It was the day of the auditions for MTN Project Fame. I looked at my silk Chanel gown in the mirror one last time before stepping out of my room to meet everyone in the sitting room. It was midnight black with white vertical lines to make me appear slimmer. That’s what Douye had said. I scoffed. I thought I looked like a giant zebra. Like it was possible to hide 79kg of curvaceousness. I berated myself for being a size 16 when my mates were sporting slender size 8 bodies. Thank God for singers like Omawunmi and Jill Scott, I encouraged myself.
Everyone believed in me. As I entered the sitting room, they cheered and clapped for me enthusiastically.
“Just hear that voice…she’s a wunderkind.” Mom’s voice was smug as she looked at her sister, Aunt Mary. Their eyes roved approvingly over my dress. She and her sister never got along. Life to them was a competition about who could be better at everything: Marriage, career, and now children.
“You’ll blow them away, Preye…it’s going to be a breeze for you.” Douye said to me. Chinonye nodded in agreement and smiled confidently at me. I was glad they’d come to cheer me on my big day.
“I know I gave birth to a talented singer. It’s from my genes. All the others don’t stand a chance.” Dad winked at me before going back to his architectural drawing on his laptop. He had a project he had to finish before the next week.
I nodded and smiled woodenly at all of them. I couldn’t speak. I hoped to high heavens that their faith in me and my talent were enough because there was one problem.
One tiny problem.
I hadn’t practiced.
Yeah…I went for all those singing lessons and I chose “…the right song that would flatter my voice, thrill the audience and most of all, impress the judges…” according to my Aunty Nengi, the Music Teacher.
She’d told me a lot of things I had to do. How I needed to rehearse everyday and do all those voice exercises which were actually very boring. I don’t believe Lara George does all that stuff.
Anyway, so I skipped a lot of rehearsals, ate lots of chips (which are absolutely bad for my voice) and drank a lot of Coca Cola. I’m addicted to food. Especially junk. Sometimes, my mom can’t believe she gave birth to me. She’s a strict vegetarian. Go figure.
After what seemed like ages, Patrick, the driver finally arrived with the Prado Jeep which was the only car dad let me use out of his fleet of Jeeps. He has a thing for them; no other type of car steps its wheels in our garages.
“Break a leg, darling.” Aunt Mary said as I got into the car with my friends. I’d tried to dissuade them, but they refused to budge.
“We’ll not leave you alone on your first big day, Preye…forget it.” Chinonye said firmly. “Now, scoot over.”
I smiled as I moved for them to sit with me. I was actually glad they were with me because I was nervous and so afraid. Douye’s funny stories and Chinonye’s warm presence soon eased me up. I was laughing by the time I got to the venue.
I was crying when I walked out of the door, an hour later. My friends ran up to me to hold me. I’d been screened out. My voice had failed to impress, obviously. They didn’t ask any questions or rant and rave. They just held me as I cried. I loved them for that.
I could swear Aunt Mary’s voice had a tint of glee in it as she told me,
“Don’t be sad, sweetie…those judges are probably going to regret that decision in a few years when you come out as a star.”
Mom failed miserably at trying hard not to look disappointed. She gave me a tight hug and said,
“I know you’re a great singer, Preye. I know.”
That made one of us, I thought. I certainly didn’t know that I was. I’d gone out there and shamed myself and disappointed everyone that believed in me. I was going to be sick.
Or maybe, this once, I would stay strong and not let the failure fever bring me down.
Dad came into the room, took one look at my teary face and everyone’s disappointed faces, and left without a word. The headaches hit me first.
No, I didn’t stand a chance at all. I was going to be very sick.
Douye and Chinonye were already there when I got to my room. They looked as glum as I felt.
“Girls…please, I need to be alone. For now.” I lay on my bed and mumbled into my pillow. “Thank you for all your help.”
They looked at me with eyes full of concern.
“I’ll be back, tomorrow, Preye.” Chinonye said. “Remember-”
Oh no, don’t say it…don’t say those words, I willed fervently in my mind.
“-it’s not the end of the world.” She didn’t get my message apparently. I hated that phrase with a passion as strong as the taste of over salted potato chips. The fever was next.
It was the end of my world.
Over the next few days, my activities consisted of watching TV, watching TV and watching TV. Not that it interested me. In fact, I could hardly tell you what shows were on. I just stared at the huge Plasma screen as it droned on.
Until I saw something that caught my attention. I sat forward, a smile forming on my lips for the first time in days. This was it, I thought. Finally, something I was sure I could do. It was a cooking competition organised by the Nigerian Culinary Federation. Now, this was my turf. Something I really cared about.
It’s not that I didn’t care about my singing career. I did…believe me. It’s just that when you placed food and anything else on my weighing scale…guess which always outweighed the other?
You guessed right. I’d rather spend my life in the kitchen than on stage. I prefer pots and pans and delicious aroma that arouse the stomach’s interest to microphones and mix tapes and sounds that please only the ears.
I grabbed my Blackberry and quickly typed in the Notepad the details I could catch as they rolled across the screen. The competition was titled “Healthy Junk”. I was all for it.
“Bring it on!” I pumped my fist in the air in glee.
I heard patter of feet outside my door and then a hesitant knock.
“Auntie Preye?” It was the housekeeper. The woman was obviously afraid I’d gone crazy.
I opened the door with a big goofy smile. “I’m fine, Mma Uduak. And I’m hungry too.”
With a concerned look, she nodded slowly. “Ok. Let me prepare something for you.”
“No, I’m back. Go and rest let me prepare something for you.”
She hurried off to the sitting room and snatched the Starcomms phone from its cradle, dialling what I was sure was my mother’s number on the phone. “It’s Auntie Preye oh…she was shouting and when I went to check on her, she said she wants to cook for me. I’m not sure she’s well.”
I was very well now. The failure sickness had fled at my newfound excitement. I chuckled to myself as I prepared to have a warm, lovely soak in the bath tub. The song on my mind was “I believe I can fly…I believe I can touch the sky…” Yes, Preye Adokiye was back!
The next day, Chinonye and Douye were relieved and excited to see me alive again. No one attempted to stop me as I consumed packet after packet of Twix chocolate, potato chips, Hob Nobs and any other snack I could find around the house.
“What happened, Preye? Did an angel visit you?” Chinonye asked, bemused.
“I’m going to cook, girls. And I’m going to put all of myself into it.” I gushed.
“Well, that’s fair seeing all of food is already into you.” Douye quipped.
She didn’t see the pillow coming at her head. I giggled as my missile made contact.
“Ow!” she picked hers too and as pillows began sailing across my room, I realized this was the most delicious pillow fight ever.
I decided not to tell anyone about my plan this time; apart from my best girls. This was going to be a personal goal. It didn’t need all the extra attention from everyone else.
I didn’t have all the time too. The competition was taking place in a month and it was going to be live on TV. All competitors had to make a snack with the theme “Healthy Eating”. And there was also an important condition all competitors had to fulfil. It was written in tiny letters at the end of the homepage of the host website. I had to squint to make out the words.
“All competitors must have a body mass index within the range of 18.5 to 24.9”
I frowned. What did that mean? Using Google search, I found out that, in simple English, they did not want anyone who was underweight or overweight. What the heck! I thought. That was so unfair. Hey, wasn’t that discrimination of some sort? I didn’t need a doctor to tell me I could be overweight. Now I was weighing 79kg and I was only nineteen years old. If my height wasn’t close to six feet, then I was going to be in big trouble. Trouble with a capital O.
I called Chinonye and asked her if I could come over. She was staying with an Aunt who didn’t always like visitors.
“Is the witch on her broom?” I asked with a stage whisper.
“Just let her hear you call her that. She’d have your kidneys for dinner.” Chinonye laughed.
“Tufiakwa!” I said with mock horror.
“Is it okay if you come in an hour? I’m doing something now.”
“No problem at all. Thank you!”
When I told Chinonye the issue at hand, she immediately suggested we get facts first.
“Follow me to the gym tomorrow; we’ll check your height there. Then we’ll know for sure.”
Needless to say, I was overweight. I had a Body Mass Index of 27.7 and the limit for normal weight was 24.9.
“You’d have to lose about 10kg to get to 24.9, Preye.” Chinonye told me as we left the gym.
“Is that even possible?” I asked. “Look at all this fat on my body. They’ve been there since whenever. I don’t think they’d want to leave.” I said, refusing to be reasonable.
If Douye was there, she’d have given me a very smartass reply. But she was away in Lagos; she’d finally persuaded her dad to let her hook up with one of the fashion houses that she’d sent her designs to. There was a show coming up the next weekend and she was sure she could convince them to model at least one of her designs. I’ll say this about Douye: when she’s set to persuade, she always gets her way. I believe people like her are called slick talkers.
I followed Chinonye back to her house as she speculated on how I could lose 10 kg to be eligible for the competition. I sulked and didn’t agree to any plan.
“Dammit, Preye! Don’t you want my story to have a happy ending?” she suddenly stormed.
I looked at her like carrots were growing from her head. I’d never heard Chinonye use a swearword before.
“What story? What are you talking about?” I looked at her face to see if she was joking.
I saw tears in her eyes. Okay, she wasn’t.
