I started writing a book titled A Crown of Beauty towards the end of last year and I'm almost done editing it. Here is chapter One. Please read, make your comments,and finally, please select which of the covers you like most. Please note that the book is written especially for young adults. Thanks.
I came into the world on a rainy Tuesday night in June 1980, at exactly 9:55pm - in the backseat of Father’s car. Father had gone to the church that evening while Mother was at home with her younger sister, Aunt Hilda, who was a final year student in the university. Mother’s labour pains started at 6pm but because there were no mobile phones then, she could not reach Father. Aunt Hilda, not knowing what to do, frantically ran to the neighbour’s house to call for help. Unfortunately, they were not in.
Father arrived at the house at 9pm. By this time, Mother was sweating and groaning and Aunt Hilda was mopping her face with a towel every few minutes. One look at his wife’s face was enough to cause Father to panic. Quickly, he threw bed sheets and pillows into the boot of the car, as well as the small bag containing toiletries and baby items which Aunt Hilda had already packed for Mother, and came back to the house to gently lead Mother into the back seat. Aunt Hilda sat in the passenger’s seat in front of the car. She later told me that she was praying and hanging on for her dear life as Father drove like a madman that night. He needn’t have bothered.
At precisely 9:45pm, Aunt Hilda said, Mother began to shout “I can’t hold it anymore; I can’t hold it anymore.” Father was forced to park the car while aunt Hilda came down to help Mother who by now had started pushing. Ten minutes later, I was born amidst the blood-stained bed sheets and pillows which Father had hastily brought from the boot and arranged on the backseat after parking the car. Father told me that when they got to the missionary hospital, the nurses scolded him like a child.
“Oga, why didn’t you leave your house at the right time?” they said. “Didn’t you know your wife’s EDD? What sort of man are you sef?” And on and on they went even as they carried Mother into a room to check if she was torn during the delivery process. My parents, marvelling at the fact that Mother had given birth to me outside of the hospital, did not bother replying the nurses.
Mother later told me that the circumstances surrounding my birth made her bond with me immediately. The fact that I came into the world peacefully, without the aid of doctors or midwives, was enough reason for her to love me. Two days later, she was discharged from the hospital after the doctors had certified that both she and the baby were in good health. As a baby, I was dark skinned and so tiny that Mother said people didn’t even know a baby was under the covers when they came to pay her a visit and greet the new baby.
I was given the Igbo name, Adaeze, which means ‘daughter of a king’; as well as the English name, Hilda, after my mother’s younger sister. Mother, however, insisted on calling me by my native name, Adaeze. Once when I asked her why she insisted on calling me Adaeze, she replied that it was to help me remember that no matter where I went to in future, I was still African.
We lived in a three bedroom flat at Oregun, Ikeja, Lagos. Being the only child, I was doted on by my parents. My father, Obiora Madu, worked at an insurance company while my mother, Nneka Madu, owned a clothing store. My mother had once worked in a bank but had resigned from her job when she suffered a miscarriage at work, just two years after her marriage. She had me seven years after the miscarriage and never had another child afterwards.
Mother put me in school when I turned two. She later told me that my Father’s people went berserk when they heard it.
“How can such a young child be put in school?” queried my dad’s sister, Aunt Nneoma. “Why not strap the child to your back and take her with you anywhere you go?”
Mother stood her ground and insisted that she could not have her child cling to her always.
“Adaeze needs to go to school and learn to be independent, like other children of her age. After all, some of her mates started going to crèche even at three months.”
My aunties shook their head. “It’s too much education that has caused this,” they replied. “In the olden days, how many of us started school before eight years of age?”
Mother had her way, however, after she threatened that Father would be the one strapping me to his back and carrying me to his office if he listened to his sisters. Needless to say, I started school the very next week.
By the time I was six, I had made some friends in school but my best friend was Aleesha Ladoju, whose family lived across the street from ours. Aleesha and I had started Nursery school on the same day and from there, our friendship grew. Her sister, Folake Ladoju, was six years her senior and was already in secondary school. Aleesha’s parents were both university professors and were rarely around; as a result, we spent a lot of time in each other’s house after school.
I was in primary four when I turned eight, and each year since primary two, I had always come out top of my class. Aleesha, however, was another matter altogether. We were in primary three when Aleesha first told me:
“Adaeze, I have a crush on someone.”
“A crush?” I replied. “What is a crush?”
She looked at me like I was a blockhead.
“A crush is when you like someone terribly,” she replied.
