As I stepped out of my brand new Peugeot 306, I could feel the envious and admiring glances from a group of people standing at the doorway of the hall; the venue of Agnes’ birthday party. I had come out of the car stylishly – leg first and slowly inching my butt out to give the onlookers a great show of my well-endowed body. I pulled out my dark glasses from my gold handbag and put it on for extra effect. I walked a few metres away from the car. Then, I turned back dramatically using the remote control to lock the car. I began to take calculated steps towards the hall; shoulders straight, chest out and head held up high. As I passed the group of onlookers, I could almost feel them holding their breaths mesmerised by my ethereal appearance.
I felt so good inside of me. I have always wanted to be desired by people. I have always dreamt of being the centre of everything. I do realise my behaviour has a tendency towards narcissism but if I don’t love myself, how am I supposed to love others?
I have always had big and great ambitions for myself. I had decided early in life as a ten-year-old girl never to lead my life after the semblance of my parents. Our compound was like an ant colony but it was quite different because there was no queen who was a drone. Everyone was a soldier working so that the anthill does not crumble. All the adults and grown-up children woke up at first cockcrow working at various household chores; from sweeping to chopping firewood for the day’s meals. Although I was not actually lazy, I hated the roughness of the work. I was not like my sister; Ojuolape who sang heartily and smiled merrily as she did her chores. I can still remember the funny view of her dancing and singing as she washed the dirty earthen pots and bowls that we had used to eat. There was a particular day, her merriment became mingled with tears – she was singing her favourite folktale song about the dog and the tortoise –
Aja ! Aja o! ran mi lerun
To ba ran mi lerun
Ma ke f’oloko…
In the midst of her singing and demonstration, the clay bowl in her hands slipped and broke into pieces. She had let out a piercing wail; clasping her hands on her hand. Mama had come in; running to see what was amiss. Her look of concern suddenly changed to anger as she saw the shattered fragments of the bowl on the floor. She exploded – “Oju, stupid girl, you have broken my bowl! Do you know how much I bought it on the last market day, ehn? Ten naira! Do you think I pluck money on trees? Amidst her tirade, she delivered two hot stinging slaps on her cheek and thundered out of the kitchen shed still puffing with anger. I had collapsed into laughter as I stood over Ojuola. Then I clapped my hands together and sarcastically sang her previous song – “Aja, Aja o …”. She eyed me fiercely and kicked at my legs. I fell down on top of her and we wrestled on the floor; tearing at each other faces like feline beings. My mother appeared on the scene with a long cane which she lashed out at us and that gave motion to my legs as I quickly escaped into open air.
Most of my age group in Ikotun village saw me as haughty, so I didn’t have many friends. The few friends I had, had to put up with my fancy stories of rich men and women who lived in big mansions and how I was going to become of these gentry one day. I got most of my imagination from the pacesetter novels I borrowed from the school library. While most of my mates stopped going to school after their junior secondary school exam; some of them either got pregnant or took to trading, I continued to trek several miles to school every morning. I voraciously consumed every book that came my way and I made up my mind to succeed no matter the cost. I was not going to be like my mother, who had become old even though she was still a young woman. Her skin was tar black and coarse from days spent working under the arid hot sun. Her hands were gnarled, her finger nails non-existent and her body flabby and shapeless from childbearing or should I call it child overbearing? My mother had 15 children with almost a new baby every year. But it was not entirely her fault as what other form of recreation does a poor farmer have; no television, no golf course, no expensive board games to play except the sport of copulation with his wife.
My opportunity of escape into splendour came some months after I finished secondary school. I almost didn’t get the chance to write my final exams as my father refused to pay for it since he thought it was a mere waste of time and resources. I had paid for my final exams with the money I saved from the sale of my tomato farm produce. My opportunity came when Chief Odegbami came to bury his father in the village. They had the biggest house in Ikotun and the place was virtually empty except for festive periods such as Christmas and the New Year, when the whole family came on vacation. All of the children in Ikotun were actively involved in the preparation for the funeral and we helped with various chores around the house. As for me, I had a particular target at heart and I worked towards it. I wanted to be noticed by the master and mistress of the house. So I put myself right under the glare of their noses at several occasions. There was a day, the madam was trying to give instructions to a boy to run an errand for her but he was at a loss as to what to do because the madam was speaking with a mixture of Yoruba and English. So, I came in and I asked the madam what she wanted done in faultless smooth English. She raised her eyebrows in surprise and called out to her daughter.
“Debbie, come over here. I can’t believe my ears.” She squealed like a rat.
“What mum?” I saw her daughter move towards us. She was wearing a tight jeans trousers and a “show-me-your-belly” blouse. I looked her over and wanted to burst into laughter but I quickly restrained myself. Instead, I made myself to look docile and naïve. Deborah was so painfully thin that even with her tight outfit, there was no aura of fleshy softness on her. Her legs stood wide apart and she resembled her wiry counterpart – the anopheles mosquito.
“She speaks good English”, her mother said.
“Really, mum. I don’t think that’s possible. Maybe, she memorised it.” Deborah said looking at me disdainfully.
I winced self-consciously. They were both talking about me as if I was not present there. Their conversation very much resembled a market scene; I being the hen for sale and the madam and Deborah, the prospective buyers speculating on the number of eggs I will lay and the chicks I will hatch.
“Anyway, I think she will do very well as a house maid.” the madam finally said as she made up her mind.
“Whatever! I just hope she does not stink”. Deborah said as she wrinkled her nose at me and went off.
