Lagos always presents an adventure for me, and I hardly ever come back from a trip without a story to tell. This one takes its setting in Idumota, the market where I got introduced to "The Alabaru!"
In the North, it is common to find Dandokos- young boys wheeling barrows through the narrow passage ways of a busy market behind shoppers who toss a growing load of food items, clothes, utensils and supplies unto their make- shift carts for a small fee.
So I was in Lagos recently with a party of three on one such mission and after spending 90% of the time searching for what I wanted and the other 10% negotiating with the shop owners, we slowly made our way through a long list of items I had to buy within the limited time.
Soon we had enough items to test anyone's strength and stamina and it was time to get help. Enter the Alabaru- the Lagos version of a Dandoko, only this time they were mostly women with baskets which they supported on their heads while meandering with shoppers through dirtier, smellier, busier markets where we were warned at every turn to keep purses close and cautioned to watch our back!
Happy to find relief from balancing several shopping bags, and deciding that there was nothing more we could do with dusk approaching, my party of shoppers made its way out of the belly of Idumota market to an off-side road where we had left the car for safe keeping.
We walked in a file with my aunt who knew the way at the head of the park and me at the back. As I struggled to follow in quick steps, darting over potholes and trying not to slip in gutter- black mud, I closely followed the person in front of me to ensure I didn't get lost.
I heard a female voice and looked back to see a shop owner step out to greet someone ahead. Her greeting fell behind as we trudged through the throng of bodies. The woman continued greeting louder than before and I realised it was meant for one of us. I calculated if my pretence not to hear her would look obvious before deciding to yell at my aunt- the object of her greeting, who now stopped and offered an acknowledgement.
Tired, we moved on weaving our way to where we had started our journey several hours ago. As we entered a wider road and I could see ahead of me, I noticed that the Alabaru wasn't in front of the pack, she wasn't in between neither was she behind me.
I had thought the Alabaru was in front and asked the person in front of me where she was. The person also assumed she was in front and asked the person in front of her. This person had also assumed the same so asked my aunt in front of her who had thought the Alabaru was at the back, and had been behind her all along!
How could we have not watched her?
When was the last time anyone saw her?
Where were we to begin looking for her?
The memory of how laborious the last few hours had been came rushing through my mind, and I suddenly felt my tiredness at the thought that all that labour could very well be futile!
Calculating the cost of each item bought, my head went into a spin at the realisation that all the money we had spent would go down a bottomless drain!
By this time, we had frantically started retracing our steps through dirt roads with mud that stuck on your shoes, over wooden slabs with gutters bubbling underneath and past hot alleys with the retreating smell of boiling oil that reminded you to do everything not to fall into wide brimmed pots on lit fire wood which you felt before you saw.
As we walked, I observed everyone's frustration- a hand on the head, a repeated stamping of both feet, angry words, worried faces... I retreated within and prayed.
"Lord I know its next to impossible to find this girl, but wherever she is cause our steps to cross"
Mentally I decided that if we didn't find her, I was going to let go of the thought of the money we would have lost.
On we went, retrieving our steps until I heard the combustion of voices in front of me and raised my head to see. The Alabaru must have spotted my aunt at the same time she recognised her leading to the simultaneous burst of relief!
As the story tumbled out, the Alabaru narrated that she had gotten lost in the crowd and decided to go back to the shop where we had paused to greet a lady so she could ask for my aunt's number! When she arrived there and couldn't get the number, she decided to leave our things with the shop owner who knew my aunt and return to try to find us! It was in the process of her return journey that we reunited!
As I walked back with her to retrieve the goods, I pondered with gratitude on how that woman who I was tempted to ignore in my haste, turned out to be the player in the story who saved the day. Had we not stopped to answer her greeting, the Alabaru wouldn't have had anyone to return our goods to.
Later, after I had paid the Alabaru enough for her to courtesy with appreciation, I couldn't help but think that God had already made a way out before the situation presented itself. It was in one woman who I wouldn't have given the benefit of the doubt to return what wasn't hers - the Alabaru!
Read about my past Lagos adventures here and here