The beginning of the end.
Poverty was a way of life for Mama and me, it wasn’t always like that, I think I was 7 when my father passed away suddenly from a brief illness and in a matter of days, the bank took everything he had worked for, claiming he owed money to them. We bounced around from friends to relations for a while, but my Mama failed to get herself a job and everyone grew tired of carrying us, so the last family we stayed with, gave an excuse that they were travelling for a long time and needed to rent the house out. So we had no choice but to find our level. “Where was that exactly?”.
I remember asking my Mama when she mentioned it to me, she looked at me real hard, held me by the arms and squeezed. Then replied, “Mary, I don’t know yet, but God Almighty will guide us.” After that, we wandered around for a few weeks, sleeping in places I can’t bear to mention but eventually, we arrived at the shanty town. There we were given a room in exchange for working like a slave. I went to school, and once I got back, I joined my mama working for free. And so we lived until one day we were rescued. My name is Mary and this is my story.
Big Aunty J, as we called her, was British in every aspect of it. She relocated to England at the young age of 20 with her husband, Uncle James, who was a sailor in her majesty’s British Navy. Aunty J had 4 children in rapid succession, by the time she was 28 she was done. Two boys and two girls, beautiful, smart and intelligent, they were her pride and joy. Forty-five years later at the age of 65 she was a widow. Uncle J dead, and her lovely children decided it was time for her to come back to Nigeria. She needed the rest, England was a lovely place, but not very friendly to old age. The cold weather, doing things on your own and the loneliness could shorten anyone’s life. So a relocation back home was the solution. To take care of her monthly expenses at home, they acquired a supermarket and a block of 6 flats to rent out. And for her abode, a lovely 5 bedroom fully furnished house in GRA, Lagos. Three vehicles, a Prado jeep, a Corolla and a Mercedes Benz inclusive, all she had to do was move in and decide on her domestic staff.
And so she returned with all the fanfare allowed, with her eldest daughter, Victoria in tow. Food, wine all sorts flowed on that day, but the piece de resistance was on its way. My mum and I had managed to be invited, Aunty J asked that all family members. My mum was her niece, so we got a text from another relation. Just as the party was winding down, Big Aunty J, stood up to thank everybody for coming and for the warm welcome back home. Then she called my mum to stand beside her in front of the gathering. “I have decided Mama Mary, my dear niece and her daughter Mary, will move in with me,’’ she said. Cheers of “Yes o!”, “praise God,” rented the air. My mum collapsed into Aunty J’s arms crying. I could not believe we were moving away from the horrible slave life and shanty town to a plush house in GRA, Lagos, with all the affluence we could only have dreamed of. Indeed, our life was about to begin.
That same day we moved into the house. When I say moved, I mean our bodies, we had no possession, so nothing to move except ourselves. In Aunty J’s house, I had my own bedroom and ensuite bathroom for the first time in 6 years, I was 14. Big Aunty J was the best ever, she gave us money to buy clothes, shoes and all, within a month we were unrecognizable. I was enrolled in a posh school and I moved up to the next level and in no time my accent began to change. Mornings, I was driven to school in a Prado jeep and dropped me off at home in the afternoon. Aunty J insisted we go out eating almost every weekend, Sheraton today, Sandton sun the next and so on. We were living the life.
Aunty J’s children were wonderful. They dotted on their mum, and by extension us. Every month a care package arrived from England full of exotic treats, clothes and household needs. Money also came into all our accounts. This was despite Aunty J collecting rent for a 6 apartments and sales from the supermarket. My mother was in charge of all her cash point cards and knew all the pin numbers. She collected the daily sales from the supermarket and banked it for Aunty J. When a tenant paid. My mum got the bank’s notification on her phone, she practically ran Aunty J ‘s finances. I, on the other hand, lacked for nothing. However, two years later, things changed when I turned 16.
