I had made up my mind. Nkechi was my community project. Problem was I didn’t know what to do about her. She may have opened up to me but I knew she wouldn’t find it funny when I told her I wanted to help her. She was too proud. And she would tear my head off for even thinking about it.
I was in this dilemma when Toyin, one of our Corper friends posted in the city, visited. We were enjoying yam and egg sauce in the lodge. Toyin munched yam like she hadn’t eaten yams in years.
She closed her eyes in bliss and sighed. “Omo, I can’t remember the last time I ate yam.”
I scoffed. “We dey chop yam like say we dey drink water. My leg sef don dey turn to yam leg.”
“Yam must be cheap in this village. How much?” She asked, curious.
“Buy ke? We don’t buy yam. The villagers supply us for free.” I boasted.
“Ah, you people are enjoying o.”
“I thought it’s you people in the city that are enjoying.”
Toyin scoffed. “If I hear. Forget that thing, my sister. Things are so expensive. If I tell you how much a tuber of yam is, you will pity my life.”
“If you like, you can take some before you go.” I offered.
Toyin’s eyes lit up with pleasant surprise. “Really?”
“Yeah, take as much as you can. It’s too much. In fact, I’m beginning to think we should start yam business.” Debbie concurred.
“Thank you. Thank you so much.” Toyin said gratefully.
“The only thing is you will have to bring what you will use to carry them.” I said.
“Don’t worry. I have nylon.”
“So, are you doing a community project?” Debbie asked, changing the subject.
“Community project?” Toyin asked back, confused.
“As in secondary assignment.” Debbie confirmed.
“Oh, that? Why are you asking?”
“Debbie wants to win National award?” I informed her.
Toyin’s brows went up at Debbie. “You want to do a community project for an award?”
“Aren’t you?” Debbie asked defensively.
“No. I don’t have time for that. I’m focusing on winning the National Prize for Literature.”
That got my full attention. “Wait, National what?”
“Yeah, they called for entries on short unpublished stories. The winner goes home with a book deal, a brand new car and five million naira.”
“Jesus is Lord!” Debbie exclaimed. “Five million naira! It’s like I’m going to forget this community project o. Please, who will write a story for me? I want to win…”
I wasn’t listening. Because right there and then, I knew what I was going to do.
That weekend, I found myself at a cyber café in the next town browsing more on the National Prize for Literature entry requirements.
“What did you do!” Nkechi barked at me as she entered the staff room on the next Monday morning.
“What?” I asked innocently.
“A friend of mine informed me that she saw my name in one short story competition.”
“I thought you said you don’t have any friends.”
“I don’t. That doesn’t mean I don’t know people. Answer the question.” She ordered.
“Well, I submitted your story for the National Prize for Literature short story competition.” I announced proudly.
“Who asked you to do that?” She demanded.
“The prize is a book deal, a brand new car and five million naira.” I announced again with emphasis.
The news shut her up for a second. Then she resumed glaring at me.
“And so? Come this girl, it’s like over familiarity is worrying you. You have no right to steal my story and publish it for the whole world to see.”
I was stunned. Couldn’t she see I was trying to help her? What was her problem?
“I didn’t steal it.” I said, offended.
“You didn’t ask for permission.”
“I just wanted to help.”
“Do I look like I need help?”
“Fine. I’m sorry, okay? I thought your write up was interesting, that was why I did it.”
I turned to leave. I got to the door and turned back, bristling in anger.
“You know what? The first time was your ex’s fault. But this is your second chance. If you don’t take it, then it’s your fault.”
I turned to the door again, about to storm out.
“Wait.” Nkechi said behind me.
I stopped and turned back to her.
“I’m sorry.” She apologized. “I shouldn’t have yelled at you. It’s just… I’m scared. I don’t think I can take another disappointment. What if I don’t win?”
“And what if you win?” I asked back. “You can’t know for sure unless you try.”
She paused. I watched her face battle between hope and fear. She looked so lost and scared that I wanted to cuddle her like a baby. Finally, she smiled.
“Thank you, IT.”
I was surprised. I smiled back. “You know; this is actually the first time you called my name.”
She laughed. “I know.”
The following weeks, we waited with baited breath for the outcome. Nkechi went about her business like she didn’t care. But I knew she did in the way she glanced at me with a nervous smile whenever we passed by. Me, I was a walking nervous wreck. It was as if I was the one dong doing the competition instead of her.
Then it finally happened.
I ran and knocked excitedly on Nkechi’s door one afternoon. She barely came out before I blurted.
“You did it! You did it! Your story was nominated among other four stories out of thousands of entries!”
Nkechi blinked at me, stunned. “You say?”
“You’ve been selected for the prize among four other persons.”
Nkechi couldn’t believe it. “What? WHAT! WHAT!”
“YES! YES! YES!” I screamed back.
We hugged excitedly.
“Oh my God!” She exclaimed. “I can’t believe it. Wait, this means I can actually win.”
“Of course.” I agreed.
She sat on the bench in front of the house and began to hyperventilate. I patted her on the back.
“Take it easy. Breathe slowly.” I said, soothingly.
“Five million.” Nkechi said in between breaths.
“Five million.” I confirmed.
I continued to pat her back until she recovered.
Then I continued. “Now that your name is out, the press will come for you. They would want to interview you. You have to package yourself. You can’t attend interviews looking like a village teacher.”
“I am a village teacher.” She said, offended.
“You know what I mean. You’re a celebrity. You need to package yourself.”
“How am I going to do that? I don’t have enough money.”
“Don’t worry. I will help you. We can manage with what we have. Let’s start with your clothes.”
And that was how Debbie and Dami became her Fashion designer and make-up artists. I was the manager. I didn’t recruit Dami. I couldn’t stand her and her invisible bae. But Debbie did. She needed an assistant.
Together, we were able to package Nkechi. Just as I predicted, she became a celebrity. The press was all over her. News about her spread all over the village. Everyone in the village wanted to be her friend. The same people who shunned and avoided her now visited her house to “greet her.”
One day, Debbie was taking her measurement while I browsed through her photo album. I paused at the picture of Nkechi posing with Cordelia (read about her here and here) in their school uniforms and smiling for the camera. They were teenagers.
“You and Cordelia went to the same school?” I asked, surprised.
“Yes.” She said. “We were class mates and best friends since primary school.”
“What happened to break your friendship?” Debbie asked.
Nkechi’s face fell with remorse. “I caused it. She didn’t do well like I did in those days. So I looked down on her. I thought she was too local. Then she married the man that I turned down. And now, she’s doing the same thing to me.”
But an incident brought them back together again. It was during school hours. They bumped each other in front of the staff room, scattering their books on the floor. They looked at each other and the books and began to laugh. And their friendship was renewed once again.
We continued to work together, Nkechi, Debbie, Dami and I. Nkechi’s room turned into our office. The four of us became great friends. I even began to like Dami and her annoying bae. We became better people and better teachers. I didn’t know teaching could be so much fun.
Then, the day of the National prize for literature award came.
Watch out for the Final Episode next week Monday. Cheers!