Written by Jennifer Azubuike
See the start of this story here
The heavily wooded area has tall trees and climbing shrubs. The ground underneath was made of hardened mud giving the impression that either the river once occupied that area or overflows its boundaries occasionally during heavy rainstorms. A cool breeze rustled the leaves every couple minutes but Prince could still make out the footsteps of his beloved above the noise. He stealthily followed, making sure to keep sight of Martha but out of sight at the same time. He had never been in such a situation in his life so he sweated even in the cool air. He followed her as she walked a lonely path down to the riverside and to an abandoned boat house. Before she entered, she looked around to make sure no one saw her. Prince immediately ducked behind a large tree trunk and waited until she entered the house. He wanted to follow her but momentarily lost courage. He unhinged his cellphone from his belt to call for backup but in another split second changed his mind.
Moving closer to the building, he assessed it for another entry but the back door he found was locked. He quietly moved around the side and found a window which he climbed through into a kitchen-like setting. The moment he climbed down he heard Martha’s voice but could not make out her words. He quietly drew closer.
“Please don’t hurt me. I’ll give you anything.”
“Shut up!” A husky male voice commanded. “No. Not until I torture you first to my satisfaction little girl. You always had the good stuff; a loving family and now a loving husband? When you and I know you are not even what you look like.”
“What do you mean? I don’t even know you.” Martha’s voice broke “I swear I have worked hard, very hard and legitimately too.”
“I said shut up!”
At this point Prince got scared and pulled out his phone to signal his friend but his hand shook so much that he lost grip of it and it fell and hit the wooden floor with a loud thud. Gunshots were immediately fired in his direction. He ducked as pieces of wood flew in different directions and Martha screamed. When the shooting stopped, he stayed still in place and checked himself for injury. He was too terrified to feel pain but since he didn’t see any blood he assumed he was fine. He had to think of a means to escape. He was still thinking when he heard the police over a loudspeaker urging the shooter to surrender. Prince said a prayer of blessing for his friend within himself out of gratitude.
He heaved a sigh of relief but was worried Martha could be hurt since she had fallen silent. He was still in danger as long as he was in the next room, armless, to an armed man. He came up with the idea to attack the captor since he was inside the house and Martha’s captor must think he was dead. As far as he knew, it appeared the man was working alone. He glanced around for an object that could serve as a weapon and found a fire extinguisher and a cooking pan. The extinguisher will serve better but had to be dismounted which was impossible without making a sound. So he opted for the pan.
He crawled towards it and was reaching for the pan when a metal touched his head from behind.
“If you move I shoot.” The male voice said. “Now stand up!”
Prince pulled himself up and followed instructions to enter the room Martha’s voice had been coming from.
He was led into a scanty living room space where he saw Martha sprawled on the floor slightly propped up. He was surprised to find that she had not been tied up like he had imagined but appeared very weak. “What did he do to her?” He thought. The thought of Martha being hurt was stronger than the fear he felt. So, in one quick moment he forgot all about his fear and attacked his captor. With a back kick, he hit the man hard in the groin and tried to disarm him. A scuffle ensued as the captor struggled to take back control. Although Martha was weak, she knew she had to take the chance. Reaching for her handbag, she pulled out the pistol she had in it and aimed.
The police busted into the scene and surrounded them. The captor whose face was still hidden behind a sophisticated mask surrendered. Prince kicked a fallen handgun towards the police and lifted his hands in surrender too but Martha maintained her aim at the captor.
“Ma’am put your gun away.” A police officer ordered Martha.
“Martha, please put away the gun and let the police handle this.” Prince begged in between heavy breaths due to the scuffle.
“I’m sorry, but this man is a monster.”
“Martha please, he will pay for what he has done but allow the law to handle him.”
“What he did Dave, you have no idea.”
“If it’s about the videos, I already know about them and you don’t have to be afraid, I promise.”
Martha looked at Prince shocked and then turned her attention back to the stranger looking more disgusted and angry. The police continued to talk to Martha to drop the gun otherwise they would have to act. Prince signaled the police to be patient.
“You wicked soul. You collected all that money from me and still told him?”
“I swear I didn’t! It wasn’t me who told him.” The stranger swore but in between that sentence, his voice changer failed and the real voice finished the sentence. It turned out that the mask that the stranger wore was constructed to include an electronic device that disguised the original voice of whoever wore it. On realizing this, Martha mocked.
