Owen carried his tray to her table. “May I join you?”
“Nope,” came the reply. She didn’t even look up.
“Okay.” He turned and made to find another table, when she looked up.
“Hey. Sorry. Sure. Yeah,” she said all at once, looking embarrassed, recognizing him.
He flashed his trademark smile. “No problem.” He made himself comfortable on the chair. “A lot on your mind?”
She released a weary sigh. “So much.” She placed a palm on her forehead and sipped some water.
His brows furrowed as he took in her tired looks. He didn’t know how to tell her to share. She’d probably not be willing to trust him with certain information. They’d been very good friends, closest friends even, until she met Eric.
The dude forbade her from having guy friends. He wanted to lord it over her life. They had met a year ago at the fellowship. Owen had come to the university to run his Master’s degree program. She bit down on her lower lip, blinking rapidly. Owen’s heart broke over and over again. His heart cried out to God, that he needed help here.
The wheels were still turning in his head, when she spoke up.
“I’d failed my exam and I can’t graduate without clearing the carryover. The lecturer demands 20k from each student in order to give us a pass. But, I can’t do that! I’m a Christian! And the semester is almost coming to an end.”
She blew out a breathe. “That, combined with my mother’s sickness, issues at home and… My breakup 6 months ago, is really weighing down on me.” She blinked again, sipping more water.
He didn’t know what to say. God, help! “Okay. What happened.”
He listened to her quietly as she poured out her heart. By then, they were sitting under a shade in front of the Dean’s office. He had to take her away her from the noisy environment of the cafeteria. He spoke to her gently and read some scriptures to her. He promised to pray for her and help guide her when necessary.
“I’m really sorry I burdened you with this.” She stared down at her hands, avoiding his gaze.
At that moment, he wanted to hold her. He wanted to kiss her forehead. And tell her that whatever hurt her, was also his hurt. Her tears were his and her troubles too. She may not know, but he loved her and he had been watching her with the guy, Eric.
He had been patiently waiting for her, hoping for a chance. He hadn’t acted as fast as he should, because he wanted her to get to know him first. Then the Eric guy just waltzed in and took her away. He prayed that if it was the will of God, there would be another chance for him to confess his love for her.
He couldn’t have been happier that she broke up with that guy. Eric was the music director at their fellowship, but he definitely had no business with God. Andra probably assumed they were all brethren. How wrong!
He stood and she did same, thinking it was time to go.
“Come here,” he said, pulling her into his arms. She struggled for a while, not exactly sure why she was fighting. He stubbornly tightened his grip around her. Slowly, reluctantly, she relaxed into the embrace. He held her in silence and she wondered if it was okay to cry.
“It’s okay to cry,” he whispered, as if reading her mind. She pouted adamantly. She wouldn’t cry. She wouldn’t. She buried her face in his chest, secure in the warmth of his embrace, the strength of his arms, the calm of his voice, the love in his eyes. She liked the smell of him; exquisite, masculine, soothing.
The first sob was a silent moan, welcoming the first ocean of tears. They trickled down his white shirt, staining it. She raised her face to save him the trouble. He pressed her head back on his shirt and began to sway gently to some silent music. She swayed with him.
He tenderly removed something from her hair. “I love you. Do you hear me? I love you.”
She actually began to cry then, shaking with the strength of her weeping. This was what a burden shared really felt like. It felt like being light as a feather, knowing you’re loved. Finding fortitude in this. A desire to live, if only for love.
They sat side by side staring at the church pulpit. The silence was sacred, calming. They were alone in the school Anglican church. They had just read certain scriptures. Owen took her hand, linking their fingers. Tears filled her eyes. This man’s tenderness was melting her, dissolving her walls, washing away her fears, removing the looming doubts.
He faced her. “I want to pray for you, Andra.” His eyes narrowed slightly as he held her gaze. “Andra, you will not pay that man a dime. He will not see your one naira and you will not write his course again. You’re graduating this year.”
“Amen,” Andra managed to mutter, drowning in the pools of love in his eyes. Suddenly breathless, she took a deep breathe, looking away. He had a way of doing that to her.
Owen smiled, looking away too, to help her. She chuckled, slightly embarrassed. He grew serious again, closing his eyes to pray. “I told God about you. He gave me those words I said.”
Andra couldn’t bring herself to close her eyes. She stared at him while he prayed, resisting the urge to stroke his face. Was he human? How anyone be so tender, yet so strong? Did he even know he was one of the best things that had ever happened to her? She was sorry she ever ended their friendship because of Eric. He didn’t particularly ask for a relationship with her, but she was in love already. She knew he was giving her time to heal from the hurts of the past relationship. His presence filled her with so much confidence and assurance. Just staying around him was comforting.
