The call for prayers blared through the loud speakers, the pull of the voice sounds compelling, but prayers are the furthest thing on Aashish’s mind.
He feels sad. He has no money to apply for residence visa for his wife and two daughters to join him and the much that he earns is barely enough to tide him over, after he had sent some home.
It’s Sunita’s birthday today, he thought that by now they would have been with him.
His children are growing up without him and yet the fortune that he sought, leaving them behind eluded him.
He pulls out the crumpled, almost faded picture of his family. It was taken years back in one of the quick snap booths, on one of their rare visits to town. It has been five long years, since he last set eyes on them. He has failed them and his shoulders slump further.
Sometimes his spirits are buoyed with stories of people winning lotteries and he struggled to buy a ticket, but it was always someone else who won.
He felt he was better off back home on his farm in Nepal and doing odd jobs to augment their meagre income.
At least he will get to be with his family again and he will be happier again and Anu will understand, he hopes.
Being away from his wife has been the hardest part. The fees for entertaining himself with one of the willing ladies was just too much luxury for him.
With a sigh of pent up emotions, he fished out his rubber-bound telephone from his pocket and dialed his brother’s number.
Hello Aadit, tell Anu that I am coming home, he said.
”Hia!” ”Is this not where I hung the shirt?” Ikem queries the silent night. His brand new blue second-hand T shirt with the Chelsea logo was gone! Could it have been carried by the breeze? ”Ah! Ah!” ”I just washed and put it out here not too long ago to dry in the light harmattan breeze!”
His other frayed shirt is hanging and flapping in the wind as if in mockery of his thoughts. He knows in his heart that one of those crooked eyed boys in the neighbourhood has pilfered the new one! ”Maybe it is Jude that took it o.” ”Jude!” ”Jude!” ”Jude!” he bangs on the Jude’s door, to no response.
This reaffirms his decision to go home to the village for Christmas in a couple of weeks and proceed to Onitsha with his cousin Chuks. “From the look of things Chuks seems to be doing well at Onitsha.” ”I will join him and start afresh from there.” ”I am tired of this place!”
”So what am I going to wear for tomorrow’s event now?”
He had just walked out of the dingy common bathroom of their quarters bare-bottomed feet; the sling of his worn-out slippers had finally died a natural death on his trek back home after a hectic days hustle.
It was dark in the neighbourhood. ”O boy, these NEPA boys have dismantled and collected the wires o”, says his neighbour Jude, seated on a heap of cement blocks outside, enjoying the nights fresh air. Their light connections are haphazardly and illegally done, coupled with their inability to settle the NEPA officials with something for the weekend.
Ikem chooses not to let such things bother him right now. He is moving to higher grounds in a few weeks time, besides he had purchased quite an assortment of apparels including two new sandals and sneakers that he will launch over Christmas in the village.
As a matter of fact, if fate continues smiling the way it has been these last couple of weeks, ”I might even consider buying a G.S.M torch light phone and a few items to take to Mama and Nwanneka.’‘ ”It is almost my turn to collect the accumulated funds from ‘Isusu’.”
He felt happier than he had in a long while as he quickly washes and hangs his shirt to drain before he retires for the night. Tomorrow will be a good day, he whistles as he goes along. Papa Emma’s is having the child dedication of his twins, and surely the celebration will be followed by several plates of rice and meat coupled with free drinks to go around.
He plans to join them to go to church. He has not been to church for so many months. It was tiring attending church services that were fast turning into fashion parades, whilst he had nothing fashionable to wear. It always made him feel ashamed.
Now! The new Tshirt he planned to showcase tomorrow has disappeared. “Thank God I didn’t wash the Chinos jeans as well.” ”I will just have to wear something else!” He muses to himself.
Links to the earlier series are at the top of the page. Thank you
Quick Glossary for words that you might not know:
Child dedication: Child dedication is a symbolic ceremony undertaken by Christian parents soon after the birth of a child. This rite is intended to be a public statement by the parents that they will train their children in the Christian faith.
Chuks: A shortened form of an Igbo name given to boys which could be derived from Chukwuka, God is greater, Chukwuemeka, God has done so well, Chukwudi, God lives, Chukwuebuka, God is very big etc
Isusu: An informal means of collecting and saving money through a savings for the enablement of kith and kin ventures.
Harmattan: Harmattan is a cold-dry and dusty trade wind, that blows over the West African subcontinent, from the Sahara Desert into the Gulf of Guinea between the end of November and the middle of March (winter).
Hia! Just an exclamation like Oh dear!
