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Whatever happened to Fatima?

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Thursday, February 11th, 2016
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I never knew her name, I never asked her; how I failed; how I failed her. But let us call her Fatima.  She was a little girl of about nine years. Lean, almost frail, chocolaty dark, natural clear eyes set over her pointed nose.

She may have been about nine years old but her eyes had a certain feminine guile, as much guile as a girl her age could muster. Fatima was a child of the road, mind you, not the streets. She was a fixture on a short flyover bridge that links Dopemu to Akowonjo in the Alimoso council of Lagos. For about two years I had noticed Fatima hawk peanuts at the ascent of that narrow but busy over-head bridge.

Every evening, Fatima and numerous other little young ‘women’ would line the bridge, their wares – a few bottles of peanuts perhaps less that N2000 ($6)per person – would be arrayed on the narrow median. This spot represents one of Lagos mega city’s road management mis-adventures. This narrow, little bridge is the most convenient outlet for thousands of commuters emptying into the numerous towns of Alimoso, Lagos’ most populated locale.

The result is that for as long as the bridge had been there, there had been traffic build-up on it every evening almost without fail. Another result is that those who live in that side of town and work on the other side may have settled their mind to bearing a life-long cross of wading through heavy traffic daily.

Yet another result is that a traffic mart had grown all along the major (Abeokuta) Expressway, and up on to the narrow fly over called ‘First bridge’. It is also a life-long enterprise zone that has continued to blossom for as long as one had plied that road. That’s more than ten years.

Fatima and her little friends are therefore, beneficiaries of an eternal if not infernal traffic snarl that has stumped officials and has been the unyielding lot of motorists on the Abeokuta Express road. Well, Fatima and her parents/guardians were beneficiaries until a few months ago when Fatima disappeared from her patch.

How did one know she had gone? She had become bonded to me; in a simple manner of speaking. After I bought peanuts from her the first time, I had noticed she was very different. Not because of her soft, delicate beauty but because she had the perceptiveness, if not the sensibilities of a full grown woman.

After the first purchase, each time she sighted me, she would tag along my car in the slow-moving traffic.

“Daddy buy now,” she would whine in her childish but seductive voice, getting her face as close as she could manage. She would stare right into my eyes, unblinkingly, unabashedly and knowingly inviting like the child she was. She was not as innocent as she seemed, I would think fleetingly, for she knew how to ‘look’ at a man for ‘effect’.

“But I bought yesterday,” I would shoot back at her, sometimes trying to be stern.

“Buy again now please, this one is fresh, this one is sweet,” she would continue in her sing-song as she would trail the car unyieldingly right up to the summit of the small bridge.

“See, motor go jam you o!” I would warn to no avail. Many a time, her infantile seductiveness worked; I would buy. Sometimes out of pity and out of affection aroused by the industry and tenacity of a little girl the age of my daughter.

For many months, little Fatima and I played our little traffic game. She would always spot my car, chase after it and accost me. I had a feeling she had other ‘clients’ who may have fallen victim of her ‘sales strategy’. Well, no matter.

Then suddenly, Fatima vanished. Days lapsed into weeks, and then months, no Fatima. Initially I was relieved that she would not have to harass me any longer. Then I began to miss her; that was a couple of months after. Where in the world is … I didn’t even know her name.

My eyes would rove and roam each time I drove past…no luck. Then one of those days I guess I was more tenacious than curious. I pulled up, beckoned on one of the little peanuts hawkers:

Wey that small girl wey dey follow you sell here?”

“Which one?”      

 “That small one wey black well well wey dey follow moto?

Oga na all of us black and we dey follow moto sell…but one e done go marry for their State. Another one moto jam am here, e die…” I froze.

“Thank you,” I said quickly cutting her short, not wanting to know anymore. Whatever fate befell Fatima, I kept wondering as I drove away, numb. A nine year old went to get married. A nine year old got hit by a vehicle. Both fates sounded one and the same. I will do better next time. Perhaps if I know their names, I might know their fates.

Michael Koma is a journalist, lecturer, and passionate about the future of his daughters.



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