Amoke Part I
She hiked up her skirt and crossed the wide gutter with ease.
“E kaaro Aunty Clara.” she waved cheerily to the woman who was turning akara on a huge pan.
“Kaaro oh! Akara is almost ready, would you like me to wrap some for you?”
She shook her head, her short braids, swinging lazily with her response.
She was late, again.
The market opened at 7am and all the stalls were expected to be set up by 6am.
She expertly weaved through the throng of shoppers, jumping over gutters and using the back alleyway shortcut to her stall.
Her brisk steps, flipping mud back unto her calves, but she didn’t care to wipe them clean.
The other market women would not be amused by her constant lateness and if they had to warn her again, they’d report her to Alhaji.
She let out a frustrated sigh.
“E kuro lona oh, Move, move,move if I jam you I no go pay o!” the suppliers called out, with their huge wheelbarrows, made their maddened dash about the narrow corridors.
“Eyin na e tete now!” she clapped at them to get out of the way.
As soon as they created enough space, she squeezed her way behind them and ran to her stall.
“E kaaro mama ibeji” she faked a smile as she greeted her supplier.
Mama ibeji, scoffed, “What’s good about this morning eh? Look at the time you’re showing up? “E ma binu ma, please don’t be upset, It was traffic.” she lied
“Yesterday, traffic, the day before, traffic, tomorrow traffic, o kaare oh, well done! Until I give this shop to someone else!”
“Leave the girl alone, mama ibeji, haba, you no sabi as dem dey greet person!” Chinyere poked her head from the side of her stall. “Good morning oh” she continued in a sing song.
The older woman eyed her and hissed. “ Wo, emi ti so temi. I am only giving you advice, because you know this market, there are eyes and ears everywhere!”
Amoke smiled, “ Ese mummy, I’ll be early tomorrow!”
The older woman had helped her get a membership in the market and though sometimes overbearing, she owed the fact that she could sell pepper from one of the busiest markets in Lagos to Mama Ibeji. Unlike the other sponsors that required a percentage of all earnings, mama ibeji never collected a kobo from her.
Amoke, removed the tarp covering her stall and shook off the excess rain water on it.
She’d started out selling peppers on a tray on the streets and had gotten a connection to selling in traffic on the bridge; but the dream was always to have her own stall in the busy Lagos market.
To have her own regulars that she could call out ‘customer!’ to whenever they came to her stall.
She ran her palm over the grayed wood. One part of her dream had come through, next up, being a supplier like Mama Ibeji and having several stalls in the market.
She walked into Mama Ibeji’s ‘shop’ and grabbed her basket of peppers and tomatoes and hastily set up her table.
The market was awake, alive and throbbing.
“Amoke, come let me give you gist.” Chinyere beamed.
“Did you hear about the big accident? This morning on the radio, they said no pepper this week, and you know what that means!” Chinyere laughed
“Double the price” they said in unison.
“Chinyere! My paddy paddy!” Amoke laughed, high-fiving the woman in the opposite stall.
“I know you didn’t eat, so when Nancy came by, I bought you rice”
“That’s why you’re my number one paddy for life!”
“See your head! Abeg come chop before you quench for here!”
Amoke’’s father had been a wealthy politician who had kept her mother as a side piece. He had tucked her away in a beautiful apartment in the nicer part of the city, with a driver, maid, the works. She recalled a life, wearing starched uniforms that smelled like crisp harmattan mornings. Her life was a silver spooned glory , until the man died and his family caught wind of their existence.
Worse, her mother had just given birth to his only son, heir to everything he owned.
She grimaced as her teeth accidentally crunched into a bone.
“Ah, sorry sorry! I told her no meat oh!” Chinyere frowned at her friends pained expression.
Amoke chuckled and threw the bone in the gutter; “It’s okay.”
In another life, she would have been famous, she was top of her class in school and her father had said that she would have a good future
A couple of weeks after Chief’s will had been read, they woke up to a house filled with smoke. The door, locked from the outside and they, trapped in, every door bolted, every window sealed. The flames wickedly licked up every piece of furniture and made its way to them surrounding them in its heat.
Her mother found a chair and banged at a window until it finally broke open. She wrapped the baby in a scarf, tied him around Amoke, and pushed them out the window.
Unfortunately Amoke’s nightgown caught fire as we was shoved out the open window, the polyester, shrinking and melting into her thighs. In pain, she fell on the baby, eliciting a scream of pain from him.
