Everyday when I drove home from work or to church on Sundays, just before the right turn that led to my church, I would see this “mad man” at the bus stop. Sometimes he sat dejectedly under the shade of the bus stop, with his tattered grime-covered clothes, his hair overgrown and dirty. I sometimes saw him sleeping on his make shift bed, made of cartons straightened to form a mat. I felt sorry for him each time I drove past and something tugged in my heart to render some sort of help, no matter how little. Sometimes I wondered where he came from, whom his family was and if they knew he was there. I asked myself what could have been responsible for him being there- most likely a mental illness of some sort.
I wished to help somehow- get him some food, clean clothes or provide help in the form of psychological rehabilitation- Just to give hope to a fellow human being. However, in spite of my altruistic thoughts towards him, I could not summon enough courage to approach him. This was because I couldn’t tell if he dangerous; what if he attacks me and I had no way to escape and no one to help me out? Or worse still, what if he bites me? (Ha!God forbid). There’s this superstitious belief I heard of that if a madman bites you, you would also become mad. Despite my fears, each time I drove past the bus stop, I thought of ways to go about my “mission” to help the mad man.
I still have memories of when I was a little girl growing up in the cold city of Jos, Plateau state, in primary school, we always passed by a madman at a place called farin gada, on our way to school in the school bus. This man could be described as a creative madman. In his case, he started by sleeping under a tree, in the cold weather. Gradually, he started gathering sticks and wood under that tree. As children, we wondered what he was up to, as we all gathered by the windows to watch him whenever our bus passed that place. In addition to the sticks and wood, he kept adding all kinds of knick-knacks to his collection daily. Then when he was satisfied with his supplies, he started building a house just by the road. Everyday, we watched his progress with interest. Anytime we approached farin gada, we all crowded eagerly at the windows of the bus to see how far he had gone with his task. As each day passed, we saw the progress he had made- starting from the foundation, to the frame and up to the roof of his little shanty. Finally, after a couple of weeks, he completed his project- a shelter to protect him from the elements and what he would call a home. Then we stopped seeing him outside like we used to before his shelter was built, he now resided inside his new home! I often wondered what it was like inside the shanty. Well that’s a thought no one in his or her right senses would want to pursue further, for the sake of safety. As kids, we had to find other things to interest us on our ride to and from school, when the creative mad man show was over.
Anyway, back to the current mad man. I will call him Erin (Elephant in Yoruba language), You will know why I call him that soon enough. For the past couple of months now, I have started listening to myself speak to me, instead of listening to the outside world speak to me and tell me what to do. I started doing this when I realised, after several researches and soul-searching exercises, that most answers to our questions, resided right inside of us, if only we asked, searched and listened to our inner self. Since I started listening to my inner self, I started getting good results- the world started looking different to me and its been great. Ok back to the reason why I went into that explanation. Each time, I passed by his bus stop shelter, my inner self kept telling me to take some food to Erin and I knew it was something I had to do or else I would keep getting the same push to do so.
Finally, when I had had enough prodding and was tired of making the “I am busy” excuse, I made up my mind to just do it! (Nike style :)). On the first Sunday of this year, a day I knew that a friend was coming to visit, I packed some Jollof rice and chicken in a bowl, with a bottle of coke, put them in a plastic bag. When my friend came in, before he had time to settle down, I told him of my intention to take food to someone. Well, I said something like this, “Please I need you to go with me, to give some food to a homeless man somewhere not too far from here”. Luckily, he readily agreed to go with me. So off we went in his car. On our way, I decided to explain the situation to him- the fact that I was not sure of the mental state of this man because this was my first time of taking food to him and that he is what we would call a madman. I was relieved when he said “No problem, let’s go”. As we approached the bus stop, I started getting scared, my palms started to sweat. All sorts of thoughts ran through my head about this mission. I wondered if I was in my right senses because I know that here in Naija, we always avoid mad people for so many reasons, the most compelling is to avoid being bitten and becoming mad too (I know that no one would want to test the falsity of that superstitious belief because even if one does not become mad from being bitten, the pain of being bitten by someone with an unstable mind would definitely send maddening pain all over ones body!).
