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Imagine being on a soft couch, and you have a glass of chilled orange juice in one hand and the next day, you're struggling to buy a satchet of water under the hot sun. It wasn't voluntary, but from lack of funds. It takes that much to adjust. This isn't exactly how it happened; our story of comfort to hustle, but something of the sort. And although the struggle lasted days, it felt like just one day. One day that it all changed. The days our Father spent in illness before he gave up. Yet, we had sacrificed all that we had. Now, we had to face the hustle. As novices, inexperienced, unprotected.
Never, in my childhood years would I have imagined being in want. Of struggling before I got something especially money. We never knew want. My siblings and I grew up in the best conditions. We had virtually everything! Comfort, name, home... I pictured the way my life seemed lain out for me. Poverty never came to mind.
Poverty now, isn't just about not having shoes to wear. I think I later learned to know poverty as having embarrassing shoes that clicked about and hurt the feet, shoes that you wear everyday whether it matches your outfit or not yet, you walk with them to get little money. And then, not to buy new ones, but to take care of other pressing needs. Fees, rent, food.
I never imagined this poverty. But then, I never imagined also that Dad would die like a vacuum- sucking all the resources and leaving us, empty. I was forced to chase this life, when it became the only choice.
Death is sickly and pale. If you ask me what death looks like, this is what I'll say. It's sneezing and cold with fever the pitch of burning. It's choked breathing, oily face, chapped lips, and nothing in the end. This was how he died. Our dad. He was sick. Day after day, we sat by him, hoping, praying. And, we were given so many false hopes. He would survive it. He's going to. Our funds went into medicine. And comfort into buying drugs. Bills piled high and high. Yet, we loaned some more. It's to make him better, we'll settle it all sometime. But one day, he died, leaving mum, my siblings, myself. To what? The house still smelt of drugs and the debtors still knocked every second to demand their money. My siblings had school and so did I. And really, we almost dropped out.
The first few days after he died was unsettling for us. I hated to see the sadness in my siblings' eyes. Mum was collapsed with grief. The grief that later turned to worry when after about two months since he died, condolences stopped coming in. Not the greetings as that but small gifts, money, family support. These had helped us get through the sorrowful times but it didn't really help to cover future needs nor clear old debts. Now, people expected us to have "moved on a bit." We knew that too, especially Mum and myself. She had told me one day;
"Ronald..., it's been a while since your father has passed away. I just want you to know that things aren't ever going to be the same again. There would be struggles, my son. I do not even know how we are going to survive but the Lord will see us through."
That day, we discussed a few things. It was glaring now that we'll have to change our lifestyle. Anyway, we already had since Dad fell sick. The wealth hadn't disappeared in one day afterall. So, we had felt the pangs of poverty in bits and bits. We agreed to meet a few relatives. Maybe they could help. Dad had three siblings. A brother and two sister. And although, our uncle wasn't sure to be of much help; She wasn't on good terms with Dad before he died, we hoped his sisters could do something to assist us.
Days ran by, I had started to think a lot. Maybe because I'm just the kind to make prepared plans. I don't like having unnecessary surprises jump at me. And, we knew now that living was going to be tough. I tried to face the facts. It's much harder than you think. I had plans, most propped up with hopes but still, plans. There isn't much work to do here. I still had school, yes, which by the way, I'm really confused about. I'm in my final year. But there isn't much that Agricultural extension sciences could do here. I had to find a job. I hoped to somehow, scale through this last year then, travel to Lagos. I would be of more use there. I didn't know how exactly it would go yet but I told Mum. She worried much. She feared for my going to Lagos. She promised to contact her family members for assistance.
I watched her daily as she called over and over again. Friends of Dad, her own friends, family, and, even distant cousins. Many gave condolences and regrets, a few offered promises and one or two sent something to us but it was little. Mum would assure me that she had found people who promised to take care of us and that she was still looking for more. But, after weeks of not hearing anything, I knew that I had to take up the responsibility on my own. Mum was worried about my inexperience and relatively young age but I knew that I had to be the father now. I am the father now. It doesn't matter if I'm just a little over twenty. Mum was uncomfortable and I was too but I have three siblings. The first who was born after myself is in his second year in the University, the other two are in second year in Senior Secondary school and third year in junior secondary respectively. It didn't matter who I was before. It's who I have to be now.
