Thursday, 28 September 2017

SHERINA AND THE LAW-ABIDING OFFICER

So Tuesday evening, I got proof, as if proof were needed, that God has a sense of humour.
Few days ago, I wrote Esprit de Corps  (part 1) about the military-checkpoint-rule and its application to "bloody Civilians" it was a veiled urge to security persons to uphold the law they are sworn to protect.
Well on Tuesday I had a church program for 4pm somewhere in Piyakasa, Abuja. I was undeniably late because it was already 5pm when my taxi dropped me off at Dantata bridge. I immediately looked around for one of the trusty motorbikes usually stationed at the bridge to convey people to Galadimawa roundabout. To my consternation, for the first time in living memory, not a single bike was in sight!
I was beside myself.
I couldn't handle the long trek to Galadimawa roundabout from that bridge because of the sweltering heat and honestly I was a bit under the weather. And even minus both of those factors, I was exceedingly late.
If you live in Nigeria then you probably balk at flagging down private cars because no one knows who's who right? Same here.
Well while I was standing around, waiting for the never-arriving bike, it occurred to me that with every passing second, the program I was rushing for was fast coming to an end.  
I swallowed my wariness in a hurry and proceeded to study passing cars, willing my mind to accept any one of them. Finally I saw a silver-colored, somewhat decrepit car approaching. I was going to let it pass, but at last, I summoned courage and flapped my hand as eagerly as a chicken's wing at the sight of breakfast.
The car hurtled past me, obviously intending to ignore my signal. I quickly dropped my hand, smarting from the affront. To my surprise, the driver pulled over just a little ahead. I hurriedly dashed to join him, my pique forgotten as I clambered into the front seat and  smiled my gratitude.
My buttocks had barely touched the seat before he snapped at me to fasten my seatbelt.
My mouth puckered in silent protest as I did as I was told. I HAD been going to do just that, I mused mutinously. There hadn't been any need to bite off my head.
Anyway as soon as he began to drive again,  my ire vanished as though it had never been.
Unfortunately, rush-hour traffic was already building as we neared the roundabout. Traffic was heavy and of course the impatient drivers that ply Abuja roads kept shoving and thrusting as each tried to overtake the other. Curses rent the air. I choked back a horrified giggle as one Igbo brother crudely invited fire to roast the driver of the car behind him who was tailgating him. "Chineke gbaa kwa gi oku!" He yelled. 😂
As I watched the drama all around,  it belatedly occurred to me that my driver was the only person who wasn't trying to cut the line. He joined the very end of the longest of three queues, his face calm as a lake.
I shot him an alarmed glance from underneath my lashes. I was normally all for being law-abiding but today I needed a 007 driver in my boat... er,  car if I was to meet my program. My driver was no 007; he was the very soul of patience and I reasoned mournfully that at this rate, I would be lucky if I arrived the church in time for closing prayers!
A sharp guy to the right of us suddenly swerved roughly and overtook five cars forcing his own vehicle through a narrow opening. All five cars plunged in after him at once thus opening up a wide stretch of road ahead of us. My heart lifted and I shot an expectant look at my driver. If he took that route, I could be out of this traffic in five minutes and on my way to church, I thought happily.
The man  kept waiting patiently at the back of the line. He didn't even move a muscle. 😩😩😩
Other drivers from behind immediately dived into the wide open road ahead of us and my heart sank in consternation.  What was he? New to the country?
I turned to urge him to mosey on just as he leaned out of his window and barked at the drivers on his side of the road, "If you don't take your time, I'll book you."
I did a double-take. Book kwaa?
And that's when I saw it! People of Zion,  yours truly was riding shotgun with a Road Safety officer, Special Marshall. I stifled a groan
He was the law itself! He kept so much space between him and the back of the car in front that several other hopeful drivers kept trying to edge in; he wasn't in a hurry to cut corners and escape traffic and he certainly wasn't going to drive above 20km or so per hour.
By the time he finally escaped traffic, I was fighting back tears of frustration. I was so late I doubted I would even meet anyone in the church apart from the security men.
I weakly motioned to where I wanted to alight.
He informed me that that was not a safe spot. He needed to "clear properly."
Suffice it to say, by the time he finally found a good spot to park, my eyes were red. I exited the vehicle with the little grace I could muster, thanked him through my tear-choked throat and finally began the five minutes trek from where he had stopped me back to where he SHOULD HAVE stopped me so I could finally pick yet another bike to church.
I was too weak to fume; I just wanted to seat in a corner and pout.  In the end, I realised God was listening when I lamented that officers made the laws and expected Civilians to obey while they broke them.
I'd met a law-abiding officer for the first time in a long while that Tuesday, just when I didn't need one; and I wasn't amused.
Morale of the story? Be careful what you wish for coz apparently the Fates are always listening.

