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Nigeria's leading story blog. Unconditional Love, Sacrifice, Family Bond, Selflessness, Aspiration, Courage and Faith.

“So, when you grow up, what would you like to be?” Nneka asked her pupils. Her face was beaming with a resplendent smile. Her passion for life, her love for teaching and care for her students were infectious. Each time she smiled, her pupils smiled in response, almost in sync; as though they were under the spell of her adorable smile. From one end of the classroom to another, smiles were beaming all over with pure juvenile innocence and a zest for life. Hands sprouted in the air like seeds germinating simultaneously. “Aunty I…Aunty I…Aunty I,” they bellowed in an attempt to beat one another to Nneka’s question. “Okay, you first Patience,” Nneka finally said pointing at one of her star students. Patience was slightly taller than her peers. She was well liked in class, and very intelligent. “When I grow up, I want to be a doctor,” she answered with a ravishing smile. Her entire thirty two teeth flashed brilliantly as she stood at her desk. Her well patterned braid glistened along with her smile. “So, why do you want to be a doctor?” Nneka asked her. “Because I want to wear long white robes and study about diseases. I want to cure people.” “That is beautiful Patience. It is wonderful that you want to cure the sick. What about you Chima?” Chima was a shy boy, albeit very intelligent. He said very little in class, but on the playground, he was a bulldozer. His mother was a teacher, so he seemed to study more than his peers at home, and as a result, he was among the top three students in his class. He wore spectacles due to an eye ailment he was born with.

“I want to be a Chemical Engineer,” Chima said with a subdued smile. “Do you mind telling us why, Chima?” “Yes aunty. I want to be a Chemical Engineer because I want to work for the biggest oil company in the country. Besides, my father is a Chemical Engineer, so I want to be like him when I grow up.” “Wonderful!” Nneka exclaimed in her characteristic ebullient manner. “What of you Ikemefuna?” “I want to be a lawyer,” he answered without hesitation. Ikemefuna was cantankerous, always picking a fight with a classmate. One evening, a neighbor had told him that he behaved like a lawyer, so he bought into the idea, hook line and sinker. From that day on, he told everyone who cared to listen that he was going to be a lawyer. “Why?” “I want to be a lawyer because lawyers are respected. I want to throw all the bad people in prison and fight for innocent people,” he answered with unrestrained energy. “That is wonderful. Society needs more of your kind, Ikem. What about you Onyenachi?” Onyenachi said she would like to be a nurse so she could care for sick people. Lotanna, wanted to be a pilot, so he could fly all over the world. Ijeoma said she would like to be a nurse too. Sandra said her dream was to become a medical doctor, so she could find the cure for malaria. John wanted to be a Civil Engineer, so he could build mansions. The list continued. Nneka made sure she had something pleasant to say about each of her pupils’ aspirations. Her smile appeared to grow stronger and bolder with each passing minute.

As Nneka went from the front of the class to the back, Ikechukwu sat quietly at the back. He was his usual quiet self. He said very little in class, and always seemed to be in a deep thought. He was not among the very top students in his class, but he was not far from that top list though. He was resolute, very sure of himself and calm. He was not afraid to say his mind even when the entire class was up against him. It seemed like he always had a divergent opinion from the rest of the world and today was not any different. His classmates were eager to find out what his aspirations were. “What of you? What do you want to be when you grow up?” Chinwe asked Ikechukwu before Nneka reached their desk. Her voice was a quiet whisper, which only Ikechukwu heard. Chinwe was Ikechukwu’s neighbor in class. They had been sitting together from the beginning of the academic year. Nneka moved her pupils around every now and again to get them to know one another better. For some reason, she had yet to separate Chinwe and Ikechukwu. “I don’t know yet,” Ikechukwu replied. “What of you?” He whispered additionally. Chinwe looked at him as though he (Ikechukwu) had fallen out of the moon. “What do you mean you don’t know?” She whispered with a bemused look on her face. “I don’t know,” Ikechukwu insisted. “You are always different right? Everyone knows what they want to be except you. You just like to be different. Well, I want to be a doctor,” Chinwe shot back at him managing to keep her voice to a whisper.

When it was Chinwe’s turn, she reeled out her answer with boisterous zeal. “I want to be a doctor because I want to cure people with malaria, typhoid fever and all kinds of diseases,” she said as her loud voice echoed through the classroom. “That is very wonderful Chinwe. You keep working hard and you will get there.” “Thanks!” She replied with a wide smile that left her eyes sunken in the happy contours that arrived on her face along with that big smile. “Ikechukwu what would you like to be when you grow up?” Nneka asked. Everyone looked back, eager to find out what Ikechuwku’s aspirations were. He said nothing for a moment, as though he was mulling over the question. “Do you want to share with us Ikechukwu?” Nneka pressed him gently, still maintaining a smile on her face. Then, Ikechukwu responded. “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up aunty. You see, there are other things that confuse me…things that worry me and I have yet to find an answer to them. Maybe when I do, then I can think of what I want to be when I am an adult.” Everyone in class looked perplexed, including Nneka. She managed to hide hers though, letting a smile embellish her face. “Would you like to share those things with us Ikechukwu,” she persuaded him as gently as she could.