I completed my secondary school, sat for my university exams and aced it. All A’s at O level and high marks for a university. My first choice was medicine. Aunty J was so happy for me, she instantly called her daughter Victoria to arrange a holiday for me in London and to take that opportunity to buy clothes and Co, for University. My mum was happy, but something was biting her, Aunty J and I couldn’t put a finger on it until the day I was due to leave for London. My mum came into the living room where I was waiting with Aunty J, to leave for the airport. She knelt down and said, “Ma, you have been a source of joy for us since we moved in with you, I want to thank you for everything but I would like to ask for something, please allow Mary to stay back in London to do her education”. After that everyone went silent. I looked at my mum and pointed out that Aunty had already paid my fees for university here, I start in September, my mum ignored my comment and kept starring at Aunty J, then Aunty cleared her throat and said “My dear, I understand, Mary will be fine here, she is a bright girl, let her do her first degree here, then for master or specialization she could go abroad”. Just then the gate man came in to inform us the driver was here to take us to the airport.
I left for England without my mama’s hug, she just walked behind us and watched as the car pulled out of the compound, I had a nagging feeling in my tummy that this was not the end of that conversation, but at that minute I could not be bothered. I was off to England and that’s all I cared about, hmm, me? I was so happy.
Arriving at Heathrow airport and going through immigration was a breeze, I had tactically attached myself to the man I sat next to on the plane. Do you know Aunty J got me a business class ticket? I didn’t know what that meant until I got on the plane and saw the smaller seats in economy and my sleeper seats in business class. It was so comfy. The man next to me chatted with me all the way to London. He expressed how lucky I was to be flying for the very first time and get to do it the business way. He told me he didn’t get to sit in business class until he turned 40 and ran his own company. He asked me to be highly grateful for my Aunty that cared so much for me and wanted to give me the best in life’’ Don’t ever take her for granted “ he said.
Aunty Victoria was waiting for me at arrivals, she came with her twins, Timmy and Tammy. They were so happy to see me, the drive back to theirs was so interesting, London was nothing like I had imagined, and the roads were tiny but so clean. The weather was cold, even though Tammy laughed at me when I shivered and said: “Aunty, why are you shivering this is summer”. Their house was a beautiful brick house in a place called Chelsea, rows of houses joined together all looking the same. I got into the house and it was so luxurious. Did I mention Aunty Victoria was married to an investment banker also Nigerian? Uncle Paddy, as we called him. The 6 weeks I spent was an adventure, from Chessington to Thrope Park, Isle of Wight to Portsmouth sailing, back to the lakeside and blue water shopping and Piccadilly to watch shows and finally the famous Oxford street to shop till I dropped. All the places I learnt about for the first time. Then it was time to go back and uncle and Aunty said I could come back any holiday and gave me two thousand pounds, in addition to the 4 suitcases I had full of clothes, shoes and designer bags, what else could a girl need, well I was in for more surprises when I got back home.
For the flight back, I was more composed, beginning to get the hang of it as they say. This time I sat next to a young girl about my age. She was travelling back with her parents sitting behind us in business class. We hit it off right away and coincidentally, she was already at the university I was going too. She introduced me to her parents, we exchanged numbers and promised to catch up later that week. We had 2 weeks before university resumed. Arriving back, Aunty J and the driver were waiting for me, as I walked out of the terminal, I saw her looking as elegant as ever, I ran into her arms and kissed her. She held me close, then moved me back a bit and looked at me saying, “O my, you look so radiant, England agrees with you”. I thanked her and we walked back to the car. I said she shouldn’t have come, but she said she needed the exercise and besides, she missed me, the house has not been the same since I left, my mama had changed. She guessed she was missing me too.
I didn’t get the welcome back I expected from my Mama, in fact on arrival to the house, Aunty J had to call my mama on the phone because she was nowhere to be found, she told Aunty she had gone to the supermarket. Aunty asked why, when she knew they had gone to pick me at the airport, my mama said she will see me later when she got back. Aunty J took it harder than I did. I knew my Mama, she bottled things up, when she’s upset all you see is the anger and bitterness in her eyes but she won’t tell you. That’s one trait I skipped and am thankful to God. You hurt me, I say it there and then and we are done. That night I went to bed without seeing my mama.
Around 3 am, I felt a hand waking me up, I opened my eyes and it was my mama. The look in her eyes scared me. She looked at me intensely and asked: “Why did you come back”. Well, let me explain that to you. While I was in England my Mama called me almost every day and said I must do everything within my power not to come back, even if I had to run away from Aunty Victoria’s house. She tried to talk me into finding a white guy to sleep with and let him do my papers for me. She pointed out how Aunty J was selfish, all her children were in England enjoying and she doesn’t want me to stay. She can afford to sponsor me to university in England she knew how much Aunty J had in her account etc. But I wasn’t going to do that to Aunty J. Besides, I loved Nigeria, England was too strange, and too cold for me, I had friends and a boy I had my eyes on, I was just getting close to him, I had a great life here, and I wasn’t going to give all that up just to live in England, especially now I knew I could go anytime. My mama shuts me up, “Silly child you don’t know anything, what an old person sees lying down a child can never see standing up, I know what I am talking about, don’t expect me to be happy you are back, because am not” and she got up from my bed and walked out.
