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AN INCIDENT

I was walking along the street when a young girl I didn’t notice was walking beside me said, “Auntie, your bag –“

I didn’t hear her completely. Looking down in confusion to check if I had mistakenly left my purse open, she repeats, “Auntie, your bag is beautiful.”

“Oh. Thank you,” I say, taken aback by the compliment.

Crosschecking that I hadn’t been pickpocketed, I look at her hands, she is holding a single ATM card. The girl is eight or nine years old, I estimate. Too young in my judgment to be sent on an errand to assist with withdrawal. I dismiss the thoughts.

I cross over to the other side of the road. I am supposed to turn into another street on that side of the road.

I glance back briefly at my little friend as I cross over while making sure there are no oncoming vehicles. I sense my little friend’s emotion is slightly bruised. Why choose to cross at this time, not earlier or later?

I reply the thought. Mere coincidence.

A minute or two later, my little friend crosses over. She is entering the same street. But this time, says nothing as she walks past me happy-go-luckily.

I am left wondering. Why did she have to say the compliment to my hearing? She could have merely admired from her safe distance. Moreover, we are not familiar.

I marvel at the sheer innocence of her heart and wonder how long till the harsh reality of life – or adulthood snatches that from her.

——

I arrive at my destination. I am there a while. Say two hours. After the visit, I am set to go and I leave. My aunt, whose family I visited, sees me off and parts pushing a 200 naira note in my hand as she whispers, “Use this for transport. I am very rich now. I will send you some money later.” I smile at the gesture. She does not have to feel obligated, I think, but thank her as I get unto the tricycle to convey me to my next bus stop.

——-

A few minutes into the trip, I have to truncate my journey to meet a friend. I open my wallet to pay and I am dazzled by its emptiness.

Wait, I think.

I have money in this wallet. Avoiding spending too much time searching for money that is missing, I pay with the 200 naira note I was given a few minutes ago.

Was I pickpocketed that time? I try to wrap my mind around the possibility. It is hurting and depressing to think about. I am joined by the friend for whom I truncated my journey. I relay the incidence and state without mincing words how pained I feel.

“What could she need the money she stole for? Biscuits? Sweets?” My mind could not reach a favourable response.

“How could she have so smoothly pickpocketed me?” I wonder.

As we climb unto the bus to take me home, I still struggle with reaching a favourable response.

A few minutes to arriving at my bus stop, I find my money littered in my purse. Not my wallet.

My emotions are ruffled. I am dumbfounded.

Wait. I accused her falsely? My thoughts were correct the first time? Oh, sweet Jesus. She truly was an innocent child.

——-

The End.

This happened in Surulere, Lagos. I was on a holiday and decided to pay my aunt a visit. I remember my cousin cautioning me about safety in Lagos. Even though this incident ended on a good note, it raised my awareness about safety in the street.

And since it ended on a good note, it reminded me of Matthew 18: 3-5

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

And had me praying, “Oh, Lord, make me a child at heart.”

Love,

Annie.

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Dear Younger Me

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Yesterday, I was given the honour of speaking to some teenagers and children about their health. When I was first called, I was not given a specific topic. The caller just said, “You know teenagers now… You can speak to them on anything that applies to their health.” Then she suggested topics like HIVSTDs, the regular things, and made me promise I would be able to make it. I was away at the time she called, but would be back by the time and so I assented to her request, still leaving room for a possible change of mind.

I thought about these children and what I could possibly teach them. “If it were women, then I could tell them about breast cancer, cervical cancer, and their cohorts,” I worried. At another end I thought that HIV, STDs as the caller suggested were worn-out topics; they have heard those a hundred times over. Then personal hygiene was too mundane. “What’s that?” I mocked the idea. “Bathe twice a day, brush your teeth, wash your undies… Oh, please! They don’t need me to tell them those. They should know those already,” I continued to struggle about what to teach them.

I even took up some teen devotional plans on my bible app, to find some ideas. Are you wondering why I was looking in my bible, rather than my textbooks or online to find what to teach the kids about their health? I did wonder, too. Especially as they were in a camp organized by a church, and surely would have had several persons talk to them about “their spiritual life.” Won’t they? To answer that thought, I reminded myself that: I am first a child of God, before a doctor. Then, isn’t every Word of God God-breathed and profitable for instruction, for conviction, for correction, for training in righteousness [learning to live in conformity to God’s will, both publicly and privately–behaving honorably with personal integrity and moral courage]? Wasn’t that what I desired for these children and teens, above all? If so then, it was not out of place to look there for inspiration and guide.

I, however, could not still reach a decision on what to teach the children and teens. I was almost reaching an impasse and frankly thought about calling the organizer to cancel. That was a day before the event. I had thought about it all week but had not taken the necessary steps to cancel. While having my bath the night before the D-Day, I thought about myself in my teenage years,“What did I wish I knew more about?” I also knew I could not pass over any opportunity to speak to young children. That would be doing too much harm to the younger generation; a decision I could not live with or forgive myself for taking.

“We owe it to each to tell our stories.”

Ideas started forming in my head. I knew just where to start and how to continue from there, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide me with the right words. Are you still wondering if I am talking about their health? Yes, health, their “social health.” As defined by W.H.O, health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. I was very much in tune, unconventional, maybe, if you like. I was going to talk to the teens about sex; making responsible decisions about it, having and owning their values – positive values, and of course all the in-between: menstrual cycle, contraception, unplanned pregnancy, in addition. Things I was not taught. I was going to be honest with them, open about it, and available to answer their questions, using my own story.

When I got to the venue, trepidation began to creep in. I ministered to myself: “I have the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit gives me boldness. I am bold and not timid.” It was my first time deciding to be very open with my story. I was always going to tell it, put it in a book, and tell of how God gave me grace and helped me! Oh, don’t think it is a sanctimonious story of me or one of a wanton child saved by grace. It is simply my story, of how life happened to me, and how life can happen to anyone. All the more reason I would be doing a great disservice to the younger generation, by not sharing my story with them. I may not have had someone teach me, but I can be the one to teach others.

I mounted the stage, looking into the familiar faces of some children I had always known growing up, some of whom had fast grown into teenagers and ‘young adults.’ And some not too familiar faces, too. It was my home church, which meant I grew up in their midst. Had always been among them. Still among them, even though more away than with them presently. So, they knew me. Most of them knew me.

After building on this premise, I began to teach them. And somewhere along the line, I got candid with them, about details of my story which was unknown to even some relatives. It came as a shock. My youngest brother was in their midst, I saw him look up in a mix of emotions I can’t clearly tell. I didn’t back down or flinch, I plunged ahead. It was the debut telling of my story; unplanned and unrehearsed. At some point, I was not sure if I clearly communicated it to them. I didn’t let that bother me. I would get better at this, I encouraged myself. There is still the book. I did my best to answer their questions; I made them feel comfortable to ask and pointed out that I was available to answer any questions, even beyond the meeting. I was not sure how I felt when I got back home, but I had one prayer as I left my house and all through the while I spoke to the children and teens: “God, please, use me to preserve some destinies here.” I can rest in the promise that God answers prayers.

If you could tell your younger self everything you have learned so far, so they could be one step ahead, where would you start?