Trigger Warning: This chapter contains some scenes of Violence
Boom! Boom!! Boom!!!
Lydia jolted awake to the sound of fists repeatedly hitting the side of the car. She blinked dazedly and looked outside the window only for her breath to catch when she saw the scene outside.
Several hooligans had surrounded the car.
She looked in panic at the backs of the driver and the chef who were in the drivers and passenger’s seat respectively, expecting to see frantic reactions but was taken aback. They didn’t have the mien of people that were getting robbed, but neither were they relaxed. She watched in confusion as the driver changed gears and determinedly had eyes on the steering. The car lurched in response to his action but remained fixed in its position. The Chef said something Lydia was too dazed to make out, probably a suggestion, and was making steering gestures to which the driver mimicked with the wheel.
Frowning, She looked outside the window again and the realization of their situation dawned on her as she took note of their surroundings. They had arrived the market and their driver had entered a deep rut. She wound her window down to better understand the situation and realised the ‘hooligans’ she had thought they were, were instructing him on how to get out of it.
Apparently he had also ventured too deeply into the market as the men also expressed their irritation in that regard with every failed attempt to get out of the rut. Several of the men made insulting gestures at him of somebody without sense.
Finally the driver revved out of the rut, the pickup truck’s engine roaring as the acceleration pedal was stepped on with full force.
Chef turned her gaze towards her, and she was struck by the accusation she saw in their depths. “We ventured this far into the market with the car because of you, we can’t go any further”
Lydia looked back at her incredulously. What was that supposed to mean? Did she send her??? Wasn’t she asleep?!
“It’s not like I asked you to do so, did I?”, Lydia retorted.
The chef looked like she wanted to say something but instead said, “We are getting down here”, with a tone that welcomed no argument which got on Lydia’s nerves because it wasn’t as if she was going to protest anyway, and opened her door and stepped out.
Lydia tried to calm her temper and looked at the driver. The discerning man was looking pointedly ahead, as if to express he did not want to have any business with their drama.
She wasn’t going to give the miserable woman the satisfaction of seeing her angry. Not today Satan, Not today.
It was only two weeks since she had assumed her position as Manager of her aunt’s restuarant, but Chef’s unbearable persona had made it seem longer.
Lydia just returned from the UK after spending 8 years where she studied Catering and Hotel Management in university. She’d always wanted to own a Hotel. Her visits to 5 and 7 star hotels in UK and Dubai inspired ambitious dreams to own such hotels in Nigeria and hopefully West Africa.
When she arrived Lagos she was surprised how so much had changed and yet things seemed to be the same. New structures had been erected yet people still bore the same attitudes. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry and on their guard. Nevertheless she had missed home, the weather, the good food. Food back in Uk never tasted the same even with the same ingredients used. What she didn’t miss was the fluctuating electricity – although the inverter seemed to have allayed the problem to an extent, the mosquitoes, the marred roads and the traffic.
She was staying with her Aunt Anita in Lekki who owned the restaurant and invited Lydia to come and gain some managerial experience. Lydia was so excited for the opportunity.
On the day the position was handed to her, her and her Aunt were lounging in the Gazebo on the rooftop of the restaurant. It offered an expansive view of the Island and the blurred edges of the horizon. Lydia took in the sight as she sipped cocktail that had been served to both of them. She waited for her aunt to finish the call she was making before nodding her head and commenting, “this is really good”, she said referring to the cocktail.
Anita grinned, and raised her cocktail glass in salute, “From the very best”, she said proudly and took a sip. She was a woman in her late forties. Her white shirt and white khaki pants housed a slim and fit frame with pampered skin. She was a woman who was comfortable in her own body, and had accomplished a lot early. She didn’t look a day over twenty five.
She set the glass down and rapped her red manicured nails on the oak table. “So are you ready for the big role”, she asked Lydia, tilting her head.
Lydia hesitated. She wasn’t sure if she was being interviewed or if it was just mere conversation. Her aunt was an astute business woman and no doubt could judge someone’s capability’s from her interactions with them. She didn’t want to botch this so she took the middle ground in her response.
“Aunty I am so stoked that I have been given this role on a silver platter”, she began genially, ”But I am really eager to apply what I have learned in school, and hopefully add value to your restaurant”.
