The blazing fire of hunger and thirst lashed out on my body. It crippled my bones and brought pains to me. I struggled to walk with my head bent to the floor. I was literarily staggering while I walked on the busy road of Jos.
My feeble feet could barely carry my heavy body anymore. I crashed to the floor. I couldn’t feel my arms and legs any longer. But my body was cold. I tried to open my eyes but I found them closing back.
I thought I was dead, but I was still conscious. I realized that I had fallen right beside the main road. I wanted to get up and move to a safer place, but my body was like a corpse covered with a trailer load of sand- heavy- very heavy and immovable.
“This is where my helper will locate me. Help me lord. Help me.” I whispered faintly like a criminal about to be shot dead by a gang of fierce firing squad.
I could hear the voices that spoke around me. I could hear the engines of the cars that drove past my collapsed body on the highway. I saw market women walk past me with their trays of garden eggs on their heads. The floor echoed and vibrated in my ears.
I saw the man who sells phones across the road, trying to draw back the attention of the concerned customer whose eyes were fixed on me.
He was the only man who had a sense of pity all over his face. He could have been my helper. Probably the one who would come to my rescue. He turned back to continue his bargain. He turned back after the seller had drawn back his attention towards the packet of phones.
“Praises. Praises.” A tiny voice called out from a distance. I raised my eyes to see Ijeoma running in my direction with a sachet of pure water in her hands. She ran with so much power and zeal. She ran towards me like one chased by lions. She ran as fast as her small feet could carry her.
On reaching where I laid, she bit off the tip of the sachet with her teeth and poured the cold water pour on my head. With her soft hands, she made sure she rubbed it in.
I felt the water sink into my hair. It touched the scalp of my head and I felt life again.
“Drink. Drink Praises.” she beckoned on me with the opened sachet pointing towards my mouth.
I parted my dried lips and let the water pour out of the sachet into my mouth. I gulped it all in. I was completely dried out. But after the first drop touched my lips, I felt life in my bones again. Just like a dried-out machine, that water was like oil that slowly walked its way into my arteries and veins.
Just like a baby who holds onto his mother’s breast while sucking, I clenched onto the sachet and squeezed its liquid content into my mouth. When I was done drinking from the sachet, I gasped.
Ijeoma turned my head towards hers and looked piercingly into my eyes.
“Praises what happened. Get up. Get up you are on the roadside. Come let us go over there and rest.” Ijeoma beckoned.
She lifted my hands and led me to a nearby tree. Under the tree was an old man who sold bitter kola. He stared at us as we approached his table.
“Wetin una want for here?” He fired.
“Please sir we want to rest a little.” Ijeoma said.
“Go there go sit down for ground.” He pointed at an empty spot on a dusty floor.
I wouldn’t blame him for sending us away. No man sees a very dirty and unkept child, who looked like the children of madmen and allows them to share the same chair with him.
In the old man’s eyes, we were nothing but dirty beggars. He must have mistaken us for Almajiri’s who walk around with plates to beg for money.
Well, maybe he was not wrong. Just maybe he was right. We actually looked like Almajiri’s. We were no different from them. We were innocent orphans sent every single day to the streets to beg for arms.
When we got back, we handed our money gotten to a woman who sits in the comfort of her chair, under a cooling air-conditioned room to count. This woman was no other person than Madam Temi Adebayo Balogun. She was popularly called Mummy G.O by the children and her staff. This was because she was the General Overseer of the Orphanage.
The orphanage was just like her home. She lived somewhere in the massive compound. She was very wealthy and had a fleet of cars scattered everywhere.
The money we made, determined the quantity of food we ate. It determined whether we had our baths or not. It determined if we needed a new cloth or not. It determined if we would have something to drink or not. It determined if we ate meat or not.
If we returned back empty-handed, we starved for that day. And she made sure we walked harder than those who brought something back home.
Mummy G.O made sure that we didn’t take our baths until we had brought home enough money that was going to pay for the firewood, the water, or our meal. And when we bring money that was not enough to sponsor those three major Items, we were left to choose between food, cold water, or a good bath.
So much suffering befell us. So much pain. So many tribulations. Ijeoma and I looked very unkept. We had not had our bath in days. We had not even been able to raise good money to sponsor our new clothes. We were only able to provide money for the food we ate. Some nights, we went to bed hungry.
Some of us at the orphanage thought we could play wisely. I once bought the Idea too. We made money and saved it in a faraway location. Some of us buried it in the ground far away from the orphanage. We returned and pretended not to make money. Only to go back the next day and eat from outside. We even had enough change to keep us going.
But then, the system was changed when everyone in the orphanage began to implement the same tactics.
