Deborah was filing her nails when the door swung open. She took one look at the woman and her child and set down the nail file slowly. The woman looked around the children’s shop and smiled excitedly, then she scratched her chubby cheeks with her long dirty nails.
“Can I help you ma…?” Deborah asked, taking in her flared jeans skirt, faded blue tight shirt, black waist pouch and pink Dunlop slippers. It was her face however that left her stunned, her cheeks were smeared with white powder and her lips with bright green lipstick. She had made her short brown hair into small buns and held them with rubber bands. Beside her, her daughter was dancing excitedly, oblivious of her stained yellow gown and dirty appearance.
“Mummy, let’s buy it now!” she urged her mother, tugging her arm excitedly.
“Wait small, we will buy everything.” The mother replied with a surreal smile, staring at the goods in the shop.
“What do you want to buy?” Deborah asked, jumping to her feet swiftly when the girl grabbed a teddy bear and held it to her face.
Snatching it from her and smiling awkwardly, Deborah said. “It’s for babies.”
“We wan buy am now!”
Deborah looked at the woman doubtfully. “It’s two thousand naira ma.”
“Two thousand…” the woman replied, opening her pouch and counting her money.
“Mummy you have plenty money! Buy it now! Buy it!” the girl whined.
Deborah looked at them astonishingly. Why had these people come to disturb her peace? Why her shop out of all the shops? What exactly did they want?
“Madam, please what do you want?” she said civilly,
“I wan buy something now!” the woman replied with a lopsided smile and reached for the toy. Deborah held it away.
“I wan buy am now!” the woman said with a flash of anger.
“Madam it’s two thousand!” Deborah replied adamantly.
“Take!” the woman flung several dirty notes at Deborah, shocking her. Then she grabbed the toy from the shopkeeper and gave it to her daughter who hugged her lovingly.
“You like it?” she asked.
“Yes.” The daughter replied happily.
Just then, the door opened and two other women came in with an infant. They took one look at the woman and her daughter and entered the shop hesitantly. Deborah blinked at them meaningfully as she picked up the money from the floor but they didn’t catch her drift, they moved on within the shop and went to the cosmetics section.
Suddenly the girl ran to the clothes section.
“Mummy I want that pink cloth!” she said happily, pointing at a pink and red flowery gown.
“How much for that one?” the woman asked.
“Eight thousand?! You people don’t want me to buy something here? I will not come again o!”
Deborah merely smiled, not trusting herself to speak.
“You like it ba?” the woman said to her daughter.
“Yes! I will wear it to church tomorrow.”
“Eight thousand… the woman said contemplatively and sat on a nearby stool. “We go wear am first, ehn?”
“No o! You no go fit wear am.” Deborah replied incredulously, running out of patience with the woman.
The girl had strayed towards the other two customers who had been stealing glances at the woman. The girl smiled widely at one of them and reached for the baby.
“Don’t touch my baby!” the mother yelled, traumatized by the thought of the dirty-looking girl contaminating her child’s sterile condition.
“Sebi I just want to touch baby. Let me touch her now!” the girl retorted angrily, unable to understand why she was denied this simple request that she had seen mothers grant other children.
“Look, let’s go!” the mother said to her friend who readily agreed.
“Omo were.” One of the women muttered on their way out.
The girl heard it, her mother did not. She was busy counting all the money in her waist pouch.
“Madam, please I want to close.” Deborah said, angry about losing two good customers.
“I’ve not finish buying something.” The woman replied, still searching her pouch.
“Mummy, buy this one for me!” the girl said excitedly, thoughts of the rude remark gone. She was pointing at a cream wedge.
The mother laughed. “I will buy it for you!” she returned to her counting. “How much is the shoe, aunty?”
“Six thousand five.” Deborah replied with her arms akimbo.
“Everything cost o!”
Deborah sighed and lifted her eyes to the glass wall, a small crowd had gathered and were snickering at the display of the strange woman who had spread her legs wide and was counting her money. The girl noticed the snickering and frowned. Then she went to her mother and gently closed her legs.
“Leave me jo!” the woman snapped, spreading her legs even wider and staring at the money in her hands.
“Hmmn!” the girl protested adamantly, folding her arms and staring coldly at the crowd outside who were trying in vain not to show their amusement.
“Take this one, I will come and pay the rest later.” The woman said.
Deborah laughed. “No o! What will I tell my madam?”
Two teenage boys joined the small crowd outside, the girl frowned. “Mummy let’s go. I don’t want again. Let’s go and buy ice cream.”
“Yes, the one they are selling for three hundred.”
“Okay, let’s go.” The woman replied with an innocent smile on her face and collected the change that Deborah handed her.
The small crowd quickly dispersed as the woman and her daughter came out of the shop. As soon as they were gone, Deborah sprayed the air with an air freshener and sat down. The woman and her daughter went into the ice cream shop with their hands intertwined.