Written By Akposb
The contest was approaching the c—-x. It had been a long and exerting journey for the contestants most especially for contestant 15. It was the number tag given the beautiful, tall and ebony Ewoma. She had entered the contest as an anonymous freshman and suddenly she had become as popular as Tu face, the musician. She felt vulnerable each time she had faced the audience but she was already cozying up to the privilege that comes with being popular. She was expectant of winning the contest and this made her nervous as the seconds went by. In the changing room, huddled with the four remaining opponents, she was completely focused on gleaning a little bit of inspiration from her whispering unconscious. She felt a figure walk past her and she raised her head just in time to see the smiling face of Edward. It was the same smile that had endeared him to her since meeting him on the eviction night. That was the night when the contestants were pruned from hundred to twenty. Edward was Madam Tiko’s personal assistant. Madam Tiko owned the Original African lady brand that was organizing the Miss Biebi (black) beauty pageant.
Ewoma has always been referred to as a model even before she became a participant in the beauty pageant. Her lithe frame coupled with her swaying gait when she walks resembled that of models who strut the runaway at international fashion shows. She had just clocked nineteen at the time of her resumption at the University of Benin. She was not on campus for long when she started attracting the curious and admiring gaze of both male and female students alike. She was not fazed by the interest she got as she was already used to being the Centre of attention in every space she had covered.
Her personality was instrumental in her relationships with friends who came in their different shades and size as she grew into the academic culture of her new environment. Rita stood out among the friends she warmed up to. She was of an average height, stout and had a pretty face. Ewoma liked her because she exuded confidence and was quite intelligent. They started out as roommates before they became friends. The only thing that separated them was their course of study. Ewoma had been admitted to study Microbiology while Rita was a student of Accounting. They got on well despite their different interests.
The loud piercing sound of the electronic speaker broke into her thoughts. It had been close to an hour of waiting for the auspicious moment. Edward had just left the dressing room ostensibly on his last inspection walk. She had averted her eyes even though she was sure that he wore that strange smile of his. She was wary of his smile when they first met as she could not separate it from the leering gaze she got from men. Gradually she had come to accept him as a friend. She thought about the crowd outside and suddenly she felt inadequate. She wished she would not be the winner.
‘‘All right, ladies and gentlemen,’’ the booming voice of the compere ‘’we now welcome the final contestants to the podium.’’
Ewoma took the third place among the remaining five as they got set to leave. They were welcomed into the expansive Queen Aminat hall by the rousing applause of the people who had gathered to witness the historic event.
It was the same rousing applause that followed her answers during the quiz section. She would always remember that moment as one that set her on a flight to public attention. The other contestants were equally articulate and reassuring as they answered questions. The compere was boisterous when he praised the contestants.
‘’This is a nail-biting contest. We might just be witnessing the toughest contest yet since the grand lady, Madam Tiko created this competition.’’
An hour after, they were standing in front of the judges hoping for that moment of providence that would win the race for them. The compere appealed for calm as he prepared to announce the new queen. He began the announcement from the fourth runner-up. When he got to the position of the first runner-up, he seemed to play into the anxiety of the crowd as he requested for a short document to be read about the Original African Lady organization. This did not go down well with the crowd who protested in return. After much protestations, he shelved the idea and appealed for calm in preparation for the penultimate announcement. Ewoma and the other contestant, Cynthia listened with anxiety in their hearts. Ewoma sank to her knees amidst shouts of joy from the crowd once Cynthia was announced as the first runner-up. She was brought to her feet some seconds after by the firm hands of the compere and her predecessor, Betty. She was crowned the winner. The crown came with a one million naira cash prize and a car. She was overwhelmed with thoughts of how much she had received by virtue of her beauty and intelligence.
She was the main attraction at the reception held after the contest. Madam Tiko showed her high taste as she chose the iconic Seagull hotel to host the event. Despite having Rita for company, Ewoma struggled to stay relaxed as she moved among the throng of men and women who graced the occasion. She was flustered after an hour of exchanging banters with the crowd of well-wishers and this made her seek exit from the gathering. Edwards met her just as she was about going into the restroom.
