The boy ran as fast as his thin legs could carry him to the black moving car. He was breathing heavily like someone who was being chased. It was like he was being chased after all, this was his way of life. Ever since he lost his parents at age nine, he had been forced to face a hard and tough life. His uncle and his wife had taken him unwillingly under their care. They were a little way under poor, His uncle was a roadside mechanic with a meagre income while his uncle’s wife was a tailor who didn’t even know what she was doing. She was mean and wicked and didn’t have a child of her own yet.
She brought the suggestion of him selling cold drinks in the traffic about a year ago, and that was how he found himself under the scorching sun everyday after school. His feet were blistered from running barefooted almost every time after cars and buses. It was too much suffering for him at his age but there was nothing he could do. He wouldn’t eat if he didn’t earn enough.
The particular car he was running after this afternoon stopped after sometime, he didn’t blame the driver for going that far before stopping. The traffic was heavy as usual and every time a car moved in the front, the car had to follow because of some impatient people at the back.
The owner's seat window slid down and he was amused to see it was a white man with earphones plugged in his ears. He couldn’t hide his amusement as he let go of a wide smile which exposed his dentition. He saw white people pass in their cars from time to time but he had not actually sold anything to them, he heard other boys say that the whites were usually wary of what they bought in traffic, they didn’t trust Nigerian stuffs so they hardly ever stop.
Jeff Olson watched the boy amusingly, the smile that lit his face on sighting him. He also noticed the boy's perfect teeth which was slightly yellow. Jeff poked his head out the car's window to get a full look at the smiling boy who couldn’t be more than ten. The boy looked scrawny, he wore a small shirt which had big holes in them, the short he was wearing had patches and was also torn in some places and he had no shoes on.
He was moved to pity at the sight of the little boy who had by now stopped smiling. The poor boy probably thought it was wise to stop smiling at someone who wasn’t smiling back at him. It wasn't his fault though. He was feeling really sorry for him.
“What’s your name?” Jeff heard himself ask.
Confusion filled the boy’s features. He wasn’t expecting the question. “Jamil.” He answered gingerly.
Sensing the boy's uneasiness, Jeff smiled at the boy to assure him he was safe. “It’s okay Jamil, how old are you?”
The traffic moved a little bit so the driver had to move, he motioned for the boy to get in the car.
Jamil hesitated a bit but got in, his friends who saw him get in the car would raise an alarm if anything happened to him, and more so he didn’t feel any bad vibes coming from the man.
Cold air washed over him as he settled beside the man making him shiver instantly. He looked dirty next to the white man and he grew so ashamed of himself, he placed the little basket containing a few cold drinks which had begun to lose their chill as a result of the heat on his laps.
“Can you speak English?” Jeff asked.
The boy nodded, he heard but wasn’t all that fluent in speaking it. Jamil even though poor was a brilliant boy. His teachers always commented on his intelligence and brilliance. The death of his parents had slowed his education and that was why he was still in primary four at age twelve. Too bad he won’t be going further after the term ended, his uncle and his wife had made that much clear to him.
“Where are your parents? Did they send you to do this?” he spoke slowly so the boy could follow him.
“No sir. They have die.”
“Sorry about that, so who do you live with?”
“My uncle and her wife, they send me to hawk this.” He pointed to the basket on his laps and Jeff understood him.
He was touched, deeply touched. He wondered what the government was doing to this kind of situation. Everywhere he turned he saw boys and girls, older and younger than Jamil running around in the traffic trying to make sales. Not caring about their life but their next sale as they weaved in and out of the traffic.
On one of his numerous visit to Nigeria, a young boy had stood in front of his windscreen to clean it with soap and water. His driver then had angrily shouted at the boy to leave it alone as he was just bringing the car from the car wash. In the process of cleaning whatever he had spilled on the windscreen off, he didn’t notice the car in front that was reversing back carelessly. The timely shouts of his friend and years of trained reflexes had gotten him out of the way.
Jamil's toe curled up, both in apprehension, anticipation and cold. How lucky he was for him to sit with a white man in his car. His friends would surely go green with envy.
“My name is Jeff Olson and I am an engineer.” Jeff introduced himself to the boy who smiled shyly back and nodded his head.
“We are approaching the turn sir.” The driver informed him.
Jeff looked up and saw they were about to veer towards the road leading to his destination. He wished he had more time with the boy. He brought out his wallet and counted out a few hundred dollars which he folded.
“Take this Jamil,” he pressed the folded notes into the boys hand. “If I am right, this should be enough to start something up for you. Find someone you can trust with your life and give this to him or her.”
Jamil sat shocked where he was, he just couldn’t believe his luck! ‘This must be a dream’ he thought. He looked at the folded money in his hand. Dollars!!!
Tears streamed down his face without his permission, he wanted to lie down flat but the car wouldn’t allow, so instead he grabbed on to the man's leg and cried on it.
Jeff lifted him up so he could sit right and look at him. “Be careful with that money Jamil. Make sure you do something wise and profitable with it.”
Jamil continued crying uncontrollably, his shoulder racked as fresh wave of tears washed over him. “Thank you very much sir. God bless you.”
Jeff patted him on the shoulder and instructed the driver to park at a safe place so he could get down.
Jamil thanked him over and over again and got down. As the car sped off in the distance he pinched himself so hard to wake himself up from his daydream. He unfolded the notes in his hand and started counting. The dollar bill was in hundred and he had ten crispy notes in his hand. What a luck!!
He began shaking as he calculated in his head. Just yesterday in school, he had overheard two of his teachers discussing the rise in dollars and what it affected. He recalled one of the teachers saying a dollar was now five hundred and forty nine. As he did the calculation, he fell to his knees not minding who was looking at him.
A staggering five hundred thousand naira plus!!!... For a twelve year old like him. Wasn’t Allah so wonderful?