Episode 4: TIME TO WATER, WEED OUT AND WATCH
I woke up from the nightmare sweating profusely.
The dream seemed so real. I knew that God had definitely shown me a revelation of what was to happen. I knelt beside my bed and prayed for God’s directions.
After resolving to be spiritually sensitive to happenings around me henceforth, I went back to bed and fell asleep. The next morning, after his “Salat Al-fajr” (the Islamic prayers at dawn), my dad came to my room. The rattle of his knock on my bedroom door sounded urgent, like the bugle call of an army signaling for war.
“Salamatu, rise and get prepared for the journey. Pack as few clothes as possible, but make sure you include your “hijab”. We shall take off by 8 o’clock”, he said while yet standing at the doorpost. Through the doorjamb, I could see a black bag, with a “tesbih” (an Islamic prayer rosary) carefully placed on top of it.
With his frequent business trips, my dad was wonderful at getting set for journeys on brief notice. So I wasn’t surprised he was already set for the journey. After I had freshened up, I went to my mum’s room (my parents share separate rooms) to inquire about the journey.
Sadly, she had no idea where they would take to me. But she prayed that I would be safe. However, deep in her heart, she feared for my sake. She knew my dad and the other clerics were planning something sinister. But she couldn’t fathom what it was.
Two men come to see my dad that morning. They spoke in hushed tones behind closed doors for more than an hour. When they finally left, my dad made some calls and then called me out for the journey.
We set out for the journey around 8:30am. The three-hour drive to Budan village seemed like a journey of thirty hours. As we drove along the untarred road, I remembered the dream I had. I wondered where my dad was taking me to. Was he going to sell me off to someone? This trip did not look like a vacation as the clerics put it. Rather, it seemed like a journey of no return.
As we drove further into the village, I noticed that the houses along the road became fewer. But I kept my faith strong for I believed that God would keep me safe. I continued to pray within me. After a while, we got to a T-junction and my dad parked the car under a tree beside the road. He raised the boot, release lever to pop open the boot, and instructed me to bring out the bag inside it.
It was the same bag I saw in the living room that morning. I lifted the bag out of the car and to my dismay it was very light. But undeniably, something was inside. I was quite frightened but took comfort in the fact that God was with me and would save me. He would see me through whatever would befall me.
The Dreadful Hand-Over
Suddenly, two men approach the car. They exchanged pleasantries with my dad and spoke briefly in inaudible voices. My dad then instructed me to hand over the bag to one of them.”You will continue the journey with these men. I shall come back to pick you in two days’ time”.
“But dad, where are they taking me to?”, I queried.
“Just shut up and do as you are told”, he snapped. I kept quiet and followed the men sheepishly to a tricycle stationed at the other side of the road. Contrary to the dream I had, these men looked harmless and even smiled at me as we approached our transport. So I felt relieved, even as my dad zoomed off. The men were patient with me and said I would like the place we headed to.
They said some ladies were there too and I would have some wonderful company.”No need to worry”, they assured me. We got to the place. It was a large compound with tall walls. Only a single door led into the wide compound. There was no gate, but I noticed that the lone door was very strong and well-fortified to withstand any pressure from within or without. A stout man opened the gate, and we entered.
My heart jumped when I read the sign written on the facade of the long single building inside the enormous compound: “Al-Sadiq Correctional Centre, Budan”. Indeed, the dream was now a reality. My dad had brought me here to get tortured for accepting Jesus as my Saviour and affiliating myself with Christians.
They marched me into an enormous room where I joined six other ladies. I believed we all arrived there that same day because the ladies looked equally frightened. Meanwhile, I saw some signs that made it clear that some people had occupied that place before.
The Correctional Center
The place was stinking. Apparently, the people who had stayed there before us did not have their baths for a long time. I could also see some dried bloodstains on the floor.
A middle-aged man hurried into the room and called us together. I presumed he was the custodian of the centre. He had dark swollen lips with red eyes like someone who had just smoked some cigarettes. As he addressed us, I watched the expression of the other ladies in the room. They were agitated, looked blank and confused; yet comforted.
“As you may have noticed, this is a correctional center and you are all under my watch for the days you will spend here”, he started.”That means I shall control everything you do here. I don’t know your crime before they brought you.
But since you are here, there is only one thing you must do. Obedience. You must obey every command I give. I assure you that once you obey me, you will leave here within a few days. But if you disobey, you will remain here for a long time. And I can assure you that you will not be in comfort for those days”, he declared.
