‘Bori, I just got a brain wave!’ Shile enthused, turning to her brother.
Bori continued tapping on his game pad. Shile shook his shoulder.
‘This is going to be a good business plan. You know how most people in this neighbourhood don’t have where to dispose refuse and dumping sites keep rising in every corner,’ Bori didn’t lift his head from his laptop screen, he grunted absentmindedly. Shile continued. ‘what if I start a business that caters to this need?’
Bori scoffed. ‘You want to go about parking dirt?’
Shile’s glow flickered. ‘You don’t think it’s good?’
Bori shrugged. ‘Are you still going to see Ada today?’
Shile sighed and shook her head. ‘She’s not around. Work.’
‘Oh,’ Bori observed drily.
Oh? Was that all Bori had to say? Shile could feel her mood start to become sour. When would she break out of this lacklustre phase? For how long would she feel left behind? She no longer felt like her mate’s mate any more. The last time she went to visit her friend on a whim, expecting to surprise her pleasantly, she met a locked door. She called Ada. Ada informed her that she was out of town on an official assignment. That day, Shile cried on her way back home. She decided to do something for herself. She couldn’t sit by and watch life breeze past her. She started watching videos. TedX speakers, interviews on successful start-ups, documentaries on established business that started small. She went on a fast, seeking the Lord’s face and the only instruction she got was that she would receive guidance from God.
The thought of solving the refusal disposal problem that plagued her community seemed like a viable seed at first but Bori’s dismissal was a rude awakening. She was becoming disillusioned. There was no way she could make anything worthwhile from going about gathering dirt.
Shile stood up from the couch and slipped on her slippers without a hint of hurry. A cynical thought flitted across her mind. She had no need to rush. She had no where to go, she had nothing to do. She ambled down to her room. At the passage, her mum intercepted her.
‘Shile, have you picked beans for tonight?’
Shile nodded and continued walking. Her mum grabbed her by the arm.
‘I’m not done with you. Have you cleaned the kitchen?’
‘Can’t you talk? Why are you nodding like agama?’
Shile knew this bait. When her mum was like this, she was trying to pick a fight in order to make a preconceived point. Shile decided she wouldn’t bite.
‘Yes ma’am, I’ve cleaned the kitchen, I’ve arranged the pots and I’ve mopped the house.’ Shile said those words in spite of herself. This wasn’t the plan. She should have moved out a long time ago. She shouldn’t be living in this stifling atmosphere of her nitpicking mum and her dismissive brother. She felt like a full-time housewife. Except that she didn’t have a husband. She didn’t even have a ‘prospect’ like she and her friends called them.
‘Hmm hmm?’ Shile’s Mum grunted, obviously dissatisfied. ‘Anyway, landlord called today…’
Oh, dear Lord.
Shile sighed and looked away.
‘So, what are we going to do bayi?’
Shile shrugged. ‘God will provi-’
‘What will you do, Shile?’
‘Mummy, you know I don’t have a job yet and-’
‘Bori doesn’t have a job either but he has managed to drop fifty thousand naira. At least, that’s something. What will you contribute?’
‘I’ll see what I can do, ma.’
‘I’ll be here to remind you.’
Shile walked to her room. Her phone beeped; a message from Stephen.
-Hey, Shile. How has been your day? You busy tonight? What do you say to dinner?-
Shile brightened. She promptly thumbed her reply.
-I’m down. Place and time-
Shile hurried to the bathroom, whistling with a new surge of excitement. She stopped in front of the mirror. She could no longer ignore her burgeoning belly. She wasn’t with child; this was proof of sedentary living and ammunition for the mockers.
‘You’re enjoying oh, Shile,’ they’d say, ‘see how you’re shining and becoming bigger. It’s good to stay at home and just be enjoying mummy’s food.’
