The “In” Crowd

It had been two weeks since I moved to Abuja from the village. My father thought I’d have better opportunities to go to a good school in the Capitol. Much better than going to a run down local university. I graduated first in class from my secondary school. St. Katherine’s Girls College, Enugu. Yet, while others were preparing to start university, I had decided I would stay back home. Maybe get married or find a small trade to do. Maybe sewing or catering. My father couldn’t afford a bag of rice or beans; let alone pay my way through university. It was only through the goodness of our local government chairman’s wife that I was able to go to secondary school. That was her kind gesture to our family since my mother had been such a good house help. I remember my father had been abnormally quiet for the past few days. A day before I came to Abuja, under the flicker of candlelight, I caught him crying and shaking his head towards the ceiling. “God, why have you forsaken me? My daughter is the smartest of her class yet, she can not go on like them, I have failed her!” I pretended to not hear him as he wept. My eyes began to well up with tears. I hadn’t given too much thought into not going to University. I knew our predicament. There was no money. We could barely eat. We stayed on a tea and bread diet. How could I ask my father to go to school? Where would he get such an exorbitant amount of money? Government schools were charging up to 150,000 Naira per term not including books and handouts and we barely had 20,000 Naira among ourselves. I knew my position in life and I had decided to accept it. It was no point getting your hopes up for disappointment. The headmaster had encouraged me to write for various federal scholarships but after 9 rejections, I got discouraged and gave up. My friend,Nneoma, had told me not to waste my time as those scholarships only went to rich people’s kids. I was confused, “Why exactly would a rich person need a scholarship?” She replied,”They are wicked! That’s why? After stealing all of the country’s resources and money, they must also steal our opportunities too!” She was right. Nigeria had a way of kicking you when you were down, especially the poor. She had no mercy nor empathy for the poor. ịda ogbenye bụ ihe a bụrụ ọnụ! Poverty is a curse! That’s why people were so desperate. That’s why you heard about the Igbo boy caught in Malaysia with 9 kilos of cocaine or the Edo girl deported from Spain for prostitution or the Yoruba boy who did one wire fraud and stole 100 million naira from some naive oyibo woman who thought she had met her long lost lover. Nigerians were smart but if not channeled well; we could be dubious and ruthless. Everybody wants to shine here. No one wants to be called, wretched. It’s like a death sentence. An excruciating, torturous death. “Nne is that you?” I could hear my father sniffling. As he tried to wipe his tears away with his handkerchief. “Sorry, daddy…I didn’t mean to disturb you, I just wanted to bring you your dinner.”

“It’s ok, my daughter…Please, I am so sorry.” I didn’t want to hear the rest. I waved my hand to infer that I meant for him to stop, not to say another word. It was killing me on the inside that my father was even crying over me. I hadn’t seen my father cry since my mum had passed in 2007. It hurt my soul that he felt so much guilt for not being able to give me a proper education.

“Daddy, don’t worry about it! We will be fine. I will be fine. With God anything is possible!”

“Nne…” He paused. “You will be leaving for Abuja tomorrow with your Aunty Florence in the morning.” 
What?! I couldn’t believe my ears. Did he just arrange my future without my consent? I was angry. Who was this Aunty Florence? I haven’t heard of her. 
He knew I was livid. I was hurt. He wanted to send me away. I didn’t even get a chance to tell Nneoma good bye.

“She is a distant cousin of yours. She came back to the village to visit. I convinced her you were a good girl. She said she will take you on as an apprentice at her clothing boutique and after 4 years of good work, she will pay your school fees.”

He sounded so excited and so relieved. It wasn’t exactly what he wanted but it was better than me staying here in the village with him. He had big dreams for me — I shouldn’t spoil and rot here, he thought. 
The next morning, a horn beeped in front of our compound. I opened the gate as a big black jeep drove in. The door swung open and a tall, slim and brown skinned lady with Senegalese twist laid down to her behind, stepped out. She ran to my dad and curtsied to greet him, “Uncle…Good morning, where is she? You know we need to make it before the night!”