I lay there for a few minutes wondering what her problem was, we had everything we needed her. Aunty J practically let my Mama run her life, what else does she want? Eventually, I dozed off. The next morning Aunty J came to get me, she had a surprise for me. She asked me to close my eyes and walked me down the stairs, once outside she said open your eyes and voila! A lilac mini coupe two doors sat on the driveway with ribbons and congratulations stickers on it. She handed me an envelope and said, “my darling, enjoy.” I didn’t know if I should jump up or summersault. Oh my gosh! This was the best present ever. I hugged Aunty J so tight she almost fell over, then I jumped in the car, opened the envelope and it had Driving lesson vouchers and the car keys.
“Get lessons and you can drive yourself in university.” Aunty was telling me, as I sat there informing her about my new friend I met on the plane. Sola called and asked if I had gotten accommodation. Her flatmate was moving out so I could replace her, she sent me pictures of a nicely furnished two bedroom apartment with ensuites. Aunty J was okay with it, it was 5 minutes’ drive from the campus. But she made me promise to come home once a month. The day came for me to leave for school, Aunty J insisted my Mama come with us, she reluctantly agreed, they helped me settle into the apartment and were happy to leave me in Sola’s capable hands, who was a 3rd-year student of pharmacy. And so campus life began. Hectic but bearable. Kept my promise to be back home once a month.
On one of my visits a few months later, I arrived home and the whole house was quiet, I asked the gateman he said Aunty J was ill, my mum had gone to see her in hospital, how come no one informed me, I dropped my bag, called an Uber taxi and was at the hospital in 15 minutes. O my gosh!, Aunty J looked so ill, she wasn’t breathing properly and had a tube in her nose. For some reason my mama seemed really lively, she hugged and kissed me and asked why I didn’t tell her I was coming. I said hello to her and walked over to Aunty J and kissed her forehead. “What’s wrong with her Mama?” I asked. “The doctors say her liver is failing”, she replied. “Why can’t we fly her abroad, have you told Aunty Victoria?” “There’s no need to bother anyone.” Was my mama’s response.
I felt it wasn’t right, I should tell Aunty Victoria. So I left, got back home and called Aunty Victoria. Unfortunately, she and the family were in the Caribbean, but she promised to adjust her flight and be with us within the week. By the time Aunty Victoria landed, it was too late, Aunty J died the night before.
I had not felt pain like that ever, I couldn’t sleep, eat or drink, I didn’t even want to go back to school, after her burial Aunty J’s children called my Mama and I to a meeting before they all returned to England. ‘’The decision was unanimous’’ they said, thanked my mama for taking really good care of their mum, we were to take over ownership of the main house, six flats divided, I get 2, my mama 3 and the driver 1 and the supermarket and the money in the account should be shared between my Mama and Me. At last count 76 million Naira was in the account. The lawyer signed everything over and I was told my Mama would have custody of all my share until I turned 25.
Trouble started when I was leaving and I asked for some money, what did my mama say, ”Well, my child, things are going to change around here, am in charge now. So first things first. You are leaving that school and going abroad.” I was gobsmacked, asked if my mama was joking? She said no joke, if I refuse she won’t pay my fees, but if I agree, she will pay for me to go. So my choice. I was livid, Aunty J wasn’t even in the grave 2 weeks and my Mama had gone crazy. I said I refused because Aunty J meant so much, she wanted me to complete my first degree here and that’s what I was going to do.
Unknown to my mother Aunty J paid for my fees upfront until the end of my course and my account had money sent to It every month from Aunty Victoria and Uncle paddy, so I didn’t really need her money, though it was my money too. I left the house and went back to campus, my mama threatened that if I leave without obeying her instruction I should not come back to that house. Well, that was fine by me, I was her only child, if I don’t come back, she will surely look for me, or so I thought.
