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A ROUGH DIAMOND

Refined For His Glory

MOPELOLA ADENIYI

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Copyright © 2017. All Rights Reserved All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed ―Attention: Permissions Coordinator,‖ at the address below. Author‘s email addresses : adeniyi.mopelola@yahoo.co.uk Cover photography copyright © 2014 by Niyi Yaraglah. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, King James and the Message versions. ISBN : 9781521565230

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DEDICATION This book is dedicated to the readers. Before you were born, God planned for this moment. It is not by accident that you are reading this book. It is in his grand design. To those who are heartbroken because of one tragedy or the other. Because God is sovereign, tragedies are incidents in God‘s great plan for us because every day of our lives was written on God‘s calendar before we were born.

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CHAPTER ONE It was a quiet afternoon, as the sun shown in all its glory. Little children were playing, and running back and forth in Nkalagu; a suburb in the city of Enugu, the eastern part of Nigeria. In a nearby birthing center, Chinwendu Mathews panted and laboured to bring forth her fourth child. After hours of agony, pushing, grunting and screaming, a beautiful head of hair popped out; then the attendant midwife skillfully drew out the entire body. The baby wailed with fingers curled up into fists, announcing her arrival into mother earth. The young mother heaved a sigh of relief that the ordeal was finally over, then burst out crying sorrowfully as she was shown the child. "Another girl?" She raised her head towards the heavens and lamented. "Lord, why am I cursed with bringing forth only female children? Oh God, why?" Now Chike will take a second wife and I have no justification to stop him this time." As she wept, the midwives looked on in pity not knowing how to comfort their distraught patient, as they understood the unenviable plight of women who bore only female children. A while later, the head matron shook the new mother by the shoulder and told her to stop sobbing. "You need to pull yourself together and stop this display. Remember you have an innocent infant to care for. You are not the first in this kind of situation, and neither will you be the last. So what if your husband marries another woman? Is that the end of the world? Make sure the girls are educated and watch them flourish. So my dear, wipe your tears and smile, lest you bring a curse on this child through the bitterness of your heart." In a gesture of comfort, she laid her hands on Chiwendu's shoulder. Mopping the tears that would not stop running, she finally turned to look at the infant. As she looked, the baby stirred and tried to open her eyes; but the sunray shining through the east window in the room would not let her. As if wanting to comfort her mother, the infant smiled. Her eyes closed as she snuggled against the warmth of her mother and spread wide her tiny hands; appearing to plead with the world to welcome her. Moments later, she nestled her head by the soft pillows where she was laid and fell blissfully asleep. As she watched the sleeping infant, Chiwendu became lost in thought. She reached out for her bag, in search of the rosary and became horrified when it was nowhere to be found. How could I have dropped it at home? She rebuked herself for being forgetful, especially at a time like this. Just then, one of the younger midwives walked in, her youthful face beaming with smiles. "How are you Mrs Mathews?" Without waiting for an answer, she bent to pat the infant on the cheek, who purred like a satisfied kitten. "I have come to bathe our little angel," she picked up the baby, immersed her into the washing bowl on a table nearby.

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''You are such a sweet and beautiful child," she cooed, sang to the baby who opened her mouth to scream in protest as the cold water touched her body. ''What will you name her?" Chiwendu had not thought about a name as she had been full of expectations that the pregnancy will turn out to be a boy. Chike already had a long list of names for the supposed son, so she has to find an appropriate name for her baby. Sharon! Yes, that is the name of the beautiful young reverend sister who was newly posted to the local church. A hint of a smile slowly crept to her lips as she remembered the gentle and comely face of the sister. She will be called Sharon, meaning a fertile land. After the infant had been washed and dressed, she was placed on the mother‘s arms to suck. The baby clutched at the breast and began to suck away happily, making little cries of satisfaction as the milk flowed without restraint into her mouth. Completely unaware of her surrounding and the anguish her arrival has brought upon her mother, she slept off with the nipple still firmly enclosed in her mouth. Her peaceful and satisfied demeanor signified total trust and dependency on her mother who instinctively responded to the silent call of her baby.

That was twenty five years ago. Chike Mathews, pressured by his mother to marry another wife in other to sire a son who will carry on the family name, married a woman secretly in the village who brought forth a male child. However, his wife, Chiwendu also gave birth to two male children. But, his family never knew that he had a young wife in the village until years later. Growing up in a house of seven girls and two boys was exciting. The Mathews' children lived in a house big enough to accommodate a large family of eleven. They were close knit and their father, a middle class cotton distributor, was financially well off enough to ensure that they all had sound education. They lacked nothing and life was perfect. Sharon, the fourth daughter in the family is now twenty-five years old. Her temperament was a combination of melancholic and choleric; studious, an introvert. In college, she was regarded as unfriendly, but she was just uncomfortable among strangers and took things a little more serious than others, which made her quite unpopular. That was all right to her, as she was not interested in what other students called having fun. Fun to her was burying her head in a textbook and practicing in the school choir, which she took very serious and gave herself wholly to. A friend tried to bring her out of her rather uninteresting life, but eventually gave up on her after several attempts. At this time, Sharon had grown up into an attractive young woman and could not help but notice the admiration in the eyes of the young men. Her six feet height and lean stature made her conspicuous, coupled with an oval face, a pointed long nose, full lips

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and chocolate dark complexion. Fine bones defined a regal face that matched her bearing. That she was indifferent to all the attention made her a kind of an enigma.

Sharon and her sisters were close and it was only when at home with them that she was able to unwind and be herself. They had the usual quarrels and squabbles typical of girls, but usually got over them for the bond that held them together was very strong. Looking back, she realized that they had been protected by their parents and cloistered in a girls‘ boarding school where discipline was paramount. In many ways, they led an idyllic life with few bumps and twists on the road. There had been times when she was curious to know what lay beyond the hedges their parents had planted around them. When they asked questions, their parents explained, and they complied. They loved and respected their parents too much to do otherwise. Sharon‘s parents had been Christians forever. She couldn‘t remember a time when they had not been involved in the church or some community service project. Her mother sang in the choir and led Sunday morning Bible studies. They had all grown up surrounded by love, protected and guided every step of the way, right up to college. She went through college and started job hunting confident that life has the best in store for her. On Sharon‘s arrival in Lagos, she stayed with her sister, the third in the family named Adaobi. Her immediate elder sister, Karen has been with Adaobi for more than a year still hunting for job. So at that moment in time, Adaobi was saddled with the responsibility of caring for two unemployed graduate sisters. Nevertheless, she appeared not to mind as they all had lot of fun living together, far away from home under the scrutiny of their disciplinarian parents. Six months after Sharon‘s arrival in Lagos, she was invited for an interview from a multinational company. She did so many interviews and lost count of them. Then the waiting began. She must have waited for close to three months before the letter came, but it seemed like eternity. "Sharon, I picked a mail for you at the post office." Adaobi announced as she dropped a parcel on the table. "Oh my God!" Sharon screamed in excitement. "I can‘t believe this!" She exclaimed, as her eyes skimmed the content of the parcel. "Oh! unbelievable!" She cried, whispering under her tones as her eyes become filled with tears of joy. "What is the excitement all about?" You won a lottery?" Karen walked in, stared at Sharon as she knelt on the floor, her hands lifted high in worship, whispering praises below her tones. "Remember the interview I had with the multinational about three months ago?" She rose to her feet dusting off specks of dust from her knees. Karen nodded. "I just received a job offer and the benefits are enormous. I mean, they are out of this world." She exclaimed, her face ablaze with joy.

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She could not stop talking as she handed the letter to Karen who went through the content and could only gaze in wonder at her sister‘s good fortune. "Wow, this is incredible. I don‘t know what to say, this is beyond words." Words seem to fail Karen for a moment as she went through the letter several more times. "Congratulations. You deserve it." She said and enveloped Sharon in a warm embrace. Suddenly, Karen's eyes became filled with tears as she handed the letter back to Sharon. She could no longer hold back the frustration and pain of the past years. "How lucky you are, this is the second year I left college, still jobless. She retorted, envy all over her like a stamp. "Karen?" Sharon nudged her on the shoulder. "Time will answer all your questions. Can I have a dazzling smile?" She smiled, reached out for her Karen's hand. Still whimpering, Karen wiped her face and managed a smile. She could hardly blame Sharon for being so blessed. She is so loving and good-natured that one cannot hold anything against her. "Thanks, I suppose you are right." The girls chatter in excitement as they saunter out of the room.

Mr. Chike Mathews sat in the bedside hospital chair and stared at Grace, the young girl who sired a son for him years ago. His eyes settled on her heaving chest as she struggled to get each breath out with difficulty and pain. Regret washed over him as he stared at the wires and tubes which connected her to the support machine and wondered how long she had left to bear the agony of fighting to survive. Months ago, she had been diagnosed with a debilitating kidney disease; which she kept to herself until it was too late for the doctors to save her. Now she lay on the hospital bed helplessly, waiting to die. As her strength waned, she could only talk in whispers and he had to move close to hear her faint words. He watched in horror as life slowly ebbed out of this once vibrant girl. If only I could turn back the hand of time. I could have withstood mother‘s pressure to marry that innocent girl. He thought; as remorse filled him like a cloud at the thought that Grace‘s life would not have gone this torturous path, if he had not succumbed to his mother‘s agitation for a son that will carry on the family name. He remembered vividly when he went to the family house and met the young girl sitting quietly beside her mother. He never thought twice about her until his mother informed him that she was the new wife who would bring forth male children for him, a feat his wife could not achieve. She was such a young and impressionable girl, beautiful and obedient. Initially, he rejected his mother‘s proposition, but when Chiwendu gave birth to the fifth child and that turned out to be another girl, his resolve broke down completely and found himself going along with her plan. Her dowry paid, Grace came to live with his mother. Months afterward, his wife became pregnant and not long after, Grace also became heavy with child. To his amazement and joy, they both delivered male children. He couldn‘t believe that after years of waiting for a son, he was finally blessed with two at the same time. 8


While he rejoiced at the birth of his sons who were born three months apart, he was equally saddened with the fact that he had another family outside of his matrimonial home. Over the years, guilt ate at him and hunted his peace of mind. On the surface, he appeared to be a devout Christian. He remembered a conversation with Grace after his mother‘s demise and had to relocate them to another house. "How long will you live this life of deceit and denial? Can‘t you see it is eating you away?" She asked, her face petulant. "What do you suggest I do? Tell the whole world I fathered an illegitimate child?" "I take exception to that!" She rose from her sitting position, eyes fiery, body poised in readiness to launch against him. "How dare you address my son as illegitimate? Have you forgotten that you paid a dowry before my mother gave me to you in marriage? She paused for a brief second, trying to control without success the intensity of the anger that is building. "We got married according to our traditional marriage rites and that transaction made me your wife in the eyes of the law." She screamed, her chest pounding, breath uneven and mouth curled up in rage. "I am sorry. Please forgive my thoughtless utterance," he said, unwilling to be dragged into a fight. She relaxed, settled back into her seat, eyes darting about like a wild animal searching for a kill. "Chike, no one enjoy being regarded as a second fiddle, which is exactly how you have treated my son and I for the past fifteen years. That I am not demanding for equal rights as a wife does not make me a stupid woman. I am only honoring my promise to mother not to make any trouble. But, I am tired of you hiding us here like you are ashamed of us. Yes, you provide all our needs, but that is not enough," she shouted, her face flushed with heat and other conflicting emotions. "What else do you want me to do for you?" He asked, weighing his words in order not to enrage her further. "I want you to inform your wife about us. I want Steve to grow up in a proper family setting. I am not about to contend with your wife over you, neither will I fight for a place in your home. All I want is for my son to be acknowledged and accepted as a legitimate member of your family," she replied. "I hope that is not too much to ask?" She fixed her icy gaze on him. ''No not at all. I love and want the best for him also," Chike replied, looked away from her accusing glare. ''You love him? You sure have a strange way of showing that love," she leered at him in contempt. "What about you? What do you want for yourself?" His eyes roamed over her face with concern. "Myself? Do not worry about me," she gave a brittle laugh, her eyes cold as steel. "Once Steve is settled in, I want you to divorce me, so I can be free to seek for my fortune

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elsewhere." She paused, sighed and looked at him with dark emotionless eyes. "I know you never loved me, as all ever you wanted was a male child. And now that you have him, I need to start my life again, go back to school and do all that was in my heart before my life was rudely interrupted by marriage and pregnancy." He was shocked to hear the words coming from her mouth. Her unwavering gaze unnerved him as she looked at him with stern crimson eyes. She has definitely come off age, as she used to be timid back then. Maturity and life experiences had toughened her and made her begin to make demands that she would ordinarily find difficult to say. He had kept the secret about Grace and his son Steve away from his wife for the past twenty years and it had taken its toll on him. Running back and forth tending to two families had its drawbacks and keeping his other life in wraps had put unbearable pressure on him. Chinwendu, ever trusting, never for once suspected any infidelity on his part. Many times, over the years, Grace pleaded with him to tell his wife about Steve. But he was scared of what her reaction might be. He came close to telling her a few times in the past, but whenever he faced her, words failed him and he would draw back in shame. He remembered an occasion when he had a great urge to get it over with and damn the consequences. He had written a cheque in Grace's name and forgot to put it away. ''Who is Grace Mathews?" Startled, his heart almost leapt out of his chest in fright when he heard Chiwendu's voice. He didn't hear her come in, as the sound of her steps must have been drowned out by the noise of rushing water as he showered. She looked up as he stepped into the room, awkward in his navy blue bath towel. He paused, smiled nervously; steeling himself from giving away his nervousness. She smiled back, raised an eyebrow in expectation of a response. He scratched his bald head, lips quivered in apprehension as he considered whether to come out with the truth or keep it for another day. ''Chinwe, I…I...want…..tell……." he stuttered. ''Hmnnn, Mr philanthropist,'' she interjected. "I guess Grace Mathews must be one of those orphaned youths in church, isn't it?" She laughed. ''What a coincidence that she bore the same name with us," she reached out and mopped off the excess water on his chest. "It is alright to help the less privileged as long as you put me in the picture." She laughed good naturedly and dropped the cheque back on the dressing table. A wave of relief swept over him as she exited the room. ''Dinner is ready." Chinwendu shouted over her shoulder. Chike curled his hands into fists and cursed himself for lacking the boldness to open up. Perhaps another time, when it is more convenient. As he beheld Grace‘s worsening situation, it had become paramount that the truth be told. He felt a touch on his shoulder and turned to see as she made frantic efforts to talk to him. "You have…. to tell your wife… about Steve my son. I want him…. to grow…up in a family setting. Please…. do not… deny him the ….right of a son. He ….is such

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an…amiable ….boy; I am sure your wife will come to….love and …accept him.. as a… part of the family." She struggled to say the words that were most important to her as she neared the end of life, her mouth quivering as if smitten with cold. He knew that it took all her will power to complete the sentence as violent choky coughs rent through her body. He nodded, his emotions suppressed. But, it seemed his silent acquiescence was not enough for her as she made another attempt to emphasize that her son must not suffer and be left alone in the village. "Promise me, promise that you….. will take…. Steve home with….. you. Promise me." She gripped his hands with the remaining strength she could muster from her dying body, and waited to hear his response. "Yes, I promise to take Steve home where he belongs," He replied frantically as he beheld her face. "Thankk …y..y…you," She replied and settled back into the bed. He took a sharp intake of breath and touched her left cheek as tears cursed down his withered skin. In his tradition, a man should not be seen to weep openly, irrespective of the circumstance. But, for the first time, he allowed himself the luxury to cry for this innocent soul caught in the web of human greed and desires. "I am sorry for all I caused you. You were so young, innocent and impressionable. I shouldn‘t have been blinded by my selfish desire for a son that I had to take advantage of you. Please forgive me." Guilt cut through Chike's heart like a sword as he tried to imagine how her life could have turned out if their paths had not crossed. He pictured her as a happy young wife of some decent man. He looked away, as remorse engulfed him like a thick cloud That was the last time he saw Grace. She passed on twenty hours later, slipped into a coma and never came out of it. Himself and their son, Steve buried her and prayed for the repose of her soul. Now, the time has come for his long age secret to be revealed and he flinched at the thought of confronting his wife with a son she never knew he had.

Sharon‘s life had always been struggle free as far back as Karen could remember. Things fall in place for her with the snap of a finger. She had barely applied for a job before the offers began to arrive. This is my second year of being jobless. Why do I seem to find it difficult to achieve things while Sharon glides through life so easily? These thoughts plagued Karen‘s mind as she lay on the bed bemoaning how life has been unkind to her. She remembered an episode that occurred in college a few years earlier. Karen fell in love with Andy the first time they met at the faculty office. He was everything she wanted in a man, good looking, cultured and mannered. He was friendly and they got on well enough, but deep within her; she knew he was not in love with her. However, she hoped things would change with time. She lost all hope of 11


him ever loving her when he met Sharon. She remembered how his eyes lit up in admiration and Karen almost had a heart attack. That was the end of her friendship with him. She just could not get over the fact that he preferred her sister to her. Sharon never knew about the pain and disappointment that Karen suffered at that time, as she quietly bore it alone. As she lay on the sofa; a shadow of melancholy crept over her face, like a cloud dims the waving of a golden grain. She wondered what Sharon had that drew every good thing of life to her. Could it be her beauty? It could not be that because Ogechi and Amarachi, the sixth and seventh daughters in the Mathews family were better looking. So what could it be? She did not even come out tops in her class. Her GP score in college was much lower than mine, yet she has one of the best paying jobs, Karen wondered. "Oh God, what will you have me do to have the same favor you showered on Sharon? Forgive me for being so jealous of her, but I can‘t seem to help myself." Karen was so consumed with her thoughts that she didn‘t notice when the door opened. Adaobi‘s voice startled her as she almost leapt out of bed in fear. "What is the matter Karen? What is it this time?" Adaobi asked, an impatient and irritated look on her face. "I am tired of staying alone at home while you two go off to work; it is two years since I left college…." "That is all right, I know where you are going." Adaobi interrupted as she saw Karen‘s eyes brimming with unshed tears. She sat by the edge of the bed and stared intently into Karen‘s eyes. "Listen well, little sister. I know this display of emotion started because Sharon got a job before you. I want you to stop comparing your life with Sharon‘s or anybody‘s, as you will only hurt yourself in the process. You just have to keep trying and believe that things will turn out well for you in the long run." "So what should I do now?" Karen asked, her face forlorn. "Wait for fate, God, whatever. Things have a way of working out on their own when the time is right,‖ Adaobi replied. "Wait again? But I have been waiting for the past two years." Karen stared at her sister in dismay. "Anyone who has the capacity to wait gets to have the best of everything. Note that waiting does not mean laziness? God has no business with a lazy fellow. Look for something else to do that will engage your time and intellect while you wait for the desired job," Adaobi added. "Thanks. I wish I am as strong as you are." "We all become stronger as we age," Adaobi replied, patted her on the shoulder. "We seem to spend more time of our lives waiting for something or another," Karen said. "How right you are. That knowledge will remove frustration and pressure from those who understand that there is a lot of waiting going on in life." ''Yea. I guess you are right." 12


"Can you take up a teaching appointment?" "Teaching? Hmmnn," Karen growled. "What age group?" "Sixth graders." "You know I don‘t have the patience to teach youngsters." "Don‘t worry, you will learn as you go along." "How much will I earn?" "Well, something enough to take care of your needs, but not close to what a Multinational company would pay." Adaobi laughed. "Well, I guess I will have to make do with that." "Sure and it is better than having nothing to do," Adaobi smiled, patted Karen's hand as she rose to leave.

Chinwendu Mathews has been watching her husband for the past few days. She was certain that something serious was wrong with him as he had withdrawn from everyone. He retires to his room earlier than usual and avoids being drawn into a long conversation, preferring to answer in monosyllables. Moreover, she had caught him several times staring into space, lips twitching as he talked to himself. She froze as a thought occurred to her. Could he be sick? She stared at his gaunt features as he took a seat at the dining. "Chike, is there something you are not telling me?" He looked up at her deeply in the eyes and she was shocked to see tears running down his face. She had never seen him weep before since all their years of marriage. Frantic, she urged him to speak. "Chike, what is the problem. Please talk to me," she pleaded, her voice raised in panic. He looked into her eyes again, as if pleading with her. "Chi……," he paused, held her gaze. "Chi. I…..I…….," his voice trembled with fear. ''You are scaring me Chike! You what? What do you want to say?" She shouted. ''I fathered….. a..a… son….. from another….. wo…woman," he stuttered, face downcast. Chiwendu straightened up, took another look at him. "You fathered a child from another woman,'' she laughed. "Another of your jokes?" ''No Chi, it is not a joke. It is the truth. I have a twenty year old son from a woman I married secretly in the village years ago," he avoided her gaze as his face darkened with remorse. He sighed and began the story of how his mother pressured him to take another wife shortly after Sharon was born. He told her about the long arduous years of hiding the secret of his Steve and his young mother, her sickness, death and that the boy is all alone in the world. A wave of relief washed over him as he confessed. She stared at him in shock, momentarily lost of words. No it cannot be. She gaped at the man whom she had spent the better part of her life with, birthed eight children for and practically worshipped for more than forty years.

