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Story: Centre Stage – SIDE A

Thank you to Christabel (@BreakingMadTeam & @Bye_Wig) and Aunty Yemi!

This story is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, incidents and dialogues are a figment of my imagination – most definitely inspired by God, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organisations, persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 

About Centre Stage: Sharon Starr, Nigeria’s biggest AfroPop sensation has gone missing just before the start of her international tour. A few days have quickly turned to months and nobody knows where she is, including her husband-manager, NJ The Producer.

We find out more about the couple and their journey through the eyes and ears of Doctor Wole, their therapist. It’s an emotional journey that explores the impact of upbringing, perceptions, and beliefs and very importantly, if reconciliation can exist when trauma has been experienced.

Track 1: Make the News – Skit I feat. VJ Lara

“Welcome to ‘On The Beat Music TV News’ with your favourite girl, VJ Lara!! Today’s top story – Nigeria’s number one female pop-artist Sharon Starr has been reported missing! Her husband, NJ The Producer filed a report at Ikoyi Police station earlier today and also released a video via his Instagram page soliciting prayers and help from her fans. In the video he mentioned that Sharon Starr had not been seen for three days. The Police say that they’re doing all they can to find her as they investigate this case. The timing of her disappearance has caused much speculation on social media as the missing artist was preparing to leave for her second international tour this week.

Following from NJ’s post this morning, the hashtags #PrayForSharonStarr and #SharonStarrHowWeWonderWhereYouAre have been trending.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the superstar and her family. We at the station hope Sharon Starr is found safe and sound. We’ll be bringing you updates on this story as we receive them. Moving on to other news, the video for Tiwa Savage‘s hot single ‘Ma Lo‘ featuring WizKid hit ten million views today! The songstress expressed her excitement by posting an image of the video on Instagram captioned “The unstoppable moving train.” The song has…”

**

Two Weeks Earlier

She woke up panting and shivering, her body was drenched in sweat, “What was that?” she asked herself as she held her chest trying to control her breathing. It had been years since she’d had such vivid dreams; the last time was probably when she was nineteen, just before her career started.

She placed her hands on her head to adjust her silk scarf, while trying to reason away the dream. “No. It must be a stress-induced dream?” She told herself, “I mean I have the tour coming up and I’m slightly anxious. Right?”

That night she stayed awake, afraid to go back to sleep in case she had the same dream. When sleep won she dreamt the same dream causing her to wake up again. This time however, she skilfully tiptoed out from under her Egyptian cotton duvet, careful not to wake her husband, and knelt down by the edge of their Queen-sized bed and whispered a quick but terrified prayer: “God? It’s me. It’s Semilore. What are you trying to tell me? What is this dream about?” She sighed heavily after a silent five minutes. Had it been that long since she last spoke to God that hearing Him had now become impossible? As the silence remained, she concluded that God was not talking to her or that she was indeed unable to hear Him anymore. Rising to head to the bathroom before attempting to close her eyes again, she caught her reflection in the mirror by their bed, then she heard His voice deep within “Run my child. Run.

Track 2: Be Real With Me

Adeniyi-John Daniels Jr. was no longer the hot and confident NJ The Producer. His once tall stature appeared hunched and stress-wrinkles surrounded his eyes and mouth. His hair had greyed rapidly and he had lost so much weight over the past six months. This was the same NJ that made hit after hit; he was everyone’s favourite producer. Seeing him definitely disproved the belief that ‘Black don’t crack’ because NJ appeared so shattered you would not have believed he was a thirty-five year old millionaire.

“Hey NJ! Nice to have you back. How have you been?” Wole asked with optimism as he ushered his client into his office.

Dressed in a dirty t-shirt, shorts and sandals, NJ dragged his feet into his doctor’s office making his way to the soft blue couch without saying a word. NJ took up his usual spot on the couch on the far left just as he had done on his matrimonial bed, when his wife was home. Wole took his seat opposite NJ with a small glass coffee table adorned with a full jug of water and two tumblers, between them. The office was not spectacularly decorated, the room had been painted white with minimal but subtle coloured art work carefully placed on the walls above the blue couch. When looking for an office, Wole fell in love with this space because it overlooked the Atlantic Ocean and it was designed in a way that allowed natural light to hit every corner of the room. He had told his estate agent when he viewed the office that “Light is necessary for people in the dark.”

Wole, like his office, was not the kind of man that stood out in a crowd, but when he spoke everyone listened because he was full of wisdom and extremely smart. When Wole was a teenager he decided that he wanted to be a therapist after seeing how his mother battled depression and was often referred to various churches for deliverance as opposed to getting professional help, he made it his mission to help people like his mother.

“NJ?” Wole called to get his client’s attention. “How have you been this week?”

“See ehn, bros. How many times I fit tell you that I de fine? Na only reason I come for this your nonsense session is because my popsi insists I see you. He thinks I need help. I don’t need help, I just want Sharon back and for things to go back to the way they were before she…” He stopped talking. Often times the pain caught his voice and caused his hands to moisten.