By the end of my second year I hadn’t seen my mama in almost a year, she won’t pick if I call, and when she did, she was like, “what do you want? You disobedient child.’’ And she would drop the phone. So I decided one weekend to go visiting. What I saw, shocked me. First, the new gateman didn’t know me, he insisted on going in to verify if I was welcome. Well, I was, so in I went and my mum and some creepy man were sprawled on Aunty J’s plush sofa. As soon as I got in my Mama asked where I was coming from and what did I want. I said hello to her and ignored the creepy man. He asked my mama if this was the daughter she spoke of and my mama laughed and said yes. My mama looked at me and said “ for your information this is my husband, your stepfather, don’t be rude to him, you understand, now greet him properly” I curtsied and walked out and went to my room.
Surprisingly, as I opened the door to my bedroom, I saw a young man of about 20 lying on my bed. “Who are you and what are you doing in my room?’’ I asked. “Oh, so you are Mary, hello, am your stepbrother chucks’’. Ignoring his greetings, I screamed, “Please get out now.” He got up calmly, and as he walked past, he whispered, “I’m with you on this, I hate this new arrangement. My father left our mum with my two sisters suffering in the village to move in with your mum. So let’s work together to break them up. I’m game if you are.’’ He concluded as he shut my door behind him.
Oh my gosh! The house was upside down, nothing like the lovely home, I remembered, Aunty J would be turning in her grave.
I freshened up, noticed my mum and her creepy man and his son had left the house, so I took the key to Aunty J’’s room and let myself in. My mama had called several times, to ask if I knew where the key was but I said no I didn’t. The room had a bulletproof door and the walls had been reinforced so it would take almost demolishing the upper part of the house to break in, so my Mama didn’t even try. Aunty J’s room was still the way she left it, the wonderful smell of her filled the room, I opened up the wardrobes for airing, then opened others all in the walk-in closet. Just as I was about to leave I heard a beeping sound coming from one of the drawers, I opened it and saw a recorder, traced the loop into another wall unit and saw some video screens, o my gosh the house had closed-circuit cameras and no one knew. I sat down and flashed through it, the rooms, kitchen, garden courtyard, everywhere except the bathroom and toilets had cameras. Then I sat there going through, hours and hours it took me 4 days. Once the people left the house in the morning, I would go back in the room and watch and then on the 5th day something caught my eye and I fainted.
I finally woke up a few hours later, adjusted myself and left the room, that afternoon I left the house before they all came back, this time taking the key to my room and Aunt’s room with me. I didn’t go back home, nor call my mama, she called several times but I didn’t pick up. I was contemplating what to do. After my third year exams, Aunty Victoria wanted me to come to London, the twins were turning 10 and she was having a big party for them. Sola and I decided to go. The holiday was amazing as usual, but the nagging in my heart didn’t allow me to fully enjoy it. I almost told Aunty Victoria what was bugging me, but I stopped myself, there was another way, I knew what I had to do when I got back to Nigeria.
Arriving back 4 weeks later, I went straight to the house, fortunately, my mama was alone. I gave her a list of conditions to conform to or else. She looked at the list and asked if had gone mad. I laughed and told her ‘’Mama, if you don’t comply within a month and gave her a proverb ‘Everyone will find out what we were cooking when the house burnt down’ and I walked out. She screamed my name, called me a fool and that I couldn’t do anything, but I walked away laughing, all I replied was ‘’try me, mama, then you will know am your daughter.’’ The list was simple, 1, get rid of that man you call your husband, 2. Pay all my money into my account, 3. Go back to the village immediately, 4. Sign over the supermarket full ownership to me, you can keep your flats and your share of the money, 5. I give you one month or else. And the note ended.
