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Unilag for Humanity Pic-Fic Series: What will kill me first? 

Tell me, what will kill me first? The smoke from the burning wood cooking the food? It burns my eyes, chokes me, and leaves me clamouring for whatever oxygen there is left in the already putrid air.

Or just maybe the water used in cooking? The main source of the water here is none other than Iya Biliki's well. Well? No! That is not a well. It's just an incomplete rounded structure with water the colour of cool Lipton tea without any milk. The wall of this well? Disaster. Big disaster. You have never seen anything greener in all of Dustbin Estate.

Okay. Maybe the dirt from the surroundings. That's more likely to kill me. The black and smelly waste which clogged the drainages that were raked out on Thursday morning still lay by the entrance of the buka.  It has already dried, and will soon mix with the rest of the garbage that constitutes the ground of this place. With the habitual fly and its ritualistic shuffling between the dump and the surface of the food as it is being served. 
The buka is housed on a great pile of rubbish. As the smoke burns the wood, it burns whatever dirt lies present beneath it, and yes, that is why the flavour of Iya Biliki's yam pottage is unmatched.

The least I could do was bring my own plate and spoon. I once saw Biliki rinse their used plates with rain water that had accumulated in a puddle beside the shop. But who am I kidding? She must have rinsed the omorogun inside the brewing pot with water worse than that nitori Olorun.

But no! None of the above will kill me first. If I do not quickly get in line, and buy some of this yam pottage, hunger will. 

As I stretch my bowl to Biliki to serve me, my mind starts to wander again. Will I eat inside? Ha. It rained last night, and the leaking roof will not do justice to my food: the roof is still crying away the accumulated rain water from last night. The rats, even bigger than the cats here, too fat from inhaling and consuming the waste, too lazy to even scamper when I stamp my feet on the ground to scare them away. Are those ones even rats? My God! Look how fat they are. They own this estate. They fear nothing. 

As usual, there is no light to even spot them clearly inside. They might help season the food with extra vermin if they hang from the pako just over my head. 
How did I get here?  Why am I here? I wasn't born here like the rest of them. Like Biliki. I lived in an estate that wasn't made of dustbin. I went to Primary school. I was somebody. Somebody! My mother and I.  In that estate my mother was the house-help in a very big house. Then, she was extremely beautiful. "Arewa ti o common," she had said to me. She cleaned the whole house, washed clothes, cooked, ran errands and did anything you could think of a house-help.

When Chief and his family travelled, the house was ours. My mother would drag our foam from the boy's quarters, and put it in their living room. She would put on the television for me while she warmed their leftovers for us to feast on. She would occasionally put off the telly to look me straight in the eyes to tell me how I must read my books so that my house can be bigger than theirs, so she will no longer have to be a house maid. I, on the other hand, was sure she kept turning it off and on because of the excitement of knowing how to operate it. 

I had just concluded common entrance examinations. Gbenro Adewuyi Secondary School granted me admission. My mother spent everything she had buying books, uniforms, new shoes and socks, everything. She saw it as an investment. Very soon her child will build her a house just like Chief's.

Unfortunately, the dream was cut faster than the on and off of the television, as she was relieved of her job by Iyawo Chief, who accused her of stealing her money to buy my school essentials. This was the beginning of the end.

No friend could help. No relation in sight. It was either the risky streets or another estate. The almighty Dustbin Estate, Ajegunle! We got a "spot", where we could arrange and knock wood to form a shelter, coupled with already rusty zincs that helped form a roof over the wood structure. It seemed like somehow, I still built a house for my mother. But not the kind of house we ever dreamt or talked about.

Eight years after, earning whatever I can from collecting
and arranging waste, stuffing it in whatever areas of the estate that isn't filled up yet. I also work as the neighbourhood carpenter: replacing dilapidated wood for people's houses around, basically laying my hands on anything I can to raise money to write this GCE coming up soon. Why would I then not eat Iya Biliki's yam pottage? Fifty naira's worth of that heavy stuff is all I need to get me through the day. I'll definitely save more. 

Wait. The pottage! As I am whisked back into reality, I realise that Biliki has been screaming "Asaro Elelo oooo????"

By Tolu Aribisala.
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