“Chinonye…what story is that?” I asked again. My voice had gotten softer, all sulk forgotten.
She brought her hand towel to her eyes and dabbed lightly.
“You girls have your dreams. Don’t you think I have mine too? I know I told you that I wasn’t still sure of what I wanted to do. But I just discovered something recently and I’m having fun while at it, too. I just need you and Douye to be successful at what you’re doing so that I can have a happy ending.”
I still didn’t know what she was talking about.
“Does this thing have a name?” I asked, itching with curiosity.
“Let’s go to my place and I’ll show you.”
The thing turned out to be a diary. An old plain looking hard cover notebook with a brown cover over which she’d scribbled the words “CONFIDENTIAL”.
“I’d been keeping a diary since whenever. That’s why I never forgot that night that we read Pink together. And lately, it’s become more interesting to read as I record the events of these past few weeks. You know how much I love reading. So, I figured “Why can’t I write my own book?” but there’s never been anything as interesting to write as my diary.” She smiled proudly as she looked me in the eye. “I’m going to publish that, Preye.”
I was at a loss for words. I realized we’d been so caught up in our own dreams we’d never even thought Chinonye had something she wanted to do too.
“I’m sorry we never asked you, Chinonye. That was so selfish of us…”
She cut me off with a wave of her hand. “Oh, I’m glad you never asked. I would have been too shy to show you guys, anyway. I don’t know if I’m a good writer. But I don’t care about that anymore. I just want to share our story with the world, because I think it’s a beautiful one.”
I smiled now as I scanned through the diary. I wasn’t a big fan of reading but even I could see she’d done a pretty good job of chronicling our friendship from her own point of view.
“It won’t be quite so beautiful if I don’t get my fat lazy behind up and do some exercising so I can win this contest, would it?” I beamed at her as I jumped up and started jogging on the spot. “What were those plans you were talking about again?”
Chinonye laughed, glad she’d finally confided in someone.
I was going to do this, not just for me, but for all of us. After all, I didn’t want to ruin a lovely story.
I began the most rigorous routine according to Chinonye’s standards. I was a gym rat by day, and cook by night. There was no time for laziness. I missed the good old days.
Two weeks later, my clothes were beginning to no longer fit. I was down to 70kg and constant body aches. I’d never felt so good. Once again, mom was impressed and dad was proud of me.
Douye had gotten a fashion house to model her designs. Nobody was surprised, we were just so happy that we weren’t going to get shot as she’d earlier promised. She got us VIP tickets to the show in Lagos and I was surprised my dad allowed me to go. Times were changing. I and Chinonye flew to Lagos to witness the first dream coming alive.
Douye couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw me. She took off her Louis Vuitton shades as if they were playing tricks on her. The look on her face was to die for.
“Girl…have you been on a dry fast? What happened to you? I’ve been on a diet since I knew how to spell ‘calories’ and I haven’t lost up to 3kg!” she hugged me tight as I laughed happily. “See? Now my arms can go around you.”
“Um…that’s a compliment, right?”I asked. With Douye, you could never be too sure.
“Of course it is, keep this up and you could be one of my models.” She purred. “Chinonye, you are a miracle-worker.”
“Okay…enough with the pseudo-compliments.” I said and we shared a laugh.
We had an expensive lunch at a four star restaurant, laughing and talking about our lives. The waiter came up to ask if we wanted dessert.
“Yes, please. A cold chocolate ice cream sundae with…” my voice trailed to as stop as I felt Chinonye’s furious stare on me and Douye’s fascinated expression. “No, thank you. We’re fine.” I immediately told the amused waiter as he hurried away with our dishes.
“Don’t you dare try to ruin all we’ve worked for.” Chinonye said. Then she turned to Douye. “Do you know a good gym around here?”
“No, please. I promise never to order or buy any food that does not form part of a well-balanced diet, especially highly processed, high-fat snack items.”I said frantically. “Even if I feel like I’m missing out on the world’s most delicious treasures.” I added under my breath.
Douye was tickled pink. She laughed so hard she had to hold her sides.
“You are one heck of a soldier, Chinonye. That was just priceless.” She was about to continue yakking when a swift kick in the shin from me shut her up instantly. This was not funny. At all.
The show was magnificent. I saw the beauty of the art of fashion designing in a new light. This was not mere entertainment. It was showcasing of talent. The runway was the gallery and the models were the hooks on which the works of art hung resplendently. Douye’s designs were an effortless fusion of tradition and trends with an electrifying effect of sultry sophistication. I almost couldn’t believe it was my Douye, our Douye that had designed them. As the audience applauded the ingenuity of the designer, I felt awed. Did anybody know she was just nineteen?