“Not your real voice huh? I guess that makes the two of us. Wait, is that…is that you, Jane?”
In that moment, a spell of dizziness hit Martha and her vision blurred. Just as she was about faint, she muttered something and pulled the trigger.
* * *
In the bedroom at Martha’s home, she was lying on her bed and struggling to pull herself up into a sitting position when Dr. Ken walked in. He immediately helped her up and adjusted the pillows to make her comfortable. He had been caring for her since her discharge from the hospital.
Martha had survived the ordeal but was partially paralyzed due to severe nerve weakness. To treat her properly, the emergency medics collected samples of items from the crime scene. After they were analyzed, it was discovered that Jane had used a chemical substance with a high paralyzing effect on Martha. During questioning, Jane admitted she had planned to weaken her friend a little so she can have control over their meeting that night. She confessed that she had put the substance on a cloth and put it over Martha’s face the moment she walked into the room but may have made her inhale too much of it.
Dr. Ken bent over and pushed down her eyelid to access her eyeballs. “How are you feeling now?”
“Much stronger.” Martha replied disinterestedly.
“You will be back on your feet in no time.” He smiled to cheer her up.
Martha turned her gaze away sadly. “I guess. Thanks anyway.”
“Martha, is something bothering you?”
She was quiet. “What’s the point?”
“What’s the point about what?”
“What’s the point of my life?”
Dr. Ken had some knowledge about what led up to her coma for four weeks. He had also heard the gossip flying around about his young patient. Nevertheless, his primary concern was for her wellbeing. He knew he had to find a way to help her psychologically because her state of mind would affect how well she fared in recovery.
“Okay? Is there something you want to share because I see you as a beautiful young woman with plenty of potential.”
Martha chuckled cynically. “That is until you hear what I have done.”
Dr. Ken settled down as he sensed it might take a while. “Okay. Try me.”
Martha looked at him a little surprised but quickly dismissed him as one of those who think they can love anyone, but turn away the moment they have a reason to. But who cares. She has nothing else to lose. Not family, relationship or even pride. “I know one thing for sure.” She murmured “The world does not forgive. You can try all you want, it doesn’t forgive.”
“You’re still speaking in parables, Martha. What doesn’t the world forgive?”
In between crying and laughing hysterically, Martha told her story in full for the first time.
“Hmmm…I see you have been through a lot. Can I pray for you?”
Martha shrugged. She didn’t care less. Dr. Ken went ahead and prayed. By the time he said Amen, Martha was crying nonstop.
“Will you be okay?”
“Yes.” She tried to wipe her tears. “For once, I feel a weight lifted from my chest.”
“Martha, is it okay if I say something about the story you just shared with me?”
“You are resilient.”
“It is not your fault that you were born into undesirable circumstances. Regardless, you chose to survive. You showed tremendous courage to have run away from molestation. In the process of running from a hard life, you made the wrong choices. True, but again you tried to make it right. When you left the club house with the money you have saved to start a proper life, you were trying to right the wrongs your life started out with and this time you succeeded and transformed your life.”
“Well, don’t forget the biggest mess of all.”
“Right, right, how can we forget that one? Here’s what I think. You should give life another chance but since you have done the most you can humanly do, this time I want you to work with someone that can take you beyond your human limits and bring you the peace you want.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I mean, morality is good, but it is not strong enough to fix some type of brokenness. To illustrate my point I will tell you a short story. I know a young man who his violent and abusive father threw out of his home for standing up to him one night. The young man, not having anywhere else to go, lived on the streets and joined a local gang to survive. He later shot and killed a business owner during a robbery and was arrested, convicted and jailed. After seven years, his jail term was commuted. He was released and was back on the streets but got in trouble shortly after and was jailed another three years. When he got out the second, he was determined to live a better life. But as if the shadow of crime haunted him, he was back in jail nine months later for a fight at the joint where he worked. It wasn’t until he met this person I speak about that his life got some meaning.”
“So this person you speak about, is he a psychologist? Because I already know how that works.”
“No, he’s better.”
“How do I know you’re not making this up?”
“The man that was changed is the same one sitting beside you.”
“You? That’s hard to believe doc.”
“Yes, because that man is good at what he does. It’s been thirty years now, I still see him.”
“Who is he?”
