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Rough Diamond

By Bolanle Aduwo

 

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"Hold still!" her grandmother growled.

Damilola felt the pain explode in her head like the fireworks that take place during the Independence celebration. She let out a high pitched scream and wriggled impatiently on her seat; a tiny, wooden stool placed in front of her house, where her grandmother was busy, plaiting her long, thick black hair.

"If I hear your voice one more time, I really will give you something to cry about!" said her grandmother.

That did it. Damilola instantly shut up because she knew when her grandmother said such things, she usually meant it. She had a thin, willowy, cane she kept in the rafters of the hut, which was meant specially for pesky children and she wielded it with a dexterity that belied her age. As her grandmother’s work-worn but strong fingers flew swiftly in and out of her coarse, black hair, Damilola bit her lip to stop from crying out in pain at the knots being combed out of her hair. She prayed silently that her Granny would at least finish on time so she could join her friends; Derin, Bimbo and Bola who most likely were swimming in the village stream this very moment. It was their favourite relaxation spot. They usually went there on the pretext of fetching water in clay pots for their households and ended up having a swim before too it became too dark.

"Mama, I have to go to the bathroom".

No answer.

The old woman’s fingers continued to fly in and out of her hair like a soldier on a mission, leaving neat lines of corn rows in its wake.

"You can go now!"

Mama uttered the magic words and like a shot, she was off and running out of the compound.

"Damilola! Who do you think is going to pack the combs and sweep the hair from this place for you? And where are your manners? Not even a word of thanks from you?"

Damilola slowed down just long enough to call over her shoulders.

"Mama! Thank you! I’ll come back to pack the things when I get back!" She disappeared round the bend. Her grandmother shook her head, chuckling to herself as she picked the comb, stool and wisps of hair from the ground.

* * *

Driving up the dusty road in a jeep, Justin Campbell adjusted the lenses of his Nikon camera to get a good shot of the sun on its way to sleep. He was a British Wildlife photographer whose works were highly sought-after, the world over. He had come to Nigeria on the invitation of a friend and so far was enjoying himself immensely.

"Hold still, Lanre," he told the driver.

‘Yes, Oga".

Larry, the driver of the jeep quickly brought it to a halt. He scratched his head and wondered when this crazy Oyinbo was going to be done so he could settle down to a drink of palm wine and roasted bush meat at the local bar. He had also spied some village beauties who looked like they had potential….they weren’t exactly like his wife, Ronke at home but they would just have to do till he got home to see her…and only God knew when that would be! He scratched his chin again as he thought about the bush meat and palm wine beckoning to him at the bar and his stomach rumbled. He glanced at Oyinbo, hoping he didn’t hear. He needn’t have bothered. Justin was too engrossed, enthralled even, by the sight he saw in his lenses.

The sky was turning a bright orange and red, with birds flying in V formation, heading home and adding to the beauty of the African evening. Justin took shot after shot, soon exhausting the roll of film. It was then, he saw her running out of the clearing unto the road in front of him….slim, tall and ebony black with a neck as graceful as a gazelle’s. Her hair, woven in long braids, hung down her back. Her pert breasts, still developing, stood majestically on her chest. Her innocence and beauty, so raw, unspoiled. Justin stared at this wonderful specimen of womanhood and held his breath. As she got near the jeep, Justin got out.

"Hello!" he said in a friendly tone.

"Can I talk to you for a few minutes?"

Damilola stopped dead in her tracks, terrified and uncertain. She wondered what on earth this white man could possibly want from her. She balanced on the balls of her feet, ready to take to flight at his slightest move. Lanre watched the unfolding drama in amusement.

"Ah! Oyinbo! Finally, I have caught you! You dey do like say your body na wood! Now, you want pick woman for night! "

He shook his head, chuckled inside.

"Please, don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you. Do you speak English?"

Eyeing him warily, Damilola decided on whether to answer him or not then nodded slowly. Justin heaved a sigh of relief and gingerly lifted the camera slung around his neck.

"I’m a photographer". He slowly motioned with a snapping sound.

"I would like to take your picture". Curiosity overcame her fright and she stared at the black instrument in his hands.

"What …. you ……want it for?" she asked in halting English.

Justin smiled, pleased he had at least managed to arouse her interest.

"You are very beautiful so I want to take your picture" he said.

Beneath her dark skin, Damilola blushed at this compliment. She didn’t believe him of course because her mates constantly teased her for being too tall and gangly. They called her "dogo"; the short form of dogonyaro, a very tall tree commonly found in the Northern part of Nigeria.

"What ……you do ……with picture….after you take it?" She asked in halting English. Justin was taken aback on hearing this. He hadn’t expected that from her. He usually sold his pictures to agencies like Reuters, Associated Press and magazines like National Geographic and made quite a bundle for himself. Hers would be yet another exotic picture from his travels around the world.

"Well,…" he floundered. It was his turn to blush. He looked at her with new eyes. She wasn’t quite the na´ve village girl he thought she was.

"Well,….I have quite a lot of friends in the modeling world…would you like to be a model and travel round the world?"

He thought of Iman, the Somalian-born, American-based Super Model. Wasn’t this how she was supposed to have been discovered?…running half naked in an African bush? What about Sudanese-born Alek Wek? He looked at her waiting for her response.

Damilola shrugged nonchalantly and stared at him with big, doe-like eyes. She had seen some old magazines of girls with painted faces and funny hairstyles walking half-naked in a file. It certainly didn’t look like fun. The girls never smiled and they always looked so sickly and pale. Suddenly, she heard the sounds of chattering coming up the road and her heart sank as she saw her friends coming back from the stream, water pots balanced expertly on their heads. There went her swimming for the day! She would have to wait till tomorrow. All because of this strange white man and his funny questions! She started moving away from him. It wouldn’t do for them to see her talking to the stranger on the lonely road. They might tell her grandmother and she could get a whipping for it.

"Please….I go now".

"I understand….here! Have my card. Give me a call if you ever make up your mind".

Damilola took the cream coloured card gingerly and stared at it. It simply read "Justin Campbell, Freelance Photographer" with some long foreign numbers and an email address on it. She stuffed it in her pocket hurriedly and dashed off down the road to join her friends.

 

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