“Before she did what NJ? What did Sharon do?” Wole asked with just enough encouragement to ensure NJ felt at ease.

NJ remained silent.

“NJ, you understand that the purpose of these sessions is to help you make sense of the events of the past six months? You understand that the only way you can move forward is if you share the things that bother you?” Wole paused and asked again, “Before she what, NJ?”

NJ tilted his head back and closed his eyes, with a sigh he whispered, “Before she ran away. Before she ran away and had me think she was missing. Because of her I lost a lot of money, I nearly lost our home. I haven’t been able to work because I can’t think.” He raised his head and opened his eyes looking directly at Wole and continued with his voice getting louder, “she went missing for three months and she’s been back in the country for another three months yet she still won’t see me, she won’t come HOME!” At the last word he hit his clenched fists on the arm of the couch. This time Wole did not flinch like he did in their first session. He was now used to NJ’s slight aggression.

Wole jotted notes in his notebook and allowed a few seconds to pass so NJ’s emotions could settle and then he asked, “Has Sharon ever told you why she left?”

NJ looked at his doctor in disbelief, confusion and evident pain. His heart raced not because of anger but because he was panicking. How could he possibly tell his doctor the real reason why Sharon left? He remembered asking Sharon once over the phone, some weeks after her arrival, and when she told him, he accused her of lying – “You have a side-guy right?!? That’s the real reason, right? You think I’m stupid? I’m sure it’s that MC Zooloo guy? I saw how he was looking at you at the video shoot in South Africa. You won’t get away with this Sharon! You won’t!”

“NJ?” Wole called again.

“Bros, we don finish?” At the question, NJ stood, picked up his keys off the coffee table and made his way to the door. He did not look back at his doctor to say goodbye neither did Wole call for him to come back as he had done the first two sessions. Just like his clenched fist, Wole was used to NJ leaving a session abruptly. Wole picked up his office phone to dial his assistant, “Ayo, please rebook Mr. Daniels again for the same time next week and send him a calendar invite.” Wole ended the call and walked to the light-inviting windows of his office and said a prayer, “LORD, like the back and forth of the waves so is NJ. Please help him come back to shore and give me the grace to help him and Sharon the way you see fit – tomorrow will be Sharon’s first session. Hopefully she’ll be more open.”

Track 3: I Remember When

“What time is sound check babe?” Sharon turned to her husband. It was seven in the morning and they were being driven to The Hard Rock Cafe on Victoria Island for her last intimate show in Nigeria before starting her international tour.

Sharon was indeed a superstar! From the expensive wigs, clothes, the always perfect make-up and her very slim coffee-mocha frame. She was an unusual beauty and it was her beauty that had always caught NJ’s eye.

“Sound check starts at 9am. I have a few things to sort out this morning right before sound check. After that it’s a run through and then it’s show time”, NJ replied tapping and gripping her thigh firmly, without lifting his gaze from his phone. She flinched at his touch, but he did not notice; he seemed especially busy this morning Sharon thought, which was good for her because her mind had been racing for the past few days. Each night was a different dream with the same ending “Run my child. Run.”

“Huh? Did you say something?” NJ asked still looking at his phone.

“Oh, me? No I didn’t say anything.” Sharon replied nervously, pulling her Barberry shades to cover her worried and tired eyes. She could not afford to anger him today, at least not yet.

Sound check had gone well without any issues that would have warranted a concerned look from NJ. Sharon was particularly looking forward to lunch because NJ had a meeting booked that did not require her to attend and she thought she would use that time to enjoy a power nap. She also had to let the band know about a few changes she wanted to make to the set, “it’s a surprise song cover for my fans and NJ so don’t tell anyone,” she instructed emphasising ‘NJ’ to ensure the band did not mention it to him. The band looked hesitant, but they agreed when she convinced them that the artist who originally sang the song would be in attendance. “You guys know that Waje is my favourite artist, it’ll be my way of saying thank you to her for her amazing music and my fans will see a side of me they’ve never seen. You know, something real?”

**

The venue was packed; many of Nigeria’s biggest stars in music and Nollywood were in attendance. “Sharon’s Little Starrs” as her fans were often called had come out in their numbers! It was such a surreal moment. Even after these many years in the industry, Sharon still could never believe that people would pay to see her do what she loved doing. Part of her knew and appreciated that she owed her success to NJ her manager, producer and husband, the other part of her wished she had never been reintroduced to him.

“Thank you! Thank you!” Sharon said smiling. “I love you too! Thank you! Ok, ok everyone before we close the show I have a little surprise for you all.” She gulped ever so slightly making sure not to look in NJ’s direction.

“As you know this is my last show in Nigeria this year because I’ll be heading out for my international tour in two weeks.” The crowd clapped again, and she smiled once more, bringing her head down to demonstrate some sort of humility when deep down she knew there would be no tour. She just needed to get through the night, its pending consequences and get through Taraoluwa Badmus’s wedding the following week as a bridesmaid, assuming she would be alive to make it.

