by Wilfred Okiche
I trust that Elizabeth Gilbert will forgive me for blatantly lifting the title of her bestselling book. I really could not help it and hope she understands. If she doesn’t….
I am no longer a boy (puberty has made sure of that), but not quite a man yet. I think that I am somewhere in between. Whenever I think of the great man I want to be, I remember the child i was. Somedays, and more especially today, i look at children in their innocence as they celebrate children’s day and i envy them because those childhood days were the best times of my life – for many reasons generally, but for these three gifts in particular :
I loved to eat, and I still do. Meal times were happy times to be looked forward to. 7am-1pm-7pm. Sundays and wednesdays were firm favourites because we were served rice – fried, jollof, white – it didn’t really matter. We didn’t much care for beans then (now i know better), eba and soup was a task we reluctantly took part in, only because we were rewarded with a piece of meat at the end of it. Our childish taste buds preferred the tasty sweetness of egusi and vegetable soups leaving the acquired tastes for onugbu soup to the adults. Mum was having none of that though, she made sure we ate whatever we were served, starving was the only other option. Chocolate and ice cream was a definite no no, except on special occasions and though we thought mum was being thrifty back then, we know better now.
I still love my food, only meal times do not come at regular hours anymore and the quality of some of what I eat, mother would cringe at, but what do i do?
I learnt to pray as a child – I remember cramming The Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23, and the proud sense of accomplishment i felt when i could finally recite them off hand and the teacher who tried to break my spirit by telling me after a proud recitation of the poem/prayer: “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John”, that i should not be saying such prayers. i learnt early on how to talk to God, more like how to ask him for stuff by starting with “Oh God please…” and i recall the house help (don’t even look at me like that, you know you had one too) reminding us every morning and night to say our prayers, from our lips, straight to God’s ear.
The holy books say you should train a child in the right way so he does not depart from it in later years. I do not pray as often as i should these days or as often as mom would like me to, but God knows i try.
If in this life, i never find that heart stopping, soul shaking kind of romantic love we all dream about, i will be content with the fact that i knew love as a child. i know love because i am someone’s child, for who else can replicate mother’s love? Hugging you to her breasts and comforting you while you cried. Not so expressive was father’s love (I remember the fine strokes of cane and the red welts left on skin), but it was love all the same, just expressed in a different way and i am better for it i must say. Whitney Houston, and George Benson before her, once sang that the greatest love you of all is the love you give and get from a child. Unconditional, how true, for it is this love that i carry with me at all times.
I once heard these all important words, words i know will guide me even as i raise my own children someday: “never tell a child he is useless, he might grow up believing it.” Children are ours to love and protect. Remember to take a look at one Nigerian child today and look back on how you used to be.
A happy Children’s Day to all children all over the world, and to us too – after all we were children not too long ago and in some ways, we still are.