And she’d have no choice but to plaster on a plastic smile. It seemed she wore plastic smiles more than she wore lipstick these days. To squelch that thought, Shile picked up her black lipstick. She’d wear lipstick today. She’d strike that mysterious, enchanting look black lipstick and dazzling eye shadow gave her. But Stephen could easily misconstrue the effort she was putting into her looks. She wasn’t dressing up for him. She wasn’t interested in him and she suddenly felt guilty for taking up his offer.
The food was great, the restaurant, upscale and grand. Shile had a swell time bantering with Stephen and she wished she could feel more for him than sisterly love. She loathed the fact that she was using his company and eating from him when she knew she didn’t like him the way he wanted. Didn’t that make her gold-digger?
‘What’s bothering you?’ Stephen sliced into her thoughts.
‘I’m sorry to disappoint you, Stephen, I appreciate your friendship and all, but that’s it. I don’t see more to us than that.’
Stephen paused, then burst into laughter. ‘Of course. We’re just friends. What were you thinking?’
Shile sighed, half relieved, half embarrassed.
‘I just hate it when friendships I cherish have to go sour because feelings start flying.’
‘Wahala for who catch the fly o.’
‘Big wahala.’ Shile replied, laughing.
‘So, what’s up with the plan to start a business?’
Shile dropped her spoon. ‘Can we discuss something else?’
Two weeks after the date with Stephen, Shile was on her way to church for morning prayers when she heard a random woman on the bus rant about how getting her children through their morning routines before school was proving to be more arduous than she anticipated. Whoever the woman was talking to on the phone didn’t even get a chance to speak. The woman just rattled on, obviously frustrated. As Shile listened to the woman’s end of the conversation, an idea plopped into her mind. How many more women were struggling to keep up with the demands of getting their children ready for school in time? How could she proffer a solution to this need? How about she starts a business that packages lunch boxes for the children? Shile turned the idea this way and that in her head like a flashing piece of precious stone. She could take specific orders from parents and get the meals delivered to the children’s school. She could reach out to Tinuke, her friend who was also a primary school class teacher to help with publicizing it. If she started with Tinuke’s school, she would focus on building a brand and customer loyalty and from there she could work on eking out the business and supplying to other schools.
Shile got off the bus, still pondering on the idea when an orange seller bumped into her. That seemed to shake her up. She returned to reality. This was a ridiculous thought. Where would she get the money? How would she transport the food? Dispatch riders? Dispatch riders would run away with the food. Shile laughed. She dumped the idea. She’d have to wait for a better, brighter one. When she got home that evening, she got a surprise from Bori. He bought her a spangled red dress. Shile couldn’t think of a time when Bori bought something for her or got her a gift. It wasn’t her birthday or anything yet Bori claimed he just wanted to appreciate her. Shile felt skeptical but there was no need for skepticism. This was her brother and this was a welcome change.
‘Bori, I don’t know what to say.’
Bori smiled. ‘I understand that. I’ve not really been a sweetheart; I have to admit. But I’m promising you something: that is about to change. Scratch that, it has changed already.’
Shile angled her head and nodded. ‘I know there’s a catch but I’ll just live in the moment and try on this pretty thing.’
Shile went into her room. She tried on the gown. It looked great on her although she’d have to take it to her tailor. That neckline had to be adjusted for the sake of decency. She ran her hand over the gown, turning to assess her backside. A smile appeared on her face. This would be the perfect outfit for the dinner event that always marked the end of the annual youth convention at church. She’d match it with her black heels, they were already getting scuffed but it was nothing shoe polish couldn’t conceal. There was a small, vague trouble in her heart. It was like the mild ripple across the surface of placid waters caused by a darting insect. She ignored it.
When she lay to sleep that night, the lunchbox thought returned. Shile tossed and turned until she decided to hear what someone else thought of it. She picked her phone and called Stephen.
‘Yo, Steve, what’s up?’
‘I dey alright o, how you dey now?’
Shile shrugged. ‘It’s been a good day. I got pleasantly surprised by my brother.’
Shile laughed at the lilt of surprise in Stephen’s voice. ‘It would seem the Lord is touching his heart.’
