For the next 10 weeks, I will be serialising my book, ‘The Cost of Our Lives – Pandemic Edition’, and sharing a chapter with you every week. The Cost Of Our Lives highlights the story of how Ibidun was taken from Ajegunle to London by her mother’s friend. This novella details Ibidun’s London adventure of friendship, betrayal, freedom, and how she was able to return to Nigeria to begin a career as a celebrity fashion stylist.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
I lived in London for nine solid years. I was one of those who relied on popular blogs to know what was happening back home. I would spend several hours every day viewing fabulous pictures of fashionistas and the lavish events they attended in major cities like Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. It fueled a lot of desire in me and I had become even more informed about fashion and happenings in Nigeria than most Nigerians back home. My ultimate aim in life was to become a Lagos big girl by all means. I would study pictures of classy looking girls in designer clothes and shoes, carrying the latest handbags and think to myself that there were no more unattractive girls in Nigeria and everyone was now fashion forward. It made me think of returning home to Lagos one day.
Back in London, I worked as a sales assistant at Primark or ‘Primani’ as most Nigerians jovially called it, merging Primark and Armani. Primark is one of the UK stores most loved by Nigerians. Despite being a member of staff, I didn’t enjoy any staff discounts because my employers believed the clothes were already cheap and discounted enough so they didn’t feel the need for staff discounts, but of course, I lied to my unenlightened Nigerian acquaintances that I enjoyed a 20% discount off all the clothes just because I desperately wanted to fit into the happening Naija circles and I knew a lot of folks who loved ‘awoof’ would beg me to help them buy stuff from Primark with my non-existent ‘staff discount’.
I didn’t want to be friends with these ‘awoofists’. I wanted to roll with the movers and shakers of London. I tried hard to get close to all the Naija big babes in London so that I could belong but one way or the other, whenever they found out where I worked, they would stop being friends with me because they felt I was a poor chic working as a sales assistant while they lived off rich men. Most of them were on a first name basis with sales attendants at high-end department stores like Harrods and Selfridges. These stores had become a second home to these ladies. In their circle, Clara was the only one who allowed me to visit her at home, even though she always told me that her friends must never find out that she was even paying me any attention. She would say things like, “Ibidun my darling, we would gladly accept you into our clique if only you could resign from that silly job of yours.” Sometimes, she would go further to say, “I will even hook you up with one rich Otunba that will take good care of you.” Being the hardworking chic I had grown up to be, living off men was not something I had ever pictured myself doing. It wasn’t an option for me, so I guess they couldn’t be blamed for telling me that I wasn’t on their level.
It seemed their prayers were finally answered when the cookie crumbled at my work place. I had a strange feeling that morning. I woke up with a headache and I almost called in sick but I had to go to work because I already took the previous day off. Immediately I got to the store, my Indian colleague, Armandeep, grabbed me by the hand and practically dragged me into the ladies room. She was very beautiful, tall and slim, with curves in all the right places. We would usually meet up in the ladies room, especially on Monday mornings to gist about our weekend turn-ups. But this was a Wednesday morning and the look on her face told me there was something wrong. All kinds of thoughts were already going through my mind. My heart raced as if a racehorse was after it. I didn’t have a good feeling about this meeting at all. As I walked into the ladies with Armandeep, I suspected this might have something to do with immigration.
“Babes, London immigration came here yesterday,” She began. “They came to do a headcount of everyone working here. You’re lucky you were off work yesterday. I’m not sure how lucky you’ll be if they decide to come back today.”
Apparently, London Immigration officers were carrying out a raid to arrest all illegal workers in London and they came to do a headcount of the members of staff in the company and had promised to come back the following day because some of us were not present at work. My heart began to beat arbitrarily as she broke the news to me. She was giving me this information because she was the only person at Primark who knew I wasn’t working with my real name and National Insurance Number. I didn’t even have an N.I number. Outside my workplace, I was Ibidun but at work, I was known as Zainab. It’s what many illegal immigrants in London do.
There is a story about how I became Zainab.
Zainab is the name of the kind Nigerian lady that housed me when I ran away from my Aunty’s house in Hammersmith. I met her while working as a cleaner at the hotel where she was manager. I lived with her for about eight months and I had access to her personal mails. One day, I searched her things while she was out and found copies of her previous payslips which had her National Insurance Number. Zainab knew nothing about this and I had to hide the fact that I was impersonating her because she was very good to me.
I stood still, listening to Armandeep and didn’t know what to think or do immediately. It must have been my mother’s prayers that saved me from coming to work the previous day. I shared a hug with Armandeep and I’m sure she understood what it meant. I told others I was going to have lunch even though I had just arrived. I wasn’t sure I would be lucky enough to escape another immigration sweep so I carried my bag and went for a never-ending lunch break. That was the last time I set foot at Primark or anywhere near Oxford Street.
Join me next week for the next chapter of The Cost Of Our Lives.