From Primary To Tertiary, Here Is My Diary (Part 23)

From Primary To Tertiary, Here Is My Diary (Part 23)

6th April 2024 NewsOrient
Books, Arts, Culture, News

There was no time to waste. I chose to go into business immediately. I picked “Try Your Luck” as my first business venture. Though it didn’t require too much capital, I still needed like 25 shillings to start small and about one guinea (one pound, one shilling) to start big.

I thought that if I went for something small, I wouldn’t be doing anything different from what others were doing. To start small, you would need to buy the following: Oxford Cabin biscuits, Malted milk, Sisi pelebe, Shukshuk, Baba dudu, Goody-goody, Toffee sweets, Nico sweets, Coconut candy, different kinds of exercise books, Erasers, Pencils and other items loved and used mostly by children.

If I wanted to start big, I needed the following: pepper snack, fishy snack, Speedy, coconut cookies, bubble gums, sprint and banana bubble gums, plastic dolls, water guns, felele balls, yoyo, toy monkeys, lego-lego, plastic figures, toy cars and trains, sand bucket, rubber duck, teddy bear and Barbie.

What is “Try Your Luck?” It is gambling made simple. It is about you staking the little you have in exchange for the big you lack. Or, better still, it’s simply a process of magical indulgence to attain speedy fulfillment of one’s desperate desires and cravings.

Unlike money doubling, “try your luck” is not about someone promising to double your money for you. For instance, you could play with a penny and win small or three pence, depending on how much was in your pocket, and win big.

If you played with three pence or a penny, you might end up losing the money to “try again” meaning you have lost your money without winning anything in return.

The process of playing it is very simple. Some wrapped or squeezed tiny papers are packed into a container. Different things are written inside the tiny papers but you cannot open them until you have paid. You may have messages like: “congrats, you have won 5 pieces of cabin biscuit.” “Sorry, try again” and so on and so forth.”

I elected to go for this out of all the other choices I had because it was a crowd-pulling enterprise considering that every human being is a natural gambler.

Anyone who can gamble with his life is capable of gambling with his wealth. Whether you stay at home or you leave your home, you are gambling with your life.

Death has no territorial restriction. We risk what we have for what we desire. Again, I looked at human beings and their insatiability and their weakness to ignore elusive cravings as a result of their greed for gold and silver.

In short, I knew it was going to be a lucrative business. However, those who were doing the business before me lacked creativity and the entrepreneural expertise to improve the trade or make it attractive.

A man is inspired to gamble with his possessions because of the attraction of other illusions. That was why I decided to start big by visiting Kingsway and Leventis Department Stores on Marina, Lagos.

Then, most of the big Department Stores were located in Lagos Island. Talk of Kewalram, Chellarams, Leventis, Bhojsons, Kingsway and UTC. It was from these Stores that I shopped for my toys.

About three people were doing the “Try Your Luck” business while I was still in school. I had watched them very closely in order to know the tricks involved in the business. I don’t know of any business that doesn’t have its own tricks or what one can call “strategic trade secret”(STS). My general observation was that it was being run by three “illiterate aunties” from Hogan Bassey Crescent, who were motivated to the business by sheer greed and opportunism.

They knew we were all young and in primary school, so, they took advantage of our naivety and stupidity. They were really making money from us because I personally knew how much I lost to them.

At a stage, I was wondering if Alfa Ligali’s remembrance charm (ogun Isoye) had not really tampered with my original destiny. How can one be trying his luck without success for about 3 years?

I never won at all except on one occasion when I won “baba dudu”. I even thought the aunties were whining me because of my complexion. How come that my luck slept for almost three years only to wake up for the first time to win “baba dudu”. Iyen la nba so ní?

It was one of my friends who used to assist the aunties to write the messages in the papers that revealed their
secret to me. He disclosed to me that most of the wrapped papers inside the containers from which we were expected to pick only one, contained “sorry, try Again”. It was only in one or two instances that they would write: you win one “bazooka” or one “chin gum” (sic) in the wrapped papers.

