My mother is the dark fat woman who roast plantain at the bus stop, you will always see her tie a scarf, so if I don’t tell you, you won’t know how rough mother’s hair always is, because she has no money to make it. Beside her charcoal stand is the parking space of Okada riders who most times buy our plantain on credit.
I know not enough about Papa but he is a soldier who barely come home for holidays, we were told he died at war on the first of March 2008.
The noise at the bus stop has been a very strong part of my life, it keeps ringing in my head even when I get home to do chores. Dusty feet of hawkers running after vehicles, their rough black skin that has been beaten by harsh weather of life and eyes whose emotions cannot be read. I am one of the hawkers, I sell mother’s roasted plantain to travelers in vehicles after school closes.
3pm last Tuesday after school, I got to the bus stop to help mother hawk but she ordered me to see the man for he came home early that day to send me errands as usual. The man from whose compound we fetch water, he is a divorced business man with two kids, kids whose skin cannot be compared with mine, and I look at them with envy anytime I go there to fetch water or run errands.
In a room, I, mother and my two siblings live together. A stuffy, old, match box size room, where I started early in life to face the harsh realities of existence; waking everyday by 3:00am, fetching water at a long distance, missing school because mother couldn’t pay tuition, sexual harassment from guys at the bus stop and men on our street. I wouldn’t say I am beautiful or close to it but ladies who has lived a life like mine would know how men love to take advantage of us because they know we need the money.
Going to the man’s home is the best escape from the ringing noise on the street and the hot sun at the bus stop. Oh, I love AC.
I met him sited on the sofa, gaze fixed on the TV with remote in hand, I smelt his boredom, his kids has been away with his wife to the United states and he is left with boredom, he must have missed his kids, I thought.
I stood at the door without words until his eyes met mine and he gave me a brief smile, he pointed to one of the sofas and I sat. Instantly, he opened a drawer by the window and brought a bail of one thousand naira notes, he dropped it on the table without a word nor a look at me. A number of times, I have gone to deposit for him and I dislike it but it’s better than hawking under the hot sun amidst ringing noise.
He would be mine if I had believed in having role models, he didn’t get his confidence built on money or possessions so he never sound bossy and that day, the same way he talks during his long chats with mother . Calm, cool and confident, he told me, “Bola, can we start having sexual affairs? I will make sure you don’t get pregnant and you are free to have a boyfriend if you want to, I will always give you this after all the rounds we have each day.’’ He sounded normal unlike the guys I have seen on the street and bus stop who sound as if their voice will choke them when asking ladies out. His hands were placed on his laps and they were not stretched to touch me neither did he give a flirty look. “I am giving you this because I know you need it and you know I need good sex.” Then he looked at me as if expecting replies.
I am impressed I would have said. His natural look and composure, I love it. “I am coming right away from school and I need to shower and eat.” I managed to say. …but I was expecting he would order that I pick something from the fridge which I have done a number of times and shower in his bathroom, my excuse should be lame for him after all. I was surprised when he nodded and said “please, come as soon as you are done. I will be expecting you.” I stood up awkwardly, picked my old tearing school bag and smiled at him to affirm my coming back and he smiled too.
…but I knew I would never come back, to run errands, to fetch water, to collect money or food when we have none, I will never come back. That’s the last day.
I am sitting at my table now, this is 1:00am, feeling dizzy a bit, writing my thoughts because I couldn’t tell mother. I would never explain why I stopped to fetch at his place, why I dodge each time he come to chat with mother, yet with his comportment has if nothing happened, why I always reject going to his place to collect food and money when we have none. I don’t want to get her broken, not again and when I saw how deep asleep she is on our flat little mattress as my candle flickered on her wrinkling round face, I felt sad and I pity her.
I am one of the girls who hawk by the road who believe one day, in a good way, I will earn enough to change our lives and even give my kids a better life I never had.