Fall 2023 Issue

Yes, We Steal Destinies

The boy shifts his weight from his left foot to his right foot, watching the man who wears the orange Fìlà and white lace with silver sequins. He had spotted the man coming out of the first intersection into the general street of the market where everything is sold as long as you have a price. Various scents mix to form an indistinct stench that carries through the market. Vendors cry aloud, and one vendor who sells Okrika clothes, with a charismatic voice bellowing louder than the others, rings his bell, chanting:

“Two-two hundred, two-two hundred. Come buy skirt, short skirt dey, long skirt dey, tight skirt dey. Buy ten, collect one for credit!”

The market bustles with a life of its own—a life you call greedy because it follows the trail of money and the pockets of men. The people of the market—its traders and customers—parley repeatedly, and everything else is ignored. Even the hecklers who shame the buyers for pricing goods and the wandering thieves are ignored. The only thing that can interrupt this procession is the dreaded cry of alarm, “Olé!” meaning a thief had just made away with an unlucky fellow’s possessions, and all hell usually broke loose. However, there shall be no alarm today, for the day is in the possession of the thieves.

Throngs of people wade through the tiny market streets, seeming to burst out of the openings into the next corner. The boy follows the man, keeping a distance of five meters and passing through the waves of people—hawkers, vendors of the silent and loud kinds, customers, and thieves just like him who come together to worship the market. Every one of them exists as a placeholder—indifferent to his attention until he achieves his goal, and his rumbling stomach reminds him of the cost of failure. Only one person is different; the man with the bulging pocket. His coal-skinned face with short vertical tribal marks and slightly puffy cheeks is burned into the boy’s mind. But the boy hasn’t seen his eyes, only the slight turn of his cheeks. Perhaps the boy would have forfeited his chase if he had caught a glimpse of the grave eyes on the face of the man he would come to fear.

Closing the distance between himself and his target, the boy takes quick leaps, his slim legs carrying him with the grace of a gymnast. He attempts to match the pace of his target, hoping it makes his chase easier. In a few seconds, his potential victim branches into the next street on the left side of the wide market road, and the boy’s heart and legs skip because his time to strike has arrived. Bumping into the man as he gets to the middle of the street, the boy feels a soft tug that draws him close yet repels him in an instant. The man pushes the boy’s scrawny body off him, muttering in an irritated tone, “Look at the road.” However, the young thief has taken one last look, and in his hands resides the man’s wallet.

The boy dashes off in haste, hoping the man takes no notice of his now empty pocket. The path of the market is engraved in his mind, and he dances along to its song, matching the pace, steps, shaking of hips, and swinging of arms of people. The people who are limbs of Irédé are strangers to the boy. He doesn’t know their faces and therefore, pays them no heed as he runs. A silent song of praise was being sung in the boy’s heart. Yes, he’ll eat today and maybe have enough money for meals until the weekend.

Running deeper into the market and crossing boundaries unknown to the usual buyers, except those who follow his trade, The boy reaches his spot—a corner hidden by corners. He stops and glances in all directions before revealing his captured possession: a worn black leather wallet with a peeling exterior that has seen many ages. Opening the wallet, he searches the first partition and pulls out an old black-and-white photograph of a woman.

The woman in the photograph looked young, probably in her early twenties, wearing plain Ankara and gèlè. He stares at the photograph, mesmerized by the faraway look the young woman showed. Despite the weathered condition of the photo, the woman exhibited a radiance that made the photo seem alive.

The boy contemplates disposing of the old photograph, but he hesitates and keeps it instead. Looking through the rest of the wallet, he finds a few cards and some folded notes. However, he pays no attention to them, as his reward lie in the currency notes that glow like gold. He takes out the first note, a two-hundred naira note, and goes through the others. Making mental sums, the boy finds he has four thousand naira in his possession.

The fifteen-year-old thief, with slim limbs that have grown despite malnutrition and haughty eyes that give off a dull-brown glint, is proud of his big break. But it’s unfair to simply equate the existence of the boy with that of a thief. 