Mummy G.O ensured she brought a new rule to the orphanage. It was a way to curtail the activities of children who spent their earning or decided to hide their earnings from her.
If one returns without money for two full days, he stays back at the orphanage for four full days.
Those who stayed back at the orphanage suffered. They worked like cows, yet ate like ants. They were considered enemies to Mummy G.O. and to the orphanage.
If they persisted in same character, they turned slaves and lost every right to participate in any games, or free gifts brought by visitors to the orphanage. Mummy G.O made sure they were locked up in an empty room until the visitors had all gone.
Yes we were slaves. Slaves who begged for money to survive. We were slaves who sought shelter and food in an orphanage.
Ijeoma stood up and lifted me by my hands. She led me to the empty spot the old man had pointed to us.
“Sit down.” She said warmly.
I sat down on the floor. And my eyes went to the phone shop. I kept starring at the young man I had seen earlier purchasing phones. He was still standing there. He was still bargaining.
I felt pain in my heart. My belly grumbled. It was so loud that Ijeoma heard it.
“You are hungry.” She said with a concerned look on her face.
“Mai chin chin. Chin chin.” She called out to a woman who was carrying a rubber of chin chin on her head.
“No Ijeoma. Mummy G.O would not be happy with you. Please save your money so you will eat good food at the orphanage.”
“But you have not made anything since morning. You have just ten naira on you. You will not eat if you continue this way. Mummy G.O will not even look at you twice. That woman has no pity for those who bring nothing to her table. Let me by the chin chin for you so you could Eat and have strength.” She said.
I needed it. I needed the offer. I was hungry. No one will refuse such offer at that time. But I was scared for Ijeoma. I couldn’t stand her suffering because of me. No. I could not. Using her earnings on me, meant that she was going to starve too.
“No Ijeoma I will be fine. Please do not worry.” I spoke faintly.
The woman who carried chin chin approached us. She brought down the chin chin from her head and the aroma of freshly fried chin chin traveled into my nose. I breath in deeply.
My belly grumbled even more. It felt like there was a starved animal somewhere in there who was jumping for joy haven perceived the sweet aroma too.
“Give us two chin chin with two fanta.” Ijeoma said.
“Ijeomaaa! That is four hundred naira. No na. You will be left with just two hundred. That will only fetch you dinner at the orphanage.” I protested.
“Praises. I will be fine. You eating something is what matters to me now. Take and eat.” She said, as the woman handed us the chin chin and bottles of Fanta.
I promised myself not to cry. No. I was not going to cry. But this time, I could not hold the tears any more. This good act had touched my heart. It had let out tears flow freely from my eyes. Such sacrifices was rare in the orphanage. No child would ever try such. No one. Not even me.
Ijeoma cleaned my eyes with her hands.
“Stop crying. Eat. Stop crying.” She mumbled softly.
I ate and drank. I was hungry. Ijeoma handed me her remaining bottle of Fanta and her egg roll when she noticed I was not yet satisfied.
While I galloped the last content of fanta down my troat, I sighted the man who was earlier on bargaining phones at the phone shop. He was approaching our direction.
In his hands was his leather of a newly purchased phone. He pulled out a bundle of cash from his pocket as he approached us. Ijeoma tapped me. My hopes where raised, so was Ijeoma.
I wiped my mouth with my hands and dusted my cloth. I was expectant. This man could land us a thousand naira in our hands. I thought happily.
As he walked closely, I saw five hundred naira notes stacked on top of the bundle of one thousand naira notes.
May be he wants to give us five hundred naira. Or may be give Ijeoma one note of five hundred and my own note of five hundred.
I silently prayed in my heart. I prayed that it turned out to be the exact way I had imagined it.
On reaching us, he dipped back the bundle of cash in his back pocket and touched the pocket on his shirt. He pulled out two twenty naira notes and handed to us.
“No change. Take this.” He mumbled stretching the money in our direction.
Ijeoma collected it and thanked him. I threw a faint “thank you” and watched him walk pass us. I heaved a sigh and looked at the sky.
“God why me? Why us? Why?”
“Praises let us go. It is getting late. Mummy G.O will be angry with us if we returned late.” Ijeoma said.
She stood up and dusted her pink flowery gown which had now lost its colour, and had turned golden brown. It had suffered from years of being unwashed.
Ijeoma lifted my hands up and held me as we walked back to the orphanage.
My life is a miracle. Sometimes I wished I had power to change my name from Praises to Miracle. But then, in the midst of all my troubles and life’s sufferings, I realized that I was given not just a unique name, but a name that would one day announce me to the world.
My name is Praises Chidera Obiora and I am the best at what I do.