Total Reading Time: 15 minutes

Frustration burned within Lisa, fervent as the crackling coals at the fireplace in the study. Reading the threat from the money lenders, she smacked her hand against the mantel lodged one extreme. It was one thing for her husband to spend hundreds of pounds on horseraces and ale, but gambling with the proceeds from the china clay pits and going bankrupt, was more irresponsible than the indolent relying on the poorhouse. Lisa breezed across the room, reached for the book containing the steward’s account, in a bid to find some errors – any oversight to jolt her from this nightmare. She paced about, book in hand, her gown sweeping over her feet, the dull clicks of her shoes reverberating within the heart of the manor. As with this house and the large expanse of moorland that accompanied it, Howard’s late uncle, having no direct heir, had bequeathed his properties to him. But Howard appeared to give no consideration to his uncle’s labor with his air of indifference and the proud pull at his cravat when he strode about the property. How had she allowed her dearest husband get them into this mess?

Nay, Howard was to be blamed. For he no longer was a lad.

Lisa tsked, her husband’s name, a worse taste on her tongue than an apothecary’s solution. “Oh, dear Lord, please help me.” She shouldn’t think evil of Howard. She lowered herself onto a settee, burdened by both her bulging middle and Howard’s lack of discretion. She recalled how she had initially been drawn to the carefree pitch of his chortle, the dull smell of coriander that often colored his breath and his genuine affections although she possessed no significant connections, was a former slave and was of an African descent. She recalled also, the spite that followed their unprecedented union and how Howard had chosen to be with her against the odds. Now he resembled naught of the man she first met. How had things so easily plummeted?

Howard, unlike Lisa who had been raised on a sugarcane plantation in Barbados, had never experienced suffering, having been born into privileged circumstances, hence he paid no attention to Lisa’s suggestions on maths and accounts. If only he would listen. Anger bubbled within Lisa. Though she had received no formal education, she had busied her mind with her mistress’ books and Mama’s Bible while at Barbados hence gaining some knowledge on frugality.

Ore bi Jesu, ko si l’aye yi.

Lisa remembered how Mama would hum the Yoruba song as she twirled sections of Lisa’s hair with rubber – a style peculiar to Africans. That song had been Mama’s favorite as Mama explained that it reminded her that Jesus was with her despite the difficulties of slavery. It was a song Mama had taught Lisa as well. As a teen, Lisa had sung this song when she was taken from her family and sold to another master, but had tired from the perpetuity of her suffering. She sucked her lower lip, regretting the consequences that had accompanied her quest for freedom. Her past haunted her with a vividness like the darkness of this night. She mourned the parts of her life no one else knew – not even Howard.

Ore bi Jesu, ko si l’aye yi,” Lisa mumbled, her voice masked with whimpers. She hated that Howard gave neither ears to her suggestions nor wished that she concerned herself with matters of his finance. Many times even after being married five years Lisa felt as though both she and Howard were only mere acquaintances bound by a contract.

Had Howard ever loved her? Had he truthfully cared about her?

Lisa sobbed, longing for Howard’s affection – one not born from the duty of procreation or the need to maintain a good societal image. But more importantly, she needed a way out for Howard’s debts.

Hearing booted steps approach, Lisa returned to the lamp-lit foyer to see if it was Howard who had arrived home. He appeared wasted away by ale, his disheveled hair, soiled breeches, absolute insults to a man of his caliber. The servant who had helped him in, bowed and then led him away.

Lisa ran into her room. She threw herself onto the bed and wailed. She couldn’t continue this way. The curtain around her four-poster bed shook with convulsive sobs. She wanted a way out and she wanted it now. “Lord, Jesus, help me. Please help Howard too! Help our home.” Lisa prayed, eyes burning with tears, and just in the moment, remembered an abolition pamphlet she had seen in the possession of her friend from Church, Sandy.

Although Lisa had received her manumission years prior, she had not been actively involved in the Wilberforce-led movement seeking to end the transatlantic slave trade. The campaign however already been brought to the parliament, was still greatly opposed by merchants, shipbuilders and others benefitting from the profits of the trade. While Sandy had explained the need for former slaves to support the agenda anyway they could, she also mentioned about a number of abolitionists purchasing oil palm groves in Benin, West Africa. She explained the sale of the crop’s end-product would meet England’s growing demand for street-lighting, soap and candle production and would also serve as a means to support villages in Africa while propagating the message of salvation. Like a jester’s plaything, ideas juggled in an exciting amplitude within Lisa’s head. She knew she’d have to take parts of any monies Howard had left and invest same in oil palm groves to save their home. But Lisa feared how Howard would react should he find out. What if something went wrong? Lord, please help me.

Howard, taking the last sip of his chicken soup, stood to ready for a fund-raising tea party at the Codringtons’ – an event to help foundling children, when Lisa trudged into the room and sat at the farthest end of the table. The servants standing by asked what she would like, but she dismissed them with a wave of gloved hands.

