I'm glad to announce that my second novel, Jewel from the Ghetto is out and now available on Okadabooks.
Here are sample chapters:
Somewhere in Agege, Pink Roses Beauty Shop, 9.15 a.m.
SHAKIRAH CAME INTO THE salon in tears. She had a black eye that could hardly open, a swollen cheek, and lips twice their size—no thanks to the beating she received from a vicious street thug on her way to work that morning. She looked pitiable and her over-bleached skin reeked of the smell of two or more cheap bleaching creams mixed together for optimal result. The moment the other twelve or so apprentices of Pink Roses caught sight of her, they were curious to know what happened. But when she opened her mouth to talk, she felt a lump in her throat and the words stuck. She swallowed hard, tried once more but a loud cry broke free instead. As she struggled to narrate her ordeal, Kasumu, The Scorpion, walked in.
Kasumu, popularly known as The Scorpion because of the big scorpion tattoo he had on one of his upper arms, was a hard and feared street boy who had a crush on Shakirah and was a friend of the house in Pink Roses Beauty Shop. He had a rough jaw and bloodshot eyes that were not wider than slits sitting beside each other and gave an impression of someone permanently high on a mixture of spirits and marijuana. A deep machete scar crested the left side of his face. His lips were as dark as hell. However, as tough and mean as he was, Kasumu had a weakness—Shakirah! And a soft spot that surprised those who got close enough to see this contradiction in his personality.
At seeing Shakirah, his eyes narrowed and his face hardened. A lone vein stood out on his forehead like a streak of lightning. He clenched his fists. “Shakirah,” he snarled in his deep, husky voice, “who did this to you?”
Shakirah made an attempt to answer, “It ... was ...” She sniffed. “It ... was ...” But the sob choked the words in her throat.
Kasumu studied her and he could tell instantly that it was the work of a street thug. “Can you recognize him when you see him?” he probed. Shakirah nodded her head in response. He bit his lips slowly. “Good. Let’s go!” He grabbed her by the hand and lead her out of the salon. His strides were like those of a fierce combatant and Shakirah had to practically run along to keep up with him. Outside, he mounted Shakirah on his motorbike and the next second, they vanished into thin air!
Ten minutes later, they were at Orita Junction, a notorious spot where the deadliest street boys hung out. The culprit and two other boys were sitting on a bench with a heap of marijuana and bottles of Chelsea dry gin in front of them. Two of them were busy wrapping the marijuana into sticks while the third was already smoking his and oozing thick smoke into the air. He followed each puff with a sensational whistle that instantly drowned in the blaring noise from a music shop nearby. Thick haze of the hemp hovered momentarily in the air before disappearing into the atmosphere. But not before the breeze blew the choking smell across Shakirah’s and Scorpion’s noses. Shakirah quickly covered her nose while Scorpion sniffed in the smell with pleasure.
“That’s him.” Shakirah pointed to the dreadlock-haired assailant, still covering her nose with the other hand.
With the speed and force of a swift storm, Scorpion advanced, grabbed the bench and flung it and its occupants away. The unsuspecting boys rolled off in different directions. The marijuana heap scattered in the air and the bottles of hot drinks shattered on the ground.
Spark, the bellicose culprit, sprang to his feet. He spat out in disgust like a venomous viper. He vibrated in anger. His biceps rose and the veins of his head stood in aggression. He charged towards Scorpion and threw a swift left punch at him. Scorpion ducked. Immediately, he swung the right punch with added intensity but again Scorpion dodged. However, the move exposed him enough for Scorpion to bury a powerful punch into his side and followed it immediately with a deadly uppercut to his jaw. A mixture of spittle and blood flew out of his mouth and reeling off balance, he scrambled to the ground on all fours like a whipped dog.
He got up on his feet again. He wiped the blood tickling down a corner of his mouth with the back of his palm and gnashed his blood-soaked teeth in anger.
“Ah! Emi Spark! O wa jẹjú mi lábẹ́tẹ̀ mi,” he screamed in a mixture of Yoruba and street slangs, “ìyá ẹ́ máa kù leni” (Ah! I, Spark! You came to defile me in my hood! Your mother must die today.)
He picked up an empty beer bottle and smashed it on his own head. He shook the head viciously and beat his chest like an angry gorilla. “Awọ́n father ẹ́ ń duro de ẹ́ l’ọrún. Oya, dàgbéré!” (Your ancestors await you. Now say your goodbye!) He screamed as he charged with full force towards Scorpion with the jag-headed bottle remnant in his hand ready to stab Scorpion to death.
Scorpion stood still, unperturbed. Eyes intently fixed on the advancing opponent. He studied him carefully and calculated his next move. Spark headed for Scorpion’s heart but again Scorpion effortlessly ducked and quickly picking up a plank from the ground, he smashed the bottle off his hand. The hand dangled loosely back and forth from the wrist. Spark grimaced and recoiled in pain.
