I could remember vividly the experience I had with an eight-year-old boy who later identified himself as Clement. Each time I think about this, tears of love and pain fills my eyes.
Clement was from the village, and his first experience at a semi-urban area was with his Aunt, whose duties were his upkeep since his parents were no more. Upon his arrival, he had the thought that his Aunt was going to be all caring and loving; but the case was different. His Aunt turned him into a street seller of banana, groundnut, cucumber, and other fruits.
He was made to work from dawn to dusk. Waking up each day in the wee hours of the morning to start the daily hustle and bustle. Any day he wakes up a minutes later than 4.00 AM, he would be forcefully woken by a skin piercing whip that would leave him writhing in pain on the floor and gasping for breath.
His aunt made the house a living hell for him. She had also sternly warned: on no account should he take his meal, not until her children were satisfied. He was jusg a little child, yet he had his fill of strenuous house chores adults were meant to carry out.
What about the words she fed him with every day? He was called useless, helpless and hopeless. “Your parents were so clueless and careless, that’s why they died” she always says. “If not that, I am being nice and good, I will sell you or put you up for adoption”
If he was sold, he could live with that, but Adoption was another thing. He didn’t want his father’s name to die with him
One day, while coming back from his hawking business, something ominous happened. A troop of bad boys held him up, beat him to stupor and seized all the money he had on him. He managed to walk back home. His aunt couldn’t even wait for Clement to narrate the incident, she sent him away into the thick night with a clear warning, he musn’t return until he had the money stolen from him.
“I don’t care whether you are killed on the way, just make sure you come back with my money!” She said vehemently driving him out of the house with a heavy stick.
It was already 9.PM and Clement knew had nowhere to go. He also had no idea where he could locate the boys, at the least if he did, he would beg them with his life just to get the money back. He would tell them to kill him and put the money in his pocket so that when his aunt comes by to pick his corpse, she would be satisfied he had died he getting back her stolen money.
As perfect as his plan was, the boys were nowhere to be found. The night was far gone; it was close to 11.PM. The noisy and busy street had become as quiet as death. He was left alone on the street. At that time of the night, a thought flashed through his mind. The thought of ghosts in the night. And he prayed that if it must be ghosts were real, he wants to see the ghosts of his parents. He would tell them how tough and miserable life had been since they left him. He would tell them all the things he had been going through. And he would finally tell them to take him along.
Laden with sorrow, he walked slowly into a Catholic church and slept there. He felt a sense of satisfaction in the church, no one would scream at him one torment him, he felt at peace as though he belonged.
I got to church that morning, and the sight of a person sleeping directly in front of the sanctuary implanted fear in me. I didn’t know when I exclaimed “Jesus”. As soon as he heard my voice, he got up almost immediately, hurriedly walking towards me. I ran out of the church.
And then I heard a voice.
“Uncle, why are you running?” I stopped and summoned the courage to ask.
“Who are you?”.
“It’s me”, he replied.
“You, who? You don’t have a name?” I snapped.
What were you doing there in the sanctuary?” I asked.
“erm… erm… erm…” he stuttered.
“It’s ok, see me after church”, I said.
Immediately after Church, Clement narrated the story of what brought him to church to me. I couldn’t help but feel pity for the poor boy
I took him to my house, gave him water to take his bath and then something to eat. When he was done eating, he started crying.
I tried to stop him, but all to no avail.
I finally walked him home. I gave him the money stolen from him, he was relieved yet grateful. I also gave him some money to take care of himself for the meantime.
I told him to always come by each time he was facing challenges. He nodded with tears almost drenching his chest. He was still crying seriously. I asked him.
“Clement, why are you crying?”
“I’m crying because I’m loved”, he responded, crying even harder this time.
I sobbed drawing him closer to my bosom. He wrapped his little hands around me in warm embrace. I removed a handkerchief from my pocket to dry his face that was filled with tears.
He looked up at my face and then began his words, “Uncle, I love you for loving a worthless person like me. I never knew I would ever be shown love in this life again. Love seized to exist the very day my parents died. I thought love had died and long been buried with them. I thought I’m good for nothing. If I die today I will be happy that I have been loved.”
I patted him on the back in an attempt to rebuke him from mentioning death in that tender age.
“Clement, you are too young to talk about death now, stop it. You will live long to fulfil your dreams and aspirations in life”, I said.
“OK, Uncle I won’t talk about death again. But I think about death often, more than the way I think about life. Thinking about dead makes sense to me more than life itself. I think this life I’m living is not worth it. I don’t have a future, neither do I have any dreams. My dream and my future were buried together in my parent’s grave. I used to pray often that God should take my life so I could reunite with my parents once again”.
I felt enormous pity for him as I looked him straight in the eyes, with a serious attempt to hold my tears, all to no avail.
“Don’t worry, God will help you, you will be a great man. Riding big cars and owning mansions in all the big cities in Nigeria and beyond”. He smiled, showing his gap teeth.
“Thank you uncle, for loving me. If I happen to die today, I will be fulfilled because I have been shown love”, he repeated these same words again.
As we were about crossing the road so I could put him in a taxi that was already waiting at the other side of the road, Clement, out of juvenile excitement, freed his hand from my grip and ran faster ahead of me in an attempt to cross the road. Within a drop of a hat, I saw Clement lying in the middle of the road under the pool of his own blood. He had been knocked down by a vehicle.
I exclaimed, “God! Oh my God! This can’t happen to Clement!” I ran to the scene. He was still breathing but his head had been fatally injured. We rushed him to the hospital. Less than a kilometre from where the incident happened, Clement hyperventilated and bled profusely in an attempt to speak.
“Don’t bother taking me anywhere I don’t think I will make it. I… I….. I… am …going to where I will be loved. Thank you for showing me true love. See you in Heaven”. He breathed his last.