Bola woke up tangled. More tangled than her natural hair that had become as hard as a rock because air had freely occupied spaces in it. Combing was not an option right now. The last two combs she used had sustained broken legs in the process. She would leave her hair that way till her stylist (who also happened to be her sister) would bring a magical touch to the scary hair.
The previous night was really ‘nighty.’ The wood supporting the unevenly chopped, weak bed had caved in, and for the first time in her life, the physical and spiritual seemed to unite against her. She was in a dream where she tripped in the mud and landed on her back. In reality, her back had hit the floor because the wood supporting the fragile bed had bowed after over twenty long years of service. It was forest dark as the candle light had died a slow death, it was indeed a hero. What could she have done without it all these years when electricity was not an option because this part of the world where she lived was deprived of the joy of Thomas Edison’s invention? Finding her way in the dark would have been an issue if her eyes had not mastered the darkness. She tiptoed trying not to wake her sleeping sister, at the same time being careful not to step on her only sister who was a huge fan of sleeping on the floor. Remi’s answer had never changed when asked why she would not join her sister on the bed.
‘I love the floor. It is really cold, a natural God-given bed. In fact, it is way better than these spring beds, you know?’
Bola knew that her sister did not mean what she said. Who would prefer the concrete floor with holes all over to a spring bed? Even a mad man would go for the bed. Remi had only given that answer for two reasons: firstly, the only bed they had was weak and would not carry two people; secondly, she was the older one so she preferred to take the pain of the hard floor so that her sister could enjoy the ‘luxury’ of the half-dead bed.
Well, that luxury was no more. Bola would be joining Remi on the floor now. She reached for the old mat that stood lame behind the door. The door itself was more like an ornament than a security device. It was moist from water sweeping into the house when it rained. It also had segments. There was a part of it that hosted rats, rats poorer than church rats due to starvation. Another part hosted wood-eating insects that lived larger than the rats because they had food to eat. The last part was for mosquitoes. Bola could bear anything but mosquitoes. They left red spots on her fair skin after each feast on her blood.
She lay the mat and put a shabby wrapper over it. Sleeping on the ground was not something she was used to so she kept tossing and turning till daybreak. She smiled as the first ray of sunlight hit her, temporarily forgetting that she looked like a mess. Remi, who was the hard working one, had already left for her hairdressing salon. This was what kept them alive ever since they lost their parents in an accident. ‘Remi Beauty Salon,’ which was the name of her shop, was a stone’s throw from the house. Bola joined her sister about an hour later to have her hair styled.
Hassan woke up at 8.30am. He made for the kitchen to prepare breakfast but stopped halfway and drifted to the bathroom. He picked up his white toothbrush that had funny looking, hard bristles. He applied the red toothpaste extravagantly but dropped it and headed back to the sitting room. There he picked up a blue shirt and began ironing. A lot was going through his mind. Why had Bola declined dating him? He was a polished young man with a degree from Harvard. Why would a girl turn down a guy working in Chevron, living in Banana Island, and driving a Ferrari? Bola did not seem to care about his financial status. This was what actually stood her out from the tons of ladies that bugged him daily.
He recalled how he met her. It was on a rainy day. He had splashed water on her long gown while driving home. He parked his car on the left side of the wet road and hurried towards her.
“I am really sorry. The road was free so I doubled up my speed. I did not ever think I would meet anyone let alone a beautiful girl like you.”
He added the last phrase not because he noticed her face but to reduce the insult he expected to receive from her.
“It’s okay. I am not angry.” She replied with a soft voice and continued walking.
“Do you mean that?” Hassan stammered, still in shock that she did not shower invectives on him. He offered her a ride and she hesitatingly accepted.
He hissed upon realizing that he had burnt his shirt. He picked up another shirt which was not surprisingly blue and tried to iron without having the thoughts of Bola. At 10am, he was looking like a contestant for Mr Nigeria. His hair was overgrown and needed a haircut; he would fix that later today. His cologne filled the air with lovely fragrance. He straightened his back and put a call across to the only girl that had been on his mind for the past few weeks.
“Good morning, Bola. Please hear me out, I need to see you. I can’t seem to get you out of my head. Text me your address, I will come over.” He paused to take in some breath.
The text came in fifteen minutes later. It read: 15, Shittu Orija, Dustbin Estate, Ajegunle. He sure needed directions. He was used to driving in Lagos but somehow, he had never gotten close to Ajegunle. Google map was a buddy and in a few minutes, he had a semi-clear idea of where he was headed.
Dustbin estate was a place where heaps of debris occupied vast areas of land. Here, humans and animals lived like siblings. The potholes swallowed his tyres hungrily and at a point he had to park his car and continue on foot. He walked past naked children playing in the sand, looking inexplicably excited. He had never seen children this happy. He would have begun figuring how this children were playing happily in front of weak and bending houses, but Bola stole his thoughts once more.
“We are from two different worlds. Nothing serious could come out of a relationship if we tried.”
That was Bola’s opinion. Well, he agreed with her on the former. They were indeed from two different worlds. He never thought a place like this existed in the world, let alone Nigeria. It was crystal clear why Bola had turned him down. She felt she did not measure up to his standard. Who was she to decide that? He could make decisions himself.
He knocked at the moist door and watched two small rats race out of a hole in it. He observed no one was in and asked a little child building a sand castle for help. She pointed at a salon and resumed her construction.
REMI BEAUTY SALON was finally in sight. Bola was sitting on a wooden chair, having her hair retouched by her sister. She smiled as soon as she set her eyes on him. Her sister smiled more although they had the same smile.
“I never expected you to come. How did you find your way?” Bola asked still smiling.
“This was the only place I could find my joy.” He said, smiling at her, “I must confess that those residing in Dustbin Estate are the strong ones. Driving here has taught me a lot of things. I intend starting a project here.” His eyes wandered to the yellow kegs in front of the shop. His love for Bola could fill them to an overflowing point. He stared into Bola’s brown eyes and felt a glimmer of hope. Something told him she would be his soon. After conversing with her and her sister for a while, he walked into the barber’s shop just beside the hair salon to have a haircut while Remi continued styling her sister’s hair.