She looked up again and settled the audience; “so that you won’t miss me too much while I’m gone I want to leave you with this song by my favourite artist Waje. I believe big sis Waje is in the audience tonight so I hope I do this song justice.”

The band began with the melodies of Waje’s song “No Be You”, a heartfelt ballad sung in Pidgin English and boy did Sharon sing! The audience was in awe because they had never heard her sing like this. Being so intertwined with the words of the song, Sharon kept her eyes closed for some of the performance and when her eyes did open she did not look in NJ’s direction. She did not need to, she could feel the heat of his glare. Sharon was so lost in the song that she did not notice when Waje walked on stage to sing alongside her. It was the unexpected cheering of the audience that caught her attention. Sharon could not believe it! Obviously stunned she nevertheless carried on singing with her favourite artist of all time. Both ladies sang and made eye contact at the right parts of the song as if they had rehearsed beforehand. It was so natural. These were the types of moments Sharon loved about being a performing artist.

When they were done, overwhelmed by the experience, Sharon shed tears when Waje hugged her. Not too many tears that would give away her real pain, but just enough pretty tears to have the blogs label the moment as an “emotional performance” but deep inside Sharon knew her real ugly tears would appear after the after party.

**

An expensive vase with its floral contents hit the wall of the dining room as Sharon tried to navigate her way to the safety of the nearby guest bathroom that had a lock. Smash! Another artefact was thrown in her direction. Just when she thought she had space-advantage she headed for the bathroom only to be grabbed by her neck and thrown on the marble dining room floor. Her shin hit the metal dining table leg, which cut her and caused her to cry out in more pain. Then she saw the fist ready to land on her face when she screamed “NO! NOT MY FACE! NOT MY FACE! TARA’S WEDDING IS NEXT WEEK! NOT MY FACE!” The fists reconsidered their destination and she gave her ugliest cry when they landed all over her body except her face.

Intrigued by her calmness as she spoke about the events that led to her disappearance, Wole asked a pressing question, “Sharon, I’d like to know how you were able to escape?” He pushed his glasses upwards so it would rest in his Afro.

She looked at him with annoyance, “I told you before, my name is not Sharon. My name Semilore.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I guess I’m used to your stage name. I won’t make that mistake again, Semilore.” He offered a smile as a peace offering but she ignored it. A smile from NJ that’s how this mess started.

“My good friend Tara Badmus, now Adetide-Cole was getting married the week of my grand plan so I used it as an opportunity and a means to buffer all my excuses when NJ asked questions. Naturally I couldn’t tell any of my girls what I was up to. I knew NJ would have gone to them first as soon as he realised I was missing and I didn’t want them getting implicated in any way. The less they knew the better and the easier it was for me to escape.”

**

“Tara!! It’s me, Sharon!” She shouted from outside in the direction of her friend’s bedroom that overlooked the massive driveway of the Badmus family home. She waited patiently for the front door to open. She was greeted by one of the house girls as she pushed through the door and made a beeline for Tara’s bedroom. Tara opened her bedroom door and it was evident that she was very annoyed with Sharon.

“T!! Tara mi!! I’m sorry I missed my fitting!” How could she show up for a fitting considering the story her body would tell? “My only T Baby!! I’m sorry. Forgive me ehn? You know I had the show the night before and some press rounds yesterday. I was super tired. I’m sorry.” Sharon begged Tara for forgiveness tugging her cheeks, knowing full well that Tara hated her cheeks being pulled. Before Sharon could beg once more Tara broke with an unwilling-willing smile.

“Girl. I vex oh. Don’t be fooled by my smile. You’re just lucky that Lilian has dressed you many times already. She didn’t really need you to try on your dress.” Tara told her friend in a matter-of-fact-way with a side eye glance. Tara could never stay upset for longer than a few minutes.

Se you’ve met my cousin Sophie?” Tara asked seemingly over her misunderstanding with Sharon.

Sharon looked over in the direction that Tara was pointing. Sophie was Tara’s cousin from London, in town for the wedding. She waved over at Sophie who was preoccupied with her camera, “Yeah, I remember her from your trad last week. Hi Sophie, you’re the one making a film about gélé’s or something like that? How are you?”

Pleasantries exchanged and the ladies began gisting about Sharon’s show and the surprise performance. She carefully navigated the conversation to focus on the upcoming nuptials of Adeiye and Tara. Comfortable, after being served piping hot amala with ewedu, gbegiri and an assorted meat buka stew, Sharon took off the black kimono she had on over her white tank top and jeans. She had forgotten why she had it on in the first place. Turning to reach for her drink on the bedside table, Sharon was reminded when Tara went silent mid-sentence. Sharon caught a glimpse of Tara and Sophie’s shocked expressions in the mirror and hurried to put her silk kimono back on, avoiding eye contact with the two ladies.

“Who… what… what happened Semilore?” A concerned Tara questioned, her emotions so shaken that she had to use her friend’s real name. She was not talking to the superstar anymore.

“Erm, I think my jollof is ready. I’ll take your dishes downstairs.” Sophie offered although nobody asked. She disappeared in a flash, she had enough personal drama to deal with, she did not need to know about Sharon’s too.

