A new tenant moved into the compound. Christopher who preferred to be called Chris claimed to be a bachelor and worked as a clearing agent at the port. He was light in complexion and in the eyes of most of the tenants, very handsome. He was tall, averagely built and had a gap tooth. All the ladies in the compound were interested in him. They dropped by his room to collect one thing or the other. Before long, fights began in the compound.
Iya Farida the caretaker called for a meeting about the continuous fights in the compound.
“Oga Chris, is it that you enjoy the fights amongst these girls? Why don’t you choose one girl and leave the rest?”
“Iya Farida, I am not dating any of them. They are just neighbours. Let any of them come out and say I have ever touched her or kissed her before. I haven’t. I have a girlfriend, she is at university. When she comes, all of them will leave me alone. I don’t have any interest in them”
“Have you heard him? Mothers here talk to your daughters. They are the ones throwing themselves at a man who doesn’t want them and they are fighting a lost cause. He is not interested in any of them o. Ladies, have you heard? If you go and meet him you are an ashawo, a prostitute. Leave the man alone”
There were laughter and grumbles but the matter was settled. Everyone departed to their apartments while talking amongst themselves. Iya Farida had dropped a bomb which didn’t go down well with some of the ladies involved but then what could they do?
Farida, now twelve going on thirteen, was fascinated by Chris. To her, she was the most handsome man she had ever seen. She had feelings for him. Whenever she saw him, she shied away. Farida was dark and had never seen a very light complexion guy before except the ones who had different shades of fairness due to use of inferior bleaching cream. Bro Chris was very clean. His complexion was so shiny that she admired it. When he smiled at her, her heart melted and she ran away. He always dropped something for her and her brothers anytime he clears goods from the Port. He brought back toys, plates, biscuits, pasta, can foods, drinks, chocolate, clothes, slippers, shoes and so many other things. He gave other neighbours too but the bulk was always to them because he liked maami.
Farida had begun to run errands for other people apart from the tenants. She goes to the market and buys things for them. She washed clothes, swept compounds and got paid. Her brothers joined her to work too. Their income over the weekend tided them until the next weekend. Public holidays were also a blessing. The new income had helped them a lot. Maami started house lesson in the compound. Her pupils came three times a week. This was another source of income for them too.
Chris asked maami if she knew anyone who could help him with cleaning his house for a token.
“Farida cleans for people. Ask that useless Ade, Farida used to clean for him before he got married.”
“Why did you call him useless?”
“My dear, you won’t understand. Tell him I said he is useless”
“Ok, ma. So, what can little Farida do for me?”
“Let her work for you tomorrow then you will know”
“She can come. She should come by 10am. Let it be 10am please, I don’t wake up early on Saturdays”
“She will be there”
When maami mentioned it to Farida, she was reluctant to go. Her reason was the way she felt about the man but maami thought it was because of what happened with Ade.
Eventually, maami taught Ade a bitter lesson. She summoned him to her room and in the presence of Farida warned him never to have sex with her daughter again otherwise she will call the vigilante group for him and make sure they burn him alive. He was also to continue paying Farida for her work. “Anytime she’s in your room and the curtains or the door are closed she will raise alarm for the compound people to gather and call you a rapist”. Brother Ade was scared for his life and never touched Farida again. Any young girl that goes near his room, Iya Farida will shout at her to leave there. She didn’t want what happened to Farida to happen to anyone else.
She also had a conversation with Farida. “You are now a woman. You became a woman too early but it doesn’t change anything. Do not allow anyone bribe you into using you like Ade did. Do not enter any man’s room and allow him shut the door. Tell him to leave it open, your mother is watching. In as much as I refused to do anything against Ade, I want you to know that it is because of your future. Nobody needs to know what happened; it is our secret. But when it happens again then we are the fools. If anyone touches you in a way you don’t like, my child, shout for the whole neighbours to gather. He will never try it again. From now on you will be wearing mainly trousers; before they can remove the trousers, people have gathered. No matter where it is please, my dear, shout”
That year, Brother Ade got married. Ten months after the wedding, his wife had a daughter for him. During the naming ceremony, Iya Farida walked up to and said in a low voice, “I do not want to curse this beautiful baby girl but if at anytime you touch any small girl like you did my Farida, men will rape your daughter continuously even in your presence”
Brother Ade was startled by her words but quickly regained his composure. He began to make plans to leave the compound before his sins find him. It took him several years to leave.
