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“Don’t you think you should pick that tomato and apologise?”
“For weytin now? E reach five Naira? Abeg! Abeg! Abeg!”
Mama Wale’s jaw dropped.

“HOW much will you pay my child?” Mama Wale asked the young girl who looked ready for a duel of hard bargain. The sun was at its peak and the elderly woman was too tired to tread that path.

The young girl noted the warmth in those words — the elderly woman was ready to give in. And, to think of it, even if the dollar rate-driven economy was bad and getting on everyone’s nerves, she shouldn’t take it out on the poor old woman who sold veggies for a living; she looked too good for that.

“Okay, Mummy,” she said with a smile. “I’ll give you N400 for the small basket.”

“No problem,” Mama Wale returned the smile. A fair bargain it was. She got a leather bag, emptied the basket in it and handed it over to the girl.

“Thank you,” the latter said, turning to leave.

“You can always come around,” Mama Wale called after her.

“Alright ma.”

Staring at her disappearing figure, Mama Wale’s mind settled back on her thoughts prior to the girl’s approach. Wale was in his third year in university and his first semester exams were two weeks away. Problem was, he had not paid his fees, and writing exams without paying was almost impossible. Mama Wale respected her son. He repaired phones to survive in school, but it seemed business had been downhill for a while, so days back, he called to ask if she could loan him ten thousand naira to add to what he had. Knowing his mother would feel a bit insulted by the fact that he had asked a loan of what in the normal circumstance should be his right, he had immediately added, “Mama, I know you don’t like this, but, what you have should be used for my younger ones. If at my age I can’t cater for myself, I’ll be a disgrace to myself.” Mama Wale had smiled then, telling her son he was no disgrace and that she was proud of him and his elder sister who years back had gained a full scholarship to study in a German university. She was in her finals now. Mama Wale was optimistic, things would change for her, one way or the other. She had survived the worst already. Now, all she had to do was think of how to raise ten thousand naira for her son.

A blast of horns and loud music drew her attention back to her environs. Wondering what was happening, she sat up and saw a convoy of cars filled with Party people approaching the market. She remembered then: the local government chairmanship election was two weeks away and the two major political parties had begun mega campaigns. At the end of the convoy was a truck filled with what she could not see yet from her stall, but was certain were ‘gifts’ the politicians had come to exchange for the market people’s votes. Gifts the latter will rue in months to come.

The convoy soon arrived and because Mama Wale’s shop was the first in one of the many entrances that led into the market, they parked near her, with the van bearing the accursed gifts particularly sealing off her stall from sight. Mama Wale didn’t like that, but she let it rest, knowing the highest they ever got to spend was twenty to thirty minutes of rotten promises.

Thugs came out of some of the buses and took charge of the gift-laden van, while the other party people began to prepare a makeshift rostrum for the candidate’s speech. The thugs began offloading the van of the number of gifts they had planned to share at the market: small bags of rice and sachets of seasonings. The bags of rice, probably containing just three or four mudus, had the candidate’s picture emblazoned on them, in bold prints, so his eyes could be upon you, as you took the bag into your home, and as you prepared and ate its content. Those eyes will stampede down your throat, into your stomach, then your blood stream, and if by any chance you did not vote for the owner of those eyes, and he loses, they will pierce you from within, mutant Cyclops-like, just as the other candidate who wins will be preparing his from without.

One of the thugs, trying to make way for another to pass, backed into Mama Wale’s table of wares, unsettling it, causing a tomato that crowned one of the baskets to fall. The thug noticed but, brazenly, did not deem it fit to pick the tomato and apologize.

Mama Wale’s eyes bulged at his unabashed nonchalance.

“Young man!!” she called his attention, rising.

“Weytin?’ he queried, turning to face her.

“Don’t you think you should pick that tomato and apologize?”

“For wetin now? E reach five Naira? Abeg! Abeg! Abeg!” he retorted and turned to continue what he was doing.
Mama Wale’s jaw dropped. Bile rose to her throat, but she forced a smile. She had to be civil. For heaven’s sake, Wale, her second, would definitely be way older than this thing before her. “Young man! All I’m asking is that you pick that thing and apologise as a responsible man should!” Her voice, unintended, was somewhat raised, drawing the attention of some market folks. They came around, bees-to-honey-like.

One of the other thugs, knowing the whole thing could turn into a nasty drama, said to his fellow goon, “Just tell am sorry make she rest abeg!”

“Ehn, sorry!” the offender flung at Mama Wale, muttering obscenities under his breath.

“You both are mannerless!” Mama Wale fired, now livid, the respect-loving Yoruba in her coming to the fore. “Irresponsible young men! Would it drain a bucketful of your blood to just pick that tomato and apologize?”

