Mrs. Ndidi laid out her maps on the table, then she placed the globes on them, carefully making sure that all three of them sat exactly alike. Arranging her shop every morning was like a ritual she performed, like pouring libations to ani in the morning. The fulfillment she felt when she stood, hands akimbo, and watched her wares displayed was akin to the satisfaction that only came after supplication to a higher being. This particular morning, after she had stacked the encyclopedias and dictionaries on the second table and placed packets of pen and highlighters on them, she pushed her chair to the pillar that stood just in front of her shop and sat down. Ndidi then took out a chain she had bought the previous day and began to enchain her right ankle to the pillar. She secured the chain tightly around her ankle and the pillar – tight enough that she almost cut blood flow to her feet – with a large padlock and slipped the key into her underwear and waited for the day’s events to unfold.
The morning crawled by slowly and Ndidi was uncomfortable, her bladder had filled up and her right foot had begun going numb but there was no going back now, she had to see this through. A bus pulled up in front of the next shop and she wondered if they had come already, it was too early, her heart pounded heavily and her stomach churned. Her neighbour, Donald, emerged from the bus and she heaved a sigh of relief.
“Mama Nonye, good morning,” Donald greeted, “you opened today?” He asked, obviously surprised
“Yes,” Ndidi answered, Donald waited for a follow up, none was forthcoming so he shrugged and let her be. Ndidi liked Donald, he was a calm man and kept to himself most of the time, never asking too many questions. His wife, Prisca, on the other hand – she loathed. Prisca talked too much, she loved so much to converse and had a penchant for discussing trivialities.
“Are you seeing this rain, Mama Nonye?” Prisca would say to Ndidi when it rained “it has come to spoil the day, like it did yesterday.”
“Yes,” Ndidi would say, in a bid to be polite but willing the conversation to end. But Prisca would continue, “yesterday I nearly fell into the gutter, my street was flooded.”
On sunny days, Prisca would say, “this sun is too much, it’s just too hot,” and Ndidi would nod her reluctant agreement. “I feel like I am melting,” Prisca would then continue.
When a mad man strolled past their shop, Prisca would say, “I am sure it was marijuana that caused his madness, the way these boys smoke that thing nowadays eh, I doubt any of them are sane.”
Ndidi hated her.
Prisca appeared from the passenger side of the bus as her husband opened the doors of their shop.
“Ah ah Mama Nonye, you opened today?” She asked immediately she saw Ndidi. Ndidi’s stomach tightened, she had no time to answer her talkative neighbour’s questions.
“We thought you had packed to the new site, you were not here yesterday.”
“I am still here.”
“Why? Today is the last day to evacuate oh.”
“But I thought you bought a shop at the new site.”
“Then why are you here? They will destroy your wares, all your books, when they come.”
Ndidi looked at her neighbour’s face, it was buried under too many layers of make-up so that when she squeezed her face in worry – like she did now – it seemed like a tired, old rafia mat “let them come.”
“Hmm,” Prisca sighed, “I don’t know what your plans are oh, but biko, be careful.”
“Anyways, Donald and I came to carry the remnants of our wares, we carried some yesterday but, we couldn’t move them all,” Ndidi nodded and murmured a reply.
She watched her neighbours load their remaining bales of carpet material into the bus – actually Prisca sat on a stool eating cucumbers while her husband carried the carpets. In less than an hour they were done, they said their goodbyes to Ndidi and drove off.
It was almost mid-morning when they finally came. She had almost expected them not to come that day, after all the government was never on time, except – obviously – when they came to ruin a person’s life. Their truck parked carelessly in front of her shop, raising a lot of dust and making her cough. A huge man busted out of the car and came raging, like a bull, towards her.
“What are you doing here, Madam?” He barked. “Did you not get the notice?”
“I got it, Sir,” she replied, her heart pounding heavily in her stomach as she looked defiantly into the man’s blood shot eyes.
