I felt my feet plunge into a mould of mud on my way to check up on a kid I met the last time I was at the dustbin estate, Ajegunle, Lagos state. I felt so irritated that I pulled out my foot with great strength and then the worst happened, right there my slippers decided to leave me in state of awe by actually dividing into two. “Damn it!” I cursed as I felt my feet drown into the mass of mud like metals falling through quicksand, even though instinctively, I knew I needed a new pair of slippers. “What a bad time to be in this kind of mess”, I thought to myself as I had spent the remnant of the money after buying a new school bag for Kehinde, the boy’s home I was on my way to.
In the midst of the cloud of confusion hovering my head, I decided to plead with the raging sun to be lenient with the way it continued to scorch my skin, like the earth had become a blast furnace compartment. Just then an estate lout approached me staggering in the same sunny afternoon and broke into my subconscious thoughts.
“Kilon sele to ronu sibi?” (Why have you decided to meditate here?) He continued “abi o gbo nnkan ti mo wi?” (Don’t you understand all I have said?).
If only he had taken the time to take a look at the influx of facial mutations occurring on my face, he would have understood that I was lost in his ocean of vernacular vocabularies alien to my mentality. Just then I cut in, “I do not understand you, but my slippers failed at this point while I was walking”. It was at that moment I took a good look at him. He was say 5ft tall, with a dark skin that looked really rough, he had a scar on his left cheek that looks like a Tarantula. It was obvious that his sufferings have seen a lot of days.
To my surprise he switched to English language after my utterance and I was shocked to my blood cells that someone who looked like him could even put out two words of the English language; however, my shock didn’t cloud the peace in my heart that came from finally being able to communicate with the vicious looking guy. “At this time of the year it’s usually very hard to walk here and the ironic thing is that after the heavy rains, sunlight comes.” He continued, “I’m sorry for harassing you. My name is Segun.” He stretched forth his hand with a refreshing smile; surprisingly, I found myself smiling for the first time that day.
Segun as I later found out was a Political Science graduate of a renowned University in Nigeria but was hit with the Nigerian condition turned slogan – NO JOB. Segun was one of the many graduates who sought alternative means to make ends meet. He told me he didn’t automatically join the louts but when his provision store was burnt down by louts who were demanding a pay check they didn’t work for, he had no option but to join them with no hope in sight. He told me he started as a bus conductor and before long he was a garage lout. He cut his story short when we got to the cobbler and just then I realised that I had been following him without knowing where I was going like a goat chasing after a piece of yam. The gist was that ‘sweet’.
Once at the cobbler’s shop, I sat on the hardwood bench that was at the far right corner of the shop, resting my turgid legs. The bench didn’t help matters because in no time my waist began to ache me. Just then I started doing a little science when I assumed that because of the rigidity of the bench my weight was returned to my body thereby causing a strain in my vertebrae due to the load. I was almost making a textbook of that situation when the cobbler broke into my Newtonian assumptions. “How may I help you, sir?”
I felt my brain shake hands with consciousness as I turned sharply to the direction of his voice. “I want to buy a new pair of sandals but I have no money” I said, taking a mental note of the immediate look on the cobbler’s face and in an instant he burst into laughter.
As I watched him laugh I remembered how unrealistic I sounded. “Precious, do you think this is a refugee camp” I asked myself. I looked at the cobbler who still stared at me with eyes that questioned my sanity. I said further “The one that failed when my legs dipped into that natural adhesive glue at the junction called mud.”
Then He said to me amidst smiles, “It’s difficult at this time of the year. The tensile strength of the mud is just so unbelievable.” Oh my God, he is educated, I said to myself, or he wouldn’t know what tensile strength is? Then I remembered Segun, another educated person I judgementally mistook for a lout was gone and here I was judging someone else. I composed myself and told the cobbler about my mission at Dustbin Estate, and he was full of praises for me.
As we kept talking he told me his name was Ayo and that he was the first son of his father’s third wife and that he had two younger siblings. I wanted to ask him how many children constituted his family and as if he knew, he stopped me before I could open up my mouth “Don’t ask me how many we are altogether.” What an intelligent guy he was. His mum trained him through school and she died in his 4th year in school, of malaria. From then on he sponsored himself and has been living for his siblings and his nuclear family ever since. I instinctively thought that the same reasons Segun gave also made him look for other alternatives to make ends meet. His nuclear family was made up of his wife whom he called Ajoke and three kids (two girls and a boy, with both girls off to somewhere for the holidays, leaving just his son as the only child at home). Then he paused almost immediately “I think I like you and I’m going to help you.” He stood and looked round the shop mimicking a circumferential pattern and dashed to the top left corner of the shop, brought down a Vintage, glue strapped, brown leather Sandal and handed it over to me. “This is a gift, I do not know why I have given this to you but, I hope you like it?” Was he still talking about like? At that point I was ready to wear a horse shoe if I had to, I just wanted something to protect the sole of my feet from the vindictive menace of the sun and take me where I was going.
I accepted the gift wholeheartedly with the intention of getting his contact when I realised that it was almost night fall. I left his shop and moved on to my destination, which was about thirty minutes from the cobbler’s shop. I got to the Kehinde’s residence, a bungalow with a kind of outlook that shows that it has seen a lot of years. It must have been last painted before the civil war and the horticultural mistake called flower planting had eventually become a forest of both flowers and shrubs due to lack of maintenance. I walked into the house and I met Kehinde’s mother who looked at me sceptically and made me feel very uncomfortable when young Kehinde walked in and went all anti-gravity on my feeble frame screaming “Uncle Precious!” in a continuous manner. His mum seemed to be a bit more relaxed since Kehinde had identified with me and I was grateful to God that I was on the receiving end of her scepticism for a second more.
After I was officially welcomed into the home, I immediately went straight to my reason for being there as time kept running along very fast as if it had a plane to catch but I was so wrong. I had barely presented the bag when Kehinde’s mum appeared with food. I took mental note of the tray and tried to guess the dish within. The tray had two covered plates, so I felt it was either rice and stew or pounded yam or anything of that kind and soup. I decided to resist a little to show class despite how hungry I felt “Oh please ma, you didn’t have to do this, and I really don’t want to bother….”
She quickly cut in with a smile, “A friend of my son is my friend and please do not tell me no.” I gave up all my acting up to get down to the table prepared before me. In all fairness my guesses were actually very wrong as the dish turned out to be Beans and Yam.
I was barely five minutes maximum into the flow when I heard a voice from behind the door that sounded like one I had heard not too long ago. I paused and turned back slowly to see that my eyes confirmed the picture on my mind. Lo and behold it was Ayo, the cobbler. I was coincidentally in the house of the man who saved me from my frustration earlier. He let out a huge smile when he saw me and said “So you were on your way to my house?” I nodded in the affirmative and then his wife quickly explained my reason for showing up.
He let out a huge smile and was happy he helped me when he did. “I’m glad I did what I did for you because you have done a great thing for my son”. I felt proud of myself and felt glad that Kehinde actually loved and appreciated my gift. Just as I was about to leave, the cobbler’s wife blocked me “It’s too late to go back to where you came from, please stay the night”. I immediately got weak in the knees and tried to come up with an immediate excuse, but it was like the food had clouded my default ability to think straight and so I sheepishly agreed.
A room was immediately prepared for me and I was surprised that they had enough rooms for every other person. As I lay down I kept thinking of what would have happened if I hadn’t met Segun and Ayo who God used to take care of me on two fronts that day. I was grateful that my intentions saved me from what would have been the most embarrassing situation of my life…