Ever bustling city life! The strident voices of conductors of commercial buses could be heard afar off. No matter how sultry the weather, there were always hawkers advertising their goods. The traders who had stalls and umbrellas were fortunate. Those who had kiosks were more fortunate, and those had shops, built or rented, were the most fortunate.
Children who should be in the classrooms could be seen hawking oranges, sweets, buns and sachet water. Those who had been fortunate to be sent to school by their parents would also choose to roam the streets like orphans, in their school uniforms. At Orita Meta or Bere, you could even see some of those sagged off children dancing to the tunes of music on the streets, in front of beer parlours, shirts tucked out of their shorts or trousers.
In the streets, you would find students who had reached the secondary school level smoking cigar; if cigarettes get them nauseous, they could have a sachet of alcoholic drink, while their parents hustle in the sun roasting corn, frying Akara, and expecting their children to make them happy one day.
No wonder the police usually go after the guy with sagged trousers and tinted hair, and leave the well-dressed gentle when picking truants. They would say, "The origin of sagging trousers is the prisoners who had to use oversize knickers without belt and hold it all the way."
How would the palm wine tapper feel; how would the hawker who roasts under the scotching sun feel when she gets a call that her only child has just been arrested with rogues – the child she had been comforting herself with that someday would clean her tears. He was arrested with some thugs! It doesn’t matter if he was one of them, what was he doing there? Why was a cigarette caught between his fingers? Why does he have a tinted hair? What about the tattoo? Why were they referring to him as the dreadful mattock? Serpent? Even dagger!?
Tobi lived with his uncle's family in Orogun. His parents lived in Abuja with his three siblings. His father was a military man and his mother was a business woman. His parents hardly stayed home but they tried their best to take care of their children. Mr Olabiyi, Tobi's father had his surviving parent living with them in his house so that they would not be lonely and would be able to take care of the children too.
Tobi was only twelve when uncle Banji took him away to live with him. His wife was a lazy woman who hardly took care of the home. She prevented her husband from getting a maid, yet she would not do the house chores.
The filth at Tobi's new home irritated him because his parents would never condone such laziness. Tobi would have to do the house chores. Uncle Banji's children took after their mother, they would watch Tobi work like a donkey while they play or chat with him. Uncle Banji's wife, Sarah, thought she had seen a robot who would do all of the work; she would just cook and leave Tobi to do the rest. Uncle Banji was not satisfied at all.
Tobi got late to school one Wednesday and her class teacher, Miss Romoke, who was concerned decided to speak to him during the long break.
"Tobi, why are you always late to school? I've noticed that you're always late to school while Deji and Deborah get to school early."
"I'm sorry, Ma."
"It's alright. Just tell me about what keeps you late."
"I do all the house chores; mum would just cook and leave the rest to me."
Miss Romoke shook her head, "That's not right. I must see them!"
She added, "Tell your uncle or his wife to see me tomorrow."
"You can go to your seat."
"Thank you, Ma!"
When Tobi got home that day with his cousins, they met Sarah in the kitchen.
"You're welcome, my children.”
Deji dropped his bag on a kitchen stool and put off his uniform, leaving them on the floor.
"Mum, I'm very hungry," he said.
"Food will soon be ready," his mother assured.
"Pending that time, I'll be busy with subway surfers," Deji said.
"No bro. Let's play Ludo or Awale, multiplayer mode," Deborah insisted.
"Just a win and I'll stop" Deji responded.
"No problem," his sister agreed.
Tobi watched the two leave. He sighed, "I have something to tell you, mum."
"At least go and undress yourself. You can even help me with the dishes while you say whatever you have to say."
Tobi left the kitchen for his room. He returned to the kitchen in a casual dress to help Sarah. He got the dirty dishes in the sink and started washing.
"So what do you want to tell me?"
"My class teacher asked you to come to school tomorrow."
"I don't know."
"Are you sure?"
"She asked me why I've always been late to school while Deji and Deborah gets to school on time and I told her I've always had to do the house chores before going to school."
"I thought it's something serious. I'll advise you to ask your dad to follow you instead. I can't go to your school for such issues."
Uncle Banji returned home with candies for the children. The children licked the candies and watched cartoon movies in the living room. After Uncle Banji had replaced his office wears with something casual, he joined the children in the living room.
"How was school today kids?" he asked.
"It was fine daddy!"
"Tobi, mummy told me your mistress asked me to come to your school tomorrow."
"I don't know."
"Alright. Maybe I'll come during lunch. I'm always busy with work in the office."
"All right daddy"
The next day at school, Uncle Banji arrived in his car at about 1pm. He met Miss Romoke in his nephew's classroom. The class greeted him, and he responded in kind. Miss Romoke gave the pupils some work to do and while she walked out of the classroom with Uncle Banji.
Tobi wondered what they discussed; he stole gazes at them from where he sat.
Uncle Banji called him out of the classroom after Miss Romoke had returned. He gave Tobi extra cash to spend.
"Don't worry Tobi, your lateness to school ends today."
"Put your mind at rest. Just go back to the classroom."
