When I got to Haija’s house the following day, she was out. But the guard at the gate was kind enough to ask me to wait a little.
For me the day before had been mind-shifting.
To think that how much attention people paid was the only thing that determined whether they became wealthy wasn’t far-reaching enough for me. It seemed pedestrian but then, I could familiarize with the Old lady’s train of thoughts when she said:
‘You have all you need to be rich…right between your ears.’
Gloria had given me a few documents for Hajia to endorse in order to process the title of the house as collateral for the Alheri loan. And I as sat in the lobby frisking through them for the umpteenth time—to be sure I hadn’t forgotten anything—Halima surfaced from one of the many adjoining doors on the small corridor linking the lobby with the back of the house
‘Hajia just phoned in to say, I should tell you that she will join you shortly…’ she blurted in a rich northern accent.
Halima, as I later came to find out, had been born in Kano to a big sesame seeds merchant named Awwalu. Her mother, Fatima, had herself been in the millet business at the local market near where they lived. The only child of her parents, Halima had grown up trading until she lost her parents in a ghastly motor accident along the Lokoja-Ankpa Road when she was eight..
Hajia was the a distant relative who had taken her in, and put her through primary and secondary school with a view to helping her return to Kano one day to start her own trade business.
‘Okay,’ I replied, ‘I just hope she won’t be long?’
‘No sir…she just went to wash her hair at the salon across the road.’
Puzzled by how impeccably she spoke for a maid, I shifted my gaze to this buxom young lady and really looked at her for once. Halima was a stout, round-faced lady with thick eyebrows that made her look younger than I had guessed she was.
‘How old are you?’ I asked without thinking
‘Eighteen…sir’ she responded and then, chuckled as if to say she had become accustomed to similar probes of her age.
I guess the wide-eyed look on my face had given away my shock at her response as she cringed shyly into a corner of the lobby, cupping her face with both hands.
‘Eighteen!’ I exclaimed back and then, there was a brief silence before the door clicked open.
‘As-salam alaikum,’Hajia greeted, ‘…my son, you are around?’
‘Yes ma’am,’ I rose to my feet as Halima curtsied before taking the bag the Old Lady had come in with, and scurrying off, ‘…welcome Hajia’
‘Thank you my son…so how are you today?
‘Fine Ma’ I replied.
‘Come let’s sit in the sitting room upstairs and fill those forms of yours’ she gestured toward the mansion’s other wing to the east of the building—which used to be dotted by a few banana trees when my family lived here but now it was an enclosure of flowers. We walked through a glass ceiling atrium in a rare silence since I had gotten here, into a cloister flanked on both sides by lavenders—maybe to allow me take in the beautiful scenery that this place was. I mean Hajia’s home had me thinking I should have parlayed the love I found at Theon for flowers into a career when I left, instead of continuing with this sporting of dapper suits; this show that very many broke-waiting-for-the-month-to-end bankers like me continue to put up—till we got to a flight of a stairs.
‘So Panshak,’ Hajia leaned on the balustrade and looked at me, ‘how much do you earn?’
My heart sank. Wasn’t my salary was a private matter? Which one was she asking me about my salary?
I gulped. ‘My salary is Four Hundred and Twenty Eight Thousand Naira after— ’
‘No’ she muttered back, ‘…I didn’t ask you about your salary.
At this point, I was taking aback, somewhat confused by the whole salary-earning query. I mean, weren’t they the same thing? But then, she sensed my plight and gestured me to follow her up the stairs.
As I followed Hajia to the top of the first flight of stairs, we were met by the prying eyes of an elderly man, smiling from ear to ear, in a portrait hung on the wall, between the first flight and the next flight of stairs. The wrinkles on his face made me put the man in his eighties…Haija’s father perhaps.
‘Who is he ma?’ I asked trying to restore the flow of communication but in a more comfortable direction..
‘Oh that’s Baba…my late husband,’ Hajia’s eyes twinkled with warmth. ‘And for your sake, I wish he were still alive to take you on this journey as he did me thirty-seven years ago.’
‘I didn’t ask about your salary,’ the Old Lady held up her hands, ‘and please, don’t feel uncomfortable; it’s not a bad salary. It’s just that I asked how much you earn. And here’s the difference.’ She paused and then continued, ‘How much comes to you from all your income sources at the end of the month? Is it the same figure as you mentioned earlier?’
‘Yes Hajia,’ I replied.
