I lie there, in the dark corner of the room, under the bed that creaks loudly every time any human weight rests upon it. The darkness shrouds my dirty, torn, worn, shrunken, battered body, and it is with some indifference that I watch as the rat seeking food nibbles at a tip of my body, trying to figure out if I am edible enough to serve as a meal. After satisfying its curiosity that I am not delicious enough a cuisine, it scampers over me at the sound of the door opening, its little rat paws leaving a tear in my already battered body.
The opened door causes light to spill into the room, and some of the illumination finds its way to my dingy corner under the bed. The shrill voice of Bimbo comes from above as I hear her plop on the bed, causing it to creak in protest in its usual fashion.
“I am yet to find my money,” she complains loudly. “You have to give it back, Funbi.”
The room is suddenly dark again as Funbi, her brother, stands by the entrance of the room, his body blocking the source of light into the room. His shadow falls across me and I hear him reply, “I have told you, I didn’t take your stupid fifty naira note. Who would accept that dirty money from you anyway?”
Shame wells up in me as I hear this description of me by Funbi. The rascal, I think to myself. Indignation rises in me and I feel like screaming from my position under the bed that I am not stupid or dirty, but I know that will be useless. I am not far from what he described.
But I hadn’t always been like this. I had not always been dirty, as Funbi called me. I came out of the mint house clean, fresh and sparkling – the envy of all eyes. I was after all one of the first fifty naira notes made out of polymer. Oh the beauty I possessed then, noticing the old fifty naira notes stare with blatant envy as the minters handled us with utmost care and packed us up for distribution.
Sadly, that glory was short-lived. My status as a new rarity, the reason the other notes were so envious of me soon became my curse.
My woes started the moment we left the safe haven of the Central Bank of Nigeria, and got into the mainstream spending market. I was at first sad to be separated from the other fifty naira notes of my kind. And then, it seemed fate already had me singled out for doom. At my bank of destination, a man came to withdraw money and asked if he could get a single piece of the fifty naira. The cashier, with her polite smile, obliged his request and plucked me out of the pile, handing me to her customer. If I had known what was to come, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so happy to have been picked. I most likely would have attacked her and cut her with my crisp, sharp edge, just to see that silly smile wiped off her face. Oh, the curse of ignorance. The man didn’t put me among the other notes. Instead, I went straight into his wallet. And as he closed the snap of the wallet over me, my journey of doom began.
When the wallet was finally opened again, I breathed in the fresh air that hit me and I sighed with pleasure. You should therefore imagine my horror when I got plucked out of the wallet unceremoniously and to my chagrin, my new owner immersed me in a bucket of black water that had some foul smell to it. If money could be drowned, I believe that would have been the death of me. As I lay supine in the water, chant-like sounds came to me from above. I could barely make out such words like: “Let this new money bring new things to my life… Let it take away all the pain, suffering, poverty and failure in my life… All the bad things in my life, I deposit on this money…”
I gasped for air as I was brought out of the smelly water, and he began to rub me all over his body from head to toe. The prayers continued and then I got dumped in a corner of the bathroom as he quickly took his bath. After he was done, he picked me up gingerly, as if I had some contagious disease and went to dress up. Off we went looking for a beggar to bequeath me to (I heard him mutter his intent), and I cried silently at the slime I felt smeared all over my body.
At last, he found his victim – a blind beggar sitting on a side of the street, begging for alms. The man brought me close to his mouth, whispered a few words of diabolical gibberish to me, before dumping me into the beggar’s bowl. I stared daggers at his retreating figure; if looks could kill, he surely would have dropped dead that instant. He however walked away unscathed, leaving me with my ego badly bruised.
I stared around at my new abode and studied my new companions – a tattered ten naira note that looked like it had seen better days, a five naira note with so much oil stains all over it that you could barely make out the note again, and three ancient coins that didn’t look like they had much value. Sighing with resignation, I tried to block out the song of the blind beggar that was my new owner, as he droned on and on in his appeal for alms.
I was beginning to doze off when I felt another note land on me. I cried out.
“Watch it, stupid!” I snarled, glaring at the intruder.
It was a twenty naira note, and half of its body lay across me in the tiny bowl that the beggar was using for his alms collection. It was bad enough that I had to share the space with the filthy five naira note, the old ten naira and the useless coins; at least then, I had my own space.
“Look what we have here,” the twenty naira note drawled. “If it isn’t the clan of polymers. My apologies for resting on you, your highness, but sadly, as I cannot move myself, you would have to endure my burden.”
The twenty naira note’s mocking tone infuriated me further, and I hissed to show my displeasure. However, I held my tongue. Unlike me, the twenty naira note soon started a conversation with the other monies, and soon had them cheered as they traded gossip of where they had been and what they had been through with their different owners. I longed to join in the conversation but held myself back; after all, I had more value than all of them put together, and they should have had the grace to treat me with more respect.
