The pleasure of unmasking the frustration stamped on faces in CMS rush-hour was biting her into a scurry rush, a responsibility rather than a trade. She hurried into the alley, tray balanced on her head.
While she slouched, contemplating if I was a customer or a KAI officer, I walked up to her.
Her skin was brown, and glossy too, like the hull of a chestnut. Her sculpted face exposed her full lower lip with its outlined cupid bow. There was no fear in her eyes, just a mix of grittiness and suspicion.
"I'm not here to arrest you", I comforted her.
"What's your name?"
"My name is Hauwa'u" she let out a smile, lips parted to reveal her teeth and the assortment of brown and yellow patches glued to her enamel.
"Let's talk." We sought shade nearby.
Hauwa'u was only 12, but she knew street survival better than the man who slept under a Lagos bridge. Two years ago, doctors found a mole in her mother's breast, and before it could be sawn off, it spread all over her chest, like blotches on a ripe pawpaw. The mole stripped her mother of all her hairs before it eventually stripped her of her breath.
And since then, Hauwa'u had become the victim, hounding remnants tossed at her — only after her half siblings had glutted their appetites. She was also the cash cow, hawking all manners of odd items for Simbi, her stepmother — this time oranges.
To Officer Garba, she was a burden, a reminder of her mother's unfeigned submission. Sometimes he wished she was gone, gone to meet her mother wherever she was. Garba was her father only by virtue of having donated his semen, and nothing more.
Hauwa'u shared her story, dry-eyed. Experience had nurtured the adolescence in her and she had long since learned how to conceal tears behind fake smiles.
"I will buy all" I promised, fiddling with the oranges. The tray was dotted with rusty cracks in several places. It was the visual representation of the faults in her life, visible to all who cared to see.
"Now, let me see you home." She grinned, this time it wasn't faked.
We left the grandeur of the alley into rows of shanties called Police Barracks. Stench reeking, slop oozing, life went on, normal.
And there they were, Officer Garba, Simbi, and her children sprawled on the surfaces of withered chairs.
"Where is my money?" Simbi didn't even look up at the entrance.
"Hmmmm. Peace be unto this house." the raucousness in my voice betrayed my real intent. My wish was far from my words. Should the wicked enjoy any moment of peace? No.
Garba shivered. His confidence leapt out of his body without prior warning. He knew me well. He knew what he had done to my sister. How he had kept her away from me until the mole eating her breast took her life.
Before Hauwa'u could figure out the blood connection, Garba had signed the necessary papers. I could tell from Garba’s eagerness as he held the pen that Hauwa'u was the overgrown hair he was willing to scrape off.
She's going with me. I can't lose my sister and her daughter to the same eranko.