Trigger Warning: This chapter contains some scenes of Violence
Lydia was exhausted. She was sweating all over and her breath was shallow as she made her way to the next stall to buy another item. She and Chef had shared the items they had bought between themselves in nylon bags, some of which banged against her leg as she walked. This process was definitely going to have to be reviewed with Aunt Anita. She had never experienced shopping this tedious.
The market was disorganized; there didn’t seem to be a logical order to the spatial allocation of where goods were sold.
They had passed in between stalls where she had to weave through and push people to find passage. She had dodged hands of male traders who had tried to drag her into their stalls to convince her to patronise them or grope her- she wasn’t sure. She had been talked over and her nose had suffered from the smell of body and mouth odours. She was badly in need of a disinfectant bath because of the number of sweaty people she had brushed by. She also remembered morbid tales that had been narrated by the restaurant kitchen cooks of witches and Jazzmen who simply brushed against people and organs went missing. Every now and then, she imperceptibly brushed her chest to see if her breasts were still intact just to be sure. She was not superstitious, but the tales had been repeated too often not to have a ring of truth somehow.
To make matters worse, it seemed Chef was intentionally trying to make Lydia lose sight of her as she walked ahead too fast. Lydia squinted at Chef’s back with contempt. Chef hardly looked back to see if Lydia was keeping up with her. It was evidence that she was up to her antics again.
Suddenly she heard a loud grunt and turned around to see sweaty hunched men carrying heavy sacks. She quickly gave way for them to pass and so did the other people ahead of her, with the men forced to shout when people weren’t clearing the path fast enough. By the time they had all passed, she had completely lost sight of Chef. She decided she would continue along the path hoping she would eventually see Chef’s Dashiki clad form.
Several minutes and a deflated hope later, Lydia reached an intersection at the end of the path and halted. She couldn’t tell which way Chef had taken. She watched in frustration at the people milling about in between the stalls. She felt so lost and was at a loss of what to do next. She considered calling out Chef’s name but thought of the unnecessary attention it would cause. She quickly took note of her surroundings and resolved to call her instead so she could tell her where she was.
As if on cue, Chef’s head suddenly popped up around a corner, “Are you coming or not?”, she asked mischievously.
“Do you mind checking to see if I am behind you once in a while”, Lydia snapped her ire rising when Chef shrugged to show she didn’t know she had been walking too fast. “And please don’t play coy, you knew exactly what you were doing”.
Chef shook her head, blinking rapidly, “I have no idea what you’re talking about”, she said assuming a defensive stance.
Lydia shook her head incredulously at the woman’s pettiness. “You know what”, she said reaching a conclusion, “I’ll walk ahead while you’ll be behind me and giving me directions where to turn. That settles things”.
Chef bristled visibly. “As you wish. Shall we begin?”, she asked in a sneering patronising tone that grated Lydia’s nerves. “Forward”, she said the word with undertones of a command.
Lydia hesitated for a moment, thinking of firing the woman on the spot but decided against it and started to walk. This was neither the time nor the place, and she knew better than to let Chef know she was getting to her. Trust the insufferable woman to use the situation to her advantage.
When they finally reached the stall where they would purchase their next item, Lydia noticed a woman also stopped some feet away. She eyed the woman warily, making sure the woman didn’t know she was being observed. The woman was probably a thief waiting for them to drop their guard. The thought put Lydia on alert.
When it was time for them to go, she saw a hand reaching for their goods. It was the woman’s.
“Stop you thief!”, Lydia cried, smacking the woman’s hand hard. The woman jumped back startled and began rubbing where she had been slapped. Lydia’s palm also tingled from the impact.
“She’s not a thief”, Chef interjected rolling her eyes, “She’s my regular Alabaru”
Lydia’s face scrunched in confusion, “What?!”
“A-La-ba-ru”, Chef says with exasperation, intoning the syllables. “They carry things. Loads. For customers who’ve come to the market to buy things. She’s the one who usually carries my purchases when I come to the Market”
Lydia turned to regard the woman, and the woman looked back at her mutedly. It was then she noticed the woman’s slightly crooked neck and the metal basin and wound wrapper she was holding.
It was also the first time she noticed the woman was backing a baby.
At the sight Lydia cried, “But she has a child!”, and a fleeting image of the woman carrying their load and then some of it toppling over to crush the baby crossed her mind. She cringed inwardly at the thought.
