Folake was on the bus to her Mum’s when Erin’s call came in.
“Sister mi, how far?”
Folake was too flustered to think of a presenting the news with some cushioning. “Tope is missing. I’m on my way to the house now.”
Erin sighed over the phone. “I sensed something was wrong. When I woke up this morning, Tope was on my mind. He will be found. I’ve prayed for him.”
How could Erin maintain her calm in the face of a daunting situation as this? Why didn’t Folake think to pray for Tope when he crossed her mind? Even though Folake was the one who ministered the gospel to Erin and got her saved, Erin’s devotion and fire for God was something that always challenged Folake. Erin was young but rooted in God, little wonder she was hardly shaken and perturbed by the vicissitudes of life.
“We won’t stop praying. Please keep me posted.”
Folaked nodded as though Erin could see her. “Alright, thanks.”
Folake felt a frisson of relief, drawing some peace from Erin’s assurance in God. She bowed her head to pray in the jouncing bus.
Tope’s body was found by the road. He was barely breathing and he was shirtless. It was one of the women in the neighborhood who called Folake’s mum to inform her of the fact. Mrs. Adeyanju hurried to the scene with Folake who was already calling for an ambulance. When they got to the scene, the first thing Folake noticed was how prominent Tope’s thoracic cage was, how gaunt he looked.
What has happened to my brother?
The ambulance arrived with its blue flashes and wailing sirens. Tope was rushed to the hospital. On the way to the hospital, Folake sent Erin a quick text.
-He’s been found. He was dumped by the road. He’s unconscious but alive. We are on our way to the hospital. Please keep praying-
-Thank God. Don’t let fear rule your heart, sister mi and please tell mummy not to panic. God will see us through-
Folake showed the text to her mum who was seething with worry. Mrs. Adeyanju sighed and closed her eyes.
“Only God knows what happened to him.” Mrs. Adeyanju whispered.
Folake was looking at Tope where he lay with an oxygen mask on and a paramedic monitoring his vitals. She saw something on his forearm that made her eyebrows furrow. What were those dots of scars, those darkened lines?
At the hospital, a consultant asked to see Folake and her mother.
“What happened to my Tope?” Mrs. Adeyanju asked as soon as they entered his office.
“Madam, please sit.” The doctor said.
“First off, you can breathe easy. Tope is stable now.”
Mrs. Adeyanju exhaled.
“Thank you, Jesus.” Folake muttered.
The doctor flipped open Tope’s file and clicked his pen, ready to take notes.
“Have you noticed anything strange about Tope in recent times?” The doctor asked looking between Folake and her mum.
“Strange in what way?” Mrs. Adeyanju quizzed, looking from Folake to the doctor.
“Behavioral changes. Has he become more withdrawn, more aggressive, have you noticed any change in his eating habits?”
“Yes, yes. He doesn’t eat well these days.” Mrs. Adeyanju mentioned.
“And he has lost weight.” Folake added.
The doctor scrawled something in the file.
“What else? Anything at all?”
“I bought this nice shirt for him and he refused to wear it.” Mrs. Adeyanju chipped in.
Folake looked at her mother askance.
“Kini?” Mrs. Adeyanju rounded on Folake, hands splayed.
“Mummy, how is that relevant information?”
“Oh, it is relevant.” The doctor replied and then turned to Mrs. Adeyanju. “This shirt, is it short-sleeved?”
Mrs Adeyanju nodded.
“Let me guess, he has only been wearing long-sleeved shirts lately.”
Mrs. Adeyanju nodded repeatedly. “Even when it’s very hot.”
Folake frowned. The scars she saw on Tope’s forearm. She started shaking her head slowly. “It can’t be what I’m thinking.”
The doctor sighed. “Tope has been using.”
Mrs. Adeyanju looked at Folake. “Using what?”
Folake squeezed her eyes shut, still shaking her head.
“Heroin. He passed out as a result of an overdose and that was in fact what affected his breathing.”
Mrs. Adeyanju thumped the table with both fists. “What are you talking about? Tope went for drama rehearsals!”
The doctor shook his head. “Teenagers lie all the time. The long sleeves are for hiding his track lines.”
A tortuous, strained line of silence encircled the room.
Folake sat there, struggling to believe that all the whole time she had been sending her hard-earned money to Tope and he was using it to buy smack.
Mrs. Adeyanju thought of all the times Tope said he was going out for drama rehearsals, for extra JAMB lessons, for hospital visitation. She thought of how his speech and movement were slower than normal on most mornings and when she asked him about it, he said it was because he spent the night studying. They were all lies.
