I love to think of the morning sun as my comforter. The other day while indulging my journal, I painted the morning sun as a reminder of the paradise we were promised as kids in Bible stories. The streaks like the scenes where the angels appeared to deliver a message. The brightness blinding but bearing good news, beginning, light, hope, a fulfilled promise of a new dawn. The timing is always perfect. By the time the driver cuts the bend past the City Gate, past the stadium, towards the Galadimawa Bridge, the sun will be up. I love to put my face to the warm window glass and romanticize the morning sun. I love to stuff my ears with delicious bits from Soul Salon and let the brightness bear through my face while I luxuriate in the ephemeral wool-gathering.

I pray for perfect mornings. A perfect morning for me is rousing to the adhan screaming from the minaret, being the first to bath in the detached bathroom situated behind the block of rooms, groping for clothes in the predawn darkness, careful not to wake anyone, dressed and sitting on the only settee in the cramped room to meditate on the refreshed daily from the Bible app, stepping out in my branded T-shirt and faded blue/black jeans, taking the fifteen minutes therapeutic walk to the bus stop where I will wait and wait until the green staff bus turns into the lane at the far end of the road, getting on the bus and securing the same seat I have been using since the months I began working for Rolling Jets, waiting for the sun to shine on my face through the thick window glass, wishing and wishing away my time on the morning ride.

My mother likes to remind me of how lucky I am to land a job with the advertising company. She calls it a miracle. It all started with a phone call. Someone, a friend of a family friend of the founder in Kaduna had reached out to one of our many ghost relatives because the company was recruiting. “Do you have anyone who’s interested?” was the initial question, but to my mother, the relative had asked “Will Queen be interested?” to which my mother replied with a fast “Why will she not be?” and for the first time in two years, I landed a job without brain-tasking, hungry forms and interviews. Now, I like to interpret the initial question as “Do you have anyone who’s interested in suffering?” and my mother screaming, “Of course! Queen is born for suffering.”

In a stolen time with my journal, I described the afternoon sun as a weapon fashioned against me. A warlord. You can try looking towards the morning sun but never the afternoon sun. Everything about it is violence. The switch is usually subtle until I start feeling the burning temperature rising to a point where I begin praying for mercy. But mercy? Maybe something else. We are supervising new field recruits and for that reason, a handful were selected to witness this sun.

“Queen. Your coordinator is slow with records and you’re blamed.” Desmond speaks to me for the second time in two days. As always, the visor covers half of his face in the boyish manner he chooses to appear. His white cotton shirt is big enough to cover his bulging gut. If he were a woman, he would win several beauty contests. I ignore his beauty, his clear pale skin.

I like Desmond because the first time I met him, he said, with hand stretched for a firm shake, “No mister, no sir, call me Desmond.” I searched his face for a smirk, his livid eyes for jokes but he wasn’t smiling.

“I have been running low on sales sir.”

“How can we help you?”

“I don’t have access to the exclusive contacts sir.”

His eyes quiz me.


“Join me to the managers’ office. Today.”

He turns, away from me, his back straight and tall enough to stand him out. Twice, I overheard the girls whisper about him: his eyes, his smooth face with little tuft of greying beards down his jawline to attest to his middle-aged masculinity, his silence. They agreed he wasn’t like the coordinator who would shout you down, seize your shirt when you miss work with a sinister, “You think you can’t be replaced? You think you’re that precious?” with wide eyes that make you imagine his large palms circling your neck. They also agreed that the job wasn’t even as fantastic as they had thought. They called it “licking asses.” They talked about the manager, his oyinbo wife, the one in the portrait he hung in his office, the one who left him for another Nigerian man or was it a woman? They sneered. Then they drifted to unending stories about the men who whistled, winked or cat-called them.


