Blooms Among Thorns

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Chapter 6

The financial services industry was rocked by crisis. The Central Bank had just concluded the bank bailout and issued a directive for the implementation of cost cutting strategies to increase the liquidity in the sector. With this new mandate, several banks embarked on massive restructuring as part of their efforts to cut costs and boost profitability. As a result, several staff were let go.

It was Friday afternoon when the storm hit Avery. The bank had closed its doors to customers, but activities were still ongoing within. Letters of retrenchment were distributed around the banking hall. The affected staffs were asked to clear out their workstations immediately.

Imade was shocked when one of such letters landed on her desk. Her heart thumping wildly, she tore open the envelope and read the message which stated her services at the bank would no longer be required. She certainly hadn’t seen this coming. She had put a lot of hard work into Avery, oftentimes neglecting her family and her social life; and now within a few minutes, it was all over.

‘I’m sorry this is happening now, especially with your current challenges,’ Mrs. Eki said. ‘No one prays for this sort of thing, but the restructuring was brutal. There are rumors that this is just the first phase. Those of us who survived this round can only keep our fingers crossed and hope we don’t get hit the next time.’

Her colleagues gathered to offer some empathy, as Imade gathered her belongings and left the bank.

‘I lost my job, mum,’ she lamented when she got home. As if she didn’t have enough problems already.

As usual Iye offered her a shoulder to cry on. ‘But you’re so good at what you do!’ Iye protested.

‘Well, apparently the management doesn’t think so.’

‘Don’t worry,’ her mother consoled her. ‘You’ve got two good degrees. I’m sure you’ll find another job soon.’

~~~~

The phone rang for the umpteenth time. It had been going on incessantly for some weeks, as friends called to offer words of encouragement. Imade felt drained and unable to calm the emotional turmoil that raged within her. She shuddered as the shrill ring echoed in her ears. After this call, she would switch her phone off.

‘Hello, Miss Imade?’

‘Yes?’ she spoke, with an edge of irritation.

‘We’ve found your son,’ the man on the other end of the line announced.

Imade let out a long gasp. ‘When? Where?’ She blurted out.

‘We accosted his father at the local airport this morning. How soon can you get down here?’

She rushed down to the station immediately with Iye. They found Dapo standing at the reception tapping his fingers rhythmically on the counter. As soon as she saw him, Imade charged him with the ferocity of a wounded lion. ‘Where’s Ehis?’ she screamed.

Two officers rushed forward to restrain her. ‘The boy is safe,’ the older one assured her. ‘You must calm down.’

He let go of her arm and went into his office, returning a few minutes later with a young lady carrying Ehis. When he saw his mother, Ehis wriggled down and ran into her outstretched arms. She picked him and smothered him with kisses.

‘Are you okay, my love?’ she asked inspecting him as though she expected to find something. ‘Did they hurt you?’

Dapo spoke for the first time since she got there. ‘Why would I hurt him?’ he asked. ‘What kind of question is that?’

Trembling with rage, Imade flashed him an icy stare, berating him as she held on to Ehis. The officers wanted to talk with them and collect their statements. With great effort, Iye tore Ehis away from his mother and took him to the car, while Imade and Dapo stayed behind to fill out some forms. Imade glanced at the lady who had brought Ehis out. She looked strikingly familiar but she wasn’t too sure.

‘What’s going to happen to him?’ she asked the police officer, pointing to Dapo.

The man took the written statements from them. ‘Madam, there seems to be a misunderstanding somewhere. This gentleman said you were aware he was taking the boy.’

‘That’s a lie,’ she protested. ‘He seized him without my knowledge.’

‘We have the statements from your nanny and your son’s daycare,’ the officer continued. ‘They say Mr. Dapo has picked up his son several times before. You even introduced him to the matron and authorized him to do so yourself.’

‘I didn’t authorize him,’ she fumed. ‘Not that day.’

‘But he’s the boy’s father and had just returned from vacation when we met them at the airport. He wasn’t on the run.’

‘What about the phone call? He told me he would only release Ehis as he saw fit.’

‘He denied saying that to you. It’s your word against his.’

Imade glared at Dapo, astonished at how cleverly he had crafted his defense. He stared back at her brazenly.

‘Look, there seems to be some personal problems between the two of you,’ the officer continued. ‘Why not sit down like mature adults and resolve your issues. Meanwhile, we’re letting him go. He’s done nothing wrong.’

Imade put her hands on her hips in disbelief. ‘He has settled you, hasn’t he?’ she demanded. ‘How much did he pay you to take his side like this?’

The officer frowned. ‘Madam,’ he said sternly. ‘We’ve found your son, if he was really missing. There’s no need for insults. Go home and put your life in order.’

Imade stormed out of the station. Overcome with fury, she paced up and down the corridor, trying to calm herself. Moments later, Dapo walked past with the young lady who brought Ehis out of the office. Imade stopped them. She wanted answers but Dapo wasn’t talking.

‘I have nothing to say to you. It’s all in my statement,’ was his only reply.

‘You won’t get away with this.’ she threatened. The young lady shifted and Imade’s attention was drawn to her. She looked so familiar. ‘Do I know you?’ she asked, eyeing her curiously.

Dapo placed a protective arm over the lady’s shoulder. ‘This is my wife Tara. You remember her from Simi’s wedding?’

Tara was the lady who had sat at Dapo’s table with Kovie and his wife at the reception. Dapo had made her acquaintance while Imade was busy playing maid of honor. Imade grimaced as she remembered watching them from afar, laughing and talking while she held on to Simi’s train.

‘So Kovie never took you to those showrooms the following Sunday, did he?’ she demanded, her mind travelling back. ‘You spent the day with her.’

‘Actually he did, but you’re right, Tara was with us. It turned out that she’s an auto-freak like me.’

Imade glared at the lady. ‘He has a bad reputation, you know,’ she said, giving in to the spite that welled up inside her. ‘So don’t think because you are now married to him that his eyes won’t continue to stray.’

She walked off in a huff, feeling galled to think she had been the underdog in a love triangle. It was too late for regrets now, those two deserved each other. Now, she had her son’s homecoming to think about. As she stepped inside the car, the joy at seeing Ehis welled up again. She hugged and fussed over him; commenting on how much weight he had lost, although Iye insisted it was only a figment of her imagination.

‘It doesn’t matter,’ she cooed. ‘I’ll fatten you up again. Let’s go home. Grandma has your room all set.’

~~~~

It was the second time in three months that Imade would be withdrawing her son from his daycare. ‘He’s not safe here,’ she told the matron. ‘I can’t have Dapo trailing after the bus anytime Ehis is coming home.’

The matron was immediately defensive. ‘Tender Love is not the issue. Quite honestly, we’ll rather have children from wholesome families here. Ehis is a handful; much too difficult to control and it’s no wonder, when his parents are always at each other’s throats.’

Imade bit her tongue. She didn’t have the stamina for a war of words and decided to overlook the outburst of hostility. She signed Ehis out and left, preferring to save her energy for more productive things like finding a new job so she could maintain the high standard of living she wanted for herself and her son.

‘Is there no justice in this world?’ She asked Simi, later that day. ‘Dapo kidnaps my son and walks away free and now everyone thinks I’m the crazy one.’

‘No one thinks you’re crazy.’ Simi replied.

‘Of course they do; the police and the matron at Tender Love are all on his side.’ She paused, looking pensive. Ehis was the apple of her eye, but she felt amazed at how vulnerable he was in this indifferent world in which they lived. In the last one year, he had been drugged by his paid caretaker and stolen away by his dad. And the boy was just two years old; his life had only begun.

‘I’m scared Simi. How do I keep Ehis safe? What if Dapo steals him away again? What if this time they disappear for good and we don’t find them?’

