Lola Opatayo

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Tales of a year: the Lagos dream 3


A slap on the shoulder woke Okekene up from the nightmare he was having, he had dreamt of two giant, rotten tomatoes chasing him as his children laughed hysterically at him.
“Wake up!” one of the women whom he had travelled with yelled at him with disdain. She dragged a basket of tomatoes to herself and placed it on the head of a middle aged woman. Okekene wiped the saliva by the side of his mouth with the back of his hand. He got down from the truck and stood unsteadily, sleepy, famished and confused. This was Ibadan, he looked around the market where the truck had stopped. It was unlike any he had seen, it was big and very busy with a lot of buyers and sellers and there was so much food. His stomach growled in protest of the fact that he had not had anything to eat since his last night at home. He sighed at the thought of his wife and children, missing them terribly and wondering how they were faring.
Out of nowhere something hit him on the neck and pushed him forward so that he stumbled and fell. It was a bag of rice, the carrier had been warning anyone standing in his way to clear out but he hadn’t heard him in his reverie. He got up slowly, cursing his bad luck and the offender.
It had been five months since her husband had left them and Mrs Okekene had spent every day regretting the day she met him. She had spent her days toiling on the farm, preparing the land for the planting season even though she had no seeds. Her life had literarily been turned upside down; she had gone from being dependent to being the sole provider. Her children were terribly malnourished and were always begging for food from their friends because she couldn’t provide for them. She had heard her neighbor telling her children last night in a very loud voice to eat in their own house. They had even stopped going to school because she couldn’t pay their fees. Her mother-in-law had helped her as promised but there was little a poor widow could do.
There was nothing as painful however as the fact that she had not even heard from Okekene; not a clue as to what he was doing or where he was. No one had heard from him or seen him. She could only conclude that he had either found another woman or was dead. Two weeks ago her friends had advised her to find another man but she refused. She still loved her husband, besides her church would never allow it. They offered charity to her though, and it had gone a long way in preventing her and her children from starving.
Her daughter coughed violently in her sleep distracting her from her thoughts. She got up to give her some water to drink and patted her bony back, then sat down stroking her swollen belly wondering how she would provide for the baby that was due in a few months.
Okekene couldn’t bear the pain on his neck anymore, he had been carrying things; bags of rice, beans, flour, cement, cartons of oil, cartons of noodles, sacks of yam and onions, anything really. He had become a load carrier (popularly known as alabaru in Yoruba) in the market, it had been his major source of income. His skin had darkened under the merciless sun and his muscles had become well toned, he had become lean. On that first day in the market, his nylon bag had been stolen along with all his clothes and the paper where he had written down a friend’s phone number. There was no way of contacting his family who he was constantly worrried about. This was a hard life, he never imagined that he would suffer this much when he left them five months ago.
The bag of beans he carried weighed down on him like never before, he felt his neck would snap as he hurried along to the store of it’s owner. He had not had lunch and he was beginning to feel faint, his muscles trembled signaling to him that his energy was depleted. He ignored it and trudged on, telling himself that it remained just one step. Suddenly he fell with the bag of beans on top of his head thoroughly fatigued, his consciousness fading out like a burnt out candle.

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