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Photo credit: www.shutterstock.com

BALARABA JOHN

Every day I see myself becoming more careful with my choice of words. I am not only careful with the words I speak but also write. I have learned the importance of words and their efficacy. Words can make or mar, build or destroy. Words can lead to victory and can also lead to defeat. We learn from the chronicles of great kings and warriors that besides possession of great military tactics and sophisticated armoury, words are what they used to boost the morale of their soldiers, infuse fear or dampen the spirit of the enemy.

I recall a personal experience I had a few years back with a young lady at a friend’s restaurant in Lagos. Tama was intelligent, hard working and beautiful. She should be seventeen years old or thereabouts as at that time. Just few hours after meeting her, we began to chat as if we had known each other for years. Somebody would easily pass her for my younger sister. She told me about herself and I responded to some questions she asked on career, education and real-life issues. We related very well. Tama was surprised because from the look of things nobody had taken that keen interest in her.

I noticed that my friend was not comfortable with the way I was bonding with the young lady. The young lady was a dishwasher at the restaurant. She ran shifts and had closed for the day. I saw her like any other staff at the restaurant. To me, every individual working there was important.  My friend warned that my action would breed disrespect, disobedience and laziness. The best way to relate to workers of Tama’s kind, according to her, is to make them know and constantly remind them of their job description and the only language to convey such message is that of command. Not to get my friend angry, I heeded to her admonition but that was before I had slipped my business card in the young lady’s hand.

I had forgotten that incident. Two years later, I was far away in Cambridge when I received a call. I knew the call was from Nigeria but I could not recognise the voice. The caller was claiming familiarity.

“Hello ma….this is Tama…long time!” the voice started.

“Hello…who…Tama…please, can you remind me…?

“Tama in Lagos….em…the dishwasher in Aunty Tee’s Restaurant” she explained.

Frankly I still did not recollect her. I remembered Aunty Tee and had gone to that restaurant once. I also remembered the last time I spoke to my friend she told me she was leaving the eatery business and that she had relocated to a country in Asia. I did not get to hear about her again.

“Tama, please don’t be angry. Can I call you back?”  I could sense that the lady was in a hurry. I guessed she had a message to deliver and might not have enough time. But I needed her to relax. I also needed time to think. I wanted to know who Tama was and why she called me. It was morning and I had an appointment by 10:00am at Anglia Ruskin University. She had called me when I was cleaning my bicycle. I quickly finished the cleaning. I checked my time, it was about 20 minutes pass 8. I still had time. I dialled her number. She immediately picked.

“Hello…”

“Hello, ma….I lost my phone that’s why I didn’t call you. When I got a new phone, I     tried your number but it wasn’t going through…..”

“Really?” I was still surprised. “Are you sure you’re calling the right number?” I inquired. I still was not sure if it was me she wanted to call. There was a brief silence.

“Oh…sorry ma….maybe I’m not”, she resumed, “Actually one nice fair lady gave me her card. She wrote on the card, ‘“Don’t allow your present situation define you”’, I’m calling to thank her. Bye”. Again there was silence from the other end. “Hello, hello…Tama…are you there?” She had hung up.

Of course, the inscription on the card was mine. I remember writing it at that restaurant on my business card and giving it to a young lady to inspire her. So, her name was Tama? I called back. Unfortunately she did not pick my call after several attempts. I was disturbed. I rode to ARU’s campus still thinking. Why did I forget that lady? What impact did those few lines on my card make in her life? I quickly recalled how sad I was not to have given the young lady money while leaving the restaurant. She had kept my card for two years, attempted calling several times even when the line was switched off (for some time I stopped using that line she used in calling me). She didn’t give up. Her only reason for calling was to say “thank you.” I pondered over it all day.

There are gifts that are equally or more valuable than material things. You could give somebody money or even a house. No doubts, that is a big gift. But what effect does your gift of money or house do when after giving that person, you go ahead using “negative words” that could either puncture the person’s confidence or make him or her appear more miserable?  Most times we think we do not have enough to help people. We are not rich or lack the means to help. True as that might be our giving should not be limited only to material things, recommending people for jobs or leaving the seat for the aged to sit in a bus. We can give “words” as gift. “Kind words don’t cost much”, as Pascal Blaise once said, “yet accomplish much”. We can use our words to inspire, encourage, motivate, lift, build, and make somebody feel important or give somebody a sense of belonging. Mother Teresa puts it thus, “kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless”.

I did try Tama’s number after that for a week or so and it rang but she did not pick. She did not reply to the text messages I sent to her phone number.  It is one year now and I have not been able to reach her. The last time I called, a voice (machine) said the number was barred from the network! I have no idea what happened. Anyway I may never see Tama again but I am happy somehow I affected her life through my words!