“So, why are you here?”
“This is my shop, I am not going anywhere.” The man laughed, his laughter shook his entire body and seemed to shake the ground underneath him too.
“Look madam, you have to leave now. Once the bulldozer comes, the demolition will start.”
“I am not going anywhere, if you want to collapse this complex on me, then go on”
“What is going on here, Chima?” The man who had being driving the truck asked as he joined them, this man was smaller and had a pair of spectacles perched on his nose.
“Oga, it’s this woman oh, I don’t know what her problem is,” Chima complained.
The man Chima had referred to as oga wrinkled his nose as he sized Ndidi over, “madam, my name is Engineer Johnson,” Ndidi saw his need to sound important in the emphasis he placed on his title, “I am in charge of the demolition of this complex.” He paused, perhaps to see if she understood how important he was, she only stared, blankly back at him.
“Madam once the bulldozer gets here we will start the demolition,” Engineer Johnson continued, “so you better start packing your things”
“I am not going anywhere.”
“I do not like to rough handle women but if you insist on staying I will have you forcibly removed.”
“Do whatever you like.”
The engineer looked at her exasperated, “troublesome woman,” he said.
But it was a lie, Ndidi was as troublesome as amadioha, the thunder god, was calm. When she was sacked from her bank job because she refused to sleep with the manager, she did not fight. Instead she took the money she had earned and bought a shop and started selling books and stationary. When her mother in-law brought a girl who had barely left secondary school from the village to bare male children for her son, Ndidi did not complain, she took her daughters, Nonye and Dikachi, with her and rented a flat. When she saw the notice for the demolition on the doors to her shop one morning, she did not complain that it was just a two-weeks’ notice, like her neighbours did. She did not curse the government like Prisca did, neither did she fall to ground and began to wail like Mama Gozie – the woman who sold second hand Okirika clothes, three shops down. Instead, she did as the notice instructed, she went to the ministry of trade and commerce to pay for a shop at the new site. At the ministry, she met a heavily pregnant woman who seemed more interested in the groundnuts she was eating and the movie showing on a television across the room than attending to Ndidi.
“Have you gone to the new site?” The pregnant woman asked Ndidi, her eyes fixated on the television.
“Yes ma I have.”
“And which shop did you choose?”
“That’s along the road, good choice madam,” the pregnant woman tore her eyes away from the television for a while to scribble something down on the receipt.
“What did you say your name was again madam?”
Ndidi sighed, “Mrs Ndidi Udochi.”
“Okay, give me the bank teller,” Ndidi fished the teller out of her purse and handed it over to the woman. Another woman entered in the office and sat at the table next to the pregnant woman’s.
“Biko, Uju, tell me what has been happening in the film,” the newcomer said to the pregnant woman, “has the woman found out that her uncle used juju to kill her husband?”
The pregnant woman stopped scribbling and began narrating the movie to her neighbour. Ndidi did not complain, instead she wondered if she attended to her customers in the same manner when she worked at the bank.
The new site was located just outside the city, along the expressway. There had been complains that it was too far outside the city and that no one would patronize the traders, but the government was not hearing that. It was either you bought a shop at the new site or you forgot about it, after all the shops there were subsided by five percent for those who owned a shop at the ill-fated complex. Ndidi was lucky, she had gone on time and bought a shop on the prime A-line which sat directly along the road. When the pregnant woman finally handed her the keys and the certificate of occupancy, she drove straight to the new site. Her shop was on the ground floor and she could imagine the empty room filled with books, she could imagine the aroma of those crisp books filling up the room, she could imagine the sign outside the room reading ‘Mama Nonye’s books’. She was going to begin cleaning and moving the next week.
When Ndidi came back the next week, she discovered the locks to her new shop had being changed, her keys could no longer open them. Something was wrong. She drove back to Umuahia, to the ministry.