“His name is Jesus.”
“Oh!” Martha hissed. “The same Bible Jesus they say died many years ago?”
Dr. Ken nodded
Martha looked at him suspiciously. “I’m sorry but your story is not adding up. Do you say you see a dead man?”
“Let me explain. Jesus was not an ordinary man. He is the son of God, so when he died, he did not perish like an ordinary man would. He woke up after he was dead for three days and never died again. In fact he is alive today.”
Martha was still looking at him like he had lost his mind. “Are you saying this Jesus is still alive?”
“Yes.” He nodded again.
“If you say he is alive then how do I meet him?”
“You briefly met him when I prayed for you thirty minutes ago. Remember you said you felt a burden lifted from your chest?”
“Yeah but that could have been from me telling my story, you know, from me telling the truth.”
“Right, but that is how it feels when you meet Jesus. He lifts your burden off you.”
“So you only meet this Jesus when you pray?”
“No, you meet him when you believe in your heart that he is alive and can help you, but you pray to communicate with him.”
“Well, for me to believe that he is alive, I have to see proof that he is.”
“That is not a problem. What kind of proof do you want to see?”
“Ummm…I guess he could start with my life. I really want this mess of a life cleaned up. I know that is a huge thing to ask but can he do something like that?”
“I will ask him.”
“I will be waiting.” She concluded. Doctor Ken proceeded with his routine check up.
* * *
Two months later, at Spring of Life Center, Grace was led into a counseling room. For the first 30 minutes, she completed some activities directed by a lead counselor. Afterwards, she was led into an office and across from her sat Martha in a wheelchair. Martha welcomed Grace warmly and they got talking. They got comfortable after getting to know each other.
“I know my parents sent me here so you can talk to me about what I did, but I already know it was bad and I said I was sorry. They don’t have to crucify me further.” She pouted.
Martha smiled. “I think they sent you here because they love you, and very much so. Also, I am not the counselor you were supposed to see but I was sentenced to community service that is why I am here.”
Grace blinked. “You were sentenced?”
“Yes. I was sentenced for disobeying a police order and…you know what? I’ll just tell you my story so it makes more sense.” Martha went ahead to share her story with emphasis on her experience with internet cruelty and her loss as a result.
“I’m so sorry about your fiancé. Did he die?”
“Oh no. He is alive and well even though he never wants to set his eyes on me again, but that’s not the point. The point is you need to be careful what you do today with the internet for the sake of your future.”
“Because it never forgets?”
“Yes! Your digital footprint is forever.”
“I understand it now.” Grace wanted to say something more but hesitated.
“I just wanted to ask how you’d do now?”
“Me? Don’t worry about me Grace. I will be just fine. You know, when I heard about your case and your name, I got interested in talking to you because your name sums up my life perfectly. I got to understand the meaning of the word ‘grace’ from a doctor. I am still picking up the pieces of my life but I am happy to feel peace and freedom in my heart doing so.”
“My mom says name means Favor. She sometimes calls me Favor when she’s emotional. But It’s just like saying car or motor. It’s no big deal.” Grace shrugged
“Yes. But ‘grace’ fully means an unmerited favor. For me, it means I got another chance to live a good life which I ordinarily didn’t merit.”
“Nobody has ever explained it that way before.”
“Well, now you know.”
* * *
Martha continued rehabilitation and also started the reconciliation process with her biological mother. It was a long and hard process but they reconciled. Martha’s mother, who has also worked hard on herself, became a great support in the physical healing process for Martha. Miraculously, Martha’s nerves healed faster than anticipated and she started walking with crutches and later without them. Nine months later, she got the chance to meet with Prince David and formally apologized to him. She still remembered, albeit embarrassingly, the narration on how Prince found out about the secret she so foolishly tried to keep.
Apparently an employee had carelessly blabbed about recognizing a look alike of Martha on a website he visits for fun. Even though his indiscreet revelation exposed him to malicious attention and later investigation on child pornography, that passing statement piqued Prince’s interest when it reached him because it coincided with the time he was trying to figure out what was eating at his then bride-to-be. His research led him to uncover things he didn’t want to believe until they were later confirmed.
Martha continued to work with youths. She sees it as her life mission to support and guide the younger generation. As for Jane she was prosecuted for kidnapping, blackmail and harassment and she was made to pay back every dime she collected from Martha.