…You know you want to
Standing before the magnificent oak doors of our church, I can’t help but remember how the carvings on it had fascinated me as a child. The Virgin Mary with a halo around her head offered prayers to the Lord on one door as her son Jesus stood before ‘the twelve’ on the other door. Every Christmas, from the time I was four, mother had told me the story of the virgin birth and the great redemption it eventually brought to humanity. I always looked at ‘her’ with admiration as I entered the church every Sunday. God had found her worthy.
Even as a little child, I had been taught by mother and father to always seek God’s approval. One Sunday morning, as I skipped by the oak doors, I tugged on mother’s fingers and asked her “I’m a virgin too, right?” She looked down at me and smiled “Yes baby, you are”. I smiled back at her and said “Good“. It only took me a few more years to realize that it takes more than my virginity to please God and gain His approval. I learned to walk the walk of faith in every area of my life. My parents never lacked words of godly reprimand when I seemed to be erring or heading in the wrong direction. Father was a treasurer at the church and mother led some bible study classes during the week. Being their only child, I had to be perfect. We studied the bible together as a family and they encouraged me to do some personal study too. I went to a Christian girls’ high school and whenever I came home for the holidays, they already had lots of ‘fun godly activities’ lined up for me. That was what mother called them. I learned to play the piano when I was 8. The first time I played during the Sunday service, I was 10. Mother had tears in her eyes. I spent every summer at the Christian children’s summer camp. That was the life I knew and I was content. Then I left for the university. Once there, I joined a good fellowship and concentrated solely on my studies and my duties at the fellowship. I think over it all again as I stand before the big oak doors in my beautiful white dress, waiting for them to be opened as I proceed on my bridal march. Yes, it is my wedding day. Father and I lock arms. He can barely see past the pain in his eyes but he manages to keep up a smile. I hear the old doors creak rather ungracefully as they opened into the great big auditorium where both my parents had served faithfully for years. Mother was popular among the women and the youth. She was everyone’s favourite bible study teacher. She had a way with the bible that had everybody longing for the Lord. No one would believe the secrets she kept in her heart as she looked down the aisle towards father and me. I looked past her at David, my fiance. David is the pastor’s son. He went to school in England for the greater part of his life. He also went to mission school before returning home to find a bride and learn the ways of our church. Someday, he too will be a pastor like his father. I didn’t know much about him until 11months ago when he returned. We have been engaged for the past 6months. He loves the Lord and he is passionate about the gospel. I hear him talk and I know that the call of God is upon his life. He loves me and trusts that his father made a good choice for him. I only wish I was good enough for him *sigh* If only he knew… As far as the rules go in our church, intending couples are not allowed to go on random dates. All meetings must be done in church with their appointed courtship counselor on ground to chaperon. If the couple will be meeting without a chaperon, the counselor must approve every detail of such a date. The strict rules were aimed at maintaining Christian standards of purity and godliness in courtship. David and I kept all the rules. It would be a taboo if word ever got out that a young woman in the church was pregnant outside of marriage. Far be it from the church of Christ! As I begin the long march down the aisle, looking ahead at my soon to be husband, I remember it all again, the horror, the pain, the secrets that destroyed the joy in our little family. The 15yrd aisle looks like a thousand miles. The guests are on their feet, smiling at me, admiring my beautiful white dress…white for purity. Dear Lord! I remember it all again, it was my final year at the university and I had just finished my final exams. The fellowship had a thanksgiving service that evening. We all thanked God for the completion of our exams and gave thanks in advance for our results. I was so happy. That night, I told God to direct my path and tell me what next He had planned for me. I hungered for the fulfilment of God’s plan for my life. My parents called and asked when I would come home. They were so happy that I had finished and they missed me so much. I missed them too. I planned to leave the campus the following morning. I walked back to the hostel that night, going through the same old route I had walked from the fellowship throughout my years at the University. Then it happened. I felt two strong hands grab me from behind and drag me into d tall bushes on d side on the road. I screamed and thrashed as he threw me against the hard and dirty ground. I kept on screaming and struggling but that didn’t stop him. He went ahead and did the unthinkable. I could not believe what was happening to me. Kill me now, I thought. He got up and hurried away into the dark night. I didn’t look back. I could not bear to put a face to the great evil that had been done to me. “God, please, let this be a bad dream.” I scrubbed and scrubbed in the showers that night but the stench of horror just did not leave me. I was stained, defiled and what was taken could not be regained. I spent 2 lonely days crying in my room, and then summoned up courage to return home on the third day. My mother instantly knew that something had happened to her most treasured jewel. She wept her heart out as I told her. Father was away at work and I was glad to be asleep when he returned. I was awakened by father’s loud shouts of pain and anguish later that night. I didn’t dare leave my room. I just curled up and wept. I heard father use words that he had never used before. He wanted to find the man and kill him. The following morning, we all knelt in our family room and prayed. Mum and I wept quietly throughout. Though they were broken to bits by the tragedy, my parents supported me and constantly prayed with me. They loved me more than ever. We would never tell anyone of what had happened and slowly, the pain would melt away. My parents did not want the stigma of rape on their precious daughter. I returned to my activities in church and pretended to be normal still but inside me, I was in pieces. Less than 2months latter, we made a trip