True life story…
I am still alive because of grace – I failed a thousand times, but His mercy remained…His mercy found me every single time; as the song by Hillsong United goes…
I clutched a bottle of aromatic schnapp under my armpit as I dangled along the empty streets of Onitsha. The streets were so quiet, you could almost hear your own thoughts. Like a balloon suspended in air, I swayed from left to right under the influence of alcohol and at the mercy of the cool breeze that nudged me around with the gentility of an Archbishop. Alcohol was my fuel, powering me home and blurring what was left of my poor vision.
Even though I fell – several times – I rose again and continued my perilous journey home. When I reached home, I banged on the front door like an angry soldier, ready to make an arrest. Our neighbors had grown used to my late night arrival from the bar. My wife opened the door, as she always did. I shoved her aside and trudged to the bedroom where I’d jump into bed without taking a shower. I began to snore away, almost immediately. My breath reeked abundantly of alcohol, forcing my poor wife to sleep on a mat in the living room. Now, I can imagine her fragile body creaking under the rough touches of the unkind uneven floor of our living room.
Despite my drunkenness, I knew that I was the laughing stock of the entire street, not to talk of my family and town. My wife and children received no mercy from friends, neighbors and extended family members. I recall one evening; I was on the balcony of our tiny apartment in Fegge, Onitsha. My oldest son who was just eight years of age at the time was arguing with a neighbor’s child. “That ball is mine,” my son’s friend yelled. “No, it is mine. Yours is grey and this is milky white. It is my ball, my daddy bought it for me,” my son insisted.
“Can your daddy buy a ball for you? He’d rather buy beer for himself. After all, the other day, he was so drunk that he had to be brought home – wheeled home in a wheelbarrow. When they reached the front of your apartment, you mother ran out and shouted, Okoye, you are drunk again! Then, you father replied, who are you – husband snatcher. This woman is not my wife. She wants to steal me for herself. Take me to my house. I live down there,” he maintained, pointing to the big sewer down the street. “I guess he likes heaps of fecal matter, right?”
“Hahaha!” Other children laughed. I had no recollection of that event, but I was certain that it was true. I was in the habit of drinking almost every evening that I had created lots of stories that my family was taunted with. I wanted to stop drinking – wake up and be completely healed of the flaming urge to drink, but I just could not help myself. I made the resolution to stop drinking every day, week, month and year and each time, I went right back to the bottle.
If I only drank, perhaps it could have been an entirely different story. With drinking came other vices. One morning, I woke in a brothel. I had returned to the brothel – as I did quite often – with a prostitute after a night of heavy drinking. She lay beside me as the sun peeked into the shaggy room through cracked windowpanes. The prostitute looked haggard. Her scrawny legs hung forlornly on my body. The room stank of death. How did I drop this low? I asked myself. A pang of disgust swept through me…momentarily. I rolled out of bed, pushing the prostitute away from my body. My legs were weak and so were my eyes, hands and heart. Alcohol had ravaged all that lived within me, leaving me giddy.
“Where you dey go?” the prostitute asked. “You never pay me!” she yelled, lying naked on the bed. How did I sleep with this thing, I thought to myself. There was nothing appealing about her. The lines on her face had furrows so deep that trailers could fit into them. Her teeth were discolored from heavy smoking, and her skin was wrinkled. I rummaged through my pocket in search of money. I found a lonely five hundred naira note in my right pocket. I tossed it at her, turned and headed for the door. “It is one thousand naira!” she shouted. “I don’t have any money left. I will pay you tomorrow.” “You better do!” she retorted aggressively. God, I never want to come back here again, I thought as I descended the stairs, holding onto the railings to steady my giddy self.
The hallways reeked of urine. I could hear the moaning of another prostitute on duty early in the morning. I felt utter repulsion in my stomach. “You want it?” a chubby prostitute standing near the exit door yelled at me. I waived her away and walked into the open. The breath of fresh air was much needed. The stench in the brothel was heavy enough to choke any normal human being – I guess I had ceased to be normal at that point in my life.