Farida was smitten by Chris. She loved the way he looked and smiled at her whenever he saw her. He was her first crush. She talked about him to her friends in school that they came around to catch a glimpse of him. They were not disappointed. She was to start work with him with him the next day, how would she cope.
Farida was worried about meeting with him one on one and being alone with him while she did the household chores. Early the next morning, she got ready and wore her best clothes to his house. It was about 7:00am she boldly knocked on his door. There was no reply. She knocked severally before she heard someone grumble and then the door opened. Brother Chris was topless and had on only shorts. He had several black curly hairs on his chest. She thought she would faint at that sight but surprisingly, she kept a straight face. When she looked at his face, he didn’t look happy to see her. “I thought I told your mother you should come by 10:00am. Why did you wake me up from sleep?” he asked.
Farida calmed down inwardly and said, “By 10:00am, the sun will be out and most people would have occupied the lines. I might have to go to the market for you and the freshest items are best bought in the morning. If you give me a list of things you want me to do, I will start from the things that wouldn’t disturb your sleep”
Chris looked at her. He could see she was quite sharp. She was also very beautiful even more beautiful than her mum. She was still a small girl but she was tall for her age and a bit robust. She was a black beauty. This was the first time he was observing her. He liked her. He asked her to come in and take the instructions.
Farida was marveled when she entered his apartment. Her crush on him vapourised and was replaced by the apartment. No wonder all the ladies wanted to kill themselves over him. He occupied a room and parlour self-contained. He had a blue light in the parlour. The walls were painted white with gold shimmery designs. He had a big fluffy brown rug on the floor, three bin bags, a round glass centre table. She was shocked to see a room divder which was white and coffee brown in colour. It housed a 27” coloured television, a stereo, a CD player, and loudspeakers. The door to his bedroom was ajar. It had red light. There was a massive bed on the side of the wall with an equally big mattress, there was a blue rug on the floor and by the side a wardrobe. She couldn’t wait to get in to investigate further.
“Sit down. I can see you came prepared” he said pointing at her notebook and pen she had in her hands. “I needed you to help me clean up the house and wash a few things for me as I send my clothes to dry cleaner. You can go to the market for me. Can you cook?”
“Yes, sir. I can cook very well”
“I am not too sure of that but I wouldn’t mind you making stew for me and maybe something simple like Egusi soup. Can you make that?”
“I can cook any soup. My friends are Igbo, Calabar, Hausa and I help their mothers cook at home so I can cook. Trust me”
Truly, she was sharp. He told her to write the list of things she would need to cook and clean so she could buy them at once. He estimated she would be back after an hour so he could nap a bit more.
Farida was back in 40 minutes. She stayed outside and prepared everything she would need to cook. When she was set, she knocked again. Brother Chris responded grudgingly but this time he made himself decent. She entered into the kitchen first. She tidied up everywhere including mopping the floor. Then she put the meat on fire and started working in the sitting room. She opened the windows and door before she started. She was working and cooking. Brother Chris watched her in amazement. She swept the rug in the parlour and cleaned the room divider and all the electronics. She used soapy water on the windows, left it to dry and then used old newspaper to shine them. She took out the things for washing and soaked them. She changed the bedsheet and pillowcases and asked for a replacement. She poured harpic into the toilet and continued her work. Before 11 am, she was done with everything including the cooking. The quantity of soup and stew she made with the money he gave her surprised him because he gave more to other ladies and he would only get half of what he got and not even as tasty. She boiled rice for him to have with the delicious stew she made. He was so impressed by her that he gave her N2000 and asked her to go with some soup and stew.
