Amara froze the moment she spotted her uncle seated with the rest of the other guests at her graduation ceremony. Her heart began to pound faster as she recalled the dream she had the previous night.

‘What is the matter, Amara?’ her friend, Deborah poked her by the side, ‘you appeared as though you’ve seen a ghost.’

‘Did you see that man in a brown T-shirt, beside that elderly man over there?’ she pointed.

‘Yes, with goatee beards…’

‘You’re right, Deborah. That is my uncle; the one I told you has a shop at Alaba.’

‘Wow, you’re lucky that he could make it to your graduation…’

‘Lucky? No, Deborah,’ she shook her head, ‘on the contrary, I’m sensing something fishy. Uncle Chike would never sacrifice his thriving business for anything in the world.’

‘Could you try your parents’ numbers again?’

The girl began to frantically dial each of her parents’ phone numbers; and as before, both phones rang continuously without any response.

‘I’m so nervous, Deborah…it’s the same none response. One of them should have at least answered…’

‘You’re all welcome to the 25th graduation ceremony of Promise Secondary School,’ the voice of the school principal drowned all other voices.

‘To kick-start this event,’ the school administrator continued, ‘one of the graduating students, has a special presentation …’

‘Amara, please brighten up,’ Deborah cheered her; ‘your looks are scary.’

‘Oh, I wish my parents were here to watch me perform…’

‘Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together as I invite the outgoing social prefect, Amara Uchechukwu for her special rendition…’

The auditorium echoed with round of applauses as Amara stepped forward to the podium; masking her anxiety under the cloak of smiles.

‘I’m taking one of the songs by R.Kelly,’ she began.

‘I used to think that I could not go on…’ she began in a velvety tone.

The hall became silent.

If I can see it, then I can do it…

If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it…

I believe I can fly…

I believe I can touch the sky…

She poured the whole of her heart into that song, and in her mind’s eye, she saw herself hovering over every obstacle along her way. When she was done with her presentation, the auditorium shook with a resounding applause; as her audience could not contain their excitement.

‘This is awesome!’ the school administrator gave a standing ovation.

Some of the guests, thronged towards the podium to commend her.

‘You practically took me out of this planet!’ one of the guests remarked.

‘Your parents, must be very proud of you,’ another remarked.

‘The girl with the golden voice!’ her friends and fans hailed.

Her eyes roamed towards the direction of her uncle, and there he sat indifferently, engrossed on his phone!

I hope my nightmare is not about to happen? She feared as she went back to her seat, amidst tons of cheers.

Although the rest of the program went on smoothly, yet her mind would not stop pounding. As other parents and well-wishers danced and congratulated their loved ones at the end of the program, she finally located her uncle.

‘Good afternoon, uncle Chike. I’m glad you came,’ she feigned excitement.

‘Have you heard from my parents?’ her mood swung, ‘I’ve been calling their numbers, but…’

‘Get ready and let’s be on our way,’ he declared with a note of finality.

‘Sir…sir…is everything okay with my dad and mum?’

‘They received an emergency call to attend a family meeting this afternoon,’ he revealed, avoiding her eyes.

‘Family meeting?’ Amara shot him a puzzled look, ‘how come they never mentioned it to me?’

‘Stop probing me; go and pick whatever you have left in this school and meet me at the car park.’

The moment he left, she felt a thudding on her head. What could have happened? Deborah was nowhere to be found.

As she approached the car park, her heart began pounding again.

‘It’s quite unfortunate…I’ve not broken the news to her yet…’ she overheard her uncle respond to a caller in a phone conversation.

‘Which news?’ she raised an alarm which attracted several people to the scene.

‘Amara, get inside the car and let’s go!’ her uncle ordered.

‘No! no!!’ she screamed the more, ‘which news? Which…’

********

‘Amara, things like this happens; but God knows the best,’ Deborah consoled her friend, when she visited her in her uncle’s house.

‘I know, but why?’ the nineteen-year-old girl sobbed, ‘why should they both die on the same day?’

