Debbie deposited what was left of the last meal she had eaten in the toilet. Hands shaking, she rinsed her mouth, walked with wobbly legs to her bed and lay on it, head filled with swirling, conflicting thoughts. If she could laugh, she would have. Her situation was like one out of the kind of shoestring budget Nollywood movies her mum loved so much. The Christian girl gets high on the intoxicating freedom afforded at the university, gets pregnant and finds her life cracking, ultimately and surely falling apart in huge fragments. The end.
Except, she reminded herself, she wasn’t sure she was pregnant yet. Her period was a few days late. That much was true, but she’d always had irregular periods. The bouts of nausea and the fatigue could have other causes.
She had to get a pregnancy test done, she thought. She had no desire to see her worst fears confirmed on a strip, but delaying was of no use, she needed to know for sure. She needed a head start to get on top of the situation, to do whatever she could by way of damage control in case she was pregnant.
She allowed herself a moment to consider how devastating being pregnant could be, how everything she had planned in her life, up to that point and beyond, could come undone. The success of most of her plans hinged upon factors which would be ruined if she was pregnant. Troubled and weary, she drifted off to sleep, wearing a smile which bellied her internal anguish.
She wanted nobody to accompany her to buy a pregnancy test strip, so she went alone the next day. The salesgirl behind the counter at the pharmacy gave her a once-over, lips turned down at the corner. She took the white bag from the girl, interpreting what she saw in her eyes as disapproval. But the girl was unimportant; one small speck whose disapproval meant nothing.
On her way back from the pharmacy, she wondered what to do about Ibrahim, who would become a father, if indeed a baby was forming within her. She would tell everyone else, but she didn’t know if it was necessary to tell him. He was the typical wealthy boy, living life without inhibitions, an antithesis of her calm, measured, premeditated approach to life and living. They were worlds apart, so much so that, though they had lived next to each other, they were barely aware of each other’s existence besides the occasional nod, or wave when they ran into each other somewhere.
It would have remained that way if she had found her keys on that Thursday. It was a day she would like to forget but she knew she would always remember it.
She had woken up that day with sickening dread, masked by a resolute desire to see all she had to do through. Her penultimate year in the university had hit a snag when she checked her previous semester results, discovered she had a missing course, and would have to retake an examination in it if the problem wasn’t sorted out.
The inconvenience was unwelcome; her results had been stellar so far and she needed them to stay that way. She intended to apply to a school overseas for a scholarship to do her Masters, and she worked hard to avoid scenarios like this. She had been close to breaking something in anger when she saw the result.
Her course adviser helped calm her, assured her that the situation could be remedied, as it was clear she had sat for the examination. He said, all she had to do was write a letter to the lecturer involved and request for the result to be made available. He told her he would go with her to see the lecturer if the need arose. She was, after all, one of his brightest students.
His words did much to calm her. She thanked him and moved on from there to tackle it, head-on, as with all her problems. But the lecturer in question was nowhere to be found. She left the letter she had written with his secretary, who, in turn, asked her to return the next Thursday.
All she got that Thursday was a dose of the usual vulgarity of the Nigerian school system. The lecturer was unavailable, again. He had instructed the secretary to give her his number. She called him and he asked her to come see him at a hotel in town. “I’m at a conference.”
The mention of a hotel might have struck a chord of fear, but she thought that a conference was a pretty open affair and she wouldn’t be in danger. So she went. The hotel itself wasn’t easy to locate. She irked a few taxi drivers by her inability to say just where she was going, before she managed to locate the place.
A conference was indeed going on when she arrived. She called him on arrival and as arranged, he came out to get her. He was tall, lanky, his too-large suit hanging limp on his frame, wearing glasses which magnified his eyes to comical proportions, sweat shimmering on his shaved head.
He waved her into a seat at the table in the hotel’s restaurant. He took off his glasses, wiped them and said; “So, you know the way out of this your wahala, abi?”
Confused, Debbie began to repeat all her Course Adviser had told her, till she was cut off.
“I’m usually a considerate guy when it comes to things like this, so, I only collect ten K. And then, I publish the result.” He stopped and ran his eyes over her in unconcealed desire. “But you, you be fine girl. We can do it a bit differently-” He seemed unable to restrain himself from licking his lips. “-if you know what I mean.”
Debbie knew what he meant. She stood up, clutched her bag, and stormed out, pushing past hotel staff and customers alike.
She went back to her Course Adviser in a fiery cloud, told him what happened and was whisked out of his office to that of the HOD. After listening to both of them, the HOD made a call to the Dean of Student Affair’s office. She spoke with someone — perhaps his secretary — for a while and asked them to be patient, with a promise of an update the next day, as the work day was almost over.
