It was 4:30 pm on Wednesday evening when Rosie arrived at Mr. Adam’s house. He was a close friend of her father who was living in a neighbouring village.
Following the cancellation of the free education scheme, Rosie had made up her mind to find alternative ways of paying her school fees. She had decided to come to Mr. Adam and help out with the house chores. She would also take care of his two daughters in hopes that Mr. Adam would return the favour by providing some money for her fees and books.
“I can’t give up now. I’ve come too far. I owe it to myself to keep trying.”
With that thought, she braced herself and walked into Mr. Adam’s compound.
Mr. Adam introduced her to the family and Rosie could immediately see the displeasure on his wife’s face. Annabel Adam made no effort whatsoever to conceal her dissatisfaction with this new and highly unwelcome member of her household.
“Take your things into that room.” Annabel said, showing her to a room at the far end of the house.
The room had a single window and one tiny bed. Two young ladies were already sitting in the room when Rosie walked in.
“Good evening, my name is Rosie.” She said as she walked into the poorly ventilated space that was a far cry from what she was used to calling a bedroom.
“Evening.” The ladies responded, without paying much attention.
Rosie soon learned that they were Annabel’s sisters and all they did was contribute to the amount of house chores she had to do daily.
She had not expected to come here and live ‘like a queen’ but the conditions in Mr. Adam’s house were no different from slavery.
Adam himself was rarely home and all domestic affairs were run by the ‘slave master’ herself… Annabel. Not only did she spend all her time piling relevant and irrelevant tasks for Rosie, she was also ‘the lion of the tribe of that household’. She would yell at Rosie at the slightest opportunity she got, and made sure Rosie had no time to read her books or do anything else for herself.
After one week of ‘hard labour’ in Mr. Adam’s house, Rosie decided to return to her father’s house. Mr. Adam was due to be back that evening and she had planned to thank him for his hospitality before trying to get some money off him and eventually taking her leave.
She had rehearsed her speech a couple of times and edited several parts before deciding to go forward with the final draft.
Mr. Adam eventually came home and after having his dinner, Rosie went to him. Everything was going according to plan until the ‘slave master’ interrupted.
“Do you think we pluck money from trees? Ehn?” Annabel asked as she appeared from the kitchen door.
Rosie had made sure Annabel was not within earshot before starting her conversation with Mr. Adam. She could have sworn she saw Annabel behind the house having a conversation with their neighbour before heading to the living room area to meet with Mr. Adam. How she got to the living room so fast will forever remain her guess.
“Oh my goodness!” Rosie thought to herself, rolling her eyes as she turned in the direction of Annabel’s voice.
“So this is how you intend to spend our hard earned money, Adam.” Annabel continued.
This time, she directed her anger at Mr. Adam.
“Do we not have enough responsibilities of our own? Can you not build a house in your mother’s village or even my father’s village if you have nothing to do with your money?”
At this point Rosie tuned out. She didn’t hear or care about anything else that came out of Annabel’s mouth, especially after seeing that Mr. Adam had walked out of the living room.
“I will not spend another second in this prison” Rosie thought to herself as she walked into the unfortunate living space that was now her bedroom.
One week of sleeping on the floor, eating close to nothing and working as hard as a horse… all for nothing!
“The gods must have fallen asleep on me.” She thought.
Whatever the case, she was determined to wake them up from that slumber. They had been asleep for far too long and she couldn’t take it anymore.
The idea made her laugh. At least, it was something to lighten her mood. She picked up her bag and left Mr. Adam’s house.
By the time the new school session started, it was clear to Rosie that she hadn’t succeeded in ‘waking the gods up from their slumber‘. She still had no money for fees and like clockwork, A.G.G.S promptly shut her gates to students owing school fees after the one week grace period expired.
Rosie stood outside the gate with other students owing fees just waiting to see if the principal would have compassion on them and let them in… but that compassion never came. The hot Nigerian sun bearing down on them showed no mercy either.
Rosie decided to take a walk around the school compound. Coincidentally, she found a part of the school fence that had fallen following a heavy downpour of rain during the holidays.
She looked around to make sure no one had seen her before letting herself in through the opening.
Rosie ran as quickly as her legs could carry her as she made her way into the classroom. She heaved a sigh of relief when she slipped in unnoticed.
“One entire day of classes successfully attended!” she thought to herself with a smile as the school bell sounded, signaling the end of the day.
Like manna from heaven, the opening in the fence became Rosie’s permanent entry point into the school premises.
After a while, her friend Darla helped smuggle her clothes into the school hostel and since students already in the premises were not checked for fees before being granted entrance into the hostel, Rosie was back in school… or so she thought.
One morning, Mr. Akpan the mathematics teacher walked into the classroom with a list in his left hand and a long cane in his right hand.
“All stand!” He yelled.
“If you hear your name, take your seat.” He added, before proceeding to call out names from the list one after the other.
Rosie knew what this meant. The list contained the names of students who had paid their school fees. It was obvious that if she waited till the end of the ‘name calling’ exercise, that cane would come down on her without mercy.
She looked around for possible exits and since Mr. Akpan stood close to the only door into the classroom, she made a dash to the closest window to her seat.
She could hear laughter behind her as she jumped out of the classroom window but neither stopped to ascertain the reason for the laughter nor to confirm if Mr. Akpan had taken note of her.
