As I stepped out of the house, I realized how dirty, perhaps ashy my legs were. Harmattan was back. Nevertheless, I made my way toward the drugstore to get drugs for my mother, as she was hypertensive. I showed the drugstore owner the carton of the one she had just finished using and he said, irritated, “What if I didn’t have this type?”
“Your problem,” I wanted to say. Instead, I got the drugs and my change then waited to take a taxi or keke. Ipata! I almost called out then remembered that I had to withdraw first so I called, instead, “Post office!” I got keke immediately. Alighting in front of Sterling bank, I wondered if it was appropriate for the keke driver to stop there. Amongst the many ATM stands, just three were being used and I did not even feel the urge to try the other stands. Once I tried using a forlorn ATM instead of queuing, I had had my card swallowed so when I saw an old, fair man attempt to use one of the forlorn ATMs, I felt an urge to tell him not to do so but luckily, for him, he came out unscathed albeit without money. The first person on my line was taking too long so I crossed my arms across my chest, feeling irritated. Not too long after, it was my turn and I withdrew some cash, stashing the wad in my purse whilst suppressing the urge to count.
“Ipata! I called out to an okada rider, as it was hard to get a taxi from Sterling bank. That had actually been the first time that I would take it right in front of Sterling bank. Usually, I crossed to the other side and took the one, which passed through Maraba. I was surprised when the okada driver started to pass through the petrol station as if he was going to Taiwo. I’m going to Ipata, I informed him in Yoruba.
“Ipata, yeah? That is where we are going.”
“Uh…oh,” I made a revelatory noise after realizing he wanted to pass the long way. He stopped the ‘okada’ when we got there. It was not where I usually alighted but from that place, I could see the beauty of the market. In the actual sense, Ipata was not beautiful but it had that earthy feeling which words cannot translate. I had customers everywhere who fixed place to buy my tomatoes, my meat, and my provisions as I had been getting things from there since I was in secondary school. I sashayed through the cluster of okadas in their park to cross the road to get my tomatoes from an old woman who had my image imprinted on her memory because anytime I got there after a long time, she would ask, “Friend, have I offended you?” Moreover, I would say sweetly, “No, I haven’t been around.” I never had to cross the road to meet her.
“Roll am well,” a middle-aged woman informed me.
“Roll what well?” I thought and ignored her. She moved closer.
“I say roll am well.”
She got a tight-lipped smile.
“Thieves are now in the market,” she informed me in Yoruba, “so you ought to roll your sack well.”
“Do you want to buy pepper?” she asked, “I sell.” In order to tell her ‘thank you’ for her unsolicited advice, I told her an uncertain ‘yes’.
“What else?” she asked.
Aiming to be vague, I said, “Nothing much.”
“Give me the list,” she demanded. I turned to give her a measured look. “For what?”
She quieted but still took my Dangote cement sack from me, “I say roll am well.” She opened the sack and fished out my purse.
“Give that back to me.” My voice had gone from disinterested to cold.
She looked insulted as she did so. Latching on my right arm, she informed, “Let me take you to where I sell my pepper.” I did not doubt the fact that she was a market woman. She looked the part albeit I must admit that she looked respectable like my regular meat seller. “You live at Fate, dont you?” We used to live around that area.
Her face lit up and she gave a knowing clap. “You know where pepper is being grinded around your house?”
She told, “That is where I live.” I relaxed a bit. “Do you know me?” I looked at her fully, noticing the tribal marks on her chubby cheeks, which resembled the minus sign. In addition, the marks looked black.
It seemed wet grinded charcoal had been used to fill the hole it created.
“No,” I told her finally.
“That is where we live,” she said soothingly and I wondered if that we meant herself and the girl on her back. On crossing the road, she entangled from me. “Why did you take your purse from me?” She asked, “Do you think I am a thief?”
“You are not saying anything,” she insisted. “If I were a thief, I would have disappeared since.”
“I have a sister whom thieves had cut through her sack so her purse had fallen to the ground.”
“This isn’t my first time in the market,” I wished to say.
