By Chukwuemerie Udekwe
If lovely skin complexion, pretty oval face, limpid crystal eyes, pinky lips, delicate fingers, fresh succulent body, tall, with an alluring hourglass shape was beauty, what would someone who brings to mind the legendary princess Diana, as cute as the Dickens, and with perfection in her like a chocolate pack in the dainty fingers of a three year old American girl be called?
Some wondered how God had granted to one person the amount of beauty meant for eighth persons, such that if beauty were time, then she would have been eternity. Whereas others chose to believe she stole all the endowments and ran away.
With a beauty that seemed out of this world – ethereal, Fola grew into a young woman with lots of ambitions. She had just graduated from the University of Calabar, and had been sent to serve her father's land in faraway Kogi.
One fateful night, along the streets of Lokoja, an elderly hawker had come to her to advertise her goods. Fola had nicely rejected. She had learnt to give hawkers profound respect. They had chosen to hawk than steal. They still believed in the dignity of labour. The elderly hawker, one and the half times older than Fola had left, unoffended, then doubled back like she had forgotten an essential part of her ware, looked Fola again in the face and said, “If only I had your type of beauty, I would have long gone abroad and practiced prostitution,” then walked away pitifully. The stranger who stood beside Fola had overheard the statement. Turning towards the elderly hawker, then few distances away, she mocked, “Oh, look at what cigarette and small stout have done to your life,” but in her eyes, glowed the desire that gave way her inner thoughts. She was in fact wondering why Fola had not actually gone the ways of the elderly hawker.
But in fact, physical characteristics was one thing Fola never counted among her potentials. She had the physical qualities that took away people's breath – yes, she knew, but never attached her success to them. She had graduated with first class honours resulting from her hard work and the many midnight candles she burnt. With the dream of being a renowned industrialist, she was leaving no stone unturned.
A week into her NYSC programme, Fola was filled with lots of prospects, already. The welfare workers in the company where she was doing her PPA was not qualitative enough. They were unnecessarily exposed to harmful chemicals. They needed to take certain quantity of milk per day to maintain their health and so on. But the problem was finance. Seeing that the management employing her was not ready for such talks, Fola took it upon herself to source for fund.
The following week, she was at The Ministry of Works. After several hours of waiting, the receptionist decided to consider her as one who was in active service of her country.
“Good afternoon, Commissioner. I am Fola Adeyemi, from Osun State, currently working at Meek Steels LTD…” she presented her purpose and pleaded to be allowed any amount of money that would enable her achieve her goals. With such clarity, calmness and endearing voice by which she had explained her request, a positive answer was a giveaway. Fola was certain. It was inevitable. She was only waiting.
“Young woman, you said your name is Fola Adeyemi.” The elderly commissioner stated in a tone that made it look like a question.
“Yes, honourable. Yes honourable,” Fola retorted with eagerness. Life is sweet in the presence of those who understand and share your goals.
“Lady, your initiatives are nice, but why don't you just concentrate on your work, serve, and go? It is the best thing to do.”
Like a drop of water that suddenly turns to steam against a dry frying pan, Fola's emotion of eagerness turned to confusion. “What was the commissioner saying? She came here because she wanted to do her work. Because she wanted to serve. To give her best to her nation.”
When the commissioner shuffled his shoes against the tiled floors, and stood up, Fola realized she had already over stayed her welcome.
Feeling so blue with the sense of one whose ambitions had all flown to the wind, she stood up to leave the office. But she was not going to let go of her dreams. “I will go to the Ministry of Education. The commissioner is a woman. She will understand me.”
The next day, Fola took up with her schedule as planned. Moving up to the second floor of the gigantic building, her steps were bold and strong like a professional assassin marching up to a careless target. It was like she had forgotten the event of yesterday. No, she had not; except that she was not the kind of person to be dissuaded so easily. Optimistic and full of hopes, “why would things not happen as planned,” she dared.
The commissioner for Education was a chubby woman. Dark of skin and tall of height. With a round face and full cheeks that wanted to be beautiful. Whether they got there was arguable. But she carried a poise that showed she believed they did, and ever ready to bash anyone who insisted otherwise.
