My parents have been married for 37 years, here’s the only lesson you need to learn from them

My parents got married on March 1, 1984. As I made them jollof rice for their anniversary this year, I reminisced on the parts of their marriage I’d been aware of. I’ve spent more time with my parents in the past year than I have in a long time, thanks to COVID, and I realize that you only need to learn one lesson about marriage to do it right. And that is: You can’t change your spouse. 

Photo: Unsplash/Scott Webb

My mother is the same person she was when I was younger, and so is my father. They have the same habits, the same differences and largely the same arguments. My father is organized and loves to pick things up from the exact place he put them. My mother needs three spare keys to her car and doesn’t wear a wedding band because she’s misplaced too many. 

My father is a private man who keeps few friends and even fewer acquaintances. My mother is popular everywhere she goes and has friends in every neighbourhood. She’s so well-known that I call her “SUG President,” short for Student Union President. 

I know too many people who get married and expect that their partner will miraculously transform into a better person because they’ve signed a document. Many divorces are a result of someone realizing that they got exactly who they married. There are no software updates on your spouse. You don’t get to add on custom fittings after the honeymoon. Who you choose is who you get. 

I’m not saying that people don’t improve as a result of the connection to their partners, some do. My mum became an avid reader because of my dad and she’s become bolder too. However, the person she is at her core hasn’t changed. My father is a friendlier person now, but he’s still largely the same Femi Sotubo I remember from my childhood.

This lesson seems simple enough, but think about it. If you knew that the person you were planning to marry would never change, would you still marry them? If you realized that your spouse would never be any different than they are today, would you continue to argue with them over everything? I’m guessing the answer is no.

Change is hard and even when people change, it’s because of a personal decision. You can’t change anybody because you have a hard enough time trying to change yourself. So why not focus on what you can control? 

Photo: Unsplash/Caroline Veronez

It’s like Rumi said: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” If you approach marriage, and really all human relationships with this mindset, you’ll have a more enjoyable experience. 

Disclaimer: I’m not teaching this lesson, I learned and am still learning it from the married people around me. 

My friend is dead, so why can’t I delete his number?

I’ve never been able to handle death. The finality of it never registers with me. That’s why when my aunt died of cancer a day after my birthday and in my bedroom, I couldn’t cry. 

When my favourite uncle passed away, I attended his funeral but still couldn’t wrap my head around it. He was so solid. He wasn’t supposed to die. I passed by his house a few days ago and it still didn’t make sense. How does a person just not exist anymore?

My friend Rodney’s death was different. I cried for three days straight. Maybe it’s because we share a birthday, or because he was young, but for some reason his passing crushed me . Rodney and I weren’t even that close. We went to secondary school together and bonded over being born on the same day but that was about it. 

I remembered him on every birthday and we celebrated the last one together. And then just like that, he was gone. I have the photos on my phone. I have the videos he sent me from our hangout telling me it was good to see me again. My last message to him was “I’ll be praying for you” after he shared that he had COVID. I didn’t pray for him. I said I would, but I didn’t. I just assumed he’d be okay.

So now he’s dead but I can’t delete his number. I’ve tried to many times but I always just move on. I scroll past our photos regularly and sometimes I pause. I pause to see if I’ve found the strength to let go, but I haven’t.

How does one do it? How do you accept that a person you cared about is gone forever? That you’ll never see them again or talk to them again? How do you deal with knowing that they will never ever pick up your calls again? How do you just erase their number from your phone like it was never there? Can somebody tell me how?

3 Lessons I Learned From A Year Of Rejection Letters

“We regret to inform you…” I can’t count the number of times I’ve read those words over the past year. Before 2020, I was the girl who never needed to apply to jobs or opportunities. They always came to me by recommendation or recognition based on my previous work. So rejection letters were new territory to me. 

rejection letters
Photo: Unsplash/Steve Johnson

I was rejected for jobs, rejected for funding for my business and rejected for a Master’s degree that I believed was the next step in my life plan. My first thought was: well these people must be blind, can’t they see my history and all the great work I’ve done? If they can’t it’s their loss.

But as the rejections piled and one followed fast on the heels of the other, I started to wonder if maybe my time was up. Maybe my days of being a superstar were over and I needed to humbly join the masses in their struggle for daily bread.

