Mama Bose chased the flies from her ground melon with the napkin she used to dust the shelves in her stall. They went away and quickly found a place among her dried peppers. She sighed as she flipped over another page. Stupid flies.
“Mummy,” she heard her daughter call.
“What is it?” she grunted, without looking up from the book she’d been frowning into.
“Mummy Caro said you should give her crayfish two hundred naira, that she will bring money tomorrow.”
Mama Bose looked up, her face dangerously calm. “Bose”.
“Ma?” Bose said, taking a small step back even though she was already beyond her mother’s reach.
“Have you gone to where I sent you?”
“Em…no, Ma. It is when I was going that Mummy Caro called me to…”
“So, your name is now Caro?”
“Ehn now, your name is Caro, and Mummy Caro is your mother. That is why you will go on her errand before my own, not so?”
“Ah! No, Ma,” Bose said, bending her knees over and over in apology.
“My friend, will you get out and go where I sent you!”
Bose started to run off but stopped when her mother called again.
“Come back here! The palm oil she collected from last week, has she given you the money?”
“Idiot!” Bose barely had time to jump out of harm’s way as her mother’s slipper went flying in the direction of her face.
“It is you people like Mummy Caro that want to destroy my business. But God will not allow you people. Come back here and let me help you twist that your mouth!” Mama Bose screamed at her daughter’s retreating figure. “It’s not only crayfish two hundred naira. Come and carry my whole stall! Nonsense.”
Mama Bose went to retrieve her slipper and, still huffing, settled down again with her accounts book. Her creditors were getting too many, owing too much, and she didn’t have the mind to chase them. At this rate she wouldn’t have enough to replenish her stock next week. Christmas was coming and the children needed new clothes. She had to send money to her parents; they had been complaining too much of late. She prayed her husband would find a job soon. Things had gotten so hard since he’d been laid off.
“Mama Bose. Mama Bose! You no dey hear?”
Mama Bose looked up to find Kemi, who lived across the street, peering at her.
“Ah, hope no problem o. It’s like you’re not here at all,” Kemi said.
“No, my sister. No problem. How is the family?”
“Everybody is fine o. Your people nko?”
“They are there jo. So what do you want to buy?”
Kemi reeled of a long list of items and Mama Bose rushed to get each one, her heart racing with the thought that maybe she would be able to stock up after all. If she got more customers like Kemi that week. After she had packaged everything nicely, she handed the bulging bags to the customer with a smile.
“Everything is five thousand seven-fifty.”
“No problem,” Kemi said as she turned to leave. “My brother will bring the money on Monday.”
The smile froze on Mama Bose’s face as she started after Kemi. She managed to call out a cheery “No problem” through her clenched teeth.
There are times when I should have said no to things and people, sometimes with a dirty slap just to avoid any confusion. But I didn’t always. I think I’ve gotten better at saying no, though I’m still not where I should be. Are you able to say no when you know you should, or are you the smile-and-clench-your-teeth type?
Uche Okonkwo loves a good story, whether she’s reading or writing it. She works as an editor and freelances in her spare time.