THE SOLITARY HAWKER.
In a pace it has determined all by itself, the rain poured down heavily on all bare and unsheltered things under it. Its ever loyal companions, thunder and lightning, barked and struck respectively at all recalcitrant elements that dared to question its authority to make the earth wet. The wind, its deputy, blew away all items without any valid stronghold. Most of the items, especially clothing, gave way quickly. The rain finally got its way, as usual. The earth was subdued into submission and it relaxed, softened and finally opened up its crevices. The waters seeped into the wet and pliant earth. The process continued until the rain reached its climax, gasped once or twice and then subsided. By that time too, the earth had taken enough to be saturated. And they both came… the rain came to a halt; the earth came close to closing her crevices… at precisely the same time. There was peace and calm afterwards. The silence that followed was akin to that of lovers cuddling after lovemaking.
Adam watched all these happenings from his balcony. It didn’t take more than forty-five minutes for the rain to make its appearance and disappear swiftly as it had started. It left behind drizzles as a kind of reminder for the earth that it came; it saw and it conquered. The street now wore a new look. The road was now messy and the potholes were all filled up with water. The potholes now looked like stains on a white linen; conspicuous. It was barely ten o’clock in the morning but the shadow casted by the clouds made the day looked older than that. It seemed like the day’s activities would be suspended until folks were sure that the rain would not come for another round. At least the hawkers would have to be sure about that. No point in coming out if they couldn’t move about. And that meant Adam would have to wait some more for them to make up their mind about the uncertainty of the second coming of the rain. Breakfast, which has always been Agege bread and beans since he came back would not come early today, he shrugged as he remembered what his sister had said to him a day before about food and men. He was an early riser. Waking up in the morning was easier for him than falling asleep at night. And no, he was not suffering from insomnia, he would quickly respond to any prying mouth that tried to suggest that he was. Back in England, where he did shifts, he had done twenty-four hours straight on numerous occasions. He needed sleep like any other normal human being, he just didn’t need it like that, and he would tell his co-workers who were on the verge of thinking him abnormal to just concentrate on his other traits that confirmed him a human. Over there in England, he found out that he could translate his ‘insomnia’ into raw cash and he had cashed in on that seriously. He didn’t go there to count bridges. Back home, the inability to translate time into cash numbed him. He had a lot of free time. Time was what he needed to have to be able to be fully employed in England. Here in Nigeria, he needed a lot of certificates and years of experience in more than two or three reputable organisations. Yeah, he had done a lot of dirty, casual jobs that were not befitting. But that had been the plan all along. It was easy to make up your mind when all that was left for you in your country was to wait and hope for a better tomorrow. It was easy to make up your mind when you were at the mercy of politicians that were at the mercy of greed and selfishness. The plan was precise. Most young and able-bodied people do it all the time; go away to Europe and work your fingers to the bones in whatever menial job you find. It is better than sitting down at home while you wait for things to get better. Make hay while the sun shines there and you can be rest-assured it will because the system works and if you work for it, it will yield for you. Work for about five or six years then come back home with your savings and start a business of buying and selling. Well, it is not as if you are better off than your mates that are still waiting for the government to provide white collar jobs for them but at least you are not at the mercy of anybody again. Some don’t even come back. Working as a janitor in England for example is far better than working as a nothing in your own country. Forget about your certificates. They are not legal tender.
Adam reminded himself that he had to find something to do between now and when he would finally start his small scale business of buying and selling. Too much free time on his hands. What would he trade in?
The hawker was a bit too old compared to all the others he had seen since he came back. Probably still a teenager but with all the curves in the right places. She revealed an enviable cleavage and her skirt was far, far above her knees. She was about five blocks from Adam’s building and she picked her way around the potholes tenderly, revealing more flesh around her thighs and chest. Balanced on her head with a good handful of ample black, black hair was a large tray of different sizes of freshly baked loaves of bread. A solitary hawker that had dared the second coming of the rain…
“Food will be the least of your problems once you get yourself a good girlfriend. A good girlfriend is what I said, mind you. I don’t mean one of those skinny white girls that you call models.” Adam’s sister sniggered at him the day she picked him up from the airport. They were close like that. She was just two years his senior. Adam smiled and looked out of the window. He wished he could afford a model for a girlfriend.
