2015-10-19

Zubayat
—fiction by Dami Lare

She tells me it will be alright, I nod my head thrice like I agree; but I know it’s a lie, it would not need to be alright if it were already alright, and if it is not alright, why should she think it will be?

"Salome, you aren’t a believer like me," she says, I ask her what a believer means, she laughs in a funny way, which makes me laugh too. She tells me the story of Babayaga.

"Babayaga is an old hag, an ugly witch," she says; "she has big snakes for hairs and long thin claws like Asa. She rides a broom and flies at night. She scares little children in their beds and cooks those who become scared to eat or sometimes eats them raw, just for the fun of it; with their limbs crunching like Iyaibo’s chewing stick in her mouth."

“Ugly like her.” I point towards a pito seller with long tribal marks.

She laughs loudly, shaking with tears rolling from her eyes. I do not laugh; I am too scared to laugh.

Only those who believe Babayaga cannot harm them are the ones she cannot devour.

“Dee—va—waah”, I pronounce to myself.

I tell her to stop, I do not like today’s story. I do not want to be eaten by Babayaga.

As we set to leave the motor park, I ask her, “Is that what a believer is?” she nods, and says anybody who believes nothing bad would happen is a believer.

We walk into the rain with our empty trays, cutting in-between horning cars and crazy okada riders looking for shelter, I wonder if I am one, I do not know if I am a believer, I fear Babayaga will eat me tonight.
I decide not to sleep on the bed.

***

The house is fully occupied tonight, like it was yesterday, and the day before and the day before that. Zubayat says it is not good for cross ventilation, that the air is stale. I tell Iyaibo the next day after repeating the words in my dream, cramming the sentence word for word.

“Shut up, you stupid boy. Is it your father that pays for the upkeep?” she screams into my ears, after giving me severe conks on the downside of my head. I cry to Zubayat, she laughs that her funny laugh, and gives me kilishi from yesterday’s sales. She says she knows what to do.

So tonight when I say I do not want to sleep on the flat mattress, she looks at me and smiles that awkward smile that tells me she knows what is in my mind. I look down, away from her.

We secretly crawl underneath Iyaibo’s window to where the mattress she spreads her babies’ napkins in the day on is and we sleep on it.

No, I sleep on the floor, beside Zubayat, where her hands can reach me when it’s time to go back to the overcrowded room. Zubayat sleeps on the bed.

I smile, tonight Babayaga cannot reach me.

I smile again, like Zubayat.

***

It does not rain today, but sales do not go well too. It is shinning too much. The sun just sits there and smiles all day long. It is smiling too much today. I once told Zubayat that whenever the sun is happy it smiles, and that in the evening or at night it is always sad, that is why it does not shine. Zubayat laughs and does not say anything, she just whistles. I tell myself I will ask her again about the sun.

I look for Zubayat, I do not see her. I wonder why everything is too much. I want to believe it will be okay, like Zubayat says and that the sun will get sad, so I can sell well and Oche would not outsell me today. Iyaibo always praises him as the best amongst us, he and Dongo; she gives them extra soup. Not meat. She says meat is costly, only for adults like her.
Even Zubayat does not get one.

I squat beside a meat seller with my tray; he chases me away and shouts wawan yaro in a language I do not know. He murmurs something in pidgin to his ugly friend, they both laugh ugly laughs. I am back on the street; the agberos are sweating, jumping up and down, fighting with their customers over money. Zubayat once said customers are always right, I do not know if these agberos know that. Me, I do not believe.

Last time a customer almost cheated me; she did not give me money for my kilishi, and says she did. I cry and cry, she says she has, I check myself, I do not believe her, everybody gathers and she claims I am lying, someone says kids of these days. My ears are blocked with blown away tears, my eyes are hot from it too, I think only of Iyaibo’s whips but, Zubayat makes her drop the money. She ties her wrapper and promises to kill herself there if she does not give her brother money for the kilishi. The woman with the bent legs drops the money.

