My Warri Chronicles 8. The Library

 

 

My favourite place in all of Warri was the local library. It was situated on Swamp road, at one end of the GRA. It was just a short stroll from my school to the library. The day I discovered that little building, my life changed forever!

I was always a bookworm, and though we had quite a rich library at home, it was never enough. I read anything that was written on a piece of paper, even the ones I did not understand.

One day, during the “Long break”, usually about 30-45 minutes, a friend told me the library was just around the corner; and off we went. As I went through those hallowed doors, I thought I had entered Heaven! How could so many books be in the same place, all waiting for me to devour? I wanted to borrow ten books at once, but the librarian, a stern-looking buxom lady, would have none of it. She said I could borrow one book and read for a week, and if I finished it then she would allow me to borrow two books per week from the children’s section.

Me? One book per week? Okay na.

I filled the form/card and was issued a temporary library card. And I went home with one book. The following day at break time I was back in the library with the book in hand. And the librarian was mad! She said she knew we were not serious! I had returned the book without even attempting to read it, bla bla bla bla..ad infinitum!

I was a very quiet girl, so I politely waited for her to finish pouring the verbal venom on me. When she finally ran out of steam, I told her I had read the book and could tell her the entire story if she wanted. Of course, she did not believe me. So I told her the story, almost word for word. She went quiet, and looked at me ‘one kind.’ Then she let me borrow another book, slightly bigger. And I returned it the next day.

After that, the library became my personal space during the break, and that lady became one of my favourite human beings. Soon she was letting me go home with five books at weekends. And on Mondays, I would return them and we would discuss books like two equals.

It was in that space, I discovered Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and so many wonderful writers that helped to shape my brain and probably, that was when the secret desire to be a writer began. I’m not too sure, but it did contribute a lot to my all-time love for books and libraries.

 

Yes, my Warri was not all rough edges; we had the panache that exists only in bookish towns.

That was my Warri. And we will bring it all back again. Soon.

#MyWarriChronicles #Warri #HomeTowns #WarriNoDeyCarryLast #BornTWriteWell #ElsieWrite

 

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MAI ZOBO

(The African woman faces untold hardships in her quest to provide for her family; this story and a few others published on this blog are excerpts from my book on the African woman titled “Gold River.” Gold River is due for release soon. Watch this space)

She lifted a corner of the curtains to look out into the pitch darkness beyond the windows. The world outside was silent and eerie. No sound whatsoever; even the neighbourhood cocks that would start crowing as early as 3am had chosen to be quiet. They seemed to know instinctively that all was not well in their little corner of the world.

Hauwa was worried as she dropped the curtain back with a silent sigh. What was she going to do? She had no idea that time it was but she guessed it must be about 4:30 am. She had been awake for hours as she usually was most nights but tonight had been different. Most nights she was up as early as 3am to begin preparing for her day.  Her daily routine involved going to the tiny building at the back of the house that served as kitchen and factory rolled into one. She would then begin the painstaking process of making her hibiscus wine, known locally as ”Zobo.”  The drink was easy to prepare but it required care and attention to detail so that the taste would be just right. Many women across the metropolis sold Zobo but Hauwa liked hers to stand out. That way she sold off her stock quickly and she was assured of continued patronage. Her Zobo was being talked about in the neighbourhood and she had dreams that one day she would actually go places as her Pastor kept telling her in jest. Recently she had upgraded her operations from the simple cellophane packaging to bottling, if you could call it that. She collected bottles of water from people who drank bottled water and she washed them thoroughly with soap and hot water and used the bottles to package her drink. By that singular act she had increased sales by over one hundred percent. Her clientele had also gone several notches higher. The people who would not buy her juice because they felt the packaging was unhygienic and could not be trusted were now flocking to her.

Hauwa had also increased her product line. From the very easy to prepare Zobo drink, she had added Kunu zaki. Kunu zaki was made from millet grains and required even more care in preparation but Hauwa was nothing if not careful. She was seeing increased sales and a major shift upward in the family income. So she was excited every day and did not mind jumping out of bed before dawn. She did not mind the long hours she put into preparing her juices for sale and the long trek to where her customers were eagerly waiting for the refreshing drink. She also did not mind that she had to go to the market every day to buy her stock and then be home in time to prepare dinner for the family and attend to the kids before falling into bed exhausted about midnight every day. She did not mind that for all her hard work she had only two wrappers and a few tops to show for her wardrobe; she wore those two wrappers to church, weddings, parties and everywhere requiring her to look nice. The clothes were long past their glory days but she acted like she did not care; of course she did, but what could she do about it? There were other issues at stake, bigger problems crying for attention and clothes were not on her list of priorities; after all she was not naked was she? Her family could feed and that was the most important thing. They could go to school though it was a big challenge most of the time. They never had enough of anything and almost everything they needed had to be carefully evaluated to make sure it was a pressing need.  The only catch was that these days everything on their list was a pressing need!