The trick is simple. After closing from work, I wait for the driver because he is going my way. Before he turns at the City Gate, I slip my phone into my pants and wait until he stops at the pedestrian bridge. While I walk home, I keep my eyes sharp. I look out before I take a step because there could be a puddle or wet nylon or sharp stones that could throw you off balance or a mound of dog shit, but because you didn’t look out, you land piaa! Directly into it.

Where I come from, we make extra effort for security. We make extra effort for good hygiene. We make extra effort for happiness. We make extra effort for basic needs. We make extra effort to survive the slum, the trail of hardship that defines us. I make extra effort to keep sane while dragging myself up. My aim is to uproot my people from all the dog shit to a place we can call home. I stuff crumpled naira notes into the wooden savings box I purchased almost a year ago. I trim my daily meals into 0-0-1. I don’t smile back when the manager smiles extra at me. I smile extra at the driver for his kindness. I deny myself Tiktok because data is not water. I stitch round the sandals I buy from Federal Housing motor park to fortify it against the obstacles it will encounter. I withdraw from my colleagues because they are always looking for a new restaurant, perfume, clothes, confectionery, liquor place to try. I avoid them like I do our bathroom walls. I sit through my mornings, placing phone calls to prospective clients, trying to sound chatty while discussing the benefits they will miss if they doubt Jet. I swallowed when one HR manager asked, “What about a BJ?” I don’t relent. I keep up the calls. I attract. I convince. I prod. I manage existing clients, swallow their insults, flatten their excesses, suck in their fears, impress their egos, boost their sales, massively. I stay awake most nights researching prospective clients and products. I reassign the street advertisers, share out locations as directed by the coordinator and bid on the night to never end, yet pray for perfect mornings.


“We need new torchlight. If you don’t want us to go back to the candles, you have to buy torchlight.”

It is not more than a month I got a torchlight but I don’t say it. “I will give you money for torchlight.”


Surviving a whole day has become such a blessing that arguing with my mother becomes a curse. I have grown accustomed to her needs and as always, I pledge to fulfil all. I would have paid for the torchlight outrightly if the three thousand naira folded neatly into my phone pouch hadn’t been named for savings.

“Tomorrow, by his grace.”

“Whose grace?”

My mother does not believe in God anymore. She said he was quiet when her husband gave up his job at Dinah and followed another woman home. She said she prayed and prayed but God only watched. She said she should have known long ago but you know the thing with faith, you wait and wait, in vain. I told her that actual faith rewards. We argued. I rejected her food. I had just finished my degree program at Minna and was brimming with dreams and distaste for where I came from so, I called her delusional.

Two days later, I thrust dirty naira notes into her palm. Before I returned the next evening, a medium multi-charging torchlight was balanced on the rusty radio. Nowadays, I find joy in things like that; my mother keeping to her words, light in our dark room. Provision.


The new month at Jets unfolds with a new list of assignments. It was not strange to reassign staff. But I was reassigned to field advertisements, that was what made it strange. Field assignment! The girls giggle as they troop out of the reception room. I am rooted to the spot because my brain does not know how to react to such shock. Desmond is the first coordinator in sight so I ask him.

“I saw it. It’s quite strange. You know this time we didn’t reshuffle for ourselves. Everything was done from the main office.”

“I’m a degree holder. Is this a mistake or—” Words fail me as I think of the afternoon sun laughing and bellowing at my downfall.

“Queen, you can join me to the manager’s office.”

I have been to the manager’s office one thousand times and I abhor it. The last time I went, he placed bundles of money on the wide shiny glass table, beside his iPhone, while on a call with another. He winked at me mid call and reached to pluck out imaginary particle from my cornrows. I wanted to slap his face but I smiled instead, sat through the series of phone calls, served him water from his high and mighty fridge, wrote out unknown addresses on a paper torn out from an obituary notebook while suppressing the heat of anger rising to my cheeks. Desmond will say “join me to the manager’s office,” join other coordinators as soon as we arrive and leave me to my fate.

