The Choice (chapter 24)

Sarah left home as early as a quarter past six in the evening with a covered bucket—containing the water she had accumulated from bathing Joseph—in her hand.

She couldn't have left any later. She knew how far Kuto market was from Obantoko, where she lived. And her mother-in-law had insisted she must trek to and fro. She knew no shortcut. She would have to ask for directions on her way. Sarah began her journey. She left Obantoko, reached Asero, and walked towards Abiola's way. Her legs grew weary. By the time she was two streets away from the market, she had begun to doubt if she could complete the journey. Sarah reached the market some minutes past eight. Sarah did all she was told by her mother-in-law, hoping no one would see her. She could imagine what she could be accused of. Sarah finished and began her journey home. She was tempted to take a ride, but fear of having to repeat the process dissuaded her. She trekked home, freer than before. The bucket of water was gone now. Her legs shook under her, and she broke into tears. What had happened to her? How had she gotten herself into this kind of suffering?

In the past, Sarah, she knew, would have only needed to sing a few worship songs and pray to revive her dying son. But there she had been, running to her mother-in-law. She couldn't even pray in the spirit and feel connected. No one needed to tell her she was scrambling for life spiritually. She knew that already. What had she done? Where had she gotten it wrong? Where had it all started? Now she had to be at the beck and call of Mama Faronbi, dancing to her tune, doing all the idolatrous things she wanted. Things Sarah could never be proud to talk about the outside. Things she could never tell any other person. Where had she dumped her faith? Tears welled up in her eyes, and she allowed them to flow freely.♣♣♣

Femi finished his dinner and joined his mother in the sitting room. Mama Faronbi was watching a movie on the television and sipping orange juice. Joseph lay on the chair beside her, sleeping. Femi glanced at the wall clock. It was a few minutes past nine. "Maami, where exactly did Sarah go to without her son? Didn't she think he could be crying?" Femi said, curious. He wanted to know why Sarah was yet to return home. He had met her absence when he returned from work. And he couldn't reach her on the phone because she had left her phone behind. "Stop repeating this question, Femi. I have told you that she went to do what she's supposed to do. She went to complete the 'welcome ritual' for Fatele," Mama Faronbi said and returned her gaze to the television. "I've been home since six-thirty. And this is past nine. Why is that taking her so long? Times are not so good. Anything can happen. It is risky to loiter around late at night."

"She went to Kuto market," Mama Faronbi said and sipped her drink. She took one fried meat of the three remaining on her plates and threw it in her mouth. "Maami. If someone went to Kuto market by seven or even eight, she would have returned. What is happening?" "Nothing." "I'm worried. Why didn't she take her phone along? Didn't she know I would try to reach her? Why take such a risky trip?" Mama Faronbi smiled. "You'd better calm down. She will soon return," she said and continued chewing the meat, her eyes on the television. Femi left the living room for his room.

He sat on his bed and pressed his phone. Sarah crossed Femi's mind. He checked the time five minutes past ten. He jumped to his feet, took his shirt, and rushed to the living room. He picked up his car key and walked to the door. "Where are you going, Femi?" Mama Faronbi said. "I'm going in search of my wife. Look at the time. And you are acting as if nothing is wrong. If I were the one outside at this time, wouldn't you be worried?" Femi said. "Yours is different. You are my son." "And what about Sarah? Isn't Sarah your daughter as well?" "She's not my daughter. She's my son's wife." "Maami! Hear yourself. Is your son's wife not supposed to be your daughter?" "She could be if she made herself one. Since she didn't make herself my daughter, she's not."

"Femi shook his head. "Say what you like. I'm going after her because if anything happens to her, her parents will ask me questions." "You'd better come have your seat and let me tell you something before you go out looking for nothing." Femi walked to her mother. "Here I am, so tell me where you sent Sarah." "I didn't send her anywhere. She went to do what she was supposed to do for her child. She went to Kuto market." "Maami, look at the time. It's late. Something must have happened to her." "Nothing happened to her. I told her to trek so she would learn a lesson to obey elders." Femi's eyelids flew up. "What! To trek to Kuto market? That's outrageous." "Outrageous is good. I'm pleased now. She had to be punished," Mama Faronbi said without remorse. Femi spread out her palms. "And it was even a punishment?" "Yes. A well-deserved punishment. When I tell her something next time, she won't think twice before obeying." "I can't believe this. And Sarah also agreed to trek to Kuto from here?" "Why wouldn't she? I told her it was part of the ritual. Look at this boy. Your son almost passed away this morning in the hands of that lady you call a wife.