Instantly, Scorpion matched up to him and sent a punch to his left cheek. He staggered backwards and Scorpion followed it with another one to his right. He staggered further backwards. Scorpion followed through with another and another and yet another until the last one sent him reeling to the ground. Caught in a swirl of vertigo, he crawled on the ground aimlessly in no particular direction. All he could see were tiny specs of bluish-purple lights dancing in front of him. His lips were puffy and battered. Two of his teeth had flown out in the process of the beating. He groaned in agony.
Then, Scorpion removed his belt and whipped the hell out of him. Squirming in pains, he struggled to his feet and took to his heels staggeringly. Scorpion chased after him and sent down heavy lashes on his back each step of the way until he fell few inches away from Shakirah. He cried like a child begging Scorpion to spare him.
“Ahhh! Áláyé ... Máa ṣe bi o ṣe to. Máa jẹ́ ojú abùró ẹ́. Baba, jọ̀ wo ṣe fun abùró ẹ. Mi ó to yàjú si ẹ́.” (Ahhh! Big boss ... Please don’t pour the full wrath of your might on me ... Don’t humiliate your younger one ... I didn’t mean to disrespect you.)
“Not me ... Her.” Scorpion replied pointing to Shakirah. His expression mean. His voice affirmative.
Spark immediately crawled to Shakirah and held her legs with both hands in submission. He begged for mercy, “màmà, ẹ jọ ọ́. Mi ò ni ṣe ìrú ẹ́ mọ.” (Mama, please I won’t ever do that again.)
Shakirah stood imposingly over him with arms akimbo, face thrown sideways, and leg placed on his head as if it were a foot stool. “Begin licking my feet now!” she commanded him with an air of authority. It was time to make him pay for what he did to her.
Meanwhile, the two other boys who were with Spark had fled the scene. One of them ran to Don Baba, the fierce leader of their gang, who immediately summoned the remaining members of the deadly gang to gear up for battle. He roused their spirit with a speech akin to the ones given by generals on ancient battlefields. They roared in a chorus with eyes glowing like a burning fire, brandishing all sorts of deadly weapons. They were ready to cause mayhem. No one dared crossed into their territory to desecrate their hood unless the person was prepared to die! They were now blood-thirty and ready to shed as much blood as necessary to reclaim their pride.
“That bastard’s days are numbered!” Don Baba said. His expression was stone-cold and the defiance in his voice was scary.
Back at the battle scene, the disfigured Spark licked Shakirah’s feet meticulously like nothing else in the world mattered. A crowd had formed a circle around them enjoying the ongoing drama.
Suddenly, heavy sounds of smashing bottles and screeching sound of machetes scratching against the ground rented the air. The cacophony was amplified by the chants of about fifty daredevils who were out for blood. Immediately, everyone scampered off in different directions almost causing a stampede. Shop owners closed their shops in a jiffy and roadside merchants hurriedly packed their wares. People knew better than to linger around. They knew that another bloody street brawl was brewing and in less than five minutes, the streets became a ghost town. The stage was set for blood bath!
Scorpion and Shakirah turned around and saw the approaching armed gang. Shakirah ran behind Scorpion trembly. But Scorpion’s eyes narrowed and his face grew firmer. He scanned the advancing mob analysing their Achilles heel. A corner of his mouth reshaped itself into a wry smile as he clenched his fists in readiness for battle. ‘Action time!’ A voice echoed in his head.
Surprisingly, immediately Don Baba spotted Scorpion, he halted in his tracks abruptly and raised his hand to motion the rest to stop. They all stopped at once and lowered their weapons in imitation of Don Baba who had already done so.
“Scorpion?!” Don Baba exclaimed, perplexed. He switched glances between Spark and Scorpion and finally settled it on Shakirah. He then raised both hands in the air and stamped a foot on the ground like a soldier saluting a senior officer.
“Double tuaile, Scorpion baba!!!” he hailed him in a familiar street slang. Then he turned to Spark who was writhing in pain and scolded him, “Spark, you don’t know Scorpion?!” His voice was deep, gruff, and scary. He pounded his fist against his palm. “Fool, you didn’t recognize the Alpha of the Hoods, The Slay King of the Zanga, Destroyer of the Insolent Ones, the Breaker of Bones, The Nemesis of Molesters, Terror of Defiant Bastards, and he who instils fear and humiliates the haughty ones?! And you disrespected him? Idiot!” He barred his teeth.
“I didn’t know it was him, boss. I’m sorry.” Spark began to cry harder; the magnitude of his folly just fully dawned on him.
“If not that you’ve been dealt with already, I should have had you whipped for your insolence.”
Don Baba turned back his attention to Scorpion and pleaded in Spark’s behalf. All the other boys joined in too, “Respect, baba. Two hands in the air for you, baba!” They equally mollified Shakirah.
After acknowledging Don Baba and his boys, Scorpion and Shakirah climbed on his bike and zoomed off leaving behind a cloud of dust.
