I was twenty one, in my 4th year, mechanical Engineering, UNILAG, when it all happened. As a student, I had it all – loving parents and siblings, nice clothes, a nice ride, good grades, godly friends; amongst them was my best friend, Steve and a beautiful lady, Chinelo, that loved me and I loved. But, I wanted more for my life. I could remember thinking there had to be more to life than the nice, slow pace my life was moving on. I wanted fun. I wanted to be daring and spontaneous. I wanted change.
I tried explaining this to Steve and Chinelo, but they couldn’t understand; they kept telling me to forget the idea and focus on school. Chinelo most especially was the least tolerant of the whole idea. She would flare up and begin to sermonize every time I brought up the idea. This would get me so angry that we would begin to argue. It was after one of those heated arguments of ours, I decided to throw caution to the wind and just go with my feelings. I hooked up with Emeka, a classmate, the following week. Emeka could simply be described, for lack of better words, as the highly unserious guy who passed well regardless. How he did it, no one could really explain because he was hardly in class and when he was, it was either to recruit people for a party, make noise or write exam. Everyone who wanted to graduate with a reasonable GP avoided him; to me however, he was just perfect. So our friendship kicked off almost immediately and surprisingly, it felt like a relationship ordained from heaven. I helped Emeka with his school work, even dragged him to class countless times, while he unfailingly dragged me from one party to another and made me try out different things.
“Look, Ifeanyi, I am going to show you the world! I would teach you how to party and enjoy life…” Emeka would say every time we went clubbing and oh yes indeed did he show me the world! I learnt crazy things I never thought myself capable of. I drank, tried smoking, ditched rides even though I had mine, gate-crashed into parties without paying, even tried double dating. I was like a child who had just gained freedom from his parents to do anything he liked. Unfortunately, the more time I spent with Emeka, the more distant I got from Chinelo and Steve. I would go days without seeing or talking to either of them. It wasn’t so long when gradually, days started becoming weeks and weeks, months. I deliberately began to ignore their calls, even avoid seeing either of them because I didn’t want anything or anyone spoiling my fun. I kept telling myself that at the end of the semester I would return back and make it up to them. But end of semester never came before catastrophe struck.
Emeka came to my room one cool Tuesday evening in August to discuss a business idea he wanted me to partner with him on. The business Emeka wanted me to partner with him turned out to be drug dealing. I couldn’t say no because I had already committed myself initially and somewhere deep down, I felt it was daring enough to do. Regardless, I gave Emeka my terms and conditions telling him that I never wanted to deliver drugs to his clients neither did I ever want to have a taste of the stuff. I emphasized how passive I intended to be and only help out when he was in a fix and stuff. But I got a little more involved than I intended to. I wasn’t only delivering drugs for Emeka, I was also taking it with the excuse of experimenting.
I ran into Chinelo some weeks later at one of the school’s cafés. One long look at me and she just broke down and wept. I was a bit alarmed as I gently pulled her to quiet corner to talk. She kept saying I looked thin and scruffy, even when I was dressed in new shirt and jean.
“Ifeanyi, this is not you,” she began, tugging at my shirt as she spoke. “It isn’t you at all! You look so lean and scruffy that I can’t really recognize you anymore. All that doesn’t matter because they could be changed…but you have to walk away from this and amend your ways. I still love you and Jesus still loves you and we don’t judge you. I would get help for you, talk to anybody, anywhere if it will give me back the old you. But you have to walk away from this madness. The end of this isn’t going to be so pleasant, Ifeanyi, please just come back to me, I don’t judge you and I won’t preach about it…please just come back.” she pleaded, her voice filled with emotions.
Although I knew she was right, I still got angry. My anger was directed more towards myself for wanting to concede to her simply because it was her. So I flared up and began to shout and we began to argue. The argument was far more intense than any we had ever had and after some minutes, Chinelo announced she was calling the relationship off and she was done waiting for me. She walked off before I had time to recover from the shock of her words or even react to them. But Chinelo did keep her words about getting help.
The next evening, Steve showed up on my doorstep wanting to talk. I tried dismissing hin, but he was too determined to swallow any of my excuses, so we began to argue and shout at each other. We were still in the midst of the argument over me needing counselling when Emeka came in and told me that we had business to do. Steve insisted he wanted to come along and after a hot back-and-forth argument, I allowed him but begged him to lay low at the back and not say a word. Emeka drove my car as usual. We never got to our destination when three guys cornered us. That night, I got to know that Emeka owed some really big guys tons of cash which he had mistakenly gambled away. Steve was as cranky as a pregnant female woman.
“Ifeanyi so this is what you do? This is how far low you’ve gone…Oh God this can’t be happening.” he whined but I ignored him, struggling to be calm.
“Guy, what is this? How could you have spent this people’s money? Just look at how they look!” I whispered, pointing at the men standing just a few feet in front of the car. Their cold, ruthless stare was enough to send cold shivers coursing down my spine. Nothing about the way those men looked and dressed suggested we were going to leave the place alive.
