GRACE - Episode 11

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Nigeria's leading fictional story blog - physical and sexual abuse, Grace, talking to young girls, parents, raped, family, live life with fire, the event in Abuja, I got pregnant, my father, Lagos.

“You don’t choose all the people you come across in life and what they would do to you. You are likely to fall prey to insensitive, self-serving and sadistic demons like I did,” I said to thousands of young girls at the International Conference Center, Abuja. I looked around and on the front row was my beloved husband, Gbenga and my darling daughters, Grace and Yewande and my son, Adekunle. I paused for a moment and smiled. They smiled back at me. Next to Grace was her adopted mother, Ifunanya Okoye, a business mogul who had worked hard to protect girls and women from abuse. Behind on the other side to Grace was her adopted twin sister, Linda, whom Ifunanya had bought at the same time as Grace from Idika. The event was international women’s day and the focus was ‘stopping the abuse of young girls and women’. Grace had just graduated and was serving with a not-for-profit organization in Abuja that focuses on protecting women from abuse. She had told our story…her story and mine to someone in the organization where she was serving who shared it with someone who passed it to someone else, and eventually, the first lady heard my story and before I knew it, I was talking to young girls on physical and sexual abuse.

“I was raped by someone whom my parents trusted; someone very close to the family. He looked innocent, kind and giving. Often, lions walk around in sheep’s clothing. You may fall into the hands of such despicable demons. Don’t be like me. Should you find yourself in a similar circumstance (I pray not), please talk to the people who love you the most; the people who are willing to lay down their lives to protect you – your parents. I went to a friend who turned out to be the devil and from there, my life unraveled. If only I could have told my parents that I had been raped and that I was pregnant, I would have avoided the battery and assault that I went through. It is easy to think that it is your fault when you are raped. I can tell you here today, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. Rapists will use all of their cunning to lead you to believe that it is your fault after they have violated you. Don’t buy it. Talk to your parents; they care about you more than anyone else.

“If you ever choose do find yourself in my shoes though – where you are carrying a baby and you are being beaten and raped; tortured and battered relentlessly, my dear children hang onto to hope. Your will to survive is the last straw onto which you can hang on. Let them beat you all they like. Let them hack you down. Let them spit on your and rape you non-stop. You cannot control that but by your will and through the Grace of God, you will rise from the ashes of battery and assault. I was beaten beyond words. My heart bled and my eyes could no longer cry – my tears had run dry, yet I refused to quit. I hung tenaciously onto life and somehow, God threw me a lifeline. My daughter Grace whom I have been getting to know better has turned out to be all that I could have ever imagined for her. I don’t know that I could have raised her this well, so I am immensely thankful to Ifunanya was doing a great job with her

“When I look into her eyes, I see fire and resilience – that is definitely from me. It was the same fire and resilience that saw me through the pit of fire. I urge you to live life with fire and resilience. Never let go. Fight like a bull and gallop down the hills of life like a majestic stallion. Dream big, whether you have been raped, abused physically, forgotten and ignored, that is not the end of you. For over a year, I lay in a tiny house, watched by my captors and treated like a dog, but I knew that somehow, by God’s grace, I could manage to break free and when I did, I would never look back. My love and my indefatigable desire to find my daughter Grace kept me on after I ran away from my captors. I urge you all, love your family…live for your family, dream big no matter your obstacles and don’t let anything stop you, simply because you are a girl. You are a child of the universe and you have a right to be here. Speak your mind with grace and love and leave your marks on our planet. Let anyone who meets you know that they met a rare breed…a gem who would fight for her values and beliefs.

“Love fiercely too. In the abyss of my pains and tribulations, God sent me my prince, Gbenga. He had the power to turn me over to my abductors and stop the beating that they were inflicting on him, but he demonstrated what being a man is all about. He took the beating to protect a girl he had never met or seen before. He fought for the right thing. In the pit where I was hiding, I could hear the sound of the pounding he was receiving, and I felt sorry for him. One blow after another, he stuck it out with blood dripping from his nose, mouth and eyes. That is a real man. Do not run around with men who would not stand and fight for you. Keep your eyes wide open for ‘real men’…men who are strong at heart; with strong morals and values. When you do find them, keep them. Fight for them and with them. Stand by them because men like that will stand by you with their blood.”

At the end of the event, I spoke personally to a lot of young girls who shared their stories with me…stories that left me humbled. Ever since, I have been working with several NGOs to help abused women across the country. Of all the things I do now, nothing gives me more joy than helping victims of abuse, especially the very young ones because I know where they are coming from – I too have been there.

In the months leading to the event in Abuja, I had met Ifunanya, Grace’s adopted mother. She remains one of the nicest human beings I have ever met. Never married, Ifunanya ploughed her life into business and achieved considerable success. She now devotes her time to helping victims of abuse. “I saw my father beat the life out of my mother and I wondered if that was what marriage was all about,” she said to me one evening. “And when I was twenty, I was raped. That left me shocked and broken. Like you, I got pregnant and the child died at birth. My whole world caved in.  My confidence crashed to its worst level ever. When I finally climbed out of it, I swore to make something of myself and to use my resources to help others,” she explained. I was taken to her from the beginning and we are great friends now. She understands that I love Grace very much and allows us as much time as possible to make up for lost time without being jealous. “If I found my lost daughter; one that was snatched away from me ruthlessly after twenty years, I would not let her out of my sight for a second,” she had said to me.

