You pack your load and inform everyone you are leaving. Yes, that is exactly what you do. You pack your load, shutting out your parents’ protest by blocking your ears with your earphones. You ignore the forlorn look of your younger siblings, pretending they are not getting in your way.
You have made the decision and no one will stop you now.
What you have decided now is to get away from the heavy burden of bills your family has put on your head. If you have to carry that load, you want to be in a better position to do that. As it is now, you are drowning while being forced to save others.
You are earning peanuts here in PH – and that is even when you manage to keep a job. If you leave now, and things go according to your plan, in a year you will be earning enough to send something tangible home. Something that will sustain them and not kill you in the process. This is exactly what you tell your mother when she comes into the room to “reason” with you again.
‘Let everybody endure and find a way to survive till I am capable enough to help. Then, I will be able to help out, even more than Kevwe could,’ you tell her.
At the mention of Kevwe’s name, your mother quietens her protest and returns to the living room to whisper something to your father. You guess she did not want you to take the same path Kevwe did. Perhaps she has realised she has to be careful with you.
The thought of your sister always elicits mixed emotions from you. It is resentment that comes to you when you think about her. How could she?
You had wondered how someone could be so sacrificial. When she was alive, despite how hard she worked, and how much money she made, she was always broke. When you went to her house to pack up her things, you were disgusted at how decrepit the place looked. You didn’t find any single original item you wanted from her nice but non-designer clothes and shoes. Maybe her laptop could have interested you, but that was old. Even the laptop she had bought for Mercy was in better condition. You were sure you could have gotten a good price for it if you sold it as parts but your mother had declared that it should be given to Richard to cut expenses for when he gained admission. Now that Kevwe was gone, everybody had to learn how to manage whatever income there was.
Kevwe always said she had no choice. And you kind of knew that she was right. She was too compassionate to look the other way as you so often did when it came to the family. Your philosophy was never to take on any responsibility that was not yours. In fact, you were constantly looking for ways to shed off your actual responsibility so there was no way you were adding any extra load to your already full baggage. Kevwe had not only added a lot of baggage to hers, but she had also dragged other ones because why was such a frugal young lady in debt of over three million?
You had vowed to yourself when you had read her last note to the family that you were never going to allow yourself to become a victim of circumstance like she had been. In the end, the circumstances cost Kevwe her peace of mind such that she ended her own life. You felt sorry for her and that pity made you all the more determined not to end up like her.
Still, you admired her. Kevwe was an exceptional older sister. If she had been more successful, you knew that she would have had no trouble doing all she did. You could not count the number of times when she had shown up for you. And not just financially – emotionally, physically, and mentally. Kevwe had always been your go-to person when you got in trouble. You are sad that she is no longer here. The gap she had left in the family was too great; the shoes, too mighty. There was no way you would be able to fill those shoes.
Hence, your decision to leave.
If you were expected to step into Kevwe’s shoes, you would have to do things a different way. If you had learnt one thing in the one year that Kevwe had died, you had learnt that trying to work hard was overrated. The economy was not favouring going to an office and sweating your head off for an arse of a boss who would undervalue you and underpay you. There was no way you could sustain yourself on your current income; you definitely could not keep a whole family from starving to death unless you were to do something drastic. You had devised a foolproof plan. You were sure that if you played your cards right, you were going to hit the jackpot soon.
Then you would throw Kevwe’s mighty shoes away and put in place your own classy shoes. No offence to Kevwe’s memory. You loved her and missed her very much but working hard was not the way out here. You were going to work smart.
And where else to allow your streetwise abilities and natural resources to thrive than in the city of opportunities, Lagos?
Lagos was the way forward. And you had carefully thought out what to do there. You smile to yourself as you finish your packing.
In Lagos, you squatted with a friend you had known from school… Your stay so far, since your arrival, has been a long strip of disappointment after disappointment, and endless struggle without success.
The first shock you received was when you got to the area where your friend stayed. You had thought this kind of ghetto place only existed in Ajegunle. You smiled uncomfortably as you took your luggage from the Bolt, trying to get your friend on the phone.
As the phone rang, you saw her stepping out of an old building. It was unfenced and wedged between two other similar buildings. She crossed a gutter filled with debris and every other kind of filth and hailed you.
‘Ese, welcome o. You made good time,’ she said as she helped you with your bag.
You were confused. You thought she said she was living on the island. You voiced your confusion to her.
‘Ehn, yes now. We are in Ajah.’
She must have read your face, and laughed explaining that that was the part of the island she could afford. You looked around the cramped apartment and wondered how both of you would survive in such a tight space.
It was a shocker when you discovered that there were two other ladies living there. You were to be the fourth occupant of the self-contained building and you would only be given a month to find your feet before you would be expected to pay rent and other utilities.
