Her skill with the knife was so slick, she could perform at a circus.
You could call me frustrated. Why wouldn’t I be? A man had walked behind me for 5 solid minutes yelling “Rat Poison” at the top of his voice. It’s either he thought I was a rat killer by profession or I looked like I had a lot of rats at home so I would make a good customer for his “otapiapia”. I wasn’t smiling.
It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and I’d made a quick trip to the market to get vegetables to make soup… I needed 500 Naira worth of Ugwu and waterleaf so I knew I had to get to the heart of the market. Freeing myself from the rat poison seller and finding my way to the center of the market, a woman in a bright red tee-shirt standing in front of a tray called out to me “Fine girl come and buy Ugwu”…
There was something about her…
I looked at her scanty tray and asked “Do you have up to 500 Naira?” she laughed and said “I get pass that one” pointing her finger to a small bag of vegetables behind her… I told her to cut up the vegetables and watched her get to work. Scratch that, I watched her.
Tee-shirt had a permanent smile on her face that revealed dimples. Her baby boy was strapped on her back with a faded wrapper. He appeared to be sleeping. The sun was hot and his scalp shone in reflection. She plucked the vegetables and began slicing them into thin slices while calling out to other passers-by.
She glanced at me and asked how I was doing. I politely replied that I was fine wishing she would just leave me alone. She launched into a fascinating story of an elderly woman who had tried to steal some waterleaf from her that afternoon. She seemed very amused at her own story and laughed at intervals. She concluded her story with
“They say Wetin elders dey see, small pikin no dey see am. But the one wey she do, I see am”. By this time I was laughing along with her.
She continued chopping the vegetables, greeting random people that passed by, calling out for more customers and cooing at her baby who had woken up in tears. I was starting to feel completely at ease around this woman and so was Pikachu.
Yes, I call her Pikachu; the strange woman who also waited to buy vegetables. She wore a bright yellow dress and topped it with a badly tied gele. Her skin was charcoal black contrasting with her chalk white teeth. She was beautiful and reminded me of my favorite character in Pokemon, Pikachu.
Pikachu got so comfortable just standing there that she began to eat anything she could lay her hands on. No kidding! First she had coconuts from a hawker, then she had plantain chips that appeared from her bag and when that was over, she yelled at the hawker across the road with a shrill voice
“Paw Paw!! Paw Paw!!”
The both began gisting about the best way to cook edikaikong soup and Pikachu began helping Tee-shirt with my vegetables , removing the rotten parts and hard branches. I watched on.
Finally, my vegetables were ready in two black nylons and I promptly paid Tee-shirt , sad to leave her warm presence. I heard Pikachu say
“Oya cut 50 Naira own for me”
I was shocked to realize that Pikachu had spent about 20 minutes waiting around to buy vegetables worth 50 Naira when there were tons of other sellers with the exact same vegetable.
I thought about it as I went on to buy a bowl of garri and check out some second hand sneakers.
By the time I left the market, I was smiling like a happy fool.
I realized that both me and Pikachu were drawn to Tee-shirt because to us, she was a ray of sunshine, a slice of positivity that called out cheerfully to passersby even under a hot sun with an underpaying job.
I could never be Tee-shirt. I could never earn a living by standing under the sun and chopping vegetables with a smile on my face. I could never make a joke out of someone stealing from me. I could never be Tee-shirt. Although I’m learning to never say never.
I’m not writing this to tell you to face your daily hustle or challenge with a smile. Heck no! To an extent, I believe positivity can be overrated because sometimes the world expects you to bear your sorrow with a smile. So no! This is not about being positive.
This is an appreciation for a certain kind of people. The people who manage to radiate a special kind of sunshine. The chatty people who don’t take a hint and keep talking till you smile. The people who greet you even when they know you won’t answer. The salesmen who smile at you. Tee-shirt.
Not all heroes wear capes and to the heroes who are a constant source of positivity
I appreciate you!
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