STORY: Dark Chance By Xena Okolo
Mayor smelled of hysteria. It was a combination of unwashed bodies, rotting vegetable, chemicals and dirt. She trudged on almost tired, clutching a Barco bag full of her purchases and clinging on tighter, on sighting a cross eyed man in a browned T-shirt. She always had this paranoid feeling which she couldn’t decipher.
Today looked more colorful, the tomatoes seemed redder, the woman who had smiled at her through tobacco stained teeth as she wrapped her purchase of Ugu leaves looked even happier and her smile broader and maybe her leaves even greener and the pure water she had bought from a female teenage hawker seemed more refreshing, unlike the repugnant fishy taste it always had.
She weaved and bobbed through human traffic, as different sellers dangled their items of sale before her. She recalled vividly, which made her laugh, some months ago, a very dark young boy whose hair was spiked in short blond dreadlocks had shoved a pale pink bra in her face, claiming that it was strong and newly imported from Italy, as he stretched the bra in her face, obviously proving its flexibility. Its strap had snapped, sending her into fits of laughter as the sellers eyes darkened in shame and embarrassment and he shut up at once. She ended up buying it at a way cheaper rate and repairing it herself. He must be new in business. She had thought.
“See-sta, come and plait your hair” were the words that severed her train of thought, coming from a young voluminous woman in a black blouse with a drastically plunging neckline.
Nnedimma swore her ample bosoms would fall out any second now. Nnedimma finally settled for big braids at a price to get home quickly. The salon or would hair plaiting stall be more apt a name – was built with sticks and roofed with dead grass, a few rusty old zincs and corrugated iron. About six hair dressers were seated, attending to customers and gossiping away in thick Igbo language that Nnedi swore that she couldn’t understand most of their discussion but in snatches of their diverse dialects.
“Good afternoon ma”. She greeted the woman closest to her.
The woman was fair complexioned with green veins growling at her temples. Fair from skin enhancing lotions, as her feet were as dark as pitch. She wore very heavy amateur applied makeup. Inferior makeup at that, in colors two shades lighter and her hair was dyed an eye shocking red. She looked like a clown. She was obviously revered. She was the Madam and every other hair dresser looked upon her in admiration and called her Mama Bomboy with this sheer respect in their tones. The same tone of respect she used to talk to sister Ego: her reverends strict and judgmental brother’s wife who put all her focus on trivial things she liked to refer to as “Flimsy Vanities”.
Mama Bomboy wore a blue tight fitting dress and slippers.
“Mummy, how much?” Plunging neckline asked Mama Bomboy, waving two glossy packets of attachments.
“Six-fifty” She replied in a thick Igbo accent.
Plunging neckline must be her daughter. Nnedi thought. Mama Bomboy had this aura of authority around her which made Nnedi remember again, her dictatorial half-caste house captain in secondary school who wore her long tawny hair unbraided. The twisting of an attachment into a tuft of hair behind Nnedi’s head by Plunging neckline snapped her back into reality and she heard the next gist from a tan colored, lean woman whom Nnedi felt should not be caught outdoors on a windy day.
“My honey said that I should stop working, that he wants me to have eight children for him because he is an only child and I’m all open to the idea”. Nnedi stared closely at the woman in question who was snatching an opportunity to become a baby making machine with both hands and oddly feeling good about it. Nnedi felt that her lean structure couldn’t even survive two kids.
“Ehen…that is how my cousin gave birth prematurely last week. It was her seventh month.” Another woman piped.
She was a hair dresser who needed a thorough exercise, as fat seeped through the cuts of her open blouse. Nnedi wasn’t sure if the woman possessed a neck or was it just convoluted layers of fat stacked up to form one. She was the person plaiting Lean structure’s hair.
“She is lucky o!” Lean structure said.
“It is true o!” Another woman complemented “because the baby turns back to blood in the eighth month. Hmmm… Chiyadindu Her God is alive!” Nnedi sighed at their ignorance.