I wait for the secretary to call me in. A lot of time pass. I sit idly biting my fingers. I wait until the evening sun cast an orange hue on the wide window glasses. I wait until the staff close, the field workers return for inventory-taking and retire their tired bodies. I wait until the manager’s bags are put in his car, until he is ready to leave.

I like to think of the manager as my father. Among my many dreams, this is the most persistent. That I will wake someday and realize I have a father who has done something with himself, for himself. I don’t mind that he pesters younger women for sex or seduce them with neat naira bundles and expensive scents and flashy phones and Hollandia yoghurt and red wine. I don’t mind that he is haughty. As long as he doesn’t abandon the mother of his children.

“Sir—” I shoot up to my feet and follow him.

“Queen?” he says, seeming surprised. He holds my hand to his car.

“I have been waiting to see you sir.”

“Why?” The surprise lingers on his face.

“I was assigned to the field.” The tears I have been suppressing prick my eyes, I swallow bile.


“I am a degree staff.”



“The coordinator reported you have been low on sales.” He opens the back door, his eyes narrow.

“I always get the highest turn out of clients. I make the highest sales online. He can’t say that sir.”

“Is that why you came?” He lowers himself into the plush leather backseat, placing his phones beside him. The driver turns on the ignition. “You think people who go to the field are not degree holders?” He smiles and slams the door. I watch the sleek car roll away, like a snake out of a tunnel. I wince and come undone.


My mother is seated before the television when I get home. My two sisters are by her feet scooping rice from a bowl. I mumble a greeting to which she grunts. The room is hot, curry-scenting. I unsling my bag from my shoulder and shove it into my corner of the wardrobe. My earrings follow, then my trouser, my shirt, and finally, my strapless bra. I cup my breasts with both palms and stand there, lost.

“Remember to give Idris money for the half bag of rice so his boy can bring it for us.”

I squeeze my breasts.

“We don’t have milk again. Sugar is remaining just a pack. We also need tomato paste and salt and toothpaste. A new toothbrush for Princess and her school fees.”

I squeeze harder.

“If you want, I will give the list to Idris so he picks everything out. You just go and pay.”

The woman on the television talks about insecurity in the northeast, her voice is tiny because the television speaker is faulty and I am yet to pay the technician. Having said it a million times, my mother has resorted to silence. At first, it was trivial, but it is in the list of pending bills. The metal rod holding several hangers is now bent downwards. Any moment now, it will snap and crash our clothes and my mother will tell me who to pay.

“Sister Queen, will you buy me the injection sweet tomorrow?”


I use the television light to search for my midi gown. As I pull the black dress over my head, my mother resumes.

“Which one are you doing?”


She reaches for the remote and changes the channel to Wazobia. I know she is happy. Nothing makes her happier than my acquiescence. My sisters scrape their bowl of rice. I walk towards the door, ready to leave the heat.

“You will not eat rice?”

I can’t imagine not eating rice. Even if it tastes like unripe Agbalumo. Even if it doesn’t have any taste at all. The hunger in my belly tears my insides and gnaws at my spirit. The anger in my veins pumps extra blood into my heart. The lump in my throat sits, unmoving. The times when I rejected my mother’s food was past. I can’t reject food anymore. I can’t reject the food I provide. I can’t ignore hunger.

“Let me go to Idris first.”

I shut the door behind me and step into the dim street. I am going to Idris but not the Idris of my mother. I am going to the suya Idris to watch people eat. Idris likes to tell me about his days at Nasarawa State University, his Suya business, his less successful seasonal fruits business. I like to pretend I am listening while calculating the bills at the other Idris’ shop. Sometimes, he cuts out skinny pieces of Suya on a dirty newspaper and pushes it towards me and I would maintain vehemently that my taut tummy could not accommodate more food. Even on days when the meat comes sizzling and dripping oil, with yaji and sliced onion by the side, I refuse. Amid the cycling of motorcycles and street noise, I make my decisions. One thousand for my savings on Tuesday, Thursday for groceries after withdrawing the last ten thousand from the account. Vaseline. Yes. Friday for Vaseline and Shekinah’s hair. I can go for home lessons on Saturday, let’s see how it goes. The money will make do for the week. Anything else important? I’m done with the school fees, done with food items, done with, what else? Oh lord.