“It’s nothing.” Sharon stuttered. “I slipped on the stairs at the after party at Club Plus 234. You don’t remember?” She chuckled and waved her hand as if waving the stench of her lie away.

“No, I don’t remember that happening.” Tara replied more like she was asking a question.

“Maybe you had left by then.” Sharon’s eyes never stayed steady as she spoke. “Babes, forget story. Na small fall I de fall that’s all.” She sounded defensive.

“Did N…” Tara was cut off by Sharon’s phone ringing. They both looked down at the caller ID, it was NJ calling.

**

A Few Days Before the Wedding

Wazzapp message - Group Chat 
TARA’S TIARAS👑👰🏾

Mrs AC Pending: Ladies don’t forget to pack your bags tonight! Check my previous message for the list of essentials and something for church on Sunday!

WuraGold: Got you girl! Can’t believe it’s finally here!

OpéBaby: 😭👰🏾😍🙌🏾

Bola Toh 🌶: But wait oh! Have you packed your belongings for Saturday night though? Not that you’ll need anything …. 🤭😉😜😎

WuraGold: 😂😂😂😂🙆🏾 Finally issa ‘bout to go down! 💃🏾💃🏾**Flavour Voice**

Mrs AC Pending: You guys play too much. I’m going to bed. 🙅🏾😩🙆🏾

Mrs AC Pending: @Sharon🌟 you’ve seen my message above?

Sharon🌟: Yeah T! Pack bag tonight, check list, church on Sunday… You’ll be able to make church? You won’t be tired on Sunday? 🙊

Mrs AC Pending: You’ve also joined bad gang abi?? Thank God I have backup bridesmaids. 🙏🏾😌

Sharon laughed at the exchange going on in the Wazzapp group that Tara set up for them as bridesmaids. She smiled considering how far they had all come.

“BABE!” NJ shouted towards their en suite bathroom where Sharon had been sitting for the past fifteen minutes. “What’s taking you so long in there? Don’t let me come and break down this door to find you talking to one guy in your DMs.” He moved closer to the door.

“SORRY NJ! I’m coming out now.” She hurriedly picked herself off the floor, washed her hands, dampened her face with a facecloth and then unlocked the door. Sitting on the bathroom floor always seemed to help Sharon when she was feeling overwhelmed by the theatre play, called her life. She had written many great songs on this floor, songs of course NJ never allowed her to sing. It was on this bathroom floor that she cried, mourning the loss of her three unborn children; between his fists and her work schedule her children never stayed long enough to comfort her. It was on this same floor where her escape plans were revealed to her the same way God had given Moses instructions about festivals and building the house of The LORD. Tara’s wedding was the necessary good that would enable her to escape this very unnecessary evil in her life.

She opened the bathroom door in a brisk manner, “Hey babe.” She smiled, “T’s just sending us messages about the wedding and the girls are teasing her.” She leaned in and hugged him, failing to mention that she too contributed to the teasing.

“Hmmm. Move, I need to use the bathroom.” NJ shoved her to the side. On a normal day he would have questioned her about the group chat conversation, but today was not a normal day. His stomach had been causing him discomfort all day, “what did I eat mehn? Ye! Shit.”

Sharon could hear the commotion he was making and she held in her laughter thinking, “that’s right NJ. It all goes downhill from here.”

“NJ thought he knew everything about me”, she said to Wole, giving a hearty laugh, “the laxative wasn’t in the plan God gave me, but I sha had to add my own. You know? I also needed him to fire the new cook. I couldn’t have anyone around to watch me snooping in my own home. Tara’s list of things to pack was pretty extensive. I just added my passport to my list. It was only by God’s grace that I was able to unlock NJ’s safe to get my passport. I thought about him noticing it was missing, so I just replaced it with my old passport, which for some reason was at my parent’s house. I called my mum that night to say I was coming to pick up some paperwork I had left at theirs.” Sharon’s eyes were distant as if reliving the moment.

**

“I need some documents and I think I left them at yours… Yeah documents for my trip…. no, no I’m not coming with NJ, he isn’t feeling well so I will come and get them myself… Amen mummy… love you too. Bye…. NJ! Mummy just called she said she’s got some medicine to help you. I’m going over to pick it up.” She shouted to her husband who was preoccupied.

“Mmmmmm… calllll… YE!! Me …YE!! When you get there!! YE! YE! YE! Inu mi! My stomach!! I swear Sharon, this new cook gotta go.” NJ lamented.

Sharon sped out of their driveway and down the road of their gated community before she could laugh out loud for she was afraid that she may laugh too loudly within the gates and NJ would hear her.

Passport received. Medicine picked from the chemist. Wedding bag packed. Now time to run.