“Okay, so who do you like terribly?”
“Tobi,” she replied.
I looked at her, aghast.
“Tobi with the buck teeth?” I asked as I looked over at him.
“So what if he has buck teeth?” replied Aleesha in irritation. “He’s still the cutest boy as far as I am concerned.”
And so began Aleesha’s many crushes. By the time we got to primary four, Aleesha had already crushed on about four boys. I wouldn’t have minded so much except for the fact that I was turned into the courier, by reason of being her best friend. Aleesha would squeeze a letter into my hand and ask me to give it to her crush of the moment, who would later squeeze a note containing his own reply into my hand to give her. I did not relish my new job but what could I do? My only prayer was that we; or at least I, would never be caught exchanging the letters or else all hell would break loose.
Back at home, life continued in a predictable fashion. Every weekday, Mother would wake me up at six to bathe, dress and have breakfast. At seven, Father would drive me to school, where I would have classes from eight in the morning till two in the afternoon. Mother would pick me up in the afternoon and serve lunch after I had taken a shower. She would then do homework with me before leaving again for her shop which was about five streets away from the house. After she left, I would go over to Aleesha’s place where I would stay until Father came back around seven in the evening and microwaved the dinner Mother had packed in the freezer. Mother usually returned at eight in the evening.
The routine was different on weekends. Every Saturday morning, Mother would do cleaning duties around the house and Father would wash the car and do any needed repairs in the house while playing country or reggae music on his turntable. By the time I was eight years old I knew almost all of Don Williams and Bob Marley’s songs.
On Sundays, Father, Mother and I attended Every Soul Community Church, a church that was about four kilometres away from the house. The pastor in charge of the church, Pastor Freeman, was in his late thirties or early forties and was a vibrant preacher. I liked him personally even though I did not understand his somewhat fiery message of sin, hell and salvation.
Pastor Veronica, the children’s pastor, however made children’s church very interesting. There was a lot of singing and dancing as well as storytelling and playacting, and I usually felt sad when church ended – until I remembered the ice cream waiting for me afterwards. Father had formed the habit of buying me ice cream after church; it was only later Mother revealed to me that it was actually an incentive for me to go to church should I ever feel like not going.
After service, we would wait around and greet some friends like Mr Thomas, Sister Lucy and others. Mr Thomas was a thirty- something year old man who had separated from his wife about ten years before he joined the church. Their only daughter, an adopted ten year old named Kelsey, was living with him. Sister Lucy was a retired schoolteacher whose son was in my class; and after she commented to Mother once in my hearing “Adaeze is growing fast o, see how her breasts are developing”; I disliked her and started avoiding her thereafter.
The only thing I hated about going to church was the outfit Mother would often make me wear; the maxi skirts or gowns and the bogus, pastor-like hats. I would often plead with her to allow me dress in simple jeans and a blouse like my friends often wore to church but she would insist on my wearing the maxi outfits, saying that they were more appropriate for church. While in church, I would often remove my hat and scratch my already perspiring forehead, sometimes because it was actually itching and other times just to cause enough embarrassment to Mother so she would stop making me wear hats. I was glad the day she finally allowed me wear a simple veil to church.
One Sunday, Father called Mother and I into the living room after church and informed us that his niece, Buchi, who was the daughter of his sister, Nneoma, would be coming to stay with us for a month as she had finished secondary school and was hoping to gain admission to the university in September. I felt Mother tense behind me but she said nothing. Father then asked me to go to my room and tidy it as Buchi would be coming the next day. I obediently went into my room as I had been told and began tidying it up, until I heard the sound of my parents’ voices. I crept silently to the door and listened.
“Obiora, why didn’t you tell me Buchi would be coming tomorrow?” asked Mother.
“O Nneka, stop this,” answered Father. “You and I know that you never liked Nneoma. If I had told you that her daughter was coming, you would have persuaded me to stop her from coming.”
“So you think that by springing this surprise on me, all will be well, o kwa ya?” replied Mother. And so they went on and on. I had never heard my parents argue before and was surprised. At dinner that day, it was clear that they were not talking to each other. That evening, only Father and I performed our weekly ritual of memorizing Bible verses. Mother refused to join us. When Father made me repeat the verse: “If someone says he loves God, but hates his brother, he is a liar,” over and over again, I had the feeling he was trying to send Mother a message.
Finally, I'm still hunting for more book covers, but of the three below, please pick your favorite and state the reason for your choice if possible: