I gave my first salary to my parents. (And they took it with joy!)
I was about 16 years old and had failed JAMB for the second time so rather than laze at home for one full year before the next JAMB exams, my father thought it would be good for me to work.
“You can study for your exams and work, lots of people do that,” he announced when he came home one day and found me sleeping, same snooze I was at when he left the house earlier that day.
So my much older cousin got me a place at his workplace, Abiola Bookshops. I was a sales girl. I loved it because I love books. I got to read many of my favourite titles for free, it was fun! I might have hated my father if the job was something else apart from selling books.
I soon tucked into the job like it was my life’s ambition, I read the books and memorised the shelves they were displayed on and I was able to tell customers about many of the books on the floor I worked on. I was also conscious of the fact that I mustn’t embarrass my cousin, who though was the big boss there, wouldn’t hesitate to kick my butt off the premises if I was ever found wanting. I hope I didn’t disappoint him.
Anyway, pay day came and I received my first pay, it was about N2,000 (two thousand naira) and it was plenty of money for a 16-year-old ‘awaiting result’ (that was the funky name we gave ourselves, those of us who failed JAMB or WAEC and didn’t get into the university…yet).
I got my money and already had a gazillion things I would need to buy for me, myself and I. When I got home, I let my parents know I had been paid. I would later regret informing them because my father asked me to go bring it so he could ‘bless’ it. I handed him the package; it was in a brown envelope. He murmured something while I impatiently tapped my feet, waiting for him to be done so I could go plan what to do with my cash.
Then he almost made me cry; I watched in utter disbelief as he proceeded to divide MY SALARY! He took a part and said, “We will send this to Abeokuta, to your aunts and uncles for prayer; this we will send to your mother’s people, so they know you have come of age and have begun to earn your keep, this part goes to your mum and I, we will add it to the family’s upkeep and you can have this”.
What he pushed to me was the runt of the cash; he gave me the smallest part! It was hardly enough to take me to work, not to talk of buying all the fun things I had already drawn up a list to get.
I trembled and murdered him a thousand ways…in my mind. Unlike today’s children who question their parents at will, I couldn’t muster the words to ask why he ‘stole’ my money. I had worked for it. I woke up every morning to go and work for that money. As a 16-year-old, I did not think it my responsibility to care for his family, why should my money be sent to uncles and aunties in far flung places, did they give me the job? Did they even pay my fees?
I didn’t sleep that night. I was in too much pain, my heart ached, my throat and eyes hurt from unshed tears. If I began to cry, my father would have probably beaten the living daylights off me, so I pushed it down.
It didn’t help that my siblings, who I had side-lined as soon as I got my cash, were cackling like jackals. I felt like a soccer player who had scored an own goal.
Fast-forward several years later, I had learned the lesson father was trying to teach; he wanted me to learn to give to my family, my parents in particular. He wanted me to put aside a lil something every month. He wanted me to remember the child of whom I am and not spend it all. He didn’t touch my salary afterwards but I always gave a part to my parents, a part to my siblings and once in a while, ask that a part be sent to ‘home people.’ It soon became a part of me.
Last year, I made a vow to ensure my kids work for summer; I wanted them to learn a few life’s lessons, one of it being how to manage their finances. I didn’t even have to make good my vow as my son decided on his own to write a letter of application, asking for a vac job in my office. He finished off by saying, “I hope my application will be considered and the pay good enough or else I won’t do the job.”
Ehen! This one never ready for work.
But he’s my son; I tutored him on the proper way to write an application and forgave his ignorance. At the end of the month, I paid him his money and watched as he bounced off feeling good with himself! That was me, some 30 years ago.
The following day, I expected him to do the needful, (having taught him over the years on money matters) the needful being; give an account of how he intends to spend his money – I expected him to inform me he’ll remove his tithe, which is a tenth of his earning; remove his savings, which is 20 per cent of his earning, I expected him to say to me, “mummy, take this to buy recharge card and with this, buy something for my sister.” And my heart would have swelled with pride – ‘I taught him well!’ I would have congratulated myself.
He met no such expectations; the boy obviously didn’t jasi at all!
So I had to slice that bounce off his feet. I asked him to bring back his salary; I needed to re-teach him a few things. By the time I had divvied up the N10k-(* tithe- 1k, savings-2k, my recharge card -2k (I won’t buy recharge, this is food allowance, abi doesn’t he eat in this house?) I saw the look of hurt in his eyes. He was shocked and would have complained bitterly, too. But I pushed on, “So, you won’t give your sister anything?”
He very slowly parted with 1k and I asked him to enjoy the rest of his earning.
“So I worked for 3k?” He finally asked and at this point was close to tears.
I learnt from my father na!
The joy in his eyes had disappeared, the bounce had left his feet. I watched him drag himself away to his room to sulk.
“I am teaching you to sow seeds,” I called out to him. “You’ll thank me one day.”
He didn’t see the seeds nor the lesson, all he saw was a ‘wicked woman’ that I must have morphed into before his eyes.
Perhaps I was too harsh, time will tell. Perhaps I could have explained to him better, the need to cultivate the habit of managing his finances; the essence of giving back to God, (I believe very much in tithing, it works for me) paying himself in terms of savings, giving to his family; his parents especially, (there’s a blessing attached to that).
I didn’t understand what my father always said back in the day until the day he took my salary; he always said – “never eat with all your fingers, you just might need to scratch an itch in your eye.”