He is a child, one of the many abandoned and orphaned, who roams Irédé Market—a market so large and uncoordinated, you could lose your possessions without hope of reclaiming them. Irédé is the family and friend of its thieves. The children of Irédé—failed by society—left to survive on the pockets of its worshippers. 


The sun is setting, casting an orange glow through the holes in the rusted roof of the abandoned stall the boy calls home. He wolfs down a meal of porridge beans adorned with plantain he bought at the market food stall named “STOMACH INFRASTRUCTURE,” owned by Iya-Risi. Iya-Risi is known for the fine taste of her dishes, with the most popular being her porridge beans soaked with an unhealthy amount of palm oil. She’s also known for her bulky and trunk-sized arms with rolls of fat. 

The boy was met with cold stares that passed through him as he bought his meal, and Iya-Risi looked on with indifference, caring little for the source of his money despite his ragged appearance. He wore a once brown-colored shirt, now streaked with dirt due to a lack of laundry care, and blue-spotted sweatpants that failed to touch his ankles. His mismatched Dunlop slippers also did little to improve his appearance. However, all Iya-Risi paid heed to was the payment for her food, pocketing his money in her oil-stained apron. Making a large belch and appreciating his thieving effort for the week, he crossed his legs with one end of a broom strand in his mouth. If he had been caught, he would have met a terrible fate.

He would probably be paraded naked if he wasn’t flayed alive with a tire around his neck. Petty thieves are hated in this land, and corrupt politicians who steal millions are loved and welcomed. The saying, “Nah who dem catch be thief,” rings true.

Remembering his friend who taught him how to steal and survive in the market, Quickfeet, who had the unfortunate fate of having his arms broken despite being fourteen years of age. Quickfeet was the best among them at pickpocketing, and his death still haunts the boy when he questions the cruel nature of the world.


The evening fades without reluctance, and the cold night arrives with determination. He snuggles into his makeshift bed made of nylon and torn pieces of clothing. The memory of Quickfeet’s death fails to bring tears to his eyes, as one can only cry so much on a full stomach. He decides to leave tomorrow’s worries for the next dawn, and a shred of hope rises in his heart. Knowing he doesn’t have to steal in his short foreseeable future, he fades off into sleep. 


Wading into the world of dreams, the boy appears in a room that rivals the darkness of the night. This strange environment feels like a boulder with a force that pulls and dislodges his sense of self. He starts to pant with his heart in his mouth, anxious to jump out of his body and escape this hell. Something feels eerie about this place—not the darkness nor the fear that seeks to envelop him, but the room, as it breathes terror. 

Yet he starts to walk with feeble strength in his legs, heading forward, uncertain of his destination. 

The orphan walks, unaware of the world and unaware of time because this moment stretches on without a pause. He spots a flicker of light. Approaching it at a slow pace, uncertain of how long he has walked in the room, with only the sound of his footsteps keeping him company, he sees the unyielding tenacity of the light in the darkness. The boy finds the source of the light, a candle, unwavering in the darkness as it burns and its life shortens. 

Suddenly, he becomes aware of people. Seeing no faces as the candle struggles to illuminate the infinite room and those who reside in the darkness, he knows he’s not alone: the room watches him, and the people hidden in the darkness await his final approach.

“Boy, we’ve been waiting for you.” A familiar voice speaks, accompanied by the blanket of darkness which sends a deeper chill into the boy’s heart. “And now, you’ve come.”

“Come, I won’t bite you, and the darkness won’t harm you.” The voice sings a song of invitation, but danger resides in the song. Yet he finds himself being pulled closer to the familiar voice. “You know me, boy. You took something that belongs to me today.”

The boy struggles to resist while his heart is screaming in fear and his mind hammers warnings into his skull. “I no won come.”  He manages to retort, forming a speck of bravery that wavers at the impending terror that seeks to devour him.

