WHILE I begged for the ground to open up and bury me within its depth, John-Bosco’s father ordered Ebube to go find John-Bosco wherever it is he was. And while we waited, silence loomed, except for the occasional exclamations from John -Bosco’s mother.

I have at this point come to understand that my life was over. Life, as I knew it up until I met John-Bosco and veered off the path God must have ordained for me, was over. I came to understand too that I had no one to blame but myself. I could not even blame John-Bosco. If I had said no, as Sister Mary-Cynthia taught us to vehemently say when a man, or boy, suggested any sinful act to us, I would not be here imploring a ground that was solid and inanimate, to grow a month and swallow me up.

John-Bosco came and upon seeing me, I think his heart sank. I could read the fear in the nervous glance he aimed at me, then at the Sisters.

“John-Bosco,” his father began to speak in a solemn voice, his eyes set firmly on his son. “Do you know Margaret?”

John-Bosco swallowed—I saw his throat constrict in that nervous act. He looked at me. Our gaze momentarily held. Then he looked at his father. “Yes, I do.” He nodded.

Ewo!” His mother moaned. Her legs had begun to jiggle.

His father nodded, as if accepting that response, then asked again, even more soberly this time. “Have you been doing anything with her that you should not have been doing?”

I think John-Bosco froze. For he just stood there, motionless for a long moment. Finally, he turned his head and looked at me again. My eyes welled up afresh, but despite the tears that blurred my vision, I pleaded silently with him not to deny me now.

Yes, I have heard of it happen to a girl who was foolish enough to get pregnant for an equally foolish boy. The foolish boy had denied her and she had become a laughing stock among her peers and her family had been shamed. Sister Mary-Joan had used her as a sounding board for us for months on end last year. So I knew John-Bosco could choose to deny me. I knew it, and my heart pounded with heaviness as we waited his response.

When he had stared at me long enough, John-Bosco returned his gaze to his father. “No, I have not been doing anything I should not have been doing with Margaret.” He answered, his tone held a note of defiance.

“Jesus!” I moaned, shame burning through my skin like piercing fiery arrows. I crumbled to the ground and started to really cry.

“Are you saying you and her have not been engaging in any clandestine moves?” His father demanded.

His voice has risen and I could hear the note of fury in it. I did not know if he had somehow sensed John-Boaco was lying and was furious with him. Or if he was just furious at the shame this matter was bringing him.

“We have not been engaging in any clandestine moves and we have not been doing anything that we should not have been doing.” John-Bosco insisted, his voice becoming more defiant as well as petulant.

Hei! I am finished!” I cried even harder. “Sister warned me oh. But I will not hear.”

“Be quiet there, Margaret!” Sister Mary-Joan ordered, her voice etched with impatience and something else I could not define.

I reduced my loud cries to low, agonized whimpers. To completely be quiet was out of the question.

“So if you and her have not been doing anything, why does she claim you are responsible for her pregnancy?” John-Bosco’s father shouted.

“Because the pregnancy is mine.” John-Bosco replied, his voice clam despite the yell.

I stopped my whimpering at once, knuckled off my tears and raised my head to gape at John-Bosco. There was a dead silence as everyone stared at John-Bosco as if he had suddenly sprouted horns out of his skull.

“Eh!” His mother’s voice was puzzled as she made this exclamation.

“What is this nonsense you’re saying?” His father finally demanded, rising to his feet with his eyes blazing with unsuppressed fury. “Are you responsible for her pregnancy or not?”

John-Bosco looked at me, and did not remove his eyes from mine even as he responded. “I am. But we were not doing anything we were not supposed to be doing. I love Margaret and I want to marry her in future.”

That bravado declaration dropped my mouth open in speechlessness. But did quite the opposite for John-Bosco’s mother.

Hei!” She shouted, sprang to her feet and slammed her hands on to her head. “This child has killed me oh!” She drew her scarf off her hair and flung it on the floor, her feet alternately stamping the carpeted floor as she voiced her grief. “John-Bosco has killed me. He has finished me oh!”

“Sit down, woman!” Her husband thundered impatiently and then swiped his gaze to John-Bosco. “You love her, and you want to marry her in future? So what do you plan to do with her and her pregnancy at present?”

I thought his tone was a mix of sarcasm and annoyance, and both inflections made me ashamed. But John-Bosco didn’t appear to be suffering any shame at all. He looked, and sounded, more defiant than anything.

“As we are still in school and cannot get married now, it is clear that the best thing would be to remove the pregnancy.” He retorted.