Obviously, I broke out of this thinking. Or should I say I’m working everyday to break out of it. This is a season in my life and it’s here to teach me something. I’m still learning the lessons but just in case you’re in such  a season too, here are three lessons I’ve learned so far from a year of rejection letters:

1. Your value is not determined by external things

When you’ve built a career as an overperformer, it’s easy to lose yourself in KPIs and performance reviews. I’ve always struggled to detach my self-worth from the work I do. That’s one of the dangers of getting paid for work you love, it’s so easy to lose yourself.

However, in the past year of being mostly without work, I’ve rediscovered my intrinsic value. I’m a person of great worth whether I have a job or not. Jobs are a dime a dozen, they come and go. So how can our value be tied to something so transient? You are enough in every season, whether you’re receiving rejection letters or letters of commendation. 

rejection letters
Photo: Unsplash/ Andre Hunter
2. Rejection is redirection 

After receiving so many rejection letters, I started to feel like a failure. Then I remembered something Oprah said in her Harvard Commencement address in 2013: 

“It doesn’t matter how far you might rise. At some point, you are bound to stumble. If you’re constantly pushing yourself higher and higher, the law of averages predicts that you will at some point fall. And when you do, I want you to remember this: There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”

So I stopped sending out frantic applications and asked myself some questions. What is the next right step? What are these rejections saying to me? What is working right now and how can I build on that?

I’ve learned over time that even when life is at its darkest, there’s always a small light shining somewhere. We usually can’t see it because we’re overwhelmed with worry and fear. But if you’ll just take a pause to look and listen, you’ll find a little thread to pull on that will slowly and surely become the rope you need to climb out of the hole. 

andre-hunter
Photo: Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
3. You can draw strength from rejection

No matter who you are, you will be rejected at some point in your life. It might be for work or even in a relationship. It happens to the best of us, nobody can avoid it. 

So when rejection kicks down your door and sits on your couch, what are you going to do? You can let it break you or you can draw strength from it and keep moving forward. We all know the story of J.K Rowling who became the first billionaire writer after 12 rejections of the Harry Potter series. 

It’s really not about the rejection letters, it’s about what you do after receiving them. I’m not pretending that it’s easy to move on after being rejected. But I’m going to ask you to be like my friend Oluchi. She’s been turned down for opportunities 500 times yet she still sends out applications every day. According to her “Something will eventually work out. Someone will eventually give me the chance I need. It only takes one yes to make 500 nos evaporate.”

So keep going. It won’t be easy but you have what it takes. See you on the other side. 

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How I got arrested for giving someone my number in church (Part 5)

Read part one part two , part three and part four

At about 5am the next day, I got up from the floor and moved back to the chair. I wasn’t sure what lay ahead of me, but I was done worrying about it. I could only hope for the best. 

Photo: Pexels/ Shayla

An hour later, there was a ruckus at the door. I looked up to see Chisom walking in with Mike and Mama Duke! They had arrested her and brought her in with an accomplice. I had gotten my miracle!

I hid my face from her while she got booked because I wasn’t trying to get offed. But then Mike pointed at me and said “This poor innocent girl has been suffering because of you. Do you know her?” For someone who had been trained by the CIA Mike was sure acting dumb. Anybody who’s watched crime dramas knows you don’t let the ring leader see the witness who gave them away. 

Thankfully Mama Duke didn’t recognize me because she denied me as though I was the criminal. “I don’t know her o! Do you know me?” she screamed. I couldn’t help rolling my eyes at her before Chisom grabbed my hand and led me out of the station. 

Photo: SPCL

The CSO was waiting in the car and they filled me in as they drove me home. While I was asleep at the station thinking they’d abandoned me, they were driving round town chasing leads to find Mama Duke and bring her in.

When they left me, they went looking for Mike and Titus. They found them at a bar outside the station, drinking the night away with no care in the world. Chisom warned that holding me wasn’t likely to lead to Mama Duke’s arrest and he offered to lead the operation to apprehend her that night. 

Mike and Titus told him that she couldn’t be caught. Apparently the woman was enough of a badass to have her own network jammer. Her communications could be traced but her location couldn’t. At least not with regular police equipment. Chisom’s agency was a different matter entirely. I don’t know who he works for and I don’t really care. All I know is they had the firepower to bypass Mama Duke’s jammer and find her house. 

