A young boy collapsed at my doorstep!
I loved corn pudding dearly and he was a corn pudding hawker. I couldn’t resist the urge to call him when he was passing by my building shouting, “Buy your hot agidi jelof! Buy your hot agidi jelof! Hundred hundred naira!”
He was a secondary school aged boy and the first thing that came to my mind was, this boy should be in school. Why is he hawking while other children are in school learning?
I studied him as he got closer with his tray loaded with many wraps of agidi and his neck looking so short under the weight.
He looked tired and worn out and… sad. And I was still thinking of how unfit he looked to hawk under the blazing sun when he toppled and collapsed on the ground before me, with my toe too close to his lifeless looking body.
I took two steps nackward and looked around as if I knocked him off and making sure no else saw me doing it. The hunger for agidi vanished and those delicious agidi now looked like gravel to me.
“What happened to him?” My neighbour asked from her balcony.
“I dont know.” I said and shove the boy and called since I did not know what else to do.
My concern was this, if anything happened to this boy at my doorstep, people would gather and ask me what happened. And how would I explain to them that I called him to buy agidi only for him collapse before me. How easily would they believe that I did not do anything to him? And who would be my witness when the police would come?
“Take him out of there madam before people go gather on top of your head.” My neighbour said in pidgin English. And she was right. They would gather and ask what happened, and I better have a good answer.
“Come and help me, ma!”
Who? Me? No be me and you. I no wan trouble on top the one wey I don get for my hand.’ I stared at her with my palm hinged on my waist and back at the boy.
The boy turned to lie on his back.
“Please ma, give me water to drink,” he murmured, his breathing was fast and shallow. I got the water and he drank it.
“What is your name?”
“Ekene,” I stressed my ears to hear him.
“Ekene, are you sick?” He nodded and roamed his eyes as if he just realised he was in the middle of nowhere. My neighbour joined us. People began to drop one after another asking, what happened to him? Is he sick? And it was my duty to say the same thing over and over again, “I dont know, he collapsed before me.”
“Is he sick?” They kept asking. To this I said nothing. How would I know?
“Are you asthmatic?” My neighbour asked.
The boy shook his head.
“Who sent you to hawk?” One man asked.
“Please take me to the hospital. If you take me to the hospital, I will be fine.”
“I need to call your parents first. To let them know were taking you to the hospital.” I need a number to call.”
“I dont have parents. Call my madam.”
“Oooooooh! No wonder.” people murmured. “This woman is over-using this boy for her selfish gain. Look at him! Tired and worn out and yet she had the mind to send him out to hawk in his state. If he was her son, would she do this to him? And why didn’t she put him in school like his fellow children?
I listened to their rant as I dialled the number he gave me. A woman answered and I told her what happened. When she said I should put her on a cab to bring him home, I said no. “Come here madam,” I said, ” it’s a matter of life and death.”
“I’m coming,” she said and the line went dead.
People began to disperse, leaving me and him.
“Auntie!” I turned towards him and he said, please I want to ask you for something. I’m sick with malaria but that’s not why I fainted. I fainted because I want money to register for my Senior WAEC. I want you to help me.”
He told me the story of his life. How he dropped from SS3 because no one could help him pay WAEC fees. He had no relative to help him and his little sister. He was the one fending for both of them.
“Who do you live with presently?”
“My employer,” he said.
“She employed you to hawk agidi?”
“Yes, ma. It’s not her fault. I chose to do this to make money for my WAEC, but its hard to save.” At this point I thought I knew what happened. He feigned the whole thing to get me pay his WAEC fee. And he was telling me to my face that he feigned fainting.
I was about to scream his head off when he said, “Ma I didn’t mean you should pay for me. Take me to the hospital and leave me there. I want the doctor to help me get some money from my employer.
I got it. If I took him to the hospital, he would tell the doctor to extort his WAEC fee from his employer by adding some extra cash on his hospital bill..
How amateur his plans! How did he think a responsible doctor could consent to scam his employer?
“Do not do it. I know how much you need this but please stay away from scamming.
He kept quiet. Then he said after a while, “Ma , please when my auntie comes, do not tell her what I discussed with you,. Please.”
I nodded. “But I would if you carried on with your plans.”
“I have changed my mind, ma. I won”t do it. I’ve changed my mind about going to the hospital.
‘You’re not sick anymore?’ He kept quiet. And when his employer arrived, he got up and staggered home by her side. All that I wanted to do was take him in as my child and take care of his need and I wished I had all it took to do that. I wished I could help make his life easy.
I wondered why he could not tell his madam to pay him upfront, instead of using tricks.
Two weeks later I saw him happy, still with his tray of agidi balanced on his head. I asked about his health. He was okay and he did not go to the hospital that day. His madam bought him malaria medicine from a pharmacy. And he sat for his WAEC and the papers were easy.
In the end, I could not help but admired his determination to further his education and how he worked hard to achieve his dream on his own.
I see so many children hawking in the streets. Some of these children have no parents and some have single parents who are disabled or too poor to fend for them.
I like that some African countries have criminalized child Labour but I hope they have something in place to help these children.