“Puff puffs sayarwa! Donuts for sale! Only ten Naira!” I shout into the bustling marketplace. The traffic flows steadily, depositing many people from my town, Pajo, and a smattering of tourists here and there. Most of the tourists are eager to taste the wonders of Nigeria and are willing to buy loads of my puff puffs. The more puff puffs I sell, the more my family eats.
“Nadja!” I hear a voice from the crowd shout my name, “Nadja!” I see the tall, lanky figure with the face that I know so well pushing through the crowd. “I just got back from school. I’m supposed to have you come home to the gida.” I gather my leftovers from the day and leave to go home with my older brother, Dayo. During our walk to our apartment, Dayo tells me about all that he learned at school that day.
“Koya mani,” I say, “Teach me. I want to learn too.”
“Maybe,” Dayo replies. But based on the look in his eyes, I know in my heart that my brother means yes.
Later that night, after my family has our small dinner of jollof rice, Dayo and I sit down with one of his old early readers’ books.
“This was the hardest part for me,” Dayo says, “since it’s in English, and I only understood Hausa. I had to start from scratch.”
“But I already know a bit of English from the market. That will help me some.”
“Yes,” my brother agrees, “But don’t expect it to be easy. It will come in time.” As he begins to teach me the letters and their sounds, my little sisters, Hassana and Rayowa listen in. They are identical twins, except Rayowa has a little mole on her neck that Hassana doesn’t have. They obviously don’t understand, and with their short attention spans, they soon wander off.
“Na gode,” I tell my brother after the lesson, “Thank you.”
The next morning, I wake up early as I always do, and my Uwa helps me make my puff puffs. We add the flour, the yeast, the sugar, the warm water, the tad of salt, and the pinch of nutmeg to our mixing bowl. I mix the batter, then leave it to rise for about a half hour. I begin to get my oil hot in our deep pot. I finally drop my batter into the hot oil, and there you have it! I made my puff puffs!
Today at the market, I decide to sit in the dirt in front of a fruit seller’s stand. I shout to spread the word about my puff puffs, as usual, but not as often.
“Puff puffs sayarwa! Donuts for sale! Only ten Naira!” I am busy practicing my letters in the dirt. I hear odd whisperings in the crowd as people walk by me and my letters.
“How did she learn that?”
“She’s a girl, she can’t go to school!”
“She must go to that school for girls…”
“Oh, you must mean Hankali Prep.”
I decide to mute the whisperings by wiping my letters in the dirt away. I will ask my Uwa and Dayo about them when I get home. Business picks up, and I sell out of my puff puffs earlier than usual, so I head home to study with Dayo.
Many months pass, the dry season gives way to abundant rainfall, and I stay diligent to my studies. Dayo says that I am a natural and that I am almost reading and writing at his level. It turns out that Hankali Prep, the school that I heard whisperings about in the market all those months ago, is a school for girls my age in the nearby city of Lagos. It has snuck into my consciousness, always wiggling its way into my daydreams. Once, I found a flyer in the marketplace advertising Hankali Prep. I grabbed it, and have kept it in a secret place in the cupboard ever since. But I know inside that my dreams will never come true. On the flyer, it says that to go there, it costs 60,000 Naira just to attend, and that’s not even considering uniforms and supplies. I can only wish. Sometimes reality hurts.
This morning, I make my puff puffs and head to the market as usual. I sit down under the overhang of a yam stall. As I sell the puff puffs, I write in the mud. I don’t care if people whisper about me. Just as I add an ending to my story in the mud, a tourist who looks to be American approaches me.
“Are those donuts?” He asks.
“Yes,” I reply, “the best you can buy!” I add with a smile.
“I’ll buy th…” he trails off. He looks like he’s reading my mud story. It’s about a girl whose dreams of going to school come true. I quite like it. “You really have a talent for writing,” he finally says, “Let me guess. You want to go to school?”
“Yes…” I admit.
“Let me introduce myself. My name is Hugo Hayes. I’m a teacher from America.” I was right, he is American! “I’ll buy three of your donuts. And I have something for you.” He fumbles around in his pockets and eventually comes up with 30 Naira and a crumpled flyer. He smooths out the flyer and hands it to me. “It’s for a writing contest. The writer of the best story about education wins. The winner gets a scholarship to a school of their choice.”
“And I can enter?!” I ask excitedly.
