You know it’s time to eat at work when your belly starts singing “I cannor come and die”.
A lot of the time, I have to choose between two people for food.
One. This woman who sells the balanced package —rice, un-mashed beans, stew with tiny strands of vegetable in it, and dodo, then a tiny piece of meat.
Two. Sule, our Mai Shayi. He sells chai or tea, depending on what you call it. Boiled yam, drinks, owns a small kiosk, but we mostly go there for the apple of his menu —noodles and fried egg.
When you need to eat quickly and get back to work, which is most of the time, you go to the woman. But sometimes, when you are having a hard day, you go to Sule and watch him bring your food to life. Not just because his noodles are great, but because Sule always has one mood —happiness.
Sule has never read an “It’s in you” or “If you dream it, you can do it” book, but very few people go around their daily lives with such great spirit. And it rubs off on all of us.
Sule stretches out his hand as I sit on his bench.
“Haba Sule! You too like money”
“Yes now,” he laughed, “here no be my village na. No be money carry you come work?”
Everyone there is laughing now. I tell him what I want and he gets to work immediately.
“How many years you done spend for Lagos?” I ask.
“’97,” he replies so routinely that I begin to feel like I’m not the first customer to ask.
He starts random talk about soldiers, Abiola, and unrest.
“You done tey o. But where you come from?”
My colleague, a Kaduna boy, is with me, and quickly, he switches to Hausa and all I can pick up from their conversation is ‘Sabon Gari’. The excitement is rubbing off on his geeky glasses and matted hair.
Nothing makes complete strangers feel more intimate than identity. It is why a person might be lost in the sea of people at Times Square in New York, but will completely feel connected to home when he spots a green-white-green badge on another stranger’s shirt. Everything else freezes for a moment and they are like blood brothers.
So here I am, watching two strangers talk in Hausa about how their villages aren’t far apart, one a hipster, one a Mai Shayii.
My noodles are ready. That’s the only thing I need to connect with now.
“So, you get any other business?” I pick up our talk where we left off.
“Him been get big supermarket before but armed robbers do am strong thing.” The man beside us speaks for the first time.
From his shorts, big belly, and the shirt hanging loosely on his neck, I can tell he’s a mechanic.
Everyone is quiet for a moment and I’m watching Sule’s face. A girl passes and the mechanic speaks again.
“See as this small girl big, by the time she born pikin finish, she go full everywhere.”
I look at the man’s belly again to be sure its the same person speaking.
“If you see my wife ehn.” There. There. That right there is the experience waiting to spill.
“After four children ehn, if you see my woman, you go think say I be small boy greet am first.”
We just giggle, not because he is that funny, but to thank him for the effort.
“How many wife you get Sule?”
“Na one wife e get.”
Sule smiles again, and I translate that to mean that she makes him happy.
“Ah, how old you be?” I know my questions are getting too much but I want more.
“Ah, you be senior man o.” I raise my two hands in twale.
“So when you go go back Kaduna finally? Abi na Lagos you go dey?”
“Haba,” he laughs, “Here no be my village na”. He starts talking about money and goals, beyond the tiny kiosk, the old pots, and the small frame that is his body, you see a man who still has big plans.
“If my money complete now, I go dey buy cow come sell for here.”
I want to tell him not to give up, not to stop believing, but he doesn’t look like he needs my words.
He speaks with so much resolve, that I even begin to imagine him with big agbada, making calls and sending instructions for his next lorry of cows.
Who knows, I might be buying from him in a few years.
I pay him his money and then we go on our way. Our work will not do itself.