“Boy, you went too far this time around ...” Don Baba drew in the smoke from the thick marijuana tucked between his index and middle fingers, “way too far,” he told Spark as he puffed the thick smoke into his face.
* * *
Somewhere in Banana Island.
“But mum, I told you I am working on it,” Yemi Williams answered his mother on phone in his American accent.
“Exactly what you’ve been telling me for years. You are not getting any younger you know,” Mrs Williams countered.
If there was anything Yemi hated, it was the constant nagging of his mother, especially now that he was running late for a business meeting with a prospective client.
“Mum, please can we talk about this later? I’m running late for an important appointment,” he replied as he placed some documents into his briefcase with the other hand.
“And why can’t we talk about it now? You are always evasive whenever I bring up this topic.”
“Mum?” he said and pouted.
“And you just pouted your mouth at me, Yemi. That is a naughty thing to do!”
“Mum, I didn’t.” He picked up the briefcase and hurried towards his car.
“Yemi, you did. Don’t forget I’m your mother and I carried you in my belly for nine months,” she said rolling her eyes.
“And mum, you just rolled your eyes at me, too.” He opened the door of the car and dropped the briefcase on the back seat.
“Yes mum, you just did and don’t forget I’m your son and I stayed in your belly for nine months.”
“Naughty you! But Yemi, on a more serious note, I’m worried about you. You are not getting younger and most of your mates are already settling down. Remember Bolaji, my friend’s son and your classmate in primary school? He already has two kids and Tunmise got married a few months ago. But for you, you haven’t even brought a girl home let alone settling down. Is it that the girls are not coming or you are too busy to pay attention to them? And I’ve been telling you about Nicole but you ...”
“Nicole? Mum!!!” he cut in with a shrill voice.
“And what’s wrong with Nicole?” Mrs Williams drawled.
“Mum, can we drop this topic, please?” He turned to his gateman, “Abdulahi, please open the gate.”
“What did you say?”
“Not you, mum. I was talking to my gateman.”
“Mum, I’ve got to go now. Talk to you later. Love you. Bye.” He rushed the words and quickly ended the call before his mum could say any other word.
“Hello ... Hello ... Yemi ... Hello ... Are you still there, Yemi ... Hello ...” She looked at the phone screen and realized that he had ended the call. “Naughty boy. I wonder when he’s going to bring a girl home.”
“Agnes, I’ve told you to let the boy be. He’s not a small boy you know. I know he knows what he’s doing,” Mr Williams who was reading his early morning newspaper and was listening to the conversation told his wife.
“Let him be? And until when? Will it be until I’m too old and my bones are too weak to back my grandchildren?” she snapped at him.
“You worry too much, Agnes. I’m sure you will meet her when the time is ripe.”
“I don’t even know why I’m having this conversation with you. If this was how long you stayed before marrying me would you have had him when you did? Perhaps, you would still be buying diapers by now.” She hissed and left for the dinning room.
Mr. Williams followed her movement with a corner of his eyes. He turned the next page of his newspaper. “Women, they will never change.” He shook his head slowly.
YEMI TAPPED ON THE steering wheel of his car impatiently. He had been stuck in traffic for so long that he was beginning to lose his patience. He hissed, then blamed himself, “Oh, why didn’t I leave home in time? Damn! I forgot I’m no longer in the States.” He tapped harder on the steering wheel. “I should have known you can’t predict traffic on Lagos roads!” Yes, he truly forgot he was now in Lagos, Nigeria.
Yemi, a tall, fresh, and good-looking young man with an American accent, was born with a silver spoon. He was the fourth child of the wealthy business tycoon, Mr. Adesoji Williams. Yemi, like his siblings before him, was whisked off to the United States of America after he finished his primary education in Nigeria—an occurrence that had become the tradition of the Williams family. The Williamses had a philosophy and it was simple: the best heritage any responsible parents could give their children is the best education. And they believed that such education could be best given outside the shores of Nigeria.
Ever since, Yemi had been in the States with occasional visits to Nigeria. He had been schooled in Harvard University and had secured a good job to become a successful young man. Though he had spent most of his life in the States and had an American citizenship to his credits, he had never forgotten whom he truly was—a Nigerian first and every other thing was secondary; he was proud of his African heritage.
Therefore, it wasn’t surprising that at age thirty, he decided to return to Nigeria to set up his own company. Being from a wealthy and renowned family made getting his consulting company started and running kind of easy. That, however, didn’t mean he didn’t work for the success he now enjoyed. His father’s goodwill and connections only paved the way; they didn’t do the magic.
It was his hard work that had brought him in contact with the clients, a group of foreign investors, he was to meet this morning. But the traffic was threatening to make a mess of it all. He checked his wristwatch for the umpteenth time in the last two minutes and he realized time was fast running out. He wished he could tie down the hands of time or better still, grow wings and fly but he was no Superman! Just then, he noticed that several vehicles in front of him were taking a right turn into a rough road. He watched the first, the second, the third, and by the time he counted up to ten vehicles, he was convinced that they were all trying to take an alternative route to beat the raging traffic. Without a second thought, he joined them.