Having understood this secret, I decided not to be greedy. I had so many toys on my tables and a lot of biscuits and sweets. The toys were expensive and there was no way I would allow anybody to win a shilling toy with one penny or three pence.

I had two containers for my two tables. You could either play from the penny table or the three pence table. From my own stand, you would always win something. Once in a while when I realized that my piggy bank was full to the brim, I would allow them to win one beautiful toy that would make the children jump for joy and dance around the Biney Centre where I set up my stand.

In less than three months, I had driven the three natty aunties “inside”. I was the rave of the moment when it came to creative business.

My stall was like a toy shop and a grocery shop. The aunties were stunned with the way I was doing my own “Try Your Luck”.

The three of them were wondering where I got my money from. They had known me for almost 3 years.

I was a pioneer customer. All of a sudden, there was a dramatic transition of business power from aunties to aggressive business boy who just failed his primary school leaving certificate examinations.

I was livid with rage with the result. I had to reset my brain. I was not thinking of any school again.

Money was coming in. I was clothing myself during festive periods such as Ramadan, Ileya, CHRISTmas, New Year, including Malud Nabiyyu.

My shoes were not from this land. Late-tua was shopping at Copperfield, Idioro. I think it was owned by Jide Okunnu. I was shopping at Mandilas, Broad Street.

My friends who passed their first school leaving certificate examinations were shopping at Gbaja market and buying their shoes at the evening market popularly known as Bus Corner at Ogunlana Drive and Tejuoso Market.

Some of them were even buying second hand Cortina sandals. It was that bad. How much was a new Cortina then! Honestly, this life is not balance.

People, including my mother and Iya Ibadan, were wondering where the two of us were getting our money from.

The three “Unlucky” aunties thought that I did “awure” (head washing charm) because they couldn’t imagine how ordinary “Try Your Luck” would make me that rich just six months after commencement when they who had been in the business since I was in primary three were still at the same spot.

Envy and jealousy started. Blackmail and evil gossipping followed. There was no attempt by these aunties to do a re-evaluation of their business strategy.

For instance, since I had been their customer, the best you could win with these aunties was baba dudu or goody-goody.

Sometimes, you could win bazooka or Ekana Gowon. But with me, you could win items like pencils, erasers, exercise books, Shukshuk, milted milk biscuits, Lego-lego, toy trains or coconut cookies.

At these aunties’ stands, ten people might play and only one person would win. With me, all the ten would win only that it might not be what they wanted.

With me, you cannot lose everything. You would definitely win something. So, the children came to my side because of the assurance that they would get value for their money.

I wouldn’t rule out the old boy’s sentiment since I finished from one of the three schools in that area.

What baffled me was that despite starting my own “Try Your Luck” business three years after these aunties started, they began to experience low or nil patronage indicating that ingenuity, not just experience, is key to the success of any business.

Nobody was patronizing them again, yet they kept coming everyday for a business that was fast declining.

Funny enough, they had this umbrella which they used to cover themselves anytime the sun was bashing them.

Each time I saw them under the umbrella, I used to pity them especially when one or two of them strapped their babies to the back.

I always pitied them because despite suffering this kind of bashing and hardship from morning till about 4pm, they ended up going back home with less than a shilling.

Meanwhile, as the new Odogwu of business in town, I was going home with nothing less than eight to ten shillings a day.

On a good day, I could even make one pound. I normally made my money from the three pence section.

Really, I didn’t mean to get these aunties out of business, I only wanted them to know that business flourishes only when there is innovation.

Business does not thrive on the altar of orthodoxy and conservatism. The dynamic that drives business is oiled by suppleness and invention.

When you do a business same way for a decade or more, such a business will definitely experience retardation or suffer initiative atrophy.

With all sense of modesty, I would say, I was good in business. For me to be shopping for ordinary “Try Your Luck” items at big department stores like Kingsway and Leventis showed the type of class I belonged as a business boy and the kind of vision I had for my business.