Two months later, I was asleep alone in our off-campus flat, when I heard a knock on the door. Sola had gone to spend the night with her boyfriend across town. I thought she decided to come back, so I opened the door. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor, something was sprayed in my eyes and I passed out. When I came to, I was tied to a chair in a dark room, wasn’t sure how long I had been there or what time of the day it was. I tried to speak, but I was too drowsy. I just sat there, shaking and trying to adjust my eyes to the darkness. A few hours later, I heard a key in the door and some voices, 4 men walked in and switched on the light. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the brightness and then I noticed the room was large, it was a bedroom with a large bed, television and sofa and I was sitting in the middle of the room tired to a chair. Then I looked up again and recognized one of the guys. It was Aunty J’s car mechanic, I remember Aunty was really nice to him and so was I. She paid his children’s school fees and bought him a bus for transportation business. He smiled at me and said, “don’t worry, God loves you so much and your Big Aunty was my guardian angel, I can’t let anything happen to anyone close to her. My guys (pointing to the other three men in the room) were hired to eliminate you, but as God will have it, I was in their house when the call came and a WhatsApp picture of you, I recognized you instantly. And we put a plan in place to kidnap you and warn you. We are not sure who hired us because the message came with an unregistered no and cash was left at a designated area. But not to worry, we are working on finding out who it is, in the meantime, you will stay here and don’t call home or pick up your calls”.
If felt like I was dreaming, did I just hear properly? I was speaking to my hired killers. Who wants me dead and why, was all I could think of. I thanked them profusely as they untied me and asked if I could call my friend Sola. They weighed the option and said only her and no one else. Sola arrived with some clothes for both of us. She decided to stay with me in the house. It belonged to a family friend of the mechanic who had recently relocated to another part of the country.
After a warm shower and a meal, once we were alone, I narrated everything the mechanic told me to Sola, she asked me to request for the no from the mechanic. Her boyfriend worked in one of the telecom companies, he might be able to trace the no’s location. So off we went to see Sola’s boyfriend’s place as soon as we got the no from the mechanic. Surprise, surprise the no pinged off a tower in the centre of Lagos.It was on and had been used in the last few hours. So the arrangement was made and we arrived in Lagos, got a hotel in the centre of town and waited. The mechanic and his boys in tow.
The next morning Sola’s boyfriend confirmed the phone was still on and in the vicinity, so one of the mechanic’s guys dialled the no at first no answer, then he called again. And this time a text came in saying who is this? The mechanic’s guy responded ‘’Sir your no was entered into a lotto windfall and you won 1 million Naira, please come to our office (he gave him the address of the building next door with your id to claim the money’’ The guy called back immediately and asked when? He was told tomorrow morning. The next morning, plain cloth policemen and we waited at the office. I was asked to be in the back with the mechanics’ guys in case the person recognized us. Around 10 am a guy came in to say he was the one who won 1mNaira. The plain cloth policeman at reception ushered him into an inner room, where we all were and he froze. It was the guy I saw in my room, my mum’s husbands son chucks before he could gather himself together a resounding slap landed on his face. He collapsed to the floor and began to confess, ‘’am sorry, it wasn’t me your mother asked me too, she gave me 5m Maira to arrange your death, she said you were not her blood because you threatened her.” Chucks said. He was about to go on when another slap landed and he went mute instantly. I cried and cried, my own mother, how she would want me dead was beside me. The policemen asked chucks were she was and he said in her house with his father.
As I walked into the living room my dear mother got up and fled, shouting ghost! Ghost!! Behind me was Aunty Victoria, who I had called, the police and the mechanic and Sola. A policeman ran after my mother and brought her back with a gun pointed on her. She knelt down and asked for forgiveness, ‘’Why did you want me, dead mama?’’ I asked, what did I do? Mama, why?
“Well my daughter, you were going to expose me that I poisoned your aunty and killed her.’’ My mama said. “What are you talking about, you killed Aunty? I didn’t know that, I only gave you the note because I saw you give your husband a bag full of dollars and I felt you will finish my inheritance before I turn 25. I saw him as a gold digger and was going to get Aunty Victoria to reverse their decision that I get my share by 25. I decided to cover your wasteful habit and terminate it myself, hence the note, I didn’t know you killed Aunty J.” By now, I was crying, Aunty Victoria and Sola too. The police arrested my mother and the rest is history.
Today I sit in the same house Aunty J left us. Managing the supermarket and my other business. While my mother languishes in prison. I can not help but think, if My mother had a spirit of contentment, she could have fought her greed, envy and wickedness. Or if we had remained in the slums, Aunty J would be Alive today and my mum and I would be together. God help me not be like my mother. I pray every day for the spirit of contentment. Despite the fact that my mother controlled everything belonging to Aunty J had without interference, she still wasnt content and she had topoison her because she wanted more. That day we moved in with Aunty J, was definitely the beginning of the end for her.