I ask Zubayat again on our way home if customers are always right, she looks at me, smiles and says yes.

But not with kilishi.

Someone taps me from behind, I am scared, I think it is Babayaga, but it is not night, so I smile as I see Zubayat’s lean face under the sun. She has an empty tray in her hands. She has sold hers finish. She has sold for the week, and she says today is Thursday; me, I do not know what day it is, just that by Saturday my Kilishi must be finished so I can rest on Sunday like God did.

I wonder why Sunday is for resting, and why God rested on it, and if he did, why he created Sunday who does not rest like him. The Sunday at the house does not rest. He falls sick all the time, his body is always hot, and he talks too much.

Just like me, Sunday did not have a name when he first came to the family house. Zubayat says he was found outside the family house door, dirty rain dripping on him from the bent roofs when Iyaibo was going to church. She had named him Sunday, to show that he has found his place of rest. Whenever Iyaibo tells this story again, Sunday smiles on his sick bed, and everybody wishes he is born on Sunday. But I overhear Iyaibo telling the Carpenter’s wife she names us in a way she can easily account for, both of them laugh like disturbed leaves.

I tell Zubayat, she says I shouldn’t tell anyone. I do not. What do I know?

Zubayat carries my tray of Kilishi and goes back into the park. I keep thinking about Sunday.

***

Something happens today, the others are going to steal Iyaibo’s money. Zubayat has gone with her to the market place. The room is stuffy, as Zubayat always describes, we cannot open the window, Halimat is cold. She is older than others, but younger than Zubayat. She is always cold when others are hot. Musa and Akeem call her aramanda. She has ordered that the windows remain closed; nobody can question her, not even Oche and Dongo. Iyaibo will flog them if anyone reports of disrespect.

“Respect is reciprocal,” Iyaibo tells us every morning. She says if we cannot respect our brothers and sisters, how can we respect ourselves. Nobody understands her, but we nod our heads expecting the watery soup and small garri.

The girls have gone outside to play suwe, the boys, those who are not playing football, Oche, Dongo, Musa, Akeem, Yusuf, Iliya and myself are together talking about stupid things when Prince comes in. He tells us his idea; others agree to steal Iyaibo’s money. I know it is bad, but I do not know if I should tell them.

I tell them, they all laugh and ask me where my kilishi money is. I say it is with Iyaibo. They say I have to collect my share and that she won’t give me unless I take it. I do not understand this talk, but I nod thrice like I do.

We plan.

Iyaibo comes smiling while Zubayatu drags the big loads inside, I help her carry some, and the girls take the rest in. Some minutes later Iyaibo shouts out of her room and enters ours, she checks inside Yusuf’s and Prince’s bag. She brings out bundles of twenty and fifty nairas all squeezed together from their bag. I look up and see prince and Yusuf looking hard at me, I look away. I want to tell them I know nothing, but they keep looking at me like I know something, first Yusuf, then Prince, then they turn their face away after saying something I do not hear to each other. Yusuf hisses.

In the night a man in black comes to take prince away like they took Gabriel and Ramota. The room becomes less stuffy.

I see Oche and Dongo laugh quietly. They are eating meat.

***

“Why does the sun smile in the morning and gets sad in the night?” I ask Zubayat on our way home. Our kilishi is balanced well on our heads.

She says, "Because nothing is permanent, and perhaps something bad happens to it at night."

“Like you?” She stops walking and looks at me. Her eyes speak volumes, I ask her why she cries every Tuesday night. She doesn’t say anything. She just whistles.

“Zubayat!” I call her name thrice.

She doesn’t answer. The fourth time she stops, looks back and keeps walking.

“Let’s go home, it is getting darker,” she says.

***

They have come to check us again. Zubayat is putting on a big dress, too big for her. Others are also putting on new dresses that Mama Kudi sews from pieces of clothes from her customers. Oche looks funny, no ree--dii--cu--lus, that’s what Zubayat calls it.

