Stella walked through the market as briskly as she could, her eyes blind to all but her eventual destination. Her hand subconsciously brushed her dress. It was a long shapeless shift that had seen better days, and now, the bump from her pregnancy made it ride up a bit, causing it to look even more awkward.
She dragged a little boy by the hand, and he skipped as fast as he could to keep up with her. His eyes darted from left to right as he struggled to take in the sights, from the woman selling ripe red tomatoes, to the boys who sold their yams neatly lined up in wheelbarrows. Bunches of green vegetables struggled for space beside ingredients for various soups. His mother saw none of this however, her feet moved by memory as her mind busily budgeted the money in her purse in order to meet all the family needs.
They finally got to the smoked fish stall. She carefully selected the cheapest type of fish…her fingers ran over them expertly as she tried to see which one would give her the most value for her limited funds. She needed to rush home and cook before her husband left home for his night job as a taxi driver. Her busy fingers were halted by the quiet, cultured voice beside hers “Which of these is better for yam pottage? The Titus or the Kote?” She turned to look at the owner of the voice, she was young too, maybe about her age or a little older; she had the kind of looks that never really changed with age, she would probably look the same at 40 as she had at 25. Although she was simply dressed, her clothes and manner screamed of affluence beyond Stella’s imaginings. And her jewellery, my goodness! Bangles and necklaces, a variety of rings….she looked like an advertisement for the Alhajis who traded in gold. She was lucky that the area boys had been driven from this area…they would have taught her a life changing lesson. The lady’s well groomed eyebrow arched as she waited for Stella’s response. And in her look, she could see herself as she must look; unkempt and shabby, her ambition reserved for bearing children, with no plans of bettering herself. A flush of sudden shame made her brush her hand over her dress again. The woman’s eyes followed her action and then stopped at the boy, who was skipping on one spot as he played his own private games. More shame made her cuff the boy sharply on his head and jerk him to her side. She looked away and said, “The Kote” almost abruptly. The truth was, she didn’t know, her budget had never stretched that far…but of course she wasn’t going to say that to the lady. The lady smiled her thanks, glancing again at her son, who had resumed his skipping. She bought her fish and walked away to a beautiful car. Stella watched her till she drove off…that woman was her agemate, she was obviously accomplished…while she, on the other hand, had nothing to show for her years on earth…Stella had never felt so much like a failure in her life.
Katherine was driving home when she suddenly remembered that she hadn’t eaten all day. She had a terrible craving for yam pottage, just like her mum used to make it. She hadn’t had it in ages. It was too fattening she used to think, but these days, irrelevant things like that no longer seemed to matter.
She stopped at the roadside market on her way home. It was evening and the night market was picking up as the day market was winding down. She whispered a prayer of thanks that all the area boys had been chased from here a while ago. That was the only reason she stepped out with her gold. It had been a while since she’d gone shopping in the market, come to think about it, it had been a while since she’d done a lot of things.
She bought everything else and stopped by the fish stall, she absolutely couldn’t remember what fish Mama used to put in the pottage. She turned to ask the young lady beside her…and her heart stopped in her chest. The lady looked about her age, smoothing her hand absently over her bulging tummy as she selected the fish she wanted to buy. The hunger returned with almost physical force…she felt the breath leave her body. She forced her mouth to work as she uttered something inane…she didn’t even know what she said. The woman turned to her, her face was unlined…peaceful. She looked like a model for Blissful Motherhood.
The woman smoothed her hand over the bump again, and Katherine’s eye followed the movement to the little boy skipping beside his mother…it was too much. She couldn’t bear it. The memories flooded over her; her bliss when she and Eddie found out she was expecting, the birth of her perfect baby girl, the joy, the laughter, the ghastly day when her daughter, playing with her trinkets, choked on her pearl earring while she was gossiping on the phone with her best friend. She remembered the creeping fear up her spine as she’d finally turned around to see her daughter…her pride, her joy…lying on the floor, gasping for breath. She’d screamed for help, tried to give CPR, tried all she knew, but it was too late.
Eddie had never forgiven her and 2 years later, another light in her life had been extinguished when her husband walked into her room to tell her that he was leaving.
5years had passed since her precious angel had died, and Katherine had done all she could to bear another child. She’d gone everywhere, from hospital to church…from expert to spiritualist. The answer was the same…there was nothing wrong with her, no explanation for her barrenness. She’d sold all she had, till all that was left was the jewellery she had on…her last memory of Eddie…the jewellery he had bought for her when she told him she was pregnant. She looked at the woman standing there, secure in the love of her beautiful children and realized she would give anything, anything at all to be this stranger standing in front of her. All she owned, all she had achieved, was nothing compared to what the woman had.
Katherine walked back to her car in a daze. She drove up the road towards home, then when it became too much, she parked by the side of the road….and wept.
Photo Credit: http://www.deplicque.net