to Edo state to attend my convocation ceremony. My friends did not notice anything wrong with me and we celebrated our graduation with shouts of joy. Mother’s face brightened up a bit. It looked like we were all gradually living again, pretending that it never happened. We got back to Lagos on the first flight the following morning. As I walked through the front door that morning, I suddenly felt a deep nauseating feeling in the pit of my stomach. I ran off to the bathroom and threw up. Mother said it was a fever. Father said it was the trip that got to me. They so badly wanted to believe that. I wanted to as well. The Doctor’s report confirmed our unsaid fears. Our world came crashing down a second time, this time, worse. None of us said a word about it that day. Mother brought me my dinner in my room. They argued all through the night. I’m sure they were arguing over what to do with the thing inside me. I cried more than I prayed that night. I prayed for them. The following day was Saturday. Father was not at home when I woke up. Mother said he had to run some errands but I know better. He could not bear to look at me. Mother asked me what I wanted to do about the pregnancy. I knew all the implications of her questions. Have they argued on different sides and agreed to leave the decision to me? Were they considering an… oh no! I could not even say the word in my heart. Mother had taught me that it was an abomination unto God and I agreed with her. “Does father want me to have an abortion? Is that why he left the house so early?” Mother had tears in her eyes. “Sweetheart, your father loves you”. Her voice was shaking. I ran to my mother and hugged her. “I’m really scared, mother, but God will not permit me to kill the child inside of me.” When mother told him that night, father came to my room. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and held me in his arms. “I’m so sorry that this happened to you baby, I’m so sorry”. He wept like I had never seen him weep. He called mother in and we prayed together, asking God for help. Mother and father talked all through the night in their room. Mother cried and father prayed. I just curled up in my bed and wondered what would happen to me next. The tears refused to come. I watched the sun rise outside my window and went to the kitchen to get some water. My parents were already there. I sat with them and took a sip of my water. Father explained to me that mother had called grandma. Grandma would like me to come and stay with her till I had the baby. That way, we would all be spared the pain of having to explain the cause of my protruding belly to the neighbours and members of our church. We would simply tell them that I was going to live with my aunty in Cameroun for a year. Three weeks later, I was with grandma. She held my face to her chest and cried with deep sorrow. She cursed the man that molested me. As for me, I was numb, just waiting for the nightmare of my life to pass. Mother stayed for 2 days and had to go back home. Grandma helped me a lot. She took care of me. I hardly ever left the house. She did not want anybody asking questions because she had always bragged to her friends about her precious little granddaughter. The following 6months were the longest 6 months of my life. The earlier part was the hardest. I struggled with my choice and almost gave up. I cried myself to sleep most times and prayed that I would miscarry. Mother would call to check on me every day. She visited twice within the first 4months. Father mostly sent his regards through mum. I would often hear his voice in the background, “tell her I love her”. I guess he could not bear to hear my voice. The whole thing just tore him apart. I got better with time. I felt God’s love again and he increased my faith. I had my baby on a quiet April morning 3yrs ago. Grandma and mother had arranged for a home birth. This would be our family secret. The midwife put the wailing child in grandma’s arms. Grandma looked from the baby to my mother and said “she looks just like you.” Mother just held my hand and stroked my hair with tears in her eyes. Father called that night. He sang to me, the same nursery rhyme we used to sing together when I was little. I knew he was holding back tears because his voice was shaking. Grandma named her Rebecca. I returned home 3 months after my baby was born and tried to live a normal life while grandma took care of my baby. That was the plan…they wanted me to leave the tragedy behind me and live a normal life thereafter. I was back at home and life went on as usual. I returned to my activities at church once again and all my friends could not wait to hear about Cameroun. Mother had had the foresight to order a couple of Cameroonian magazines and newspapers for me to read. I told a lot of lies and they were quite believable. Even I was starting to believe the lies I told. I got a job at the church. I taught children to play the piano every day after school. The parents were generous with the payments. Everything seemed to be going well for me but nothing was normal…I had ceased to be normal. The lies were eating me up inside. I would stand next to mother as she answered a nosy neighbour’s questions with lies that have been rehearsed over and over again. Father always avoided the probing questions. He left the lying to us. I was turning into a big liar. So many secrets and so many little lies to cover them up. I felt betrayed by the community that made me feel like I had to lie to them. Are we not all as Christians supposed to be our sisters’ keepers? Why should I feel such a huge burden to lie about what happened to me? As badly as I wanted to challenge the popular behaviour, I knew that I could not face the stigma and judgement that would follow my confession so I swallowed my secrets into deeper parts of my heart. David and I never discussed the issue of chastity. The possibility that I was not a virgin would never have crossed anyone’s minds. I was the bible study teacher’s sweet little girl. I get closer and closer to the altar and watch as David’s smile broadens. He looks at me with so much admiration. He is very handsome. Would he ever forgive me if I later told him about the rape, the pregnancy and the baby? Would he still look at me the way he’s doing right now or cast me away like a filthy rag? In my heart, I wonder which one would hurt him more, the fact that I was ‘defiled’ before he married me or the fact that I lied about it. Finally, father gives me a peck on the cheek and helps me onto the raised platform of the altar to be married. David takes my hand with joyful pride in his eyes and together, we turn and walk towards the Pastor. Lord please forgive me.