My first night at 25 Balogun Street, I couldn’t believe what I had done. Not only did I move from my parent’s house in Kaduna, but I also rented an apartment—my dingy room—in metropolitan Lagos.
Why did you move to Lagos? I asked myself in the months that followed, sometimes in tears.
Growing up, my father had deep pockets, but later he fell into financial ruin. In his youth, my father was known for buying gadgets, and cars, constantly renovating our rented apartment, and other reckless spending. So, it was hardly surprising when his building construction business crumbled and we discovered that he had no savings. It was also at the time my younger brother and I got into university. My mother’s mini grocery store catered for the family, but barely put us through university. By the time I was done with college, I knew I had to make a living for myself and also assist in taking care of my family.
I thought I loved Lagos, having visited the city as a child. It was always alive, unlike suburban cities where you could hear the clock ticking away. I craved excitement, but no one prepared me for the deafening loneliness I experienced from living on my own.
The day I moved into my apartment, as I drove from the park where my parents had sent my belongings, I distracted myself from the weight of my decision by staring at the driver’s pot belly. He resembled the cartoon character Winnie the Pooh. His belly was so big that the shirt he was wearing looked like a crop top. Soon, after tackling all the bad roads and surviving the erratic bouncing of the car, we arrived at my new place. Despite how I felt about the driver’s belly, I was glad when he offered and help carry my things inside.
“You go dey alright, shey?” He asked as he dropped the last bag, lifting his pants back to his tiny waist.
I nodded wearily. “Oga, thank you, God go bless you.”
After he left, I looked around the tiny room until my eyes finally rested on the window where rays of sunlight were fading into the clouds. No electricity, and everywhere was dusty. That night, after thoroughly cleaning, as I closed my eyes to sleep, tears rolled down my cheeks. The weight of my independent decision dawned on me. I was alone, in Lagos, and was the leap worth it?
Lagos, a big city of dreams, was harder than I could imagine. There’s a verse in the Bible that says no rest for the wicked. In Lagos, there was no rest for anyone; everyone was wicked.
A little voice at the back of my head always whispered to me that I was doing the opposite of what my parents wanted, and it made me contemplate the rightness of my choice. They pulled strings to get me a job as a lab scientist at the University Teaching Hospital in Zaria, Kaduna, and instead of accepting it as the humble daughter that I should have been, I moved to Lagos to pursue a position as a scriptwriter in a marketing firm. At work, trouble came sooner than expected; I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, and it was beginning to show. One day, I was so anxious that someone noticed me staring into space and asked what was wrong.
“I don’t know what I am doing,” I said blatantly.
He laughed. “No one knows what they’re doing in the first months.”
My fears weren’t for nothing. In no time, my bosses, the head of scriptwriting and the general manager called me to the conference room to talk about the quality of my work. My heart was beating so fast. I already knew my work was bad, but just how bad was it? Was it bad enough to get me fired? They told me my scripts weren’t engaging or interesting.
“You are supposed to write for the consumers, not yourself.”
“I understand sir, I will improve my work.”
Another thing that I contended with at work was office politics. It was my first full-time job, and I got introduced to the brutal world of office politics. I learned the hard way that a vital part of the workforce is the ability to be sociable, to make small talk, and to have funny quips for people to like you. I had to make my bosses and everyone see that I was doing a good job, and I needed to be careful of other colleagues who wanted to undermine me so they could shine.
Another brutal reality I was soon faced with was that my salary was too little. I had just spent my whole life’s savings to rent an apartment, and the pay I thought was great was meagre when I factored in the cost of living. When I found out what my colleagues in other companies were earning, I knew that I was in the doghouse. I stretched my finances as far as they could take me, never having enough before the month was over.
Did you feel utterly alone after leaving your comfort zone? Everyone else seems to be making some sort of headway in their lives, but you are stuck. Scrolling from Instagram to LinkedIn to Twitter, peering at the lives of others like a voyeur observing through a cracked window. Some were dating, getting married, getting promoted or changing jobs, but you are stuck within the four walls of a tiny apartment with a job that feels like a cul-de-sac. A promotion at work was off-topic because you are certain your bosses don’t like you enough. Desperation, and a feeling of running against an imaginary clock that is set to rewind your achievements. The years begin to blend into each other, looking and feeling the same. One year passes, tomorrow comes and another year passes, just like that. The frustration stirs up a nagging feeling that forces you to apply for the jobs you know you are qualified for and even those you aren’t. Some applications get outright rejected; others bid their time, but soon enough, the rejection mail is sitting nicely in your inbox.
That was my life.
“We regret to inform you that unfortunately…”
But did they regret informing me? If they had such regret, they should have considered giving me the job. I went for countless interviews—these masquerade dances where you have to market yourself like a product and hope the interviewers like you. Just like a character in the TV series Grey’s Anatomy, you become a “pick me”. The thing about rejection is how it reduces your self-esteem. It is as excruciating as serial dating; each time you don’t get a callback or a second date, you wonder what is wrong with you. At the same time, everyone else seemed to announce ‘wins’, while I nursed rejections. There was one particularly harrowing interview that I felt quite qualified for, and though my nerves came into play, I thought I would get the senior scriptwriter position. Before the interview, I googled and checked out the owner of the company on LinkedIn. She was a pretty, light-skinned lady, about 25 years old. “Wow, you’re way younger than me,” I thought as I stalked her. I searched for her on Instagram and found out she had the aesthetic of a ‘baddie’. Her page was adorned with stories from various countries she had visited. Every picture had her impeccably dressed, sunkissed, and at a fancy location. The interview took place on Google Meet. To my surprise, the interviewer was the owner of the company as opposed to someone from Human Resources. She looked as beautiful as she was on her Instagram page.
