I am hungry. I’m in traffic on my way back from work. The cars crawl; every car has to brake at a certain water puddle in front. Causes a chain reaction. Traffic stretches for miles. My thoughts on traffic mechanics are interrupted by noises from my stomach. Then I sight him. He is carrying a carton of Gala. UAC’s Gala is faded glory but I will make do. I stretch out my hand and signal to him.
I see him look up in delight and make a head start. Just then the car starts to move. I am not quite as relieved that the traffic is moving because I’ve just set a grown man on a wild goose chase. I search for him in the rear view mirror but he is nowhere to be seen. I sigh. Maybe another time.
Two minutes after, the car sputters to a stop. And then, he materializes as if from smoke. He is huffing and panting, the gala outstretched in his hand. I fear he is going to have a heart attack. I decide that I would abdicate the responsibility of CPR if that ever happens.
He smiles like he’s achieved an incredible feat. All he wants is my fifty naira.
I put out my hand to take the Gala and I see it over my head; a dense mass of nappy hair strands struggling to find a place in an already overcrowded lot. They are many. They look like they’ve been there since they first got there. It distracts me momentarily. My eyes dart from armpit to Gala, Gala to armpit.
He appears a bit impatient. His eyes are constantly roving; careful not to miss the nod from any other Gala buyers.
When I make the move to retrieve the Gala, the odour hits my nostrils with a ferocious force.
Instinctively, I hold in my breath. But not before I know what it smells like. Like day old sweat and stale Gala.
But he seems at peace with himself and the world. Smelly armpits are a part of his world. And so while he sorts out my change, he whistles like one who has just won a jackpot. One who has competed with the god of failure in a race and beat him. One who has smelly armpits as his trophy.
I think to myself that surely hawking cannot be for mere jokers or for dudes who are authorities on the merits of Botox. For what does Sure have in common with hawking. In a contest between aluminium chlorohydrate and hawker’s perspiration, the latter would swallow the former within minutes.
I sit back and eat the dried Gala. It tastes like cardboard but it does the job for which it is made. It calms the voices in my stomach but awakens new ones. The ones that remind me of my Lagos hawker with his smelly armpits. I look round for him and I see him; in a race with another colleague in the direction of a Jeep. He won. A woman puts out her head.
Will she smell it? What would she think? I am overly protective of him now. No one must ridicule him. This guy is in the right job. No soldier of hawking concerns himself with the affairs of civilians. Sure and CK One.
This is an ode to smelly armpits. With each whiff, you get a dose of hardwork and perseverance. A defiance to the sun and stares of Lagos.
A toast to the Lagos hawker. To your smelly armpits.