By 5pm, I would be out of this shop. With only one more customer left, albeit an annoying one, I'll soon be able to return to my other life. The more respectable one. The student rush was wilder today, it was the first day of exams, so I wasn’t surprised. Stress did things to people, but they were always wild weren’t they, anyone would go wild for my homemade cookies. Know me well enough and you would know I don't say this out of pride. The last customer continued to linger around the shop front.
“What do you want Ade?” I didn't bother to hide my irritation, we go way too back for that.
“I want to buy a snack,” he grinned at me.
“I only sell cookies here, so get to the point”
“I know,” he said as he swiftly glanced back at the school gates just opposite us, the gateman was sleeping with no care.
“Rather, I want to buy the main ingredient of your cookie, I know you don’t usually sell it in this shop but I'll double the price!”
I pinched my eyebrows angrily, this morning's migraine was making a surprise reappearance it seemed.
“Since you know, don't bother me about this type of thing again” This wasn’t his first time trying to break protocol and it surely wouldn't be his last.
“Just pity me this time, please sell me the cocaine here…”
“AISHHH!!!” I hissed through my gap teeth. Had he lost his mind from his drug lust? Who shouted their real names out on the street, especially in front of his own school.
I smacked the rotten wood that made up the school kiosk. “If you want to act stupid, act stupid elsewhere, don’t spread your stupidity to me! Stick to the deal, what you want will only be bought from my campus room. Do you want me to get caught by the school authority?!”
He became sober, a rarity.
“No, I’m sorry”
The sound of crickets enveloped us like a glove, it was getting late.
“Good, you can come to my university by eight. I should be done studying by then.”
I locked the flimsy door of the tuck shop. “Go home and study for now, you're in the 12th grade, so you must be writing your mock exams.”
He nodded his head. If anyone heard me they would think I was being a good mentor or something; if only they knew that I was the indirect cause of this childs ruin. My father was the direct cause. But I knew I didn't deserve to feel more righteous than my dad, because, after all, I was single-handedly the cause of more than half the student population's addiction.
I sent Ade off with a small nylon bag of cookies for free. I kinda felt bad for the kid, but not too bad though. After all, he came from a wealthy home. You wouldn’t catch me praying for the rich.
Hopefully, it would only take me five minutes to return to the University campus, fifteen minutes if there was traffic. I dove headfirst into the crowded, one-way road. People jabbed people as they tried to avoid the vehicles that were two inches from crushing someone’s foot.
I would never understand why people would park on the sides of an already narrow road. Upon reaching the entrance of the road, the bus circle was a sight for sore eyes. There was so much noise and chaos that I began to consider walking home. No. That would be an even bigger waste of time. Settling into my usual bus, I sighed silently, there was still so much to do. I was out of it again, and everything from that point onwards felt like I was on autopilot. In the blink of an eye, I was staring at the school gate; ‘University of Yaba, where good role models become leaders of tomorrow’. Good role models, every time I saw those words my scalp would itch… or maybe it was just the wig. I pulled the matted brown hair from my scalp to let my cornrows breathe.
“Won’t be needing this today again” I muttered to myself as I wrapped a satin scarf around my head.
After greeting the gatemen, I found myself walking on the path that led to Madam Bisi’s shop. It was a longer path but I really needed to talk to someone today, someone that knew me. I had been feeling agitated and anxious throughout the day especially ever since I and Ade talked. Today was the same as others, so why was I so worried?
“Must be your gut instinct,” Madam Bisi told me. “Probably something to do with that shady business of yours”, she huffed out. I took the heavy food stand from her hands and pushed it into the shop.
“You mean the shady business you taught me?” I said with a grin.
“Yeah, the biggest mistake I ever made in my life”
Madam Bisi was one of the biggest suppliers of hidden drugs when I was young and she was the most respected at the time too. She had known me even when I was still in my mother's womb as my dad was her protégé. The police had failed to realize that the sweet shop lady in her fifties was the ringleader of the drug operation they were trying to bust. She would chat them up as they licked the strawberry candies she offered from her shop, all the while waiting for suspicious-looking, burly gang men that never came. They judged the book by its cover.
However, once Madam Bisi mentioned going to a church that she was invited to. “Just for the fun of it” she had said that day, we didn’t see anything weird about it and laughed. I, eight years old at the time, had even walked her to the bus stop as my dad had sent me on an errand nearby. A week later, Madam Bisi was still nowhere to be found, her shop remained closed and her clients were becoming agitated. My dad would make calls day and night, looking for his mentee who also provided his salary, all to no avail. Almost a month later, Madam Bisi came back, but she was different now. To keep a long story short, she was convinced by all the preaching that day at the church, to change her ‘ways’, wash her hands clean from the drug business, and start her life all afresh all serving the ‘Good Lord’. No amount of arguments and sentiments would convince her to go back to the good ol’ days, so my dad gave up and that was that. I was the only one who still kept in touch with her as she was like a grandmother to me.
“I’m telling you Halima, that goddamned business will do you no good. It warps the soul and will drain you like a bad gutter, all stagnant and unwanted”. She scrunched her nose like the very gutter was before her, then sent me off.
By the time I had gotten to my dorm room, her words had gone into one ear and left through the other. I greeted the two girls on the opposite bunk bed and ignored the one that slept above me, the silence was reciprocated.
“Halima, have you heard that they will be searching our rooms again two weeks from now?” This came from Mary who painted Tina’s nails idly.
