Was it me or was it just a failed vision of success. Betty Maxwell sat in her room one evening, after a long day work, writing in her blue diary she’s been in possession, for God knows how long. This is what she wrote.
Dear Dairy, I just turned forty-five, and yet no sign of success in the air. I would have grown up as a writer, but instead I wanted to please my parents, who had dreams of having an accountant in their bloodline. They’d studied little Betty (me), right from the crèche as they’d studied Omolora, my elder sister, and Bisi, my younger sister, and I was as good as Omolora and Bisi join together. I’d some time, written in my diary, the mistake of my parents rather investing more in me, than my two other siblings. And other times I’d written the disappointment of a parent is for a child going its own way in life and didn’t succeed.
Tears trickled down her jaw through her checks to her neck and continued down because of the much flow till it touched her silky ash colour night gown she wore for the evening as she continued writing in her blue dairy. Dear Dairy, I wanted to read literature textbooks and materials and master all my tenses and know how to use the words properly, but instead I found all the accounting, book keeping text in my beg, all because I wanted to be the daughter of my parents, the true daughter of my parents, even if I’d one time tried to snuck in literature text into my bag if not for the fear of been caught, yell at and probably spanked. I would have had literature classmate in my university, we’d have formed a small writing group and probably would have been known, but instead I had no friends. As she wrote, she intermittently stopped, looking round, up and down, to perhaps recite what next she would write in her mind. I loved the sight of mathematics, but words move me the most. Dear Diary, it was a raging war in my heart, I told my mom so she could talk to my Dad to let me study English.
Dear Dairy, I made the greatest mistake of my life but I don’t know where and at what point I made it, but I knew I abandoned my success for my dreams, that’s why am sitting down here, writing with this so much regrets in my heart. I graduated as the best student, not just in my Department, nor my faculty but the best of the school and not just that year, but as the best graduating student ever since the University was founded. I had a C.G.P.A that was very loud enough in everyone’s ears. My parents were the happiest persons on earth, that exact day of my convocation, and yes it was the Department of Accounting in the faculty of Management Science, University of Portharcourt, Choba. Somehow, I wanted to thank my Dad for pushing me so hard and insisting that I read accounting, so that no matter the many persuasions from my mom to allow me follow my dreams and be whoever I wanted to be in life to my Dad, was all in vain, as he kept on telling me after my ceremonial address to the graduating student and the entire people present for the convocation, as the best student the school has ever made or do I say got?. My Dad was so proud of me that he would allow his big clothe having the big, wide hands opening, we call, “agbada” to pour down covering his hands, and then he would pack them up to his shoulders one after the other to make his shoulders pop up in a proud manner. This, he did over times again even as we went home. I was only grateful to Mrs. Betty; my name Co. and she was my secondary school counsellor. The war had lasted for only a year when I could not take my Dad’s forces around me to becoming an accounting student, and finally a graduate of it, even after my mother’s persuasions for him to allow me follow my heart. I was barely thirteen years old and soon I’ll be entering into the senior class, so I needed to be sure I would be doing the right thing running away from the house, when I met with Mrs. Betty the schools’ counsellor and told her all I was going through. She had only few words for me, and that it would be better doing what my parents asked me to do and fail than doing what they never wanted me to do and still fail. She said that I was a bright girl and that I was going to succeed in any area of life, she said. But I guess she was wrong. She made a few examples, mentioning the case of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, how his Dad, wanted him to read some other random course but after a long while of playing some tricks with his Dad, he ended up reading Music that has made him who he is today. I understood she had a lot of work to do, as she was busy arranging many files shattered on her desk, so she ended-up with me by saying that I should do what my Dad wanted me to do, but after that I could return back to school to fulfilling my dreams of been a writer. My ears exploded on hearing that, so that I thought about it even as I went back to my class, and then home after school, it became the thought of the century. And now, am sitting down here, with great tears in my eyes, wondering what happened to all of my dreams of writing.
