The streets of Ibadan were washed, rinsed and hung to dry out in the early morning sun. I had just finished preparing ogi and akara for the family. I was the first child of two children, the only daughter of my parents.
My mother, Iya Ayo as we all called her, was a beauty to reckon with. She had high, strong cheek bones and black eyes. She wore her hair short and very dark, almost black, one would think she had a wig on. She wasn’t one of those everyday women who would carry their bags dangling from their slim hands, with tiny heels to match and their noses raised up in the air. She didn’t have the means to put on new laces like those “aso ebi” ladies who paint the town red during weekends. Iya Ayo wasn’t like that, she was just an average Ibadan woman who would wrap her body with simple iro and buba to match.
Everyday, I and Iya Ayo would take those brown and yellow cabs going to Dugbe from Bodija, where our house stood. Our house was among those little houses in the corners of Bodija, with roofs beaten and smitten by the sun’s fury. We didnt have flowers in front of our house like those houses in the estates. Our own street was decorated with different colors of refuse, you would see satchet water and black nylons all over, as if they were throwing a party. The stench of the gutter would be the first to greet you when you took the turn into our street. I tried to clean the place but when you are in the midst of people who have dirt as a second skin, you have no choice than to leave things the way they were.
Iya Ayo and myself set out to Dugbe one wet morning. I had recently completed my Senior Secondary School from the popular Ore Oke Grammar School. I didn’t make my papers, maths always had a way of sitting tight in my throat like a little fish bone. I was taking lessons in preparation for another WAEC but that didn’t stop me from going to the market everyday. Iya Ayo had her stall in the midst of other market women. We sold vegetables, tomatoes, pepper, crayfish and all other ingredients needed to prepare a proper Yoruba stew. Iya Segun had her stall close to ours with same goods. We started selling first but few months later, Iya Segun switched from selling fish to same items as my mothers’. So when we came that cool morning and saw her beside our stall with same goods, my mum muttered in my ears:
I didn’t quite understand what my mum said I just nodded and told her to calm down. I had seen this scene replayed so many times in Yoruba films and the after math wasn’t always pleasant, “It was either the supposed enemy died, or the other was afflicted with a disease, all in the name of customer rivalry.” Which ever it was, I told Iya Ayo to be calm, trying to assure her that God would still bring customers even in the midst of our ” supposed enemies”.
Life in all its mundaneness of buying and selling continued. If you had checked my horoscope then, you might have been unimpressed. I was still Iya Ayo’s daughter, still the regular market girl, until Kunle. The evening that Kunle came to our shop, I had just finished selling pepper and tomatoes to Mrs John, one of our customers that liked to hackle prices before she bought anything. I was arranging the heap of pepper and tomatoes so as to have a perfect pyramid when I looked up and saw him in front of me. Kunle. His eyes wore the color of honey, they weren’t like the normal everyday eyes that met mine, no. Kunle had eyes that seemed to look straight into my soul with such coolness. He had curly hair, too curly for a typical Yoruba boy and the smile plastered across his thin lips seemed to soothe the ache I was feeling around my waist. Kunle was beautiful. I was still drunk with his charm when he broke into my thoughts:
“Hey, good evening. Please how much do you sell your vegetables?”
“Ehm…eh a bundle goes for fifty naira sir.” I stammered like a fool.
He ordered for four bundles and requested I chopped it for him. I tried to keep my composure, while I struggled rather surprisingly with the knife and vegetables and the thought of his pestering eyes. I made it to the end, the vegetables chopped and bruised in different sizes and bundled into a black nylon. I gave it to him, avoiding his eyes and he gave me 500 naira. I was about to give him his change when I heard his calm voice say,” keep the change.” I found myself smiling like a child when I remembered his smile again. Even my heart whispered into my ears, ” I think I’m in love o.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about Kunle, his smile seemed to be inscribed on the walls of my memory. There were many boys in my adugbo who whistled at the rhythm of my buttocks whenever I walked in their midst. Iya Ayo had always pulled my ears with her words, telling me that men had nothing to offer.
