We are pleased to feature a hilarious story by Patricia Ogunleye. Are you a writer? Send your short fiction, poetry, opinion pieces and book reviews to [email protected] for a chance to be featured on the ZODML blog.
“Ore mi! You look sweet and take away!” Toyin squealed as she adjusted the supersized bead earrings I wore. She made them and insisted that I “model” it before leaving her house. Their weight, had stretched wide the holes in my earlobes which I strove to protect with pearl studs. When she was done, she looked at me with maternal fondness as she would to a toddler on its first day at school. “You look sweet!” She shouted again. “See now!” She shoved me towards the mirror nailed to her door for a confirmation.
I looked like a Maasai warrior’s wife and not Seun Segun the modish Morgan Chase Bank marketer. Not wanting to hurt her feelings, I kept mum as I slowly took off the spiral bead gadgets and dug dig into my Ted Lapidus handbag burying them there. Was this why I hurried down? I puffed. We weren’t the same pair some minutes ago that happily munched chin chin and groundnut together in her one-room apartment at Salamotu Street Isolo, a suburb in the city of Lagos.
The room grew quiet; I was impatient, needing to call it a night. I had had a difficult day today tracking my customers. Two of them gave lame reasons not to close a sale. Mrs. Adun said her daughter was diagnosed with ectopic pregnancy and was at Randle hospital. “So we are praying.” she grunted, expecting me to take cue to leave her alone. Sir Sly, he preferred that name, said he had capital tied down in his new pub and wanted returns on his venture. “Maybe by next quarter I’d open a savings account,” he said. “But if you can come around tonight, we could em… see what we can do. You are not a small girl now!” He had laughed raucously after making a lewd proposition. I was in no mood for Toyin’s high spirits; I only honoured her invitation tonight because I needed distraction from my barren day.
“This is your souvenir,” she said, quietly handing me a pink polythene bag. It contained a white handkerchief and a sachet of ready-to-eat custard. She looked ashamed. “It is to mark my graduation today, even though is not big.” “Thanks Toyin darling, you shouldn’t have.” I took them tentatively, stroking her back wanting to put her at ease. “And Madam Genesis beads was a great place to learn; you have done well.” I hope I spoke the truth.
The jewelry making shop was located at the popular Idumota market in the heart of Lagos Island renowned for its variety of textiles, interior décor, jewelries, shoes and bags.
Without warning, she complained again of the expensive fees and unfair terms of her training that was initially scheduled for three months. “See their list.” She thrust a piece of worn paper to me. I read amused:
- Thirty thousand naira cash in one payment
- 1 Crate of Oriijn drinks
- 2 cartons of Okin biscuits
- Bring your own practice materials or buy from us
- 2 months of service after your training, if you miss 1 day, you will replace it with 2
“You should have skipped the two months of extra service.” I groaned “This is exploitation!” “Ah you cannot dodge it o,” Toyin replied. “There are some secret of the work they will not show you until you complete the service. If you run, you have cheat yourself. Moti setan, I thank God!” She raised her hands to the ceiling in obeisance.
Toyin was an old friend from my former neighborhood at Cele; she leveraged on that relationship and wanted me to market her work. Her appeal was strong as I stood up to leave. “Seun ejo help me wear the earrings to work. Tell your friends that you have somebody that knows work. La Agbara Olorun, they must locate me this year!” Unfortunately I said yes. “Don’t worry.” She promised, “Before you do your marriage, my hand will be strong and I do fine work for you.” “No problem.” I said. “And I’m not ‘doing’ marriage; I’ll be having my wedding.” I corrected her. “All join jare,” she smiled warmly. “Grammar no be my papa language,” she shrugged as she saw me off to my 2003 Toyota RAV4 parked across the street beside a local brothel.
Her promise echoed through my mind as I drove home, her hand will be strong? Could she make me a coral riviere necklace for my Owo Ori that was two months away? The last time I checked, I loaned Toyin the thirty thousand to pay at Madam Genesis.
I chuckled. Impossible, I was going to think of ways to avoid her and I won’t wear these garish earrings to work. My Branch Manager would die laughing if she saw them. A couple of my elite prospects’ may not even recognize me if I dare wear such. For instance, Mr. Gbadamosi a real estate investment guru who always loved me looking poised would post me indefinitely. “My trendsetting Seun, you always refresh my day with your beauty” he had told me once with a hug. I needed his passport photographs to complete an account opening process. Without them, the current account he promised to open with thirty million naira would remain a sentence. I couldn’t risk his disfavour because of a shabby appearance. He did not demand that I sleep with him as a condition. Waste all that grace? No way! I could manage her earrings to church but definitely not for business outings.