I am an accountant graduate. I never had the mind of paying attention in class, but somehow, they said I was a bright student from my Dad’s bowels, even though I don’t know what that means. I got my Dad drunk on my convocation day, my siblings said, with modest laughter on their faces. I smiled and asked Bisi to call our mom so that we could take him inside to his bed. When my mom came, she smiled too and repeated just the same words my siblings had just said. Then she said, thank God I read what my Dad asked me to read, because these days in Nigeria, there’s no job for an average student, you have to work very hard in school to deserve what you’ll earn in life. As she spoke, the words of Mrs. Betty, my name sake flashed in my mind, and then I understood why, my name sake wanted me to do what my parents wanted me to do. Just before I could say a word, my Dad yawned, letting out a stench alcoholic smell from his mouth. We all laughed but Bisi’s was the loudest. Omolora, before now has been receiving lots of call from unknown callers, but this time, it was her handsome husband that called her. Did I just say handsome? Well yes, he is handsome, after all, Omolora won’t find this, and it’s my personal dairy. His call didn’t make her laugh come out because it coincided with why we were laughing. She sounded like a baby when she picked the call, and I watched her for a second, that I saw myself in her shoes, she was more beautiful than I am, so the attention she receives from men was more than I could say compare with the admirations I get from the men who would all say, Betty! You’re very brilliant, Betty! You’re a genius, Betty you’re this and you’re that. Omolora’s call with her husband was very much romantic. She pouted almost throughout the call, acting like a baby, but one time she acted like she was going to puke, but didn’t instead started laughing. I was the only one who paid attention to the call with her husband, whereas, Bisi and my mom had said another funny thing that is now making them laugh, well I didn’t hear what they said because I was busy in my head, building castles in the air. She kissed her husband goodbye after about thirty minutes of long talk on the phone with him, then said, what is making you two laughing, hope it’s not my Dad making the two of you to laugh, she said, with a modest laughter. No! It’s not, but it should have been worse if he’d polluted the air, they laughed again, then Omolora noticed that I wasn’t saying anything, neither was I laughing, so, that made her asked me why was I in that mood of quietness when I was supposed to be the most happiest person for making history for the family. I hissed and said that I was only thinking about the many offers I received today from top companies including my school to come be a lecturer, a lie I felt was necessary to cover up the many thoughts about Omolora and her husband, though it was true that I got many offers from top companies and even my school who wanted to retain me as a lecturer, but that would be something I have to deal with, perhaps after my National Youth Service Corp (NYSC). As I have said so, I knew Omolora would give her own elderly advice, as she has once been in my shoes, graduating as the best student from her Department with a First class Honour Division from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. So she knows how it feels like, getting offers from many companies. After her advice I considered not needed, I yawned too and asked that our Dad be sent to the room, so that he could wake up fresh and happy tomorrow. My Mom asked us not to worry, but that she knew how to deal with him and send him to their bedroom so he could sleep, but I think my mom was trying to prevent us from knowing that he has already urinated in his pair of trouser. You could only guard us so that I wouldn’t fall over with him.
The next morning, I saw Omolora on my bed, sleeping deeply just by my side, then I felt all of yesterday’s going up and down, the jubilation and jump of excitement, on my body like a heavy weight of relive off my back. I stretched my little lazy bones and went into my bathroom to wash my mouth and the most delicate part of my body. When I came out, Omolora was already awake looking around as if she’d lost something in my room. I had only asked the simple question, why she’d left her room to sleep in mine. And her reply was that, she has been suspecting her husband with a lady who works at the news house, and that was what she’d come to tell me last night only to find me already deep in sleep, as she could not go back to her room she decided to just lay down and sleep where she’d woken up. I should have known that she was talking about one of my bosses, former Miss Lauren Tosin. I bled in my heart at the sound of what she’d just said. What? I said, because I was really shocked, she nodded her head, still looking around like someone looking for her lost pet. I love your marriage, I said, your marriage is the best thing that I so much admire and love to experience. But he is cheating on me; he wants to see her on a daily basis. So have you confronted him about it? I’d asked, no she said, I still want to give him the benefit of doubt, so that I could have full proves when am confronting him. But you know you could be imagining things, and he could be clean about this allegation on him, I said just to satisfy my disappointment in my sister’s perfect marriage. She’s the type of girl every guy wants to have, but I don’t know if she likes to feel that way, she’s just like our Mother, always shy and reserved for the perfect one to come by. There was no problem between my sister and her husband at home except for this one she just newly told me. Then after our conversation, I started writing in my blue dairy and expressed why i hated men, insisting that I was going to become the kind of career woman that will have no little time for men, I’d captioned this one, “the day I found out that nothing is perfect in this world”. She wished she’d started off this story in a book, because her dairy she was suppose to use and write events was already getting filled up, and yet she still hadn’t finished telling her story.
