Pepper Seller

Of Rage and Other Dreams

Do you remember me?

Yesterday I was at your shop stall. I wanted to buy Pepper- Ata Rodo and Tomatoes, Fifty Naira. But you didn’t sell to me. You wouldn’t even look up. You said it couldn’t be sold; it was too little to sell. I told you I just wanted to fry eggs and there was no light to refrigerate it. I slithered away defeated, as I always do. You see everyone does that, what you did- talking down on me. And all I do is slither away. I don’t open my mouth, I don’t talk back. After all, a lady should be seen and not heard.

Well, maybe I slithered away yesterday, but tonight I will talk back. You did not know me yesterday. When I am done here, you will. Oh by God, you will!

Months ago, I would never have had to buy fifty naira pepper. I had mouths to feed. People used to love me feeding them.  But all of that has changed. Now I cook for one and I eat it all at once, because my generator doesn’t work and even if it did, I wouldn’t put a petrol jerry can in a Bagco Bag and take to work. But you don’t know how hard that is, or do you? You use your wretched “I pass my neighbour” generator that has seen better days. You send your son to buy you four hundred naira petrol in a polybag every other evening on his way from lesson. Then you mix it with engine oil and some palm oil because you think it will make the fuel last longer. And you open the choke half-way. You are pathetic you know? The only thing you watch on your television is the Obesere DVD you took from your husband’s bus the last time he came home (We are still going to discuss your husband when I am done with you).


You are envious of Cossy’s breasts, but that is understandable. What is not understandable is how you let your teenage son watch that rubbish. Well, soon he will get tired of staying in that one room that all five of you live in and you never open the windows because you do not want the neighbours to see inside and know that you have bought a bigger fridge and increase your share of the electricity bill. So your son will start to play that rubber band on the ground game and steal your money and go to the game centre with his friends and start to hang around uncompleted buildings and start to fondle little girls. Then one morning, a woman will come with her daughter and say that your son and his friends “defiled” her. You will want to fight but you will not want the neighbours to hear, because if they do, half of your row in Oyingbo will hear. And your son will never have friends until you send him to go and live with your brother in Alagbado where he will learn Vulcanizing when he comes home from his new school where pupils are being recruited as cultists for MAPOLY.


Your other son may be good to you. But he is withdrawn. He is taunted at school every day because of the ekusa on his head. Maybe if you had sold pepper to me I would have told you what shampoo to buy and what antibiotics to give him. I have doctor friends and my father is in the health sector too. Or maybe I would have bought the drugs myself- sometimes I’m nice. But you didn’t. So on my way to work every morning, I’ll watch you sandpaper his head right before you bathe him on the wooden plank that covers the gutter in front of your house. He will bleed and scar and you will think that you have cleaned his wounds. Let me tell you, all the Izal in the world cannot save him, the same way all the Moju and Dusting Powder in the world will not stop the heat rash plague in your compound. And all the Chinese Balm at the aboki’s counter cannot cure that ekusa. You will buy that pink ointment that’s in the same bottle as otapiapia, the one that man at the bus-stop sells in a wheel barrow. The man said over his megaphone that the ointment cures everything, from ringworm to leprosy; but your son’s ekusa will not go. Then one day, he will tell you that he wants to change school because no one talks to him because of his ekusa. But the only other primary school is a distance away and you will have to give him money for transport and lunch.

About lunch, have you noticed that his stomach is getting distended, he and his younger sister. My sister that is what they call Kwashiorkor. Every time you give him money, you only give him money for rice. So he buys rice twenty naira, no fish, no meat, no over boiled egg, no beans, no vegetable. He buys only rice and pure water. The little girl has started eating solids too, the same miserable rice and pure water. But even before then, she was an Ogi baby. You gave her only Ogi and water every day. Then when she’s ill you give her water and kafura pelebe. Isn’t that like camphor? And to think that you put relaxer on that little child’s hair last Ileya so that you could do “Net Gel” with starch and your husband’s old sponge. Did that child even get all her immunizations? You should have breastfed her much longer.