Apparently, they did. In fact, anyone who cared to read a newspaper the next day would find out that she was. The headlines read “Nineteen Year Old Girl Dazzles Fashion World” and there in a grainy photograph was Douye smiling at the camera. I felt like telling everyone I saw that she was my best friend. Chinonye’s story got even lovelier.
I was so challenged that I worked harder than before. Warri girl no dey carry last, our former cook used to say. Well, I was going to prove her right. My days were hectic with my strict regimen but my nights were heavenly as I baked yummy varieties and tried out new mouth-watering recipes. I was tempted so many times by the delectable sights I turned out each time. And each time I fell, I was glad that Chinonye was not there to stop me as I sampled every single one of them. When it came to food, I had practically no willpower.
When the day of the contest rolled around, I felt very ready as I packed my utensils into the Jeep. An hour later, as I stood in front of the hall dressed in a white apron and a matching chef cap, with eleven other contestants, all middle aged women who looked like they’d been cooking long before I was born, I wasn’t quite so sure. We were before a large audience of family, friends, interested people and judges, who were going to appraise our work, and essentially, choose the winner. Video cameras were trained on each of our faces to broadcast the event live on national TV. My parents, thankfully, had travelled to Abuja to visit old friends. I’d called them to tell them to watch out for me on TV. Only my friends were present to cheer me.
After a brief introduction and some tasteless jokes by the MC, the timer which was set to 2 hours was started. My stomach lurched nervously as I heard that tick-tick-tick of the clock. I had two hours to make some history in my life. I took a deep calming breath and got to work. I was going to make a carrot cake and by Jove it was going to be the healthiest junk any one had ever seen!
When the timer rang, I was just cleaning up my utensils while eyeing my cake out of the corner of my eye. Three-tiered with orange and white frosting decorated with green carrot leaves in a spiralling design, it had come out exactly the way I wanted. But the other women had also come prepared to carry the prize home. One had made a big beautiful apple shaped pie which smelled so delicious I had to remind myself that I was allergic to apples before my mouth stopped watering.
I looked up at the audience and I saw the judges scribbling away. They’d been making notes all through the cooking time. Chinonye and Douye waved at me and gave me the thumbs-up sign. I smiled. At least I knew two people who were going to eat my cake if the worst happened. A piece of my cake was cut away for the judges to taste. I was glad it wasn’t crumbly on the inside.
Waiting for the judges to decide was pure agony. The MC once again took the microphone to make comments about each food. He called mine “…a piece of art nouveau…” Whatever that meant, I hoped it was a good thing.
Upon the judges’ request, we were given the mikes to talk about what we’d made. I’m horrible at public speaking, and as much as I tried to convey my message across, I was sure I wasn’t making much sense. The woman who’d made the apple pie spoke about her pie as though it was a project she’d been working on for years.
Finally, one of the judges handed a piece of paper to the MC. I had all my fingers crossed although I knew I wasn’t going to mind terribly if I didn’t win any prize. After dilly-dallying for a bit, he read,
“The third prize of 20,000 naira and a toaster goes to Mrs Udoka with the double churned banana ice cream with spiced nuts.” Cheerful clapping.
“Second prize of 35,000 and a blender goes to Mrs Edima who made the tropical fruit salad with chocolate in pineapple halves.” More enthusiastic clapping with some cheering. Why hadn’t I heard my name yet?
“And for the grand prize of 70,000 naira and a microwave oven, we have-”
It could be me. It could be me. I said to myself over and over.
“-Madam Joy Nsima” the loud ovation that followed drowned out what the MC was saying. Everyone knew it was the woman that made the caramel apple pie with whipped cream. I smiled wanly. Well, we couldn’t all win, could we?
“And-”the applause slowly died down as the audience listened to the MC.
“-Miss Preye Adokiye with the carrot cake! It’s a tie, ladies and gentlemen. And the honourable judges have decided that the cash prize would go to Miss Adokiye while the microwave oven and plaque go to Madam Nsima.”
I was ecstatic. My smile stretched almost from ear to ear. Chinonye and Douye were on their feet, clapping and hooting for joy. One of the judges then whispered something to the MC who immediately rushed back on stage and announced to the crowd,
“And Miss Preye is only nineteen years old! Who would have thought that a teenager would beat the women on their own turf?”
As the crowd erupted into a thunderous, standing ovation for me, Preye Adokiye, I shook my head at what the MC said. Cooking was definitely my turf. My friends came to congratulate me with excited hugs and lots of “I’m-so-proud-of-you’s. I was happy for my friends. Douye had gotten her dream and Chinonye’s story just reached a most beautiful end.