I remember this picture. It epitomizes everything — The day I betrayed mum.
The day moment of pleasures turned tortures, long-held trust turned to disbelief and peer pressure overcame my reasoning.
Oh! what a day!
You see that woman with a baby on her back. Yes, that one wearing a green dress, torn at the back. Firewood on her head, beads of perspiration forming a pool on her face. Yes, that one. She lives in our compound. The wife to Alhaji Musa. We call her Aunty Aminat.
The boy on her back; is a menace to everyone in the compound, I feel like he wasn’t permitted to say goodbye before Alhaji brought him to earth.
He’s also a womanizer. I mean only the soft warmth from the feminine Chichi shuts his mouth. At his age. He knows the touch of a woman to that of a man, the touch of a man to that of fellow children. He’s that sensitive.
The two school children with the oversize gown, who are staring at their mother are my fellow schoolmates, Njideka and Ada. Those two can never do without gossiping. They’re prepping up to be expert gossipers in the future. Look at their eyes, the disdain that shoots through them. Their nose, the sniffing gesture that revealed their intentions. Poke nosing where their absence is required.
I want to tell you about that man with a grey shirt tucked into milk-colored trousers. The man who had refused to marry because of his inability to secure a job. Mama says he’ll be four decades this year— whatever that means. The man whose shoe had become one-sided because of the trekking his feet had done. His name is Mr. Kunle, our church member.
Then came the reason I always trekked to school. Buns, doughnuts, and puff-puff. Those three have teleported me to cloud nine countless times. I drop half, sometimes full transport fare of mine with Ekaite the buns seller because they gave a different kind of fulfillment.
So when I saw that fruit tree today I remembered something. Something — that I had the urge to share with you.
Mum had sent me to buy foodstuffs at Ile Epo market. You don’t know ‘Ile Epo’? It’s a popular market between iyana-ipaja and Abule-Egba.
She’d never send my sister though. She trusts me and believes that nothing will take my attention from running her errands, unlike my siblings, who will either play with the boys or skip with the girls.
So this day I decided to navigate Newton’s street to pocket my fare. I refused to see reasons with my instincts that told me otherwise. You see that fruit tree, that tall huge one with green leaves. It has a way beside it. A way that’s flanked by shops we call it the “apian way”.
As I burst through the way with the speed of a roaring lion raring to pounce. I heard a familiar voice in a rather faint manner.
“Steph!” Someone called from behind.
I paused and cocked.
“Where you dey go?” The question came with gestures of his fingers.
It was Priye. My classmate at school. My football partner. His head peeked out of the oversized Laker Jersey he was wearing. He was a boy with stunted growth. The grith on his face, the tubers he has in place of his legs and the broad shoulders made him a bit abnormal.
“Pree! Mummy send me go Ile-Epo oo,” I said and stood in my tracks.
He sauntered close. Tickled my ribs, chirked, and wore a ravishing smile.
“Mummy’s boy!” He taunted. “Everything, every time. Mummy this, mummy that. When daddy go ever send you message?”
“Daddy used to send me mes….”
“Abeg make we hear word.” He cuts in. His grim face came alive.
“Come make I show you something sef.” He held me by the hand and dragged my resisting self into a shop nearby. As I entered the shop, Goosebumps like mayonnaise on bread spread over my body. I felt uncomfortable seeing huge men sitting in front of televisions and playing away their lives.
But the posters of Jay Jay Okocha, Samuel Eto fils, Ronaldinho, Zidane, Frank Lampard, Stephen Gerrard, and the like pasted on the right side of the wall calmed my nerves.
On the left side were posters of mortal Kombat warriors that I knew. This was a GameStop! My brain whispered to me.
Priye hailed almost everyone in the shop, sat, and drew me to his side. I darted my eyes around and asked Priye what I was doing there.
He gave me a mischievous grin and handed me my undoing. The gamepad for “Sega” video games. Asked that I played with him.
My balls of reasoning didn’t leave at the time. Even with my excitement, I could still think straight.
“Who go pay?” were the next words that left my mouth.
“Steph, relax na. I dey here” his reply sent a soothing relief to my hyperactive body.
One thing led to another. we found ourselves playing in the fourth round.
Priye excused himself, to offload his bladder it would seem. Eyes darted at me but I couldn’t just decode the message.
Five minutes later, I made to stroll outside in search of my friend. The shop owner blocked my passage. He was asking for his money. His face wore a fierce look. I recoiled and held my resolve.
“Na Priye go pay you.”
That was how he lifted me. With a hand, his eyes, a glistening fire, his mouth a moving volcano and dropped the bombshell.
“Priye don go. E tok say na you go pay.”
I looked around and felt dizzy at once. My heart quaked, my knees wobbled and my lips pursed. Fat balls of tears fell from my eyes. I reached for my pocket as his vicious eyes peered. Out came a fifty naira note that was meant for my transport fare.
He shook his head and said his money was two hundred. I screamed and told a lie about having only the money in my pocket.
Did he heed? No!
He ransacked my pocket and took mum’s money from my pocket. He tossed me like a rag, out of his shop.
I raced to Priye’s house. He was nowhere to be found.
With tears streaming freely down my cheeks. I narrated my ordeal to my Mum.
The beating I got that day was better imagined than told. The scars are still visible.
I will never forget the third of July 2005.
© Stephen Toochi