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 a private matter? Why 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 center-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 colored gold or gold-plated….