‘Ehis will be fine,’ Simi reassured. ‘Commit him into the care of the One who created him in the first place. He who watches over His own, neither sleeps nor slumbers.’

~~~~

Contrary to Iye’s prediction, the weeks stretched into months and Imade found herself still unemployed despite her intense efforts to get another job. She tried to count her blessings. On the bright side, the situation afforded her more time to spend with Ehis. It was a good opportunity to make up for the period they were separated from each other. But what good was all this time together, if she couldn’t provide for his needs?

The retrenchment couldn’t have come at a worse time. Having turned down Dapo’s offer of assistance, Imade was solely responsible for Ehis’ upkeep. With Iye’s business ailing as she grew older and the guys still in school, she had become the financial pillar in the home. But her savings were gradually depleting. If something didn’t happen soon, the whole family would be in dire straits. The economy was shaky and most companies had placed an embargo on recruitment. Faced with the grim reality of the tough job market, Imade desperately considered her alternatives.

Her mind went to Uncle Marcus, her father’s older brother. Everyone in the family knew him to be an old scrooge who only had stern lectures for anyone who came to him for help. However, Imade was hopeful; he owned a project management firm and managed a team of ten employees. Surely he could find something for her to do, even if the package was not as juicy as Avery’s. She decided to pay him a quick visit.

On the ground floor of The Sox Corporate House where his office was situated, Uncle Marcus listened to her plight but had no easy escape route to offer.

‘These are tough times,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘The banks are not the only ones facing challenges. My business is struggling to stay afloat and I haven’t paid my staff for the past three months. If you want to work for me, you’ll have to put in twice as much as you did at Avery, for just a token.’

Imade’s face fell in disappointment. Uncle Marcus’ little finger was proving to be thicker than Avery’s waist, but at this point, she was ready to take anything. He stared at her through his thick rimmed glasses and true to his reputation, dealt her some tough words.

‘Avery did you a favor if you ask me,’ he scolded. ‘Young girls like you are too ambitious for their own good, chasing after white-collar jobs when so many opportunities are lying fallow all around you?’

‘What else can I do uncle?’ she asked nervously.

‘Look inwards,’ he suggested. ‘Learn from your mother. It may not look like much now, but she runs a promising enterprise which, I’m sure, she won’t want to end with her.’

Iye ran a home-based business, shopping for best bargains on food and other bulk items for people throwing parties and other special occasions.

‘I can’t do a job like that!’ she protested, with a frown.

Uncle Marcus smiled. ’Why not, Miss MBA? Is it too demeaning for you?

He had always been an outspoken fellow with a brash way of expressing himself. Imade now remembered why she never liked him coming around the family when she was growing up.

Amused by her look of despair, Uncle Marcus went on to explain the flair for building and design that flowed through his veins. His grandfather had been a construction worker, while his father; Imade’s grandpa, was a site inspector. Now, he was a civil engineer managing building projects. It was the same line of business handed down three generations, with each one of them advancing on the way they operated.

‘I know you,’ he concluded. ‘You’re a great planner with a keen eye for detail. Why sit around, waiting for someone to employ you? Go ahead and put your talents to use.’

Uncle Marcus might be a grumpy old man; but despite his mean streak, he was making a lot of sense. For the first time since knowing him, Imade gave his words some serious thought. She left his office, not a kobo richer, but with her eyes opened to a new possibility and her hopes brightened. There were some favors which money couldn’t buy. From the little discussion that ensued between them, the idea for Pro-Touch was born.

~~~~

Uncle Marcus smiled tenderly as Imade laid out her plans to him on her next visit. The determination with which she conveyed her ideas for an event management outfit, made him feel glad that she had taken his counsel to heart. People who usually came to him for help were more prone to spurn his advice, dejected that he didn’t dole out some quick cash. But here was his niece, returning so soon with a well drafted business plan. He wanted to do something to encourage her.

‘There’s a vacant room on this floor that I’ve never used,’ he offered. ‘It’s a mess, but you’re welcome to clean it out and set up there.’

His niece jumped at the unexpected offer. Having an office would make Pro-Touch more credible without any additional costs for rent. The office had been unused for a while and when she opened the door, the musty odor made her gasp. Except for an old desk, the room was bare. Cobwebs lined the corners of the walls and the entire office was in dire need of a paint job. As she pulled the blinds aside, thick clouds of dust escaped into the air. A ray of light streamed in, providing some relief from the dark gloomy atmosphere.