Teenagers lie all the time. The doctor said. Tears streamed down her face. How could Tope be so inconsiderate? How could he not think of her? She was a single mother, breaking the bank and her back to put her children through school. All Tope does is fail exam after exam and now, he was spending her money on drugs?
“What kind of child is this?”
Folake looked at her mum, through the lens of her tears, she held her hand.
“We have given him Naloxene to reverse the effect of heroin. He’s stable now, but withdrawn. Heroin is very addictive and if Tope wouldn’t relapse, I’ll advise that you monitor him closely and more importantly let him start seeing a shrink and if possible, sign him up with an addiction recovery support group.”
“Any recommendations, sir?” Folake asked after sniveling.
The doctor reached over to retrieve some leaflets from a drawer. He passed them to Mrs. Adeyanju.
“The journey of recovery from addiction could be long and exhausting. You need to be patient with him and love him through the process. Also, seek to understand what drove Tope into drugs. For many teens and youths, it’s peer pressure but in some cases, there could be an underlining mental health issue such as anxiety, ADHD or depression.”
Folake could only stare in utter shock. Top boy the ambidextrous epitome of wonder was now a junkie? Her clown of a brother could be battling a mental health issue?
-How far? What did the doctors say?-
Folake looked at Erin’s text and felt even more dispirited. How could she pass this message along to Erin?
After leaving the doctor’s office, she went to Tope’s ward. He was awake and jittery. Folake walked in and spun around almost immediately. She ran out of the ward, crying. It was too much to take in and she realized that she was simply not ready to face Tope. She didn’t know what to say and she didn’t want to say the wrong things. She didn’t know what was right to feel, but she knew she wanted desperately to give him a hard slap across the face.
A message came in from Akor, the vet doctor. A welcome distraction.
-Cooper is well and ready to be taken home-
Cooper was her little puppy that had fallen ill and she had to part with Cooper for a long week.
She turned to her mum. “I have to go pick my dog now.”
Mrs. Adeyanju nodded. Folake stalked off.
Of course, Folake didn’t need to get her dog immediately, what she needed was a moment to catch her breath. What she needed was a moment away from the steaming mess of the whole Tope situation. Once outside the hospital, Folake heaved a long sigh and immediately felt guilty for seeking relief while her Mum was in there alone with Tope. She felt guilty for running from facing Tope, from facing her reality and running instead to her dog. But guilty as she was, she didn’t go back into the hospital.
Owoicho Akor was a stockily built Idoma man with an aquiline nose and a watery lisp that Folake found funny and fascinating. He was her church member, one of the Sunday school teachers and for a long time, Folake didn’t know his profession. One Sunday after service, she complained to Dasola, her friend, about how Cooper’s diarrhea was starting to bother her. Akor was within earshot and he promptly offered to check her puppy. That was how he became Cooper’s doctor.
Akor’s office had an air of feminine grooming, with his prim filing cabinet, shining desk top and giant flower vase sitting in a corner. When Folake entered his office, Akor grinned. A wide grin that was infectious.
“Thank you for taking care of my boy.” She said as she took Cooper from Akor. Cooper’s tail wagged in circles of ecstasy. He panted and whined, excited to be back in Folake’s care. Folake ruffled the back of Cooper’s ear.
“I must say, he’s a good boy.”
Folake could only sniff a chuckle. She wanted to go back to the hospital to be with her mum and Tope. It wasn’t fair that she was here chuckling while her mum was there in the hospital.
“What do you say to us hanging out one of these days?” Akor asked and in the lopsidedness of his brows, Folake could read his nervousness.
“It’s a very busy period for me.” Folake stood up. “I should leave now. Thanks once again. I’ll foot the bill with the cashier.”
“Since you’re busy, I was thinking, what of-”
“Pleaseee.” Folake cut him off. “Bye.”
And off she went. Long after Folake was gone, Akor stood behind his desk, staring at the door that clicked shut behind her and he could feel himself shrink.
What made the cold shoulder colder was the ironic politeness of it. How could the word ‘please’ feel like a slap?
For three months, he had been trying to get Folake’s attention. But it just seemed he was sheathed in a membrane of invisibility. She never noticed him. When he got the chance with her dog, he jumped on it without hesitation, thinking that finally, the stars had aligned. He even got her number.
But whenever he called, she was always in the middle of something more important and it took her hours to reply his WhatsApp messages and when the replies came, they came as disappointing, lackluster monotones.
Akor didn’t know which hurt more, being invisible or being ignored. All he was asking, for starters, was friendship. But it seemed even that was too much to ask.
He sank into his chair and settled into paperwork, trying to get his mind off Folake once and for all. She didn’t want him. It was a hard fact to admit but he had to admit it. He had learned to accept rejection and move on. Denying the fact wouldn’t change anything. It would only make things worse for him in the long run.
