ISMAILA IKANI SULE PRESENTS:

 

Everyone in the neighbourhood knew the 'Guava-man'. Everyday he'd sit on his short wooden bench in front of Mallam Bala's shop. You could tell it was the Guava-man approaching when you sighted the casually dressed gentleman carrying a bench in one hand and a black plastic bag of the fruits he was named after in the other. Shoppers at Mallam Bala's little shop facing the Cassava Polytechnic campus would make way for him to pass by and place his bench down at his favourite spot. He was actually a handsome fellow - hair neatly cut, sparkling white kaftan and trousers like he'd just put them on minutes after washing them, and the kind of smooth fair brown skin mothers wished their daughters could have by rubbing honey on their faces each morning. He'd greet the shoppers, sit on his bench and began to eat the guava fruits from his bag. This daily routine lasted from four o'clock every evening till the sun began to set just a few minutes after six. Greet, sit, scrunch, munch, burp, "Hmm, that lady cheated me - this one's too small for the money I paid for it. First a ban on lizard soup, now expensive guavas. ~~Tchiw(hiss)!~~ What a world!", chew, chew, chew. Mallam Bala's customers would smile at the Guava-man - yes, he was 'ooo-weee-gi-wee-gi' in the head allright ('nuts' according to one foreigner's interpretation).

Lateefah was certainly the inquisitive type. At ten years of age she'd probably already asked a million questions already... most of them annoying things to her father like "Baba (father), if you're a man, how come you yell out in pain when lifting the lid of a pot of cooking food while mama doesn't", "Did 'Baba' come from that black sheep song taught in English class?" or "If we put our minds to it, we could achieve anything we wanted in this life". That last one was crazy talk - he still hadn't succeeded in shutting her up! Ooh, this was all because he insisted on showing off his baby at his graduation ceremony with her mother. She must have somehow picked up this bad habit from those no good 'know-it-all' academicians at that early age. He was driving her back home from school because her mother had to go visit some relative at the hospital. Engineer Uneku, as he liked to be called (he was actually a dentist), drove his Volvo carefully home clenching the steering-wheel  tightly as he listened to his daughter go on and on about the discoveries she'd made at school today, particularly the fact that  mosquitoes were parasite-spreading bloodsuckers. "I can't believe Mimi's father gave her an expensive new dress instead of economical rubber bathroom slippers like you got me, Baba. I ought to advise him to be as clever as you are." Ah well, Mimi  - mosquito, what was the difference?
"Mah friend look where you dey drive!" someone yelled at him in pidgin English to watch where he was driving.
"Shaddap," he shouted back, " Is it my fault my daughter's talking?" Yes, life goes on.

Mallam Bala sold his last loaf of bread. Scrunch! "Na wa o", oh boy, he wondered, "Just how many guavas could one eat. At least the Guava-man was good for the tourist attraction - a few silly girls trying to get him to marry them before giving up on the virtually impossible task (all he thought about was his work, consuming bags of guava fruits daily) and buying some soft-drinks instead. The sun was setting now and he knew his neighbour on the bench would soon be leaving. The poor chap, how'd such a good-looking able young man land in such a predicament.
"I love guavas. No need to think out loud, you could have just asked me."
The shopkeeper was startled for a while but then composed himself and set about tying small bags of sugar for those customers who couldn't afford to purchase an entire packet. It was a shame to watch someone wasting his life away over a bag of guavas.
"Hey man,  fruits are good for you!"
Thinking out loud again... 
"Most definitely."
Mallam Bala turned back to his work and thought no more about that man.
"Good, mind ya own business!"
He tied the bags of sugar and arranged them in small piles. Sam sam, no way, these bags were going for ten naira each!
"What! That's broad day robbery!"
"Okay, enough you bat!" Mallam Bala exploded, "You can tell me to mind my business, don't tell me how to run it!"
"Ah-ah, is that the way to talk to customers?! Such rudeness!"
Mallam Bala looked up at the man who had just walked into his shop.

