What a day!
A humid atmosphere, a weather like a blast furnace, you would think someone left the portals of hell open as hot airs oozed out and swirled around.
As I stood in the sweltering air waiting to be attended, my patient snapped, face puffed up with anger, I raised my voice at the fish seller. “Madam, please hurry up now or do you want me to sleep in this market?”
“Aunty me, a beg no vex I dey come.” With both hands up in supplication, she appealed to me.
These market women could be irritating, once they collect your money, they left you standing to attend to a new customer.
The harshness in my voice and my unsmiling face made her stopped haggling with the next customer, and with a plea for her to wait, she took the fish I paid for, cut it, wrapped it and gave to me with a smile meant to thaw my anger.
I took it and ignored her smile. I didn’t need it; she had kept me more than necessary under a boiling sun. Once I stowed the fish in my shopping bag and left her stall my face relaxed fractionally with relief; it was the last item on my list of what to buy at the market for today.
With my bags, one on each hand, I joined the throng of human traffic struggling to get out of the ever-bustling Boundary market. Movement out of the market was slow with sudden halt now and then. The pushing and shoving that accompanied the movement, and the stifling weather, all ignited tempers, angry voices reverberating all over the market adding to the melee.
Rivulets of sweat slid down my back, my blouse glued to my body like a second skin. To add to my discomfort still, the stench from unwashed bodies and refuse-dump sites filled the clammy atmosphere. I wondered at the efficacy of the monthly sanitation exercise because there was no evidence a clean- up took place in the market this past last Saturday of the month.
The madness and the filthiness were so despairing. I shook my head already throbbing from the cacophony of swearing voices, and angry shouts of ‘comot for road’ from men with heavy loads on their heads. They pushed and shoved people aside, leaving curses and insults to trail after them.
I pressed my lower lip tight to stifle my frustration and contain my temper. I wished I were in the comfort of my car driving home already and not trapped in this oppressive and suffocating crowd under a scorching sun
Two hours of walking from stall to stall, haggling prices with market women, and enduring uncomfortable moments of pushing and shoving my way through a sea of people, were enough to fray one’s nerves. I trudged along until I emerged outside the market, weary and at my wits’ end.
Relieved to be out in the open, I stopped, dropped the bags down in between my legs for safe keep, and stood for a moment to regain my breath. I ignored the shouts of ‘madam move now,’ from angry passersby; impatient is the hallmark of Lagosians.
“God, why did you create me a Nigerian,” I muttered with a hiss.
I speculated as I do most often at my reasons for coming to this particular market. But no matter how I hate it, coming to Boundary market on Saturdays, was an unavoidable chore I have to brave.
For many working-class women like me, Saturdays were the only free day to go shopping and stock up for the week ahead; this account for the rowdiness in the market; it had more influx of people on weekends than any other days.
Despite its location in Ajegunle; a highly over populated suburb in Lagos; the market attracts crowd due to the abundance of various local foodstuffs, varieties of vegetable and ingredients for soups and other food items, and at affordable prices too. As such, women within its environs, and beyond too; especially Igbo women, come to the market to shop for foodstuffs and household items.
Apart from these, its proximity to my place of domicile was another factor that pulled me here most weekends. And so, despite the hurdles, I shopped here more often than other big markets in Lagos.
How to get to my car was another hurdle I have to tackle. The distance from the market to where I parked required a little trekking, a tedious ordeal under this inescapable hot sun and my bulging bags which were becoming heavier by the minutes.
Although small boys abound, who carry loads for a fare, three hovered around me, but I did not want to call on any of them, to me, they are all rogues if you are not careful, and close marked them, they would run away with your purchases.
Since I’m in no mood to run after anybody, I opted to carry my load and walk at my own pace. With a resigned sigh, I lifted my bags and ambled forward.
At an intersection, I stopped. I needed to cross over to the other side of the road to get to where I parked my car. As I waited patiently for an opening in the endless traffic of cars, yellow buses, and commercial motorcycle popularly called Okada, I heard my name.
“Chioma Amos.” My head swung around in surprise, no one had called me by that name in a decade. Chioma Amos was my maiden name; now I’m Chioma Onyekachukwu, it must be someone who knew me way back in time.
My eyes scanned around but I did not recognize any of the faces that stared back at me. I shrugged and returned my attention back to the road. Maybe it wasn’t me, I thought.
I looked up and down the road once again to gauge the distance of the on-coming vehicles and see if I could dash across to the other side; Lagos drivers are not disciplined enough to stop for pedestrians.
“Chioma Amos.” The same voice called again.
I glanced back once more, this time with a scowl on my face. Exhausted and out of sync with myself after a merry-go-round the market, I was in no mood for any shenanigans. I just wanted to be out of the sun’s glare as fast as possible.
Just when I was about to look away again, a woman; average in height, wearing a faded red blouse on top a black short turned gray from years of washing; approached me.