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"Are you telling me that you married a girl, got her pregnant and kept it away from me for the past twenty years?" She asked, as sadness engulfed her like a cloud. "I am sorry, please forgive me. I regret my action every day of my life. Many times over the years, I tried to open up to you. But I didn‘t want to hurt your feelings…and…. Grace is……..dead…and …..I…" "You don‘t want to hurt my feelings?" What an irony. Haven't you succeeded in doing that? Did you think keeping me in the dark would make it better?" She interrupted, her eyes flaring in anger. "Can I ask for a favor from you?" He asked. "You are in no position to ask any favor from me. You hurt me beyond words by your infidelity; you sired a son outside this home, now you have the nerve to ask me for a favor," she lashed at him in blind rage, as her body quaked with uncontrollable tremors. He shrank from her anger. "Wait. Did you say Grace? That is her name isn‘t it?" She squinted her eyes, furrowed her brow as she tried to remember something. Then it hits her. ''She is the same Grace Mathews whom you drew a cheque in favor of about five years ago. Isn't it?" She screamed at him as tears coursed down her face. Words failed him as he stared at her in remorse. ''How you must have laughed at me for being a fool through the years," she launched at him in fury and gripped his shirt. "I trusted you. The truth has been staring in my face all the while, but I had no reason to suspect anything contrary. How could you do this to me?" She wept, completely devastated. He took a seat as his legs wobbled and almost gave way beneath the weight of his guilt. ''No amount of pleading can assuage your disappointment in me, but I ask that you forgive me in the name of the God we both serve," he pleaded. "I promised Grace by her death bed that I will bring Steve to live with us as there is nowhere else for him to go. We are his only surviving family. Please allow me to bring him home." Chinwe calmed and considered his words. According to their tradition, a son has the right to be wherever his father his, so she knew that she had no power to stop him from bringing the boy home. "You can do whatever you wish, afterwards it is your house," she replied, eyed him with disgust, hissed and walked out of the room. ''It is our home. We built it together," he whispered, biting his lip as he considered going after her, but he decided against it and walked into the garden; his place of refuge. Not in her present state. He sighed in relief as he took in a fresh intake of air, glad that the ordeal of confronting her with the truth was finally over. He knew that she would come around to accept Steve in time. It seemed like a burden had been lifted off his chest and for the first time in years, he smiled, glad that Steve will finally come home where he rightfully belongs.

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Sharon clutched her heart as a sudden fear gripped her. The vehicle tyres screeched to a halt while trying to avoid falling into a ditch a few steps ahead. The passengers held their breath as the driver struggled to navigate the Peugeot 504 vehicle around the bend, while managing to avoid the potholes scattered everywhere on the road. That explained the reason for the heavy traffic on the road, as drivers had to slow down in order to pilot their vehicles. Everyone relaxed again as the vehicle continued smoothly without any bumps. Some of the passengers resumed their sleep while she settled back into the mystery fiction novel she had been reading since the journey began. A little while later, as the journey to her hometown Nkalagun in Enugu state continued, the woman passenger who sat beside her shrieked, in a thin shrill voice. Startled, Sharon looked up from her reading to behold a horrible sight of car crash. Two vehicles had collided with each other. She watched in horror as paramedics tried to pull the corpses from the debris of the mangled machines. People ran back and forth, screaming, the smell of burning flesh and iron filled the air as onlookers gathered and blocked the free flow of traffic. She was relieved that the driver drove on and did not stop at the accident scene, already nauseated at the sight of blood spattered on the highway. Everyone became silent in the vehicle as each passenger became lost in thought. Sharon breathed a sigh of relief when the vehicle finally arrived at the motor park and quietly whispered a prayer of thanks for a safe journey. The accident images forgotten, excitement burst forth within, as she neared her family home where she grew up. The taxi driver entered the street where the Mathews family house is located and a warm glow welled up within her as she looked around. It felt great to be home after a year in the city. As the vehicle moved further down the street, she was amazed at the development that had taken place during her absence. Modern imposing structures stood where a small cluster of shops used to be. On arrival, she got out of the vehicle and stood, gazing at the home where she grew up. She smiled as she became filled with warm memories of growing up with her siblings. "Sharon, is that you?" She turned at her father‘s voice; reached forward and threw her arms around him in a fierce hug. It had been so long. She thought and gently detangled herself from him. He looked frail and tired. She wondered if it was old age or bad health. Noting the saggy skin hanging on his bones and how much his face had wrinkled. It was shocking to see the drastic change in his appearance since she last saw him. "Papa, I am well, thank you. It is good to see you," she said, taking in his thin frame and the air of gloom around him. "You girls abandoned us here in the village without looking back. It has been more than a year since you left home."

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"I am sorry Papa. Job hunting can be very demanding in itself. However, I promise you that it will not happen again." He smiled and she could not help but notice the strain on his face. The lines on his forehead appeared more pronounced as he turned towards the sunshine. He seemed to be on edge and unsettled about something. She thought. "Papa, are you all right?" "Am I all right? Why did you ask my dear?" "You look strained and…….." "I am perfectly all right, I have certain issues on my mind, but they will pass." An uneasy silence ensued. "Congratulations on your job. I am very proud of you," he said and deliberately changed the topic as he wiped sweat off his face. "Thanks Papa." He nodded, walked away from her, towards the backyard. She watched as he walked away with a limp, head bent and shoulders drooped. Something is definitely wrong with him. Did I detect a little bit of harshness in his voice? Well, maybe I imagined it. She headed to her mother‘s room, certain that she would get some information from her. The door to her mother's room was opened and she could hear faint sobs coming from within. Fear gripped her as she drew closer to the door. She entered to see her mother sprawled on the tiled floor weeping profusely. She appeared not to have heard Sharon come in. "Mother, are you all right?" Sharon crouched and tried to lift her up. She looked up at Sharon who could see that her eyes were swollen with tears. "Sharon, you have arrived. How was your journey?" "Fine mother. What is going on here? Please tell me?" "How are your sisters in Lagos?" Chiwendu asked, avoided answering Sharon's question. "They are well. Mother, please tell me what the problem is. Papa refused to talk and you also seem reluctant." "It is alright Sharon; we will talk about it later after you have rested from your long journey." Hours later, after she had taken a warm shower and being treated to a delicious home cooked food, Sharon helped her mother clear the tables and wash the dishes. She noticed that her parents were not cordial and became more determined than ever to get to the root of the matter. After Mr. Mathews had retired to his room, they sat at the kitchen table and she was shocked to hear what her mother had to say. "Your father fathered a son from another woman more than twenty years ago." The words came out of her lips quietly. Sharon could only stare at her mother, speechless. She seemed not to understand what her mother said. Or, did I actually hear her right? "You mean that Papa has another family outside of this home?" Sharon stared, awestruck at the shocking news of her father‘s infidelity. Mrs. Mathews trembled, head lowered, as she wringed her palms. 16


Sharon sat by the edge of the dressing table ruminating over the disturbing news about the man she loved and respected most in her life. She wondered if the story was true, but a glance at her mother‘s distraught face proved the veracity of the news. So many questions flooded her mind, which she could not bring herself to ask. She pictured her father and a stately image of him appeared in her mind. The news was in total conflict with what she knew about him. Father is a disciplined man who lived by the rules and expected everyone around him to do the same. This man taught me all about life, character, truth and honesty. Why would he be the one entangled in a web of deceit and lies? "Mother, how did you know about this?" "He told me two days ago." "Oh mother, I am so sorry about this. You must be feeling bad and let down by father‘s betrayal. How could he have done this to you?" Sharon drew closer and held her in her arms. She could feel the violent tremor of emotion and her heart broke to see her mother so devastated. An undefined sadness seemed to have fallen about her like a cloud, as she lay limp in Sharon‘s arms. "What explanation did he give to you? Sharon asked, as she paced up and down the room trying to control the flare of anger that threatened to overwhelm her sense of reasoning. "He said it was his mother who forced him to take another wife because I couldn‘t bring forth male children." "That is the most ridiculous excuse I have ever heard. His mother forced him? I don‘t understand how a grown man can be forced to put a woman in a family way and keep it as a secret for many years. No, that is not an acceptable explanation," she shouted in frustration, her breath coming out in gasps. "But you later had Chris and Usoh." Sharon exclaimed, gesturing with her hands in exasperation "Mother, I know this is traumatic, painful, a break of trust from the man you have loved and lived with for more than forty years. But you have to brace up, accept it and move on. For your own sake, you have to forgive him and put it all behind you." For a moment, the only sound in the room was hiccups, which her mother was trying to control without success. Sharon could feel her shaking and trembling with the torrent of emotions as they gushed over her like billows of rushing water. Mrs. Mathews said nothing and gave her daughter a glance that flitted like a bird, her face as pale as wax. "I suppose the boy should be of the same age group with Chris and Usoh?" "Chris is about three months older than him." Chiwendu replied. "He must have married the woman before you became pregnant with Chris, on the assumption that you were going to have another girl," Sharon said. A frown creased her forehead as she made a mental calculation of the time Chris and the supposed stepbrother were born. Her mother nodded as a tear like silver glistened in the corner of her eyes. ''What about the boy?" 17


"He pleaded with me that I should accept and allow him live here with us," she replied, her face forlorn. "Really? Why would he bring the boy to live here? What about his mother? Or did he solicit for her to move in also?" Sharon stood on her feet and walked to the window, upset at her father‘s insensitivity. How could he expect mother to carry his mess and care for another woman‘s son. "His mother died of kidney disease a few weeks ago." Chiwendu‗s voice came through, faintly like a falling dew. "Oh! Sorry about that," Sharon replied offhandedly. "Isn‘t there a relation from the mother‘s family who can accommodate the boy?" Sharon asked. "Our tradition will not allow that. A son lives with his father." Mrs. Mathews replied, the tears dried and her face devoid of any emotion. "Tradition again? Wasn't it tradition that made him commit this sin in the first place? When are we going to be free from the shackles of tradition?" "What have you decided to do? Will you allow the boy home?" Sharon asked, knowing that this battle belongs to her mother and she has no right to interfere or confront her father. "The young man is innocent, it will be wrong for me to reject him on account of what he knew nothing about."

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CHAPTER TWO Sharon resumed work and life could not have been better. She went through an intensive and rigorous on the job training, never failing to delight the instructors of her capacity to learn fast. She instantly became a darling of the trainers and left no doubt in the mind of all that she was a star worker. Her colleagues in the training school became wary of her success and popularity at such a short period and kept their distance. Sharon loved to work and was always among the first to resume work and last to close. She worked with passion and a high level of commitment that impressed her superiors. She was the only trainee who did not mind being overloaded with work and took it all without grumbling. Her efforts did not go unnoticed. A year after, everyone unanimously agreed that she deserved to be promoted. That was a rare occurrence. The news went round the offices like wildfire. Everyone wanted to have a glimpse of who the wonder girl was. Suddenly, she became a star in the company. Her success automatically won her new friends and enemies alike, but she was on a mission to be the best, nothing and no one was going to stop her. "Promotion after a year?" Karen gaped, her eyes bright like a blazing star. "How did you manage to do that? I thought it is company policy to confirm your appointment after a year before deciding to promote you?" "I guess they decided to promote and confirm me at the same time. Isn't that glorious?" Sharon laughed, oblivious of the sarcasm in Karen's voice. ''Aren't you a lucky girl?" "It is God and all the glory belongs to him," Sharon replied, faced Karen with the boldness of a hawk. "God‘s glory again? Why is His glory not working for me, afterwards we both serve him?" Karen said icily. Sharon starred at Sharon, surprised at the coldness and open jealousy in her voice. "Well, you will have to ask him yourself. I cannot possibly answer for him and I don‘t like the direction of this conversation," she shot back at Karen and walked away. Alone in her room, Karen stared into the space, different thoughts running through her mind. "Sharon has more than enough for anyone in a lifetime. Everything she touches turns to gold. She prays little prayers, makes little efforts and gets instant results. I have to struggle so much before getting little result or none at all. Why? Why is life so difficult for me? I do not hate my sister, but can‘t help but notice how blessed she has become, how she is making leaps and bounds while I remain on the same spot. My life with hers is incomparable in all dimensions," she thought as depression sat on her like a bird. She remembered how Sharon looked beautiful and elegant in her black pin stripped suit earlier in the morning, before they set out for the day. She had cut the picture of a successful young executive, while I looked drab in my boring and cheap schoolteacher

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outfits. Her heart tightened in pain. Oh God, when have I become so resentful, jealous and angry at my sister? She gripped her heart in horror at the thoughts, which has been plaguing her ever since Sharon got the dream job. It is not her fault that life seemed to favor her so much. Wouldn‘t it be right to say that God is partial? Why would you hold back your blessings from one person and shower another with so much? She wept silently as hot tears rolled down her face.

Weeks after her husband confessed of his past infidelity and secret child, Chinwendu could still not bear to look him in the eye. She had kept away from him as she tried to recover from the pain of betrayal. She walked into the garden and met him gazing into the sky, as is his usual practice lately. After much consideration, she decided to forgive him, put the past behind, allow the boy live with them and have a part in his father‘s house. Afterwards the deed was already done and no amount of anger and agitation will undo the past. Compassion welled up in her heart as she observed the strain of the past months on him. Tired of the gloomy air radiating from him, which had filled the house, she decided to turn things around and let her home flourish again with joy. "Where is the boy? I…I … mean your son?" She asked, astonished to see the sudden change in his demeanor. Twenty years seem to fall off his face instantly, his eyes shining brightly as the coming forth of the morning. She watched in fascination as life returned to him, looking his old self. "He came from the village two days ago and is presently at Rainbow hotel along Nnebisi road," he turned to face at her as hope came alive in his eyes. "When will he come home?" She asked, her mouth curled in a smile. "Right away, dear, right away. Thank you so much for your generosity,‖ he answered, leapt on his feet, gave her a fierce thank you hug and ran swiftly to his room. Minutes later, she heard the car came to life and driven out of the compound. She did not have to wait for too long as the car came back shortly after. The door opened and their footsteps echoed in the silent expanse of the house. Suddenly he appeared and she could only gape at her stepson in wonder. He looked innocent, like a freshly laid egg. She noted his striking features with Usoh, his amiable smile, humble bearing and bold confidence as he met her eyes without flinching. She loved him instantly. "Good evening ma." He gave a respectful bow. "How are you Steve? I am sorry about your mother‘s death. Please accept my deep sympathy." "Thank you ma. I appreciate your generous heart to have me in your home," he replied courteously, an air of confidence exuding from him. She led him to one of the empty rooms in the house, smiling as Chike mouthed a thank you to her across the room.

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"Is that you Sharon?" The security man at the Company premises knew instantly at the blast of the horn that Sharon was at the gate. No other staff comes this early, he thought as he opened to let her in. "Morning Usman," she waved, her face animated with excitement at what lies ahead the new day. She walked briskly and elegantly to her empty office, the silence of which suited her just fine. The emptiness and quietness around gave her enough time to gather her thoughts, clear the previous day work and plan for the new day before the others begin to arrive. At midday, she heard a message tone on her phone. As she read through, a soft smile played at the corner of her lips. A warm glow ran through her body and her pulse began to beat with excitement at the thought of Edward. She just couldn‘t erase his image from her mind. Her mind went back to the day she met him, a senior manager in one of the departments. She had gone to represent her head of department in the manager‘s monthly meeting, which Edward chaired. When she rose to present her department facts behind the figures, she became disconcerted as his gaze settled upon her. Her heart skipped a few times from avoiding meeting his eyes. After the meeting, Edward had caught up with her. "Hurrying somewhere?" "I am running late for an appointment," she said in the coldest voice she could muster, but the irony of the moment was not lost on him as he smiled at her feeble attempt to appear indifferent. "I wanted to tell you that your report was the best among the lot. Keep up the good work. You will definitely go far at this rate," he said and walked out of the meeting room. She watched him stride elegantly out of sight; frowned to see that he had the attention of the other females around. She tried to put the episode out of her mind and had finally succeeded when the message came in. She wondered how he got her phone number, as he never asked for it. Receiving a text message from the golden boy of the company sent a thrill into the very essence of her being. For a moment, she forgot about work and gave in to the pictures conjuring in her mind. A ring of laughter jolted her into the present out of her private world of dreams. She walked in to the executive restaurant run by the company. Her adrenalin began to pump as she sighted Edward a few feet away. However, her excitement waned when she saw that he was not alone, but with Stephanie, an attractive female colleague. Sharon once heard from office grapevine that she is the daughter of one of the directors and that both of them were quite a pair in town. Edward met her eyes and the surrounding seemed to melt away as they held each other‘s gaze for a brief second. Stephanie glared at Sharon in contempt, upset that she had lost Edward‘s attention as she noticed the interchange between him and Sharon. She whispered into his ears, watched as he reluctantly broke the eye contact with the girl. While they ate, Edward appeared to have forgotten that Stephanie was across him as his eyes continued to stray

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towards Sharon. He seemed mesmerized by her youthful and innocent beauty, intelligence and gentle boldness. Stephanie's eyes went over Sharon, wondering what it is between this girl and Edward. Her heart trembled as she remembered how he had reacted when she walked in. Something about him came alive the moment the girl walked in. She had never seen him looked or react to any female like he did now and no one had ever contended with her for his attention until this moment. She thought, as her gaze lingered on Sharon in perfect hatred. Sharon tried to enjoy her lunch, but the food stuck in her throat as she struggled to ignore the animosity from Edward‘s companion across the table. Unable to enjoy her lunch, she stood up, stole a nervous look at the couple and walked out of the restaurant. Her eyes held Stephanie's, and Sharon shivered at the coldness and contempt lurking behind them. She could feel Stephanie's poisonous darts hit her across the back as she walked on. A sudden urge to flee suddenly gripped her, but she managed to control the butterflies in her belly and the thudding of her heart as she walked away in quiet confidence; her head held high in dignity.

"How can Papa demand that mother should harbor another woman‘s son in her home? A son whose existence she knew nothing about for many years. " Ogechi asked, her face grim like a carved mask. She is the sixth daughter in the Mathews' household. "Well, the deed had been done and no matter how painful it is, we cannot deny the fact that he is our father‘s son and our brother," Adaobi replied.. "So we should accept him? Just like that?" Chima asked. "Since mother has accepted him and laid the past to rest, I guess we have to follow suit," Sharon added as she threw a slice of apple into her mouth. "You will definitely fall in love with Steve when you meet him. He is quite matured for his age, respectful and charming. I must say that his mother brought him up well," Adaobi said, eyeing Ogechi and expecting another burst of anger. "So his name is Steve?" Ogech asked. "What do you have to say about this Karen? You have since said nothing," Sharon asked, turning to face Karen. "I like the boy and hold nothing against him. He is very courteous and levelheaded which I cannot say of my own blood brothers who are very stubborn and ill mannered," Karen replied. "I hope his presence at home will positively rub off on Chris and Usoh," Adaobi added. "I take it you all supported Papa‘s infidelity to mother?" Ogechi asked in exasperation, standing with arms akimbo as she stared at her sisters in unbelief. "No, you got it all wrong. No one is supporting Papa for infidelity; neither can we reject the fruit of that union because of the sins of the parents," Adaobi replied, her face flushed at their intense argument. 22


"Why are we arguing over what the parties concerned have put behind? Mother has accepted the boy. I understand Steve keeps her company, which Chris and Usoh will never venture to do. This so called infidelity matter happened long ago, Steve‘s mother is dead; so no one is contending for mother‘s position. What then are we arguing about?" Sharon asked and stood to pick up her phone at the sound of a message beep. "Poor boy, he only recently lost his mum. We should feel sorry for him," Karen replied. "I will never accept that boy and will make my thoughts clear to Papa," Ogechi replied, her eyes flashing in anger. "Do not make that mistake as you will only be wasting your time. It is mother‘s battle not ours and she has decided to take the way of forgiveness." Adaobi replied, a warning in her voice. "I feel so very sorry for mother and empathize with her. I wonder how it is possible for a man to live with a woman he is supposed to love and still able to keep this huge secret from her for years," Ogech replied as tears gathered in her eyes. "Don‘t feel sorry for mother, she has accepted her fate and found joy in her situation,"Adaobi answered. "Man at his best will never be perfect," Karen yawned, rose to her feet. "But I wonder if Steve‘s mother had not died, would Papa have confessed that he had a son with another woman or would he have taken the secret to his grave?" Sharon asked. "I am certain that he meant to tell mother all the while, but was afraid of what her reaction might me." Adaobi replied. I wonder the agony he must have gone through in the past years of keeping such secret to himself. " "When have you become Papa‘s advocate?" Ogechi asked. "He is our father who we have looked up to all these years, but he is also a human being with faults and weaknesses just like everyone else," Adaobi answered. "I think you should go home and see Steve. I bet you will start to sing a different song once you meet him. Even mother no longer complain of boredom and loneliness. Steve has had her practically eating out of his hands." Karen added. "Okay, that is enough. I don‘t want to hear any more about Steve or how wonderful he is. Isn‘t it enough that Papa fathered an illegitimate child outside the home? Must I gloss over his act because the fruit of his illicit union is charming and well behaved?" Ogech screamed, irritated at her sisters‘ reasoning. She paced back and forth, furious at the others for being so accepting and tolerant of their father‘s behavior. "Mama has accepted her fate; you all love the young man. Is that enough for me to spoon over him as you all? Has anyone challenged Papa that he did not set a good example, as a father should? He owes the family an apology for deceit and infidelity." The silence in the room was grave like and uncomfortable. "You made a lot of sense Ogechi . If you are offended at father, then please go and sort it out with him,‖ Adaobi replied and made her way out of the room, obviously irritated at Ogechi‘s attitude. 23


She watched in dismay as her sisters left her alone in the living room. She stood by the window, breathing heavily as the painful emotions washed over her. I need to pay the old folks a visit and let Papa know that I will not be swooned over by some pretty face little boy and let him off the hook so easily like the others. He has to apologize for his misdeeds. I need to see that he is remorseful. Maybe, just maybe then, I will let go.

