BUT FOR HIS GRACE (SHORT STORY)
This is a fictional story about friendship, generosity and grace. There’s also new love towards the end. Enjoy and kindly share across social media. You are blessed!
BUT FOR HIS GRACE
Cordelia was excited and joyful that Sunday afternoon but she couldn’t tell why. She had dusted the furniture in her living room and added fresh flowers to the vases: some hibiscus, flame of the woods and cockscomb. She was still looking around to ensure everything was sparkling. There was really no need because Ifunanya, her cleaning lady, always did a great job every Saturday. And since her home was air conditioned, there wasn’t much chance of dust invading it. Besides, it was the middle of June, the thick of the rainy season. There was so little dust in the atmosphere.
Still, she was restless, in a giddy kind of way. She had given up guessing what was afoot. She only knew it was something splendid. The last time she felt this way was just prior to getting her current banking job five years back. And the time before that was the eve of the day her mum was healed of a stroke. The hallelujahs were just bubbling up from her belly since she got home from church by 10 a.m. At the moment, the time was 11 o’clock.
She took one last look at her sculpted oak chairs with coffee coloured cushions, rearranged the two landscape paintings on opposite walls of her living room and decided to get a bite to eat in the kitchen.
Her doorbell rang and she turned to answer it. Butterflies began to flutter in her tummy as she unlocked the front door. It didn’t make any sense because it was only Ifunanya, her cleaning lady, coming for her usual Sunday visit.
“Mma, you’re welcome!” Mma was Cordelia’s pet name for Ifunanya. The two were about the same age (late twenties) and good looking but they were the most unlikely friends. While Cordelia had an MBA and worked in a bank, Ifunanya didn’t finish secondary school and was a petty trader.
They had met in the bank when Ifunanya was a cleaner there. One day, Cordelia saw her weeping in the ladies’ restroom. She and several others had been laid off in a cost-saving measure by the company contracted to clean the bank.
Before then, Cordelia had the habit of greeting Ifunanya and the other peripheral staff very warmly just like she did her own colleagues. She had also blessed her financially on some weekends and given her lifts often as they lived in the same part of town. So, Ifunanya readily opened up to her. What made her sack so painful, she lamented, was that she had three young daughters to care for.
Cordelia told her to stop crying, that they would work something out to enable her cater for her kids. She told Ifunanya to meet her at the close of work. Cordelia drove her to her bungalow at the Imo Housing Estate, Umuguma-Owerri, and told her to undertake the cleaning of the house and compound for ten thousand Naira per month. She was to sweep the compound two or three times weekly, weed it when necessary and clean the house on Saturdays. In addition, she gave her fifty thousand Naira to begin selling snacks at a nearby secondary school. That was three years ago.
They had quickly become best friends after that and spent their Sunday afternoons watching TV together, cooking and sharing Bible passages plus anecdotes from their activities during the week.
“Are you just coming back from church?” Ifunanya asked.
“No, but I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’m so happy I feel like screaming.”
“Praise the Lord!” Ifunanya exclaimed. “I think I know why you’re happy. I have a surprise for you,” she added to an incredulous Cordelia.
“I’ll be back soon,” she said, with an amused glint in her eyes, and exited the door she had just walked through.
Cordelia wondered what Ifunanya wanted to give her. Perhaps she had made some pastries or brought her some fruits. That was one thing she loved about Ifunanya. She was such a great giver despite her limited earnings. But if it was any of those things, Ifunanya would have had them in her bag. Maybe it was a big bunch of plantains. That would be very heavy.
She opened the front door. “Do you need my help?”
“Yes,” replied a dashing young man in a well-cut grey suit. Cordelia looked up at his dark, smiling face. “My aunt says I should bring this stuff here. She’s coming with the rest.”
Cordelia collected the basket of fruit from him and looked further to see Ifunanya approaching with an impish grin on her face.
“Sorry, she brought me here without informing you. I’m her nephew, Nduka.”
“No need to apologise. My name is Cordelia and I’m pleased to meet you.” She gave him a handshake.
“I’m actually a year older than her but my mum is her eldest sister,” Nduka explained, still holding her hand.
“Interesting! Please, come in.” He had to release her hand.
