There is a well spoken cross-eyed woman who stands on the left side of the long tarred stretch of road that leads to Spar at Ikate Ilegushi, Lekki.
She is middle aged and would have been termed gorgeously beautiful if not for the unshakeable aura of poverty and stench of misery that hangs around her.
Her iro and buba hangs loosely on her gaunt figure, so loose that her shoulder bones can be clearly seen as the neckline of her buba on one side drops down to her forearm. She continually pulls it up to hide her modesty, only for the other side to take its own turn at dropping. Her feet are dirty and her toes stick out from her mismatched fake leather slippers like the unshod talons of a sickly vulture.
She stands there with an equally miserable-looking young girl in a threadbare, tight-fitting, thigh-length, and faded-red dress and rubber slippers.
The young girl has the eyes of a twelve-year-old but the emaciated body of a seven-year-old.
Flies somehow seem to have a natural affinity for her. They buzz and buzz around her, and she pays them no mind. Her tired eyes bemoan the fact that whatever energy she still has, she is conserving to enable her stand on her two feet and stare absentmindedly at the small grass-filled cemented canal that yawns from the other side of the road and separates the wealth and opulence of Nicon Town Estate from the macabre depths of want in which she wallows.
I am power-walking this morning when the mother accosts my sweating self with her well-primed words – words that evidently has a history of good education behind them.
“Excuse me, sir, please can I have a minute of your time.”
The secret of a good power walk is that you maintain the fast pace and heart rate you have worked up to until you finally return to the place from whence you began.
I hate to stop once I start.
But I stop.
I’d seen the two human symbols of want as I approached and I’m sure by the way she is staring at me that she is there to ask for some sort of help.
We stare at each other for a moment. Their smell wafts across me. It is an unpleasant smell. But I stomach it.
“I am sorry for interrupting your exercise, but my daughter and I desperately need your help,” the woman says. In a fairer and more just world, she should have been a newscaster. Her elocution is that good.
I glance over at her daughter. She is still staring at the canal, at its symbolization of artificial separation between the have-more and the have-less.
“We are dying of hunger, and my daughter is ill. Anything you can give will go a long way, and God will exceedingly reward you.”
She drags out the ‘exceedingly’ with such emphasis that for a moment, I think she is about to break out in a song. My heart goes out to her.
But I can’t help her at that moment because I do not go power-walking with my wallet.
“I am so sorry. I would love to help, but I don’t have any money here. How long are you here for?”
“Please help us.” It is evident she has heard a lot of lies handed out to her as honest excuses by those unwilling to help.
“I want to help, but I need to get back home and get some money or my bank card.”
The clouds are beginning to darken with the sudden approach of the rains. She looks up, worry creeping on her face.
Then she lowers her right hand and allows her buba fall. It falls so low, her impossibly small breast is clearly visible.
A trunk drives by.
Then a passenger-less okada rider with his impossibly loud and honking okada.
Two chatting people walk by.
Another silent person walks in the opposite direction.
An SUV with tinted windows vrooms past.
Then an empty school bus.
Just her, her daughter, her exposed left breast and I.
A drawn-out moment.
She manages a smile. It can’t hide her shame. I can feel the thickness of it ooze out of her.
“I could go home with you and help you out, and you can pay me something for food,” she husks.
“You don’t have to. Look, I will turn back here and go home. If you can wait for ten minutes, I will be back with some money.”
Her eyes speak even before she does. Her disbelief is in their words even before the words of her mouth allude to it. She sighs and shifts her weight unto her other leg, pulling up her buba to cover her breast. Then she looks down at her unshod talons before she speaks.
“She can go with you, and you will give her something for us when she is done.”
“She doesn’t have to…” I begin to say.
Then it hits me.
I look over at the absent-minded daughter who is standing there, lost in the unfairness of her world. The horror dawns on me.
I look back at the mother. “What did you just say?”
She doesn’t look up even as she responds. “She will help you out, while I wait at your door or your gate. She is good. Anything you give us will go a long way.”
“Are you serious?”
She hears the indignation in my voice and looks up. Fear rapidly surges into her wide staring eyes. “I said she can help you clean your house or wash clothes, any house hold chores you need her to do…”
“No, that was not what you said.”
“What did I say, sir?”
The question catches me off guard. I freeze. It is like my lips cannot repeat the monstrosity of her offer.
“If you cannot help us, just say so. You do not have to lie,” she says with some reproof.
I look at her sly self and then at her moribund daughter. Then I find my voice.
“You are giving out your daughter for sex.”
The words come out as a whisper – a statement of fact.
She reaches out for her daughter and drags her close to her. The little girl moves closer to her mother like a hypnotized rag doll.
A guilty puppeteer and an innocent marionette.
“How can you accuse me of…” She feigns her own indignation as she stands there, appearing to choke on her words as she struggles to hold up her buba and hold close her faraway-minded daughter. “…who do you think I am?”
“She should be taken away from you.”
I can feel the flames of fury begin to lick at the walls of my heart.
“Dem never born di pesin wey wan try am!” she explodes. “For dis Lagos? Na for wia dem dey? Oya send dem come na!”
She has changed so suddenly and with such rage that for an instant, she appears as a werewolf. Her buba now hangs down, and her panting breath moves her sinewy bosom up and down as she clutches her trancelike daughter tighter to her.
I stare at her in disbelief.
And she stares back at me with the furious look of a cornered animal.
She is waiting for my next move.
I am sifting speedily through riotous thoughts.
She arrests my thoughts with her words. “Oya carry your waka dey go before I shout Evans for your head.”
I do not move.
She stares at me. There are doubt and fear lurking behind the bravado in her eyes. “You think say dem no dey burn kidnapper for Lekki?”
Just then, the name of a police officer friend of mine pops into my head. I reach for my phone. Her rage and bravado desert her as she watches me scroll through my phone.
She starts to walk away towards the Total gas station. I follow after her as I search my phone. Her daughter follows her mother like a dog on a leash. Her docility still hasn’t broken.
They were walking faster.
I am slower as I try to search my contacts on the phone while trying to keep up.
The roar of an okada announces itself from behind us.
“Okada!” Her shout is peppered with fear.
The motorcycle screeches to a halt in front of her. She runs. Her daughter runs behind her like a catatonic zombie connected to a Machiavellian human through interlocked hands. I run too.
They are on the okada in a flash with practiced agility.
“Okada, stop!” I call out as I draw closer.
“Your Fada!” Her voice rushes towards me. It rises above the roar of the motorcycle as it speeds off, enveloping me in a mocking echo.
And just then, at the crack of thunder, the heavens begin to cry.
I stop and allow the sorrow to rain down on me.
Written by Jude Idada