"Would we stop school?"Jennifer, the youngest asked her immediate elder brother, David.
"Of course, you moron!" The other replied. "How else do you expect us to cope?"
I frowned and raised my brow. They were in the sitting room area while I was in the dining room. They didn't notice that I was there because their backs were turned against my side. I was working on my laptop, searching remote job offers. I had been listening to their discussion too. Was that what they thought? Then I heard Jennifer whine.
"I can't sell pure water." Who was filling their heads with these thoughts? I wondered. Well, they're young, not stupid. Maybe they're just trying to face reality.
"You wouldn't." David said. "We'll just all probably turn labourers or something. Brother Ronald is going to Lagos to find work."
Children are just children. They say a lot of bizzare things was what I couldn't assure myself. But then, I concluded within myself that I was going to make things better. That none of us would drop out and, there will always be food on our tables.
That was how I struggled to keep my siblings together through my last school days and after then. It's now that I'm out of school that I realise how much help I had received from coursemates in school.
I wasn't very popular but the news circulated quick. I was actually surprised to see the number of condolences I got, gifts, and financial help. A few had afterall, been there with me when we were going through Dad's sick times. I managed to finish my last year from Dad's sister's help. Aunt Margaret. She was the youngest of the children but, the most successful. I wonder what will have happened to our schooling if it weren't for her.
I tried several businesses while I was in school. Dropshipping for friends, Online trade, sometimes, I did assignments for my classmates for some small change and, I even learnt barbing. I can't say that I earned much from this even though I worked tirelessly day and night. To be honest, the times weren't easy.
I remember a day. One of the many random days. Just work, school and worry. But there was something else that day.
I had had a discussion with my brother, Collins. If this struggle had a good effect, I think it is that it brought us closer. Collins and myself didn't go to the same school although it was the same state. He came home more frequently now. And many nights, we, the children, would sit together in one of our rooms and talk about the stress each of us were facing, and how much we longed for better days. It was with mixed emotions that I realized how much more my brothers look up to me. They seemed to have grown a certain fondness and extra respect. Like...Dad. Of course, they could see so, they saw it. How much effort I put to the school fees, house fees and debt.
"It isn't easy, Brother Ronald." Collins voiced out my thoughts. I looked at him but he wasn't looking at my side.
"I wonder most times," he continued with a note of depression in his voice. "...how people survive this everyday."
Then, he looked at me. "Do you think maybe we can survive it too? There's David, Jennifer and myself in school. I've seen what dropouts become, brother. And I don't want that for our younger ones. Besides, I know what desperation makes people do to get money.
Especially when one is used to a life of comfort. He'll do anything to get it back."
I finished school, it seemed quick. Usually, people feel that they are being thrown into the hustle when they finish school. In my case however, I was happy for it. At least, that gave me the freedom to work more. I had been waiting for it in fact; for the hustle. So, when I was going towards it, I didn't flinch but embraced it willingly.
Life after school is hard. Especially when you don't have connections too, a main factor like the Father. But I had to live that life because of Mum, and Collins, and David, and Jennifer. David was now in SS3, his final year in high school while Jennifer was entering SS1. Our support from Aunt Margaret wasn't strong anymore because of the state of the country, and the fact that she had twins who were entering University. I went in search of a job. There were only a few options from my state so, I rethought the original plan to travel to Lagos. After graduation, a friend who had connections with an influential group invited me to a job offer. No, I couldn't go on with my service year. I made a note to do that sometime when it's convenient. When I hopefully had enough money. My friend, Ekene had picked the company as his service place of primary assignment since he knew people there. That was where I got my first job.
I worked as a driver, delivering goods. It wasn't easy and, it left me with only little time for other small "hustle"(side jobs) so, after about five months of working there, I quit. That though, was after I had found another job. Luckily for me, it paid more. It was very little over but, it worked out well. However, I lost the cheap accommodation I had when I worked as a driver because I had to move. I calculated costs and gains however, and with Mum's and Collins's support, I changed jobs.
My new job required me staying at a desk all day but then, I had time to work online jobs. Oh, what did I not try! It all amounted however, to having several but small sources of income. It was far from convenient and most times, I worked to the breaking point but it fed me and my family. So, it stayed.
