Judging a book by its cover – An exercise in writing based on real life people

There’s no judging going on actually. Let me tell you how I came up with this idea. (The original version of this post dates back to April 2020. 3 days ago is actually, few months ago)

3 days ago, the day before lockdown came into effect, my mum and I decided to go to the market to stock up the house. I encountered so many interesting people at the market, a normal occurrence but this time around I was paying attention.

I was fascinated. I’d look at one of those market women, take note of what they portray and try to piece together a fitting backstory. This part though is entirely fictitious.

Here’s my first entry into JABBIC; THAT DAY AT IFE MARKET

That day at Ife market

Despite the perceived threat of the covid-19, the market was teeming with people. My mum navigated the car slowly, finding a space to park. We found a spot and parked the car in front an old style bungalow.

In front of the house were a few women and some young girls. A middle aged woman was making the hair of a teenager seated on a low stool in front of her. It was obvious that the front of that house was the unofficial location of her salon. Pasted to the wall was hairstyle posters for her customer’s ease of choice.

After parking, the women shifted their attention to us for a while but soon lost interest. They became immediately consumed by their conversation, so engrossed that they gesticulated enthusiastically.
It was obvious that the hair maker, we’ll call her IYA ALABI commanded the most attention in that gathering.

Iya Alabi is 48 years old. Her husband is a sawmill worker. They have 3 children with Alabi being the eldest. Alabi is a second year student at federal university of technology, Akure. Iya Alabi is sure that Alabi is destined to be great and will eventually take care of her and the family because, how could he not.

When she got married, she decided to be a trader just like her mother was. She was introduced to her mother’s foodstuff suppliers, got a stall in the market and like that Iya Alabi became a trader. Only she wasn’t Iya Alabi yet then. Few months later Alabi came knocking.

It was Iya Alabi and her husband’s first child. Surely, the naming ceremony had to be a memorable one. The problem was that her husband hasn’t being paid for few months. At Iya Alabi’s shop, she was having trouble figuring out how her money, both the principal and the profit kept reducing after every stock at her shop gets sold out. Was someone perhaps stealing Iya Alabi’s money?
Still the naming ceremony had to be done.

Iya Alabi told her husband not to worry and footed almost all the expenses for the ceremony, funded by her business.

Naming ceremony

Iya alabi was a ‘strong woman’ she would recover quickly and get back to the market. This she did. Iya alabi was working hard, giving extra good ‘jara’ to her customers so that they could ‘know her face’ again after her short break.

Things didn’t get better though, her shop kept depleting and she didn’t know what to do about it. She discussed with other traders and they concluded that sales were just not good at this time and that the market wasn’t the same anymore.
Then Iya Alabi got pregnant with her second child. This baby didn’t come as easily as Alabi had. Two trimesters in, she began to have pregnancy complications. She had to stay home.

After 4 months of not showing up at the market, and with her rent due, her stall owner retrieved his stall. He wanted to rent it out to someone who ‘would use it better’, also an equivalent of ‘someone willing to pay double the rent’
This didn’t make that much difference to Iya Alabi, that trader life wasn’t for her anyway. She would stay home and take care of her children, her husband could take care of them all.

She got pregnant again and the scan showed that it would be a girl. She was thrilled to welcome her first girl. She couldn’t wait for her baby to grow up so she could start making her hair, but Iya Alabi knew nothing about hair plaiting. She found a solution.
She would drop by the hair shop at the end of the street, after preparing Alabi and his brother and sending them off to school.

She started learning and in the process found that she was very good at it. The hairdresser advised Iya Alabi to apprentice fully with her, not just for her coming child but as a new profession.
Iya Alabi then decided to train fully as a hairdresser. Due to her child’s delivery and lapses from Iya Alabi’s part, she spent 2 years as an apprentice. Eventually she graduated and became a certified hairdresser.

Few months ago, Iya Alabi and her husband moved from their previous residence to their current middle of the market bungalow. She didn’t find a suitable stall yet and has decided to carry out her services in the veranda of their new environment. Word of her skills spread amongst the market women and she was fast becoming an authority on all hair related issues.

Iya Alabi was very funny and she always knew what to say about any issue. Due to this, her workplace was always teeming with friends that stop by while going and coming from the market.

Market people

Lockdown was announced a few days ago and though she’s heard some friends talk about how unreal it is and how Corona would never reach them, Iya Alabi wants to earn enough money if it comes to it, rather than leaving it to chance.

She woke up this morning to the running around of her youngest child. She called out to her and told her to notify Titi from the next street to come over in an hour to get her hair done. Titi had booked the previous day that she wanted to make her hair and the hair style was time consuming. Iya Alabi wanted to get that out of the way as soon as possible so she could take on enough customers for the duration of the day.

Iya Alabi was sectioning the last part of Titi’s hair when a small car pulled up in front of her house. She considered telling the woman driving the car not to park there, that she was obstructing potential customers from seeing her work. She then thought better of it, turned back to the hair she was making and resumed her conversation with the other women.


First entry complete. I’d like to know what your thoughts are. What did you think while reading this piece? Where do you think non-fiction ended and fiction began? Where did the fiction end? Let me know in the comments below