Learn the lesson and share the story
©2017 by Sherina Okoye

Sunday, 24 September 2017

ESPRIT DE CORPS... PART 2


Our driver was recovering faster than anticipated. The cool, Abuja air gushing in through the open windows assured him that he had indeed escaped frog-jumps, delays and probably a night or two feeding some mosquitoes in a guard-room somewhere.

He sped down the freeway, his thoughts obviously in a whirl as he snuck repeated looks over his shoulder at phone lady AKA Civil Defence Officer. I could practically hear him wondering if he could get away with giving her a piece of his mind for scaring him like that.

 In the end, he was too chicken-hearted to dare: she was a woman in uniform after all and she had indicated that her bus-stop was Sauka. For those who don't know, Sauka is a bus-stop located around airport road in Abuja and it is directly opposite a Civil Defense office which means it's always teeming with officers. He didn't want to try rubbish in case he got to the bus-stop and she called the calvary.

The other passengers seemed to be in a similar quagmire.  They wanted to also give phone lady a piece of their collective minds for the HBP and heart palpitations she had caused them but they managed to restrain themselves; again, because of her uniform.

I'm fairly certain I was the only person grinning in the entire vehicle; I caught a few evil eyes cast my way in proof of that fact. Civil Defense was probably having a good chuckle too but she wisely kept it on the inside. As we crossed airport enroute Sauka, it was as quiet as a church in the taxi.  Given the continued grin on my face,  I'm sure everyone thought I was in cahoots with Civil Defense. I wasn't,  I didn't know her from Adam.  Anyway, try as I might, I couldn't stop smiling Coz I'm one of those people who enjoy watching high drama with a happy ending.

One time the driver cast an evil eye at Civil Defense via his rearview mirror but she pretended not to see. She wasn't looking around anymore but staring straight ahead. She seemed comfortable meeting only my gaze; her only fan.

The driver maintained his cool, and the effort visibly cost him. Apparently as he replayed the events, he became more pissed by the way he had been reduced to begging her to end her call. Why didn't she save his ego by informing him of the Esprit thingy? He probably felt she had tampered with his masculinity and machismo in some way. 😎

By the time we reached Sauka, his jaw was clenched with impotent fury and he was quivering again; this time with ill-suppressed ire.

Civil Defense alighted from the car and blithely whipped out a thousand Naira note which she proceeded to wave under the driver's nose.

The man was beside himself.

"Oppicer, but how you go give me N1,000? Your money naa N50!"

The woman looked down her nose as she informed him in the haughtiest tone I had ever heard; "That's what I have. Unless you want to leave the money for me."

I lost my smile at that one as her ajebo certificate was crudely ripped in two before my eyes.

"How you go say make i leave money for you? No be work I dey so?" He shot back. His wariness and fear of her uniform had evaporated at the thought of losing his hard-earned N50. Yes ma'am, the hustle is real. Don't mess with a taxi driver's take-home.

I cheerfully offered the driver two N500 notes to change her money, smiling like the good girl I'm not. He collected it with a grateful glance.  Two other passengers immediately gave him smaller denominations as well. In less than five seconds, he had N950 which he handed gleefully to her through his open window.  

Civil Defense glared at me quickly realising she had been betrayed by her only fan. I wasn't fazed. I gave her a blank stare that would have done Barbie doll proud. If you know me, then you know injustice gets my back up. I could see humor in scaring the driver at a checkpoint but I failed to see the humor in cheating him of his money especially since I had seen a N200 note sticking out when she pulled out her ID Card earlier.

Seeing she hadn't managed to cow me, she turned and sauntered away.