She took the sack from me again, removing my purse and that time, I did not argue. It did not occur to me to do so. “We would get a black nylon and put the purse in it so thieves wouldn’t take it.” I agreed. In fact, it did not seem foolish to me. “You were scared the other time. Do you think I am a thief?” She opened my purse.
“See your money o; do you want to count it?”
“I know you had bad thoughts towards me earlier. Bad people have destroyed the reputation of good people. I can’t do you harm, oya see your money.”
She unzipped again. I nodded.
“Would you buy oil from me?” She must have seen the oil gallon. Taking too long to respond, she observed, “You have a customer?”
“How much does she sell two and a half litres to you?”
“Nine hundred.” I had bought it for that price when we had done the major shopping for the month.
“I sell mine for eight hundred.” Nothing got me swayed. For all I knew, it might be bad. “Do you have change so we would get the nylon?
I did, from the drugstore but lied, “No.”
“I would check your purse o.”
She did not. Then, she pointed a two hundred naira note at me. I eyed it. “Am I not old enough to send you work?”
Taking the note, we got the polythene bag together. The woman in the ‘nylon shop’ claimed not to have change. She did because eventually, she brought a hundred and eighty naira change with plenty of twenty-naira notes. She put the purse into the bag then into the sack then handed it over to me. We got to her supposed shop only to find it locked. She pointed out a house to me: “Go and get the key there.”
I decided to remain unbulged. She kept moving saying she needed to drink water.
“Go there and get me some pure water. I would wait here.”
“No, let us go together,” I argued.
“I’m not going anywhere, just go.”
“Go,” she persuaded and I did, all the while checking to see if she was there. My phone rang and the caller ID happened to be my mother. I had spent a lot of time in the market. The woman moved close to me when she saw me receiving a phone call and the fleeting urge to tell my mum about her disappeared.
“I was trying to hide from a woman but thank God she is not here,” she told, “you have a bad mind. You think I would disappear?”
We started making our way to her shop again. “I would sell my oil to you for eight fifty.”
My brows inched high. “I thought you said you would sell it for eight hundred.”
Laughing, she inquired, “So you also like money?” We reached her shop to find it locked. Again.
“Go to that house,” she said, pointing to the very house she had asked me to go earlier. “Tell them it is Iya Zaynab and collect the key.” We crossed the road together. “I know you don’t want to go, I would be right here. Go.”
I did but kept checking back that I bumped into a young man about my age. “Sorry,” I rushed out. “Come back,” she called out to me, “I saw Alhaja now, the key is with her.” I did not see any Alhaja. After a while, she said, “Go.”
Flustered, I asked, “I thought you said you saw Alhaja, why should I go back?” “I don’t like you again.”
“Sorry,” I told her.
“Oya, go to that house.” I did and that time, I felt comfortable. When I got there, I saw an old woman who seemed frail. “Iya Zaynab said I should get the key.”
“Key?” she asked, perplexed. I can never forget the expression on her face; the way her jaw slackened. My brain was in auto-alert. I did not even bother to explain anything to her. As I turned back from the house, with my red sandal making slapping sounds on the ground, I caught a snippet of Iya Zaynab’s drifting face. She was smiling. When I got to the junction, she had disappeared. I did not know where to go to as we had moved away from the main market.
“Did you see the woman who was with me?” I asked the person who had been washing a trailer beside us.
“Yes, I saw her taking you around but I don’t know where she went to.”
“Oh my God!” I gasped, slapping my palm over my mouth. What I felt at first was shock. I knew the money was gone without opening the purse. I had heard stories of people whom fellow Nigerians defrauded but I had never thought it could happen to me. Then I felt loss in addition of being confused. I was more angry at myself as people had gathered around me.
“Why did you give her the money? someone in the gathering asked. I did not even know when she took it but I did not tell them that. I just kept murmuring things along the lines of Oh my God!’ I started to go to the ‘Nylon Shop’. She did not know Iya Zaynab and I dissolved into tears. Her curse attracted neighbours.
“Why did you give her the money?”
Again, someone asked. A fair looking woman with golden tooth told her:
“You think it is normal? She has been charmed.” She got my mother’s contact to inform her. She called me immediately and said, “Just come home.”