“Maami, you need to enter brother Chris house. It is very fine. His kitchen is like the kitchen we watch on telly. He has something that holds plates, another one that holds knives and another one he hangs his frying spoons and kitchen spoons. His cupboard is not like our own. Each one has a door. That is where he put his fine pots and some plates that have a cover. They are very beautiful. He put his foodstuff in another side. The rice he eats is not like our own. The bag is like semovita bag but the colour is brown” Farida went on and on. She was impressed with what she saw. Then she told her mother, “One day, maami, I am going to live in a big house and have everything brother Chris has and more. Even Nkoyo that is living in a flat doesn’t have what brother Chris has. Maami, I want to be very rich”
“It is my prayer for you my daughter. I want you to be very rich. That is why I push you to work hard in school so you will get good jobs and make plenty money”
“Maami, you went to school, how come you are not rich?”
“I didn’t finish school that is why”
“I am not looking at going to school to be rich. Aunty Chioma is always going for interviews, she still hasn’t gotten a job. I want to marry a very rich man. I will be his only wife. He will take very good care of me; not like Alhaji. He will be young, handsome educated and very rich. He will make me happy”
Maami was perplexed at her daughter’s heart desire. That wasn’t what she wanted for her. She calmly tried to make her understand. “My daughter, it is not as easy as that. Ok, what will you offer him?”
“My beauty of course. He will not be able to resist me”
“Farida, what beauty? See you, you are fat. You eat too much. You refuse to rub cream on your body every morning and night as I instruct you. Look at how white your legs are. You walk around on bare feet, look at the sole of your feet how chipped they are. Apart from that, if he is educated and you are not then you do not match. Can’t you see the men that come for Chioma? See the cars they come in and how they look. They know she is educated but you, you have nothing to offer but the beauty only you can see”
Maami’s words left Farida sleepless. Farida pondered deeply on her mother’s words. She knew she had something apart from her beauty. She was hard working and she learnt things very fast. This should also be a plus for her. But she realized her mother was right. She was twelve and didn’t take care of herself. She was going to be a teenager in a few weeks and she still dressed and behaved like a child. Maami made them rub ori (shea butter) on their body to moisture it but she hated the smell and the way it made her sweat. She and her friends spent most of their saved money on buying things to eat and show off when they went to school. She resolved to change all that. If she wanted to attract a very rich man, she had to take better care of herself, wear clean uniforms and socks, always make her hair neatly every week and stop eating junk so she could lose weight. She also resolved to walk to and fro the market instead of taking a bike (motorcycle) as she does. She didn’t want to rub ori. Auntie Chioma uses very nice cream, soap and body spray. She always smells nice. What she would do is to negotiate with her. She will work for her and in return, she would buy her a nice cream and soap. Her school bag and sandals were tattered. They did not suit a girl who wants to attract a rich husband. She decided to talk to bro Chris concerning them. He could see at his place of work. This long vacation, she will spend less time with her friends and more time working to make extra money to transform herself. Also, she had to study hard. She will get maami to help her with her academics. She was going to be writing her Junior WAEC examination next session so she needed to sit up. She had it all planned and mapped out.
Farida put all her plans into actions. Immediately after her examinations, she went to all her customers and mapped out the time she would work for them. It helped her know how much she would make in a week. She earmarked how much goes to her contribution at home while the rest went to her saving which she put in a wooden ‘kolo’ also called the piggy bank. She met brother Chris and talked to him about the school bag and sandals.
“What is your size and those of your brothers? I have a customer importing school items, I can get some things for you. What else do you need? Water bottle, math set, pencil holders? Just name them, I will get them for you once his goods arrive”
“Brother Chris, God will bless you. I will work for you for free for …..”
“No, you don’t have to. I am getting them for free. He is bringing them for sale and I am entitled to some as his clearing agent. Once his container lands I will bring for you. What is the colour of your school sandals?”
“No problem. You will cook Ogbono soup for me tomorrow. You can cook it at your house and bring it when I get back. I enjoyed the last one you cooked”
“Thank you, sir. I will collect the money in the morning”
Farida was ecstatic. She was going to get new sandals and school bag. Even mathset and water bottles. Her brothers too will have new school things. She was excited but contained it in order to keep it a secret for now. She didn’t want others to know about it and then disturb bro Chris for the same thing thereby jeopardizing her chances.