“Ahh, he has a voice.” The boy hears the tone, sounding respectful and amused this time. “Do you know what we do here?” the voice, now rueful, asks the boy. He simply shakes his head, once more fearful of speaking. But the man with the familiar voice, hidden in the terrifying comfort of the darkness, burns bright in his mind, and the boy recognizes his face, fearful of the intensity of the eyes that address him.

“Or do you know why we’re here?” The man asks again. “Of course, you wouldn’t know,” The man chuckles. 

“What we do is steal those that are fated to be.” With his last words rolling out of his tongue like he spoke of the weather. The boy begins to sweat anew, a fresh batch of perspiration forming in his armpits, and his aching chest screams in fright.

The man, ignoring the boy’s whims or simply reveling in them, continues. “What and who are fated to be, you might ask?” The young thief continues to look in fright, struggling to understand the words being spoken to him.

“Your destiny is fated to be.” The man stops, stressing the importance of his words: “You see, who you will become, how you will live, and when you will die are among the things that make your destiny.”

“All of us who’ve sat here, stealing destinies, are remnants of a forgotten time where our glory lay in the discord of men. We took the destinies of kingdoms and laid waste to the hearts of men born to shift the world. But like all things forgotten, we have faded into the dust.”

“You’re scared. It’s of no surprise; after all, you’re a child, but a child bold enough to rob me of one of my most prized possessions.” The boy suddenly understands the corundum he’s found himself in. A sharp memory of the chase and combing through the man’s weathered wallet fills his mind.

“Don’t worry, I said I wouldn’t harm you, and I go by my word.” The boy sees his smile—a warm smile full of affection and cold malice. “Firstly, I’ll tell you how you got here.” The terrifying man with intense eyes intones slowly.

“My prized possession wasn’t the wallet. Why would it be a wallet, especially a dusty, beaten one?”

“Maybe you think it's special because it remained in use despite its battered and sorry state. Well, I’m afraid that’s not my special possession.”

The boy struggles to follow the man’s laid-back tone, which now sounds like a conversation over bottles of beer and pepper soup. He looks for an escape—anything that can pull him from this place, this room where darkness seems to thrive.

“The old photograph was my special possession.” The man continues his monologue like he has all the time in the world. His accent reminds the boy of the wealthy who visit the market and sit in their cars while their drivers conduct the purchases, talking only when they need to order their drivers.

 “And now, it belongs to you—a photo of my mother, which also served as a conduit and brought you to this room.”

The reality of the boy’s predicament hits him, and he starts to plead, “I will give you back, sah.” Hoping the man frees him and lets him return to the harsh comfort of his familiar world. 

The man, whose face the boy sees clearly regardless of the surrounding darkness, simply smiles a malicious smile that reeks of deviant intentions.

“Ah-ah, boy. You don’t need to worry. That photograph belongs to you; such is the law of our trade. The destinies we steal are no longer those of our victims, but our own. Isn’t that the same as your thievery?” He asks innocently.

The boy hesitates, afraid, wanting to withdraw into his shell, but then he answers in a teenage voice, finding its bass with conviction. “I only thief to survive,” tossing away his fear, he continues. 

“I thief to eat and even to sleep. You no know how I live. You come because you have money, but I no get money and I no get good life.”

“Quickfeet die because of your people. If I die, nah because of your people. Is this the destiny you still want take?”

The man smiles, then starts to clap, building rhythm till it fills the space occupied by darkness. He breaks off as the sound echoes into the darkness.

“Of course, we all act to survive. Also, you have lived a hard life, but that matters little to me. You see, you took my destiny, therefore, I will take yours.”

“Sah, ah do not know wat you say,” The boy speaks, attempting to rebel against the man’s statement. “I no have good life, and I no have destiny. I know only the market, and you wan take the small life I get.”

“Yes, you’re correct, boy,” The man replies without remorse. “But it has been set in motion, and I will take your destiny. You see, your fate goes beyond that of the market, and you shall yet find prosperity to balance your suffering.”

