I apologise for taking too long to post, I’ve not been feeling too well the last couple of days.
SMOKED FISH (pt.2)
“Is it fresh?” The woman asked disdainfully as she took in Arit’s tired look.
“noooo! Its rotten!” Arit John wanted to say but “yes Ma” was the natural response as she set the basin to the ground.
“Its 250 naira each”
“Am paying 200 naira”
“How many do you want?”
“Ok Ma” Arit responded excitedly. The woman looked pretty in a sleeve-less black dress with tiny yellow horses galloping orderly all over. Gold wedges, red toe nails and a flat snakeskin purse with a metal clasp accentuated her affluent appearance. A whiff of her fragrance teased Arit’s nose as she set her goods down. The difference between the two women was like the difference between night and day. With her non-descript dress partially covered by a dark green apron, Arit looked right at home under the mango tree by the side of an un-tarred Raffia street, the other woman looked out of place.
Strangely all that elegance was nothing more than a surface coating. 15 minutes of prodding, poking, flipping and shifting had left 5 smoked fishes broken.”This one doesn’t look good, let me see that one” the woman scraped on with shiny red fingernails. Completely intimidated by the woman’s appearance, Arit endured her discomfort and masked her displeasure with a forced smile, but inside she was beside herself with anger as the woman mindlessly continued her onslaught.
“Your fishes are so small” the woman declared with red lips curved downwards, but she handed 600 naira to Arit. At last! Arit John sighed in relief. After counting the cash and pocketing the stash, she grabbed a few pages off an old Daily Trust Newspaper and quickly wrapped three smoked fishes, put them in a black plastic bag and handed them over to the woman.
“I told you I was buying four fishes! You must give me four fishes!”
“But you only paid for three!” Arit John said exasperated at the woman’s demand. “Am sorry Ma, I can’t sell four smoked fishes at that price” she added as she raised the aluminium basin to her head, “maybe next time” she smiled sweetly at the woman, meanwhile her train of thoughts were hurtling at breakneck speed down the tracks of worry. For over thirty minutes she had waited patiently for this woman to make her selection, perhaps it was the shade, damn this heat. She was not prepared to spend another second in this woman’s snooty presence. Hopefully prospective buyers will overlook the peeled skin and protruding bones of the remaining smoked fishes. Hopefully she will sell the left overs before nightfall.
Usually customers reached their decision to buy or not to buy after a few minutes, made payment or simply allowed her to walk away, but this particular customer was of a different breed.
Without warning the woman reached out and knocked the basin of smoked fishes to the ground. The racket caused by the falling aluminium basin suddenly drew a lot of attention, eyes peeked out of windows, heads poked out of doorways.
Arit’s patience completely evaporated, she no longer had time for civility, the sight of her labour scattered all over the place propelled her to angrily seize the woman by the wrist. “You must pay me my money!” she cried. “Let go of me, foolish girl!” Was the scornful retort. There was a brief stare-match which the woman found amusing, clearly she was enjoying the whole affair. Completely unperturbed by the small crowd that had gathered, she gave Arit a stinging slap. Arit’s confusion increased, her ears rang and her eyes watered. The fragrance of the woman’s perfume that had hitherto been pleasant now made her nauseous.
There was a brief struggle, Arit was bitten on the arm before both women sprawled on the roots of the mango tree. With the taste of victory in her mouth, the woman took another bite. Arit could not bear it anymore so she seized the woman by the throat and applied pressure. The woman may have been richer and taller, but on the ground they were both of equal height and Arit John weighed more. Fortunately Tom also known as ‘Skipper’ assisted by his friend Reuben were around to make sure the woman was not choked to death.
After being pulled from the woman, Arit took a few steps and crumpled in a heap, inconsolable as she tried to fathom out the situation. Her arm was bleeding, her shoulder was bleeding, her face was scratched and dirty, her smoked fishes were swimming away in the sand. “What am I going to do!” She weeped softly. What is she going to tell her mother, what is she going to tell the church. A few people went to assist her but she could not understand a single word of what they were saying.
The other woman was now a far cry from elegance. Her clothes were torn and soiled, her fingernails were broken and dirty, her lips were like that of a leopard after a jungle kill. “It shall not be well with any of you… you are taking her side?…Ok take her side, God punish all of you!”
“Do you know who I am?…You’ll regret the day you decided to mess with Stella.” Few people showed interest in her tirade, most people concluded that the woman was mad.
“Where’s my phone, they’ve stolen my phone….thieves! You will pay, all of you, I’m going to show you pepper!”
She thundered as she made her way from Raffia Street and quickly flagged down a commercial cyclist. Stella instructed the Okada rider to take her to the Divisional Police Station. Unknown to the small crowd, Stella was the wife of the DPO.
(To be continued)