‘It’s okay…’

‘Amara!’ her uncle’s wife intervened.

‘It’s two years already, Amara, two good years! Are you going to bring them back with your tears?’

The distraught girl sniffed as she held her friend’s hands. The latter had just gained admission into one of the tertiary institutions in the country. Meanwhile, her new ‘parents’, had no plan of that sort for her.

‘With the expression on your face, I doubt if Okoro would be pleased to see you looking this upset?’ the older lady reminded her as she dabbed her eyes.

Deborah was speechless; yet her silence spoke volumes.

‘Hasn’t she told you yet?’ her uncle’s wife probed, and then turning to the unhappy girl, she patted her gently at the back.

‘Amara, this is not something to be ashamed of,’ she began, ‘tell your friend the good news!’

‘Has it come to playing ‘hide-and-seek games with your best friend?’ Deborah frowned.

The poor girl gulped back the tears. The older lady retired to the kitchen the moment her husband’s car drove into the building.

‘Please tell me, what have you been hiding from me?’

Still in tears, Amara opened up a large suitcase and revealed different sets of wrappers and jewelries to her friend.

‘So, you’re getting married? What becomes of your dreams of becoming a lawyer?’

Uncle Chike’s arrival into the house suddenly brought the girls to their feet.

‘Good evening sir,’ both girls greeted.

‘So you’re the architect of my niece’s rebellion?’ he turned rudely at Deborah,’ before I open my eyes, get out of this house immediately!’

Deborah ran off as fast as she could.

‘And as for you,’ he turned to his niece, ‘you have no other choice than to be married next week as I planned.’

‘But…sir, I want to further my education; I don’t want to get married yet…’

‘Keep quiet!’ he roared, ‘you want to further your education, at whose expense?’

‘Listen to me very carefully,’ he continued, ‘I won’t spend an extra kobo on you. A woman’s education ends in the kitchen, period!’

She burst into fresh tears.

Later that night, a heated argument erupted between Amara and her uncle; replaying the dream she had two years ago. The height of it finally came, when the irate man went into her room and tore her SSCE certificate in shreds, right before her eyes!

*******

Three days to her traditional wedding ceremony, Amara took the most daring decision she had ever ventured before in her entire life. Right at the middle of the night, she ran far away. And in the morning of the next day, she was already at the door of her poor maternal aunt’s house, with the remains of her belongings, stacked in a carton.

The poor widow received her with a mixed feeling. Although her abode appeared like a heaven to her fugitive relative, yet as the days went by, the poor woman began to have a rethink of accommodating her in the first place.

‘Perhaps it would have been better if you had remained there,’ she complained bitterly one day.

‘And get married, at the age of nineteen?’

‘Yes, what’s wrong with that?’

‘You mean I should forfeit my own dreams?’

‘My dear, what would be would be,’ she emphasized, ‘at least, you’d have a decent home, and most of your needs met.

‘I won’t accept that!’ she protested, ‘I’m going to further my education against all odds.’

‘But how? Amara, how are you going to achieve that? I don’t know anyone else that can be of help.’

‘I think I know a way,’ she nodded, ‘I would plead with our neighbor, Rasaki tomorrow, to let me work as one of the street cleaners…’

Tufia akwa!’ she snapped her fingers over her head, ‘a street cleaner at your tender age?’

‘I don’t mind, aunty, I would take the job…’

And so, the day wore on. The next day, Amara approached the man she spoke about the previous day to her auntie; and luckily for her, she got the job.

The job was anything but exciting, yet she stuck with it. Beyond the low esteem attached to the job, she looked forward eagerly to the monthly pay.

A prominent billboard with the inscription: ‘STRESSED?’ stood very close to the last bus/stop before her work area. Each time she looked at it, it reminded her of nothing other than her strings of agonies. And in one way or the other, each day usually leaves her with one form of sadness.

‘Mummy, who are those guys cleaning the main road every day?’ she heard one little boy asked his mother one day, as the duo waited at the bus-stop.