Then Chisom led the team there and found the house completely unlit and guarded by two soldiers. Only in Nigeria can a criminal who’s wanted by the commander of the armed forces be guarded by his own military. SMH. 

Photo: Unsplash/Logan Weaver

Anyway the story gets even more ridiculous from there. So unarmed Chisom somehow manages to disarm both soldiers and get into the dark house where his unarmed self proceeds to arrest Mama Duke and her accomplice. 

I heard different versions of this story and one of them included a Babalawo but the most common answer to my questions was “you don’t need to know.” Mama Duke was arrested before and somehow disappeared while being guarded by two officers. How’d that happen? I don’t know. Is she still behind bars? Probably not. 

I’ve thought about that day many times. For days after, I couldn’t eat or sleep. I imagined people coming to get me and scouted my room for ways to escape. It was so bad, I considered jumping out of a third floor window. I didn’t tell my mum until months after and my father still doesn’t know. My mother rolled on the floor by the way. Yeah, she’s a typical Nigerian mum.

Photo: Giphy/Forever Nigerian

It’s ridiculous isn’t it? How an innocent action could unleash such a dangerous turn of events. How different institutions could come together to save an innocent girl. How God used a complete stranger to work on my rescue overnight while I slept. It’s positively mind blowing. 

And while I’ve lost all my faith in the Nigerian system, my faith in God has grown even stronger. I gave my number to a criminal in church and I got arrested by the Nigerian police, but against all odds, I survived. 

THE END 

How I got arrested for giving someone my number in church (Part 4)

Read part one part two and part three

As I sat on the only plastic chair in the reception, I began to really think about the dilemma I was in. If Mama Duke was as dangerous as the police were making her out to be, then she definitely had ears on the inside. This made it unlikely that she would walk into an ambush by having lunch with me.

Pexels/Dayvison de Oliveira Silva

I had also figured out that the police targeted me because I was new in town and as such was premium scapegoat material. If Mama Duke didn’t show up, they could present me as a co-conspirator and that would be that. It would be my word against theirs and in Nigeria, the word of the citizen doesn’t count for much against the police or the government. 

On the other hand, if she did show up, I could be in serious danger. What if she arrived with hired guns? What if the attempt to arrest her resulted in a shootout and I got hit? What if a member of her criminal gang saw me and decided to come after me later? The longer I thought about it, the more impossible the situation seemed. I knew it would only take a miracle to get out in one piece.

My train of thought was interrupted by a lawyer who had promised to offer his services pro bono to the widow’s family if they apologized to their in-laws. He smiled at me and said “So you’re a suspect? I thought you were a police officer.” I didn’t know how I summoned the strength but immediately I screamed “I’m not a suspect in Jesus name!” Everybody in the station burst out laughing and the poor guy was taken aback but at least he learned his lesson. 

Photo: Pexels/Nappy

I was still recovering from that outburst when my company’s Chief Security Officer (CSO) walked in with a man I didn’t know. I jumped out of the chair sure that my ordeal was over. “We’ve been looking for you all day, we’ve searched every station in this area. We even came here twice but they said you weren’t here.” 

Apparently the colleague I’d called before my phone was seized had informed my boss and they’d been trying to find me ever since. My boss had called all the senior police officers he knew but they feigned ignorance of my case and turned off their phones afterwards. They eventually found me by using a tracking device from a security agency which pinpointed the location of my phone. I felt like I was in a James Bond movie after hearing all this.

“I’ve called the DPO of this station,” the guy who came with our CSO (let’s call him Chisom) said. “He said they can let you go but I’ll have to sign an undertaking. If you escape, I’ll be held responsible.” “If you come with me, you’ll have to sleep in my house and I’ll bring you back here for your meeting with the woman tomorrow.” I knew I shouldn’t go home with a strange man but at that point, I wanted to be anywhere but the police station. 

Luckily, the CSO refused the idea and said they would keep trying to get me out with no conditions attached. They asked me to explain to them what happened and how I met Mama Duke. I gave them a brief overview and when I got to the part about the fake package, Chisom looked at me like I was 5-years-old. “Poor girl, you’re so innocent.” Apparently the Nigerian police use this fake package trick a lot so let the reader be guided. 

Chisom and the CSO promised to try their best to ensure I didn’t sleep in the station and then they left. The time was 7pm. I allowed myself to believe for the first time that day that everything would be alright. I waited and waited and waited but there was no sign of my saviours. I insisted on keeping vigil on the chair and not sleeping a wink but my co-occupants warned me that I would hurt my neck.

