You Shouldn’t Have Told Your Mother by Blessing Obiahu was submitted in March 2022 to Challenging The Writers Writing Contest #2 based on the writing prompt: The story starts when the main character receives an email that begins with “congratulations you have…”

I’m not sure why cocks start their days by screaming, but now that I’m twenty-three, I think I get it. Same shit, different day. Sighing, I reach for my phone, which I’d left atop a stack of textbooks the night before. I switch it on, focusing while my eyes adjust to the brightness. At the top of my screen, I see the mail icon. “Congratulations, you have earned the Global Goodwill Scholarships Award,” the whole message reads after one tap, “Five hundred thousand naira is the total amount. To learn more about how to get your scholarship in cash, click here.”

I take a deep breath and blink before my gaze lands on my window. The sky is an orange hue as the sun rises. A woman is spreading wet clothing on the lines beside the unplastered fence, with a baby strapped on her back and another clinging onto her leg, crying. Briefly, I wonder if she washed the clothes last night or if she washed them this morning. I look back at the phone in my hand, my attention returning to the message. It’s really there. I read the mail one more time. With each breath, my heart pounds, and I feel blood flow to the tips of my fingers, the pulse arriving in scorching waves, making me sweat.

Global Goodwill Scholarships is what it says. I recall applying for Guinness, MTN, Dangote, Grace & Alex Inziyon, College Relief Fund, Tesla Global, and Global Undergraduates…all at the same time. But I don’t recall a Global Goodwill. Perhaps it’s a scam? I read the mail for the third time, hoping to detect any underlying message with my lawyer sense. Of course, scammers may be able to follow your interests. Perhaps they were able to get into my browser’s history and find that I’ve been searching for undergraduate scholarships for the past three months. Is it possible that I’m about to become a victim of a scam? In the first place, how much money do I have? The thought of my account balance makes me laugh.

My feet land on the cold floor as I fling my long legs off the thin mattress. I shuffle across the room to the potable water storage drum, stretching my limbs until I hear my joints crack. I sigh, enjoying the coolness of the old mug against my lips. The woman is still spreading her clothing. I consider the pile of unwashed white shirts in my laundry basket and feel compelled to shout above the cacophony of the next-door neighbour’s generator, “madam, abeg I wan wash o! Make room for me.”

But I’m suddenly overcome by a delicious languor, and fall back to the mattress with a dull thud. In the middle where it’s the flattest, it oozes the odour of my overnight sweat. I pick up my phone and dial my mother’s number. 

“Sorry, you have no sufficient airtime. Press 1 to borrow N20 to complete this call.” I press one. It rings. And rings. She picks on the third ring, and the background noise of the market hits my ear.

“Wọle! Ba wo ni?”

“Ẹ kaarọ, mummy.”

“Kaarọ ọkọ mi. I’m already in the market.”

“Yes, I know,” I admit, wiping the sweat from my brow. I even know she no longer sleeps at home, but at the market, so she may sell her cooked beans until ungodly hours and start as early as four a.m. when workers were already rushing to catch a bus to work. Bọla, my girlfriend mentioned it to me when she closed for the holidays. I didn’t have enough money to travel home to Lagos, from Ebonyi, where my school is located. Instead, I went to Abakaliki to spend the holiday with an uncle. But Bọla, who school is in Lagos, had gone to see my mum.

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