**

“Of course NJ stayed with me at the hotel after the wedding. He wouldn’t have allowed me to stay at the hotel otherwise. He had been drinking and I knew getting him up for church would be a task, so I got ready very early that morning and headed to Bola’s room. Bola was another bridesmaid. I asked to put my bag in her car because our car was full of Tara and Adeiye’s wedding gifts – I had volunteered to be the collector of gifts. I told her I’d pick up my bag once the gifts had been dropped off at Tara and Adeiye’s new place. The Tuesday after the wedding NJ had a meeting with a new artist so I booked a taxi, dropped the gifts off and from there I went to Bola’s house to pick up my bag.”

**

“There’s the catch up this Thursday night right before you head off for your tour?” Bola asked as she was updating her calendar on her phone.

“Yeah B, there is. I wish I could stay longer but business calls and I don’t want to keep my taxi waiting. But definitely, we’ll see each other on Thursday. Bring our in-law oh!! It’s a full gang affair.” Sharon hugged her friend tightly. “I really appreciate you and the ladies you know. This past weekend with you girls was the absolute best.” Releasing herself, Sharon turned towards the door so quick that Bola did not have time to respond to the heartfelt embrace. Sharon did not trust herself. Any more time spent at Bola’s and she would have told her everything, but she remembered one of the dreams “Run my child. Run and do not tell anyone.”

Bag and passport in hand now all Sharon needed to do was get through the madness of Murtala Muhammed International Airport without being noticed. “Oga, make you go fast eh? I no want miss my flight.” She instructed the unassuming taxi driver as she put on a pixie wig, baseball cap and her sunglasses. The elderly taxi driver adjusted his purple aso oke cap and peeped at his mirror in response, “Madam they know me for this area, na me dem dey call Angel Sonic.” He smiled at her as if he knew what she was up to, his teeth were a perfect white across his very shiny, wrinkled and experienced deep brown face. There was something about him that made her relax a little. Rummaging in her handbag Sharon asked, “Na Angel dem born you?” She asked curiously wanting to know if Angel was his real name.

His white teeth showed again, “Something like that Semilore. Something like that.”

“Did he just say my name” she thought to herself. She was not sure what she heard but was too afraid to ask. “What if this baba somehow knows NJ? I should have prayed before getting in this taxi.” She decided to end the small talk and remained silent the rest of the way to the airport.

Track 4: I Remember When Pt. 2

“Welcome back NJ. How are you doing?” Wole asked hopefully.

“I de.” NJ replied sounding defeated as he took a seat on the blue couch. He was in the same outfit he wore to his last appointment.

“Today I want to do something different to break the ice, if you will. It’s a word association game. I’ll say a word and you say the first thing that comes to your mind. So, for example if I say horse, you could say farm and so on.” Wole smiled thinking this game would be a great way to get NJ to open up. NJ on the other hand did not look the slightest bit amused or interested.

“I hear you. I’ll give it a go.” NJ cautiously agreed. He thought, “what harm could this game do, maybe it’ll make the session finish quickly.”

“Ok my first word is – tree.”

“Garden” NJ rolled his eyes.

“Sun”

“Heat”

“Peanuts”

“Garri”

“Wizkid”

“Ojuelegba”

“Good one!” Wole chuckled and then continued, “Church.”

“Pastor”

“Mother”

NJ could not help himself. Hearing the word ‘mother’ the first thing that came out of his mouth without thinking was “Wicked”. Wole knew this was major.

“Wicked?” A puzzled Wole asked.

“Yes! Wicked! Wicked! Wicked!” At this point NJ seemed to be shaking, his fists were clenched again. However Wole felt it was still safe for him to probe NJ further, this could be the ‘breakthrough’ moment Wole was hoping NJ would experience.

“Was your mother wicked?”

Wole knew that NJ came from a religious home; his dad was the big time Pastor Adeniyi-John Daniels from House of Refuge Assembly (HoRA). Wole had been to HoRA few times when looking for a church to attend when he moved back to Nigeria. Pastor Adeniyi-John always appeared to be a doting husband to his wife First Lady Claudia Daniels, who seemed to be every ounce of what you would expect a church First Lady to be, people always said nice things about her.

**

“My darling, please keep your voice down. Stop shouting you’ll wake Junior.” Adeniyi-John Daniels Senior was the most soft-spoken man ever. He hated confrontation of any kind, except when confronting the devil when praying and reading his Bible. Humility should have been the name given to him when he was born.

“Oh, so now I’m shouting abi? My friend you don’t know anything! When I shout for real, you will know.” Claudia Daniels was a force! She forced her way into NJ Senior’s view when he first became a Pastor as a young single man. She forced her way into the choir demanding the position of lead vocalist. She forced her way into anything and everything that would give her an advantage but oh how she did so in the most unassuming ways. Claudia never took no for answer.

All the time Claudia was shouting at her husband neither of them noticed that a five-year old NJ Junior had been watching them. Although he could not voice what he was seeing, he knew that something was wrong because his father had always told him to be nice to people and not shout at people, so why was mummy shouting at daddy? With the reasoning of a five year-old he knew a distraction was necessary so he started crying from outside the home office where his parents were.