The day wore on and we all lay there in the sun, listening to the beggar’s pitiful cries. Alas he broke off his cry for help when he – we – heard the sound of a food vendor advertising her wares. He called out to the vendor and asked her if he had enough money in his bowl for her to sell to him a fifty naira worth of rice. She told him yes and sold out the food before plucking me out of the bowl. I smiled gleefully and said a quick prayer of thanks to the heavens for getting me out of a society that was beneath my class.
My new owner, the food vendor, stared at me in wonderment as she turned me this way and that, inspecting every part of me, as if to confirm I was real. She smiled like a woman who had just seen her lover and I soaked in the attention happily. Now, this was how to treat royalty like me.
“I no go use this one for chaangi,” I heard her say to herself in Pidgin English. And folding me gingerly, she tucked me into her bra.
I was stunned by my new accommodation. The foul smell of sweaty skin mixed with soaked fabric assailed my nostrils and I screamed silently in protest. This was like jumping from frying pan to fire. In the beggar’s bowl, I at least had fresh air. But crushed inside this food vendor’s bosom, her mammary glands pressing on me tightly, I wished for the weight of the twenty naira note on me once again. I would happily suffer their company and bear the twenty naira note’s weight on me, than this crushing weight that felt like a lorry was rolling over me; not to mention the nauseating smell.
I suffered in this condition as she went from street to street, hawking her food. I listened from my prison as she boasted to some of her customers that she had the new fifty naira note and was among the first people to own it in the country. I wished throughout the entire period that she would at least bring me out to show off, so that I could breathe in fresh air. But each time she was asked to show me, she would pat her breasts affectionately and reply in the negative, saying she had it hidden somewhere safe. I did not get released from this prison till much later in the evening, when she was home and decided to show me off to her children. They gathered around me where she laid me out like a prized treasure, and I watched the wonder in all of their faces. They each had their turn to feel me, examine me from head to toe. My old feeling of importance came back as the illiterate mother and her little children practically worshipped me.
“Maami, shey e le fun mi?” Tunde, the youngest son, asked his mother in Yoruba. He looked about ten, and his little child eyes pleaded with his mother silently.
She looked at him sternly, as if he had asked her to buy him a car, and she scolded him sharply for being greedy. “Ki lo fe fi aduru fifty naira shey! Oloju kokoro!”
The family soon settled down to their dinner, and after all was set for bed, she put me gingerly on the only table in the dingy one-room apartment. My only companion was the single candle that acted as a source of light in the room, with the snores coming from the sleeping figures breaking the silence.
It felt like only minutes after I had settled down into my own sleep, when I suddenly felt a hand grab me. I woke up groggily to stare into the mischievous eyes of Tunde. He had a smirk on his face as he looked at me, before moving to face the candle. He lifted me and teased the burning flame with a tip of me. The eager flame leaped at me and I felt the heat of the fire, but he quickly withdrew me just before the fire could touch me. He smiled happily to himself. This game continued for a while, with me closing my eyes in fear each time the fire came near.
And then, alas, he was a bit too slow and the fire singed my tip. I curled up in pain as Tunde stared in horror at what he had done. His gasp of fear must have woken his mother, because she started up from the bed, and upon seeing Tunde standing by the candle with me in his hand, she leaped up from her place on the mat and smacked him hard on the head for his mischief. He started crying, but a threat of a severe beating if he didn’t stop his noise put an end to that. Order was restored. I was put back in my place. I was damaged and I cried myself to sleep.
The next morning, the food vendor angrily told Tunde that as his punishment, he was to keep me but not to expect any meal in the house for that day. After apologizing to his mother for the previous night’s mischief, Tunde headed off to school with me safely tucked in his pocket. My appeal had quickly dwindled with the new burn scar on my body, and he didn’t hesitate to hand me over to the conductor as he paid his bus fare. The conductor looked at me suspiciously, and just to confirm my authenticity, he squeezed me and left me all wrinkled, before adding me to the midst of the other naira notes.
My stay with the conductor was however short-lived, as he soon handed me over to another passenger as change.
My new owner Bimbo is the one presently questioning her brother Funbi about my whereabouts and, for my sake, I really hope she doesn’t find me. I am tired and have been through enough as it is. She had dumped me unceremoniously in her room, and perhaps Mother Nature herself has seen that I have suffered enough; so she had been kind enough to send a gust of wind to blow me to this hiding place under this bed.
“Have you checked under the bed for your money?”
I quake in fear when I hear Funbi say those words. I hear the bed creak again as Bimbo gets off it and her shadow descends over me as she peers under the bed on bended knees.
“There it is!” she cries out happily as her fingers grab me. Another journey about to begin, I suppose. My life as a fifty naira note is apparently not yet over.
Written by Akinyoade Akinwale, tweets @iamposhkid, and blogs at www.akinwrites.blogspot.com