I read a story from Humans of New York (HONY) which made my heart go like the palm oil daughter standing next to that fire. It reminded me of a young teenage boy I used to know. So many memories came flashing back, making me think of how different our story might have turned out if only he had recognized genuine kindness.
Random selfless acts, I reckon, should be the backbone of humankind. May it be our utmost desire to pour out kindness, hoping for nothing in return. More so, when these acts create such profound ripple effects in the life of the receiver. There is the old adage which says, charity begins from home. It does not say, however, that it should stay there. It is beautiful to see how one thoughtful act can change the course of a little boy’s life, as he goes on to empower an entire generation. I wish everyone could read Taila’s and Isaac’s story And aspire to be someone’s saving grace.
In circa 2011, I was studying and hustling in the great city of Douala, Cameroon. I lived in a typical university neighborhood with family houses deep within its shanties. It was common to see children from some of these households roaming the streets, not particularly doing anything meaningful. There was a football field very close to my house. I’d see these kids watching matches, and when the match was over, they’d hang around the field for hours unending. I could walk by heading to campus, and come back four hours later, and they’d still be there, in small groups. I worried about these children, young teens I could tell.
Douala is a big cosmopolitan city with its demands. Everything is expensive. As expensive as life gets, so does the crime rate grow. I figured this group here was susceptible to joining gangs. Professional armed robbers in the making. I couldn’t help them all, but I told myself I could make a difference in one’s life. He was the most friendly of them all.
Cedrick was his name. He stood out because he was well mannered and friendly. I guess we had noticed each other. One day on my way back home I beckoned him and we stroke a conversation. Why was he not in school? I asked. He said he had been out for school fees. In fact, his parents could not afford school anymore. I so wanted to pay his school fees, but I couldn’t afford it, I was a struggling student myself. I promised myself I would, as soon as I started working.
In the meantime, I could teach him some work ethics. Teach him to make an honest living no matter how minute. On my way back from campus, I’d call him to do some task for me, very mundane, like take out my trash. I’d ask him to help me bring my buckets of water from down stirs. I’d give him some pocket change. Nothing grandiose. Coins enough for a meal or two. We had no agreements.
I had no trouble doing these things myself. As well as I could give him the pocket money for no tasks done. I really hoped he learned he was valuable, and people would be willing to pay for his services. Again, I hoped he learned to make an honest living. There were days he and I would just walk from his idle position on the street to my room, sit downstairs while he munched on the little plate of food I could offer him, and chat. In hindsight, I wonder what we talked about? But I had such high hopes for this young man.
Cedrick and I went on strong for a while. Then my sister moved in with me. Back then she was the real madam! She had Cedrick on bigger tasks which required he handled a lot more cash, in his eyes that is. One day I came home to a very disgruntled big sister. What was the problem? She sent Cedrick to get her plantains. Three hours had passed and he still had not returned. How much had she given him? I asked. A lot more than the pocket change we usually gave him.
I can’t remember if I tried to convince her that he would be back. There probably were no ripe plantains in the stores around. I imagined maybe I did that. I believed he was a good kid. Hours turned to days and he never returned. Over the next years, I didn’t see Cedrick again, then I moved out of that neighbourhood.
Maybe Cedrick had a pressing issue and to him, that money for plantain was his answered prayer. Or he was tired of doing my menial tasks. He may have been wary of my company altogether. And to him that cash should be our parting gift. Maybe he lost the cash. Maybe he was uninspired by me, Lord I lived in a very tight, rat-infested, one-bedroom flat. Who did I think I was? Whatever the case, I think he simply did not recognize our kindness in just wanting him to stay away from the streets. Believing that he had ripped us off, meanwhile, I earnestly did see a future for us both. And if any of the above were the case, which I highly doubt they were, we were cool in a way that he could come back and tell me what happened. Only dishonest people run!
A few years later I stumbled on him. He had grown so tall! At first, I was excited to see him after all this time. I greeted him, but his response was foreign. And his demeanor was that of a guilty person.
Are we not sometimes like this, focusing on immediate gratification rather than thinking long-term? And when I say long-term, I am not talking about ripping material benefits, I am talking about great relationships and friendships which bloom out of simple kindness. If material things come along, they are a bi-product of something a lot deeper. There is so much Isaac in the story from HONY could have done to jeopardize the amazing future he finally gets. Instead, he gained a family. All because someone chose to show kindness. He, on his part, was well behaved, hard-working, and focused.
The moral of both stories-
- Firstly, when someone shows you kindness, hope you recognize it, then hold on to that relationship.
- And secondly, may we not be the Cedricks of this world. Exhibiting our myopic view and thereby missing out on future opportunities.
“When it is all said and done, no matter what you achieved, no matter how many summer homes you own, no matter how many cars sit in your driveway, the quality of your life will come down to the quality of your contribution. An ancient Chinese proverb says, ‘a little bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives you roses’ when you work to improve the lives of others, you indirectly elevate your own life in the process. When you take care to practice random acts of kindness daily, your own life becomes far richer and more meaningful. To cultivate the sacredness and sanctity of each day, serve others in some way”