New year eve came with a lot of excitement. The house was bubbling. All of Monica’s extended family members were in their house. Her cousins from far and near converged there. There was so much to eat and drink to their satisfaction. Farida initially wondered what the fuss was about when Monica insisted on her wearing the pink dress Wale bought for her. She felt it was a bit too short for her current height but Monica wouldn’t bulge. She gave her earrings, wristwatch, bangles and chose the canvas she would wear with the dress. She made sure she used one of her designer perfumes in addition to the one she had which she used sparingly.
It was when she saw the display of sophistication amongst the young adults that she understood what Monica was trying to do. Some of her cousins came back from abroad so their dressing will just be left to your imagination. They had a corner to themselves were a DJ was stationed to play jams for them. Food and exotic drinks flowed.
Monica introduced Farida to them as her friend. Her female cousins jumped at Farida, they loved her hair.
“Your hair is long and silky. I just had to touch it. Do you know you can be used to advertise hair products and make money? I know someone who will be interested in having you as a hair model”
“What do you use to maintain your hair? It’s really lovely”. Before Farida could answer another one said, “You are tall. I love your skin colour, it’s shiny. I think you should go into modelling. Advertisers will rush you. You are so beautiful. Before we leave here today, the guys will fight over you”
“Nobody is fighting over her, she’s not available” Monica announced for all to hear.
Farida had so much fun. She helped the cooks with serving the food as there were many of them but few hands. The other girls sat down comfortably without moving a muscle. They just placed orders. Monica joined Farida in the serving. Her cousins were shocked to see her work with the helps.
“Why would you do that? They are being paid to attend to us”
“Yeah, I know but then it is my family’s party and the only way it can be a success is if everyone here is happy. It is my duty to ensure that happens” Monica replied. When Sam heard her, he left his cousins and helped out too.
Whenever Sam had eye contact with Farida he would wink at her. Farida found it uncomfortable. She tried to avoid eye contact. When everyone had eaten to their fill and the drinks kept flowing, it was time to really party. They danced and had dancing competition. Farida refused to dance. She sat at a corner watching them. Then, one of Monica’s cousins dragged her to the dance floor. She was refusing but he paid no heed. On the dance floor she refused to move her body. The guy was urging her but she refused. Another guy slid his hands around her waist and was dancing with her from behind. Farida didn’t like that and wriggled out of his embrace. Another guy grabbed her and pulled her close to him. Before she could react, Sam came to her rescue.
‘Guys, she’s taken. Don’t play such rough play with her; she is a very reserved person. Leave her alone” Sam urged them.
They left her alone as he led her back to the chair.
‘You have been avoiding me. I would have left you with them to manhandle you. Once they drink, they misbehave. Are you ok?”
“You didn’t give me a response to my request”
“I want to take you out on a date when we get back to Lagos. Just the two of us”
“I am not interested. I like you because you are Monica’s brother and nothing more”.
“Well, I do not like you because you are Monica’s friend. I like you for who you are. I have discovered you and I do like what I see. Monica is discouraging you from dating me, right? I like you and that’s all I can say. I think you should give this a try. Have a mind of your own. Don’t you like me?”
“As Monica’s brother only”
“What will happen if I kiss you right now?”
Before Farida could answer or get over the shock of the question, his lips landed on Farida’s lips. It was as fast as lightning. In the same speed, Farida disengaged her lips and ran away to their wing. She locked herself inside the room.
So many thoughts ran through her head as she sat there. This was her first kiss and it was stolen. She was angry at Sam. Why was he coming on to her so strongly? He seemed confident in what he was doing. What was giving him that confidence? Had she unconsciously let out a vibe that she was attracted to him. She knew she had struggled not to do that. She just admired him and moved on. He was way above her league. He might be deceived with the second-hand clothes she wears to believe she was one of them. She knew she wasn’t. Monica’s words kept ringing in her head.
She heard loud altercation outside the door. She moved closer to eavesdrop.
“I told you to keep away from her. She is not one of those girls you use and dump like trash. I won’t allow you to mess her up. She has a future. She is very intelligent and driven. Her family is very poor; she is their only hope. Sam, I have never dated any of your friends but you went through mine. All I am asking is for you to leave Farida alone; she is out of bounds. Do you hear me?”
