‘And why are you wiping the tears from your face? Did somebody die?’ I asked Ummi, my first daughter.
‘No Mummy I just read a moving story and I couldn’t stop the tears from falling on their own.’ She replied holding her phone up to me to look.
‘Thank God your father isn’t here to see you, he would have said I’ve initiated you into my world of WhatsApp messages and videos. Let me see what it is that got you so emotional.’ I said, reaching out for her phone. The piece she read didn’t seem to have a title. All I saw was: Copied from Facebook, and the story that made Ummi cry began thus:
“At the major intersection on the road to my house in Lekki, there are traffic lights. Every time you stop, there is also a deluge of beggars around your car.
I have been around for months.
And primarily recognise most of the beggars. The ones I give to and the ones I do not give to.
There is one I give to.
He is old, blind, a huge scar running from his head onto his forehead and a double amputee.
One arm above the elbow, the other at the wrist. He always has the arm amputated at the wrist on the shoulder of a girl. Usually adolescents, dressed in the manner of their faith.
Two things stuck out to me. First it was always a different girl. Secondly, both the girl and himself spoke good English. They walk up to the car and the girl will begin.
“Good evening sir, please can you help us with money for food, school and house rent?”
Then the man will also begin.
“May what has happened to me never happen to you. Please help me with anything you have and Allah will help you in return.”
Yesterday I asked the girl to lead him to me as the light was turning green. The taxify drove across the intersection and pulled over.
They came. And before I gave him money I asked.
“What happened to you and why are you always with a different girl?”
He replied: “I used to be a teacher in my village in Sokoto. Over 35 years ago, cattle rustlers from Niger came and attacked the village. They stole our cattle, killed a lot of people and kidnapped some of our girls and our women. I was defending my wife and three daughters. They attacked me with their swords. Cut my head open, and cut off my arms. I fainted. They took my wife and daughters. When I woke up in Central hospital, I was blind. Up till today no one has seen my wife or daughter. I couldn’t teach again because the village didn’t recover from the attack. The state government couldn’t help me with another teaching job because of my condition. To survive I had to come to Lagos to beg.”
He stood ramrod straight, looking ahead into his sightless world as he spoke. Licking his chafed lips at intervals.
I spoke again. “I am so sorry to hear that.”
He smiled. A smile that softened his coarse features and showed a glimpse of the handsome man he must have once been.
Then I asked. “What of the girls?”
“They are my students.”
“Yes. In Oyingbo where I live. My people send their daughters to me to teach them English, Mathematics, history and handiwork for free.”
“Yes. I teach them how to speak, calculate and know who they are, where they are, where they come from and where they can go to. My wife helps me teach them how to write and the handiwork.”
“I married again.”
“Why do you bring your students out to beg?”
“They volunteer daily. It is for everybody. Whatever money we make is what helps our small school survive and helps put food on the table for me, my wife and my two children. Their parents will not send them to school so this is the only way they can learn.”
The girl spoke.
“We are happy to do it sir.”
I looked at her.
She was smiling cheerfully.
I asked her.
“What do you want to be in future?”
“I want to marry a good educated man who likes a wife that can read and write. So that we can send our children to a real school and they can become doctors and lawyers and engineers and teachers.”
It was a simple goal.
And turned back to the man.
“What of the sons? What happens to them?”
“Their parents send them to learn work.”
“Yes. Butchers, traders, crafts, things like that. Some become Alaru in the market, some ride okada, some sell Suya, some go back to farm.”
“None go to school?”
“So the girls are lucky to have you?”
The girl was smiling.
“You said you have two children.”
“Yes. Hassan and Hussein. Twins. Fourteen years old.”
“You teach them?”
“Just as a father and mother does. They go to a real school. A Catholic school. SS1. When they get back they help out with the girls too.”
The girl giggled.
The man smiled and continued.
“You see the girls are fond of them.”
She giggled even more.
My heart melted.
I told them to enter the car.
We drove to the Zenith bank close by.
I withdrew handsomely from the ATM, gave it to them.
The girls eyes were wide in shock as she collected the wad.
She began speaking rapidly in Hausa.
The man cut her short.
She stopped and continued in English.
“Baba, he has given us a lot of money.”
He turned in my direction and spoke.
“From where that money has come, Allah will replace it with even more money. From the heart that has shown kindness, Allah will make others show more kindness to it. Thank you for looking at us as human beings. Allah will always remember you.”
She said Amin.
I and the Taxify driver said Amen.
Then we drove them back to the intersection.
As they alighted, the Taxify driver turned and handed some money to the girl.
She relayed it to the old man in English. He smiled and prayed for the driver. We all chorused ‘Amin’ again and they left.
As we drove away, the driver said.
“This life sha. We will sit down and be judging people. Condemning them without knowing their story. Na wa o. The one we think we are better than, is even better than us.”
‘Kai, this is really a touching story, I understand why it brought tears to your eyes. Even in his disability, this man is willing to help others, to impart knowledge to the next generation, a step that could possibly give them a better life than they have. May Allah bless him.’ I prayed.
‘Amin ya Rabb. Yes you are right Mummy, it is that inspiring aspect of sacrifice that made me cry. Other people in his place will think only of themselves and continue to wallow in self-pity but this blind beggar actually runs an informal school, desiring to make the younger ones round him literate. It is so commendable. I wish some government agency or reputable NGO could trace him and aid him in his present circumstances. It would make his life easier because then he can stop begging and concentrate on teaching in his informal school.’ Ummi enthused.
‘You are right Ummi, I really wish such organisations will notice him and assist his noble cause. Even in his disability, he has certainly proved himself to be more able than numerous able-bodied people.’