For Boys Like Us
I was in Ulasi Road Primary School with Naeto Uche Njie for a video shoot of his spoken word piece. We had just finished the first and second scenes and sat on the school football field to review the video when I suggested a third scene.
Uche desired to feature a boy. Any boy. Just any boy.
We scanned the field in search of wandering boys and found a sachet water hawker.
His name, Chimaobi.
Uche gestured at him to come over. He started towards us, a bowl of his ware on his head, a scowl on his face, dust plastered feet in a worn pair of slipper.
Uche engaged him in a conversation in Igbo language. They talked about his education, family, child labour, the boy child, endless hopes and hopeless ends.
“Agara m school na Monday. Ubochi ndi ozo, m ga re pure water”. (I go to school on Mondays. On other days, I sell sachet water).
I’d pause replying a chat and shift my gaze to his face. I could see he’s not satisfied. His voice betrayed him. Poor boy.
When Uche asked what he’d love to be when he grows up. His face lit up, a smile that wasn’t there peeked through the cracked walls of his sweaty face.
“Yes, achoro m ibu doctor!”
He’d proceed to tell us what being a doctor entails, smiling shyly.
He seemed lost in his fantasies and rainbow lines of a joy he may never have tickled his boy heart with sparks of hope.
Uche smiled and fed him a piece of his heart: the struggles of a boy child. And. The. Beauty. Of. Art.
I glued my eyes to my phone screen pretending to reply Sabrina’s chat, while eavesdropping on Uche’s tale. I wondered at the time what turn Uche’s life would have taken if someone had fold him in the arms of brotherhood and encouraged him in quite the same way.
Uche told him of struggles, of hunger, of rage, of cold, of dreams, of hope.
We also didn’t forget to tell him about poetry; what it is and why we love it.
From a very young age, boys like Chimaobi are ushered into life from the altars of a stolen pleasures into broken homes and taught the syllables of hunger pangs. He’s taught to brave through the storm like a wingless chicken and learn to float in pool of bottled up tears. No, a boy do not cry. He implodes the pain until they built up like biceps of faux masculinity over his broken spirit.
Some of this training is good. Sometimes, a boy graduates with a degree of independence and self-confidence. Most times, a boy uconsciously push through into becoming exactly the kind of man who will continue to attack life like a rapist attacks a girl child, because he don’t know how to think any differently, until he let’s go of everything and find solace in the peaceful stillness of death.
But, dear boy, you shall find joy.
Like Uche would say, “I know of persistence and courage. I know how they parent success”
For boys who sing the stars to sleep with sad symphonies that make angles weep, you shall find joy.
For boys whose tears are seen even in the rain, you shall find joy.
For boys like us, who daily beat the wind to it’s game and spread our wings with the intent of perching on the sun, we shall find joy.
For boys whose dreams are chained behind bars for offenses you didn’t commit, you shall find joy.
For boys like Chimaobi whose only chance at education is sacrificed on the altar of hardship, may you fine joy.
Sorry, I digress.
Chimaobi agreed to feature in the next scene. I reeled out his role in English (my love for spri spri) while he nodded to Uche’s Igbo translations.
He played his role perfectly.
I found joy.
Uche found joy.
Chimaobi found joy.
We posed for this photoshoot.
Boys like us. We beautiful.
This happened a week ago. I ran into Chimaobi on Tuesday on my way home from work.
He waved. I waved.
He called me ‘brother’
I did feel like one. His brother.
So while I lie on my bed tonight and invite sleep to bear me away on her snowy wings, I visualize the unusual smile that would accompany Chimaobi to bed (maybe a mat) tonight.
In his smile, I have found joy.