Metropole Magazine

Today's Weather: Abuja NG: Partly Cloudy, Day 360|Night 260

23 Aug Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

The Art of Buying

You find yourself on a workday, on the pretence of an official assignment, trolling the Arts And Crafts Village. It is a small island, a colony of artist and art lovers. Its location adjacent Sheraton Hotels & Towers, behind Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, and opposite Silverbird Galleria ensures a stream of people, often expats, who have sorted their basic needs.

Outside an antiques' shop two Caucasians, a woman and a teenage girl, are hunched over a bowl of rusted coins, talking in a strange, rapid language. A television crew approaches them for an interview. With smattering English and mean gestures the woman rebuffs their advance. The crew moves on without persisting, their equipment in tow. The woman collects a handful of coins and returns the bowl to the shop owner.

They have taken to some other item and are in the process of bargaining. The girl’s English is worse but she knows just enough to yell at the shop owner in two-word sentences: ‘shut up!’, ‘don’t lie!’  You are a witness to impunity. You have the urge to ask the shop owner if he usually endures such insults for the promise of six thousand Naira. You are torn between being a hospitable Nigerian and standing up for your kin. Perhaps she is only a regular spoilt brat. You forgive and watch them cart off a scary, wooden mask.

You are drawn to the earrings dangling from hooks on the door. On closer inspection it turns they are key rings with clay ornaments. They cost a thousand naira, but you are willing to pay half. You bargain back and forth. Just when he yields, you remember you have a key ring already, and it doesn’t need replacement. You apologise and make an awkward exit from the shop with a mental note to ignore all other items on display in the village.

You have been here before, only to buy books at Cassava Republic bookshop, from where you watch expats stroking loose tie-dye gowns, cowries bracelets, and raffia bowler hats, items that have no place in the iridescent ensemble of Abuja ladies. They are tourist goods, mementos of their sojourn. You have seen foreigners sold kitsch at the value of masterpieces.

Today, you are the fall guy. You cannot resist the lure of the key ring. It is a bug-inspired design. It is on display wherever you turn, and it is offered at even lower prices. Still you cannot bring yourself to make the purchase. The sequence where you leave the shop awkwardly is replayed. Given a lump of clay, beads, and a string, you are certain you could make one yourself: roll a morsel of clay in your palm, pass a string through the mould, string in the bead and knot. But you don’t have to go through that stress.  Just buy. It is okay to indulge occasionally. So continues the debate between the prudent you and your profligate alter ego. More critical decisions have been reached faster.

At a shop close to the gate you eventually buy the key ring. Next you are lusting after the jewelleries, particularly a necklace said to be made from camel bones. As you do not already own any necklace made from camel bones you buy without reservations. The shop assistant wants you to buy another made from coconut shell. He points to you an ornamented calabash, a leather purse, a mug, a horsetail, and his own bowl of rusted coins. He offers to create a custom-made wrist chain immediately. You complain of time but give your approval anyway, with instruction for haste. After that he wants to make you a waist chain. You turn out the pockets of your handbag. You cannot remember how much you came with but there is just your fare left, with the odd items. He is willing to sell on credit. He points to a small wooden chest where you could store your purchase.

You know you have hovered too long when he asks for your number so he could call you, which brings to mind a recent incidence where a cab driver asked for your number. You had borrowed his pen and was scribbling in transit. Since you were on the subject, he may have thought, you may as well write out your number (in your fury you forgot your jotter in the cab). The history of indecent overtures goes further back, but today you are not upset.