It was 07:06pm in the evening when I left Isolo, and the cold dusty harmattan winds blew strong even though it was mid January in 2015. Forty-five minutes later, I got to my self-contained apartment at Cole Street, Surulere. Thanks to traffic at Ojuelegba bus stop. “My boudoir, I have missed you!” I circled joyfully into my room and was welcomed by the floral scent of creamy sandalwood. My Dayware perfume set me apart in the office and it always hovered in the room for hours. “This is life.” I stated emphatically as I took in the colour theme of mustard yellow and cherry red that was visible from the Eiffel tower inspired wallpaper to my bed that had a cute bespoke headboard to match its contour. The board was studded with mismatched buttons for a girly look and the bed had pile high pillows of bright shades and different shapes
Satisfied, I beamed at the black iPad mini Tobi gave me as a wedding proposal present. It looked sleek on the glass table by the grey space heater. My mind flashed back to Ojuelegba and the gridlock. What had blocked the road? I did not know but I had avoided the danfo buses that snaked in dangerously from dark streets to share the tiny lane with us that had evolved to driving our own cars. Thank God: no more torn blouses from jagged buses or getting smeared with sweat from co-passengers or enduring loud Fuji music from the radios or demanding for change because the bus conductor thought you had forgotten. I felt hot and sticky. Needing to wash off the stress, I headed for the tiny bathroom at the east end of the 14 sq meter room.
An hour after a hot bath that almost scalded my skin and an intimate conversation with Tobi on the phone, I decided to read the biography of Rosa Parks I had bookmarked on my iPad. She intrigued me. I would sleep in tomorrow. It was Saturday. Needing to chew on something, I reached for agbalumo in a bowl. The African star apple fruit was my favourite.
The sweet and sour taste of the agbalumo heightened my senses as I read and I tried to visualize the African American woman arrested in 1955 for disobeying a segregation law in Montgomery, Alabama…
I saw her grouchy, hungry and exhausted; interrupted from her black moods by a white driver who told her to stand up for the wrong reason. A white person needed to seat.
I saw the revulsion on her face, the surprise, the hurt and then a deadly calm. No. This was the “coloured” side of the bus and I am paying for it! “I don’t think I will have to stand up.” she said.
We call this show of defiance “bold face” in Nigeria. She was arrested and fined $14 including court charges. God knows who paid for it because she was a barber’s wife and how much was he making? News spread and the black community protested her arrest and the segregation law. Irrespective of the weather conditions there was a bus boycott by thousands of Negros. It was not like these days where protests, tweets or hash tags may avail little or nothing but the boycott action repealed the discriminatory law after 381 days. The agabulumo pulp had morphed into a chewing gum as the vision cleared and with it came insight. Why was I ashamed of Toyin’s work? Granted it was tawdry, but it was an original workof art and made with love. What was I afraid to become for a day? I wondered. For a day, Rosa chose to defend her rights as she sat down. Though defiant, but defend it she did.
I had read enough. Turning off the lights and temporarily seeing nothing, I curled on my bed. Then I saw I was superficial. A self centered young woman who esteemed fads over virtue. I loaned Toyin the money to pay for her fees. She was not ashamed to ask; she was humble and focused on making it clean in life with a good night’s sleep. For all my supposed class, I found out that I despised simple things. The joy of being human even if it means going unnoticed.
“I’d wear them on Monday.” I spoke to the darkness, before I realized why I said those words. If my earlobe holes would grow an inch wider, if Mr. Gbadamosi acts like he doesn’t know me on Monday, and if my Branch Manager should die laughing; I would still wear those earrings on Monday. I reached for my Ted Lapidus handbag by a pillow and groped for the ocean blue dangle earrings. Finding one, I pressed it to my nose, inhaling the tangy smell of cheap plastic and allowing it to excite me. “I’d wear them on Monday.” I whispered again.
1) Agbalumo: Yoruba word for African star apple fruit
2) Cele: A bus stop in Lagos
3) Chin chin: Fried snack in West Africa
4) Danfo: Slang for commercial buses in Lagos
5) Ejo: Please
6) Em: Flyer
7) Fuji: Nigerian music genre
8) Jare: Flyer
9) La Agbara Olorun: Yoruba phrase meaning “By the grace of God”
10) Ore mi: My friend
11) Owo Ori: Bride price, usually done in a ceremony
12) Post: Pidgin slang that means “avoid”
13) Moti setan: Yoruba phrase meaning “I have finished”