Two weeks before school resumed, Farida took her measurement for her uniform. She had lost a considerable amount of weight and she wanted her uniform to show it. Her brothers’ uniforms were ready but she waited until that time. She used her saved money to buy underwear from the night market. She bought for singlets, boxers and socks for all of them. That same night, bro Chris dropped a big package in her house before she got back.
‘Don’t open it. It’s for Farida. She will share them how she wants to”
Iya Farida was confused. Chioma had brought a roll of Dudu Osun soap. two big jars of Vaseline body lotion three packs of sanitary pads and three bottles of All day roll on which Farida hadn’t seen yet then this. Her sons too were not back from their errands. What was really going on?
Farida came back with her brothers. They came back with a big polythene bag.
“What is inside the bag?” Iya Farida asked.
Her son Ahmad replied, “Maami, Sister Farida sewed new uniforms for us. She bought us boxers and singlets too” while his twin brother Akram offloaded the things in the bag to show their mother.
Farida’s eyes caught the big bag at the corner and asked her mother what was in it.
‘Chris brought it here for you. He said I should not open it until you come and share the items the way you want. I had to obey his instruction. Also, Chioma dropped your things too.”
Farida excitedly went to the things Chioma bought for her. She had never seen any of them before in her life; they looked exotic to her. She was very happy. Then she turned her attention to the big bag. Everyone’s attention was on the bag. The first things she brought out were school bags. They were for her brothers. They leapt for joy when they saw them. Farida was all smiles when she brought out her own school bag. It was a brown leather school bag. Then she saw a bigger green school bag. They were both knapsacks she could carry them on her back. She pulled out the water bottles. There was a dozen of them. It was too much for three of them, she decided to give to the neighbours children who didn’t have. Then she pulled out pencil cases and other writing materials which were also a lot. Finally, she brought out the school sandals and shoes. Her brothers got two pairs, a pair of canvas, fancy rubber slippers and a pair of black shoes each. Tears flowed from both mother and daughter’s eyes. The boys needed these. There was a nylon bag which had shoes too. Farida got two brown sandals, three pairs of black shoes and a canvas. There were also two pairs of slippers which were her size and two pairs which were dressy and definitely not for her. She passed them to her baffled mother. The school would resume soon and the Farida they knew before that wore torn clothes, patched sandals, brown torn socks tattered school bag won’t be the same Farida. She was preparing herself for her future.
The day school resumed, Farida was all dressed up ready to leave the house for school. She looked at herself in the mirror in the room before she came out to the sitting room to meet her family.
“Maami, what do you think? Do I look like a lady a rich man would desire?”
“You are almost there child; you are almost there” she replied with tears in her eyes. She didn’t know what the future held for them but the Farida she saw standing before her was a girl who set out to transform herself and succeeded.
They had written their final examinations. There was a lot of excitement in the school premises as SS3 students were jubilant. They removed their shirts and blouses to reveal white Tshirts which they had written on. Some of the male students poured water on the ladies so they could get wet and the T-shirts cling to the mounds on their chest for their viewing pleasure and comparison of sizes. As they sprayed the water, the ladies screamed and were running around to avoid being hit by it.
Farida watched their excitement from a distance. She enjoyed their joy and playfulness but she was not interested in being a partaker. She wondered if students in private schools were also celebrating this way. She had seen some of them during a debate competition and their comportment made an impact in her life. She watched them closely; the way they sat, talked gently but assertively, walked counting their steps and placing a foot before the other in a zigzag fashion. She also watched the way they ate and noticed they never ate or drank while outside unlike students from Government schools such as hers who were so loud, unruly and ate while walking on the street. She practised what she observed from girls from posh schools at home and gradually imbibed it into her daily life.
During one of the Lagos State debate competition of which she was chosen by her school to represent them, she was the last speaker. She had practised how to speak with calmness and confidence several times in the mirror. She met her English teacher who was very intelligent to teach her the right pronunciation of words. She had observed how students from posh schools mocked and jeered at other students who pronounced words wrongly and she was determined not to be made a mockery of. Also, she noticed they spoke in a peculiar way. It was as though they picked their words and spoke through their noses. She began to watch movies to mimic how they spoke. She did this for over several months. Her school got to the finals of the competition. Farida practised in front of the mirror every morning before going to school and every night before going to bed. She then had an audience of her mother and brothers who listened to her and cheered her because she spoke very well.