“What did you say your name was again”, the pregnant woman asked the irritated Ndidi. This time there was a Filipino telenovela playing on the television and the pregnant woman had been engrossed when Ndidi came barging in.
“Mrs Ndidi Udochi.”
“Mrs Ndidi Udochi,” the pregnant woman repeated as she looked over a list. “Okay, madam, your shop number is D16,” she returned her attention to the television.
“What do you mean D16?” Ndidi asked “It is supposed to be A7, I have my certificate of occupancy and my receipt here, they both say A7. There must be a mistake”.
The pregnant woman sighed, “let me see,” she said and took the certificate from Ndidi and looked over it, then went over the list she had with her, “Madam, you were reassigned to a new shop,” she said after some moments.
“Reassigned? What do you mean reassigned?”
“It means you have been given another shop.”
“Obviously,” Ndidi said, annoyed at the pregnant woman’s patronizing tone. “And what happened to my shop, the shop I paid for?”
“It has been given to somebody else, I suppose.”
“Given to somebody else?” For the first time in a long while, long enough that she could not even remember, Ndidi was angry “It was on a first come, first serve basis and I came first! You cannot give my shop to someone else after I have paid for it!”
“Madam, stop shouting, this is an office, people are working”
“Working?” Ndidi was furious and all she could think of was kicking the pregnant woman in her belly. “Working? You people are not working, you people would not know work even if it hit you in the face. What you people do here is stealing.”
“Please, biko, this woman do not start throwing insults here, respect yourself. You have been assigned a new shop, stop making noise and carry your wahala and go”.
Ndidi had raised her hand to slap the light out the pregnant woman when the door opened and a man came in.
“Come with me madam,” the man said. Ndidi held herself and without another glance at the pregnant woman, she took her certificate and followed the man. She followed him into a smaller office, the office was bare except for a lone table. There weren’t even chairs in the office.
“Look, madam, let me explain to you what has happened here” the man said as soon as he closed the door. “The shop you paid for has been given to the highest bidder”.
“Highest bidder?” Ndidi was confused, “but we all paid the same amount for the shops”.
The man laughed, his laughter explained it all and she understood. If she thought that going to the bank to pay for the shop and coming to the ministry to collect the keys was all there was to acquiring the shop, then she was naive. There had to be back channels, this was Nigeria after all.
“Look, madam, I don’t have to spell this out for you, but I will. Someone paid a considerably good amount of money for your shop, much more than you paid at the bank, and they got your shop.”
“But I have the certificate of occupancy and the receipt.”
“So does this person, but this person also has the right keys.”
Ndidi did not know what to say. Everyone knew how corrupt the system was, everyone complained about how the corruption had eaten deep into the government and the people. She knew, she had complained, but she did not know just how deep it had eaten, she could not even begin to fathom the scale on which this cancer had broken down the country. The government that had sworn to protect and to serve her had played a fast one on her.
“Madam, do not worry, I can help you get you shop back.”
“Yes, I can,” he came closer and said in a low tone “you know how it is, you butter my bread, and I will butter yours.”
Ndidi already knew where the discussion was headed, she said nothing.
“Just roger me,” he continued “seventy thousand naira only, madam.”
Ndidi, without a word, turned around and left the room. Without looking back she left the ministry and drove home. Her heart burned with anger and she did not know what to do. She could not manage the shop, the D16, she was left with. The D line was located in a disadvantaged area of the new site, it was hidden from the road by the A, B, and C lines. She knew could not let this go, there was no way she was going to let the pain she felt fester in her heart, like she always did. She had to fight back, for the first time in her life, she was going to give wahala, she was going to give trouble. So she stopped at a shop that sold building materials and bought the strongest chain she could find.
Engineer Johnson stood and started at Ndidi for some moments then he said to Chima “drag her out of there.” Chima nodded then folded his sleeves and marched over to Ndidi.