Debbie took a taxi home, leaning her head against the glass, breathing shallow breaths and kissing her teeth over and over again. She looked forward to the prospect of a warm meal and deep sleep afterwards, but on reaching her room she dipped her hand into her bag, and she was unable to find her keys.
It was one little thing at the end of a day filled with annoying things and it succeeded in breaking her. She sat, forlorn, at her doorstep, staring into the distance, unsure if she should cry or laugh.
She was sitting there still when all had gone dark and Ibrahim returned home, asked if she was okay and when she didn’t reply, coaxed her to her feet and into his apartment.
She was reminiscing still when she arrived home, clutching the white bag like it was a lifeline. She read the instructions on the test pack and went through them in a semi-lucid state, going through the motions with lagged deliberation, placing the strip at the edge of the sink when she was done, chewing her nails while she waited to see what came next. For a moment, she thought the tears had blurred her eyes too much. It couldn’t be two lines on the strip. She dabbed her eyes with the hem of her blouse, and a choked, “Hei God,” burst from her lips when the two lines remained.
She wrapped the strip in tissue and dumped it in the waste basket. She ate cold rice leftovers from the day before and lay in bed, her thoughts revolving around how much of a fool she had been. She had gone and had sex without protection, had let time slip by without being bothered to do something about the possibility of a pregnancy. She couldn’t recall a time, if any, when she had been so careless.
She woke with the sun sinking in a sea of orange and decided to go to work on doing damage control.
She began an assessment of the situation, allowing a moment of crude, somewhat prideful laughter, at how well she was taking the situation. For a 22 year-old unemployed undergraduate, she was rather calm. Her six years of trying to imbibe stoic principles were paying off.
The first problem was her parents. She knew how they were going to react seeing as they were extremely traditional Nigerians. That coupled with their fire, brimstone and holiness Christianity made a dreadful combination. She felt sorry for them. She was their only child, and had never caused them trouble until now. However, there was nothing to be done for that.
She would call them first, she decided.
The second problem was extricating herself from the leadership of her Christian Campus Fellowship. She was serving her second tenure as the Vice President and was one of the figures a lot of people looked up to and admired. There were two ways they could react: with anger or with grace. She was uncertain which of the two they would fall to. She, naturally, hoped for the latter. They were Christians and she wanted to believe they practised what they preached. And she needed support to figure herself out as she went through the storm. But their reputation was bound to take a hit and she wasn’t expecting them to take it too well.
Her own faith was put on hold. She would process it much later and try to…
Ibrahim was the third problem.
She would call her parents before she tackled that problem.
Her mum picked on the first ring. “Hello? Debbie. How are you?” she said in her usual upbeat manner. Something about living a life largely devoid of serious upheavals had locked her in positive mode.
A stab of pain shot through Debbie’s chest and she placed a hand on it. She skipped all preambles and dove straight in. “I have something I want to tell you. And… and it’s not good news at all and I’m sorry about it.” She drew in a large breath.
“What’s wrong?” her mum asked, tone indicating bewilderment rather than worry.
Debbie swallowed more air and on the release, said, “I’m pregnant.”
She waited for the wailing, or sobs, or angry screams, but all she heard was silence. The silence weighed on her; uncertain and worrisome. After a few seconds, she asked, “Mum? Are you there? I’m sorry. I’m so, so, sorry.”
There was still silence. She had expected her mum to take it badly, but not this badly. That was why she called her first. If she was this cold, God alone knew how her dad would take it.
She was spiralling through her thoughts when her mum asked in a voice that was almost a whimper, “Have you told your father?”
“Of course not. I wanted to talk to you first,” Debbie managed to reply, tears beginning to slide down her cheeks.
“He’s not going to like it,” her mum said in a matter-of-fact tone.
Debbie did not reply because she did not need to. She knew as well as her mum did that her father was going to go crazy and do drastic things neither of them wanted to consider.
“Call him now. We’re both at home, so, I’ll hear what he has to say. Don’t tell him you talked to me first.” She hung up.
Debbie was more confused than she had ever been at any point so far. Her mum had not reacted as she had expected her to; there had been no melodrama whatsoever and her voice had not given away anything about how she was feeling. She could be angry, elated, or worried right now but Debbie would not have been able to tell from the conversation they just had. She knew her mum for a lot of things but subtlety was not one of them.
Still reeling in confusion, she called her dad.
Their conversation was reassuring because it went as she had predicted. Even though it was a one-way tirade. She turned her phone speaker down and paced her room while she waited for the angry screaming to end.
Her father ended the call after making it clear that he never wanted to see her again, and that he did not consider her a child of his anymore. At least, the conversation had gone how she thought it would. After her conversation with her mum, she was back on solid ground, and things were happening as they were supposed to.
