I originally wrote this for my photographer friend Neec. He sent me the picture below and asked me to draw inspiration from it. So I wrote, one thousand plus words, but Neec said no, no, cut it to 300 plus words. It was difficult but when Neec says do this it is done. So after crying I picked up a sickle and cut it. It was painful, as painful as cutting your baby’s flesh. But I did it. But I kept the original. You might have read the flash version, here’s the original.
There was always a small crowd in Mama Afis’ stall. She sold the best pomo in the market. Thick soft brown hide dotted with red-black spots, coiled, like a shy fist. Jennifer knew how to prepare it, she would cut each piece into three and crowd her soup with joy. Uche loved it. ‘We are eating Nigerian’s leather industry,’ he would say and put a piece into his handsome mouth. She
would giggle and stuff a
piece into his mouth, and another and another, till he put his head
beyond reach. It was a happy event, their communion, with each other, eba and pomo.
But it was the kind of happiness that was tinted with the
self-patronising mood of people who knew they deserved better. In a jocular sense, every piece of pomo they ate was one piece of pomo away from the real deal. Big house, perfect garden, swimming pool, a beefy fridge, chicken stew etc. They were not there yet. They would be patient, they wouldn’t despise this little beginning, this era. We have the Ice Age, Stone Age, Iron Age, Pomo Age, Beef Age, Chicken Age etc, this was one of the rungs of a sure ladder.
There was no crowd before Mama Afis’ stall today. Jennifer quickened her pace, she would get there before others
got there and spoiled her
show. In her nearly three years of buying Mama Afis’ pomo, the number of times she was the sole customer could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Each time she came here, she came with a little shame, a big girl like me buying pomo. Whatever, she would
say to herself and feel a little ashamed for being a little ashamed of being here. Another
advantage of being the only customer was that she would stand with all boldness and demand for a generous cut.
‘Madam add more na. I be big customer o.’
Mama Afis’ table was dry and empty. Jennifer looked at the woman’s face, generously designed with tribal marks probably by the best designer of her time and place. The woman had no pomo
today, except a wry smile.
‘No pomo today?’ Jennifer’s eyes pleaded.
‘Pomo no dey market.’
Jennifer’s handbag suddenly became too heavy for her shoulder. She placed it on the pomo/whitewashed table. ‘Why na?’
The woman pouted. ‘Toh, no be government E close border.’
‘What do you mean government closed the border?’ Jennifer asked in a not so calm tone. ‘Or will you people claim pomo is also imported, and blame it on the expensive dollars?’
The woman had no words for this capricious aggression. Jennifer grabbed her bag, on a second
thought she relaxed her hold on
it. In there was her pregnancy test result, positive. Before the test she had guessed she was pregnant but she needed a medical certification. Now it was written on egg shell and she didn’t want it broken. They have waited a little less than three years, she couldn’t wait to drop the hot shell on her husband’s laps. He would go crazy and scream his lungs and gullet out, then they would celebrate over pomo.
‘Good evening.’ As she began to walk away, the stench of the market hit her face. Rotten gutter, rubbish, decayed fish, anti-fresh beef, badly burned goat hide, chicken shit, all, mixed up and filled her nasal cavity with disgust.
It was the normal smell of
the meat section of the market but today it was not so normal.
Mama Rufus also sold good pomo. Not Mama Afis quality of course but a close one. The two or three times that Jennifer patronised Mama Rufus her soup was tasty but not that tasty. She
shrugged and made way for a
thin youth well-dressed in rags pushing a wheelbarrow full of live goats, three or four goats, nonchalant, one of them chewing lazily.
Perhaps even these goats were imported. Which meant these goats had
crossed the border, expatriates, and she had never left this country….
‘Obama’s dog has a biography in Wikipedia,’ Uche would say. ‘And me, a human being, if you search my full name on Google you won’t find it. A shame.’ Jennifer knew the best way to batter your ego was to compare yourself with celebrity animals. The world knew (and cared about) them. Your family and friends know you. She let reclining goats lie.
Mama Rufus stall was locked.
Jennifer stood, undecided. She had usually bought her pomo from Mama Afis and in the rare absence of Afis’
mother from Rufus’. There
were half a dozen other pomo sellers, but Jennifer was not
enthusiastic about them. She knew there were bad and good pomo. As a child, she used to eat this pomo for hours, from the dining to the playground, get tired of it and swallowed it. Not anymore. Yes, they still ate pomo but they had earned the right to eat quality pomo.
Jennifer had inhaled a terrible dose of the disease the market churned out before she found pomo. The seller was a man and his pomo was blackish, nylon-thin, inferior. She shook her head and passed.
‘Madam come na…’
She returned to Mama Afis. ‘Where I fit get quality pomo?’
The latter screwed her face as her antennae searched for quality pomo. ‘You check Mama Habib’s shed?’
Jennifer said she never knew a Mama Habib existed. The woman described the routes to the shop in crude details but Jennifer just refused to find the shop in her mind’s map.
The woman sighed and volunteered to get to
Mama Habib. Jennifer handed
out a 500 naira note, then circled the table and occupied the chair
the woman left. It was a sickly looking but firm three-legged stool
that Jennifer didn’t feel like letting her entire weight on.
From this vantage point, Jennifer saw the dump that was this marketplace. People were actually buying and selling food on gutter/rubbish, in an atmosphere darkened with giant flies, a great
nursery for germs. If I had political power I would uproot these corrugated iron sheets and build real shops with real gutters and enough ventilation. She hissed helplessly.
She pushed her mind back to her problems. She glanced at herself, her tweed skirt suit had faded beyond manageable. She was putting in longer hours in the tobacco shop but her salary hadn’t changed in two years. She would ask for a raise. No, she would get a better job. She was a chartered accountant, she should get, she deserved something better. She would update her CV tonight. Then she would talk seriously with her husband about his job search, they could no longer manage on her salary and the little he made on the cyber café. Money was more precious now that she was expecting a child, Uche must stand up like a man and put his civil engineering master’s degree to judicious use.
Jennifer fished her phone out. She had a BBM message from Ify she hadn’t opened. A few days back Ify had pinged that she had been hearing rumours about Uche. Jennifer had answered a lame ok and moved on. Ify was a spinster, a gossip, and a home breaker. Uche was a good man, decent and faithful. She wouldn’t entertain rumours. Today, Ify’s message said ‘Babe, your husband is really playing away o’, and Jennifer ignored it. Now Jennifer decided to open the message and douse cold water on it. Her fingers quaked. The phone screen wouldn’t respond to her touch, it had hung. The worthless phone!
Now she had to remove the battery, replace it for the phone to start its sluggish booting.
‘I need a new phone,’ she said aloud. The worthless phone wasn’t so worthless when Uche bought it two years back, on her birthday, now it was. She needed a new one. And a new suit, a new wrist watch, a car even. A new job. Sigh. Sigh.
And what was this Ify kept saying about her husband? She would take up the gauntlet and call Ify to find out, then she would ask her husband and he would deny it and she would believe him. But she would ask. Not tonight. No, tonight was for the baby and the feast of pomo. Not tonight. This thought gave her strength. Things weren’t hopeless yet. She returned her phone to her bag, put a cheerful glow on her beautiful face and resumed waiting for Mama Afis and quality pomo.
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