This story is about a woman discovering that her happiness is relative.
Mama Tinu went to Garki Market; it was the first December after the fuel subsidy had been removed. The Sun is a 10,000 watts bulb up in the sky. She felt the warmth soaking her up. She felt relieve that she did not have to go round to her neighbours in Tudunwada area of Lugbe to collect money from her creditors. She sold tomatoes, pepper and fish, she was proud to own her small business. She wore a black and white Tee shirt and a Blue jeans skirt that stopped at the knee. She weaved her hair all back in tiny cornrows. She wore bright blue rubber slippers with a yellow bow on top. It covered her dusty feet. She was about five feet seven inches skinny, dark with a loud voice. She smelled of smoked Fish. She walked in large strides. The Market was filled with colours. People were standing and sitting in front of their shops and stalls calling out for customers to buy their wares. She stopped in front of a shop selling beautiful dresses. There were Purple, Yellow, Red, maxi, and mini lengths dresses. There were being showcased on pale yellow and silver mannequins. The cheapest was 4000 Naira. She told the shop owner, she was passing by. She only wanted to know the price. He glared at her and swallowed his words, customers were kings. She walked on and stop in front of a shop selling bags of stallion rice. She saw a woman and heard her asking for ten bags of rice, the woman paid with mint 1000 Naira notes. She held the money in her hands like a lady holding a Chinese hand fan on her wedding. She followed the woman and saw her buying 7 gallons of oil.
She walked fast; she left the woman and the sounds of the market. The world had lost its colours. She went to the back of the market where the butcher stalls, and tomatoes sellers were located. She brought a basket of tomatoes. She balanced it on her head and headed out. She entered the first bus she saw going to Lugbe. It was crammed with people. The bus was eight sitters. The driver had an extra person sitting on the two rows of seats. The bus conductor sat on the engine seat opposite her seat. She was sitting close to the door. He reeked with cigarette. She lived in Tudunwada area. The roads had big gullies of sand eaten by water. They had never seen coal tar. The bus seemed to gallop up and down. She jostled about and almost flew to the drivers end. She grabbed the pole at the back of the Driver’s seat. She tried to gulp down large breathes of air. She received the stench of unwashed bodies; sweat and cheap perfume and more cigarettes. She held back tears that tried to spill. She remembered feeling happy in the morning. She felt she was rich but that woman, the picture of the woman paying money so carelessly made her miserable. What does that woman have that I lack?
She went to her shop with the goods. It used to be her hope, every dream she had was tied to that shop. She got down from the bus, at Federal housing junction. She entered a bus heading to Tudunwada. She always haggle the prize with the drivers.
Today she was quiet.
She stood in front of her shop her basket of tomatoes near her feet .The sand was everywhere.it flew in all direction. It covered every mud house , covered make shift big aluminium cartons.it flew on her, she felt it in her mouth, and it entered her nostrils. It covered her eyebrows. She felt old and haggard. The sand wants to swallow me whole.
She stared in amazement at her shop. It was the ugliest thing she had ever seen. A large aluminium carton, covered with round nails. It seemed the wind, could blow it away. Everywhere was covered with sand. The front of the shop had two large tables, by the left and right leaving a narrow space in the middle. Each T made with patches of wood, plywood, hard wood. Every piece the carpenter down the road could scrape together. At the side of her shop, there was a green metal drum which was beaten under. A log of dry timber and cool ashes missed with sand was underneath, on top of which lay a large metal grill. It was used for smoking fish.
She heard shrieks of laughing half naked children. They were clapping singing ‘’ring -a ring-a roses’’. The sand road was filled with litters of black nylon, white nylon; pure water leathers flew in abandon. A small girl hurried passed with snot coming out from her nose unchecked. She wore a dirty brown rag and oversized rubber sandals.
Mama Tinu burst in to tears.
She imagined that woman threading on gold in the streets of Maitama, beautiful streets. No dust everywhere.
She opened the door forcefully, opened her Band K security padlock.
‘’Why did I bother , who will steal from me? ’’
She stared at the floor of her shop, more sand, an old rusted small green stove. An old steel pot perched precariously on the stove. A big basin took up the centre space. Tears were flowing unchecked on to her cheeks.