‘‘Congratulations, I knew you would be the winner.’’
‘’Thank you very much.’’
She smiled and shook her head in acknowledgement of his support.
‘’Just enjoy yourself and I wish you luck,’’ He said.
He left afterwards and Ewoma entered the restroom. She had always thought of the task ahead and she already knew it was going to be difficult. She had so many ideas which have assumed a tangle in her mind. She knew already that a year would not be enough to bring her ideas into fruition. She spent quite a long time in the restroom and met Rita waiting by the door on her way out.
‘’What have you been doing?’’ She queried.
‘’Why that expression on your face?’’ Ewoma asked smiling.
‘’Madam Tiko wants to see you’’ She said.
‘‘Okay, let’s go.’’
They hurried to the hall where the party was gradually winding down. The number of guests had thinned out as the hours counted. Rita led her to a corner of the hall where Madam Tiko sat on a chair facing two men. One of the men was dark and had a huge stature. He wore an agbada and laughed often. The other who was much younger wore a shirt and a pair of denim. Madam Tiko stood up immediately she saw Ewoma.
‘’Yes, Chief we now have a new queen.’’
Ewoma stared in revulsion as the Chief licked his lips. She hated the lust that was visible in the eyes of the Chief but nevertheless she smiled and curtsied.
‘’Ewoma, Chief Obaje here is a major donor to my organization and he has just agreed to sponsor the activities you will be engaged in.’’
Sponsor did not appear meaningful at that point as Ewoma smiled broadly in anticipation of his generous assistance. She was ready to forget the lust in his eyes just for the sake of his donation. Madam Tiko was not done as a little non-verbal exchange happened between her and the Chief.
‘’ Ewoma, please come with me.’’
They walked out of the mini-bar and headed for the section where rooms were located. Madam Tiko led her past three rooms and then opened the fourth one. The room was tastefully furnished. They sat on the edge of the smoothly laid bed.
‘’I want you to accompany the Chief to his hotel,’’ Madam Tiko said.
‘’I hope you understand the reason?’’
‘’Okay…I like you and I hope you to realize the opportunity you have right now,’’ Madam Tiko smiled.
‘’That is good. I will like to tell you something that is very important.’’
Madam Tiko proved to be an avid marketer in that moment as she detailed the financial realities of her organization. She was just a hustler. Her foundation was almost crumbling and the beauty contest was one of the few major life-lines she had left. She needed Ewoma’s help to pull this through. The blank expression on Ewoma’s face showed her discomfort even after she had listened to the speech.
‘’I want you to sleep with Chief.’’
‘’Ma…that is not right,’’ She protested.
‘’ What do you mean.’’
‘’I am a virgin.’’
Madam Tiko chuckled.
‘’You will definitely lose it someday.’’
‘’Ma, I insist it is not right.’’
Madam Tiko hated the aversion on Ewoma’s face.
‘’You have no choice. Chief Obaje will not sponsor us if you don’t honour his request’’
There and then, she realized the importance and the meaning of the word ‘sponsor’.
‘’Ma, I don’t care.’’
‘’You must be joking,’’ Madam Tiko said sternly.
Madam Tiko stood up immediately and left the room. A short while later, Rita rushed into the room. Ewoma was still smarting from the discussion with Madam Tiko.
‘’What happened between you and Madam Tiko?’’ Rita asked as she sat beside her.
Rita was apprehensive. She still had shock on her face as she looked at Ewoma.
‘’A little misunderstanding’’ Ewoma replied.
‘’What do you mean, she was hysteric when I met her on the way.’’
‘’She wants me to have s-x with that Chief.’’
Rita did not look surprised. Instead, she held Ewoma’s gaze for a while and then averted her eyes. They were quiet until the door of the room opened. Madam Tiko walked into the room followed closely by Edward. Ewoma and Rita stood up immediately.
‘’You are lucky, Chief understands you need a rest hence the meeting has been rescheduled,’’ suddenly she glared at Ewoma ‘’do well to rethink your stance.’’