Did I even use a condom? I asked myself as I slogged down the lonely street. It was not the first time I had been drunk only to end up with a prostitute – unaware how and when I picked them up. “God, if you save me from this mess, I will never return to this life again,” I said under my breath. If only I had been able to muster the willpower to stop. I could have HIV-AIDS, I thought. The thought scared the life out of me. I cringed each time I realized that I had slept with a prostitute, under the influence of mighty alcohol. What if I have it? What if I have passed it to my wife? My wife had stopped sleeping with me normally though, but every now and again, I overpowered her into fulfilling her marriage responsibilities to me – according to my selfish thought at the time.
Two nights later, I was back in the streets. I had managed to stay away from the bottle just for a day. The urge to gulp down another bottle of beer, some gin or rum was overwhelming. I don’t remember much of that night. I was on my usual trail home – or so I thought – dangling and swaying. Truth is, I was walking along the express way (highway). When I woke up several weeks later, I was heavily bandaged, lying prostrate on a hospital bed. I was told that I had been in hospital for nearly three months. I had been hit by a truck, which left me on the cusp of death. I lay by the roadside, bleeding through the night. In the early hours of the next day, a Good Samaritan saw me, stopped, and rushed me to the hospital.
When I woke up, there was no one in the room. The television was running and a preacher was giving a sermon. The last thing I remembered was eating fish pepper soup and downing it with several bottles of beer. Now, I was lying in a hospital bed, watching this preacher speak directly to me. “There is no stain too dark for God to cleanse. There is no place to far for him to reach. There is no point too low for him to step down into…no matter what you have done; no matter where you have been, God can still reach you. You may have fought very hard to win the battles that Satan hurls at you on your own. Let Christ into your heart. Let Him cleanse you – let him work through you to fight your battles. Are you down on your last coin…dig deep into your heart; you are blessed with gifts that you have never sought to put to use. Let Him into your life to fight for you…through Him, you can discover and live your full potential!”
A flood of tears fell down my face. I wondered if God would still forgive me, but what was I to lose? I said a prayer for forgiveness – my first prayer in many years. A few hours later, one of my sons entered the room. I could not look him in the eye. I had done very little to take care of my children. “How are you feeling, daddy?” he asked me. I simply stretched forth my hand and surprisingly, he hugged me. “I have been waiting for the day I would call you daddy, and you’d hug me,” my son said. “I am sorry,” I muttered. A flaming wave of guilt swept through me. “Are you feeling better?” my son asked. I could not answer him. I held him tightly to my chest and we both cried.
Later my whole family – two daughters, three sons and my wife – came to see me. I asked them for forgiveness. Some of them forgave me immediately, but given my history, some wanted to see real change in me before they could forgive me. I left the hospital five weeks later, with a permanent limp. I took HIV screening and miraculously, I was HIV-free. I don’t know how, but I guess God was watching over me all along.
I took a loan from our cooperative union at work and began to buy and sell with it. I’d go to Lagos every few weeks to buy baby clothes and then sell them in Onitsha. Slowly, my inventory grew. Soon, I was able to set up shop at Onitsha main market, after which I quit my job. I ploughed myself into my business and my family. I made time for my wife and children. I found renewed vigor to live again – not for myself alone, but for God and my loved ones. I played with my younger children when I was not working and took the time to take my wife out on dinners – something I had never done in the past.
Today, I own multiple shops at main market. In fact, recently, I opened a big office in town. I ship clothes, computers, and vehicle spare parts into the country from Asia. The words from the preacher on TV sank deep into my soul – reaching the lowest and deepest depths that I could never have accessed on my own. Truly, I searched for my talent – my God-given talent and used it. Selling is a talent of mine I did not put to work while I drank my life away. I tried for years to win the battle with alcohol and sex to no avail. Indeed, there is no well too deep for God to fetch you from. If you find yourself spiraling down a deep one, call on him. When everything else fails, He does not. I wish I had sought His face sooner. Today, He is the anchor against which my life rests.
Narrated by Nnamdi Okoye (real name withheld) and written by Engr Dare Wells
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