As our taxi pulled away from the curb, our driver launched into a tirade about bullies in uniform.
Other passengers had apparently recovered their powers of speech.
"Naa waa ooo. The woman been get plan," the man in front began.
"So she want make driver dash am N50?" Someone else asked rhetorically.
"Her plan no go work," the other passenger declared.

I silently listened wondering all the while why uniforms seemed to protect their wearers more than the public.

The morale of the story? When it comes to his money, the "bloody Civilian" will often quickly forget his fear regardless of what apparel you have on. The common man will fight for his money more than for his human rights.

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©2017 by Sherina Okoye

ESPRIT DE CORPS... PART 1


She was fair-complexioned with a face ravaged by pimples and tribal carvings; the unfortunate heritage of most African children who had no one to defend their cause at birth. She was remarkably pretty nonetheless. She was dressed in a black tee shirt, simple gold watch faded to a dull silver by constant exposure to the harsh sunlight, she also wore a pair of navy-blue cargo pants (trousers) and she had short hair plaited in braids and done up in a modest bun.

As the taxi careened merrily down the highway, she kept a calm watchful mien, her eyes swinging this way and that in spite of being quashed in the back seat with three other passengers, myself included.  Given that I was seated right beside her, I kept an eye on her, observing her out of the side of my own eyes. I mean I figured it was my civic duty to keep an eye on her while she kept an eye on everything else.
As we drew even with a military checkpoint, she absently whipped out her phone to receive an incoming call. The driver jolted with fright, almost losing control of his steering as he realised one passenger was about to earn him a few frog-jumps and several hours cooling his heels at the military checkpoint while other commercial drivers sped past to pick up passengers from the busy streets of Abuja.

"Madam no fhone call! Naa army check foint!" He whispered urgently, fright and an Hausa accent causing him to mispronounce his words.
The lady jerked,  hurriedly took the phone away from her ear, then apparently recalling her 'status', she returned the phone to her ear and continued her call, leaning back lazily as she deliberately prolonged the call. By now, the other passengers had joined the driver in frantically urging her to end the call as we were a mere three cars away from the lone soldier inspecting passing vehicles. I could sense the palpable tension and fear; who could blame them? Apparently in Nigeria the fear of the military is the beginning of preservation of your basic human rights.  Just ask communities which saw pythons come out to dance in the village square. 🙄

Anyway, phone lady continued her call until we drew even with the soldier. By now our driver had shrunk in on himself and was now so tiny in his seat that I could barely see his head above the headrest.

Everyone probably thought I was either a stranger to Nigeria or recklessly unconcerned because I was the only other passenger at peace in Zion. I didn't tell them but I knew what the phone lady knew; I knew what she had recalled before she got courage to continue her call.

The gallant soldier waved us on and as we drew away, he shouted, "Stop!". Obviously he had belatedly sighted the phone pressed to her ear.

Our driver was a shivering wreck by now shooting impotent glances of fury and accusation over his shoulder at phone lady. The soldier strode up to the car but before he could get a word out, phone lady tossed the magic words at him, "Esprit de Corps."
He wasn't impressed. "Who are you?" He barked, veins standing out on his forehead while sweat glimmered on his craggy face.
She lifted her buttocks to enable her reach for her ID Card.  The motion drew the soldier's attention to what I had already noticed: Her navy-blue pants screamed 'Civil Defense'.
He didn't bother to see the ID anymore; he just ordered us to "Carry on".
I could almost hear the palpable sighs of relief in the minds of the other passengers as visions of frog-jumps and guardrooms vanished.

I smirked.

As we left I reflected that the military probably created the draconian 'law' banning phone calls at checkpoints because to the best of my knowledge there is no written legislation to that effect. And apparently,  the law only applies to "bloody Civilians". 😂😂😂


Morale of the story? Sometimes all you need to create the law is a uniform and all you need to break it for free is yet another uniform.

