I went to the mall one fine Thursday afternoon to pick up a few things. While waiting to be attended to in one of the shops, I sat next to a little girl who hung tightly to her mother. She was about four or five years old, with bright eyes that had many questions and a smile that could compel you to forgive her of any wrongdoing. My phone rang and I brought it out to answer the call, her eyes followed my hands. It seemed she was more interested in the call than I was. When I saw the caller, I was hesitant, however, to please my eager audience, I answered the call. She smiled when I smiled, frowned when I frowned, she mimicked every gesture I made and looked utterly confused when some hefty words rolled off my tongue. We were having a moment. I could tell she was fascinated by the idea of being a grown-up. If only she knew that some days I wake up wishing I was her; free, happy and curious.
Just then her mother noticed how engrossed she was in a total stranger. A stranger that looked different from her and spoke words she had never heard, but somehow was connected to her in ways she couldn’t explain. She had questions, questions about where I come from, how I became gigantic, why I was responding to someone who wasn’t present, why her mother said nothing to me; was I a stranger or a friend and the classic one, how babies are made. She was curious.
Curiosity is one of the traits we are born with. Because of its skittish nature, it rises and falls throughout our lives and we are most curious when we are young, free from bias or fear. Unfortunately, children are only as free as they are made to believe. Adulthood is inevitable, it’s a condition that will befall all men, regardless of gender, race or social standing. So why not let children be children while they still have the chance.
In the part of the world I am from, you are expected to tame your curiosity instead of harness it. Do not ask questions, do not speak unless spoken to, do not question your elders, the society, most especially religious leaders and God. The phrase “Only God knows” has been used so much that if it were a man it’d be weary and weak.
The mother of my friend scolded her in the most embarrassing way possible. You may ask what a five-year-old child knows about being embarrassed and your question would’ve been valid if you started eating at age twenty. Joy, shame, pain, pride among others, are emotions we all experience from a very young age but express differently in varying degrees. Emotions are not installed into our body like software when we reach a certain age, they are innate. Instead of getting answers she was scolded. Years later the same hands that closed her mouth will drag her ears and scream knowledge is power. The world started stripping her of her power way before she learned how to recite the thirty-six states and capitals.
A society that steals the voice of its citizens before they even learn how to speak is left to the mercy of men who cannot interpret sign language. Timid kids become timid youths with no ounce of courage to ask the world for what is theirs, good governance and the freedom to live authentically.
One begins to question the existence of some practices. Are they measures used to control men who on all accounts ought to be free? The relation between respect for the elderly and respect for the wise is inverse. The increase in the amount of respect given to people based solely on how long they have lived on earth results in a decrease of the amount of respect given to those younger, regardless of how wise they are. It has been proven time and time again that wisdom has an unstable relationship with age.
However, one would think that at a certain age, you are given the license to ask as many questions as you can think of but unfortunately, that is not the case. As a child, you were told not to question adults, as an adult you are told not to question bigger adults, church leaders, government officials and the man that is richer than you.
When I left, I bid her farewell and said a prayer for her under my breath “Lord, may she not lose her voice” then it struck me like a lightning bolt. I could have done more for her; instead, I sat there mute because I thought I had no business interfering in the upbringing of a child that isn’t mine. When I had lost the chance to act, I prayed, hoping it would be enough. Just like her mother, I had wronged her in ways she was too young to understand.