It was getting interesting after my NYSC, that I accepted an offer in an oil producing company to become one of the top notch accountants. I would have accepted the lecturing job, but my Dad wanted all his Daughters to work in respected places of higher income to our names. He was mostly excited when I started working, working in the accounting department of the renowned oil producing company. My first salary was really amazing; I’d never got such a huge amount in my account before. I slit the money into three unequal parts, my Dad took one part, my Mom took the other part and of course I paid my tithe from my own part which was the biggest, so that after I had done that, the two other parts surpassed mine. I was very active in my accounting job, I did the job as if it was what I was going to do for the rest of my life, meanwhile I was only saving for my second degree in one of the departments in Humanities, I’d not as at then decided which course I was going to settle down in, I was too busy that I let out too much power and muscles for the job, unknowing that I was been watched. Other times I suggested wonderful formulae to tackle an equation, to my bosses who seems to now take all of the ideas I have to share and would even come ask me some certain things just to hear what my opinion would be. It was really getting exciting and even more interesting when Miss Lauren Tosin showed up and was announced as one of the new HOD around. I remembered that name, Omolora had later called me up when she got home the day we spoke about her husband’s infidelity, and told me the lady’s name, which is this exact name that has just been called. She was very, very, very beautiful, fair in complexion, slim and tall. Then to cap it all up, she was single, the only one that made my bones weak. I see now why my sister was panicking; she was a threat to her and her married. I admired her as she spoke; addressing the many workers she called fellow employees. Her voice was… do I say soothing? Or smooth for just one person to have, her tenses were simple and correct, she sounded as a well read lady, and her modest dressing, looks like a very educated and honest lady. I was beginning to like her, so that all the hatred I had for her the very instance her name was called, was all washing away like a rock undergoing attrition. I smiled loudly so that I could get her attention. She’d just resigned from her bank job, to become an auditor here, thus, her resume made her one of the HOD over me and much other account who would now report to her directly or any of the two other HODS in her office. I never got her attention, she was a disciplined lady. I loved her for one thing; she never paid too much attention to anyone, not even Tunde who seems to be the hottest boss around, flirting with all the pretty girls of the company, haaaaaa! I hated him for that. Whenever I thought of him, Omolora husband came to my mind. But wait, I sat on my desk one day, trying to correlate everything, my sister had told me about her husband and the news house lady, she’d disclosed to me, who was named Lauren Tosin, which is my new boss, and yes, Tosin is really beautiful, but she’s a straight forward girl I see as an honest individual, minding her own business, and trying not to meddle into other people’s businesses. And she doesn’t work in the news house; she had studied Management in the University, before majoring in Business Mathematics in macro-economics. We nick named her Miss For-real. That was what me and the other workers in her section called her, because she acted very serious, even more serious than I was when I first started my job, although, my next desk accountant tells me that I still haven’t changed from my first fire of seriousness when it comes to discharging my duty.