Amoke limped in pain, knocking on neighbors’ doors, but no one came to their help. Everyone knew who her late father was, and if his wife was crazy enough to set a house with a baby in it on fire, they wanted nothing to do with any survivors.
Her brother wailed out loud into the night, a sound that would forever haunt Amoke.
His cry rang out on the injustice, the tragedy and misery that their lives had become. She walked for hours, with her brother, crying and screaming into the night.
As night thickened, she found a spot underneath a bridge and slept. By morning, her brother was dead.
She was awakened by the sounds of Lagos morning. Cars honked, hawkers called out their wares, life continued. She rocked back and forth, clutching onto her brother’s lifeless form.
Only a month ago, she’d been dressed in the most beautiful blue sequined dress. Twirling merrily with puff puff in her hands, as they named her brother, Oyetoso, Omo Chief. Her parents dressed in matching navy blue lace.
She sat underneath the bridge, praying for the ease of death, wishing her mother never pushed her out the window, wishing she had slept merrily into eternity.
She had no idea when the baby was taken from her or where it was taken to.
She only remembered waking up on a mat with seven other children.
She rubbed some chinese balm unto her palm and massaged her leg; cold days like these often made it stiff.
“Customer! Ah I thought you weren’t going to come today!”
“The rain and the traffic almost stopped me but you know my husband now, if the pepper is not fresh, he wouldn’t eat it!”
Amoke smiled, “Customer, you know pepper is expensive today oh. You heard about the big accident abi?!”
They haggled over the price and finally settled on the exact price Amoke profit intended on selling it.
“Customer, how will I pay my rent if you negotiate like this eh?”
Chinyere made a face and stifled a laugh.
“Thank you, come again and tell your friends too, you know my pepper is the best, non of that funny aftertaste.” she waved as her customer walked away.
“I don dey tell you sey make you buy walking stick, you dey form yanga, now this whole place dey smell like chinese balm!”
Amoke clicked her tongue and continued to massage her leg.
She’d woken up many nights still feeling her brother’s body on her, hearing his pained cries, haunted by never knowing what had happened to his body.
Amoke, had woken up in a different chief’s house.
This self proclaimed chief was a husband to three women and none of them were impressed with the additional mouth he had brought into their home.
For breakfast, the eldest wife had made hausa koko, the one thing Amoke hated.
“I don’t like that. I don’t eat that.” she’d shoved the plate backwards.
Mama Tajudeen pinned her between her thick thighs and forced her mouth open, the hot thick liquid slowly scalding her throat as it made its way painfully to her stomach.
When she was done, she banged the aluminium bowl on Amoke’s head, a tap per word. “Ko, bang, si, bang, nko, bang, bi, bang, I don’t eat, bang, in this house, bang!”
Mama Tajudeen set her to work, cooking and selling food from the canteen in the front of the house, while the others went to school.
Mama Tajudeen was the definition of evil, at the slightest provocation, she’d strip Amoke naked and beat her with whatever was in sight; from her shoes to naked wires, nothing was off limits.
Chief had two other wives and their drama to deal with and never intervened in Mama Tajudeen’s disciplinary methods.
Eight years old and orphaned in Lagos, Amoke took her chances and ran away. She walked for hours and found an elderly woman selling peppers and tomatoes on the side of the street. She was tired and hungry and begged the woman for a tomato.
The woman eyed Amoke carefully and shrugged handing her a tomato.
“Ni bo lo n lo, small girl like you, where are you walking to?
Amoke casually summarized her story, turning over to reveal scars Mama Tajudeen had inflicted on her.
“I felt like I would run mad!” she said with a mouthful of tomato.
The old lady, handed her another tomato, “Omo lomo, o ma se o.Your story is very sad. Ni bo lo n lo, gaan gan ni sin? Are you just going to walk about aimlessly?”
Amoke, took another bite of the tomato and stared at the lady for a minute.
“I don’t know half of what you said, but when you close your shop for the day, I’ll sleep here. Tomorrow is another day.”
“I live up that street, why don’t you come with me, you can sleep there”
Amoke shook her head, “I’m not going to anybody’s house. Tomorrow when you come I’ll be right here, you can bring the food here.”
The next day, the old lady returned with some akara and bread.
In exchange for the meal, Amoke took some of the peppers and hawked.
In a few hours she’d sold them all and needed to return to get more.
In a day, she’d sold more than the old lady in years. The money was quick and it was hers.
