By Uche Amunike
Just this morning, I was all dressed up for work and as I descended my staircase, I saw the woman that swept my building with three of her children, busy sweeping the two flights of staircases. They usually come in early, sweep the staircase and the entire compound and then leave on time for her children to go and get ready for school.
Meanwhile, my building is not the only one they sweep in my street. They sweep and clean a couple of buildings in my area about thrice every week before heading home. While we exchanged pleasantries that early morning, I made a mental note to arrange some of my last child’s clothes for one of her daughters as they seemed to be in the same age bracket.
I continued on my way, seemingly unperturbed about them but inwardly feeling a little sad for those children. When I approached my car port, their mother was already sweeping the gutter and humming quietly. When she heard my footsteps, she looked up, flashed a smile and continued with her job.
As I checked my radiator and gauged my engine oil, my mind was still transfixed where her kids were. Curiously, I asked her if they wouldn’t be going to school and she heaved a sigh and nodded in affirmation. She told me that she made sure they went to school every day, but because of the economic crunch, she had to take up more buildings to sweep so she could pay their bills.
That was why she resorted to bringing them with her early in the mornings so that as soon as they were done, they would go home and get ready for school. I asked her if the compound sweeping paid her bills and she said it went a long way to solve her problems even though she also did some petty trading to augment her daily income.
Well, I bade her goodbye and quietly drove off, but that was after she made me promise her that I will talk to more of my neighbours to employ her services of sweeping their compounds, so she could make more money. I really intend to do so. So, as I drove off, I couldn’t stop thinking about her beautiful children and how hard they worked to help their mother make a living.
I imagined how much they would always long to sleep well all night, not having to wake up daily as early as they did, only to move from compound to compound, sweeping and cleaning.
Well, I kept driving along Ezeiweka road, through Akora in Obosi. I decided to fill up my tank at the popular ALDO Fuel station, right there in Obosi. It was still about 6.45am as I now leave my home very early in order to beat the horrible traffic that now builds up at Ezeiweka, all thanks to the fact that Owerri Road is a death trap and transporters and private car owners alike now assess it via Ezeiweka in Awada.
I honestly hoped ALDO was open for services as their fuel pump was one of the most accurate I have ever used. Surprisingly, they were. I happily drove in and saw their attendant looking like he could really sleep some more. I asked him if he was okay and he just said, ‘Aunty, this job no dey gree me sleep well.
Sleep just dey catch me for here’. I felt so sorry for him and wished there was something I could do about it. I just jokingly told him, ‘Kpelee’, bought my fuel, paid him and drove off.
I kept moving till I was about driving past one of the private schools along the Obosi road. Their gateman is an old man who must be in his mid-sixties. Each time I drove past that school and saw him controlling traffic so that school children could cross,
I usually felt uncomfortable because the man looked too old to stand on that road for as much as he did, just to earn a living. Sometimes, motorists, especially bus drivers, never listened to him.
They just kept on going. Some other times, people gave him money just to appreciate him for his efforts. Well, I flashed him a smile when he waved me on and kept moving.
Now, just as my mind wandered back, yet again, to the sweeper and her children, as I negotiated the Eke Nkpor cross-section that led to the Umuoji road, I heard a tap on my window and it turned out to be a young man popularly called Ejima. Ejima is a tout that usually loads shuttle buses at Akora junction.
I was surprised to see him at Eke Nkpor, but as I wound down my window, he laughed at my confusion and told me he came to visit his sick aunt and that because he didn’t make it back on time, the bus he would have joined as conductor for the day couldn’t wait.
The driver had to contract another conductor. I looked at Ejima’s rumpled tee-shirt and his unkempt hair and wondered what it took to at least, look clean.
As I said my good byes to him and about driving off, he pleaded that I gave him money for at least, breakfast. I told him I didn’t have any extra money on me as I had already filled up my fuel tank. Ejima begged and begged.
By then, I was already hearing horns from the cars behind me. I didn’t have the mind to drive off. I moved a little further and parked my car out of danger’s way. Ejima ran beside my car as I drove on to park. He always did that. Running beside cars as he begged for little tokens to feed with.
I asked him why he didn’t deem it fit to at least have a bath and he just laughed and said I was funny. He told me his problem was to feed and not to look good. That made me laugh out loud. Well, I parted with the little token I could afford, he thanked me profusely and sauntered off.
As I watched him from my side mirror I shook my head in sadness, engaged my car in ‘drive’ and continued on my journey.
Because of the bad state of the Onitsha/Enugu Expressway, I have always preferred to take the Old Road. Again, because of how annoying the shuttle drivers and regular bus drivers usually are, I sometimes prefer to connect the Abacha/Nimo route from Abatete. It’s a very lonely but stress-free route.
On that same morning, as I approached the boundary between Abacha and Nimo, there he was, sitting as always, on a low stool with his clutches. I don’t even know his name. He is a middle aged man and every time I drove past that particular spot, he was always seated in the same position, neatly dressed and sometimes clutching a newspaper. At a point, he started waving each time he saw me.
Because I was always seeing him there, I figured his house was probably close-by. I was curious about him, though but I just didn’t feel up to getting close to him at all. On one particular day, however, I offered a lift to a very young and pretty reverend sister. She flagged me down at Eke Agu and told me she was going to Amawbia.
Incidentally, she hails from Nimo. On the said day, as we drove past this same man, I waved to him as usual as I drove past and was surprised that the reverend sister waved too. I asked her if she knew him and she told me she did, but not too well. I asked her to tell me his story.
She explained that he was a truck driver and was doing so well and taking care of his family until he had a car accident that almost cost him his life. According to her, he stopped driving since then and just sits at home doing nothing. So, most times, when people see him sitting there with his crutches, they stop and give him some money.
I got the answer I had sought for months, but it didn’t make me feel any better! All I could think of was how his family coped without their breadwinner being able to carry out his responsibilities. Anyway, on this very eventful morning, I slowed down as I approached him and instead of waving,
I actually stopped, exchanged pleasantries and just as I was about to zoom off, I noticed some other man, slowing down behind me. I watched from my rear mirror and was happy to see him give some money to the man I write about.
It’s really not easy anywhere, but I think everyone should turn to God for divine intervention. It is really tough in Nigeria and people are suffering. Almost everyone is being crushed under the weight of hardship. We can only turn to God in prayer as He is the only one who can take away this pain, confusion and hardship in our country.
Let’s look at the bright side of life. We are all alive, aren’t we? Think of all the people you attended their funeral just this year alone and count yourself lucky. Think of how many people were killed by the dreaded coronavirus virus and yet, you survived it. Think of all the accidents that you see happening everyday on our streets and highways. Yet, you have never been a part of it.
Life might be hard, but there are so many things around us that serve as reminders of how lucky we are, just being alive. Living in Nigeria is hell, but there is hope if we have life. Let’s keep praying for good health. Let’s keep praying for life. I think it’s the greatest gift ever. God bless us all as we try to survive this tough and rough existence! Let us keep making the best out of life!!!