The house is in order, and everywhere is clean. We didn’t sleep all night. August vistors, that is what Iyaibo calls them.

We are made to smile, our teeth have been washed clean with toothpaste and not Iyaibo’s chewing sticks. Dongo’s teeth are still black, but mine is okay. We sing for the visitors and they shake our hands. Iyaibo says we are doing well, and when they ask us we all shake our heads too, like happy mosquitoes.

A woman is talking to Zubayat, she is older, with gold glasses on her small nose. She is smiling, not like the sun, but a gentle smile. She mentions Aba several times, and tells Zubayat not to worry. They speak in Zubayat’s language, but I keep hearing Aba. Zubayat leaves, after she has cleaned her face. The woman gives her money.

I go to meet her in the afternoon and ask her who Aba is.

Zubayat looks at me and smiles.

She gives me hundred naira.

Most of us here don’t know one another’s story, but Zubayat does, and she tells me some of them. But no one knows hers, except maybe Iyaibo. And she will not tell.

So I sneak into her room. Iyaibo has various files in her room. I wonder why Dongo says that it is very beautiful. There are everywhere, on the floor, everywhere. Everybody is outside. I begin to rub my hands on the files; I carry them around the room the way our instructors carry them when they come to teach us in the morning. I see a file that has Musa’s name on it. I see a picture of a baby in a dustbin, dirty things all over it. The baby is very ugly, not like Musa. I drop the file.

I see another file with Aamori’s picture on its cover. She is holding a dirty piece of plastic with her mouth but I cannot laugh. She looks like mariwo. I begin to look for a file with my picture on it. I look and look but I cannot find it. I hear Iyaibo’s voice outside. I begin to fear. Then I see Zubayat’s picture. She is pale and sick in this picture. I open it but do not find her name: what I see written is Aba.

Iyaibo enters.

***

I do not see Zubayat for three days. On the fourth day, a big bus comes to carry all of us. Iyaibo makes all of us squeeze ourselves into the car. Musa and Dong are shouting. Me, it is my first time in a real bus, not those dirty ones at the motor park.

We enter a big building and I see Zubayat on one of the many small beds. Something white is wrapped around her head, her hands and right leg. She is sleeping. Iyaibo says we should not talk. We keep looking. Alero and Iliya are smiling, pointing hands. I hate them.

I want to shout Zubayat to see her laught. I call her name gently but she doesn’t even smile.

Iyaibo says it is time to go. I put the hundred naira in her hand.

***

I miss Zubayat. I want her to come so we can sleep together on Iyaibo’s mattress; I want to ask her why Iyaibo has not asked me to sell kilishi for the days I didn’t when she was punishing me. I want her to tell me a story. I want to ask her who Aba is, and why the name and not Zubayat’s was on her file. I want to ask her my story, why Dongo says I have a girl’s name.

That night I do not sleep.

I fear Babayaga will eat me, so I do not sleep on the mattress. I stay in the bad room. I try to believe Babayaga will not eat me, but it does not work. I open my eyes till Fatimah comes to wake us up in the morning.

In the morning, when Mr Alao is teaching us English, I see the woman with the gold glasses with another man. They are walking slowly. Iyaibo meets them. They talk for a while and she opens her mouth. She walks back inside. The woman with the glasses looks at me, past me, I don’t think she sees me, the man touches her and they both go.

I want to ask her how Zubayat is, and if she is coming home today. I stand up to ask her, but I do not do that. I keep walking; I walk past her, into the house. I walk past Iyaibo, past Halimah, past everybody.

I walk into our room and lie down. I begin to cry. I am afraid. I pray Babayaga comes and eat me.

She tells me it will be alright, I nod my head thrice like I agree; but I know it’s a lie, it would not need to be alright if things were already alright, and if things are not alright, why should she think things will be alright?

__
Dami Lare is a graduate of University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He is a writer who loves to think and pen his thoughts. His works have been featured in online media and anthologies such as Lunaris Review and Ironology.
























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