“Children are beautifully likened to a picture of our past and a foresight to our future”.
Sometimes, it is at the bustling market square or in the busy streets. Wherever it might be, I always have the children on my mind.
Right now, however, I am neither at the two earlier stipulated venues but, at the commercial banking hall, right in the heart of the state capital.
A series of muffled foot falls brought back the smartly dressed gentleman who had earlier attended to me, to my line of vision.
“Miss Zika,” he said, “The manager would see you in a moment but requires your patience for the time being”.
I mumbled an audible thanks and lapsed back into my train of thoughts
“I would be right around the corner, ready, if you’ll need my help,” the gentleman added, much to my inattention. Only a set of retreating footsteps jolted me to consciousness that my companion had left me.
The business atmosphere and monotonous buzz of the air- conditioned banking hall did little to dispel the uneasy feelings which tugged at my insides.
I obviously wasn’t feeling great by the look of it – or looking great either; going by the faded and rumpled taffeta frock I had on, or the taut and paled face I had glanced in one of the multiple hall mirrors, were any indication.
The fact however, was my upending knowledge: that I was currently embarked on a fruitless journey; just like others before it; I could already envision the plump manager, explaining tersely about bank policies and telling me something about going over to an N.G.O for assistance – not that I wouldn’t try; for the children’s sake, of course, and for the sake of the orphanage.
“The manager would see you now, Miss”.
I snapped my head up; I hadn’t heard anyone approach. “Thank you”, I mouthed, rising from my seat.
“This way ma’am”
I followed the somber faced gentleman down the familiar track of an aisle which led to a small corridor, which in turn led to an oak door with ‘Manager’ emblazoned in bold letters on it.
The large and spacious office was just as I remembered from previous visits; from the sofas and imposing leather padded mahogany table, to the treacherous grin behind it.
“We meet again, Madame,” the portly manager boomed, gesturing to one of the easy chairs across his table with a stiff air of authority which I ignored, but obeyed all the same.
I launched straight into business; placing a large brown envelope on the table top.
“Those are the papers sir, the orphanage’s, including the C of O and official documents of the land on which it stands; for collateral” I had deftly left out the part of our gracious – good hearted land lady sparing the latter items for charity purposes.
There was a momentary period of silence in the room.
The chubby man behind the desk didn’t make a move on the envelope, but kept his expression neutral as he spoke.
“Miss Zika, like I said last time….”
Fearing the direction in which the conversation was taking, I barged in, “That sir,” I said,” is of no importance what so ever right now. We need the loan badly”
Without a crack on his demeanor, my companion continued, “….the orphanage is only just a few months old and is not yet established in any sense; you’ve only just got your license and approval from the government. Besides, a million naira is quite a lumpy sum for a one month payback scheme with your current bank statement, not even considering other things”
I sighed, deflated.
“You could always approach an N.G.O for financial aid,” he added; in conclusion.
But, we both knew it wasn’t as easy as he put it.
It was a long time, however, when I found myself back on the streets.
It was a fiery afternoon; probably not different from other afternoons of disappointments at the bank: in the northern atmosphere.
But, this particular afternoon seemed different in a particularly sober manner; probably because of the unavailability of the local ‘okada’ riders who always seem to fill the streets, or the stiffing heat which was more or less grilling my unprotected face; whichever it was, it only made my anxiety grow a tad higher by the minutes. The disappointment felt as a resultof the failure at the bank was only replaced by an even greater turmoil.
There was little Fati and young Ali: down with the epidemic; and the even more pressing case of Tai: who was protractedly ill with advanced typhoid; there were painful cases of the other orphans who suffered from one grievance or the other; there was the overwhelming case of the orphanage itself: which was really a moderate and humble structure of tarpaulin and corrugated iron sheets( and which was in a terrible state of disrepair); there was the memory of blood curdling screams of the infants at night, whenever they felt uncomfortable ( and there were never enough nurses to take care of them); there was the haunting memory of bitter and lingering smells of urine and vomit in the older children’s quarters; there was the clear memory of soul shattering moans of the sick and emaciated orphans in the sick bay; there was an even greater memory of starved faces and the heart wrenching sobs from the younger children whenever they had a couple of meals too short (which happened too often, due to low rations in the larder and lack of funds). Sometimes, I keep wondering why these soft little innocent creatures around the globe, have to go through such agony, trauma, and pains just because they got unlucky to be born on the wrong side; why such sweet little faces are covered with tears while longing for what should be rightfully theirs: happiness and a place to call home and to feel comfortable in it. God knows, we have tried!
There was the old lady from the women’s fellowship who always dropped by with a basket of something, there was the pretty lady from down the road who hands over a modest check from time to time, there was the old clergy man from the district assembly who always had his good will and a help or two when needed, and there were others, but all these weren’t enough. We still needed to mend the leaking roof of the main hall and we still needed funds for our shorthanded staff force and many other things. Bless the petite lady from the ministry who had helped with procuring our license and approval from the government, but we still had a long run to gain the recognition of an N.G.O.!
Something beeped. I pulled out my phone, wondering how long I had been out in the scorching heat. My blood turned cold. It was a message from Maria, the nun who was responsible for the orphanage’s sick bay; it read:
‘Have you gotten approval for the loan? Come over quickly!’
Knowing Maria, I didn’t need Sherlock Holmes to tell me something was wrong, very wrong.
My suspicions, however, were confirmed.
Tai’s typhoid had suddenly taken a turn for the worse during the night and had escalated ever since.
I stared intently at the face of the child before me. It was pale, frighteningly pale; the sunken eye sockets, jutted cheek bones, sunken cheek and blotched, rough, dry parchment skin looked scary – cadaverous even.
I looked up to the nurse for the confirmation of my worst fear.
He was gone.
My vision blurred instantly as the realization hit me hard and seemed to swim in my head. ‘Oh God,’ I mused, why do these pretty innocent little creatures suffer so much. Why do they always get wrenched away from us? Perhaps he knew best. I thought of the loan I had just missed, and of the other little orphans in the room opposite: Would they also meet with the same fate? Perhaps we might get lucky enough to secure the loan in future, or an N.G.O funding, or government aid? I might never know. I might never feel vindicated for these little sweet unoffending creatures known as children. I #wept: for the child, and all of his kind all over the world.
About two-thirds of child deaths are preventable
They are preventable through access to practical, low-cost interventions, and effective primary care up to five years of age. Child health is improving, but serious challenges remain to achieve global goals to reduce deaths. Stronger health systems are crucial for improving access to care and prevention.
** Samuel Ayodeji