A woman pulls over hastily in her respectable car and stops a yam hawker – a girl of about thirteen years old. Two girls I presume to be the woman’s daughter – the younger being about the hawker’s age – lounge on the backseat. The hawker, considering the looming dusk and the many tubers still unsold, quickly puts her wares down from her head for the obviously impatient woman to examine, (the woman wasn’t properly parked). Two tubers skid off the tray in mid-air and breaks on hitting the ground, one breakaway part rolls off with determination until it winds up inside a drain.
The woman asks the price of four tubers grouped together.
800, the girl replied. Her eyes assess her loss with the broken tubers (one of which is particularly big and would have been of significant market value), her tense hands gathering the damaged yams.
No o! This one is 500. The woman stretches her neck from her seat and raises her nose as though she could sniff the tubers from her seatbelt restrain.
You can take them for 700, ma. The hawker’s eyes plead. The woman’s presumed daughters look on. One of them loses interest and busies herself with a smartphone.
- The woman starts her car as she says this, an indication of a final offer.
Please ma, yam is now expensive, help me buy, ma. The hawker curtsies, her face contorts in a desperate plea. The car begins to slither away.
Okay ma, come and take them for 650. The woman hesitates, then shakes her head and drives off.
A passerby who heard the concluding part of the negotiation reprimands the hawker’s poor marketing. She should have accepted the 600. Can’t she see it’ll be dark soon and she’ll have to carry all those tubers back home unsold?
The car cruises off into a bend and I begin to wonder what kind of world it is where a woman in a respectable car who gives off an aura of one who would drive to a shopping mall and shop away for obviously overpriced goods would refuse to patronize a juvenile yam hawker because of 50 Naira for yams she obviously wants, especially when she knows the hawker damaged her goods and is certain of a loss, and, perhaps, a reprimand from an furious mother, while trying to satisfy her.
I walk past the drain later where the mischievous yam piece lies in tranquillity. I assure myself I would have treated the hawker differently.
But then, we humans are forged in the same template, and I must consider my history of perpetually overestimating my own capacity for empathy.
Here’s a link to my story currently on the long list of the AMAB-HBF Flash Fiction Competition.
Do read, enjoy, share.
A brilliant essay by Alexis Okeowo, viewing Lagos, the commercial hub of Nigeria (if not the entire Africa) in its totality. Landscape, governance, history.
It is utterly impressive how Okeowo, in this essay, gives us a Lagos that is a collage of voices from diverse social and political classes.
The essay is about a year old, but still worthy of reading.
How Our Delusions Keep Us Sane: The Psychology of Our Essential Self-Enhancement Bias | Brain Pickings
It is argued here why we must, at varying degrees be deluded.
His work shed was the last among the rows of makeshift sheds that lined themselves along the road bringing Isale-Osun to complete a four-way junction at Olaiya. He laid down on a bench and jolted up when we stopped in front of his shed and peered inside.
‘I think he’s a mute.’ The lady said and turned to return to her mother’s shop. I murmured a ‘thank you’ after her. My tailor’s shop was also on the same side of the road and when I asked if there was a cobbler around there, she asked her daughter to take me to the one at the end of the road.
I was, to confess, a little annoyed that she had brought upon me a burden of having to communicate with a mute. But I was desperate, and the mute had a good smile. He motioned for me to sit on a bench and, as I sat down, I removed my backpack and hand it to him, I pointed at the torn strap I wanted fixed. He examined it and, with his right index finger, he traced ‘100’ on his left palm. I shook my head and traced ‘70’ on my own palm. Pity restrained me from offering him 50 Naira, which was what I would have agreed to pay anywhere else. He agreed to the price and went to work. I watched him work the needle and brown thread and marveled at his dexterity. He had the distinctive look of a northerner. He was light-skinned and he bore a smile that gave his face a warm, crude handsomeness. He wore a faded shirt, black trousers, and slippers. He was in his mid-twenties, that I was sure.
When he finished, he pointed at a different tear on the other strap to me and I nodded that he should fix it as well. He worked with a swift calmness that felt strange in a pleasant way.
I quickly recalled the beggars I had encountered on my way there. Half of them had no physical disability; and more than half, have their faces memorized in my brain, after seeing them for years. It is more than seeking alms to them; it is a job. Something they wake up in the morning and look forward to doing. I had stopped giving beggars money when, years ago, one of them rejected my money for being ‘too small’. He said I was ‘a big man’ and could do better than 20 Naira.
He pulled the straps to test the strength of his repair. Satisfied, he handed me my backpack. I examined it, awed by how neat his work was. There was no wayward thread hanging loosely about, or squeezed patch; and he managed to keep each strap at the same length. I stood up and gave him One Hundred Naira. He searched his pocket for change, but I gestured for him to keep it. He frowned and shook his head. He handed me my change but I refused to collect it from him. We continued like this – he, insisting I collect the change, and I, insisting he kept it – for a moment. I walked out and heard him made a strange sound. I turned around and he had placed his palms together, bowing a little. I did the same and said my first and only words to him: Thank you.
Here are three of my poems published on Kalahari Review.
Read. Enjoy. Or detest.
I wondered, after reading this story, why I’m just hearing the name Paul Ugbeche for the first time.
