Rachael Uzor: Making lemonade

by Rachael Uzor

Some emotions make you feel downright horrible, and depression is one of the worst of them, if not the worst. Right now, I’m depressed.

I heard news today that Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (Funaab) had already conducted their post utme exams and my brother was not invited for the exercise. Why would he not be called? He fulfilled all their requirements, didn’t He? Once again, this news sinks me into a pool of despair. I am desperate to do something, but what? I can’t do anything and the knowledge that I can do nothing increasingly frustrates me. As the first born child of my parents, I feel the need to do more than I seem capable of, and right now, I’m capable of nothing. All I do is worry. As I worry, I get even more frustrated at my inability to change things. It’s so bad that I do not realize that my tears are flowing easily, streaming down my face only to land on the pages of the open book in front of me. It is at this point that my favorite kind of questioning commences – “the God questioning “.

“God, why do you let things like this happen? God, for how long will things continue this way? God, why am I so useless? God, what do I do now? God, what kind of God are you…” and so it continues. After a while, the questions come to an end as I move to phase two – “the God appeals”. “Please have mercy God, are you not merciful? Please help God, help my family. Lord, please make a way. I have no one else to turn to God, please help. Lord, l need a miracle concerning this. Lord…….”

Even as I beg-pray, the salt concentration of the pages of the open book in front of me has increased vastly, due to the steady stream of tears running down my face. I catch a reflection of my face on mirror hanging on the wall opposite me. I look like a weeping banshee, like the ojuju that was told to little children to scare them. There are two streaked lines on my face, marking the path made by the tears falling down my face. My hair is a tangled mess and my eyes are red and swollen while mucus threatens to flow out of my nose. I look like road-kill. Thank God I’m in my room where no one can see me.

I desperately need comforting, but I’m all alone, so I turn to writing for solace. I take out my pen and my beautiful, brown leather bound diary. It is my second most highly prized earthly possession, the first being my worn down and out laptop. I open my diary to a fresh, new page and begin writing.

My family’s financial situation is appalling. There was a time when we called ourselves a comfortable middle-class family. But now we are poor, dirt poor. We’re owing rent on our apartment, I’m in my final year at school, and there is hardly enough money to commence my project. (No, that is not true. ‘Hardly enough’ would suggest that there is some money, but there is none).

All of our troubles began when my father took ill. I had just finished my secondary school education and was preparing for my admission into the university. One night my father slept and by the next morning, things were never the same. It became so bad when he slipped into a coma because of a hemorrhage in his brain due to high blood pressure. It always baffled me, that a man who had always been fit, never needed medicine and was ever conscious of his health could suddenly develop high blood pressure overnight. Once, a friend of the family said the illness was spiritual. My mom definitely believed it. I think she badly needed to believe that evil forces were at work. I also did not rule out that option, in fact, I am inclined to believe it. After all this is Nigeria so it was very possible. In the end my father was discharged from the hospital after four months of intense prayers for his life, frequent visits to the hospital and paying of expensive medical bills. Still, it wasn’t the same. He came back amnesic and it broke our hearts, mine especially.

I got admitted into the university the same month my father got discharged. At this point, we had exhausted all our money on hospital bills and drugs for my father. We began living on people’s charity since my mom was not working. But the problem with that means of livelihood is that, after a while people start to get fed up. You also start feeling like a moocher, always begging people for money. It made me feel no different from the beggars on the street

I recall that my brother has written JAMB 3 times- my handsome, intelligent brother.

The first time he wrote JAMB, he was fresh out of secondary school, and had passed his WAEC exams beautifully. This was just a year after my father’s illness. The only setback was that he was still very young, graduating from secondary school at age 14. He wrote JAMB and passed, scoring 265. But he didn’t make the cut-off mark for economics in Obafemi Awolowo University. It made him unhappy, but we were hopeful that he would be admitted the next year.

The next time he wrote JAMB, it was a computer based test instead of the pencil shading test of before. This meant that the test had to be taken in schools where they had computers. It was so unfortunate that the school he was given had epileptic computers, hanging or blacking out while he was writing the exam. He scored 196 and the whole family was pained. It hurt that all his preparation was in vain, that his exam was more dependent on a lousy, malfunctioning computer than on his brilliance. It hurt my mum that the N7, 000 spent on JAMB registration was for naught, at a time when every little penny meant so much to us.

This year, I prayed with all of my heart that nothing would go wrong when he wrote JAMB again. And this time, God heard my prayer. He passed his exam, scoring 238. It was a thing of joy for my family. It’s true that we didn’t have money, yet we would find a way to pay for his PUME registration and school fees. This time my brother chose Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta as his first choice. We had been waiting patiently for the school’s screening exercise, only to hear that he wasn’t invited to write the exam.

I’m angry for many reasons; I thought university admissions were to test one’s academic abilities, yet some people won’t even be given the chance to get tested. I’m angry at Funaab for exploiting my brother and many other students like him, collecting N2, 500 for the registration yet not inviting him for the screening exercise. I’m angry that people who are not even as smart as my brother will get admitted because they have more money or better connections. I’m angry at the government, for not backing their decree, proclaiming an end to PUME exploitation and yet, there has been no effect to that decree. I’m angry that there are few, reputable universities in Nigeria, while there are thousands of candidates struggling to get admission into this schools. It even worse for those of us from poor families, our choices are even more streamlined, and private universities are definitely out of the question since they are so expensive. I’m angry that my brother might spend another year at home again and that there is nothing I can do. I’m even angry at God, for allowing all this to happen to me and my family. I wonder what we did wrong to deserve such a life.

I remember a saying I once saw on Facebook, “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade”. You could say that I’ve been handed a truckload full of lemons, the question now would be how to make lemonade out of it.

This entry was submitted as part of the Nigerian Voices competition organized by YNaija.com.

We publish, un-edited, Nigerians telling the stories of their everyday lives. Read all the narratives daily on the Nigerian Voices vertical. You can also contribute your own story titled ‘Nigerian Voices’ to [email protected]

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