Àṣàbí Ṣa Dolar 

On her second day of work, Àwẹ̀lẹ́ slapped a customer.  

I was at my desk tallying up the cash receipts with the sales book when I heard raised voices from the dining area. I was already upset; for the umpteenth time, the cash did not match the list of items sold. I was not surprised that there was a discrepancy, rather, I was surprised at the amount: ₦1,000 was unaccounted for from the list of food and drinks sold.  My workers regularly stole from me; they stole money from the till, stole raw food items from the store, and even carried leftover cooked food home. My rules were clear: any leftover food – except fried rice – was to be added to the next day’s offerings. My business is not a charity for feeding poor people that would steal the buka from under me if they could.  

“Ma, something has happened oh.” It was Kachi, standing at the makeshift door to my office looking scandalized. She was dressed in the black shorts and T-shirt combo all my servers wore. Her T-shirt was tied at her waist with a sliver of her flat yellow stomach peeking through.   

What happen?” 

She looked behind her where loud voices were getting even louder. “Àwẹ̀lẹ́ slapped Mr. Boniface.” 

I groaned. I was sure Boniface had pinched her buttocks like he liked to do to my new servers; I had gotten several complaints from the servers but none of them had ever done more than abuse him and his roving hands. I stood up and threw the sales book aside wondering why I bothered to keep records at all. 

Why?”  

Kachi could barely hide her smile. “He touch her nyansh and next thing she wozzed him.” I shook my head and led the way to the tarpaulin and corrugated sheet covered dining area. The walls were decorated with Gulder and Michael Power Guinness posters and strings and strings of cantas. White chairs and covered tables were arranged on the dirt packed floor with cool breeze from the ocean – a safe distance away – coming through the windows, the rafters and the doorless entrance.  

Most of my customers were men. They were drivers, messengers, managers, cleaners, directors, and supervisors from the oil and gas companies that surrounded the abandoned Ilare beach where my buka stood. Because the companies had strict polices around ostentatious dressing – to reduce the risk of kidnappings – the best way to distinguish a driver from a supervisor was the kind of vehicles they drove or the accessories they wore. Sometimes, even those were not enough. 

I walked into the dining area to find everyone tuned to the drama at the center of the room. Mr. Boniface, in his customary short sleeved oversize striped shirt and loose-fitting trousers – his flat cap laid on the floor – was yelling at Àwẹ̀lẹ́ about her being an ashewo. His light-skinned face was red with the unmistakable imprint of a hand and his chins were wobbling from rage. Beside him stood two men, their bodies positioned to stop him from attacking Àwẹ̀lẹ́ 

“Mr. Boniface,” I began in soothing tones, gently touching his forearm, “Please sir, please, ema binu, she’s a new girl.” The two men by his side nodded in agreement as if they knew she was new and acknowledged that her newness made her crazy enough to slap a customer that was groping her.  

“Anso what? And so?! This useless good-for-nothing girl slapped me! ME!” He faced me and I reflexively took a quick step back. “Is this how you treat your customers? Ehn? After coming here for how many years, your workers have the guts. They have the guts!” 

I made my voice more conciliatory, “Please sir, you know this is not how I run my business ehn. Take it that I am the one that slapped you.” 

“But you are not the one! It is this tiny useless prostitute girl”. 

“Yes, but please, please just use my own and forgive her. She does not know anything.” I shot Àwẹ̀lẹ́ a glare as she had opened her mouth to refute my statement. “You,” I directed at her, “Go to my office now.” 

“Ma –.” 

“I said go to my office!” With a mutinous glare and a prolonged hiss, she walked away. 

“Because I touch her small, she slapped me. What’s in her body? What is there? As if she’s not sleeping with everybody already.” He looked around as he pronounced this as though he had proof of Àwẹ̀lẹ́’s sexcapades with other customers. “Does she know who I am?!” Boniface was the head driver (as he liked to proclaim) for expatriates in Palermo Oil and Gas and he carried himself with a lot of importance which he expected to be validated by everyone. Whenever he came to eat, he would whistle loudly for a server and spend several minutes asking irrelevant questions about the menu even though he ordered the same thing every day: àsáróẹ̀fọ́ rírò, fried kpanlaogúnfe and ọ̀rọ̀bọ̀ Pepsi. He made advances to all my servers, and the ones who accepted his advances gossiped about his stinginess and sexual dopiness.  

It took fifteen minutes of begging and promises of free food for a week before Mr. Boniface calmed down. He demanded I fire the girl and retrain all my workers and then walked off in a huff. 

“Sorry for the disturbance everybody, please go back to eating. This will not happen again.” I glared at the servers who stood by with empty trays watching with malicious delight, “My friend get back to work!”  