It is December again. The air is already singing of festivity and carrying everyone along with its tune. The weather could be felt to have changed from rainy and cloudy to very cold in the morning and hot in the afternoon. However, the mood of the season is not in any way dampened by the contrasting weather conditions at different times of the day. It is typical of the month of December and so expected. If the last month of the year doesn't come with such weather peculiarities, then Christmas is perceived to still be very far away. Sharon wore a black coat over a polo-necked blue knee length dress, hair tied up in a pony-tail with a black ribbon, a long red scarf around her neck. As she stepped into the church, she closed her eyes and inhaled the natural scent of the environment. Her love for singing had made her to seek out a church close home where she could minister to others and please God. Her busy job schedule notwithstanding, she had never missed a practice; though she arrives late most times. Flinging her coat on a pew, she slipped into the choir stalls, grinning sheepishly at others. Twelve women and ten men in all. On Christmas Eve, they would be transformed with starched ruffles and red cassocks, but for now they were just ordinary people who liked to sing just like her. The choir master tapped his stick on a pew. "I'm glad you could make it on time Sharon,"Mr Ebong's deep baritone was at odds with his stooped aged body. As the practice continued, Sharon was called upon to sing a solo. "Now take it slowly, it is not a pop song, but a beautiful piece of gospel music. I want the people in the back rows to hear you. Head up, chest out." Mr Ebong said. It was not the first time Sharon had been chosen to sing a solo. Knowing it is a great honor and wanting it to be perfect, she took a deep breath as the organ wheezed into life; the introduction of which filled the church with sound. Her voice resonated through the entire building. Pure and clear, every word annunciated in the way she had been taught by the old choir master at Enugu. The other choir members joined her. Sopranos soaring above her contralto, the tenors and bass combining to bring out a rich and beautiful blend as they sang "silent night, holy night". "Very good," Mr Ebong shuffled forward up the step. He held his back as if it hurts, but his aged face was alight with pleasure. "If you sing like this on Christmas Eve, I should think the pastor will get enough in collection for the building project. We'll do it once more, a quick run through the carols, and then you can all go early. 24


Christmas came and went by, and life resumed with the same routine. The growing attraction between Sharon and Edward was a combination of sparks that could set a whole mountain on fire. She had not felt this way for anyone in a long time. The feeling is overflowing and almost threatening to take her over completely. He is the last person she thinks about before falling asleep and his image comes up in her mind when she wakes up in the morning. She looks forward to catch a glimpse of him during office hours and her blood boils in excitement whenever she sees him. "Hi Sharon, how do you do?" Talk of the guy himself. She turned to see him about to enter his black Mercedes Benz SUV. "I am good," she replied, threw her briefcase on the back sit, ready to hop into the front sit. "Can I see you tomorrow?" He asked, as he leaned on the vehicle, emphasizing his tall and muscular lean frame. She paused, considering his request. "Will 5pm be okay?" "I suppose so." She replied shyly, looked away in embarrassment as she tried to kick the engine to life. Sharon watched him under her gaze as he waved and drove past her. She wanted to be with him and allow herself be carried away by the tide of emotion welling up in her heart. On the other hand, she could sense the familiar warning signal in her mind. In her growing up years, she had always listened to that inner voice. This time, Sharon knew already that she was going to follow her heart and ignore the voice of reason coming from her head. There comes a time in the life of a girl when throws caution to the winds and follow the dictates of her heart. That time is now. Sharon couldn't wait for the day to break as she earnestly prepared for her outing with Edward. Not one to bother much about makeup, she took pains to make herself beautiful. Satisfied with her result, she had a final look in the mirror and smiled at her image. Her knee length floral print dress did justice to her long beautiful legs, which were usually hidden in pantsuits. Adaobi walked in, gasped at Sharon in surprise. "Wow, you look beautiful, like a runway model. Going for a date?" She asked, staring at Sharon in admiration. "Yes, I am going for a date with Edward, the golden boy in my office.‖ Sharon laughed, a little light headed. "Who is Edward?" "Well…….he is a senior colleague in my office, attractive and brilliant. I feel honored to go out on a date with him." "Oh yea. Lucky you. Have a great day with your Edward and enjoy yourself." "Oh sure I will. He will be around shortly; maybe you will get to see him." "Sweetheart, I don‘t think I will meet him today. I came in to pick something from my room and will be dashing out again in the next few minutes. Fill me in with the details later in the night." She hugged Sharon briefly and rushed out of the room.

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Sharon had a most interesting outing with Edward Bassey. As they walked in the moonlight, a light wind swayed a brunch of flowers back and forth, shaking out their perfume as from a swung censer. Conversing with Edward was so natural and as easy as a turn of the hand. The air between them was fresh and invigorating as they took in breaths of the sea breeze. She blossomed under his gaze as he made it very clear that he had eyes only for her. Being with him puts her in the best state she could possibly be which is so exhilarating. Sharon kept struggling within herself if she should bring up the issue of Stephanie. As much as she does not want to change the romantic and friendly mood they shared, she could not push away the feeling to get the matter over with once and for all. "What about Stephanie?" She asked, her face a confused mass of impressions. "What about her?" He asked, looking imperturbable with raised eyebrows. "There are rumors in the office that you two are dating." "Don‘t tell me you listen to gossips," he replied as his gaze fell on her long graceful neck and moved to the delicate collarbones. "I couldn't help hearing about how attached you two are." He took time to respond, his face passionless, like a sculptor graved for niches in the temple. "Stephanie and I are not dating, neither are we romantically involved. We are just friends." Stephanie‘s matter all forgotten, they resumed their comradeship and she felt relieved having cleared all feelings of doubt. "You have an unusual beauty, not loud and shouting, but subtle and captivating," he said, held Sharon‘s gaze for a moment. At his words, a radiant glow came over her face, like a sudden burst of sunshine on a cloudy day. She smiled in appreciation as he took her hands and locked them with his. Their gaze interlocked, she became breathless as strange stirrings rose up within her. He raised an eyebrow as she took a step backward when he moved closer to her, his face a mass of emotions. "Sharon?" he held her hands and attempted to draw her closer. ''No, Edward.'' she smiled and pulled away gently. The weather, which had been threatening all day, finally changed for the worse. About ten minutes before they reached home, the rain came. The sky burst open. Sheets of wind-swept drops whipped across Edward's windshield, blurring their view of the highway. All around them, the deluge of water streaked the windows, carving streams of tears on the glass. She could hear the sky crying over the monotonous sweep of the wipers and the hum of the tires on the wet pavement. Other cars rushed by, their headlights on, everyone drove in a panic. "We're getting a big one," Edward muttered. Sharon curled up in the passenger seat and closed her eyes, opening them only when she heard the clap of thunder rolling over the roof of the car. The fast-falling drops sounded more like pebbles being heaved on them. A streak of thick lightning on their right seemed to singe the very air. Maybe it was the end of the world, she thought. As Edward drove, he talked about the adventures in his younger days. 26


The rain didn't let up before they reached the house. In fact, it seemed to fall stronger. Trees were bent in the wind to the point just before they would snap. Many branches had broken and were already scattered over the driveway as they entered her street. "Do you want anything sweetheart?" he asked as he came to a stop by her house. Sharon, shivering, curled her arms around her body and ran towards the front door. ''No Edward, I am okay. I just want to enter into the room, curl on the bed and cover myself with a thick blanket; the cold is getting to me." "Alright. I will call you in the morning." He stopped just by the front door as she hastily entered the living room. ''Thanks for a lovely day. I had a great time in spite of the rain." Later at home, alone on her bed, she could not help but wonder why life has been so good to her. Suddenly a thought gripped her heart and she froze in fear. What if life is preparing me for a bad turn of events? She thought as her heart pounded in trepidation.

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CHAPTER THREE Ogech alighted from the vehicle, weary after the five-hour journey from Lagos to the family country home, Nkalagu, in Enugu state. She collected her car keys from the driver, carried her overnight luggage and walked into the house, where rings of laughter welcomed her. The laughter appeared to come from the dining area and it sounded like mother‘s. It has been long since she heard her mother laugh with such abandon and happiness, maybe some of her old friends are around for a visit. She tiptoed, wanting to surprise her mother, as she alerted no one of her trip to the country home. She stood by the door expecting to see Mrs. Bright, her mother‘s best friend, but was shocked to her bones to see a young man sitting beside her. They appear to be having a friendly conversation and were totally oblivious of her presence. Mother looked happy, contented and at peace with herself. She turned away from the door and walked to the garden, expecting to see her father, but he was nowhere to be found. Could Adaobi be right? Is it possible that mother has accepted this stranger as her son? Suddenly, she felt like an intruder. Have I come to intrude and destroy the peace of this home? She was lost in thought and did not know when someone walked in to the garden. "Good Evening." Chima turned to see a remarkable sight; tall, regal with dimples on his cheeks. He had clear grey eyes. What a strange color. She could see some resemblance to Papa and Usoh, but he also had certain distinct features that must have come from his mother. She must be a beautiful woman to birth such a good-looking son. Shocked at the trail of her thoughts, she turned cold at him and mumbled an incoherent answer. No wonder they were all swooning over him. He is a beautiful lad. "You must be Steve." He smiled. "Yes I am Steve and you must be Ogech ." He stood confident, unaware of the conflicting emotions going on in her mind. It is so easy to continue a conversation with him, but she forced herself to stop. She had to keep reminding herself that this is the enemy, which is the reason why she came home - to boot this stranger out of the family house. "Mum is in the kitchen, I will let her know that you are around. And it is wonderful to meet you." His voice cut into her thoughts. She noticed the natural way he addressed her mother as mum and she wondered if this trip was already in futility. "Oh Ogechi, you never told me you were coming. You have not changed your ways." Mrs. Mathews chided as she came out of the house and hugged her, the most controversial of the girls. Ogech sat on a hand crafted cain chair stuffed with stripped blue soft pillows.

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"I wanted to surprise you. You are looking well mother." Ogech replied, looking at her eyes intently to see any trace of unhappiness or strain. But there was none, she looked positively radiant. "Many thanks to Steve. He never leaves my side and has become my companion and helper. He is such a blessing to me and I am happy he is here with us." Mrs. Mathews replied, her words pregnant with meaning. Ogechi heard the emphasis her mother placed on her words. It seemed she had already lost the battle before even beginning. "Come Ogechi, dinner is ready." Mrs. Mathews drew her out of the garden into the dining room, listening to her mother rave on about Steve. Just then, Mr. Chike Mathews walked in with Usoh and Chris. They took their seats on the dining table and exchanged the usual greetings and pleasantries. She could not help but notice the completeness in the family. Her brothers slapped Steve on his back and he returned the same favor, all in goodwill. She watched them sparkle with excitement and she suddenly felt like a stranger. She turned to meet her father‘s eyes on her. He seemed to be communicating something to her. She guessed he was trying to let her know he was sorry. Under the circumstances, it did not matter anymore. Adaobi and Karen were right after all. What a fool I have been. I embarked on this journey ready for a fight, but all the hard feeling and anger had all suddenly fizzled out. She thought. Chima smiled at her father and patted his hands in comradeship. He smiled in appreciation, and breathed a sigh of relief. They had always being able to communicate without spoken words and today was not an exception. "Is there anything you want?" Asked Steve, as he waited on Ogechi . "Oh, I am all right Steve, and I should thank you for taking such good care of mother," she replied and smiled warmly at him. He is such a gracious young man whose presence lighted up the family. Suddenly, she wanted to know about his mother. She wanted to know the woman who raised this fine young man.

Edward waited patiently for Stephanie in the conference room, wondering why she sent for him with such urgency. He heard footsteps behind and turned to meet her stern looking face. She is every inch a beautiful woman. Tall, graceful, pouting lips, velvety ebony skin and full kohl black hair cascading elegantly on her shoulders. She is a delight to behold. He thought, as she walked towards him. "Hi Stephanie," he smiled, conscious of the animosity emanating from her. She looked pointedly at him and did not bother to reply his greeting, her face cold as steel. "Why do you embarrass me Edward?" "I beg your pardon. Embarrass you? How?"

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"You have the nerve," she growled. "Are you trying to tell me you don‘t know flaunting your relationship with that waif of a girl is embarrassing to me?" Edward looked at her closely, shocked at her tantrum and wondered if she was in her right senses. "I don‘t understand. How is my relationship with Sharon supposed to embarrass you?" He asked, giving her a bewildered stare. ''So you are admitting that you are in a relationship with that girl?" ''Her name is Sharon.'' Stephanie looked at his unyielding cold stance and burst out crying. "I thought we had something going. Don‘t tell me all our times together meant nothing to you," she cried, looking into his eyes for any sign of sympathy. Edward took a sharp intake of breathe, irritated at her exaggerated emotional display which left him cold. "Stephanie, can you please stop these pranks. I don‘t get you." He sighed in exasperation. ''Did you take our friendship in a romantic light? No. You are an intelligent young woman who will know when a guy is into her romantically." He eyed her skeptically. "What are you trying to say? That you don't want me? That I leave you cold? What has that girl done to you? Is she more beautiful than I? Tell me. We had a beautiful relationship until she turned up and ruined it all," she screamed at him, hysterical as her eyes glazed with tears. ''Don't be so melodramatic about this. Stephanie, I don't remember a time I ever made a love proposition to you. Yes, sometimes ago, we were jointly given an assignment to handle which threw us a lot together and made it seem like we were in some kind of a relationship. But you and I know that there was nothing of sort between us and neither will there ever be." She shut her eyes at the cold intensity of his voice. Edward looked away and refused to meet her eyes. He felt sorry for what he was about to say, but he had no choice but to declare the truth so she will be clear as to the status of their relationship. He treasured their friendship, but deep within; he knew his feelings towards her cannot grow beyond friendship. "I am sorry Stephanie. I appreciate your intelligence, friendship and companionship, but …" "Don‘t bother. I know where you are going," she cuts in, rudely interrupting him; refusing to hear his love declaration for another woman. ''Please, I want you to stop harassing Sharon and calling her names. You offend me when you do that." "I guess there is nothing more to say," she said and walked out on him. Edward wanted to call her back in order to reason with her, but decided against it. A feeling of despondency came upon him at the loss of his friendship with her, but he shook it off, shrugged his shoulders and proceeded out of the room.

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"Any plans for your vacation?" Edward asked Sharon as they packed the dishes after a sumptuous meal prepared by Kenneth, the cook. "Nothing planned yet, any ideas?" "I am thinking of taking you to this beautiful hidden spot in the West Indies, on the Island of Barbados, in the Caribbean. It is out of this world," he said as lights shone in his eyes. "The island of Barbados is at the most eastern island of the Caribbean. During my first visit, I stood on the white powdery hot sand and looked into the horizon, far as I could see the bright blue sky with fluffy white clouds and the deep bluish water of the sea. I had not seen a more beautiful sight," he sighed. "However, the water closer to the powdery white sand was bluish green, yet crystal clear enough to see the white floor beneath. When standing in the crystal clear water I was able to see the little silver and blue fish swimming around my feet." He paused and squinted his eyes trying to remember something. "I remember thinking that the blue fishes swimming around my feet could be the next meal for some folks." He laughed. "The sun emitted light as bright as a 1000 degree light bulb and the heat was hotter than an oven of the same temperature. The beach was full of people in different shapes and sizes from almost every nation of the world. Most of the tourists were snow birds on vacation trying to soak up as much sun as possible while interacting with the natives and drinking the endless supply of rum. It was a tropical paradise and I spent three full weeks there." He reminisced. "That is interesting, tell me more about it." She gushed excitedly. "I discovered it two years ago during my yearly summer vacation and it will give me a great pleasure to show you." "I feel honored and yes, I will love to see this spot you describe, let us be on the way. So when do we go for this dreamy vacation?" "As soon as the travelling arrangements can be made.‖ Edward made all the arrangements as promised and two weeks later, they were on their way to Bavaro/Punta, a top Caribbean beach paradise. It is the most magnificent sight, and Sharon felt most privileged to see it. The beaches are picturesque, tall coconut palms dot much of the seashore, and the soft, white sand is breathtaking. One of the vacation highlights was a tour of Antigua Island on a helicopter. They had a breathtaking twenty minutes tour which ascended over the Island's fabulous beaches. Sharon's heart beat in excitement as they skimmed the crystal clear waters of the West Coast, over the extraordinary Cades Reef and past rendezvous bay. ''We will soon get to see the super-yachts anchored at Falmouth harbour, followed by the historic English harbor and Shirley's heights look-out," Edward said, acting as a tour guide. ''Hmmnn," she replied as her eyes skimmed the sights and sounds below the aircraft. From Antigua, they flew direct to the East Coast of Montserrat. ''The entire flying tour of Montserrat is over the "exclusion zone", which is an area that has been designated off limits to habitation or ground transportation, so the best way to see the volcano is by helicopter.'' The tour guide explained.

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The helicopter allowed a view of Plymouth, the former capital of Montserrat which was buried uninhabited, and some parts buried in 40 feet of ash. Sharon stared thoughtfully at the villages trapped in the exclusion zone and sighed. Edward turned and arched his left brows. ''A penny for your thoughts?" She took a deep breath and yawned, her right hands placed on her temple. "I have a slight headache." "How bad is it?" He drew closer to her, a worried frown on his face. ''Well, not that bad. It must be because I have had little sleep since we arrived on the paradise.'' She smiled. ''We could stay indoors tomorrow so you have all the sleep you want." He laid her head on his lap and massaged her temples gently. ''No, all I need is a good night sleep and by tomorrow morning, I will be fit like a horse. I will not spend this vacation sleeping in some hotel room when there is so much to see out in the sun." After travelling along the East Coast, they left the Island of Montserrat behind, and took vivid memories with them back to Antigua. Edward sure know how to make a woman feel special, but the best moment was being with him, sharing, and enjoying the pleasures of life together. These scenes were ingrained in her mind forever and nothing will ever wipe them off her memory.

Karen finished her class with the sixth graders and took her sit to prepare for the next class. Suddenly her phone beeped. Noting the unfamiliar number, she ignored the call until it rang for the third time. She picked it up grudgingly. "Hello?" "Good day, may I speak to Karen Mathews?" A beautiful soft spoken voice asked at the other end of the line. "This is Karen Mathews speaking." "I am pleased to inform you that you are among the successful shortlisted candidates who made it through our interview at Phillip Alder Consulting." Karen suddenly became giddy with excitement. She did not hear the remaining part of the caller‘s sentence. "Sorry, can you repeat your words? The line is breaking at this end," She lied. The caller repeated the sentence and Karen remained motionless long after the call ended. Tears of joy welled up in her eyes as she quietly gave thanks to the Lord. Her heart became heavy as she beheld her students in love, knowing the time has come to leave and move on to the next phase of her life. They stared with questions in their eyes, wondering

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why their beloved teacher had tears in her eyes. A little five-year-old girl, Ebube Martins, walked up to her and asked with concern on her face. "Miss Mathews, why are you crying?" "I am not crying sweetheart." "But you are. I can see tears in your eyes. Did anyone hurt you?" Karen drew the little girl closer and held her hands. "Yes there are tears in my eyes, but they are tears of joy. And no one hurt me." The little girl frowned and appeared not to understand Karen‘s explanation. "Do people cry when they are happy?" "Yes darling, some adults cry when they are happy about something." Karen answered. "Yes, I remember now. My mum had tears in her eyes when Daddy bought her a new car." "Oh really? I am glad you understand me now. Thanks for the concern." Karen patted her on the shoulder before she turned to walk away. Karen watched as the little girl walked back to her seat. By then, the rest of the class had turned their attention away from their teary teacher to other interesting activities around. Karen smiled as she walked home, looking forward to sharing the good news with her sisters. A twinge of excitement rocked being and she laughed out joyfully knowing her life has taken a turn for the better. Passersby paused to look at her and a few smiled back, reveling in the glow that surrounded her.

