“Nelson, would you like to come with me to the market?” His mother asked him. There was no answer. “Nelson?”
She turned around to see her eight-year old son with his nose buried in a book so big, even she wouldn’t dare to delve into it. She sighed and shook her head. It was moments like this that she forgot all the awards and accolades that were accrued by the child as one of the smartest persons in the country. She just wanted a baby. She sighed.
Mrs. Okafor walked over to her son and pulling the book out of his hands, she dragged him to his feet. “Ok, it’s no longer an option. Put on your sandals, you’re coming with me!”
Five minutes later, they were off. A singing Mrs. Okafor and a brooding Nelson. She looked over at her son who was muttering something under his breath. Sighing, she put an affectionate hand on his arm. “Come on, Nelson. Don’t murmur; mummy just wanted your company!” He shrugged off her touch.”I’m just memorizing the periodic table; I’m not murmuring!”
Mrs. Okafor pursed her lips and they continued the journey in silence. She was tired. On an impulse, she diverted to Ije market, there was no point going all the way to Kajola, though less crowded, she didn’t want a moody companion for the long drive.
Parking, she got down and walked over to get her son out. “Give me your hand, and don’t let go!” she told him as they struggled their way through the crowd.
They made slow progress through the market; both forgetting about their tense moments in the car.
Mrs. Okafor started her haggling over prices while Nelson studied everything around him; saving things in brain compartments for future analysis.
Mama Deborah sold vegetables, it was whispered among the market people that she was going blind. She made mistakes frequently but nobody ever returned to complain, probably because of the frightening scar running down the cheek of her old face.
Mrs. Okafor approached her warily. She was the only trader with that type of vegetable. She picked up the freshest and examined it, turning it over with both hands.
“Mama, how much you dey sell this one?”
Mama Deborah squinted at the bunch of vegetables the woman was holding and rattled off a price so exorbitant that Mrs. Okafor took a step back. “Mama! Is it more than these vegetables?”
They then launched into a long battering process even as Mama Deborah absently watched the little boy wander away. She shrugged and tried to make her aging mind focus on the conversation at hand.
After about five minutes in which the mama settled for a price much lower than Mrs. Okafor was expecting, she decided she’d had enough of the market.
“Nelson. Let’s go home.. Nelson?” She looked around frantically as her heart raced. “Nelson! Mama, did you see my boy?”
Mama Deborah wondered what the woman was talking about. Boy? Oh, the basket boy! He stood by the gate. She pointed in the opposite direction in a very helpful manner.
Nelson knelt and stared at the fishes darting around the bowl. He’d never been this close to catfish, he stretched his hand to poke at them. He’d learnt their bodies could…
“Kai! See this pikin dey put hand for my market!” A large black woman cried out as she slapped his hand and pushed him away. “Wey your mama?” She hissed and pulled her bowl of slithering fish closer to herself, not waiting for an answer.
Tears sprang in Nelson’s eyes. He looked around for his mummy. “Mummy?” People swarmed by and jostled him. “Mummy?!”
But he wasn’t heard above the bustle of the market and the noises of people trying to get good bargains for garri. Gone was the confident Einstein-child who knew that roads were made of tar and macadam; instead there stood the 8-year old who didn’t know the way to his mother.