Mama Rashida’s insistent knocks woke Danny. He turned on his phone to check the time: it was 5:30 am and he knew he would be late if he didn’t hurry. He had planned to wake up earlier to beat the Ikorodu Road traffic, but he had been so tired when he got home the night before. And, he had gratefully wolfed down the big bowl of Eba with okro offered him by Mama Rashida. The woman could be crazy when she wanted her rent, but she was good to Danny, like the mother he didn’t have.
The Eba must have weighed him down because he woke a full hour later than he intended. He bathed and dressed hurriedly, his phone’s torch illuminating his small room. It was a good thing he had picked out his outfit before he went to bed; with the way he was rushing, he would have put on mismatched clothes. He picked up the topmost envelope in a pile beside his bed, and stepped out of the house.
He half-ran to the bus stop. There he joined the teeming crowd in the struggle to get a seat on a bus, which was, in the part of the city where he lived, enough a problem to face for one day.
Having finally secured a seat on a bus, he brought out the envelope and read the letter in it again. He could not believe he had finally gotten audience with a publisher, and a well-known one at that. At first, he had thrown the letter in his rejection pile without opening it, thinking it would be the same old story, “Dear Mr. Ibrahim, your work is interesting. Unfortunately, this material is not what we are looking for at this time …” But after a few days, he had picked up the envelope out of curiosity, to know which of the publishers had rejected him this time. Surprisingly, it had been good news. Different news, at least. There were no guarantees, but this publisher didn’t reject his work yet. This one wanted to meet him.
Sending his manuscript to the publishing company was a long shot; after 25 rejections from different publishers, his confidence was not that high. He had started to wonder if he should continue peddling himself as a writer; he was 35, unmarried, and relied on odd jobs and the kindness of his landlady for his rent. He snapped out of his reverie when he heard the bus conductor shout “Lekki Roundabout!”
“Lekki dey o!” he responded and got off the bus as it slowed.
Danny stepped into the office building and thought to himself how unimpressive it was; the walls were a dull green color and there were no pictures or decorations of any kind hanging on them. The office was very clean though. He informed the receptionist of his appointment and was led into a meeting room.
He had only been seating for a few minutes when the meeting room door opened again.
“Hello, Daniel. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” a woman said as she walked towards him. Danny tried to speak but his tongue seemed tied to the bed of his mouth. He had expected to meet the General Manager or the Managing Editor, but before him stood Nigeria’s Princess of Prose, The CEO of the publishing company, his mentor, and idol all rolled into one.
“I am Funke Coker,” she said, extending her hand. He recovered quickly and shook it.
“Please, take a seat.”
He nodded through the meeting, surreptitiously pinching himself, telling himself that this was real, and it was happening to him. He started when he heard her call his name. Had he been staring too long? Was he drooling?
“Ermm…I beg your pardon?”
“I said, shall we talk numbers?”
His head swam. Funke Coker read his book, liked it, and was going to publish it. He didn’t even care what the numbers were; he was going to be an author!
Someone Up There had finally remembered him. His dream was coming true. Or maybe Mama Rashida’s Eba was at work, fixing his luck. It wouldn’t be surprising; the okro soup was life-changing. He had to remember to thank her properly.
As he headed home that day, nothing could dampen his mood. Not the struggle for a bus, not the traffic, the uncomfortable seats and sweltering heat, not the potholes, stinky gutters, or any other of the numerous city attractions. He thought back to all the times when he almost gave up, when Mama Rashida was his only audience, when he came within an inch of going back to banking, and he smiled. Good things did come, eventually.
He entered his compound with Mama Rashida’s name on his lips. “Come and see o! I have made it!
Mama Rashida came running and almost bumped into him in the corridor.
“Wetin happen? Why…why are you… shouting?” Mama Rashida asked, out of breath from shuffling for a few meters.
“See, I got an offer!” Danny replied, passing a piece of folded paper to her. Mama Rashida ran her eyes through the paper for half a minute before she looked up and admitted, “I no fit read. What…wetin dey the letter?”
“See, Funke Coker likes one of my stories and she is going to print it! Remember how you keep telling me to stop writing and go out and find a job? Somebody likes my writing and they are going to make it into a book!”
Mama Rashida, who had gotten her breath back at this time, hissed.
“Ehn ehn? Na book we go chop? Na book go pay me my eight-month rent wey you neva see give me?”
“No ‘Mama Rashida’ me! When you tell me say you get meeting today, I been think say na something like bank job. Siddon for house night and day, no go look find work. Writer ko, writer ni.” She let out another hiss and kept murmuring as she walked away.