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CHAPTER FOUR A horrible nightmare woke Sharon up in sweats. The dream appeared hazy and unclear, but the message was clear: bad news. A week later, the dream forgotten and the fears gone, she was scheduled to go on an official trip to South Africa for training at the company‘s resource center for departmental heads. The headaches and flu started a month after her arrival from the South African trip. Thinking it was malaria fever, she took her medications, had some relief for a few days only for the attack to return much worse. But she kept on the job, bearing silently the feverishness and sudden cold syndrome that has pervaded her being, waiting for her system to return to normalcy as it usually does. The excitement and flurry of activities as Adaobi‘s wedding drew nearer was contagious. Everyone love weddings especially such a love story as Tennyson and Adaobi. Wedding moments in the Mathews' family were usually times of reunion for the sisters as they gather to felicitate with the one to be given away in matrimony. The other Mathew daughters had travelled from the four corners of the earth to join the family as they prepared for Adaobi's wedding. Ngozi and Adichie, two elder sisters based in California, USA and Amarachi, a physician who lives and works in London all arrived a week to the wedding. It was like old times again, as nothing really changed about any of them except that they were older. They all fell in love with Steve at first sight. It seemed like he grew up together with them. "Tell us about your mother," Adichie asked. "She must be a beautiful woman." A grave silence ensued as all eyes fell on Steve in curious anticipation to hear what he had to say about his mother. He took a sharp breath, looked at the beautiful faces of the women he shared the same blood with and smiled. "Mother was a beautiful, regal and intelligent woman. If she had had the opportunity to be educated, she would have been a legal practitioner. She said that many times," Steve smiled as he remembered his mother‘s animated face whenever she talked about her dream of becoming a lawyer. "She had me at a tender age of eighteen. She was persuaded by her mother to marry father," he paused. "She was thirty-nine years old when she died." Everyone quieted and became still at Steve‘s bombshell. Mrs. Mathews stood up and walked out of the living room. She appeared to be upset. Steve hoped he had not said something wrong. Ogechi and Sharon exchanged glances with Adaobi. Their gaze followed their mother as she left the room. "Steve, that is an interesting story of your mother. Do you have any of her pictures?" Adichie asked, trying to douse the tension that followed Steve‘s story about his mother. "I have loads of them in my room," he replied enthusiastically. "Great. We will get to see them later." The sisters managed to stir the conversation away from Steve‘s mother to the upcoming wedding which is in a fortnight. As they laughed and chatted, Steve‘s words lingered in their minds about the eighteen-year-old girl whom their father had a baby with. 34


At last, the wedding day arrived. Adaobi had never looked more radiant and beautiful. As she walked down the aisle in the arms of their father, a picture of herself as the bride walking to meet her groom came to Sharon‘s mind and a smile played around her lips. "What is funny?" Ogech asked. "Funny? Nothing is funny." Sharon replied. "I caught you smiling as if you are indulging in a secret thought," she chided. "I believe that I have the right to think about or imagine whatsoever I want in my mind." "This sharp tongue of yours! You will never change. I hope you will get a man to marry you," Ogech teased. "She already has the most eligible bachelor courting her," Karen added, joining the conversation. "That is old news. I wonder how you got him in your clutches. If only the poor fellow knows what he is getting into, he will run like a scared rabbit out of the relationship," Ogech replied in mock contempt. "I heard you are having a time of your life flying from one country to the other with your Romeo. Well, enjoy it while it lasts because as soon as you guys get married and the babies start to arrive, all that gallivanting about will come to an end." "Somebody‘s heart will tear apart in jealousy." Sharon playfully answered back. Just then, Sharon caught her mother shooting sharp darts of rebuke at them, as they were not following the wedding proceedings. She turned to see Edward as he strode in to the church. Her heart swelled with pride that this specimen of male build belongs to her. Chima followed her eyes to Edward, her bros raised in enquiry. ''Is that the much talked about Edward?" Sharon nodded. "Wow! He is something," Ogech whispered in to her ears. The whole congregation watched in admiration as Adaobi and groom walked down the aisle. Together, they cut the picture of a marriage made in heaven. After Adaobi‘s wedding, life became normal again as the days rolled into weeks and months. Sharon‘s alliance with Edward had graduated from mere dating to marriage talks. He proposed to her during one of their outings and she agreed. That was one of the happiest days of her life as she remembered vividly how he had proposed. He had invited her to his house because according to him, he had something important to discuss. "Sharon, I have met many beautiful and intelligent women in my life time, but none had ever given me sleepless nights, and neither had anyone of them made me as happy as when I am with you. You make my life complete and I look forward to a great future together with you," he had said, his voice laden with emotion. 35


Sharon had never heard such beautiful words of love and devotion in her life as she melted under his gaze. Her arms went around his neck as she squealed with joy. Her mind became filled with livid pictures of married life with him, kids who are his cute look alikes and aging together as a couple. ''Where would you love to honeymoon?" He asked as they swayed together, in each other's arms; their bodies moving in harmony to a rhythm audible to their ears alone. ''Anywhere you chose, as long we are together.'' 'Have you heard about the Niagara falls, Ontario, Canada?" ''Yea. I read about it in a book.'' 'The Niagara Falls is a staggering 3,160 tons of water plummeting over the falls every second, and that force is harnessed into the production of electricity by both the United States and Canada," he explained. ''That is incredible. I am thrilled by your love for travelling and exploring new geographical sights and sounds,'' she beheld him in wonder. ''Yes sweetheart" He gazed into her eyes. "I want to share my love of travelling with you,'' He drew her fingers to his lips. Sharon gaped at him, her heart in her mouth as he brought out a red square box from his jean pocket and untied the white ribbon that held it together. She watched, her heart racing in wild excitement as he brought out a glistening diamond ring, raised her left hand and slipped it on her middle finger. She lifted up her hands, gasped at the sheer beauty and elegance of the ring on her fingers. He reached towards her, lifted up her hand and planted a kiss on the ringed finger. A cold chill went through her entire being as she felt his lips on her. She trembled at the touch of his lips, her lips quivering as they stared into each other's' eyes.

A few months after her first fever attack, Sharon had another which was more severe, the fever leaving her numb and immobile. She called Dr. Raman, her personal physician and after listening to her complaints, he advised her to go for a comprehensive checkup including a HIV test. She broke into cold sweats and suddenly felt like fainting, obviously shocked at his suggestion. "If I have to do my job, recommending that you go for HIV test is in line with the symptoms you complained of. You have already been treated for malaria and typhoid, and according to you, pregnancy is out of question," he explained. Suddenly, she remembered the dream and hoped there was no connection. Her mind went back in retrospect to the event that had been successfully buried in the recess of her mind. Life had been so perfect; there was no need to think about the incident, no need to dig out the past until now. It happened six years ago. She was in her second year at the University, down with appendicitis. Her mother made an appointment for her to see the family physician and after going through

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various tests, she was booked for an operation with Dr. Brown, the head surgeon. On the appointment day, they realized that the doctor was not around for the operation. ''Dr Brown had a domestic accident yesterday and will not be available to carry out the operation," explained the nurse attendant. ''Why was I not informed of the new development? I expect to have been alerted that the operation will no longer hold today," Mrs Mathews protested, upset about the cancellation. ''Please bear with us Mrs. Mathews; we have had a lot on our hands since yesterday as Dr Brown's appointments were handled by some other doctors.'' ''What do you want us to do now? My daughter had had to endure so much pain in the past few days. We were looking forward to seeing Doctor Brown in the hope that she will get some relief today after the operation," she turned to look out for Sharon who lay stretched on one of the lounge chairs massaging her lower abdomen in obvious discomfort. The nurse followed the direction of her eyes on Sharon. ''Can you allow some other doctor handle the operation?" the nurse asked, as her eyes lingered on Sharon in concern. ''I don't know about that. When do you think Doctor Brown will resume to work?" ''I cannot determine when he will be available as I have no information about the extent of his injuries.'' Chiwendu stepped back and sat down. She needed to gather her thoughts and decide on whether to take Sharon to another hospital or allow some other doctor carry out the operation. Unable to bear seeing her daughter go through another day of excruciating pain, she made a decision. ''Can I meet the other doctor?" The attendant nurse made a call and moments later, they were ushered into a consulting room. A man who appeared to be in his mid-thirties looked up as they came in. He rose to his feet and helped Sharon lie down on the examining table. ''Good day Mrs. Mathews. I am Doctor Charles. I have read through your daughter's case file," he paused and turned to look at Sharon as a painful cry escaped from her lips. "I want you to put your mind at rest as appendicitis is a minor operation which I have carried out many times without any complication. If you sign this consent form, I will prepare her for the procedure and we will be through in less than one hour.'' Chiwendu listened for a note of fear or uncertainty in his voice and heard none. She was still a little skeptical about entrusting her daughter into the hands of the new doctor. Just then, Sharon screamed as she pressed her abdomen in pain. Chiwendu looked up to see the doctor's eyes on her. She sighed, took the documents from Doctor Charles and signed the consent papers. Three months after the procedure, I began to feel terrible pains in my lower abdomen and had to return to the hospital. Dr. Brown was on duty this time and discovered to his horror that I was hemorrhaging severely on the spot where the surgery was performed. The operation was badly done which made me bleed internally. He reopened the wound to carry out another operation and transfused me with blood as I had lost quite a lot. 37


During the operation, in my state of unconsciousness, I had a dream that the blood was not properly screened for HIV. I remembered the dream vividly after I awoke and hoped it was a figment of my imagination. I shared the dream with mother, who brushed it away as the effect of my overactive mind. Isn‘t it ironic that a dream of six years ago still haunts my life? Now, I have to go for the HIV test. The result of which will answer many unanswered questions.

Martins Irabor, the estate consultant dropped the parcel containing the certificate of occupancy of the building Sharon bought a while ago. She felt no excitement at her acquisitions. Her health situation has robbed her off her zest for life. Edward called in for a moment with her, unhappy as he felt sadness around her. "I feel you are hiding something from me. Aren‘t we supposed to be friends for life?" he asked, his voice laden with emotion. "I am sorry. I…I … need to sort out certain issues. It has nothing to do with you, I promise to tell you all about it in good time," she replied, forcing a smile. Her heart broke at the pain in Edward‘s eyes. She wanted to embrace him but pulled back at the sound of footsteps. Her mournful eyes followed him as he left. She wondered if their love was strong enough to bear whatever comes their way, especially if the unthinkable happens. A beep on her phone made her jump as she saw the doctor‘s number on the screen. The beeping continued a few more times. Fear made her immobile as she could only gape at the phone as if paralyzed, making no attempt to pick it up. Tears fell uncontrollably as she watched herself transformed from a happy carefree woman into a paranoid and emotionally unbalanced person. Hours later, she decided to call the doctor as the agony of not knowing appeared to be taking its toll on her. She dialed his number and waited as her chest constricted in fear. ''Doctor Raman?" He paused, took a deep breath and coughed. "Could you please come around to see me in the hospital?" "No doctor, I don't think there is any need to go through that route, you can tell me whatever it is; afterwards we are not strangers." ''If you insist. But it is not a usual medical practice to discuss test results on the phone. I would have preferred you come to the hospital in the company of a close relative." ''I insist. Please, I can't wait to come over to the hospital tomorrow; I can't bear the waiting." ''Alright, since you insist………." ''I do. Please tell me, what is my status report?" She cuts in. "It is okay…all is well……….there is nothing new under the sun,….you can live a happy and fulfilling life…………..," Doctor Raman stuttered. "Doctor Raman, can you go straight to the point? Tell me in simple words what my status report is," she interrupted, frantic as her heart began to beat wildly.

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Sharon could hear the doctor‘s rhythmic breathing across the line as if he was trying to measure his words and find an appropriate way to break the bad news. She felt a surge in her heart beat as he began to talk. "Hem…… Sharon, I am sorry to tell you that the result of the HIV test we conducted on you was …po…positive….please be strong. It is not the end of your life…it….." It seemed like her heart stopped beating. Time stopped for a moment. The phone fell from her hand and she was not conscious of it. Her hands began to shake like a leaf driven by wild wind, as she let out a piercing scream of despair. She already knew what he wanted to say, but needed to hear his spoken confirmation. Her body vibrated with a tremor that shook her entire frame as she collapsed on the floor. Alone at home, she wept for hours feeling she had been given a death sentence. I am now a walking corpse, I wonder if Karen would want to trade places with me now going by her envy of how fast my life was going. So I was being fattened up for the slaughter, she thought as the tears started again.

Karen woke up with a start. A sound woke her up. She listened again and heard the muffled sound of weeping and groaning from Sharon‘s room. Alarmed, she hastily rushed in to find her curled in a fetal position, weeping profusely, eyes bloodshot with tears. "Sharon, what is the problem? What are you so devastated about? Is it Edward?" Karen shook her sister, fear all over her as she stared at Sharon‘s sorrowful countenance. Sharon was too broken to talk. Any attempt to say anything only brought further tears. So, Karen embraced her and began to massage her on the back until she stopped weeping. "Talk to me Sharon, what is the problem? What happened?" Sharon opened up to her sister, relieved as she told Karen everything. She felt better sharing the burden with someone else and a feeling of calmness came over her. ''Oh my God!'' Karen exclaimed. "You mean to tell me that the blood transfusion you did while we were in school brought this upon you?" Sharon nodded. "How could you have kept all these to yourself? Are we not sisters? Are we not supposed to bear each other‘s burden?" Karen chastised. "I cannot bring myself to tell anyone that I carry the HIV virus. I cannot say it. What will people think of me? Will they start to avoid and keep away from me? Will I be stigmatized? Will I lose my job?" "I am your sister not people, and no one is expecting you to give a press conference about your status; so the issue of stigmatization should not arise," Karen answered calmly. "What will become of my dreams? My plans? Oh my God, what will become of Edward and I?" She wailed, inconsolable as the stark reality of her situation dawned on her. 39


"Don‘t bother your head about all that for now. Let us focus on getting you back to a positive spiritual and mental state, then we will see how the events will unfold and discover the purpose of God in this." ''Purpose of God? Did I hear you mention God's purpose in this? Tell me, since you appear to be his spokeswoman, what is his purpose in allowing me to be struck with HIV. What sin have I committed to deserve this? What have I done to him? Ask him. Tell me!'' she screamed, hysterical as the tears gushed and blocked her vision. For a moment, Karen drew back in shock as Sharon pointed fingers at her menacingly. Compassion welled up in her heart as she embraced her sister. "The family has to know, we can‘t keep this to ourselves and you also need to decide when to tell Edward about it." "Tell Ed? Noooo!!" Sharon screamed in horror. "You have to tell him, it is only fair for him to know," Karen insisted. "Not now, telling him will destroy what we share, how can I bear that? How can I live with that?" She sobbed, devastated about the inevitable. "Don‘t jump to wrong conclusions, give him the benefit of doubt, let him prove the love he professes." Karen insisted "What are you saying? Sharon glared. Think about it. Would you want to go ahead and marry your fiancé who you suddenly discovered to be HIV positive?" She shot the question at Karen and waited, looking pointedly into her eyes for an answer.

Chiwendu Mathews had had strong premonitions for months that something was wrong with her daughter and she has been praying fervently for Sharon ever since. It had started when she awakened in the middle of the night. She hadn't been dreaming, or if she had, she couldn't remember what it was about. She was certain that something had happened, something awful. She had called Karen the next day, who assured her that Sharon was alright. Now she knew that her premonitions were founded on something concrete. Sharon's Toyota Rav SUV was parked in front of the family house, and it was on a week day; when she should be at work. Her heart constricted in fear as she watched Karen walked her sister towards the front door, downcast. "Sharon?" "Karen?" Chiwendu shouted as she opened the front door to allow them in, eyes darting from one to another in fear. "Mum!" Chiwendu noticed the desperate call for help in Sharon's voice as she leapt into her arms. Oh Lord, please I don't want to receive any bad news about my girl. She reached out and began to rock her in her arms like a baby. "I have been so worried about you honey," drawing back, she tried to search her daughter's face. "Are you alright? You look strained sweetheart," she looked up at Karen for answers, who stood by, arms akimbo. Another wave of fear gripped her. ''Can we sit down mum?" 40


There it was again, that feeling she couldn't shake off. A sick dread filled Chiwendu."Have you eaten? Come on into the kitchen and I will fix you something." "I'm not very hungry." Sharon replied. "You girls need to take something after that long drive from Lagos." Sharon laughed weakly. "Ok," Chiwendu sensed she agreed in other to soothe her than because she wanted to eat. ''Karen, please help me out in the kitchen. It is good to have you girls home again." Karen stood up as if she was in a stupor, yawned loudly and walked towards the kitchen. "What of Papa?" Chiwendu noticed the dark shadows beneath Sharon's eyes and the pallor of her skin. Her hair was dull and limp, as though it hadn't been shampooed for days. Her face was thinner, with lines of strain around her mouth. Oh God, what has happened to my daughter? As she watched her girls eat, she noticed something else. Heart sinking, she put her hands around the cup, trying to keep calm. Sharon's lower lip quivered slightly, and Chiwendu found herself fighting back tears of empathy. She looked from one to the other, hoping one of them would open up and say what it was all about; yet she was so scared to ask directly what the matter was. "You can talk to me, honey. You can talk to me about anything." ''It is so hard, mother," Sharon replied as a tear fell from her eye. Confused, Chiwendu stared hard at each of her daughters. Her heart in her mouth, she unconsciously tried to cover her ears from hearing what she sensed in her spirit would change the course of their lives and rock the very foundation of their faith. Life was hard. Grueling. Heartbreaking. She could see how hurt her daughters were, and began to create scenarios in her mind. Father, I thought everything was going on smoothly. I thought our lives were laid out like a beautiful mosaic glorifying you. "Is it about that the young man, you are dating?" ''No mum, it is not about Edward," Sharon replied. The girls locked eyes across the table, after which Karen nudged her on. "I don't know how to tell you this…………..," Sharon started. "Wait; I need to get your father. He needs to be here." Moments later, Sharon looked up and saw her parents enter the living room, their faces solemn as they sit by the dining table. Chiwendu reached across the table and took Sharon's hands, fear curling like a snake in the pit of her belly. "We love you girls, and nothing you say now will alter that. Nothing." Sharon's hands gripped hers, hanging on it as it were a lifeline. "Mother, do you remember the blood transfusion I did while in school at St. Augustine Hospital?" "Yes dear, I remember. We were there together." Chiwendu and Chike listened, their hearts beating faster as Sharon narrated her story. Tears came, flooded their eyes and poured down their cheeks. Chike Mathews stood up and staggered towards the window. Oh God, where were you? Where were you when this was happening to my daughter? Why didn't you in your sovereignty prevent this

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from happening to Sharon? Why her Lord? Why Sharon of all people in this world? You know she doesn't deserve this. He wept. Sharon's fingers kept tightening as though she was afraid her mother would pull away from her. "Mother, my blood is no longer pure, it has got poison. Can you imagine that? If my blood should come in contact with anyone, they become contaminated with death. I am now a death carrier, am…………..‘‘ ''Will you stop spitting poison out of your mouth? Oh sister, the real poison is in your mouth and you can chose to release life or poison out of your mouth. It is your choice!" Karen shouted, irritated at Sharon's outbursts. "No sweetheart, do not say such things to yourself, your blood is pure because the blood of the lamb runs through your veins and that is nothing but the truth. Irrespective of your status, you have to believe that," Chiwendu said, her voice choked with tears, grief stricken at the misfortune that has befallen her family. Karen knelt down and tried to console their mother. ''But Sharon is not dead. Yes, being afflicted with HIV is bad news; but it is not the end of the world. People live long and fulfilling lives in spite of it. I think we should concentrate on getting Sharon to start the drug therapy and treatments rather than weakening her immunity through sorrow and grief,‖ she protested, her eyes moving from her father to where her mother sat on the floor, holding Sharon and weeping profusely.

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CHAPTER FIVE Sharon thought informing her other sisters would bring succor to her. She thought they would comfort her, but was grossly disappointed. They called to ask probing questions, and even had the nerve to accuse her of carelessness. What an irony of life, for someone who had lived pious all her life to contact HIV at such a tender age. The most senior sister reasoned. She remembered the last conference call with Adichie and Ngozi, the first two daughters of the Mathews family and her blood began to boil in anger. "But how can you be infected with HIV through blood transfusion?" Ngozi, the most senior asked. "I find it unbelievable that any reputable hospital would make that kind of unpardonable mistake," Adichie added. "If it were to happen in the US, the doctors responsible would have been sued to court for negligence and the hospital shut down." "Are you sure that the hospital is responsible for your getting the virus? I mean, it might have been through another source." Adichie said. Sharon felt like screaming at them to stop, but out of politeness listened to their insinuations. "What are you suggesting? That I got the virus through promiscuity or what?" "No, no, I do not mean it to sound that way. I am sorry if I upset you." She replied. "Well, we just want to let you know that we love you and are praying every step of the way." Ngozi said, eager to clear the bad feeling hanging in the air. If they could conceive and say unkind statements to me, I wonder what blasphemies were going on in their minds. They thought I was using the blood transfusion episode as a smokescreen to cover up the true source of how I became infected with the virus. It felt bad not to be believed by my own family. The main entrance door opened suddenly as Ogechi rushed in. For a moment, she stood rooted on the same spot and stared at Sharon in shock, then burst into tears as they hugged each other. Steve followed closely behind her. "Sharon, it is not true. Is it?" She could not reply Ogechi‘s question. How she wished it were all a dream. "Tell me it is not true Sharon? I need to hear it from you that you carry the HIV virus, otherwise I will not believe," she insisted as tears flowed on her face. Ogechi waited for her to speak. Sharon tried to put the words together, but they would not come out. Karen walked in then and Sharon looked up to her for help. Karen remained silent and held Ogech ‘s hands in compassion. "Ogechi darling, you heard right. Sharon went for the test in two different reputable hospitals, and the results came out the same," Karen replied, her voice laden with emotion.

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Ogechi became inconsolable. Sharon understood her pain. They were the closest sisters of the lot. Steve could only stare at Sharon, and she will never forget his statement as he held her hands tenderly. "Sharon, no matter how bad you feel now, I want you to know you will overcome this challenge. This period will pass and you will be happy again. Please do not focus on this incident, as it is only a mirage to the real message of your life. Get past this negative emotional state and discover that something good and beautiful can come out of this so called misfortune." Sharon wondered where he got that kind of wisdom. She doesn‘t understand how beauty and good will come out of being infected with an incurable disease that has altered her life completely. "How will good come out of being afflicted with the HIV virus?" She asked, curious to hear what he had to say. "The how is for God to answer for he has a million and one ways to bring out his glory in a situation. All we are required to do is trust him. The lord will gather your pieces together and give you wholeness. And if there are no pieces to gather together, he will create wholeness for you, " Steve replied. "Even though he slays me, I will still trust in him. Isn‘t that what Job said? But, I don‘t think anyone in this generation has the capacity to take what Job took. He lost all he had in one day. His health, children, home and businesses. His wife turned away and told him to curse God and die, indicating that he was a hopeless case. But he never turned away from God. That is a great faith." Strangely, his words touched the essence of her being. The words found a place in her heart and she felt a very faint stir of hope that something good can actually come out of this. That she can find happiness again after this affliction, which had taken permanent residence in her body. "I am sorry Lord, but I do not have the kind of faith Job had. How can I trust you when you struck me with such a devastating blow? What manner of faith will make a man praise you and rejoice when he had been slain? How can I praise you after you messed up the plans I had created for myself. You said I should rejoice forevermore, how can songs come out of my lips when you left me in the pit of despair. You aged my flesh and skin, you broke my bones, you besieged me, surrounded me with bitterness and woe. You have torn me in pieces; you have made me desolate and caused the arrows your to pierce my loins. I have become the ridicule of my people who taunt me all day long. You have made me an off scouring and refuse in the midst of my people. Who will judge between me and you? Who will plead with him on my behalf that he should remove his gaze from me? However, I trust that you can never make a mistake. I called on your name O Lord, from the lowest pit, you have heard my voice; do not turn your ears from my sighing, from my cry for help."

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After weeks of keeping to herself, Sharon decided to fight the virus that invaded her body. Karen, Ogechi, Adaobi and Steve have been wonderful, but it is time I resumed running my life. She thought. After the initial shock of hearing the news, everyone had put the matter behind them and only call occasionally. She resolved to make the most of life in spite her circumstance, and turn the lemon life has given her into lemonade. So she decided to take her medications religiously and with joy watched vitality return to her body. Seeking for information to fight the stranger that has taken abode in her body, she went in search of and devoured every material she could lay hands on about the subject of HIV and AIDS, conforming to the biblical adage that says the truth makes free. And indeed, she felt liberated emotionally after having all those information on the subject matter. At first, she found her condition impossible to reconcile with her faith in a loving God. It seemed all of God's gifts had been stolen from her. What do I have left? She thought. The turning to God was slow, changing from bitterness to trusting in him dragged out a year of tears and violent questionings. "I am excited to see you looking your happy old self," Edward remarked as they enjoyed a quiet afternoon by the beach. She smiled, said nothing, enjoying the peaceful ambience of the ocean and watching as the waves rolled into one another. An unusual sense of peace welled up in her as the breeze from the ocean blew all over her face and hair. It felt great to be alive and enjoy the wonders of nature. Until now, they never made an impression on me. How we take for granted the little things that count in life. "You never told me what happened in the last fourteen months," he said casually drew closer to her. A shadow fell on Sharon‘s face. "You will know when the time is right," she smiled sweetly at him. "That is okay sweetheart, take your time," he said graciously. "Now that you are fully recovered, can we commence the wedding preparations?" Edward asked expecting her to be flushed with excitement. But, he was astonished to see her freeze in shock and could not help but notice the fright in her eyes. "What is it Sharon, why that reaction? Isn‘t matrimony where we were heading to all along?" He stood up, confused and infuriated at her. "You know I want nothing more than to be your wife, but......" "But what?‖ He interrupted, dismayed and angry at her obvious reluctance. "Is there someone else?" He asked. She gaped at him in shock. "How can you say that? How can there be someone else aside from you?" ''Then why are you dragging us back? Why the obvious reluctance? Whenever I bring up the marriage issue, you react in a strange way and I am beginning to think you are hiding something very important from me."

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"You don‘t understand, I.............................," she stuttered. "Then make me understand. Haven‘t I been patient enough? I have waited for a year for you to get over whatever you are going through. I know what you are hiding from me has something to do with way you reacted now. If you don‘t trust me enough to confide in me, then there is no point continuing in this facade of a relationship," he burst out in anger, pacing up and down the beach side. Sharon had never seen him so angry, but could not blame him for his outburst. She thought as they drove home in uncomfortable silence. Karen could see all was not well, immediately Sharon walked in and was sorry to hear about what happened. "What will you do now?" "I suppose I have to tell him, isn‘t it?" Sharon asked, tears running down her face. "Oh God, this is difficult for me. Why would you take me through this?" She watched, helpless as her perfect life crumbled before her. "Somebody help me. Somebody should tell me it is all a nightmare, which I would wake up from. I kept myself Lord; I gave my body to you as a holy and living sacrifice, why did you allow this befall me?" Not sure how to comfort her distraught sister, Karen watched, helpless as Sharon wept and increasingly become devastated. "Sharon, be strong, let us hold on to God and believe he will work things out for your good." "I don‘t want to be strong; someone said God allowed this to happen to me because I am strong. I am not strong; I am the weakest of all. I cannot bear the rejection and stigmatization that comes with being a carrier, I weep all day. That just shows how weak I am. Now, restore my life to me. Please, I want my life back, without this complication. Please give my life back to me. Take this thing out of my body or kill me," Sharon wailed and gave herself to the emotions she had successfully bottled up in the past months. Steve walked in and Karen was relieved to see him, as he appeared to know just what to say to calm Sharon whenever she falls into this bout of depression. He carried her like an infant into the living room. She hugged him fiercely, drained from the emotional turmoil of the past one hour. "Sharon, God did not bring evil into your life, he did not chose you to go through this because you are strong or weak. It happened because some people were negligent in their duties. God wants to help you go through with this and turn it around for good. He is not the wicked one here. Will you allow him turn it around for good?" She had given the same counsel to a colleague in dilemma sometimes ago. How easy it is to give counsel to others when we are not the one in the hot seat. She thought. Moments later, alone in her room; she made peace with God. She had allowed herself to be deceived that God was the one who afflicted her. She surrendered herself to his will, to whatever purpose he has in mind for her life. Moments afterward, she slept off, unconcerned about the past, the present and future.

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Chiwendu couldn't help notice the steely glances Chike had been throwing in her direction ever since the girls returned to Lagos. She knew that he had something on his mind and was deliberating whether to voice it out or not. She sensed from the expression on his face that he blamed her for Sharon's predicament. She had blamed herself a million times. If only I had taken her to the teaching hospital, but how would I have known that the doctor would be careless. Her mind had gone over the incident of six years ago countless times and she wondered what she could have done differently. He hardly touched his dinner last night. She had to pack the leftover for the dog. This morning, she scrapped fried egg onto a plate, put the used pan into the sink and set his breakfast on the table without so much as a glance. His toast popped up. Returning to the counter, she buttered both slices, put them on a small plate and set them along with a metal carrier containing two small porcelain pots of strawberry and grape. He could have his choice. She tensed as Chike walked past without saying a word. Oh Lord, how can I take this? The additional burden of Chike holding me responsible for Sharon's misfortune. She knew what was ahead. Things would get worse before they get better, assuming, of course that they would get better. "Chike! He turned as he was about to climb the stairs. "Come out with whatever is in your mind. I can't take this any longer," she wiped sweat off her face, her lips quivering as if smitten with cold. He drew closer and stared long at her, his face expressionless. "I don't get you, what do you want me to say?" ''Don't you hold me responsible for Sharon's predicament? Answer me, don't you?" Tears began to pour down her face, her body shivering from her anguish. Unable to bear the agony of the woman who had stood with him all these years and forgave him after she discovered his secret son from another woman, he drew her into his arms and patted her until she calmed. He became ashamed for even thinking that she was in any way responsible for Sharon's HIV status. She has been a great mother, wife and companion and she did the best to be done under the circumstance. "I am sorry for giving you the impression that you were responsible for what happened. I was looking for someone to lay the blame on; I thought putting the blame on someone would lessen my pain. You are not in any way responsible for what happened, if anyone should be blamed; those bastards who call themselves doctors are the ones to hold responsible. Forgive me darling, and please remember that you did the best that you could do. I don't think I would have done anything different if I was around when it happened." Chiwendu disetangled herself from his arms and gave him a weak smile. "Thanks sweetheart. That means a lot to me. I am hurting enough as it is and trying to accept the reality of what befell my daughter. The last thing I need now is bearing an unnecessary guilt that I might be responsible for this."

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Chike drew her back against him. "We'll get through with it. We're family. Together and by the grace of God, we will help Sharon get through it." Chiwendu closed her eyes, unable to express the anguish inside her, unable even to define it. "We have to be strong so we can do what's best for her," Chike said. ''Let's pray for grace in this situation. Father, give us the strength to get through with this and help us to trust you all the way. We ask that you help Sharon to become stronger and better through this and that her faith in you will not fail. This we ask in the name of your son Jesus. But even as he said the prayer, he wondered why he still felt sick inside and filled with so much sorrow.

At first, Sharon had looked forward to visits from her church friends, but their voices were too confusing. A deacon from the church solemnly told her to reflect on what God was trying to teach her. "Surely there is something in your life which is displeasing to God," he said. "You must have stepped out of his will somewhere. These things don't just happen. What is God telling you?" A lady came, Joan Olasupo, a scatterbrained, plump widow who saw her calling as a professional cheerleader to the sick. She brought flowers, sang hymns, and quoted happy psalms about running brooks and mountains clapping their hands. Whenever Sharon's condition was mentioned, this lady quickly changed the subject. Her approach was to drive out the pain with her cheer and goodwill. But after she left, the flowers wilted, the hymns seemed dissonant and muted, and Sharon faced another day of pain. Another woman, Grace Kings, dropped by who had faithfully watched healing crusades over the years. She told Sharon that healing was the only escape. "Sickness is never God's will," she insisted. "The bible says as much. The devil is at work and God will wait until you can muster up enough faith to believe that you will be healed. Remember, faith can move mountains and that includes the HIV virus. Truly believe that you will be healed, and God will answer your prayers." The next few mornings, as Sharon lay in the sterile treatment hospital room, she tried to "muster up" faith. She had enough faith to believe that God was able to heal her, but didn't know how to convince him that her faith was genuine and strong. The whole notion of mustering up faith seemed awfully exhausting to her, and she could never decide how to go about it. The most spiritual lady in Sharon's church, Kate Adesuwa, came to read books about praising God for everything. "Sharon, you need to come to the place where you can say, "God, I love you for making me suffer like this. It is your will. You know the best for me. And I just praise you for loving me enough to allow me experience this. In all things, including this, I give thanks." As Sharon pondered the words, her mind became filled with ferocious, gruesome visions of God. She imagined a figure in the shape of a troll, big as the universe, who delighted in squeezing helpless humans between his fingernails, pulling them with his 48


fists, dashing them against sharp stones until they cried out, "God I love you for doing this to me!" The idea repulsed her. She could not worship or love such a God. Yet another visitor, her pastor, made her feel she was on a select mission. He told her, "You can participate in Christ's sufferings. You have been appointed to suffer for him, and he will reward you. God chose you because of your great strength and integrity, just as he chose Job. The faith of others may increase because of your response." Sometimes, in a self-pitying sort of way, the thought of being a privileged martyr appealed to Sharon. Other times, when the emotional and physical pain rose, Sharon would call out in the quietness of the night. "God why me? There are millions of Christians stronger and more honorable than I, couldn't you have chosen one of them?" To Sharon, Steve's explanation to her situation made the most sense. ''Steve, am I so bad that God would chose me to experience this." "A sick person is not unspiritual. The bible does not pretend that a Christian should expect life to be easier, more antiseptic, or safer. Becoming a Christian does not equip us with a germfree, hermetically sealed spacesuit to protect us from the dangers of the earth. But we are assured that when we go through such dark periods, we will not be alone; for he is there with us all the way. The surgery of life hurts. It helps me, though, to know that the surgeon himself, the wounded surgeon, has felt every stab of pain and every sorrow," Steve replied, eyes fixed on the blank television screen on the wall.

Chiwendu mustered up courage and visited the hospital where Sharon did the surgery and blood transfusion. She had aged considerably since the news of her daughter's HIV status. Her quarrel and conflict with her husband about his past infidelity and misdemeanor ended and died a natural death when Karen called and broke the terrible news. They held on to each other for comfort as they learned to accept the reality of the situation. How could those doctors wreck my daughter‘s life and go on living without being brought to justice? Lord, why did you allow Sharon go through this? That poor girl does not deserve this. Not only is she the most devoted to you, she put you first in all things. Why Lord? She thought, weeping inwardly as she walked her tired feet to the hospital. Everything appeared different. She could see a couple of young doctors and nurses in their white overall going back and forth the hall. She approached the receptionist who gave her a warm welcoming smile. "Hello Ma, what can we do for you?" She asked, her smile lighting up the dull hospital environment "I want to see Doctors Brown and Charles." "Dr. Brown, Dr. Charles?" The receptionist asked, confused. "I am sorry ma; none of our doctors bear such names. Are you certain you are in the right hospital?" "Don‘t patronize me young lady, do you think I am senile? Is this not St. Augustine Hospital? My daughter did surgery here about six years ago. Dr. Charles……." "I am sorry ma, did you say six years ago?" The receptionist interrupted midway. 49


"Yes, about that time." Mrs. Mathews replied. "Could you hold on a moment while I make some enquiries?" Chiwendu watched as the girl made a call and became engaged in conversation with someone at the other end of the line. She put down the phone and flashed a smile at a patient waiting for her attention, as she beckoned to him to hold on. "Mrs. Mathews please? The medical director wants to see you. He will be able to attend to your enquiries. Go straight down until you reach the end of this ward, then turn left. His office is the last room on the left row. He is waiting for you." Under normal circumstances, Chiwendu could have warmed at the girl who is full of such sweetness, but the burden on her mind made her immune to external influences. She walked slowly to the Director‘s office as described by the girl with the nightingale voice. As she went, she noticed modern infrastructures, which had replaced the old run down hospital she once knew. She stopped, seeing a placard on the last door titled "THE MEDICAL DIRECTOR". She knocked, heard a husky voice telling her to come in. She entered and came in contact with a middle aged man impeccably dressed in white overalls. "Mrs. Mathews?" He asked, rising to his feet and giving her a warm smile. "Please have your seat. I am Doctor Okereke. What can we do for you? I understand that you are making enquiries about Dr. Brown and Dr. Charles," he asked, a hint of a smile still lingered on his lips. "Yes, I am." "I am sorry to tell you that Dr. Brown passed away two years ago and Dr. Charles was one of many doctors who worked in this hospital briefly and left for greener pastures." Her face fell at the information. Oh, God, will Sharon suffer this misfortune for nothing? I thought I could at least bring the perpetrators to book. She thought. "Madam, you never said why you seek these doctors." Mrs. Mathews took a deep breath and looked into the doctor‘s deep blue eyes. "About six years ago, my daughter complained of appendicitis and I brought her here for consultation. Dr. Brown who was then the medical director examined and observed that she had an inflamed appendicitis, so he slated her for surgery. Dr. Brown could not meet up as scheduled because he had an accident a day before; Dr. Charles was called to perform the operation on my girl. He assured us that the surgery was minor, that he could handle it as he had done many in the past." She wiped the tears that had gathered in her eyes. "What happened next?" The doctor asked, anxious to hear the rest of the story. "Dr. Charles operated on her, but she developed complications after the surgery. A few days later, she began to bleed on the spot where the operation was performed. She was transfused with blood because she lost quite a lot. I guess the blood did not go through perfect screening process. A few years after, she was diagnosed with HIV." Tears already blinded her face as she ended the story. "That is quite a story,‖ he replied, took a deep breath. "But, how can you be so sure that your daughter became infected with the virus through the blood transfusion?" He asked, guiding his words. 50


"About nine months after the surgery, she began to complain of headaches, stomach upsets, diarrhea and the likes. But we never took it serious. We never imagined they were the early signs of the virus…." "I beg your pardon to say this, but she could have gotten the virus from other sources,‖ he interrupted. "Sources like?" She asked, her face strained from the pressure of trying to hold her composure. "From sex partners…" "Excuse me, you never knew my daughter," she interrupted, stood up, upset that he could make a derogatory statement about her Sharon. "I am sorry if I said anything wrong," he apologized. "Other ways of being infected with the virus include sharing needles and blades with infected persons. We usually advise women to use a new needle whenever they go to the salon to fix a new hairdo. Most women catch the virus from using infected needles," he explained. "My daughter majored in laboratory science while in college, so she has a good knowledge of health protection and hygiene." "Let us assume that she got the virus through the blood transfusion, which automatically made the hospital liable. What do you want to do?" He asked, looking at her pointedly. She stared long and hard on her hands placed gracefully on the mahogany table, oblivious to everything around her excerpt ……… "Mrs. Mathews? The doctor cut into her thoughts. She met his gaze him with expressionless eyes, gave a cold smile. "The most reasonable step is to charge this hospital to court for negligence. But, my daughter would hear none of that. You see, she believed, it was her fate,‖ she replied, as her eyes clouded with unshed tears. Lost of words, Dr. Joseph sighed. "Since you never intended to take this matter to court, so why did you come?" Mrs. Mathews shut her eyes, weeping silently for her daughter as a lion grieves for the loss of her whelps. After what seemed like forever, she opened her eyes, bright as the sunbeams. "I wanted to look into the eyes of either of the two doctors and challenge them about what they did to my daughter. I wanted to see if they will keep living normal lives knowing they messed up another person‘s. I wanted to see if they have enough conscience left in them to admit that they failed at their profession. Unfortunately, I have been denied that luxury," she cried in despair. Someone knocked on the door. Doctor Joseph‘s assistant peeped in to check if all was well, but he was waved off. Doctor Joseph stared at the middle-aged woman, her head bowed on his table. Compassion welled up in his heart for her and the daughter. He was at a loss for words to comfort the broken woman before him. "Madam, words are beyond me to express how sorry I am for the unfortunate incident that befell your daughter. My heart goes out to the whole family in sympathy. 51


Apologizing will not reverse the event that has taken place, but please accept my heartfelt apology on behalf of the hospital," he said graciously. "Thank you doctor," she rose to her feet. "I will personally write an apology letter on behalf of the hospital. Could you please drop your forwarding address?" She scribed her address on a sheet of paper and made her way out of the office without a backward glance. Oh Lord. So Sharon will go through this for nothing. She loved you. She sang her own made-up hymns of praise to you when she was five. I never had to remind her to say her prayers. She was eager to spend time with you, always thinking of others. Do you remember how she stood on the church podium and raised her hands to you? In front of hundreds of people, without the least fear or embarrassment. Why did you allow this to happen to her, Lord? Why have you allowed her life to be shredded? Now, the perpetrators won‘t even be brought to book. Doctor Joseph watched as the woman dragged herself out of the office, completely overwhelmed by sorrow. He bowed on his table and whispered a prayer for the unknown lady. Suddenly, a thought occurred to him. He reached out and pressed the office intercom, still pondering on the story he just heard. A few minutes after, a stout looking young lady in blue overall entered. "Are you from the records section?" He asked. "Could you please dig out any information on an old patient named Sharon Mathews? About six years ago, she was here for an operation, which went bad. I want to know about her history, drugs administered, complaints and any other information you can lay your hands on," he said, face grim like a mask. "Yes sir,‖ she replied and left his office. Dr. Okereke was engrossed in reading the medical journal when he heard a knock on the door. He was surprised to see the records officer walked in, in her hand was a thick brown file. He did not expect to see her back so soon. The hospital‘s record keeping must be sound as far back as six years ago. He thought. He read through Sharon‘s medical history, the surgery that changed the course of her life and the purported blood transfusion. After moments of studying the file, he could not find anything of note to validate the claim that the young woman became infected through an unscreened blood. He knew from experience that mistakes do happen during surgeries that lead to the death of patients or caused permanent damages which are irreversible. It is not a common occurrence, but it does happen. So it is actually very possible that Sharon became infected with the HIV virus through a transfusion of an unscreened blood in the hospital. The claim might be true and it might not, but since the victim has decided to lay the matter to rest, it will be baseless for him to wake the sleeping dog. He shrugged his shoulders, rearranged the file neatly, and pressed the intercom.

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CHAPTER SIX The first time Karen set her eyes on Joshua, she had the premonition that he was going to turn her life upside down, for good or bad. Preferring to play safe and not have her heart broken, she made sure their part never crossed, until it became obvious to everyone she was avoiding him. Her colleagues began to tease her about it until she turned blue with embarrassment. Sharon‘s crying and depression weighed heavily upon her so much that she hardly had time to muse about him. He is a senior partner at York human development consulting firm, hired to take selected staff members for a week in-house training at Philips Alder Consulting head office. The afternoon training session just ended. Karen walked to the vacant table in the dining room and sat down. She watched as her colleagues circled round Joshua, asking questions and some of them just admiring his attractive scholarly face. "Hello Karen, why are you not with others? Don‘t you have any question to ask the trainer?" Mrs. Agbim, the cook asked, an amused grin on her face. "No, I have certain issues on my mind and would prefer to be alone," she replied. "Here comes the man himself," Mrs. Agbim patted Karen on the shoulder, smiled and walked towards the next table. Karen‘s heart skipped as she looked up to see Joshua walking towards her. Her colleagues, who usually flock around him have dispersed. "Hello Karen." He pulled out a chair and helped himself. She mumbled something in return as a chilly wind suddenly gripped her from within. Karen looked towards the east window to see if the split unit air conditioner was switched on, but discovered to her dismay that the man seated before her caused the shivering cold raging in the pit of her belly as the air conditioning unit was off. "Are you all right? He searched her face for answers. "You appear a little absent minded," he said, concerned as he touched her arm. Panic gripped her as she almost jumped out of her seat. "Are you all right?" He asked again, looking into her eyes intently. "Yes, I am alright, thank you," she replied. "Great. But you had me worried." "I am sorry; I have a few things on my mind." "Anything I can help with?" Karen looked at him, stared into the most compelling eyes she had ever seen. His gaze held hers and for a moment, she was lost in the spectacular artwork of his face, until a beep on her phone broke the spell. "Not at all, thank you Mr. …," she replied, searching for the most formal way to address him.

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"My name is Joshua Ekeh. But please call me Joshua," he gave a warm smile, showing a perfect set of white teeth. He would be a perfect model for toothpaste commercial. Karen thought. "Alright." A female colleague, Helen walked to their table, laid her hands on Joshua's right shoulder, flicked Sharon a challenging glare. "Joshua, Can I see you briefly?" "You can as well see me now" His attention still on Karen. Helen glared at Karen coldly as she caressed the nape of his neck. Joshua jerked out of his seat, astonished at the raw sexual emotion emanating from her. "Go on, don't worry about me. I want to see Segun Cole across the hall,‖ embarrassed, Karen rose to leave. "Karen! Wait, I need to discuss something with you now. Helen, go on; I will see you much later," he dismissed her without fanfare, placed a restraining hand on Karen‘s left shoulder, making her to sit back. Karen‘s eyes met Helen‘s as the other girl flicked her a hostile look. Turning back to Joshua, she gaze her sweetest smile. "All right Josh, I will wait for you," Helen replied and walked away, swinging her hips seductively in her tight fitted skirt. Karen breathed a sigh of relief as she departed. "I am sorry about that?" He said. "Sorry? About Helen?" She laughed. "You do not have to be, she is just being herself. I will be surprised if she behaved otherwise." "Oh yea!" he exclaimed, smiled. "What is so important that you want to discuss with me and had to dismiss Helen in such a manner?" "I have a feeling that you are avoiding me?" "Avoiding you? Why would you say that?" She asked, feigned ignorance. "You hardly come around me; you seem to deliberately keep away from me." "I am sorry if you feel that way, like I said before; there are things on my mind which sometimes weigh me down emotionally." "That sounds serious. Is there a way I can be of help?" "Never mind, everything is under control. And no, there is nothing you can do about it," she smiled courteously. "If you say so then, but should you change your mind about that, do not hesitate to call me," He grinned and brought out his complimentary card. "I think you should be on your way now, Helen is pacing up and down waiting for you," Karen said, a ring of laughter in her tone. "I like the sound of your laughter. And Helen will have to wait until I am done." "Yes sir," amused, she smiled.

