I glanced around the auditorium at the people who’d come to hear me speak. The auditorium of five thousand capacity was filled to the brim with people of different nations. Nigerians, Ghanaians, Kenyans, Americans and many more.
Everybody here had come to know how I’d made it.
Who would’ve guessed that I would be where I was today? Who would’ve thought I would have achieved all I had? Just one person – Me. Yes, I was the only one who’d believed in myself.
Every other person had mocked me, laughed at me, scolded me, even advice me against my dreams. Bad advice, I tell you. Where were my haters now? Still in the trash.
“Now, we’re going to invite our very own person to the stage, the one you all had come to see.” The announcer said, returning the atmosphere to quietude.”One of the few women who inspire lives wherever she goes,” she continued. “The one woman every man and woman want to be like. A mentor to so many people. The beautiful, kindhearted, amicable Miss Adaora Obigwe.”
Everyone clapped, hooted and smiled.
I held back tears. I wished she’d see me now. I was no longer the little girl she’d abandoned, the little girl she’d thrown away, the one people pitied. No, not anymore. I was now the founder and CEO of Evergreen transportation. I was Forbes number one richest under thirty in the whole of Africa.
I wiped a stray tear with my handkerchief as I walked to the stage. I held the microphone and for a minute, I just stared at their faces as their rapturous shouts nabbed the environment.
My God is always faithful. Even when I’d strayed away, when I’d disappointed him, when I’d gotten blindsided with anger, he never failed me. I wiped away another tear.
“I’d like to tell you all a secret,” I started and the auditorium became as quiet as a graveyard. “The key to success is persistence.” I paused to acknowledge their reactions. Their faces glowed with expectation.
“I never knew who my father was.” I continued. “I only knew my mum, and she never told me who fathered me. So as a child, I was always bullied. When I was three, my mother decided it was time I knew my father.
“She dressed me up prettily in new clothes, which was quite surprising then since we were so poor we could only manage to feed three times a day. My mum was just a laundrywoman. I was happy, very happy that I would no longer be bullied by my peers. I would be able to boast about my dad like others.
“My little mind wondered how he would look. Would he be as handsome as Jenny’s dad? Or as tall as Aisha’s dad? Or maybe his hands would be as big as Ngozi’s dad’s?”
People laughed at the last part.
“My mum was silently crying beside me and my tiny self didn’t think to ask why. I just thought it was because the joy of seeing my dad again overwhelmed her. We stopped at the front of a building and just stood there, waiting for my dad I had assumed. After a while, my mum told me she wanted to buy popcorn for me and that I should wait for her. I’d nodded eagerly.
“I’d always wanted to taste popcorns. I waited and waited and waited. It wasn’t until night came that I’d realised something was amiss. I came up with hundreds of different reasons why my mother wasn’t back. The building I’d been standing in turned out to be an orphanage.
“When the sister’s in the orphanage saw me, they took me in.” I chuckled dryly. “Everyday I’d try the little I could to keep myself clean so when mother came for me she’d realised I’d been a good girl. And every day, she didn’t show up, I’d be disappointed. It wasn’t until I was eight that reality hit me. I’d been abandoned by my own mother in an orphanage.”
I heard a lot of people gasped.
“How sure are you, something bad didn’t happen to her? Like an accident?” Someone shouted from the crowd.
“Because I saw her again when I was fifteen. She was married with two kids. I’d been willing to forgive and forget, I’d have done anything just to escape the hell I was in then. I was desperate. Things were bad enough that I would’ve forgiven her if she’d asked. I was tired of it all. I just needed someone who’d care for me.
“But no. My mother didn’t want me nor my forgiveness. She told me to never come before her again. Her husband didn’t know about me and she wanted it to remain so. To her, I’d been a small sacrifice for the life she’d always wanted for herself, to be married to a rich man.”
Every eye in the auditorium was on me. Each eyes conveyed different emotions, but two emotions stood out. Pity and awe.
Pity for what I went through and awe that after everything I’d been through, I had persisted. I didn’t pity myself though. I’d learned to see the positivity in negative situations. If my mum hadn’t abandoned me, would I be where I was now? Would I be who I was now? Maybe or maybe not. All I knew was that the situations I found myself in helped shaped me.
“Life at the orphanage was…eye-opening,” I said, for lack of a better word to use. “I’d thought I had experienced all the worse things in life until I experienced hunger. At least, I ate three times a day with my mum.
“At the orphanage we were fed twice a day and each portion was meager. Sometimes when we behaved too badly, like speak loud or run about, that was their definition of bad, and the sisters would send us to bed without food. But not before hitting us and reminding us of how unwanted we were.
“They said they were doing us a favour by taking care of us. Reminding unwanted children that they were unwanted was…wicked. They didn’t care that we were just kids and that kids were meant to speak loud, dirty their clothes and play. They saw it as being bad.