Engineer Uneku had had a brilliant idea! No child could resist sweets! Buy Lateefah some and she'd stop questioning him me about the odd nature of his pot-belly and how it was unfair to her mother to see her handsome prince walking around with a noticeable bulge falling over his belt buckle. What on earth were these women talking about? Ah, (slapping the tummy pat! pat! padt!... Ooh, that hurt, hope don't get an indigestion!) this was a sign of a successful man, baby! He'd brought the Volvo to a dangerous halt in front of the Cassava Polytechnic, almost running two students over, and marched off into the first shop he saw. So why did the shopkeeper insist on selling those small bags of sugar for ten naira each?
"Oh, excuse me, sir, " the man apologised to him, "And you're looking for...?"
"Hmm, oh yes, can I have that packet of sweets, please?"
"Ah, Sugar Bellies. That'll be five hundred naira for a packet," Mallam Bala gave a warm smile, the type that provided proof of his many years of excellent customer service and...
"Five hundred naira for a packet of sweets?!! What do you take me for, my friend, a gullible student?! I graduated years ago, I'll have you note!"
"Oh really, and just what did they teach you that leads you to believe we're still using the same prices from the nineteenth century?"
"Yeyh, abomination! How dare you insult me like that,  I'm probably younger than you are!"
"Then respect your elders!"
"Call yourself a shopkeeper? You're the kind of person letting down our national football team, selling sweets and sugar at such prices and putting up posters of  rival countries' teams in your shop!"
"In case you haven't noticed, sir, that's a poster of an American ice-hockey team!"
"I knew you weren't supporting our boys!"

Someone burst into the shop at that moment, interrupting the manly exchange of words with loud sobs enough to scare away those meowing cats from your bedroom window at night. It was the Guava man, he was on his knees crawling towards the men with his hands outstretched in search of help and tears gushing down from his eyes.
"Ooh, please, I confess, I confess," he wailed and sobbed, "I'm a fraud! A fraud! I pretend to be 'ooo-weee-gi-wee-gi' in the head, but actually I'm nothing but a pick-pocket! I deceive people into believing I'm just a good-looking guy who cares for nothing but guavas while I cut holes into your customers' pockets!"
At this point he threw himself to the floor grabbing hold of Engineer Uneku's legs tightly. "Just please, make her stop! I can't take anymore of the grueling interrogations! I can't, can't, can't, can't! I confess, I confess!"
"Oh no!" Uneku suddenly realized it, "I forgot to lock the doors! She's lose!" He kicked away the man groveling before him when he tried to blow his nose on his trousers and dashed out of the shop. Luckily, his daughter hadn't made it into the polytechnic campus or else something could have happened. Grabbing her by the hand, they walked back into Mallam Bala's shop bought the packet of sweets and the the ice-hockey team poster (she decided she liked it because it looked like the future of underwater expeditions and she would like to study the pictures more closely). Away they then drove off home. Home to Mama, Lateefah's mother - her father's wife (who else?). Home to supper, most importantly!

The Guava-man? Oh, the police took care of him - he was actually Don Weegi, the one-time notorious tomato smuggler wanted all over the country. 
Mallam Bala continued with his business and soon became rich enough to start his own sugar processing company - he was very glad (although once he got an anonymous letter about his lack of patriotism when it came to football).
Engineer Uneku and Erinyo, his wife, both watched gratefully as their daughter grew, matured and asked less questions. Lateefah became a whiz kid with her own private computer and software company - G!Star & Moon  Systems (makers of the popular Guava computers).

So, should you have an inquisitive daughter, don't be too harsh on her. We're all human, encourage her positive curiosity and watch as her knowledge and usefulness to society blossoms... especially when it comes to getting rid of the menace of fruit-gobbling pick-pockets in our midst

THE END

 

 

COPYRIGHT ISMAILA IKANI SULE '21/2K+1.

to theMseries

1