Her aunt nodded, as if pleased, and Lydia sighed inwardly. Phew!
Her aunt handed her a file that had been lying on the table. Lydia had spotted it earlier but didn’t know what to make of it and had lost interest in it.
It was a file containing the restaurant’s monthly revenue for the first quarter of the year. Lydia flicked through the pages, carefully controlling her facial expressions while internally she blanked at the costs that ran into millions. Some of the items didn’t seem to be worth the prices listed. Worse still, there were duplicated records of the same item having different prices.
Lydia lifted her gaze to Anita who had been watching her, “Your expenses are huge”, she commented evasively.
“I know”, Anita conceded and took a sip of her cocktail. “It’s why I need a new manager to keep an eye on things. I don’t want to suspect whoever is responsible for foul play but as from now on, I am not going to tolerate any nonsense.”
“I want you to keep an eye on things for me, It’s not going to be easy but don’t be afraid to ask me questions or talk to those who have been around. Do you understand?”. Lydia nodded in acknowledgement.
Anita nodded. “You will be taking over from Chef”, she said and jutted her chin to someone behind Lydia. Lydia froze and turned. Standing there was the recently displaced Chef who stood rigidly with her hands clasped behind her. She was a slim woman and was average height. Her facial features were deceptive. Lydia couldn’t tell if she was an old woman looking young or a young person looking old. Lydia wondered how long she had been standing and how much she had heard. From the look of things, it seemed she had heard a lot.
“Chef mans the Kitchen but of late she has been multitasking positions and was also serving as Manager as well”, Anita continued oblivious to the tension brewing, “Now with you around she can better attend to her former duties”
Chef glanced at Lydia briefly but not before Lydia noted the subtle hardening of her gaze.
Anita provided an opportunity for them to introduce themselves to each other. “Lydia Williams”, Lydia said pasting a smile on her face and offering her hand for a handshake regardless of the Chef’s frosty demeanour, “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you”. Chef grunted and merely let the tip of her fingers graze Lydia’s. “Charity”, was all she offered flippantly.
If Anita noticed the strained exchange, she gave no indication but she turned to give Chef Instructions in a no-nonsense kind of way, “So I need you to assist Lydia in her duties. Take her to where you make your purchases so she can compare prices. Give her orientation, Answer her questions”.
After that day, Anita was off to China and left Lydia to see to her Managerial duties. The reception of the Staff had ranged from friendly to cautious, and they readily gave her information when she needed. Chef was the only exception. Whenever both of them were in a room there was palpable tension that set everyone around them on edge. She was also very miserly with information giving Lydia vague replies to questions that needed detailed answers and demonstrations.
“She’s not usually like this”, one of the cooks told her one day when Chef walked into the kitchen, barely acknowledged Lydia’s presence and walked out just the same way. “She’s just upset”.
She wished Anita had gotten someone else to escort her to the Market, and not a disgruntled Chef whose Job was just been transferred to her.
As Lydia hung her satchel which had been resting on the seat next to her as she slept on her neck, she made up her to endure the maddening woman during this trip but if push came to shove, she wouldn’t hesitate to hand her a termination letter upon their arrival at the restaurant. She was done playing nice. She had tolerated the woman for this long because she was a long standing staff of restaurant but she was worried if she tolerated her much longer Chef would turn the other Staff against her. If she was forced to fire Chef for her lack of professionalism, she hoped her aunt would understand her decision.
She opened her door and just as she was about to step down, she heard the smug voice of the Chef, “Watch your step”, as her feet entered a poodle.
She watched in horror as muddy water seeped through her Nine west slippers and covered her feet.
Her Nine West slippers. Her designer slippers. Ruined.
Lydia’s chest burned in anger. The witch! She knew the puddle was there, and She had enough time to have told the driver to reverse a little to accommodate her coming out.
Lydia composed her features and looked up at the chef, only to find an amused glint in her eyes.
What the fuck was this woman’s problem?!.
“How unfortunate”, she said in place of an apology as Lydia stepped out the puddle and wriggled her legs to release water that had pooled between her feet and slippers. “Let me go and get you pure water to wash your legs”, and with that she ordered the driver to go and park the car in the designated carpark and then turned around and walked off.
