When I spin my sad story, it hits you at the core of your humanity. A little sharp pen knife twisting at the softest spot of your heart. You may not always have enough to spare, but who would ignore me in my state; torn blouse, feet like the roots of an old tree in the village square, the cracks and torns on them tell a story, the journey, pain and poverty.
Hey Stranger, look into my eyes, I’m trying to get you to where it’ll hurt. Don’t be afraid to really look at me, a piece of lone meat arranged on the butchers table, carelessly strawn yet strategically placed: a tale of the days end but when you look closely enough, under the table you eye a heap of dejected meat and you realise that it is only the beginning of the night struggle.
I’m on display for your pity, my heavy bag strapped across one shoulder, a weight on the already weighted shoulders. Two mountains sitting side my side that has been troded by all the tourists in this place called life. Your eye dance shyly around me as you weigh your feelings. You try to wonder what my journey is. These are not the right size of bag for a man coming from a day’s work, the bag, a crack filled former leather ruck sack whose ‘oyinbo manufacturer’ should be long dead by now, the straps hanging there just by grace, are helping to bear an unimaginable bulk of load. Your mind tells you that this ensemble is just a thin line between madness and poverty.
How I wish you would ask me about what I carry in my bag, I’ll tell you I carry the world, I carry my world, I carry my whole life with me because it is never certain if my feet would have enough energy to lead me to where I last slept. I’ll tell you I carry nylons and photographs and pieces of old clothings that cushions these aging bones for a night rest and my certificates.
You eye my two hands, I can see your inquisitive stare, my two complete hands. You look them fingers, wrist to almost my shoulders to be sure that the open palms I stretch out to be filled by your benevolence are truly mine. They look soft, like those of an innocent child, who has never had to work to fill it’s own belly. The sudden flick of your eyelashes hit the pit of my empty stomach. I hear the “lazy man” loud and clear. If only you knew how life punishes us, painting our reality the way it chooses to.
If only you would have enough courage to ask me to turn them over, maybe then you would tell from the long bulging viens and unkempt fingernails how hard this hands have worked, how long they have tried and how tired they are of clinging unto hope.
My face can manage a small smile now, I swear it’s unconsciously, as I see your hands dart towards your pocket. My heart says a little prayer. “Arghh God make e be 100 naira” my eyes are careful not to overly show its excitement, lest you see the jubilations of a victory not yet achieved, lest you change your mind and life teaches me another lesson on counting the chicks before the hen puts to bed.
A little hesitation there, I feel you wonder, if you put your hand in the right pocket, the one where you keep the loose change from buying snacks and pure water. Your pupils roll around like a blind man trying to see in eyelessness. Your fingers finger the folds of naira, rising briefly to take saliva. You feel the currency, telling the value from the way it feels in your fingers.
I can help you. Rubber is 20 naira or even worse 10 naira. I know it isn’t 50 naira, it’s been a long time since I set my eyes on that scarce grey paper.
Rough, crumpled and folded around the edges is 100 naira, 200 naira is a bit smoother, but crumpled nonetheless.
Cripsy smooth and clean are the bigger ones 500 and 1000 naira, those ones barricade the lesser nairas. At the outer edge of every bulk of folded naira, giving strength, prestige and hope.
The pause, tells you have found exactly what you needed, I see your face on my face as you quickly calculate my worthiness, maybe you do it to remember my face, the emotions on your face are unreadable. They do not want to betray the value of the currency your hand is bringing forth.
I’m sorry, I must end our eye contact here, my eyelids fall on the bulk of nairas your hand had ousted from the pockets of your black khaki pants.
I’m not excited, my eyes go back to your face, I try to store a bit of you in my memory, men like you with your thin face, men like you is should avoid. I quickly imagine you counting the money 1000…. 500….. 200….. 100……. 20……. 10 and peeling out the 30 naira for me.
My roving mind is halted as you place the heavy bulk of naira in my open palms. My eyes quickly find their way from my palm again as I close them tightly shut feeling the comfort of this bulk of naira in the middle of my medulla. My eyes find your face again, I store another bit in my memory. And my mouth open in a loud cry of happiness, praise and prayer. “Oga God go bless you, you no go beg, you no go see problem wey go make you beg, your children go look you o. Oga you too much o, chai God go give you plenty money, you no go die!”
Ours is a brief encounter where many emotions are displayed and a few are shared. As I scurry off still mouthing my praises and prayers. Your eyes burn a hole in my back. Your imagination playing a frenzy within you.
I see you see me in your mind, at home, my face illuminated by the light of a kerosene lamp calculating my income and writing today’s gain in a little note pad while the sounds of Kelly Handsome’s ‘maga don pay’ serenades me to sleep. Shadows casted round my jam-packed one room apartment in Mushin. Half for the real me and another half filled with tools for the person life made me choose to be.
I leave the bus park, my mind full, a satisfied man. My full mind must play it’s tricks on me, Men in black khaki pants are nicer than Men in brown ones. Men with thin faces appreciate beggers, they know our struggles, the chubbier ones are the stingy ones, who have used every spare bit of naira for Bofrot.
I hit my feet against a stone, my left feet, the same one I had dashed against a stone this same morning. I remember the superstitious stories of my childhood, I had stopped believing in them or in anything. Right feet means good and left feet means bad.
I wonder if I had just fallen victim of those wicked people who give poisoned money to the poor. I fish inside my bag for one pure water. I must soak the new nairas in water to wash off any evil juju.
I continue my journey, half smiling, half smirking, half filled with hope, half filled with fear. Would this be the end of the bad days or the beginning of another bad circle.