Fri. Feb 16th, 2024

Story Written By Ogechi Alabi

 

 

 

 

Early the next morning, I went to work. I cleaned up the entire house before they woke up. Auntie Nneoma met me cleaning upstairs when she came out. She praised me and went about making food for her husband. The house had changed and it was evident someone new had taken over.

 

“No one ever cleaned this well in all our days of having house helps. Even the woman who cleans once a week has never cleaned this well. Nne, stop her from coming. Akwaugo should manage the house for us. Even if she cleans once a week it is still better than what we have experienced before. Take this N20,000. Go to the private school down the street. Buy the entrance form and get me the school bill”

 

I couldn’t believe what I heard. I fell on my knees in gratitude. I was going to the private secondary school I saw when we were coming. I had admired the buildings. It was beautiful. From outside, the compound was very large. I couldn’t wait to explore some more.

 

“Nna anyi, please let us not send her to that school. You know your people. I promised my brother I will send her to the school our sons attended. It is cheaper. I don’t want them to say I drove your people away only to bring mine for you to train; I can train her myself” I heard auntie Nneoma respond. I was deflated. Why would she object? It looked like my joy was shortlived.

 

“Nne, take a look at your house. When last did anyone remove the curtails to wash, not dryclean, without being told? I am proud of your brother and his wife. They have brought their only daughter up well and it is showing clearly. She has done all this work without prompting just because you brought her here. What do you think she would do when she has been trained by us? Our sons have a lot to learn about gratitude. Maybe I should send them to your brother during the Christmas holiday to learn. For peace to reign, I will pay her school fees until she finishes. I will give you the money. You need to be going to your shop now we have a good hand at home. She would need clothes and toiletries; I won’t provide women needs for her. You should be able to afford them”

 

“Nna anyi, what will I do without you? You have shown me love I can never reciprocate. What you have done today, I will never forget. No matter how you

 

 

offend me, just remind me of this act today and I will forgive you. It doesn’t include bringing another woman home o!”

 

I didn’t wait to hear his response as I felt it was getting intimate so I snuck out of the living room. I went to my room to pray. I thanked God for giving me the foresight to clean up the entire house. I asked him to forgive me for all the times I grumbled when mother asked me to do them. Now, I am reaping the benefit of that training. I asked God to bless my parents for the upbringing they gave us.

 

Auntie Nneoma entered the room as I was rounding up my prayers. “My daughter, you have made me proud. You have made your parents proud. Do you know how much that school is a session? It is almost N500,000 a year. Your uncle is willing to give me N1,500,000 to pay for you. Let me advice you. Your uncle is a good man but he hates certain things. He doesn’t like calling anyone more than twice without a response. You must answer him on the first or second call. He likes a clean person; your clothes and hair must always be neat. You must not smell. Once your roll on and body spray are remaining small, ask for more. You can’t walk about on barefoot; under your feet must always be clean. You must prove that you are worth the amount he is pending on you. He likes intelligent people and you have to be speaking English to him at home even though he responds in Igbo. You can speak Igbo to the rest of us but your Uncle, speak only English. Don’t follow boys. Don’t make them your friends. If anyone is harassing you, report. Never be found in corners with boys. Remember the daughter of whom you are. Have you heard?”

 

“I have heard auntie. Thank you and please thank uncle for me”

 

“Thank God. Do not disappoint us. It is a huge investment he is making in you”

 

Later that evening, I spoke with my parents on auntie Nneoma’s phone. I told them everything that transpired from the day before until that moment. My father was surprised his in-law was willing to invest so much on his daughter. My mother was just full of praise. Father begged me not to bring them shame. “I will call him tonight. If not for my bad health I would have come there to appreciate him myself”.

 

 

I went for the entrance examination into Queen Victoria College Enugu. Auntie Nneoma bought the form for N10,000. We were almost a hundred students applying to enter the school via transfer. I studied hard for the entrance examination. I was told it was highly competitive and not everyone who applied was taken. The pass mark was 65%. I went to the examination prepared. Auntie Nneoma went with me and left immediately I settled down.

 

The examination comprised of Mathematics, English language and General paper. I sat on the front row of the class for the examination. There was no way I would allow anyone distract me. I couldn’t disappoint my uncle and aunt talk less of my parents. I said a prayer before we began.

 

A week after the examination, the result of shortlisted students was placed on the notice board outside. I didn’t know it was released. It was auntie Nneoma who called the house asking me to go to the school and check the result. Every step I took was heavy and filled with uncertainty. I was scared even though I knew I did my best.

 

There was a crowd forming already in front of the notice board. It was mainly parents although there were also students there. I managed to get to the front of the notice board. I checked for my name on the list for SS1 students, I didn’t find my name. My heart sank. I looked again and didn’t see it. I left the board downcast and stood aside. I was almost in tears wondering what I was going to tell auntie Nneoma at home.

 

The secretary we bought the application form from saw me and was beaming with smiles. She walked up to me and said, “Congratulations!” I felt she was mistaking me for someone else so I told her I didn’t see my name on the board.

 

“Aren’t Akwaugo Gemma Ozoemenam? Your name is the first name on the SS1 list pasted on the board. I called your auntie to inform her. I am very sure”

 

I didn’t let her say anymore before I ran back to the board pushing everyone aside, ignoring their complaints to check again. Truly, my name was the first name on the board. I was looking at the lower names not believing I could score the highest in the entrance examination. I had defeated myself by myself. I released a shout of joy. I was happy. It wasn’t ordinarily a huge feat but for me it was. I was set to

 

 

make it. I was set to make my parents’ dream for me become a reality. There and then I made a promise to myself, “I, Akwaugo, will put in my best in all that I do. I must succeed”

 

The jubilation at home made my resolve even stronger. I heard Uncle Emma say, “Even from a village school she beat everyone hands down? My investment wouldn’t be a waste. I will give you N1,500,000 cash tomorrow to pay for her. Madam, I want to see the receipt. Her future should be secured”

 

When I spoke with father later that evening, I asked him if it wouldn’t have been better either Ikenna or Obinna got this scholarship as they were boys and will remain in the family.