In school, we polished our dreams. We felt the world revolving around our smart heads and potential status. We dreamt of high and mighty places. The posh television stations, the grandiose newsrooms, exclusive interviews, high profile conversations on democracy, oil market, presidential race. We thought the internships left behind a space we would return to fill. We thought the “We will get back to you soon” was sincere. We thought the best still won.

In school, when Professor Tim introduced Marketing as a sub-course, the media planning, digital marketing, public relations and advertising and the host of its principles and strategies, we were bored. How about more on journalism? How about international relations?

When Jets offered me a job, I dusted my Marketing note and set to work.

When I get to the other Idris’ place, it is shut, with cement bag covering the stall. It is a strange look. I have never seen the stall shut. I walk to the junction before I turn, hesitant to go back home but hungry for my mother’s spicy jollof. It was one of the things Felix loved, perhaps, maybe dated me for. My mother’s jollof. She always made me a student pack, as she called it, every time I visited home. A big transparent plate of rice, vegetables for the rice, tiny pieces of fried beef. On getting back, Felix would be waiting. We make a dig, two digs, many more and everything is gone. For me, during the first two school years, it was all about everything I could learn in Mass communication. For Felix, it was all about food. When I grew bored of the relationship, his gluttony and selfish food hunt was all I could see. And the only thing I wanted was for him to go away, forever. He was hurt but I made sure he knew it was me, not him.

I am not going to have my perfect morning tomorrow. I am sure of that. How do I begin? Hii! I’m Queen. I will be joining this team. No. Hi. My name is Queen. I am assigned to this group. Hi. You can call me Queen. We will be suffering together. A smile. My bad, I meant hustling. Together. I hissed, mid meal.

“Ọgini?” my mother asks.

“I’m just tired”

I want to say more. I want to tell her that I am struggling to provide for everybody. I want to tell her how I have been juggling home lessons and work, begging for tips brazenly because I have targets to meet everywhere. Home. Work. The school fees, the food, food, food, toothbrush, milk, milk. Come on mama, give me some break! I want the television to maintain a particular level of brightness so she can see the distress in my face.

“Why won’t you be tired when you’re always pressing phone? You’re eating, phone, you’re bathing, phone. You suppose tired.”

I sigh.

“Did you give Idris money?”

“Not yet.”



“This your trick will not work this time. You have to be true, say something, mean it and do it.”

“I will do it.”

“That is what you said about the television.”

“Is there anything else?”

“Queen biko. Hapụm”

“You don’t have to worry. I will do everything you want.” Words of affirmation is one of my numerous love languages.

It is her turn to sigh.

The next morning, I didn’t look towards the sun nor open the Bible app nor romanticize any music or podcast, at least not after fixing my slender body among three other bigger bodies in a cramped cab. Having to physically deal with people was my only fear. Convincing them was pretty easy. We have our company canopy set up at the venue, but we are out hunting for clients. One of the customers, a middle-aged man, asks my name and the first instinct is to lie so I release a sheepish smile before muttering, “Favor.”

“No. You should be a queen instead.” He squints as he dangles a rechargeable lantern in my face. “If you give me a good rate, we will do good business together. I sell everything electronics and this is a new product in the market. Actually, I have heard of Jets, that’s why I came here today.”

I smile and secure yet another client for the ungrateful Jets. By the end of the day, I hate my shrill voice, the crust of brown dust on my sandals, my dirty feet, the stickiness in my armpits, and the remnants of what the angry sun left of my shrinking self. Still, I make the highest sale among the troop.