“I know your name,” His heart falls as the word rolls off the tongue of the fiery-eyed man. “Even the orphan and market thief has a name, and with it, I have your destiny.”

The boy struggles to make peace with the man’s statement, his dream, and his fate. He searches for an escape—back to the familiar bosom of the market, back to the cries of vendors and hecklers, and away from this hell.

“Sah, who be the woman for the photo?” He asks in fear and hope, to flee and detract the man’s mad rambling.

No answer comes, and silence stretches on before the man speaks. “My mother, the person who cherished me most in this world. Her memory is now yours to keep, cherish her and you’ll find success.”

With these words, the room starts to fade, and the boy finds himself in another dream—one of comfort and rest.


Sounds from neighboring shops and the loud street accompany the raised voice of the boy, once young, now a man, as he directs the apprentices in his shop, “GOD’S MERCY FASHION HOUSE,” instructing and berating them for not being quicker with their work. He scoffs at their slow pace and makes remarks as to why they’re still apprentices rather than full-fledged tailors.

The dry weather does little to help his impatience, and the small ceiling fan rotates the dingy air of the shop. What takes responsibility for his grumpy mood today is the approaching ceremony. In five days, the man’s first child, Titi, his only daughter, will go through her nuptial rites. 

Today, he is a tailor, thanks to the charity intervention of the “CHURCH OF DIVINE MANDATE.” It has been years since he escaped the desolate life of Irédé Market. Like many other orphans, he was allowed to gain basic education and acquire a trade. Thus, he chose to mend the clothes of men to make amends for his thefts from their pockets. His escape from the market took place two years after his encounter with the coal-skinned man with fiery eyes. Thirty-five years later, the boy, a man with five children and a loving wife, has forgotten the dream that haunted his remaining days in Irédé Market and early youth.

“Moses, when you go finish my pikin clothes?” The boy, now the old boy, asks his youngest apprentice, looming over him with contempt. The sixteen-year-old boy with oily skin and a large head that bears a stubborn face mutters a silent grumble.

“Oga, I almost finish, e remain the sókótó and fìlà.” Moses answers contemptuously, hoping his Oga leaves him alone. The old boy mutters a quick curse and looks at his old wristwatch given to him by the church on the day he completed his skill acquisition program. The clock reads five minutes to seven, and he tells his apprentice to close up and head home.


As he locks the shop, the evening twilight casts an orange glow on his hands, which makes the older boy see the glow of the setting sun. 

Mouthing off a warm “O di Olá” to his neighbors in the shopping district known for its bustling trade, he starts his journey home. Life fills the roadside as several shops in the shopping plazas put on their generators, and the orange incandescent bulbs add youth to the early evening. 

The aroma of barbequed meat, known as Suya, proceeds to his nostrils, and he ignores its temptation for his home-cooked meal. The usual evening noise of moving vehicles and car horns join the music emanating from the speakers of shops. In these vehicles, tired faces returning home from their workplaces look ahead, and the hope of a warm bed fills their eyes. 

The old boy, who used to be young, walks in silence, going down streets and passing corners, till he arrives home right before eight p.m. and his youngest son, Samuel, runs to him with a loving embrace. Samuel, his seven-year-old child with the potbelly of childhood and a large head, has the excitement of an approaching trailer in the night with its full headlights on. The old boy sighs and pats his head, finding comfort in the admiration of his youngest child.

“Daddy, good evening.” Samuel greets him by hugging his leg and reaching for his bag. The old boy knows his young boy wants to peek into the nylon for his clothes, and he grants the young boy his enthusiasm, awaiting his disappointment. 

“Ah-ahan,” his little boy mouths. “Daddy, you’ve not finished the clothes?” Samuel asks in surprise.

“I’ll bring it tomorrow,” The old boy replies assuredly as they both head into the living room. “Bring water for me.” He orders Samuel, and the young boy runs off to the kitchen.