“Even if you stay awake all night, you can’t change anything. You better come and sleep,” the bank manager said. I heard her call her husband on the phone and ask him to bring diapers for their child the next day. She was so calm, but he seemed irritated. I wondered what kind of man could be comfortable with his child sleeping in a police station. Surely they could’ve made some kind of arrangement that didn’t involve leaving an infant in this mosquito-ridden hellhole? 

Photo: Pexels/Nappy

Ah well, sufficient unto Monjolaoluwa were her own troubles at that moment so I decided to mind my business. I remembered that Paul and Silas sang while they were in prison so I decided to do that. By the time it was midnight, I resigned myself to fate. Chisom and the CSO would not be coming back for me, at least not that night. I remembered that Peter was also once imprisoned and he slept like a baby. So I laid down on the spot the bank manager had reserved for me and drifted off into another world. Tomorrow would take care of itself. 

To be continued…

How I got arrested for giving someone my number in church (Part 3)

Read part one and part two

When we arrived at the station, Titus got out of the car and left me alone with Mike. We sat in the car for a while and Mike seemed almost sympathetic. He gave me more frightening details about Mama Duke. All I can remember now are the words “terrorism” and “attack on the seat of the President.” 

Photo: Pexels/ Toni Cuenca

For a minute the ridiculousness of my predicament struck me and I started to laugh. I told Mike I would definitely write about my arrest when I got out. He laughed and said he couldn’t wait to read my story. Then he told me he’d trained with the CIA for two years and I was both impressed and afraid. My friends had told me stories of black ops style agencies in Abuja but I thought they were exaggerating. 

Mike’s AC was on for a while as we sat in the car, as though he was waiting for some information. It obviously didn’t come so he decided he couldn’t waste anymore fuel in his attempts to make me comfortable. We got out of the car and went inside the station. He took me past the main building and we walked to the back where he pointed out a bench for me to sit on.

A mean looking officer who was seated in the same area asked him “Is this the lady you were talking about?” “Yes it’s her,” Mike said. I wondered when he had communicated with his colleagues about me. Had I been the subject of a whole police operation and without my knowledge too? Na wa o! I could hear my phone ringing in Mike’s hand, obviously all the people I had informed about my situation. Despite my pleas though, he refused to let me pick up.

His excuse was that the calls I was making could spook Mama Duke and she could flee the country. “The woman is very connected,” he said. “She could be listening to us right now.” In my desperation, I threatened that my friends would start a trend on Twitter to raise awareness about my arrest. He obviously heard the uncertainty in my voice because he dismissed me without a second thought. Who was I kidding really? Me with a total of 2,000 followers to my name worldwide and maybe only 20 who truly cared about me. There was no way #FreeJola would trend anywhere. 

Photo: Pexels/ Cristian Dina

Meanwhile, Mike’s story had changed. They were not going to let me go home because they couldn’t risk me informing Mama Duke of the plans to arrest her. Apparently, I was still a suspect. All my attempts to convince him that I didn’t know the woman fell on deaf ears. The new plan was to take me home to get cleaned up and properly dressed, and then lodge me in a hotel with a female police officer. Yes, I hadn’t showered at the time of my arrest. I was just grateful that I decided to put on a bra and baggy trousers before walking to the gate. The thought of being in that station with jiggling boobs and pyjama shorts was too scary to imagine. 

I had also not eaten all day. I was on day three of one of the many three-day fasts my mother’s pastor prescribes for me to repair my marital destiny. Food was the last thing on my mind though. You need to be alive to eat and at this point in time, I was afraid for my life. I was in a Nigerian police station with no phone and no other way to get help. My family was far away in Lagos and didn’t even know what was happening. I had never felt so alone in my life. 

As I sat on the hard bench with my head bowed, I noticed a pair of feet that looked familiar. I looked up to see one of the friends I had sent my live location to.  Actually, he was more than a friend. He was a guy who liked me and waited till I liked him back to inform me that he had a girlfriend. We had a big fight on Valentine’s Day because he wanted to take me to lunch and I thought that was disrespectful to both me and his girlfriend. I had made peace with him just two days before my arrest because I hate holding grudges. 

