I was released from jail into the harmattan weather of Lokoja. My bones were sore from the fights and beatings I got in Juvie and before. Usually, I was always filled with so much anger and pain. I have never understood it, I just always wanted to punch someone who was either too happy or too comfortable. I sighed deeply as Christmas songs rang in the air, a mother held her son tight as they shopped for Christmas toys. I just stood at the corner of Meshai’s shop in Mami market as I watched children bustling with excitement and the haggling in the market. Everyone seems so busy and preoccupied. I took another look at the mother and son and I felt empty. Usually, I would have had the urge to make the little boy cry but I was just tired. I was only sixteen yet my bones ached as if I was an old man. I was cold and hungry, the scent of indomie noodles being cooked did nothing to help my hunger. I had no money and I was not in the mood to pick-pocket especially as I just came from jail.
The mother adjusted the boy’s cap which had fallen due to his inability to stay still, her eyes twinkled with excitement and mischief as she taped his nose playfully. I was painfully reminded that I was alone, abandoned by my parents. My father had been killed in an accident when I was seven, my mother left me on the bridge, she told me to wait for her as she would be back. I waited for two days, never moving because I was afraid that she might come and miss me. People passed by me, nobody bothered to ask why a young boy was standing out alone on the streets. I had fainted and woken up to a man trying to undress me. It was dark and quiet; I had no idea where I was but I knew that whatever the man had in mind for me wasn’t good and so I struggled to leave his grasp.
He slapped my face so hard that I lost focus. He hissed at me leaving a terrifying odor that reminded me of rotten eggs and onions.
“Stay one place jare before I give you another one.” His deep voice echoed and that was when I knew what fear was.
I was afraid that he would hit me again, he continued to undress me while humming to a familiar song. I was naked when he took a long look at me and grinned. The moon shone brightly which illuminated his intimidating presence which exaggerated his wicked intentions. I screamed out for help, he rushed to silence me but I had picked up a stone in panic and hit him as hard as I could on his forehead. Immediately he grunted, I turned and ran in no specific direction. I screamed and screamed but there was no one there, it was as if my voice was muted and I was the only one in the world.
I ran for so long until I was so tired that I couldn’t move. I realized I was naked and hid inside an abandoned car. I shivered in the cold and prayed for help. I cried until I realized nobody was coming to help me, it took me time but I found my rhythm and style. I became notorious for causing trouble on the streets and I lived up to that reputation. This landed me in the police station so many times that they know me by more than my name. The streets are harsh especially if you are soft, what I discovered was that I was not that different. There were many of us who were abandoned, some ran from abusive homes and worse stories. There is kinship in knowing that you are not the only one in misery.
The crying shook me out of my thoughts. The small boy was crying because his mother did not buy what he wanted. I shook my head at him, and got distracted by the sharp pain in my stomach. It was a familiar kind of ache that came from hunger, I don’t know what it was about today but I just had no motivation to do anything.
I walked aimlessly around until I caught sight of the river, I walked towards it until I felt it, I walked until I was knee deep. That moment, I wondered what would happen if I kept walking. If I died, nobody would miss me, I was practically a waste of oxygen. I had no dreams, no passion… I felt exhausted and broken. I decided to let go and just go with the flow of the river. I had already begun to sink when I heard the voice behind me.
“Are you hungry?” I looked back to see an elderly woman with kind eyes.
I frowned at her and gave her my best “stay away from me” glare.
She chuckled “Come, I have goatmeat pepper-soup available, I assure you… it’s free.”
“You fit don poison am.” I retorted and she grinned at me.
“Does it matter? You look like you were about to do some damage yourself. It’s a day to Christmas, come out before you catch a cold.” She replied so gently, I was compelled to move out of the river and followed her.
She came by herself for a picnic which is strange, she served me in a beautiful plate with a cold bottle of coke.
I took a spoonful and moaned because of how good it was. I felt her eyes on me and completely ignored her. I kept eating and finished a plate in the blink of an eye.