In months, she’s begun to get her own customers that waited on her and when the old lady died, she decided to expand her route to high traffic areas.
She massaged her leg again. The constant walking on the bridge, chasing customers for her money or to hand them change took a toll on her leg. She was grateful for the opportunity Mama Ibeji provided.
She’s gotten a little apartment in Makoko, and quiet proud of her accomplishment.
Seventeen, with her own apartment and saving to open additional stalls in the market. She hoped that by her eighteenth birthday, she’d be able to fulfill her dream.
Chinyere yawned,” This type of weather is good for…” she made sure no one was within earshot.
“Watch my stall, I’ll be right back. Do you like my top? You know I can hook you up eh?” she giggled.
“Until you come back pregnant, like all his little cockroach girlfriends, your body wouldn’t rest abi?”
“Hmm, watch my stall. I’ll be back!” She checked her reflection in the broken louver and dabbed some vaseline on her lips.
“Action time! You know his cousin hangs about the shop if you’d like some real solution to those ice block legs of yours!” she clapped some white powder in her palms and rubbed it on her face.
“No thanks. I see Mrs Ibisi’s ode pikin don come market again, please let me make this money jare.”
“Hmm, as if money can luff you back; abeg!” she winked and jumped the gutter to the other side.
Yetunde, Mrs Ibisi’s daughter was allowed weekly excursions to the market, to learn how to shop in Lagos.
Amoke enjoyed watching her whimper and complain in the market.
She’d turn to the driver, “Mr Sule, its smells. Mr Sule,! Eeew is that a real dead fish?My hair is going to smell like nasty fish! Mr Sule, that man touched my hand, eeew”
She wondered, if her parents never died, if she’d have grown up just as snobby as Yetunde.
“Ah Yetunde, you’re back?”
Yetunde rolled her eyes, “I’m here, aren’t I?”
“I see that, E kaasan oh, Mr Sule.”
He snorted and muttered something beneath his breath.
Yetunde handed her four five hundred naira notes, “ I need tomatoes and pepper.”
Amoke, counted the money twice and handed her , two notes back.
“You don’t need this much pepper.”
She blinked slowly and smiled. “I know, I just felt sad for you.”
Amoke placed the money in her pouch and zipped it.
“There was an accident today, so the pepper is …”
“Lady, I don’t care, just give me the same quantity. This place stinks. Mr Sule!”
Mr Sule, grabbed the bag from Amoke’s hands and trotted after his boss.
Amoke watched them walk away and turn into another section of the market.
From the corner of her eye, she could see Chinyere walking back with Martin, her market boyfriend.
Martin sold clothes in the clothing section of the market and was a convenient boyfriend for Chinyere who loved shopping and shopping at a discount was even better.
“Hi Amoke.” Martin hopped on a bench across from her.
Amoke looked up at the sky, “ It looks like it’s going to rain.”
“Hi Amoke.” another voice to her right greeted.
Amoke tilted her head, she had seen Chinyere and Martin walk down the alley, but not this man, who perched himself beside her stand.
She frowned at Martin and Chinyere.
“Hi, Amoke. My name is Vincent.”
Amoke held her frown at the two, across from her.
“Amoke, person dey greet you. Answer am now!”
Forcing a smile, she replied and shook his extended hand.
He shifted from one foot to another, smiling sheepishly.
Chinyere sighed and tossed a handful of groundnut in her mouth, “Vincent na Martin supplier. This morning as you dey shake yansh upan dan, dey rush come sell pepper, Vincent eye just catch you. Na so the brother don hook love oh!” she swirled a palmful of groundnut in her palm.
Vincent’s smile widened.
Amoke looked at all three persons grinning at her and shook her head slowly.
Vincent quickly handed her a crumpled nylon bag; “I no sure wetin your size be, …” his voice trailed off.
Amoke ignored him and his bag, stretching her palm out and looking up to the sky, again.
“I should get going. I don’t want the rain to catch me here.” she said to no one in particular.
“Amoke!” Chinyere snapped her fingers at her.
“Vincent dey follow you talk.”
Amoke tilted her head and looked at Vincent.
He was at least three heads shorter than she was, with a big round belly that peeked through a shirt that was at least two sizes too small.
Amoke chuckled, shook her head and gave her friend a stern glare.
“I no go mind you today Chin-chin. The one wey you go take do gist na the one you dey find!”
Chinyere burst into a hearty laugh.
“Vincent, biko, give me the bag. Rain dey turn this one head. No worry, I go toast her for you eh.”