“You see what you have done? Give me money to travel you won’t give, now your stubbornness has woken up my son! You useless he-goat of a man!! And they warned me oh! They said that your Christianity is too much! Ordinary take money from the church account, you can’t do!!” Claudia hissed at her husband hard as she moved towards their son wanting to console him, but little NJ had quick feet and ran to his father instead.

“HMMM! I just pray that this boy does not end up like you. Shameless man!” She slammed the door of their office.

NJ Senior carried his tired and confused son, sang hymns and prayed with tears; “LORD, I should have listened to you. Forgive me.”

The verbal abuse went on for all of NJ’s childhood. An aggressive woman was all he knew and he could never comprehend why his father never dealt with his mother the way he had heard some of his friends fathers dealt with their wives.

NJ and his friends had been waiting for their parents to finish their church meetings when the topic about disrespectful girls came up. A friend had said, “Ah my popsi told me, any woman who fit take ‘im mouth and use am to insult me, nah such woman need real discipline.” Another boy added to the discussion, “My mama never try such with popsi that’s why dey dem love each other like this.”

“Really?” An inquisitive fifteen-year-old NJ asked.

“Yah! Of course na. Real men know how to control their babes. At least that’s what popsi told me.” His friend seemed to be reconsidering if his dad was really telling the truth or not.

NJ had always heard things being thrown when his mother was on her rampage but he never actually saw the physical side of his mother’s abuse towards his father till that night after church.

“OH! So you and Iya Semilore are shamelessly flirting with each other in the sanctuary? You want to leave me for her? Are you mad?” Claudia questioned, pointing her finger to her head for emphasis.

“WOMAN! In the name of Jesus Christ our LORD, I beg you, leave me alone. What are you even saying? Mrs. Hosea is a married woman and I’m a….” NJ Senior was exhausted, three services and two hours of unscheduled counselling sessions had him spent; he really did not need his wife jumping to conclusions because he prayed for a member of his church and her family.

“Ehhhhhhh! So you’re saying you are not a married man? Daddy G.O. must hear of your philandering ways! I will disgrace you before you can disgrace me. Mark my words! The battle line has been drawn, you empty excuse for a man. Look at you! What a failure you are.” She moved her hand up and down to emphasise that there was nothing to her husband.

“I’m not dealing with this anymore. Move out of my way!” NJ Senior ordered.

“I’m not going anywhere! Try me.” She dared.

He moved his hand to gently push her to the side away from his path.

Oya!!!! Beat me!! I know you want to hit me! BEAT ME!! If you’re man enough go on show me what you’re made of. BEAT ME!!!!!” She removed her red headscarf, the one she wore when praying and in the process unknowingly removed her wig too. She then used her braided head to charge at her husband’s chest like a bull being teased by the red fabric of her scarf.

“What is wrong with you? Don’t you fear God at all?” NJ Senior asked trying to push her away from him, but she continued taunting him. When she noticed he would not fight her, Claudia decided she would be the one to fight him. She persisted using her full bust like an extra pair of hands to force her husband’s body to lean over the polished wooden desk leaving zero room for him to move. In a swift moment Claudia reached for the stationery pot on the table picking a gold letter opener and overcome with rage she forced the letter opener into her husband’s left hand multiple times and stabbed his side with the opener. She did not hear his screams or pleas for her to stop, she only stopped when NJ Junior ran into the office to pull her away, even when he did she still did not let go of the letter opener.

NJ Senior was hunched over in agony not just from physical wounds so deep that you could see his bones, but the agony of having such a crazy woman as his wife. He honoured his marriage vows out of honour to God but how much longer could he put up with this? What will people say when they hear? The home of a Pastor should be his first church and ministry but the members of this congregation were not willing. His wife was crazy and every so often, NJ Senior caught a glimpse of his namesake clenching his fists anytime his mother started her tantrums. He would have to talk to Junior about his anger too. “What kind of example am I LORD? What am I doing?”

“Daddy!! Daddy!! Wake up! Wake up!” NJ Junior was sobbing watching his dad lose consciousness as blood flowed out of his body.

The Senior NJ opened his eyes slightly using all the strength he could muster to instruct his boy. “Son call Doctor Ban…Ban… Bankole Badmus. Te… te… Tell him to come quick… quickly. Tell him it’s an emergen….” His eyes fluttered with each word till he gave in to the deep sleep his body insisted he take. A conflicted Junior did not want to leave his father alone in the room with his mother while he searched for the house phone. Thankfully his dad had his mobile phone in his pocket and he knew the unlock password (having used his phone many times without permission).

There was blood everywhere. Claudia however sat in the corner of the office laughing hysterically when NJ Junior started to make the call. Her laughter turned to tears when she noticed the blood on her hands. She crawled to her unconscious husband apologising on her way to him, asking forgiveness.