You thought if you stopped breastfeeding your husband would find you attractive again. Has he? No woman, it doesn’t work that way. Now he has eyes only for that sells agbo in their motor park. He even paid for her to fix that weave that makes it look like she’s losing touch with reality. But she likes it; her oshuka sits well on it so her wares don’t fall off. Your husband loves the hair style too. He doesn’t hide their love at all. He has rented another one-room apartment where they stay. I am sure your friends have told you. She sits with him all evening when he’s with his friends when they drink 33 extra lager every day. He used to buy her Small Stout. Now she drinks mostly Maltina because she is pregnant. I can tell already, her breasts look fuller. And when she took a sip from his beer the other, he said it was so that “ara omo yen ma da saka”. She will have a boy, and your husband will be over the moon and forget that he already has two boys- the paedophile and the ekusa boy. He will kill a ram for the suna even though he didn’t give you two thousand naira for your aunt’s husband’s burial aso-ebi. Then after three weeks, he will bring his sorry ass, and his hungry ass relatives to the room that you both share. They will beg you and tell you to draw your new wife into your bosom; to forgive your husband and thank God for the blessing of a new child. You will be shattered but you will not let them see your tears, because they don’t like you. They stopped liking you when your father gave them the engagement list, and now you know they are gloating over you.


You remember when he was a good guy and you two had bliss. You would sit in front of his bus and he’d ask you to wave at people for him, because he thought if he took one hand off the steering he would crash the bus. Your husband will stay a few weeks with you. Don’t flatter yourself. It is not because he has changed or you are now attractive; it is because she is bleeding and he hates the taste of breast milk. Then one morning he will drive his bus off and not come back.


Maybe you should take care of yourself a little more; like waking up in the morning and brushing your mouth once and for all, instead of that chewing stick ritual that ends at mid-day. You should comb your hair and have a bath early in the morning, your husband left you because of your dirty wrappers. If you wake up early enough, you wouldn’t have to queue to use the bathroom. And maybe you should take care of your children too. You don’t seem to realize that you are as single as an office pin. Hehehehe! It’s just you and the children now, no husband. You should take them to a hospital when they are ill, that ekusa can still be cured. Maybe you should spend less time attending market women’s meetings and save up on all the Ankara money you have been wasting. What’s the point, you always sew hideous styles. I would have said that you should give your children proper home training and help out with home-work. But alas, you don’t give what you don’t have. So we will pass on that. Maybe you should sell more Pepper and treat your customers nicely. That way you won’t ever have to throw a whole basket of tomatoes away again. Maybe your life would be less miserable if you sold fifty naira pepper. But I know women like you. I know you.


Do you remember me now? Will you remember me?


I’m the girl that wanted to buy fifty naira pepper.



Concrete and Confusion

Originally posted in November 2013

I hate Lagos. I know. I always say “Hate” is a strong word. But tell me, what emotion do you feel when you are smothered in the midst of fifteen million people- the mix of odours (and fragrances once in a while), the noise of people, every one of them trying to find his voice, the false airs, the religion, the vice, and the ghetto.

But Lagos is my city, and I probably would not survive elsewhere. I did a few days in what used to be Yobe and I felt like a fish out of water. Abeokuta is sleepy, and Ibadan well, there are no words to describe it. But I know the rhythm of Lagos. I can travel Lagos with my eyes closed. I sleep off in the bus knowing when to open my eyes. I know how the water at Leventis smells, it’s fishy and nauseating. I know when CBD will raid the roadside traders at Idumota. The potholes in Ikeja tell me I’m almost at work. I know everything- Ojota smells like the huge refuse dump that it is, Mile 12 has the permanent smell of rotten tomatoes and now Ikorodu is one huge cloud of dust. Every evening, at my bus-stop I can see from the corner of my eye when an okada man stretches out his hand to tug at my dress. I know how many inches to move without bumping into someone else. I have been doing this since I was thirteen when I started going to school on my own. I have mastered the art of keeping a straight face when I hear lewd comments about my ass. I know this city. I own it, but sometimes, my Lagos likes to spring surprises on me.