‘Okay,’ the Old Lady said, ‘and how much is that per hour?’
I pulled out my phone and clicked on the calculator icon quickly, ‘…about Two Thousand and Sixty Five Naira per hour ma’ I replied.
She laughed, as if to say, I didn’t know what I was saying. ‘Sorry, how did you come about that figure?’
‘Simple’, I responded, ‘I just divided my salary by the eight hours I put in every day; twenty days a month.’
The Old Lady peered at me, laughed and continued striding up the stairs.
At this point, I blanched, dumbfounded, and just tailed her like a little poodle until we reached the top of the second flight of stairs. We were now standing in front of a large mahogany double-door, etched with a contemporary Venetian glass design.
‘After we have had those documents signed, I want to share some of Baba’s secrets to attaining wealth with you,’ she said with a smile and then continued, ‘he called them The Quintet’
‘The Quintet…As in five?’ I asked.
‘The Quintet as in five,’ The Old Lady replied. ‘There are five mental shifts every human being must make to become wealthy…but we’ll get to that, don’t worry.
Hajia opened the door to the living room; I began to step inside—and stopped dead in my tracks. What on earth? This was like no sitting room I had ever seen. I had expected furnishing similar to the sitting room downstairs, white sofas, glass centre-tables and a gorgeous chandelier. Instead, the room was literally outfitted in gold from the chairs, to the curtains, the stools and coffee tables; the two chandeliers at one end of the room dazzling above a sprawling sixteen-seater dining table and the grand piano at the other end—all were either coloured gold or gold-plated.
To my mind this woman was now putting on airs. And I figured I’d just play along, have the collateral papers signed and move on from this place.
‘I brought you up here so that we won’t be disturbed…’ Hajia explained.
I tried desperately to respond…but I guess the room still had me dazzled—so I just nodded.
Hajia gave me a big smile.
‘So let’s complete the documentation for Farouk’s loan and I’ll tell you about the Quintet, okay?’ she urged.
‘Alright then,’ I replied.
We had settled into the plush dining table seats and quickly run through the documents, Haija signing each portion as I had indicated for her to sign—without much scrutiny. And then, she quizzed: ‘So after this, you people will give Farouk the three million dollars, right?’
Haija was more heart than brains.
‘Yes ma,’ I replied. ‘Since the facility has already been approved, and these documents are all that is left for us to disburse, I don’t see why the money wouldn’t be in his company account by next week ma’
‘Insha Allah’ The Old Lady exhaled. ‘So back to our conversation…’ She paused and then continued, ‘How much did you say that you earned by the hour again?’
I quickly pulled out my phone, looked at the calculator application which was still up and regurgitated, ‘Two Thousand Six Hundred and Seventy Five Naira per hour Hajia.’
‘And how did you say you came about that figure?’ She chirped.
I knew she was up to something but I couldn’t be bothered. I had gotten what I came for—the collateral documentations for the credit facility that could help me meet my performance target—and this conversation? It would probably only serve the Old Woman to vent whatever lofty thoughts she’d been meaning to let off on a sounding board. And it so happened that on this afternoon I was this sounding board. I figured she’d probably talk for about an hour more and I would be back to my reality.
‘By dividing my salary by the number of hours I put in at work every month’ I replied.
‘In other words, you stop breathing when you aren’t at work?’ She asked.
I blanched again.
‘I don’t understand ma’ I replied.
Haija raised her hands, ‘I mean you just said it yourself that your income or value is only measured, and limited by the number of hours you are at work? …As in the salary you draw, right?’
‘Yes…’ I replied, not really knowing what else to say.
‘Not exactly Panshak,’ she said in a stern tone ‘…and that’s why I was asking about how much you earn and not how much your monthly salary is. But I guess salary was the first thing that came to your mind when I asked, right?’
I just nodded in agreement.
‘Your salary shouldn’t necessarily be all you earn but a component of what you earn.’ She paused and then added, ‘In fact, the richest people I know don’t even take a salary…’
I took a deep breath, straightened up in my chair, and tried to process the thought. There was some truth to what this woman was saying, I thought to myself… But was taking a salary wrong?
‘…that is why I admire Americans a lot. You hear things like one-dollar salary among their very rich...’
‘…One-dollar salary? What is a one-dollar salary ma’am?’ I followed up immediately.