“All they want is to see what is under your skirt omo mi. They are all useless o,” was her constant tune. But Kunle seemed different and the air around him was not the same as other guys. All I wanted was to get lost in his arms and forget about all my worries in one hug. I wanted to taste of his lips, enjoying all the sweetness he had to offer. All I wanted was Kunle and he remained in my thoughts, evergreen.
The sun was already feeling sleepy and yawning, about to retire for the day when Kunle walked into our shop. I was already packing all the displayed items inside. Wale, my younger brother, was also stacking tomatoes into the baskets, his legs white from running helter skelter. I saw Kunle looking at me directly in the eyes. Our gaze locked for some seconds before my voice broke the silence…
“ehm…welcome sir. We are closed for the day but I can still sell for you sir.”
As usual, he wanted vegetables. Since the first time we met, he had been visiting us frequently and he will always tell me to keep the change. Iya Ayo noticed him at some point and she was always very pleased whenever she sighted him from afar. I told her that our supposed enemies didn’t keep good customers from coming our way. I finished chopping the vegetables for Kunle. This time, I wasn’t fighting with the poor leaves. When I was done, I gathered the greens into a nylon, tied it and gave it to him.
“You seem to love vegetables a lot,” it was too late before I realised those words had escaped the corners of my already moist lips.
“Oh yes, I do. Here’s your money and please keep the change.”
Thereafter he asked for my name and I told him. Even a blind man would have seen my brown cheeks flush with red when he told me I had a beautiful name. We exchanged more words before he bade me goodbye. I waved back till he was out of sight. A smile remained on my face, all through the ride back to Dugbe and even till the moon came out of her hiding place. My mind also confirmed what my heart said, I was in love.
Weeks strolled past and emotions flew into the window of our lives. I had a growing affection towards Kunle. I was so sure the feeling was mutual with Kunle regularly stopping by. He became a normal visitor, Wale even got to like him, playing games with his phone and smiling all over the place. Sometimes, we would walk down the road together, holding hands, in a bid to see him board a cab to his next destination. Later on, I would realise that Kunle was serving his father land in the old, ancient city of Ibadan. Kunle made me feel so comfortable in his embrace and I loved the beat of his heart anytime I rested on his chest, his broad chest. His heartbeat was in sync with mine, I could tell. He had asked why I wasn’t studying in the university. After recounting my ordeal, he decided to take me lessons.
The market place is full of stories, gossips and tales of different people. It’s either Iya Bolu is telling Iya Michael of what happened in the last episode of “super story” or Iya Segun is demonstrating of how she fought with Mama Chijioke, her landlady, the previous night to Mummy Sewa. The list could go on and on but as much as the market place seems caged with stories of different kinds, its eyes and ears were also opened to the happenings around its environs. For one Saturday morning when I was opening the shop to start the day’s hustle, Mama Bisi, a trader opposite our shop came to meet me. Mama Bisi was a short woman with tanned skin and very thick lips. Her wrapper was always tied in a funny way and her face was full of tribal marks like she had just fought with a tiger. She was one of the busybodies that roamed the market place, going from one shop to another, itching for the latest tales. Sometimes, she would stroll far away keeping customers tapping their feets at her store and suddenly starts running back barefooted when the whole market starts screaming, “Mama Bisi, wa taja ooooo”.
I greeted her with my two legs flexed when she started her usual ministry;
“O jare Ayo, I’ve been seeing one man at your place here. Is it our uncle ni?”
“He’s just a friend ma,” was my cold reply.
“Sha be careful o. That’s how they used to do. Later we will see ball in your front. Se jeje oo”
I thanked her but my eyes flashed irritation at her and she went back to her shop. I continued unpacking for the day wondering why some people couldn’t help but mind their business.
