Amara can almost touch her, this girl laughing in joyous wonder. In her mind’s eye, the girl twirls in the afternoon breeze, her face filled with undiluted joy that comes from finding happiness in unexpected circumstances and unexpected places. Amara can only stare her, unable to touch her, to be part of her joy. Then the image vanishes and she finds herself blinking at a little schoolgirl who wants to buy Chic-Choc vanilla flavored biscuits and a lollipop. As soon as the girl leaves, she picks the yellow custard bucket beside her and counts the few ten, twenty and fifty naira notes along with the money her little customer paid. She sighs. Three hundred naira. What is she going to do with just three hundred naira? The naira has crashed like the walls of Jericho.
She sighs again.
If Aunty Ifeoma can see her now, she will laugh her head off. She can picture her Aunty now, sprawled on one of her magnificent sofas in her sitting room, howling in that I told you so attitude. She would taunt her, daring her to look right in her eyes and confirm how market.
Amara shakes her head and chuckles regrettably. Market is bad, thank you very much, she thinks sarcastically. She has a hustling and unhappy husband, two perpetually hungry and underfed children and a small kiosk. And she has another one on the way. Amara wonders what happened to the girl she saw in her daydream; the girl she once was. She wants to have that girl back; wants to warn her not to allow herself get to her present condition.
It was not like her life was easy from the start. Her father had run off with a strange woman when she was still a foetus and was never heard from again. When she was still an infant, her mother disappeared too with a rich trader into the unknown leaving her in the care of her fragile paternal grandmother. The old woman was often too ill to provide for them and depended on the charities of her few friends. When Amara turned sixteen, the old woman succumbed to the clutches of death. Luckily, Afulenu, her grandmother’s closest friend, took pity on the poor girl and brought her into her home. Aunty Ifeoma, Afulenu’s daughter, took her to Lagos to be her housemaid after a lengthy series of I-don’t–want-her-to-snatch-my-husband and God-forbid-it-will-never-happen discourse.
It turned out that Aunty Ifeoma’s fears were baseless. Amara was a model housemaid. She cooked. She cleaned. She took great care of the children. The family adored her and she adored them. A few months later, she was enrolled in a secondary school to resume her studies. She carried her zeal into her studies. For two years, she retained the top of her class. She had a beautiful home, a loving family, friends and her studies were great. All was well with her world.
Until she met him.