She knew running out through the gate was not possible as the gates were shut to keep students like her outside so she made a run for her little opening in the fence. She successfully escaped.
“I live to fight another day!” She thought happily.
By the time Rosie arrived her usual opening at the school fence the next day, Mr. Akpan was there waiting for her – to her greatest surprise.
This time, he had no cane in his hand but as soon as Rosie saw him, she broke into a run.
“Rosie, wait…” Mr. Akpan screamed after her.
She stopped and he gestured to her to come towards him. She knew this meant trouble but she didn’t have a choice. He had seen her already.
It was against the school rules to scale the fence and severe punishments had been spelled out in the school regulations against offenders.
Her heart was beating at 300 beats per minute as she walked back towards her teacher.
“Technically speaking, I didn’t scale the fence. I went through it.” She thought to herself as she walked.
The rules said nothing about walking through an opening in the fence but she knew her defense would hold no water with the school authorities.
“I am very sorry, sir.” Rosie said, as soon as she got close enough to her teacher.
“You were the best student in mathematics last year.” Mr. Akpan responded.
Rosie was surprised. His words were not stern. Didn’t he hear her apology? Why was he not dragging her to the Principal right now?
“Have the gods finally awoken from their slumber?”
Mr. Akpan continued talking with a gentle tone.
“I felt bad when I saw you jump out of the window yesterday. Why haven’t you paid your school fees?”
“My father does not believe in the education of a female child and the scholarship I was awarded last year was annulled after the cancellation of the free education scheme.” Rosie responded.
Mr. Akpan looked at her with pity in his eyes.
“Come in” he said. “I will let you stay in my classes because I like your determination to learn. Just make sure you don’t get caught by the Principal.”
Rosie thanked him and ran through the opening. She went straight to her classroom and all was well with the world again.
After one month of ‘safe’ learning for Rosie, the Principal decided it was time to do the rounds himself. He went from one class to the other, checking for students who had not paid their fees but managed to get into school one way or another.
The good news for Rosie was that she anticipated this move. Long before the Principal got to her classroom, she made her way out through the window.
She attended classes this way till the end of each session but never got to see her results because results were only handed out to students who had paid their fees.
Rosie was more than happy to be able to learn. What she really cared about was knowledge and this she got from her classes and the textbooks of her friends. Not being able to evaluate her performance by viewing her results was inconsequential at this point.
It was the beginning of the final session of the school calendar, and time to register for the West African Certificate exam. This was the exam that enabled students gain admission into any of the tertiary institutions in the country.
Rosie knew she had to find the money to register for this exam because she could not imagine herself stopping now. After five years of jumping out of windows to avoid the Principal and no result to show she had actually acquired an education, she knew she had to push forward with this registration. This was the only proof that her efforts were worth it. Besides, she owed it to herself and it would be an added bonus to show her brother, Dan that she was just as good as any male student that sat for the exam.
“That should shut him up for a while.” She thought.
She also knew that a university degree would take her one step closer to achieving her dreams of becoming a Professor someday. The joy that enveloped her at the thought of achieving her dreams provided more than enough motivation to continue.
She picked up her box of clothes and headed out of the school gates.
Rosie explained her desire to register for the West African Certificate Exam (WACE) to her mum on her return from school.
“I can help sell your chickens at the market. That should raise us some money.” Angela said, after listening to her daughter.
“Thanks, mamma.” Rosie responded.
The chickens were sold but the money gotten from the sale was not enough to pay for the registration.
“What do I do now?” Rosie asked as they returned from the market.
“I have a relative in Benin City. You should go and see him. Maybe he will be able to help you.” Angela said, after a few minutes of silence.
That relative was Mr. Christopher. After Rosie explained her situation to him, he gave her the money to pay for the registration. Rosie was overjoyed. She thanked him sincerely and left his house. Because it was already dark and she couldn’t make it back to her village that same day, she decided to stop over at Dan’s house. Besides, she could use the opportunity to see his family before leaving the city. It was a good thing he didn’t live far away from Mr. Christopher’s house.
Rosie ended up spending a week at Dan’s house, helping with chores and taking care of his first child who was still a baby. When she was ready to leave, she decided to take her money from the box where she had kept it. It was the total sum of money made from selling her chickens and Mr. Christopher’s kind gift. She opened the box and her eyes widened in horror. It was empty. Her money was gone.
“This must be a joke.”
“Someone please wake me up… This has to be a dream.”
“Who could have taken the money from my box?”
“God, please… This isn’t happening.”
As these thoughts went through her mind, tears flowed freely down her cheeks.
“Did I make a mistake by coming to see my brother?”
She was still crying when Dan came into the house. As soon as she saw him, she walked towards him, teary eyed and asked.
“Did you take money from my box?”
“Yes.” He responded, showing no bit of remorse.
“That money is for my WACE registration.” She cried. “Please give it back.”
“So, you think you can just come here and eat my food for one week after which you would walk away with your money? It doesn’t work that way. That money is gone and it’s not coming back!”
That being said, he walked out of the house leaving her there.
“This is unbelievable…”
“Does this monster share the same parents with me?”
“Why on earth did I come here?”
The thoughts raced through her mind, leaving bitter tears in their wake. Rosie picked up her box and stormed out of Dan’s house. She was never going to return.