THE FOOTPATH 1

But before she left, while she was still at it plaiting Ocheche’s hair, Aunty Funke made a statement that Ocheche missed because she had temporarily removed her concentration from the duo in the kiosk in order shove off a disturbing flea.

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‘…for the kids at the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network, CRARN centre in Eket, Akwa Ibom State, and every misunderstood Nigerian child who has either been tortured, abandoned, maimed or even killed, especially on the spurious allegation of witchcraft …rejected by the same adults society who ordinarily should offer protection and care…

…with hope and prayers that one day the much needed relief that the Nigerian child deserves will come to them and that justice will finally get to be served on those heartless adult at whose hands the Eket kids continue to suffer…’

***

Ocheche Ayeni sat cross-legged on Uncle Alonge’s wooden chair. She sat as if she was practically glued to the flattened foam on the wooden chair set in the entrance of the old man’s kiosk. Her favourite rag doll clutched under her left armpit, she sat there waiting. Patiently.

It would have been better if it was just the inner foam of the dirty lice infested settee that was pouring out, yet that was not the case as the bulging spring also made sitting on the chair uncomfortable for her. Despite her discomfort however, she knew she had no choice. It was the spot she was instructed to sit and wait for Oyin Konde who had rushed across to the other side of the street facing Uncle Alonge’s kiosk to get more thread. That Uncle Alonge, the jolly old man from the next village with a face like a mass of rotten beef and a large tummy that giggles anytime he laughed.

The late afternoon sun shone through the leaves of the giant Ogehghe tree with bark like the skin of an aged crocodile and stood like a scary king near the kiosk, casting its flickering shadow on it. Though the day was winding down, the mild heat from the sun kept pouring down like bullets from a machine gun. Like a suiting balm however, the evening breeze was also present to caress Ocheche’s ebony skin; successfully removing her mind from the mild evening heat. The sight of the motion of the large golden ball that was the evening sun and the sweet evening breeze served to entrance the little girl as she sat with her face turned upward, as if hypnotized by the elements. In her mind, more out of reflect or by default, she wanted to make the most of the few minutes it will take Oyin Konde to go and get the thread she needed to complete the braiding of her hair.

Her mother had hurried home earlier with the excuse that she needed to go and attend to house chores and had left her with her market neighbour and closest friend, Aunty Funke. Aunty Funke, that dark lady with a set of canine teeth that bears a striking resemblance to that of a vampire. The little Ocheche was always wary of her anytime their paths crossed. She was so dark that her complexion blended perfectly with the night. It was her funny look and complexion that made Ocheche all the charier of her. To add that there was this weird scar that ran from her forehead through her cheek to her jaw, running down her chest and finally disappearing into her bra.

‘When Aunty Funke closes shop, she’ll bring you home’, those were her mother’s parting words as she lifted the basket of unfinished oranges on her head. She’d sell them the following day she murmured under her breath as she hurried off. Business had been anything but fair to her she complained before taking her leave. And her husband’s short temperedness did not help matters. She must hurry home to prepare dinner before the short, tick set man with limbs like that of an ape returned from his usual gravel lifting job at the quarry. How did Aunty Funke come by her strange set of teeth and the scar? These were the two questions in Ocheche’s mind as she watched her mother’s receding figure disappeared into the horizon. Oyin Konde the hair stylist braiding her hair was not yet done as at the time her mother decided she had had enough of the poor sales for the day. It was this, Aunty Funke’s promise to bring her home, her father’s temper and the poor sales of the day that was to blame for her mother leaving her in the care of her best friend, the weird witch-looking Aunty Funke Ocheche regretted. Ocheche sat still, watching the sky.

The few people left in the street that had conveniently been transformed into some time of market place went about their business like some little ants crawling around tiny shred of bread in the sparsely populated area. The steady hum of conversation between Uncle Alonge and Aunty Funke continued to flow from inside the kiosk. Despite her enchantment with the elements, the words of the conversing adults steadily continued to filter into her ears as if they were sitting in front of her and making the conversation. Even though Oyin Konde soon returned brandishing the thread and ordered her to return to the wooden stool she had been sitting on prior to when she went for the thread, her mind, attention and interest did not leave the conversation of the two figures inside the kiosk as she obeyed the woman and walked lazily to the wooden stool.

“Funkis, na wa o, this Foursquare pastor will never let us be o. Can you imagine! He has the guts to place his church’s loud speaker directly in front of my shop ehn? We are not members of his church. Can’t he just get that into his head and therefore position his loud speakers so that they can face the members of his church inside rather than us who are outside and are going about our normal businesses? Does putting the speakers outside his church directly in front of our shops a guarantee he will go to heaven or get more worshipers?”

Aunty Funke did not respond. She was no stranger to Uncle Alonge’s mortal hatred for Pentecostal churches. As a Catholic himself, he had never for once considered Pentecostals as Christians. As a matter of fact, he always referred to them as Protestants. Rebels. To him, they were rebels to the authority of the pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth and the Holy See and so merited his derision and hatred.