“You’d think people don’t visit us at the orphanage with provisions, right? They did. Always. Whenever we had visitors we were ordered to be of good behaviour and never speak unless spoken to. At some point, I began thinking that we being ordered to remain silent around visitors had nothing to do with us offending the visitors but for fear that one of us might slip up and tell the visitors that most of the things they brought were shared between the sisters.
“I’m not saying all orphanages are like the one I grew up in because they are not. In fact, my best friend also grew up in an orphanage and she told me that life at her own orphanage was good and fun. I was just one of the unfortunates.
“I ran away from the orphanage when I was thirteen. And that, my good people, was when hell became personally mine. That was when I knew unadulterated hunger. I went for a while without food. A day, two days, a week? Hunger is bad. Hunger is wicked. Hunger is cruel. I did lots of mini jobs yet I had to steal from people just to quench my hunger. Once, when I was fifteen, I was caught and nearly burnt alive.”
I dabbed my cheeks with my handkerchief. The memory still brought tears to my eyes. Some of my audience, like me, was cleaning their tears.
“A tire had already been put round my neck just because I stole ten naira biscuit, I’d been bathed with fuel while onlookers watched. God, I was just a kid by then yet they didn’t care. No one even looked at me to imagine, ‘what if I were their daughter?’ A good Samaritan came around. My good Samaritan was a woman who was popularly known as madam cash.
“Madam cash had spoken to the mob, calmed them down and paid the money for the biscuit I had stolen. She’d taken me to her house, bathed me, clothed me and fed me. I’d stayed with her for a month when she dropped the bombshell. I was to work for her as a sex worker, just like many other girls she owned. Initially I’d refused but she’d reminded me of all she had done for me.
“She’d set me up with men, most of them old enough to be my grandfather, and every money I made was divided into two. One part for me and the other for Madam cash.”
A sob threatened to take over my body but I pushed it away. These people must know. They needed to know that not all rich people were born with a silver spoon. I, for one, definitely wasn’t.
“I worked as a prostitute for three years before I saved enough money to do something else. When I told Madam cash I wanted to stop prostitution, all hell broke loose. She talked about how ungrateful I was, how selfish I was, even kicked me out of her house.
“I bought a keke napep with the money I’d saved. I’d been so happy then. You should have seen me driving my keke with style.” I smiled at the memory and my audience laughed.
“Driving my keke hadn’t been easy. Many men refused to board my keke. They said I was a woman and a woman, a young girl at that, cannot drive them. Even some women refused to enter my keke. They feared I’d kill them, not minding that I’d learned how to drive and had my driver’s licence. From one keke, I entered two, from two to three kekes and a bus. And that was how Evergreen transportation came to be. Now I am a proud owner of thousands of kekes and buses.
“I’m not telling you guys my history so that you can pity me. I’m not telling you so I can boast. No. I’m trying to tell you that not every rich person had it easy in life. Temptations came, afflictions came, tribulations came, challenges came, yet I succeeded. I scaled through because of two things.
“God and persistence. Imagine if I hadn’t persisted, if I’d given up, if I’d stopped half way, if I’d continued prostitution till this day, if I’d given up because of people’s mockery? Where would I be now? Who would I be now? Let me tell you the answer. I would still be in ghetto, in the gutters. And I would be a nobody.
“When life is hard, persist. When people tell you to give up, persist. When you see only failure, persist. Persistence. I repeat, persistence, is the key to success.”
When I dropped the microphone and step down from the stage, there was a standing ovation. I smiled and hoped I’d inspired more lives today.
I stepped outside the auditorium and glanced around, looking for Mike, my boyfriend of two years and the love of my life. He’d said he would attend today but I haven’t seen him. A hand suddenly wrapped around my waist, startling and making me jump. I turned, still in the person’s arms and my face connected with Mike’s.
“You were magnificent in there, Ada. My God. I’m so lucky to have you.” Mike said and delivered a quick kiss to my lips.
“You scared me,” I scolded, my heart still breathing fast from the scare – he laughed and delivered another kiss to my lips. “You should never be scared with me.”
I hit his chest with my hand and pouted. “How was I supposed to know it was you?” His eyes hadn’t left mine, when he said,
“As long as I’m in your life, nothing will happen to you. I’ll always protect you.” The smile that took over my face nearly made my mouth permanently wide.
“That’s sweet. As a matter of fact, you should never be afraid since I plan to remain in your life forever.”
“What are you talking…”
I trailed off when Mike, Nigeria’s richest and twenty sixth richest man in the world knelt in front of me with a little box in his hand.
He opened the box which revealed a diamond ring and opened his mouth to ask the one question; I already knew he was going to ask. I didn’t give him the chance to ask the question before shouting,
“Yes. Yes. Yes. I will marry you.”
My thirty two year old prince grinned and hugged me tightly.