Wednesday, January 24, 2007
One Christmas day, as I stood in front of a ground-floor apartment at the 1004 flats on Victoria Island, a man walked up to me. Simply dressed, I knew with the unerring instincts of a Lagosian, he was going to make a play, ask for some money. So I waited. And he did.
“Good evening”, he said. I replied him and waited still. “I’d like you to help me with something”. His grammar was good, I noted, it showed education and his clothing was simple but clean. He appeared three or four years older than I was then.
“Its Christmas and I wonder if you could help me with…”, he hesitated here and I could feel his pain. My urban-hardened heart thawed a bit and I asked a bit more gently, “Help you with what?”.
“Some food”, he answered. “I’m out of a job and haven’t been able to take anything home for months . If you can just help me…its Christmas…let me be able to put food on the table. I just want to see my children smile”.
He wanted uncooked rice, enough to feed a family of four at one meal. My insides twisted as I went to get the rice for him with the assistance of an equally usually-cynical female relative who for once was lost for words as we contemplated this man’s misery.
Before this happened, and many years before, I’d stood by the busy Western Avenue in Surulere, Lagos, waiting for the car traffic to lessen so I could cross the road. An old woman approached me, she appeared in her late 60s or early 70s. Again, I waited for the con. At that time, what some old women did was tell you they had travelled from the village to meet their son in the city but had been told, on getting to his home, he’d gone away to some far off place and might not be back for weeks. Now the con…all they wanted was their transport fare back home.
I waited for this old woman to repeat the sob story and when she greeted me, I answered a bit brusquely. She then timidly asked me in my language, Yoruba, if I could hold her hand as she attempted to cross the busy Avenue. She was afraid of falling as she crossed, afraid of the fast cars. I was ashamed that day and as I helped her, there were tears in my eyes she could not see. What had happened to me, I thought to myself? When had everyone become a liar to me? When did I start looking at all humans with eyes of distrust?
I also recall an incident when I had a blow-out on the 3rd mainland bridge, Nigeria’s busiest. I was home on holiday from the university. When the car ground to a halt, I suddenly remembered I didn’t even have a jack in the car to change the tyre. From nowhere, an area boy materialized, rough and brazen. For those who do not know what the term “Area Boy” means, they are the scum of the earth, continually seeking to rob and take advantage, or so I thought.
I immediately told this one I had no money to give him for his services if he helped change the tyre. That was a fact, I was broke. I also let him know I didn’t have a jack. By rights, I would have slept on that bridge with that car. But the “Area Boy” let me know it wasn’t all about the money, he attempted to flag passing cars (People don’t stop on the 3rd mainland bridge for anyone) and after many attempts, a man driving alone stopped. The “Area Boy” did my explaining while I stood to one side, borrowed that man’s car jack, and proceeded to change my tyre as the jack owner waved a cloth or something to warn speeding cars there was a stalled car on the bridge. When he finished, I thanked him and the jack owner profusely, and drove away, numb with disbelief.
There are great people everywhere. Men and women who just want to be human and share fellowship, who might need something that matters little to us. I woke this morning with thoughts of that man on a Christmas day, who just wanted to give his family a special meal on a special day. And now I ask God to forgive me for being jaded. Last year, someone I loved died, and I went through pain I thought was impossible for a human being to feel.
I want to thank ,with all my heart, my friends, who called and sought me out at that time, who stood by me and continue to support me as I chart my way through this mine-field called life, but this post is especially dedicated to all my friends on-line who in their own way have brightened my days and nights with a post, a comment, or a line. Friendships that have illuminated my life, shown me life is beautiful and friendships which I intend to keep for always, if the Lord wills. This is for the people I love, and for my troubled baby, Storm, who often makes me laugh and whom I cry with.
Thank you all.