Chef fixed her with a pointed look “No”, she drawled, “She has a job which she’s using to take care of that baby. Not many people are willing to give out handouts these days. Some people have to work for their money you know”
Lydia bristled. “You know quite well if something happens to that baby we will be responsible!”, She retorted in a tone that bordered on impatience.
Chef shrugged. “You think? You think our load is the heaviest she has ever carried while carrying that child?”, she barked a laugh. “You, my dear, are in a state of delusion”
Lydia’s eyes widened at the blatant insult. How dare she insult her! She was getting her fired right now!
“Even if we decide to let her go”, chef said interrupting her thoughts, “What makes you think she won’t find another customer with twice our load to make up for her loss? What makes you think something won’t happen to the child then?”
Lydia remained quiet, in a state of emotional conflict.
“Trust me”, Chef placated, “We are helping the woman and her child by patronising her. We could give her money now and send her off, but how long will it last beyond today?”
The whole time the woman didn’t speak, but merely observed the drama. Lydia wondered if the woman’s mental faculties were in place, with her passive stance and her distended spaced dentition that left her mouth open. Instead, Lydia quickly settled for a more gratifying opinion of the woman not understanding English.
Lydia watched in fascination as the woman put all the things they had purchased so far inside the metal basin, placed the rolled wrapper on her head, and then lifted the load without assistance and tried to balance the basin properly on the rolled wrapper.
For a moment Lydia watched in fear for the sleeping child as the basin tilted dangerously backward but then the woman expertly balanced the weight.
She watched as Chef gave her directions to go put the load in their car. Apparently this was a normal routine as well.
Wow, was all Lydia could think. Wow.
Ladi couldn’t count how many times he had blacked out.
They had stopped traumatising him for now. It seemed that as they ran out of what to do, they looked for new ways to excite the crowd by inflicting pain. The mini breaks inbetween were moments for planning what to do next.
It was merely all for show.
His legs were stretched before him, and flesh hung and blood trickled from the deep welts on his back. His breathe was shallow, and sounded like the wind rustling dried dead leaves. He was all hanging flesh and blood and broken bones; a macabre representation of who he once was.
The constant torture had gotten his senses impaired and caused him to experience dissociation. He had long lost cognizance and had drifted into a dreamlike nightmarish state. It was almost as if he was outside himself watching the gruesome acts of lunacy inflicted on his form.
His left eye was swollen shut, and he wasn’t sure if what was oozing out of it were tears or blood. The wide gash across his face smacked, as well as the other lacerations on his body. He had long lost feeling of his limbs.
Even his ears had lost their auditory faculties. Though he could see animated lips on some angry twisted faces of the mob, the only sounds that came to him were muted sounds and a persistent white noise that blared in his ears; a sound that indicated he already had one foot on the spirit side.
With his one eye that was gradually losing coordination, it wobbled in its socket as he weakly scanned the crowd for a familiar face, and for the first time saw some pity on some of them. For one manic moment he wanted to laugh at the hypocrisy of it all.
He could feel Death beckoning, still he persisted.
But he didn’t know what he was living for.
“Welcome to the Suya joint!” , Chef said with a flourish that was incongruous to the circumstance they were in. They had just arrived the Abattoir to buy Beef.
There was nothing welcoming about the sounds of Knives hacking, Cows mooing and Men grunting as they entered the place. There was nothing welcoming about the musty air that reeked of blood, cow dung and sweat. Chef who had been watching closely, chuckled at Lydia’s wide eyed expression, but Lydia was oblivious and lost in observation.
For the first time Lydia got to see how her favourite meal was prepared. She had watched in fascination as sweaty dark lanky men hacked Beef on wooden tables with knives that had been sharpened so often they were curved. Basins of blood and guts were set aside for reasons Lydia couldn’t comprehend. The flies that hovered persistently on the beef were unlike any she had ever seen. They were fat their weight was too much for their wings to lift them, as they buzzed about lazily. She was also unfortunately opportuned to see how the Cows were kept and slaughtered.
Several of the cows had flies perched on their mottled bodies riddled with mosquito bites. The cows knew they were about to be slaughtered after all they were forced to watch their mates go through the same fate. So they sidestepped, and threatened with their horns yet their assailants remained unfazed.