There are many things you see your age mates do, you'll wish to join in. It's what you're supposed to be doing at that time. My age mates lived the fun of youth. Clubbing, partying, buying expensive clothes, designer shoes, perfumes, gifts for girlfriends, the more successful ones rode cars. Once, a fellow workmate told me; I looked like a family man. What of which, he meant someone who is married with children. I didn't earn much but, I earned a minimum wage. I had people even older than I am, earning the same or less yet, still doing what my age mates do. I didn't wear expensive clothes, I didn't have the money for that, neither did I wear designer shoes. I had only two with the exception of my slippers. One for work, and one to church. When the one I wear to work spoilt, I didn't throw it away to by a new one. I repaired it and kept on wearing it. Had I felt the mockery of my peers alone, that wouldn't have been a problem. I was used to it. Oh, he's the bull pulling the family. He's a miser. He has a controlling girlfriend who spends all of his money while he's left with none or, he's a psycho. That didn't matter to me. Mum and Dad had taught us the importance of family. I'll do anything for mine. I guess what really got to me was my own physical discomfort. The conditions I lived in. We had been in this struggle for over a year now but I hadn't really gotten used to it. But I had no choice. I watched from a distance, the activities of youth like me and used that as a drive to work harder. With the way he works, he should have been a rich man already. But our people say;
The head that carries the pot doesn't turn recklessly to watch passing by dancers.
About a year ago, Collins graduated from the University. He would soon be done with the NYSC service. On the other hand, David finished his JAMB exam. He would soon graduate secondary school. He was only still there for his WAEC and NECO exams. My brother would soon get in the University. It seemed funny how I felt so proud of my siblings. More like a father. Maybe, this is what parents feel. It was going to be a harder task, sponsoring him through school but we all have brains and we hoped that his results would be able to get him into the federal university of his choice. The fees would be lower than if he attended a state school.
During this period of waiting, something happened. Recently. I think it might just be the turning point we've been praying for. A few days ago, I received a call from Collins.
Brother Ronald.. Remember the schools abroad that I apply to? I received an email from one of them. Guess what? I've been admitted!
"Are you serious!" I shouted, literally jumping from my seat and spilling drinks on my cloth.
The rest of our discussion centered around Collins and his admission.
I called mum to inform her. Mum didn't believe it at first. We hadn't told her while Collins was applying to not keep her hopes up unnecessarily. Needless to say, she was overjoyed. We all were. And while we didn't talk deep about the requirements for his admission, my mind strayed consistently to it. We're glad, it's that big opportunity we need. But how can we find it? Collins got admitted but he didn't get a scholarship.
The next few days were later spent assessing Collins' admission requirements. He had been admitted into Teesside University in Middlesbrough, England.
He had applied for several scholarships but he couldn't qualify for any. There's tuition, travel costs, living costs. We are ready to send our son abroad with all our assets if need be. But all we have is two small parcels of land that worth about 1.3 million naira ($2600) only. Through toil and scrap, and my Bitcoin cash earning on read.cash I have managed to raise about one million naira ($2000). But, our estimate need is about seven to eight million naira (more than $15,000). We do not have collateral for loan and there's limited time to get it all done. This is a golden opportunity for the family but I, who had been struggling for our well-being in our country doubt if I can raise half the cost for sponsoring Collins abroad. But it is I also, who had taught my siblings to avail themselves every opportunity. This has to go through for the sake of Collins's future, Mum, David and Jennifer who are still in school and, for the family. Besides, in our present state, surviving may be achievable but there's really not much room to grow richer than we are now. The country isn't smiling and no relative or friend can loan.
And, I had promised to take care of all of my siblings' needs.
Collins told me;
"You encourage us to dream big and work hard, brother. You've always been the one pushing the family barrow. But now?"
Now, it seems that my hands are too small.
With the situation, how can we let Collins achieve his dream?
We need about $15,000 and have been able to raise $4,600 as at the time of writing these lines. We still need about $10,400.
To be honest, I'm out of option on how to raise the money. Then I thought, why not reach out to my read.cash and Bitcoin cash community for help.
You probably have a lot on your plate and struggling to survive, like my family and me, I wouldn't be doing this if I had other alternatives. Please my family and I need your donations to not let this opportunity pass us by.
What way can you assist us?
By donating or spreading the word to people who can? Whatever you can do for us please do.
This could be an opportunity to create a better future for Collins, David, Jennifer and mum.