The sun is shining brightly. It must have been scorching but l do not feel it. In the car, everything is warm. I look outside and see what happens when shelter starts a fight with you. I look up and see what happens when Harmattan decides that it’s not going to rear its pale head this year but some people climb mountains and bring it down with thick ropes. Dryness is the definition of this place. The sky. The road. The plants. The animals. The humans. My primary school teacher failed to paint a brilliant picture of what Harmattan looks like. She kept saying it’s that period when ‘your skin whites’ and ‘your lips dry’ and ‘you catch cold.’ She failed to talk about the dryness, about the anger that comes with the sun in December, about the heavy load people bear in their heart that make their face dry and their eyes big like that of something I do not know. She failed to talk about the strange positions policemen take. We see three ahead. They are wearing blue and black. These ones are not the yellow fever officers. ‘OC!’ Father yells as he zooms past. I am wondering what OC means. Oga in Charge, perhaps.
The place is packed. I do not know how to live this place and so I feel like a fragile wolf that has lost its pack. A woman is shouting her son’s name. ‘Raimu! Raimu!!’ No one answers. The boy seems far away. After calling the third time, the woman keeps quiet and call on to potential buyers instead. I look away and my eyes fall on a group of sellers. They are all selling Garri. I wonder how they manage to stay together, selling the same thing. Envy is no stranger here neither is charm. Father calls. I hurry after him wondering whether the calling woman will ever see her son. There are many people here. So many I feel insignificant. As if, if I somehow get lost, nobody will know. Life will continue. The garri sellers will keep staying together and using Juju on each other.
We approach the yam seller. This one is a man…a very old man. He looks helpless. My mind drifts back to a story I read while in school about a man who, while his fellows were planting yams, was planting his son in school. In the end, the son became a graduate, came home and declared that he wanted to go study more in the white man’s land. The man begged him to stay. ‘You have learnt enough, my son. No one in our village knows what you know.’ But the son insisted, leaving his father to wonder what Juju was used on him that made him send the boy to school in the first instance. When the boy finally came home years later, his father disowned him and sent him away. The son left. The father left too…for heaven.
Father talks price with the yam seller. He’s adamant.
“N4000, jale,” he says.
“Ko gba N3500? ”
“N4000. ” The man remains adamant. He looks away from father as if he doesn’t care whether he buys it or not. Father looks at me and asks for my opinion. I do not know how to live this life. I look at father with clueless eyes. “How much is one tuber? ” I ask foolishly.
He explains that they don’t sell in tubers. They sell in bulk, he says. The one we want to buy for N4000 is a heap of 40 tubers. I do small maths and see that we are buying a tuber for N100. I tell father to buy it. He looks at me, shakes his head and smile. And then he pays.
There is a fight going on behind us. A sack of garri lies open on the floor, the content wasting away. It has just been hit by a car, I understand. The driver and the woman are arguing and shouting. The man is rude. He shouts abuses and makes reference to the woman’s husband and then he turns to insults. “Ko de ni da fun e bayen, “he says. It will not be well with you. He calls the woman a pig in clothes and call her husband a craven who send his wife to the farm for him. He then claims he does not blame the husband since the wife is not worth more than a tuber of yam. The market is in uproar. People are calling on him to stop. Some cheer him on. The woman kneels by her lost garri, helpless. I want to reach out and pat her and give her out of the five thousand father just gave me that morning to buy ice cream. But father is moving. I move on. I don’t know how to live this life.
There is a voice calling in the wilderness. There is a voice here in the market. A man is screaming at the top of his voice. He talks about creation and describes how God created Jesus and Satani on the same day. He talks about how Satani used his power for evil while Jesus used his own for good. He then admonishes us to use our power for good. H shouts and screams. “The market is for making money, not disciples,” father spits. He does not like the man. The man preaches on. His congregation is a boy of no more than ten that is standing in front of him. The whole market is busy making money. Traders calling buyers. Buyers breaking prices. Wheel barrows moving up and down like yellow buses in Lagos. But still, the man preaches on. He talks about how God forgives people and how he later forgave Satani and sent him to earth. I want to correct him, to tell him that it is Satan, not Satani. But I can’t. From nowhere, a woman with a familiar face appears and pounces on the only boy listening to the preacher. “Did I send you to come and listen to a fool? ” She asks as she beats the boy red. The woman looks familiar. As she takes the prodigal son away, I can feel his cries cut. They cut through me like steel. Sharp. Dangerous. Deathly. As we make for the car, I remember who the woman is. The boy must be Raimu.
Beside the car, a man is burning a pig. The animal is full of flesh. “That’s meat, “father says. “That’s life, “I want to say but I keep quiet. Father starts the car and we are soon on our way out of this crazy zone. I bring out my phone and try to capture this experience and give it colours. But my phone stands still, like a Raimu listening to the folly of a fool. I drop it in annoyance. The last thing I hear before we leave the zone is the piercing screams of Raimu and the insults the driver hurled at the Garri woman. I try to push them out of my head. They stick. I don’t know how to live this life.
Outside is quiet. This is the type of life I know. Father drives fast and we are soon on the highway. My eyes close and I open them forcefully. We are in a hold-up. Father says it’s called a traffic jam and not hold-up but I do not understand. I love hold-up. I love the idea of you being held up by something in something. I don’t understand the logic behind traffic jam. It sounds like jargon. I look to my right and see some men standing in front of a shop. The shop is filled with caskets. The men in front are talking, I see. I wind down the window and listen.
“The casket is beautiful, “the man is saying. He looks relaxed. This must be the seller.
“Beautiful? Do I need it to be beautiful? Will the dead man that will stay there know that it is beautiful?” the other man answers in a sharp voice. The woman beside him is sobbing. The man ignores her tears and continue, “If not for what people will say, you think I care whether or not he is dumped into the ground like that or in a ‘beautiful’ coffin? ”
Our car is moving. I can still hear the man muttering something about the fact that dead men are dead and gone forever and do not need beautiful things. I see the woman fall to the ground in tears, holding on to the man’s legs. The seller is shaking his head miserably. Father zooms off. As we approach home, a simple truth pops into my head: there are still more days in 2016, and still more people to die. I sigh. I don’t know how to live this life.
See you next year. Au revoir.