The Man and the Handbag

We walked by different stores in the scorching afternoon sun looking for the perfect bag and the right seller. Dodging randy thick-muscled men who grabbed at us and over enthusiastic sales agents, we looked over the several bags on display as my friend Nneka whispered glancing at a peach leather bag with gold trimmings.

“That one is nice too but it might be expensive because the stall is by the road. Let’s go inside the market, we should find something as nice but cheaper.” I agreed. Just as we were about to make a detour into the market a middle-aged tired looking woman, dressed in a blue and yellow patterned wrapper and a white blouse stood in front of us.

“Fine sisters, I have nice underwears, bra, pant, g-string…”

“We’re not here for that.” Nneka waved her away.

“What do you want to buy?”

“We’re looking for bags” Actually we wanted to buy just one.

“I’m selling bags too! Enter my shop.” She pleaded. My first instinct was to move on, I don’t like desperate people. Nneka however didn’t think so.

“Are you sure you have nice things? Don’t waste our time o!”

“Chai my sister! Enter my shop first.”

Against my better judgment we followed her past the other stalls, again dodging the randy men, to the front of a stall where she pulled back a dingy green curtain and ushered us in. It was dark in the stall and we could barely see anything. As if reading our minds she said:

“I’m coming let me on the gen.”
She was going to turn on the generator.
I gave Nneka a disapproving look but she was too distracted looking around the stall. I didn’t like the place, there was something dark and mysterious about it. In less than a minute the blue fluorescent lamp flickered on, casting a blue glow in the stall. We could now see the underwear lined up on one section of the stall and then bags and shoes on the other sections. Two children were seated on the floor, reading in one corner. One of them looked up and smiled, I smiled back. She was pretty.

“Wetin you wan buy?” A gruff voice called out from behind us. I was startled but Nneka just looked at him and answered. “Bags”

“See bag there” He rose from a stool he had been sitting on pointing at the rows of bags. Nneka stepped forward, looking closely at them. I followed her. I reached for a black suede bag feeling the texture of the fabric when I heard the man’s voice behind me.

“That one fine too.” His breath smelled foul, he reached up to bring down the bag and I almost gagged from the odour of the fermented cassava on his fingers. He must have just had a meal of fufu and some horrid smelling soup. I inched away holding my breath and shook my head. “I don’t like it” I said and wandered off to another section. Nneka came over to join me and held up a multi-colored suede bag.

“Isn’t this nice?” Her eyes were twinkling and her wide mouth had stretched into a broad smile. I took one look at the bag.

“I don’t like it, it looks immature.”

“It’s a fun bag! Don’t take yourself too seriously!” She nudged me playfully.

“The bag fine now!” the man said agitatedly. The woman who had brought us here hovered like a maid waiting to be told what to do. The man apparently owned the shop and was her husband. I shot him a look as if to say. “I know what I want, keep your opinion to yourself.” He grabbed the bag from Nneka and held it to my face. “The bag no fine?” he queried, daring me to counter his opinion.

“I don’t like it.” I said firmly, looking into his dark brown eyes. He gave a short laugh and stepped back. My skin crawled, I wanted to leave the stall. Sauntering off toward the last section of the stall I finally saw something that looked nice enough. Nneka had seen the direction of my eye and moved closer.

“This is actually not bad” she brought down a medium-sized beige leather bag and opened it, checking out all the compartments. “It would work well for you and I don’t think it should be more than four thousand naira.”

“Yeah…” I agreed taking the bag from her and inspecting it. I could sense the man’s presence near me.

“How much is it?”

“Seven tazand.” He said stretching, I could see the hair in his armpits had turned brown. For crying out loud!

“What? Seven thousand for this bag?”

He grabbed the bag from me. “You no see am? This is one na real leather! You go use am well” he said stretching the bag on either side to prove that it was as good as he said.

“I can’t pay seven thousand for this bag.” I shook my head in disagreement.

“How much you wan pay?” He asked looking me over, his eyes stopping at my hips.

“Three thousand five hundred naira.”

His eyes flew back up to my face. “For wetin? You no see the bag?” I could tell he was angry now, he shoved the bag in my face. The wife hovered closer.

“My sister the bag is very good o. Please buy it.” Was that fear in her eyes?

“Madam I want to buy the bag but I can’t spend more than my budget!”

“Oga dis bag no reach seven thousand now” Nneka pleaded. Why was she pleading?

“How much you wan pay last?” He looked me over again.

“Four thousand.”

“Four tazand?” He yelled. I was disgusted with the man, I wondered why I was even still standing there.

“Daddy” one of the children called. The man reached over and slapped the child right across the face, she whimpered like a lonely puppy holding her cheek. The woman went to comfort the child. I looked at Nneka she was as stunned as I was.

“Four tazand?” He said again.

“Yes.” I said looking straight into his eyes, not bothering to disguise my revulsion.

“E be like say you never buy bag before.” He sneered, his face twitching with anger.

“Are you going to sell the bag to me or not?”

“Sister please the bag is very fine” The woman pleaded again.

“Madam we no get the money!” Nneka snapped at her.
“Then comot for my shop now! So as you big reach you no get seven tazand.” He yelled.

“Let’s get out of here.” I said calmly to Nneka who was terrified now. I made to leave but he pulled me back.

“Come here” He leered licking his lips.

“Get your hands off me!” I screamed, repulsed.

“Are you crazy?” Nneka shouted as the wife got up pleading.

“My sister, sorry. Please don’t be angry, come and buy the bag.”

“Madam if you no comot for my front!” Nneka warned, dragging me along as the man screamed.

“Get out!”

We were confronted by curious faces as we stepped out into the hot sun and into the waiting arms of the sales agents.

“Fine sister!

“Chai! See yellow papaw!”

I was mad with fury, I turned to tell Nneka that we should go back when a plump dark sinned man walked up to us, hands by his side.

“Good afternoon sisters, I have very nice bags.” He turned to the other men who had surrounded us. “Leave them!”

 

We followed him and left the market twenty minutes later with the perfect bag. “You were lucky” He told us. “That man is a mad man, he usually beats up his customers!”

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