‘Tiff! Tiff! He don tiff my purse o! Tiff! Help me!’ A pregnant woman screamed and waddled after ‘the thief’; a little boy whose speed is best compared with lightening’s. In a twinkling of an eye, buyers and sellers abandoned their business in the market and closed in on the boy like walls. Baba Eleran, a well-known butcher caught the boy by his arm, and before he could protect him from the angry market mob, they stormed his stall in their blazing fury and dragged the boy out to their midst. Blows landed on him from all directions and shouts of ‘thief! thief!’ rented the air.
‘Why not call the robbed woman forward to identify this boy before you people beat him to death?’ Someone suggested.
‘Yes, yes,’ Others agreed.
The pregnant woman wobbled and swayed through the crowd as though she were being pushed left and right by an unseen force. She finally entered the circle made for the young boy and eyed him bitterly.
‘Na im tiff my purse o. Make una epp me collect am. My phone and all my money dey dia,’ the pregnant with woman who had been nicknamed Iya Ibeji ranted.
Once again, the mob charged for the little boy with sticks and other objects. Taju, a violent bus driver threatened to set the boy ablaze with the tyre and petrol in his hands.
The boy pleaded his innocence in a little voice. A gaunt-looking man slapped him and tore his ragged clothes in a bid to search for the purse, in case he had hidden it in his clothes. He gave Iya Ibeji a doubtful look, and asked her if the boy was really the thief, for he found nothing on him; she nodded in affirmative. The man searched and even tore his clothes into shreds, yet, there was no purse. He squatted before the almost lifeless boy and asked him to confess if he was the one that stole the purse.
‘No-o be me ti-tiff de purse. I no be tiff o. If I no see food chop, I dey beg. I no dey tiff,’ the boy stammered out his innocence in a faint voice as blood trickled out of the corners of his mouth.
‘Why you kon dey run when you know sey you no tiff?’
‘Na because I hear sey dem dey shout tiff tiff’
A man who seemed educated came to the boy’s rescue.
‘It seems this boy doesn’t have the purse after all, he faced Iya Ibeji, how did you know that he’s the culprit?’
‘Oga, I sabi wetin I dey talk o. As I’m drag de purse comot for my hand laidis, na so im pick race,’ Iya Ibeji answered.
‘Woman, let’s not drag this matter back and forth, if he started running immediately he snatched the purse from you, it should still be with him, but, there’s nothing on him. I beg of you, he faced the crowd, pleading, let’s refrain from jungle justice. I don’t think he’s the thief. I’ll give Iya Ibeji some money.’
Even with this, the mob were not willing to disperse and let the boy go. Suddenly, clouds gathered from nowhere and wind started to blow hard. In twos and threes, they raced back to their stalls to protect their wares from the rain and also, seek shelter, and in no time, they all forgot about the boy.
Shortly after, rain started to fall heavily, beating everything on earth, including the poor boy who was still laying down helplessly. When no one was looking, another boy crept out of his hiding, where he had been watching everything that happened. With the stolen purse tucked away in his old weather-beaten coat, he crawled towards the beaten boy and bent over him.
‘I tell you sey if I carry de purse, make you comot de woman attention from my side, no be say make you run. See as dem do you now. I go pardon you because na your fess time,’ he whispered.
The beaten boy nodded weakly, said a short prayer to the god of mob and homeless, street children and took what seemed like his last breath.