Moi-Moi: Nigerian steamed bean cakes made from a mixture of washed, peeled black-eyed peas, onions and fresh ground peppers (usually a combination of bell peppers and chili or scotch bonnet). A very protein-rich food that is a staple in Nigeria
NEPA: National Electric Power Authority was an organization formerly governing the use of electricity in Nigeria now replaced by PHCN (Power Holding Company of Nigeria).
Nwanneka: An indigenous Igbo name given to a girl and it means: ”my siblings are supreme or very important.”
Onitsha: A city with one of the largest commercial markets in West Africa. It is situated on the river port on the eastern bank of the Niger river in Anambra State, southeastern Nigeria.
To settle: The act of adjusting or determining disputes between persons without pursuing the matter through the formal process. In this case, it is giving something under the table to the officials.
I found a lot of treasures in the neighbours backyards this past week. Will share just a few. Do take a peek.
Ego Ọne? Ikem asks. Picking up and dropping several T shirts from the pile of bend-down select clothes heaped on a tarpaulin on the market floor.
Hah! I don tell you say na N200 only! Replied the man with the bell.
Bros, abeg!I wan buy 2 or even 3 sef, if you fit commot something. Ikem haggles and they eventually settle for N120 each and he happily pays for the three that he chose, clutching his black nylon of new apparels with a bounce in his steps, he leaves for Mama Nwamaka’s canteen.
A plate ofhot ‘Garri and Onugbu soup’ with some ‘Show Boy’ and a bottle of ‘small stout’ is just the thing to set his World right today; he has more jingle in his pockets from a few days of work than all the previous weeks put together.
Preceding market days have been grueling but more rewarding. It seems the approach of Christmas has triggered off a flurry of more business and lots of off-loading of bags of garri and gallons of palm-oil has enriched him more than carrying baskets for housewives and their wares.
Some of these women came for their weekly shopping armed with scorpion stingers on their lips and taking out the grouch from their homes on unsuspecting recipients.
The last one had nagged and haggled that he was charging too much, that he was almost tempted to ask her to carry the things herself.
“Is it not just from here to the bus-stop, or are we going to ‘Ibagwa’?” She harassed.
”Carry that thing well o.” ”Hah all this shaking, my oil will pour o!” She went on and on.
”You are going too fast!” “I cannot keep up with you, she argued!” Whilst stopping to greet every single market woman that crossed her path and Ikem stood with her weighted load on his head.
Such women were very trying, but he needed all the money he could make.
He wants to buy several new items and to replace his worn out rubber slippers. Occupying his mind with happier thoughts of the jeans and canvas that he will purchase soon, he tunes out the shrewish woman’s voice.
A belly full of good food and a glass of palmy later- Mama Amaka had fresh supply and he couldn’t resist the intoxicating aroma of fresh palm-wine. It is not every day that you could get an authentic bottle that is not watered down. He hurries back to hustle for more customers.
A few more bags of rice and basket carrying for market late-comers, it is time to go home.
It appears like a throng or water-fall of humans. Everyone rushing to get done and go home.
Ikem is happy with the days events and as he jostles along with the crowd, an unexpected shove from the back has him turning around to lambaste the pusher, only for the ensuing shouting chant of ‘Ole! Thief o!Onye Oshi!’ rings out in the crowd.
The pusher happens to be a wily young pick-pocket who was trying to make away with a woman’s purse. Out of reflex Ikem hot-foots after the escaping thief along with a several young men.
The crowd impedes the pick-pockets movements and he is nabbed a few yards away and beaten to an inch of his life.
It takes the pleading voices of some concerned women to save him from being pulped to death.
Jungle Justice! Quick to be meted out when the culprit is caught; especially among the poor culprits.
Ikem ponders on this issue as he makes his way home. Wondering why a young man would choose to bargain with his life over a paltry sum of Naira. The culprits face is one of those idling chaps that he sees around the market.
To be continued.. You can read the first part by clicking the link in red ink above!
Quick Glossary for words that you may not know:
Ego Ọne – How much is this?
Hah! I don tell you say na N200 only! – Ah! but I told you it is only 200 Naira (note that it is expected to haggle over price in the market)
Bros, abeg!I wan buy 2 or even 3 sef, if you fit commot something – My brother please! I want to buy 2 or even 3, only if you can reduce the price.
Bend-down-select: A heap of mixed used clothing where customers literally bend down to scrounge through the pile and select an item they want to buy.
Mama Nwamaka – Nwamaka’s mother. Nwamaka is a native Igbo name that means, ”the child is beautiful, the child is good” There are derivatives such as Amaka.