She watched in dread as one man, who seemed to be an expert at it, roped the neck of a cow while another man roped its hind legs. Together they pulled at the rope and felled the great beast. The cow mooed in protest, its tail thumping the ground
Then the man who was at the head of the beast lifted a sharpened knife and with his mouth chanting what seemed to be a litany, slit the throat of the Cow in one swift motion. Lydia looked on despite the bile rising to her throat as the eyes of the cow took a bluish gray tinge, its body jerking spasmodically.
“Seen enough?”, Chef quipped coming to stand beside Lydia to watch the men who had begun ceremoniously skinning the cow. Their Alabaru had left to drop the meat Chef purchased in the trunk of the car.
“Not quite what you expected, is it?”, Chef said again cocking her head. Lydia still in turmoil spared her a nod and forced herself to look away from the scene.
But what had she really expected?
She hadn’t really expected anything. But she certainly hadn’t expected it would be this brutal.
As they made their way to buy a carton of detergents, her mind reeled from what she had just witnessed.
One thing was for sure, she wasn’t going to be eating Beef for a very long time.
As they got to where they would buy the detergents, they discovered Chef’s regular customer’s stall was closed which forced them to visit another stall nearby where they sold detergents as well.
When it was time for payment, an argument ensued between Chef and the trader on what the discount price ought to be for buying a large quantity. Chef argued that her regular trader’s price wasn’t as expensive, while the trader’s stance was that prices had gone up because of dollar rate.
Sighing with exasperation, Lydia stalked off in search of a bench. Her tired legs couldn’t stand this nonsense.
Grudgingly, Lydia had to admit the ugly slippers had helped. Their soles had a nice springy effect that had cushioned her footfall. She couldn’t imagine her 9W slippers doing the same. Her instep would have been sore by now.
She noticed the lane between stalls here was not as rowdy as the ones they just came through. She also noticed several of the stalls here were shut down as well. Perhaps not many people bought detergents, or maybe because people were already on their way home because evening was fast approaching.
She looked at the time, the clock struck minutes past three. She couldn’t wait to go home to take off her clothes and take a long hot bath and then sleep. Eating was far from her mind with everything she had just seen.
She had already walked past three stalls when she heard hushed voices to her right which prompted her to look at the source. Just between two stalls was a narrow alleyway where a woman was crouched low before a small girl in a green pleated gown. The woman had her hands gripping the girl’s shoulders and was shaking her roughly. She was speaking rapidly in Yoruba and seemed tensed up. The girl only seemed able to cry in response.
Lydia was sure she made no sound but somehow the girl and the woman were alerted of her presence and turned to look at her. For some reason, they had the look of people who had just been caught doing something wrong because both of them had fear in their eyes of being overheard.
Lydia feeling slightly guilty of spying, stood transfixed at the sight of them. Silent.
The girl sniffed and quickly swiped at her running nose, while the woman’s fearful gaze turned assessing as she regarded Lydia. Some moments passed and finally convinced Lydia was no threat, she quickly stood up and grabbed the girls hand and walked away in the opposite direction.
“What are you looking at”, Chef said walking to her. She had successfully purchased the detergents. She briefly looked into the Alley and saw the retreating figures of a woman holding a girl’s hand. The Alabaru woman was nearby carrying the carton of the detergents in the metal basin on her head.
“Nothing”, Lydia said evasively after the girl and the woman were out of sight, and tried to remember the Yoruba she heard the woman speak. She also tried to translate it but her Yoruba was abysmal.
“Umm…”, Lydia started, not sure of how to phrase the question “What is ‘Kilon paro’?”. She was sure she was missing some bits in-between.
Chef looked at her with bewilderment. “Where did you hear that from?”
Lydia sighed in exasperation. “Just answer the question”
Chef huffed, and Lydia wished she had not asked in the first place. She was about to tell her not to bother but she began talking.
“Well, If it’s Kilon paro, it means ‘what is a lie?’”, Chef said looking at her dubiously, “But with the way you said it I doubt that is even what you heard.’”
Lydia grudgingly nodded in admittance at that. However, she tried to piece what she’d just gleaned to what she had just witnessed but she really did not know what to make of it. It was hard to come to conclusions with zero facts.
“On to buy cabbages”, Chef said interrupting her thoughts. “And then we’ll be out of this place finally. Which I am sure is what you’ve been waiting to hear”, she added cheekily.
Lydia merely shrugged in resignation. It was the truth, and quite frankly she had run out of steam for Chef. She was truly tired.
And off they went, Lydia soon forgetting about the woman and the tearful girl.
Watch out for Part V