‘There are two ways to explain it Panshak,’ Hajia said. ‘The first is that it is a nominal salary taken by certain public servant who would rather work for free but because U.S. law forbids the government from accepting the services of unpaid labour, the government pays a token one dollar to establish a legal employer-employee relationship between itself and the public servant. For example, some public officials who had attained wealth before taking office choose to be put on a dollar a year.
‘So some people in the U.S. Government work for free?’ I asked.
‘In a sense, yes…’ Hajia replied with a smile, ‘…if you consider a dollar to be no money at all.
Suddenly, I had a bad memory come into my head of something my mother started saying just before she died. I don’t think she knew she was sick then, because I didn’t—having been her closest confidant from that time till when she was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer, from which she died six weeks afterwards. I think it was just premonition but she said it more than a thousand times to me. She’d say: ‘Wake up Panshak. You have no one. You must be strong because life will haul bricks at you. You hear me my child, you have no one.’
‘Panshak,’ Hajia called, ‘are you alright?’
‘Yes Ma’am’ I snapped out of my reverie to realise I have just had another one. Her smile had turned to fright and back to concern. ‘I am so sorry ma, it’s just that I have anxiety attacks from time to time but the doctor says it’s nothing to worry about; just emotions from my past needing expression.’
‘Are you sure?’ The Old Lady asked. ‘Can I ask someone to get you a glass of water of something?
‘I am fine…You were just about to explain the second angle to the one-dollar salary.’ I tried successfully to restart the conversation.
‘Yes,. Hajia replied, ‘the other idea around the one-dollar salary which is more private sector oriented, is that business people opt to take a dollar a year to lower their tax liabilities while earning millions in stock options and bonuses.
‘I see,’ I said, introspectively looking for the point of this one-dollar salary discussion.
‘The thing is,’ Hajia said, ‘no matter how you look at it, the one-dollar salary concept deemphasizes work for pay that most employees are accustomed to while emphasizing work as a means to create massive value. In essence, a job may guarantee you a pay cheque but massive value…that’s the only route to earning. The secret is in earning.
Again, I wasn’t sure how to respond. Work for me, in the now, was just about the pay cheque. And though it wasn’t always enough, I had coped well. I could easily borrow in months I ran short and pay back later. But this ‘creating massive value’ thingy was somewhat cliché.
‘I don’t understand…’ I said, ‘…I mean, you have referenced how rich Americans don’t always have salaries and probably do not need them because they are already rich. But the ‘creating massive value’ part is what leaves me even more confuse.’
Hajia looked at me with a smirk on her face as if to say she was enjoying my misconception.
‘If you are ever going to be rich, this salary mind-set is going to have to change…’ the Old Lady paused again and then continued, ‘…but first, let’s find out how much you really earn Panshak. ’
I immediately reached for my phone again and began punching.
‘Divide your monthly salary by thirty,’ Hajia instructed, ‘…that’s your earning per month.’
‘Fourteen Thousand Two Hundred and Sixty Six Naira and Sixty Seven Kobo,’ I replied.
‘Now divide that by twenty four to get how much you earn per hour…’ Haija said and then deadpanned. ‘I trust you will find it very awakening.’
I punched in the numbers on my phone again and it was awakening indeed. I realised for the first time in my life that I earned a paltry Five Hundred and Ninety Four Naira by the hour. And to drive the message in, the Old Lady spewed out the first of Baba’s secrets to attaining wealth:
“The rich focus on earning”
‘Jim Rohn once said: You don’t get paid by the hour. You get paid for the value you bring to the hour.’ Hajia said.
Just then, Halima came in with a tray carrying two porcelain bowls full of brown-red, kernel-sized, fruit-like lumps. She set a bowl in front of Haija and then proceeded to set the other for me but was accosted by the Old Lady.
‘Thank you Halima, but you didn’t ask Mr. Panshak if he cared for dates.’
‘So sorry,’ Halima apologized, ‘do you care for dates sir?’
I smiled at her as if to say it was fine. She smiled back, put down the bowl of dates in front of me and curtsied before leaving the room. Hajia’s gaze stayed with Halima until she shut the door behind her. And then, the Old Lady said,‘ Halima is a very diligent girl, don’t you think?.
‘Indeed,’ I agreed with a nod.
‘She came to live with me when she was eight… she lost both her parents in a car accident.’
‘What a shame!’ I winced.
‘You’re right my son,’ Hajia picked a date and began chewing. ‘C’mon…have some,’ she nudged.