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"Great, I love to see you smile, it suits your face. Please smile more," his eyes lingered on her face. "Today is my last training day with your firm. Can I see you again?" He asked. Karen took a deep breath, wondering if to follow her heart and risk being heartbroken or walk away from this man and play safe as she had been doing in the past three years. She looked at him, knowing that her future in terms of love and relationship depends on her decision now. "Yes," she looked away as her cheeks became flushed with embarrassment. "Great. I will call you later in the day." he waved and walked towards the small cluster of her colleagues arguing about the difference ROI (return on investment) and ROCE (return on capital employed). She listened as he explained the technicalities of the investment terms they were having problems with, the bass quality of his voice making a sweet melody in her ears.

Sharon has been coming in and out of the chasm of depression which sometimes dissipates but never seems to leave her completely. Whenever she remembers that she has to open up to Edward sooner or later about her status, her heart would constrict painfully sweat pores would instantly activated. Within moments, she would be covered up in her own sweat. An excited squeal from the living room brought Sharon out of her personal world and a little while later, the door bursts open and an excited Karen entered. "Adaobi has a baby girl!" She shouted. "Oh! That's great news." They arrived at the hospital. Full of wonder, Sharon moved close to the baby cot to behold one of the most beautiful sights she had ever seen. The infant lay asleep in the baby cot, beautifully wrapped in pink wraps and clothing. Oh, she looks cute and innocent. She thought as her eyes beheld the wonder of creation. Adaobi stirred, opened her eyes as they walked in and cooed at the baby. Her eyes lit up in joy when she saw them. "Congratulations sister, she is beautiful," Karen stared at the infant as they hugged each other in joy. "How was the birth experience?" "For me, I feel blessed to go through the experience. It is the most beautiful thing in the world to carry a living being in the womb for nine months, feel it move, stretch and grow until the final expulsion. Honestly I can‘t explain it, you will have to experience it by yourself," Adaobi answered, her face beaming with smiles. "Was it painful?" Karen asked. "Pain is relative. The pain is bearable, but I have borne worst emotional pain than that of childbearing."

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Adaobi‘s face is flushed from the aftermath of delivery. Sharon could feel a lump in her throat as the baby stirred and opened her eyes. She drew closer to the cot and bent down to hold her tiny fingers. They felt so soft and tender. Oh God, will I ever carry a baby in my hands? Will my womb ever nurture a growing fetus? Will I ever nurse a baby on my breasts? Will I have the privilege of experiencing birth pangs and labor? These thoughts plagued her mind as she beheld the infant. She could feel tears running down her cheeks. She laid hands on her stomach and prayed. Oh, Lord, give me the grace to carry and nurse a baby even if this is the only prayer you will ever answer for the rest of my life. Sharon prayed intensely within her heart, as her sisters became engrossed in conversation. The room suddenly became silent as she turned to see her sisters staring at her, their eyes sparkling with unshed tears, as they understood the agony she appeared to be going through. "Oh, no, no. I am okay. I am just shedding tears of joy and telling God to do same for me," she feigned laughter, hoping they would not see the traces of tears. "Sweetheart, do not despair, God will make you laugh like he did for Sarah," Adaobi said, her eyes softened as she encouraged Sharon. "But how will it be? Who will marry a woman infected with HIV?" "You are not called to answer the how. Attempting to do that mean you want to become the omnipotent, which you are not," Karen added. "We just have to take a cue from Abraham who believed that God will be faithful to do as he promised, even though his body and that of his wife was as good as dead." Just then, Tennyson entered and the episode was forgotten as they celebrated the new addition to their family.

Sharon was hurt beyond words as Edward avoided her and refused to call. So she made up her mind to visit and tell him all about the unfortunate story of her life. She drove over to his house during the weekend and was shocked to see him looking distraught, unshaved and unkempt. He let her in, looking at her with suspicion. An awkward silence ensued as neither of them seemed to want to begin the conversation. "I am sorry for putting you through so much stress and ache in the past twelve months…………..," she paused. "I feel you …..have the right to know why I kept to myself and withdrew from you,…….I realized that I can no longer keep the truth away from you. At least, I owe you that in the light of what we share," she said, as she wringed her hands in nervousness. At her words, he raised up his head and looked at her strangely. She narrated the story of her life and was already in tears by the time she was through. The silence in the room was overwhelming. Her heart broke when she looked up and found Edward weeping quietly in deep anguish. Forgetting her own pain, she rose to comfort the broken man before her. They were in each other‘s arms receiving comfort and being comforted. 56


"We should sue those bastards for their gross negligence, what a fatal mistake to commit against an innocent young girl." "What will that achieve, the deed has been done and it will not remove HIV from my blood," she replied, pulled back strands of straying hair from her face. "We will fight this together; it will not pull us apart," Mathew kept muttering to himself as they held on to each other. It sounded as if he was saying the words to encourage himself or so it seemed. "Have you taken a confirmatory test?" "Yes, several," she replied solemnly. "Same result?" "Yes." "We could try again, probably........" "No, I am not going for another test. I can‘t go through with that trauma of waiting; hoping it was all a mistake and then being told all over again that I am positive." "But what if by a stroke of luck…….." "No Edward, I am not going for another test. I have accepted my fate and the Lord is helping me through with it; I encourage myself daily that there is a purpose for this and wait to fall into whatever plan the Lord has for me." Her eyes became drawn to the picture frame hanging on the wall and she moved closer to get a better view of it. A hint of a smile played on her lips as she remembered how the picture was taken during their vacation in the Caribbean. Edward had pleaded with a male tourist walking leisurely by on the beach to take the shot as they hugged each other with fierce abandon. "Ed, I have been thinking how this rude interruption in my life will affect our relationship and have ….. concluded that…… we go……. our……… separate ways." Edward stared at her in shock, momentarily lost for words. "Are you out of your mind? What do you take me for? What about the love we shared? So you expect me to walk away because something bad happened. No Sharon, I am a man of my words and this is the time to prove the genuineness of my love for you." She couldn‘t believe her ears. Does he know what he was talking about? She tried to interrupt him, but he bade her to allow him finish. "We will stand on the promise of God to heal you. We will fight this together and I am sure the Lord will lay his healing hands on you. Where is your faith? I am surprised that you gave in so quickly. You know that healing is available to us as Christians, one of the benefits of redemption.‘‘ She could hear the voice of faith in him as his face became animated with hope. As he spoke, her heart began to stir with faith, but as the reality of her status hits her, she became cold all over again. "Ed, thanks for the message of faith, but I have gone that road before and don‘t want to drag you on a journey you are not meant to go. I know God heals, I am a living witness to that. I also know that he may choose not to heal for his own purpose." "If he heals and restores my health, great and if he does not, I am equally all right with that. My life is driven by purpose and not by what happens to me. Yes, I wept and 57


mourned about the change in my life, but I am looking forward to what I hope to gain from this unfortunate experience." "Please, don‘t go psychological on me; your proposition is in no way acceptable to me," he broke into sweat, shaking his head in denial. Sharon looked at him with pride, smiled ruefully. A tear fell from her eyes at the thought of letting him go, but this is what she had decided to do, for his own good. Edward caught hold of her. "Sharon!" He called, pulled her against him and locked his arms around her. "Sharon! He said again and wept. Was he crying for himself or me? She guessed it didn‘t matter who he was crying for. Turning in his arms, she put her arms around him. She understood his grief, but she knew far better than she ever wanted to, that some grief was too deep for tears to wash away. "Yes, I know God can heal me if he chooses to, but have you considered if he decides not to?" Sharon asked, raised her brows. They looked at each other and he sighed in resignation. Nothing was said again, but both of them knew that from that moment on, their relationship would never be the same again.

Sharon smiled as Amarachi, Adaobi‘s eighteen months old daughter kept trying to walk on her wobbly chubby feet. She keeps falling as she walks, rise and repeat the whole process again. She would yell in protest each time her mother lifted her off the ground, afraid that she could get injured from the exercise. Karen watched, thoughtful as sipped her maltina drink, impressed at the toddler‘s tenacity to walk on her feet, in spite of the number of times she had fallen. "I understand that you have told Edward everything," Adaobi said, as she held a firm hold on her restless daughter. "Yes, it is for the best," Sharon replied. "I am sorry," Adaobi patted her on the shoulder. "Thank you sister, I am glad to have moved past that." Amarachi watched with keen interest as Sharon emptied the remaining content of the fruit juice into her glass cup. Her eyes followed as her aunty took a sip and placed the half empty cup on the table. "Please excuse me, I need to check that the soup is not burning, "Adaobi dashed into the kitchen. Their attention diverted by the images splashing on the television screen. The camera moved from pictures of tanks and soldiers to a small plane crash that killed a father and his two little children. The aunties engrossed on the news about the activities of the ISIS did not notice when little Amarachi crawled to the table where Sharon placed her half empty glass of juice. Her attention fully on the glass of juice, the little girl held tenaciously to the table and rose to her feet, holding the cup in full grasp. She leaned against the chair and brought the cup close to her mouth.

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"No! Amarachi put the cup down; don‘t put it in your mouth!" Terrified, Adaobi screamed from across the doorway. The glass cup fell and broke into pieces. A chilling silence ensued as the sisters locked gaze. Horrified at the loss of her prized drink, Amarachi, broke the tense silence and began to cry. Adaobi rushed forward and took her off the ground. "Sorry darling, come with me into the kitchen and I will make you another cup of juice." Shocked, Sharon and Karen watched the scene being played before them. Karen turned to see Sharon shivering; her eyes glistened with unshed tears. "I am sorry Sharon," Adaobi said as she carried the little girl out of the living room, soothing the howling child as the door closed behind them. Sharon has been quiet and had withdrawn into her room since they returned from Adaobi‘s house. She couldn‘t shake off the scene that stuck to into her mind and refused to fade. No, I will weep no more. My cup is already filled with tears, I refuse to shed another tear over this matter. The door opened as Karen entered. "Hi Karen, you are still awake?" Sharon asked. "I couldn‘t sleep." "I hope you are not still awake because of the drama at Adaobi‘s house this afternoon?" She asked her eyes on Karen. "I……I………..she ………" "Don‘t fret further about that because I already put it behind me. She was only trying to protect her child. I can‘t crucify her for that." Lost of words, Karen stared at her. She closed her eyes and sighed. "I am sorry Sharon, so sorry about this afternoon," she said her arms around Sharon.

Sharon looked forward to the coming weekend because Edward had called to invite her out for a date. She earnestly wanted to be with him again as it used to be when the going was good. They went to the cinema and watched one of the newly released Tyler Perry films. She could not focus on the film because her mind was plagued with questions and fears that an end was fast coming to their relationship. Relief swept over her when the film finally ended and everyone filed out of the cinema. The galleria was crowded, choky and she longed for a breath of fresh air. "Can we go for a walk?" She hurried out of the building into the open air. "I can see you didn‘t like the film," Edward said. "In all sincerity, the film was not the problem, I just couldn‘t concentrate." "Why couldn‘t you concentrate? I brought you here to unwind and have some fun." "I am sorry, but I have a lot of issues on my mind." "I understand what you mean sweetheart, but you have to put the unhappy episode behind you and learn to enjoy the little pleasures of being alive."

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They walked in the cool of the day, towards the bar beach road, taking in the freshness of the sea breeze and the sounds of nature. This is life. It feels good to be alive, taking a walk with the prince of my heart, she thought. They stopped at a suya spot and made orders. Edward looked at Sharon and was pleased to see a beautiful glow on her cheeks as her eyes came alive with excitement. His heart ached at the thought that they would never be together in the way nature intended. He stared at her as she received a call from Ogechi . She squirmed under the scrutiny of his gaze. He smiled and continued to stare at her wondering why life could be so unfair. Will I ever find an extraordinary woman like Sharon again? He stood up and walked towards the beach, hoping to run away from his thoughts. A tear fell from his eyes as he turned away. She is presently a picture of perfect health, but he wondered how she will change as time passed. He turned to look at her again, as if to etch her image in his mind forever. He watched her wrapped her arms around her torso as the wind came up, her ankle- length flowered skirt fluttering around her slender legs. Sharon finished with her call and walked up to him, holding his gaze as she stood before him. "What was all that about?" She asked, arms akimbo. You were staring at me, then suddenly turned away." "I was admiring you." "Ed?" "You look lovely" "Ed?" "All right you got me. I miss you darling, I am heartbroken that this episode…………… has altered our lives forever," he replied solemnly, as his voice broke midway. Tears welled up in her eyes as she listened to him. She never knew he was hurting as much as she was. "Ed darling, I believe light will shine in the dark tunnel of our lives. Let us enjoy our time together and not allow the sad event of my life steal this special moment from us." "I think we should begin our walk back, it is getting a little dark around here." Edward held her hands as they began the walk back to the galleria. Edward drove in silence as they made their way home. The air between them was pregnant with unspoken words within the deep recesses of their minds. They arrived at Sharon‘s apartment and he courteously walked her to the door. "Thank you for a beautiful evening Sharon, I will never forget this day for the rest of my life." His words sounded like a farewell speech or was she imagining things? Suddenly, he made a strange cry and drew her into his arms with all his pent up emotion. After a long moment, he released her, planted a kiss on her forehead and turned back to enter his Mercedes Benz SUV. Sharon wanted to run after him. She took the first and second steps, then stopped, decided against it and allowed him to go. Tears gushed out, blocking her vision as she staggered into the house.

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Karen couldn‘t imagine how a day would be like without seeing Joshua or hearing his voice. Her heart swelled with love as he walked towards their table with the bags and packages of the purchases from the mall. They walked quietly to the vehicle as he made towards Karen's apartment. ''I was impressed with your delivery during the training you had with my firm two weeks ago.'' Karen flicked him a smile. ''Thanks. that took years of self-development, hours of professional training within and outside the country, much research and study." ''My father wanted me to follow in his footsteps," Joshua explained. "He runs a law firm somewhere here in Lagos, but I never find it interesting or challenging to go bailing out criminals from police detentions,'' he laughed. ''I had always loved to teach, but in a corporate institution." The years of toil and sweat is beginning to pay off." ''You deserve it. You work so hard. I think you need to take some time off work to prevent a burn out." ''Hmmn. I will take a vacation when the time is right." ''When will the time ever be right?" ''When it will be convenient and right for us to be on the vacation together," he replied, held her hands, gazing into her eyes with love and affection. Karen felt her heart beat faster in excitement and melted under the intensity of his gaze as he continued to play with her hands. ''Tell me about your sister, Sharon. There is something about her which I can't put my hands on. She seemed withdrawn and into herself."

Karen sighed. She doesn't want to talk about her sister with Joshua or anyone else. Sharon's issue is too personal to discuss with him. Not yet. ''I'd rather we don't talk about my sister now, please if you don't mind." ''That is okay. As you like it." ''Tales from Shakespeare," she laughed. ''Oh yea, as you like it was a title of one of the stories in Tales from Shakespeare." ''Tell me about your family?" Karen asked. ''I come from a family of boring intellectuals. Not much to say about two lawyers, a doctor and a lecturer." Karen laughed. '' Really? I find that difficult to believe. I would love to hear the tales of how the two lawyers bail criminals from police detentions. '' ''What about you? He asked. "Do you have other sisters and brothers? What about your parents? Do they live in Lagos?" Karen stared at him and he broke out in laughter. ''I am sorry, '' he said, holding up his hand, 'I didn't mean to overwhelm you with my nosiness and hit you with a short gun of questions." 61


''That is alright,'' she smiled. ''My parents live in Nkalagun in Enugu state. I have two brothers, a half-brother and five sisters scattered in Lagos, London, and California, USA." ''Wow! That is a huge family. What was growing up like?" ''Oh! Growing up was exciting. There was never a dull moment at home, our moments were engaging and full of activities." ''You sounded as if being an adult is not exciting." ''As if you don't know. The older you get, the more responsibilities, cares and worries you are saddled with. Children are spared all of life's concerns and worries; so they are able to get more fun out of life." ''I think that depends more on how one perceives life. We can't solve all of life‘s problems in a moment, so we just have to make a decision to be happy irrespective of the situation we find ourselves in." Karen gazed at him, with the midday sun beaming down, its rays slipping between two puffy, lazy clouds over them, it looked like they were both in the spotlights. Joshua stared at Karen, as her face was radiant even without the glow of the sunshine. She is intelligent, beautiful and vibrant, everything he hoped for in a woman. ''Have you ever been heartbroken by a woman?" Karen asked. ''A few years ago, I thought I was in love, and that someone was also in love with me, but she fell in love with someone else. One of my buddies stepped in and took over," he made a funny face and laughed. ''I am glad you are able to laugh about it." ''It happened a while ago and I concluded within me that they deserved each other.'' ''Are they still together now?" ''That I don't know. Being too busy building my firm to catch up with news about them.'' "I guess we should be heading back now. I am not comfortable with Sharon all alone at home," he said, stood up, drawing her to her feet. "Are you staying for dinner?" she asked as he drew up by the security entrance to her home. ''Are you inviting me in?" ''Stay if you want to," she said, resisting any show of her feelings. Being wounded so many times in past relationships made her hesitant. ''That's not much of an invitation. My ego is bruised, but I look forward to have a taste of your cooking.'' As she walked in, he followed closely. He couldn't see the smile on her face, but it was there, sitting firmly on her lips like the memory of a beautiful kiss.

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CHAPTER SEVEN Sharon could no longer bear the quietness of the empty house. Karen who was usually home on Saturday mornings had to attend an emergency meeting in the office. She suddenly felt like taking in the fresh smell of the beach. Unable to sleep as the afternoon sun shone, she got up and showered again. ''I am gradually becoming accustomed to a life of solitude and loneliness. Lord, will I live the rest of my life alone?'' Her mind became engaged in a discussion with an invisible being as she put on a pair of brown slacks and went out of the house. Loneliness was like the rust eating away inside you, weakening your resolve. I just want to pull the blanket up and cover myself off from the day and what it might bring. Then she remembered how her maternal grandmother hated people who languished in self-pity and how angry she once got when they all dared to pity her. She also recalled Karen whining about her jobless state then and how mother hated it. "Self-pity is just a fancy way of avoiding responsibility," her grandmother used to say. "Replace it with good old-fashioned raw anger and defiance which will get you further in life." ''I hear you grandmother," she muttered under her breadth. Some people are influential, their voices echo in your head years after they are gone. Grandmother was certainly one of them. ''How Long, Lord? How long will you forsake me? I'm alone and afraid. I don't know what to do. How is it I felt your presence all my life and now you are nowhere to be found? Was my relationship with you an illusion? Were the stories of you merely fairy tales told to me by my parents? Where is the promise of your comfort?'' She parked on Ajose Adeogun, Victoria Island by Mama Cass restaurant and purchased a piece of freshly baked chicken pie and a serving of vanilla Ice cream. Moments later, she drove towards Adeola Odeku , came down and wondered along the main road. She paused to admire the huge statute of a bull mounted at the Glo headquarters, walked the meandering path through the grasses and watched as people passed by. About one hour later, she walked back to the vehicle and drove towards the beach. ''Father, open my eyes, that I may behold the wonderful things you have done for me. Anchor me in your love. My faith is weak, as I am weak. You alone are my strength and shield. You alone are the Lord. '' She parked, carried her picnic bag and walked towards the canopies placed for visitors. Her heart leapt in joy at the sound of the waves as they crashed against the rocks. She covered herself with a black shawl and stared, awed by the power of the sea. Suddenly, she felt eyes on her. Instinctively, she turned and was surprised to see Joshua standing a few feet from her, in an awkward pose. ''Joshua?"

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''Sharon?'' I was wondering if you are the one or if my eyes are deceiving me? Why are you out here all alone?'' ''I should ask you the same question." ''Do you usually answer a question with a question?" He smiled, stretched forth his right hand towards her. ''I usually come to the beach when I want to think a matter through and need a burst of fresh air," she smiled back, glad to have company. ''Aren't you seeing Karen today?" She asked, throwing pebbles into the white sand. ''She already informed me that she will finish late in the office as next week is their Company year-end." ''Can you walk with me to the edge of the sea?" Sharon asked. They walked in silence along the cliff trail and down the beach. The sun was burning in full intensity as the wind whispered over the white sand. ''You look tired." Joshua said. ''I haven't been sleeping well." "Why?" ''Sleep sometimes elude me when my heart mourns about the circumstances of my life.'' He looked and searched into her eyes for a clue of what was going on in her mind, but found nothing. She stared back at him grimly, face expressionless. ''What circumstance of your life do you mourn over?" Sharon stared at him in surprise. "Don't you know?" ''Know what?" ''Karen didn't tell you I am HIV positive?" Sharon asked as she gulped a bottle of canned drink. She looked, half expecting him to bolt away in fear of being infected. He stared at her for a while, obviously shocked at her words. Finally, after what seemed like eternity, he found his voice. ''Karen never told me anything about your status. Not that I didn't ask, but she never gave you away." ''Oh, that is very good of her, keeping her sister's little secret." He could not help but hear the jibe in her voice. ''How did it happen?" ''A blood transfusion that went bad during an operation I had while in college." ''How long have you discovered?" ''It is almost two years now.'' He took a deep breath, took her hands and kneaded them in comfort. ''I am sorry Sharon. I don't know what to say." ''Thanks Joshua, you don't have to say anything. I have taken it in my stride.'' ''Life hurts. You can't get away from it." ''Yeah." She brushed her knuckles lightly against her cheek. "It does. Some of us get hurt more than others."