It’s been days of field advertising and my flesh is thinning away. I am yet to pay Idris for the rice. I struggle to transport myself to work every other day. The girls can survive a week without milk, right? New needs are piling up on old ones and Queen is just a queen without a king or a throne. Just a name that stresses a beauty I cannot afford.


I return home to meet my savings box hacked, top and bottom. It lay lifeless by the foot of the bed. My sisters steal wary glances at me. My mother turns her face to the television. A Yoruba movie is showing. There is a new tin of milk on the rack, a loaf of bread, Ovaltine, and a packet of cube sugar. I need not check for rice. It will be in the kitchen, behind the drum of water. My tears are spontaneous. Balloons of mucus pop from my nostrils.

“Ọgini? What is doing this one?”

I pick up the wooden box. “Why, why, why?”

“Why gini?”

“You touched the wrong money.” I kneel there by the foot of the bed because suddenly, the weight of the world is on my neck.

“So, you have money in this house and we are starving?”

“It is not money for food. I told you I will provide, didn’t I?”

“A whole week! Queen, a whole week? Ask Princess to show you her legs, see the mark of cane on them. I have deal with the stupid teacher but I am annoyed because this is something that can be avoid.” She is now standing. Towering above me. “Charity begins at home, Queen.”

“I have been doing all these things. I am trying to make bigger plans! Do you want me to die at Jets? Do you know the distress I feel?”

“You’re speaking too much grammar Queen. This is simple thing. Provide for your family. Bring out the money you get so we solve our problems. It is two years you finish university. You want to sit here moping? I did not send you to school to tell me you have bigger plans when I see nothing. I did not send you to school to remain hungry.”

“It is the job of your husband to provide for you.”

The slap is swift but not as painful as the money I lost. It’s been roughly a year of savings and here I am, empty again. Another year will come and speed by and I will still be at Jets, in this house buying toothbrushes and coddling my mother.

“He is your father too.”  She hisses loudly.

My sisters hold each other, crying. My head aches. The pain drives me to tears.


I am waiting for the green taxi I am sure will climb up Apo Bridge. I don’t want to use my legs at all this morning. The dull ache in my head is slowly spreading through my whole body. Earlier in the morning, my mother offered me some tea but I was too tired to respond to the kind gesture. I wore a red ropy shirt over black palazzo pants instead of the company shirt. I took some time to line the edges of my hair with gel. Gloss on my lips and I was ready. When the taxi shows up, I offer to pay for two seats with the money Suya Idris lent me the night before. The throb in my head thrives. Can be hunger or anger.

When I step into the office, it is the receptionist’s eyes that first catch mine. She is awed. I have no time for salutations. I am here for business. I don’t wait for anybody to welcome or permit me. I walk into the manager’s office. His desk is vacant. I place my fake Fendi handbag on his table, cross my arms over my chest and wait. The cold blast from the air-conditioner hardens my nipples, goosebumps spread all over my arm.

Five minutes pass before I hear the toilet flush, then the rush of water in the sink and the ruffling of tissue paper. I count ten. He emerges. He looks stunned to see me.

An awkwardness will set in if I don’t recite my script quickly. I readjust my poise. “I want to be posted back to Galadimawa,” I say very softly. “Back to my office. I need a salary raise like you did for the other girls. I need money, a lot of it. You think you are capable?”

He pauses, then smiles.

“And I’m off work today,” I add before leaving.

I walk into the sun, towards the traffic light. I wait for it to turn green and red and green and red again before I walk through the zebra crossing. I board a taxi, past the Ministry of Finance, towards the Secretariat, alight and take the turn east. The warlord shines with fury, but I am hoping to get a vacant seat at Eagle Square, where it will search and search and never find me. E

Chizitere Madeleine Nwaemesi is a Nigerian writer. She has appeared in Isele Magazine, African Writer Magazine, and The Shallow Tales Review.