When Uyi left for the city and returned years later in a big black car to build a house for her mother and promise take her brothers back to Europe with her, the whole village was excited. Adesuwa remembered jumping up and down with other children as she watched her Cousin step out of her car as the children marvelled at the realization that she could drive! Her skin shone a pale white showing green and purple veins from years of using bleaching creams and no one could tell what her hair looked like , after all these years beneath the layers of yards of thick hair extensions. Her face was heavily made up, caked under thick foundation and colours. She looked rich by their standards. People said she was now a big Madam and owned a thriving hospitality business and many employees, in Europe.
Adesuwa’s mother looked at her neice in awe and admiration and thought to herself, whatever business it was this child was doing sure was a goodone as it had earned her enough money to build a house and drive a very nice car and even take it upon herself to foot the bill for the school fees for her siblings and the children of other relatives and also for taking her brothers to Europe with her when she was ready. That evening as Uyi sat on the balcony of her new house, she went with her only daughter Adesuwa to visit. It would help a great deal if Uyi could take Adesuwa with her to Europe to teach her how to work in this hospitality business of hers. The family could do with the money and also the prestige of having a family member living abroad was also a good feeling among their peers.Uyi had looked at her and asked her mother how old Adesuwa was. Eighteen , her mother replied and added that she would be very grateful if Uyi could help her family by taking Adesuwa with her. She was willing to sell all her wrappers and also borrow some more money to help with the financial implications.The woman nodded glancing at the tall girl standing timidly in a corner.
“You know, some of these girls go to Europe and refuse to work, then they become a liability to me. It costs a lot of money to process their papers and other documents, ” Uyi complained.
Adesuwa’s mother assured her that her daughter was a very hard working girl and would not disappoint her.
“I would make some phone calls and get back to you,” she said to the older woman.
That night Adesuwa sat with Emma her boyfriend and told of him of her Aunt’s plans to take her to Europe with her. He was happy for her but sad that he would miss her and prayed when things got better, she would come back home to the village to be his wife. He was a mechanic who fixed motor bikes and had hopes of leaving for the big city someday to fix big cars while Adesuwa had hopes of going to the University when things got better for her family some day.
When Adesuwa’s feet touched European soil, she took in the fresh air , inhaling deeply and smilling. The world had so much to offer her and this was it. A man in a leather Jacket picked them up from the Airport.She arrived at Anty Uyi’s house , a large two story house with a lovely garden and a white picket fence. It looked like a picture of the houses she had seen in story books their English teacher had showed them. There were about eight other girls living there. Adesuwa assumed these were Aunty Uyi’s staff as they were all girls from home. They all welcomed them and prepared dinner for them. She was shown to a room she would be sharing with five other girls. She glanced at the medium sized room with three small beds and shrugged. This little bed was a luxury compared to the worn mat she had left back home, she had never had a bed to sleep on, they all slept on a mat and even at that, she still had to share with her siblings. The only bed in her family house was reserved for her parents. She dropped her worn travelling bag containing very few clothes in a corner. Anty Uyi had promised to buy her befitting clothes for this new country and new job.
The girl whose bed she would be sharing , introduced herself as Halima. She sat on the edge of the bed chewing her gum loudly. She was dressed in very tight jeans and a green and white Tee Shirt with Naija 4 Life boldly scribbled across it, her hair extensions were platinum blonde. She had the most beautiful set of nails Adesuwa had ever seen. They were long and talon like and painted in different colours forming a unique pattern. She sat watching Adesuwa get ready for bed, she didn’t have very much to unpack.
“You must be very tired,” she crossed her long legs and leaned back against the bed, her eyes still fixed on their newest roommate.
The girl shook her head, “Tired? Not at all, I can’t wait to explore this country, get a job , go to school and also send money home to help my parents and younger ones. “
“Wow !” Halima exclaimed. “It seems you already have everything carefully planned.”
“Oh yes, time waits for no man.”
“If I may ask, how old are you?”
Halima shrugged smiling, “ I hope you enjoy your stay here, you’ll meet the other girls properly tomorrow,” with that she stood up adjusted her Tee Shirt and headed for the door.
Adesuwa changed into an old blouse and wrapper and slid into bed, Anty Uyi had instructed her to get some sleep after the long flight and heavy dinner. Tomorrow the ball would be set rolling, with that last thought she drifted off to sleep and dreamed about the beautiful life that lay ahead.
Anty Uyi took one look at her cousin dressed in the old blouse with a wrapper tied around her waist the next morning and had a good laugh. The girl was up early like she usually did back home and was searching for a broom to sweep the house, when Anty Uyi walked in on her in the kitchen.
“Good morning Aunty, I was just looking around the kitchen for a broom to sweep the house.”
Aunty Uyi shook her head, smilling. She was dressed in a fushia silk night gown and was wearing fur bedroom slippers in the same colour. “ You do not need a broom my dear, there’s a vacuum cleaner in the living room. I’ll show you how to use it.”
The girl followed her into the living room and as she showed her the working of the machine, she glanced at her outfit. “ Don’t tell me you travelled all the way here with these rags !” she exclaimed in horror. “ Oh my I should have looked through your things before we left.”
The girl looked down at her worn clothes, seeing nothing wrong with them.