Her dreams of an elite education was gone with her father’s money and she acknowledged the fact by drinking some more water even though by then, her stomach was doing backflips. Even though she was working towards getting a scholarship, she still needed a financial buffer to cover other expenses. That side of the equation was supposed to have been taken care of by her father. It was something she had always taken as a given until now, and to find it pulled away from her hurt. But more than that, to realise that she had never bothered to find a plan B for this scenario hurt more.
All this, she thought, because of the person living and growing inside of me. She rubbed her stomach and let her thoughts stray to an abortion for the first time. She had briefly considered the possibility of getting one when she first suspected she might be pregnant but she quickly dismissed the thought. She knew she would always think of the baby as him or her and in turn, of getting an abortion as murder.
She sat down, took a deep breath, drank some water and crossed her parents off the list. She was not exactly sure what was up with her mum earlier but she knew that her mum would follow wherever her dad led as she had been doing for most of her life and all of her marriage. She always wondered how a smart, savvy woman like her mother ended up with a man like her father with his backward views about everything in general and women in particular. Even more puzzling for her was how her mother ended up acquiescing to his views on everything, becoming the stereotypical well-mannered housewife (read: cook, cleaner, and everything in-between.)
She shrugged and picked up her phone to call the campus co-ordinator attached to her fellowship when her phone beeped. It was a text from her mum and it read, simply; Call Kate.
Debbie froze and rubbed her eyes to make sure she wasn’t seeing things. Kate was her aunt who wasn’t on speaking terms with her mum. She had never managed to drag the story of their split out of her mum but she knew it had something to do with her mum’s marriage to her father. Aunt Kate was very liberal and detested religion, or she was, as her father liked to say, pagan. She filed it away and decided she would call her later. She sent her mum a text; Alright.
Next, she dialled the campus co-ordinator and waited as the call took what seemed like forever to connect. She hoped the call would not go how she expected it to. For years she had built the core of her identity around her faith but she knew very well — more than most in fact — how ugly so-called Christians could become when faced with things they considered too egregious. She had watched several people run away from the church over the years as intimate, sensitive revelations about their lives were spread abroad and the vitriol followed. It was much more precarious when the perceived betrayal was coming from someone who occupied a leadership position or was highly visible and served as a reference point for other believers. The vilifying manner in which those people were treated usually had her wondering if all the prayers and Bible studies had any effect whatsoever.
Watching scenes like that play out and dealing with several gnawing doubts about the validity of some of the things she’d claimed to believe had worked away at her faith over time. She could trace all of her worries back to her doubts, the sinking doubts. They had worked in tandem with perverse curiosity, had led her to the one night stand, had led her to becoming pregnant, had led her to this point where her world was breaking apart in bits.
She was pinning her hopes for a rejuvenation of her faith — if it was possible — on the hope that her Christian community, the one she’d poured her life and a lot of effort into over the past four years would come through for her. That they would be kind and loving, gracious and compassionate — they would be in essence, everything that she was not expecting them to be right now.
It was not to be.
Her conversation with the campus co-ordinator was calm enough. He expressed sadness at the situation, offered his encouragement and prayers and hung up. On the surface it wasn’t bad, but she had learned long ago that Christians seemed to have a strange affinity for gossip. So she waited calmly for the storm, her phone in hand.
She did not have to wait very long. Thirty minutes was all it took for the news to worm its away from the very top of the leadership hierarchy all the way down to the fellowship WhatsApp group. She quickly left the group to preserve whatever shred of dignity she had left and swore to kill the campus co-ordinator one day.
It was getting dark then. She had no idea what to do next and no guiding principle to direct her actions, she had never imagined or planned for this scenario and she was not used to being in a situation without a plan or some sort of compass.
She took deep breaths and tried to steady herself but she found that she could not. She was facing upheavals of such magnitude that all of her stoic philosophy could not withstand it. She had built her life on certainty and known factors, now she was shrouded in uncertainty and unknowns.
She knew she still had two tasks left to cross off her list. She had to decide what to do about Ibrahim. With all that had happened, she was certain he would not accept her claims and so she was uncertain whether to tell him or not. She also had to figure out why her mum wanted her to call her aunt. However, whatever the reason was she couldn’t see how it would help her in any significant manner right now. So she decided that it could wait.
She was tired. Too tired to look for food. Too tired to turn on the light. Too tired to scrub off the sweat which had left her with a musty smell. She crumpled the bottle she had drunk from and threw it at the farthest wall. With trancelike movements, she picked the plastic cups and plates off her rack and threw them too. She moved to her books and threw those as well.
The room was a mess, but nothing had shattered. It could all be fixed, things put back in their places; unlike her life. Her legs gave way beneath her. She sunk into a heap on the cold terrazzo floor and let the tears flow.
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