I cautiously proceeded to try one, not really knowing what to expect. The skin of the fruit was thick as my teeth cut through—and distinctly sweet too. And right after that bite I could now see into the core of the fruit where its seed was lodged. The fruit created a sense of desiccation in my mouth as I chewed.
‘It’s nice.’ I smiled at the Old Lady but her countenance quickly drifted back into mentor-mode.
‘Most people focus on how to protect and hoard their money as a strategy for creating wealth…’ Hajia paused and then continued, ‘…and there’s nothing wrong with this.
‘The rich also know saving money is important. In certain circles, it is called, the Wealth Index; the more money you can retain, the higher you are on the Wealth Index and the less money you can retain the lower you are on the scale.
I sensed that while the Old Lady was stretching me a bit by throwing all these new concepts at me, she was do so, so that I could asking questions. Maybe she liked the fact I was eager to learn. And it must have been clear to her that I was struggling, which she obviously didn’t mind.
‘By retain, what do you mean Ma?’
‘Oh, I mean how much you can keep back for savings and investment from every Naira earned.’ She said. ‘For instance, I have two housewife-friends of mine who are in the commercial motorcycle business. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s call them Housewife A and Housewife B, okay?
Housewife A and Housewife B began their businesses by buying a motorcycle each, at Sixty-Five Thousand Naira. Both women leased their bikes for a year to riders at a One Thousand Naira rental payment per day; every day of the year, after which the ownership of the motorcycle transferred to the rider. That’s how much in revenue at the end of the year, Panshak?
‘ Emm! Three Hundred and Sixty Five Thousand Naira?’ I replied.
‘Great! Haija smiled. ‘But here’s the difference, while Housewife A bought two motorcycles in the following year because she used part of the proceeds to fund her pilgrimage to Mecca, Housewife B, who chose to defer her visit to Mecca by a year bought four motorcycles.’
‘…And by deferring her trip, her Wealth Index was higher?’ I chirped.
‘Exactly,’ Hajia replied, ‘by retaining more money, Housewife B quadrupled her earnings in the second year when Housewife A was only able to double hers…—and notice the story was not just about having a higher Wealth Index as it was about using that Index to improve earning.’ The Old Lady chipped in.
‘Indeed,’ I concurred.
‘Many people try to keep as much money as they can but the Rich understand that earning from what you keep is even more important.
‘And what I am saying is that you need to think like the Rich –and not like the middleclass, particularly the salaried, who are more engaged with making modest gains from their month-on-month pay, saving and investing if they have anything left after grocery shopping and paying for utilities.
It was becoming clear to me in that moment that Hajia was asking me to think about earning beyond my monthly salary. I kept a straight face at this point, knowing she was more likely to explain until I had perfect grasp of the Concept of Earning.
‘What I am saying Panshak, is that the Rich think differently…they focus on creating a fortune.’ The Old Lady said. ‘The same hours you use to earn your…how much did you say it was again, I mean your per hour…?’
I looked at my calculator and replied, ‘Five Hundred and Ninety Four Naira ma,’
‘…is what someone else earns in a millisecond because of focus.’
‘I understand this now, Hajia’
‘To attain wealth, your mind must shift from trying to live below your means—the miser and get-a-better job thinking of the most working class people—to expanding your means.’ She paused and then continued, ‘When you get home tonight, take out a piece of paper and have a self-conference. Channel your mind on how to generate more money without quitting your job, Panshak.
I nodded, ‘Yes ma, I will’
‘Write down the thoughts that come to you—even the ridiculous ones—and make a plan to act on them. This is the first step to financial freedom.’ She gasped.
I smiled at her. It was now two o’ clock in the afternoon and I realized I had to get these papers to Gloria at the office so that the loan could be disbursed before the weekend. So I got up to my feet abruptly to bring the meeting to a close.
‘One more thing…’ Hajia said, holding out her hands, ‘working people approach money from a finite position as something to be kept as much as possible, but not the rich. The rich know that money is never truly accumulated by hoarding it. It is accumulated by thinking.
‘And that my friend is why I would like to recommend you a book, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Look for it and try to read it once every year. I am certain it will help you my son’
I fetched my big brown envelope and thanked the Old Lady for her time. We agreed I’d visit again on the following Saturday so that I could learn the rest of Baba’s Quintet.
We said our good-byes and I headed back to my office.