I am twenty-four years old. I live in a duplex with five rooms, five toilets and four bathrooms. I have two cars parked downstairs in the garage. I have two bank accounts; one in an old generation bank and the other in a new generation bank. My father opened the first account for me on my seventeenth birthday after my JAMB result came out and it turned out I had made the cut-off point to study economics. My husband opened the second account for me a month before our wedding and he had deposited a princely one million naira for me as a wedding present even though he had bought me a first-grade second-hand Camry as wedding present.
That was how life was then. A rich man, my husband could be generous to a fault especially when it had to do with me. It was a good life and even though early marriage had messed up all my own plans for my life, I found consolation in the fact that I had married a man who provided well for me. If only I had known what terrors the future held.
As I write this, the first account contains just a little over two thousand naira while the other account is already overdrawn by sixty thousand naira. The bank manager had allowed me to overdraw my balance on two occasions with three cheques totalling sixty thousand naira only. But when I came back the third time, the man had suddenly become scarce.
“I’m sorry madam. I thought he was in the office. I didn’t know he had gone out,” the secretary told me trying hard to avoid my eyes.
“Can I wait? I really need to see him.” I asked my eyes burning with tears of shame and helplessness.
“I’m sorry madam,” the secretary said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.” He told me firmly and I rose and walked out as fast as my legs could carry me before I made a proper fool of myself by bursting into tears.
As I got into the car, my eyes went to the fuel gauge. It had gone dangerously low and I knew there was no way it would take me back to our estate. My plan had been to pick up some money at the bank, fill up my tank and then get something to eat. But fate had other plans. I had left the bank without a dime and hunger was gnawing away at my insides.
As I started the car and engaged gear, I thought of going back in to ask the secretary for a thousand naira. At least with five hundred naira I could get some snacks while five hundred naira fuel would get me back home.
As I drove home wards, my eyes kept going to the warning light showing me that the tank was almost empty while I kept praying to God to help me get home in one piece. But I soon found out that either God had something more important to do that afternoon or he wanted me to be a pawn on His great cosmic chessboard.
I was nearing our estate when the car suddenly coughed and went off. I steered the car to the side of the road and then tried to start it again. It came on and I sped off, hoping to gain the entrance gate before it went off again. But like a dying man’s last breath the car, coughed, sputtered and gave up before I had made it beyond a hundred meters.
Sitting in the car under the hot midday sun without a clue as to how to buy fuel or get the car home I felt the tears I had been holding back well up and then spill over. I sat there with my head on the steering wheel and cried and cried like a baby. I was tired of being strong.
As I cried I thought about my life and how it had come to that sorry pass. I thought about my age mates who were still single and carefree with two or three boyfriends attending to them. I thought of my former classmate dancing the night away at clubs, jiving and generally having a swell time as befitting their age. And there I was, married and already mother to still born child with a husband whom I had not seen or heard from for nine good months and whom I had no way of knowing whether he was dead or alive.
Back in school I had had grand plans of how my life would play out. I had hoped to get a bank job having worked hard to earn a 2.1. I had hoped to go to work every day spruced up in a skirt or trouser suit. I had imagined myself as a hot corporate chick, but what I got was different. I was married and pregnant at twenty-two, just as I was rounding off my final year project.
When I finally got a hold on my emotions, I wiped my eyes and got out of the car after opening the bonnet. I stood out there in the sun and made a great show of trying to see what was wrong with the engine knowing that a man or two would stop and hope to score. And standing there that afternoon I was ready to sleep with any man who stopped and offered to fill up my tank.
Standing in front of the raised bonnet I kept looking at the passing cars out of the corners of my eyes. There were area boys parading around and waiting for me to wave at them to come over and help me push the car, but I ignored them alarmed already by the scandal that was sure to erupt if I got home and I told them I did not have money to “settle” them.
Finally realizing that no man would stop if they were not sure of how nice the woman they were stopping for looked, I stood beside the car and waved at the cars to stop. At first no one stopped and I could tell why; it was afternoon and people could see. If it had been at night, cars would have lined up with men struggling to help me. But I was not deterred. I kept at it until a Mercedes Benz C class pulled to a stop and I hate to admit it now, I was thankful that at least someone who looked rich, who would surely put some money in my hand had stopped and believe me I was ready to sleep with him that hot afternoon anywhere he wanted if that was what he demanded.
I turned to look and was relieved when the door opened and a tall handsome dude stepped out and began to walk towards my car. I was thanking God for not sending me some one short and ugly and fat slob when a 505 screeched to a halt before my car. As the door of the old 505 opened I actually found myself wondering why the fool was coming to spoil my show.
Then I saw the smiling face and wide-open arms and I screamed and ran straight into his embrace leaving the man from the Benz confused and undecided as to what to do.
“Chidi!” I screamed over and over again as hot tears of joy cascaded down my face.
“Ama,” he said and when I looked up at his face his eyes were swimming in tears too.
God had sent me a gift that was both a blessing and a curse.
By Toni Kan