I'm trying to save your heads, and you two aren't even grateful." "Ah! Maami! This is the wickedness of the highest order. And you could sit here and enjoy meat and drink. Why am I even still here talking to you?" "Mama Faronbi clapped. "Are you saying I should not eat again?" Femi ignored her and walked towards the door. "Femi, you just want to waste your time; there's no way you can see her. Just wait till she returns," Mama Faronbi said. Femi opened the door and left. He started the car engine and drove out of the compound.♣♣♣

Sarah sobbed. Pangs of hunger gnawed at her brain. And the heaviness in her legs dragged along. Perhaps if she knew many shortcuts, she would have a shorter distance to trek. Darkness settled in. People became scanty on the road as time passed by, although vehicles still bypassed her every now and then. Sarah continued walking, hoping she would make the journey home without fainting on the way. The thought of finding a place to rest her sore legs crossed her mind. But she knew it was too late for that. She couldn't afford to waste any more time. Sarah perceived a smell. She wafted the air around to her nose and sniffed. The smell was that of cigarette smoke mixed with that of marijuana. Sarah knew that mere inhalation of the smoke was hazardous to health, let alone direct use. She tilted her head to the side and saw a group of guys seated in front of a closed shop, smoking and drinking alcohol. Fear gripped Sarah. If she dared walk past them, what would they do to her? At this time of the night. A lone woman, for that matter. Sarah quickly turned her back in a bid to walk away. "Hey, who are you? Stop there!" one of the guys said. Sarah's heart thumped. She walked faster.

"Two of the guys followed her. "Stop there!" one of them screamed. Sarah perceived they were following her. Adrenaline pumped into her blood. She immediately forgot the pain she felt in her legs and took to her heels. Sarah left her footwear behind and ran as fast as she could. The guys ran after her. There was no way she could outrun them. They were stronger and faster. But Sarah didn't stop running, her heart functioning at its maximum. One of the guys reached Sarah and hit her leg, sending her crashing to the floor. Thump.♣♣♣ Sarah fell. She hit her head against the hard floor and lost consciousness. "You no hear say make you stop since abi? You con dey carry me run. I go finish you this night," the guy who hit Sarah said. The other guy reached him. He stopped, breathing heavily. "Wetin dey happens?" he said, staring at Sarah, who was lying on the floor in an awkward posture. "Na this babe dey carry us run o," the first guy said and turned to Sarah. "Woss, stand up. Who you dey pretend for?" he said, thinking Sarah was feigning unconsciousness. The second guy walked to Sarah. He bent over her and tapped her. "She just dey pretend o. I never do anything for being," the first guy said.

"The other guy continued to examine Sarah. He ran his hands over her body, squeezing whatever his hand came across. "O boy, this girl don peme o. Make we quick waka o," he said. "You sure?" the first guy said and walked closer. He was about to touch Sarah when an oncoming car flashed a light at them. "O boy, run!" the second guy said and ran into a dark alley nearby. The other guy followed him. The driver of the car saw two men run away. He slowed the car to a stop, the car lights still on. He switched on the flashlight of his phone and pointed it in the direction the guys had run away from. Someone was lying on the floor, motionless. Fear gripped the driver. He was out looking for his wife, who had left home since evening, and here was someone lying on the floor. A thought crossed his mind to drive off. He discarded it.

What if that was his wife? God forbid. Femi alighted from his car and approached the woman. She flashed the light on her face and realized who it was. Sarah. Femi's heart flew into his mouth. He bent over her and shook her gently. She didn't respond. He lifted her into his arms and took her to the car. He didn't notice the blood on his hands until he was seated behind the wheel to start the car. Oh no! The blood was from Sarah's head. Femi started the car and drove to the hospital at top speed.

To be continued...

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