Inside the kiosk, he was doing something that Ocheche could not immediately figure out. Aunty Funke on her part was sucking from a mango seed. Where she was sitting, in-between Oyin Konde’s thighs, Ocheche watched quietly from the corner of her eyes, as the hair Stylist continued to pull gently at her hair, as Aunty Funke pounded the mango on the bare floor until the fruit became a pulp and the seed inside began to wobble. Having pounded the seed vigorously on the bare floor for a few minutes, she lifted it to her mouth and bit her teeth into the pointed edge of the mango to create a tiny hole from which she began to suck the juice from the seed. From what Ocheche could tell she appeared to be enjoying the fruit, as she sucked, licked her lips so loud Ocheche could hear the yelping sound of the munching from where she was sitting. Both Aunty Funke and Uncle Alonge sat silently for a few minutes, each busy with what they were doing. Uncle Alonge scratched his balding head impatiently, dipped his index finger into his large nostril and scratched till he pulled some junks from it. He peered into the rubbish on his finger as if he was surprised what came out of his own nose before wiping his finger on his dirty trouser. Then he spoke up again.

“I’m so happy the way business went for me today o, I don’t know why mummy Ocheche is complaining.”

“Every day is not Christmas and every day cannot be good for everybody” Aunty Funke said with a non-challance that suggested she was more interested in the consumption of her mango seed than Uncle Alonge’s conversation. Yet, the old man was not discouraged.

“Are you people still going to Akuku this night?’ he asked. SILENCE.

“It getting late and it will be very dark before you people reach o. Why don’t you spend the night here in Igarra as usual instead of making a journey at this hour of the night? At least it won’t be the first time or what do you think?”

“We’ll be fine da. As soon as Oyin Konde finishes with Ocheche’s hair, we will get going. I have already parked my things” replied Aunty Funke before shouting her edginess to the woman braiding Ocheche’s hair, urging her to hurry up with what she was doing. She then mumbled a few other words about how crossed she was with the hair stylist for not showing up earlier than she came. Calm your nerves woman, if you had not convinced mom, she would not have left me in your care, why the heckle? Ocheche thought.

“Iti Ogosilo is home tonight and we are expecting a visitor, I won’t let you ruin the transaction we have tonight o so hurry up woman”. She added, her face turned towards the direction of Uncle Alonge, she was now wearing a mischievous grin. Even though she was obviously talking to the hair stylist with her voice raised in anger, she was facing Uncle Alonge. Normally, at this hour, she would have decided to stay the night. This had happened many times before. Ocheche wondered why she decided they must leave soon after she convinced her mother to leave her in her care. When her mother said Aunty Funke would bring her home, Ocheche knew what she had in mind been that the weird woman would take her home the following morning.

Iti Ogosilo. A name that evokes fear in little Ocheche anytime she heard it mentioned. If Aunty Funke was weird, then there was no word to describe Iti Ogosilo; a small man with tiny hairy hands and legs. Ocheche used to wonder how he felt inside his cloths which were always oversize anytime she saw him. Few minutes after Aunty Funke’s tirades Oyin Konde finished plating Ocheche’s hair. She had ignored Aunty Funke outbursts and kept doing her work on Ocheche’s hair all the while the weird woman was shouting. After plaiting the little girl’s hair, she did not as much as notify her she was done, how much more tell her she was leaving but simply parked her things and left quietly. By the time she left, it was already night and the time to start the night market.

But before she left, while she was still at it plaiting Ocheche’s hair, Aunty Funke made a statement that Ocheche missed because she had temporarily removed her concentration from the duo in the kiosk in order shove off a disturbing flea. The laughter that followed Aunty Funke’s statement broke Ocheche’s musings about the evening and the two adults. Immediately Oyin Konde parked her things and left, the little girl stood up, pulled her dress over the protruding underskirt, and then stepped inside the kiosk. She wanted to know what the two were up to or what was so funny in what the witch-like looking Aunty Funke had said that warrant such hearty laughter between the two. The last she could recall, the weird woman had not exposed her weird set of teeth in a smile how much more laughed all day. She also intended to inform Aunty Funke that the hair stylist had finished plaiting her hair and had packed up her thing and that she had left.

“Is she through with you?” the weird looking woman asked soon after Ocheche stepped into the kiosk. She nodded in the affirmative.

“Oya wear your sweater, its dark already. The weather is getting cold. Oya make we come begin go, important matter dey for we house this night” she said to the little girl. Ocheche walked slowly to where the wooden chair by the spot where a local lamp rests on top a tall wooden stool was and retrieve her sweater. Uncle Alonge excused himself, went out the back door of the kiosk to the backyard. The sound of falling objects followed his departure from the kiosk before he soon returned bearing in his thickset hand a Chakabula-local lantern.

“Well, since you insist on risking your life this night, I am sure you’ll need this Funkis. It’s a new thread I put in it today and there is plenty of kerosene to last you even for a two hours trek.” He said sarcastically handing the small lamp to Aunty Funke. Aunty Funke collected it from him with gratitude as if it was money.

“Thank you Ada,” she said. “I’ll bring it back tomorrow when coming to the market. But I don’t have kerosene to replace o” she added. Uncle Alonge ignored her. He tried to pat little Ocheche on the head, but the little girl withdrew her head before the massive veins infested hand that looked like the lines on a map reached it. Ignoring the little girl, he bade the duo good night and opened the net door of his kiosk to let them out. Ocheche doesn’t like the old man; more so, his hands were too rough, so much like sand-paper that carpenters used in polishing the surfaces of roughen woods. As they left the kiosk into the darkness of the night, Ocheche’s heart began to beat faster than normal…

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