The dim light of the lamp lights the room since NEPA, the ever-disappointing power company, fails to perform its duties of providing power. Samuel brings the cup of water in no haste and watches his father as he drinks, taking in big gulps with his Adam’s apple moving in appreciation.

“Tell your mother I’ve arrived.” The old boy commands the excited child, and as he runs off, the old boy lets out a sigh of relief. Soon his wife comes in—Remi, the woman who made him make peace with his trauma. He met her five years after leaving the institute. In three years, he had moved from a stall to his own shop. 

The boy, young, but not as young as he used to be, was frustrated with the material he had to sew, as he had to keep cutting the lace to keep its edges neat. The afternoon sun didn’t do much to help with his mood, and NEPA didn’t bother to grace his small ceiling fan with power.

“Good afternoon!” An entrancing greeting rang out from the entrance to the shop, and he looked up to see a lady his age, with the most beautiful eyes, come in with a younger boy.

She asked the boy to sew her brother’s uniform, and he made up his mind to be with her for the rest of his life. Taking measurements of her brother, the boy fell in love with her that afternoon. In the years that have passed, his love has kept burning, never reducing its radiance. Remi was a beauty then, and she still steals words from his mouth and the beat of his heart.

She captured his heart; so, he sewed her brother’s school uniform and refused payment. His payment was her attention, and he piqued her interest. 

“Oko-mi,” she greets, interrupting his reverie. “I didn’t know you had arrived. How was work?”

He smiles as he admires his wife. “It went well,” he replies, “Those boys haven’t finished sewing the children’s clothes.”

“Don’t worry, Oko-mi,” she assures him. “They’ll finish it soon. I’ve made eba and egusi for you. Come and eat after you’ve had your bath.”

The old boy nods and tells her he is coming. In the next hour, after his evening bath and dinner, he dozes off into the world of dreams. In his dream, he finds himself in a familiar place with a recognizable sense of dread.

There is darkness in this place, and it reaches deep into his heart with dread. As the old boy walks, being pulled by an unseen force, he recollects memories that stretch to a time in the world when he had not lived.

The first memory is that of an aging man walking through the muddy earth in a forest with trees that stretch beyond the skies. His walking stick acts as a support, and it adds balance to his step. The old boy is the aging man, and the aging man is him. 

He feels the creak in his bones and the ache in his muscles. His eyes fail to capture the brilliance of the day’s brightness, and his breath struggles to escape his lungs. The old boy is lost; who is he and where is he?

Now, he is another man, young and full of life. He hangs from a tree with a rope, stretching his arms with all of his strength to grab a fruit. The evening is making way for the night, and a young lady with the most welcoming bosom cheers him on. He cries aloud and grabs the fruit, but the rope cuts in that instant, and the young man, now the old boy falls to his death, but before he reaches the ground, he is a woman.

The old boy is a middle-aged woman, dragging a small child who weeps from weariness. He bears the heavy heart of the woman and feels the tears on her face as she makes silent sobs. In the distance is a burning village, and the smoke fills their clothes, hoping to rob them of their will to live.

Horsemen brandishing weapons run toward them, and the woman stretches her arm as they approach. In her arms is an ominous force, drawing life from everything it touches, and she screams.

Ages pass, and the old boy relives the lives of those who came before him—those who stole destines.


He arrives at the first dawn—the spot at Irédé Market where he stole the beaten wallet of the fiery-eyed man. The old boy finds the door that leads to the place of discord and he advances, firm in his steps and evil in his heart. 

Seeing the seat that bears only emptiness, he sits, and his name comes to him, present on his lips like the day it disappeared. The old boy has become one of them, and he awaits the next fate to steal. 

Olorunfemi Olaleye

Olorunfemi Olaleye is a Nigerian writer, cinephile, and a Glass and Silicate Technology student at Ahmadu Bello University. He publishes short stories, movie reviews, essays and a weekly newsletter on Substack. Femi's stories focus on the human condition and the commonplace reality of African lives. On occasions when he's not questioning Nigeria and the world, he spends his time supporting Manchester United and watching well-made films

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