My eyes opened. I sat up on my bed. Tears started to race down my face. I wept silently, sniffing in intervals.
“When am I going to be free?” I asked no one, turning my face to the rotating ceiling fan.
“When…when…when?” I screamed frustratingly. My voice echoed through the house, in the earliest hours of the morning. “I am tired of living like this! Free my soul! Set. Me. Free! Please…” I cried, banging my fists on the bed.
“You’ve never been fair to me. You allowed it to happen to me. You watch me in my suffering. The least you could do is to set me free from them. I have suffered enough. I want to live. I want to trust. I want to love. Please…please…” I said heatedly into space.
“Oh God! Please…” I felt myself drowning in my grief…
“…forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…” Ife’s voice, earlier the previous day, drifted back to my consciousness.
I had told her what happened with Pelumi and I had narrated my nightmares and teenage ordeal to her.
“Where was your Mum when all these happened?” She had asked, with anger in her eyes, “Where was she?”
“Dead” I replied simply, “Dead”, I repeated.
“Dead?” She queried.
“Cervical cancer. I was nine then. Remember?” I had told her that part of my story before.
“Oh” She replied. I watched her as understanding flowed into her face. She looked at me steadily for some seconds before she spoke.
“Victoria, you need to forgive your father.”
“What?” I asked incredulously. I tried to be angry, but I was too drained of all emotions to be. “I should forgive the man who made my life this miserable?”
“It is obvious you are still hurt. You are still angry with him…”
“Of course!” I exclaimed.
“If you want to really start living; if you want to start enjoying your life, you need to let go of that hurt and move on. You need to move past it.”
“See, go to anyone; ask anybody, they will tell you exactly what I’m telling you. Hatred and Unforgiveness fill life with nothing but venom.”
“I know…” I unwillingly agreed. My Pastor and the psychologist he had introduced me to had said the same thing. However, it felt impossible. I just could not bring myself to do it. Forgive the man who destroyed my innocence and happiness?
“He deserves to be punished. He has to pay for his evil deeds…” I started.
“That is not for you to decide. Leave that to God. He will pay, if he has not started to pay already.”
I sighed deeply.
“But, Ife, it is so difficult…I feel I can’t…” I broke into fresh tears.
She gathered me into her arms again. I fell into it, powerless. Weak.
“I know. I know. But you have to do it, if you want to be free to live your live the way God meant it to be.”
She started to rock me again.
“What does the Lord’s Prayer say about Forgiveness in Matthew 6?” She asked.
I was silent. Too weak to answer.
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” She answered the question herself. “Vicky, God has forgiven you already. He forgave you long before you were born. But for you to experience and live under the reality of His forgiveness, you need to let go of your past and forgive your father.”
She paused and broke away gently from the embrace. She held my face and stared into my eyes.
“Adebimpe, if you want to be perfect again, you need to release your father from your hatred. That is the only way you can be free to live and to love…”
I glanced at the bedside alarm clock ticking away quietly on the stool beside my bed. It was 3:46am. He would be awake. He was an early riser. I reached for my phone on the stool. I dialed his phone number. I wondered if he still had my phone number. Even if he did, I was not certain if he would pick my call. I had not called him since I left home, five years ago, after I graduated from the university. And I had placed his phone number on a permanent call blacklist.
After three rings, I heard the distinct mechanical tone that played whenever someone had picked my call. But there was silence from his end.
I waited for about five seconds. I heard nothing.
“Hello…” I said uncertainly.
“Victoria…” He replied in his deep, baritone voice. Floods of memories came rushing down my mind. He had started calling me “Victoria” after that incident. That was the first and the last time the incident had happened, but since that night, he had never looked into my eyes again. He had always averted his face from mine whenever we were having any kind of discussion. Any time he came close to looking at me, there was this unmistakable look of shame that had etched itself permanently on his face.
There was another silence of about ten seconds. The only thing I heard from his end was the sound of his rapid breaths.
Get on with this, girl. I pushed myself mentally.
“Look, Daddy”, I started, “I know things haven’t been fine between us. I…I…don’t want to dwell on the ‘Why’. It is pointless. But I’ve not been able to live my life freely since then. I’ve been locked in a steel cage and shackled to the ground by the hatred I developed for you since that night,” I paused to catch my breath, “So, I’m not doing this for you. You don’t deserve it at all. I’m doing this for myself. For me alone!”
I could hear faint sounds of silent sobs from his end.
“I forgive you, Dad.” I said quietly. “I forgive you. I release you from the prison of my hatred and desires for revenge. I want to be free to live my life, devoid of your influence, whether past or present. I forgive you.”
The sobs became louder.
I made no efforts to stop him.
“Thank you…thank you, my daughter. Oh…thank-you-so-much. I…I…am grateful. Thank you.” He replied eventually, still weeping.
Unable to listen to the cries of the man who gave me life and tried to take it back from me, I ended the call. The phone fell from my hand to the floor as I started to tremble from the fresh convulsions of the sobs racking through my body. I gave in completely and I cried like I had never cried before.
Gradually, I felt a sense of deep relief seeping into my soul. Through the tears, I felt like a heavy burden was being lifted off my shoulders. I felt light and empty. Suddenly, as if it had always been there, waiting for me to realize its presence, a sense of profound understanding washed over me.
My father. He loved my mother. He loved me. She died. But he was human. And he had needs. Then, he made the mistake.
I thought about him. Instead of the usual feeling of hatred and desire for revenge, I felt tender. Forgiveness had replaced all ill-feelings.
And Love. And the Freedom that comes with both.
To Live again. And to Love.
Unlike the way they started, the tears stopped abruptly. And with the stop came the dawning of the feeling of being loved.
By God. And by Man.
I bent down and reached for my phone. I dialed his phone number and he picked it on the first ring.
“Hello Victoria, good morning, Dear. How was your night?” He said, as soon as he picked the call.
“Not bad. This one that you are calling me early in the morning like this…”
I laughed softly.
“Is it bad?” I asked.
“No. It’s just that it’s too good to be a mere coincidence.” He replied.
“The thing is: I was praying for you when your call came in. So, I was kind of surprised to see it.”
“Oh! That means the Spirit is One then. I was thinking about you too this morning; that was why I decided to call.”
“Really?” He laughed.
“Look, Victoria”, He said, clearing his throat, “About the other day, I’m really sorry. I should not have tried to dwell on the issue. It’s just that I was desperate…for…for…”
“Pelumi, I love you.” I said calmly, cutting him short.
His voice froze. He was silent for about five seconds.
“You…you…said what?” He asked, with a trembling voice.
“I said I love you. And I mean it.” I repeated, without mincing words.
Another silence. This time, the silence was a long one, broken only by the voice and clanging hand bell of a morning street evangelist and the intermittent crows of some cocks probably searching for food.
A deep sigh came from his end of the call.
“Look, Vicky”, He started, “I…See…You…Are you…I don’t…”
I smiled. He was speechless. On normal days, like that day, I have always had that effect on him.
“Pelumi”, I called him, “I know you love me. It’s so obvious in everything about you. Even in the tone of your voice. Especially when you are around me. So, you don’t need to reply. You replied a long time ago, even when I was not yet ready.”
“Okay.” He replied, sounding tired suddenly.
“We have so much to discuss. I’ll see you later today, Dear.” I said.
“No problem. I’ll be looking forward to it.”
3:55pm; 14th August 2016.