Garri- A popular West African meal made from Cassava tubers.
Onugbu soup – A type of soup which is peculiar to the Ibo’s. It is made from bitter-leaf vegetable and a thickener of coco-yams.
Show Boy also known as Kpomo or Kanda – These are processed cow hide eaten as meat. It is regarded as a delicacy.
Small stout also known as Odeku – This is a dark beer made from roasted malt or roasted barley, hops, water and yeast.
Ibagwa – Ibagwa is a community located North of the great University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
‘Ole! Thief o!Onye Oshi!’ – The three words mean the same thing: Ole is Yoruba for thief, and Onye Oshi is Igbo for thief. It is not uncommon to mix English with broken/pidgin language and another tribes language.
Palm-Oil – a reddish – yellow butter-like oil which is derived from the fruit of the oil palm. It is used as edible cooking fat and also for making soaps, candles and cream.
Palmy – a shortened name for Palm-Wine, which is an alcoholic drink made from fermented palm sap. It is used in major traditional occasions in Igbo land such as Traditional titling occasions, Traditional weddings, burials, child naming ceremony and general entertainment.
The posts that I would like to share because they spoke to me:
When great trees fall: This poem from Maya Angelou featured by JoHanna Massey’s blog spoke loudly to me. Almost felt as is Maya was talking about her demise ”in my mind” because she is indeed a great tree. This is my first time of reading it.
Evening Chuckle: Nutsrok does know how to bring the mirth out of me. She offers rib-cracking laughter each time 🙂
An assortment of okada, keke, and several kabu’kabu/taxi’s, park lackadaisically on the hard-packed earthen kerb, beside the gutter that Mama Put used as her frontage. This is a busy corner of the road side, which teems with human traffic.
Mama Put’s shack is brimming with customers going in and coming out. Some still have their toothpicks in-between their teeth, sucking in air, in an attempt to dislodge a tiny morsel that had stolen into a gap, whilst some insert a finger in their mouths, using it as a wrench to pluck out remnants of chewed meat.
Lunch time is one of Mama’s busiest period. These rushed gathering of men jostle each other for space on the worn wooden benches and the few mismatched plastic chairs inside the crowded shambolic tent of the popular buka.
The men are taking a proper break from the morning rush. Most times they leave their homes on empty stomach as early as 5:00am for the quick business turnaround of taking passengers to their places of work and trade. Leaving early not only helps to put more money in their pockets, but it is also a means of beating the unbelievable go-slow which builds up as early as 6:30 in the morning.
Hasty gobbles of soft Agege bread, slathered with blue band butter chased down with hot tea from the local Mai shayi, serves as a respite till lunch time. On days when there is a lag between passengers, then it could be a quick meal of hot fried akara balls and ogi or kunu.
From 6.00am in the morning till she closes shop in the evening, Mama Put’s domain is a place of systematic chaos. She endeavors to start early to cater to her early bird customers and it was not a strange sight to see a flashy car or two with a customer carrying a food warmer to make purchase and eat in the comfort of their office, shop or home.
Her rivals spread snippets of malicious gossip that mama uses spiritual powers to keep her customers enraptured, but these back talks neither stopped her nor did it deter her customers. Nkoyo – Mama Put’s real name – could cook. Her food is always tasty, fresh and her demeanor pleasant.
The men look forward to their lunch. It is a place of camaraderie; a place you need to be, to keep abreast with the goings on in the vicinity. Heads crowd the steaming pots of jollof and dodo, white rice and stew, porridge beans and yam; each customer making their request and pointing out their particular choice of a piece of assorted meat or fish, whilst those who waited on the next round of pounded yam straddled their benches and engaged in idle chatter.
As they crowd the eating arena, an overpowering smell of dried human perspiration clings to the air, mingling with the divergent aroma wafting from pots of food and this creates a unique smell in itself.
The deep hums of their voices rhyme with the kpom, kpom, kpom beat of the pestle and the mortar at the back of the tent where a young lad mashes the boiled yam – which occasionally mingles with beads of his sweat – into softer lumps for swallowing with native soup. Pounded yam is a heavy meal appreciated by the hardworking men. It kept the hunger pangs at bay for hours on end.
Over their hot plates of food, their loud voices compete to regale each other with anecdotes of the days events. Of cantankerous, corrupt officials who dot every few meters of the road, casing the riders and extorting money from them. Sometimes, it would be the story of an irksome passenger or a tussle with another rider. They argue over football, a division of thoughts depending on the persons Premier League of support and their gist’s are often interspersed with ribald jokes. They talk politics, share their opinionated advise about women, touching on this and that.
