There was a building at the end of Bankole close. It was a small, isolated building; not the typical building that closes end with. It was flanked by what seemed like two endless vasts of lands populated by greenery and shrubbery. Most of Bankole close mimicked the look of these pieces of lands. There were some buildings-in-progress and a couple of unpainted completed buildings. In the day time, most of Bankole close saw tens and tens of shirtless, sweaty manual laborers working to transform blueprints into concrete realities.
Occasionally, expensive looking cars would pull up at the lands populated by greenery and shrubbery and shielding their eyes with one hand, they would gaze far into the distance, trying to determine where the land being offered them at what was a ridiculously cheap price ended. They never quite seemed to see the end. These visits usually ended with firm, sturdy handshakes and very happy salesmen who took yet another victory to Aunty B’s, the beer parlour a few doors away from the building at the end of Bankole close.
The building at the end of Bankole close had not always been there. It had showed up almost a year ago when a small woman pulled up not in an expensive car, but by foot. She had looked at the small piece of land that the salesman had told her was the most that she could buy for the money that she had. She smiled, satisfactorily, undid part of her wrapper, and handed the salesman a small bundle of money. Her name was Telema and at the time our story begins, she sat on a small stool outside the building at the end of Bankole close, fanning herself with a small flap of cardboard, watching the usual movement of development on Bankole close accompanied by the loud sounds of construction.
“TELEMA O! You wan burn customer head?!”
I jerked. Well, it was more like a physical jump that sent the candle and the very bright fire flying out of my hands and onto the new terrazzo floor that Madam’s boy had finally finished laying last week. Of course, na correct shouting follow. They all had something to say. Even that tiny cockroach that started learning work last week o. I saw her mouth move as Madam hit me on the back with her legendary abara. Hours and hours of stories could be told about her abara. It shook you, from the surface to your core. Deep into your inside. You visibly vibrated as you made your journey to the ground. If you were lucky, your knees held you when you reached the ground. Otherwise, na scatter body you go just dey for there. Somehow, I still felt humiliated every time that happened to me. You would think that I would have mastered the art of catching myself before falling.
It was the plea from the customers that stopped the raucous. Raucous. Did I use it right? Well, what do you know, even? People like me usually don’t use words like raucous, so please allow me. Rah-oo-kors. So, I had been day dreaming. So what?! As if that is a sin. Madam snapped her fingers once and if you had walked in at that moment, what you would have seen was seven girls gathering around three seats occupied with customers, a thick giant woman smiling and chatting with one of the customers while keeping a stern, unfriendly eye on the twists that two girls were working on. And then there was me, still on the floor right in the middle of the already crowded shop, slowly helping myself up. It was as though I fell on my own and none of the people in the room had noticed. This was the power of Madam’s finger snap. It was loud, ringing, and could cut through the loudest of arguments. It spoke for itself and it said one thing and one thing only. Shut up or else! I picked up the now broken candle and walked sluggishly back to my customer. I would definitely pay for the broken candle. This I knew. I whispered my apology next to her and she nodded with a smile. I liked her. I continued to work on trimming her braids, struggling to keep my mind focused. This was my worst part – trimming. If only there was a way to do it easier. Honestly, I think that those shaving sticks would be easier to use than these blunt scissors that Madam has refused to change.
It was pitch black outside by the time the last customer left the shop and as I swept stray hair off the floor, I allowed myself to day dream again. Truth is, these day dreams were a new thing. But they were very accurate. I want more. I want a salon. My own salon.
“Tele.” It was Madam in her sing-song voice that made you think her sternness was imaginary. I looked up and struggled to make out her face with the help of the dim lantern in the shop. Her eyes were so scary. Was she smiling?
“You know I am not paying you today abi? Come back tomorrow with your head correct o, if you don’t want to leave without money again tomorrow.” She spoke as she walked towards the door. My mouth was open.
“Ehen and make sure you wait for everybody to leave oh and lock shop.”
Sigh. Winch. It was already 8pm and…
“And remember your father said you must come home before 8:30. See you at home o. Na go I dey!” I swear I heard her chuckle. Winch.
Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. I want to tell you what happens when I finally got home at past 9. I want to tell you why I finally got home at past 9. But for now, in this moment, this is all that you need to know: My name is Telema and these are my real stories.
MeeMee here! What you just read is the introduction to our first fiction series. Telema is a young Nigerian woman that lives in Lagos. This series comprises her stories, as told by her, as she begins to wake up to what her life has become through her work in Happiness Hair and Beauty Salon.
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