As I hugged him and buried my face in his neck, I was grateful I had made that decision. At that moment, I couldn’t care less whose boyfriend he was or how much he’d hurt me. He was my reminder that God sees and hears me. I had been praying for a beacon of hope in that moment, something, anything to show me that I wouldn’t end up as a Jane Doe in an unmarked grave. He was a sliver of light in that dark tunnel and to this day, I’m grateful to him for finding me in that station. 

Photo: Pexels/Fernando Makoto

I stepped out of his embrace to find Mike staring at us. He wasn’t expecting anybody to come looking for me. As far as he was concerned, he had grabbed my phone before I could tell anyone where I was. “How did you find her?” he asked my friend. “I sent him my live location,” I answered.” “Smart girl,” Mike said, impressed. 

My friend called Mike aside to have a conversation. Apparently, he had called a lawyer and wanted to know how to proceed. Mike told him everything he’d told me. There was nothing a lawyer could do because there was no official case against me. “We can’t afford to let her out of our sight,” Mike said. “Orders from above,” he added. Mike then asked my friend to leave after promising that I was in safe hands. So after a second brief hug, I was alone again.

Another hour passed and I began to get agitated. “What’s going on?” I asked Mike. “You can’t just keep me here indefinitely. I have rights.” I said. Mike glared at me and said “If you make trouble for me, I’ll put you in a cell. Is that what you want?” I remembered all the horror stories I had heard about Nigerian prison cells and I kept quiet. Going to military school almost damaged me, I refuse to imagine what would’ve happened to my mind if I had entered a cell.

While I was pondering my fate, I overheard the conversation between a group of people and the mean police officer from before. Apparently, they were all members of the same family and their case had been transferred from one of the Eastern states. They were relatives of a 21-year-old widow who had been married for seven years before her husband’s death.

Photo: Pexels/Micael Widell

After her husband died, her in-laws attempted to send her out of his house. When she wouldn’t leave, they accused her of killing her husband, took away her children and alleged that her relatives had helped her commit the crime. Then the in-laws used their connections to get the case transferred to Abuja so the family would have no one to help them.

I took in these details with shock and disbelief. How could this young girl in the tattered white dress be a mother of three and already a widow at 21? Who in their right senses gave her out to be married at 14? How can anyone be heartless enough to arrest a woman immediately after her husband’s death? I played these thoughts out in my head as the young girl rolled on the floor and wailed. Her wails penetrated through my body, soul and spirit. I could feel them in my blood, bones and marrow. As she got louder and louder, I began to cry. 

Never before then had I realized how dangerous it was to live in Nigeria. There I was, an innocent who was being held for sending a text to someone she met in church. And then there was that girl, she never had a choice. She was married off before she could have a say and was now a widow.

She hadn’t even lived, yet life as she knew it was over. I decided then that I would never subject my children to life in Nigeria. I would never give them such a life lacking in hope and opportunity. A life that could be taken from them as if it was never sacred. Even dogs deserve to be treated better than that. 

Evening came and I began to realize that I would probably not be going home or to a hotel. I paced round the station and prayed in tongues. I cried, I sang and I laughed. I was emotionally and mentally exhausted. Mike bought me some food but I had no plans of eating it. Then he confirmed my suspicions. There would be no female officer or hotel room. I would not be going home to shower. Instead, I was going to sleep on the floor of the station’s reception. 

Photo: Unsplash/David Rotimi

I was livid when I saw Mike walking out of the station with my phone. “How can this be happening in a democracy?” I screamed knowing how ridiculous I sounded but not caring. The other occupants of the reception looked at me in amusement while they made themselves comfortable on the floor. There was a woman with a newborn who I heard was a bank manager. The widow and her entire family were also there. Mike ignored me and walked out of the station. I sank into a chair and handed the food to the widow, then I prepared for the longest night of my life.

To be continued…

How I got arrested for giving someone my number in church (Part 2)

Read part one here

The police officers drove around in circles for what seemed like hours. Then suddenly one of them turned to me in the back seat and said “Are you calm now?” Is this guy crazy, I thought to myself. You have me in handcuffs and you want me to be calm? 

Photo: Unsplash/Dainis Graveris

I composed myself and asked “Why did you handcuff me?” He said “Because you wanted to run away.” “If you promise to stay calm, we’ll take the handcuffs off.” As he said this, he instructed his partner to drive into a nearby park. It was one of those outdoor bars Nigerians like to call gardens for some reason. 

