There’s a thrift shop on Hawley Street, just before you get to Obalende. The old woman who runs the place fucks for money. She’s awful inappropriate; her clothes always riding way too high or too low, so that she’s all loose flesh, and pounds of ill-worn makeup. Her mouth is a bowl of gunk marinating in filth but the boys love her regardless.

All you need is sixpence for short time, and small token for the shop attendant. If you please her, she might let you stay a little longer, feed you even.

Issa had this crazy notion that she could cure me. I’ve heard stories of this legendary man-maker, but I never really cared for the experience.

You see, it’s a hard job I do for two tuppence a day, and then to save up all my months earning minus feeding just to waste on a minute with a wrinkled old bat? Not by the black curl on my chin.

“To Dance fe top bowl nuh easy. Wia to find sixpence? He damn hard boy!” I was running my hands over my head, and fiddling with my shirt tail all so uncomfortable that we were even having this discussion.

“I know. But we mah try, make nuh boys taunt nuh more” Issa was clearly taking it harder than I expected. Just like a concerned  older brother would.

I couldn’t look Issa in the eye. He knew. They all knew. But I bury myself in my dance and pretend it’s not true what they heard.

The Bowl is our home. Our small community where rumors are stirred and stirred till it thickens like porridge and its plastered on everyone’s face.

“The Bowl” is mostly a valley walled in by mountains of rust and waste deposits. This is the waste land, home for the things people up there no longer want. The real world is out there, where people ride on hover boards and don’t put up with traffic twenty feet above the ground.

The people of The Bowl are grounded, and simple. We can’t afford hoverboards, and we gather scrap metals from the waste drops to build stuff. Our streets are narrow and mostly wet – not from rain but black seeping sud – our houses are made out of  bare tin scantily nailed together. Nothing fancy, just enough to keep out the pigs from stealing our food or eating our babies..

Over head The Bowl is always dark like it would rain but it hardly ever rains.

“How de buoy fi dey come?”

Issa had been working on a washed up hovercraft for months. He called it De Buoy. He says we will lift off and see life outside the bowl. It has never carried but he believes it will some day. I know it’s the only way to take him off the topic of the old bat at Hawley.

“Ha! I need two jujen rods, manny washers to hold the crankshaft and Pappie Yon say sixpence for all dem my need. Famie, me juss wan rise 5 feet high above, izzal.” He sighed, scratching his head.

I could tell he was bothered. His board won’t fly. It’s been six months, of welding rusty pipes, filing iron bars, and bending Y – Steel,  wrapping up fresh bleeding cuts on our palms with old browning bandage pulled off of old caked and dried cuts.

“Nuh worry, we move, mehn!” I pat him on his back, and heard him let out a heavy sigh.

Very few people live in The Bowl. We aren’t rich, and we have few worries. But Issa wants out. To get a new life, to pick up our ragged rucksack and soar out of the bowl. We just needed to save up enough money to buy us admittance into the 5 feets.

“You just try leave de Boiz alone today” He said, looking deep into my eyes, making me uncomfortable. The lint remover in my hands dropped. I was preparing for the dance. Wiping off lint from my old dancing slacks.

It wasn’t my fault. It never was. I clean up. I work real hard, turn up the cleanest I could, and wipe drain sud off my shoes, even though you couldn’t dance on the podium without passing through the stinky drain sud, I always manage to show up clean unlike the other dancers. The boss sees, and he pays me more.

“I learn new dances, everyday. You see me practicing. I did not fuck the boss.” I was frustrated.

Everybody says I fuck the queer Mr., the master of the dance centre and that’s why I make more money. But it’s not true. What happened wasn’t what they thought. But the Mr. is sweet on me, and I need the money.

 I know sometimes Issa looks like he believes it too.

But if I quit the dance job, I would have to take up the poop job with Anika.

People in The Bowl poop in buckets.  Anika has a truck with a built-in plastic tank. You wear rubber gloves and coveralls when you work with Anika. You walk into people homes to pick up their dirty business, and you can see “mock” in their eyes.

You have to bend low your head because poop packers don’t talk.

You pour the poop in the tank and return their buckets. Anika drives all the way to the end of the bowl and empties the huge tank into the pipeline.

The pipeline is backed up. Some of the poop seeps out from under us, and we know. We pretend the black sis all around the bowl isn’t just poop and black oil mixed in dirt.

All this work for half a tuppence, a quarter of what a nights dance would earn you.

“Guy, just try.”

“If they come for me. A fia stab them in the junk bruh! Just stand by me” I pulled out my pen knife from under my makeshift bedding and tucked it in my boot.

“Aye aye bruh. But we combine for the man-maker pending.” Issa pat me on the back reassuringly.

“Why I gotta fuck old pudge to prove me to dem gunk boiz bruh?” It’s frustrating.

I really wanted to prove to the boys I’m not gay. But not the man-maker!

“Because no girl fee fuck yer wobbly ears for shame!”

He was wrong though.

I’ve been seeing Jolie for months now. I met her at the top of the crust pile when Issa and I started picking up scrap to build his hovercraft.

“The nicest things are usually up there” She told me that day, flinging a grain sack over her shoulders and pointing to the furthest part of the rust pile. Sweet girl but for her browning teeth and nails covered in dirt and soot.

“You’re not regular” I once whispered into her elfin ears. We were breathing heavily, surrounded by scrap metal, our clothes discarded carelessly and our bodies stained in black oil and rust powder.

“I cannot be regular. I’m too busy finding a way out of this fucking bowl” She sighed, tying her dress shirt around her waist with a snake skin belt. There was a tiny smudge of oil spotting her cheeks. I wanted to wipe it off. But I was too tired and her skin was bewitching. You touch those cheeks and your limp tool will suddenly be begging to be shorn once more.