Last week I saw a naked man.

I have seen naked men before, but on the street, a street inside Lekki Phase One. He is dark black, but he is crying so much that he is red in the face. At first I think he is a lunatic, but lunatics don’t attract crowds in Lagos, they are a part of our mix and the lines are blurred. I want to know but I do not want to stand and watch.

I have heard learned to stop watching roadside shows since I was young. One day my mother asked my sister and an older cousin living with us to go buy food stuff at Oloosa market. They stopped to watch a travelling magician, one of those whose outfits was somewhere between a Priest’s Soutane and an Indian Lord’s outfit. I have never seen an Indian Lord but I see the pictures in Molue buses. I don’t know how long my sister and cousin watched the show for, but I know they got home late that night, without the foodstuff. Later that night, over their wails while my mother beats them with an electric cable, I hear my mum telling them that people’s body parts had been removed and their destinies stolen, while they watched roadside magic shows.

Well, back to the naked man before me. Since I cannot stand to look, I slow my pace and put my ears in antenna mode. I learn that he is an okada man who is trying to evade arrest. He has stripped himself naked and started to shit and curse the police simultaneously. Of course, men are gathered around him, trying to cover him and then it occurs to me that if it were a woman who was naked, they would be taking pictures on their phones. I have always doubted Sigmund Freud’s Penis Envy theory and I am reminded once again that it is Lagos men that have a Breast Envy Syndrome.

I certainly do not envy his Penis and I still feel violated.

I should go for confession this Saturday.



Every time people ask where I live, I smile and just say casually “I live on the Island” in my most unassuming voice. And then I pause, let it sink in, and wait for the response. For those who know the Island well, they ask “where on the Island”. I say Lekki and when they ask if it’s Phase 1, I say before Chevron. Saying I live “just before Chevron” makes me sound a little more bourgeoisie. Igbo-efon sounds local, and it is, by most standards. Every time I tell people who don’t live on the Island that I live on the Island and they  say “Gbogbo bigz girl” or “Island big girl”, I inwardly want to slap them and knock their front teeth out. Do they know how far I have to roll up my trousers because of flood? Do they know how far away my landlady parks from the house because her car engine has “knocked” one too many times? And how annoying it is when the kids on my streets that play with rubber bands and old Dunlop slippers come to knock on my gate because their “shoe fly into your yard”?

The people here also seem to smoke a different kind of weed. Once, the young man beside me in the bus was peering in my phone as if it were a shared resource. Later he had the guts to tell me that he “just want to be a friend”. The other day the driver of the bus I took home was driving as though he was driving a refuse truck. When a LASTMAn jumped into the bus to arrest him for reckless driving, he simply drove us into the Police station, parked the Vehicle and walked to his desk behind the counter. I simply picked my stuff and left.

The pattern of craze is unpredictable.


Today I am at one of those exhibitions. It is a photo exhibition, one of the things that come with Mega-City Status. I know the crowd- young, middle to upper class and upwardly mobile- the ones who went to private schools or who schooled abroad. They speak a blend of the accent they pretend they are trying to lose and Nigerian Queen’s English and they all act like they went to Finishing School. I have never been to “overs” but I can fit in well. I am already dressed the part, I know this pattern well. “Table” becomes “teibl” and I say “yea?” and “basically” more often. I say “Oh my days!” with my eyes wide open because it is more believable. I hug a few people and they ask what perfume I am wearing and if my eyelashes are real. We talk about Drake’s new album and 15 karat Lorraine Schwartz diamond rings.


The Bar Beach is a stone’s throw away. I haven’t been on those flea-ridden horses since I was a child and the thought is suddenly appealing. Alcohol is cheap and vice is norm there. The white garment churches are there too. I imagine wearing a transparent soutane and throwing my ass around with reckless abandon. That’s the Lagos that fascinates me, not these nasal conversations and matte photos. My nose is twitching and I want to poke it. Someone asks why I’m smiling to myself and I say the pictures are so beautiful.


In my head, I am singing “Alomo Meta”.