The monotonous days of Saba’s life after school made him stand on the balcony of his parents’ home every evening to wait for a woman who sold agege bread. It was his favourite past time activity after school. He was only 14 and so his mother hardly allowed him outside their home when it was the evening except for his guilty pleasure of buying the bread they will use to have breakfast, it was dangerous in the hood.
The seller was not hard to miss, not because of her looped outfit, a pink scarf, red long-sleeved shirt, faded blue jeans and black socks to protect her feet from the sooty sand, but because of her voluptuous breasts. If anyone knew her name it was the older boys and men on their way back from work in the evening who stood in front of her engaging her in a conversation, feeling loaves after loaves, more interested in the softness of her chest than the bread in their hands. They called her auntie bread or aunty’s breasts when they were being trite, but she never minded anything but her bread. Her favourite spot on the street that led to the main market, close to a mallam kiosk that sold everything, like a wooden mini-mart. Men on their way back from work passed through that road regularly and purchased loaves for their families’ breakfast and then right after headed to the kiosk to buy tea condiments, eggs, as bread and tea was typical and cheapest breakfast in the hood besides beans. Saba passed this same road daily on his way to and from school, boys on their way to the night market to smoke Indian hemp also purchased bread they needed to eat after the stuff they smoked drained their stomach and left them aching with hunger, as well as other ghetto boys and hood rats.
Saba loved bread. He can have it repeatedly, a whole loaf all by himself with butter until his jug of tea was done. And then he slept, breathing softly on the ground like a baby filled with breast milk. The habit started when he was little, for unknown reasons Saba never liked onions in his food but his mother cooked a lot with it and when he complained, since they always had bread at home, she asked him to eat bread and butter. Saba was the only one who everyone knew loved bread in the family so much that he could resort into stealing it to slake his urge.
One evening Saba went to buy bread on an errand. Just beside the seller on her bench was a stocky young man in white shorts and black shirt. He had bought his own bread and started eating it and talking with the seller, laughing. They seemed like friends the way they were engrossed in the conversation before Saba disrupted them.
“Auntie good evening, I come buy bread,”
“100 Naira,” Saba said, hands outstretched. She sorted out the bread according to prices to pick the one Saba wanted. She found it and brought it out, dusting crumbs off its body in her usual manner with a foam she had tucked away somewhere in her basket. The bread was cream with a hard-brown area where it got burnt in the oven. Saba smiled and smacked his lips as she put it into the polythene bag.
“Madam, give him back the money, I will pay for the bread.” the guy on the bench said. It was the first time Saba ever heard anyone call the bread seller “madam”. The guy set his half-eaten bread down beside him to put his hand in his pocket. He ransacked until he brought out a 100 naira note which he handed to the seller. She took it and gave it to Saba. Saba reluctantly took the money from the bread seller and put in his pocket, unexpected, but nobody refused money in the hood.
“My name is Kosai, wetin be your name?”
“My name is Saba,”
“Saba where you dey live for here?”
“Just across the road with my parents,”
“Okay, I live this opposite direction just by the new road those Fashola people are making.”
Saba knew the place. The new Lagos governor after being elected went about making new roads in various communities or broadening the already built roads. He built pedestrian bridges too. Since the road was being built there were roadblocks and cars were restricted to pass the area. It was on that same tarred road that boys in the hood gathered to play street football and gamble cards and dice.
“Okay, thank you for the bread,” Saba said, and then he trotted off excitedly, hands swinging, giddy about the money in his pocket.
The next day when Saba went to buy bread Kosai was seated next to the seller with his legs crossed as if in waiting, willing to pay for every bread that Saba came to buy. It was the best proposal for a friendship with Saba if Kosai kept paying for all the bread he bought that meant he had more money in his pocket tucked away to buy more bread, everyday Saba bought bread and most times Kosai was there to pay. Saba and Kosai began a friendship based on brief conversations about happenings on the street, whose car was stuck, what passers-by wore, women passing, people fighting etc. Sometimes Saba wasn’t in a hurry and he sat there and talked to Kosai about himself. He was from Akwa-Ibom, but he came to Lagos to work for an Oga at his grains store when he was only ten years old, Imu-ahia as it was called, a form of entrepreneurship where he earned his freedom and a lump sum to set up his own business after seven years. He had his own grain store and that was how he could afford Bread for Saba without it affecting his pocket.
“Maybe one of these days you should come to my house and we can have an enjoyable time together, I live alone, and I have a television, all those entertainment stuff people like, WWE with Shawn Michaels and Triple H, Commando, Rambo, Tom and Jerry cartoons, Jet Li and Jackie Chan, I get am.”
Saba’s eyes lit up. His mother made sure she bought everything he needed but sometimes it felt better in someone else home.
“Sure!” Saba said, “I would love to, maybe tomorrow evening when I am going for a vigil with my family I fit to stop, watch small then leave before it is late.”
“Wetin you go like make I buy and keep for you, anything you want, bread, biscuit, and fruit juice?”
“Anything wey you like but e dey fine, I go just branch then discharge.”
The next day was a Friday. When it was evening Saba had his bath and left to where Kosai lived to hang out until it was time for him to go to church. He walked down from where he lived out to the mouth of the street, crossed to the other side and headed on down to where the new roads were being constructed. When he got to the mouth of the road on the other side he took his left just as Kosai directed him and went to the first apartment he saw. The house was unpainted with a tailor shop in front of it; the sound of the tired machine was heard within. It was a face-me-I-slap-you apartment, a tubularly shaped house with a tunnel-like passage in the middle of it with flats on each side of the wall. It was tight, dingy and had a sour smell that could not be placed. Every house in the ghetto was like it, dirty, smelly, mostly of poverty. It was the one Kosai described. Saba stopped to talk to a lady who sat astride on a raised platform in front of the house.
