Her hair shone in the harsh sunlight. It was black, long and silky. Someone had carefully parted it into two and held it with colourful ribbons. Mum told me you had to apply a cream called relaxer to make your hair silky. She said it was very painful when applied on the hair. I wondered whether hers was painful. I didn’t think so. She carried it very well.
I watched as she entered the fast food joint across the street in company of a beautiful woman who looked like her. She must be her mother because she looked so much like her. Her mother’s hair was much longer. It was curly and almost reached her waist. Mum also said we didn’t have such long, natural hair in this part of the world.
“Mum, how come Aunty Bisi’s hair is so long and yours is short?” I once asked about an aunt who often came to visit.
“That is not Aunty Bisi’s natural hair. It is artificial. It is called a weavon,” she had answered patiently.
“Why don’t you use it? I like it,” I asked again.
“Because it is too expensive and I cannot afford it now,” she replied, looking into my eyes in that tender way she does when she is not too happy. “Just make sure you work very hard at school so you can have a better future,” she added quickly, her eyes suddenly bright and encouraging.
I would surely like to have long and silky hair someday, I thought to myself as I peeled the oranges Mum set aside for me.
“Don’t peel all the oranges so they wouldn’t get dry in the sun,” she had said. “If you sell all the ones you have peeled before sunset, then you can peel more for the evening market. I will be back to take over from you by then.”
Mum took Mama to the General Hospital in Ikeja to visit the optician. She had cataract, a disease of the eye and was almost blind. The hospital was very far from where we lived at Apapa. Mum said they might spend the whole day there because a large volume of patients usually turned up to receive the free eye treatment which the hospital provided. Much time will also be spent on the journey, she had told me.
“I will sell lots of oranges for you Mum,” I said to her as they left.
Hugging me goodbye, she said, “Thank you my dear. Be a good girl at the stall.”
I looked gloomily at the basket of oranges beside me and those I had peeled on the table. It was already mid afternoon and I had not yet sold any orange. Mum surely needed the money.
“Sweet orange! Sweet orange! Buy your sweet orange!” I called out to people passing by. “Sweet orange! Buy your sweet orange!” I continued raising my voice.
Across the street, the girl and her mother came out of the fast food joint. Looking straight in my direction, the girl pointed at me as she tugged on her mothers’ hand. They exchanged some inaudible words and soon after, they were crossing the street, heading towards me.
The girl wore a pair of blue jeans trousers, a pink sequined blouse and pink shoes. She looked about my age, but was very plump and round with very fair skin. She held an ice-cream cone in her right hand which she licked as they approached.
“How much are your oranges?” the woman asked, standing in front of my table. She was also fair in complexion, huge, and spoke with a loud voice that sounded quite masculine, taking me aback for a while.
“Ehn, ehn, twenty naira each ma,” I stuttered at first. “But you can have three for fifty naira,” I added, regaining my composure.
“OK, let’s have everything,” she said.
“Everything ma?” I asked surprised, my eyes widening.
Frowning a little, she answered, “Yes, didn’t you hear me. And hurry up with it.”
“I’m sorry ma,” I said, and hurriedly reached for some nylon bags to pack the oranges. There were fifteen oranges on the table. I smiled inwardly, knowing Mum would be very happy with my sale.
“Mum, don’t forget to buy for Aunty Funmi,” the girl said, looking up at her mother.
“Don’t worry, she will get some,” she replied. Turning towards me, she asked, “How much are the oranges?”
“Two hundred and fifty naira,” I replied quickly. I had already mentally calculated the sum.
She reached into her big, brown handbag and began searching. She seemed to have some difficulty finding the money because she started looking confused and had to bring out some items from her bag which she placed on the table. After a while, she let out a sigh of relief as she brought out a small red purse from which she extracted a five hundred naira note and handed it to me.
“I thought I had lost it,” she said to her daughter.
“Of course not, Mum. You are not that careless.”
They both laughed.
She began putting the things she placed on the table back into her bag as I sorted out her change. Her bag was very big and carried quite a number of items. There was make-up, books, keys, a magazine, a mirror, a scarf, a pair of glasses and a small jewellery box. I wondered why she had to carry all that around in her handbag.
When she finished, I said, “thank you ma” and handed her the oranges and her change.
Her face lit up in a smile as she said, “thank you too.”
They both waved goodbye and crossed the road.
Sarah’s Victory was written by Adeola Adeyemo, the founder of GreenBiro. It was published in Nigeria by Melrose Books And Publishing Limited.