I had no idea where the footpath led but as far as I could see, there were no turns off it, so I forged ahead. I knew that the so-called ‘man of God’ could find me if he wanted since he was familiar with the neighborhood so I walked very fast. The advantage I had was that he was attending to his new arrivals and would not even think to find me till he was through. I knew they were going to prey yet again on another unsuspecting passenger then I came to the realization that my greed had almost caught me red-handed. I would have appreciated a little extra money and I thought that that was God’s way of answering my prayers (after all I’ve been told he works in mysterious ways!) Don’t judge me! If you have lived a life of struggle where you continually have to fend for every single need (plus one mouth) and hardship becomes your way of life, then you would probably understand.
Life is hard but I don’t need to tell you that because you already know. But sometimes, when you suffer you become a chairperson in the suffering committee that you think every opportunity is a good one. Even if it is just slightly different from what you are used to or on the other hand, you might become pessimistic toward everything happening around you. But I walked along that footpath alone with my thoughts, hardly thinking past the fact that I somehow had to get out this whole drama alive. Like every other person- I had dreams, even though I was scared to dream too big. I wanted to finish my education and maybe get a job that would keep me in one place till the end of the day because believe me, hardship is not something you wish on your enemy.
I know at first, I must have sounded like I did not care for my father at all but that is not the case. Besides, you don’t know him like I do. I liked him because he opted to care for me when my mother decided to opt out and he did not dump me a an orphanage either. But as I grew older he started drinking so much so that he usually slept out leaving me to take care of myself. An eight year old all alone. At around that time too he started picking up women (and God know where he took them) but he never brought them home but when they made him angry, he took it out on me. I knew all this because my father never bothered to wear perfume since he did not buy any but he usually came home wearing one cheap perfume or the other. So I knew it had to be a woman (or women). Father did not contribute to anything that had to be done and I gradually took it upon myself to pay the rent when he slacked off. You see, homelessness was one of my worst fears and I tried hard to ensure that I had enough to cover the rent. I was just happy that I was not ajebo because it would have been a lot more difficult if we were comfortable and this hardship befell us.
I really tried not to dream too big so that I would not be disappointed but you cannot tame your dreams. There is no subsidy on dreaming after all. It took me a while to clear the footpath and in order not to give myself away, I was silent as I walked fast. I did not hum a tune or whistle even though I would have liked that to keep myself company. The fear of being captured was real and I did not intend to be meat for anybody! The bushes had to be dangerous with the illegal activities I had witnessed earlier on. As I cleared the footpath, I walked straight on and came to a T-junction. As I listened carefully, I found that I could hear the sounds of the road and I was torn for direction to take. I decided on the left since it appeared that the sounds were louder towards that direction but as I walked towards the end, I found that thick bushes covered an industrial gutter so I had to retrace my steps. As I stood thinking, I heard a sound from the bushes just a stone’s throw from where I stood.
I don’t know how best to explain this but I died ten times when I heard that sound. Almost immediately, I heard footsteps and I ducked into the bushes and bent down. Unknowingly, I stepped into the train of some red ants and ha! My legs suffered my mistake. I was stung a million times but I could not cry out for fear of being discovered. It was a baby’s cry I heard and my heart went out to it. The footsteps were coming in my direction but I managed to remove my leg from the ants’ path only to step into something unpalatable. From frying pan to fire! There is no better way to say it- I stepped into shit, yes excreta. It is as disgusting a feeling as it sounds (so don’t try to imagine it). I tried my best to be patient till I heard the footsteps died away. I was praying that it was not the child they came for but found I was wrong when I finally went there to check.
My heart was heavy but I still had the dirty foot to worry about. I used flat grasses that had been trampled on to clean my leg and slippers as best as I could all the while wondering what I would have done had I still found the baby there. I knew that I had to means to care for a baby nor did I know the first thing to do with one but it hurt nonetheless. I took the right turn at the T-junction and found myself at the major road, finally. Cars were zooming past at top speed and even though I was scared because of the incident I had just passed through, I knew I could not walk to Agbara and so I summoned up courage and started flagging down cars.
It took a while for a kind hearted person to stop and I willed my legs to walk up to the sleek, black car that had stopped. The windows were wound up and the car was gleaming as the engine hummed. My heart was thumping very fast. (So much for thinking I was tough!) The rear window slowly came down as I stopped where the car was parked and I stood facing a white bearded middle-aged man.
“Good afternoon sir”, I curtsied.
“My dear, this sun is hot. What are you doing walking out here all alone?”, he asked.
“The taxi I boarded dropped me here and refused to continue with me. Please are you going towards Agbara or even the next bus stop?”
“Come in through the other door”, he invited.
I walked behind the car to reach the other door. I sat inside the air-conditioned car directly behind the driver and I almost hugged the door. I sat with my bag on my leg. I saw the man and driver exchanging a look and eyeing my bag and I shook my head, I would rather have my bag handy since it contained all I had.
“Okay young lady, relax and tell me what happened”, said the man turning to me.
As the cold air touched my skin and cooled it, I sank into the chair although I was still alert. The cold air was refreshing and I cleared my throat to narrate what I had just witnessed…