The fragrance of the swaying flowers reminds me. The flowers sway gently, sweetly, slowly, aching for an admirer’s tender touch.
They remind me of my childhood. I loved flowers and hated the harmattan, disliking how it punished flowers with its haze, how it cracked my lips and attacked my nostrils with catarrh. My worst harmattan was the harmattan that took Papa away. Mama, Mayowa and I had gone to visit my aunt when it happened. We came home to meet destruction instead of a welcome: a bomb blast had ruined our simple bungalow and killed Papa while he napped. I refer to that dry season as The Bad Harmattan because it went beyond my lips and my nostrils; it attacked my sister and me.
The Bad Harmattan attacked our stomachs. Mayowa and I hawked oranges to survive. During the day, I whispered, squealed, ran and begged, in search of hope: money for a new meal. “Please buy my oranges,” I said often, resisting tears stinging my eyelids and the Lagos sun punishing my skin. Although I spoke English to those in jeeps and pidgin, Yoruba or Igbo to those in smaller cars and cheaper clothes, only a few people wanted oranges. I often thought, “No wants my juicy oranges because I am not juicy enough.” Most of my clothes were dirty and torn, and my soul gradually became like that too. Often, after a long period of unproductive hawking, I sat under the shade of an old tree or at a dusty spot, grabbed oranges from the green basket, sucked and chewed them, even the seeds and sometimes, the peelings, just to save my stomach.
I grew up meeting dark sides of life at a tender age. I grew too fast, far beyond my age because fate’s machinery wound me into the streets. I was twelve when The Bad Harmattan struck my education. Although my mother worked hard as a cleaner while I hawked, the peanuts that came to our purse were too meagre to put me back in school. At first, we had no bed to lie on, no place to call home but later on, we rented a small apartment, a single room without a toilet. Every night, after Mayowa slept off, I wished sleep could win my eyes over instead of infinite teardrops. Nighttime was not sweet for me. At night, legions of mosquitoes bit me while I caressed my best photo of my father: a picture of him dancing to a pulsating gangan. At night, I saw the light in his eyes and heard his husky voice as he danced. However, as darkness and silence thickened, I gradually realized they were memories and not realities. I was picturing, not seeing. Replaying, not hearing. Afterwards, I cried bitterly, until the white of my eye changed to a painful red, until my heavy eyelids finally shut themselves to sleep.
Despite The Bad Harmattan and swelling pains, I grew up dreaming. I dreamt of living somewhere where I could behold the sweet scent of flowers. I dreamt of telling the world how God and determination broke my chains, smiling as I told my story, as cameras flashed, as journalists swarmed with tape recorders and notepads while many admiring eyes beamed with delight. I dreamt of making my mother proud and making my father smile from heaven as he watched his daughter, a singer, activist and philanthropist, boldly fighting to the turn the wheels, to save the lives of young children hawking on the streets. I dreamt of CNN and Forbes’ interviews.
I am no more dreaming. Reality flashes before me: the fragrance of beautiful flowers fills my nostrils; the cinematographer stands before me, and I hear an enthusiastic reporter. “What is your story, the secret of your success?” she asks.
I take a deep breath, close my eyes, then open them, and tears rush out. But this time I smile as I cry, I am crying as a flourishing celebrity and not a bitter twelve-year-old hawker.
“Sorry?” The CNN reporter looks at me, eager to hear my response.
Finally, I open my mouth; boldly beginning my story.