However, despite my pretension to being a big man, I still had time to play with escalators and elevators at these stores.

I would be cruising up and down for 30 to 40 minutes on them convincing myself that I had to enjoy my money, at least, I was one of their big customers.

They did not know it because they were big but I knew it. These were things that my three rivals couldn’t find at the local markets.

Those aunties were going to Yaba and Ojuwoye to buy their items in dozens. And what were they buying? Goody- goody, Ekanna Gowon, baba dudu, nico sweets, sisi pelebe, Oxford Cabin biscuits etc.

If they regarded business as a serious enterprise, particularly where there was no space or room for monopoly, how did they hope to compete with somebody like me who, in less than a year of starting the business, had upgraded his stalls by stocking them with hubba bubba, candy lipsticks, gumballs, munchies, kit Kat, milky bar, Flake, sugar mice, blow pop etc.

I knew students couldn’t afford these things that’s why I made sure that only those who played 3 pence could win such expensive stuff.

Only two people could win such sweets out of about 10 people. All my baba dudu, goody goody and Nico sweets were given to those who lost because our policy was that you must go home with something.

What we gave out to our customers as consolation prizes were what our “old school ” competitors presented as their own golden prizes.

After sometime, the three of them vanished from the centre of business and relocated to Ile-Kewu Hogan Bassey to “try their luck” with “awọn omo jomo”.

I knew someday, my mother would still raise the issue of where I got the money to start the business. I had prepared a lie for her. I couldn’t tell her that I did bus conductor (omo Danfo) for about three weeks without her knowledge.

She would bite me silly. She was at Alapafuja with Iya Okun while I ran back to Iya Ibadan’s house on a shift-system basis so that nobody would have an exact knowledge of my movements.

I was doing strategic shuttle between Ilelogo and Alapafuja.

In short, I ran away from monitoring spirits in the two neighborhoods. It was also convenient for me to stay with Iya Ibadan now that Late-tua was back.

He was no more a negative influence. He was in a secondary school and I had failed my exam already.

There was nothing to influence again. I discussed my plans with him and he bought into it. His immediate response shocked me. I was expecting him to disagree with me but I was excited he agreed with me.

Once Late-tua agreed with you over a plan, that plan was 50 percent successful already. He didn’t normally go back on his word. He was a trustworthy ally.

Contingent upon my discussion with Late-tua and his unflinching support for me, I went to see my Oga, the danfo guy at Yaba for immediate employment as his regular conductor.

On getting there, I waited for about an hour plus before he returned from Àgùdà.

Immediately he landed, the first thing I did was to ask for his name. I was tired of asking for “awọn egbon to pari ti won nnà Yaba- Àgùdà” (looking for a bald man plying Yaba -Aguda).

“My name is Segun Onile-ere. Just call me Skelewu. Once you tell anyone in this Yaba that you are looking for Skelewu, they will fish me out for you”, he stated with vainglorious pomposity.

I told him how desperately I needed the job and implored him to see if I could ply another route in order to avoid members of my family seeing me doing bus conductor.

The Yaba-Aguda was not good for me. He explained that the owner of his vehicle did not want him to ply any other route but he would look for another responsible driver like himself for me.

We got one that same day. Yaba to Sabo was a safer and more comfortable route for me. I started working the following day.

I worked for three weeks including weekends. I normally went to work around 5am and would return by 7pm. Anytime Iya Ibadan asked for me, Late-tua would cover up for me. He would tell her “O ti lo sí Super (that was what we called Alapafuja because it was right behind Super Cinema.)

This was how I raised the capital I needed to start my “Try Your Luck” business.

Unexpectedly, my flourishing business came to an abrupt and disastrous end. It was another sad day in my life.


Dr Dapo Thomas’ From Primary To Tertiary, Here Is My Diary Is Serialized Here Weekly, Every Saturday

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