When they were all seated, Cordelia looked at Nduka and told herself he was worth getting giddy about. She was smiling in a manner she would have termed foolish otherwise. She just couldn’t help herself. She reminded herself that she had a boyfriend in Canada. But we seem to be drifting apart. When did we speak last? Two months, three? I can’t even remenber.
“My aunt has told me so much about you. She says you’re an angel sent by God in her hour of need.”
Cordelia smiled. “It sounds nice to be called an angel but as I have told her often, I could have been the one in her position but for God’s grace. I only did the little I could to assist her. She is the one who has been doing all the hard work and managing her earnings to care for her family.”
That family consisted of three lovely girls, aged between 11 and 7. Ifunanya first got pregnant at the age of 16 when she was in Senior Secondary Class 1. That put an end to her education. Rejected by her family, she ended up in Lagos, hawking, and was soon pregnant with a second baby.
Out of frustration, she came back to Owerri, shortly after the birth of her second child, to marry a widowed, retired teacher. Unfortunately, he died two years later, right after the birth of Ifunanya’s third daughter. After his burial, his sons kicked Ifunanya out to spare them the burden of caring for her and her daughters.
As God would have it, she got the cleaning job with the bank and was barely coping with the paltry pay. Then a few years later, she was laid off and Cordelia came to her rescue.
“I’ve been studying and working in the UK,” Nduka said. “I lost contact with my aunt when she was in Lagos. All my efforts to get my parents to reconnect us failed until I got home last week. They turned their backs on her because of her mistakes years ago, forgetting that everyone deserves forgiveness.”
“I am grateful that God did not abandon me and He gave me a sister and a friend in a stranger,” Ifunanya interposed. “Did you know she has been helping me complete my daughters’ school fees?” she asked Nduka.
“I’m glad there are still people like you with the milk of human kindness …” Nduka told Cordelia.
“Enough, you two! All glory to God! What is this life if we can’t lend a helping hand to one another? Now, what can I offer you, Nduka?” Then turning to Ifunanya, she said, “Mma, uyo bu nu uyo miya gi.”
“Whatever is available will do,” Nduka replied.
She brought him a can of soda. As she poured it in a glass for him, she asked, “How long are you in Nigeria for?”
“Sorry I didn’t explain. I’m back for good. I started a job with a shipping firm in Lagos three months ago but I really don’t like the hectic pace of life in Lagos. I have been offered a teaching position in the Faculty of Engineering at the federal university here in Owerri.”
“Wow, that’s great!”
“I think so too. I want to be closer to my family. And I would very much like to know a certain angel better.”
Cordelia laughed as the butterflies stirred again. No wonder I was on cloud nine this morning. I can see very clearly where this is heading: exchange of vows at the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of our Lord and reception at the Protea Hotel. She wanted to rebuke herself but saw from the faraway look in her eyes that Ifunanya was hatching similar plans in her mind and so was Nduka, for that matter, going by the tenderness with which he gazed at her.
As their eyes locked, he stood up, took her hands in his and said, “I thank God for bringing us together. Although I’ve just met you, something tells me we have a great time ahead if you will allow it. Will you?”
Cordelia murmured her affirmation, pushing all thoughts of Ogboo, her Canada-based boyfriend away. Staying in Nigeria never sounded better. To think that I’ve been hoping for Ogboo to propose and invite me over for a permanent stay. The fact is, there’s no place like home.
Meanwhile, Ifunanya quietly slipped into the kitchen, thanking God for making these two fall for each other. Two months ago, she had heard from the grapevine that Nduka was back in Nigeria and she started asking God to reunite them and hook him up with her best friend. That prayer had been answered. She hoped they will stay together for the long haul and make each other very happy. And she believed that someday, she too will find happiness with a man who would love her and care for her daughters.
She loved Cordelia’s expression, “But for God’s grace.” Indeed, but for His grace, she and her daughters would have been destitute. Instead, things could only get better from now.
Ⓒ Edith Ugochi Ohaja 2018
The Igbo expression, “uyo bu nu uyo miya gi” means the house belongs to me and you.
Hope you enjoyed this story. Hope you don’t mind chatting with me.
Do you have a friend who has really made a positive difference in your life?
Are you able to get along with people from different social classes?
Looks like Cordelia is thinking of dumping her Canada-based boyfriend for this guy who has come back to stay in Nigeria. Do you think this is wise?
What words of encouragement do you have for Ifunanya?
What lessons have you learnt from the lives of the characters in this story?
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