She poured the tomatoes in the big basin, dragged it out. And poured a bucket of water she brought from mairuwa at 20 naira in the morning. She washed and scrubbed the sand of the tomatoes with all her strength. If only I could scrub all the sand from my life.
I wish I was that woman. Why can’t I be like her? What should I do? Should I live Baba Tinu and the children? She looked at her self. Sure my face is averageSmall eyes, big nose and a big mouth. I have a good body. Everybody says I have a big ass and am very busty. Why can’t I get a rich husband? I must live I am just 27. Tinu is 6 and Tope is 4.There father can look after them.
What was that woman wearing? Nice lace Buba and Iro; with Gold chain and earings.She touched the small round fake silver GL in her ears. She looked at her Gwanjo skirt and 200 Naira shirt. I have to live.
She packed the tomato inside dry old sacks, bundled it up. She kept it inside.
She was about to go, when a short petite woman in green spaghetti straps and an old faded Nigerian wax came. She had on a green net cap to cover her hair.
‘’I wan buy 50 naira tomatoes and fresh pepper.’’
She counted five tomatoes and three attarudu.
‘’I wan tatasie. Anyway I don’t have money now. Wait until my husband returns in the evening. I will repay you.’’
‘’Drop it’ ’she jerked the bag of tomato and pepper from the customer
‘’There is no more credit in this shop’’.
‘’Mama Tinu what is the problem? You always give me credit.
So what, is it a good thing. When your mates are out there buying ten bags of rice. You are here asking for credit.’’
‘’I am going’ ’she walked off in a hurry.
‘’Go’’ she shouted.
Mama Tinu rushed home packed her clothes in to a big Ghana must go, and a tattered black travelling bag. The bag handle looked forlorn; it had been stitched countless times.
Why am I packing all these rags? I will change everything once I get a rich husband.
Her children rushed in, in dusty shirts and shorts. They were skinny dark children, their neck bone stacked out and they had large stomach. Everybody claimed they were fine healthy children. I wonder what that woman will say if she could see my kids. She will say they look like omopikin or kwashiorkor children.
The children said they were hungry.They had taken bread and top tea in the afternoon.She left her clothes and decided to cook jollof rice. Luckily she had red oil, and tomatoes and pepper.
She went back to the shop her children were sleeping. Her husband a plumber was not back from work. She decided to wait until tomorrow. When my husband returns I will leave the children in his care.
It was evening; the sky was a dark gloomy blue. Motor bikes passed with thundering roars. She was sitting on a hard bench; she stared in to space deaf to the world.
‘’Good evening, I want to buy tomatoes and pepper.’’
‘’Evening, please what did you say’’ she said in a subdued voice.
‘’what are you thinking about, did somebody died. ’I know said the customer, you heard about the plane crash from Abuja to Lagos. It is so sad.
‘’I didn’t hear anything about it.’’
‘’200 people died, apparently the plane fell on a house somewhere.’’
‘’ I have never entered a plane in her life’’. She said to the customer, if they were in a bus some could have lived.’’
‘’What do you want to buy?’’ suddenly she felt alive. She could feel the cool evening breeze on her face. She got up drag the sack of tomatoes from the locker under the right table. She placed 5 juicy shiny tomatoes in a small bowl. She looked at the woman.
‘’You are looking good; this yellow Ankara really suits you.
‘’Thank you’’ .The slender dark customer preened.
‘’How much tomatoes do you need?’’
‘’100 Naira, she said mix the tomatoes and pepper.’’
The customer left.
She sat down; a blind beggar came to her shop. He chanted for alms. She looked at him, he wore a green shirt and blue trousers, and his feet were dried dusty with jagged lines running from the sides to the soles. He wore bathroom slippers. The small boy leading him could see, but he was also covered in dust and rags. He had dried skin. She gave them 20 Naira. She looked at her 800 Naira shoe, with her beautiful black feet. At least I can see. That rich woman might have been in that plane. Yes she probably left the market after I did. She might have entered the plane to Lagos. She did enter the plane to Lagos. She died.
At least I am alive and well. She looked at her shop. T’s not that bad; if I get money I will cement the floor. One day I too will be able to buy ten bags of rice. I will live in Maitama, but I will never enter planes.