FREEDOM AT CHRISTMAS by Ikenna Igwe – A Christmas Story – PAROUSIA Magazine
That particular night – as I lay on a faded tattered mattress in a cement cell, ravenous and cold, in the female section of the Condemned Criminals Cells (CCC) of Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison – I thought about death; about the fact that I had been sentenced to death, by hanging, for first-degree murder. And, as fate would have it, my execution had been scheduled for the 25th of December, 2009...which was just a week away.
I’m Rachael Adeoluwa – the first child in a family of five: my parents and two younger siblings – male twins. My parents were born-again Christians, and consequently did their best to raise us on sound Christian morals. They never pushed or compelled us to open our hearts to Jesus Christ; rather they prayed and encouraged us in that direction. I gave my life to Christ when I was fourteen years old. I remember that day – April 20th 1995 – clearly, as if it were yesterday. It was at a Sunday Service. The preacher was a guest minister from the United States. He preached a simple, but soul-searching, message titled: Is Your Name Written in God’s Book? As I listened intently to his, I believe, God-inspired words, I felt something shift on my inside – a sudden, urgent, and inexplicable desire to have Jesus, in my life, as my eternal Lord and Saviour. And, when the altar call was made, I jumped to my feet and literally ran forward to the podium area. Despite its vicissitudes, life was generally good – and I was rejoicing in my walk with God – until my father fell victim to a strange illness. What had started out as a mere dry cough suddenly metamorphosed into a debilitating sickness that ended up draining us financially. I was in my sophomore year in the university at this time. Six months later, while still mourning my late father, my beloved mother joined him in the afterlife – no thanks to a tragic auto accident. I was befuddled as I wondered why God had suddenly turned His back on us – given the rather back-to-back negative curves life was hurling at my family – despite our devotion to Him. On one side of the spectrum, my siblings and I had become orphans in a matter of months; on the other end of the spectrum, we were in dire financial straits. Our landlord was breathing heavily down our necks to pay him his rent…which was about a year overdue. As it also happened, no member of our extended family was willing to step forward and offer tangible financial help. It seemed our heavens had turned to brass. While I was lost in the whirlpool of confusion, a friend and classmate, Sophia, presented me with a scrumptious offer – to join her elite group of female escorts. Sophia was a classy and financially well-off girl who was generous to a fault; in fact, I must admit that she helped me out of more than a few financial binds. I was shocked to learn that her luxurious lifestyle was funded by…prostitution? Before then I had always assumed she was from a well-to-do family. How wrong I was. Sophia told me point-blank that she was not a prostitute…but a high-class female companion. I wondered what the difference really was between the two. Sophia explained that a prostitute usually slept with her customers for money…however that was not necessarily the case with a female escort – who earned her money by either sleeping with their clients or keeping them company – for example, by acting as their date or plus one at formal events. But she was quick to point out that more money, of course, was made from choosing to sleep with the client – and the fact that female escorts basically made far more money than mere prostitutes. Sophia went ahead and mentioned a stunning figure – which she said was the least I could earn in just one night of pleasuring a man. My head spun in incredulity…a zillion thoughts running through my mind. When Sophia was done with her offer, and explaining its attendant benefits, she told me to sleep over it and get back to her in three days’ time – because a new set of handpicked girls would be joining her elite fold that particular weekend…and she would love nothing more than to add me to the list of new members. Still reeling from all I had heard, I promised to think about it. Before we parted that day, Sophia looked me straight in the eye and said, “Look Rachael…I know you’re born-again and all that…but as it is…you have to be smart here. We live in a world that is desperately wicked…and sometimes you just have to do what you have to do…so you can get what you want to get.” When I didn’t respond, she continued, “See…I don’t think God sees things only in black and white; there are always gray areas in life…and the situation you’re in happens to be one of them. If you ask me…I don’t think He’s going to be mad at you…as I’m sure He understands. He’s a good and loving Father after all…isn’t He? “Yes…yes…He is,” I said, rather weakly. Of course I was definitely going to turn down Sophia’s offer. Prostitute or female escort…I was not interested in exchanging my body for money. Sophia went on, “I mean…Abraham lied twice; David committed adultery and then murder; Rahab was a prostitute; Onesimus was a thief…I mean…so many Bible characters were imperfect; yet God forgave them all.” She gave a brief pause before concluding with, “My dear, if you’re not going to do it for yourself…then do it for your younger brothers…who now see you not only as their older sister…but also as their father and mother. So think about it.” I assured her, once more, that I