Deola insists that the market route is faster.
You hesitate, because you hate its rowdiness and—
“…and those silly boys that will be holding your hands and clothes because they want you to buy from them,” after saying this, you deliberately cringe in an effort to convince your friend to change her mind.
“Calm down, jare,” laughs Deola, packing her oversized notes into her tiny red bag. “See, we can stop by that my customer’s place for fried yam. You know she will reduce the price for us.”
You don’t have to see her eyes to confirm there is a mischievous twinkle in them.
Deola is cunning. She knows the perfect bait to draw you in. And yes, you would shamelessly capitulate to fried yam.
No one knows where your enthrallment to it began, but Deola is sure it is a curse.
History has it that, at 3 years old, you found your way to your mother’s kitchen, and somehow toppled over a small pan of hot oil, the reason for the scar on your left shoulder. Your mother never gives the details, but your friend is certain that it was a quest for fried yam that drove you there.
The market is jam-packed, but since it is a week day, it is not as congested as it would have been on a Saturday. It is small solace, but you are thankful all the same.
You and Deola take this route, because she is sure about it being the quickest way to the cinema on foot. As long as you are not late for the movie you’ve saved so long to watch, you decide it is enough compensation for whatever trouble the market could present – or so you think.
Different kinds make up the large cluster of people in Ijawo Market.
Among them are a special class of people who are drawn to places like the market as moth is to light. The people existing between spaces; those bearing the brunt of being the only sane ones in a mad world. Yes, you know the type. They walk around preaching incomprehensible gospels, sleeping in gutters, and literally feeding off the land. The obvious lunatic.
Along with thenon compos mentis, but not quite the same, are those who are separated from humanity by a gulf far wider than a difference in mental states.
We must speak of them cautiously.
You notice a little boy trailing you. His cherubic features cause you to stop Deola so you can give him some change. Since he is as polite as he is adorable, why wouldn’t you?
Deola is incensed.
“What is this again, now? Leave the boy alone! See the time, o! Our movie would soon sta–”
“Hawayu?” You ask the boy, ignoring Deola’s rants.
He answers shyly, “I dey fine.”
“Wetin be your name?” It is absurd that you have actually stopped to converse with this strange little boy. You don’t understand it, but you can’t help yourself.
“Comot here before I slap you!” interjects Deola, raising an arm to the child in a threatening gesture, her rage tearing through her skin to form thick beads of sweat.
She turns to you.
Her face is a broth of anger and confusion.
The honest answer is, you don’t know either.
The boy has inexplicably become your sole concern. Even the hustle and bustle of the busy market fades into the background. Deola’s frantic screaming reaches you as a muted sound coming from afar.
“My name na Elegba.”
“Elegba,” you repeat.
His lips pull apart to reveal diamond shaped teeth the colour of dirty tombstones. A smile. At least, a smile is what you call it.
“Elegba, where your mama?”
He reaches for your hand.
“You. Na you be my mama.”
His grip is iron. His palm is too hard, too rough, for one appearing as young as he does. It is like sandpaper on a granite slab.
“Me?” The question is directed more to yourself than to him. An unsettling feeling bubbles in your belly.
He answers with an emphatic, “Yes!” and begins to pull at you.
“Mama, make we dey go.”
You instinctively resist, despite a certainty that has rooted itself that he is right.
You! You had abandoned your child in this marketplace. The child whom you carried for nine months and looked tenderly on as he suckled at your breasts. Look! Aren’t those your mother’s ears? And the nose? Isn’t it like looking at a mirror? What if you did not get along with his father? Did that justify the pique of passion that led to abandoning the child? Surely not!
But a small voice whispers something is wrong — that these memories do not belong to you. You are not—
His cry is a mental slap driving out all doubts. You take a step forward to follow him; to follow your son.
The landscape blurs. A primordial scene overlaps that of the lively marketplace. Wild calls and songs fill the air. You see strange beings wearing human flesh as if it were cloth, walking unperturbed between both worlds, and feel no fear. Some even stop to salute, and you respond in kind.
“Mama, we go soon—”
Reality snaps back in place. Painfully. The sudden ache in your head threatens to split it. Beside a portly elderly woman gripping a chagrined looking Elegba, Deola is weeping.
“Wh- wh- what ha- happened?” You stammer.
Elegba opens his mouth as if to speak, but the woman cuffs him. You notice she is dressed all in white. White iro and buba with a matching headpiece. There is a gravity to her demeanor that speaks of ancient wisdom and unheard depths plumbed, so much so it feels like a physical weight is placed on your shoulders as she regards you.
“Young girl, you must be careful. Not everything is at seems. There are forces that exist in this world that would gobble you up at the slightest chance,” She shoots a meaningful glance at Elegba, “Especially in a place like this.”
With that, she walks away, dragging the false boy along.
Deola runs and falls on your shoulder.
“You were just standing there. Standing there and staring. And I tried to shout for help, but I couldn’t move. And everyone was just walking past, like- like they couldn’t see us. I was so scared.” She said, amidst tears.
The events of the past few minutes have begun to fuzz. You only remember stopping to talk to a young boy, but are not sure what happened from then on. So, you take your friend by the hand and wipe her tears.
“Deola, let us go home.”
Isaac Kunmi Olamiju is a final year student in the department of biochemistry, University of Lagos, Nigeria. He is an avid reader and enjoys long walks during which he claims to contemplate the nature of things. When he isn’t bent over a book deliberating biochemical pathways or sentence structures, he volunteers for the Red Cross, and the NGO, Executives Helping Initiative.
Mercy Williams considers herself a “shape shifter of sorts”. She holds a B. Eng in Petroleum Engineering, but lives for storytelling. Besides writing, she can be found doing make-believe music concerts in her bedroom or drawing mandalas. She has contributed to publications such as Agbowo, Curiousity Killed The Writer, Two Drops of Ink, The Naked Convos, GC-ArtFrica and a few others.
Photo Credit: Image by Hella Nijssen from Pixabay