My maths teacher hates me. He asked me to find y. I mean, how can I find y, something missing a long time ago? My brother and sister had tried to find it. Uwodi had searched for it when she was in class six. Then Atadoga also searched for it during his time in class six. My siblings, very brilliant, top of their classes, those children. But they are children no longer. Uwodi works in the bank at Kaduna and Atadoga is in the Army, a colonel now. They have both found happiness, but they couldn’t find y.
My maths teacher, he came to class yesterday very angry.
‘x2+3y =1. Find y’
I was not surprised. This had been the question for many years, the question that defeated my siblings in their respective class six. I had memorised it. I had waited for it. And it came…
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The vigor of a recounted experience can never make up for the memory of the actual experience.
Hey, you know about Niyi Osundare? He is one of Nigeria’s finest poets and someone whom we have sipped many creative thoughts from. Well, the news is he is going to be reading at ARTMOSPHERE in Ibadan by 3pm on Saturday, June 20, 2015. The venue is at the NuStreams Conference Centre, KM 110, Iyagunku Road, off Alalubosa GRA, Ibadan, Nigeria.
But let me tell you a bit more about Professor Osundare…
Poet, dramatist, critic, essayist, and media columnist, Niyi Osundare is a Professor of English at the University of New Orleans, USA. He has authored over ten volumes of poetry, two books of selected poems, four plays, a book of essays, and numerous articles on literature, language, culture, and society. His works of published poetry includeSongs of the Marketplace (1983), Village Voices (1984), A Nib in the Pond (1986), The Eye of the Earth (1986),which won…
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Fantastic piece. It courses through the creative path of writing, of achieving mastery at it, of drowning in the vastness of the world to live, appreciate beauty, and create one’s own beauty.
And most importantly, that we must write. And write. And keep writing.
My mum returned home earlier this week mildly distraught because she could not get watermelon on her way from work. She has been taking fruits almost every morning for some years now. Talk about eating healthy. Watermelon and cucumber are her favourites. I am distraught too. I treat myself to some watermelon while I slice some for her some mornings, not primarily because it is considered healthy to eat fruits, but because watermelon is red, juicy, and delicious. Its redness merges with the red colour that God carpeted my mouth with, and melts into my soul. We become one. Watermelon is a strong contender for my favourite fruit. I cannot say the same thing for cucumber though.
My mum said the Hausas she buys watermelon from had travelled home, up north. The presidential election is today and one of them had told her earlier that he was travelling ‘home’ to vote. I shrugged. No more watermelon for me until election is over.
I often refrain myself from political debates because I find the thought of Nigerian politics nauseating. It is dirty, extremely manipulative, and it almost never profits the masses. I am still bewildered by how easily politicians are able to have such loyal supporters, especially youths. They are ready to fight and die, as though there are not more than enough stupid reasons and ways to fight and die already, for a ludicrously small amount of Naira notes. I guess Tolu Daniel was right in his article earlier this week: Nigerians are not corrupt, they are just hungry.
I had never cared who won which election, until now. I have unfortunately arrived at that stage in my life when things like government, economy, and other tedious concepts grownups are compulsively burdened with matter, because it affects me directly now.
I just completed the imposed National Service, which by the way I think has failed to serve the purpose it was intended to serve when it was created. I’ve been a student all my life, so I had always relied on my parents unashamedly for financial support. I was a corps member for the last year, so I’ve been receiving allowances (allowee) from our dear federal government. Now I’ve been dumped into an unfamiliar category where I must leave the pride and wander into the bush to start my own pride. Employment opportunities are virtually non-existent. One must know someone with influence to get even the most ridiculous job most times. The idleness of unemployment is distressing, and there is only one person to blame-the government, the head of the government, and ultimately, the Nigerian President.
There are very minute opportunities for youths to thrive. Being youthful now means wallowing about for years after school, searching for, but not finding what to do. You are startled when you get to your first interview venue and find over a thousand others who are also there for the same interview. You go through the job advertisement again to be sure, and you are right, only five vacancies were advertised, and it is not a top paying job for that matter.
Security seems to be the top issue on the priority list we hope whoever becomes the newly-elected President would have, but there are other challenges that should share that top spot as well. Majority of Nigerians have never witnessed uninterrupted power for half a day, the roads are in a dismal state, there is so much poverty in the wind that our lungs cannot tell it apart, unemployment is now a norm, corruption is a plague in every corner of the country-from taxi drivers to an Executive Directors, amongst others.
Today, I woke up, performed my salat, fried some meats, cooked a large pot of sumptuous fried rice, ate, and now watching TV. I will not vote today, because I do not have my Permanent Voter’s Card (which is largely my fault by the way). I will put my trust in the media to give me real time updates on how the rest of the country fares as today unfold. I will hope that people do not have to kill one another in election’s name. I hope for sanity. I hope the best candidate wins.
Now to the most important wish of all, I hope the watermelon sellers return soon, in good health, so I won’t have to grow my own watermelons. I wish the rest of the about 170 million Nigerians the good juice of today’s fruit.
To get justice, we must be willing to be just. Fight until you can fight no more for justice, but do not let yourself be so weak that you become violent. The ecstasy of justice is for everyone to live and see it reign, even those who oppose it. In the spirit of my religion, I must say, from a quote I read some time ago, that nothing on earth is worth going to hell for.