The road was very bad and bumpy. He ordinarily wouldn’t have driven his brand new Range Rover sport edition on such a bad road but he didn’t have a choice. The road and several others like it took him round the heart of Agege, a lively ghetto. As they made one turn after the other, he was stunned by was he saw. He had never been in a ghetto before. The closest he had ever come to it was watching it on the news and not witnessing it first-hand as he was now.
He could hardly comprehend what life would be like living in such conditions. It was over-populated and rowdy. The houses were cramped together with little or no space between them and he wondered how the people got enough ventilation. Overcrowded tenement bungalows were a common sight. Debris-clogged gutters and stagnant pools of muddy water breeding mosquitoes in their numbers could be seen every now and then. The smell of fresh pepper, tomatoes, and vegetables on display by the roadsides saturated the air. Commercial motorcycles and tricycles popularly called ‘Okada’ and ‘Keke Marwa’ or ‘Keke Napep’ respectively littered the whole place emitting thick choking carbon monoxide into the atmosphere and producing noises that could harm the eardrums.
Overwhelmed by what he saw, Yemi momentarily forgot about his appointment and allowed himself to be absorbed in the scenery. That was when he caught sight of a beauty shop and it sucked him in completely. His lips parted in admiration, “Oh, my God! Look at that!” He shook his head slowly in wonderment.
The shop stood in shack contrast to its environment. Its branding distinguished it from the several other hairdressing salons he had seen in the area. It wasn’t spectacular though. It couldn’t compare with the ones in Ikeja, Lekki, Victoria Island, or Banana Island neither. But for an area such as this, it was attention-grabbing and the owner was worthy of commendation!
She branded the shop with beautiful pictures of young ladies he presumed were her apprentices. He knew this because the pictures were not those of dashing models or ‘photoshopped’ images of some beautiful foreign ladies. They were pictures of local yet gorgeous ladies! His eyes hovered on the shop for a while and settled on a sign post that read: Pink Roses!
He said to himself, “Pink Roses? Impressive! What a great show of ingenuity and originality.” He rubbed his chin. “Who could have thought someone could think out of the box in a place such as this? What a sharp contrast! And for her to be proud of our own local ladies is highly commendable.”
As he followed the cars in front of him, the image of the beauty shop stuck to his head like leeches. His admiration for the shop and its owner was never lost in the rowdiness of this lively ghetto. Her African pride impressed him the most and was worthy of emulation. He had seen several professionally branded beauty shops in the high-brow areas of Lagos but none had ever compared to Pink Roses in terms of originality. Many of them rather showcased the faces of foreign models and celebrities. The ones that came close usually had the pictures of Nigerian celebrities or Nollywood stars and not ordinary local girls!
Soon they connected the main road again having cut off the traffic jam behind. How happy he was that he followed the vehicles that made the turn. Not only did he make his appointment promptly but he, for the first time in his life, saw first-hand what a ghetto truly looked like. More so, he saw the beauty shop that stirred his imagination in a way he never imagined.
On his way back home later in the day, he thought about his telephone conversation with his mother earlier in the morning. He wondered why she couldn’t be patient with him instead of nagging him to death over the matter. The issue of marriage was not what should be taken lightly—it’s a lifelong contract that could make a very bad mess of one’s life if not gotten right and he felt that his enlightened mum should know better.
He had seen too many marriages crumbling like a pack of cards in the first few years in the United States for him to rush into one; divorce over there was as common as taking a cup of coffee. For him, Nigerian ladies over there was a bad choice. Most of them were far too wayward to spend the rest of one’s life with. Back home, getting a suitable girl wasn’t an easy task either. But his mother chose not to understand that. He only hoped she would someday.
* * *
Fortunately, Yemi won the deal. His clients wanted to set up a cement factory at Ewekoro. The project, subsequently, took him through the route on a regular basis. As time went by, Yemi became so fascinated by Pink Roses that he deliberately used the bad road even when the traffic on the main road didn’t justify such bumpy rides. Each time, his admiration for the salon grew stronger and he never missed the opportunity to look at the beautiful faces that adored the exterior of the shop.
On a particular occasion, he got so carried away that he stayed in the middle of the road longer than necessary while admiring the alluring beauties. The action resulted in a drama that would have surprised him if he had seen the end of it. He was startled back to the present by the boisterous honking of the horn of a commercial bus (popularly known as ‘danfo’) driver.
The reckless driver cursed as he wheezed past his SUV, “Ọga Ade, shey you no go carry your motor comot for road before I brush am?” he shouted in Pidgin English. “You better go get driver if you no fit drive for road.”
His conductor, realizing the nonsense his boss was spewing out, cautioned him immediately, “Ah, Ọga mi, Baba Aláyè lélèyí o. Oshapranpran o! Range lélèyí o. Élèyí o kin ṣe ‘my car’ o. Ẹ́ jẹ́ sẹ́mpẹ̀ kí a màa jẹ gbẹ́sé ooo!” (Ah, boss, this one is a rich man o. This is a Range and not just any car so take it easy if you don’t want to land us in trouble!)