She stepped out for fresh air and Uncle Marcus came to join her. ‘I told you it wasn’t much.’

‘It’s very generous of you sir,’ Imade replied. ‘I appreciate it.’

She took the keys and hurried home. Bursting with hope, she retreated into her room to fine tune her start up plans. She was already deeply immersed in her work, when Iye peeped in to say she had a visitor.

‘Mrs. Tara Kolade is here to see you.’

The name rang a bell and Imade frowned. Dapo’s wife? What could she possibly want? She hesitated for a few seconds wondering whether to send her away. The last thing she wanted was a showdown, besides she was genuinely busy. Her curiosity however got the better of her.

‘Ok mum. Please tell her I’ll be right out.’

She didn’t come out of her room immediately. She was in no hurry to see this woman who had connived against her. Her unfinished work was calling out to her and Imade had to persuade herself to get up and deal with the distraction that had just surfaced. Tara was standing at the front door, looking pretty and petite. She smiled daintily when she saw Imade.

‘I’ll see you out here.’ Imade said, ushering her onto the porch outside and shutting the front door firmly behind her. Tara sat on one of the cane chairs but Imade remained standing. Whatever this woman had to say, she should say it quickly and be on her way.

‘What can I do for you, Mrs. Kolade?’

‘Forgive me for barging in on you like this. I took the liberty of coming here because I need to talk to you about the circumstances under which we met the other day.’

You mean when you and your husband kidnapped my son. Imade thought to herself. Aloud she said, ‘I’m really busy right now, so I can’t spare too much time.’

‘Dapo said he told you about my operation,’ Tara began. ‘I know what he did was irrational, but if it weren’t for...’ her voice quaked slightly and she stopped.

Imade sighed. ‘I empathize with you Tara. Sincerely I do, but that doesn’t justify what you and your husband did.’

‘Yeah, that’s why I need to get it off my chest,’ Tara cleared her throat and continued. ‘What Dapo told me, was that you agreed to let us take Ehis on a vacation so we could get to know him better. I was surprised the day we returned and were accosted by the police. The confrontation at the station got me thinking. After you left, I pestered my husband till he confessed that he took Ehis without your permission.’

She paused and looked at her well manicured nails while her host looked on, not sure whether to believe her. Was this another of Dapo’s schemes? Had he sent his wife here to try and delude her?

‘I just want you to know that I treated Ehis very well while he was with us,’ Tara concluded, ‘like I would my own son.’

Imade glared at her, her patience wearing thin. ‘Well, he’s not your son,’ she replied icily. ‘And I have to get back inside. Goodbye ma’am.’

She stepped towards the porch fence and opened it, motioning for Tara to leave. As she got up, Tara fished into the pocket of her jeans and brought out a piece of paper that had her name and phone number scribbled on it.

‘One day, you’ll realize that I never meant you any harm. Please give me a call whenever you can.’

Imade watched as her unwelcomed visitor placed the piece of paper on the chair and left.

Later that evening, she recounted the ordeal to her mother. ‘I’m not sure what to make of her,’ she said as she cleared the dinner table. ‘On one hand, she seemed so lost. But then again, something about her is not quite right.’

She carried the stack of used plates into the kitchen, with Iye following her. Ehis jumped down from his chair and came trailing behind them.

‘I must admit, I was a little harsh with her,’ she continued, emptying the scraps of food into the waste bin. ‘But I’m finding it difficult to trust her.’

‘The damage is not totally done,’ her mother replied. ‘Follow your heart and allow the peace from within to guide you in your dealings with her.’

Imade finished doing the dishes and put Ehis to bed before retiring to her room. As she returned to her work, her eyes fell on the bible lying on the night stand, where she had left it after Sunday’s service. She had been an ardent bible scholar once, when her fellowship with God was still strong; but that had been a long while ago. She picked it up and opened it.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

As she pored over the verse, she felt a tug on her heartstrings. She had been running from God, rather than to Him. It was time to pick her faith up where she left it. Kneeling down and clasping her hands together, she called out to her Maker and Father in a heartfelt prayer. Then God, who loved her unconditionally, answered her; filling the void in her soul that had persisted for so long.

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