed an unusual calmness about the villagers. Some looked at me and shook their heads while others stared at me in disgust. Just then I saw Brother James whisked past a hut. ‘Why is he not in church?’ I asked myself. I shrugged my shoulders and rode on. I raised my head in the direction of the church and mission house and couldn’t believe what I saw – smoke was rising into the sky from the location of the church. I sped towards the church and reaching there found the church had been burnt down. I jumped off the bicycle and ran into the mission house but no one was there. I scream for my father and Laila but none answered. I ran to the smoldering pile of rubble that used to be our church as silver balls of tears rolled down my cheeks. Just then Brother James and two other church members arrived. They told me how some fanatics had attacked the church the previous night while the Reverend was having a meeting with the choir and church workers in preparation for the Sunday worship. They told me how they set the church ablaze and waited by the door with swords, cutting down anyone who escaped the fire and casting them back into the flames. They told me their remains had been removed and kept at the village clinic. They told me my father, Laila and 15 others died in the fire…
My pain could not be quantified. I cried more than I ever prayed. The Police Superintendent asked me to stay with him till all the hoodlums are hunted down but I declined. I will rather stay close to the memories of Laila and the only father I ever knew. November seemed too far and I spent most of my time in the rubble of the church desperately searching, but can’t say for what. At a point, people thought I was losing my mind but they left me to my grief. I sat in the rubble all day long questioning God and getting no reply. I began to lose faith. ‘Maybe God is all but a myth, like the characters in a fairy tale.’
It was on one of my endless searching spree that I found Laila’s half burnt Bible smeared with blood and buried beneath the rubble. I picked it up and put it in my bag.
November came and I set out for the city where I boarded the plane. It was my first time but I was not excited. I stared out of the window and looked at the vast clouds as the plane flew over lands and seas. Then it struck me to try talking to God now – it seemed I was closer to him in the air than on land.
‘Why have you caused me so much pain,’ I began, as clouds of tears gathered in my eyes. ‘I never asked you to create me. You did on your own volition. Then you took my family and now the only parent I know and the woman I love. Why?’ By now my tears were flowing freely, then I remember Laila’s Bible and brought it out of my hand pack. I opened it, and I was in 1st Peter chapter 1. My eyes immediately ran to verse 6 and 7, which Laila had underlined. It read –
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have suffer grief in all kinds of trials. This have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
More tears streamed down my cheeks as I read the last two lines and just then a piece of paper fell from the Bible. It was a note for me, it’s from Laila! She wrote;
I may be gone when you are reading this but remember to stay strong as you always tell me to. You once told me you grew up with questions unanswered – I don’t want to be one of those questions you will always remember were not answered. So I write this note and pray it get to you someday.
I love you Samuel and I want to spend my life with you but the Master Weaver knows best why he led us through different paths.
I can’t write much, the church is on fire…but I look forward to seeing you across the river – where all questions are answered.