She turned towards me,”My dear, how are you?”
“I’m fine Aunty Florence.”

“Oya, hurry go and get your things, we have to be going!”

I ran to my bedroom and carried my one and only bag. It had everything I owned. I was excited. I was going to Abuja. I had never left the East. The only people I knew that went to Abuja were the privileged kids in my class. One politician’s daughter or a doctor’s son.” I would call Nneoma as soon as I settled in and tell her all about Abuja. I smiled with excitement. They said it is a small London. I don’t know what London looks like but if it’s like how the whites live then it must be heaven, I thought.

I ran to get into the backseat of the car, hurriedly, tossed my bag into the boot and fastened my seat belt. My father knocked at the car window, signaling me to roll down my glass.

“Nne…you can’t give your daddy a kiss good-bye?”

“Sorry, daddy.” I gave him a peck and he forced 2,000 naira into my hand. “Thank you, daddy!” It was what he had. I was grateful. A tear fell down my cheek. I would miss that man. He was my best friend. I promised myself as soon as I could I would make sure he would never lack again.

“Olanna, make sure you pray to God every night! It is very important!”

“Yes, daddy. I will!”

We drove for approximately 30 min before we stopped near Head Bridge where the River Niger separates Onitsha and Asaba. My Aunty stopped to pick up another girl. She was pretty. So very pretty. She looked like a spirit. Her hair was so long and her skin was so white. I had never seen someone like that before. Well, there was Uzoma from my secondary school. She was white too, but her skin wasn’t as shiny as this woman. She was not from this Nigeria, I thought. Life must have treated her kindly!

“Flo-Flo, kedu?!” She was Igbo!

“Chi-babe, I’m doing fine! Did you bring me any bitter leaf soup?”

“Yesoooo, I bought some bread, groundnuts and banana for the road. I don’t want us to stop until Lokoja. Who is this?”, she looked at me puzzled. 
 
“Oh, this is my cousin, Olanna. My uncle wants me to train her. So, I promised him I would.”

I started to think this Aunty of mine’s was no more than 30 years old. How did she have the money to train me?

“Well, Ola, Your Aunty will train you well!” She laughed. I didn’t understand what she meant by that. “But first, Flo, you must rid this one of her mgbeke-ness.” She turned back around. It stung. I had worn my best outfit. A native skirt and blouse made of royal blue Woodin ankara material. I had made sure to fix my hair. I felt funny around them. It was clear I didn’t belong. My Aunty laughed, “Ola, don’t mind Chidinma! She is rude. She is forgetting how wretched she looked when she first came to this Abuja. How I had to guide her well, well! Don’t worry before you know it you will be IN.” In? What was “in”?

Suddenly, I remembered where I was. I could hear my Aunty call from the downstairs parlour, “Ola,we have guests!” It was 9 in the evening and my Aunty always seemed to have a guest. 
I rushed downstairs. Her flat was beautiful. It was located in Wuse 2. It was a posh place with hibiscus flowers planted in symmetrical rows all the way to the front door. The front door was painted red. You couldn’t miss it. It was twice the size of my house in the village. She had a noiseless generator and air conditioning in every room and Satellite TV! My favorite channel was E! I would watch “Keeping Up with the Kardashian” marathons all day. My aunty encouraged it. She said I would learn to talk better and get dressing tips. So, I studied them well.

They were watching Big Brother Africa, as I walked up to my aunty’s two male friends. “Evening, what will you all take? We have Fanta, we have water, we have Jack Daniels.”

The short, bald and black one with is white kaftan and made in Aba sandals, grabbed my wrist, tightly.
“Flo, you didn’t tell me you had a new girl, na?”

She hit his hand swiftly with aggression. “Don’t mind this stupid boy. You better leave my cousin alone, she is not ready for that now…”

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