The dustbin was all they’d ever known. The stench of the refuse, the yellow pus of a stream, the mosquitoes when it rained, the cholera when they drank water, the cries of new born babies… The cry! Why on earth would anyone want to give birth to babies in this kind of place, anyway?
Cinderella shook her head. A long way off from where she parked her Lexus, she saw the sun sink slowly behind the fat clouds. Night was fast approaching. She watched the kids, who ate oranges from the gutter and somersaulted on the same hill where they dumped faeces, and were still singing the song they learnt at school:
Leke Leke bami leke
Oooo oo o
Leke leke bami leke
Oooo oo o
Cinderella shook her head again and got out. She heard that these kids paid #30 as school fees. She could hardly believe it until she saw the school – a shade made from palm fronds and bamboo. Their teacher was a primary school leaving certificate holder!
She had come to visit for the very first time last week, and had found everything she saw repulsive. Prior to that, she’d read about Dustbin Estate several times in the newspapers but she had never really thought it would be this bad. Until her friends had told her the tales of how they’d visited for evangelism and how they’d felt so sick, they vomited everything they’d eaten within 30 minutes of setting foot in the place.
Cinderella was writing a story. She was painting a picture. A story that should be heard, a picture that must be seen. She felt like this was her calling. She had to help these people. No one should ever have to live like this.
She walked up to the kids and asked them where their school teacher was. They directed her to a shack floating perilously over the swamp, barely supported by the rotting bamboo stakes and raffia mats. There was no door to knock on, so she called out and the school teacher appeared to usher her in. She looked filthy and tired and could barely converse in English without injecting some Pidgin.
Cinderella sat down on one of the rickety chairs available and sipped a little of the lukewarm tea she was offered. Then she burst into the tears. The school teacher had never seen someone so compassionate about the plight of the Estate before, so she wasn’t quite sure what to do. After a long, long time when Cinderella had finally managed to compose herself, they began to talk. They talked like friends from the same dreamscape. They talked like long-lost sisters. Cinderella shared her vision. She wanted to brighten the corner where she was. It wasn’t much, but years later after she was gone from this world, it would be put in a book. No, not as a fairy tale this time, but something that would read like this:
Once upon a time, there lived a happy young girl. She was happy because she had married a Prince and her mother-in-law loved her one big bit. All the nice things, kind thoughts and loving touches were for her and her alone. Beautiful dresses, exotic shoes, hand-stitched shawls, delicious food, lovely dishes, comfy beds, as well as every palace comfort. And she never had to lift a hand to work; her servants performed her every bidding. Then one day, rags arrived at the palace. A big party was to be held in one of the worst places in Ajegunle’s most notorious slum.
Suddenly, something amazing happened. In her palatial dining hall, where she was sitting all by herself, there was a burst of light and a fairy appeared. The fairy said, ‘The wind blew me your sighs. I know you would love to go into the slum and attend the big party. And so you shall.’
Then with a flick of her magic wand, Cinderella found herself wearing the dirtiest and most ragged dress, the ugliest ever seen in the realm. So Cinderella went and lived there (sometimes challenged, but most times happily) ever after. Because she loved. Because there is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.