For Lack of a Title

“I should have eaten”, Gbenle thought as he manoeuvred passers-by at Oyingbo market trying to get the heavy weight of foodstuff on his shoulders to a car parked somewhere on Apapa road. Behind him, an elderly woman walked briskly; tailing him to make sure he doesn’t run away with her purchase.

Gbenle is one of tens of young boys that live at Oyingbo market and who did anything and everything to make food money on the daily. Today he had decided he would be an *Alabaru. His friend, Wande, with whom he had arrived Lagos from their little town in one of the South western states had told him market sellers and their customers pay much to boys who helped them carry goods to and from the market. What Gbenle hadn’t envisaged though was the weight of goods he had to carry to earn it.

Gbenle had never been one to burden himself in any way, not with thoughts, girls, or heavy things. That was why he had chosen to be a bus boy in the first place. As a bus boy, he simply alerts passengers going the route of his bus by intermittently shouting “Yaba, wo le, Yaba” and gets paid a little sum for his efforts once the bus is filled. This helped him meet his daily needs with some extra on good days. But the last few days hadn’t been good as the bus he calls passengers for had developed faults.

So that morning when Gbenle had woken up to a monstrous hunger, he knew it was time to find an alternative. Even the worms in his belly seemed to have had enough as they bit unapologetically into his stomach walls. The hilarious comebacks he usually had for the other boys’ jokes didn’t come through either when the boys mocked every person who passed. “See her leg”, one boy said. “See that one, bringing children to market. Psheeaw”, another said. “Wicked woman, giving a pregnant Alabaru such load. Can’t she carry them herself?” went a third. “These ones are playing love in the market” yet another boy pointed out as they hurled at passers-by in raucous manner. Gbenle who was usually the gang leader had more pressing matters on his mind; food.

Gbenle had looked around to find Wande at an extreme corner of the group clutching nylon of Garri and another of Groundnuts. The look on Wande’s face indicated he wasn’t open to sharing but even if he was, Garri and Groundnuts didn’t count as Gbenle’s choice of recovery after days of feeding on water. His stomach growled as if in agreement. Wande had simply looked up as Gbenle’s shadow rested on him and said in unblemished Yoruba, “Alabaru is the job that pays now. Being a bus boy at this time of the day will only earn you promises of Lunch which may not happen especially if your chosen bus driver is the type that likes to collect his own money.”

Needing no further encouragement, Gbenle had made his way into the market, keeping an eye out for anyone who remotely looked like they needed a porter. Until he found the woman. She had helped him put the load on his shoulders, walked behind him at a steady pace as they made their way out of the market and towards Apapa road. Soon the sound of a car being unlocked remotely and an accompanying flashing set of taillights told Gbenle they are at the car. The woman promptly opened the car boot so he can deposit his burden into it, then followed through by digging out a dirty One Hundred Naira note from her purse which she handed to him.

“No more. No more load-carrying”, Gbenle decided as he headed back to Oyingbo to join the other boys.

 

 

 

*Alabaru- a market porter who carries commodities from or to the market at a pre-agreed price.

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#StoryTime: Of A Girl, Paulina…

I started this story to tell a particular story but at the end, emerged a different one. Oyin, I hope this holds the forte for when that story comes…

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My name na Paulina. You see, me na from a good home. Church every Sunday, Bible study Tuesdays and Thursdays, Evangelism on Fridays, that kain thing.

As the only girl of my parents, you go expect say dem go spoil me. For where? I dey work like Jacki. For my eye, my hands be like Ponmo wey don see sun. But my friends say I get fine hands. Anyway, that one na tori for another day. You see we get blender for house yet Mummy go send me grinding stone for pepper. Pounding machine dey o because as a correct Ondo man, Daddy no dey use Pounded Yam play, but every Sunday afternoon, na me, mortar and pestle go dey make tungba tungba for neighbourhood. Everybody don know me, ‘Lina the Pounding Girl.

Na so my life be till I enter University. As I enter Uni, I get boyfriend. The boy deflower me, wetin dey there? But to yarn truth, e pain o! One, Bobo come my room. Roommates no dey. On top bunk bed wey get iron spring wey sabi do prin prin every time pesin move, na on top that kain bed e take deflower me. The discomfort no be here. Two. Bobo no use condom. But as JJC wey I be, wetin I for do? Na so e begin beg me after. “Baby, sorry. Baby, maybe I should get you something. Let me call my friend, he should know. Is it still paining you? Maybe I should just go to a chemist or something. Are you okay?”

As e dey talk the sorry, dey talk all these things, I dey cry the more. For my mind, fear wan kill me. Jesuuu!! What if I get bele? How I for do? Wetin I go tell Mummy? Jesuuu!!! STD nko? To come top am, that day after Bobo go, to piss na issue!! What if trumpet blow? Wetin I go tell Baba God? Na so I begin fire prayer of forgiveness, against pregnancy, STD ati bee bee lo.