“Good evening ma, do you live here?”
“I do, who you dey find?”
“I am here to see my friend called Kosai, e get anyone for this yard wey dey bear that kain name?”
The woman paused and looked at Saba, scrutinizing his appearance from head to toe with her lips curved to the side like the mischief it seemed she was cooking in her mind.
“Hmmm, this world go soon end, you dey find Kosai?”
“Yes ma, the guy dey live for here?”
“E dey oh, the guy dey live for here. But come to make I ask you question, na you be Kosai new wife?”
Saba’s forehead creased, he was taken aback by the question.
“New wife, wetin that one mean?”
“Nothing ooh, I no talk anything. Kosai dey live for the third flat on the left as you dey waka enter.”
After the conversation, Saba griped with inhibition, was wary as he walked in, watching his step and counting the flats until he got to the third one. He didn’t understand what the woman meant by “Kosai new wife” but it made him very uncomfortable, but he had arrived already and there was no point leaving without letting Kosai know he came, for the sake of their new friendship. He took in a deep breath, opened the mosquito net and then knocked on the door.
The door unlocked and then it opened slightly, but after that nobody came to it. After a few minutes of waiting Saba knocked again and this time Kosai came to the door, but he didn’t come out of the mosquito netting. Saba adjusted his position and investigated the house from the crack of the door, there was another guy seated quietly on the chair inside the room. The bed was made with white sheets and there was only one pillow on it. There were a television and a fan rolling slightly.
“Why don’t you want to come in?” Kosai said, with the softest voice Saba had ever heard him speak with. “Come inside, everything don dey prepared for you.”
“I just came to tell you that I am now going for the vigil with my family.”
Kosai turned to look at the wall clock inside his apartment. “By this time of the night?”
“Yes, my mother want make I go early,”
“So, you no go come inside stay small, what of the movies and snacks? I buy you soft fresh bread.”
Saba’s eyes lit up but then they dimmed quickly as if Kosai had imagined it.
“Thanks, but no need, I am going.”
“But why you no want to come inside?”
“Nothing it is just I don dey late for the program, but I go come back another day.”
“Make I ask you, you meet anyone outside as you dey come to my house?”
“Yes, one woman directed me to come here.”
“Wetin she tell you as you dey come to my house?”
“Nothing at all, we go see later.”
Saba had already left.
The next day when Saba went to buy bread he was hoping to see Kosai seated beside the seller talking in the usual manner so he could apologize for not entering into his house, but Kosai was not there, or seen around again even at where he said was his store.
The following week a man was found bleeding in a gutter with his mouth open, his eyes swollen shut and clothes were torn. A man later came around to try to take him out, he begged some of the onlookers to help him, but nobody wanted to touch the battered man for fear of being complicit to whatever crime he might have committed to earn a beating. Saba happened to be around the new road playing football on the asphalt, on seeing the ruckus he stopped abruptly. The people around whispered, and it was later found out that the good Samaritan was named Adio, a known panel beater in the area and the wounded man was his brother, Jeffery, and he had been missing at home for a day. It was then that they helped him take his brother out of the gutter and laid him out on the road for people to peruse.
It was easy for people to string stories together in the hood to figure out a situation even better than any police investigation, especially when they were highly curious about what happened. The story attached was that the man in the gutter, Jeffery, had been going to a certain private club for financial assistance as suggested to him by a friend. Young men were always seeking easy ways to make money all the time with some resorting to stranger things. But the job Jeffery got seemed easy as explained to him by his “friend”. It was nothing much except to be around a group of wealthy men who needed company as they drank, like a casino shill but one needed to be handsome, and Jeffery was. He was handsome and his full beard made his face look chiselled. What was the harm in taking money to drink along with someone who didn’t always feel the need to say anything? It was considered easy bread. And since Jeffery was invited back every night he thought he must be doing an excellent job drinking free drinks and eating free food, and then leaving with money for his transportation.
One night Jeffery went to work. That night, his boss seemed to be excited and did not only want more drinks he also wanted to chat a lot and get to know Jeffery, where was he from, what did he like, a few more questions followed. The shades were on but the man smiled a lot, his teeth were porcelain white in the blue light of the nightclub. He made attempts to touch Jeffery and, finally, openly said he wanted sex, grabbing his jeans and taking hold of his crotch. It must have come as a surprise, one man telling another man that he wanted to be inside him and the reaction to that was unpleasant. Jeffery gave him a punch to the face that broke his shades, the man’s teeth and inner white was smeared with blood that looked black in the light. The repercussion of his actions was what Jeffery would come to regret later as he lay soaked up in the gutter, the man snapped his fingers and the hefty bouncers approached and held Jeffery down on the table and all the men in the club had their way with him.
It was considered an end time story and would later go on to be printed in conspiracy magazines spread at bus stops and campus gates. Many people talked about it. Gay men were coming out to express how they felt and people were taken aback and openly disgusted. That was the end, they put out a manhunt on anyone gay in the hood to be beaten, burned or stoned to death. The hate spread across the country like wildfire, fanned more by religious leaders who preached incessantly about it.