“Folake, Tope has killed me oh. Do you know how much the therapy doctor recommended costs?”
Folake shifted her weight, weary of her mum’s theatrics. “How much?”
“One hundred and sixty thousand per month!”
Folake blinked. “Ehn?”
“I’m telling you. I’m supposed to be paying salary I’m not even earning because Tope has decided to be a useless child.”
Folake sighed, she could feel the onset of a headache in her temples.
“I’m not paying for any therapy oh. I’ll take him to Woli Hallelujah as soon as we leave here. What that boy needs is deliverance.”
Folake shot her Mum a glance. “You are not taking him to that man!”
“You better don’t piss me off. Woli Hallelujah is God’s anointed, don’t call him ‘that man’. Have you no regard for grace?”
Folake rolled her eyes. Her Mum’s dependence on one prophet or the other was an appalling evidence of her blighted knowledge of God. How many times had Folake tried to show her Mum the truth from scriptures? Erin had taken it upon herself to teach their mother sound doctrine but she would have none of it. She was always quick to say, ‘I raised you in the way of God. You don’t know God more than me!’ Yet false prophets were having a field day making away with her money and corrupting her heart with fear from all those visions. Just last year, one of them was touching Mrs. Adeyanju’s breasts during a prayer session and when she swatted off his hand, he smiled and asked her to be his third wife. Mrs. Adeyanju was the one who told the story herself. How much more did she have to lose before she comes to be wary of these false prophets? Wasn’t it one of such prophecies that led to the eventual destruction of her home?
When would mummy learn?
“Mummy, you are not going to take Tope to any prophet.” Folake reiterated, ready to go nose-to-nose with her mum if need be. She won’t let those men with their candles and sashes put her brother through bizarre rituals.
Her mum opened her mouth to say something and before she could, Folake said. “It won’t happen.”
Mrs. Adeyanju sighed. “Shey you will pay for his therapy, ngba naa?”
Mrs. Adeyanju scoffed. “Are you tongue-tied all of a sudden, madam freedom fighter?”
Folake paused to think. She was currently earning #200,000. If she decided to take up the responsibility for Tope’s therapy, she’d have to live on just 20% of her income, take out tithe and she’d be left with only a tithe of her salary, #20,000. Wow. If she’s able to clinch that promotion, she’d get a raise but even then, #160,000 would be a lot to part with. If she decided to take on this responsibility, she’d have to tuck into her savings; she’d have to cut back on many an expense; it would be a sacrifice.
Jesus, I love Tope.
For God so loved the world that he gave…
She sighed. “I’ll pay.”
Mrs. Adeyanju clapped. “You will pay forty thousand weekly?”
Folake nodded and just then, her phone started ringing. Erin.
“Sister mi, you haven’t replied my text since. What’s up with Tope?”
Folake massaged her temples. “Erin, you are writing exams, leave us to worry about Tope.”
“You know I can’t help worrying about him. What is the problem?”
Folake brought Erin up to speed. Erin was quiet.
“Hello, are you there?” Folake asked. “Can you hear me?”
“Sister mi,” Erin responded. “You must teach Tope the gospel.”
And Folake thought that was such an absurd response to give, given the gravity of the situation at hand.
“The gospel is God’s power unto salvation, remember? You must teach Tope the gospel.”
“Okay.” Folake managed. “How are your exams going?”
“Some have been fine; others have been tough. But we move.”
Folake chuckled. “We move. Take care, dear.”
She ended the call and marched into Tope’s ward. He was still jittery and his eyes were forlorn. Compassion filled Folake’s heart. She remembered how it was recorded in the gospels that Jesus was moved with compassion when he saw a crowd because they were like scattered sheep without a shepherd and she thought of how that expression fit Tope’s situation. His life was scattered; a sheep astray. Her initial urge to berate Tope was gone. She knew that her Mum must have pumped him full with rebukes and long talks. There was nothing she wanted to say about how much of a disappointment he was, how much pain he had caused, that he didn’t already know. She sat there beside him, not knowing what to say.
“You could have died, Tope.” She finally said.
Tope remained quiet.
“The doctor said heroin OD impairs breathing, and it could even stop breathing all together. You were gone since yesterday night. You could have died.” Folake couldn’t hold back her tears, because as she spoke, it dawned on her with a startling force that Tope could actually have died and she wouldn’t be here talking to him, she’d have been facing a corpse with many questions in her heart.
“I’m not interested in judging you, I just want to know why.” She said after pulling herself together. “Please talk to me, Tope. Why are you doing drugs?”