Tobi watched his uncle leave.
After dinner that same day, uncle Banji summoned Tobi into his study and asked him to sit on a chair.
"Is mum forcing you to work?"
"Then stop the work!"
"But the house will be too dirty."
"I know Tobi, but it had always been like that."
"We'd be sick," Tobi feared.
"We've never been sick before, Tobi."
"But I'd be sick. I won't be able to stay where there's so much dirt, and grime"
"If you have to clean, let that be after school. You need to stop going to school late. Is that clear?"
"Fine then, you can go now."
Tobi knew Sarah had noticed his change of behaviour. She had noticed that Tobi was no longer cleaning the house before going to school, and even after school; he would only clean his room, the living room, toilets and bathrooms. At times, kitchen. Sarah would not take that; she had become used to him working like a donkey. She could not afford to see her rooms and surroundings become so dirty again. She would call Tobi to remind him of cleaning the other rooms but he would turn deaf ear.
Each morning, she would go to his room like any other day, around 6 AM to remember him to clean the house, but he would pretend he did not hear what she had said. While she is working in the kitchen, she would call on him to help her wash the dishes.
"Tobi! Tobi! Tobi!"
Tobi would cover his ears as if he had not heared her, he was not ready to do all the chores again.
Uncle Banji also discovered that Tobi had drastically changed, and it was affecting him too. Seeing the house get dirty again got him ill. Tobi pushed Sarah to clean the house for some time. She was always complaining of headache or joint pains after little clean up.
Uncle Banji called Tobi into his study one Saturday.
"Tobi, why do you pretend not to hear mum whenever she calls you?"
"I do not want to do the chores," he answered frankly.
"You think playing deaf is the next thing?"
"Yes! That way, she would stop disturbing me"
"And has she stopped?" his uncle asked.
"No, but she will stop soon."
"Mummy can't stop, Tobi. Besides, it's not good to be playing with deafness."
"But I have to do that so she'd let me be!"
"Tobi, but it's dangerous."
Tobi did not change one bit and his uncle could not stop him. He overheard his uncle telling his wife that he would have to return him to his parents, but he was not ready to return him. Tobi did not understand what he meant; he thought he was doing the right thing.
One Wednesday during lunch break in school, Miss Romoke moved closer to Tobi's seat.
"Tobi, why are you not eating?" Miss Romoke asked.
"Mummy did not give me food," he answered.
"Why? But Deji brought food to school!"
"Yes. I had been pretending not to hear her whenever she calls me to help her do some chores. Today, she called me again and I placed my hands to my ears. She entered my room and caught me. She got angry and refused to give me food."
Mrs Romoke sighed, "I thought I asked your uncle to get a maid."
"She would not allow him!"
"Tobi, it is not good to turn deaf ear when people call you. You're simply playing with deafness that way."
"Playing with deafness? What does that mean? Daddy used that term too!"
"Don't worry Tobi, you’ll soon understand."
After lunch break, Miss Romoke told the class that she wanted to tell them a tale.
"A tale," the class chorused with enthusiasm.
"Yes! The tale of a boy who played with deafness."
The classroom grew quiet as Mrs Romoke began the fascinating and educative tale.
Bamidele and his parents lived in Osogbo. Dele, as his parents prefer to call him, was a very lazy boy who never wanted to do any house chores. Dele had two siblings who were younger than him. He would relax while he sent his younger ones around. His parents did not like that; they would talk to him to be diligent but he refused.
When Mr Demola, his father saw that Bamidele was not ready to change, he sent him to his elder brother in Ilesa.
Mr Gbola, Dele's uncle was a strict man who condone no indiscipline. Dele felt he was going to die one day in his new home because of his uncle's strictness. Mr Gbola would send him on errands as he wished and Dele would go without hesitation because he knew his uncle was strict. Whenever he returned late from any errand, Mr Gbola would beat him mercilessly with whip. Mr Gbola had a son whom he hardly beats – Dayo. Mr Gbola's son was very obedient boy, knowing his father would not accept shortcomings.
Dele would report his uncle to his parents, saying he would always beat him like a cow while he takes good care of his own son. Dele's mother finally got angry when she saw different scars on her son, and asked her husband to take her son from his brother's house. She named the act 'Child Abuse'.
Mr Demola did as his wife said; he withdrew Dele from Mr Gbola's house and Dele was so happy to return to his old life. He had only changed a little bit. However, Mr Demola could not entertain his son's behaviour, so he asked his wife to let them return him to his uncle, but she refused.
"I can't take his insolence!" Mr Gbola said.
"He'll change," his wife argued.
"He can't. He can't even live here with me, or one day I'll kill him!"
"Okay, let's send him to my sister. She will handle him without beatings. Her children are very responsible."
"Alright, do as you say!"
Bamidele was sent to Aunt Titi in Ikire. Aunt Titi accepted him with gladness of heart and promised to help change him.
"Please don't beat my son o mama Tope, and don't send him on too many errands. You know he's my only son."
"No problem mama Dele, I'll take care of your son like my own and he'll change."