The passengers in the bus lent their voices to the conductor’s warning, “Alákọ́rì, o jẹ náa dádá ko to ra. Gbogbo bus ẹ́ ko ra ìná ẹ kan to ba kọ́lu!” (Stubborn guy, you better think well before hitting it. The totality of your bus when sold is not enough to buy one of its headlamps, so you better be careful.)
“Ehn ehn, tell am o. Me, I cannot come and wear shekesheke (handcuffs) as bangle ooo.” The conductor complained further in his rough voice.
The driver said nothing more but responded by stepping hard on the accelerator. The bus jerked forward violently. It bounced up and down in a break dance fashion as he sped off the bumpy road. The passengers collided against each other as it threw them up and down in rhythm with the bus. They cautioned but he paid no attention. They screamed but it fell on dear ears. They began to curse but he reacted by sizing them up from the rear view mirror and pumped the accelerator some more. The engine roared and the shouts grew louder:
“BLOOD OF JESUS!!!”
“HOLY MARY, MOTHER OF JESUS!!!”
A little pandemonium followed. Some passengers began banging hard on the body and roof of the bus but the psycho of a driver carried on his ‘business’ unaffected by the bedlam going on behind him. He must definitely be high on ‘paraga’ or ‘monkey tail’ (strong locally brewed alcoholic drinks).
That was the day Yemi, completely unaware of the chaos that rocked the bus that almost damaged his car, noticed a picture of one of the ladies. She wasn’t as conspicuous as the others but she was definitely the most gorgeous amongst them! He was seeing it for the first time and he wondered if it had always been there. She was dark and strikingly beautiful. She wore a smile that was innocent and natural; charming and inviting. And a set of dimples accentuated her delicate beauty. She was an exquisite sight to behold; a hidden beauty.
Yemi whistled. “Oh, goodness!” His eyelids fluttered rapidly several times. “How come I haven’t noticed this Princess of Enchantment all this while?” he heard himself saying aloud despite himself, “This is definitely a super model!” He stroked his hair. “Damn! Were she in the States or even Victoria Island here in Nigeria, she should be gracing the catwalk by now and adoring the face of every billboard in the city.”
For the first time since he discovered the beauty shop, Yemi faulted the judgment of the owner of Pink Roses. Such a captivating damsel should never had been pushed to the background. She deserved the most conspicuous space of all.
Since that day, all other faces faded into obscurity. Yemi saw nothing else. No one else. Only one person—the girl he had come to name, ‘Hidden Beauty’. And each time he looked at her, he felt an unexplainable pull towards her synonymous to the force of gravity; it seemed that she was always beckoning on him. He initially laughed off the feeling but soon realized that he couldn’t easily flush the image off his head. Even when he was miles away, it stuck to his mind like a placenta to a foetus. He was increasing becoming drawn to the Hidden Beauty he had not yet met. Soon, fascinating images of her began littering his dreams.
Two Weeks Later, Pink Roses Beauty Shop.
THE SALON WAS A hive of activities as the girls busied themselves with one task or the other. Shakirah then entered carrying shopping bags in both hands. She sported a pink camisole on a three-quarters-length denim jeans and a pair of pink Nike Air trainers. She tied her denim jacket round her waist and wore her sunglasses on her forehead, almost forming a hair band for her hair. She chewed her gum noisily as it was her custom.
Risi, her best friend, was the first to welcome her, admiring the shopping bags in her hands. “Bestie, this your waka sweet today ooo. Na only you get all dis bags?” She peered into the bags. “Oya, open dis thing make we check them out nah,” she continued in Pidgin English.
“Babes, gist plenty o. Na Alhaji carry me comot o ...” Shakirah began.
“Which of the Alhajis? Alhaji Kazeem or Alhaji Usman or Alhaji Cash Money?” Ngozi wanted specifics.
“Alhaji Cash Money, of course! Who else would it have been?”
Auntie Funmi, a mother of three and the owner of Pink Roses, watched on as her apprentices clustered around Shakirah who was narrating how she had had a good time with Alhaji Cash Money who took her shopping. Auntie Funmi smiled as she shifted gaze from one lady to the other starting with Shakirah ...
Shakirah, born Shakiratu Ajenifuja, decided to stick to the ‘funky’ version of her name—Shakirah. She was the most senior in Pink Roses and a lecherous ‘local champion’ who paraded herself as a Beauty Queen. For a fact, she might have qualified as one if not for her over-bleached skin that now had some dark patches at places like her elbows, knuckles, and ankles. She was slim, tall, and well-shaped. She wore a nose ring and had four earring holes pierced into her left ear. There was something about her that attracted men—one of whom was Kasumu, The Scorpion. This gave her an inflated ego of a ‘happening girl.’ She had a penchant for chewing gums noisily. But she was generous to a fault.