She had thought Eric kind of loved her and wanted to help her, but she was realising that Eric never loved her. Though he went to church, he was never in tune with the core virtues that guided their Christian faith. He didn’t have any relationship with God and wasn’t the praying kind of person. He believed in some wrong platitude of heaven helping those who helped themselves. Heaven actually helped those who were helpless; those who depended solely on God for help.
With Eric, she seemed to be the only one fighting for purity, her resolve withering daily with his pestering. Owen here was a leader, a priest. She could completely trust him to follow only God’s standard in everything. The Bible was his final authority. He spoke into her life, declaring success. She responded with an, “amen” to each declaration.
He opened his eyes and smiled at her. “Congratulations, baby. God has done it. Do you believe?”
She nodded vigorously, returning his smile. “I believe.”
“I’ve prayed,” Andra reassured herself, as she walked to check her result. But she had been praying and nothing ever happened! “Owen is praying for me,” she added to the arguments in her head. That was strangely calming. Owen was praying for her.
The whole faculty was buzzing with excitement when she walked in. Some people were lamenting and cursing the Lecturer of that particular course she had a carryover! Fear gripped her. She was almost sure of what to expect, while she stood on tiptoe to see her registration number. Someone tapped her from behind. It was her friend, Amaka.
“Andra! Did you pay that money!?” she asked, almost bursting with excitement.
Amaka burst into laughter. She laughed so hard she had to bend over. Andra patiently waited for her to finish. She was in no mood for her jokes at the moment.
“People just wasted money this time around,” Amaka managed, laughing some more. “Some people even wanted to make sure they passed and paid up to 50k. Now, all of them dey vex.”
“All the people that wrote carryover, passed and…”
Andra screamed. “Thank you Jesus!”
“And the worst part of it is that the man travelled, so he wasn’t even there during the marking of scripts and compilation of results. He just collected the money and travelled for himself. They said he had emergency or whatever to attend to. So, other lecturers handled the marking. Many people who paid, failed, because they depended on the money na. They’re now cursing the man.” Amaka started laughing again. “Thank God I didn’t pay that thing sef. Hiayee!”
Andra could hardly wait for her to finish. She needed to call Owen. Her phone rang and she fumbled for it in her purse. That was probably Owen calling to find out about the result.
It was Eric. Hmm. She picked anyway.
“I kind of heard you passed or something,” Eric began, his voice registering doubt.
Andra smiled. She was even yet to see the result herself. The crowd was too much.
“You heard right.”
“Ow… Kay… You later paid?”
“I didn’t pay a dime. I’m a Christian. Whoever informed you that I passed, didn’t tell you the rest of the story?”
“No, tell me.”
“I won’t do that please.”
“Okay… Can we meet so we can talk? You understand that I loved you right? I wanted the best for you.”
Andra couldn’t believe her ears. Is that so? Who found gold and threw it away? She found gold and she wasn’t about to let go. Ever. “I won’t meet you for any reason. Find out the story from elsewhere. Please, you’ll do well not to try and dig up the past. Let our brethren end inside Church. Thanks for your concern.”
She paused and took a deep breathe. “Love found me. I’m not about to let go. Thank you for breaking up with me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t find what I have now.”
He was about to start one of his arguments when she hung up.
Owen walked out of his lodge, hurrying to meet Andra. She was successful! He couldn’t contain his excitement. She pulled him to a seat before they could greet, cradled his right hand in both of hers and kissed it. She did same for the other hand. Owen had to clear his throat severally to find his voice. “Congratulations sweetheart.”
“Thank you for praying for me, for standing in the gap.”
He inhaled deeply, then turned to face his front. She did same. “I want to pray with you forever. I’ve been waiting patiently for you. I want to love you like Christ loves the church.”
Andra listened with moist eyes as he spoke all the beautiful words in the world. She knew love had found her. If love finds you, you can trust it to guard your soul. If love finds you, your values are respected, cherished. If love finds you, you have someone who’d talk to God about you.
Love walks with you through thick and thin. Love waits patiently for you. Love loves Jesus and leads you closer to God. Love will never lead you to sin. Love never insults and degrades you. Love carries you tenderly and comforts you. If love finds you, you have true peace. You don’t fight alone to stand for God.
If you stick to God’s standards, he uses those “misfortunes,” to remove unwanted people and situations from your life. We look only to the present, but God looks into the future. Assuming I had given the bribe, I wouldn’t only sin against God, I would probably be stuck with a man like Eric and I would never have found Owen. If only we can learn to trust God.
What we call love today is not love. It’s too selfish. If Love finds you, your life begins to fall into place, it doesn’t become more haywire. Don’t ever misinterpret a person’s selfish desires for you. Let love find you. Never settle for less. You deserve it. You’re too precious. Let love find you.