Anyway back to my gist, as we neared the bus stop, I asked my friend to slow down. We drove slowly until we got in front of the bus stop and stopped, with the engine still running of course and the car in gear, just in case we had to flee. Erin was asleep stretched out on his carton mat, so my friend honked his horn. He woke up with a start, looked up, shielding his eyes from the sun to take a proper look at who was disturbing his afternoon nap. He walked cautiously towards the car, looking unsure. Then we greeted him, he responded and I thought to myself “This is going well”. So I picked the bag and said, “We brought you some food”. He collected the bag with its contents, then he said “God bless you, thank you”. He asked for our names, I hesitated a bit, but when my friend told, his, I also did the same. We asked for his name as well and he said “Erin…something” (I didn’t get the last part of his name). It was a Yoruba name. What struck me was the fact that he spoke coherently and not like I had expected. I mentioned this to my friend as we drove away, having concluded my successful mission. My friend however advised me that I should be very careful about helping an unstable person because of my safety.
Needless to say, I was pleased that I had accomplished this task and was looking forward to doing more acts of kindness. You know that feeling of joy and satisfaction that comes from giving to someone who you expect nothing from in return? That was what I felt throughout that day. The next Sunday, I decided to take some food and drink to him again, since he didn’t seem to pose any threat the last time we went there. So off I went again. I greeted him and he responded and I reminded him that I had come the previous week with my friend. Then I gave him the food. Before driving off, he asked if I could buy him bottled groundnut and bread. So I said I will do that and bring it to him the next day. However, I didn’t anticipate my schedule for that week – what I call crazy busy days. I couldn’t fulfill my promise to Erin to bring him groundnut and bread. Finally, on Saturday, which was another busy day for me, I managed to squeeze out time to buy a loaf of bread (I bought the groundnut a day before). Then I headed for the bus stop that was Erin’s shelter. As I drove by the place, I didn’t see him. Although I saw his mat and a few rags where he slept. Anyway I decided to go home and try again the following morning on my way to church.
After getting dressed the following morning, I headed to church, with the intention to drop the groundnut and loaf of bread with Erin. When I got to his shelter bus stop, I saw him standing leaning on the wall of the shelter with something like a small radio held close to his ears (I didn’t want to believe it was a cell phone). I stretched my hand over to the back seat to pick up the bag of goodies. When I looked up my mouth dropped open in shock when I saw that the guy was actually smoking Indian hemp! My hand was stretched over the passenger window with the bag I held. Imagine my second wave of shock when he opened his mouth and said something like this to me with an angry tone of voice, “You told me you were going to bring these stuff to me since last week, and I waited for you but you didn’t come, what is the meaning of that?” Then he hissed and proceeded to snatch the bag from my hand and walked back to his shelter. Well words failed me; I drove away and slowly closed my mouth.
So many thoughts came to my mind as I drove- the first was a resolve that I was never going back to that ungrateful “mad man” again. I was also quite annoyed that he would talk to me like that. But I stopped being angry when I told myself that he was unstable, what did I expect? To be treated like a long lost cousin? Then again, I thought of my safety, what if he had attacked me and no one came to my aid? Thank God that did not happen. I drove past the bus stop on my way to church a couple of times after that and saw him but I knew I had to preserve myself from harm, so the thought of stopping, stopped crossing my mind. All of this happened in January within a space of three weeks.
Last week, on my way to work, I was listening to a radio programme I usually listened to every morning. The presenter of the programme had invited the police as guests on the programme to sensitize the public about safety. The policeman then informed that the police recently apprehended a “mad man” who everyone thought was actually mad because of the way he looked. I didn’t catch the part about the location where he was apprehended (I was distracted by my son who was saying something to me), but the rest of the story was that he was caught with Indian hemp, a small gun (yes a gun) and some other items that might have been stolen. The moral of the story was this: not every madman you see on the streets is actually mad, some pretend to be mad just to attack unsuspecting victims. I haven’t seen Erin at the bus stop since the day I heard about the mad man who got apprehended by the police and I seriously suspect that he is the madman who was arrested by the police.
Tosne, note to self (pull ya ears well): future charitable acts of kindness towards the indigent shall be targeted at and carried out through appropriate, formal and regulated channels e.g. orphanages or IDP camps, where you would find people who are sincerely in need and where your safety would be assured.
By the way, did I tell you that I was given 100 dollars the first time I gave Erin food? Who says my inner man isn’t super?
Have a blessed, productive and wonderful week guys!