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©2017 by Sherina Okoye

Thursday, 10 August 2017

CONFESSIONS OF A BOOKAHOLIC: FLASHBACK


(Recollections from Law School Days) Something I've never confessed to a soul:


“You’re a bookworm,” my roommate accused as though she’d just had a major inspiration and invented the word.
“No I’m not,” I protested, tossing my sixth novel of the week back into my wardrobe and away from her eagle eyes. It wasn’t even Wednesday yet and already I had gone through five novels. The sixth was the guilty evidence I had just done away with.
I sat restlessly for a few minutes and then I leaped to my feet, grabbed my backpack and headed for  the door.
“Where to now?” she called. “The library?”
I had actually been about going to the library but seeing as I had just vehemently protested that I had a life outside books, I couldn’t very well say I was, now could I?
“I’m just going out,” I mumbled and fled.
My mouth was turned downwards at the corners until I entered the library and felt all those law reports calling to me from their shelves. That’s the weird thing about me; I would read anything so long as it consisted of the twenty-six English letters. 
The Bar exams were coming up and I was so pumped and psyched to make a great result. I flopped into a chair and promptly got lost in a Company Law text, headphones covering my ears, music blaring into my eardrums as I read.
I was so immersed in my studies that I lost track of time and didn’t notice when people gradually began to file out of the library. I read until the very last person had locked up for the night and strode out the door. It wasn’t until the light was switched off that I looked up with a jolt and noticed that I was all alone in an empty, dusty library.
I urgently stumbled and crashed my way to the front door in the dark, hands stretched blindly in front of me, heart thumping desperately in my chest as I yelled to get the attention of the woman locking the door. She looked up with a yelp of fright.
“Who are you?” she demanded from behind the safety of the iron bars separating us.
“I’m a student,” I responded, pointing at the ID Card around my neck. I would have added ‘duh’ but right then I was a touch too upset to be sarcastic.
“What are you doing there?”
What was it with this woman; wasn’t it obvious what a student was doing in a library? At any other time, my foot would have been tapping impatiently but I was half-afraid she would also wonder why I had shoes on; she was that exasperating.
“I came in to study,” I got out. “I didn’t realize it was closing time,” I shot back.
She was eyeing me suspiciously, her gaze searching the empty library behind me as though she suspected me of some truly dubious and dangerous activity like ... reading? My hands were laden with books and no bag in sight so where would I hide whatever it was she was so scared of?
“Why didn’t you leave when others were leaving?” she demanded, brows furrowed in more of that lovely suspicion.
I shrugged and explained that I had lost track of time and I hadn’t looked up and noticed people leaving. She lovingly caressed the key in her hand, stroking it as lovingly as you would say a pet dog, or something else less innocuous. I could see the wheels turning as she considered if she could get away with leaving me locked up until morning.
Then with a weary sigh, she opened the door, all stern frowns and head-shaking.
“Don’t do that next time,” she called as I turned to leave.
 Like I made a habit of going around getting locked up in lonely libraries? I cursed under my breath when I saw the time was already 10:30pm. It didn't help that I had forgotten my backpack in the library locker.
As I headed towards my hostel, I reflected that for some people, stating the obvious was an art form; a painfully annoying one, I concluded in exasperation.
My roommate’s eyes popped open the moment I came in as though she had been watching for me, “You came back late.”
I didn’t respond, just rolled my eyes as I flung myself wearily atop my sheets, shoes and all.
Lord deliver me from people with a love for stating the obvious.


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©2017 by Sherina Okoye


Sunday, 30 July 2017

WHEN PARENTS BECOME CHILDREN

So we were driving through Benue state the other day, when I spotted something that brought nostalgic tears to my eyes.

A little girl of about 15 years old was perched precariously atop a motor bike with a little goat clutched in her hands and held protectively against her mid-section. But no, that was not the tear-inspiring part. Between the driver, the girl and the goat was
another passenger; a rather old and wizened woman who had to be the teenager's grandmother.

Granny was so old that her veins were spidery and very visible through the thin paper her skin had become. She had a completely grey head of hair and her eyes had lost the lustre of youth and become completely dimmed with age. She clung to the bike man with both hands childishly tucked underneath his armpits while her grand-daughter sat confidently behind her providing a human shield to keep her from falling off.

That same day, I walked into a restaurant and a man had taken his aged mother out to lunch. She was bent with age and her hands shook as she tried to carry each spoonful to her mouth.
He had ordered her a plate of jollof rice and some fried goat meat. Mama couldn't eat; she kept picking at the food like a bird and scattering rice all over the table. His eyes met mine over her head and we shared a speaking look and a grin. It was another nostalgic moment. When he was a child I would bet everything he was the one who had a small appetite and a tendency to spill his food.

Now the tables had turned. My eyes filled with tears as I watched him pick a spoon and proceed to feed his mother.