‘Interesting. On my end, I went to the hospital today.’
Shile drew air through her teeth. How did she manage to forget Stephen’s appointment with his doctor? ‘I’m sorry I didn’t ask. What did they say?’
‘Thankfully, it’s nothing serious. I got prescription for some antibiotics and that’s it. The doctor said it’s an ear infection.’
‘Thank God… Stephen, I want to share an idea to get your thoughts.’ Shile went on to share the idea.
‘This is it. Sounds exciting. You should totally go for it. I believe this is divine.’
Shile rolled her eyes. Stephen could be such a dramatic fellow. She shouldn’t have asked him. Stephen was too nice to be objective. He’d say anything to encourage her. Shile got off the phone, still dissatisfied. She called Ada, seeking her opinion.
‘Hmmm… So, the plan is to make meals every morning for children?’ Ada asked.
‘Hmmm…. Sounds okay, but you would still need to weigh the pros and cons. You know, count the cost before putting your hands to the plough.’
Shile nodded. She could hear what Ada was saying and what she wasn’t saying, what her hmmms where saying, what she meant by pros and cons. Shile concluded the idea was not feasible. Perhaps, she’d share the idea with her pastor to get his thoughts too.
It was a regular Sunday afternoon like any other. Shile was in high spirits as she returned home from church with Busayo, one of the sisters from church who stayed a few blocks from her home. They passed by a place that was a famous dump site. Shile stopped.
‘I know what you’re thinking. Some guys came here yesterday and they cleaned up the whole place.’
‘Where was I?’
Busayo shrugged. ‘Look at that placard.’
Shile’s eyes followed the direction of Busayo’s hand. The placard read: Bori’doti services contact us to take out your trash at an affordable rate.
Shile’s mouth fell open. Bori’doti. Only Bori could come up with such a tacky name.
‘I even saw your brother in the truck they were using to clear out the site. He was handing out fliers, advertising the cleaning service.’ Busayo smiled. ‘who would have thought that these annoying dumping sites would become a business strategy. I hear they’ve been going from compound to compound for some weeks now, taking out their trash for just a thousand naira.’
Shile left Busayo behind and marched to her house. She had to confront Bori. She opened the door of the parlor and saw Bori seated before the TV.
‘You stole my idea, Bori!’
He didn’t even look at her. ‘What idea?’
‘Don’t play dumb with me. You rubbished the idea and turned around to sabotage me. What kind of man are you?’
‘Stop being dramatic. What you had was barely even solid. It wasn’t as if I took a page from a business plan or something. You just tossed a careless remark and I built on it. I put in the work. I took the risk. I pulled the resources.’
Tears welled up in Shile’s eyes.
You just tossed a careless remark and I built on it.
‘Bori, how could you?’
‘You’ll get compensations as the business expands, but even that is not a right. It’s out of the goodness of my heart.’
Shile hurried to her room, rummaged through her wardrobe for the stupid spangled dress. She saw it, yanked it off the hanger, squeezed it into a ball and went back to the living room. She threw the gown at Bori.
‘I’m going to fight for my intellectual property!’
Bori laughed. ‘You don’t need this tantrum. The both of us know that you wouldn’t have done anything with that idea.’
Shile could only stare at him, at a loss for words. What her pastor said to her after service replayed in her mind.
Sister Shile, you’ve brought about three lovely business ideas to me. I’ve prayed with you, but it seems you’re dragging your feet; you’re not…
Shile didn’t let him finish. ‘Daddy, I’m actually working oh. Thing is, business is not something one runs into head first. I’m mapping and strategizing. I need to be sure before making a move rashly.’
It was Oral Roberts who said, God would usually drop gems in our hearts as ideas, concepts or insights. I say this every time I’m given the privilege to teach writing or storytelling: do not despise the ideas that come into your heart. You, as a believer, are a spiritual man and even in the most mundane things, the Holy Spirit communicates. We often miss out on our gems because we despise them. Decide that from today you will prayerfully consider the gems God drops in your heart.