Yesterday evening I was at the Ajah market to meet a couple of people. Standing outside a salon in the midst of some men getting the information I wanted, I felt someone tug at my sweatpants and I quickly held on to the waist because it seemed like it was the person’s job to pull it off me. I looked down, saw a little girl whose nose looked like it had never been cleaned while her face and hair were smeared with dirt. My heart immediately went out to her. I thought she was cute even with all that dirt. Before I could speak to her or she could say anything to me, one of the boys I was talking to shooed her away.
I watched her cross the street, her tiny bare feet stomping the ground as she crossed to the other side of the road. She stopped by another shop and held on to a man’s feet. The owner of the store also chased her away but I saw that the man whose leg she held on to gave her some money. She took to her heels again, bare feet picking up speed, then she turned a corner and she was gone.
I felt bad, I should have given her some money just like that other man. As I continued to chat with the boys, I couldn’t get the little girl out of my mind so I asked one of them “That small girl that came to beg just now, where is her mother?”
“Her mother dey that side,” One of the boys answered me as he pointed at the corner where the little girl had escaped into “but the woman no too get sense”
“Sense how? Does she have a shop here?” I asked, curious now
“No oh. When she dey here, she dey sweep front of our shop before everybody resume so we go give am small money. She no dey okay like sha”
“Take me to her, please,” I asked the young man who had been responding to my questions
In a very short while, we had rounded the corner and I immediately saw the little girl; seated on the floor, wide-eyed, squeezing water from a half-empty pure water sachet into her mouth. She was not alone, there was a woman seated on a white plastic chair beside her, backing me.
As soon as the girl saw me, I waved at her and she quickly ran to me, holding on to my legs, tilted her head a little so her big eyes could look at me then she stretched out her hands, palm open. I took her had and walked up to the mother.
“Hello ma,” I said as I tapped her shoulder. The woman turned around in her chair and I could see immediately why the boys said she didn’t have ‘sense’…she was a woman with Down Syndrome. I didn’t know what I was expecting but I was taken aback.
Still holding on to the little girl’s hand, I greeted the lady. “Good evening madam. I saw your daughter on the street and I thought I should say hello to her before I go” This lady looked at me, looked down at her daughter and in a sudden movement, stood and grabbed the girl from around my feet and started screaming at me. Her words were slurred but I could hear her asking me to stay away from her daughter. I looked at the young man who escorted me and he just shrugged and said “I tell you na”
What I saw wasn’t a crazy woman, I saw a scared woman, a woman who held on tight to her daughter and still looked helpless. She was warning me and begging me at the same time, crying. I tried to calm her down “It’s okay, I just want to say hello to your daughter, it’s okay…” I said in a low voice, tears filling my eyes. I was so sad and confused. I was also curious. I looked around, no one cared, everyone went about their business.
Still holding on to the girl, the woman grabbed her bag, turned the little girl around so she could balance on her back, held on to her feet. Still asking me to stay away, teary eyes looking straight into mine, daring me… she rushed past me
So I stood there, motionless, watched her limp away, flag down a bike and pfft, she was gone.
I asked around, no one knew her story, they just knew she would disappear and reappear in her own time, always with her daughter.
I sat in my car for a long time, the tears I had held back, now flowing freely. That woman’s panic expression would not leave my head. Even in her state, she protected her daughter. But what if I could overpower her? What happens, when someone really wants to take that girl from her, and all she has are her eyes, begging for the world not to take that one companion away?
What happens then?