 

“No, my daughter. God has given you this opportunity and we will not steer the hands of God for him. He knows what he is doing. Your brothers are happy and proud of you. They will also be successful. I am praying that my old bones won’t give way before you achieve your greatness”

 

“Father, you will be alive and see what we will become in future. All your heart desires for us shall be fulfilled and you will eat the fruit of your labour”

 

“Amen my dear daughter”

 

I started the school immediately the term resumed. All I needed to resume school were provided for me. Everything was bought brand new for which I was very grateful. I didn’t know how popular my auntie and her husband were. My auntie dropped me off every morning on her way to the shop as I do some house chores before leaving for school. The teachers greeted her with so much respect and referred to me as Chief Nnaka’s daughter. We didn’t share the same surname so I corrected them that I was his niece. Everyone wanted to be my friend because of that. I knew their friendship offer was based on what they perceived; they felt I was rich. I politely declined joining groups or clubs. My focus was to study hard and gain admission to study Medicine and surgery like my father wanted. All their offers were distractions.

 

I made breakfast and lunch for both auntie and uncle. I packed their food flask every morning and placed them on the dining table. Uncle Emma doesn’t leave for

 

 

the shop early but auntie Nneoma began to leave early because of me. She had little or nothing to do at home. She was a major distributor of all kinds of hair. She sold different types of weave-ons and hair attachment. Beside her massive shop she opened a salon. She employed girls to braid and fix hair there. She hadn’t been serious about the business until her distributorship status in major companies were threatened so she sat up. I made it easy for her. She cooked the stock of her soup and I added vegetables when her husband comes back before her. He never complained about her not cooking because he was satisfied with my service. We were all happy.

 

Uncle Emma and Auntie Nneoma have four sons. Two of them were in the United States of America, the third was in Kaduna state for his NYSC while the last was a Year two student of University of Nigeria Nsukka. I didn’t really know any of them. The last son looked very much like his mother and behaved like the last child he was. The boys had moved out of the main house to reside at the boys’ quarters so they could have their freedom.

 

“Nwa m,” my auntie called to me, “Amanze is coming home this weekend. Biko nne, help me clean the boys’ quarters so it will be neat and tidy when he returns. Take you time and do it”

 

“No problem auntie, I will do it tomorrow immediately after school”

 

I did as my auntie had instructed. The boys’ quarter was like a two bedroom flat. The only difference was that it was much bigger and spacious. It had a common sitting area, two bedrooms with their toilet and bathroom. Everywhere was covered with marble. The sitting room didn’t look like it was lived in but one of the bedrooms was a big mess. The other was locked and auntie refused to open it up for me to clean. I cleaned the other room; under the bed, I saw packs and wrappers of condoms (I didn’t really know what they were then) cigarette butts, sweet wrappers and unwashed plates and cutlery. The toilet and bathroom were a mess. They hadn’t been washed in a very long time. The kitchen was also filled with dirty plates, opened cereal boxes, empty and half empty tins of milk and beverage, and a fridge with stale food inside. I spent the whole afternoon into the night cleaning up. There were dirty clothes dropped on the floor in a huge pile. I wanted to wash them over the weekend but auntie Nneoma said I shouldn’t bother as her son wouldn’t wear them again. She asked me to throw them away.

 

 

The clothes were in perfectly good condition; they had only gathered dust over the period of unuse. I packed the clothes and wrapped them in a bedsheet which was to suffer the same fate. I took them up to my room. Obinna and Ikenna could use these clothes. I could see they had piled up over a period of time. Even the shoes had gathered dust. I cleaned them to their wearable condition. Some had been tossed aside to be disposed of; I also gather those and cleaned them up. they were still very useable.

 

I showed auntie Nneoma the clothes and the shoes she had asked me to dispose of. She saw their condition before and couldn’t believe their condition now. I asked her permission to send some of them to my brothers in Umuoji. I knew they would appreciate them. She gladly gave her permission and even helped me drop some of them off at the park. I could imagine my brother’s excitement when they see the clothes. They would be regarded as big boys in school or at least they would blend in. They still worked odd jobs to raise money for upkeep and for the family.

 

You would say auntie Nneoma and her husband were rich so why didn’t they help

 

father? My auntie didn’t offer because she knew my father would never accept.

 

Auntie Nneoma’s in-laws were not nice to her. They felt she did not deserve to

 

enjoy the luxury which came upon her husband a few years after their marriage.

 

They accused her of diverting his funds to help her ‘wretched’ people. My father

 

was her only surviving family member and he never collected anything from her.

 

He was a bachelor then. For many years it was war; accusations and counter

 

accusations. Uncle Emma was from a very poor home too. One of his sisters

 

married a trader who dealt in tiles. He took his wife’s brother, uncle Emma, and

 

trained him in the line of his business. When his apprenticeship period was over;

 

he did his freedom and left. It was after he left, he met and married my auntie. A

 

few years later, opportunities came his way and he began to make money. His

 

friend’s father was a politician, he gave them a government contract to renovate

 

some government owned properties. That was where he made his first big money.

 

He set up every member of his family. All of them were given money to start a

 

business.

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