I am 30 years old and already my head balds, I wear trousers and a fading grey tee shirt, the shirt is not fading, the lettering of Columbia across its chest is. I sit inside my stall clocking in a few details before I leave, the ink to my bic pen is all the way to its end, my bobo light burns beside me, it casts a glow on my bearded face.
I close the door to my kiosk and use the tiny padlock I bought from Ewurama. It is so small I am scared it will break open with one well aimed strike, I am afraid, though at the back of my mind a part of me wonders why. There is nothing worth stealing inside, just my notebooks and newspapers, oh and numbers, lots of numbers.
On my phone the time shows 12:15 a.m; the continuous string of rubber bands holding the battery compartment together reminds me I have to get a new one. Maybe I can swap this old thing with one from the boys who wait around the pavement beside the main street, heavy backpacks behind them. I will try them out tomorrow. It is interesting how we all know the phones are stolen, the food vendors, the store owners, even the police officers directing traffic around Brobbey; there where the stop light never works, but yet we indulge them. I shrug to myself.
The road is free of traffic. As I cross I feel a hand tap me from behind, I turn and it’s Baba, he smiles at me with a wide grin. Hastily we cross to the other side so we can talk beneath the street light. Beside us a crippled man dozes, an empty calabash in front of him.
“Kwame, how are you?”, he slaps his hard palms into mine, it hurts.
“Baba, I’m fine ohh long time”
We stand there and talk a little longer than I had hoped for, he complains, don’t we all complain nowadays? I have not had a pleasant conversation in a while.
“Have you heard they are closing down stores?”
I have heard but I allow him tell me again. The Lottery Authority is undergoing a house cleaning exercise, hard times, they say they have to lay some people off. We would protest but our trade union fell with internal politics and corruption a long time ago, it simply exists now. People are saying the lotto kiosks are too many anyway, we enjoy little sympathy. No surprise there, for as long as the profession has existed we have been associated with sin; the towns drunks, men who would rather sit underneath trees playing draft than provide for their families. The only place I am free to work my numbers is inside my kiosk, how many times has my pastor called me aside and told me to look for another job. As if jobs fall from the sky.
Already Tanko and Ali Jaba have closed shop, we wonder who will go next, brooding on the possibility that it just might be one of us.
He slaps my hand again and we go our separate ways, or at least I watch him go. I am in no hurry to get home.
When I get off the bus it is a little over 1 a.m. I can barely see, there are no street lights where I live.
The land lord’s son sits outside with a girl, a lamp beside them, I greet and go inside. A figure sits at my doorstep. It rises as I approach, I move closer and the silhouette gives way to a face, a crying face.
I take one look at her and I know what she is about to say, I am expecting it. I push her gently into the room, an eye to my back and lock the door behind me.
“God, what are you doing here? Your father is on his way home”
“Kwame I’m pregnant”
It hits me still, maybe I wasn’t so ready to hear it, maybe inside me I hoped it was something else. I sit her down and we talk.
She has stopped crying by the time I see her off. I watch her disappear into the distance as I had her father. She is 15 years old for gods sake Kwame, how can I marry her? What will Baba say? What will he do to me. It is only when I am turning back into the compound that I notice the Land Lords son and the girl locked in each other’s embrace.
Something takes over me, I pull them apart roughly, they stare at me, I stare at them. I feel a complete fool. Slowly I turn away and walk back inside, grateful they are too surprised to react properly. What is”properly” anyway?
I have to pack my things, I cannot marry Ayisha, I have to leave this town.