Kusiere fanned herself vigorously beneath the giant red and green umbrella that served as her LottoNaija stand. Sweat gummed her nylon blouse to her trunk. Flies danced with dust in the air. It was past midday and she hadn’t sold anything: not the lottery tickets she had been hired to sell, not the sweets she displayed on the counter to lap up loose change and not the loose sheaves of airtime strapped with rubberbands in her bag.
Across the road, the Paradise Motel was doing brisk business: second hand cars drove in and out, couples walked in laughing and leaning on each other, unaccompanied males strolled in, hands stuffed deep into their pockets. Loud reggae music blared from outdoor speakers, a huge diesel generator poured black fumes unto the street and the electronic sign board blinked merrily in the sun.
Her phone rang. It was Pascal, her bow-legged, overwieght LottoNaija manager.
“Good afternoon sir.”
“What is good about the afternoon? Why haven’t you sold any tickets today? Do you think we are playing here? What have you been up to all day?”
“I am sorry sir. I am trying. It almost month end, people haven’t been paid their salaries. The university is on strike so the students aren’t buying as much as they usually do…”
“Don’t give me that. You have five more days to meet your monthly target. Or else–”
Pascal hung up and Kusiere slipped the phone back into her jeans with a hiss. She was two thousand five hundred naira short of meeting her monthly target and had no idea how to make it up in five days. It was easy to stay in an air-conditioned office barking threats and acting the boss, getting people to buy lottery tickets was hard, unpredictable work.
She opened the candy jar and took some sweets and sucked hard on them for comfort. She had to try her hand at the Joint University Admission Exam and try getting a place again. This lottery ticket selling business was not the life.
A dark blue car drove up to her stand and the rear window slid down. A well dressed woman in a gorgeous purple and gold bubu beckoned to her.
“Good afternoon ma,” Kusi chimed, rushing over with her best smile and most polite curtsey.
“Good afternoon, how are you? Do you have Etisalat airtime?” The woman asked.
“Give me N2000, and scratch it please.”
Kusiere hurriedly scratched the recharge cards and handed to the woman.
“Thank you. You don’t happen to have seen anyone like this man around here have you?” The woman asked, thrusting a picture into Kusiere’s hands.
Kusiere peered at the picture with interest. The man in the picture was in his thirties, much younger than the woman. He wore a black singlet that showed off light brown muscled arms and a skull tattoo. His head was clean shaven and a small scar ran down his left cheek. He looked straight at the camera with a half smile on his lips. A handsome man, one aware of his charms.
Kusiere handed back the picture and shook her head. “No ma, I haven’t. But I’ll pay more attention now.”
“Thank you, that will be most welcome. And if you see him, I would like you to reach me on this number.” The woman said, pressing a piece of paper and some crumbled naira notes into her hand. “Have a good day.”
And before Kusiere could respond the woman drove off.
Kusiere straightened the crumbled paper and the money she had received on her laps. Five thousand naira! She could easily meet her target and have change. Her thoughts drifted back to the man in the picture. Who was he? And why was Madam Purple Bubu looking for him?
With a toss of her waist length braids, she shook the thoughts off. Thank God for the money though, she thought, making a mental note to give a better offering next Sunday in church.
Excited over her windfall and eager to get home, she decided to close for the day. She was bent over stuffing her things into a bag when she heard someone ask for tickets.
She looked up and found herself staring at the man she saw earlier in the photograph. He was thinner and dressed in a long sleve hooded top but his eyes were the same, as was the half smile on his lips.
She put on the machine and punched in her code while her heart raced. “How many tickets do you want?”
“A thousand,” he replied.
She looked up at him but he wasn’t laughing. “Cash or card?”
Sweat trickled down Kusiere’s legs as she entered the order. Banks were closed and she had no idea how to carry so much money without being robbed. She called Pascal but he was “outside coverage area.” She left him a voice message. She considered dialing the number the woman gave her but changed her mind. She could always do that later, or never, she wasn’t sure anymore.
She was still printing out ticket slips when the police arrived. They confisticated her LottoNaija machine and handcuffed Mr Skull Tattoo. She was screaming when they kicked over her bag sending the contents flying into the gutter like confetti. She was wailing when one slapped her across the mouth and knocked her table over with his boots. But when her eyes met Madam Purple Bubu’s, she was choked into silence. All she could do was sob and swallow her shame.