“How is your insomnia?”
Adam laughed at her sister’s question before answering by nodding his head slowly.
“I know it never leaves. But you can manage it now that you are home. You have plenty of time to do nothing. You can take a vacation and think about what you want to trade in.”
His prudent sister was also his trustworthy bank. Each week, while he was in the UK, he would send whatever he had managed to save back home to her. His first year savings was used to upset the shark loan he had gotten from a family friend who worked in a bank to process his paper and buy a two-way ticket to the UK. They had to take an oath before the family friend could release the money. And it was understandable because a lot of stories-that-touch-the-heart tales abound of debtors denying their creditors when they were oceans away from home. Adams and his sisters had adhered to the conditions of the loan to the latter as soon as Adams started earning pay. She thereafter started keeping the other ones that came after the payment of the debt. On countless occasions, Adams had instructed her to take part of the savings and establish her own business but she had vehemently declined. She was a teacher, she said. She was happy in her line of work and with the support from her husband; life was manageable for their family of four. Besides, she told her younger one, buying and selling is not for everyone. The matter would end there and start another day when Adams felt the need to bring it up again. But his sister would not hear any of it. With her contentment, Adams had managed to save a considerable amount of money within five years.
By now, the solitary hawker had managed to meander her way between the myriads of potholes and had gotten to just three blocks from Adams’ building. She walked slowly with the intent of someone who was too early for her appointment and hence she could afford to take her time and look around like a lazy tourist. Adams could see her more clearly now. She was pretty. And if not for her skimpy wears, she could be said to be well dressed too. By the time she got to just two blocks from him, Adams was already comparing her to the other hawkers he had seen. She was definitely in her own class. Most, if not all of the other hawkers he had seen were always shabbily dressed. Most, if not all were younger than her. By the time she got to his block, Adams’ hunger had been replaced by his sexual appetite. And as if she knew Adams was waiting for her, the bread-hawker stopped in front of Adams’ building and proceeded to preen herself. First she brought out a white- as- snow handkerchief from her tiny purse and dabbed at her delicate face with it. She then tried to pull her short, short skirt down her knees with little or no success. Lastly, she adjusted her bra straps and pulled down her top that barely covered her belly button thereby revealing more cleavage. All these took about five minutes. She actually took her time. It was after this preening act that she looked up at Adams. There was fire in her eyes.
Adams looked as if he didn’t see any of the preening acts. He beckoned at her to come upstairs. To the other bread-hawkers he had patronised before this solitary hawker, he had always walked down to meet them. Well. There is an exception to every rule, he said to himself as he moved from the balcony to the stairs. The hawker walked into the building with ease. The gate was ajar. She climbed the stairs. She cat-walked the stairs rather as Adams noticed. Adams imagined things. She helped his imagination by revealing more flesh on her chest that was needed for climbing stairs. When she got upstairs, Adams moved towards her to help her put the large tray on the floor.
“How much?” He asked when he finally found his voice that had been on the prowl with his eyes.
“Which one?” The girl’s voice matched her prettiness. It was soulful.
Playfully, with a big smile on his face Adams asked “What do you mean ‘which one’? Are you selling something else apart from bread?”
Without warning, the rain came back then. It was startling. It poured down with so much force and the deafening noise it made completely drowned out every other sounds. This time though, there was no resistance from the earth. She opened up her still wet crevices and the rain poured into her.
Adams and the solitary hawker stared at each other; each wondering what the other was thinking. With fire in her eyes and a trashy smile on her pretty, pretty face, the solitary hawker looked Adams straight in the eyes and said in her soulful voice “Actually, yes. I sell something else apart from bread on rainy days.”