LOOKING FOR COUNTERS

They were looking for soft drink crowns- that they usually called ‘counters’- to use for their Maths assignment. They walked around the street, going to shops where soft drinks were sold. There had not been a party on the street recently, and so, soft drink crowns were not very available. The children, five of them in all, were between the ages of five and seven. The sight of them, with their dirty clothes, mismatched slippers,and polythene bags containing counters, was very funny. They were all boys- Fuhad, Femi, John, Bayo, and Jimoh. They walked together, but each boy was on the lookout for his own counters.

They walked to the end of the street, and seeing no more counters in sight, began to turn back, disappointed.
“Wait, I know a place where we can get more counters'” Fuhad, the one with the least filled polythene bag said in Yorùbá.
The others turned to face him, eager to know the place.
“Where?” John asked.
“Mama Pepper Soup’s shop,” Fuhad replied.
“Ah! But that is on the next street,”Femi protested, “my mother has asked me not to leave our street.”
“Go back home then. But when I come back with my counters, don’t beg me for them o!” Fuhad said and crossed his arms over his chest.

The other boys looked uncertain. Their mothers had also warned them not to go beyond the street, but the promise of more counters made them want to defy the instruction.
“I’ll go with you,” Bayo, the shortest of them, said.
“Me too,” Jimoh added.
“Femi, won’t you come?” John asked. He knew that if Femi returned home alone, their mothers would get to know that they had disobeyed their instructions. That meant that strokes of cane would be awaiting them when they got home. If Femi decided to go back home, John would go with him, because he was scared of being flogged.

Femi wanted to go with his friends, he really wanted more counters; but he had once gone to the next street against his mother’s instruction and her friend had seen him. She took him back to his mother, and he was flogged on his buttocks till he thought there was no more flesh there. His mother had warned him about kidnappers who kidnapped children and pounded them in mortars and used them as bathing soaps to attract wealth. He did not want to be pounded in a mortar. But he could only be kidnapped if he was alone, no? Who would kidnap five children at once on a busy street?
He scratched his head and reluctantly said, “Okay, I’ll go with you.”
“Yaay!” John jumped, happy that Femi was coming along.

The five boys walked rapidly to the next street, picking one or two counters on the way. They soon got to Mama Pepper Soup’s shop. The shop, which was usually bustling with activities, was closed. There was no spicy smell of pepper soup mixed with the sour sweet tang of beer and sweat. There were no raucous men about, yelling and singing along to raunchy songs on the loudspeaker. There no sales girls around, balancing trays in their hands, chewing gum noisily and swinging their hips in their short, tight jeans and miniskirts. Mama Pepper Soup herself was not to be seen, with her discoloured face that looked like an oil painting gone bad; heavy jewellery and wig.

The boys did not think much of the absence of life at the shop. After all, they were here for counters, not for pepper soup or beer, or the services of Mama Pepper Soup’s girls. As soon as they got there, each boy began to pick counters. Soon, their polythene bags were full, but they were reluctant to leave behind so many counters. Bayo emptied his polythene bag unto the ground and began to throw away the old and rusty counters in his collection. The rest of them also began to do the same. To prevent their counters from mixing up, they spaced out. Jimoh moved near the side of the shop, bent down and overturned his bag. As he began to pick out the old counters, something caught his eye. He turned to see what it was and saw a leg stretched out from behind the shop. Had someone fallen asleep behind the shop? He called Fuhad, who was nearest to him, and pointed in the direction of the leg.
“What?” Fuhad asked, annoyed at being distracted from his sorting.
“There’s someone there.”
“There is nobody there,” Fuhad said without looking up. “You want to go and pick more counters?”
“No. There’s someone there. Look.”

Fuhad got up, and hissed in annoyance. The other boys looked up one by one from their counters. Jimoh signalled to them, and they all walked, warily, towards the back of the shop. The leg belonged to a young woman and she looked like one of Mama Pepper Soup’s attendants. She was spreadeagled on the ground, her clothes torn and bloodied. There was a huge gash on her head around which blood had congealed, and flies buzzed around the wound. There were bits of glass in the wound, and there was a broken beer bottle not too far from her head. Her tongue lolled from her slightly open mouth, purplish. Her wig had come off halfway, and her ‘Shúkú’ hairstyle underneath was exposed. Her eyes were wide open but her pupils were milky, and unnaturally still, like she was frozen in shock.

The boys first stood totally still, almost as still as the corpse itself, until Femi gave an unearthly scream.
“Kidnappers!” he yelped as he turned around and ran away from the the body. The other boys followed suit, screaming, their counters forgotten.

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