“I need to speak to you, Howard.” Lisa blurted out, her hazel eyes encircled with full, dark lashes, distant and fierce.

“Could it wait?” Howard took a look at the mantel clock set one corner of the dining room and knew he had to leave or otherwise run late. Lisa trudged towards him, her face contoured with worry and anger. What was she busying herself with? Did she not know that the baby needed her to rest? “Do you not feel good?” Howard admitted he had not been of great support to her with the growing demand on his time, but now he needed to attend his clay pits. One scan of Lisa, and he realized he missed her ever so sorely. Her features, more rotund from advancing pregnancy than nature’s generosity, assailed his sensibility with the acuity of their first time together – the day after their wedding when they both tasted heaven. His hands ached to hold her but not now. “Has the physician been to assess the child’s health?” No response. Lisa’s lips tightened in a manner that annoyed Howard. He had an appointment to make. A servant entered the room to signal that the carriage was ready. Howard thanked him and returned his attention to Lisa who stood like an effigy before his path. “I have to go now.”

“Why do you not talk to me?” A sob escaped Lisa’s lips and a spring of tears overflowed from her eyes.

Howard stood confused, unsure how to react. What was this about? “That’s horrendous. Of course I talk to you.”

“You do not, Howard.” A deep sob.

“Of course I do. I talk to you every time we get together – like I am right now.” Howard grew impatient. He couldn’t be late to the Codringtons’ party as they were one of the most reputable people in the village. “Could we talk about this at a later time?”

“La, that is totally agreeable.” Lisa cleaned her eyes with a tissue stuffed one corner of her sleeves and excused his path. “Go attend to your more important matters.”

“Look, I am making all this sacrifice for you and our family.” Howard studied her a while before placing a peck on her forehead. “I promise to spend more time at home once I get the pits properly running. If the baby needs anything feel free to say.”

The bumpy ride to the tea party although tiring and long, allowed Howard time to reflect on his struggle managing the estate, his inheritance and his lethal addiction to gambling costing the failure of his clay pits. With a handkerchief, he cleaned beads of perspiration brewing more from worry than the heat of this summer day. Pesky flies crawled around him in a manner that worsened his annoyance. Why did he never succeed at any vocation? Recalling the rejections that followed his days growing up in the boarding school, rejections from not excelling at maths, literature, music, or science, Howard wondered if indeed, he was not a misfit. The derisive giggle of his classmates, the pretend acceptance of his teachers – who gossiped about his defective gait, a consequence of his birth injury, and the loss of his late parents, were images that still appeared in his sleep every night. His hurt never dulled with the passing years and worse still, it was exacerbated with every moment he was faced with an unfulfilled dream or failed ambition. It was one reason he needed to make sure he got the clay pits running – to prove to himself and the world that he could succeed at something.

“Lisa,” Howard whispered her name as though she were sat by his side and with pleading eyes, seeking to be privy to his thoughts. Theirs had been a union of the impossible, a sheer determination against the difficulties of their time. Howard recalled how he had fallen in love with the simplicity of her person and how though, she had no knowledge of his social connections, she had accepted him as the random, limb-twisted man, visiting the alehouse for the spicy African jollof and good conversations.

Lisa. Howard remembered how he liked her much more after she started going to Church – how she had grown into a woman of unperturbed rest and inexplicable joy. Though Lisa had not been a Christian when they first met, her commitment to the faith had deepened over the years, leaving Howard with a desire to know the Lord, Jesus, as she did. Many times, cleaning his soiled clothing for instance, Howard wondered at the kindness of her heart and the patience of her faith. That woman still believed in him when he gave her every cause not to. His eyes threatened with tears. The familiar sadness of growing up an orphan and the longing for acceptance overwhelmed him like the heat penetrating the defenses of his covered carriage. He recalled the most recent letter from the money lenders threatening to ruin all he owned should he default with his repayment, and acknowledged that only grace would save his life falling so easily apart. And as they approached the Codringtons’ estate, Howard knew within not a perfect running of the clay pits and not even Lisa would meet the deepest needs of his soul. Did the Lord, Jesus accept people like him? Could Jesus deal with his insecurities while giving his life a meaning?

Although married women possessed very little right over their husband’s possessions at the time, and women who owned properties of any kind relinquished rights to it on marriage, Lisa leveraged Howard’s carefreeness with demanding his money off the steward. The round-bellied man studied her through thick glasses, upon her request for hundreds of pounds to see to her unborn child’s needs. “Surely, I do not need to discuss the details of my child’s health with you, do I?” she had asked when the steward remained reluctant to give the sum. One canny threat of his job and a reminder of Lisa’s kindness in the past, and the steward let go of the money.

