Egoamaka didn’t like haggling. Once Egoamaka got to Main Market and settled on a shop and the trader to patronize, she immediately bonded with the seller, confiding in him that she wanted a product with a superior quality. And once the seller reassured her ‘M ga-eme gi ofuma‘, I will do you well, Egoamaka felt she was stuck with him. She considered it would amount to betrayal to go elsewhere to haggle, to shop around. And once her new-found trader-confidant alluded to the cost price, how much he bought his wares, Egoamaka was conscientious to not offer a price below that. She would only ask for a price that would accommodate the cost price and give a reasonable profit margin to the trader. It always astounded her each time she went to market with Aunty Ijeoma that Aunty Ijeoma cared little whether a seller would make a profit from a sell made to her. For a merchandise a seller told them was for one thousand five hundred naira, Aunty Ijeoma would unabashedly inquire of the trader: ‘I na-erekwa two hundred naira‘? would ask the merchant if he would sell for two hundred naira, about one-seventh of what the merchant asked for. At first, Egoamaka used to think that Aunty Ijeoma had no conscience, was inconsiderate to make such ridiculous offers, but once, after a trader who initially look offended at such meager offer eventually sold to Aunty Ijeoma at the price she asked for, Egoamaka wondered if it was the seller who had no conscience as to ask for an unconscionable price for something he was willing to sell for much less without as much as a smidgen of guilt. Egoamake wondered how many weak hagglers he had cheated.
When the salesperson was a friend or an acquaintance, haggling was even more challenging for Egoamaka. As a child, she wondered why her father paid uncle Ndudi, who deals on china wares, for the china plates her father bought from Uncle Ndudi’s shop. She wondered why Uncle Ndudi wouldn’t give them to her father, his only brother, without charging anything. As an adult, Egoamaka hadn’t mastered the subtlety required to haggle with a loved one without coming off as being mistrustful of them. Once, Egoamaka had gone to Styled Shoes, a shop owned by Uju’s mum – Uju, her childhood friend. Egoamaka had started to haggle with Uju for a lower price for a shoe but once Uju said: ‘Mmadu o na-egbu onye o ga-eso eli?’, does one kill someone whose funeral he would attend?, alluding to their longtime friendship and how it was unlikely that she, Uju, would take undue addvantage of her, Egoamaka had paid hastily without as much as another word even though she wasn’t sure she liked the shoe.
Egoamaka continued to be a hesitant haggler. Then something happened. She had gone to Main Market with her friend Ebere, who was preparing for her traditional wedding. Ebere was worse at haggling than Egoamaka. Ebere had paid seven thousand naira for a hand bag, and just before they left Main Market, they casually entered another shop where they saw a similar bag hanging in different colours. After a little haggling, the seller was willing to sell the bag to them for Two thousand two hundred naira. Egoamaka discreetly compared the label and the texture with the one they had bought and they were exactly the same. Distraught, they left the second shop hoping to return to buy from it after returning the one they previously bought. But when they went back to the former seller, he paid little attention to them. He was on to the next customer, sweet-talking her to get as much money as she was willing to part with, without any regard to the value of the products he sold. It wasn’t until Ebere gave him a surreptitious glance threatening to disclose his unfair business practice to the new customer that he took them aside and agreed to give them a discount, a refund for two thousand naira. He said it was the best he could do: that he could not take back the bag; that he didn’t take returns. He pointed to a sign on the well that read: We Sell the Best for the Cheapest price. It was only after Egoamaka got closer to the sign and squinted that she saw the fine print inconspicuously written on the notice: No Refund After Purchse. Ebere didn’t get a bargain but Egoamaka learnt a valuable lesson.
After Egoamaka started applying the tips she learnt from Aunty Ijeoma including hagging harder; not commending a product however she liked it or the seller would know she was hooked on the product and would be reluctant to sell at a lower price; and not buying from stores with too much frills like air condition and tiled floors (as a buyer indirectly pays for them too), she started to get on the wrong side of storekeepers. Once, she went into a store that had price tags on the products ( a rarity in Main Market) and haggled so hard that the attendant rudely told her to leave the store so that she could attend to ‘serious’ customers. Egoamaka wondered why the price on the tags were so sacrosanct and inflexible: weren’t they put there by the traders?
Egoamaka also learnt to avoid ‘hustlers’. Usually traders who had lost their capital because fire gutted their shops and wares or because they were robbed on their way to get stock from Lagos, they stayed in a friend’s shop to help out and they made money to rebuild their businesses by going to another shop to get a product for a customer when the shop they were attached to didn’t carry the product. But often, the hustlers lied to the unsuspecting customer. They would claim they had it in stock but at a warehouse and would have the customer sit down and wait for them with a bottle of malt bought by the hustler who was sure he would recoup his money by selling the product with enough profit to make up for his ‘investment’. But Egomaka knew better, once a product wasn’t displayed in the store and warehouse was mentioned, Egoamaka was quick to leave the shop before a bottle of malt was opened for her to guilt her into waiting. And once she left, she often found the product at a shop nearby. Egoamaka sometimes felt sorry for the hustlers. Because they did not have insurance, they had to start their business all over again when they were hit by a misfortune. Egoamaka wondered why she didn’t see fire engines anymore to fight those fires often rumoured to have been started by arsonists who use the opportunity provided by the chaos in a burning market to loot stores. When she was younger, she usually woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of the fire engines, ‘popi popi’, and she would overhear her parents say in muted voices, ‘Main Market is on fire’. And the following morning, she would hear of people whose shops and wares couldn’t be saved because the fire truck didn’t have enough water to fight the flames. But Egoamaka didn’t see or hear fire engines anymore in Onitsha. She often wondered what happened to them.
Though Egoamaka found haggling tiring, she was happy with the small victories she won. Once she learnt that her friend, Nkem, had bought a suit similar to the one she had for twice the amount she paid for hers. Nkem had bought hers at a high-end store. Egoamaka didn’t gloat over her improved haggling skill. Instead she told Nkem that perhaps hers was of a superior quality, hence the higher price. But she knew Nkem’s wasn’t superior. She knew they were by the same manufacturer. She knew Nkem had paid more because the store she bought from had beautiful lights and a tiled floor.
Egoamaka was glad she had mastered the art of haggling. And when she was tempted to go back to her old ways because of an irritated and impatient seller who mentioned she was being cheap, she reminded herself that a penny saved is a penny earned, and she haggled even harder.
PS: See the prequel ‘Home Service’ here