“What is your name?”
“Friday,” he replied, looking like he was going to pass out anytime soon.
I took a very good look at him, and all I could see was a young lad going through so much pain, pain too much for him to bear, yet he wouldn’t admit it.
That load is too heavy for that boy, I had told my friend after beckoning on Friday who was carrying a basin full of vegetables. He was slightly bent obviously from the weight of the basin of vegetables he was carrying or so I thought. As he drew closer, I realized he was not just tired, but also in pain.
“Is the load not too heavy for you?” I asked him as I helped him put it down. I was nearly thrown off balance by the weight.
“No ma, it’s not,” he replied. “Good afternoon ma.”
A well-mannered child, I immediately noticed. I gave him a quizzical look, it was obvious he was trying to mask his pain.
“It is obviously heavy,” I insisted.
“No ma, it is not. It’s just that my hand is paining me,” he replied in the usual children’s English.
“This your Ugu nor fresh, insect don chop am,” I switched to pidgin.
“No ma, e fresh, nothing chop am o. Oya see this one. Okay ma, wait… Make I give you big one,” he tried to convince me.
It was obvious that he was not just a good hustler but he was also trying to make sure he made sales. My friend and I were moved to buy the vegetables even though they didn’t look so fresh.
“Make I help you put am for your head?”
He wanted to reply, but it was obvious he was afraid to utter the words so I helped him.
“Abi you wan rest?” I probed further.
He quickly nodded. An idea crossed my mind.
“Will you drink Pepsi?” I asked him, switching back to English.
He nodded in affirmation. So I gave him money to cross over and get a bottle of Pepsi. As we watched him move, we noticed it was not just his hand that had a problem; his neck was also slanted.
“What is wrong with you, why is your neck one sided, did you sleep wrongly?” I continued with my numerous questions.
“I fell off the stairs while fetching water,” he replied.
“Do you live with your parents?” I asked him.
“Yes ma,” he replied.
I wasn’t convinced because I felt no mother would know that her child was in pain and still send him to hawk. So I probed further and I was amazed at what he told me. He lived with his mum who was married to another man. He was born out of wedlock and his father was late.
He lived with his mother, her husband and their two kids who were grown up enough to help him out but didn’t. He had fallen off the stairs the previous day while fetching water and his mum couldn’t give him as little as Paracetamol to ease the pain.
“Is it that there is no money at home?” I asked him, wondering why he hadn’t been properly treated.
“There is money,” he replied.
“So why didn’t she buy you drugs?”
“She said she will buy it for me when I return from hawking,” he replied.
“Did you tell her you are in pain?” I asked although, even a blind man could tell he was in pain.
“Yes ma,” he replied.
“How far do you hawk?” I asked.
“Jakande,” he replied.
I almost fell off my chair, I couldn’t believe it. How on earth would he make it all the way from Idimu to Jakande and back I thought to myself.
“How much is everything in your basin?”
“Seven thousand naira,” he replied.
“What happens if you don’t get to sell all of them?” I asked.
“I won’t be given food” he replied, almost in tears.
“Have you eaten anything today?” I asked.
“No ma,” he replied.
I felt like my heart was going to explode. I pictured all the women running from one prayer house to the other, in search of a child and here was a mother treating the one God has blessed her with like trash. This life no balance at all. I felt like adopting him right there. I couldn’t afford seven thousand naira for the goods, but I did the little I could.
I bought him pain relief and food, and I watched sadly as he virtually swallowed the rice. I gave him one thousand naira and urged him to always look out for me whenever he passed through my estate so I could give him a little something for food. This time around, he let the tears flow.
“Thank you ma,” he greeted me on his knees.
I nodded trying hard to hold back my tears, as I helped him put back the basin of vegetables on his head.
We advised him to rest whenever he was tired and bade him goodbye.
How would some mothers know that children are precious gifts regardless of how they were conceived? How would they know not to vent their anger or pain from the past on them? I wish I could tell this particular mother that doing right by your children or those put in your care is not a thing of choice but a must.
It is either you love them or you love them. There is no alternative.