I remember one day; Tunde gave an assignment I hadn’t finished, I was still working hard to get the assignment done, Miss For-real called up my desk from her office, demanding that I see her in her office. I left all the brain cracking assignment Tunde had put me through, it was towards the end of the day’s job, and I was still fighting hard to do what Tunde asked me to do. Accounting stuff, you won’t understand even though I told you. I walked into the office with a serious face, not hoping to smile because I know it’s not her thing to smile to anyone anyhow, most especially, her workers. Why the long face? Miss Betty, she asked as if she hadn’t known that we already know her to be a serious lady and so we deal with her seriously. Nothing Madame was my reply, and then I tried to lighten up. I understand that Mr. Tunde gave you an assignment you still haven’t finished? Yes Ma, I said, but am almost done. She turned to look at me with a surprise-face. The calculations are a little bit strange Ma, but I’ve devised a formula for it, I should be done before the close of the day. Ok then, Miss Betty, you can go back to finish it, but let me be the first to see it before showing it to Mr. Tunde, she finished saying, then I turned, went back to my desk and continued my assignment. Little did i know that, the assignment Tunde gave me was a bet he had with one of the HODs who felt, I was different. Now, Tunde’s assignment was to prove his friend wrong that I was nothing but a normal girl, and they talked about me in the office to the hearing of this new HOD, Miss Lauren Tosin, so that at a point his friend began to doubt in my ability, well, Miss Tosin never told me all of this when she called me to her office, in fact she left me even more confused as to why she’d called for me and didn’t say anything important. I went back to my seat and avoided brooding as to why she called me and didn’t say a thing relevant. I solved Tunde’s equation and felt like the dumbest person in the world since it has taken me the whole day to do this, even though my brain was reading like a computer’s memory at the moment, and then finally i came to my end point with adverse effect on the problem and the possible solution any forensic aid would give. I took the solved equation that filled almost ten plain sheets, to Miss Tosin at her command. She held the papers and went through them sluggishly as I observed her and her eyes moving up and down trying to do the calculation herself in her head. She is a brilliant lady; I never doubted her opinions, or her disapprovals, because I have proven her to be a first hand type of lady, who read her accounting very well. I should know, because i have head for these things, so i never thought about her disapproval twice. I stood before her waiting for her to say something about my approach in a particular step, but no, she never, instead she only said that it was impossible, impossible for what? I asked, she didn’t reply instead she started all over again, from the beginning. When she was done for the second reading, she asked me never to make mention of it to Mr. Tunde anymore, that she was going to handle the problem. I was a little confused, I went back to my desk to pack up my bag because it was time to go home, then i started thinking about the whole Miss Tosin thing, from the first time she’d called me, to this time she ceased Tunde’s assignment, I was a little bit confuse. I passed the HODs office and still saw her going through my solve equation. I got home, took my bath and finished eating. I sat with Bisi on the veranda’s balcony of our new house, eating some fruits with a fork, she’d sliced for me into a bowel, listening to her talk about her final year science project, how her group members were not serious and how she’d opted for a change of topic so that she could work alone, she was talking when my phone rang out loudly so that our discussion was bridged. I took permission from her and picked the call, it was my boss, Miss Tosin, AKA the beautiful career woman, alias Miss For-real. Maybe she’s found an error in the problem I solved, but amazingly, she started congratulating me on the phone, that was when she told me why Tunde actually gave me that assignment, I became pissed for only two reasons, that men sat in that office to gossip instead of doing their job and secondly that I spent the whole day doing an assignment that wasn’t worth it. I’d thought it was some kind of company’s new ideal and they were looking for an executer. She finished talking everything that I never heard because i was busy been pissed, she asked me to see her in her office tomorrow, the first thing when i come to work, was the last thing I heard and then she hanged up, so I went back discussing with my little sister, until we went to our rooms to sleep.
