msafiri fiction him by the chief's Wazeer, or right hand man, who was sympathetic to the tea- seller. During the next two days, Mallam Sile ordered plywood and odum boards, a superior wood than the wawa used for the old shop. He also ordered a few bags of cement and push- truck loads of sand and stones, and immediately began building a new shack — a much bigger one this time. The streetfolks were shocked by Sile's new building and wondered where he got the money to embark on such a big enterprise. And even though he had not spoken to anyone about his plans, rumor still carried that Sile was constructing a mini- market store to rub shoulders with Alhaji Saifa, the owner of the Street's provision store. Though Sile categorically denied the rumor, it rapidly gained ground on the Street, eventually creating bad blood between Sile and Alhaji Saifa. It took three days for Mallam Sile to complete work on the new shop's foundation, and it took an additional three weeks for him to erect the wooden walls and the aluminiuum roofing sheets. While Sile was busy at work, passers- by would call out, " How is the provision store coming?" or " Mai- tea, how is the mansion coming?" Sile would reply simply: " It is coming well, boy. It will be completed soon, Insha Allah." He would grin his usual wide grin and wave his short hairy arms, and then return to his work. Meanwhile as the days and weeks passed, the streetfolks grew impatient and somewhat angry at the closure of Sile's shop. The nearest tea shack was three hundred meters away, on Zerikyi Road — and not only that, the owner of the shack, Abongo, was generally abhorred by the streetfolks. And it was for a good reason. Abongo, also a Northerner, was quite unfriendly even to his loyal customers. He maintained a rigid NO CREDIT policy at his shop, and had customers pay him before they were even served. No one was an exception to this policy, even if he or she was dying of hunger. And unlike Sile, Abongo didn't tolerate idlers or loud conversation in his shop. If a customer persisted on chatting, Abongo reached for his mug, poured the content in a plastic basin, and refunded his money to him. He then chased the customer out of the shop, brandishing his bullwhip and cursing after him, " If your mama and papa never teach you manners, I'll teach you some. I'll sew that careless lips of yours together, you bastard son of a bastard woman!" It wasn't for another three weeks that Mallam Sile's shop was re-opened, and the Streetfolks, much to their disdain, had no other tea option than Abongo's. Immediately after work on the shop was completed Sile had left for his hometown. Soon afterwards, yet another rumor surfaced that the tea- seller had travelled up North to seek black medicine for his bad eyesight. Sile finally returned one Friday evening, flanked by a stern, fat woman who looked in her late thirties and was three times larger than the tea-seller. The woman, whose name was Abeeba, turned out to be Mallam Sile's wife. Abeeba was tall and massive, with a face as gloomy as that of someone in mourning a dead relative. Just like her husband, Abeeba said very little to people in and out of the shop. She, too, grinned and waved her huge arms anytime she greeted people, though unlike the tea- seller, a malice seemed to lurk behind Abeeba's cheerful smile. She carried herself with the grace and confidence of a lioness, and covered her head and parts of her face in an Islamic veil, a practice being dropped by most married women on Zongo Street. The rascals asked Sile: " From where did you get this elephant? Better not be on her bad side; she'll sit on you till you sink into the ground." To this, the tea- seller did not vouchsafe a word, knowing his response would only incite more cynical pronouncements. Exactly one week after Sile's return from his village, he and his wife 148 opened the doors of their new shop to their customers. Among the most talked about features of the new shop on opening night was the smooth concrete floor and the bright gas lantern that illuminated every corner of the shop. The Streetfolks were equally impressed with the whitewashed odum boards used for the walls, quite a departure from the termite- infested wawa boards of the old shop. And in a small wooden box behind the counter, Sile and his wife burned tularen mayu, or witches' lavender, a strong, yet sweet smelling incense that doubled as a jinx- repellent— to drive away bad spirits from the establishment. On the first night the teashop was so crowded that some customers couldn't even find a seat on the twelve new metal folding chairs Sile had bought. The patrons sang praise songs to the variety of food on the new menu, which included meat- pie, brown bread, custard, and tom brown, an imported, grain porridge. Some of the patrons even went as far as thanking Sile and his wife for relieving them of " Abongo's nastiness." But wise, old Sile, who was as familiar with the streetfolks' cynicism as he was with the palm of his hands, merely nodded and grinned his sheepish, innocent grin. He knew that despite the ululations and the numerous smiles being flashed at him, some customers were at that very moment thinking of ways to cheat him. Though unbeknown to both Sile and his future predators, those days of cheating and prank- playing were gone, forever. And it wasn't that Mallam Sile had suddenly metamorpshed into a mean fellow or anything of that sort. It was, instead, because of Abeeba, whose serious, daunting face, coupled with her gigantic presence, scared off those who came to the shop with the intention of cheating the tea- seller. While Sile prepared the tea and other foods on the menu, Abeeba served and collected the money. Prior to the shop's re- opening, Abeeba had tried to convince her husband that they, too, should adopt Abongo's NO CREDIT policy. Sile had quickly frowned upon the idea, claiming that it was inhumane to do such a thing. Abeeba had pointed out to Sile that most of those who asked for credit and ended up stiffing him were not " poor and hungry folks", as Sile expressed it, but cheats who continued to take advantage of his leniency. The tea- seller and his wife had debated the matter for three days before they came to a compromise. They agreed to extend credit, but only in special cases and also on the condition that the debtor swore by the Koran to pay on time; and that if a debtor didn't make a payment, he or she would not be given any credit in the future. But hardly had the tea- seller and his wife resumed extending credit to their patrons, when some of them resorted to the old habit of skipping on their payments. However, an encounter between Abeeba and one of the defaulters helped change everything, including the way Sile was treated on the Street. And what took place was this: Like most of the city's neighborhoods, Zongo Street had its own tough guy, a young man considered the strongest among his peers. Samadu, a pugnacious bully whose fame had reached every corner of the city, was Zongo Street's tough guy. He was of a medium height, muscular, and a natural- born athlete. And for nine months running, no kid or neighborhood bully had managed to put Samadu's back to the ground in the haphazard wrestling contests held beside the central market's latrine. Samadu's " power" was such that parents paid him to protect their children from other bullies at school. He was also known for torturing and even killing the livestock of the adults who denounced him. If they didn't have pets or domestic animals, he harassed their children for several days, until he was appeased in cash or goods. Some parents won Samadu's friendship for their children by ' dashing' him occasional gifts of money, food, or clothing.