GRACE - Episode 5

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Nigeria's leading fictional story blog - the priest, the British during colonial times, wooden, room, blood, Toyota Camry, Lagos.

I wrapped my bruised body in a blanket and hit the bed like a log of wood. The pastor had provided me with a room for the night. I did not want to bother him to drive me to the nearest hotel, so I took his offer to sleep in a spare room in the parish house. It was a cool evening. He offered me something to eat, but I turned it down. I had no appetite. I wanted to close my eyes and forget all my worries, just for a moment. The cozy blanket warmed me up as I snored away. “Boom! Boom! Boom!” There was a loud knock on the door. I jumped to my feet fearing the worst. I ducked under the bed, scared stiff. God, I am in your house. Please keep me from these evil men, I prayed quietly in my heart. “Are you there? You need to open the door. Some men are searching every house in the area looking for a young girl. I need to hide you somewhere they cannot find you,” a male voice said from the other side of the door.

It was the priest. My legs and head become wobbly, almost paralyzed by debilitating fear. They had come looking for me. I managed to drag my poor self from underneath the bed and shuffled to the door. I unbolted it. “Who are those men?” The priest asked me. “They are evil men…very bad people. They want to harm me,” I answered. Somehow, the priest believed me. He could have thought that I was one of them, but he did not. “Come with me,” he said in a hushed tone. “They are searching the buildings in this area, beating people up in an attempt to force any truth they can out of them. You must have something that they want very badly or are keen to keep quiet,” he remarked. I did not answer him. This was not time to tell stories. There was fire on the mountain indeed.

I heard a gunshot a short distance away. My heart sank rowdily into my stomach. The priest dragged me by my right hand. Like a sheep following a shepherd, I followed him obediently. He and I ran into the pastor’s house. He took me to one of the bedrooms there and moved a bed aside. Under the bed was a wooden floor. He placed a hand on one edge of the wooden floor and lifted it. It was a secret pass to an underground room. This was an old house built by the British during colonial times. There was a wooden step that led to a room below. “Climb in there,” the priest instructed me. I quickly latched onto the ladder like a monkey climbing a tree, and made my way down. In the room was a small foam on the floor.  I tucked myself into the foam and held onto a pillow as though my life depended on it.

The priest told me to be quiet before closing the secret door and then pushed the bed back in place. A few minutes later, I heard voices, and then a gunshot. My heart pounded like the village town crier, beating a gong with exuberance as he delivered an important message to the people. Soon, there was yelling and shoving above. I heard James’ voice. “Some girls said that they saw a girl about five feet eight inches tall wearing a black skirt and a brown dress walk into the church earlier in the evening.” He was talking to the priest. “This is the house of the Lord, a lot of people come here to pray and meditate,” the priest answered. “I am talking about a particular girl. Did you see her? If you are hiding her here, we’ll kill both of you,” he threatened. “I did not see anyone that fits the description you gave,” the priest replied. “How can you be so sure?” Benjamin asked him.

He had been released from his punishment to join the search for me. “Because I would know if I saw a girl like that,” the priest answered. “We have been to the hotel up the road and they don’t have a girl like that there. Obviously, she is here,” James said. “Make we search the place!” A husky voice shouted. It was one of James’ men. “Mr. Pastor, please tell us the truth,” James asked of the priest. “I have told you the truth,” he repeated. Then, I heard a loud slap, Tozaa!!!” James landed a nasty slap on the pastor’s face. “A man said he saw a girl walk in here and you are lying to me,” he said. “Go ahead and search the place young men,” the priest said. Shortly afterwards, I heard the tossing and throwing of objects. My heart beat even faster. I was worried they would hear the pounding of my chest.

At some point, one of them sat on the bed. It was Benjamin. I could see through a tiny crevice in the fake door with a light bulb shining above, but he could not see anything below. It was pitch dark in the underground room. Benjamin got on his knees and looked under the bed. I nearly shouted to God to come and rescue me. He scanned under the bed and then got to his feet. Satisfied that I was not there, he continued to search the room above me. After nearly an hour of searching, they turned their frustration on the priest. The nearest police station was miles away and this was back when mobile phones were not in existence. James and his men operated fearlessly. They began to punch the priest in the chest, face and stomach, sending blood all over the floor as they pummeled him ruthlessly. “I am prepared to kill you unless you tell me where she is,” James informed him as his two rough enforcers pounced on the priest.

