Taste of Shame

 

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.

“Yes ma.”

“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?”

“Cash.”

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.

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ATM Rendevous Part 1

 

In her shimmering sheath dress and blue stilettos she is eye candy for tired eyes. I watch as she flicks her braids and fiddles with her phone waiting on the crooked ATM queue. I rack my brain for good pick-up lines but I keep drawing blanks. “Hello girl , I wanna talk” crosses my mind and I want to slap myself. It’s hard to think straight when you’ve spent 12 hours in a tiny cubicle preparing briefs for your boss at a private law firm.

I inched closer to Favour, my second hand Mercedes and survey my reflection in the glass. The medium height, honey brown man looking back at me is well dressed, clean shaven and attractive. I bite my lips and exhale. You can do this man, I tell myself.

She is just in front of me. The lights are in my favour. I take my time savouring the view. She is taller than I am but I’m sure it’s her shoes. Her burnt red braids cascade down her back to nuzzle a generous backside. A few inches down , the shimmering gown stops to show a long stretch of skin the colour of bitter cola shells that tappers down to dainty ankles and electric blue high heels. The left ankle glitters in a silver anklet and the right is etched with a floral tattoo. A kick in my boxers jolts me, I exhale and look away.

It’s not a long line. In front of her , there’s a teen with a grey knapsack wearing earphones and nodding like an Agama lizard.

In front of him, there is a middle-aged woman wearing an I-was-white blouse over a bright yellow flair skirt and rainbow bathroom slippers. The smell of rotten beans and stale cabbage wafts past. Someone has farted, I am certain she’s the one.

A tall bespectacled man in a brown safari suit is next. He stands still with his hands folded, and his head tilted upwards. He is greying at the temples and it gives him a distinguished look. Beneath his arm, there’s a book called The History And Philosophy Of Traditional African Religions. Ah! Definitely, a lecturer.

At the booth there’s a nurse with two school aged kids. I know because she has her uniform underneath a checkered overcoat. The kids, two girls, are dressed in bright purple tops and matching denim skirts. It’s a noveau riche sign that says ‘we aren’t wearing hand me downs, each of us have our wardrobes.’ The woman is paid and the queue keeps shrinking. Soon it’s just Blue shoes and I.

I am happy– we are the only ones at the ATM machine now. No one will witness my humiliation if things go wrong. I allow myself a smile, the scales were tipping in my favour.
She spends longer at the booth than expected and I begin to worry. As I attempt to intervene, she turns. Her shoulders sag and her face looks pinched at the lips. I know even before she says anything.

“It is not paying” she says and it sounds like child that’s about to cry.

In a flash my casanova mode kicks in and begins permutations at the speed of thought. It might be a ploy. After all this is Nigeria. Anyone can feign anything in a blink.

***

 

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Proposal By Proxy

Kasara didn’t feel betrothed. It was like a film, something happening to someone else while she watched and laughed. Her mother was showing her new wrappers to a crowd of cooing friends while her father was puffing on his pipe. Her fiance was an enlarged photograph showing a rotund man with small wrinkled eyes.

It was settled, she would go to Lisbon to join him next week. Some of her classmats came to say goodbye, but they didn’t stay long. Kasara wanted to cling to them, to shout and scream and make a big scene, but she sat still instead and received their cold congratulations with a frozen smile.

News came. He couldn’t receive her immeadiately, a minor matter no doubt. She had to stay with her parents a little longer. Kasara didn’t mind. It was still hard for her to see herself married to the man in the picture.

News came again. A change of plans, he no longer wished to marry her. Would she mind marrying his cousin instead? Of course they could keep the bridal gifts. No one mentioned that his cousin was fatter and older than he was, or that he already had two wives and eight children.

Her brothers were incensed. They smashed the framed potrait and wanted to burn the wedding gifts. A family meeting was called and the elders tried to talk sense into them.

Kasara raided her mothers box and found enough money to travel south. She ran away to her Aunt Jemima’s place. Years passed but no one else asked her to marry them. And when she closed her eyes she could still see the round face in the enlarged photogragh and its small, wrinked eyes.

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Posted from WordPress for BlackBerry.

Posted from WordPress for BlackBerry.

Posted from WordPress for BlackBerry.

Posted from WordPress for BlackBerry.

How Papa Left

We were having dinner when the lights went out. Ma put on candles and our gaunt shadows seemed like gargoyles on the wall. Pa put his fork down and stomped away from the table. Soon we saw him by the door.
“Marcus, where are you going?” Ma asked.
“Out,” he replied. And before anyone could say more he was gone.

Days turned to weeks but there was no word of my father. Ma made calls, attended prayer vigils, asked everyone but Pa had disappeared.

“Let’s tell the police,” Uncle Makkel said. And so they went to the station the next day. When they were told how much they had to pay in bribes for the investigation to start. They came back sad.

Ma began to sell her wrappers and earrings. Uncle Makkel mortgaged one of his farms. We tried to raise money from our friends but all we got were excuses and had-I-knowns.