“I don’t know what the fuss is about. She’s an adult let her decide if she wants to be with me or not. Are you her godmother or guardian angel? Why are you being so protective of her? I like her. I’m attracted to her. It’s not just sex; I love her mind. I enjoy her company. Your other friends had nothing to offer except their bodies. This one is a complete package and I want the package. Step aside let me woo her. If she agrees then we date and see where it leads”
“Woo her? Confuse her you mean? There is no difference between you and father. I won’t let you”
“You can’t stop me. She has also fallen for me. I can see it in her eyes and I can feel it too. We are meant for each other. Step aside; this is beyond you”
Farida opened the door to the room at this point. She was tired of hearing them talk about her as though she was a property they were contesting for in a law court. She crossed her hands across her chest and said,
“Continue. Why did you both stop?” there was silence. “You don’t want to? I was disrespected this night and I just wanted you to know I am leaving tomorrow. I never gave you permission to touch me not to talk of kissing me and you did it in the presence of an audience. What were you trying to prove? I won’t take it, I want to leave. Monica, please make it happen”
“Tomorrow is the New year. You won’t be able to travel tomorrow. You can stay and go back on the 2nd or 3rd. I promise you; he won’t attempt what he did today again. I won’t leave you alone for him to try that. I let down my guard and he took advantage. Stay with me. We will move around on our own. Please don’t go”
“I am sorry Farida for my behaviour this evening. For you to decide to leave shows that you are offended by it. I apologise and promise it won’t happen again. Maybe I had too much to drink. I sincerely apologise; please forgive me”
“I am not interested in your apology but future behaviour. Please accord me the respect I accord you. And, I want to make it clear to you, I am not interested in a relationship with you. Please avoid suggesting it. The answer is no. Thank you” Farida walked into the room.
When Monica came into the room, she tried to bring it up again but Farida declined talking about it. She just wanted to be left alone with her thoughts. Monica respected her decision to be left alone.
Farida was confused as she retired for the night. She had a dream. In the dream, she saw brother Chris standing in all white reminding her what he told her some years ago, “Do you remember what I told? Do not get distracted. Boys are a distraction. Sam is a major distraction. He has graduated and also has a Master’s. He doesn’t want you to graduate. Avoid him. Tell him to wait until you have achieved all he has achieved. You will live to regret your life if you fall for him now”
Farida woke up in a startle. This was the first time she would dream about anything so precisely. Sam was a no go area. She resolved to treat him just as she treated other guys who came after her. She checked the time and it was 4:22am. She couldn’t go back to sleep so she went into the kitchen to start preparing ingredients for her special delicacy they were having for lunch.
By the time the cook arrived to help her with preparations, she was shocked to discover Farida had prepared everything herself. She wondered where the girl got all the strength from. She watched Farida prepare the Ekpang nkwukwo just the way she taught her. She was impressed.
It was the aroma of the food that woke Monica and Sam up at 10 am. Lunch for the family was supposed to be at 12 noon. Sam skipped breakfast but Monica had cereal. Farida packed the food in a dish and went in to get ready for lunch.
Farida decided to wear a pair of jeans and a red check shirt which she tucked into the jeans and left the two top buttons undone. She rolled up the sleeves. Then she packed her hair up, applied her powder and lip gloss. It was a new year and she felt good about herself especially after the warning and cooking the food all by herself.
Her dish was on the table at exactly 12 noon. Monica’s stepmother was still in the kitchen.
‘I wonder why it is taking so long for them to round up. She isn’t the one cooking and we still eat late. Come to the sitting room. Let’s use this opportunity to share the gifts I got for everyone. Happy new year!” Monica’s father declared.
They sat around him. There was a big bag just beside him. He gave the younger boys their gifts which they opened excitedly. Then he gave Sam his gift in a small pack. Sam didn’t open it there. Monica and Farida were next. They opened theirs. They couldn’t believe their eyes; they got the same gift. They were given mobile phones and the sim cards. This was January 1st 2002 and they would be amongst the first people in school to have GSM mobile phones. Farida went on her knees to thank him while Monica jumped on her father.
Monica’s stepmother came out to check what the chaos was about. When she found out her husband had gifted his daughter and her friend phones, she sat down to collect her gift.
“Both of us are parents. During Christmas, you gave your sons gifts but didn’t give anything to Sam or Monica”
“They are adults, what do they need gifts for?” she asked.