One cool evening, Kunle invited me over to his lodge. I was reluctant initially, but one visit wouldn’t hurt, or so I thought. He was staying in a flat and he had few neighbours that stretched their necks like giraffes to look at me when I stepped into the compound. Two guys were washing clothes and another was chewing sugar cane, his teeth seemed too small to suck the juice of the cane. They all hailed and greeted Kunle. He just held my hand because I was shy, my head facing down. I muttered a “hi” to them and we walked past. He later told me that they were fellow corpers and his pals. “Kunle be gentle o,” was the last thing I heard before Kunle closed the door of his room.
The room was square sized and more like a big box that was furnished with books of all kinds. There was only one window that was glazed with net, the floor had tiles and the bed took most of the space in the room. His shoes were lined at one corner of the room, all on a straight line like soldiers in front of a commander. There was a table and chair and that was where I sat while Kunle sat on the bed. He flashed his teeth at me while my eyes took in the details of the room, my head turning left and right. He asked what I wanted to eat and I teased him that I didn’t want to be poisoned with too much salt or seasoning.
“Ah Ayo, do you think I can’t cook ni ? Abi have you forgotten I buy vegetables almost everyday?”
“That’s true sha. But how am I sure you are the one that used to prepare it ?”
“Wait until I’m done with you today. You’ll bite your tongue”
We laughed about it and he went into the small kitchen. I followed him and we cooked spaghetti and fish. The food was actually tasty and I told Kunle that he could pass for a good husband. He laughed and my heart sang loudly. I loved the tone of his laughter. After the food, we talked and laughed about his school, the students he taught and how they stressed him out each day. I was still smiling when my eyes locked with the wall clock. It was 6:00pm already. I told Kunle that I was ready to leave when he pulled me to himself and was about to kiss me. I could feel his breath on my face, he was so close when I pulled away and ran out of his apartment. He didn’t run after me but I didn’t seem to care at that juncture. All that ran through my mind was the lie I would tell Iya Ayo when I got home.
Kunle did stop by at the shop the following day and I was shy to look at him. He wasn’t smiling today. Thankfully, no customers were in sight so I let him in.
“Why did you leave like that Ayo? You couldn’t even say goodbye.”
“I am sorry Kunle but I had to go na. It was already too late. You too, you didn’t even run after me or call to ask why I left.”
“That’s the reason I stopped by today. Okay sorry.”
I held his hands and told him it was okay. I didn’t know how to tell Kunle that I was also shy of kissing him in his apartment.
The next time I went to Kunle’s place, I was more relaxed. Kunle pulled me over to his chest, his arm around my waist. I was again lost in his arms. He began to tell me sweet words in my ear and I giggled and wiggled. His lips danced on my neck and I felt a chill shiver run through my spine and gradually, the tension in my tummy eased. My hands moved from his chest to his hair, his black curly hair. By this time, our lips were locked in each other. Blood and sweat mixed together and with every plunge that Kunle made, I didn’t want to stop anytime soon.
It was already dark when I woke up from the bed. I quickly wore my clothes and tapped Kunle. He woke up, smiled and told me that he was happy he was my first guest. I knew exactly what he meant but I didn’t have the time to blush or react. I just faked a smile and told him that I had to get back home before Iya Ayo started looking for me. By the time I checked my phone, I had six missed calls from Iya Ayo. I hurried out of the room leaving a red scar on Kunle’s bedsheet. Kunle was my first and even though it was painful at first, the fact that it was Kunle made me give myself without constraint. I became a regular visitor at his place and each time I visited, he would always go into me.
Everything seemed peaceful till the storms arose and changed the tides of time. I woke up like every other morning, preparing to go to the market when I started feeling drowsy. I managed to shout Iya Ayo’s name before I woke up in the parlor in the midst of a concerned Iya Ayo’s face and Aunty Ruka, the nurse that lived down the street. Aunty Ruka told my mum that I’d be fine when I quickly stood up to throw up outside the house. They both ran outside to see me and poured cold water on my head. I rinsed my mouth, gargled and spat out. I did this twice and went to lie on the floor in the parlor. Iya Ayo was already pacing back and forth like a swinging pendulum. Aunty Ruka told her to calm down and bent over to examine my palms and soles. She asked me to open my eyes and pulled at the skin under my eyes to look closely. That was when she broke the news to my mum.