“Eh, remove the pregnancy? Did I hear you say, remove the pregnancy?” His mother pounced on him, dealing him a slap and a knock on the head as she vented. “If I had removed your pregnancy, would you be here? If I had killed you when you were inside my womb would you have been here going up and down impregnating foolish girls, eh?”

“You were not in school when you got pregnant for me, mama, so there was no need to remove the pregnancy.” John-Bosco evaded another slap and backed away from her.

“Oh, so you know you were both still in school, yet you decided to engage in things that bring about a baby and now you want to abort that baby?” His father let out a long hiss, grabbed his wife, sat her back down and turned to the Sisters who have been quiet all through the family drama. “Sisters, I am very sorry about this. There is nothing else I can say but to say sorry. Believe me when I say that I thought this stupid boy—”

There was a mutter from John-Bosco. I think he was objecting to being called stupid.

His father shot him a searing look before going on with his speech. “I thought him right from wrong, Sisters. His mother and I did. You know us, we are good Christians. We can never encourage something like this. Neither of us knew something like this was going on. I mean Margaret is—” he looked at me, broke off whatever he was going to say and shook his head. “All that is by the way now. What we must decide now is what we are going to do. I think that should be our focus.”

Sister Mary-Cynthia and Sister Mary-Joan exchanged glances. Then Sister Mary-Cynthia inclined her head. “Indeed, you are right, Papa John-Bosco, our focus should be what to do about this situation. That is actually why Sister and I came. And we are thankful to God that John-Bosco did not deny Margaret.”

“I will never deny Margaret. I love her.” John-Bosco cut in.

“Say one more word and I will deafen you with a slap.” His father threatened.

He muttered something. But everyone ignored him. I looked at him, and my heart could not help but swell with a small pride for him.

“Well, now that we are certain who got Margaret pregnant,” Sister Mary-Cynthia went on, “we will go on with the only thing that the Sisters and I decided was the best option.”

“Which is?” John-Bosco’s father prompted.

“There is a sister convent in Imo state that their apostolate lies in the caring of young pregnant girls. Margaret will go there and stay with them until she has her baby.”

“Okay.” John-Bosco’s father nodded, and then asked. “And what will happen to the baby, and her, after she delivers?”

“The baby can be left there to be put up for adoption.” Sister Mary-Cynthia quietly responded.

“Put up for adoption?” John-Bosco scrambled forward, obviously unafraid of the deafening slap his father had threatened. “You mean hand the baby over to another person?”

“Yes, that is what I mean, John-Bosco.” Sister Mary-Cynthia replied. Her voice was gentle but firm. “That is the best thing for Margaret, and for you too. And it is the very best thing for the baby. To be handed over to adult parents who can care for it rightly.”

“God forbid!” John-Bosco snapped his fingers over his head. “That is worse than aborting this pregnancy. If you people won’t allow Margaret and I remove this pregnancy, I, in turn, won’t allow you people take my child and sell it to another person.”

“It is not selling, John-Bosco. The church, and a convent, cannot be involved in such an illegal, hideous act.” Sister Mary-Cynthia explained. “It is a temporal home for pregnant teenagers and an orphanage that handles adoption. This baby will be handed over to responsible parents who have the means to bring up a child properly.”

“And I say no.” John-Bosco objected, giving his head a vehement shake.

“And who told you you have an opinion in this matter?” His father demanded, speaking again. “Did anybody here tell you your opinion is required to arrive at a decision?”

“Ah, Papa, my opinion will matter oh. It is either this pregnancy is flushed out now, or I’m not allowing anybody sell my own flesh and blood all in the name of adoption.” John-Bosco stubbornly stood his ground.

“Will you shut up with that abortion talk?” His father thundered. “So you will rather kill a child you cannot take care of than have people who can care for him, take him, eh?”

“Papa, I cannot stay in this world and be wondering where any child of mine is. It’s better for it to be dead than to be lost.” John-Bosco insisted.

“May a flash of lightning strike you dead there!” His father cursed, glaring at him. “Fool! Was I the one who asked you to impregnate a little girl, eh? Did your mother and I send you to go sniffing the skirts of girls in your catechism class? Bush animal! Say another stupid word there and the back of my hands will visit your cheeks.”

I did not say anything. I did not know what to say. I was confused. I did not want to be a mother yet, but I was not certain if I could bear to have my child given away.

God, what have I done to myself?

*** ~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~ ***