“Sorry Madam,” he said, but she only sighed and looked away. He grabbed her arm carelessly, she moved, the chair moved, but the chained rattled and held onto them. “You chained yourself?” Chima asked, the shock on his resonating in his voice. “Oga, this woman oh, she chained herself to this pillar”, he told his boss.
Engineer Johnson looked impressed as he looked at the chain that held Ndidi and her chair firmly to the pillar. “Where’s the key to the padlock?” He asked her but she did not answer.
“Look, this woman, it is obvious you have too much wahala, go home and give it to your husband, I don’t like trouble.”
“Oga don’t mind her, once the bulldozer is here and the demolition starts, we won’t have to tell her to leave” Chima said.
“The only way you people are going to demolish this plaza today is by killing me, then my blood will be on your hands, yours and your ministry and your government,” Ndidi finally said.
“The government has not done anything to you”, Engineer Johnson replied “Did you not get a notice?”
“A two-week’ notice!” She screamed, anger had built so much in her, on outburst was inevitable. “Like that is enough time to gather the money to pay for one of those exorbitant shops in that ill situated new site.”
“Madam,” the engineer was mellow now “I understand, very much, it is difficult, you people were not even compensated, but there’s nothing that can be done now, nothing.”
“Biko, do not try to absolve yourself, you are all the same, you and your superiors, you are all corrupt”
“Madam, do not insult me.”
“It is the truth. Do you not work at the ministry of trades? If I had come to you, say, a week ago after paying for a shop at the new site and given Fifty thousand Naira so that you would swap my shop for someone else’s , would you not do it?”
The engineer was thrown aback, “What does that mean? What are you saying madam?”
“I am saying that I know what you people do at that ministry, it is bad, it is evil. You people are wicked and I am not leaving this place today.”
The bulldozer arrived then, shaking the earth beneath it as it crawled into view. Another truck trailed it, bearing the logo of the ministry. The truck had barely parked before a rather large woman jumped out of it, shouting.
“What is that shop doing open?” She was saying.
“Madam,” the engineer started, he looked suddenly shrunken, the hubris he had worn earlier, completely vanished. “this woman, the owner of this shop, she has refused to leave, she is protesting”
The woman stopped in her tracks and burst out laughing, she laughed for a while, snorted and stopped to catch her breath, her huge blossom rising and falling rhythmically “protesting,” she managed to say “that is not something we hear often. What is she protesting? Did she not get the notice?”
“She did madam.”
“Then she has nothing to protest about, drag her out of there, we are behind schedule.”
“She chained herself to the pillar, and I think she threw the key away”.
The woman took a good look at Ndidi for the first time, and Ndidi stared right back, in defiance. “Well, throw her things out, you will see how quickly she’ll produce the key,” the woman said, her eyes still transfixed on Ndidi.
Ndidi was shocked by what she had heard, she had expected some kind of pity from the woman but instead she turned out worse than the engineer.
“Chima,” the woman was still going on “throw everything in that shop out and if by the time you are done she is still chained to that pillar, go and find a saw and cut the chain off, we have a schedule!”
It all happened too fast for Ndidi, in a few minutes, the globes she had religious arranged in the morning were lying on the floor, the maps she had laid out carefully were folded carelessly and tossed out into the road, the encyclopedias and dictionaries were thrown on the dusty road without respect, the pens and highlighters were scattered all over the floor and some rolled into the gutter in front of her shop. Her hands went into her shorts and fished out the key, her hands shook as she opened the padlock and loosened the chain. She stood and stared as the hulk, Chima went into her shop, carrying books and throwing them out into the road. She watched him carry the mathematics textbooks she had just bought, the literature books that had sat in the shelves for years and threw them all out. She watched him destroy her livelihood, her daughters’ future and she cried. She cried, she shook, her legs shook and buckled. When he was done throwing the books out, Chima came for Ndidi. She did not resist, he carried her out easily and placed her on the road. She sat helplessly, her resolve destroyed and her hope gone.
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