Finally, a day to the competition, Farida went to meet a Madam Joyce. She was a teacher who taught in a highbrow school in Victoria Island. Madam Joyce left home every morning by 5am joining the school’s staff bus and comes home by 7pm. They lived comfortably in a three-bedroom flat. Her husband was a banker. Her children attended the school she taught in. Farida admired them although they were still young. They spoke like the foreign kids that she watched on television. She worked for Madam Joyce from Friday until Sunday. She helped her clean, cook and sometimes babysit the children. She knew if she asked for her help respectfully, she would help her. She went to her house at 7:30pm knowing she would be home by then.
“Good evening ma” Farida greeted a surprised Madam Joyce.
“Good evening Farida, I hope there is no problem” she answered.
“No ma. I need your help with a school project so I decided to come and see if you could help me”
“It is late and I am yet to make dinner and get these two (pointing at her kids) ready for bed. Can’t it wait until the weekend?”
“The competition is tomorrow. I have been practising but I want your verdict on how well I am doing it. I will help you bath the children and get them ready for bed while you cook. Then if you can spare me thirty minutes to listen to my presentation, I will appreciate it”
“That’s fair. You are a good negotiator. Help with the kids and you can even stay for dinner so I can give you more time. My husband travelled; he won’t be back today”
“Thank you, ma,”
Farida gladly helped out with the children and even joined her in the kitchen. After they had all eaten, she cleared the table and washed out the plates while the woman put her children to bed.
Eventually, they were alone. Farida boldly walked in from of Madam Joyce and began her debate. Madam Joyce asked her to hold on, she got a pen and paper and set the timer on her wristwatch. Farida began with the introductions and then gave her speech and ended.
Madam Joyce was very impressed with her delivery but because she was taking her time to express herself, she spoke slower and exceeded the time by three minutes. She taught her that night how to speak faster while maintaining a tempo and being heard and understood. They worked until very late into the night.
“Who wrote this debate for you?”
“I did it myself. I read books and asked people their opinion before I came to this conclusion”
“You are very smart. I see you going places”
“I am preparing myself for my target”
“That’s great. How old are you now?”
“I am 16 years old ma”
“Good. What’s your target?”
“I want to marry a very rich man”
Madam Joyce didn’t know when she burst out laughing and fell on the floor in the process. She was almost convulsing while laughing. A confused Farida wondered what was funny about her target. She was not offended by the outburst but rather confused. The woman could read her confusion and then asked her,
‘Why do you want to marry a rich husband?”
“I want to live in a big house and be well taken care of by my husband. I want to be his only wife; I will care for him and in return, he will love me and give me the best things in life”
“And you need a husband to buy you a house and give you the best things in life?”
“Yes, ma. A rich one. That is why I am transforming myself so I can attract the type of man I want to marry. Maami said I have to attract the kind of man I want to marry.”
“Transforming yourself should be because you want to not because of another. You are a beautiful young girl. When you spoke. I didn’t believe you were the one. You have learnt a lot all by yourself. Why waste it attracting a man when you can attract the wealth you desire? What class are you in?”
“I am in S.S.2 ma”
‘What do you want to study at university?”
“I don’t know yet”
“From what I know you are good in business and negotiation. Also, you speak so eloquently. I would push towards you doing a business course; probably Business Management or Finance or Economics. How good is your Mathematics?”
“I am doing well in it”
“That’s fine. Then I will encourage you to do Economics. It is tough but you can go places with it”
“Will it help attract a rich man?”
Madam Joyce laughed again. She could sense her innocence. ‘It will help you attract a man worthy of you”
Their walk to the house felt like a thousand kilometres as Madam Joyce talked to her. She was half listening and half thinking. “Attracting a rich man required a lot of hard work,” she thought to herself. She had to get into university to study Economics before she could get one to be attracted to her. How would she get into the university and who will sponsor her? Her mother had added some trading to her home lesson which had also grown but the resources wouldn’t be enough for her to go to the university.
“How do I go to university? Who will sponsor me? I can’t afford to pay my way as I hear it is very expensive. My mother doesn’t make enough to be able to sponsor me” she blurted out subconsciously.
