One Monday morning, in the city of Port Harcourt, when the sun was still friendly to the skin, the wind was warm and the sky was very blue with chirping birds flying across its brightness, there were many people at Civic Centre Bus Stop, Mile 4. I was among them; we were all waiting for a bus that would take us to our various destinations. I was smartly dressed in a white long-sleeve shirt, a pair of black trouser, a pair of black shoe, and a long black tie that ended just before the metal head of my black belt. I had a heavy black bag whose handle was resting on my shoulder.
I was going to school. I looked so worried because I was already late for lecture and no vehicle seemed to recognize our presence. Suddenly, there came a seemingly empty bus; it stopped behind us, most of us rushed on it, and off we went. I was sitting in front of the bus and I enjoyed the way every other thing was moving very quickly except the bus. The air was so heavy that I had to roll-up the window.
Four minutes later, I found myself just opposite Genesis Restaurant. “Oops!” I exclaimed silently. “Have we arrived so soon?” I asked myself. “Abeg, Conductor, UST dey oh,” I said a bit loudly. He quickly slapped the top of the bus twice and the bus obeyed and packed sideway. I got off the bus and paid him N50. I slammed the door and the bus moved on.
Just as I was about to continue on foot, I felt a soft gentle touch holding my arm. I was shocked since I wasn’t expecting it, so, I turned quickly to see who was holding me. Behold, it was a little girl of about 6 years, tall and dark, like the prettiest from Lake Chad. But her clothes were tattered, her hair was rough, she was barefooted, she looked hungry. Gazing her appearance, I was as calved as stone.
She broke the ice as she told me to “dash” her some money because she was hungry. First, I thought of my lateness to class, next, I imagined the size of my pockets, and lastly, I thought of her plight. I was so compassionate! So, I bent to her size and I asked her: “what’s your name?” “Helen,” she replied hungrily. I took her by the hand to shade her from the sun. “Where are your parents?” I continued. She replied; “I don’t know, I dey stay with my friend mother.” When I asked her why she begs, she did not reply instead, she pointed at a poor woman breastfeeding a little baby at the roadside saying that she insisted that they beg every day in order to survive.
I felt really sorry for her and I just wished I could change the situation. Quickly, I dipped my hand into my pocket and brought out N1,000 with which I planned to buy a textbook, and I happily gave it to her. I also brought a new exercise book and a pen out from my backpack and gave them to her. She was extremely excited. She jumped on me and hugged me tightly, not minding her look, I hugged her back.
I instructed her to always learn to read and write. ‘Education can give you a better life, not begging. Okay?” I added as I smiled to her. Before I left, I told her I was going to buy her “Queen Primer” so she could start learning how to read. Throughout that day, I was very happy that I caused the happiness of someone, but then, I felt bad that I should have done better. So, I began to think that I owed her a responsibility especially the book I promised her. I later gave her the book when I saw her at the same spot while going back home.
Often, I would meet her, shield her from the sun, and teach her for few minutes. She was a brilliant girl and a fast learner. She could spell and write many three-letter words and use them in simple correct sentences. I was very happy that she was enjoying the whole activity. She was always joyous every time she saw me passing by. But a time came when I no more saw her and the other woman she had shown me on our first encounter. I thought, maybe, they had changed location or they had found a better life. I just let everything go.
One month later, as I was heading to the school park, I continuously heard my name from afar, “Uncle Billion!” “Uncle Billion!” The voice was very tiny and familiar, but I couldn’t totally recognize it. So, I continued walking. Unexpectedly, I felt a hug of victory from behind; it was accompanied with a cackling and a heavy breathing. When I turned back, it was Helen in a beautiful school uniform and a fancy school bag. I was so surprised that I ended up carrying her happily.