The mall was packed. Everyone seemed in a rush. Customers were ruder than ever, and servers were more short-fused than ever.
“You asked for three scoops of jollof rice, not white,” Aisha argued with a customer. The woman was round and small, she wore glasses and had not cracked the shell of a smile in the fifteen minutes that she had been at the counter, slowly edging Aisha toward the edge of hell.
“No, I asked for white rice, not jollof. Were you even paying attention when I was talking to you?”
Aisha wondered whether the woman knew that she was going to follow in her wake when she finally fell over this cliff. Her anger was reaching boiling point, and the insults were not helping.
“I heard you just fine,” she insisted, “and this is what you ordered.”
The woman shook her head stubbornly. “I can’t take that. That’s not what I want. You can either change it for me or let someone else come and take my order, please.”
Before Aisha could respond, another customer piped in. One of these underage kids growing beards around the place. “Sister, please just give her what she wants, na. You are keeping us waiting in line unnecessarily. The customer is always right.”
Then another. “If you people don’t know how to handle many customers at once then ask for help. They should assign more than two people at a time, abeg.” This comment continued in a mutter that Aisha couldn’t make out.
Struggling to keep it together with her now shredded self-control, Aisha swiped the plate from the top of the counter and flung it under. That was coming out of her pay, she knew, and it made her seethe.
Forcing a smile, she said to the pigheaded woman. “I’ll get you white rice. The same meat?”
“Yes na,” came the rude reply and Aisha felt her hand reaching out in a wide arc to land a slap on her cheek. But it was all mind motion, because she kept her fake smile on and proceeded to serve her.
She served the next customer in a blur of motion. As the next guy stepped up to the counter to place his order, her head snapped up. She knew that voice. It was the guy who wanted her to learn to multitask or call for back up. Remembering his rude comment from earlier, she looked around.
“Oge!” she called to a colleague. The girl had worked there two months longer than Aisha. This was a rare morning shift for Aisha so they were paired together with Deji and another girl, Anita.
“Please come and take over for me for a bit. I need to ease myself.” She turned to smile at the guy. It was too sweet to be real. “She’ll take your order. Excuse me.”
As predicted, the fool couldn’t keep his mouth shut. “Better oh. I hope this one is faster than you.”
Aisha smiled again as she turned away. Oge was the slowest server Aisha had ever met – both as a mall server and a customer. Plus, she couldn’t listen to more than one thing at a time, so he would have to give his order in batches if he wanted her to get it right.
Fool was in for a long serve.
“You should have married me if you knew I would be this useful to you eventually in life,” Okaye grumbled.
“But I didn’t know you would be this useful until you became this useful.”
“I need food and rest to properly understand that statement and not feel insulted.”
“Please,” she harrumphed. “Stop complaining. It’s just this small something you are pushing that you are doing as if I made you herd cattle for me. And as if you’re not going to eat half the food eventually.”
At that, he kept shut and pushed the full cart toward check out. Omojo could be brutal when she wanted, and she was even in a good mood tonight. She was his ticket to all home-cooked meals and he didn’t want that revoked. Every time she called him, he knew she needed a driver to and cart-pusher at the mall. Her husband, his friend, hated shopping, and since Okaye liked coming to the mall anyway, they figured out a system.
Omojo should do what she likes and what she needs to do anyway – shop – with someone who likes doing the same thing – Okaye.
It didn’t count to them that he didn’t actually shop at the mall. At least, not often. He roamed, checked out ladies and offered to buy them dinner or lunch or shoes – a one-time thing that would only repeat itself at the next leap year – in exchange for twenty minutes of their time. It worked ninety percent of the time, and he was happy with that success rate.
Going to mall with Omojo was a totally different story.
She didn’t let him talk to any ladies. She insisted on speaking the really difficult Igala she knew he didn’t understand and then moved on to make fun of him for not understanding. Then she asked his opinion on everything and ended up purchasing the exact opposite of whatever he said. In the event that he tried to be stubborn and not offer an opinion, she threatened him with his meal ticket which – believe it or not – she had in her purse. She designed it all by herself with dates and mealtimes on it. It had his name and phone number on, and the most hideous picture of him in all the word beside his details. It was a strong hold she had over him. Plus the fact that she was married to his closest friend and she told him everything.
Who tells another human being everything?
By some blessing, he was able to sneak from her for a full minute to pop over to the food section to see if he would find a familiar face. A particular familiar face. He was disappointed not to find her there and received Omojo’s scolding in meekness. He wasn’t even sure what he would have done if he did see her, so it was probably for the best.
Okaye trudged behind Omojo – as possible as it could be to trudge while pushing a full shopping cart – to check out and joined the queue. He brought his phone out of his pocket for no reason other than that most people nowadays swiped their phones endlessly to pass the time and he needed to pass the time on this slow queue. Goal.com was always a good place to go. Caught up recent achievements in the football world, he didn’t raise his head as he moved forward on the line and came to a stop at the checker’s desk.
His head snapped up at the sound of her voice, and a smile came unbidden to his face. It was her turn to look amused. She greeted again.
“Good evening sir.”
“Hi,” he breathed. “How are you this evening?”
“Very well, thank you,” she smiled back, still amused. She started lifting his items out of the cart and he watched her hands. She had a tattoo in the shape of a wristband on her right wrist and he thought it was attractive. Which made him feel even weirder because he was anything but a tattoo guy.
What are you doing here?” he asked.
She laughed. “I work here.”
Multitasking practice was paying off because she checked out his items even as he continued to talk.
“I know, but I mean, I thought you were at another section.”
“People get moved around,” she replied.
“I see that.”
Her amusement faded and she focused on her work. In silence, she rang up everything and took his card. Another reason Omojo liked shopping with him, he always paid.
He missed the look Omojo was giving him as he collected his bags and wished Aisha a good evening.
“You too, sir,” she said to his retreating back.
In the car, on their way home, she asked him, “Did you know the girl at the checkout counter?”
“Yeah, kind of.”
Reading him like a book, she laughed. “New project?”
“Yeah, kind of.”
“You and your mall girls, Okaye.”
“Mmm. I don’t think she’s just a mall girl, though.”