When Mama Zubem returns from the market she buys us things. She buys take-away. And she would call us and share to us after we help her carry the things she brought from the market.
Zubem has never followed his mother to the market before. But one day he told us he did. He told us he followed his mother to the market where he saw that there are many people who come to the market. There are many kinds of people who come to the market. You can’t tell where everyone comes from. Some people come from the village while many people come from the towns like Port-Harcourt and Bonny. They come to buy things like Mama Zubem. Others come to sell fish and plastic. Zubem said he saw all this. And he said, ‘It’s very nice…’ and, ‘…the market is very big, bigger than the market in our village where the government people want to build government property.’
He said ‘But I did not see government property there … maybe that’s why oldpeople refuse that government property be put in our village market.’
But it’s not true. Papa didn’t say why they don’t want government property in our village. Old people don’t tell small children why there shouldn’t be government property in the village. Everything Zubem said is a lie. But I didn’t call Zubem a liar. When he said others should ask me if he brought pencil when he went to the market or not, I nodded. That’s because Boy was telling us too many stories about Lagos. That’s why Zubem started to tell us he has gone to the big market. There he saw things that matched the things Boy was telling us. The market is far from our village. There are also cars and design houses there. That’s why Zubem said he went with his mother. But it’s not true. I know it’s not true.
When others accepted what Zubem said, Boy said let’s answer Mama Zubem. He said Mama Zubem wants us to come back and share the things she brought us from the market. I reminded Zubem I saw a bag of melon in his mothers wares. Zubem said we shouldn’t go. He said it to me alone. He said we should not go with others. He said we should dodge and let them go.
‘But we will miss take-away?’ I asked. He mumbled to me that his mother did not bring any take-away from the market. But Boy and others didn’t hear us.
I asked Zubem ‘How do you know?’
I asked him because he was not there when we carried in the basket and cartons his mother brought from the market. But Mama Zubem had told Zubem she won’t be getting take-away from the market. She said she hadn’t money for take-away today. That’s what Zubem told me. That’s how his mother replied when he bid her farewell to the market and reminded her not to forget take-away.
We stayed behind. Others went to Mama Zubem. But we didn’t leave the place. We were close to the house. That’s why we heard when Mama Zubem called Zubem’s name.
I said ‘Then we should go and hide so they won’t find us.’ But Boy saw us. He was running to call us. Mama Zubem sent Boy to call us. He ran and he saw us before we could hide. He said ‘They are calling you!’ Then he said ‘Your mother is calling the two of you to come and take mango.’ Boy said that and he showed us the mango fruit that stained his lips.
Boy ran off and we followed him. I told Zubem we could have missed take-away. I giggled and told him ‘You got it wrong’ as I ran faster to get mango.
We got to Zubem’s house when mango was finished. Others were already peeling melon seeds. I did not get mango. I got melon.
Mama Zubem is a trade woman. She trades in many market things. People in the village come to her house to buy cooking oil and grounded melon. It is us who peel her melon before it is grounded. We grind it to powder with the aluminum machine. We crack kernel before it is packed into BAGCO bags and carried into the blue pick-up to the market. Mama Zubem gets us take-away because we help her. But I don’t like to help Mama Zubem all the time. Zubem knows. He too doesn’t like to be seated at home for many long hours cracking nuts. We don’t even like peeling melon at all. Or sieving beans. Because we are not girls. It is girls who should be doing things like that. It is girls who should prepare kitchen things. The girls should be the ones peeling melon and sieving grains. But Mama Zubem will also call us, boys, to come and do girl things. That’s why Zubem and I did not want to come.
Zubem’s portion was more than mine. He looked at his own share at the right end of the veranda. He did not look at my own. If he did, I did not see him. What I saw was how he looked at the dirt just outside the veranda. Someone gathered the moi-moi wrappings into a rusted basin. Those who took mango threw the rind and the core into the basin. I saw how Zubem wanted to smile. Then he did as if he didn’t want to smile.
‘How do you keep this kind of thing here?’ He asked
‘It’s your own. It’s your mother that kept it for you.’
‘Will you short-up if you don’t know what I’m saying.’ Zubem wasn’t happy a small girl was talking to him. She didn’t know Zubem was asking about the dirt that attracted flies. She wanted Zubem to come and face his own melon. That’s why Zubem said ‘You are a mad woman.’ Then he said, ‘No, you are not a mad woman. You are a crazy girl. Am I talking to you?’
I said ‘Maybe she’s the person who called the flies.’ I don’t know if it made her unhappy. Others tried to laugh. Even Zubem laughed.
Spitefully, Zubem said ‘It’s only a mad person who can do this kind of thing.’ Everyone stayed quiet.
The girl didn’t stop talking to us. She told me the other portion of melon is mine. And she said ‘Face your own work.’
I said ‘Look at this small girl!’
‘Zubem, come and face your own work, else I will call your mother.’
Zubem said he was not scared. His face puffed like a giant and he tried to walk on his toes. The girl smiled with a scoff. Zubem said if she wanted he would give her a car to drive to his mother. Even if she wanted money to fly aeroplane or sail to find Mama Zubem at the backyard, Zubem said he would provide for that.
Zubem faced his melon. He complained that everyone added a bit to his. Just one person reminded Zubem they’ve been on their own before we came. But Zubem was not happy. He said ‘Anyone that’s added his workload to mine should come and collect it.’ He continued to grumble. He kept looking at the girl who acted like she wasn’t seeing anyone.
Zubem looked at Boy. He asked me if I could see how small Boy’s melon remained. He asked ‘Boy why do you keep your leg wide and open?’ Boy ignored him.
He asked that because he thinks Boy passed a bit of his melon to mine through his legs. I know. I know because that’s what I do sometimes. Zubem does so too. That’s why he said it and he started laughing.
‘Tell him to close his legs.’
I didn’t bother. I don’t feel like mine is too much. It was the girl who interrupted. She said ‘Why should he close his legs like a girl. Let others stay how they want and do your own work.’
Zubem hit her. She screamed. She raised her voice and called others to witness. She did not see as Zubem tried to cut his melon into hers. Boy blew the whistle. It caused laughter. And then there was noise.
Mama Zubem came. We all shut up. The place became quiet like when we say spirit is passing. It happens quickly. Because it’s as if spirit won’t tell us before it comes in and would cross quickly. Our mouths just stop moving and then would start moving again. Mama Zubem talked to Zubem sternly. She asked why he was still to start with his own work. Zubem couldn’t say anything before she gave him a hard knock. I was scared. That’s why I crossed my legs to one side. Mama Zubem could see the melon I peeled already.
‘Why are you maltreating the girl?’
Zubem didn’t tell his mother. He told her it was play. And he tried to hide his face. I too hid my face. I felt sorry for Zubem. The girl didn’t say anything.
Mama Zubem shared melon from a yellow bowl. She asked the girls to sit properly and asked us to space out. She said she was in the kitchen cooking.
Zubem asked ‘Mama you’ve not given me take-away.’
She then said we will get moi-moi when we act like good boys.