Next was her uniform. She went to check the price of the material in the market; it was affordable. The sewing was the problem. So, she went to the tailor, told her she would come every morning to sweep her shop and then come in the evening to help run errands in exchange for her to make uniforms for her brothers and herself. The woman was amazed that such a young girl could come confidently with such an offer. She agreed, she took her measurement and the measurements of her brothers who were entering JS1. She told her the number of materials she would need for two sets. She swept the shop every morning and stationed her brothers at the shop to run errands for the woman. She took up extra jobs and within two weeks, she was able to buy the materials.
She needed soap and cream. Auntie Chioma was a nice lady but she was also snobbish. Farida had to look for a way to get her attention. She observed that Chioma stared at Chris whenever she saw him. It used to prick her heart but now she knew what she wanted, the rich husband wasn’t brother Chris. If getting Chioma close to him will get her what she wants then she would use it to penetrate Chioma. She hacked a plan. She approached Chioma.
“Auntie, brother Chris likes you. He said out of all the ladies in this compound it is you he likes best”
“Are you serious? Farida did he really say that?”
“He did. He said he likes the way you behave. You mind your business and you don’t quarrel with anyone”
“Chris said that? Anyway, he is right. I am not on their level now”
“I said let me tell you”
“Do you have any work for me to do for you?”
“I don’t have. I just got a job I am managing now. The pay is small but it is better than nothing”
Farida thought for a while. Then she said, “I will ask bro Chris if he can find work for you since I know he likes you”
“Will you? If you help me, I will give you whatever you want”
“Whatever I want? Is that a promise?”
“It’s a promise”
“Ok. Consider it done but you must keep to your promise”
Farida waited for bro Chris outside the gate to come back from work. He was surprised when she dragged him to a corner to talk to him.
“Farida, what is it?”
“Brother Chris, I need a favour from you”
“Is that why you had to wait outside? What is it?”
“Sister Chioma needs a job and I know you know people that can employ her”
“Does she really need a job? I was under the impression she was comfortable”
“She’s not o. She needs a job and she said she would have asked you herself but she’s shy. Since I am close to you. she begged me to ask you”
“Ok, I know a maritime company that is recruiting. Let her give you her CV, I will submit it for her. She should have come herself”
‘She is shy. I will get it”
“Is that all?”
“That’s all for now”
“Farida, you can disturb. I will do it for you”
Farida jumped excitedly to sister Chioma’s room. She requested for her CV which she gave her with a look of curiosity. Farida took it to brother Chris. To her it was mission accomplished. She just had to wait.
Sister Chioma came to their house three weeks after to thank Farida. She got the job and she was very happy. She wanted to rush out when Farida stopped her and reminded her of her promise.
“I remember. So, Farida, what do you want?”
“I want a good bathing soap, cream and body spray. You will buy them for me. That is all I want.”
Iya Farida was dumbfounded at her daughter’s request. “Farida, how do you make such demands because you helped someone?”
“Maami, we had a deal. I am not asking for too much”
“Truly, you are not asking for too much. Tomorrow, I will get you the soap, cream and roll on. You don’t need a spray for now. They are not expensive. I will also buy you packs of sanitary pad so you will stop using tissue paper. I can see you are becoming a lady and you are self-conscious. I will gladly supply you the items every month. You are like my younger sister”
Farida’s joy knew no bounds. She ran and hugged sister Chioma. She was happy she understood and didn’t back down on her promise and to always supply them made her even happier.
When Chioma left, maami called Farida and asked her what happened. She explained how she used brother Chris to get a job for sister Chioma and they agreed she would do anything for her if she succeeds.
“Did you use a rich husband to do this?”
‘No o, but I need those things to attract a rich husband”
Iya Farida was speechless. Her daughter baffled her. She still didn’t get the message. She was still transfixed on getting a rich husband. If attracting a rich husband would make her lose weight and take better care of herself, then she would not discourage her. She never knew there was more to come.