In a month, the money was ready and Ma wrapped it in an old newspaper and took it to the station. The police promised Pa would be back soon. Soon dragged on for weeks.

People told us stories of seeing Pa: on a canoe seventy kilometers away, in the market, at the bank, in a church. Ma began to check mortuaries for abandoned bodies.

Then Pa was brought home. He had been hit by a truck and was unconcious for weeks. He couldn’t remember my name and he often forgot what he wanted to say. We didn’t mind . It was just good to know the wait was over.

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The Unravelling

They sat in silence. They’d dreaded this moment. She more than he.

“Do you really have to do this? Isn’t there anything I can say to stop you?”

“Honey, please, let’s not go over that again. The arrangements have been made. The bus will be here in an hour.”

“But why Dan? Have I been such a bad wife to you? Is there anything I haven’t given you? How can you just throw your life away like this? Like rotten fish?”

Her words slapped him, and something in him shifted.

“Like rotten fish ehn? Thank you for the compliment. I better walk up the road. Take care of Ade and Wana. Bye Shade.”

He left with the sound of her sobs drumming on his ears. Wana and Ade were asleep. He hated to imagine how it would have looked if they weren’t.

He loved Shade. She was the only other woman he had ever cared about enough to change. To sacrifice. For her he had stopped smoking. He had learnt cooking. He had even started going to church twice a month. No other woman had been able to keep his attention for this long. Six years and she still stirred him as much as she had on their first date.

Except at moments like this…

The sky was aglow with the colours of the setting sun. A gentle breeze played with the dry leaves, scattering them on the street like confetti. The evening was so beautiful, he was so miserable.

He remembered something he heard the pastor say last month.

“Anger lies in the bosom of fools.”

It was true. He wasn’t being reasonable right now. Any woman would be worried under the circumstances. Shade was just worried. Worried and scared. Why wouldn’t she be? People were giving their souls to run away from Liberia and here he was leaving for the same place as a volunteer. She probably thought he was mad.

The worse thing was that he hadn’t found words to tell her everything. He couldn’t express how excited he felt when he was offered the opportunity. He couldn’t tell her how the moment he read the email, life suddenly seemed ten times nicer, livelier.

The past two weeks had been like reliving his childhood. He was the toughest police chief on the playground, eliminating the thieves. He was him.

Now he had a chance to do it again. In real life, with a real thief called Ebola. He had a chance to do work that really mattered. Not the dead brain routines of Malaria, Typhoid and Diabetes. A real time Emerging Disease Epidemic Response, a real war. He couldn’t stay away for the world.

But.

He could go gently. He could hold Shade and rock her till the bus came. He could remind her of how much he loved her and the kids. He could go over the instructions for his memorial( there would be no burial, just ash in an urn). He could kiss her brows one more time.

So he went home and did so.

It would be 8 months before he returned, not in a stainless steel urn, but in the flesh.

Shade wouldn’t be at the airport to welcome him, neither would the kids.

He would spend the next two years looking for them and failing to find them.

He would discover that she had sold the house and the cars and the land he bought at Lekki.

He would fall into a bottomless depression. And pick up smoking again. And try weed, and like it. And over do it.

He would want to die and pray to do so before morning.

One day, he would get a call from Wana. She was fine, her mother had placed her in a Catholic boarding school in Kenya, she even spent holidays there. Ade was with mother somewhere in Europe. She missed him. She had tried to reach him but mom said she shouldn’t dare. Was he OK?

“Yes, I am fine.” Dan said. And for the first time in three years, he almost believed it.

He travelled to Kenya to see her. As he stood beneath the pine trees waiting, he remembered another place, another evening. Then she was running into his arms, quick as a bullet, and he felt the broken things inside him melding.

It would be a long fight. A long wait. But six years later Wana would be back home in Makurdi with him. He would not marry again. Stop smoking again. Start jogging again.

He would travel the world lecturing on Emerging Disease Response. He would receive more honours than the four walls of his study could hold.

He would forgive Shade (but they would never be friends again).

He would live to eighty-nine. And from time to time he would think over things. He would imagine how things would have been if he stayed. Then he would laugh and mutter to himself.

“There’s no way I was going to let that Bastard get away.”

* * * * *

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Before Sunset
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The Dinner

Do you like reading flash fiction? I do. And I try to write it because it is fun to write and a great way to fight off writer’s block and stay in touch with my muse. Today’s offering was borne out of an experience I had two weeks ago. Please read and share and comment. And maybe write some flash fiction of your own in the comments.

The Dinner

We talked and laughed, he promised everything would be okay. We were his guests after all and they existed for us. Our rooms would be cleaned, the Wi-fi would work, the cockroaches killed, the staff would start being polite.

We ate his delicious three course meal with light banter and glasses of red wine.

Then we danced and cheered. And all the while, knowing nothing would change.

And for a week, we endured: late assignments, cockroaches in shoes, rude staff and more.

Then we’d had enough. And this time we didn’t talk. We packed our bags and by midday we were gone.