Hold my hand.
I am afraid.
Please, pray for me while I am away
“They said they won’t let me go.” He began.
I stood on the queue for hours; begging. I begged for my life.
I told the man over and over again that I was innocent; I told him he made a mistake and that I just came to Lagos in search of a better life. I told him I had a family to carter for: my mother, my sick father, my little brother. I begged for my life but they won’t let me go. They said they would take us to Kirikiri prison till it was time for our execution.
I stood on the queue for hours; begging for my life.”
Take my hand when you are scared and I will pray if you go back out there
“He’s my uncle” The young man next to him said.
“He is not a criminal.
As a child, I was told he was in jail for a crime he “knew absolutely nothing about.” I heard he begged and tried to make them see the truth. Several times, he narrowly escaped execution. The day I went to visit him, I couldn’t recognize him. I walked round the building and searched every face in the visiting room looking for my 21 years old uncle who was taken away by people who had no interest in knowing the truth. I searched and searched but, I could not find him. Someone reached out to me from behind; he held my shoulders and called my name. I turned to see a grown man; he had tears in his eyes as he smiled while reaching for my face. My uncle had become a man I could not recognize: he had beards and he looked thin. I held back the tears. Why is life so unfair?
We sat and talked for a while. I told him about my wife and the noise she makes; we laughed about it. He told me to be good to her. That was the last time I saw him till three days ago. He called to tell me he has been ‘set free’”
All my nightmares escaped my head; but I didn’t bar the doors so, they came back in. Now my head spins and I don’t know if I can dream again.
“I am 53 years old now. “ He said with a smile.
“I was thrown in jail when I was 21 years.
I had big dreams; dreams I thought could only be fulfilled in the ‘city.’ So, I packed my bags and left my family for the ‘city of dreams’
I met this man who said he needed someone to drive his bus for him. He said I would have to pay him weekly. The pay wasn’t great but, I took it; at least, I’ll have a place to lay my head before I’ll be able to raise funds to rent a house.
The bus became my office during the day and my home at night. It was one of those nights I got arrested for nothing. They said there was a robbery around the corner (and since I was a driver, I was automatically a suspect). I tried to explain to them that I had absolutely no idea about what they were accusing me of; but, they didn’t listen; they grabbed my arm and took me away. Do you know that when they called the owner of the bus to come and clear me, he refused to vouch for me? He even accused me of stealing his bus.”
“I mean, who does that?” I exclaimed.
“A human being” He answered.
Peel the scars from off my back, I don’t need them anymore. Throw them out; keep them in your mason jars.
I lived in fear for 32 years. But, I loved what that fear did to me. It weakened my knees every time; so, I prayed a lot. I held on to God like my life depended on Him and literally, it did.
They moved me to Kirikiri some years later and there, inmates were executed every day. They had a list and would call out the names every morning. They would lead them out and the next thing we would hear was gun shots. Every time the trigger went off, my heart would skip faster than the earth went round. Every time those shots were heard, I would fall on my knees and beg God for strength and one more day.
He gave me one more day every day and I am eternally grateful to Him.
Three days ago, the warden called me into his office. He showed some clothes and asked me if I could amend them. I told him I could and I just needed the exact measurement. Somehow, I had to learn how to sew. (It was a new prison development: inmates had to learn something. Apparently, the ‘something; benefited the warders more than they did us.)
As soon as he was done talking to me, he asked me to leave. I was barely at the door when he called me back. He asked how long I’ve been in prison. With familiar tears in my eyes, I looked at my unkempt feet and said “Sir, I’ve been saying the same over and over again. I am innocent. For thirty two years sir, I’ve been saying the same thing. I am innocent.” He looked at me and shook his head. He called another officer and said “we need to let this man go.”
Comfort the girl.
Help her understand that no memory, no matter how sad, no violence, no matter how bad can darken the heart or tear it apart.
I told him about my bad heart and my recent loss of circulation.
I told him I had recently become uninterested in making plans because of the doctor’s report.
I told him what I would like to dream about: a wedding-my wedding for instance, or falling in love, or having kids and making Mfon a grand-mother.
I told him about my habit of spoiling happy time: how I pushed people away because in my head I thought I wasn’t good enough for them or they were too successful or debonair or dapper for me.
I told him all about my fears like dying early from Restrictive Cardiomyopathy. I told him I was afraid I would make plans and never live to see them happen. I told him I was scared of being vulnerable and how safe I feel in the comfort of my pen. I told him I was happy to meet him and he was the only person who truly knew that part of me.
He sighed and said “I like you little child. I know alot about you already; but, how is that you know little about yourself?”
I looked at him.
He smiled and continued “I know you have a good heart but I also know you can be mean.” I chuckled. He sounded a lot like Wendy. I wiped a tear from my left eye and lifted my head to look at him.
“I know you love weddings; even if you act like romance is not your style. I think you are just scared you’ll never find what you believe you truly deserve. I know you want everyone to be happy around you but, some days, you won’t even let yourself be happy; you probably try too hard. I know a lot about you you see; you are like an open book child and I like that the most.
But, don’t throw yourself into a prison for things you have absolutely no idea about.
Life shouldn’t be solved, it should be lived.
Your fears are unknown let them be that way.
Your health is only a variable. Relax already.
If you die young, die free not as a prisoner.
Do this for me.
Let yourself go.
You deserve it.”
The floor was wet.
I just sat there with intertwined fingers. My face was soaked; no one has ever liked me for being ‘an open book’.
I looked at him and said “do you want to see the ocean?” He smiled and said “Yes. Yes child, I would love to” I could give him a hug but, I didn’t.
Comfort the man.
Help him understand that no floating sheet; no matter how haunting and no secret no matter how nasty can poison your voice or keep you from joy.
“I never fell in love.
I never went clubbing or attended a party.
I never smoked or got into troubles as young boys would.
I was in prison when I heard about phones.
Now, I see wide, flat things in people’s palms. My nephew calls them ‘I pad. ‘
I feel like a child or a blind man whose eyes have just been opened.
I feel new not even considering my age.
I know I have a lot of adjusting to do. I know I have to get used to noise and colors and the wind and green leaves and trees and the ocean and the airplanes and the clothes and jobs and technology. But, I will be nice to myself and allow my mind to be truly free. I will take this new life one step at a time and I need you to do the same.
People might hear my story and still call me a criminal or ex-convict. But, I know I’m not a criminal. I don’t even want to think about how I would get a job. I just want to savor this gift of freedom God has given to me.” He paused and took my hand and said “I’m sorry about your health. I know you’ll fight and I hope you won’t stop trusting God even if it gets darker.”
I met this man some days ago and I don’t even know his name.
But when we were done talking, I felt like I heard someone say “let’s set this girl free”. I knew that voice was mine. I told ‘me’ to let ‘me’ go.
I hope you do let your fears melt at the feet of freedom.
Whatever gives you no joy and poses a limitation is your prison. It took my meeting this man to truly realize this.
Have an amazing week.