When we got there, they took the handcuffs off and introduced themselves. One of them seemed cultured, like a real detective in a real country. Let’s call him Mike. The second looked like a typical Nigerian officer, faded out clothes and a protruding belly. Let’s call him Titus. 

Mike took the lead and briefed me on the situation. The woman I had exchanged numbers with (let’s call her Mama Duke) was a wanted criminal who had been evading arrest for some time. Thus the police had resorted to picking up associates in a bid to catch her. To enable them do this, they tapped her phone and traced all communication. 

Photo: Unsplash/Quino Al

So as soon as I sent her a text, my number was tagged and they began to trace me. He told me that the strange woman who had called me on Tuesday was acting on their orders. “You were too smart for us,” he said “So when you blocked her, we had to try another way to get you.” I was half scared and half amazed that the Nigerian police had the means to trace calls.

My next question was obvious “What did Mama Duke do? What’s her offence?” I asked. Mike hesitated, then he told me she was wanted for pretending to be a lawyer. To which I responded “So why don’t you go to court and catch her there?” “You can go to Law School and get all the evidence you need against her. There’s no need for all this trouble.” 

I saw the look on Mike’s face quickly change to one of admiration. Then it hit me. They thought they were arresting an ignorant girl who didn’t know her left from her right. I might have been dumb enough to fall for their package at the gate trick but at least I knew how the law should work. He realized that he would need to come clean with me because I would obviously not buy their lame stories. 

Photo: Unsplash/Logan Weaver

So he confessed that Mama Duke was wanted by the Presidency. The stakes were high and she had the means to leave the country at a moment’s notice. They were under a lot of pressure and it was their desperation that led them to arrest me. Apparently, they couldn’t get access to Mama Duke’s inner circle because they were all kingpins who had mastered the art of evading arrest. 

The odds that they could use me to get to Mama Duke were slim but it was a risk they were willing to take. At this point, I asked if I could call my lawyer. “There’s no need for lawyers,” Mike said. “You didn’t commit any crime.” He said if I just cooperated with them, I would be back home in no time. I’m ashamed to say I believed him. So I asked how I could help. 

“We need you to call Mama Duke and arrange a meeting with her,” he said. “Tell her you’re bored and you want to come and spend time with her.” I looked at Mike as if he had lost his mind. “What kind of silly story is that? I’m a grown woman, how can I tell another woman that I’m bored at home? ” He gave me a strange look and fell quiet. 

I took over and said “Here’s a better idea: I’ll tell her that I’m new in town and looking for a mentor.” We agreed on my story and I went ahead to call Mama Duke. She sounded every bit like the pleasant woman I had met in church. The same one who convinced a fellow churchgoer to step forward and give his life to Christ. How could I have known she was a criminal? Lord have mercy.

messy thoughts
Photo: Pexels/Vlada Karpovich

I kept my cool and told her I wanted her to be my mentor as rehearsed. We made plans for lunch and she promised to confirm time and place the next day. When the conversation was over, I turned to the officers and said “I’ve done what you asked. Can I go home now?” The looks on their faces chilled me to the bone. “You don become police officer’s wife o,” Titus said.

I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I knew shit had just gotten real. Mike promised that we would make a quick stop at the station and then he’d take me home. I knew he was lying so I began to spread the word of my arrest. I sent my live location to two friends via WhatsApp and informed a colleague what had happened. As she was asking questions about where exactly I was, Mike grabbed my phone. “No more phone calls please,” he said.

All I could think was how much I wanted to wake up from this nightmare. How in the world did I end up in a Nigerian police station? It took all the faith, hope and strength I had left to mutter a short prayer. “God please help me. Please don’t let me die here.”

To be continued…

How I got arrested for giving someone my number in church

On February 16, 2020, I walked into church desperate for encouragement. I wore a nice red dress and an even nicer smile but deep inside, I was hurting. It had been a rough weekend and I had just moved from Lagos to Abuja so I had no real support system to lean on. The church was supposed to be my safe place, yet it launched me into my worst nightmare.

Photo: Unsplash/Dainis Graveris

I sat in my usual spot and noticed an older woman who kept smiling at me. She looked so much like a friend’s mother and that gave me a strange sense of comfort. She had an air of authority about her so I could tell she was either rich or powerful, or both. You couldn’t tell by the way she dressed though. 