Tope opened his mouth and he couldn’t stop himself until he had spilled all of his gut, and many drops of tears.
He always found himself at the bottom of a pool of sadness. He could be cracking up the class and laughing along yet still be plagued with a feeling of emptiness, of sorrow. He couldn’t quite explain them, these bouts of sadness. The bouts became more frequent after he failed his first JAMB and from thereon things worsened. With every failed exam, his view of himself diminished till he could only see himself as a miniature knickknack that was stagnant and merely taking up space.
He tried in class, he put in more efforts in studying, to assimilate, but in spite of his efforts, he hardly ever assimilated anything. His mates were now in 300 level, yet he seemed rooted to a spot. He told Folake that he always felt disoriented whenever he tried to study, or when he was in class. But he won debates, he could give impressive speeches without premeditation. He knew he should be doing well in class, but there was always that sense of disorientation. He knew he wasn’t like this before. The problem started when he was forced to use his right hand. From that point, he couldn’t tell his right from his left, literally. The attention he should be giving to his lessons were poured on trying to make his right hand function. That was where his staggering started.
Salako noticed that he was always by himself after JAMB lessons. Salako got close to him, walked with him on his way from the lesson center, bought him Iya Elijah’s snacks from time to time and before long, camaraderie was built. Salako was the one who introduced Tope to drugs. Tope was skeptical at first, scared even. But Salako told him of how he felt afloat, how the drugs made him come alive. He saw how Salako greeted each day with a smile on his face and a spring in his step despite the fact that he was taken his O level exams for the seventh time. Tope got curious. He decided to try it just once.
Almost as soon as the drug entered his bloodstream, every strand of hair on his body stood on end. It was ecstatic. He had never felt such a release, there was no way he could stop.
As he continued using, he found that his understanding in class, which was already deplorable, depleted further. Yesterday, he got the result of his third JAMB examination. It was the lowest ever. He had 101. Salako had 297.
He needed to get high. The usual dose couldn’t suffice. He needed more… more… more. He kept cooking and injecting, until he couldn’t feel his legs. Salako was celebrating with the other guys. The last thing he remembered was Salako dancing with his friends in that dark alleyway that was the home of junkies like him.
When Tope was done, he heaved a long sigh. This was a new kind of release, not as exhilarating as what he felt with drugs, but it felt like he had just peeled off an uncomfortable layer of scales from his skin. This was catharsis. But he knew that this release, like every other respite he ever felt, was transient.
Folake sat there and the only thing on her mind was what Erin said to her over the phone.
“Top boy,” she tipped Tope’s chin till their eyes met. She reassured him with a tremulous smile. “Jesus loves you.”
Tope turned his face to the wall. Folake nodded. This was why the instruction was to teach him the gospel. He wouldn’t get it at once, it would take insistent reiteration to get the truth into his mind. And through prayers and the agency of the Spirit, the light will break into his spirit.
Sister mi, you must teach Tope the gospel.
“Top boy, Jesus loves you. Sin is what separates man from God and ever since Adam’s fall, sin has reigned in humanity. Sin is what we inherited. Sin is the nature of the natural man. But Jesus came and he finished this sin problem once and for all. Jesus, the son of God and God the son. The seed of righteousness and God himself, laid down his divinity and took upon human flesh. He did this because of you, Temitope Adeyanju. It was because of you that Jesus laid down his righteousness and took upon himself your sin, guilt and shame. He destroyed sin and death by dying on the cross. He condemned sin in his flesh. On the third day, he rose again. He triumphed over sin. He triumphed over death. He triumphed over depression, over addiction. Top boy, Jesus overcame for you! It’s a done deal. Jesus said it is finished. If you will believe in Jesus, life eternal is yours.”
Tope’s eyes were still forlorn. He didn’t understand a word of all Folake was saying, but at least she wasn’t condemning him. She was speaking of love and redemption, and even though it all sounded like the same unintelligible nonsense he heard at church, it was oddly comforting.
“Temitope Adeyanju, Jesus loves you.” Folake said before she stood up to leave.
Top held her hand. “Can you stay a while?”
Folake smiled. “Sure.”
They sat together in silence. Folake lifted her face and started muttering in tongues. When she stopped praying, her Mum was at the door, staring in awe and beside her, Tope was fast asleep. Folake left the ward.
“The doctor said he would have difficulty sleeping. Even at night, he doesn’t sleep.” Mrs. Adeyanju told Folake.
Folaked chortled. “Jesus did it, mummy. Jesus is here and he’s at work.”
Folake could see in her mother’s eyes a new shine of wonder. Folake yawned. It had been a long day. She wanted to needed to get back home.