He is awake now even though he hadn’t really slept. His legs are set aflame by a million stinging bites. His arms and back are red, his face dotted. He ignores all this and climbs out from under the staircase where he sleeps with three other boys and a thirty-year-old man who sells books.
It has been a long time since he greets the day with annoyance; now, he’s rather happy, offering a short prayer to God, blessing the day. Then he wakes Tim up, and Tim, as always, is slightly annoyed, until he realizes he has business he has to attend to. The three other boys have to sweep the staircase, get food and water, and occasionally, wash the sheets with water and soap from their money. He’s Tim’s right hand man because he makes the most money. None of the other boys know how he does it, and although he was by far the youngest, he frightens them with tales of criminal origins. He told them he stole from the policemen and agboro boys themselves, sources from whence he was sure to get a lot of cash. They wouldn’t dare this, he knew, and any attempt by them to follow him was thwarted by the promise that they could distract him and make them get caught. He wasn’t stupid: he greeted them, respected them, gave them money without their asking. He knew how the world worked.
He knew he was charming. Tim often said that if he was lucky, he was going to find a woman to adopt him and he always said he liked staying with Tim. He was light skinned, hazel-eyed. He looked famished, and this, while upsetting his general physique, added to his appeal. He knew people liked fixing others. And he knew they sometimes didn’t feel comfortable doing it, so he reached out to them. He came to filling buses and helped pass money from passengers to drivers and conductors. He effusively commented on women’s earrings and beauty, told men to shift more for the women. Once, when he had bent under a woman’s skirt (in mock innocence) to pick up a twenty naira note someone had given him, a man had told him he liked women, only for him to, voice raised, yell it was the man that liked women, telling him he wouldn’t get married, chasing after fair, fine aunties. Very rarely did passengers see him twice, and he knew he had to sell himself fast. He collected hundred naira notes from the hands of passengers, and smiled, making everything okay.
He was seven. Among boys of his age, did not hide his pride. He wore the best singlets, got puff-puff from Chike every afternoon, drank La Casera or any drink he wanted. He was their Lord. Every day, on waking up, since that very first day when that aunty had taken a picture of him, stressing how cute he was, he reminds himself of his blessings, of his extraordinary luck.
Today, he’s made four hundred naira before ten, and he’s extremely grateful for this. The bus he’s heading to has only two passengers: a woman and her son. He decides to walk around, see if he can find two or three of his friends, and then return. When he returns, there are five people in the bus. He heads towards it.
In his fifteen months’ experience as a rather decorated beggar, he has never encountered another seven-year-old. He goes past the woman sitting with her son in front, going for the more likely candidates. The lady is dark, has four bangles on each arm. The man is looking out the window, earpiece tugged in ear, silently and slowly eating his puff-puff. The bus gets full; he comes out with a hundred and ten naira, his eyes on the young boy. It’s a mutual stare. The young boy is powdered and perfumed, his every sweat cleaned with immediacy, one hand tightly clutching a hundred naira ice cream in sachet, the other a large roll of Gala.
The bus rums and moves, and the boy, for the first time, feels disoriented. He drops all his earnings on the floor, and begins walking, walking, waiting for the fat woman in a purple top and jeans skirt who will pick him up.
Post image by Casey Hugelfink via Flickr
About the Author:
Ifeanyi Ikechukwu Daniel is a Chemical Engineering student of FUTO who is in love with chocolate cake, Ice Cream, TV Series, and literary fiction. His fiction has appeared on AfricanWriter and his blog: weaklyanonymous.wordpress.com. He has a short story collection on Okadabooks and Kindle titled To Kiss The Sun And Leave, and he is currently working on a novel.