After the man left, I silently went to my bag and brought out my Bible. I needed God’s word for some comfort. I opened to Psalm 31 and read from verses 13 to 16:
“For I have heard the slander of many: fear was on every side: while they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life. But I trusted in thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my God. My times are in thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me. Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: save me for thy mercies’ sake”.
Sisters in the Faith
I prayed silently with this scripture, and it relieved my heart. Emboldened to face whatever would come, I looked up and saw the other ladies looking at me with wonder in their eyes. Before now, no one had spoken to anyone. But my action seemed to bring a flicker of hope in their eyes.
One lady approached me.”I am Zainab”, she said, “And you are…?”
“Salamatu”, I replied.
As if receiving a cue, the other ladies chipped in their names. There were Lami, Hadijat, Amina Hafusat, and Rodiat. We were all “new converts” brought here by our parents or husband for torture so we can renounce our faith. We shared the Christian experiences we’d had so far with each other. It was from our conversations that I gathered that Zainab, a young bride, had been taken to a similar correctional center before by her husband.
She had remained defiant and would never renounce her faith despite all the threats. She had got transferred here to continue the torture. Because of her maturity and being older in the faith, she became the spiritual backbone of the other ladies.
They had confiscated Zainab’s belongings before her arrival, so she didn’t have a Bible. In fact, my Bible was the only one in the building and we protected it with our lives. We derived comfort from it from time to time. Our first trial came at sunset, the time for “Maghrib” prayers.
They called us up for prayers… to pray in the Muslim way. But none of us responded to the call. Our punishment that day was “no supper”. We all slept hungry that night. At dawn the following day, another call for prayer was made, but no one responded.
They meted a similar punishment out to us. No breakfast. Our keepers seemed accustomed to this kind of behaviour from their captives a few days after their arrival. So they didn’t seem to mind or try to persuade us much to join in the prayers. When it was noon, the hunger had become so intense, and we looked so weak and could hardly talk.
Then I remembered a portion of the Bible where God sent ravens to feed Prophet Elijah in the wilderness. The seven of us joined hands together, and we prayed for divine provision to sustain us. The quake of the front door suddenly jolted us. Amina peered through the door and saw a man hurriedly left after leaving a loaf of bread behind the door. She went there gingerly and picked up the bread and brought it to us.
Though we didn’t know if the bread was for us, nor whether it is safe to eat, we took it as answers to our prayers. And we were so surprised at the sudden answer to our prayers. Zainab divided the loaf equally and we ate the dry bread alone, wetting it down our throats with our saliva.
Later that evening, the custodian of the centre came to our room. He was visibly angry but was calm.
“I heard you ladies have disobeyed my directives. Why have you all refused to come out for prayers?”
We kept quiet.
“I think you all have started with the wrong foot. And I hope you will not regret it. Anyway, I will give you another chance”, he said.
“Please sir, can I make a request?”, pleaded Hafusat.
“Please, can we get some water so we can freshen up? None of us have had our bathe since more…”
A heavy slap landed on her cheeks and she stumbled to the floor.
“You don’t make any such requests here. Especially after disregarding my instructions”, he said. “This is just the beginning of your woes in this place”. He slammed the door loudly as he left the room.
Hafusat’s face was red and swollen. The tears that rushed out from her eyes were not only from the emotional pain she felt but from the impact of the slap. We felt so much for her and gathered around her to console her. Fifteen minutes later, another man came into the room and called us out one after the other.
That night, they separated us and took us to different rooms. We had nothing for supper that night, but Hafusat’s experience was the worst. She had received a painful slap for supper. For many hours into the night, the other ladies and I could hear her cry from our rooms.
The following day, they gave us just two slices of bread and a boiled egg. Still, they provided no water to take our bath. I looked so unkempt and dirty. The stink I perceived from my body became unbearable to me. For two days now, I haven’t had my bath or cleaned up. Our keepers were so mean and determined to make us suffer without even touching us.
However, when they allowed us five minutes to come out and stretch our legs within the compound, I noticed that Hafusat was missing. I later learned that she had asked to call her father so that he could take her home. She was tired of staying there and ready to do anything he wants her to do. I felt so bad that she couldn’t endure such persecution. She had a weak faith not strong enough to overcome the temporary trials that she was passing through. Therefore, she got weeded out.
Rather than water her growing faith to make it firmly rooted by the word of God, she succumbed to the threats of the enemies. She became a weed that was picked out of the wheat. Although this experience shook me, I resolved never to give up my faith so easily, for I knew that God would definitely come to my rescue even at the last minute.
Then what happened…?