“It’s for ages seven to twelve. How old are you?”
“So, yes. You can enter,” he confirms, “and I’d say you have a pretty good shot at that scholarship, too. You already have a start.” He gestures toward my mud story.
“Na gode,” I tell him, “Thank you so much.”
I run home, excited to tell my family about my opportunity and to get started on my story.
“Uwa, Dayo, Hassana, Rayowa!” I call, “I’m going to enter a contest and try to win a scholarship to Hankali Prep!”
“I’ll help you!” Dayo volunteers. And so we get to work. My story is about a girl named Nadja who has to sell puff puffs in the market every day to support her little sisters and her mother. Her brother, Dayo teaches her how to read and write in English. Nadja desperately wants to go to a fancy school for girls, but can’t afford to. My story is about me.
After many hours of hard work, my story is finished! Today is the day. I already bought a special envelope to put my story in and have used some of my family’s precious stamps. I carefully address the envelope to the location of the judging. I lick the seal and press it shut. My fingers are crossed that I will win. I will not know until two months from now when the results will come in the mail. It will be a very long, suspenseful time.
Two months have passed since I sent in my story, but it has felt like years. In my hands, I hold an envelope with my name on it. Nadja Kesha. I slowly tear the seal and withdraw the paper inside. I unfold the crisp, white paper that I have prayed about for weeks. It reads: First Place - Sasha Douglass, Age 10, U.S.A. My heart, which was in my throat, becomes lead and sinks all the way down to my feet. I release the breath that I didn’t realize I was holding. I read on: Second Place - Nadja Kesha, Age 9, Nigeria. I was so close. My eyes fill with tears, and I sink to the floor. On the back of the piece of paper, it has the top three entries all typed out. My eyes automatically begin to scan the text. Sasha’s entry is about bullying in her American school. The little flickering flame of hope I have always carried inside of me goes out. I fall asleep, clutching the paper that held my hope for an education.
The weeks go by. I sell puff puffs in the market, but I have given up writing in the mud. Dayo and the rest of my family try to cheer me up, but it doesn't work. One day, I find a letter in the mail, addressed to me. My flame of hope flickers back into being. Maybe, just maybe, this could be my saving grace. I open it to find a handwritten letter in sparkly purple ink. I begin to read:
My name is Sasha Douglass. I am the one who won the story writing contest that you entered. I read your entry, and I think it was REALLY good. I think it was even better than mine. Your story also meant a lot more than mine. I wrote about how the school that I go to has problems, but you wrote about how you don’t even get to GO to school. I never even thought that someone as smart as you wouldn’t get to go to school just because they’re a girl! That’s not fair! When I won the scholarship, I didn’t know what school I was going to use it for! But now I know. I’m giving you my scholarship! I even made sure I could do that with the contest people, and they said yes! I’m going to stay at my school, and I’m going to let you go to Hankali Prep like you’ve always wanted! And besides, you should’ve won anyway.
P.S. I know you’ll be busy with school and all, but maybe we should be pen pals! Like, write to each other and be friends! I think that would be fun. Let me know what you think!
I read it twice before what I just read finally sinks in. I’m going to get to go to school! I check in the envelope to see if I missed anything, and sure enough, I find a certificate. It is written to me, and it is signed by the people who ran the contest. It says that I, Nadja Kesha have an all expenses paid admittance to any school of my choice.
On the back, I find a heart drawn in sparkly purple ink.
Puff Puffs - Donuts
Sayarwa - For Sale
Na Gode - Thank You
Gida - Apartment
Koya Mani - Teach Me
Uwa - Mom
Fiction vs. Reality:
In Sparkly Purple Ink, all of the characters are fictional. As much as I wish that Nadja and Dayo were real, they are not. Hassana, Rayowa, and Uwa are also all fiction. Sasha and Hugo Hayes are made up. Nigeria is a real country, as well as the city of Lagos, but the town of Pajo is fictional. Hankali Prep, which literally means Intelligent Prep, is a made up school, but there are many schools like it all around the world. The issues in this story are very real and are rampant in the world. Girls, in many places, are declined the opportunity to attend school and have to work in order to support their families. Education is a basic human right, not something that should be determined by gender. There are also real people in the world like Sasha, who understand how unfair things are in other places and do their best to help in any way that they can. Also, believe it or not, they do manufacture pens with sparkly purple ink!