Amoke, packed up the leftover peppers and poured it into her basket and limped to Mama Ibeji’s shop.
“O ti n lo le ni? You’re already packing up for the day?”
Amoke looked up again at the deep gray sky, “Yes ma, o da bi wipe ojo fe ro. If I get caught in the rain, I’ll be sick.”
Mama Ibeji also looked up, “Just dont be late again tomorrow.”
“Yes ma.” Amoke curtsied and returned to her stall.
“I no like as you take do my boy oh!” Martin declared at she returned.
“I don tell you say make you no vex, ah! Martin!” Chinyere slapped him playfully, on the head.
“Martin, no vex. I no dey find man, no be sey na your friend eh.” Amoke pacified, quickly covering the stall and grabbing her purse.
“See you tomorrow oh chin chin.”
She jumped over the gutter and began her quick walk to the bus stop.
The market was still buzzing, especially with the fear of rain.
She swerved and avoided the night sellers entering the market with huge trays in their head.
There was no drainage system in the market and unless the sun dried up the mud, it remained slippery and wet.
Amoke checked her watch and stopped dead in her tracks, her normal route seemed to be blocked.
“What is all this?” she poked her head over the gathering crowd, trying to figure out what the commotion was for .
“Abeg wetin dey happen?”
“Dem don catch one of the boys wey dey tiff.” a young girl responded, running into the crowd to get a better view.
“Burn am. Make we burn am!” the crowd began to chant.
Amoke groaned in frustration. She didn’t want to wait for the crowd to thin out, and if jungle justice really was the conclusion , she definitely didn’t want to witness it.
She darted into an alley. She knew it was another way to get to the bus stop, but had never used it.
Minutes after she turned, she noticed someone following closely behind.
She made a quick right and then another left, walking faster with each step.
Looking over her shoulder, there were now three men behind her.
She quickly glanced to her right and then her left; she was lost.
Amoke made another right and walked right into a dead end.
She turned around to the most blood curdling smiles she’d ever seen.
She was stuck in an uncompleted structure. It appeared that someone had had the idea to build additional supply outlets but run out of money. The concrete walls had begun to turn green from neglect and there were tell tale signs that it had become a residence for market thugs
“Omo see as her yansh just dey do 17, 18, 19. My brain wan burst.” the biggest one scratched at his head as though the family of lice in it had begin dinner.
Amoke bit her lower lip and tapped her foot, trying to think of a plan to escape.
“Fine aunty, calm down. Even if you shout from today till next year, Jesus sef no go hear you!” he lit a cigarette and leaned against the wall.
Amoke tapped her foot, there had to be a way out. She figured if she could only get back into the main alleyway, she’d run, as fast as she could, in whichever direction would lead her to safety.
The ‘big guy’ lurched towards her and laughed in her ear. The foulest of breaths swirling about her.
“See as her skin just soft. Man never press you before abi.” He dug his chubby palms into her shirt and squeezed her breasts so hard, she screamed and bit his hand.
“Boss! You don meet your match today!” the two hailed.
“Listen, if it’s money you want; just take it. Take the jewelry, whatever it is you want.”
“See this ode, you dey offer us our own property? Na we get you, na we own you, na we born you sef!”
Amoke wriggled, struggling to get out of his grip.
“Let me go, I’m only trying to catch the bus and just go home.”
The ‘big guy’ gripped her tighter, his one arm still in her shirt.
“You just dey make am sweet, I swear.” his hot breath floated over her neck.
Amoke struggled harder, writhing her body violently.
He pulled her tighter into himself. “Hey hey hey, stop this madness jare!”
She began to scratch and wriggle even harder.
The big guy responded by squeezing her breasts again until she screamed ; tears welling up in her eyes.
She bit down on his arm hard.
The other two lurched at her and struck her continuously, punching her in the head, and torso but she maintained her grip.
The acrid taste of blood filled her mouth but she maintained her grip on his arm.
Amoke felt little drops of rain drip on her face, she cursed under her breath; It had begun to drizzle.
“Which kain winsh be this one now?” the big guy shook his arm furiously, punching Amoke in her side, but she refused to let go.
All three men began a series of hard combo punches till all Amoke could feel was the warm rain falling on her face.
She had no idea when she had let go of his arm, or how she had gotten on the floor.
She was staring at the gray clouds as pellets of warm rain fell on her face.
Voices swirled over her head as she slowly closed her eyes.