But as I begin get sense, I come realize say even if Baba God go help me, me sef go help myself. After that first time, I come talk to Shayo, one of my roommates, make she follow me go Pharmacy. When we reach, I beg her make she help me buy condom and contraceptives. I too shame. Abeg, how pesin for take ask for that kain thing? But Shayo get weyrey for head well well. The way she take ask ehn, you go think say na cloth she dey buy for Yaba.

Na so things be until that stupid Clara wey her room no far from my own for Block Two decide say she want my boyfriend. JJC wey I be na, I no see wetin dey happen until Clara don steal Bobo finish. E pain me o. when I ask Bobo, e say “You’re too much of a good girl. Every time Missionary. Every time Mummy” E jo! Ewo tun ni “too much of a good girl”? As we dey argue, I use style google “Missionary”, make I first know wetin e mean. Finally, I leave Bobo for Clara, after plenty weeks of crying and begging.

Anyways I come get am for mind say, I go do Clara back. Say I go find way learn all the things wey Bobo leave me for. After she collect Bobo from me, I collect 2 guys from her but this her current Bobo, I no want. Every night na him Clara dey fire my devil for prayer. I dey hear the prayer because she dey shout “Paulina Fire! Paulina Fire!” every night, come complete am with bell. Mumu girl, instead of make she dey fire her current boyfriend for prayer, na me she dey fire. Everybody for Block One and Two know say the guy dey panel beat Clara face well well and when we see am, ask wetin do her, she go say she fall from bike, or she waka enter door. Yinmu! We know say your boyfriend na Bash Ali.

Anyways, jungle don mature and time don reach wey I go close Clara and her boyfriends’ chapter. University don nearly finish and girls don dey become women.

This afternoon I get Lunch with one of my brothers’ friend, Michael. The kain question wey I ask Michael ehn, you go think say he wan contest for President; whether e don get STD before, whether e get pikin for somewhere (too many baby mama drama these days). When I wan come finish am, I ask whether he don experiment with another guy before. You sef talk “Ha!” Be there o. You never hear say side chicks don dey be guys now?

Now I dey go downstairs go meet Michael. Our lunch na this afternoon. E say make I suggest. E dey expect say I go mention Chinese restaurant. I just tell am, “I know a place in Marina, close to Union Bank. We can have Amala there.” Bros shock. Anyways, I don dey hostel car park. I see Michael as e stand near one black Toyota Corolla. I waka go the car. As I reach, “Hi, Michael”, I talk for correct English.

#StoryTime: Seen From A Bus Window

Today I sit on one of those yellow-and-black painted killers they call buses in Lagos. This one I’m on is better compared to the many I’ve been on recently. Quietly I sit by the window eating Lagos traffic staple of Gala and of course La Casera. They say the La Casera company underpays staff but who cares? So long as it’s cooling my internal system in hot, fume-filled, horn-blaring Lagos traffic while I let my imagination run, it’s none of my business. Not like I have much in the way of business anyway.
Just then, a song catches my ear. And before you think it’s the usual we produce as Nigerian music, it is not. It is a bunch of children come to my side of the bus window to beg for money. About 5 to 6 of them, all girls, are singing in that incoherent manner I barely make out as English. Just to get them moving, I give them the squeezed N20 in my palm. It is change from a pure water seller from earlier. They greedily left me and went to the next window opening to harass the next passenger. I look out the window to see another set of girls coming my way; I quickly shut the window as I look towards the conductor who is still screaming, “Ladipo, Ikeja Along, Agege o. Agege Agege o”
You see I’m one of the millions of young graduates in Nigeria who every morning leaves home in search of greener pasture. In truth, I’m not even looking for greener. I only want pasture. Before graduation, I had it all planned out. Finish school with good grades, serve Fatherland, save some cash during service, get back home, apply to companies, get a good paying job and live.

Here’s how that went. Finishing school with good grades is not a problem. It however becomes a problem when your good grades end with an HND. Serving Fatherland, that’s relatively easy too until you realize you are expected to work 8 to 5 daily while earning 19,800 Naira a month. That’s if you weren’t first thrown like a piece of garbage to a town where you have to travel miles to get phone network. That means all plans of saving anything just went downhill. As one who is never afraid of days of Garri, that isn’t a big deal either.
I’ve been home now a few months. Tens of job applications have been sent with the promise of “We’ll get back to you”, which almost never comes. The reality I was afraid of is already dawning on me. Most firms are requesting for Chattered Accountants. The ones that aren’t asking for an ICAN certificate are requesting 5 and above years’ experience and that’s making someone like me out of the league, for now.
Banking institutions? Those ones won’t employ HND holders as Staff. And as Tellers, the pay is certainly not encouraging. I’m not sure it will take care of transportation to and from work each month, not to mention feeding and accommodation. But I’m here on this bus eating Gala and hoping to get a call soon from this company I just left.
I feel a tap on my shoulder. It is a young man well-dressed in a buttoned-up shirt complete with tie. He is holding a transparent folder, the kind you keep important documents when going for an interview. He quietly whispers to me. “Bro, abeg you get 50box to take me to Ikeja Along?” Recognizing a kindred spirit, I dig into my wallet and hand him a worn note. Then I go back to looking out the window.