When I was given a scholarship to the Primrose College, my mother gave a very long testimony dragging her “Hallelujah” so that it became “haaaaaaaleeeeeeeluuuuuuuu…..yah”. She had tears in her eyes and said she could see me leading the family out of poverty. After all, 2000 children wrote the qualifying examination, is it ordinary that the daughter of a fish seller would be chosen among the needed 10.
I was the envy of so many parents. The day after my mother’s testimony the bread seller refused to collect money from me. She called me aside and said “Please Olanna, be Simisola’s friend. I too want my daughter to get a scholarship to a good school. You don’t have to worry about paying for bread since she is your friend”. I agreed because I knew the free bread would please my mother.
When I told her, at first she jumped excitedly and said “Did I not say it? God is using you to deliver us.”
But later when she fanning the coal she was using to cook, she said “I don’t want Iya Simisola to think she is feeding me. That woman is proud. Even when we were still paying for bread, she would be waiting for me to greet her like no…o. She brought me to Lagos.”
She placed the pot on the charcoal stove and faced me. “Biko, always go with money. I can’t have her thinking she owns me. If she doesn’t collect her money, it concerns her.”
The first day of school, many people in my neighbourhood stared at me as I passed, some were pointing at my uniform and looking at me in awe. Simisola walked beside me, although she had passed the turning to her school. I felt giddy and superior to be the centre of such admiration.
My new school is located on Victoria Island, an upscale part of Lagos. It is a stark contrast to my neighbourhood in Bariga. Every year, 10 students are admitted on scholarship and if they maintained their excellence, the scholarship would continue to the university.
From my first day, I was aware of the economic difference between me and my schoolmates. At a point, it became stifling. When Tare asked me where I lived I said “Bariga” but when I saw the reaction of my classmates, the condescending looks of pity, I quickly added that my father was a philanthropist who decided to build his mansion in the slums to help people in the slums. At that moment, I had a deep hatred for my father, a jobless drunkard who only did menial jobs to sustain his alcohol addiction. I started craving their lives and wished one of the boys in my school would marry me. I became angry at home because I was constantly disgusted with our level of poverty.
Over time, I built a perfect life where I went to Paris, Berlin, Tokyo and New York for summer breaks. I read a lot and watched lots of foreign movies to perfect my lie and I would always come to school very early and left late, so I would not be seen walking on foot. When my friends started noticing loopholes in my fantasy world, I blamed my “father”, a strict disciplinarian. At some point, I was exhausted with the pretence, but it was late to swim out of my pool of lies.
During the third term of my ss2 class, I fell sick, so sick that I missed school for some days and my mother had to call my teacher. The next day, Tare and two other girls from my class visited. When they came in, they were obviously surprised to see me in a one-room apartment, lying down on a very old bed. I was too stunned to offer any explanation. I didn’t even guess they cared that much.
Tare looked around in disgust as they entered. “Your father is so mean, why did he force you here?”
Before I could reply, my mother entered with my food. “Welcome o, Olanna’s friends”
Tare looked at my mother. “Please, this place” She waved her hands. “Is not conducive for my friend to recuperate, we need to take her back to her house, like right now!”
“This is her house, she can re po po rate here.” My mother said defensively
“Who is this woman? Your maid?”
It dawned on my mother that I have been lying at school. She looked down sadly. “Yes, I’m her maid.”
“Oh. I see.” Tare looked visibly relieved.
I couldn’t bear the hurt I saw in her eyes she had sacrificed too much to be cast away as my “maid”. I decided to quit the pretence “No, she is my mother and this is my house, my mansion in Bariga.”