“Farida, you are a very bright girl. If you work very hard, study very well, you will gain admission to the university. You need to pass your WAEC with very good grades and get a high score in Jamb to be able to enter. My advice is that you target a Federal university where the school fees are cheaper and if possible, you can get a scholarship if you do well enough. I believe you can get into the university if you so desire. Weren’t you the one who taught yourself how to speak so eloquently, how to look so good that people talk about you and walk like a model? You think people don’t observe all these things? They do. And still, you are humble and respectful. You go house to house doing chores and getting paid. If you can do all these, you can get into the university”
Those were the words Farida needed to prepare herself for yet another mission. She was no longer worried about the debate. She had to find out everything she could about Economics and the Federal universities that offered the course. She needed to know about the financial implication. Something else worried her though. Madam Joyce said she would attract someone that was worthy of her. She still didn’t understand that but first, she had to get through the debate and then focus on university.
That night, she was troubled. She thought about her life. She still remembered her childhood. She wondered where she would have been if maami didn’t take the steps she took to bring them to Lagos. She had been looked down on and disregarded until she listened to maami and began to take better care of herself. People began to accept her and listen to her when she spoke. Her status in school changed too. Many of the girls who were from richer homes wanted to be her friend. She knew her mission and their class didn’t fit into what she desired so she selected her friends based on similar interests. She was called a snob but she didn’t care. She knew what she wanted. Now, there was a new hunger in her. She wanted to go to university. She had to map out a plan to achieve that. For starters, the debate will make all the difference.
It was the day of the debate. There where two finalists and all the secondary schools that partook were invited. Farida stood on the podium in all her glory. She was the neatest of all the students from the public school. Her long hair was neatly made into a style called ‘shuku and base’. Her skin glowed and was without blemish. Her white blouse looked brand new. She had a blouse which she reserved for special occasions like this. Even though still new, she ensured it was bleached and glowing. So were her white socks and her sandals were well polished. She held her notebook and pen in her hand. They were asked to take their seats while the moderator gave the instructions.
“Today, the battle is between New State High School Mushin and Reading Day Private School Ikeja GRA. Our topic for today is “Should child marriage be abolished?” New State High School (NSHS)Mushin is for while Reading Day Private School (RDPS) Ikeja GRA are against. We are tossing the coin now on who will start. Heads NSHS Mushin will start while Tails RDPS Ikeja GRA will start. We toss now” the coin was tossed and it landed on tails. “RDPS, you have the podium”
The debate began with arguments from both sides. Having practised with Farida had rubbed off on her fellow debaters from her school. She listened carefully to the points made while keeping an open mind to her closing argument. When it was her turn, she stood before the crowd. She had changed her speech overnight after she had pondered for hours over her life and all she desired. She opened her mouth to speak
“I stand on the existing protocol. I, Farida Mohammed is the reason why child marriages should be abolished. I was born in Ilorin, Kwara state. My mother was given as a gift to my father at the age of 15. She was his fourth wife. At a very tender age, I saw my father physically assault my mother. He was rich and strong; she was young and weak. He did it repeatedly and most times he left her unconscious. She knew if she continued to stay, one day he will surely kill her. What would become of her children? She had a vision for her children’s future but she knew it would never be possible in that house. My father was not educated neither were his three other wives. To him, a woman didn’t need education, she would end up in a man’s house. My mother knew if she dies, the cycle will continue. She didn’t want that. She ran away with us, my brothers and I, to Lagos. She left with nothing but her desire to live and raise her children herself. We survived for two years until my father found us. He physically assaulted my mother again but this time people rose against him and gave him a taste of his own medicine. He was subsequently arrested. Because of the attacks on him, he obliged my mother with a divorce and disowned us, his children. My mother’s desire for us came to past. My mother’s experience is the reason why I can ask you boldly, based on my story, should child marriages be abolished? Thank you very much”
Farida held the entire hall spellbound. You could hear a pin drop seconds after she had finished speaking. Next thing was a rousing ovation. Her school mates ran to her in jubilation. When she stepped down from the podium, students from other schools including the private schools came to shake her hands and speak with her. It took a while for the hall to be called to order as the excitement was too much.
In the end, before the judges could announce the winner the crowd helped them in the announcement “New State High School Mushin”. “And then the debater of the year goes to Farida Mohammed”. The audience went wild in excitement. Farida climbed the podium to receive her award and prize. This was the first thing she had ever won anything and she was happy about.