Her best friend was Risikatu Ajala called Risi for short. They were birds of a feather. Also with an over-bleached skin and an equally salacious personality. She had a stout and plump structure. Two thick dark facial marks stood on her round cheeks like number eleven. She had a poorly drawn butterfly tattoo on her right breast close to the cleavage and a dot tattooed above the corner of her upper lip. She was outspoken but witless.
Pink Roses also boasted Simisola. She was quiet and reserved, qualities which made her prone to being relegated to the background often, especially by Shakirah and Risi. She was no doubt the most beautiful of all. She was easy-going and simple; articulate and highly intelligent despite dropping out of school at Junior Secondary School (JSS) 3 because of the financial constraints of her struggling parents. Her case was a foremost proof that intelligence didn’t necessarily have to do with secular education. She was focused and driven by the plights of her family to achieve success in life. She was the closest friend of Ngozi’s and Auntie Funmi’s favourite.
Ngozi, usually referred to as ‘Omo Ibo’, was the only lady from the eastern part of the country in their midst. Having been in Lagos for a long time, she understood and could speak the Yoruba language very well, though her use of the language was heavily laden with her thick Ibo tongue. She was very fair and voluptuous; morally decent and had a good heart. She and Simisola were very fond of each other to the extent that people called them sisters from different mothers. She could be very dramatic at times.
There were also Taiwo and Kehinde, the identical twins who did things and shared everything together. They went everywhere together. They were the inseparable clowns that brightened the salon with their humour. They were usually fun to be around.
Deborah, Abike, Bukola, Lolade, and Tolani also added colour to the shop. They were equally very pretty and were part of those whose pictures branded the shop.
Auntie Funmi’s eyes came back to Shakirah who was now sharing the items with her colleagues. Just then, two customers entered. The short recess was over.
“Alright girls,” Auntie Funmi called on her ladies, “time to get busy.”
* * *
Somewhere Far Away in Osun State, Ajele Village, The Fatundes’ Residence.
Mr and Mrs Fatunde (Simisola’s parents) were eating a plate of eba and vegetable soup which lacked any meat or fish (they could hardly afford such luxury at this time) when they heard a loud bang on their door. It was as if the person was determined to bring down the door.
“Iya Simisola, open this door now before we break it down, thief!” They heard the dreadful voice of the extra-large Iya Afusa. She had lead an angry mob to their doorstep.
Simisola’s mother’s heart skipped a few beats. She held her chest and started fidgeting. “Ye, mogbe! Iya Afusa, the trouble marker!” She reluctantly opened the door. Her heart thumped against her chest like the huge bell of a Catholic cathedral.
“Come out, onigbese (debtor) ... Iya Simisola, onigbese ... come out ooo and give us our money, ole (thief)! Today is today. We must collect our money today; all of it,” Iya Afusa called out at the top of her voice. “We gave you our association’s money for safe-keeping but you squandered it and started telling us stories,” she continued ranting with dramatic gestures.
“Yes ooo. Give us our money.” The mob echoed Iya Afusa’s piercing words.
Simisola’s mother was the treasurer of her trade association and had kept the contributions of the association for years without any problems until one day. On that fateful day, she had come back from the market to see that her room had been burgled. The thief had broken into the mud house through the window and had made away with all her savings including the association’s money. She had suspected Adelaja, Iya Afusa’s good-for-nothing son, and his cohorts but she had no evidence to back her suspicion. Ever since, she had been paying back the money from sales of her farm produce. Her husband had been of tremendous support in contributing all he had to the repayment of the debt. This was responsible for their present financial predicament and why they had to make do with vegetable soup without any meat or fish. But every now and then, Iya Afusa instigated other members into causing trouble with the poor woman.
“Ah, please my fellow members. I didn’t spend the money,” she explained, hands jammed into her armpits. “You all know what happened to it and you know too that I have been struggling to pay up as much as I can,” she pleaded.
“Lies!” An angry woman shouted from the crowd.
“And who is your follow member? God forbid,” another woman roared snapping her fingers over her head in disgust. “We have annulled your membership long ago. Who would have a thief as a member?”
“Ah! It’s not what you people think. Please give me some more time and I promise to pay up the balance.” She began to cry, placing one hand on her head and biting the index finger of the other. Merely seeing a mob at her doorstep had humiliated her and provoked her to tears.
“How, much time do you want again, ehn? Haven’t we given you enough time already?” Iya Afusa countered, untouched by her cry. “The time you begged for the last time expired a fortnight ago and you are now begging for more time. We need our money.” She wagged her finger furiously in front of
Simisola’s mother’s face. “I am warning you o, Iya
Simisola, I’m warning you. Don’t try me. You better go inside now and get our
money if you don’t want trouble. You know me ooo, Iya Simisola … you know me.
If you asked for it, I will give you double!”
“We all know that times are hard now, please, my people, I will pay up,” she pleaded further.