“You might be getting paid N100,000 but without any health insurance—”
“There are no benefits besides my salary? My current job is paying me more, and there are some benefits”
“Hmm… and what new ideas would I bring to the table if you got the job?”
And then I sang my new ideas to the heavens. In the end, I never got a callback.
The basic idea of feeling stuck plunged me into an endless depth of despair.
If my office had a panic room I would be a permanent resident. The only way I found peace was when I pictured myself sending in a resignation email and I didn’t want to go back to live with my parents with my tail between my legs; that just meant I failed.
I took some time off work to think about my life’s direction. Then I realised that I was outsourcing my life, waiting for opportunities and begging to be recognized. I had never bet on myself. I was waiting for a stroke of good luck, but I had nothing prepared for when luck came.
I kept mulling over this and asking myself, “What is in my hands?” “What can I do to create the life I want?” Every day, I told myself why I couldn’t be successful. My parents were broke; they couldn’t sponsor my Masters or take me out of the country. I complained about my boss and my company any chance I got. But what could I do? My destiny was in my hands. So, I enrolled in an online course on scriptwriting and began to watch documentaries on scriptwriters. Then I took courses on cinematography. Two months passed and, I started writing scripts for commercials, ads, movies and even skits. I wrote them for fun, I wrote some to hone in on my skills, and I wrote them to sell.
When I applied for jobs, I felt much more confident. All the mistakes I made in the past seemed more glaring. Six months passed, and it seemed like nothing was happening. I refreshed my mail every day, waiting for the mail that would save me. Searched for new jobs on every job website and spread my net as far as I could. Still, nothing.
From time to time, my office gets invited to some of their clients’ parties. I never was a party person, so I usually skipped such events, but one day I was invited and even if I didn’t want to, I was told I must be there.
“You know that they are an account you are working on?” my boss said.
“Yes, I remember writing for them.”
“So be there, it will be good for your career.”
At the party, I was sitting at the bar nursing my cocktail and keeping myself busy with social media when a man approached. Tall, skinny, and had an afro with grey streaks in it. He ordered scotch and rum, and then he turned to me and said, “Can you keep an eye on my drink?”
“I could poison you, you know,” I said.
“I don’t mind being poisoned by a beautiful woman,” he replied. We both laughed and with that, he was gone.
When he came back after about 10 minutes, he said, “Thanks for keeping an eye on my drink. I hope you spiked it with a love potion.”
“What’s your name?” He asked.
“Sophia, yours?” I said.
And so we started talking. He mentioned that he worked for a trendy film studio as a business developer, and he’s constantly looking for good stories. I told him I was a scriptwriter and had written a lot of plays.
“Can I share my email address with you? And my number?”
He typed his email address, and the first thing I did when I got home was send him five of my most recent works.
As I drove through Sunnyvale, California, to a restaurant for a date, I suddenly remembered my room in Lagos, the coworkers I loathed, and my suffocating ass job. When I arrived at the restaurant, my date was already there waiting for me—Louie. On seeing me, he stood up. He was a tall Scandinavian who founded a tech company that helped people exercise better at home. His blonde, long, curly hair reminded me of the lead characters from Harlequin romance books I read as a teenager, and his blue eyes made my heart melt. I smiled when our eyes met.
Louie and I met at the party and hit it off immediately. Even though we came from different worlds, our unique stories just meant we had a lot to talk about. We would talk to each other for hours and hours, and we would never run out of things to say. In short, the hours felt like minutes. We constantly wanted to meet up, and unwittingly, when we weren’t together, we were always texting. It was that instant connection people talked about when you knew you had met the one.
“Hello, Fola,” he said, his eyes beaming.
“Louie,” I said with the best smile I could stretch.
I took my seat and looked over at the menu.
“You look beautiful today as always.”
“Thank you.” I blushed.
I ordered and Louie did after me, and then we ate, casting glances at each other and blushing like babies.
The party organised by our firm’s client saved my life. After that night, my screenplays became so popular in Nigeria that Hollywood executives began seeking me out, so I eventually moved to the United States to continue writing and selling screenplays. It was amazing how those plays I wrote while I was flexing my learning muscles became so loved.
A few months ago, a publishing company called me to head their film adaptation division. The pay and benefits were quite attractive—more than I could have dreamt of. Converting it to naira would have been tens of millions, and I could finally live the life I wanted and send enough money back home.
“How was work today?”
“You will not believe how much I love working in my new office and how honoured I am that they sought me out.”
Louie listened attentively. It felt so good to be heard.
After eating, the waiter came back with a plate of dessert. I looked at Louie, and he smiled mischievously. I saw the words close to the cheesecake. “Will you be my girlfriend?”
“I see you’ve been on Instagram a lot recently,” I said.
“I’m fully caught up on trends, so! what is your answer?”
“Of course, I want to be your girlfriend!”
If someone had told me the life of my dreams was possible, I wouldn’t have believed them. It wasn’t an easy road, but it was all I dreamed of for myself happened.