“Ha!” “Mama, na wa o!” exclaims a stocky regular. This poundo fit belleful person so? E small o, he carries on talking as he receives his plate of pounded yam and afang soup.
Mama generously cuts a little extra portion and adds to the lumpy mound on his plate.
A beg give me pure water, another customer known as Sadiq requests.
Mercy, one of Mama’s kitchen girl heeds his request and ambles over with a cold sachet of pure water, which is kept cool with the ice blocks purchased from the ice block supplier.
Sadiq, calls her “my wife, my wife”, pats her ample waist and Mercy giggles as she steps away to answer another customer.
It’s a typical selling day and nothing is amiss until a customer rushes in, breathless with news of calamity. A demolition order from the new local government chairman is taking place. Makeshift stalls, shacks and all are being callously pulled down. They say it is to make way for modern stalls that Mr. Chairman wants to construct and sell or rent to the highest bidders.
Grumbling of mistreatment of poor masses in the hands of elected officials ensues. The men disperse quickly in order not to be caught in the backlash and have their properties impounded, as the rumble of the crushing Bulldozer is heard chugging it’s way slowly and surely, leaving destruction, tears and anguish in its wake.
Mama flounders as they hasten to gather crockery, aluminum pots, pans and other items that they can move quickly. Her thoughts are scattered to the four winds as she glumly watches her modest enterprise bulldozed to the ground. Tears leak out of her gritty eyes, rolling down her face unashamedly. She is caught in a wave of abject despondency.
Her sweat and efforts of many hard months fast turn into a crumpled heap of rubbish. It has taken so much to get to this point. To get to a point where she had a steady stream of customers and feasible income. Her family existed from hand to mouth; from the sweat of her brows and thoughts of her children, Uduak and Kufre’s school fees which is due in a couple of weeks cause more tears to well and brim over.
The bitterness of her situation pools and curdles her spirit. She rails and rants in anger, her vitriolic emotions overflowing its bounds. Her life has been a deep struggle; from one point to the other, that it sometimes feels as if the current sweeping her is too strong for her to keep her head up.
“Where will I start from?” Nkoyo mutters to no one in particular.
“How will I now catch up with my book me down customers?” She ponders fleetingly?
The vote she that she cast for the imbecilic Chairman a thought to regret and hiss over.
For as long as she can remember, she pays the local government touts protection money in cash and with free plates of food too. They extorted sums of pin money with promises that her space will always be maintained. She even contributed when all the vendors were approached to add their meager support to the Chairman’s campaign kitty.
Now that trouble had come calling, where were they to flex their lying muscles? Where were the thieving local government officials and their area boys? The Area fathers have slunk away like sly foxes with their tails tucked in-between their legs.
Nkoyo sits on an overturned mortar beside the rubble in weariness, her ambitions of expanding her business callously truncated. Her leaden legs are too tired to carry her home.
Glossary for words in italics that you may not know:
Afang soup: A vegetable soup originating from the South Eastern part of Nigeria – Cross River states.
Agege bread: A very popular low class bread baked in Lagos and favored by laborers. Usually very soft and eaten with so many variations of items e.g eggs, beans, bean cakes, etc
Akara: Bean cakes made from peeled black eyed peas and fried in hot oil.
Area boys/fathers: These are loosely organized gangs of young men, who roam the streets of Lagos. They extort money from passers-by, act as informal security guards, and perform other “odd jobs” in return for compensation.
Book me down: Customers who purchase food on credit and keep an account with the food vendor.
Buka: Local food canteen a step below restaurants. Food cheaper than the restaurants.
Dodo: Fried ripe plantain
Go slow: Slow crawling traffic
Jollof: A popular meal eaten in most West African homes, a one-pot meal made with fried tomato and pepper stew, rice, meat and spices
Kabu’kabu: Shared taxi
Kpom, kpom: Typical sound made from pounding.
Kunu: Popular drink consumed throughout Nigeria but mostly in the North. Made out of millet or sorghum
Mama Put: Road side food seller so called because her customers are known to beg for extra food for their plates ”mama abeg put more now”
Mai Shayi: Road side hot tea sellers
Na wa o: Exclamation which expresses so many things such as surprise, woe, you don’t say etc
Ogi: Liquefied maize meal which is thickened with hot water and sweetened with sugar and/or milk.
Okada: Commercial motorcycle used as vehicle for hire in Nigeria.
Pure Water: Water bagged in disposable sachets.
This poundo fit belleful person so?: Will this pounded yam fill me up?