I love to think I am one of his favourite customers. At least, his body-language suggests that. Every-time I need fresh and affordable tomatoes, pepper or onions, he is the first person that comes to mind.
What’s weird is that I don’t even know his name. I just know he is from the Northern part of Nigeria and is almost always cheerful. I think he should be in his early 40s. The few times I avoid him are those days I don’t feel like discussing my marital status. Often times, our conversations always end in him promising to get me a wife. Yes, not even a girlfriend, a wife!
“You wan use these tomatoes take cook now abi after?”
“Who go cook am for you?”
“Why you dey cook am by yourself?”
“Why you never marry?”
“Marry one of those girls wey you dey carry”
“How you no go get girlfriend? E good to keep woman for house”
These are the various ways he kickstarts the marriage convos. I try not to indulge him too much but knowing he means well, I usually just smile back. He will usually put the fresh tomatoes and pepper in big nylon bags and smile back after the marriage lecture.
Months ago, he travelled to the Northern part of Nigeria. Before embarking on that journey, he told me that he needed to go see his family as his wife and kids reside in Kano.
Buying tomatoes and pepper in the last three months has not really been fun.
Just last week, I was walking past my friend’s make-shift shop and there he was. Smiling and vibrant as always, he asked me why I wasn’t married yet. I just told him I haven’t found the right one while hoping that will be enough explanation.
“How you go say you never see? You wan make I give you? Oya, come here by this time tomorrow”
I still don’t understand why he is so interested in finding me a wife. He doesn’t know anything about my job status but he is always confident that no matter how little I earn, I can get married. He doesn’t want me to sleep around as he assumes that’s why I am not married yet. My friend thinks every man needs a woman at home.
Just before I leave with what I came to buy, I remind him he spent a long time in the North this time around. This is not the first time he has gone to visit his family since I became his customer but this particular trip was the longest of them all.
“Na my daughter wey been the sick make me no come back on time,” he explained.
“Eya, how she dey now?” I asked.
“She don go,” he responded.
“Wetin you talk?” I asked as I wasn’t sure I heard him well.
“She don die,” he said still wearing a broad smile.
My jaw dropped. Sometimes you don’t know whether to stay silent or console those in grief. This time around, I was silent for close to 2 minutes before I summoned the courage to ask one more question.
“Wetin kill am?” I asked.
“One clinic say na malaria. Another one say na… Before we go carry am go here, go there, she don die,” he explained.
“Ah, na so. Thank you, all of us go go one day,” he smiled while reminded me that we are all mortals.
I could see him forcing more tomatoes and pepper into the nylon bag.
“Make I put jara for you jare“.
I wondered how to prove I care or how to show concern. So, I asked him to remove some of the spices I just bought and also keep the change.
As I walked back home, I wondered if the little girl would have still been alive if healthcare wasn’t a luxury in my country. I wondered if that girl would have suffered the same fear if her Dad was the President. I wondered how people who have faced similar tragedies still worship and adore the ruling class. I wondered if my friend understoof that his daughter may have still been alive if our country worked.
But I’m scared. I’m scared that my friend believes the only reason he lost his precious daughter is because “that is the will of God”. I’m worried that bullshit has been normalized in my country.