You see them everyday but pay them nothing more than a cursory glance because you’ve come to see them as the norm rather than the exception. You forget that to achieve the feats they do under the kind of conditions they endure on a daily basis, they must be super human. Deep down, you want to admit to yourself that if you ever let yourself dwell even a little on their circumstances, you would probably crumble. But you do not dwell on them long enough.
When you see them now, you do not even think at all. Not of how they ended up in their ‘little’ predicaments. Not of the kind of shitty existences they must live. And certainly not of what hopes or dreams they must have. When you see them, you just honk your horn to get them out of the way as fast as they can so you can roll on by. They cross the road in front of your vehicle and they’re so sluggish that the people in the next lane chance you before you can rush forward. And then you arrive at work late. All because you were nice enough to let one woman like that across the road. Now, so scarred by such events, you try to kiss the bumper in front of you just a little bit everytime you’re in traffic, just so no one can cross in front of you. From the corner of your eye, you see them begging you to make room for them so they don’t have to walk all the way around you and your car but you just troway face, memories of the tongue-lashing your boss is infamous for haunting you. You send dem message? Bloody pauper women.
You’re on your way home from work when this one crosses in front of you at an intersection. Perhaps it’s because of the longness of the day you’ve had; or maybe it’s the relief you feel at the fact that you’re just around the corner from home anyway; but this time, you do not honk. For whatever reason, or perhaps the lack of it, you enter into a moment of sober reflection as the woman waddles across the road and you actually dwell on her for a few moments. Big mistake.
She is heavily laden. She is heavy laden all around. There is a bundle balanced on her head, one protruding from her front and another strung to her back. The bundle on her head is big. Bigger than anything anyone should have on their head. Yet, perhaps miraculously, her head and neck have not somehow sunk into the crevice between her shoulder blades. That bundle could contain anything: bales of okrika clothing you would never touch again in your life; or human skulls strung together tightly and padded by swaddling cloths on the outside to disguise their appearance; or the cinders of the hopes and dreams she strives everyday to stoke and keep alight for the children she bears on her back and within her.
The woman makes it safely across and is beginning to get swallowed up by the ocean of other desperate people and the yellow-painted vehicles which ferry them, when you make out something. The very small boy who is saddled to the woman’s back such that he can move nothing but his head turns his head in your direction. His big eyes catch your staring ones and you both hold each others’ gazes for a beautiful moment in time. Despite the distance and the motion, you see many marvels in that small frame of time. Marvels which go beyond the way the bright lights reflect off the shiny innocence in his eyes. Marvels which are darker than the darkness beyond your headlamps which is now swallowing him and his mother up. Marvels that are more likely than not only the figment of your over-active and now over-stretched imagination.
The mongoose behind you is honking away your reverie. And even as you ease your foot off one pedal and unto another, you have already forgotten what colour or colours the woman might have been wearing or whether her little boy was fair or dark of skin. You’ve forgotten if her hair was braided up into a convenient shuku or if she had a mismatched scarf tied around her crown. Only a few seconds later and you can’t remember any details about her appearance or if perhaps, she and her laden self were even nothing more than an apparition. That same woman could pass you tomorrow, even in that same spot and you would be unable to recognise her or her child. There’s one thing you can’t forget though, just that one thing…
The certainty in your mind that, regardless of her situation, her attitude towards it or what she may be doing to drag herself and her children out of it, she must be Superwoman.