A few times, at discreet meetings, Lisa met Sandy as well as other abolitionists purchasing the oil palm groves. Although an end to the transatlantic slave trade would mean freedom for her people, Lisa was wary lest her open allegiance to the abolition movement cause a disfavor for Howard amongst the locals. She needed to wade through the dangerous waters of politics carefully as she sought to save her home. In three more months, the processed palm oil would be shipped to England in drums, sold and the profits shared.

Fingers fidgety, Lisa prayed all went as planned. Hugging her protruding middle, Lisa whispered a plea to the Lord. “Father, please make this child come into a home of love.” Lisa knelt one corner of Howard’s room, praying for her unborn child, Howard and their family. She was tired of how bland her marriage had turned and needed the Lord’s help. She stood and trudged about, praying the Heavenly Father’s will over her home. She knew that the Father wanted her to have love, joy and peace and these she would. The ghosts of her former life haunted her – the shame-bereft prostitute throwing herself onto any man’s bed for her manumission. She mourned her past foolishness but reminded herself she had been forgiven and was loved.

Lisa trudged about the room, the fervency of her prayers crescendoing with every step. She felt her prayers had been answered but from the periphery of her vision, the headlines from a newspaper placed on a drawer crumbled every faith she had. She reached for the dailies and read the impossible: Commercial African Ship Heading Liverpool Capsizes in the Mediterranean. She opened the page containing the report. The realization stifled every breath she had.

Same day, later in the evening…

Howard stormed into Lisa’s room. “What is the meaning of this?” He slapped the steward’s notebook onto the table by which Lisa sat, an uncompleted tapestry in front of her. “Tell me what you have been doing with my money.”

Lisa winced, Howard’s words cutting deeper than a sword. “I was, I was only trying to help. I made some investments.”

“Help? What investments?” Howard raised both hands in unbelief. “Tell me, is my wife stealing from me?”

“Howard! I would never do that.” Lisa stood to approach him, pleading, but Howard avoided her like a bug. She was angry as well. She also deserved some explanations as his wife. Why was he being unreasonable? “I thought you had given up gambling.”

“It’s none of your business what I do with my time.”

“Well then, I have no business being with a man who sees no use for accountability.” Lisa felt the Holy Spirit restrain her but she ignored the pull within. “I always doubted that you loved me. I have now reached my conclusions on the matter.”

“You will not deflect from the subject of this discussion.”

“And I will not be subjugated by you, Howard.” Lisa heard the cautious plea of the Holy Spirit within but again she ignored it. She was tired of acting like everything was alright when clearly it wasn’t. She was tired of wanting to be loved but never having the love of her husband. You have the Father’s love. Lisa shook her head, fountains of tears overflowing her eyes. All she wanted was a reassurance of Howard’s love but like he had always been distant, he stood by a windowsill looking into the courtyard. “You do not love me, Howard.”

No response. 

“Tell me, have you found an elite lady, one with more social connections than I could ever offer –”

“Lisa, will you keep shut?” Howard commanded, resting his head on his hands.

Sobbing, Lisa stood to reach for Howard but felt a warm stream of thick fluid flow from between her thigh. “Howard,” No response. One sight of blood and she let out a panic-stricken shriek. “I’m bleeding.”

“What?” Howard rushed to her side. “Someone call the physician!”

Howard knelt one corner of his room, head bowed. He hated the pain of loss and never wanted to experience it again. He knew he had his shortcomings but wanted another chance to make things work with Lisa. “God, please keep her and the child.” In the panic and before the surgeon’s arrival, she had lost much blood but the physician explained there was still a good chance of the child’s survival. “Lord, please have mercy.” Howard, prayed, using words he had heard Lisa say, unrestrained like a child. He had been in an empty chase all his life when only Jesus could satisfy the deepest longings of his soul. “I had been blind all along. But now I see!” He remembered his unhealthy addiction to gambling and repented. He had been wrong to put his wife through all the stress. He prayed for a fresh start with Lisa and asked that her heart be receptive to his plea.

Howard stood and left for Lisa in her room. She laid on her bed, pale from stress but aroused to his mutter of her name. “Darling,” he brushed her cheek gently, “I apologize for not being a good husband to you – for shutting you out of my life.”

“Oh, Howard,” Lisa’s voice emerged a whisper. She took his hands and held them against her cheeks. “I apologize for my wrongs as well. I never told you about my past – kept a lot from you but expected that you would never do the same to me.” She told him all about her former life as a whore but had met the Lord’s saving grace. “He saved me and made me new.”

“He’s saved me too.” Howard announced, causing Lisa to sit up in surprise. “I’ve decided to give my life – our lives with God involved – a new start.”

“Oh, I prayed and waited all my life for this moment.” Lisa wept for joy and thanked the Lord as Howard also did, for the fresh love wine He had poured into their home.

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