‘Most of them are illiterates,’ the lady had replied with a tinge of disdain, ‘the few of them that went to school, failed to listen to their teachers…’

That cutting remark left more than a cut in her heart, but she persisted on the job; her vision to save for a higher education surpassed every act of humiliation.

                       ******

As part of the sanitization exercise of the erection of billboards in Lagos state, some of the officials of the Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA) pulled down some illegal billboards and signage along the way; amongst the demolished poster was the STRESSED billboard.

The scenery appeared somewhat unusual that morning, as Amara nearly passed her regular STRESSED bus-stop before she realized it.

The rains which had fallen in the early hours of that morning had made the job more demanding for her. To worsen it, the preference she had enjoyed at the start of the job as the youngest member of staff had gradually declined.

Mr. Rasaki arrived that morning in the company of a middle aged man, to inspect their job. His countenance that morning was anything but friendly. After the routine checks, he called the young girl aside.

‘You’ve worked barely six months here and yet, it seemed you’ve worked here for ages,’ he began in his rich Yoruba accent.

‘But…you see…’ he scratched his beards and avoided her gaze, ‘there are some other people out there who really need this job more than the other…’

Amara shifted uneasily on the bench she sat on. Why is he just beating about the bush? She pondered.

‘To cut the long story short,’ he continued, ‘your job here terminates after today…’

She shot him an imploring gaze.

‘I’m very sorry, Amara, today is your last working day. You would get your pay after today’s job.’

‘But why sir?’ she finally found her voice, ‘I’ve always been diligent with my work…sir, I need this job badly, to save for my education…’

‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do about it. You’re still very young with bright prospects. You have to make room for that middle-aged man that came with me Austin; he needs the job more than you.’

Amara went back to her duty post dumbfounded. The big blow aligned with the one she faced when she lost her parents and before she realized it, she began to cry. All that she got from her other colleagues were tons of sympathies.

Picking up her broom to perform her final task, her eyes caught the attention of the fallen STRESSED billboard. The poster had faced upside down from where she stood; and so, acting impulsively, she pronounced the word backwards as: ‘DESSERTS!’

‘Wow!’ she leapt, to the amazement of her other colleagues, ‘STRESSED has turned to DESSERTS!’

That awareness left an indelible impression on her mind and it sprung up a renewed vigor as she worked.  Before she realized it, she was already singing the tune she rendered on her graduation ceremony.

Everything else paled in significance as she sang with the whole of her soul. And from a handful of passersby, her audience grew to a mammoth crowd.  Not even Mr. Rasaki could stop the melody.

Incidentally, one of the organizers of the LAGOS AT 50 anniversary celebration was part of her audience. The termination of Amara’s job as a highway cleaner paved another opportunity for her.

‘I must confess you dazed me by that heart-lifting song you rendered yesterday,’ Mr. Bankole, one of the organizers of the LAGOS AT 50 anniversary celebration remarked.

‘Thank you, sir,’ she smiled.

‘What you demonstrated yesterday, goes to prove that you were not moved by your present predicament; such a sterling quality is worthy of emulation.’

‘Beyond the fact that you sang so well, the spirit behind your delivery has made me to enlist you as one of the artistes performing during the LAGOS AT 50, upcoming celebration.’

‘Oh, thank you, sir…’

******

Performing at the grand event to mark the golden jubilee of the state with the ‘Centre of excellence,’ as its motto, was just the beginning of greater things for Amara.

Her stage name, DESSERTS, generated curiosity from her audience.

‘I got that name from the word STRESSED, which when spelt backwards, gave me the word, DESSERTS,’ she began with a broad smile.’

‘We all know that desserts are the sweet course meal served as the final course of  the main meal,’ she continued, ‘the lesson I learnt from my numerous problems is that challenges could actually create an avenue for success, when viewed from a different angle.

Final Remarks: That singular feat opened more doors of opportunities for our young heroine Amara and ultimately led her to accomplishing her desire, as a lawyer.

There is an ongoing battle between your faith and your fear; your decision however, determines the winner. Whose report would you believe?

Until I come your way again next week, KEEP MOVING, AND IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION.