The sun is burning very brightly today, not like yesterday. But it is not the heat from the sun that is making me cry, neither is it because of the fact that I have to wash my teachers clothes tonight. Rather, I am crying because I misplaced some money, my entire money. I don’t think I can stop crying until I stop thinking about it. At first, I was trying to cry in silence, but I cannot hold back anymore. I feel my eyes are going to burst. I am really scared. I wish I didn’t go out today. I wished I had told my teacher, Malam Jafaru, to keep the money for me until tomorrow. I wished I didn’t wear this shirt with torn pockets, I wish I live with my parents. I wished I wasn’t brought to Islamiyah. I wished I wasn’t even born. Living life as a beggar, or Almajiri as we are known to be called, is nothing short of tragedy.
The hunger is making my belly to rumble; I can hear the sound even though I am weeping loudly. My head is starting to hurt, I am just thinking about my mother, Goggo. I cannot stay one more year without seeing Goggo. But Malam Jafaru has made it clear that I am not going to travel home without the bus fare. I do not have a penny to my name. And even if I had something, I would have loved to buy the beans cake- moimoi– from Mama Salamatu across the street. I am too exhausted to go from house to house, begging for lunch like any other day. My fellow Almajiris have all left to beg for food to eat, even if they were here, they couldn’t help me either, because they themselves, wouldn’t have anything.
Since after my father died, some three years ago, my mother brought me to Kaduna as Almajiri. I try not to think of my father, because it gives me a very sharp pain in my chest. I can almost see his face from the black stagnant liquid in the gutter I am sitting on. He was very dark in completion, my mom once told me he used to be tall, but after he fell from a motor bike – two weeks after my birth- he couldn’t stand straight anymore, he limped while he walked. Any memories I recollect of my dad, seems rather blur and appear in flashes, like the recollection of a dream. At this point, I cannot perceive the foul smell emanating from the gutter anymore; my nostrils are clogged from all the crying. Tears and mucus have all found their streams on my face. And the dozen of flies parading around my head are the least of my worries.
Amidst my distress and debacle, I raise my head away from the sight of the gutter. I can make out the figure of a boy approaching from the dust down the street. The boy looks very tired. He actually looks more like an adult, but is he wearing a school bag. Maybe he is a student. Mostly, high school students wear his kind of bag. I wish I can attend a school and learn English Language one day. Many of my age mates can sing rhymes in English; some can even write their names and make conversations in English Language. I think I can never be like them. The stranger seems to have noticed my presence.
“Why are you sitting by the gutter crying?” the stranger asked me. His face looks soft, he knows I am Almajiri from my bowl, and he’s trying understand my agony. Not many people care to ask us questions, maybe it is because we are so many and each one of us has different set of problems unraveled.
“Are you ill?” He asked again, even before I could answer his first question.
I try to speak but my speech comes out voiceless. I clear my throat and try again. Now he can hear me, although my voice is breaking and the sun is shining deep into my eyes as I try glance at him.
“No, I am not ill”. I replied,
“Then why are you crying profusely by the gutter”, he retorted. He squinted his face as if he’s looking for a reason as to why I am in this agony.
“I have misplaced the money for my trip”. I explained, “I was given six-hundred naira yesterday for my journey to Katsina to see my family, we are allowed to go there every year and if I don’t go tomorrow, …” My voice starts to break again and all of a sudden tears rush down my eyes, I want to explain to him that I have no means of raising that money, but my heart is too heavy to let me speak, I am sobbing like a little baby.
“It’s okay, I will help you”, the boy replied. “Stand up and come with me”, he added.
I walk behind him as we advance towards the big house on the other side of the street, near Mama Salamatu. I can see his face clearly now, he’s not a boy, he is at least twenty-five years. I wonder if I will also be like him after ten years. While we are walking, he askes me where my parents were and if I had asked them for help. I told him my parents live in Katsina, another city about five-hundred kilometers away. I explained to him how a stranger in the mosque helped me with his phone to call Goggo. And how when I called Goggo, she became very angry and shouted at me. She said I am very stupid and careless. When I tried to explain to her that the pocket of my shirt was torn and the money fell off without my knowing, she screamed at me even more. I didn’t tell the stranger that my father had passed away, I was afraid if he asked me details of when and how he died, I would start crying again.
The man told me to wait by the gate as he entered into the house and closed the door behind him. The heat from the sun is even more intense now that I’m standing close to the big metallic gate. I patiently waited for the stranger to return as I stared at the blue gate. A few moment has passed and I am starting to think he is not going to come out again. I am wondering if the house is so big that it takes him long to return?
So many things are running through my mind while I waited outside the gate. How happy I will be if the man eventually gives me the money, how I will be glad to see Goggo, and my cousin, Tijjani. I can go to the farm with Tijjani and farm together. The hunger in me is influencing my thoughts on what I could grow in the farm; groundnut? Corn? Or rice? I love Rice, especially when mixed with beans.
Now I think I can hear footsteps from inside the house, and suddenly the door handle turns with a squeaky sound. The man comes out with even more sympathy in his face. He opened the door wide and asked me to come inside to the shade. We stood by the gate under a pawpaw tree. The shade is really cool, the smell is just like gindin kuka in Katsina, where I often sit with Tijjani and eat sugarcane.
The man stretches out two fresh mints of five-hundred Naira notes.
“Here you go”, he says. “This is one-thousand Naira. Pay for your trip and keep the remaining four-hundred naira for your use” he added. I do not know what to say. An ecstasy of joy and jubilation is starting to build in me.
My eyes are getting watery again, before I could say thank you, he tapped my back and ask if I want to call my mother and inform her I have gotten the money for the journey.
He gave me his phone to call; I like how bright the screen of his phone is. It has a bright pink flower, with the picture of an elderly woman centered in the middle of the flower. Maybe it is mother’s phone, maybe that is why he took long to come out, perhaps he had to collect his mother’s phone. I don’t know why my mind keeps running all over the place.
I dialed Goggo’s number but the call doesn’t go through. The man told me the number was wrong, that I have added an extra digit.
I checked the number from the screen again and asked him to remove one 7. There should be two 7s not three. I don’t know how to delete a number on this phone. It is the first time I have used a touchscreen phone. It is very confusing that the screen is very big and everywhere seems sensitive.
The phone rang for just a short while and I hear Goggo’s voice. “Salamu Alaikum”, she greeted. “Who is on the line”, she continued.
“They said you can forget about sending the money, I have the money for the trip now”. I said repeatedly into the phone, without answering her questions or introducing myself.
The man looks shocked that I didn’t greet Goggo or make a conversation.
“Calm down and greet her, don’t worry about my credit. Take your time and talk to your mother.” The man instructed me.
He looks even more shocked now as he sees me crying with the phone on my face. I removed the phone from my ears as I cried, which he collected, and ended the call.
“What is the problem”, he asked me.
“She will beat me. She was very angry when she heard I misplaced the money for the trip, she cursed me badly over the phone.” I try to explain in a breaking voice.
It is often very hard for me to explain how scared I am of my mother. She beats me badly, almost like my teacher, Malam Jafaru.
I tried to explain that she is angry because I misplaced the money for my transport fare and she fully blamed me for it.
The man looks really confused as he tries to calm me down to stop my crying.
“Anyway, now you have the money for your trip and something for yourself.” He opens the gate and I make my way out of the house.
Maybe I have disappointed him, because he tried to see me happy, but even after that, there is still agony.
It is not that I don’t like going to Katsina, it is just that the way Goggo curses and says bad words to me. But I still look forward to tomorrow. Until then, I will go get some food and buy a trouser for myself with the remaining change. My only trouser is torn and I wouldn’t like to go to Katsina like this. Goggo will beat me if she sees me like this.