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''Sharon, do you know that pain is not all that bad. There is a strength that comes from sadness. When we have no experience of pain, it is rather hard to experience real heartfelt joy." She rose and walked down to the water, standing close enough that the waves lapped her feet and dampened the edge of her slack jeans. Joshua removed his boots and joined her. Standing by her side, he said nothing. ''You know the worst part? Being stuck in this diseased body, watch others go on with their lives and being forgotten even by those who I thought loved me," my sisters, my parents. They never meant to betray me, but they did." She looked up at him, tears slipping down her cheeks. "At times, I feel like getting out of this body and ending it all. Can you understand that? Her eyes glistened. "It's been so long since I felt close to the Lord. I couldn't hear him anymore, or feel close to him. I even began to doubt if he ever existed. I felt forsaken." "And now?" She laughed. "I feel liberated. I realized that the real healing is not purely physical, but emotional. When I am not overwhelmed by my circumstances, I usually experience an immense peace and calmness as if I have no worries. I believe, that is the peace he talked about when he promised to give us the peace that the world will not be able to comprehend." ''Sharon, no matter how you may sometimes feel bad, don't ever allow your feeling to overwhelm you, because that it all it is, just a feeling. There are a lot of questions that cannot be answered now. We just have to trust him and believe that we will understand one day." Sharon smiled, her voice rang out in laughter. ''No wonder the Lord told me to come to the beach, he must have known I will see you here. Thanks for your company and encouraging words. I have not felt so alive in a long time, thank you Lord," Sharon said, rose to her feet, her eyes sparkling with sudden excitement. ''You need to take one day at a time." "I know it won't be easy. Day in and out, it is going to be a battle to keep the faith and wait to see what the Lord has planned. But what other alternative is there but death? I choose life. I choose to believe God's word." Joshua nodded. ''I admire your strength." Since you enjoy being at the beach, I will invite you along whenever I want to come again. Would you like that?" ''Please do. Thanks." ''I should be on my way before traffic begins to build on the third mainland bridge," she said and began to pack the picnic items. ''Allow me walk you to the car." Taking his jacket, he flipped it over his shoulder and fell in step beside her.

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Karen laid her throbbing head on the steering wheel as she parked in the garage and turned off the engine. Her body grumbled in pain after hours of driving in the hold up. Moments later, she managed to put her legs down and walked slowly to the house. End of company trading year is a period she doesn't look forward to as no one goes home until the account records have been balanced. A few of her colleagues and the audit team were still in the office pouring over documents, files and reports when she took her leave. She entered the living room, removed her low heeled brown Italian shoes and quietly slipped into her room. She hoped the creeping sound of the door will not wake Sharon up. Oh Sharon! Guilt cut into her heart, knowing she had not been spending enough time with her for a while. I have been so caught up with the demands of my job and budding relationship with Joshua that I forgot about Sharon. Her guilt increased and a lump had formed in her throat when Joshua called and told her he saw Sharon at the beach all alone. Just then the door opened and Sharon walked in, clad in a cream pyjamas, hands in the pockets. ''Hi Karen." ''Sharon. You're still awake?" ''How on earth can I sleep off knowing my sister is still out there on the street?" ''I am sorry for keeping you awake," Karen said, guilt all over her. ''That's okay. Not your fault. I know that year ends are tedious periods in a company's accounting year," Sharon replied. ''Thanks for understanding." '' I saw Joshua at the beach today." '' He told me." ''The house began to close in on me, so I decided to go to the beach. I am glad I did. I met a most amazing guy who kept me company and made my day," Sharon laughed. ''Lucky you. No wonder you look positively radiant. I am glad you had a good time." ''All the thanks go to Joshua. He is such a remarkable man, with a good listening ear. You are blessed to have him, Karen." "Thanks. Talking about Joshua, what exactly did you discuss with him?" Karen asked, as her eyebrows arched. Sharon became a little uncomfortable under Karen's scrutiny. ''Why do you ask? Did he say you I told him something I am not supposed to say?" ''No. He said I should try to make out time to be with you more." ''Such a good man. I guess he must have felt sorry for me. Well, I told him about my status." ''You what? Sharon!!" Karen shouted her eyes wide in alarm. ''What? Did I do anything wrong?" ''Why should you go about ranting about your status to every Tom, Dick and Harry? Is that what you want? Pity? People feeling sorry for you? Haven't you felt sorry for yourself enough?" Karen screamed at her in anger.

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''I beg your pardon. So Joshua is now Tom, Dick or Harry? I thought you guys were heading for matrimony. And how many people have I ranted to about my status?" Sharon asked, her voice trembled, clearly upset with her sister. ''I didn't tell him about your status ……I…" "I don't need you to keep my little secret away from the world. I guess your problem is that you are embarrassed to have anyone know that your carry the virus," Sharon snapped, her face hot with anger. Karen looked away from Sharon, her head bowed in remorse. ''Talk to me sister. You are ashamed of my status, isn‘t it? You are scared that if Joshua gets to know that your sister whom you live with is HIV positive, he may likely change his mind about marrying you. Isn't it?" ''No, you are wrong…….." ''I am right. In fact, I have never being more right in my life as I am now. At the end, it is all about you, you, you. It is about how you feel," she gave a brittle laugh, her eyes cold as steel. "Now that your life is at the plateau of joy and achievements are you still jealous of me? Do you still envy me? Or would you wish to swap your life with mine? I guess not," she retorted, walked towards the door. Karen starred at Sharon in shock, surprised at the words coming out of her mouth. "No Sharon….... you are wrong." As Sharon made her way out of Karen's room, a thought suddenly occurred to her. She stopped and turned back to face her sister. ''It occurred to me now that you are reacting in this manner because you are upset that Joshua spent time with me today at the beach. If it makes you feel better, we did not set out to be together at the beach, we met by chance and that was all." ''Why do feel you have to explain to me how you met Joshua at the beach?" Karen asked, her face flushed with color. ''I know you Karen. We both know that you have a jealous streak in you. I won't be surprised if these reactions were triggered because I spent time with your boyfriend at the beach, '' she arched her brow, ''or should I address him as your fiancé?" ''Don‘t be cynical. Why would I be jealous because Joshua spent time with you at the beach?" ''Well, you should ask yourself. Put your mind at rest, I am sure no man with a clean bill of health would want to have anything to do with an HIV positive woman," she said and walked out of the room. Karen collapsed on the bed, weary and spent as tears streamed down her face. Could Sharon be right? Am I really jealous because she spent time with Joshua? "I have been thinking about Sharon‘s matter and it baffles me that such an unfortunate incident would befall someone as pious as her." said Ngozi as she flipped through the fashion magazine spread over her lap. It was a cloudless Saturday afternoon and the heat was particularly intense but the two sisters were comforted by the quiet drone of

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the split unit air conditioner. They sat in companionable silence in the sunlit coziness of the living room in Adichie‘s home in San Francisco, California. "Sharon has been faithfully serving God since her youth. She never lived the kind of life some of us lived when we were young. It is not fair for God to allow her go through this, if that is how he rewards his children, then I am not interested in serving a God who cannot protect his own," Ngozi continued as she sipped her second glass of wine. "Why are such blasphemies coming out of your mouth?" Adichie asked. "Even pagans would not talk in that manner,‖ horrified, she stared at her sister. "I didn‘t mean it to sound that way, but I still find it difficult to understand why a saint like Sharon should suffer such a fate." "Maybe because she is special before God." Adichie replied. "Special?" She laughed. "Does he afflict his special people with incurable diseases?" Ngozi asked, raised her brow, "In that case, I don't want to be special to him." "Didn‘t he use Jesus, his only begotten son as a sacrificial lamb to wash away the sins of the world?" "I will never understand how God works. His ways are past finding out." "That is why He is God." "My heart goes out to her, to think that she might not know the pleasure of being married, carry and nurse a baby? Sharon deserves better than that. Why didn't God chose a sinner like me or Unoma. We all know the kind of life she lived before marrying the doctor who managed to salvage her reputation. Why should it be Sharon?" "That is all right Ngozi, God is in charge and He knows what to do to bring something beautiful out of her life. We just have to wait and see. Those who are broken become masters at mending others. Maybe the Lord needs to use her in the area of comforting those who are bound by depression." Adichie said. "Please don't use that cliché on me. Does he have to go through that route? There are a thousand and one ways that he can use someone to mend others without afflicting with an incurable disease." "Do you question God?" Adichie asked "He does whatsoever that pleases Him and nobody can stop him because he is sovereign." "That sounds scary." "You don't have to be scared of God." Adichie smiled, amused at the fearful expression on Ngozi's face. "It looks as if Karen and Joshua are getting really serious about their relationship. If they end up at the altar, then Sharon will be all alone. I don‘t like that." ''Don‘t worry your head about that, we will cross that bridge when we get there and the Lord knows how to care for his own. Karen will still get married sooner or later, either Joshua or not." "Must we leave every detail of our lives to an invisible being who may not even notice if we exist or not?" Ngozi asked. "He knows your name, your address, your tomorrow, your weaknesses and strength. I am certain that he has his own unique plan for Sharon, which is beyond our understanding," Adichie replied. 68


Ngozi helped herself with an extra glass of wine. "I never knew you were so religious, where is all that coming from." "I met the Lord while in college, but the cares of this world and struggles of trying to survive and make ends meet have choked that light out of me." "You met him after you have sowed your wild oats. Sounds reasonable enough and maybe I could help ignite that light with this cigarette lightner.'' Ngozi laughed, jibbed at her. "You never take anything serious, do you?" "Well, sister; I have to be on my way. We are expecting guests from Peter‘s office this evening. I will see you later in the week," Ngozi said, stood up and headed for the door.

Sharon hesitated by Karen's door, uncertain whether to proceed inside or not. Ever since their encounter about the beach episode, they have been relating like friendly strangers. She felt remorseful of her accusations against Karen who had stood by and taken care of her since the HIV ordeal started more than two years ago. She knocked on the door, tensed as she waited to be invited in. ''Come on in." "Hi Sharon, how was your day?" Sharon sat on the edge of the bed, awkward as she watched Karen carry out her nightly facial cleansing routine. None of them said anything until the silence in the room became uncomfortable. Sharon walked towards Karen and laid her hands on her shoulders. ''I want to apologize for the manner I spoke to you the other day. I am very sorry. You have been so amazing since this ordeal started in my life. Please accept my apology." Karen stopped the cleansing, looked up at her Sharon and smiled. "That is alright darling. I didn't tell Joshua about your status because I didn't want him to see you in that light. More so, it is a family secret and he is not yet a member of the family.'' ''But in time he will." Sharon laughed out loud. "I honestly feel he is a great guy. Do you know I felt no qualms when I told him? It felt so natural doing so." "He is great listener. If you are not careful, you would tell him all the secret details of your life without meaning to." ''You are right. He has that uncanny ability to make you talk and open up to him, even when you have earlier made up your mind not to say anything," Sharon laughed. ''Sharon, can I ask a question?" ''I am all ears." ''Do you think I have been neglecting being with you? I mean, have I been inconsiderate by leaving you all alone at home?" ''Why did you ask?" ''Something Joshua said made me think that." ''Something Joshua said? What he say?"

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''Nothing out of place," Karen turned to arrange her hair on the nape of her neck with black pins. "He told me to stay with you more. He thinks you are lonely." ''I am alone, but not lonely," Sharon replied. ''You have not answered my question." ''Well," Sharon started, "I admit that I do feel lonely a few times, but I have also learnt to be thankful. In answer to your question, no, you have not neglected me. I don't expect you to give up your life for me; afterwards I am not an invalid." ''Oh Sharon! Thanks for that beautiful answer. I have tortured myself with the thought that I have neglected you all the while." ''Neglected me? Am I a baby? Do you have to wear diapers for me and carry me all over with you? Please do away with such thoughts. You need to devote your time to that great guy, so some good looking gal will not creep behind and take him over." ''Thanks Sharon, I will do that." "He offered to accompany me to the beach a few times, do you mind?" ''Why should I mind?" He likes you. He said he loved to listen to you." ''I guess I have become an old sage who is full of wisdom," Sharon laughed and made for the door. '' An old sage? All I see before me is a beautiful young woman?" ''Oh! Thanks for the compliment." ''I have not seen Edward in a while, does he still come around?" Karen asked. Sharon's face fell for a moment as she lingered at the door. ''I guess he is trying to get accustomed to the fact that it is over between us. I feel so sorry for him and regret deeply that I have to give up a great guy like him." ''Have you seen him recently?" ''I see him in the office every day," Karen walked back inside the room and leaned on the wall." As much as I try to avoid seeing him, I always manage to run into him at odd times." ''How is he? How is he coping?" ''I must confess that he is not taking it well. Whenever he sees me, he tenses and becomes transfixed in a spot as if he saw a ghost. I am worried about him." ''Please, don't allow that to get you down. Edward is a grown man, I am sure he will get over it in time." ''I hope so too. I don't want him to be miserable my account."

Karen wondered what Joshua had up his sleeve when he called early on Saturday morning that he had a gift for her. She smiled and wondered what the gift could be. Whatever gift from him will be loved and appreciated, but the best gift he could ever give is himself. She could imagine how life would have been dreary without him around. He has been so good with Sharon who now smiles more than she used to as he dutifully kept his promise to accompany her to the beach few times in a month.

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She heard him talking with Sharon in the living room. Typical of Joshua not to announce that he was around. Confident that she had never looked so good, she made her way to the living room. He rose up as she entered and her heart swelled with pride. He stood tall, clad in his stripped shirt and blue jeans as was his custom. He smiled and opened his arms wide which she joyfully ran into. Sharon coughed, smiled. "You guys should not forget that there is a third party here." ''You are not a third party darling, but a part of me." Karen reached for Sharon‘s hands. ''Don't let me keep you lovebirds. Enjoy yourselves,'' Sharon said and walked out of the living room. "Can we go now?" Joshua asked. "Sure. But you have not told me where." "You will know soon enough." There is something different about him today. Ever since he came to pick her at home, she could feel excitement bubbling up in him. As they drew closer to his house, Karen‘s heart began to beat in excitement and fear, wondering what lay ahead of the day. "Could you wait for a moment while I pick something from the study?" He asked, leaping and walking out of the living room. Karen waited, her heart pounding with excitement; all manner of thoughts ravaging her mind. She stood up, pacing back and forth in anticipation. He came in and Karen‘s heart almost jumped out of her mouth. "Are you all right?" "I am all right." She replied, breathless. He took a deep breath and looked into her eyes. "The moment I laid my eyes on you, there was something about you that lingered long in my mind even when I am alone. Your eyes haunted me everywhere, I see you in my sleep and your face flashes before me when I awake in the morning. I need you to share this life with me. The past eighteen months of being with you has been the best times of my adult life and I want us to make this permanent, if you don‘t mind." She gasped, obviously didn't see this coming. "Karen will you marry me?" She gaped, surprised, and then realizing that he is waiting for her response, threw her arms around his neck. She held on tightly for a while, sobbing and shedding tears of joy. Karen lifted her head off his shoulder, wiped the tears from her face and looked at him. Stars shining through her eyes. "Yes, darling, I will marry you." She cried as they came together in a warm embrace, their arms fiercely locked around each other in complete surrender to the feelings that overwhelmed them. Her mind went back in retrospect to the conversation with Adaobi a few years ago during her job hunting period about everyone‗s time being different. How right you are sister. She thought as tears filled her eyes. "Why the tears?" he whispered, wiping them away with his finger. "Is it the pain or too much tenderness?" 71


"That‘s a lovely way to put it," she smiled up at him. "It is not original," he smiled sheepishly. "I got the line out of a book." "Really, tell me about it." "It's quite long and I can't remember it all." "Go on," she said softly. "I want to hear it." "Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself. But if you love and must have desires, let these be your desires. To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To know the pain of too much tenderness," he wiped away the last of her tears. "To be wounded by your own understanding of love, and bleed willingly and joyfully. To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving." "To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy. To return home at eventide with gratitude and sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise on you lips." "Wow, that's beautiful," she clapped, gave him a thumbs up. "The whole chapter is even better, I used to read it and think about us. No one could ever touch that special place I kept for you." "I am amazed. No one would have thought that you love poetry. You look too practical and stuffy for that." "Well, that's another part of me revealed to you." "There is so much about you I have to catch up on." "We have got the rest of our lives for that." "I love you, she said, another tear dripping down her cheek. "Nothing in my life has ever felt so right." Karen kept the news of her engagement from Sharon, considering the fact that she and Edward broke up not too long ago, but after much thought, she decided to let the cat out of the bag. Sharon hugged her and tried as much as she could to rejoice with her. It is Karen‘s turn to be happy and nothing is going to cast a shadow on that. "I knew since the first day he came looking for you that he was special." "Really?" "Yes, Karen, You deserve all the joy and happiness as you have been so supportive and encouraging to me especially since this crisis began. I will miss you when you get married and leave the house," teary, Sharon reached forward and embraced Karen. "I feel bad that I have to leave you all alone in this house," Said Karen, feeling guilty all of a sudden. "Don‘t feel bad. Life must go on no matter what happens. Live your life and be happy. I believe the Lord will soon unveil what he has for me." "Yes, he definitely would like he did for me." "So when is the wedding going to be?" "We are looking at the next two months,‖ Karen replied excitedly. "You are blessed. Joshua is such a fine man. He will make a great husband," Sharon gushed. 72


"Thank you Sharon." Sharon stared at Karen and could not help but notice the glow that had lighted up her face since the past few months. Karen, who everyone had thought would end up as the old maid in the family, on account of her long history of failed relationships has found love. Tears welled up in her eyes at the thought of living all alone without her sister‘s support and friendship. If only the event of the past two years did not happen which altered the course of my life, Edward and I would have been married and building a family by now. She thought as a fresh bolt of sorrow hits her. She heard Karen humming under her breath as she set the dinner table for three. Joshua must be coming around today. Sharon stood up and walked to the window overlooking the garden which had been neatly mowed. She took in the east view of the city, and allowed the sweet smell of the flowers fill her nostrils.

Edward called and showed up for the first few months. He lived up to his promises. In fact, it was almost like old times again; but in time the visit began to reduce and then the calls stopped automatically. Sharon did not begrudge him. She doesn‘t expect a young man with a brilliant future like his to be stuck with an HIV infected wife. To her dismay, she heard that he has been transferred to Ghana as the regional manager. He never bothered to say goodbye. Edward‘s departure from Sharon‘s life was the last straw. She knew it was coming, but did not expect him to be so harsh about it. Her heart broke at his rejection, as she had assumed that they would at least still be friends. But she knew that that friendship arrangement would never work out, certain that seeing him fall in love and date another woman would kill her faster than the HIV; an event which is bound to happen sooner than later. She rigidly kept to herself and turned away from the world. Her daily routine became go to the office, come back home and remain indoors until the next day. Karen who happened to be her only companion is consumed with work and preparation for her forthcoming wedding, though she tried to make up during the weekend. Desiring for a change of environment, Sharon decided to take a trip to England, hoping to see Amarachi, the doctor and seventh daughter of the Mathew‘s family. Amarachi got married a year after Sharon‘s HIV discovery and no one bothered to tell her about it. It hurts her deeply to be excluded from family events on account of her status.

Throughout her stay in London, Amarachi did not come to see her; neither did she give Sharon the direction to her home. As fate would have it, the sisters bumped into each other at the Glasgow central train station. Sharon had turned at the sound of a familiar voice. 73


"I am on the way to the store to get some grocery. I will home in the next twenty minutes, please wait for me." The heavily built Briton man standing beside her moved to enter the train heading towards George Square and Sharon find herself staring at Amarachi ‘s face. Time stopped as the sisters held each other‘s gaze. "Sharon!" Amarachi gasped, "I am sorry, so sorry. You must be thinking the very worst of me." "That is alright, I understand." She reached out to touch Sharon, then on a second thought, hastily withdrew her hand. "You don‘t understand, it is not what you think." Sharon smiled, "You owe me no explanation Amarachi, It is alright, really it is." "Stop! And don‘t give me that patronizing look and stop talking like you know it all. " A few people turned to look at the two African women engaged in a heated conversation. "I have my own problems also Sharon. My husband lost his job and I am yet to pass the qualifying exams that will enable me practice here in London, you see," she lowered her voice to a whisper, "we are barely surviving. We live in a hole which I am not proud to invite you in to." Sharon gaped at her little sister. "It doesn‘t matter, you are my sister, we are family and I will be glad to help out in any….." "No! Stanley will not like that. We will be alright. I am sorry about your illness Sharon, I really am. And you can have a great life in spite of it. Please, I need to go, Stanley resumes into new job today in a security outfit. Not much, but at least we will not starve," she reached out and threw her arms around Sharon. Just then, the next train arrived. Amarachi hopped in and within moments, she was gone. Dazed, Sharon walked about the streets of London, wondering what life was all about. Are families not supposed to stand by and see each other through life‘s storms? Is it God‘s design that each person should bear his burdens alone and refuse help from others? Then I wonder what kind of world we are living in. No wonder people commit suicide, while others become mentally insane. The isolation, loneliness and rejection is more than what an individual can take. Sharon returned to Nigeria feeling empty and depressed. She began to wish for death. Her fiancé gone, what is there to look forward to? Karen got married and moved out of the house, leaving her all alone to face life. She felt abandoned as every member of her family appeared busy with their personal problems and struggles, and rarely call to check on her.

