Metropole Magazine

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

20 Feb Written by  Elnathan John

Luxuries in the Face of Extreme Poverty

It has nothing to do with how far it is. You just do not like soldiers. Nigerian soldiers. You do not like their addiction to treating people like animals, to bullying on the roads, to assaulting defenseless civilians in broad daylight.

Everyone has spoken about the roasted fish sold in the army barracks. Many have sworn that it is the best in the city. And today that your friends have insisted that they want to go there, you do not want to be a spoils-port. So, you join them.

Inside the barracks, in the square that is the fish market itself, there are hardly any uniforms or weapons. Only thick rising smoke, women wrangling over customers and territory, northern haberdashers and others peddling odds and ends, and opens stalls tightly packed together.

One by one, hawkers come to the table you have chosen to sell you screwdrivers, wallets, purses, caps, watches and sweets. This is the same square where a bomb exploded on the last day of 2010.

A well-groomed woman shows up with white cards carrying appeals for donations to some association of deaf students. You wave to say you do not have any money for her as do the other persons on the table. The woman who claims to be deaf keeps staring at you. She is trying to catch your eye. When she does, her palms and eyes work together to plead. You shake your head. She points at the white woman by your side.

“You and her,” she signs, “you two have fun.”

“She makes you happy.”

“Make me happy.”

“You fly together.”

“Help me.”

She traces 50 on the table in front of you. Just N50. You look at how well dressed she is, how well made her hair is and you are upset. Professional beggars you say to yourself, and look away.

While you do not agree that this is the best roasted fish in Abuja, you are quite impressed by the time you have gotten to the head of the catfish.

“Growing up, the head of fish was reserved for my mother,” you tell the person sitting opposite you. He says in his home it was for his father. You are meticulous about the head, careful not to miss any flesh hidden in the bones.

As you wash your hands, a boy between 10 and 13 emerges with a black polythene bag.

“Please I want the head.”

As he empties the bones from the three plates on the table, you suggest to your friends that perhaps it will be used for dog food. You are quickly corrected. He is gathering food for the family.

“Thank you,” he says, curtsying as he leaves.

If you had known, you might not have crushed the bones of the head so completely. You feel like calling him back, to give him some money. But you question yourself: 'what will that change?' Before you can decide, the boy disappears.

One of the women on the table is visibly distraught by the information. There are tears in her eyes. She is looking away, hiding her reaction. Your eyes meet and the feeling is mutual: how can anyone enjoy these luxuries in the face of such poverty?