The cost of living in Port Harcourt was high but you were soon to discover that when it came to the price of just surviving in a dwindling economy, nothing can beat Lagos. Within the twinkling of an eye, the meagre savings you had brought to Lagos disappeared. It didn’t help that you had tried to get on your plan as soon as possible and had been frequenting the high-class parts of the island in order to hit it big. But the only thing you had caught was bills and more bills until you faced the reality that you had become more broke than a Makoko scavenger.
More eye-opening was the fact that your foolproof plan was not so foolproof, after all. With the way your friend, Caroline, had described it, one would have thought that the sugar daddies were falling off the trees in Lagos. But so far, you had only been approached by broke guys who wanted to help you spend the little you had. Caroline herself didn’t have one anymore but she had a boyfriend with whom she was serious.
Maybe sugar daddies too were feeling the brunt of an economy that was almost always in recession.
After months of bone-jarring poverty and no success with getting a sugar daddy, you opened your box and dusted your CV. In those months, it was Caroline’s kindness that helped you to survive. Without her, you would have run back to Port Harcourt.
Your search for a job was, at first, as unsuccessful as the search for a benefactor. But after several attempts, and with your roommates’ help, you got a receptionist position at one of the big hotels on the island. The pay was fair but you would have to spend a huge chunk of it on transportation. Worse still, you hardly had any time to yourself.
But it was better than staying in that cramped, always stuffy apartment and hoping for some miracle. Now, you were humbled. Your big dreams and getting a Sugar Daddy was gone. Sugar Daddies were not forthcoming, and so you had decided to work hard now. The hotel was suitably high-class and you hoped that, with time, you could gain access to some of the big men that frequented the place.
But it seemed your manager was a demon sent from the pit of hell to frustrate you. The advice Kevwe had given you ages ago was beginning to make sense. Be patient, she used to say. When you endure the initial discomfort, you will learn valuable lessons that will help you later.
As you could not afford to lose the job, you tried discipline and patience. And even though your manager was still a witch, you were able to keep the job and work gradually towards your goal. You did not at any point forget that what you wanted was beyond a shift job that sucked at your soul and left you exhausted. It was beyond the chicken change you were earning and sharing with your family members when you could.
At the back of your mind, there was a warning to be careful so that you would not end up like your elder sister who worked herself to the bone. And gave up in the end.
And just as you were beginning to lose hope, luck smiled upon you and dropped the man of your dreams at your feet.
What you thought was a slow but exhausting shift was coming to an end. Your bag was packed, and you were only waiting for your replacement to walk through the door. Just then, your phone rang. It was your replacement.
‘Hello,’ she said, breathing rapidly and loudly like someone who just ran a marathon.
‘I’m so sorry, I’m stuck in traffic, you know how it is here. Can you just wait for ten more minutes?’
You felt like cursing her. Instead, you swallowed the vituperation that was rising in your stomach. ‘Ok, don’t be long, sha. I have a home to get to, too.’
You ended the call and hissed. She probably had stopped by one of her boyfriend’s houses. And you knew the way of Nigerians, that ten minutes could turn into one hour. So, grudgingly, you held off changing into your street clothes and plastered the required fake smile on your face while you counted the hours till you could get a bath and succumb to restless sleep.
Eventually, your replacement arrived and you quickly changed and left the hotel through the service door. The door led to the underground parking lot of the hotel and you stepped out just as a man staggered to the door while crying something you could not make out. He had been badly beaten. You noticed that his face was swollen and bloody just before he dropped in front of you. At first, you thought he was dead and your first instinct was to run away.
But he continued to mutter weakly and you moved closer to him and listened to his story. Some hoodlums had tried to rob him not too far from the hotel. For some reason, they started beating him even after seizing his keys and phone. Thankfully, some VIP convoys started sounding their sirens from afar. Thinking they were the police, the hoodlums ran away and somehow dropped his keys and token in their haste but had made away with his phone.
You tried to convince him to go to the hospital but he said he’d rather you helped him get someone to attend to him in private. He said he would rather not draw attention to himself. You helped him through the doors and booked him into a room. He gives you his wallet and gives you instructions on how to get hold of his assistant. From his wallet, you were to get his debit card and get him a new pair of clothes from the closest boutique.
You do as he has bidden and in no time, somebody called Joe met you at the parking lot with a nurse. You directed Joe to where FM (this was what he called himself) had said his car was and you took the nurse to him.
FM thanked you for your help and asked for your number. You gave him gladly and finally went home.
Your day off was the next day and you were tempted to go to work to see how your new friend was doing. But your hotel had a strict ‘no consorting with customers’ policy.
You hoped FM would call you back. He looked like a good prospect. The card he had given you was a gold-embossed mastercard. He seemed rich and most importantly, he seemed like he was interested.
