The hope dealer from the ‘barracks’

Transitions is one subject that clearly mirrors life. It seems we are all at various points of transition, from one level to another; from someplace down to someplace up; from someplace up to someplace down. From babyhood to teenage years through young adulthood to grey days.

From being single to being parents with the noise of children about, and from having the noise of children about to empty nest, when the children leave home, to continue their own transitions. I pay the subject of transitions particular attention because of the fact that it manifests differently from one individual to another. There are always variations as to how much time people spend on one point, before they make the move upwards or downwards.

Some people have an idea as to how long they would stay at some point but others are rather indifferent or just plain ignorant of the season they’re in.

Not so for Emeka, who once lived in Ijesha, a sprawling part of Surulere in Lagos. He didn’t find it funny, as we say, when he found out that he was the 28th ‘legal’ tenant in the compound, many people called ‘barracks’ those days. Because he was desperate (and very low on cash) he did not check out the state of the toilets available inside the ‘barracks.’ By the following morning when he got up to use the toilet, he found a queue of his new neighbours waiting their turn as the only two toilets available were already engaged. This sight lessened the impact of a bigger discovery he had just made: his room was the last room before the toilets! He had to adjust to the new reality, and he learnt fast because as soon as he heard the shuffling of feet behind him, he asked, “Who’s the last person?” A middle-aged woman answered without looking in his direction. “Na me.”

None of these seemed strange to me when Emeka relayed the story but something he told me about a particular lady, and what he did enriched my experience of life. Emeka hadn’t lived in the ‘barracks’ for more than two weeks when he noticed that a particular tenant in one of the rooms woke up at least four times every night to use the toilet. How did he know it was the same tenant? Her door, and the way she dragged her feet on the ground as she walked. Her door made this terribly creaking sound every time someone opened or shut it.

Emeka knew it was just a matter of applying some grease or any of the more common cooking oil to the hinges, and the ‘barracks’ would have some peace at night but she didn’t seem to care or did she? Maybe she couldn’t help it. Maybe she couldn’t help herself. Heaven doesn’t only help those who help themselves. Sometimes, heaven waits for those who help themselves to help those who cannot help themselves. Because this was Emeka’s philosophy he found a way around the problem. Rather than seeing her as an inconsiderate irritant disturbing his sleep every night, he began to see her as an opportunity. The first thing he did was oil the hinges of the offending door. He made sure no one was about at the time (that he did it in the barracks where people were constantly about, without being discovered, didn’t quite surprise him since he always believed that certain forces beyond him always come to the aid of those who try to keep away flies from the tailless cow!).

He went about this task secretly because he didn’t want to be accused of witchcraft or any such thing. The next thing Emeka did had to do with what he suspected was wrong with her. He didn’t tell her but he began to think she was probably suffering from one of the common diabetes. Clearly, diabetes was a bigger kettle of fish than an offending door but he was undeterred. However, he needed first to confirm his suspicion.

How would he go about it without arousing suspicion, even from her? He kept at it, trying to figure the best way to get her out of the house to some clinic where her blood samples could be taken for tests. Then the thought came: arrange with a clinic, promise to donate blood to its blood bank, and invite her to come along with him, as the clinic would be presenting special gifts to those who donate blood to its blood bank regularly.

Since he was a known face at the hospital it wasn’t difficult for him to convince the medical director of his plan. He explained the details to him and they agreed (he’d donate his blood after which they’d ask his neighbour to let them prick her index finger before she makes her own donation. But they weren’t going to bleed her. They would simply take her sample and inform her, feigning surprise, that there’s enough blood in the bank, at the moment. Then they’d thank her for offering to donate blood to the hospital, and give her some gifts in appreciation. This way, they got the sample they needed for the tests.

As Emeka suspected, she indeed had diabetes. But how were they going to manage it? Another challenge again. Of course, he didn’t bother with how much his neighbour would contribute.

He’d give a portion of his salary towards the purchase of the necessary drugs, and some that would complement the effectiveness of the drugs.

Emeka continues to do this for his beloved neighbour, even after he moved house on account of a better job (with better pay).

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