Hauwa’s mind ran a dozen miles that early morning as she mentally ticked off the things they needed urgently: a new pair of school shorts for Baba, whose old pair was so badly torn and patched that it would take no further mending, new pants for the two girls, the old ones had fallen to pieces and  she had been scandalized to see that her younger daughter was going to school without underwear! The toilet soap was finished, they had resorted to using salt in place of toothpaste several weeks ago and she could not remember the last time the family had luxuries like body lotions and deodorants. She had learnt to improvise; Shea butter which was sold very cheaply in the market was good enough for the skin and for deodorant she had adjusted to rubbing half a lemon under her arm to eliminate the smell of sweat.

All these thoughts rushed through her mind as she paced restlessly across the room, waiting for some sign of life from outside; something to show that it was safe to step out and face her production line so her family could be assured of a meal for that day. This was not the usual pattern but then, nothing was usual about this night. The sound of heavy gunfire had woken her up hours earlier; and she knew that everyone else must be awake too; too frightened to come out before it was broad daylight. The gunfire had gone on for so long with indistinct voices shouting in a strange language a short distance away. Hauwa could not be sure where exactly was being robbed, or if it was in fact a robbery operation. She found herself almost praying that it was indeed a robbery operation, the alternative was too frightening to be considered..

Onidiri the hair plaiter

 

(In a few days the world will celebrate international women’s day. As part of my celebration, I will be doing a series of short stories focusing on the hardworking African woman)

Enjoy!

Iyabo had been waiting for what seemed like forever but was in fact only forty-five minutes. She was totally fed up but what choice did she have? The festival was only a few days away and she had to have her hair done. Her husband had suggested that since she would be tying the traditional gele (headgear) anyway, there was really no need for her to have her hair done in a hurry. Iyabo did not dignify his suggestion with a response; he was only a man after all, what did he know? The dirty look she gave him was enough to shut him up till after the festival. Men were so ignorant in these matters! How could any sensible woman not have her hair done? Even their old neighbour who barely had any hair left was planning to have hers done! The other option would be for Iyabo to go to the neighbouring village to fix the hair but no one did hair quite like their Onidiri; she was simply the best for miles around which was why she was so busy that everyone was waiting in line.

Onidiri looked up from the head of hair in front of her and sighed silently. She had only a little left and she would be done with this customer but then she knew Iyabo was waiting and she could not tell her to come back tomorrow. It was getting to dusk and she ached all over. She had been plaiting and braiding and styling since dawn and she had not even been able to take a lunch break. As if to register a protest, her stomach growled very loudly. She was really hungry; she would have to appeal to Iyabo to give her a few minutes to eat something.

“Onidiri ejo o! emi tin duro lat’aro! Ese kia die o!” (Onidiri please hurry up, I have been waiting since morning!) Onidiri felt a stab of guilt at her thoughts of food.

“Ejo, ema binu, Aunty Iyabo. Okun die, eni suru” (Aunty Iyabo please be patient with me, I’m almost done)

All thoughts of food fled instantly. She would eat when she was done. “Another two hours without food will not kill me”, she thought to herself. Two hours that would round up her day very nicely. Two hours that would enable them pay part of the backlog of school fees for the four kids who were no longer in school; the head master had promised to let all four of the kids return to school if they could reduce the backlog by half. Onidiri was prepared to work all night without food if she had to. It was up to her to see that her kids had a decent education, better than she had, better than her husband had. At the thought of her husband, her insides clenched in near anger, but she would not allow it, not tonight. Tonight she would concentrate on her trademark shuku hairstyle, unrivalled by any other in the region. “Yes, she thought with pride, I am the best Onidiri in the land. I am lucky I can do something to provide for my children.”

She was almost done with Iyabo’s hair when Iya Titi came hurrying in from the growing darkness. “Onidiri, forgive me for coming so late, I will pay you extra if you can do my hair tonight. I have to go town tomorrow to buy more wares for my shop.”

Onidiri smiled. Food will have to wait tonight

In honour of the African woman ..

© Elsiewrite