She was no doctor but that just sounded nonsensically ridiculous. A fully formed fetus turns back to blood in the eight month. Unreasonable. Some people would just never understand logic even if it held a placard and slapped them in the face with it. Nnedi thought.
“See-sta, any child?” Plunging neckline asked Nnedi as her fingers skillfully raced down a braid. “Are you even senseless or what? Is it this small girl that you are asking that kind of question? Are you not older than her? Are you married?” Mama Bomboy scolded and Nnedi felt for Plunging neckline at once because her enquiry was more of a whisper than actual speech but undoubtedly a gossip topic of discussion.
“Put it mmiri Abacha ooo” Lean structure screamed at a food seller standing in front of the stall.
“I have a son, he’s four” Nnedi replied and everyone stared at her in gasps as though she had something horrible on her face.
“You are married?” Lean structure asked more like a conclusion than an enquiry.
Nnedi disliked the woman immediately. She was too loud and talkative, and also a nosy parker and maybe indistinctly jealous too. She liked to announce herself and was blowing breathlessly hard into her trumpet that wasn’t making so much noise. Nnedi concluded that the woman did not have a full education.
“Yes” Nnedi whispered.
“She’s not that young n-oow; I’ve seen younger mothers, haven’t you? Don’t you know that popular Orji girl? She had two kids by eighteen” Lean structure asked scrunching up her face like someone who had lemon juice for breakfast in Nnedi’s face.
Nnedi noticed that the woman had shaved her eyebrows clear and had obviously drawn very straight lines where they used to be and Nnedi began to think that maybe and just maybe a ruler was part of Lean structures makeup kit.
“Oh” Nnedi replied more in acceptance than knowledge.
She remembered vividly when she fell pregnant in Secondary school four years ago for her University boyfriend who ran off on her and her parents had thrown her out in marriage to a widower in her hometown who drank and smoked excessively. His children had left him and Nnedi’s parents had “other four important individuals to cater for” as they had said.
Nnedi traded a little and her Aunt assisted her, thankfully she could provide for herself and her son. She smiled to herself as she remembered her little Chisom’s watery eyes that morning as she left him in her Aunt’s house before leaving for the market.
“You are lucky ooo! You will be a young Grandmother Ooo!” Seeping fat exclaimed. “Hmmmm…… will she be the first young Grandmother?” Lean structure hissed, her voice full of venom.
Nnedi had long started ignoring the ludicrous woman with Spinach leaves lodged between her teeth as she munched on her plate of delicious looking Abacha as she spat a fish bone. “Bomboy!!!! How are you?” Seeping fat exclaimed to someone.
Nnedi couldn’t see the famous Bomboy because her head was practically twisted the other way by Plunging neckline in order to plait the hair from a better angle.
“Mama, see the things ooo!” Bomboy said to Mama Bomboy.
“Brother, hmm, you have come” Plunging neckline said with so much indifference that you would think that she was forced to acknowledge her brother’s presence.
Bomboy said something to her and it hit Nnedi. The voice sounded soooo familiar that she could swear she knew that voice somewhere. She forcefully but carefully jerked her head to the side to have a better view and without a second look, her mouth hung agape. Now she knew, when she saw Mama Bomboy, there was this look she could not place her finger on. Now she saw it.
Mother and son; a resemblance so uncanny. Plunging neckline was quite another story. “TOBENNA!!!!!!” She screamed which sent silence like a wet blanket all over the stall even on Lean structure who had been piping away like a frightened banshee. Everyone stopped and looked in the duo’s direction but Nnedi was too engrossed to notice Plunging neckline’s pause on her hair. Bomboy became fidgety. “I…I….I……I a…a…am co…coming” he stammered looking straight at Nnedi with alarm bells ringing in his eyes and he took off. Nnedi didn’t think for the next second, but with so much adrenalin pumping into her brain, she followed her first instinct. In less than a Nano second, she pulled free of Plunging neckline’s grip on her hair, leaped forward and took to her heels after him! She did not hear Mama Bomboy call after her.
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