Nature always has the last laugh on all of us.

I couldn't help thinking, when we were kids if we ever had to board a bike we would be protectively wedged between the bike man and an adult. I'm willing to bet anything  that this was probably the case a few years ago with the teenager and her grandmother but now she had gotten so old that she was the one in need of protective positioning. I am willing to bet the young man in the restaurant had done more than his fair share of spilling food in the past as a kid too.

The lesson? The dynamics of relationship in a family are always changing. As the age winds down, the parents who were once in the position of authority and in the position of protectiveness find themselves needing protection from their kids. As the age winds now the parents who used to be the breadwinners may have to depend on the kids who used to be the consumers.

The little child you bully today may wipe your ass tomorrow when you lose bladder control. The child you refuse to train today may be the reason you have  a roof over your head tomorrow.

Life is fickle; age comes with vulnerability and makes the adult a child. So use your time wisely and help those weaker than you.

The child of today will be a parent tomorrow. The parent of today will be a child tomorrow. It's a circle, so whatever end you find yourself, play your part with a good heart, a kind smile and an eye on tomorrow. 

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©2017 by Sherina Okoye





Thursday, 29 June 2017

SIX INCH HEELS AND THE RIGHT TO UNOBTRUSIVE SHOPPING


In a word, she was voluptuous!
She could very easily be any girl on the streets but the stares tracking her every step told a different story.
She was clad in a long white vest and a pair of ash-grey leggings that were so tight it seemed as though she had been poured into them.  The generous curve of her hips were sinfully outlined by the clingy material of her leggings; her straight legs which seemed to go on for miles were deliciously accentuated and her perfect hour-glass figure made an elderly gentleman's eyes almost pop right out of their sockets. Her skin was smooth as alabaster, the dusky, caramel color gleaming with good health. She had pouty lips done up in a bold shade of pepper red lipstick and her long braids rested atop her, um, rather pointed ass. She'd finished up the ensemble with a face cap that lent her an air of mystery and a pair of six-inch heels that made me break out in cold sweat just thinking about how her feet managed to gain traction in those on the uneven grounds of the market.
I figured Leggings Girl was probably used to people gaping at her with their tongues hanging out like labradors because she didn't display by so much as the flicker of an eyelash that the attention bothered her. She didn't seem particularly excited by it either; she just took it all in stride.
As she traipsed from seller to seller,  an eerie silence descended as everyone seemed caught up in gawking at her regardless of their gender. I don't mind telling you, I caught myself staring too; and I'm not a guy,  neither am I gay.
Belatedly, I recalled my manners and turned back to my own purchases. In less than three seconds an outraged yelp made me jerk around to stare in surprise as Leggings Girl muttered some choice expletives, gave one grubby-looking fella the evil eye, before turning on one six-inch heel and flouncing off, her buttocks bouncing as she left in impotent rage.
The trader she had been about to patronize rounded on Grubby Guy "But naa wa for you oo. Why you go do that kind thing? See as you pursue my customer."
Grubby guy offered a shrug and nothing more, his face wreathed in a dreamy, lecherous grin that made my skin crawl.
Someone else came to his defence, "Abeg my brother no blame am. Even if naa me see that kind thing near me I go grab am."
I noted that the new speaker was also another grubby guy; they seemed to be coming out of the woodwork.
Ribald laughter rang out and my fists tightened in anger as I realised what had happened. Evidently he had gotten so lost in staring at her ass that he had reached out and grabbed both globes as though he were holding a basketball.
I observed my customer laughing too and I retaliated by leaving without patronising him.
Call me old-fashioned, but somehow I don't believe any woman enjoys being mauled, groped, or touched by strangers merely because we seem to have a very lax law enforcement in Nigeria.
I was pleased to see that no woman in the vicinity was smiling. I felt like informing Grubby Guy that I thought he was a horrible so-and-so and lecturing him about respecting women. But I could see it would be a pointless exercise; he looked like a lost cause. My heart went out to the woman who claimed motherhood over this bit of humanity.
In case you didn't know, groping a woman could be construed as violence against the person in addition to sexual harassment. In some parts of the world,  those hands WOULD be cut off!!!
Morale of the story: just because a woman looks good doesn't necessarily mean she wants your questionable and disrespectful attention. Keep those hands to yourself!!!