“There is no one else,” he said, taking the beating with courage. “Punch his face,” James instructed his man who dropped a deadly punch on the priests face. I wanted to come out to end the beating, but fear had immobilized me. Each time they punched the priest, a streak of tear descended down my face. I placed my hand over my mouth to keep from shouting. I saw the priest drop to ground through the crevice in the door. Any moment now, he will cave in and tell the truth, I thought, he did not. He took all that eating for me – someone he hardly knew. It came to a point when I could no longer watch. I buried my head in my pillow and let the tears cascade down my face.

After nearly an hour of ferocious beating, they left him alone. “That man who told us he saw a girl walk into the compound must have been drunk,” James pointed out. “If this priest knew where Abimbola is, he would have told us. He has had enough to say the truth now,” he added. “Let’s go and beat that stupid man some more. He misled us,” Benjamin said sadistically. They finally left as the priest lay on the floor with blood dripping from his lips, teeth, face, eyes, and forehead. He managed to turn over as they left. I heard them walk away. I listened for another ten minutes to make sure they were not coming back. Then, I began to climb the wooden stairs and the pastor began to recite a Bible verse. “Let those who are unrighteous continue to be unrighteous and let who do good, continue to do good.” I paused. He was sending me a message to remain where I was. He said it a few more times, so I returned to the mattress and lay down quietly.

I felt very sorry for him as he lay there. After another half an hour, I heard footsteps. James had stayed back, lying in wait for me to emerge from my hiding place but the priest had spotted him. He finally left. “It is finished,” the priest said several minutes after those footsteps. I climbed up carefully. As soon I was up, I pushed the face door open and helped him to his feet. I went and locked the door and used hot water to wipe his face before cleaning it with alcohol. Then I gave him a painkiller and helped him to his bed.

I was too afraid, so I went back to my hiding place. By morning, I carefully climbed back up, listening carefully as I came up. I made tea for the priest and myself, refusing to step out of the house for fear that I could be easily spotted in the open. Soon, church members began to knock on the door as they came to check on their pastor. I quickly retreated to my hiding post. By mid-afternoon, I return to ground level again. “Why are those heartless men after you?’ The pastor asked me. I said nothing. I faced the ground avoiding eye contact. “I think you can trust me now,” he urged me. I finally narrated my ordeal of the last year or more to him. He was clearly shocked. “I am sorry to hear all that,” he said. “I saw you in my dream last night. You ran until you could no longer run and a voice said to me, when she drags her tired body into the house of the Lord, do all that you can to help her,” he explained.

Each time they hit me and pointed their gun at me, threatening to shoot me, I recalled that voice in my sleep and held on. I believe that God had called me to help you. I could not have done it on my own.” “Thank you! God bless you,” was all I could say to him. “We have to get you to Lagos. You cannot stay here for long,” he suggested. “I am afraid that James will come after me and my family in Lagos,” I replied. “But you cannot run from him forever. You have to get your life back. I will come to Lagos with you. I know someone who might help to arrest him and his gang.” “I will be very grateful if he gets arrested, but I am afraid he will bribe his way out of police custody.” “Not with the person I know.” “Okay, if you say so,” I agreed with him.

Two nights later, we crept out of the church and piled into a Toyota Camry. A friend of his had offered to drive us to Lagos. We took the back of the church where no one was likely to see us. We walked through a wooded path and then waited on the edge of the trees for the pastor’s friend. By now, I knew his name – Gbenga. As we waited for his friend under a tree, his hand brushed against mine. I looked at him and smiled. The fool moon revealed the brightness of his eyes and the goodness of his soul. For the first time in more than one year, I smiled. He smiled back at me. Somehow, I felt safe with him; a feeling I had not had in a very long time. He held my hand momentarily and stroked it gently. “Everything is going to be alright, he said. Somehow, I believed him…
Story continues...

Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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GRACE - Episode 5
Nigeria's leading fictional story blog - the priest, the British during colonial times, wooden, room, blood, Toyota Camry, Lagos. An African Literary Blog
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