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Drama

Each time I saw the headline or post; #1 New York Bestselling Book: The white horse by Teen-Nigerian writer, Laura Orah; a literary success! I fell apart. 

Though things weren’t always mild for I and my mum, we led a comfortable and calm life even in dad’s absence. Together with my nine-year old brother, James, we lived four miles away from my college in Adankolo. Many students found that unbearable but it wasn’t the case for me. Mum was scarcely around all the time and when she was, you barely noticed. She was a quiet woman while James was… well, always in his own world, if you know what I mean.

On December, 2017, while in the spirit of Christmas, my mum lost her civil service job. It was a major blow for us. She was forty and at that age, getting another decent job was almost impossible, companies preferred fresher blood. 

I went to Federal University Lokoja, and like all or maybe most universities in Nigeria, if the tuition fee was not paid on time by examination period, the student would have to defer the semester (this meant an extra year). I couldn’t stand that nemesis, not when I had finally made it to third year after two lonely years of waiting at home for admission (trust me admission into universities in Nigeria didn’t come that easily). My first semester exams were set at March the next year and my tuition fee wasn’t yet paid.

You may ask; “didn’t Mother have savings?” well, she had, only, it was barely enough to pay the house rent, James second-term school fees and meet basic necessities. She tried getting a loan but because of her current ‘no job’ status, the Bank couldn’t risk their money. 

I tutored a child in my neighborhood and was a typist for a local publisher – which was very stressful by the way but the pay still wasn’t enough plus our relatives were not the most generous people in the world. Mother wasn’t even the ‘begging type’. 

Left with little option, I began surfing the net for writing contests. The previous year, I had won a writing competition about ICT in Nigeria, it was held at my school by the National Youth Service Corps, so I was quite confident even though writing didn’t come naturally to me. 

I guess this summarizes the source of the dilemma in my life.   

After much search, I saw a writing contest that caught my attention, the Maple International Writing Contest. Its Grand Prize was five thousand dollars (that was about one million, seven hundred thousand naira), publication under the Maple Press and a creative-writing certificate. The theme was ‘man’s best friend’. I felt terrific, if I could win, it would solve a whole lot for me – I could pay up my fees, James’ and maybe start-up a retail business for Mother. The deadline was in barely three weeks’ time; my hopes were high. 

Depressingly, the entry was to be between eight thousand to ten thousand words. I hadn’t even written a story that was up to three thousand words before! If there was something I stood out in, it was starting a story without completing it. 

Anyways, I settled on writing an Adventure novel. I told Gina my good friend about it, she was an excellent writer, I occasionally read her drafts at my spare-time. Gina was always entering one writing contests after another (she had never won any International Contests yet). I figured, if I didn’t win, she might, and definitely some cash would get to me, but after I told her about joining the contest, she declined. She said she had much work in school. I tried persuading her still, but she was not interested.  

Writing the novel wasn’t easy and the more I wrote, the more I had the urge of giving up. As I grew further with each line, I lost the vibe to continue. On a certain day, I was so fed up, that I dropped my pen. I went to visit Gina for advice. One lovely thing about her was her open-heartedness in spite of her intelligence. She lived in the student lounge directly opposite the school. 

“So how’s your novel coming up?” it was Gina; she was eating some noodles. 

“Bad.”

She turned to face me. “Why bad?”  

I sighed. My head was hurting. “It’s just not coming together – I guess writing isn’t actually my thing.”

She tilted her head. “Don’t say that.” 

I said nothing. I carefully scanned some of her book collection which were kept in a brown carton. I flipped some open or read the back cover blurb.

“So you are not applying?” She gulped some water from a glass cup.

“I don’t know Gina.” I was overwhelmed, I didn’t want to think too much.

“What’s this?” I was referring to the pink hard-cover book. 

“That book? – It’s a story I worked on before, it’s a mess, not one of my best works.” Gina answered absentmindedly. Her mind was on her food.

“Can I read it?” I didn’t know what prompted me.

“Yah – sure.”  

I took the book home that evening, it took me a day to finish it. I couldn’t believe Gina thought nothing of her story. It was a Paranormal novel. Gina was blessed! 

The next day, I returned the book.  

“I can’t believe you finished that book.” Gina said. 

“Why? – I think the story is amazing – people will love it – doesn’t it have a title – you should publish –”

“Calm down girl.” Gina paused for a while. “Why don’t you use it for the contest?”

I felt my eyes widened. “No.” I shook my head. “It’s against the rules – besides it’s your story.”