Adaobi had advised her to join a counseling HIV group where she can lend her voice, use her gift, talents and hopefully meet a decent man of her kind to marry. It sounded reasonable, as she had heard of HIV infected couples who sired children who were not positive and lived fulfilling lives. 74


The emptiness and silence drove her crazy. She became so depressed and thought of committing suicide several times. She neglected taking her drugs, and that was a terrible mistake as her body defenses began to break down. The rashes began like a child‘s play and within days, they had completely ravaged her body. The split air conditioning unit did not help matters as she itched her skin raw all day and night, until sores began to form all over. Then her stomach began to run which later escalated so bad that the endless trips to the toilet began to take its toll on her already broken body and within days, she weighed less than 18kg, worsened by gut wrenching vomits, terrible migraines and bodily pains. As the symptoms besieged her frail body, her immune system weakened. Barely two months after Karen moved out of the house, she had become very ill. On one particular morning, she staggered to the dining table where her phone was and put a call to Karen. While the phone rang, her eyes were drawn to the adjourning mirror across the room. She made a piercing cry of horror, seeing how terribly she had emaciated, her skeletal form visible beneath the dress shirt she wore. Staring without emotion at her gaunt face, her hands caressed her thinning dry hair which fell loosely on her shoulders. It used to be a source of delight to Edward as he admired its length, volume and black richness. Now, it fell cascade on her shoulders, limp, dull, broken at the edges and lack luster. She knew death was near and gladly looked forward to it. Dying did not feel so bad after all. It is the doorway that would transport her from this decaying body into eternal rest and freedom. She thought about the turn of events in her life. Just about three years ago, I was at the plateau of joy, achievements, possessions and success. My star had shown so bright like it would never wane. Now, I am all alone, sick, sad, weak and waiting to die. What a twist of fate. Suddenly, she began to lose feeling in her legs, then her entire body. A few days earlier, she had observed that her eyes were not focusing as they should and she could feel life slowly ebbing out of her body. She could feel the virus taking over her entire system, breaking down all her defenses as she waited for the end. A knock sounded on the door and then footsteps. Karen‘s voice came through faintly. She gasped in horror and screamed when she saw what had become of Sharon who laid unconscious on the floor, all skin and bones. "Sharon, oh Sharon, what have you done to yourself?" Karen sobbed, as she knelt on the floor and felt for a pulse at the side of Sharon's neck under the back of her jaw. In Sharon‘s unconscious state, she had a good knowledge of the happenings around her. Scientists call it near death experience. Her parents came to the hospital three days later and she watched as her mother broke down when she beheld her skeletal frame lying cold on the hospital bed. She hated to see her mother unhappy. How she wished she could comfort and wipe her tears. Sharon tried to touch her, but there seemed to be a gulf between them. She couldn‘t reach her mother and her sorrow multiplied. One after the other, her brothers and sisters came to visit her. Steve, her beloved stepbrother was a sight to behold. He refused to come in to see Sharon‘s frail and lifeless body. 75


She watched as a team of doctors walked in. They kept jerking the cardiopulmonary resuscitation defibrillator on her heart, but she felt nothing. They are trying their best to revive her and working hard at it. Then, a sudden pain gripped her on the chest. No! No! No! She moaned and began to hear voices around her. She felt her chest would burst as sharp darts of pain shot through her. Then, she lost all consciousness and slipped into a blissful sleep.

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FINAL THOUGHTS A rough diamond is a story about how good can come out of a tragic event, how beauty can come out of ashes, and how a life can be miraculously transformed in spite of a supposed tragedy. Even though Sharon died, the victory was in the fact that she lived her life to the full; she fulfilled the very purpose for which she was born and left footprints in the sands of life. After Sharon‘s passing, it was strongly impressed in my heart to write her story. I wanted the world to read her story. Perhaps, some will be lifted out of depression and come to find joy in life again; have courage to start afresh and do more in spite of what life has thrown at them. Some of us may never discover the precious diamond within us until we face a big mountain, a challenge, a tragedy that appears larger than life itself. God has a purpose in every problem. He uses problems to draw us closer to him. Your most profound intimate experience of worship with God will likely be during the darkest period of your life; when the pain is most, when you run out of options, when there is no other alternative. That is when we pray our most authentic and heartfelt prayer of dedication. Suffering is never easy to go through. But there will always be times when we ask, "Why me?" and do not have an answer. Are there any ‗benefits‘ in suffering? Suffering can teach us perseverance; it can prepare us to help others. It can test our hearts, like Job: will we worship God no matter what the circumstances? It is easy to ignore God in the ‗good times‘ and only turn to Him in the bad times. Joni Eareckson Tada notes, "When life is rosy, we may slide by with knowing about Jesus, with imitating and quoting him. Only in suffering do we know him." Rick Warren wrote – Problems forces us to look to God and depend on him instead of ourselves. We will never know that God is all we need until God is all we‗ve got. According to him, No matter the cause, nothing can happen to us without the Lord‘s will. Whatever happened to a Christian is father filtered and he intends to use it for good. Because God is sovereign, tragedies are just incidents in God‘s good plan for us. There‘s a grand designer behind everything. Your life is not a result of random chance, fate, or luck. There is a master plan. History is His–story, in other words, God is pulling the strings. We make mistakes, but God never does. God cannot make a mistake – because He is God. God‘s plan for your life encompasses all that happens to you – including your mistakes, your sins, and your hurts. Does that include cancer, a miscarriage, debt, bankruptcy, disease, divorce, abandonment, betrayal and death of loved ones? Yes. Everything fits into God‘s plan. God can bring good out of even the worst evil. The events in your life work together in God‘s plan. They are not isolated acts, but interdependent parts of the process of making you like Christ. To bake a cake you must use flour, salt, raw eggs, sugar, and oil. Eaten individually, each is pretty distasteful, or 77


even bitter. But bake them together and they become delicious. If you‘ll give God all your distasteful, unpleasant experiences, He can weave them together for good. It does not say that everything in life is good. Much of what happens in our world is very evil and bad. It is easy to bring good out of good, but God specializes in bringing good out of the very worst. God‘s purpose is greater than your problems, your physical pain, your relational hurt and even your sin. He can use it all for good if you‘ll give it to Him. This allows us to be both realistic and optimistic, freed from religiousness to be relational with the Creator and to love Him. The ultimate test of spiritual maturity is when you can rejoice and thank God for these truths while experiencing pain that doesn‘t make sense at the moment. Living in faith today, is life, trusting in His goodness that He will indeed see you through to the other side of your situation. This book is not about HIV, though its effect on a human body can be devastating on the soul of its victim. For those who are living with HIV/AIDS or any other chronic disease. That is not the end of the world. You can live a happy and resourceful life like Sharon did when she decided to look away from the tragedy that befell her. Until the end, she was a happy and fulfilled woman. You can be and do anything you want to if you believe and look beyond the problem to what God can bring out of it. For friends and relatives of those living with HIV/AIDS, the worst thing you can do is reject and treat them with disdain. In so doing, you are sending them to an early grave. They need a daily dose of affection, love and approval. I must emphasize that hugging and displaying your affection towards an infected person will not make you infected. To those who have had to endure a terrible tragedy or loss, you can choose to either wallow in self-pity or turn the situation around. You have to choose between allowing the situation drag you down or you rise above the painful experience. It is a choice only you have to make. The whole of creation backs whatever decision you make. I encourage you to make a silver lining around the cloud of your life. Madame Guyon said that it is the fire of suffering that brings forth the gold of godliness. Corrie Ten Boom, who suffered in a Nazi death camp, explained the power of focus "If you look at the world, you‘ll be distressed. If you look within, you‘ll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you‘ll be at rest!" Your focus determines your feelings. Many times Sharon's faith wavered in accusation against God. God does not condemn our moments of despair and unbelief; he himself sets the tone by diving into the earth and endured cruel, senseless suffering. Before the final moment, his own son asked if the cup could pass from him and on the cross he cried out. "God why have you forsaken me?" God asks for hope in spite of hopeless surroundings, when suffering bleeds us. He asks us not to reject, but to respond to him as children, trusting in his wisdom and affirming as however deep the pit, God's love is deeper still. Many would wonder why God allowed Sharon to suffer so many trials, despite the fact that she was faithful. Well we should as well ask if he desired the Nazi regime or the 78


death of his own son. Such a question defies answer. Obviously, because of his character, he could not desire such atrocities, yet he chose not to prevent them. It helps me to visualize providence as a forward-looking doctrine. The emphasis I see is not to look backward and find out if God is responsible in order to accuse him. In answering Job, he completely ignored that issue. The emphasis is rather on looking ahead to what God can make of a seeming tragedy. Job, the archetypal sufferer, received a personal visit from God who spoke to him out of a whirlwind. The reply to Job is the longest single speech attributed to God in the Bible. What could God say to Job? He might have laid a gentle hand on his head and told him how much he would grow in personhood through his trial or he could have given a lecture on the value of pain, warning Job how much worse his life would have been if he had Hensen's disease!. God did nothing of these, he simply reminded Job of the wonders of nature. What a time for a nature appreciation course when Job was in a great despair. His words hit Job with devastating power. "Stand up like a man and brace yourself for battle," he demanded. "Let me ask you a question, and give me the answer. Are you going to discredit my justice and condemn me, so that you can say you are right? Are you as strong as God, and can you shout as loudly as he?" Job's response was an overwhelmed, repentant surrender. "I know that you can do anything and that no one can stop you. I was talking about things I knew nothing about and did not understand things too wonderful for me. "Does God answer the question of suffering in Job? Not directly. He avoids a logical, point by point explanation. Why, then, the accusing tone? What does God want from Job?" Simply an admission of trust. Pain turns us to God. This is probably the most accurate, succinct summary of the role of suffering in life. To the non- Christian, the message is a warning to consider other values in life and turn to God who offers eternity. To the Christian, the message is to turn to God in trust, as a child to a parent. Christians are not insulated from the tragedies of this world, just as Jesus was not. God never promised that tornados would skip our houses on the way to our pagan neighbors'. At the instant of pain, it may seem impossible to imagine that good can come. It must have seemed so to Christ at Gethsemane. It is never clear to us how suffering or evil can be transformed into a cause for celebration. But that is what we are asked to believe. The mystery of suffering is a Christian paradox. Pain jostles with triumph and rubs elbows with despair. And yet, people like Sharon and Tony show us that Christians in the worst prison of suffering can still hear and believe Christ's words: I Have Overcome The World. Character building is a long, slow process. When we spend our energy trying to avoid or escape from the difficulties in life, we short-circuit this process, delay our growth, and actually end up with a worse kind of pain - the worthless type that accompanies denial and avoidance. You need to stick it out, staying with God‘s plan so you‘ll be there for the completion. 79


Jesus never used His supernatural powers to solve a personal problem or relieve His pain. When you grasp the eternal consequences of your character development, you‘ll pray fewer "Comfort me" prayers (Please help me feel good) and more "Conform me" prayers (Oh, God please use this situation to make me more like you). Life is a series of problems. Every time you solve one, another one is waiting to take its place. Not all of them are big, but are significant in God‘s growth process for you. You know you are maturing when you begin to see the hand of God in the random, baffling, and seemingly pointless circumstances of life. If you are facing trouble right now, don‘t ask, "Why me?" Instead ask, "What do you want me to learn?" Then trust God and keep on doing what‘s right. Don‘t give up grow up! And to those who are suffering because of your own choices, run to the Cross, confess your sin and make your boast in His forgiveness and forgive others in receiving His direction in your difficulty. The Father WILL lead you in your difficulty. Also, from this story, we discover that death is not the end of human existence. The body dies and decays, but the soul of man lives on in eternity. One day my heart is going to stop, and that will be the end of my body-- but not the end of me. Rick Warren said ―I may live 60 to 100 years on earth, but I am going to spend trillions of years in eternity. Life on this plain is the warm-up act - the dress rehearsal. God wants us to practice on earth what we will do forever in eternity.‖ We were made by God and for God, and until you figure that out, life is not going to make sense. Life is a series of problems: you are in one now, you are just coming out of one, or you are getting ready to go into another one. The reason for this is that God is more interested in your character than your comfort; God is more interested in making your life holy than he is in making your life happy. We can be reasonably happy here on earth, but that is not the goal of life. The goal is to grow in character, in Christ likeness and be conformed to his image so that that when he appears, we shall be as he is.

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MEMORABLE QUOTES on PAIN AND SUFFERING "Thank God for inventing pain. I don‘t think he could have done a better job." "Visiting slums in Delhi and Manila I‘ve met people who have virtually nothing, and yet were smiling and generous. I couldn‘t help thinking that in their poverty they had more than I had in my wealth." "Where is God when life hurts?‘- a well-known question. But perhaps we should first ask, ‗Where was God when life went well?" "Suffering, the great equalizer, brings us to a point where we may realize our urgent need for redemption." "Those who suffer can respond to the call of the gospel with a certain abandonment and uncomplicated totality because they have so little to lose and are ready for anything." "Be willing to suffer because the Lord and the gospel are worth suffering for." "Be willing to suffer because of the caliber of men like Paul—they‘re worth joining in the cause." "The surgery of life hurts. It helps me, though, to know that the Surgeon himself, the wounded Surgeon, has felt every stab of pain and every sorrow." "There are certain heights you will never attain excerpt you pass through the valley of the shadow of pain and problems" "Don't hide your scars, they make you more beautiful. Show everyone you are in a battle but you are still strong. "Healing doesn't mean the damage never existed. It means that the damage no longer control our lives" "But a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more" "Without pain, how can we know and appreciate joy?" "The wound is the place where the light enters you" ―Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.‖ ―Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but I hope into a better shape.‖ 81


"There is an ancient tribal proverb I once heard in India. It says that before we can see properly we must first shed our tears to clear the way." ― Libba Bray "Time is not the great teacher. Experience is. A man may live a whole life, but if he never leaves his home to experience that life, he dies knowing nothing. A mere child who has suffered and lived can be the wiser of the two." ― Lynsay Sands, Love Bites "To become a spectator of one's own life is to escape the suffering of life." ― Oscar Wilde "Don't look forward to the day you stop suffering, because when it comes you'll know you're dead." ― Tennessee Williams "We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, 'Blessed are they that mourn,' and I accept it. I've got nothing that I hadn't bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination." ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed "We do not suffer by accident." ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice "For who would dare to assert that eternal happiness can compensate for a single moment's human suffering" ― Albert Camus, The Plague "Any discussion of how pain and suffering fit into God's scheme ultimately leads back to the cross. " ― Philip Yancey "The point is, Ilsa Hermann had decided to make suffering her triumph. When it refused to let go of her, she succumbed to it. She embraced it. " ― Markus Zusak, The Book Thief "Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart." ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment "God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power

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than ever.‖ ― Vance Havner Strong people alone know how to organize their suffering so as to bear only the most necessary pain.‖ ― Emil Dorian, Quality of Witness: A Romanian Diary, 1937-1944 "He who cannot endure the bad will not live to see the good.‖ ― Jennifer Donnelly, The Winter Rose "I write about adversity, I praise adversity, not to be pessimistic, but rather to strengthen myself. The more familiar that you are with it, the less likely you are to have a breakdown when it occurs. You become more reflective of its purpose, you understand God's reason for it, and are then able to make the best of everything that you are handed. The darkness is only frightening after constant sunshine.‖ ― Criss Jami "The unwounded life bears no resemblance to the Rabbi." ― Brennan Manning, Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging We often cause ourselves suffering by wanting only to live in a world of valleys, a world without struggle and difficulty, a world that is flat, plain, consistent.‖ ― Bell Hooks, Belonging: A Culture of Place "Sometimes it takes great suffering to pierce the soul and open it up to greatness" ― Jocelyn Murray "I began to understand that suffering and disappointments and melancholy are there not to vex us or cheapen us or deprive us of our dignity but to mature and transfigure us." ― Hermann Hesse "Is it true, O Christ in heaven, that the highest suffer the most? That the strongest wander furthest and most hopelessly are lost? That the mark of rank in nature is capacity for pain? That the anguish of the singer makes the sweetness of the strain?" ― John Milton "Suffering can bend & break us. But it can also break us open to become the persons God intended us to be. It depends on what we do with the pain. If we offer it back to God, He will use it to do great things in us & through us, because suffering is fertile... it can grow new life." ― John Green

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"From recovery to rags and rags to recovery symbolizes art - a perfect compilation of human imperfections." ― Criss Jami, Salome: In Every Inch In Every Mile "As sure as ever God puts His children in the furnace, He will be in the furnace with them." ― Charles Spurgeon "When life gives you pain, accept it. When life gives you happiness, reject it." ― San tosh Kalwar "It's an awful truth that suffering can deepen us, give a greater lustre to our colors, a richer resonance to our words. That is, if it doesn't destroy us, if it doesn't burn away the optimism and the spirit, the capacity for visions, and the respect for simple yet indispensable things." ― Anne Rice "Disasters work like alarm clocks to the world, hence God allows them. They are shouting, 'Wake up! Love! Pray!" ― Criss Jami "To put it another way, pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world. Why must it be pain? Why can't he rouse us more gently, with violins or laughter? Because the dream from which we must be wakened, is the dream that all is well." ― William Nicholson, Shadowlands: A Play "Suffering ceases to be suffering when we form a clear picture of it." ― Richard Paul Evans, Miles to Go: The Second Journal of the Walk Series

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REVIEWS FROM READERS "The meaning of this Story came to me at a perfect time in my life. I have been terribly ill thinking of giving up on this painful journey. One random night I started looking for inspirational books that may help. I ran across this wonderful book thinking it may just be a story about dealing with illness but it was so much more! God sent this book to me to help me think about my situation and try as difficult as it will be to make it better. Thank God for helping you write such a wonderful book. It is a gem!!! Maria Suppa – Amazon Top reviewer "Excellent description throughout and the storyline Nevile Kent, Authonomy(HarperCollins) Forum Member.

is

very

interesting".

"Your story is one that holds a reader's attention...and the basis of it is heart rendering." Evermore. Forum Member, Authonomy(HarperCollins) Forum Member.

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OUT IN THE STORES!!!

Dan and Jeremiah are the leaders of the two churches marked for destruction by the dark kingdom. The unseen wicked powers use sophisticated spiritual weapons and devices to monitor, ensnare, weaken, pollute and turn key members and leaders of these churches away from the faith. Their main goal is to make the saints unprepared for the return of the bride. The enemy‘s most deadly weapon is the saint‘s ignorance of the battle going on around them. Many become captives by the voice of the enemy through the weapons of thought suggestions and mind control, while others fell through the caprices of their unbridled desires, wants and secret passions. Not even the saints are spared. See how heaven moves at the cry of the seemingly weakest saint on earth and respond to petitions. See what goes on behind the scene when a saint drops on his knees to pray. Spiritually gripping, Soul Reapers is an apocalyptic story that will never leave you the same forever. Get your copy at Amazon and Kobo Stores.

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COMING SOON!!! MARKED

Genre : Supernatural/Christian fiction/ Apocalypse A certain endlessly long room in heaven is named, ‘’DESTINIES OF MANKIND’’ where millions of books and files arranged in shelves about millions of souls – living and dead. Each of this named books, contain the purpose, the gifting, talents, opportunities and events that will take place throughout the life of a particular soul. A file, named CHOSEN in one of the sacred shelves listed the names of prophets who will be used to save multitudes from the millions dropping into eternal damnation every day. These prophets will herald the much awaited second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some have departed from the earth and have joined the cloud of witnesses, others are in the field harvesting for God's kingdom amidst intense battles while many are still in the cradle and some yet to be born. A book named after a female named Missi is opened. She is one of such chosen end time prophets. Before her conception, prophecies had come forth that the hand of God will be upon the unborn child for great wisdom such as the world has never known which will bring many to salvation. Her conception attracted series of battles and warfare, but a host of angelic soldiers were sent to ensure her safe delivery. Her birth into the world generated unrests in the Kingdom of darkness as they stood poised to foil the plan that has been written about her in the book. At birth, she came forth with an invisible mark on her forehead which distinguished her as one chosen by the Lord and sets her for destruction from the opposing forces of darkness. Find out in this tense drama how the story of Missi unfolds. Did the enemy succeed in thwarting the contents of the book written about her? Discover how the adversary uses lies, tricks and deceptions to derail and thwart the destiny of mankind. It is guaranteed that this book will leave you MARKED for the Saviour for life. "Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in your book they were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them." Psalm 139 v16. Marked is the first book in the Mark of the Chosen Series. 87


ABOUT THE BOOK Sharon‘s life was perfect or so it seemed. She had one of the best paying jobs, a high flyer; climbing the career ladder at a pace most people could only imagine. Blessed with toys typical of the fast-paced life, state of the art automobiles, jetting from one city to another on vacation, and courted by the most eligible bachelor at work. What more can a girl possibly ask for? This was Sharon‘s life until a sleeping beast from the past rose and dealt her an eternal wound. She lost all that was dear to her and sank in to the lowest ebb of anger and depression. Left alone by family and friends, she turned to the one who has the answers to the questions of life. A Rough Diamond is a story about two sisters within a typical Nigerian family. It shows how life can unpredictably change for good or bad. It brought out the frailty of human affections in the face of adversity, Sharon‘s emotional battles with God who she held responsible for her woes and her emotional journey from sorrow to immeasurable joy and freedom. It answered certain life questions we ask when faced with a tragedy. Questions such as: Why me? Where were you Lord when it hurts the most? Why do bad things happen to good people? In this story, we will understand how a life can be beautifully remolded and transformed by tragedy; how good can spin out of a tragic event and how the human spirit through faith in God can rise above every conceivable challenge of life. Emotional, gripping and deeply moving, this is a book that will intrigue and remain with you forever.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Mopelola lives in Lagos, Nigeria. An avid reader and a deep thinker who has the gift to see gold in the most terrible of life experiences and turn it into a message. She writes about real life experiences. Her stories are inspired from personal, life experiences of others and her environment. She writes to inspire healing, hope, restoration and deliverance in the lives of her numerous readers.

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A ROUGH DIAMOND  

Sharon’s life was perfect or so it seemed. She had one of the best paying jobs, a high flyer; climbing the career ladder at a pace most peop...

A ROUGH DIAMOND  

Sharon’s life was perfect or so it seemed. She had one of the best paying jobs, a high flyer; climbing the career ladder at a pace most peop...

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