How Fast Can The Heart Spin?
At first, he thinks she is merely scouring for what to buy next as her eyes comb through the rice lane of Eke Eziachi market, her hand fiddling in the black handbag on her arm. Then she shouts but not enough to attract everyone’s attention. “Wheelbarrow!”
Ifeanyi sees it coming as he jolts to his feet, scrambling to get his wheelbarrow to her before someone else will do. Luck eludes him. He tries to squeeze through the throng of crowds scurrying back and forth at every pathway of the market. A boy is already grinning at the woman before he reaches her. He sighs, daubing away the sweat that’s now coursing down his cheeks like tears.
The first time it happened to him, his stomach churned, anger misted around him that he nearly fought the little boy that got to one of his customers before him. But he restrained himself, fisting his palms on his blue-painted wheelbarrow and left. I’m new to this so I don’t know how it works. As though to reassure himself. To reminisce the reason he was doing this. Don’t worry, you’ll find another customer.
Ifeanyi has learnt to be as swift as a hare even if the customers were yet to call him—or them, the wheelbarrow pushers. He bounds beside the wheelbarrow pusher that should have been him, negotiating with the customer—an ebony-skinned slender young lady— who shakes her head.
“ Na hundred naira I go pay. I no be bank for your eyes,” the lady says, flinging the hundred Naira note at the middle-aged man who has lines wrinkles zigzagging between his cheeks. His lips are curled as though he intends to smile. He will probably be around fifties. It’s not a new thing that old people push wheelbarrows. Even little children as young as ten years old do appear every market day and they seem to be increasing as days go by, making it harder to get a single customer. An unnamed competition brimming among them.
The middle-aged man sneers, cuddling his wheelbarrow and patters out, mumbling how strict people are with money. The lady swivels to face Ifeanyi, ready to fling her money but he swallows the words he has guessed she wishes to utter.
“I will carry it.” he says, propping down to lift his wheelbarrow closer to her goods while squeezing himself at the little space he saw. “Which park will I carry it to?
“To Nkwerre keke park,” she replies.
Ifeanyi gazes at her goods: a bag of local rice, two cartoons of tummy-tummy noodles, three black tied polythene bags and one gallon of groundnut oil. As though struck in retrospect, he realises why the man has left. He must have requested two hundred and fifty naira which is the average amount for the nearest park. He mumbles indistinctly, uploading her goods in his wheelbarrow. “But aunty, hundred naira is too small for this big load.” He decides to try his luck. Maybe she will reconsider and lift the price. Ifeanyi gets a scoff from her.
“If you no go carry am hundred naira, leave my load, make I look for someone else—”
“I will carry it. I will.” he cuts her off, lifting his wheelbarrow to feel its weight. Ifeanyi watches her wave at a chubby woman who is slumped on her armchair, waving back.
“Ga nkè ọma nwanne nwanyi.” he catches the woman’s Igbo words and his customer’s nod while allowing her to lead the way.
The numerous pathways out of the market have never been easy to navigate. One has to squeeze through bodies, waiting for a little space to appear, a warning for those stepping on one’s feet, a giggle from other wheelbarrow pushers —of those in the same age range — muttering in their normal slogan: ‘Igbule ha!’
The first time Ifeanyi heard the slogan was from Chimezie, a boy of the same age, whose words always come out as a stutter. A smile clouding his fair-skinned cheeks and he had learnt Chimezie was a chronic stutter. He thought Chimezie meant ‘He has killed them’. He scolded and hushed Chimezie, warning him to keep those words off his path until he learnt he literally meant ‘you are getting more customers’.
Ifeanyi zigzags towards the park, avoiding good and tables clustering carelessly. He approaches a tricycle rider who slams his large palm on the bag of rice, dancing his way around him as though he has spotted a gold.
“Where are you going?” the Keke (tricycle) rider asks, helping Ifeanyi unload the goods.
“To Mbanano junction,” she responds, fishing out a two hundred naira note from her handbag and tenders it towards Ifeanyi. He grabs and brings out her change.
Ifeanyi stretches it to her but she lowers his palm and smiles.
“ Take it, dear. ” Ifeanyi nods, suddenly awashed with gratitude.
“Thank you.“ he doesn’t wait for her reply as he rotates his wheelbarrow. He checks his wristwatch and his eyes nearly pop out. “9:00 am!” as though sting by a bee. He bolts home to get ready for school. An anticipation to return back in the evening visible on his movement.
Ifeanyi wheels his wheelbarrow into the lane leading to where he always rests when tired. His face is aglow with a grin, matching the orange hue of the sky as the sun retrogrades towards the west horizon. He beams wider, catching the back figure of Chimezie leaning on the green-painted wheelbarrow of his that’s bent sideways so it can grovel on the floor. Ifeanyi shoves his wheelbarrow to an empty shop—two shops away from Chimezie— and begins to tiptoe towards Chimezie.
“Gotcha!” he ruffles Mezie’s hair, tendering his hand for a handshake.
Mezie smiles, plopping his head forward. “Igbụle ha!” the Igbo words roll out one on one seamlessly but Ifeanyi suspects there was difficulty behind bringing the words out.
“Bro, this one you stay here, no customer?” Ifeanyi scans Mezie’s face to be sure the toothy grins of his hasn’t diminished permanently even when Mezie burnt with a spleen or steeped with sadness. Because he had once witnessed when Mezie nearly break down in tears for an unknown reason.
Chimezie frowns, scoffing. “Don’t… don’t speak… pidgin to me…” he stutters, slapping Ifeanyi’s palm away. Ifeanyi chuckles, curling his fist as if readying it for a punch.
