The 25th of February started out deceptively cool, the rains had held back long enough to make the
people repent their former disregard. Where before they criticized the frequent downpour, they now
prayed for the blessing, denouncing all their complaints, asking forgiveness.
On the 25th we believed the rains had taken mercy, dark clouds gathered close together in meeting,
extending the darkness of the early morning, cooling the earth under us as we ran to make time. By
some stroke of luck we met electricity at our place of work, fate was indeed on our side it seemed. We
would have running water, the 25th was a blessing. We settled gratefully into the comfort of electronics,
and maybe because of that the clouds left.
We didn’t notice for an hour, after then the electricity was gone and as our shirts slowly started to soak,
our skins to itch, we turned our eyes to the sky, disappointed to meet the glare of the Sun. It was going
to be an ordinary day after all. Sweltering, flies hovering around to drink of our sweat, bins filling rapidly
with sachet after sachet of pure water. The problems were unsolvable, we couldn’t force the rains down
and it would be even harder to get electricity. We settled, uncomfortably, but we settled. At least we
still had water, we wouldn’t have to cross the road, buckets on our heads just to use the bathroom; it
was cause for joy. But we weren’t happy, we were tired and irritable and we grumbled while we
worked, we had no patience for the patients who were scared of the needle, we held it up and frowned
at their frantic movements, and when eventually they left we argued about the radio, about how
strange the OAP’s were, how they seemed to live on an entirely different planet. Why did they behave
so? Why did they talk to us like foreigners? Why did they always mince their words, why not just say
what they thought? Especially here, in their own home, where it was expected, appreciated, common.
Saying “Guys, taking selfies doing a ski jump while it’s really cool, may actually be really dangerous”
instead of “Fools die” ? We worried for them. We didn’t even have snow;
It would be at this point, while we momentarily forgot our plight, that at a hawker, a girl shouted
“Auntie make they no worry you as you carry this thing. They say them dey carry people for road”
“Where?” We asked ourselves, because it always happened to someone a ways away from us, someone
at another end of the city, close enough for us to feel sympathy but not direct impact. We were only
beginning to rouse when our answer came. Down the road a white truck sped toward us, siren blaring,
blue and red lights flashing, followed closely by an equally white bus.
Here, it seemed. The vendor, short and frail with a permanent smile, wheeled her goods faster,
running to take shelter with the girls in the salon. And through our windows we watched, furrowing our
brows in concentration, trying to move her cart faster with our eyes.
When she made it under the roof our frowns eased, we turned to watch the truck and were surprised to see it screeching to a halt, the bus behind nearly smashing into it as it too parked. They were both filled with men in orange vests, on the side of the truck it was boldly written ‘Government Task Force’, police men sat up front in their dull green uniforms, guns held out the windows. Before the car had completely rolled to a stop, a man in an odd blue shirt jumped out, pointing and squinting through thick binocular glasses, he commanded the orange vests. “Get that woman”
Two from the bus jumped off and ran after the woman. She had not made it through the doorway yet
and they grabbed her roughly, snatched her by the hand, one of them holding her in place while the
other viciously kicked her cart sending coolers of beans, rice, spaghetti and stew tumbling to the ground.
We winced, and winced even more still when they dragged her, pushing and shoving her into the bus.
The hawker didn’t protest, still she smiled, serene in the face of the abuse, compliant to an unknown
fate. We watched from our windows silently, advised by the long glinting guns to remain so even well
after they had left.
Task force, they said they were. Clearing the streets of hawkers, ridding us of the plague of food
vendors, struggling to make their way. Packing them into a bus like matches and driving them away to
be promptly relieved of all their profit and indebted to pay much more for the return of their freedom.
They were employed like we, recruited and paid to do what they did, and well if it was a job…
Well if it was a job they didn’t have to think; did people like hawking? Did they enjoy walking
impossible distances under the hot Sun to sell their wares? Could they afford something better?
Couldn’t we provide for them rather than beat them out of survival? If it was a job… well money was
better than humanity, any fool could see that.
The government had time to think, not they. The employers. They who we complain to about our lack
of light, water, roads, education and get thorough searches of every car, every laptop, out of the league,
by personal estimate, of the carrier. They who we point to the dwindling economy, the neglected
agriculture, and get an insistent demand to wear national I.D. cards on our person wherever we go. They
who we cry to about pollution, terrorism, crime, who build us bridges in consolation. We wonder, out of
honest curiosity, do they hear us? Is there a physical barrier wedged between us? And we know the
answer before it’s ignored. We also wonder, why we are born selfish. Why we’ll turn on ourselves the
second the barrier is opened to us, but we don’t wonder too loud in case their near, wielding their guns,
wearing their privilege, we wait till they’ve disappeared into the horizon and we wonder to ourselves,
but we itch to say it out loud. To question them, to stop them. We boil and simmer and steam thinking
of the serene smile of the hawker before she’d heard the damning sirens, seen the flashing lights. We
make plans to speak, pray for safety and we settle. Just as we have, just as we always will.
The day is dark, the clouds are meeting again. The rains will come now.
By Pearl Chukwuemeka