It undresses itself in a graceful dance, twirling round and round, shedding off skin in one endless strip of yellow curl, until it is a perfect ball of whiteness.
This is what it looks like when Ronke’s mother peels an orange. She has done it more times than Ronke can count, demonstrating how easy, how effortless it ought to be. But when Ronke picks up a fresh orange, her hands begin to shake as she cuts and all her mother can do is to rail against the way she holds the knife, the way her hands are too small for any good. When Ronke looks at her, she asks her what she is smiling about. She tells Ronke not to smile so much.
Ronke prefers the days when her mother must leave the house at dawn to make the morning shift, before the matron arrives and starts to fuss about the abominable stains the patients left on their sheets. On such days, Ronke can skip having to peel her oranges before going to school because she knows she will be back home in time to get her tray and go out before her mother’s mid-afternoon return. On such days, she doesn’t earn as much because she must peel the oranges on the spot, and in spite of her glowing smile, the customers sometimes become impatient and move on. On such days, she sits on the beach under a lone palm tree and peels as she knows how to peel, slowly, in gentle, short strokes, pieces of orange skin falling to the sand like shorn hair. Sometimes she eats an orange or two.
On the last of such days, she sells three oranges to a friendly young man, who buys her a cold bottle of Mirinda, and after he leaves, she sits too long and falls asleep in the sand. She wakes up at twilight and the world is off-kilter for the briefest of moments. Her oranges are intact; her money is there in her skirt pocket. The only thing missing, she discovers, is her underwear, pink with little white bunnies nibbling at the kind of flowers she has never seen with her naked eyes. She gets home and her mother is there, hands smelling of Izal, eyes full of questions, which Ronke manages to avoid by providing the day’s earnings alongside the unsold oranges. Nothing seems out of place.
Though her mother leaves at dawn for her shift, Ronke wakes up and peels the oranges before school. She peels them all. After school, she picks up the tray and heads out into the street, where she hawks without sitting down, where she sells her oranges without smiling.
Umar Turaki (@) is a writer and filmmaker living in Jos, Nigeria. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in AFREADA, Short Sharp Shots, the Ake Review, and the SSDA anthology, Migrations.
This story was published as the winner of the 2016 AFREADA Photo-Story Competition in collaboration with photographer, UA. It is an entirely fictional piece and is not a true representation of the young girl photographed.
Related country: Nigeria
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