“No mind dem,” a market woman hissed, serpentine. ‘Na so dem go dey behave like dogs!”

“Na your Papa be dog!” one of the thugs retorted.

“Ehn!”

Pregnant silence.

Our market women exchanged glances, shook their heads, smiled. Then the pre-war rituals began. Head gears were adjusted, wrappers tightened well, slippers flung off feet, lungs puffing, palms rubbed together to warm up for the clapping that goes in lieu of the boos, all the while donning the una-don-die-today look, of course with the raving laugh that goes with it.

Words of the looming explosion reached the other Party People and the Candidate who had been some distance away, engrossed with setting up the campaign proper. They rushed down immediately.

“What is wrong here?” the Candidate asked.

“Ask your boys!” a market woman spat.

Candidate turned to said boys. One related what happened. Candidate smiled, then faced Mama Wale, “Madam, don’t worry. It’s just a small issue. We will compensate you.” Candidate called one of his campaign managers, “Give her some money.”

Everywhere stilled.

Mama Wale felt kicked in the gut, insulted.

She stared at the candidate for a while, then shook her head in disgust.

“Why does everything come down to money for you politicians? What makes you think I am doing this for the attention or for compensation? Rather than to put some sense in your boy’s head. Money! You disappoint me young man.”

“Don’t mind them!” one of the market women cut in. “All they know is money. Is that not his reason for running? To go in and cut the share for himself and fifty generations of his to come?”

“You go like close dat gutter wey you dey use yan there!” a thug fired at the woman. “See these idiots o. These hungry people wey we con help dem life. In fact, who tell una say una vote dey count sef? Una dey here, dey form shakara, dey carry body, dey run mouth like foul yansh!”

“No mind dem abeg!” another thug enjoined. “Na Alaaye I dey vex with sef, wey dey waste time con bless dem hungry lives with food!”

The gathering erupted.

The market women and men charged. Obscenities were weighed in basketfuls and flung, exploding, blowing the shields of the thugs to smithereens. The Candidate and the Party People tried their best to calm everyone down but the thugs had bitten more than they could chew; the worst set of people you dared enter a duel of words with were market folks.

Mama Wale felt insulted, to the core. She allowed the rancour abate a bit then spoke up. “We the market people will not be insulted. Never! We are worth way more than your filthy bags of rice. Please take them and leave, with your worthless rascals as well. We will have no more words with you!”

“Yes!” the market people affirmed. “We do not want your gifts!”

The Candidate and some of the Party people pleaded again, but the market folks would hear no more. Seeing they were no longer welcome, they packed their gifts and, booed by the market women, left, moving on to the next campaign point.

After they left, normalcy returned to the market and everyone went back to their business, happy that they had stood their grounds and kept dignities intact. Little did they know that everything that happened had been recorded on video by some youths who were in the market at the time. And so it was that before dusk that day, the act of Mama Wale and her market friends were trending on all media channels in the country.

TWO days later, now in the limelight, the opposition party came for Mama Wale, intent on cashing in on the situation, to ridicule the other party and make themselves look the better. Their entry was noticed by everyone in the market. Everyone gathered around Mama Wale’s stall, curious as to the purpose of the visit. The opposition party spokesperson gave a long speech on why they were different from the other parties and sought only the good of all. Mama Wale just watched, smiling all that while. The spokesperson finally came around to their reason for coming; they wanted to make Mama Wale their State Women Coordinator.

Without thinking twice, Mama Wale appreciated them and declined their offer. She saw through their schemes. Foxes they all were, different shades and mass, but foxes still.

The market people lauded, extremely proud of her, for standing strong, the position being a tempting one for a woman struggling through life.

After the opposition folks left, Mama Wale sat staring out. It was a hard decision but was worth it. She would stay with her market women, sell her tomatoes, vote the fair enough candidate, and hope, really hope, he or she can better the previous fox. Or hope for that day when the foxes will sire a lamb, if such a day will ever come. Her son, Wale, once told her that to overthrow the foxes, a lamb need don their skin, dine with them, and when opportunity presented itself, doff it, and reveal its true self. Maybe that day will also come, if lambs would dare. But for the time being, veggies need be sold, a thousand naira need be raised in ten places, so Mama Wale rose with a smile, spotting a longtime customer heading her way.

 

 

**************

Post image by paul morris via Upsplash

About the Author:

imageLeke David Omowaiye is a Corp Member currently serving in Ekiti State, South-Western Nigeria. He is a writer; he loves everything Arts. His debut novel, The Sojourner’s Plight (a work that explores religious crises in Northern Nigeria, stressing the futility of placing the cart before the horse, we being humans, first, before religion) was published by Partridge Africa in 2014. Leke knows writing as a career is like breaking rocks with your teeth. But, does he have a choice?

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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