A single cockcrow heralded the start of Sanni’s day. One cock who had broken the mold decided to cry before dawn. The moon hung low with no hint of a lightness in the sky. Sanni blinked in the inky darkness of the room. His arm itched badly, but he was afraid that if he moved to itch it his mother would know he was awake and insist in her own violent way that he get up. The ammoniac smell of his urine-soaked mat assaulted his nostrils and he knew he would be receiving a beating later in the day for his inability to control his bladder.
“Sanni” his mother harsh whisper
He was bone-weary and even that was not unusual. His younger brother Suleiman stirred in his sleep, his arm flung casually hit Sanni squarely in the face.
A groan borne partly of pain and partly of irritation escaped his lips. It was too late. Before Sanni could feign an even deeper sleep, his mother’s fervent whisper came through the darkness.
“Sanni, you better stand up before I flog you!” she said in rapid Yoruba.
Sanni rolled on to his back and sat up like a drunken old man. An onlooker glancing at the boy would see a scrawny, slightly anemic boy with a large head and yellowed eyes.
Sanni stumbled to his feet and shuffled towards the door. His feet collided with a warm body at the same time that his torso hit the edge of a table. A loud groan escaped his lips earning him a string of curses from his mother. He tiptoed out of the dingy room he shared with his parents and four siblings, careful not to step on any more bodies.
The bathroom was a detached building (if it could be called that) constructed out of mortar and rusty corrugated iron sheets. The only thing protecting those bathing from immodesty was a thin corrugated iron sheet which had been fashioned into a door. A strong wind could whip the door open or naughty tenants trying to play pranks.
Patience (also called Peypey) was a victim of the latter. The rowdy men of Number 4 Gasper Street Ikate Surulere were always trying to catch a glimpse of her naked form so she had taken to bathing as early as 4 am. Sanni walked past the queue in front of the bath house, past Mama Ndidi cooking her famous okpa over a kerosene stove and out to the back yard. He realized that he was slower than usual today and if he did not hasten up he could be assured of a whipping later.
He fetched some water using the ifa omi and wash his face quickly. In the same quick motions, he brushed his teeth. He mumbled a greeting to Iya Quadri who was busy bathing Mukhtar (Quadri’s younger brother’s ) in the open yard in preparation for school. Mukhtar attended Obele Grammar School on Lawanson road. Sanni had often eyed their tan uniforms and worn brown sandals with envy while others saw the uniforms as dirty and faded. He wished he could go back to school. Primary three had been the best year of his life. He liked kicking pangolos on the road on his way back from school and buying the baba dudu that Iya Bendel sold just in front of the school gate. His best part was the sweet potato and dry pepper that she sometimes sold on the side. Just thinking About it made his mouth water.
He returned to the tiny room he shared with his family, changed into his clothes and picked up his wares. Today they consisted of plastic cups designed to look like wine glasses, the kind the rich folk would never use. Sometimes he hawked photo albums. Some days it was plantain chips. It all depended on what item his mother thought would move that week.
She went to Idumota twice a week to stock up. Sometimes she let Sanni tag along and his legs would hurt from trying to keep up with his mother’s brisk walk but he didn’t mind. He was in awe. Lagos Island was beautiful, he would think to himself.
Sanni met his friend Uche in the corridors and they hopped on Oga Titus’ yellow and black bus. Oga Titus commuted to CMS every day where using his bus he transported people from CMS to Ikeja. He was benevolent enough to let the duo ride for free.
Uche, Sanni’s friend was a stout man who had come from Ihiala, Anambra state to Lagos to make his fortune. After striking out at Alaba he had turned to hawking CDs in traffic, using his Alaba connections to get discounts and rare music collections. He had taken on the responsibility of watching over Sanni, often ensuring that they hawked on the same roads.
Sanni was especially excited this particular morning. Uche was taking him to Shoprite. He drifted through work that Morning with a small smile on his lips. It was the largest mall in Africa, he had heard. To Sanni, it was a wonderland.
Towards dusk, when Sanni’s feet could barely hold him upright. Uche gave him a signal. It was time.
okpa – Bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea) paste wrapped in leaves or poured in tins and cooked till solid. Looks like moin –moin (bean cake)
ifa omi – a rubber or leather container used in drawing water from a well. A fetcher.
pangolo – empty tin sometimes kicked around as a form of play by children
Idumota – one of the oldest and largest markets in Lagos, situated in Lagos Island.
Alaba – the largest electronics market in Lagos.