A Means To An End
Ada lived with her parents in the one bedroom ‘face me I face you’ apartment in Ojuelegba. It was a small bedroom with a smaller sitting room that contained their few belongings recovered from the rain, years back. It cluttered two velvety arm chairs, three plastic chairs, a wooden centre table, television, radio and family pictures lolled on the wall. Their clothes and shoes were in Ghana-must-go bags in the bedroom stacked one above the other because there was not enough space on the ground, as bowls, kitchen utensils and the kerosene stove in a carton were behind the door. At night Ada and her two brothers would push the chairs together to the edge of the wall and place the table over them to create space to lay a mattress that they squeezed on, with only an inch distance between them. Her parents had the bedroom to themselves. They shared a communal bathroom, kitchen and toilet with eleven families, whose rooms were directly opposite and beside theirs. A long narrow passage leading to the main entrance of the building was between the rooms, demarcating one family’s room from others. Every morning, once her five o’clock alarm rang, she would hurry up to the backyard to fetch water and stand in line for her turn to bath. They queued up for everything in the morning- to use the toilet, bathroom, fetch water and cook. This life was all they could afford after their erstwhile landlord threw them out of a two bedroom apartment on Cole Street before the expiration of an invalid two weeks notice. Her father, a tall and portly man in his fifties, was laid off from the bank where he worked as a cashier, a year preceding the issuance of the quit notice and as a result owed a year’s rent. The landlord, tired of granting them clemency did what he felt should have been done a year before. He did not build the house with charity, so why should charity deny him his daily bread. They had to pass a few nights with relatives till a church member rented out the one bedroom apartment at a subsidized rate. After a few months they put their heads together and ventured into different businesses to sustain them and started paying their rent regularly. Her light-skinned and petite mother opened a provision store in Mushin market and at night sold secondhand clothes under the Ojuelegba bridge until the Government officials seized some of the goods sold under the bridge and drove the occupants and squatters out. She was able to run off with a sack of her clothes. After the mayhem she resorted to selling the clothes in her provision store. Her father engaged in the kabukabu business, driving passengers to different destinations in the yellow danfo bus or taxi, depending on what his new employer gave him. And often times her younger brothers, Obinna and Nonso, would join their father in the garage, conducting and calling in passengers. Her father’s interest in the benefits of a female child germinated before she went for her NYSC program. It was two days to camp resumption and she had just got back from her school where she collected her call up letter. She was posted to Delta state. He was extra jubilant without stating the particular reasons why. Unknown to her he had confirmed from a passenger he carried that the Oil companies in Delta and specifically Shell was recruiting graduates. In the morning after everybody had left the house except him and Ada, he enjoined her to accompany him down the street to a church. It was a one room apartment church, with the room partitioned into two with a curtain, the inner room for personal use and the outer for service- the kind you call a mushroom church because it never outgrows the members that found it and in this case, the man, his wife and their two children. Ada knew better than to show her surprise and disapproval, her father would not hear that his child disgraced him by showing any trace of indiscipline before an outsider. If he thought it okay to come to this church, then it was okay for the members of his family. If she was surprised she very well concealed it. The pastor’s wife gave her a special white handkerchief to place on her head, after been told to remove the scarf she tied. She had looked at her father inquiringly but he gave her the tail of his eyes that spoke without words commanding her to obey everything she was told. She knelt down on the carpet and the pastor placed his hand on her head. He started out with a feathery touch and an inaudible prayer, then as the prayer became audible and intensified, his touch metamorphosed into a firm grip of her skull. The congregation intoned thunderous ‘amen’ to the Pastor’s command for a good job, a covenant rich husband, wealth and prosperity. Ada’s father’s ‘amen’ pitched higher than every one else’s and in between the chorus of songs initiated by a member and taken up by the rest, the Pastor took a bottle of olive oil, dipped his right thumb in it and crossed her on the forehead, then poured some drops in her mouth. The prayer session was over and her father thanked him with clasp hands like a supplicant, repeatedly raising and lowering his head like an agama lizard. She and her father left the church in different states of mind. Hers were that of indignation for the constant head pushing and time wasting. His were that of joy in expectation of the manifestation of the prayers. This was the reason he sowed a month’s salary as seed in the hands of the Pastor. His intended purpose was for her to come back home after the completion of her National Youth Service program with a husband and a rich one at that, that would lift some of his burdens, if not all. It was now common knowledge that most persons found their life partners in camps and places of primary assignment. He believed that many a time exceptional beauty drove men away from women the way rats flee from daylight. And that most men wanted beautiful women for mistresses and considered the ugly or average ones for wife materials. He desired to prevent this fate from befalling her, he wanted men to be drawn into marrying her the way ants rush sugar. She was of a rare beauty whose existence lived mostly in the imagination of writers and artists. She had a short kinky hair and such flawless ‘sherry’ mango complexion that turned every head except one on a stiff neck. Her dainty features on an oval face and her egg white teeth and mellifluous voice were a great charm. Contrary to people’s expectations, her face did not compensate for any flaws on her body. In fact it was as though they contested fiercely against each other, for she was tall, with slender arms and legs and a coke bottle physique which she carried with poise. Men and women likewise were under the illusion that she was ‘mammy water’, for if there were any perfection in the human beauty she was a quintessence of that. During her secondary school days and early years in the university, she was regularly approached by modeling agencies to feature in magazines, beauty soap commercials and participate in beauty contests. Her father raised his nose in disapproval. It shall not be heard that a daughter of his was seen on television walking around in her underwear all in the name of bikini. He placed a firm foot on the matter, never to be discussed again. It was buried till he resurrected it when he lost his bank job. Only this time he was no longer the determining factor. Age was and she was well over the 23 years limit. She went for Service with the sincere hope of finding a man that was ready for marriage, but the men she fancied were young and not ready. The older and rich men that her father drummed into her skull to ‘catch’ were married and unrepentant womanizers. All through the period she came home for the festive celebrations and public holidays, her father sat her down and interrogated her, hoping to hear some good news, but she disappointed him with her negative answers. This ultimately gave him a cause to worry and added extra burdens on his already slouched shoulders. When she completed her program and no employment was forthcoming, he took her to another church and she went through the same ritual as that performed in the former church. But still nothing happened. She was somewhat worried that she had not secured a job two years after service but she believed she was not the only unemployed youth in the country, so her case was not as uncanny as her father made it seem. She sent out her Resume to companies online and waited, often helping her mother out in sales. She cared less about marriage at the moment because her top priority was getting a job. Her mother shared her view but her father never hid his irritation at her lackadaisical attitude, as he put it.