“What is out there?” I asked her again. I loved when she told the stories. Jolie used to live up there.

The way Lag community is fashioned, the more money you make, the higher you could go up there. She used to be the rich. You could tell from the way she speaks. She speaks like I think. She speaks like what you’re reading. Tapered, meaningful and civilized. I wished I could open my mouth and the words wouldn’t roll out like I wasn’t some street brat from the bowl. But I’m some street brat from the bowl.

“ It’s beautiful up there, Wasiu. The 5 feets above us is the countryside. Rustic cabins dotting the grassy hills,trees standing up like spikes, zigzagging the border of brick roads and unpolished homes. Rivers streaming through deep valleys”.

You could see in her eyes, how her mind wandered off, to her past life, when her parents were alive and she didn’t have to run away from a mean old uncle who tried to fuck her for his pleasure.

“And above that?” I asked

“It’s the 20 feets. The city  bustles with shiny models of flying crafts you could never imagine. That is the business hub. The capital. All the buildings are tall and everyone is too busy getting to work, or getting ready for work. It’s a mob cycle there. But that’s where money flows.” She sighed.

“And -”

“Above that is the Boulevard feets. I’ve never been. That’s where the angels live. People up there don’t even know this place exists. They are practically living in the bed of clouds”

“If only we could just crawl up there and out of here.”

“It’s not that easy” She said picking up her bag. I knew she was about to disappear abruptly into the sea of rust, so I got up to search for my pants too.

Jolie never says goodbye. I just knew every Wednesday when the sun was the highest, I would find her in our favorite circle of rust pile.

One day, I’ll ask her if she thinks I’m gay.

True, I sucked the old man down but it was because he asked me to, and I didn’t know it was a thing you aren’t meant to do.

I shoved the thoughts deep down. The secrets I share with Jolie deeper down than my experience with the Mr.  This isn’t the liberal 21st century when women could identify with a man as they wished. Jolie would be mobbed if anyone knew she was shoring my tool.

It was nearly 6pm, time to go make my 2 tuppence. I pulled in my slacks, and folded the sleeves of my T-Shirt.

“Bruh! Me fii de go werk” I hollered. Leaving him in our cabin, and hurrying up to the centre of the Bowl, where the music was loudest and the people were waiting for me to come entertain them.

I know Issa wishes he could dance. Then he could make much more that a quarter tuppence daily welding at Pappie Yon’s. But he couldn’t. But he always did his best. It’s not his fault that people in the Bowl would rather watch dancers every night, than  pay to fix a leaky roof. It is a funny world and we live it until we don’t have to.

So, I bounced off towards the centre where all the dancers were gathered. It was many walks away from our shack. I was thinking what would start off the night. Sometimes the Mr liked to mix things up with old century music like Reggae and House, then comes Robotics and Electrics. I do my workouts daily, my switches are always so fluid, it made the crowd scream. Every night.

I was caught up in my thoughts of random leg works, and how I was about to shine for my 2 tuppence tonight when they hit me from behind and threw a fishing net over my head.

If hatred was visible the air would have been scarlet. The movement was so sudden, I didn’t understand what was happening, until the first blow cut my lips. There was so much force in every hit. Femi came at me, as if he meant to smash me into the very earth and Ekene did the same. Billy, and Spencer too.  They didn’t just want me dead, they wanted me smashed, obliterated, nothing left to bury.

“Faggot!”

“Skinny pants!”

“Leave the dance clique!”

My lungs were filled with wet, dirt water and blood, and I couldn’t come up for air. I was taking a beating from the insides of an exquisite fish net wrapping. If I’d put my pen knife in my shirt pocket, I would have fought back, maybe cut Spence in the face, or at least cut myself out of the miserable fish nets. But it was in my boots, and no one was coming to save me.

***

“This here boy wey thunk he do better than us? This here boy wey fuck man for money? 10 pence or no dice!” Man- Maker sneered.

I could feel her eyeing me from head to toe. I could barely see anything out of my swollen eyes, but my skin crawled and I could tell it was her gaze scraping at me .

I realized I never heard her voice before. I saw her maybe once or twice, somewhere in the market, acting like she owned the place, with a fat wrap of potgrass hanging from her lips. I never heard her voice before. It was almost masculine you could tell it was all the pot she smoked.

Issa was doing all the talking, my lips were too swollen anyway.

 “She say drop tuppence for the sales girl, go inna back room and drop them johns, Wasiu!!! Redemption!!” Issa was too happy. Too excited for me.

 He found me lying there like a miserable wounded dog, bemoaning the 2 tuppence I lost that night.

“They didn’t let me dance.”

“Thank Dios they let you live, you fool!” He dragged me out of the ditch where the boys left me, and all the way home. He broke into my savings that night.

“You have 4 pence and 52 tuppence, I will give you the rest”

“We will never get out of here, Issa” I was crushed. All of my savings was going to the whore at Hawley.

“But we will survive” He tried to sound so sure but I knew he was sad too. We had hopes for all that savings.

I wish I had died. I wish I didn’t come with him to the thrift store. I wish when we came, we asked for cheap clothes. We needed them anyway. I wish we asked for anything but what we asked for.

“Go in and drop your johns. The ma will be with you soon.” T

he girl whispered, refusing to meet my eyes. Her voice wasn’t as strong as it usually would be, it was broken. It was sad. I broke that voice.

I wish I couldn’t see out of those eyes at all. I wish I hadn’t peeked out of the crust that sealed my left eyes together. I wish I had asked to know who the sales girl was before going to the thrift store at Hawley at all.