“Bro, we speak pidgin, we speak English. Or do you want me to speak Igbo for you?”
“No pidgin, please. Igbo… Yes. You intelligent, me intelligent.” Ifeanyi bobs, shutting his eyes momentarily as a little breeze spanks across his cheeks. When he opens it, his eyes are misted with tears.
“Guess what, Mezie.” he lowers beside Chimezie’s wheelbarrow, caressing his arm. Mezie wags his head. “I was picked among the five students for a competition in science subjects and debate.”
“Ah! Not yet. One, I’m not a science student and I can’t debate because I’m not confidentially outspoken.” Far-distance, voices were bellowing for wheelbarrow pushers but they ignore it and Ifeanyi nearly flush with happiness that Chimezie prefers staying with him to hunting hundred naira or two hundred.
“What is the…you know?”
Ifeanyi views Mezie struggles to get the word out. And he pities the poor boy. “Debate topic?” he offers before Mezie will embarrass himself further. Chimezie doesn’t waggle his head, instead he looks away—as if realised that Ifeanyi noticed— to the woman whom Ifeanyi also perceives to be stuffing the things she bought into a large bag. Ifeanyi stomach twists, palms sudden clammy as if he has done something wrong. He wants to apologise but there’s nothing to apologise for. “Our debate topic is the benefits and consequences of BBN in the country. Seriously, I don’t know what big brother naija is.”
Mezie probes his eyes, his lips slightly apart. “Whoa! Are you serious?”
“Why would I be joking? Well I told our teachers that I can’t debate but I may participate in science subjects competition. Although it seems impossible since I don’t even know the kind of questions the organiser will propose.” Mezie giggles. “I don’t even know why I was picked self!”
“Because you’re intelligent and brilliant! ” Mezie stands and veers his wheelbarrow towards the woman he has seen earlier stuffing her goods in her bag. Ifeanyi shrugs, standing to his feet. He hopes he performs well so he can impress Mezie.
Three days after the competition, his body had been steeped with happiness, a beauteous gratitude to heaven for helping him and his school emerged third place among the fifty schools that participated. Questions presented were mathematically related to the three core subjects of science: chemistry, biology and physics, and three more subjects, English language, mathematics and computer binaries.
He longed for market day to come, awashed with uneasiness whether Mezie would be impressed by his win. Of course, why wouldn’t he?
At the first dawn of the market day, which is early Saturday Eke Eziachi comes alive every four days. Ifeanyi leaves home, veering his wheelbarrow to the market to catch early morning customers —both buyers and sellers—and to reveal the news to Mezie.
Ifeanyi has searched almost all the crooks of the market, either bringing out goods for shop owners or taking out loads for early buyers but it seems Mezie is nowhere to be found. His stomach churns, a sudden sadness engulfs him. He begins to clench his teeth, fisting his knuckles on his wheelbarrow handle. Why is he not in the market? Is he sick? Ifeanyi shakes his head to block out the thoughts assaulting his mind.
“Ifeanyi!” he stops walking. That voice. Ifeanyi swirls abruptly to stare at Mezie with a cartoon of noodles on his wheelbarrow, his head inclining on it. Mezie waves at him.
“Are you done?” Ifeanyi yells back, then giggles. Mezie shakes his head as though his stutter won’t allow him to utter ‘not yet’. “alright, meet me at our usual place.” he strides forward, excited to spend a moment with Chimezie.
Mezie engulfs Ifeanyi in a bear hug after he had told him of the news. “Yes! I told you intelligent.” he laughs and pulls away as eyes are drawn to them, gawking. “Come let me buy rice for you.”
They head to the food vendor across the road, one not populated. Ifeanyi is amazed at Mezie’s sense of privacy—knowing they’re being watched —as if he knew eyes followed their movement. Mezie buys Ifeanyi rice with ofe akwụ, leaving temporary to buy a soft drinks for him and his own. They’re the only customer at that moment.
“Congrats! Don’t…stop winning and pushing forward.” Mezie says slowly, biting his lower lip.
“Ah! Thanks, and you too.” Mezie wags his head and looks away, his eyes crinkle. “Do you want to say something more?” Ifeanyi asks.
“I’m leaving,” Mezie reveals, gazing directly at Ifeanyi. “I’m returning back to my hometown, Ọkigwe.”
Silence descends on them. Ifeanyi stops eating, his appetite is gone. “When are you going?”
“I thought you’re from Orlu?”
“No oh, I’m serving as a houseboy to someone but I don’t want to anymore.” the world suddenly becomes still as they stare at each other. Ifeanyi knows Mezie’s mind is made up but he continues to look at him even if it means temporarily forgetting the uncertainty of the country just to focus on him one last time.
Ifeanyi leaves his seat and envelopes Mezie in a hug, sniffing back the tears misting around his eyes. Something is bubbling in his stomach. His heart is splitting. And he has no choice but to release them. Sob whisks out from his lips. Just one last time with him is what he wants.
Ikechukwu Henry is an Igbo, a Nigerian, who without reading literary books will be nothing. His first love was reading literary works which morphed into writing, is fiction writer, and a myth enthusiast. His works have appeared/ forthcoming on The Kahalari Review, Trash to treasure, swim press, Icreative Review and others. He won the first runner up in RoNovella Writing contest first edition and was awarded at Tenacious Writer’s Award 2022 for fiction and nonfiction.
You can connect with him on Twitter @Ikechukwuhenry_ , Instagram @Ikechukwu01, Facebook @Ikechukwu Henry.