The other day I stopped somewhere on Toyin street to buy plantains. Now the plantains were laid out in ‘bunches’ of N500 each. Between my friend and I (I was travelling with a lady – the only reason I stopped to buy plantains in the first place) we bought 3 bunches. To pay she took 8 N200 notes and handed them to the plantain seller. Now, the boy looked around 12years. He was looking at us funny. It took a few seconds to realise he had issues with our payment.
‘Wetin?’ I asked him.
‘E no complete’, came his reply.
I took back the money and counted, and all 8 notes were there. I handed the money back to him which he took with his face still scrunched up.
‘How much be the plantain?’ I asked him.
So wetin come be the problem?’
‘Oga de moni no complete.’
‘Abeg, 2×8 na wetin?’
The same puzzled look.
Aha, now I knew the problem. Plantain seller no sabi mental sum. Being Toyin street, there were almost too many strangers walking past. So I beckoned on one of the passers-by to rescue me.
‘Good afternoon bros, how u dey? Abeg o, how much be eight two hundred naira?’
‘Na one thousaannnd…’
And he turned his head slightly to the skies, rolled his eyes into his skull and I could almost hear the cogs in his brain turning. After what seemed like forever, he went ‘one thousannn… abeg bring de moni make I count am.’
No be me want help? I handed him the notes which he promptly split on two – five in one hand and three in the other.
‘Oga na one thousand six hundred naira,’ this with a smile to shame Archimedes.
‘Abeg, I buy plantain N1500 from dis boy, na im I give am dis moni so..’
‘Olboy give de bros hundred naira change nah!’
Finally convinced, the boy sprinted across the road to ‘break’ a N200 note. When he returned, he handed me back my change with an ‘abeg no vex’ smile. Before I drove off though, I had only one question for him:
‘Na hu leave you for shop?’
This reminded me of a couple other incidences with children that, in retrospect, I still find funny.
Years ago, I was going to church when I met this child, about 9 or 10, crying. He walked up to me and said in Yoruba (I will translate as best as I can. My Yoruba isn’t top drawer):
‘Egbon (bros), please help me. I have lost some money and I dare not go home without the money. My mother will despatch me to join my ancestors if I go back home to give her stories. Please help me.’
Seeing the boy’s distress I asked him how much. ‘Ten naira bros’ (This was in ’98). If you grew up when I did, you will understand that the worst thing to happen to you is for any of your parents to have it in for you. The beatin no dey finish. Any day wey e remember say you bin loss moni, na fresh beatin for you be dat!
Wanting to help a fellow ‘soldier’ I reached into my lean wallet and gave him a tenner. As soon as the money hit his palm, his lips started to quiver anew. Thinking he was overcome with emotions such as gratitude and relief, I waved away the ‘thank you’ I felt was on its way.
Next thing I knew, the boy was wailing!!! Positively bawling.See me see wahala!!
Trust Lagosians, people who had earlier formed ‘not seeing the child’ were now interested in us. It took 5 minutes of pleading my innocence before people got the boy to calm down enough to explain the reason for the fresh outburst.
‘It is true that I lost money, and it is true that this bros gave me ten naira, but if I had not lost the initial ten naira, my money now will be twenty naira.’
And then two weeks ago I was going to get breakfast things from the store around the corner. It had rained the night before and the streets were muddy. I was gingerly picking my way through the puddles when an ‘oooooh no!’ made me turn round. And there stood two boys aged about 5 and 7. The older one bent down to retrieve his water bottle, the strap of which had broken causing the bottle to fall and roll in the mud. Not wanting to get involved, but too concerned to just walk away, I was walking back towards them when the younger one took his bottle from his shoulder. Unscrewing the cap, he proceeded to pour ALL the contents onto the other bottle to help the first boy wash it. I just stood there and watched them.
When they were done, the first boy thanked him and he replied, ‘Shebi you know that it is your water we will drink today’. The older one nodded, and the slung hands around each other’s shoulders and continued on their way to school.
Breakfast forgotten, I went back home with only one thought playing over and over in my head:
Only children. ‘For it is to such as these..’