Emeka hissed angrily, but I saw the fear in his eyes. His hands were shaking even as he gripped the steering wheel tighter. “Just stay calm and don’t come out of this car for any reason in the world.” he warned as he slowly disengaged his seatbelt, opened the door and got out. As he walked towards them, I got this distinct feeling of a man on his way to be hanged. If Emeka was this scared, it meant indeed I was right; there was no getting out of the situation alive.
“We should drive off,” Steve began as soon as Emeka was out of earshot. He gripped the steering and struggled to get to the front before I could stop him. I was startled and alarmed at the same time.
“Steve, calm down. Don’t do what I think you want to do.” I said, pleading, even as he started the car.
“Ifeanyi, I am not going to die like this. I am getting out of here.” he said and began to reverse.
Impulsively, I tried to wrestle the steering out of his grip and stop the car at the same time. The car began to sway. From nowhere someone began to shoot at us. The front glass shattered as a bullet came through, went through Steve’s forehead and out through the back. There was no time to process what just happened before the car went tumbling over and everything went dark.
The next time I woke up, I was in a hospital. I was told I had been unconscious for a week and that a young man, about my age had brought me and paid the bills. By their description I was able to deduce it was Emeka. When I asked about Steve, they said they didn’t know anything about him. I couldn’t call home and so I requested to call Chinelo. She came hysterical as expected. I relayed the lie Emeka had told the hospital management about me being in a robbery/ car accident to her then added that Steve had been the one driving. She immediately began to make calls to find out about Steve’s whereabouts. Somehow I knew he was dead even before they told me he was some two days later. I was beside myself with grief; almost ran mad for it. My parents had to get involved, different doctors came in and out to see me. I was so consumed with anger and shame and guilt that I found it hard to speak at all. Since I got little more than a few bruises here and there, I was discharged from the hospital to be admitted to a psychology clinic for therapy. I was just too devastated to speak out. I couldn’t tell anyone my story, what really happened.
When I wasn’t responding to treatment, my parents decided to take me abroad. I started counselling and therapy section all over again to no avail. I didn’t want to see or talk to anybody. I just kept to myself and did a lot of crying. Once, I attempted suicide and it was after the attempt my parents decided to bring me back to Nigeria to keep a close watch over me. Nothing changed in for the next two years.
One Friday evening, my mother came into my room and announced that Chinelo wanted to see me. I felt so ashamed and scared to face her. I told mom to let me be, that I didn’t want any visitors. Chinelo left me a letter before leaving describing who and what God represented. She also left her contact details and home address just in case I wanted to contact her. I cried after reading the letter and not knowing what exactly pushed me forward for the first time in two years, I drove myself over to Chinelo’s apartment that same night and told her everything that really happened. She held me and we both cried for a very long time. Then she took my hands and told me it was time to let go of the guilt and let God heal my brokenness. She began to pray for me.
As she prayed, I cried. cried for Steve, cried for her, cried for my parents and what I had put them through the last two years. Then cried for myself, how I had terminated my future, how I had walked away from God. I cried till my energy was spent and I was ready to make peace with God. Chinelo was there to lead me. She held my hands as I gave it all over to Jesus. Totally fagged out and spent, I listened to Chinelo read John 14:27 and felt this peace like I had not felt in a very long time. I could remember sleeping that way and waking up knowing I was a different man. I called my mom that Saturday morning from Chinelo’s apartment and asked for her forgiveness. Chinelo and I went over later in the day, to relay the whole story to them. Then, I tracked down Steve’s parents and went over to tell them what had really happened and beg for their forgiveness. That was the hardest part. His father hugged me that evening and said he forgave me, his mother wasn’t really that forthcoming initially, but she eventually did.
For a long time however, I couldn’t get over the guilt and sometimes it just seemed I would drown in them, but Chinelo was a fountain of scriptures. She sent them everyday in form of stories, as text messages, during on-line chat or even when we were conversing in person. She was a pillar and so were my parents. Gradually, the scriptures began to sink in and God’s word began to form a strong root in my spirit. Whenever, I felt overwhelmed with shame and guilt, I would remember one of Chinelo’s scriptures and recite them till I felt peace. John 14:27 (peace I leave you, my peace I give you…) never left my lips. I went back to school abroad, after some months and started all over again. I joined the evangelism unit of my new church and every time I was given the opportunity, I shared my own experience as a testimony of God’s unconditional love and grace. I started to work per-time to cater for Steve’s family, not because they asked for it but because I still felt a part of me was indebted to them and I owed Steve that much. I got married to Chinelo six years later and we had been that way for fifteen years and counting. Sometimes, memories of the past will come pouring back and I would be so consumed with great sadness and regret of what I could have done differently. But then again, I remember Romans 8:1 that tells us that there is no condemnation for those in Jesus and other similar scriptures and that helps me snap out of the haze of guilt.
Bottom line is, I have come to realize just how strong God’s love for us can be and is from the whole experience. Although, I lost my best friend that day, I have learnt the true meaning of the quote for the week (Rom8:1): there is indeed no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, regardless of what you’ve done or where you’ve been.