Lydia watched the offending woman’s back as she walked away and wondered if it was an oversight, or as things were beginning to appear, purely malicious that she wasn’t informed no one wore designer slippers to this kind of market.
Lydia swept a gaze over the market. Jesus Christ. She didn’t know what she had been expecting. Sure she had been warned it wasn’t up to Shoprite’s standards, but she had expected a decent environment, like a Mall or Plaza with neat stalls and not this dilapidated excuse of a trade centre. This was the very antithesis of modernity.
She had been informed that this was the right place to buy cooking ingredients in bulk at a reasonable price. Looking around, she couldn’t help but wonder if they were sacrificing quality for quantity.
It was a lot for Lydia to take in: the dirty looking traders, the manner in which the items sold were kept, the stagnant water and the flies. Lydia watched in revulsion as a woman plucked vegetables from their stalk with fingers that were so dirty that she feared where they had been, only for her to put them on the ground. On the fucking ground that had potholes nearby filled with stale water with which flies were taking mud baths.
And what was that stench in the air? Was it just here or was it everywhere?.
Lydia’s stomach churned, and she gulped as a feeling of nausea assailed her. She couldn’t afford to be sick right now. That would only add insult upon Chef’s injury to her already dented ego.
As if conjured, the witch returned with a pure-water satchet in one hand, and then a nylon in the other. As soon as she was close enough to Lydia, she brought out a pair of slippers from the nylon and dramatically dropped them at Lydia’s feet.
The ugliest pair of rubber slippers Lydia had ever seen.
Lydia wrinkled her nose at them. “What are those?”. She knew quite well what they were. She was just offended these were the best Chef could find, or were probably bought to aggravate her. The slippers were the abominable love child of Croc and Aerosoft slippers. Even the patterns and colours were at war with each other.
“They may be ugly”, Chef conceded, although her eyes gleamed with ill-concealed triumph, “But they are practical and can be used several times over. Unlike those pretty overpriced designer slippers that are only made for dragging feet”.
Lydia gritted her teeth and trudged through her ever simmering temper around Chef and said prettily, “Thank you very much”, she feigned a smile, “Atleast my next designer slippers will be saved”. With that she snatched the pure-water sachet from Chef, tore a corner open and splashed some of the water on her leg. As she donned the horrid slippers, Lydia cringed inwardly at the squishing sound they made.
Chef watched her closely the whole time. Looking for reactions no doubt, Lydia thought, and probably calculating her next moves to make this experience even more miserable than the derelict market environment promised.
As they made their way into the market with Chef leading, Lydia smothered a sigh.
Today was going to be a long day.
Ladi didn’t know how many times he had blacked out.
As the news spread like wildfire throughout the market, so did the details of the transgression transform in a more exaggerated manner. It was little wonder then that the closer he got to the market square, the heavier and more obscene the objects used to pelt him became. At one point, someone threw a bucket of urine on him as he was dragged along which caused him to retch on himself. Yet they dragged on
By the time he had been dragged to the market square where the traders usually had their quarterly meetings, his calves had peeled off. His peeled skin glared red in sharp relief, with dirt matting the edges.
He was placed at centre of the market square and this time the pelting became even more brutal as the crowd had increased and the state of the crowd more animalistic. Stones, broken bottles, sticks, were thrown at him. Cuts and bruises graced his skin as they were thrown and the fetid water poured on him made them sting.
He cried in anguish, trying to plead with the enraged crowd but abruptly choked on his breath at the unexpected crack of a whip against his back, his wet skin peeling off cleanly as it was raised.
Somewhere, in a distant part of his memory, he remembered watching a similar situation he was in now. In jungle justice, he had witnessed that the more pain that was inflicted on the perpetrator, the more aggressive the crowd became, craving blood.
It would only get worse.
Ladi let out a guttural scream as the whip was landed on his back again, and his bowed off the ground at the bone jarring impact. He convulsed as the whip landed on him again and again, and this time on his arms, neck and legs taking a bite of flesh whenever it was raised
He raised his arms in plea, and it only aggravated the person flogging. He tried to turn and have a look at whoever it was, hoping eye contact would soften the person’s blows. Just as he turned he felt the whip slash his face diagonally and the tip of it enter his left eye.
Watch out for Part IV