“My husband I’m sorry please don’t die. Wake up!” She held him close to the same chest she had used to begin her assault. She rocked him back and forth as she whispered her soliloquy “I…. I don’t know what came over me, I know you’ll never cheat on me, because you’re not mad enough to do so. It’s just that the way you behave with these women makes me jealous and you know I’m a jealous woman.” She stopped talking and looked at her husband hoping for a response. He did not move and she continued rocking. “You see I only act this way when I feel offended by you, I’m sorry! I don’t think I’ll ever do this again. It’s the enemy that used me. Tomorrow I’ll start fasting and I’ll ask some of the Prayer Wonder Warriors for serious prayers. I need prayers right? I’ll make sure I never harm you again. Claudi? Oh Claudi what have you done?” She kissed his forehead as a peace offering but still he did not wake up.

NJ Junior on the phone, looked at the scene playing out in front of him and his hatred for his mother ignited like a dry forest fire. He wished she were the one bleeding. He wished she was dead.

**

“I remember that evening Uncle Bankole managed to sort my dad out, he asked him about his injuries and what happened because popsi insisted that he didn’t need to go to the hospital. I had never heard my dad tell a lie before that day – he told Doctor B. that armed robbers attacked him on his way home. His doctor friend didn’t buy it because he had walked past my father’s office and saw blood on the floor before making his way to my dad. My ma… erm Claudia wasn’t there when my father was being treated, she had left the house before Doctor B. arrived and I was so relieved when she left. I hoped it was for good.

That night I questioned everything I was taught to be true. The one person I questioned most was God. I just didn’t get how he’d allow Claudia do that to the best man I’ve ever known. It irritated me that God never answered me when I prayed that dad would beat her up one day. It irritated me how much they seemed so in love at church but at home it was World War 3. I hated that. I thought if the Pastor and his wife can pretend in church, then maybe everyone in church was a pretender. I stopped trusting people and I vowed to myself that no woman would treat me the way Claudia treated my father; Claudia struggled to keep her promise, it was as if her mouth got worse and her aim was much more accurate.” NJ’s eyes were red and full of hot tears. These were tears of confusion and deep hurt. At age thirty-five NJ was more confused now than he had been at age five and fifteen.

“My father got better and of course he couldn’t attend church for a few Sundays. I remember the third Sunday he had been at home some of the elders from church came by. Apparently he had called them over for a meeting. I couldn’t sit in the meeting, obviously, but I sat close enough to the office to hear what was discussed, Claudia was asked to attend the meeting too. Dad had told the elders that he was filing for a divorce. He told them everything that had been going on but Claudia denied it all. It took everything in me not to burst into the office to say she was lying. The elders said things like:

‘She’s a woman, women misbehave sometimes,’

‘You’re the man of this house, are you not? You now want the world to laugh at you for not handling an ordinary woman?’

‘If she slaps you, you slap her back. Show her you’re boss.’

I think there was one elder out of the five that came that stood in popsi’s corner, he suggested a separation first, therapy and counseling before filing for divorce. ‘God forbid!’ one exclaimed while others said it was a taboo for a man of God to not have his wife at home. Dad even offered to step down as Pastor if getting a divorce was going to be an issue, but they insisted that my parents stay together. That day I knew that none of these men actually loved God or loved my father as a friend or their Pastor. When they left I heard some of them laughing at my father on the compound, they thought he was a weak man and that made me so mad. I was angry with them but I was most angry at popsi because he stupidly said ‘I’ll pray about it.’ I mean what else was there to pray about? Claudia nearly killed him. Needless to say he did prove to be a weak man after all, he never filed for the divorce.”

“And why do you think he didn’t leave your mother?”

NJ did not want to answer that question, because deep down he did not want to think about the ‘whys’ anymore instead he replied, “You know what’s funny? The more I think about it, the more I think part of the reason why I pursued and married Sharon was to piss Claudia off. Don’t get me wrong I loved, I mean love Sharon, but knowing that marrying her would annoy my mother gave me so much pleasure.”

“Why is that?”

“Because her mum is the ‘Iya Semilore’ that Claudia accused my dad of flirting with. She’s never liked that woman.” For some reason NJ found the correlation very funny he laughed but his laughter sounded as hurt as he looked.

Wole had expected NJ to leave as he usually did, but instead both men sat in silence. Wole had many questions, but heeded God’s instruction to “be silent and let him remember.” Wole could not help to think about the popular saying that ‘hurt people, hurt people.’

Track 5: Hit Maker

It was a jazz bar. A classy and upscale kind.

The bartender wiped down the expertly handcrafted mahogany bar top that had twelve round barstools around it.

The venue had square tables each covered in expensive black linen with matching seats all facing the stage. Tables were decorated with expensive candle stands and candle burners; every candle had a unique scent. The seats were to be occupied by her loved ones. This was not a show for her fans.

It was show time, but nobody had arrived yet. Lagos traffic she thought.

He was here though. He was always here, even when she did not want Him to be.

“I’ll perform for Him then since He’s here on time.” She agreed with herself as she nervously tiptoed to the microphone waiting for her on the small stage.

The spotlight was on her.

Just as she was about to sing the songs on her heart to her audience of one, the Bartender stopped what He was doing and took a seat next to Him.

“Ok, my audience of two.” She was ready to sing again and in walked the Bar Owner; He too took a seat next to Him and the Bartender.

