I met a little boy yesterday. Let us call him James. He carried pawpaw on a tray that glowed in rhythm with his skin tone.
“Isn’t the tray too heavy for you?” I asked as he came closer to me in an attempt to sell.
He waited for a second, struggling with his thoughts before opening up to speak.
“It is but I am managing.”
His hands shook as he held on to the tray. I had seen him on the road when the car I sat in, drove into a market. He laughed with a friend, another little boy who hawked a similar good. I didn’t see his faded red shorts and green jersey until I met him by the butcher’s desk of the frozen food seller.
“Where’s your mother?” I asked.
“She’s in the market”
“What does she sell?”
“She sells pawpaw”
“Did she send you to hawk these?”
“Do you also hawk when school is in session? ”
“Yes, after school closes.”
“How about your father?”
“He is in the village” a slight pause “he travelled.”
“And your siblings?”
“We are five in number and I am the second to last child.”
Seconds had gone by now. I worried about the pain from the weight of the pawpaw. Five of it. I asked him to drop the tray and somewhere between asking for the prices of his pawpaw and squatting to pick the right one, I asked him about himself.
“Do you go to school?”
“What class are you?”
“Who would you like to become in the future?”
“I want to be an astrologist.”
“How old are you?”
I wanted to know more, but time was slowly creeping into dusk as work piled up for me. It was within the hour of 5pm. I bought pawpaw from him and bade him farewell, telling him to take care of himself.
I thought about his eyes when he left. They sat on a light skin and glowed in the dampened sky. I saw his innocence and thought about the cruelty of the system to boys like this little one.
Earlier, a wheel barrow pusher had helped carry some goods into a car. The goods belonged to my family. My sister had bargained a hundred naira with him but on arriving at the car park, gave him two hundred naira. He smiled, showing the wrinkle around his eyes that seemed to shine in jubilation.
He reminded me of the wheelbarrow pusher at the mill market, earlier. By 9 am, the mill market came to life as buyers bargained with sellers for goods and services. We, my sister and I, were greeted with the strong smell of fresh tomatoes which was quickly overtaken by the scent of crayfish, spices, and other edible items.
I motioned to a wheelbarrow pusher as we concluded the first phase of our shopping. He placed the goods on the conveyer and loaded them into a car. The driver teased him as I gave him a hundred naira.
“see how you dey smile. You dey enjoy o. una dey charge hundred naira for this small distance. By the time you carry load for ten people now, you dan make one thousand.”
He laughed as he spoke in wafi language. The wheelbarrow pusher laughed, muttered some words, and went his way.
One thousand naira. I thought to myself. Most likely the only money he would make for the day. That is, if he does carry the goods of ten humans. There were over a dozen wheelbarrow pushers in the mill market.
My thoughts ran back to James and I thought about the majority of Nigerians living hand to mouth. I realized that it is easy to say;
“stop blaming the government and take charge of your life.”
But how about those without a stepping stone. Those without certain privileges.
While I agree with the fact that self-education, faith, and perseverance can make the air in life more breathable, I must say that the government has failed its citizens. We all know this.
The government is responsible for ensuring that the basic needs (food, including good water, shelter, and clothing) of its citizens are well taken care of but when it is replete of amoral individuals, the system becomes cruel to the likes of the little boy and the wheelbarrow pushers
I am not here to bash the government. I’ll leave that to the individuals on twitter. My focus is on the little boy and his likes. I think about the other kids like him, carrying big dreams alongside their tray of goods.
I think about their future and see a thousand pictures. The boy who wants to be a physicist becomes a lawyer counting his days till retirement. The one that dreams to fly in the sky, turns into a money thirsty man, carrying arms at night. The little girl that hopes to be a zoologist, grows into a system without the necessary facilities for her training. She becomes a hair dresser. Only a few kids get to the end of their dreams. Only a few enjoy sitting on the other side of their dream.
There are many boys like James out there. We see them every day.
When we give up on fighting for better governance, we give up on them. When we kill a fellow human, they learn from it. When we throw dirt around, we take their focus off a clean future. When we normalize immorality, they see it as a path to walk on.
While we hiss at the government, it is imperative that we take steps toward creating a better future for boys like James.