Learn the lesson and share the story
©2017 by Sherina Okoye

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

PEOPLE OF THE EARTH SERIES: WHEN WIDOWS SMILE...



She was completely grey with age; her entire head of hair didn't have a single strand of black in it. Even her eyebrows had flecks of white and her  eyelashes were completely white. Yet, despite her noticeably advanced age, her smile was as infectious as a baby's; her dark skin, smooth and unbroken; enticing dimples appearing in both cheeks, while her eyes glowed like twin jewels as she grinned at me, brimming with joy. Happiness was written all over her as she ran to hug me, dragging me into an impromptu victory dance right there in  the middle of a crowd of other widows and people milling about. It said a lot that for her seemingly advanced age, in that moment, she had more energy than me!

The woman with me in the picture is a widow, Mrs Florence. She and the other women depicted in the second picture are just a few of the widows registered with Rock of Ages Empowerment Foundation. I could show you a thousand more pictures, but let's leave that for Facebook.

You wouldn't know it to look at them, but most of these women have battled poverty, suffering, loneliness, depression, and all manner of unsavory conditions that would make lesser beings cave in and give up on life.

In case you didn't know, widowhood is NOT a walk in the park. I never really understood the strength of a woman until I met and interviewed some of these women.

Women all over Africa suffer all manner of abuses, trials, inhuman treatments and even degradation for the 'offense' of being widowed; Nigeria of course, with her vast array of traditions and cultures, is no exception. Widows are made to feel like outcasts; sometimes accused of murder; sometimes physically and/or sexually abused; and often divested of their possessions by greedy in-laws.

Yesterday, 19th June 2017, an amazing and highly unusual man, Evang IG Newman, under the auspices of his NGO, Rock of Ages Empowerment Foundation, did something I have never seen before.He took empowerment of widows a step further in a laudable and absolutely innovative manner that brought tears to my eyes and left me breathless.

The foundation had already empowered most of their over 1,000 widows for small and medium businesses including agriculture by training them and also assisting financially when necessary. Then as if that wasn't enough, the Crop/Agriculture Trade Fair was created as a medium for the widows to showcase and sell their crops and products.

When yours truly ventured out among these women, the air was alive with energy, hope and joy. They were dancing as they sold and generally enticing customers with happy shouts and dance steps that would put Michael Jackson to shame: I KID YOU NOT!

The thought of financial independence would do that to you. For some of these widows, feeding every day is pretty much 50/50 and this Trade Fair is an unusual opportunity for these women who have been forced into the role of bread winner to provide for their families. It is also an opportunity for us, ahead of the International Widows' Day celebration, to show them that they belong; that they are still important to society. Everyone knows at least one widow; whether our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, or even friends.

There's a streak of independence in every human being; and that's why we take more pride in a salary than a hand-out; that's why we take more pride in money earned from honest work than stolen funds; that's why we take more pride in the N10 derived from your business than the N20 given to you by a kind benefactor. Trust me; these women would appreciate your patronage now way more than your hand-outs later.

For these women, the Trade Fair was a whole lot more than a group of women gathering beneath the sun to display their wares. For some of them, it is an opportunity to take back their dignity that had been trampled beneath the feet of thoughtless in-laws when they lost their husbands; for others, it is an opportunity to teach their children about the dignity in labor; and for yet others, it is an opportunity to finally put food on the table and pay that school fees. 

Nelson Mandela said something that has stayed with me for a very long time: when we fight poverty, it's not charity but justice because poverty is man-made.

I was personally very impressed with the rather festive atmosphere and also the rather cheap prices of their commodities. In case you're thinking it has passed, it hasn't: the Trade Fair runs from 19th-22nd June 2017. I don't know about you, but I would give almost anything to see that enchanting smile duplicated on the faces of all widows.

Just in case you're thinking of stopping by and making these women smile some more whilst getting good value for your money: the venue of the Trade Fair is Area 10, Old Parade Ground, Abuja.
You can thank me later. 😘😘😘😘😘😘

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©2017 by Sherina Okoye

SHERINA AND THE LAW-ABIDING OFFICER

So Tuesday evening, I got proof, as if proof were needed, that God has a sense of humour. Few days ago, I wrote Esprit de Corps  (part 1) a...