“Maybe I should wait for more people to show up?” She thought to herself as she gripped the microphone.

Don’t wait my child, sing now, we’re all here now. We’ve always been here.” The First of them said, answering her thoughts.

Reluctantly she started singing.

Old hymns she had forgotten flowed out of her with ease, but these were not the songs NJ said she should sing.

“What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
Do thy friends despise,  forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.”

(Written & Composed by Charles Converse, 1868)

Just as she finished the last hymn, feeling refreshed, in walked everyone she had been waiting for.

Her parents. Her brother and his wife. Her friends.

Each person smiled at her and with her. As if they had witnessed her performance.

But as quickly as their smiles showed, their smiles faded.

NJ had walked in. Fear gripped her at the sight of him.

Why was her face hurting? It wasn’t hurting before.

She raised her left hand to touch her face, the whole time her eyes were on NJ in confusion. Why was he here?

She touched her face and it felt bumpy and bruised. With each stroke on her face, it felt as if her wedding ring injured her some more. Only then did she remember she was married to NJ.

And as she remembered, the facial features of her friends and family began to disappear, with each face morphing to resemble NJ.

Everywhere she looked she saw NJ’s face.

NJ was the audience.

NJ was the bartender.

NJ was the bar owner.

NJ was everybody.

NJ was everywhere.

NJ controlled everything around her.

She screamed, but no sound came out.

He laughed as if he owned her.

She screamed again, this time from the pit of her stomach but still no sound came out.

All the NJs rose in army-like unison and made their way towards her.

They spoke painful words at her and with each word a bruise appeared on her body.

After assaulting her with enough words all of them vanished.

Only the real NJ remained standing, but he looked no older than fifteen or sixteen, although she could not be entirely sure.

The child version of NJ clenched his fists hitting her over and over again.

She could not stop him, she could not scream, she could not cry except hum the last hymn she had sung for her audience of Three.

The whole time the spotlight was still on her.

Suddenly the assault stopped, a fully-grown and stubborn NJ had been lifted up from her by the Three audience members.

“I guess I’m dead now?” She thought to herself and out of curiosity she opened her eyes to see what Heaven looked like.

She navigated her sore eyes in hopes of finding a gate made of pearl or a golden street. “Surely pain doesn’t exist in Heaven?”

A sore eye opened a little further and she realised that Heaven looked a lot like the Jazz Bar.

Exhausted she fell back and looked up. Just above her head she saw someone and it was not NJ. “Who is this?” she thought as she tried to steady her eyes on the familiar stranger – then their eyes met. The colour of His eyes – indescribable – but she knew they were pure and rare; they shone like stars. Heaven dwelled in His eyes. He did not utter a word but His Heaven-filled-eyes were enough. His eyes gave her the permission she had wanted to give herself for years.

The eyes of The First said, “Run my child. Run! Do not tell anyone.”

Her feet found energy, from where she did not know but she ran as fast and as far as she could from the sound of a young NJ crying after her. She did not look back; instead she kept running and humming hymns loud enough to drown out NJ’s cries.

And with that, Sharon woke up panting and shivering, her body was drenched in sweat, “What was that?” she asked herself as she held her chest trying to control her breathing. It had been years since she’d had such vivid dreams, the last time was probably when she was nineteen, just before her career started. Just before she reconnected with the hit maker himself, her older brother’s church buddy, and fellow Pastor’s Kid, NJ The Producer.

By @OlayideM

READ SIDE B HERE!!

Glossary

“See ehn, bros” – See Brother

“How many times I fit tell you that I de fine?” – How many times will I tell you that I’m fine?

“Na only reason” – The only reason

“Popsi” – Dad/Father

“Bros, we don finish?” – Brother have we finished

“Girl. I vex oh.” – Girl. I’m angry.

“Se you’ve met my cousin Sophie?” – I take it that you’ve met my cousin Sophie

Trad – Traditional Wedding

Amala, Ewedu, Gbegiri and Buka stew – Amala staple made from dried yam served with traditional soups and stew (eaten with your hands).

“Abi?” – Right?

“Mehn” – Man

“Inu Mi” – My Stomach

“Ye!” – OMG/My goodness, an expression for shock (the type of shock depends on the situation lol)

“Sha” – I can’t translate this, but its an expression & word that almost translates as “anyway”

“Oga, make you go fast eh” – Boss, please drive fast

“I no want miss my flight.” – I don’t want to miss my flight

Aso Oke – Traditional woven fabric, traditionally worn by the Yoruba people of Nigeria

“Na Angel dem born you” – Is Angel the name you were given when you were born?

“I de” – I’m here/I’m alright

“Ah my popsi told me, any woman who fit take ‘im mouth and use am to insult me, nah such woman need real discipline.” – My dad told me that any woman who uses her mouth to insult me, is a woman who needs to be disciplined.

Iya – Mother

Daddy G.O. – Nickname given to the General Overseers of a church

Oya – Go/Go on/Time is now

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Story: Centre Stage – SIDE B | DearLayide.com

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