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The Other Side of the Story
Life in Lagos through the eyes of four very different young people.
I’m only seventeen. Seventeen going on eighteen in about nine months, so I’m closer to seventeen than eighteen. My dad left when I was 7. I used to talk to him and spend weekends at his place up till when I was twelve, but parting made me upset and the contact made my mum kind of sad, so I stopped. It hurt my dad, but he has a new family now, so it doesn’t really bother me. My mum hasn’t remarried yet. Actually, she hasn’t been on a date in 10 yrs. Her friends gave up on her after her 40th birthday, but I still believe love is lurking around the corner for her. So anyway, my mum and I live alone in this small flat. Small, but extremely beautiful I might add. She used to work in a bank, until about three years ago. Now, she sells all sorts of handmade craft. It’s an interesting job. She’s at home most of the time, and makes enough money to keep us comfortable.
My mum is my best friend. We had our first ‘talk’ about boys and sex and all that when I was 12, even though I knew a lot before that. Anyway, I have strong religious beliefs about sex, so it doesn’t really matter. So, like I was saying, she’s my best friend, and in theory we talk about everything. In practice, however, I don’t tell her some really important stuff, about boys and all that.
Now I’m in my second year of A levels. My mum and I argue about whether or not I should school abroad. I understand that she doesn’t want to be alone and she’s scared of letting me go and all that overprotective bungadash but for goodness sake, I don’t want to study here because of her selfishness. She can have other kids or does she plan to stay celibate for the rest of her life? Really, mothers, who understands them?
I love music. I love to sing, in the shower, in front of the mirror, on the road… I love to dance, I love to just listen to music, while i’m eating, before I sleep, when I wake up… Music is my life. That’s why I’ve decide to enter this singing competition that just screams my name. I can win up to two hundred thousand Naira and get a recording contract. Most importantly, I can do what I love in front of thousands of people, and maybe even millions. Eventually. Perfect. There’s only one little thing-it’s in a state 8 hrs away, and this other thing-my parents don’t know anything about it.
It’s difficult being the only boy in a family of six. I have 5 sisters. Older sisters. Annoying older sisters. It wasn’t always like this. I had this really cool older brother but he died. My mum says I should stop blaming myself, but it was my fault. He was teaching me how to drive. I wanted to do too much too fast. I still remember it clearly, although not like it was yesterday. His eyes widening in surprise as the car lost control, his hands reaching to hold me back. The most painful thing was watching him die. As he held my hand in the ambulance, he said one simple sentence,’ don’t blame yourself, I love you’. Then his hand went limp. I forgot all my male pride and wept like a baby-not a very cute baby. Nobody else got to see him before he died, just me.
My mum is dead as well. She killed herself two months after my brother died. He was her first born. He was born premature after my parents had tried for four years to have a baby. She loved him more than she could ever love any of us and in a world that constantly challenges unfairness and partiality, we accepted that her love would never be fair. I blame myself for her death. I blame her as well, for not being strong enough to cope with the pain. She talks to me sometimes. Although, i’m starting to think it’s just me talking to myself and imagining it’s her.
Im left with 5 sisters who all try to act like a mother and a father who’s too tired to be a man. You know, sometimes I think i’m an orphan.
I woke up in the wee hours of the morning, feeling uneasy. I got out of bed and walked across the hallway to my mum’s room. Her door was open a crack, so I looked in. She was lying facedown on her bed and short, whimpering sounds indicated that she was crying. My instincts pushed me to go to her, but my mind held me back. What does a daughter say to a crying mother, who presents herself as a tower of strength? I stepped back and quietly walked back to my room. As I lay back on my bed with my earphones in my ears, I felt tears rolling down my cheek.
I lay awake for what seemed like hours on end. The first sunlight rays filtered into my room, forcing their way through the dusty mosquito netting. As usual at 6.45am, my door opened and my mum poked her face through the opening. ‘Aisha’, she called softly. I turned from the wall to show that I was awake. She walked in and sat on the bed. She was smiling and there were no tear signs on her face. I matched her smile as I greeted her. She held my hand and said a short prayer, then she kissed my cheek and left. Usually, this ritual made me feel young, but today, I just felt a burst of love.
The drive to school was quiet. Each of us lost in their own thoughts. The radio blared out old songs as the presenter declared it 'old school Wednesday’. In front of my school gates, my mum told me to take a taxi home. Usually, I would whine, but today, I felt relieved.
The school secretary was especially excited to see me. ‘Good morning, Miss Kaka’, she said in her high pitched singsong voice. ‘Mrs Smith will see you in her office now.’ I was surprised. I didn’t even know she knew my name. I knocked on the door. ‘In’, she called in a deep voice. I opened the door and walked in. she looked comical, sitting behind a desk that was much too big, her white hair piled high on her head, bright red lipstick and huge, round glasses, perched on her nose.
‘Good morning, Mrs Smith, I said, my voice sounding surprisingly meek.