But when he did not call you, you began to lose hope. The flicker of interest you had thought you saw might have just been gratitude. You blame yourself for not getting more details from him. You didn’t have his number or his full name. Or even his Instagram or Facebook details.
When the third day came and he didn’t call, you began to give up the memory of him. You silently told yourself to be smarter the next time you were presented with such an opportunity again.
But on getting to work, your colleague gave you a package that somebody left for you. You opened it and found a bottle of expensive perfume and a box of chocolates. There was a black card that simply read Fred Maye and a phone number.
There was an instruction that you were all too eager to heed.
You had smiled. You couldn’t wait for your shift to end.
You had been going out with FM for more than six months when you started getting the threats.
FM fitted all your ideas of the perfect Sugar Daddy. But to his advantage, he was young, handsome and generous, and not particularly interested in sex. Of course, he had made advances, once or twice, but nothing too serious. Whenever you tried to kiss him, he seemed distracted.
‘Are you married?’ You had once asked him and he had assured you he wasn’t. He had plans to do that soon but he and his fiancée were going through a rough patch at the moment, he explained.
You had not thought too much about it. As far as you were concerned, nothing changed even if he was married. As long as he continued being so generous and sweet, you were going to stick to him like a leech.
In the six months, you had been with him, you had seen and spent more money than you had seen in your lifetime. He had gotten you a new and better apartment in Lekki. You were learning to drive with one of the cars he had lent you. You ate better and looked better. Life was good.
All you needed was for him to sleep with you so you could assure yourself of your place in his life. But he had been elusive with that. He only met you in public places where the best you could do was touch him. And he always had a driver and security guy in the front seat of his car. He had been more careful since the robbery.
You could not complain much because he was still doing the needful – spoiling you silly and treating you like you meant more to him than a fling. You saw him almost every weekend and some weekdays. He took you to the most exotic places where they had good food. There, you would converse to the backdrop of beautiful music. You were beginning to feel deeply towards him.
You were even more desperate when you found out that he was some sort of a celebrity. Apart from his real estate business, he was a music producer who had a number of successful musicians on his label. He liked to keep a low profile and that was why you didn’t recognise his face though you knew his industry name.
The threats came as text messages.
Leave him alone.
He is taken.
You told FM about them but he just waved it away. His fiancée would never do anything like that. She was too busy making money to bother with his friend. You didn’t know how to feel being called a friend but you couldn’t object. He asked you to be more careful and you did. You stopped taking public transport and only did Uber.
But the threats started getting more ominous.
You better watch your back.
I’ll find you.
I don’t share. If you don’t desist, better deal with what you get.
You’d begun to feel uncomfortable and so you told FM again. This time, he promised to talk to her. You stopped getting the texts.
Curious about their relationship, you asked FM about it, but he said it had absolutely nothing to do with you. Would you rather he stopped meeting with you?
Hastily, you said no. You had started tasting the life you wanted. No fiancée was going to take that away from you. But FM’s ambivalent attitude was making you insecure and you started to think of ways to get something lasting from him before he decided to end things between you and him.
You tried to get him to your place so you can have your way with him and you finally succeeded. After a blissful night together, you told him about your business plan. He was impressed by your ideas and asked you to come up with a proposal. From your apartment, he went to the airport to catch a flight to South Africa for a business trip while you went to work.
You had started fantasising about how you would resign from your job and focus solely on your fashion business. You couldn’t wait.
When you returned from work, all your security lights were off. You wondered what happened because you always left them on.
You crept to the side of the building. Some construction guys had left some beams of wood there. You grabbed one that was light enough to handle but heavy enough to cause damage to any trespassing hoodlum.
Turning the corner to your apartment door, you carefully opened it.
Your living room was cast in shadow. Gripping your plank tightly with one hand, you groped for the light switches with the other and clicked them on. The lights came on to reveal a lady sitting regally on your armchair.
Her long hair framed her face. Her chic scarf and shades further cast her face in shadow. There was something familiar about her that you couldn’t put your finger on.
‘Who are you and what are you doing in my house?’ you demand.
She started to say something but suddenly she stopped and rose as if in shock.
‘Ese? Ese, is that you?’
You looked closely at the woman. Your brain was translating something impossible to you. It couldn’t be but was that…
‘Kevwe?’ you mutter, incredulous.
She removed her sunglasses and sat down heavily, her head in her hands.
Her face out in the open, you confirm that, indeed, your dead sister was sitting right in your living room. And if your guess was correct, she was here to warn you off her fiancé.
About the Author
Bisola Bada is a Nigerian writer and avid reader based in Newcastle, England. She is the author of ‘Unashamed’, a poetry pamphlet for the girl child and has had poems published by Eboquills, Ice Floe Press, and Lion and Lilac. She writes about the intersection of life, beauty, love and everything in between; she writes especially for the girl child. When she is not reading or writing, she is out enjoying the beauty of life with friends and family.