“Iya Ayo, your daughter is pregnant o.”
My mum rolled on the floor, screaming at the top of her lungs and beating me at the same time. She was shouting “Baba Ayo” all over the place as if he could hear her screams from his grave. I gained little strength to run from her blows but she wouldn’t let me go. I cried and sniffed till my head started banging. I told my mum that Kunle was the father of the pregnancy and she calmed a bit.
“Is it not that tall man that use to come and buy vegetables from the shop ni?”
I muttered a tearful, yes ma and my mum said she wasn’t surprised but that she was grateful that he was a responsible man.
I called Kunle several times but his call didn’t go through. I went over to his place and his friends told me that Kunle had travelled. I refused to believe and knocked severally on his door, still no response. I took a suitable spot by the entrance to his room, determined to wait for his return. Just when I was about giving up and reaching for the gate, Kunle pushed it open. There he was, flesh and blood standing in front of me.
“Kunle, I thought they said you travelled.”
” Ayo, ehm…yes I travelled I just came back. How are you?”
He was about to kiss me when I stepped back and told him I was carrying his child. I was expecting him to shout and scream but he simply locked my lips with a kiss and stroked my hair with his hands.
“Gosh…is that why you were swelling since morning, Ayo? I thought it was even a serious matter.”
He kissed me again and assured me that he was excited about the baby. I was surprised but happy that I wasn’t in this storm alone. Kunle had assured me that he was going to be by my side even if others weren’t. I told Iya Ayo everything that had happened and she placed both hands on her head, thanking Eledumare for putting all her enemies to shame again.
Kunle kept on calling and assuring me that he would be there all through the baby journey. I was at peace again, even though the stares on me increased when I walked past. I knew that Aunty Ruka had spread word around. I visited Kunle again and this time, I was told he had travelled for real. I ran over to his door but I didn’t even have to knock because the window was exposed. I looked closely and what I saw made me scream. Kunle’s room was empty, not a single pin was left behind. I managed to get home without being hit because my ears were blinded with tears all through. Iya Ayo rained curses on Kunle and his generation when I was finally able to speak up. Blows, beatings and curses rained on me and the days that followed past.
I stopped going out of the house and my mum sent me over to stay at my uncle’s place at Shoka, till I was delivered of my child. She didn’t want the whole adugbo carrying my news around. Shame and guilt were my roommates whenever I was alone. My baby bum had began to protrude and I stopped looking at the mirror the day I saw my image looking huge and ugly. My nose was swollen and my neck was wrapped with rashes. I hated myself. When I delivered my baby, I couldn’t bear to look at the child because he reminded me of the monster I fell in love with. He had Kunle’s eyes but they were devoid of color and sight. My baby was blind.
I woke up to the sound of silence piercing through the night, ready to kill the blind being by my side. After all, his father was nowhere to be found, he was blind and a total baggage in my life’s journey. I was tired. I took a pillow over its face, its blind innocent face, and did not give a second thought. I killed it and by the next minute, murder had become my surname.
Iya Ayo’s voice tapped me back to reality the next morning from my nightmare.
“Ayomikun, Ayooooo, wake up and get ready to go to the market.”
Ogi — corn meal prepared into a paste. Also called pap. Akara — bean cakes. Iya — mother (one of endearment that surpasses the literal meaning) Iro and buba — a style sewn in a blouse and wrapper pattern worn by women,Yoruba women especially. Adugbo — neighborhood Omo mi — my child Wa taja — come and sell Dugbe — a market in Ibadan. Bodija —a place in Ibadan. Shoka — a place in Ibadan. O jaare — weldone, a form of greeting in Yoruba land. Eledumare — a deity or God in Yoruba language Se jeje — take things easy. ni, abi, sha — expressions used by Yoruba people when talking.
Temiloluwa Glory Motajo is a creative writer. She is a student of Medical Rehabilitation at the Obafemi Awolowo University, an SDG Advocate and an Emotional Intelligence enthusiast. She loves reading, writing, sketching art pieces and loves nature.