‘Good morning, Miss Kaka’, she replied, her smile all lips, her eyes as cold as ice. ‘The reason I sent for you this morning is to give you some very good news. Very good news for you and the school.’ Her accent was a cross between Jamaican and British, and because she was from neither place, I could never quite figure out where she got it from. ‘Well’, she continued. ‘Yesterday I received some mail from Manchester University in England where you applied to study Economics. They are offering you a place, pending your results off course, but i’m sure you’ll do quite well. They are offering you a partial scholarship if you make your predicted grades, which you know is three A grades.
I stood there in shock, trying to register what she said as she rummaged through the pile of papers on her desk for the letter. ‘Oh. Her it is’, she said handing me the letter. ‘Have a look at it with your parents, congratulations!’
As I walked out of the office with the brown envelope, I didn’t feel happy. Two days ago, I’d have screamed the school down in excitement, but after seeing my mum crying, I didn’t want to leave her all alone. I stood outside the office for a few seconds, and then forced a smile as I walked to class, bracing myself for the ‘congratulations’ from my classmates.
Sure enough, as I walked into the class, there was a large chorus of ‘congratulations!’ Faridah- the brain of the class hugged me first. She was the large child in a polygamous family and her staunch Muslim father had no intentions of letting her school outside the state, more less the country. ‘You’re so lucky’, she whispered in my ear. ‘Your mum will be so proud’.
‘Thank you’, I whispered back, blinking back tears. As I hugged everyone, I wished hard, that my mum had someone else, besides me.
I sat in the auditions room at Eko le meridian. Although, it was only a makeshift room, it was beautiful. High ceilings, low comfortable sofas, a bar that sold drinks that were much too expensive and carpet as thick as animal fur. There were about 40 other people in the room. Most of them were female, but there were about 12 guys. Some people were singing softly to themselves, others were fidgety. The room was as they say, ‘thick with tension’.
I glanced at my watch again. Only three minutes had passed since the last time. I’m not a very patient person and the waiting was starting to get on my nerves. I stood up and walked to the window that had a view of the pool. There was a guy with his back to me looking out as well. When he noticed there was someone else there, he turned to look at me. This wasn’t a casual glance at a stranger. This was full on staring. I’ve had guys stare at me before, but this was just plain rude.
Im not tall, but what I lack in height, I make up for with everything else. Unlike the cliché, Igbo-girl fair, i’m dark. I have big round eyes that people claim to get lost in and they are light brown, not the regular dark brown. My nose is small and button like. My lips make a perfect heart shape and have no wrinkles. My hair is usually quite long and full, but I cut it into a dramatic straight style that just touches my neck at the back and is just above my eyes in front. On anybody else, it might have looked odd, but on me it looks perfect. My skin is clear and smooth as a baby’s and I have never had a pimple in my life. My body is in perfect proportion. I have a washboard stomach and a small waist.
Today I was wearing my usual uniform of jeans and a t-shirt. The jeans were cut-off above my knee and my t-shirt was a bright green with the words, ‘look-but not too closely’, printed in bold black lettering. The guy obviously couldn’t read. I turned to stare at him, but even then, he didn’t look away.
‘What are you looking at?’ I asked almost growling.
‘you’, he replied calmly, his eyes still holding mine.
‘yeah I know that, why?’
‘because I have nothing better to do’
‘didn’t your mother ever teach you that it’s rude to stare?’ I asked crossing my arms.
‘actually, I could accuse you of doing the exact same thing. Didn’t your mum ever teach not to talk to strangers’, he said in an exaggerated mimic of my voice, before walking away.
I clenched my fists tightly as I watched him go, and having lost the desire to stare at the pool, I turned in the opposite direction and went to sit down. Thankfully, two men came into the room with clipboards and gestured for us to keep quiet. One of them spoke.
‘Good evening and welcome to the preliminary auditions for The Next Big Thing, singing competition. Im sorry we’re a little behind schedule, I assume you’ve all been given numbers. You’ll be called in one after the other from the first number to the last number. You will be contacted on how to see the results from this audition. Good luck.’
I sighed in frustration. I was number 42. Another wait. I looked around the room. The ‘rude guy’ was engrossed in a book. I swallowed my pride and walked over to sit next to him.
“What number are you?” I asked
“39” he answered, without looking up.
I sat next to him in silence for a few minutes. ‘So do you live in this state?’ I asked. This time he closed the book and put it on his lap before answering me.
‘Yes I do’, he said in measured tones. ‘Not that it’s any of your business’; he picked up his book, found his page and continued reading. I was getting angry. Boys were usually drooling after the first sentence.
“Ii’m bored’, I told him. ‘No need to be rude.”
‘Listen’, he said. ‘I’m not bored and if I was I wouldn’t want to talk to you. It’s obvious to me now that you don’t mind talking to strangers, but my mum did teach me not to. There are over 30 other people you can talk to here; some of them might actually want to talk to you.’
I was shocked. I should have been angry but I was shocked. I tapped his arm. ‘This is a singing audition. Your attitude is almost as important as your voice and with your attitude I doubt you’ll go far.’ I was feeling victorious as I stood up. Just as I was about to walk away, he started to speak.