Grace now spends as much time as possible with us in our house, getting to know her half siblings. Linda comes around a lot too. She and Grace are very close, so often times, she comes with her. While Grace serves in Abuja, Linda serves in Zaria and the two of them meet up every few weeks. Every other month, Grace comes to Lagos to spend time with us and Ifunanya. Ifunanya and I hang out a lot when we are not busy with work or humanitarian activities. Just two weeks before the event in Abuja, Grace was in Lagos for a few days. “Mom, do you know where my father might be?” She asked. “Why do you ask,” I snapped at her. “I was wondering if I could see him,” she said. A whirlpool of anger erupted in me. I knew Benjamin had been released from prison after serving his jail term. Gbenga kept track of all that and mentioned it to me every now and again. I tried to smother that aspect of my life.

“I know he is out of prison,” I said. “Other than that, I don’t know anything else about him, but Gbenga might know.” To my surprise, she went to ask Gbenga about Benjamin. A part of me wished that she would not want anything to do with him, but Grace is not the type you could easily keep quiet. When she sets her mind on something, she sees it out. I guess I know someone else like that. “Uncle Gbenga told me that my father lives in Abeokuta,” she said to me the next day. I pretended I had not heard her. “I said that Uncle Gbenga told me that my father lives in Abeokuta,” she repeated. “I heard you the first time, Grace,” I replied with a hint of disinterest. “I want to see him,” she said. The sound of those words left me sweating under the air conditioner.

“What are you looking to achieve with that?” I asked angrily. I rarely get angry with Grace, but this was a sore point for me. “You have conquered it all, Mom. You went through all that and found a way out. God lifted you through the pit of pain and sorrow, not you have to defeat your last obstacle – you.” ‘Me?” I asked. “Yes, you Mom.” “How?” “You are no longer within their grip, but they still control you from far away. The mention of their names leaves a sour taste in your mouth. I cannot say that I understand that because I did not go through what you went through, but I know you can scale this last hurdle too. Free yourself finally from that anger. Forgive them and live completely free. You are almost free, Mom. Take the final step so that one day when you stand before your maker, you can smile and say that you truly allowed Him to work within you…helping you to forgive those who hurt you beyond measure. The trip is not for me, although I would like to see what my biological father looks like. It is for you. I can see how you react when his name is mentioned. You are coming with me to see him. Maybe he is thinking of how to ask for your forgiveness. Give him a chance to make his peace with God.”

I stared at Grace for a complete minute without saying a word. I knew she was right, yet a part of me was disgusted by the thought of forgiving Benjamin and his colleagues. After serious persuasion by Gbenga and Grace, I made the trip to Abeokuta. Benjamin was a shadow of himself. He was in a sordid state when we saw him. He lay sick on an old, cranky bed that squeaked with every movement of his tiny frail body. He had contracted cancer while in prison and his brother in whose house he was living in Abeokuta had spent his meager resources to save him to no avail. He hardly recognized me. On seeing him, all my anger disappeared. I felt a massive pang of pity for him. His cheeks were sunken and his arms and legs were akin to broomsticks.

“Some people are here to see you, Benjamin,” his brother announced as we entered his desolate room in an old dilapidated house. He looked up at us. “Hi dad,” Grace said. He stared at us, but he could not make the connection. “It is me, Abimbola,” I said. “Do you remember over twenty years ago, in a village in Oyo?” “I have been hoping to ask your forgiveness,” he said. “This is your daughter Grace. I found her.” “Are you going to be alright dad?” Grace asked him with concern. He shook his head. “I will soon be dead. The doctors have done their best. I have been thinking of you, Abimbola. I hardly recognized you. You were the last thing I needed to resolve before meeting my maker. Please forgive me for all the things I did to you,” he pleaded. “I forgive you,” I replied quickly. How could you hold a grudge against a man on his sick bed?

“Akin!” He called to his brother. “Yes, Benjamin,” his brother replied. He was clearly concerned about Benjamin. Worry and sadness were written all over his face. “I can go home now,” Benjamin said. “My child, please forgive me. I don’t deserve to be called your father. I am sorry for everything I put your mother through,” Benjamin said to Grace. “I hold nothing against you dad.” Grace held his hand and squeezed it. She smiled at him and he grimaced as pains swept through him. “Can we get him to a hospital?” Grace asked looking at me. I couldn’t say no. We rushed Benjamin to the nearest hospital, but he died a day later. “I am so glad he died having sought your forgiveness first. From the day he left prison, he was telling me how much he wanted to ask your forgiveness. He truly embraced God and changed his ways, but you were the last thing he needed to make right before dying,” Akin explained. 

As we drove back to Lagos, I felt a heavy burden drop off my shoulder. At last, I was truly free. I found James and Foluke and offered my forgiveness to them as well. Foluke was married and had a child; she still lived in Ajegunle, while James lived in Ijebu Ode. He worked as a bus driver. Foluke was more remorseful than James. She repeatedly told me how guilty she felt for her part in my torture. Now, I live free of the burdens of anger and un-forgiveness and it is all thanks to my wonderful daughter, Grace!









Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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GRACE - Episode 11
Nigeria's leading fictional story blog - physical and sexual abuse, Grace, talking to young girls, parents, raped, family, live life with fire, the event in Abuja, I got pregnant, my father, Lagos. An African Literary Blog
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