I just left the stupid plastic smile plastered on my face through it all.
“Tell your father to come and see me” the madam said as she dismissed me.
After the funeral rites were performed in the village, I followed Chief Odegbami’s family back to Lagos. I tried not to stare at the magnificent things I saw around because Deborah was watching me to see my reactions. But when we got to a place which I later learnt was Third Mainland Bridge and I saw the large expanse of water all around; my lips gave way in amazement.
“Never seen such wonder? Don’t worry we won’t fall down below” Deborah said tauntingly.
I frowned and she pinched me hard on my wrist. I just pressed my lips together in a bid to suppress the pain.
When we got to the house it was another great marvel to me but by that time I had mastered how to keep my surprises from the open. The floor and the walls were polished with marble and I could see my reflection on the walls as I walked through the house.
I was shown to my room by a buxom woman, Mama Awe who was the cook. She was very nice to me. She showed me how to use everything in my room from pressing the light switch to flushing the toilet. However, she collapsed into a fit of laughter when she found me crouched on the toilet seat. Then, she told me I was not supposed to climb the toilet seat but sit on it. It felt so strange to the crouching I did in the public latrine or on a hole that I dug in the bush – this was cushion chair shit!
My problems started in the house when the madam found out I was the one stealing Deborah’s books. I didn’t actually steal them because I had always returned them after I finished reading. The madam had burst into an uncontrollable fit of rage –
“Foolish girl, do you think I brought you from your stinking village to come and be reading my daughter’s books? “Wait a minute, do you think Debbie is the same thing as you are? Ehn? Answer me!”
I just rolled myself into a tight ball taking the punches and quivering in silent rage.
“Listen to me, you are here to work and not to read books and if you start to give me problems I’ll send you back to your pitiable father in the village.”
“I’m sorry madam. It won’t happen again.” I recited docilely.
I remained curled tight in my foetal position long after she had left the room and I determined to be better than the madam and her daughter in everything.
That was when I started sleeping with her husband. Although, I wasn’t the cause of their non-existent relationship, they already slept in different rooms and only maintained a quiet civility when others were around. It started one night when he called me to bring a cup of tea to his room. I had gone to my room and pulled off my clothes and underwear and changed into my night gown which was very transparent. He had started perspiring like a he-goat on heat as he fastened his gaze on my breasts. He told me to sit on the bed and I watched him as he locked the door. Then, he was all over me huffing and puffing like an overworked trailer engine and sucking my breasts like a hungry infant. The next morning I felt a glow of satisfaction as I painted madam’s nails. I caught her watching Chief as he left for work and I saw the vacant stare in her eyes. It was the look of a frustrated sex-starved woman.
“Yeeee!” I protested as she hit me on the head for smearing the varnish on her big toe.
Chief and I later had a tryst outside the house. We met at one of his guest houses; I left the house under the guise of being sent on an errand by chief.
All along I knew the kind of game I was playing and I held the cards and rolled the dice. I got pregnant and told Chief about it. He offered to give me some money to get rid of it. I still smile to myself whenever I remember the drama that ensued. I had stood up theatrically –
“Not so fast, Chief. I’m not having an abortion. I think it’s time madam finds out that she now has a younger wife”.
“No, please Aina. That’s not possible. It will be a total disgrace for a man of my status to impregnate a common house maid” he pleaded bleary eyed.
“A common house maid” I winced as I repeated it.
“I didn’t mean it that way. I will give you anything”, he said sweating profusely.
Then I gave out my demands – a place of my own, money for my upkeep and sponsorship of my education. Chief Odegbami readily accepted and that was how I became a kept woman.
I aborted the pregnancy and registered for the university entrance examination. I passed brilliantly and got an offer to study Management and Accounting. Yes, I was obsessed with money. So, I decided to have a career that deals with it to sate my growing avarice.
For the first two years at the university, Chief Odegbami was my sponsor and sugar daddy. But, when I began moving in bigger circles I came to the realisation that I was being kept cheap so I dumped Chief Odegbami and moved on to Chief Roberts who bought me a car in the first month and rented a bigger apartment for me. My classmates in the university envied me because I seemed to have abundance of everything – good grades, plenty of money to spend and a good body. I was always off on weekends to one party or the other and back in school on Monday or Tuesday to catch up on my school-work. They wondered how I made it since I didn’t sleep with my lecturers for marks. But I knew how I made it – my determination to be a success no matter the cost.
I know I can stop towing the line of being a sophisticated slut with my present status. I have a good university degree, a good job and lead a comfortable life, but the allure of the game has not lost its appeal for me. Each time I encounter these lewd old men running their eyes hungrily over me, I feel a thrill down my spine that has not been equalled by anything else. I enjoy the delight of playing to their fancies and giving them the expectation of conquest and suddenly withdrawing the prize. I don’t have to sleep with men for money anymore. I can just take them for a ride and whiz off since I can now support myself without any man’s money.
“Hello beautiful. Can I sit with you for a while?”
I looked up and saw a dark broad-shouldered young man with flashing white teeth smiling at me and interrupting my deluge of thoughts.
I nodded as I evaluated him and decided he could pass.
At least, he was young for a difference and I guess I’m getting tired of the old cargo variety. “I think some young blood will do me good before I become an old cargo myself.” I thought wistfully as I watched the dark silhouettes of couples on the dance floor gyrating to the Fuji rhythms of Wasiu Ayinde under the dim coloured strobe lights of blue and red.