“Exactly. You are an adult; you don’t need gifts too. I am famished, we might have to start with Farida’s food since it is taking too long to get the food out”
Monica’s stepmother marched angrily out of the sitting room. Her father called out to the cook to set the table as he wanted to eat. All of them joined him at the table. Farida was trembling knowing her food was the main meal for the day. He asked Farida to do the honours of serving the food. She was reluctant to do that but Monica stood up and dished out for everyone. She dished for her halfbrothers too. From the first spoon, everyone was excited. It was delicious. They all had second helpings. By the time the other food came out, they were all stuffed. Monica’s stepmother was very angry and even angrier at her sons who ate Farida’s food and from every indication, they enjoyed it. In order not to offend her further, Farida asked that some of the food be packed to their wing to be eaten later in the day.
“Farida, I promised you a gift if your food was very good. Take this (handing her an envelope), keep it well. Everyone here would confess you cooked this meal excellently. We all enjoyed it. Thank you for gracing us with your presence; it was felt. When are you leaving?”
“On the 5th sir”
“We will sort out your flight arrangement back and also help you get ready for school. I have been reliably informed that the strike will be called off next week. Ekaette you have to go back with her so you can as well prepare for school”
“Thank you sir. I am very grateful” Farida turned to Monica’s stepmother and said to her ”Thank you, ma”. She was stunned when she heard the greeting and just nodded her head.
Back in their room, they checked their phones excitedly. There was no network in Akwa Ibom so they just packed it back. Then Farida brought out the envelope she was also given. When she opened, there was a pack of N500 new notes. She dropped the money. Why would he give her so much money? This was too much.
“I’m sure he is refunding the money for the fish we gave that witch. He knows I wasn’t the one that suggested we buy the fish for them. He knows us very well and he knows I dislike his wife. He is happy with you thus far though. He told me you are the only friend I have brought home that he liked wholeheartedly. He can see the positive changes in me. He has promised to buy me a car of my choice if I make a 2.1”
“Wow! And you are already on it. What car do you want?”
“I don’t know for now. Until then”
“I am extremely grateful for all you have done for me. This is the best holiday I have had”
“Same here. Sam wanted to spoil it for us but it won’t happen. Happy new year girlfriend”
“Happy new year”
The rest of the holiday and the trip back to Lagos was fun. They went to watch masquerades and village football matches. They went to the markets to buy some items Farida would take back home. The leftover fish were dried and packaged too. Landing in Lagos was coming back to reality. They were resuming the following week; the announcement of the end of the strike was everywhere.
Getting home, Farida excitedly ran into her mother’s arms. She had missed them. She shared her interesting holiday story leaving out some unpleasant details. She showed her mother some of the food items she came back with. They had never seen most of the spices and vegetables she came back with. Also, the fish was strange. They hardly cooked with crayfish or dry prawns. She cooked one of her delicacies with the fish which they relished.
Going back to school was top on her mind. Farida had more than enough money. She had been blessed beyond her imagination. She gave her mother the N50,000 in the envelope. Monica had returned the N20,000 her father gave her earlier at the airport.
Iya Farida noticed a change in Farida. She seemed different. For the first time she seemed excited about wealth that wasn’t hers. Before, she was impressed but now it was like she was a part of it. She had started her talk about marrying a wealthy man again. Where did that come from? Her fears were heightened when she talked about Monica’s stepmother and her acts. She talked about the Monica’s father’s generosity. She hoped the man was not trying to entice her with money. She had seen it play out so many times. Farida had a bright future and she didn’t want anyone to tamper with it. No man can be this generous without wanting something.
Her suspicion was heightened when Monica came with food items sent by her father and stepmother. Garri, tubers of yam, plantain, snails, bush meat and more. Farida received them gladly. The former Farida would have said no but this one was jubilating over handouts. When her mother mentioned it, her reply shocked her.
“Maami, they are just like family to me. I cooked food and they all ate and enjoyed it. They chose the food I cooked over food professionals cooked. They appreciated me. For her stepmother to send me food items, that means she has accepted me in her heart”
“Are you sure her father doesn’t have intentions towards you?”
‘Maami! Don’t say that again. He has never spoken to me alone let alone say such to me. He respects me and appreciates the positive influence I have on his daughter. Do you know he promised her a car of her choice if she makes a 2.1. She is already on it. She will definitely get the car. She was telling me today her stepmother asked if I will be travelling with them for summer, she wanted to add me to the itinerary. Me, Farida, will travel abroad. Maami, is this not God’s blessings”
“My daughter, when things come so easy from your fellow human beings, I get worried. This is too easy. I hope it doesn’t come with a price. I pray they are not fattening you for the slaughter. As per the travelling abroad; let’s wait until then”.
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