Walking Stories

She’s on the bench in the park, 2pm everyday.
She sits on there for 30 minutes, staring into space
She hardly notices anyone or anything happening around
But 2:30pm on the dot, she rises with gusto and heads back to work

**

They come to the same park everyday to get time to spend together
Their lunchtime at work is between 1:30pm and 2:30pm
So they walk in hand in hand, holding their lunch packs in the other hand
And sit across her, trying not to stare

*

She loves having lunch with him daily
Because between their schedule and commute, this is the only free time
But she wishes so much to be her
To sit on the park bench alone, taking it all in, the sight, the wind, the sun… the peace

*

He’s never loved anyone like he loves her
It aches him so much that all he gets is one hour of her time daily
What aches more is sensing her need for solitude
Because he’s not sure he can let her have it

**

He brings his kid to the park at the same time daily
It’s always just the two of them
They do not mix with other families
They are content in the company of each other

*

He wants to be the best father there is
And the time they spend together at the park is one of the many ways he’s found
Since he lost his wife three months ago, he’s put in everything he could muster into loving his kid
Like momma would have loved

*

His dad is everything, he knows he tries so hard for him but he misses momma
Because the light dad once had is gone, he’s no longer brimming with enthusiasm
If only he could meet someone new…
He glances towards her; she was always alone and she looked pretty calm and approachable

**

He’s the guard at the park who’s always on the daytime shift
He watches her every time she comes in at 2pm, alone
He watches her walk to the exact bench they used to sit in and have lunch daily – before he died
He looks at the couple across her; eating silently, and wonders if they appreciated what they had

walking stories

***

We are walking stories;
Of whos and hows and whys.

Bamidele

Somewhere deep in the community of Ilu-Awun, dwelled the most perfect Christmas market. It opened on the 1st of December through to the 23rd, every year, for all from far and wide to come in and shop for their Christmas needs.

This market was such that you could find everything needed to make your Christmas holiday memorable. From wears to wares, everything was there. And the best part; everything went for half the price!

There was nowhere in the community of Ilu-Awun, let alone the entire town of Jejeleko, anyone could find better prices. They called it Oja Ole.

Oja Ole ni Ilu-Awun.

Like many unexplainable phenomena, there were many stories as to why things were so cheap in that market at Christmas. The most popular and logical tale had it that the Oba of Ilu-Awun paid sellers, annually, to bring their prices down to the barest minimum for more “tourists” to come in. People said the returns from the tourists – who usually spent more than a few days in the community – was what kept it top notch to date. Others said it was something more mysterious.

The mystery of it were words not spoken, facts not proven, occurrences no one came to terms with, until it happened to them.

***

Abiodun – just like her name implied – was born in this season, the season of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. She was the first and only child of her mother; Temidire. ‘Biodun and Temidire lived together in one of the less known communities in the town of Jejeleko; Agbekele.

‘Biodun had never met her dad – or felt the need to. Her mum had told her some story about how he was no longer here, sometime ago. It had had no impact on her thoughts or curiosity then, still doesn’t now, because this woman she had lived with for the past 18 years was and continued being all she needed.

‘Biodun and Temidire were twenty years apart, but best friends like they should be. You could hardly notice the age gap between them. Their preferences on all the basic things that mattered – food, style, people – synced.

As expected, they never fought on anything really, except Christmas. From the year ‘Biodun turned ten, she started nagging her mum to make Christmas more meaningful. Temidire would listen to her speak, grunt and move on. She never really made any effort. When ‘Biodun turned 15, her new chant was how they could go to “Oja Ole ni Ilu-Awun” to make Christmas more meaningful. Temidire still grunted and made no effort. Because of the fight it caused between them year after year, ‘Biodun compromised and stopped nagging about it when she was turning eighteen. She had made up her mind that she had come of age and would have a home soon, then, she would have the Christmas she desired.

***

It was the Christmas season of 2010, ten years after ‘Biodun said she’d have the perfect Christmas when she had her own home. She did have her own home now, but hadn’t gotten that perfect Christmas she always wanted. A part of her knew it was tied to the fact that she still hadn’t visited Oja Ole ni Ilu-Awun. She decided to do just that.

She travelled back home to Agbekele with her 9 year old only daughter; Modupe, to spend a few days with her mom – Temidire – and shop to her fill for Christmas at Oja Ole ni Ilu-Awun.

‘Biodun could not suppress her excitement when she got back to Agbekele to meet her mom. She was bubbly when she asked that Temidire came along. Temidire said in a clear voice and a straight face:

“I would not go to that market and I command that you do not, as well”

When Biodun asked why, she had no answers.

The next day, still without Temidire’s approval, ‘Biodun, clutching Modupe’s hand, with undeterred excitement, headed to Oja Ole ni Ilu-Awun.

***

It was their third and final day in the market. The first day had been a drag because they didn’t know their way around. By day two, they got the general picture and were half way down their Christmas list. They intended to get it all done today and return home to (grand)mom.

‘Biodun and her daughter left the guest house they had stayed for the last two nights, still as pumped as they were when they started the quest. Their first stop was the Christmas Decoration booth. They had seen the most beautiful tree ornaments there, yesterday. They had split the quest from the first day; ‘Biodun held the money and Modupe’s hand, Modupe held the list, telling her mommy what was next.

