1 I was playing daddy and mummy with Dilibe and Taiwo when we first sighted them. They were a pretty small number then, about six of the market’s agberos clad in dirty outfits and a very big boy was before them. They were violently shoving him forward, and some of them even spat curses at him. The deathly expressions on their grim faces contrasted sharply with that of fear on the boy’s face. His hair was rough and dishevelled, browned with sand and a stream of tears lined his cheeks. His lower lip was torn and bloodied.
Ole! Ole! They continued chanting, those bearded street urchins as they approached Row 3b, where mother owned a shop. Already they had magneted quite a number; inquisitive passers-by, customers who wished to partake in the fun, and traders who were not hell-bent on reaping elephant-sized profits today.
“What happened” Taiwo’s thin, silky voice caressed my earlobe.
“I don’t know o!” I answered, scratching my sweaty armpits unconsciously and peering into the faces of the men dragging the boy onward towards our shop.
The mob stopped at the stall before ours. It belonged to Mama Rashidat, the most influential woman in our community. She was seated on a white stool when they arrived; and chewing peanuts. Her flair with the agberos was unheard of.
“Yomi, what is it?” came her high pitched voice, surging over the babel of voices, “kini? What is it?”
But my vision, at this point in time was impaired because a section of the mob, still thirsty for more violence had crossed over to where we stood and piled themselves in front of us. All our efforts to meander through them to the fore of action proved abortive and at the end, we had to remain where we were. All we had was voices – shouting, crying and lamenting voices. Very soon, those in front of us dispersed and the agberos passed with their captive. I was the least prepared for the sight that greeted me. The boy was unclothed, and his right eye had been battered black. His jaw was clothed in blood and he was crying harder than before.
A grip. On my left elbow. It was Mother.
“Malik!” came her angry voice, “what are you doing here? Go inside, ojare!”
But instead of waiting for my response, she took me by the hand and dragged me into the shop. Dilibe and Taiwo were already in the dim, stuffy room.
“Mama!” I protested as my eyes moistened, “I don’t want to wait in the shop!”
But she seemed to care less about what escaped from my lips. She flung me on a mat and started to bolt the door from outside.
I cocked my ears again, my eyes falling wide open.was it the door open or was I just seeing things? I sniffed,an aroma of burnt flesh swimming into my nostrils. It smelled like the smoked meat we had feasted on Eid-el-kabir. My mouth watered at the thought. They were smoking a meat and mother had hidden this from me! That must be why she locked us in the shop. Anyways Allah had miraculously opened the door, and I would not miss this opportunity. I rose from the mat, hunched up my shorts with one hand and crawled out of the half-open door, leaving my play mates to their sleep.
Most of the stalls were locked up. This rarely happened. But I dug up some courage and scampered down the street where a great noise evolved, enveloping the entire market. It directed me to a multitude standing right outside the market. There was pandemonium everywhere, or so it would seem. But it only fueled my inquisitiveness the more. I surged forward, into the crowd, meandering beneath people until I got to the front. I saw the thick black smoke first. It rose from a burning heap and curled into the skies. And then I saw it. The boy. He was bandaged between two tyres and fire crawled over his body. My heart pumped hotter blood. Did they just burn a boy to death? Was it not his burnt flesh that smelt like of a rabbit, skinned by fire? Then all of a sudden I could see him no more. All I saw was black smoke curling into the skies, lifting the ashes of a boy lynched to meet God. This was before my heart stopped pounding, and gave way to faint.