The Other Side of Nothing (Week One)
By Aderomola Adeola, Nigeria:
In the Lagos Metropolitan University that I attended, everyone was a name dropper. To belong to the class of the young, rich and connected, it was either you were from old money, a political bloodline or your father controlled oil money. There were those other names, unknown but with loads of cash and fat bank accounts, those names were accepted too so long as there was money to show off in support of the claim. Those were the names I dropped.
My name was Tari Ade-Serrano and my step-father was an oil baron who didn't like to be in tabloid newspapers and spent most of his vacations in Dubai. He was a personal friend of the Royal family in Abu Dhabi and knew the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The impressive blueblood memoir brought the student populace to my feet. I dated the rich boys, spent most of my time with the coolest girls and was part of the young, rich and connected as the daughter of Chief Layo Ade-Serrano.
But he didn't exist. That man lived only in my imagination. My real father was a semi-illiterate palm-wine tapper, my mother sold cassava and oranges. My elder brother, Ebele, was a militant in the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria who dropped out of secondary school because my father could not afford to pay his tuition. My real family lived on a creek in Azuzuama, Bayelsa and our house was elevated on water with bamboo sticks. Growing up, we never had electricity and my father could not afford a television set. My real name is Tari Dakolo and I learnt English working as a housemaid of a primary school teacher in Yenogoa, the capital city of Bayelsa. The woman had a son named John, I called him Uncle John. Uncle John bought me my first wristwatch, bought me make-up and said he would buy me a phone if I let him touch my body. I was happy with Uncle John so I always wanted him to be happy too. Whenever his mother went to work, Uncle John would ask me to come into his room and he would make me sleep with him. I was twelve then and I continued to make Uncle John happy till I was fifteen. He never bought me a phone and he made me have abortions when I got pregnant for him. I couldn't tell my brother, my mother knew but didn't tell my father. Uncle John eventually travelled to Kano and I never saw him again.
I returned to our creek when I was eighteen, after I completed my secondary school education and Uncle John's mother told my father she could not afford to send me to the University. I did well in my GCE secondary school examination and passed my University Matriculation Exam (UME) the first time I wrote it but my father did not think it was wise to send a girl to the University, so he sent me to work for an old woman instead. But the old woman thought women should be given equal opportunities as men and so made me write the UME again and when I passed, secured my admission to the Lagos Metropolitan University.
In my first year at the Lagos Metropolitan University, I quickly became a name dropper. I was Tari Dakolo in the school's record but everyone knew me as Tari Ade-Serrano and I had an explanation. My biological father Professor Dakolo had died of cardiac attack in Ukraine, he left my mother so much property but they were all in Ukraine. My mother met Chief Layo Ade-Serrano onboard Air France from Paris to Nigeria and the rest became a happily ever after tale. As the only child of my mother, I enjoyed everything. I told everyone who cared to listen that there was no country I had never been to, though I had never even gone to the International wing of the Muritala Mohammed Airport in Lagos. But I was adept at descriptions, studied maps, could recite names of countries and their capitals in my sleep. I knew so much about fashion. I knew the latest designs in Lagos, the newest summer collections in France, the haute couture of Hollywood movie stars. But I wore imitations and used clothes. Also, I copied designs off the internet and had a tailor reproduce them and stitch Armani labels on them.
To keep up with the expectations, I had different kinds of sugar daddies and only wanted to know the rich with fancy SUVs and convertible sport cars. In exchange for the wealth, nothing was too much of a price to pay. The good life and promise that everything good comes at a price made it worth my while yet nothing prepared me for the other side. Nothing prepared me for willingly choosing to dare anything and do anything. Nothing prepared me for what was usually on the other side of nothing.