He had it all; money, a good job and a great future.
The last time I visited Lagos, I spent sometime with him and told him of my secret struggles and fears.
As he listened to my morbid tales, his face bore no smiles as he asked me the question that night.
‘Victor, do you know my life was not always this way?’
‘Do you know I was not always so happy?’
‘Let me tell you how it all changed.’
‘I had my annual leave that August and decided to return to my hometown and walk the streets again.
As I passed a store, I saw a face I recognized and stopped to confirm.
I was right.
It was the face of Joseph, my classmate in secondary school.
Joseph was also surprised to see me; I couldn’t believe he still worked in that same store his father sold drugs while we were boys.
I smiled as I remembered the numerous times I visited Joe at that same shop and his father would give me Vitamin C whenever I faked a cough.
I stood in front of the shop and wondered how Joe, who was a better student than I was back in secondary school would be a ‘mere’ salesman at a drugstore he inherited from his father.
I dusted my shiny suit and thanked God I moved from the mediocre town. I was happy I was obviously doing better than Joe.
At that time, I was expecting my third promotion at work and I had almost completed my second house.
I shook my head and looked to the skies in gratitude as I approached the store and waved to the familiar face.
‘What?! Robocop!’ Joe called out my old nickname and it got both of us laughing as we shook hands and embraced.
He brought a plastic chair out of the store and placed it beside the door for me to sit while he also took his seat on the wooden bench kept behind door.
From the present, the two of us talked into the old long-forgotten past.
We both laughed as we recalled stories after stories. We heaved and shook our heads as we remembered some foolish choices we made and the classmates who were already lost.
After about three hours of talk, we finished and with great joy, bade each other farewell.
I promised to stay in touch and visit more often.
Joe also promised to do the same.
The meeting brought me much joy but it only lasted till I was lying on the soft large matress of my exquisite hotel room.
I looked around me and made a mental estimation of the amount of money Joe would make from his store on the best of days.
I realized he wouldn’t possibly make up to the forty-five thousand naira I paid to stay in that hotel for the weekend.
‘I am much more successful alright!’ I said to myself as the cool air of the AC drifted across my face.
But no matter how I tried to convince myself, there was a feeling of dissatisfaction that remained in my heart.
‘Why do I feel like I have not lived a great life afterall?’ I questioned.
And as I tossed and turned on the bed, trying to push the dark thoughts back into the recesses of my mind, Joe’s words resounded in my mind.
‘I have two girls and a boy, a loving and supportive wife and a happy home.’
‘Though I couldn’t make it into the University to actually study Pharmacy, I am happy, very happy for the life I am living.’
The way he stressed the ‘very’ roused some envy in me which I tried to repress.
It didn’t help knowing all what Joe said to me was true to the letter.
I could see the pictures of the family from the photo album he proudly showed me.
I also saw the eldest daughter when she came to assist Joe in the store.
I was sincerely happy for my friend and his family but I couldn’t quite explain why his happiness made me feel empty.
My six-figure salary, all of a sudden, became too insignificant when compared with the satisfaction and contentment across Joe’s face.
My black smooth jeep became too vain in comparison to his sweet family.
Not that I didn’t want a sweet family too.
I just was too concerned with my ambition and I had always believed a pocket full of money would guarantee a happy family.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I sat up on the bed and looked around the grand room as I considered my state.
My wife had a job too but since the previous six months, we had been sleeping in separate rooms.
We both knew then it was only the shame of facing our families that held each of us back from asking for a divorce.
The last fight we had was huge.
As I stood up from the bed and paced around the room, I recalled how I had held back myself from slapping her across the face when she blamed me for calling the Police to arrest our son.
‘What did she expect that I do?’ I spoke aloud into the room and shook my head again as the image of what I had caught my son doing flashed across my mind.
We had warned him to stop the act countless times but he didn’t.
Together, we both threatened him the last time that we would have no choice but to hand him to the Police if he tried it again.
He just laughed at our faces and shouted at us to do our worse as he stormed off the room.
The sound of the door slammed to my wife’s face made me cringe.
The image of Joe’s family laughing came into my mind as I considered mine.
‘And what about my daughter?’ I tried to hold back the tears as I tried frantically to remember the last time I had seen the girl.
Ever since she was said to have been rusticated from the private university in her third year, for close to two years, she had not been home.
No text messages, no calls; nothing.
All efforts to track her location had proven futile.
To me, she might as well have died because it seemed we were dead to her.
But I still loved my daughter.
I went back to sitting on the bed as I remembered her picture as a little girl, running around the house.
It all seemed a lifetime ago.
‘Where did I get it wrong?’ I asked.
I had given them enough money while growing up and made sure I answered all their needs.
But it seemed it was the same money that drifted my family apart.
And the previous week, my own wife even told me she wished I was dead so she could move on with her life.
And truth be told, sometimes, I wished she was dead too- at least, it would save us both the pain and sadness of living in a beautiful mansion with a stench of hatred hanging around.
Just as I lied back on the bed and covered myself with blanket, giving up on my situation, I remembered the parting words of Joe and decided to give his advice a try.
‘Jesus Christ is the difference.’ He had said.
I had no other choice; I had come to the end of myself.
I pushed my face into the white pillow and clasped my two hands behind my head as I called the name.
‘God, Je… Jesus’
My voice was a whisper even I couldn’t hear.
‘Please Jesus…’ I paused.
It was a very long time since I’d prayed for anything.
‘Please, I am sorry.’
As the memories of my failures came rushing into my mind, I closed my eyes against them and asked my maker,
‘Jesus can you save me?’
The joy I saw in Joe’s eyes came back to haunt me as I longed for what I didn’t have.
‘I long for the happiness I saw in Joe…’
‘He said you made the difference in his life…’
I paused again as I recalled my failed family and pleaded,
‘Lord, come and change my life too.’
My throat closed tight as I searched for words to describe my sorrow.
‘I am sorry’
‘Can you still save me?’
For the first time, my helpless stared me in the face as I cried louder,
‘Please save me…’
I lifted my face from the pillow and up to God, my eyes caught the figures in the digital clock hung in the room.
It read 11:59pm.
It seemed I still had time.
No matter the storm, trouble, weakness or sorrows of your life, Jesus cares, Jesus waits, Jesus saves.
He saved me, Let Him save you too.