“But I don’t intend to use it for anything.” 

“Don’t say that – after all the hours and energy you spent in writing?”

She shrugged. “It happens.”

 I stopped to think, my writing style was still immature and I needed the money, the story was better than mine may ever be.

“Okay – let’s say, I win, would you be okay with it.” She chuckled. “Why not?”

I suddenly became scared. I didn’t want to think what Jesus thought. I needed money.

I thought all these things as I struggled to send the mail to Val Preston, the moderator of MIWC. Gina still barely spoke to me. I suspect she even kept her distance from me. I suppose, to her, I was the reflection of her naivety. 

Unfortunately, I had gotten more than I needed. I was the first Nigerian to have won the Contest. 

After the book was published, that was when my major predicament started. I never anticipated it becoming a bestseller. It even trended on Amazon and Goodreads. I barely had any follower on all my social handle account before, but now, they were growing in thousands; asking when my next book would be out! I figured that was what broke Gina’s heart. Out of all her books, it was the one she thought less of, the only writing contest opportunity she didn’t try out, that became a huge success and her name was not the one on it.  

Perhaps I should have thought of what Jesus thought. 

While waiting for our lecturer in the GIS lab, I spoke to my best friend Tobi about it. 

“Well, it was her idea –” He scratched his hair. “It’s not like you stole it or something.”

I wasn’t convinced. “I know Gina gave her permission but it doesn’t change the fact that I hadn’t written the book.” Suddenly the class became quiet. I turned to see if the lecturer had walked in. he hadn’t, probably an angel passed by. It became noisy again.  

“I may have edited, added a few lines and gotten the title but it still isn’t my book.” 

Tobi laughed lightly. This is stupid. “What if the book hadn’t win, would you and Gina feel bad about it?” he let the words sink into me.

“What was the whole point of using her book to enter the contest?” He answered his question. “So you could win the cash prize! – and now you got the money, with a little extra and you are feeling terrible about it, you guys should have figured all these out before.” He made a good point but it didn’t make me feel any better.

"I have made a decision. I shouldn’t have done this in the first place, I should have just trust God to supply my needs. I am going to announce publicly that I didn’t write the book.”

“Are you crazy!” Tobi snapped. The lecturer walked in. I wrote him a note on my lecture note. 

“I know I have already been interviewed online but I don’t care, if I am going to be successful, it is going to be by my own efforts.”

He wrote back. “Think about it Laura, if you do that, the credibility of The Maple International Writing Contest would be questioned.”

At that point, I couldn’t think of what to do. He wrote back, this time on his note. “Do you want to give Nigerians a bad name.” 

I stared at the lecturer intently, he was saying something on Image Processing, I finally knew what to do.

In the midst of all this, I was glad my mum and brother weren’t aware of all that was going on. Though mum noticed I was worried. She assumed it was because of the whole tuition fee issue. She was trying her best, I could see that. 

I finally sent the mail to Val Preston, the moderator of the MIWC. It read; I feel very terrible and ashamed of my unappealing act and I can’t remain quiet. The book; The white horse, was not written by me and so I don’t deserve the honors given. I am open to any consequence of my action.

I could bet, that was the hardest thing I had done in my young life. I was embarrassed but I felt peace inside. I called to tell Tobi what I had done. The only thing he said was, “you are very brave”. Two hours later, I got a reply from Mrs. Val. Well that’s unfortunate. It’s good you were honest even if you could easily have gotten away with it. However, you have been disqualified, the grand prize would be taken back, making your certificate invalid. A statement on this would be announced on our website and social platform. You would have to give a public statement. All the best.

I felt blank. I had risen so high and smacked heavily to the ground. That night, I announced this, on all my social platform also stating that the original author of the book was Regina Oche. The MIWC had not had a drama like this before. I figured they had preferred if I was quiet about it. The book had already been published so they could not do anything. The money for the publication didn’t go to me however, it went to a Maple Press Charity.  

For two weeks, I stayed off the internet, I didn’t want to see any destructive criticism. My fees have yet not been paid, things are pretty much back to how they had been, only, my image is soiled. But I am okay. Gina couldn’t believe what I had done. We still spoke seldom. I guess we both reminded ourselves of what we didn’t want to remember.

September 04, 2020 12:21

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2 comments

I really enjoyed the story! It’s sweet Laura’s admitted she didn’t write it, although Gina DID give her permission. Nice job! Keep writing!

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Esther Salami
03:05 Sep 10, 2020

🙂 thanks!

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