The brown sand clung to my feet as I jogged through the market. Damned vaseline I applied in large swats to keep the harmattan white away. Now my feet looked like I sold dust.
I curved around a tray of nune and dodged a wheelbarrow filled with cartons.
“Stop running in the market!” a woman shouted.
I laughed. The market had no rules except those implemented by officers.
In two breaths, I stumbled into mama's shop. She stopped pouring rice into a basin and frowned at me. “Where have you been?”
I unraveled the contents of my pocket, placing the red clothed charm in her hand.
“Oh, it's today.” Her eyes widened with delight. I wasn't getting scolded.
She took it to the back of the shop, opened the calabash and placed it inside, removing the old one. It was for good fortune, Baba Chie had said. Mama took her charms very seriously, but kept most of them hidden because there those who were perpetually afraid of them.
“Throw this one away.” She tossed it at me.
I caught the flying charm midair and cringed. The special wood tied with shells and leaves had shriveled to an ugly contraption. Some won't touch an expired charm. I didn't mind though, neither did mama, but I think we had different reasons.
I stashed it in my pocket, too aware of how my thigh felt heavy. Old charms radiated a false energy when all the good faded. It had side effects. But a charm for good business was less likely to cause harm. Just anomalies.
The pit where all the waste went was a few shops away towards the back of the market. I skirted around puddles and human obstacles. It was a game.
Spinning around to evade a moving wheelbarrow, I crashed into a body. We toppled down to the ground. I pressed against something soft. Blinking open, my face nuzzled against a warm belly. I stood immediately, reaching down to help...her, a girl. She eyed my palm and struggled up herself.
She stood to my height and fixed laser beam brown eyes on me. “You shouldn't run in the market.”
“The market has no rules.” My voice was only a whisper in the morning rush of the market.
Her long locked hair framed a small oval face, pert nose and pink lips. But it was her eyes that made my breath catch in my throat. She seemed to look through my soul.
She sneered and picked up something from the ground. “This yours?”
It was the charm. I snatched it from her lose grip, a little conscious of how it made me look. People who used charms seemed as if they couldn't handle their shit themselves. I stowed it away in my pocket.
“I have something better.” She grinned.
“What?” I frowned. From her moving expressions, I wasn't certain where this conversation was going.
“Come and see.” She pulled me along through a few stalls before reaching one that sold parts of bikes.
We ducked into the dark interior. The smell of engine oil and rubber hung heavily in the air.
“Are you the only one here?” I blinked to allow my eyes adjust to the dark.
She stopped groping around and raised a brow at me. “My baba owns the shop.”
“Oh...” The old charm in my pocket sizzled and sparked, shocking me. I jumped.
“What?” She lifted a calabash between us.
I scratched my thigh. “Nothing.”
She smiled and opened the lid of her calabash. “Look.”
I peered into the calabash. A lone leg of a chicken, stripped to its white and tender flesh laid there, tied together with a red cloth and around it, sprinkles of blood.
I reared back. “Flesh and blood charm!”
“Shut up,” she whispered harshly, looking around. But her eyes twinkled with barely contained excitement. “It's the best kind.” She covered her calabash and placed it back under the shelf. “Baba got it from a medicine man in a faraway village.”
The sizzling against my leg had became a throb, pain radiated and it almost felt like my thigh bone was splitting. It took all I had to keep a straight face. “It's dangerous.”
She laughed. “Only if you don't know how to use it.”
She stowed the calabash away and led us out into the morning sun.
She accompanied me to the waste dump. I thrust my hand in my pocket to discard the old charm but it was no longer there.
She moved closer to me as I unraveled my pocket. “What is it?”
“It's gone.” I slapped my pocket and bit back a cry. Not caring whether she'd see me without my shorts, I tugged them off.
A deep red blotch on my skin glared back at me. My chest grew heavy.
“What is it?” I could hear her voice but it was only a distant intrusion. What had I done? “What?” She knelt beside me and studied the throbbing blotch. “My head, this is where the old charm was.”
I swallowed and nodded. “Do you know what...how...”
She looked up at me, and for once, her eyes lost their twinkle. “I think this one reacted to the flesh and blood charm.”
An ache began at the base of my neck. “And?” I already knew what she would say.
“It looks like it entered your leg.” She picked something off my thigh and I flinched at the pain that swept through me. “Look.”
I collected the splinter from her. It pulsed under the sunlight. I held it firmly in my grasp. “Will your baba know about this?”
She bit her lower lip and scratched her hair. “I think. Let's go see him.”