would. When I got home that evening, my siblings, their faces coloured by dismay, handed me a document. It was a Quit Notice from the landlord. We had one month to vacate his property or face litigation. I was barely done reading through the document when my phone rang. It was one of the people I owed a huge sum of money. She called and threatened to deal with me by involving the police if I didn’t pay back her money before the week was over. Two days ago, another creditor had made a similar threat. Ultimately overwhelmed by my nuclear family’s noxious circumstances, and already enticed by what I convinced myself was a fast way of making good money, I tuned out the convictions of the Holy Spirit and accepted my friend’s offer. After all, it’s just sex…nothing more, I thought…not minding losing my virginity in the process. I figured God understood my family’s pecuniary quagmire and would overlook my indiscretion in my bid to raise quick cash to solve our problems. I made N250, 000 from my first client – Michael Nnadi – a charming business mogul. However, what began as a one-time thing unexpectedly and rapidly evolved into a relationship, as Michael and I soon became an item. Aside from being his first female companion, outside his marriage, he was enraptured on being the first man to deflower me. But fate already had something different planned for us; a joker it couldn’t wait to brandish. Michael was separated from his wife, looking to serve her divorce papers, over irreconcilable differences that were rooted in extra-marital affairs with two of his close business partners. One evening, four months after we began dating, Michael and I were together in his house, chatting, eating, and having drinks. The next morning, a team of police officers arrived at my front door and placed me under arrest – for the murder of Michael Nnadi. The coroner ruled that he had died from some sort of poison. And, in a wicked twist of fate, all the evidence, found by the police officers in charge of the murder case, pointed squarely at me.
Seventy-two hours to the day I had been slated to be executed I was visited in prison by a distinguished-looking man, somewhere in his early forties. It turned out he was a prophet. There was nothing unusual about that. Various religious people visited the prison regularly to share their faiths with any inmate willing to give them audience. And many did. Prison, of course, had a way of making one’s religious sense assert itself. The prophet claimed he had been divinely instructed to see me. I didn’t argue with him on that. Being in prison, and on death row, had drawn me back and closer to my heavenly Father. I had made peace with my death sentence, as I prepared to stand in the presence of Almighty God. Like Apostle Paul…for me to be absent in the body was to be present with the Lord Jesus Christ. After preaching to me, the prophet proceeded to share a rather startling revelation with me. With what appeared to be iron-clad confidence, he told me that I wasn’t going to be executed; rather I would soon be released from prison – since I was innocent of the crime of which I was accused. He told me pointblank that God would grant me a Christmas miracle. Before taking his leave, the man encouraged me to stay strong in faith and remain committed to God. I thanked him for his prayers and words of exhortation while wondering how God was going to get me out of my current quagmire. And what exactly did he mean by a Christmas miracle? On the 25th of December, 2009, the day I was scheduled to die, around 12PM, I was released from prison – just as the prophet had told me. What really happened? Well, I was framed. Michael had actually been murdered by his wife – in connivance with his housemaid and Chief Security Officer – in an attempt to have access to a N300, 000, 000 life insurance policy. For some reason – which I can only attribute to God’s unfailing love and mercy – the housemaid had suddenly had a change of heart and ultimately spilled the beans to the police – resulting in my being exonerated. All the parties involved in Michael’s murder were promptly arrested and, when questioned, admitted to their various roles in the heinous crime. As I stepped out of the prison facility that unforgettable day, still dazzled by the Christmas miracle God had performed, and into the waiting arms of my family and friends, I relished the fresh and crisp air of freedom…after spending five solid years behind bars.
Sophia and I are still good friends. She’s now born-again and, like me, married to a pastor. My siblings are doing well; one as an evangelist, and the other as a gospel artist. I live each day, serving God, as if it’s my last one on earth, and grateful for how far ahead He has brought me. My Christmas miracle of 2009 is one momentous chapter of my life I will never forget. It remains a testimony I continue to share, and which, in turn, continues to inspire and encourage so many people to stay faithful and strong in their service to God in the face of life’s adversities.
Biography Ikenna Igwe writes fiction and nonfiction books. A Quantity Surveyor by training, he also holds a Post Graduate Diploma in English Language Education. His written works include: Face Me I Face You, The Judas Web, and Thoughts & Verses. Furthermore, his poems have been featured on literary websites, such as Kalahari Review, Poetry Potion, Words, Rhymes & Rhythms, and have also been published, in various anthologies, by Forward Poetry. He lives in Lagos, where he is currently working on a new book.