I curse that sunny day. That stupid day when I was nothing short of a beast. I curse the day I went to Bariga. If I could turn back the hands of this stupid clock I’m staring at, I’ll go back to that fateful day and act a little more humane. I’d show a little kindness. But I can’t turn back the hands of time, and I didn’t show any kindness. I’m only left with this comforting regret that I didn’t do anything when I should have.
I and a few photographers had decided to embark on this journey to the vilest areas of Bariga. We hoped to capture a few pictures of the ugly dirty surroundings and the impoverished people dwelling there. The pictures we would take were for the Nigerian Photography Awards Competition. We all hoped to bag the one million naira cash prize. With our cameras and photography equipment, we embarked on this useless journey with nothing more than one or two bottles of water to satisfy us if we got thirsty.
On our way, in the hired air-conditioned bus, my friends joked about the people we were going to meet.
“Ola, what do you think they’ll look like?” I stared at Tolu, who had directed this question at me, wondering what the brat was saying.
“I assume they’ll look like humans. Naturally”, I replied, irritated.
Who were we to barge into these unfortunate people’s lives and use their lives as a platform for our own success? Who were we to publicize their poverty and unhealthy living conditions? Who did we think we were, hoping to discover them like some artefacts and put them on display for the whole hypocritical world to admire their unfortunate living conditions?! They were humans like ourselves, only unlucky to have been born in such parts of the country. They had emotions, wants, needs, and even dreams. Who were we to invade all that and laugh at them like we were any better?
When my friends brought up the idea, the only reason I agreed was because I hoped to show that there was beauty in every situation. I hoped to capture a little boy smiling, despite his condition. I hoped to find true joy even in the face of ugly conditions. I thought this was a way to show that I cared. I thought wrong.
It never occured to me during this bout of self-righteousness and righteous indignation that just one Congo of rice would have gone a long way. Stupid selfish me didn’t think that a few clothes would have brought smiles to the children’s faces.
We got there and set up our equipment. I looked around. Black, dirty, stagnant water decorated the roads in circles of various sizes. These were the ballons these children played in, jumping and splashing unhealthy disgusting water all over themselves gleefully. Tolu immediately pointed his camera towards them and I heard his shutter click. My conscience was beginning to make it clear that I was here for the wrong reason. I wanted to be out of there. I found myself and my friends despicable. We weren’t worthy to be called humans.
I sighted a child sitting right there on the streets, naked and malnourished. The little boy’s eyes told deep tales —tales of hunger and abandonment. Sad unfortunate tales. My camera was pointed in his direction and I captured him. At that precise moment when my camera clicked, a vulture appeared behind him, trying to ascertain if the lad was alive or not. I couldn’t stay any longer. I took the picture and left. I didn’t even announce to my friends. They were as despicable as I was.
Tears stung my eyes even as I left. I resolved to come back to help him and this allayed my fragile conscience. I submitted my photo and three days later, my entry was announced as the winner. In their words, “the picture was beyond moving… ” I stared af the photograph that had won me a million naira and the boy’s sad eyes stared back. I hurriedly drove back to Bariga.
I searched all day long for the lad, but my search was in vain. No one knew where he was. I was sweating profusely by now. I was tired and thirsty. I saw an elderly woman sitting under a shade close to where the boy had been. She wasn’t there when I started the search. I went to her, with the picture in my hands. She stared at the picture, then she stared at me. She stared at the picture again and suddenly began crying.
The boy was no more, she had told me. “He died the same day you came with your friends and took this picture”, she affirmed. Her words rang in my ears and my legs suddenly became wobbly. They couldn’t bear my wicked weight.
I just woke up on this hospital bed. Memories flood my mind, reminding me of how evil I was. I stare at the clock in front of me. Can’t I turn back the hands of time to save that child? I wanted to! I needed to! That boy shouldn’t have died! No!
I was plagued with the thought that I could have saved him. These words resounded in my mind.
“I could have saved him! I should have saved him!”
I stared at the doctor as he mumbled some words. I couldn’t hear him. He was speaking in humanly language, trying to save someone he perceived was human.
I wasn’t human. I was a beast. I am a beast. The boy did not live and I did not deserve to either. I did not deserve to live. I had won blood money. I should have just been kind when I had the chance.