She left with Edward leading the way. Silence took over the room and Ewoma left for the bathroom. She was flummoxed. She had a thought that she was entering for a life-changing assignment. Unfortunately, she was about to be confronted by a negative one. She had made her decision not to become a part of the ladies conquered by Chief Obaje but how far could she go especially with the vehement opposition of the owner of the brand she represents. She stripped and entered into the bathtub. The shower brought some measure of comfort to her troubled mind. Rita was already sleeping when she entered the room. She hated the silence in the room and slowly rested with the hope of jetting off to a world of pleasant dreams.
Ewoma woke up early the next morning. She stretched lazily with dazed eyes but was able to see Rita staring at her. She rubbed her eyes.
‘’How are you?’’ Rita asked.
‘’I am fine. You are up already?’’ Ewoma asked as she heaved herself.
‘’Yes, just watching over the queen,’’ Rita smiled.
‘’You aren’t serious,’’ Ewoma blushed.
She stood up from the bed and sauntered to the bathroom. Looking out of the window, she discovered it was still dark. She washed her face and walked back into the room.
‘’It is still early,’’ Ewoma said.
‘’Are you surprised? Come, let’s discuss’’ Rita said.
She went and sat astride Rita.
‘’So what plans do you have?’’ Rita asked.
‘’I have so many.’’
She went on to list her thoughts and plans for the year. She wanted to help the girl child and make sure they were adequately equipped to be independent. Also, she would use her office as a leverage to campaign for the rights of the less privilege and physically challenged members of the society. All through, she had a coy smile on her face while Rita looked on with seeming disinterestedness.
‘’What about you?’’ Rita asked.
‘’I already got my dues,’’ Ewoma replied.
‘’What about me?’’
Ewoma looked on bemused. Rita was crossed and the moments that followed was quite nerve racking. Ewoma was not used to being put on the spot but she knew her friend wanted a reply. Suddenly, they heard a knock on the door.
‘’Who is it?’’ Ewoma asked.
‘’Okay, a moment’’
She was not fully dressed and she hurried to fetch a short from her bag which she wore. Edward was leaning on the wall. Ewoma expected the smile but there was none. She greeted him and he replied coldly. His eyes were red and he looked so much like one who had been deprived of his night rest. Edward broke the silence. He had come to plead for her cooperation. He made her understand the harm she would cause Madam Tiko’s brand if they were to lose a money bag like Obaje. After listening to his speech, Ewoma was flagger basted. Edward was serious and this infuriated her. She could barely imagine what he was thinking as to encourage her to become an escort of Obaje. She gave him a terse reply.
‘’I am not a prostitute.’’
The effect of the statement was like a bombshell judging by the silence that followed the statement. Edward was shocked and he shook his head in confusion. He made an attempt to speak but it seemed words betrayed him. He retreated slowly and then turned around. Ewoma hated his guts but she felt calm amidst the seeming storm. She could easily have heed her parents’ plea to give attention to her studies. She rested on the wall for support and also as a last resort to ward off her fears and worries. She returned to the room once she felt better. Rita was in the bathroom and this gave her some respite. The proverb ‘’uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’’ aptly described her present state.
Rita came shortly after she sat on the bed. She looked radiant with the towel tied just above her b—m.
‘’You should go and have your bath,’’ Rita said.
Ewoma stood up from the bed and entered the bathroom. The cold feel of the water as it poured on her brought momentary relief to her troubled mind. She felt calm amidst the brewing storm. She felt no regret that she had got involved with a brand that saw nothing wrong in giving young girls away to lascivious men like Obaje. On entering the room, she found Rita applying some cosmetics to her face at the dresser. Silence had suddenly become a norm among them and she was gradually growing accustomed to it. She went to the wardrobe, brought out her cream and started applying it on her body. She kept her eyes on Rita who continued with her task oblivious of her presence. She was not used to such attitude from her closest friend.
‘’Rita,’’ she called.
‘’I wanted to ask if you are done.’’
‘’I will leave once you are ready,’’ Rita bent her neck a little to reply.
They heard a knock on the door just at that moment. They exchanged looks and then, the sound came again.
‘’Hello, who is there?’’ Rita asked.
