Yanju’s day started with his bicycle. He rode it all the way to Ilupeju where his mother owns a small kiosk. He helped her get ready everyday before he goes to school. Today was no different. As he rode in the early morning traffic, he steered expertly away from motorists most of whom were already familiar with the boy as he pedalled, sharing a wave here and another there. His cream-coloured school shirt already taking the colour of the sand gathered on the side of the road.
“Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!..”
It was the call to prayer from the main mosque loudly breaking the silence of dawn as Ahmed grudgingly roused from sleep. The night before, Alfa had decided the boys weren’t bringing in enough for their keep. He had threatened to hand over a handful of them to Alhaji Sule if they didn’t come back to the school at the end of the day with enough money for 3 days’ upkeep. Ahmed had been scared. It was open secret among the boys that Alhaji Sule used boys as a man would use a female. The boys who had been unlucky enough to experience it had not remained the same ever since. Something was just off about them, something Ahmed couldn’t exactly put into words.
Ahmed was one of the older boys in the Goje Arabic school. With the announcement, he had gathered a few of his friends and some of the more industrious younger boys and one by one, they had disappeared into the famous Suleja market. The Sun had risen with intensity. Sweat was soon streaming down their backs and it wasn’t even 7:30 a.m yet. They had agreed to start there at the market. Begging, harassing, threatening and if it came down to it, stealing. Anything so long as they escaped Alhaji Sule. Alfa had told them it was haram to steal. But didn’t Alfa also say Allah’s curse is on the man who commits adultery? Perhaps it’s not adultery if it’s a man and another man doing it.
“Astaghfur llahi”, Ahmed whispered. He didn’t want to commit sin with his thoughts. Thoughts of going against Allah’s will must be a sin. Allah sees our thoughts. “Astaghfur llahi”, Ahmed said again, this time loudly.
Yanju soon noticed the sky. The Sun which had been fierce earlier that morning was gradually receding behind a film of clouds in the distance. It was going to rain. He pedalled at twice his prior rate. He needed to get to the kiosk and then, school before the rain poured. The wind was gathering.
The Goje boys were having the time of their lives in Suleja market. While walking through the throng of shopping crowd, Ahmed had pushed a woman mindlessly . The woman had turned around sharply and confronted him. It was obvious she wasn’t from around. Her uncovered hair and caramel-coloured skin stood her out like a sore thumb. How dare she confront him? Wasn’t she supposed to lower her gaze? If she had would she have known it was he who pushed her?
The ruckus had grown fast. Like wildfire. The boys had gathered round the woman and begun taunting her. A crowd was looking. The woman looked angry and kept speaking in that language Ahmed had heard Alfa speak sparingly with visitors. She kept pointing fingers in his face as the taunting continued. But something happened with her face – a dawning. Soon Ahmed saw her running so fast as if chased by a ghost, out of the market. She had dropped her purse in the hurry. It wasn’t stealing if the owner dropped the purse. Or was it? Ahmed quickly picked it up before any of the other boys found it. He counted 3 One Thousand Naira Notes. That’s the largest amount he had ever held in his hands. Alfa would be really proud.
The rain was pouring now in torrents. ‘Yanju had found a shelter to wait the rain out. the shop looked like its owner hadn’t come around that morning. ‘Yanju was late for school. He could tell by the dwindling number of cars on the road. Earlier in the mornings meant more traffic. The later in the day it gets, the fewer the vehicles to be seen, until the early or late afternoons when it’s rush-hour again.
“Ahmed”, Danjuma called out as Ahmed ran to cross the road…
‘Yanju heard a voice call out. Thunder rumbled as he heard the name “Ahmed”. The voice came from very close to him, like the caller was standing right beside him. Yanju looked around to see if someone else was hiding in the shed. But he was alone. Yet he had heard the voice loud and clear. It was an unfamiliar voice, yet it sounded familiar. And he had heard it loud and clear. He saw the boy Ahmed as he made to cross a road. The road was strangely unfamiliar. Thunder struck this time. He saw so many boys on the road, all dressed in tattered clothes, which they had obviously outgrown. They all held out a bowl, approaching people he did not know. Except the boy called Ahmed. He didn’t look any different from thing e rest. Only he had no bowl in his hand…
Ahmed told Danjuma about his early morning find with excitement in his eyes and together they went to find food. The money was enough to buy both of them a week with Alfa. Ahmed could not stop talking about his find. the boys looked in envy at the huge fortune that had smiled on Ahmed.
The rain was subsiding. Yanju decided to wait a few more minutes before he continued on his way to school. Thunder struck again.
Some boys gathered round the boy. He saw them make for his pocket. He saw the boy try to fight. Another boy was with him. Fighting. Yanju saw nothing else. The group of boys started walking away. Behind them, two boys stayed unmoving.
He recognized the boy Ahmed. A piece of paper flew through the wind. It was a Thousand Naira note. The two boys held something in their hands. A Thousand Naira each. The rain started again.