Aunt Titi had two children, Tope and Bunmi who were both older than Dele but still would not cheat him. They took good care of him. Aunt Titi tried every means possible other than beating, but Dele was not ready to change. She got angry when her husband complained of her being too lenient with Dele and she started punishing him.
When Dele reported his aunt to his mother, she got angry and fought her sister. Aunt Titi asked her to take her son away if she would not let her train him. Dele left Aunt Titi's house with his mother.
Dele returned home with his parents. They had relocated from Osogbo to Oshodi, Lagos. His father was no longer ready to complain about him. Whatever Dele did, his father would only sigh or shake his head.
Dele met new friends in Oshodi. Some were homeless, and some left home. They taught Dele how to escape house chores and errands.
"When dad wouldn't let me be, I'll just pretend that I'm sleeping," Kola, also known as 'Okuta' said.
"As for me, I just play deaf when mum calls me persistently to do something for her," said Lanre, also known as 'Ita'.
"That's what I used to do too before my mum died and I had to survive alone," said Demi, popularly known as 'Danger'.
"What's the meaning of play deaf?" Dele asked.
"It simply means that you'll pretend that you didn't hear them when they're calling you, instead of saying that you can't do it," Akin, known as 'Serpent' said. He was known to have been in the streets for long.
Dele bought into their ideas. Whenever his parents called him, he would pretend that he did not hear them, even when he was close enough.
"Dele, are you not the one I'm calling?" They would ask.
He would not answer, but rather switch his attention to some object and pretend as if his mind was far away, until they touched him.
"Were you not the one I was calling?"
"I did not hear. I was looking at those chicks," he would reply.
"Get me some water!"
He would simply go to his room and sleep. Later, he would say he did not hear them say water, he thought they asked him to go to bed. He hardly goes on errands. It infuriated his father to the extent that he stopped sending him on errands, and Dele was satisfied. His mother did not like any of it.
"Dele, it is not good to be pretending as if you didn't hear us call you," his mother would say.
"I never pretend. If I heard you call, I'd answer you right away," he would argue.
"It's alright. It's just not good to be playing deaf!"
Dele would not listen. He started doing that at school too, and soon he got used to it. They would call Dele and he would not hear them call him. Even his classmates would call him and he would not hear until they tap him or shout his name.
It became noticeable to everyone that Dele had gradually gone deaf. He was still hearing but hardly hears one talking to him from far away. His street friends nicknamed him 'No network', not minding the fact that they were the one who turned him into what he had become. Dele became a bit deaf and his mother regretted ever being so slack with him.
Mr Demola would blame his wife. Uncle Gbola would blame both parents, but Aunt Titi would blame Dele's mother the most. Dele became so ashamed whenever his friends teased and made jest of him with his semi-deafness. He had played with deafness, and had gotten its result.
"You better see a doctor before he becomes completely deaf," Uncle Gbola advised.
"This would be a lesson to all those children who would not stop playing with deafness," Aunt Titi said.
"I've learnt my lessons," Dele cried.
At the hospital, they prayed the operation goes well. Dele’s eardrums had become weak and it needed to be operated on.
"Let’s pray it goes well, otherwise he will become completely deaf," the ear surgeon said.
Tears rolled down Dele's cheeks. He regretted everything, just like his parents.
"Mother of an only son, see what you've caused?" Aunt Titi barbed.
They prayed in their heart as Dele was wheeled into the operating theatre.
Miss Romoke finished the tale, "That is the end of the tale."
The pupils did not like how it ended.
"What happened to Dele?"
"Could he later hear on?"
"I don't know if he later heard or not," she answered.
"That's too bad for him," some sect of pupils said.
"I do that at times," James said.
“Will you still continue to do that form now onwards, James?" Miss Romoke asked
"I'll never do that again! I don't want to end up like Dele."
"Good of you, James. It's not good to play with deafness," she said.
"Yes Ma!" the class chorused as they clapped for Miss Romoke.
Tobi learnt a very good lesson. He knew Miss Romoke told the tale because of him but it had helped not only him. He would never play deaf again; and to stop playing deaf, he knew what to do.
After dinner that Wednesday, Tobi asked to see his uncle. Uncle Banji talked with his nephew in the garden.
"Daddy, I want to return home to my mum and dad."
"I don't want to play with deafness again."
Uncle Banji frowned, then smile, "Okay, but you know that your parents hardly stay home."
"I know. Grandma stays with us."
"Fine then Tobi. When you're ready, I'll return you home but before then, I'll call your dad."
"Love you, son!"
And that was how Tobi left his uncle's house and returned to his parents. In those few years that he had left home, his parents had started staying home and returning early from work. He was happy with that. He was also happy to be back in a very tidy environment.
Back in his former school in Orogun, Tobi told everyone the tale on the assembly ground and they all learnt a good lesson.
Everywhere he went, even when he had become a successful grown up, he would tell everyone he meets about THE TALE OF A BOY WHO PLAYED WITH DEAFNESS.
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Great piece from this author.
Great lesson for every child.
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