I made small talk with some more customers, straightened tablecloths that did not need straightening and then, went back to my office. Àwẹ̀lẹ́ stood by my desk looking unrepentant. She was a short woman with a generous bosom and backside – the very reasons I had hired her. She came to me for a job with her fake resume and fake references, when all I needed was someone who could jot multiple food orders and make sure each customer received what they ordered.  

Àwẹ̀lẹ́,” I began, “You cannot slap everybody. The slap in your hand will finish because these customers, most of them are useless.” 

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

All my servers were women and all of them complained about customers being inappropriate. Most of them allowed the inappropriateness because it earned them bigger tips and palm-oil stained business cards from “big men” and, because I never condemned it. It was common to see the cars that parked outside the buka during lunch hour come back in the evening to pick  one or two of my servers.  

I knew that my food was not sweeter than the food of the other bukas; Mummy Ramat had the best amala and abula; the Rivers woman opposite me made heavenly Native soup; Nkechi’s Pot  served tasty Igbo appetizers; but me, Àṣàbí Ṣa Dollar, I had the friendliest girls. The buka competition on Ilare beach was fierce. When Oma Okoho’s owner became a Christian and stopped serving alcohol, most of her customers moved to boozy friendly establishments like mine.    

Some months ago, one of my girls complained bitterly about being harassed by a customer who liked to sit in the dark corners of the buka and talk in a soft slimy manner. Whenever she went to drop his tray of food, he would leer at her open cleavage and pat her backside as she walked way. The customer, who drove a Daewoo Espero with a Palermo sticker, would often foot the bill for other customers while waving away their thanks with an irreverent hand. At night, when the buka transformed into a darker lit pepper soup and beer joint with loud Fuji and Apala music, and some of my girls changed into their tighter, shinier dresses, Daewoo man brought friends, women, and a lot of money.  

I fired the complainant and replaced her with Àwẹ̀lẹ́.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“It is part of the work Àwẹ̀lẹ́. If you don’t like it, tell me now so I can release you.”  

“So, I should allow them to be rubbing me?” Her face was disbelieving, “Is food I’m serving ma not my body.” 

I shook my head, “That is not what I’m saying. I’m just telling you that if you cannot take small joke or play, then this place is not for you.” 

I had no qualms on why my business thrived. Twelve years ago, I was the one in a short dress serving newly minted civil servants in a dingy beer parlor in Yaba and swatting away customers who liked to prod, pinch, and tap. I learnt to sidestep groping hands with a flirty smile and swallow crude advances with grace. I was focused on my goal: find a man to marry who would help me establish my own buka 

My oga at the time, Mummy Debbie, was a staunch hypocrite who underpaid her workers and informally pimped them out to willing customers. Yet, every morning, she would open the shop with praise and worship songs. She watched all her workers with suspicious eyes – for good reason – to make sure we did not steal the shop from under her.  

My big break came in the person of Alhaji Rizwan, a widowed cleric who came to the buka every day in his white kaftan and Taqiyah cap. He was a soft-spoken man who liked to sit by the entrance and listen to his small transistor radio. He questioned me about my tribal marks: three vertical incisions on both of my cheeks and wondered if I was from Ilé-Ifẹ̀, Íjẹ̀bú or Ìjẹ̀ṣà. He teased me that I must be Íjẹ̀bú, evidenced by the stinginess of my smiles towards him. I teased him back that he must be an Ìbàdàn native judging from his daily demolition of láfún and ewédú 

The courtship was short. There was no coyness from either one of us; he already had two wives and I was ready to settle down. Rizwan was a loving husband but he had no capacity to love his three wives equally, and so, I was showered with attention from him and vitriol from my ìyalés. Within a few months, he set me up with my own small buka to manage.  

I followed Mummy Debbie’s playbook and the buka slowly succeeded. After Rizwan passed away, the other wives and his family members threw me out of the flat I shared with him. I had borne no children for my husband and was deemed unworthy to stay or share in his properties. The buka became my husband and my child and I poured all my love into it. 

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“If you want, I can put you in the kitchen for a while.”  I was getting impatient; there were many people who wanted a job, and I did not have time to coddle anyone.  

The kitchen ma?” 

“Yes. The kitchen.” She knew that meant no tips which were a big portion of what my servers earned. It also meant she would be free from nuisances.  

“Okay ma. I will think about it.” 

 I wondered why I did not just fire her on the spot. There was no reason not to; I had enough cooks and did not need anyone else in the kitchen. But then, I remembered her desperate clutching of her resume in her cheap polyester dress and how impressed I had been that she had even thought of writing a fake resume to present to me. 

Think about it and let me know, okay?” I looked at her, “I’m sorry about Boniface.” 

She nodded. “Yes ma, thank you ma.”  

 

No Comments

Leave a Reply

About Me

My Photo

Welcome! I am a recovering writer learning the ropes again. It is a pleasure to have you on this journey with me. I hope you enjoy reading the stories I write, as much as I (hopefully) enjoy writing them.