Over the weekend, I went to visit my niece at her boarding school. It was visiting day at one of these model colleges owned and run by the Lagos state government.
As we drove in, I saw kids spilling out everywhere, many of them with eager eyes trained on the gate awaiting their parents’ arrival. They defied several attempts by teachers and even the police who drove them back to stay within the classroom areas so as to ensure adequate security particularly after several incidents of kidnap of Model college students in recent times.
But these kids were oblivious toany form of danger, all they wanted to see were their parents, their families, guardians, or even siblings coming with coolers of food and drinks for them. A good number of them looked dirty and unkempt. Nothing unusual among kids in boarding houses, particularly, those who are yet to find their feet in a new environment like a boarding school and are also learning to care for themselves.
These images took me back many years past to my days at FGGC Bida, Niger state where I had my secondary school education. I remember always waiting anxiously, too, hoping against hope that I would get called that my parents had come to visit me from Lagos.
Back then, once I left for school, I had no means of getting in touch with my parents until the end of the term, which was four months away. There were no phones to call home on a whim, the way these kids are privileged to. We had no GSM or email to reach our parents back in the day. We relied solely on NIPOST (Nigerian Post Office) which usually took some two to three weeks to get our letters across to Lagos and back. Not very encouraging if the message was urgent.
Thankfully, today’s kids hardly have these kinds of constraints. I know my kids can reach me at the touch of a button; they can email me, they can use their teacher’s phones to call me whenever they need to and it’s almost as if they are home and not in a boarding school.
As parents after parents arrived, I observed how some kids just sat forlorn; some with a sense of dread, eyeing their luckier colleagues whose parents had come; others wouldn’t take their eyes off the entrance, just so they didn’t miss mum or dad arriving and yet, you could almost read others like a book, the words – mummy or daddy just may not come today were written boldly on their young faces.
A few had already come to that conclusion and were sniveling into their sleeves; I saw one of two hungrily eye the bags of provision one mother brought for her kids.
Then I saw him, this young boy. He stood out. He looked about 11 or 12 years. He sat alone and quietly contemplated the rest of his friends as they hugged their parents. He didn’t linger on the steaming rice some of his friends were scooping into their mouths nor dwelled too much on those gulping down cold Pepsi.
He seemed sure; and only occasionally checked the huge wrist watch on his thin wrist. He was dressed like most boys in the school; in his Sunday wear of white shirt and a pair of white shorts. He wore sneakers and constantly checked himself to be sure he hadn’t gotten his whites soiled. He was neat; about the neatest boy around.
A few parents had offered him drinks and a plate of rice, all of which he rejected. That was odd. I knew in my day, I would go along with friends whose parents visited and we would all partake of the food the parent brought. That’s just how it was.
But this boy seemed to know his family would come; he sat there like someone waiting without any shadow of doubt …My own is coming, no need to be eager over others.
I admired that kind of quiet confidence a child had in his parent…come what may, my people will show up.
Not so for me back in my days; at the end of the visiting day, there would be a huge lump in my throat that often exploded into a dam of tears. My parents didn’t come. It made little difference that on every visiting day, only a handful of parents showed up compared to the student population; it didn’t matter that more than half of my classmates or roommates didn’t get any visitation either; what always mattered was that, mine didn’t come.
It took me years to understand I wasn’t being neglected; time and chance just didn’t favour the parents, so they couldn’t come.
But for the sake of these ones, (especially the neat boy in white) I prayed silently as I drove out of the school premises, that a mother or father, brother or sister, who ought to visit, should somehow find the time to come, before visiting time ran out.