She served me another and this time, I took my time savoring the meal.
“I no know say food fit sweet like this ooo” I commented.
“With the right ingredients, anything can taste like a piece of heaven.” She said with a straight face.
“It is one day to Christmas… how do you feel?” She asked.
“Full” I replied with a smile. My bones had stopped hurting and my stomach stopped aching. I felt revived.
“How were you feeling moments ago?” She wrapped me in a blanket.
I stared at the blanket and the tears fell from my eyes.
“Hopeless…” I replied silently.
“There is nothing a hot meal cannot solve.” She patted my head.
I stared at her while she closed her eyes, I had never met anyone like her… it was the first time anyone had offered me a meal and a blanket. I felt something mend inside of me.
“How would you like to be my son?” She asked with twinkling eyes.
“W..what?” I stammered.
“I have no children of my own, my family died few years ago in a car accident. I was also going to take my life too… after eating of course, I never do anything on an empty stomach. Then, I saw you… your eyes had no life in it. How about we fill each other empty spaces in our lives? I presume you don’t have parents?” She asked.
“I… I no get but why me?”
“Why not you? I have never been to this side of Lokoja before but for some reason, I wanted to be here at this time. Maybe you are my Christmas miracle.” She said as a tear dropped from her eyes.
“I can take care of you; we can take care of each other.” She continued.
“What if I be bad person, you just see stranger for road and just like that…” I stared at her as if she was crazy.
“What are you afraid of? You were ready to throw your life away, we both were… sometimes the most complicated situations have a simple answer. I believe in my heart that we were meant to meet. We can take this slow… How about spending Christmas together tomorrow?” She asked with so much optimism.
I had nothing better to do and so I agreed.
She took me to her house and it was the biggest, most beautiful place I had ever been. It felt cold, she was the only one in it.
“The help comes and goes every day. You can use that room; it should have clothes you can change into in the wardrobe.” I nodded and walked in that direction.
“What is your name?” She asked.
“Noah, just Noah.” I kept my sentences short; I was speechless and shocked by the whole event.
I was afraid that this was a dream as much as I was scared that it wasn’t. I closed my eyes and woke up to discover that it was the next day.
“Good morning to you!!! I tried waking you but you wouldn’t budge so I assumed you needed rest. The doctor will check up on you soon so get ready.” She said as she was busy cooking food with a young girl in the kitchen.
“D…doctor? Why? Wetin happen?” I grimaced.
She laughed out loud at my reaction.
“Look at your bruises and how malnourished you look… I just want him to take a general look at you. You don’t have to be scared of a doctor!”
“I no fear!” I defended myself.
She smirked “If you say so.”
“I no fear o.” I repeated myself.
“Okay sir.” She pushed me towards the room.
The doctor bandaged and cleaned out my cuts.
“Quite the handsome young man. He just needs a lot of water and balanced meals. I would only come here for you on Christmas day.” He packed his tools in a box and left.
“Come, let’s eat.”
I picked up a spoon to eat and she slapped my hands.
“Wetin I do now?” I grumbled.
“No prayers?!” She prayed on the food and I mumbled Amen.
The jollof rice was so delicious that I cried. How is it that food like this exists?! I wondered how people could stop themselves from eating all the time especially when it tasted as good as this. I bit into the fried and crispy chicken… I was so filled with awe at the crunchy yet soft spicy taste of the piece in my mouth. I gave her a thumbs up that made her grin and shake her head at me.
It was hard to believe what was happening, it was like I slept and slipped into a world that had all the answers to prayers I never dared to say out loud. I was beginning to get comfortable and understood what she meant by a miracle because that was the only way to explain the absurd change in my life.
“Agree to be my son… After the holidays, my lawyer can draft up adoption papers. Please, Noah” She begged with a smile.
I don’t know where this road will lead, but I will see it through to the end. Joy or pain, only time would tell.
“E no go bad, madam.” I replied to her mimicking her grin. This was the best Christmas ever.