Her husband tried to intervene but Iya Afusa shushed him up disrespectfully, “Hush!” She sealed her mouth with her forefinger “Will you please keep your mouth shut? You useless husband of a thief! It is your wife we have business with and not a good-for-nothing man like you.”
Simisola’s father was too shocked and humiliated to say anything further.
Then, Iya Afusa saw that her hand was soiled with soup, a sign that she was eating when they arrived. She laughed hysterically clapping her hands as she did so. “Pekele pekele! Look at the person that claimed that times are hard. Look at her hand. Is that not vegetable soup? She doesn’t have money and she is eating vegetable soup. Wonders shall never end.”
She then removed her gele (headgear) and tied it round her waist. With that, she pounced on Simisola’s mother and dragged her to their midst. Within a twinkle of an eye, they had torn her cloths and started beating her. Another person went over to where she displayed her pepper, tomatoes, and vegetables for sale and turned them over. The rest stamped on the produce squashing them on the ground. Her husband rushed in to save her but Iya Afusa shoved him away like a piece of paper. For someone the size of Iya Afusa whose thigh alone was bigger than the whole of Simisola’s father’s body, tossing him away was like a piece of cake.
Ademola, Simisola’s younger brother quickly ran to call Chief Balogun, one of the village elders, who came to the scene to quell the mob action. He mollified the angry women who agreed to leave on a condition that the money would be ready in two days. Urged on by Iya Afusa, the women threatened that nobody, not even the king, would be able to stop them from carrying out their wish should they return and the money wasn’t ready. The women left and Simisola’s mother broke down in more tears.
After the family put themselves together, Simisola’s mother put a called across to Simisola. She narrated all that happened and the threats of the women. Simisola was moved to tears. She pacified her mother and promised to send down the money she had been saving to pay up the debt. Her mother was relieved and thanked her very much. She prayed for her from the bottom of her heart. After that, her father collected the phone and picked up the prayer from where his wife left off. In fact, if prayers were answered instantaneously, Simisola’s life would change so drastically for the better that it would shock all those that knew her! Such was the intensity and magnitude of the prayers she received from her parents on that day.
* * *
Back in Lagos.
Simisola headed home to get the money. On her way, she thought about the ordeal of her parents at the hands of Iya Afusa and her ‘gang’. She could picture how the scenario played out. She knew Iya Afusa so well and knew what she was capable of doing. She was the bully of the village and everybody, including her husband, feared her. They had been stories of how she had beaten her husband to a pulp on several occasions. People had taken her case to the king too many times that the king and his chiefs had grown tired of her matter. She was the fish bone stuck in everybody’s throat in the village. If she had threatened to let heaven loose by the time she and her ‘gang’ returned and didn’t get their money, then she was sure to do just that. Simisola cringed at the thought. But she relaxed when she remembered that her savings could cover the debt. She had planned to use the money for something else. Actually, it was the money she was saving towards setting up her own beauty shop. As important as that was, saving her parents from the looming chaos was more important at the moment. She smiled and quickened her steps. She just had to get the whole thing sorted out at once and put the matter to a permanent rest.
She soon got home. Immediately she opened the door, she was greeted by a terrible feeling that something was wrong. She paused. She squinted. Her gaze darted from one corner of the room to the other. But everything seemed to be intact. A deep sigh of relieve escaped her mouth. “Thank God,” she uttered inwardly. She walked briskly to the drawer she had converted to her vault; it housed all her valuables. She scanned the full breath and length of the room and shut the windows to be sure nobody was watching her before opening the drawer. She had to be careful. She had to be discreet. It was her life savings so it had to be well protected.
As she was about to insert the key, she noticed the drawer was loose. Her heart pumped at an alarming rate. ‘Oh God, please don’t let this happen,’ she prayed silently. She quickly pulled the drawer and hoped it stayed intact but it gave way effortlessly—it had been broken! “Ye! Mogbe!!! (I’m finished.)” She screamed and then froze. She stared at the empty drawer, shaking her head in quandary. “No, no, no.” She gulped in air. Her body felt cold. She took some wobbling steps backwards and collapsed to the floor!
* * *
Same Day, Not Far Away.
The day was bright. It was a Thursday morning and Yemi did not have to go to the project site early, so he left later than usual. Just like other days in recent times, he decided to use the bumpy road not because traffic was heavy on the main road but because he wanted to indulge himself in the pleasure of watching the salon—it was fast becoming an addiction to him. By the time he approached the shop, it was fully alive.
For the first time since he discovered the shop, he saw the pretty ladies outside the confines of the pictures on its walls; he saw them in person bustling with vitality. They were going about their business unaware that a pair of handsome eyes was watching them. He watched as their hands did magic to the customers’ hairs and nails. He saw as they chatted freely with each other. Someone made a comment and the rest laughed. The glow in their happy faces warmed his heart. He admired the tremendous sense of camaraderie that existed amongst the girls and between them and someone he presumed must be their boss. The gesture touched a soft spot in him and he fell more in love with the shop and those who worked in it.