“Yeah, I can help you hide ‘it’ in Professor Obina’s quarters again,...if you want,” she trailed off with a look of greed in her eyes.
“No, I'll take care of it this time.”
She pursed her lips in contempt, then proceeded to ignore me.
“How did you even find out? We aren't supposed to know that.”
Both girls giggled, “Why are you acting like you don’t know that Mary is Professor Obina’s ‘favorite student’...If you know what I mean that is” she drawled into another fit of giggles with Mary. Right, that was how Mary was able to hide all that cocaine powder in the professor's house.
“I don’t want to know,” I snapped back.
“Whatever. You guys should be careful, we don’t want Miss goody-two-shoes, church goer over there to hear us”. She nodded her head towards the silent person that lay on the top bunk of my bed. The person in question gave her no reply. Mary looked at her, this time it was a look of disdain. The room settled back into silence while I began to pack Ade’s order.
The girl above me was called Irene, she was stocky but petite if that was possible, and always had her hair in some sort of scarf. Prim, proper, and tremendously snobby, she was the kind of girl that your mother and Sunday school teacher would compare you to. Tina, a fashion lover, always mocked her clothing choices as Irene was always in brown, gray, or black. A moth, that was what the other girls called her behind her back. Once when Tina asked her why she only wore dull colors she had replied, “ the bible says to let your moderation be known to all men”, then promptly walked away in an aloof manner. She rarely talked to us and when she did, her nose would align with the sky, her voice sounding pinched like she had just swallowed chicken bile. Sometimes, her noisy morning prayer sessions would wake us up, and once she hid tracts in our belongings, but other than that we seldom got into conflict with her. I preferred to be on neutral terms with her but now we would have to interact constantly at least for this week. The professor had suddenly assigned us into random groups and unfortunately, this was a class I shared with Irene. I stared at my shoes annoyed while she glared at the project instruction paper, perhaps there was a drawing of my face on it. After the Professor explained everything we needed to do, the class settled into a quiet chatter.
“I'll do number one and three, you can do two and four” Irene said briskly.
“Wait a minute, you can’t just do whatever you like, we both have to have a discussion about the project if we want to do well!”
“You mean get the maximum score”
“Whatever,” I said tugging at the band of my hair, “we both know it’s not a one-man project”
She passed me the paper, “sorry about that”. That took me by surprise.
“Let me do numbers three and four instead, I sell snacks for a public school so we can interview the students and staff there, as for number four I have a family friend who owns a street shop for fabric, we can interview her and the staff.”
Irene nodded her head, “Okay so I'm responsible for finding a private hospital and a rehabilitation center.”
“Let's start tomorrow, we only have four more days left and I don't think either of us is free this weekend,” I suggested. She nodded her head in agreement. “We can start with mine, I'll text you the location of the school so make sure you're around by two pm.”
“Of course, let's do number two on Friday then,” she responded back. When class ended, we went our different ways.
Irene had arrived by the shopfront on time and now we both waited awkwardly for school to end. She helped me arrange the transparent cookie packets out so I offered her a bottle of water. Not once did I offer her a cookie, I was scared that she would catch on. Only a select few knew about the drug-snacks I was selling. Nobody suspected me and accredited its addictiveness to skilled baking, but something made me cautious about Irene. Maybe I shouldn’t have picked number three, it was too close for comfort.
“I’m kind of hungry”
“Yeah…” I mumbled warily.
“These cookies look good, I'm surprised you baked them”
“So how much are they, I wan…”
The bell rang, cutting her off to my relief. I had to make sure she didn’t get a single crumb. Today I would ensure that all the cookies were sold out. I sold the cookies as fast as I could while Irene interviewed the growing number of students that surrounded the kiosk. Ade and a new friend of his came to buy as well. Ade had introduced me to his new female friend the week before. Every day, he would buy two packs of cookies, one for him and one for her. He chatted with her nearby, I paid no attention to their conversation as usual until the girl said something that caught me off guard.
“No I won’t be eating these ones here today, I told my mum about how addictive these cookies were so she wanted to taste them,” she said softly to Ade.
“Your mum? The doctor!” Ade replied.
A doctor? That was definitely on the risky side. What if she took them for testing, hospitals definitely have the equipment to check for drugs. I would have to text Ade later to make sure to get rid of those cookies before the girl left for home. Fortunately, I only had one more pack to sell, unfortunately, the last buyer was a young polite boy that I was fond of. His name was Thomas and he was the most respectful kid I knew, he was good-natured and always greeted the adults around him whether it was the principal or the lowly shopkeeper. Whenever he came to the shop, I would give him a separate pack of cookies that I made for the kids in my neighborhood, the drug-free, normal ones. But today, if I didn’t sell this very last one, Irene might ask for it and Thomas was the last customer. I didn’t just sell him the good ones for his sake only but for mine too. It made me feel like a good person despite how terrible I was, like I wasn’t ‘that’ bad. Today would be different. I threw the packet into his hands like it was a hot potato and kept my eyes away from his face. Was I really the bad guy if life bullied me first?
At worst, his parents had enough money to rehabilitate him.
I locked the shop and got ready to go, Irene was not in the vicinity.
“Irene? How did the interviews go…oh my God, what are you eating!??”
Irene sat on a nearby bench eating the very snack I thought I had kept away from her.
“One of the students gave me her own,...but…that’s beside the point, there's definitely something wrong with them”. She mumbled to herself a bit more to herself and my mouth remained shut, I’m scared. Then she shot up like the bench had nipped her legs.
“Drugs,...there are drugs in them aren’t they!”