Eki had been sitting close to the green-roofed building at the far end of the filling station. She continued staring at the different kinds of cakes and baked things on the long and massive show glass directly in front of her. She was familiar with snacks like these. Kids hawked them all over Santana market. But these ones were a bit different. The meat pies were not as brownish as the ones she had seen at the market. And the cakes looked bigger and healthier, as though someone had injected them with fat. She imagined what miracle a bite of the healthy looking meat pies would perform in her stomach. Her left hand instinctively went to her stomach. She felt another pang of hunger. This was getting more frustrating by the minute. How was she supposed to buy snacks when she had no money? The sharp smell of fuel stung her nostrils and brought tears to her eyes. Eki turned away from the show glass. There was no point remaining there when she had no money. She would try to beg some money off the motorists that came to get fuel. She had never begged money from a stranger before, and the thought frightened her.
“Madam abeg, you fit gimme small thing? Make I take chop I beg.” The hunger had finally pushed Eki to a gorgeously dressed woman who had just stepped out of her red Honda Accord to buy fuel.
“Abeg abeg abeg, shift go that side. I be like mother Christmas for your eye?” The woman made a sweeping motion with her hands as though she was chasing away a bad dog. “See as you be like rat wey wan die. Mtchewwww!”
Eki stared at the woman as she hissed. She had pouted her lips in such a manner that made Eki smile. She forgot her hunger for a moment. She was wondering how the woman could have made her hiss last that long.
“You still dey there? Tar!”
Eki moved back many paces.
The woman finished and got back in her car, rolling her eyes at Eki as she drove away.
Eki was discouraged. What kind of woman was that? She was still wondering when someone called to her. Eki turned round.
“Take.” The fuel attendant stretched a dirty curled up one hundred naira note in her direction. She was a tall young lady with kind eyes.
“Thank you ma. God go bless you!” Eki almost knelt down in appreciation. She quickly put the money into the left pocket of her dress. The right pocket had a large hole an adult rat could fit into. She wasn’t about to take the risk of losing her money.
The fuel attendant kept staring at the child as she went towards the show glass. She felt so sorry for her.
Eki dipped her hand into the left pocket of her torn dress to retrieve her money. Her hand came out with the one hundred naira note and a card. It was the card Madam Esther had given her the previous day. Eki had completely forgotten about it.
“Madam we don search the whole Park. No family like the one you described ma.” The sergeant that had spoken had his gun at the ready.
“Please turn your gun away from my face ooo.” Esther smiled at the police man. “I nor fit for accidental discharge I beg.”
“No worry madam.” The sergeant replied. The safety is on.”
“Even at that please!” Esther had spent close to an hour at the park. She had suspected she had arrived too late. Now she was certain.
“What do we do now?” The sergeant spoke again.
“Wait a bit. Let me think.” Esther was not about to settle a squad of policemen for sending them on a wild goose chase. She would rather have them around a bit more. They had to work for their pay.
“Who told the sun, where to hide in the morning…” Esther opened her phone and swiped the answer button, cutting the ring tone in the process.
“Hello ma… Ehn… na Eki ma.”
“Eki? Thank goodness!” Esther let out her breath in a sigh of relief.
“No ma, no be goodness. Na me, Eki… Hello…”
Esther smiled. She could not conceal her Joy. “Eki I know it’s you. Where you dey? I’ve been searching all over for you?”
“Sorry ma’am I run. I dey filling station for…” There was a pause at the other end, followed by static. “… I dey close to Akpakpava ma. For inside Oando filli station.”
“Good, please wait for me where you are, okay?”
Esther cut the call and put on her business face. “Sergeant, let’s go to Oando fueling station at Akpakpava.”
The policeman nodded.
“And I need to call my office immediately.” She got into her car and pulled it out of the park.
A police van got in front of her and another followed behind. Esther smiled. Now the policemen were about to work for their money.
Somewhere else, a dirty cab drove a family into an equally dirty compound at Ujie-Oro Street, off mission road, Uromi. The family got down one after the other. The woman carried her wailing baby out first. She was followed by her seven year old daughter who dragged her four year old brother out of the cab with a vengeance. The man got down last. He paid for the cab and looked angrily at his family. He wanted to wake up from this terrible dream.
To be continued…