Then without a second thought, as if sucked into the eye of a hurricane, he pulled over in front of the shop. The instance the noiseless Range Rover came to a halt, the shop came to a stand still with it. Heads turned! Everyone stopped and watched with keen interest as the tall, fair, handsome Yemi came out of the SUV. His skin was as smooth and fresh as a new born baby’s. He looked every inch of an ‘Aje-butter’ that he was. Everyone admired him. Even the heads of the customers spun at his presence. He was breathtakingly gorgeous.
The ambience of the salon caught his fancy and the sweet smell of the hair creams and shampoos romanced his nose. Some smelt like candies but the scent of the relaxers were less inviting. The sight brought back memories of his childhood when he used to follow his mum to the salon. He smiled as he remembered how stubborn he was then, pestering the poor woman until she wouldn’t have any choice than to take him along.
He greeted and everyone reciprocated. Auntie Funmi, wondering what a cute guy would be doing in a ladies’ salon, approached him, “Hello sir, how may we help you, sir?”
“Um ... Um ...” he started to stutter. He did not know how to start. “Um ... I want to see ...” He groped for words. Auntie Funmi watched him expectantly with raised eyebrows. “Um ... I want to see ... my wife.” He eventually forced himself to say in his American accent. That wasn’t exactly how he meant to say it but that was how the words flew out.
“Your wife?” Auntie Funmi was confused. There was no woman in the salon presently whose husband she didn’t know and Yemi was definitely not one of them! “Sir, I’m not sure your wife came here. Perhaps she entered somewhere else. Could you describe what she’s wearing maybe someone might have seen her by any chance?”
“Hmmm ... Ma’am ...” He clasped his fingers together and smiled like a nerd.
“I haven’t met her personally too.”
Auntie Funmi was completely lost. “You haven’t?!” She turned around to look at Shakirah who was as confused as she was. “Sir, please can you make yourself clear. I am completely lost here.”
“Actually,” He was gradually regaining his composure. “I ... I am referring to one of your ladies, ma’am.”
“Ooh!” Auntie Funmi said with her mouth forming an ‘O’ shape that refused to close.
All the girls froze and exchanged glances in astonishment. The comb in Shakirah’s hand fell off and her mouth imitated the shape of Auntie Funmi’s.
“And who amongst them is this fortunate girl, sir?” Auntie Funmi probed now smiling. She wondered how such a good looking man that exuded confidence easily lost his nerves when it came to expressing himself about one of her apprentices.
“Well, I ...” But Risi didn’t allow him to finish before she jumped forward and paraded her stout and plump structure up and down. “That will definitely be me,” she said in a voice far from being sexy.
“Hey, hold it, Risikatu! You better pack well. How can you come here and lay claim to Bros Oyinbo (Americana) when he is not blind and can see true beauty here?” Shakirah silenced Risi and pushed her aside. She then took over the centre stage, flaunting her purported beauty and lovely shape. She bragged about how she was the best and most deserving. Risi, her best friend, hissed and eyed her angrily.
As if the drama wasn’t enough, all the other ladies took to the stage one after the other and strutted like models on the runway. It was as if an impromptu beauty pageant was arranged for Yemi. The customers whose hairs were abandoned midway were too carried away by the drama to complain. In fact, they enjoyed every bit of it and were interested to see the end of it. Yemi who was equally surprised by the turn of events, watched on as the girls sashayed in front of him. Truth be said, most of the girls didn’t disappoint in terms of glamour and carriage. Neither did they betray the beauty of the images that branded the exterior of the salon. For a fact, they weren’t at all photogenic—they were actually more attractive in person than in the pictures.
After watching attentively, Yemi shook his head and said, “She’s not here.”
“Not here?!” They all chorused including Auntie Funmi. “Then who?” The disappointment on their faces could not ne missed.
“There she is.” Yemi pointed to the picture of the Hidden Beauty that was on the wall.
“SIMISOLA?!!!” They all squealed in unison highly taken aback by the biggest upset of the morning.
Simisola was the least conspicuous, the most reserved, and the most unlikely to be picked ahead of others going by their judgment. No one doubted her beauty though but they took her quiet and reserved nature as a disadvantage!
Shakirah and Risi were more than flabbergasted. They couldn’t hide their emotions. Risi twisted her mouth and frowned her face, an expression that left no doubt that anger and disgust in cahoots with envy had pitched a tent in her heart. Shakirah, on the other hand, folded her arms across her chest and chewed her gum violently reflective of the whole gamut of explosive emotions building up in her. Her eyes were cold, hard, and flinty. She assumed she was the favourite. Was she not the ‘happening girl’ in the area? The rave of the moment? The one whom all the men in the area were dying for—top on the list being Scorpion, the Alpha of the hood? Who else was better qualified to have this golden apple?
Auntie Funmi smiled. Deep down, she was happy for Simisola.
At that very moment, Simisola walked in.
NB: You can get the book here: https://okadabooks.com/book/about/jewel_from_the_ghetto/18237