“You need to go shopping for new clothes. Halima will take you.”
“Thank you Aunty,” she knelt in appreciation.
The older woman made a false attempt to stop her from kneeling. “ It is okay, you can always repay me through your hard work.”
The next few days Adesuwa spent shopping with Halima and getting to know the city. She marvelled at the beauty of the city and watched in awe as trams sped by and the traffic lights went on and off as cars stopped when the red light came on and people crossed the road when the word “Walk” came on in green colour. Halima assured her that with time she would learn the language of these foreign people who spoke very little English. When they got home in the evenings, Aunty Uyi sat in the living room and had her model her new clothes for her. She nodded her head in approval when she liked an outfit and shook her head when she didn’t like the outfit which meant they had to return them in exchange for something else, her old clothes she threw away as instructed by her Aunt. This was a new life and all ties with the past had to be cut. When Aunty Uyi called Adesuwa’s mother back home and asked Adesuwa to speak with her, the girl spoke in excitement and told the old woman how beautiful the new country was, Aunty Uyi’s kindness and generosity and how she would start work soon enough to send money home. Her mother prayed for them and wished them all the best in their endeavours and specially thanked Anty Uyi for giving their family hope.
While Anty Uyi spent most of her time on the phone,some of the girls smoked, other’s drank while the others got dressed and went out. Adesuwa wondered where they went off to at such late hours and wondered why they were not cautioned by Aunty.Back home they would not have the guts to smoke and drink, not to mention go out at night, decent girls didn’t do such things! She didn’t see Halima very much after that as she worked most nights and slept in the day. Adesuwa kept herself busy keeping the house clean and cooking meals. She wanted to prove herself to Aunty Uyi so the woman would understand she was a good girl and was willing to work. Her new job would begin in the new week and she had to be ready. She couldn’t wait to write to Emma to tell him of her new life and how beautiful this country was.
All dressed up in her new clothes Adesuwa stepped into the living room a few weeks later. She felt a little over dressed for this new job her Aunt had gotten her , her shoes were too high and her skirt was too short. Aunty Uyi sat in one of the little dresses she usually wore which revealed too much of her thighs , she had a cigarette in her hands. She frowned, she didn’t know Aunty smoked. Sitting next to her was a white man she introduced as Mr Antonio. He was bald with very white skin, he couldn’t have been less than fifty. He was dressed in ill fitting trousers and a rumpled jacket. He sat very close to Aunty Uyi running his wrinkled hands up and down her bleached thighs as he sipped brandy slowly from a glass. Aunty didn’t seem to mind. He addressed her Aunt as Marion from time to time. Adesuwa also didn’t know Aunty had another name. She had never heard anyone refer to her as Marion, the girls addressed her as Madam.
After the introduction, Aunty said to her in her native dialect. “This would be your first test in my hospitality business.”
The girl nodded confused.
“This gentle man needs a nice companion to go to a party with him this evening. I want you to accompany him and be nice to him.”
Again she nodded. As instructed, she would attend a party with this old man be nice to him by getting him drinks at the party and food and maybe dance with him and he would drop her back at Aunty Uyi’s place at the end of the party and pay her for her time. She never guessed hospitality business would be so easy.
Mr Antonio did take her to a party filled with many white men with both young and old black women clinging to them like their lives depended on the cling. They sat at a table with other men who drank a lot of alcohol and laughed a lot. She didn’t understand any of the things they were saying and didn’t understand why their lady companions sat quietly sipping whatever it was they were drinking. She didn’t understand what was required of her here as Mr Antonio did not let her get him drinks nor wait on him, he did all that himself and even offered her a drink which she politely refused saying she didn’t drink. From time to time he would place his sweaty palm on her thigh making her shift uncomfortably and when he asked her to danced he stood too close to her and tried to feel her buttocks and breasts. She pulled back. When they left the party, he held the car door open for her and they made small talk as they drove back to Aunty Uyi’s house.
“ Marion tells me you are new,” he began.
“Yes sir,” she would make sure she told her Aunt what this dirty old man had tried to do to her at the party. Did he think she was one of those cheap girls her mother had warned her about ?
“Please call me Antonio. I really like you you know. What did Marion say your name was again?”
“Adesuwa .” She snapped.
He shook his head, “ Not that, I think she told me Gina.” He placed his sweaty palm on her thigh again, this time she smacked it away.
He became impatient, “Hey be nice, I’m paying good money for this.”
When they pulled up in front of Aunty Uyi’s place he grabbed her and tried to kiss her, this time around she slapped him. His hand went to his cheek as he winced in pain, she reached for the door and ran out. The man was an animal, how could he treat her with such disrespect? Aunty was still seated in the living room smoking her cigarette when she ran in, this time she was seated with another white man. She ran past the two of them, to the shared room she slept in, she sat on the bed fuming. As soon as Aunty was done with her guest , she would tell her everything and Aunty would tell him off. All the other girls were out as usual so she was alone in the room. Taking off her shoes she stretched out on the bed staring at the ceiling patiently waiting to hear the door close so she could go downstairs and speak to the older woman. She heard angry voices down stairs, the slamming of a door and the screeching of a car as Mr Antonio drove off angrily. What on earth was she going to tell Emma?
“Adesuwa ! Adesuwa !” it was Aunty Uyi.