I sat on a wooden crate in the car park of Lado market nodding to the beat of Timaya’s music blasting from one of the shops around. I itched for a cold drink and patted my pockets. I was down to fifty naira, the last of the money gotten from selling the gold necklace I snatched from the neck of a young lady in a blouse with a plunging neckline earlier in the week. I could not believe her naiveté in walking under the bridge with solid gold on her neck and clothes that made them accessible. It had been so easy to slide next to her and grab it careful to lay hold of the pendant first. That way when I pulled I succeeded in walking away with the pendant and the necklace. By the time she started shouting “Thief! Thief!” I had melted into the crowd.
That day however I was in the park looking for a job. I was expecting lorries to arrive from the north crammed with bags of beans. I could help the traders get their goods to their stalls made of zinc sheets and wooden frames in return for some cash. So I sat there waiting and watching cars drive by and park. I watched their owners jump out of the cars, pick up their shopping bags and disappear into the market. I watched bus conductors and agberos yelling out their destination. I watched okada riders drive in like the road was made solely for them while their passengers screamed. I heard one okada passenger tell her driver “Don’t drive like that when you’re carrying me o. You okada people I don’t know whether you people kept another life somewhere.”
The man laughed and said, “Madam you dey fear o. Everybody go die one day.”
The woman handed him her fare and said “So that’s why I should keep quiet while you try to get me killed ehn?”
The man laughed again revved his motor bike and drove away to look for another passenger.
That was when I saw her. She hopped first on one leg and then the other in my direction. She had a scarlet red top and a black jean trouser on. Her hair was packed in two ponytails and tied with a red and white polka dot ribbon. What caught my attention was not her cute oval face or bright cat eyes but the gold bracelet she had on her right wrist. I looked around but I could see no adult paying any attention to her. I didn’t see anyone who could possibly be her mother around. I ambled towards her while my eyes roved for a parent or guardian. Suddenly she stopped and put both hands on her knees which she bent slightly as she stared intently at something on the ground. I looked down to see what held her attention. A scorpion was trying to make its way across the sand. She stretched her hands towards it.
“No!” I shouted.
She stopped and raised startled eyes to mine.
I hurried to her side and grabbed her tucking her behind me before looking around for a stick or stone. A stone lay to my right. I picked it up and threw it at the scorpion. The stone hit it and bounced off. The scorpion flew up and landed a few yards away. It lifted its tail, darted forward and backward and then round and round. I picked the stone a second time and slammed the scorpion again and again. When it was dead I turned to the little girl. I held her right hand in my left and pointed to the scorpion in with my right.
“Scorpion, don’t touch. Bad, bad. Do you hear me?”
She nodded so vigorously I wanted to beg her to stop. If heads could fall off hers would have fallen.
We both stared at each other. Hers was without guile. I squatted to take away the height difference.
“What is your name?”
“Kamara” Her voice was tiny with that little girl quality of her age.
“Kamara! Kamara!” Another voice thick with anxiety called out from behind me. I stood and turned. A woman with frantic eyes and a harried look hurried to us clutching a bunch of keys and a purse.
“Kamara, what did I tell you?” Her frightened eyes were on me. I could see her taking in my T-shirt with its holes, my breath laced with the smell of ogogoro and my trouser which was on my buttocks. I almost thought she would ask me to pull it to my waist like the woman who sold me ogogoro every morning was wont to do.
“Mummy see scorpion, bad scorpion, don’t touch.”
The woman turned from me to the scorpion, to the child and back to me. Understanding dawned on her face and the fear was replaced with gratitude.
“Thank you very much.” She murmured.
I watched them walk away with the mother saying something and the child nodding like a lizard. The little girl turned to wave goodbye. I lifted my right hand in a replying wave. I felt the gold bracelet burning my left hand.