‘I took music lessons for 12 years. The way I see it, there’s no competition. Im here to win and that’s exactly what i’m going to do and that attitude thing, its bullshit but if you really believe it, you don’t stand a chance.’
This time, I didn’t give him the satisfaction of looking back. I turned and walked away to the farthest corner of the room. As far away from him as possible. I took deep breaths and counted to 10. Eventually, I started to feel a little calm. As I started humming my song in my head, I heard his number being called. ’39, you’re next’
I watched him as he marked his page and walked to the small room where the auditions were taking place. Even the way he walked was annoying, like he owned the place. I watched him till he entered the room and shut the door. It was almost impossible to relax so I turned to the girl next to me.
‘What number are you?’ I asked politely.
‘Number 40 o!’ she answered excitedly. I moved back to dodge the thin spray of spit. ‘Can you himagine, im next o. hi ham scared o! What hif they ‘ave something hagainst me o!’
I started to regret my decision to talk to this girl, who obviously had something against the letter h. ‘i’m sure they’ll love you’, I said, hoping she would stop talking.
‘Hi don’t know for hall tis people o! hif they don’t chosen me hamong the finals, dey will pay my transport money o!’
Now my head was reeling. I smiled and nodded, praying that she would stop talking but she continued. ‘My name is Biodun o! Ehen what his your own name?’
‘Ngozi’, I answered hoping it was the end.
‘ehen, so you ha Igbo girl self. Ham singing higbo song, ear the chorus.’ I almost screamed as she launched into an off key rendition of a popular Igbo song. As if in answer to my prayer, the rude boy opened the door and walked out of the audition room. By this time, Biodun’s eyes were closed and she was on a particularly high note.
‘Number 40, up next’
I had never been so happy to hear a number in my life. I jumped up and tapped her shoulder. ‘They’ve called your number’
‘yay! Me ke’ she shouted as she jumped up and ran to the room. I repositioned myself and decided not to talk to any more strangers. I turned to find that I was seated next to the rude boy’s book and within minutes he was standing right in front of me. I closed my eyes and pretended to be deep in thought. Five minutes later, when I was sure that he had left, I opened my eyes and was shocked to find him seated next to me and studying me closely.
‘You know I can’t quite figure you out’, he started before I had the chance to speak, which was just as well. ‘you complain that i’m rude for staring, then you go out of your way to talk to me, and now I come out of my audition and you’re sitting next to my book and pretending not to notice its mine.’ I didn’t trust myself to speak so I stayed quiet. I expected him to say more but he stood up, just as my number was announced.
‘Next please, number 42, you’re up’
As I walked to the audition room, I could feel his eyes boring into my back but thoughts of the rude boy were quickly forgotten as I stepped into the audition room. There were six people seated at a long table. Four of them were female. One of them spoke to me.
“Miss Eze, I presume” she said, glancing at the sheet in front of her. I nodded in answer. ‘Good’, she continued. ‘You will sing one song, but will be stopped when we feel we’ve heard enough. What will you be singing today? A local or a foreign song?’
‘A foreign song’, I answered, suddenly a bit unsure of myself. ‘Hello, by Lionel Ritchie’
‘Very well.’ She said, waving a hand in front of her. ‘You may begin’
I took a deep breath and launched into the song I had practiced a thousand times. Just when I was getting into it, she stopped me.
“Thank you Miss Eze, you’ll hear from us”
I looked at their faces trying to grasp an idea of what they thought, but their faces were blank and two of them were in a heated whispered conversation. Just as I turned to walk out, I heard one man say, ’39 was quite good as well’
I walked out of the room and looked around. The rude boy had left. I looked at my watch. It was getting kind of late. I walked outside, ignoring a group of men staring at me. At the car park, I saw the rude guy getting into what looked like a brand new car. It was electric blue and very shiny. Go figure, rude boy, rich boy. I watched him as he drove away and wished I’d never see him again. So why did I feel so disappointed?
The only reason I entered the stupid competition is to prove to my parents that I can make it my own way. It’s so annoying how perfect everyone in my family is. My dad is a heart surgeon. The best in the country. He is married to the perfect woman. At 49, she can pass for 30. She’s tall and fair, slim and has a flat stomach. She always looks immaculate, even when she just wakes up. She doesn’t have a nine to five job, but she has a train of different small businesses and she sits on different boards so she’s always busy. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have time to play the perfect wife and mother role. She cooks dinner every night and insists on having ‘talks’.
My sister is just 14. She isn’t out of secondary school and has never gotten a B in her life. She paints like a dream and has had two exhibitions of her work in an actual gallery.
We eat dinner together every night. We have ‘family night’, where we play dumb board games. Im nineteen, I don’t need to be doing all that.
When I mentioned singing, my parents had a fit. Then my father offered to hook me up with a friend who owns a record company. Yeah, right. Like I want any favours. I can sing. I know I can sing. The competition is full of people who have no talent anyway. I was hoping for a bit more competition but as long as I win, who cares?
1 Claim: Originally written by Nigerian Fiction Member 9 - Sexywriter (Dami V)
2 Nigerian Fiction title 11