“Aunty,” he said after another wait. “Yes, go ahead.” “This morning, I am sure most of my classmates had breakfast before coming to school. Some of them even had their parents drop them off in their cars. Some have lunch boxes packed for the afternoon. Clearly, they are wearing a different set of uniforms today than they did yesterday. I did not have breakfast this morning. I am not sure of lunch either. I am hoping there will be dinner – you see, dinner is almost certain in my family, but breakfast and lunch are hard to come by. My parents save the little we have for just supper. At least we have something in our stomach before we go to bed. I have been wearing the same set of uniforms from last year. I have almost grown out of them, but since my parents cannot afford another one, I have to keep wearing the same set. My mother has patched them up the best she could. I have never had scandals, so I walk to school on bare feet. My parents work very hard, yet we are poor…And I love them so much. I always tell my father that when I grow up, I want to help him. I don’t know how, but I just want to help my father and mother; to help my brothers and sisters. When my little sister cries for lack of food at home, it leaves me in tears. I carry her in my arms and I tell her that someday, I want to look after her. I want to wipe her tears away. I want to buy Christmas clothes for my siblings and parents. In the past four years, no one has gotten Christmas clothes in my house. On Christmas day when our neighbors file out in bright new clothes, we hang our heads in shame as we shuffle to church in the same old, ragged clothes.”

He paused for a moment as if he wanted to make certain that he was driving home his point. “Aunty, it is hard to think about anything else than ending the pains that torture your family when you find yourself in my shoes. I just want to help my parents, brothers and sisters – that is my dream for now. I go to bed every night thinking of that. I wake up praying to grow up and help. That is all I want to do now. I don’t know how I am going to do it, or what I am going to become, but whatever that comes to be, I sure hope it allows me to wipe the tears I know run down the cheeks of my parents when they lay down at night thinking of what their children will eat tomorrow!” Nneka did not know whether to let the tears flow or whether to hide them. Torn, she walked closer to Ikechukwu and took him in her arms. “I am so sorry to hear what your family has been going through Ikechukwu!” She said emotionally. “Take my lunch!” Chinwe offered, holding her bread and egg out to Ikechukwu. “You can have it all, I don’t care. I will bring you more tomorrow,” she said emphatically. Tears rolled down her face, as with her classmates. Even those who did not like Ikechukwu before now felt a deep pang of pity for him. “You can have mine too,” Patience offered. She held out her lunch box with one hand while she wiped tears off her face with the other. Sandra was sobbing violently. She was one of the smallest pupils in Nneka’s class. She hopped off her seat and walked over to Ikechukwu who was still wrapped up in Nneka’s arms. “Please can I hug you too Ikechukwu?” She asked. “I don’t want to be a doctor anymore. When I grow up, I want to be just like you Ikechukwu. I just want to help people starting with my family.” She placed one of her short, slender arms on Ikechukwu’s back and the other on Nneka’s legs. She tried so hard to get a better hold of Ikechukwu who was crying too. “I just want to be like you!” Sandra said more emphatically.

After a prolonged hug, Nneka hesitantly let go of Ikechukwu, but Sandra would not let go. She put both arms around him as if her hands could wipe his searing pains away. Nneka wiped her face, sniffed for a moment and looked around the class, almost dazed. “Thanks for sharing your situation with us Ikechukwu. I will bring you lunch every day and something you can take home for dinner, okay?” She said, still somewhat perplexed. She wanted to wipe all his tears away, but she didn’t quite know how, or if she could solve all of his family’s problems. “We’ll bring something for Ikechukwu everyday too!” Patience suggested. “Yes!” The rest of the class offered. “I hope that will help, Ikechukwu?” Nneka asked hoping that somehow, she and her pupils were being of help. “Stop crying my boy,” she encouraged him trying to get hold of him again, but little, feisty Sandra wouldn’t let go. She held tightly onto Ikechukwu. “It is okay Sandra,” Nneka coaxed her. Half-heartedly, Sandra loosened the grip on her left arm, but not her right arm. She wanted to maintain some hold on Ikechukwu. Now that he had some room to breathe, Ikechukwu managed to wipe his tears, took a deep breath and said, “Chinwe can I have the lunch? I am really hungry.” “Yes, have it all,” Chinwe offered generously. “Go ahead and eat Ikechukwu,” Nneka encouraged her. “Can I have yours too Patience, so I can run over to the next building and offer it to my younger brother who is in elementary four. He could use some food too.”

“Yes!” Patience said exuberantly delighted to be of some help. “Eat first Ikechukwu. When you finish, then I can go to the other building with you to offer the other box to your brother,” Nneka suggested. “Please aunty; can I go offer that to my brother first? He is younger. I think he needs it more than I do,” Ikechukwu pleaded. Another streak of tears spontaneously dropped from Nneka’s eyes. She tried to wipe them, but more tears surged to the fore with relentless force. She walked over to her purse, took a handkerchief and wiped her face. “It is okay, sit down and eat Ikechukwu. Patience please hand me that box. I will go over to elementary four and offer this to your brother,” Nneka offered. “Thanks aunty. His name is Kenechukwu. He is in elementary four B,” Ikechukwu said. “Okay, I will make sure he gets it.” Only then did Ikechukwu sit down to eat the bread and fried egg that Chinwe had offered him. Sandra ran over to her school bag and dug out a box of Capri-Sonne, which she offered to Ikechukwu. “Aunty please can you give this to my brother too?” Ikechukwu requested instead, as Nneka was leaving. She turned back, took the juice from him and headed out. I pray I can be just like him, she thought to herself as she left the class still fighting back tears. After handing the windfall to Ikechukwu’s brother, she went to the bathroom, locked herself in and cried emotionally. Lord, please make me like that little boy. He has taught me the best lesson of my life, she thought to herself.


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Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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