The next day broke into a beautiful, sunny morning. I remember the song I was singing when I was driving to work. The sun was so bright that it shone brightly through the windscreen, flashing on my face, I love morning sun but not when it was going to make it difficult for me to see the road, so I brought down one of the two flaps walling the rear-view mirror, just to shield the sun from my face. Miss For-real was seating in her office when I entered, for the first time, she smile at me on my entering, I still gave her a serious look even though I knew I was the person she’d thrown that smile to. Tunde was in the office too but on his own desk at his corner, he’d even forgotten he gave me an assignment, funny enough; I looked at Tunde and what came to my head about him made me smile, so Miss Tosin thought I returned back her smile. Please sit down, she said when I got closer to her desk, to keep up with the boss and subject attitude we’d given to her ever since she came and made it clear that she admires respect a lot. In my days at the bank, before I resigned, my boss gave me that same equation to solve and I couldn’t, he couldn’t either, and for years we had avoided that problem not to make our mistakes. She smiled the more as she spoke, I was pretty impressed that I broke the deadlock. I want you to be my PA? She said nervously. Your PA? I repeated calmly, but surprised. Yes please, she said. I thought for a moment and then asked how it was going to look like. Oh! She said, I’m going to bring equations to me, and you will solve them, so that i can present it to any company who needed our assistant, she said so, in a nice, calm and appetizing manner, but the company still pays you your salary at due time, it’s just only going to be the both of us as a term, solving the macro-economical problem. I thought again for a moment, it was not going to be something I have to sleep over with, it was only a yes or a no, what do I have to lose anyways, I was still going to resign after I have the amount of money am saving for from my salary to go back to school for my dream course, after all, I did what my Dad wanted me to do after all these years. Yes, I agreed to her request, yes I will be your PA, only on one condition. Ok, name your price, she said. If you agree that we become friends. Of course, we are friends she said excitedly. So that means I am free to ask or say anything I want to, sure you are free, Miss For-real fell into my trap, but she laughed out loudly because all along she has been speaking in a low tone so that Tunde would not hear us as we talked. He raised his head to look at her snobbishly. I stood up and went to my desk, there was a signal to download a file on my computer, I put the cursor on it and clicked download, it was a flight ticket to London, and my breath was taken away. I and Miss Tosin flew out to London the next week for her to make a presentation for our company to its branch in London. On our way back I asked her about my sister’s husband and she knew him, and she told my all that happened, how he requested for another stock broker, for reasons he refused to tell her even up till now, her former bank, granted his request, but she was mad because she felt it was the fault of her colleagues. I told them loudly that he was married, and he wasn’t having anything with me on- like other men who could date even their mother, I’d told them what we’d, was strictly business nothing else, and I understood that he loved his wife he won’t try anything to hurt her, so I resigned because I felt he heard whispers in my bank and requested for his stock broker be changed to a male. I cried when I got back home because I’d judge a wrong man, but when I contacted my sister to tell her all I found, she was even the one telling me what I just found because he’d knew even before she told me, and made that request, I was shocked for the kind of man her husband is, and didn’t know if I would begin loving him again. But I got married the following year after many pressures from my parents and siblings. Guess who held my gown behind… Bisi, and her friends formed the most part of my bridal train. The third HOD I’d not mentioned beside Tunde, proposed to me after he was made the assistant manager the following year, and I’ve done many trip abroad with Miss Tosin who then resigned to pick up a job in London she was offered when she presented one of the brain racking equations i dissolved, and she recommended me for more and more promotions with an increase in salary before leaving, as I’d become the company’s arrow head.
My marriage dissolved when I told my husband about resigning and going back to school, to study English. He’d opposed strongly, just like my Father, but his reasons were because he didn’t know what the company would be, in my absence. I insisted. Then one day, I ran away from home till now, I’ve never set my eyes on him nor my parents. I graduated from English and majored in African studies as I’ve dreamt of writing many African stories, among other books and lots and lots of articles. But up till now I seem to have not found my bearing as anyone I met keeps telling me that my story and writing was shallow and didn’t hold any truth or passion in them. I’d cried for days even as I started working in this publishing house, my tears has touched every book, because I didn’t know where my failure come from. I should have stayed with my success rather than chasing my dreams. Now, I can’t tell if I could go back to my husband like the prodigal son did after these many years, he must have gotten married by now with kids.
Dear Dairy, I’m a broken woman with a broken heart.
Betty took her dairy she’d written her story, to work the next day, and her employer found it because she’d misplaced it, he read it and felt it was a good story to publish. After two years of publishing her story on her command, it has sold for about twenty million copies still counting.
By Aseleni Wodo from Nigeria