Rita was about standing and then she turned around to look at Ewoma. Ewoma nodded her head, a subtle consent and immediately Rita went and opened the door. Eve walked into the room while Rita closed the door behind her. She was dressed in a gown made with Ankara material.
‘’So how are you queen?’’ Betty asked smiling.
‘’I am fine.’’
Ewoma was done with applying cream and she was sitting some distance away from the wardrobe. Betty came to sit beside her.
‘’I believe you will enjoy your reign.’’
‘’I hope so.’’
The smile receded from her face. Betty had come for business. She talked about the merit of holding the crown for a year and touted the advantages that came with it which could continue after the crown has been passed to another. Ewoma listened with rapt attention. Betty made an effort to put her at ease as she also talked about the benevolent activities of Madam Tiko and talked about the large number of ladies who had gained from her spirited efforts. The more she appraised the efforts of Madam Tiko, the more the feeling of déjà vu took over the thoughts of Ewoma. She was all too familiar with the tricks but she willingly gave Betty all the attention she needed. She looked all too innocent to encourage such immoral act. Several minutes had gone when she turned to the present task.
‘’I want you to co-operate with Madam Tiko.’’
‘’I have done just that but she is asking me to do something that I can’t engage in.’’
Betty smiled seeing the strain on Ewoma’s face as she got to the end of her reply. Ewoma’s reply also made her nervous. She knew she would need a lot of patience to convince her. She decided to address her vain thoughts. Everyone had that and she knew few could reject an opportunity to see their wishes fulfilled. Thus, she described her personal experience during her reign. She had travelled to countries in about three continents and have had the benefit of relating and working with several A-list fashion models. She sighed afterwards with a conviction that she had won Ewoma over.
Ewoma seemed to have absorbed her message. Instead, she was angry at the persistent salesmanship of Betty. Suddenly, she hated the moment she agreed to enter into the contest. Rita had listened to the conversation and their eyes met at that moment. Rita’s eyes held no objection. Ewoma could easily deduce that from the soft and teary look of her eyes.
‘’I will think about what you have said,’’ She said after a while.
Eve grinned and then hugged her. Afterwards, she walked out of the room.
‘’So what do you intend?’’
‘’I am leaving.’’
‘’Are you crazy?’’ Rita leapt to her feet. ’’How can you let go of such an opportunity like this, you must understand that a decision on this matter is beyond you. Madam Tiko does not deserve such a selfish decision.’’
Ewoma saw treachery in the eyes of Rita. Instead of sympathizing with Rita’s indifference, she felt anger and hate towards her. While she could easily spite her by not backing down from her decision, she saw beyond Rita in her decision not to be Miss Biebi. She was only interested in keeping her dignity as well as not to cheapen herself before any man. She averted her eyes and wore a gown. She started folding the clothes on the bed. Her mind was made up but she was still undecided on how to break the news to Madam Tiko and her entourage. Rita left the room after a while. Ewoma felt like her world was falling apart. Just yesterday, she had fought off the challenge of Cynthia to win the crown and now she was about letting go of the crown. She would have been consoled if tears could stream down her face but she was not used to a teary reprieve. She finished arranging her clothes and zipped the duffel bag.
Suddenly, the door opened. Madam Tiko was in the lead as the others followed closely.
‘’Ewoma, you have shown that you are so insensitive. How dare you reject our pleas,’’ Madam Tiko barked.
Ewoma suddenly felt anger surge in her mind. She was ready to confront this bunch of immoral agents.
‘’Madam, I do appreciate you for giving…’’
‘’Don’t you dare patronize me. I have given you several opportunities to come down from that unfounded high place you have placed yourself but you have proven to be a hard nut. You definitely cannot represent this brand if you are not willing to pass this small assignment.’’
‘’Ma, I am leaving your privileged position for good. I think it will be best if you replaced me,’’ Ewoma replied calmly.
She handed a pile of cloth on which she had placed the crown to Madam Tiko who refused to take it. She dropped the pile on the bed and then picked her bag and walked past Madam Tiko, Rita, Betty and Edward. His eyes met with hers and she almost hesitated. His eyes bore a trace of wonder. She did not need his seeming surprise to celebrate her resolve. She had only wanted to be a beauty queen and not a courtesan.