Decoration booth at the Christmas Market - Bamidele

As they approached the already crowded booth, ‘Biodun struggled to get the money out of her shopper bag with her one free hand. When she reached it and pulled it out, a few notes slipped out of the already loose wad of notes to the floor.

“Modupe, please quickly pick those notes up” She said.

Just as Modupe made contact with the first note on the floor, she disappeared.

With the busy hurrying shuffling feet in Oja Ole ni Ilu-Awun, no one noticed.

No one noticed when ‘Biodun screamed or the fear in her eyes with seeing her daughter disappear before her or her running around the market with her clothes askew. No one really noticed, let alone believed, they were too busy having the cheapest buys for a memorable Christmas.

‘Biodun left the market, still incoherent, leaving everything behind. She ran straight into Temidire’s arms crying and screaming;

“Did you know this and not tell me?! Did you?! I am finished!”

Temidire held her close and wept silently. Her only words brought an understanding silence between them.

“Oja Ole ni Ilu-Awun is as literal as the names can be. It is the market for thieves  in a stingy land. The mystery of it are words not spoken, facts not proven, occurrences no one comes to terms with, until it happens to them. This is how your father left.”

***

One year later, ‘Biodun had another child. She named her Bamidele.

Passing Faces

I work. I suppose you know that already. Of all the many nerve racking things that come with working, commuting to work is the absolute worst for me. I’d go on and on telling you how depressing it is, but that’s unnecessary. It ain’t my flow.

You know the Yin yang theory? In my oh-so-dark-depression every morning, there’s this little shimmering light that makes all the difference. Brings some strange sorta peace in a very weird way. It has come to be the best part of my mornings.

I do it every morning. Have conversations with myself. About them. 🙂

From the moment I’m dropped off and I walk the rest of the journey to work, there are specific people I expect to see. I’ve seen them everyday since I started taking that route. I’ve watched them. I know them. But they don’t know me.

I do not know their names but I’ve named them in my mind and I wonder about them.

I walk pass tons of people everyday, but these 7, I look out for. They have come to be my light in all the dark.

There’s the first woman. I call her Iya Titi, for no reason in particular. It just fits. She’s there every morning. As early as 6 a.m. She faces me as I get out of the car. She sells fruits, as the seasons come. It was mango once before, and then tangerines, bananas at some point too. It’s agbalumo now. I bought a few from her some days ago, just because. She looked up and smiled at me and said thank you, I smiled back and walked off with agbalumos in my bag and a name for her. We’re friends now, if only by a smile.

Next up are the two beggars who sit in the path I thread by with laminated A4 papers around their necks. I’ve never stopped to read what they have on, neither have I stopped to drop a few bucks. I’m not mean, I just wonder about them. How long would they sit out to beg, what amount of money would make a difference to them. What do they want out of life? Even I cannot fathom what it might be.

I walk just a few steps more before I start to hear the clinging sound from afar off. It’s where the next two are. I think they’re sisters. In my mind they are. The elder one fries puff puff, the younger one hits a fork on an iron tray to get the attention of passersby. They’re there everyday too. We don’t smile at each other – yet – but it’s satisfying seeing them support each other in the early hours of the morning, trying to make ends meet as people swarm by to face their daily businesses.

I walk only a little more, and then I’m on the street that leads to the back gate of the estate my office is. I take a bike from this street. There are tons and tons of bike men who chant “Sister come” when I get here, but I never budge. I have a chosen one. He’s the sixth. He wears a thin faded blue shirt everyday and has a fixed sad smile. He’s old and I have no name for him. I take no other bike when I do not see him, I’m always early anyway, so I have enough time to spare. I do not want my N50 to go into anybody else’s pocket. I want it to be in his alone. And he knows it. When I get there and he isn’t there, immediately he’s back, he comes to me and says good morning, with that fixed sad smile, only a little wider. I give him the brightest smile I’ve got and say “Good morning, sir”. And then, I get on the bike and we zoom off in the ambiance of our silence and peaceful friendship. On random days, I want to pay him N100 instead of N50, just because, but I wonder how he’d react. I wonder if he’d be excited or if he’d feel insulted. I wonder about him. Every single time.

The seventh person is a lot like me. She’s a young girl. She lives within the estate. She’s always leaving for work when I’m walking the last mile to my office. I envy that. She’s very pretty 🙂 We pass by each other without a word but we give each other a placid stare. I know when she’s happy and when she’s down. I know when she had a good night rest and when it was frustrating. Yesterday, after we passed by, I turned around to look at her again and she had done the exact same thing. We smiled and turned around. I planned to ask for her name today 🙂

I’m glummer than usual today. My little lights weren’t there today.

Iya Titi wasn’t on the bridge today chanting “buy your fruits, fresh fresh fruits”. The beggars weren’t on the street. I didn’t hear the clank of the fork on the tray from afar off. I got there and saw the elder sister alone struggling to fry the puff puff, get people’s attention and sell them all at once. I stood out for almost thirty minutes, my bike man never came. And when I walked in, she didn’t pass. I couldn’t ask for her name.

I walked by looking worried, wondering where they all went and what could have happened to them. I saw too many people look at me like something was amiss.

I walked on, finding my path in the dark wondering if my lights would be back to light up the way tomorrow.