“Good morning, Ma.” Fola greeted, intending to create a mother-daughter environment other than that of an applicant facing a mistress. “Ma, I have come because of some projects I wish to embark on in my PPA. The welfare of workers is very low and I intend to do the little I can to remedy the situation,” Fola said meekly, while extending her quotation to the commissioner.”
The woman whom Fola was beginning to take for a mother, took the file from her and let it drop at her desk almost as immediately as it had touched her hands.
Giving Fola a regrettable smile, like to a child who had lost her way, she queried, “Was this the reason for which you were sent here? See, you are such a beautiful girl, and I will like to advice you. Be focused in life, and avoid unnecessary distractions, okay? Kindly go to your place of primary assignment and serve, and go.”
“I wish you luck,” the commissioner added, staring now at the fancy clock hung on the wall of her office.
There was nowhere else for Fola to go. A voice in her head kept telling her to abandon the project. But even she herself could not understand why she remained adamant. Perhaps, because the voice was a familiar one she had learnt to overcome. Then it clicked. “I will go to the church.” Like the Lord himself had ordained it, the day she went to the church secretariat was the day the clergyman met with the lay faithful. Like a pariah, she stood watching at the way things went there. The lineup was much. Would she be able to see the clergy today? Would her journey be fruitful? Sweat was already enveloping her. She looked nearly unkempt. With the help of her sixth sense, she was able to notice a young boy, who seemed to be in charge of the procedures there. She walked up to him.
“Good afternoon sir,” she greeted, knowing fully well she was at least five years older. “Please, I would like to see the clergyman. Can you help me?” she inquired with every kind of innocence and feminine touch she could gather despite her haggard state, from sweat and stress.
The boy remained silent. And Fola knew she was meant to explain her purpose of coming. At the end, the only reply she got was:
“It's obvious you are not from our church.”
“Why are you here, why don't you go to your church secretariat?”
“I went sir, it was not successful,” she was saying the truth. She had gone there before coming here. The young boy was still enjoying being called sir, and deemed important by an elder lady. He would send her to the receptionist who interviewed visitors and deciphered whether their reason was reasonable enough to see the clergyman – or liable to be directed elsewhere. The little boy was sure she would only end up in the JDPC office, that might take months if not years to respond, and by then she must have already forgotten she once served her country. The bureaucracy was not always out of negligence but the result of a truckload of work handled by the JDPC commission, plus they still had to verify cases meticulously to avoid scammers.
“I will help you,” he said, “but you will not meet the receptionist. You will go directly. Just wait.” The first stage was over for Fola, it only remained the second, and the more important. Will she be successful?”
Few minutes later, the young lad called Fola, gave her some tips, and allowed her into the clergyman's office without due procedure. With sweat all over her palms and forehead, she made for the office.
“Sir, sir, Fola immediately beckoned on the young boy, as soon as she left the clergy's office. I asked for a hundred thousand. He gave me seventy. I'm so happy.” Her eyes glowed, she looked fresher, and that made the young boy, notice her apple hips and round standing breasts for the first time.
“How much will I give you? Come and take please, you really tried for me. God bless you.” The young lad rejected the offer. He was sincerely happy for her. After so much pleasantries, she left.
Days rolled into months, and the young lad was sure to have forgotten the incident. One faithful day, a letter came for his boss, the clergyman. It was from Fola, thanking him for the help, and informing him that she had won the best corp member for the year in Kogi. He smiled.
Three years had passed, and the incident buried. Kaycee was now having his tertiary studies. It was one of the weekends and his department had invited a guest speaker.
“The problem with Nigeria is that most of her youths are clueless. They can only add very little or nothing to their environment. I am a professor, yet I do farm work. In fact, I have a battery-cage system which I bought over a million, for my poultry. Our youths are not helping matters at all...”
The first speaker was through, and the second speaker was saying something similar to the first. It was then that Kaycee's feeling totally flared up. Then, she remembered the incidence of Fola. Wherever she was now, she was the only one who could refute the guest speakers' words. Our youths have a thousand and one initiatives. The problem is capital. How can a professor who earns more than half a million compare herself with an average youth who has to hawk his way through the tertiary. Our elders are unfair to us. Kaycee was having no more of it. He stood up, leaving the hall. Betrayed.
For the youths, any hope? Inconclusive