She kept looking back to make small talk and I tried to be as polite as possible. Then when I got up to dance, she told me how beautiful I looked and asked if I was dating anyone. I said no and then she prayed for me that I wouldn’t end up with a typical Abuja man. I still don’t know what that means. 

She said I should invite her to my wedding, so we exchanged numbers and that was that. Or so I thought. Two days later, on Tuesday, I got a call from a strange woman asking me to meet her somewhere in town. I wondered who the crazy lady was and when she kept calling, I blocked her number. 

Photo: Unsplash/Quino Al

On Thursday, February 20th, I got a call from a courier company saying they had a package for me from Lagos. I had asked a friend to send a shipment of my books to Abuja so I assumed it was from him. I walked to my estate gate to pick up the package and just as I arrived, the supposed delivery man showed me an ID card. “I’m a policeman,” he said. “Please step outside.”

Let me just state here for the record that I’ve always been terrified of Nigerian policemen. If I’m in an Uber and the driver gets stopped by the police, that ride has ended for me. Whenever I get anywhere near a police officer, I have a mini panic attack. So you can imagine how it felt for me to be the sole focus of a Nigerian policeman’s attention. I was like a zombie.

He showed me the older woman’s photo and asked if I knew her. I said I just met her on Sunday and we exchanged texts. Then he said “Please come with us.” At this point, I lost it. In any other country, those four words are innocent, but in Nigeria they have been the last that many have heard before going to the other side.

I told the police officer that I wouldn’t go anywhere with him until he could produce a warrant. Instead of a warrant, he produced a colleague who had been watching from a black car with tinted windows. I panicked and tried to run back into the estate but they grabbed me and handcuffed me. Tears began to roll down my face. I couldn’t believe it. I had done everything possible to avoid being involved with the police. Yet here I was, in handcuffs, because a nice old lady gave me her number in church.

Photo: Pexels/Wendy Wei

I sat in the police car and wept quietly as they drove me to an unknown destination. I wondered if this was how my story would end. I moved to Abuja in search of greener pastures but what had seemed like foliage from afar was turning out to be carpet grass. 

To be continued…

You guys are not ready for what’s inside my head

I have a long list of topics that I’m supposed to write for this Messy Thoughts series. But today, I’ve started and stopped at least three of them. The truth is, the things that are inside my head right now are not for public consumption. 

messy thoughts
Photo: Pexels/Vlada Karpovich

If I were to write honestly and post on social media, there’d be an intervention. I don’t want an intervention. I don’t need someone calling my mother and telling her to get me checked. I need to process my thoughts in a safe space with other people who need such a space. Social media isn’t it. 

Every post I’ve done before this one has made me anxious. I’ve spent hours on end imagining all the people who are judging me for my poor life choices. I know it’s probably just my imagination, but it’s real torture. Yes, I’m Jola the strong one but I am not ashamed to say I overestimated my strength on this one. So I’m bringing this series to an end. 

I’ll still be writing of course, but without the pressure of sharing what I’m not ready to. If you’d still like to read my stories, you can sign up for the Messy Thoughts newsletter where we can share our pain as a community and it won’t just be about me. I don’t have answers for you, but maybe our conversations will help you make sense of what you’re going through. 

On that note, I’m saying goodbye to Messy Thoughts the series and hello to the Messy Thoughts community. See you on the other side. 

I don’t wanna tell any more sad stories

I went on a date recently but I didn’t want to tell any of my friends. So I snuck in and out of the place and prayed no one would see me. My prayers were answered. I wasn’t hiding because I thought sharing would ruin the relationship. Rather, it’s because I don’t want to tell any more sad stories.

sad stories
Photo: Pexels/ Jean Alves

I don’t want to get people all excited about my progress only to go back and tell them there was nothing to be happy about. I’m tired of telling my friends that the great guy we thought was The One has gone the way of his predecessors.

It’s why I’ve struggled with sustaining this entire Messy Thoughts series because I’m starting to look like this unfortunate person who has only sad stories to tell. I don’t want people to hear my name and wonder “what is she whining about today?” I don’t want to be pitied because, well pity sucks.

I can’t even claim to have a hard life. That would be ingratitude at its peak. However, I’m in desperate need of good news to share. I really want to tell you happy stories. But until then…