I knew a man once. An old man who rode an ancient, rusty and rickety bicycle. He had eyes as white as the foams of the sea and taut skin that stretched tightly over his gaunt frame. He always had an old tattered knapsack that had been patched severally slung across his shoulders.
This old man comes into my village riding on his creaking bicycle during our market days. He would park his bicycle under the biggest igi ope in the market square and set up his stall beside the palm wine seller’s. He would then drop his knapsack across the table and order a keg of fresh palm wine.
If asked what wares he sold, the old man always replied “I’m a seller of dreams”
“So where are the dreams?”
“Here in this bag of mine” he would reply patting his knapsack.
We the village kids soon began to call him Baba seller of dreams. He absolutely loved the name. If Baba seller of dreams was in a good mood, he would tell us stories of faraway places he had visited on his rickety bicycle. Sometimes he sang strange songs that we did not understand but loved to listen to. Other times he just drank his palm wine while staring sullenly into space.
At the end of the market day, Baba seller of dreams would pack up his dreams and drunkenly make his way out of the market square and eventually out of the village. No sales made, no profit gained. It was just that way every time.
Baba seller of dreams did not always come during every market day. Sometimes, he was absent for a week or two, sometimes even months. Sometimes we would have even forgotten about him and accepted market days without Baba when we would hear the ominous creaks of his bad bicycle as he rode towards the market square.
Baba seller of dreams told his best stories after long absences from the village which was why the village kids flocked around him like flies on dead meat whenever he was back from such hiatus. And he never disappointed! Baba seller of dreams always had a story to tell.
The longest time Baba seller of dreams was gone for, was three years. At first we all thought it was one of those disappearances, then we thought he was dead, then we all just forgot about him.
We grew up and stopped going to the market because going to the market to play was something kids did. I remember one time I bribed Alani to undertake the herculean task of asking mother where Baba seller of dreams was. Of course Alani being the courageous one went up to mother. After she had given him a resounding knock on his head and a brutal ear twist while asking if he kept Baba seller of dreams with her, we pretty much forgot about Baba seller of dreams and non-verbally agreed to never speak of him again.
Then one sunny market day, the last before the new season was ushered in, exactly three years after we had last seen him, Baba seller of dreams reappeared. We all raced to the market square with childish glee, all semblance of our pretend maturity abandoned.
Baba seller of dreams looked haggard and malnourished. We had to wait until he was fed and had drunk his usual dose of palm wine before he told us where he had been.
He told us stories of men with skin the color of sunset who rode in giant metallic birds. He told us how he had been captured by those men but freed because of his magic. He told us of war being fought in the country between those men and our country men. He told us we were losing. He spoke of objects made of solid water that allowed you see your own reflections in them. We asked him where his bicycle was and he told us the sunset men destroyed it and seized his knapsack.
“They stole my dreams” he said, near tears.
He told us to stop calling him Baba seller of dreams, because he no longer had dreams to sell.
“So what should we call you now?” We asked him.
He never replied us. He rose, staggered a bit as he sought balance before dejectedly walking out of the market square and eventually the village.
We never saw Baba seller of dreams again.